From the Archives: Camus (1983)

Given the immutable fact that the History of Man suggests only certain death for the individual, what else could Larry do but go face the young skirts of Modern Lit. 101?
Camus
Courtesy High Times

By Charles Bukowski

Larry awakened, got out of the twisted sheets, walked to the window which overlooked the neighborhood to the east and he saw the garage roofs and the trees with their barren branches. His hangover was about standard and he walked to the bathroom to piss, did that, turned to the basin to wash his hands, then he splashed water on his face, and then he did it: He looked at the face in the mirror, found it less than enchanting… He let the bathwater run, thinking, the problem with the History of Man is that it doesn’t lead anywhere except toward certain death for the individual, and that was drab and ugly, garbage-disposal stuff…

His cat, Hog, walked in. Hog just stared at him, he wanted his cat food. That animal, thought Larry, is just a walking belly, and if I ever want to fly back East for a couple of weeks I’ve either got to board the son of a bitch or shoot him. Maybe if I ever want to fly back East I ought to shoot myself—but I don’t want to shoot myself: too many men have been shot, I want something more individual. Like pills? No, pills were too blasé, even when they induced death.

Larry checked his face in the glass again: Shave? No. Why?…

Larry made it to his 11 A.M. class.

There they were: those young girls, the promise that never lasted, those young girls, those great momentary decorations, so bright, so fresh. He liked them. The boys were almost like the girls. As the decades rolled on, the boys and the girls were becoming almost one. The boys had a grace that the boys of his age never had; they also had more of a seeming kindness. One thing they seemed to lack was courage, but maybe their courage was more sublime, hidden. The Stockpile Generations had breeded a strange gang, and Larry had decided long ago that judgments against the unformed might only be protective shields against his own lackings.

Larry looked at them from behind his desk. That desk, the symbol of power.

“Well, shit,” he said.

Some of them laughed.

“I’ve already shit,” some bright guy said.

“Did you wipe?” Larry asked.

“Probably not enough,” the bright guy responded.

”Which is the answer to almost everything,” Larry suggested.

“Hey,” said a fat boy in a yellow jump suit from one of the rear seats, “all this talk about shit… I thought this was a course in Modern Lit…. Is this what they pay you for?”

“Most men are terribly incompetent in their professions. I might be one of those. I’m not quite sure. One thing I am quite sure of is that I can kick your ass. This isn’t really important but somehow it soothes me—”

The kid in the yellow jump suit leaped up: “I’ll call you!”

“Okay,” said Larry, “let’s go.”

The class filed outside. They waited for Larry and the boy, they formed a circle under the oak tree near the library. The warriors arrived. Larry took off his coat, threw it to the ground. The fat boy in the jump suit inhaled a vast mass of air and puffed himself up. He looked like several thousand frogs. Then he charged.

Larry jabbed him coming in, then dug a right into his gut. The fat boy let out a little fart, backed off.

Then the fat boy began circling. Larry began circling.

They both circled. They circled and circled.

“Come on!” somebody in the crowd hollered. “Let’s get it on!”

Larry waved the fat boy in: “Come on, I’ll cut you to pieces!”

“You old fuck,” said the fat boy. “I’ll kick your dead ass into the grave!”

They kept circling. Some of the students returned to the classroom for their belongings. Others left for elsewhere.

Then Larry and the boy were alone, circling.

The fat boy said, “I’m gonna get my dad to have you removed from campus—”

“We aren’t going to fight,” said Larry. “We are afraid of each other—”

Larry turned and walked back toward the classroom. When he got there about half the class was there.

Then the fat boy walked in and took his seat in the rear. Larry looked at him: “You’re going to have all hell getting an A out of me.”

“I know,” he answered. “That takes a tight young pussy.”

“And more than once,” Larry added.

Larry surveyed what was left of the class:

“Now, anybody else who wants the shit kicked out of them, please stand up!”

One of the boys stood up. Then another. Soon they were all standing. Then one of the girls stood up. Then another. Soon everybody was standing.

“All right,” intoned Larry, “sit down. I’m going to flunk this whole fucking class.”

They sat down.

“Power destroys,” Larry told them, “and the lack of it creates a world of misfits. But I’ll let you off the hook—I won’t flunk you if one of you can name me a fairly good writer, deceased, his name spelled backwards is ‘s-u-m-a-C’.”

“Smack,” said some wise guy.

“No, that’s ‘Kearns,’ the great Hungarian horse thief of the nineteenth century. You’ve all just flunked. What do you think about that?”

“What do you think about Capote?” somebody asked.

“I never think about him.”

“Mailer?”

“Just his wives.”

“God?”

“I especially don’t think about God.”

“If you especially don’t,” said somebody, “that means that you especially do.”

“You mean,” asked Larry, “that if I don’t fuck it means that I do?”

Then the bell rang, tolling for everybody.

That seemed more like 20 minutes, Larry thought; nothing like a bit of brisk physical exercise to pass the time.

“When I see you next Wednesday, if I do,” Larry addressed the departing, “I’ll expect an essay from each of you on ‘Who Wrote Our National Anthem, and Why?”

They filed out, grumbling profanities like what the fuck has this got to do with Modern Lit. I?

They filed out except for one young girl who closed in on Larry’s desk.

She looked very fine in the noon light—it drove through her thin tight dress. He sat there. He felt her flank rubbing up against his left shoulder.

“I like you, Jansen,” she said, using his last name. “I don’t know how to say this, it might sound awkward—”

“Just press your legs together tightly and try.”

“Well, I understand why your class is the most popular on campus. It’s energetic, descriptive, it’s entertaining, it’s got balls, it’s got soul—”

“Soul with balls, that’s what we need. Thank you—”

“Denise.”

“Thank you, Denise.”

She pressed her flank against him more heavily: “This is easier to say: If you ever want some of that tight young pussy, I’m yours.”

“You don’t mean that?” he looked up at her.

“Sure, for that A, I mean it.”

Larry kept looking at her. “Jesus Christ, do you think I can be bought that easily?”

“Yes,” she smiled. “All you have to do is to put your phone number on that note pad there before you, rip it off and give it to me. I’ll arrange everything.”

Larry picked up his pen and wrote his number down, slid it toward her flank. Her hand came down, picked up the paper, folded it, and then she was gone.

Larry stood up, put his coat on. He only had a 2 P.M. class and the day was over.

One thing he knew, though, he was going to flunk that fat son of a bitch in the yellow jump suit… And wasn’t that something? Arthur Koestier and his wife in a double suicide?

He walked out of the class and was soon upon the campus green. Time for a quiet lunch at the Blue Moon and a couple of drinks. It was a mile or so from the university but well worth the drive. A damn good place to unwind…

© Copyright 1983 by Charles Bukowski

High Times Magazine, September 1983

Read the full issue here.

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