Authors: Dan Fante
With an Introduction by
This book is dedicated to my older brother,
Nicholas Joseph Fante, 1942-1997.
Dead from Alcoholism. Crushed like a dog in the street.
Special thanks to Judy Berlinski for her help in
editing my work.
he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.
Dan Fante ratchets up the acceptable pain level of the personal hell/puke-in-the-kitchen-sink school of letters to painfully brilliant new heights. There are no good guys or bad guys in the squalid corners and soul-destroying office spaces of Fante’s Southern California—the struggle between good and evil goes on entirely inside his hero Bruno Dante’s head. The doomed son of a doomed father, Bruno careens perilously through life, always on the verge of that last irredeemable fuck-up. It’s breathtaking writing and deliciously excruciating, like watching a crack-smoking circus knife-thrower—you just KNOW something awful will happen.
Once you read Fante, Jim Thompson will read like pure optimism. A basically decent guy, Bruno grapples with the Beast inside himself with such unflinching honesty, casually copping to every possible unlovely urge, that the wall between salvation and destruction seems filament thin. Everyone is both predator and prey in Fante’s sunlit underbelly, part of a voracious food chain in which everyone gets devoured. Life is a hideous carnival fairway where love, loyalty, charity and kindness are the flip sides of darker impulses: liabilities to be exploited by the canny and the uncaring.
Burroughs wrote about
The Algebra of Need,
but Fante makes you smell it. The sweat-soaked hair plastered to a crack-whore’s neck becomes strangely beautiful, the idea of vodka before breakfast seems—suddenly—perfectly reasonable, a drone’s job in telemarketing hell becomes triumph…until the whip comes down and everything turns to shit.
Somebody somewhere wrote a passage in which a character describes the end of a long drinking jag: ‘I went to brush something off my cheek and it was the floor.’ Reading Fante reminds me of that sudden moment of realization, that ‘How did I get here?’ feeling of finding oneself unexpectedly at the very brink, peering straight down into hell.
This is dark, dark stuff—and presumably, very close to the bone. Fante, too, is the son of a doomed father and it’s hard not to read
as memoir. The author sifts through entrails too incisively to avoid the supposition that some of those guts are his own.
Angry, acerbic, self-pitying and often painfully funny, Bruno’s account of his own addiction and obsession, his heartbreaking need to redeem himself through writing even a magazine story in a men’s magazine is a caustic enema which boils straight through to the brain. Read it at your peril.
I HADN’T WRITTEN a word or a story or anything in months. And I hated my job. But that didn’t matter now. Nothing mattered because of the heat. It took an hour for me to finally make myself get up, put on a shirt, and get ready for work. I’d been avoiding it since Thursday.
Outside on the burning, suffocating street, I yanked a new parking ticket out from under the windshield wiper of my 11-year-old Chrysler, then tore it into as many small pieces as possible, flinging it at the sky. I hated being back in L.A. I hated that I hadn’t had a drink in months. I hated that I was losing my hair. I hated my job. I hated filtered cigarettes and rap music and Tom Cruise’s big, stupid white teeth. And I hated the fucking Parking Violations Bureau.
Opening the car door to my Chrysler was a mistake. The contained force of what had built up in an automobile after several days in the sun in a heat wave with the windows up, hit me. Exploding stagnation, decaying vinyl, strangled dust. A clear warning to go back to my room.
I was running late, so I threw my canvassing book and my coupon demo packets across to the passenger side of the car, sucked in a gulp of the rancid oxygen, then stuck the key in the ignition.
I repeated the procedure. Nothing.
I switched the ignition back all the way to the left to see if
the electrical stuff, the gauges and flashers and the other shit, were working. Still nothing.
Sweat was beginning to collect on my forehead and beneath my shirt.
I tried the key again a new way: wiggled it, jiggled it sort-of, hoping that the motor might catch. It had worked before—another time on some other car before my life had turned on me. But not now. Again nothing.
A man walked by.
He appeared to be on his way to his own car. Dressed for the heat wave. Carrying a briefcase and wearing a pair of neatly-pressed tan slacks and a floral, green-mostly, silky, Hawaiian, sports shirt. L.A. casual. I recognized this person as a home owner from down my block, with the wife, the dog, the table saw in the garage. We had seen each other on the street a few times but had never spoken.
As he came closer, his eyes met mine for an instant, then darted away. I knew why. He recognized me. I was one of the come-and-go residents of the sober-living apartment house on the corner. A shitsucking loser. I would live to be six hundred million years old and still never earn the word ‘hello’ from this citizen prick or his fat-butted wife who spent her afternoons digging in the garden.
Passing my car’s side window, he slowed down, bending at the waist to steal a glance inside. Maybe, I thought, maybe he’s wondering why another adult, dressed for work in a sports jacket, slacks and tie, would be sitting behind the wheel of his car in the direct sunlight on the hottest day of the year with the windows up and his motor not running, sweating, suffocating, wiggling his ignition key back and forth like a brain-damaged retard fuck.
I looked at my watch. It was 10.15 a.m. I’d never make the sales meeting.
Unable to think of anything else to do, I lit a cigarette. It was the last cigarette in my pack of Lucky’s. I took a hit and watched the inside of the Chrysler fill with drifting rivers of smoke. I hated everything. God. Everything.
‘This is Albert Berlinski. How may I help you?’
‘Mister Berlinski, it’s Bruno Dante.’
‘Dante! What’s up? Where’ve you been? You missed both of the demos we had scheduled for you on Friday night!’
‘I’ve had car problems with my Chrysler again, Mister Berlinski.’
‘Myrna had to “no-show” those presentations—call your clients, re-schedule everything herself. You never phoned in.’
For the last few days I had been reading a David Martin novel and staying in the coolness of my room because of my revulsion for door to door canvassing in the miserable heat and smog of my Glendale sales territory. ‘I was waiting for my mechanic to finish another car before he could start work on mine,’ I said. ‘An engine job.’
‘This is Monday, Dante. You’ve had three days to fix your vehicle. What time will you be in?’
‘The goddamn thing wouldn’t start again this morning.’
‘I don’t know. Personally, I’m at a loss. Nonplussed. Befuddled.’
‘Of course this means you won’t be attending the sales meeting again. I’ll have to tell Mister Fong.’
‘I promise you I’ll get the car squared away and be in by this afternoon. You have my word.’
Berlinski paused—the death pause—I recognized it immediately. It comes just before the words that tell you you’re bumped. ‘You know Dante,’ he said, ‘we’re prolonging
the inevitable here. Bring in your units and I’ll cut you a final check.’
‘Mister Berlinski, I just said that I’d be there this afternoon!’
‘We totaled out the sales numbers this morning. Last month you were number twelve. Down from number ten.’
‘I can count, Berlinski. I’m aware of that.’
‘In May you were also number ten. You’ve been number ten twice and number twelve once. You also no-showed at the Track Selling Seminar last Saturday. Mister Fong himself brought that up to me during our strategy review. Not being there was a mistake.’
‘I know I missed the seminar. I felt like rat shit missing the seminar. That seminar course was a vital component in my growth as an ambitious sales professional. I had a sincere desire to be there, believe me. It’s my goddamn car.’
‘Fortunately for the company, as I just said, the issue is now resolved.’
‘Mister Berlinski, never buy a Chrysler product. They’re hog excrement. No wonder the Japs and other alien conglomerates are taking over America. My car is further evidence of the demise of the fucking U.S. economy and the American dream. May I please talk to Fong personally on this?’
‘It’s my decision, not
Fong’s. You’re terminated. As of today. Bring in your units and your demo kit and the coupon books. I’ll have Myrna total up what we owe you.’
‘I’m being kicked while I’m down. I fucking-goddamn strongly suggest that you reconsider your decision.’
‘How many units do you have in your trunk?’
‘I’ve got the two Kirbys, a Hoover upright and the five hand-held Dirt Devils that were distributed to my team after the show. Eight pieces all together. What about another shot here, Mister Berlinski?’
‘Bring the units in. I’ll voucher them myself.’
‘That’s it? I’m fired?’
‘Well…okay, Mister Berlinski. But before you hang up, I would like to share something with you. Can I do that? On a man-to-man level? May I be permitted thirty fucking seconds of your valuable, priceless, sales-executive time?’
‘I’m busy, Dante. I’m in the middle of figuring the totals for all three teams. We’ll talk when you get here.’
‘You and I have spoken a lot on the phone, Mister Berlinski. Sometimes two or three times a day. Sometimes more if I got lost on my way to a demo and had to stop at a pay phone for directions. Okay? Correct or uncorrect?’
‘Bring the units in, Dante. I’ll make sure you get your check.’
‘I just wanted to say, Mister Berlinski, that almost every time after we’ve talked, after I’ve hung up, I’d get back in my car and I’d feel like I just finished interacting with a sour-faced sub-human cocksucker with the same empathy and interpersonal dexterity as one of the assholes behind the glass at the DMV Information Window. I regard you as a complete putz, Berlinski. I always have.’
‘No demo units, no check.’
I looked through my pockets. I had four dollars. Enough for a newspaper, a new pack of Lucky Strikes, and a container of coffee at the 7—11. I went back upstairs to my dorm room, took off my jacket and necktie and slacks, and threw them at the wall.
Yesterday’s shirt and my unwashed jeans fit my body like old friends.
On the floor in my closet on top of my father’s hand-me-down Smith-Corona portable typewriter I found my Yankees
cap with the big ‘NY’ on the front. I slipped the hat on as protection against the heat. Jonathan Dante, my father, had been dead for eleven months. He died broke, broken hearted, collecting a stinking Writer’s Guild Pension and seven hundred and sixty-two dollars a month in Social Security. A forgotten screenwriter. I had returned here to L.A. from New York City to watch him die, to inherit this typewriter. Three months ago, my cousin Willie checked out too. Booze and an overdose. Crazy, fat Willie. Thirty-five years old. Two Dante funerals in less than a year.
Next to the typewriter, on the floor in the typing-paper box, was the only thing I had written and not thrown out since returning to Los Angeles: a short story called ‘Compatibility’. Twenty-five pages. I picked the story up and looked at the wrinkled title page, then back down at the typewriter’s bared black keys. They stared up at me like the eyes of frightened boat people. Hurling the pages back into the darkness, I slammed the closet door.
On the street, on my way to the store, I had an insight, a flash that penetrated my understanding. My real difficulty—my problem—wasn’t my depressions or my drinking or my job failures or even the unarticulated fear that I was a fucking insane whack. My problem was people. And they were located everywhere.