"Factotum," the novel by Charles Bukowski, describes the wanderings of aspiring writer Henry Chinaski across the United States during the World War II era. Categorized as "4-F," Chinaski doesn't serve in the military and instead wanders from city to city, from one odd job to another. Along the way Bukowski describes his run-ins with the police, his sexual adventures, and his drinking.
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August 14, 2006
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Excerpt from Factotum by Charles Bukowski
I arrived in New Orleans in the rain at 5 o'clock in the morning. I sat around in the bus station for a while but the people depressed me so I took my suitcase and went out in the rain and began walking. I didn't know where the rooming houses were, where the poor section was.
I had a cardboard suitcase that was falling apart. It had once been black but the black coating had peeled off and yellow cardboard was exposed. I had tried to solve that by putting black shoepolish over the exposed cardboard. As I walked along in the rain the shoepolish on the suitcase ran and unwittingly I rubbed black streaks on both legs of my pants as I switched the suitcase from hand to hand.
Well, it was a new town. Maybe I'd get lucky.
The rain stopped and the sun came out. I was in the black district. I walked along slowly.
"Hey, poor white trash!"
I put my suitcase down. A high yellow was sitting on the porch steps swinging her legs. She did look good.
"Hello, poor white trash!"
I didn't say anything. I just stood there looking at her.
"How'd you like a piece of ass, poor white trash?"
She laughed at me. She had her legs crossed high and she kicked her feet; she had nice legs, high heels, and she kicked her legs and laughed. I picked up my suitcase and began to approach her up the walk. As I did I noticed a side curtain on a window to my left move just a bit. I saw a black man's face. He looked like Jersey Joe Wolcott. I backed down the pathway to the sidewalk. Her laughter followed me down the street.
I was in a room on the second floor across from a bar. The bar was called The Gangplank Cafe. From my room I could see through the open bar doors and into the bar. There were some rough faces in that bar, some interesting faces. I stayed in my room at night and drank wine and looked at the faces in the bar while my money ran out. In the daytime I took long slow walks. I sat for hours staring at pigeons. I only ate one meal a day so my money would last longer. I found a dirty cafe with a dirty proprietor, but you got a big breakfast hotcakes, grits, sausage for very little.