Thirty Days of Stories: Day Five

Title: The Fuck Machine

Author: Charles Bukowski

Appears in: The Most Beautiful Woman in Town [1983]

Premise: A pair of drunks have sex with the titular ‘fuck machine,’ built by a German scientist living in the apartments above their local bar.

Thoughts: Ohhhh, Bukowski.  Working in a bookstore as long as I have, I can always tell when a certain style of customer slows their pace in front of the poetry section, they’re looking for Buk.  It’s pretty obvious. And it’s understandable, in its way: when I first read him in undergrad, I was deliriously shocked and amazed by the filth, promptly buying as many of his books as I could find.  Then you start to realize, he’s really writing about the same thing over and over [can anyone pull from memory the details of any of his novels?  I only read Women and I can’t remember a single fact about it]. Only the most salacious parts of his short stories have stuck with me. I remember when I first got online with any sort of regularity, I started digging for audio recordings of authors I liked, and was horrified when I listened to Bukowski reading. I expected to hear a haggard, sandpapery voice like Tom Waits drinking chlorine. Instead, I got Snagglepuss.

DO NOT WANT.

Anyway. The Buk’s the perfect candidate for this experiment, so I dug into the books I’d kept of his and tried to find the most offensive title I could.  I think I succeeded.

The thing about Bukowski is he always reads like he just wrote down the first thing that came into his head.  I know if he was any sort of writer he must have considered the things I’ve already noted in the previous four stories, but that never comes across.  The narrator [presumably his literary alter-ego Hank Chinanski, but never named in the story], Indian Mike, Petey the Owl who tries to pay the bar patrons to blow them, nobody gets any sort of description, or defining character trait [well, I guess Petey does, but it’s pretty one note].

Thing is, buried within all the drinking and filth and robot fucking, Bukowski throws out the seeds of ideas larger and better than the story he’s telling.  As the narrator and Indian Mike wait for Von Brashlitz to ready the machine, he mentions how when he was still in Germany, after it became clear the Axis would lose, the real battle became over how many German scientists each conquering nation could claim: Russia or America.  Whoever had the most, they’d be the ones to reach the moon first, they would reap the benefits of technology, etc.

It’s a throwaway sentence, immediately followed by the narrator informing him that “I’m still not going to stick my dick, my poor little dick into that hunk of sheetmetal or whatever it is!”

ASIDE: I’m finishing this entry at work, and was talking about the story with one of the young ladies I work with.
“It’s called ‘The Fuck Machine,’ guess what it’s about,” I said.
“A…fuck machine?” she said. “Like, a tube of some sort?”
“No, no. A fully functional robot named Tanya built by a German scientist after the war.”
“Can women use it, too?”
“Of course not.  Bukowski never cared about women.”

It was an interesting moment, because it honestly hadn’t occured to me how fully Bukowski fails any woman so unfortunate to read him. A topic for a million grad papers. End aside.

But, there’s something to be said for Buk’s discipline.  The guy really had no internal filter. Whatever idea he had, he made it into a story or a poem. Whatever awful thing happened to him, whatever depravity he engaged in, he used it as fuel for art, and that’s certainly preferable to the quadriplegia my creative self has been suffering from for three years.

Lesson: Sometimes, the act of finishing is worth more than the strength of the premise; don’t disqualify an idea without giving it a dry run first.

Favourite line: “20 bucks to fuck a machine?”
“he’s outdone whatever Created us. you’ll see.”
“Petey the Owl will blow me for a buck.”
“Petey the Owl is o.k. but he ain’t no invention that beats the gods.” 

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