Notes of a dirty old man.

Or: a portion from a wine-stained notebook. A story
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Illustration by Matt Furie

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

"YOWWWWWWW!"

I was having visions in those days. They came mostly when I was drying out, not drinking, waiting around for money or something to arrive, and the visions were very real — Technicolor and with music — mostly they flashed across the top of the ceiling while I was on the bed in a half-slumberous state. I had worked in too many factories, had seen too many jails, had drunk too many bottles of cheap wine to maintain any sort of cool and intelligent state toward my visions —

"OH, GO AWAY YOU BASTARDS! I BEG YOU! GET THE HELL OUT! YOU'RE GOING TO FLAKE ME FOR SURE! OH MY GOD OH MY JESUS, MERCY!"

It was San Francisco. Then I'd hear a knock on the door. It was the old woman who ran the place, Mama Fazzio.

"Mr. Bukowski?" she said through the door.

"AAAAAAAAKKKK!"

"What?"

"Ulll. Ummph...."

"Are you all right?"

"Oh, sure."

"Can I come in?"

I'd get up and open the door, sweat now cold behind my ears.

"Say ..."

"What?"

"You need something to keep your wine and beer cold, you don't have a refrigerator. Even a pan of water with ice in it would help. I'll get you a pan of water with ice in it."

"Thanks."

"And I remember when you were here two years ago you used to have a phonograph. You'd play symphony music all the time. Don't you miss your music?"

"Yeah."

Then she left. I was afraid to lie down on the bed or the visions would come again. They always came just the moment before sleep. Or the moment before one would have slept. Horrible things: spiders eating fat babies in webs, babies with milk-white skin and sea-blue eyes. Then came faces, 3 feet across with puss-holes circled with red, white, and blue circles. Things like that. I sat in a hard wooden chair and peered at the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Then I heard a rumbling sound on the stairway. Some giant beast crawling toward me? I opened the door. There was Mama Fazzio, 80 years old, pushing and twisting an ancient stand-up green wooden Victrola, the wind-'em-up kind, and the thing must have been twice her weight and clumsy up that narrow stairway and I stood there and said, "Jesus Christ, hold it, don't move!"

"I can get it!"

"You're going to kill yourself!"

I ran down and grabbed the thing but she insisted on helping me. We took it into my room. It looked good.

"There. Now you can have some music."

"Yes. Thanks very much. As soon as I get some records."

"You had breakfast?"

"Not hungry."

"Come on down to breakfast any day."

"Thanks."

"And if you don't have the rent, don't pay it."

"I'll try to have the rent."

"And excuse me, but my daughter was helping me clean your room when she found some papers with writing on them. She was very fascinated with your writing. She and her husband want you to come to dinner at their place."

"No."

"I told them that you were funny. I told them that you wouldn't come."

"Thanks."

After she left I walked around the block a few times and when I came back there was a huge pan of ice with 6 or 7 quarts of beer floating in it plus 2 bottles of good Italian wine. Mama came up 3 or 4 hours later and had a beer.

"You goin' to dinner at my daughter's?"

"You've bought my soul, Mama. Name the night."

She fooled me. She named the night.

The rest of that night I drank the stuff and wound up the old Victrola and watched the empty felt-covered wheel run at different speeds, and I put my head down to the little wooden slits in the belly of the machine and listened to the humming sound.