Wherein Martin Amis’s Lionel Asbo State of England is given the once-over by this week’s guest, Mr. Charles Bukowski.
Hot dumpheap horseshit. Every last second of it. Every cheap modifier and simile. Hell, after a dozen novels you can always smell a writer gone to fat. You can picture him stumbling toward midnight, no clue which way to go, pretending not to hear the cries and moans coming from the alleys off Crenshaw.
There are things a shipping clerk knows that the British don’t. Like all of it. Did Amis ever get caught stealing a cucumber from a vegetable stand down by the docks? Was he ever forced to take the thing back out of his trench coat and put it on the stack while a crowd watched? Did he ever spend a night in the joint, sitting on wet cement, smoking rolled-up toilet paper and pretending it was a Cuban cigar? I have flat feet and was classified 4-H during the war. Worked in a dress factory. Packed cheap gingham into cardboard boxes while England was busy taking it on the chin from Hitler. Those RAF boys had some style, but none of them could write. Maugham? Waugh? Greene? A man has to have lived with nothing to be something, has to be right down to the filter of his last smoke in order to slap real sentences together. Amis isn’t hungry. He’s never gone without. He’s all shorts and porridge. It says so in every self-satisfied line. At least for the first six pages, because that’s as far I made it.
It’s hot, so I pull on my pants and yesterday’s socks. I got two days left on the rent and half a bottle of port so vile it’s all I can do to keep from coughing the stuff back up. I figure when that’s gone I’ll stuff all my things into a pillowcase, tiptoe down the back stairs, and pray the landlord’s little wiggling cocksuck of a dog doesn’t smell me out.
I walk into the steamy LA morning, surprised the car is still where I parked it, and stand with my back against the ancient Volks. Another beautiful day for the beautiful people. The sun plays no favorites, beating down on the worst in all of us. It glares at everything we’re not, doomed sidewalks and pavement so cruel people jam their hands in the stuff as if their palm prints mean something. A parade of blondes walk by, a few not bad, the rest with chins like heavyweights. No music in their strut. Counting the minutes until they get married, pop on a ring and pop out a down payment before the nylons can’t hold it all in anymore. I pop the trunk instead and pull out the racing form, have a swig of scotch, pencil Collapse of Empire to win in the fifth. A brunette walks by, nice legs, red dress. She looks good. Better than me. Bet we have the same size pussy. Heh. She winks. I’m about to walk over, give her a taste of Chinaski. Then I start thinking about how a month after we shack up she’ll be on me not to drink any more. She’ll tell me to lay off the track, keep the grocery money in an envelope behind the fridge. And then a month after that she’ll run clear out of fucks. We’ll spend every long night arguing about the trash compactor instead. About creamed corn. About wheel alignment. Hell, I need a woman who likes to drink, gamble, smoke, curse, and screw. But who can handle a woman like that? So I let Red Dress walk on by, and in that second, the frayed hem of my soul dies a little bit more.
Hollywood Park. I hit the first three races, lose the next two, then finally get $20 down on Kingsley’s Arms, a 9-to-2 claimer who wins by six lengths. I cash my ticket while the losers stare at their shoes. The runway is an abstract of torn paper and hotdog crumbs, but I glide through it all, out to the parking with ballet steps, a pocket full of money and a soul full of a thousand tiny cups of beer.
Three lanes on the 105, cars flying by all slick and chrome, not a single one with any guts, passing on the right without a clue who the real winner is. I park on a hill, half in someone’s driveway. They can squeak around on their way to dental school in the morning for all I care. The landlord’s wife raises the curtain as I go by. I give her a big wave. She frowns, even uglier than the yapper dog. With the door safely locked, I am full of potential. Four walls, a stack of winnings, and all night to ponder the mysteries of the universe. What else does a man need? I crack the next day’s Form and set it on the kitchen table for later, then pour four fingers of bourbon, strip to my boxers, and sit in front of the typer. The broken chair jabs me in the leg. Flies land on my fingers and eyelids. The smoke rises like wild horses over the hills. Half a bottle in, I finally get a poem done:
Walls and ceilings full of cracks
spiders and women and cigarette
every ten feet
the trombone coughing
down the street
as the symphony
bleeds from the windowsill
from the stained mattress
from Churchill’s fat ass
and my five dollar
Not bad, not good. Tonight I just don’t have it. Too many lefts to the jaw, like Patterson in the sixth. A man has to know when it’s not happening. So I toss the poem in the closet and crack Lionel Asbo, making it through half a chapter before dropping the thing on the floor. It makes a loud bang. The lady in the apartment below bangs back with the broom. At first I think she’s angry, but then she does it again. Bam bam bamma bam. Pounding through the timbers like some kind of code. I sneak down the stairs and before I can even knock, she opens the door.
“I know all about you,” she says.
“That’s good. I don’t know shit about anything.”
“Except what I like.”
She cocks a hip, makes with the 4th St. smile. “And what is it you like?”
She laughs, steps inside the apartment, kicks the door closed behind me. She’s got a face like Maxie Rosenberg, but she’s wearing a white nightie and showing off about four furlongs worth of leg. It’s good. Tight. She pours me a drink, sweet red wine.
“What do you think about Martin Amis?” I ask.
“Just what I thought.”
I grab her and stick my tongue in her mouth. Tastes like menthol cigs and a ham sandwich. My kind of girl. I go back for more. We hit the bed and it’s like a long dying night of extracted guts and the stink of being. In other words, a pure honest love.
In the morning she’s gone, front door wide open. Maybe it’s not her place after all. I take the rest of the wine and head back upstairs. Yap yap yap goes the dog. My apartment’s empty, no sound, no light. Just one thing staring up, like an accusation. Goddamned Amis. The Union Jack-off. I crack him open again, give it another twenty pages. Nothing. Zero. It’s like swimming in oatmeal, like the suicide of lovers, like sucking wind through ruined lungs, like sleeping under a laundromat and its forever spinning towels.
Here’s the thing; Marty Amis has been writing the same book over and over for twenty-five years. Big words, a couple of funny lines, and then a bunch of “should she and I talk it out now?” Then a bunch of “I’m short and not good-looking enough,” then a bunch of “here’s a two-hundred page metaphor for sex” instead of just saying “We’re doing the thing where the lady might get pregnant, except in this case doesn’t involve frozen embryos.”
Lionel Asbo? Hated every minute of it. I could write better lines with a wet crayon on a wet asshole. You mean it took six hundred pages to tell me that England’s not as good as it once was? Sorry, pal, everything went to shit back in 1932. Try moving to L.A.
They want to kill a man for being a poet, but they’ll make him famous for being the son a poof.
Amis sounds a lot like Anus.
On a one-to-ten scale I relieve myself of half a quart of Tokay all over Lionel Asbo State of England.
Wait, where am I again? The Somme? Barstow? The great, lice-ridden flophouse of Heaven? Either way, it’s dark in here, but at least there’s a typer and plenty of dago red.
Hey, kid, can I bum a smoke?
A special thanks to this week’s author-channel and celebrity medium, Cora Lodencia Veronica Hatch.
Ignore me here: The Face Book
Disdain me here: The Twitter
Join the vast line of people not visiting my site here: seanbeaudoin.com