January 22, 2009

Nonrequired Reading: 009: Ham On Rye

"Hey," I said.

My father turned and looked at me.

"Give me a couple more," I told him, "if it makes you feel any better."

"Don't you dare talk to me that way!" he said.

I looked at him. I saw folds of flesh under his chin and around his neck. I saw sad wrinkles and crevices. His face was tired pink putty. He was in his undershirt, and his belly sagged, wrinkling his undershirt. The eyes were no longer fierce. His eyes looked away and couldn't meet mine. Something had happened. The bath towels knew it, the shower curtain knew it, the mirror knew it, the bathtub and the toilet knew it. My father turned and walked out the door. He knew it. It was my last beating.

Charles Bukowski, Ham On Rye, 121


I don't often think about quotes. I usually find them exhausting and question their context. But there is one quote, one phrase that I have kept coming back to over the years. It goes something like this: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."

For me, this mantra is all about the careful consideration of what we don't know about people - about their past, their trials, their sins - the kind of circumstances and experiences that make us who we are today..that lead to the decisions we make, good or bad.

I have heard about the kind of man Charles Bukowski was. A drunk. A womanizer. A flat out mess of a human being. After reading Ham On Rye, the novel/memoir written by Bukowski, I understand why.

The selected reading is a more obvious example of the quote, but I could probably share other, less obvious examples, from nearly every month of his life. Henry Chinaski, Bukowski's alter ego, will always live in my memory. Right alongside Holden Caulfield and Oskar Schell.


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