Factotum

I remembered how my father used to come home each night and talk about his job to my mother. The job talk began when he entered the door, continued over the dinner table, and ended in the bedroom where my father would scream “Lights Out!” at 8 p.m., so he could get his rest and his full strength for the job the next day. There was no other subject except the job.


I worked with a little fat man with an unhealthy looking paunch. He had an old-fashioned pocket watch on a gold chain and he wore a vest, a green sunshade, had thick lips and a meaty dark look to his face. The lines in his face had no interest or character; his face looked as if it had been folded several times and then smoothed out, like a piece of cardboard. He wore square shoes and chewed tobacco, squirting the juice into a spitoon at his feet.


Suddenly her eyes narrowed. I was sitting on the edge of the bed. She leapt on me before I could move. Her open mouth was pressed on mine. It tasted of spit and onions and stale wine and (I imagined) the sperm of four hundred men.


She gripped my balls mercilessly


If I come, I thought desperately, I’ll never forgive myself.


It was the first time I had been alone for five days. I was a man who thrived on solitude; without it I was like another man without food or water. Each day without solitude weakened me. I took no pride in my solitude; but I was dependent on it.


He jumped up on the dusty seats, began walking along ripping out old posters with his can opener. So that’s how those things get up there, I thought. People put them there.


On such jobs men become tired. They experience a weariness beyond fatigue. They say mad, brilliant things. Out of my head, I cussed and talked and cracked jokes and sang. Hell boils with laughter.


As I sat there one girl got up and left with a man. She was back in five minutes. “Helen! Helen! How do you do it?” She laughed. Another jumped up to try her. “That must be good. I gotta have some!” They left together. Helen was back in five minutes. “She must have a suction pump for a pussy!” “I gotta try me some of that,” said an old guy down at the end of the bar. “I haven’t had a hard-on since Teddy Roosevelt took his last hill.” It took Helen ten minutes with that one.


The landlady, Mrs. Downing, knocked. She was large and pleasant. I imagined that her husband was dead and that she was religious. She carried a large bowl of beef broth, holding it high in the air. I could see the steam rising. I took the bowl. We exchanged pleasantries. Yes, her husband was dead. She was very religious.


“Have you ever been in love?” “Love is for real people.”


That scene in the office stayed with me. Those cigars, the fine clothes. I thought of good steaks, long rides up winding driveways that led to beautiful homes. Ease. Trips to Europe. Fine women. Were they that much more clever than I? The only difference was money, and the desire to accumulate it. I’d do it too! I’d save my pennies. I’d get an idea, I’d spring a loan. I’d hire and fire. I’d keep whiskey in my desk drawer. I’d have a wife with size 40 breasts and an ass that would make the paperboy on the corner come in his pants when he saw it wobble. I’d cheat on her and she’d know it and keep silent in order to live in my house with my wealth. I’d fire men just to see the look of dismay on their faces. I’d fire women who didn’t deserve to be fired.


That was all a man needed: hope. It was lack of hope that discouraged a man.


there are guys who fuck you and then chop you up into little pieces. They find part of your asshole stuffed up a drainpipe in Playa Del Rey and your left tit in a trashcan down at Oceanside…” “I stopped doing that years ago. Lift your skirt higher.”


“Baby,” I said, “I’m a genius but nobody knows it but me.” She looked down at me. “Get up off the floor you damn fool and get me a drink.”


“How do you like the curtains?” he asked me. “The girls made these curtains for me. The girls have a lot of talent.” I looked at the curtains. They were sickening. Huge red strawberries all over them, surrounded by dripping stems. “I like the curtains,” I told him.


“The girls were up here the other night,” he said, “and then somebody hollered ‘RAID!’ You should have seen them running, some of them naked, some of them in panties and bras, they all ran out and hid in the garage. It was funny as hell. I sat up here and they came drifting back, one by one, from the garage. It was sure funny!” “Who hollered ‘RAID’?” I asked. “I did,” he said.


I kissed her. Her tongue answered. Women, I thought, women are magic. What marvelous beings they are!


I reached up under her dress and pulled at the panties. It was a long way down. “What the hell are you doing?” she whispered. “I’m pulling your panties down.” “What for?” “I’m going to fuck you.” “I just want to get warm.” “I’m going to fuck you.” “Laura is my friend. I’m Wilbur’s woman.” “I’m going to fuck you.” “What are you doing?” “I’m trying to get it in.” “No!” “God damn it, help me.” “Get it in yourself.” “Help me.” “Get it in by yourself. Laura’s my friend.” “What’s that got to do with it?” “What?” “Forget it.” “Listen, I’m not ready yet.” “Here’s my finger.” “Ow, easy. Show a lady some respect.” “All right, all right. Is that better?” “That’s better. Higher. There. There! That’s it…”


A man with a hangover should never lay flat on his back looking up at the roof of a warehouse.


She had on layers and layers of dark red lipstick and while she talked she stood as close as possible, looking into my eyes and giggling, brushing parts of her body against me. Carmen was so aggressive that she was frightening, you wanted to run away from the pressure.


Like most women, she wanted what she couldn’t have any longer and Jan was draining all my semen and then some.


The tenants never complained about our fights but they didn’t like our singing:


“You married, Manny?” “No way.” “Women?” “Sometimes. But it never lasts.” “What’s the problem?” “A woman is a full-time job. You have to choose your profession.” “I suppose there is an emotional drain.” “Physical too. They want to fuck night and day.” “Get one you like to fuck.” “Yes, but if you drink or gamble they think it’s a put-down of their love.” “Get one who likes to drink, gamble and fuck.” “Who wants a woman like that?”


The arguments were always the same. I understood it too well now—that great lovers were always men of leisure. I fucked better as a bum than as a puncher of timeclocks


Most of the evenings fell into a pattern. She’d argue, grab her purse and be gone out the door. It was effective; we had lived and loved together for too many days. I had to feel it and feel it I did. But I always let her go as I sat helpless in my chair and drank my whiskey and tuned in the radio to a bit of classical music. I knew she was out there, and I knew there would be somebody else. Yet I had to let it happen, I had to let events take their own course.


Most of these charges did not involve actually serving any time in jail—so long as the fines were paid. But it was a huge continual expense.


We ordered drinks from a man who looked like a polar bear.


I walked over and sat down on the hard-backed benches with the other passengers. We all sat there and looked at each other and didn’t look at each other. We chewed gum, drank coffee, went into restrooms, urinated, slept. We sat on the hard benches and smoked cigarettes we didn’t want to smoke.


My name was called. The clerk had my card in front of him, the one I had filled out when entering. I had elaborated on my work experience in a creative way. Pros do that: you leave out the previous low-grade jobs and describe the better ones fully, also leaving out any mention of those blank stretches when you were alcoholic for six months and shacked with some woman just released from a madhouse or a bad marriage. Of course, since all my previous jobs were low-grade I left out the lower low-grade.


wasn’t very good. My idea was to wander about doing nothing, always avoiding the boss, and avoiding the stoolies who might report to the boss. I wasn’t all that clever. It was more instinct than anything else. I always started a job with the feeling that I’d soon quit or be fired, and this gave me a relaxed manner that was mistaken for intelligence or some secret power.


walked up to a black man, quite small—almost tiny, who had a more pleasant face than most. He was doing some close work with a needle. I had a half pint in my pocket. “You got a rotten job there. Care for a drink?” “Sure,” he said. He took a good hit. Then handed the bottle back. He offered me a cigarette. “You new in town?” “Yeah.” “Where you from?” “Los Angeles.” “Movie star?” “Yes, on vacation.” “You shouldn’t


walked up to a black man, quite small—almost tiny, who had a more pleasant face than most. He was doing some close work with a needle. I had a half pint in my pocket. “You got a rotten job there. Care for a drink?” “Sure,” he said. He took a good hit. Then handed the bottle back. He offered me a cigarette. “You new in town?” “Yeah.” “Where you from?” “Los Angeles.” “Movie star?” “Yes, on vacation.” “You shouldn’t


I walked up to a black man, quite small—almost tiny, who had a more pleasant face than most. He was doing some close work with a needle. I had a half pint in my pocket. “You got a rotten job there. Care for a drink?” “Sure,” he said. He took a good hit. Then handed the bottle back. He offered me a cigarette. “You new in town?” “Yeah.” “Where you from?” “Los Angeles.” “Movie star?” “Yes, on vacation.” “You shouldn’t be talking to the help.” “I know.” He


“You’ve got a rotten job there. Why do you do it?” “Shit, ain’t no other way.” “The Lord said there was.” “You believe in the Lord?” “No.” “What do you believe in?” “Nothing.” “We’re even.”


“There, around and around we go. The old merry-go-round.” “Did anybody ever tell you how funny you are?” “No.” “That’s understandable.”


The car was gone. First it had lost its reverse gear, which was a challenge I overcame by continually planning ahead as we drove.


Then I gave him a look straight out of “Casablanca.” “Got a smoke?”


“O.K. When do I start?” “You start now. And, absolutely no smoking. Not up here. If you have to smoke, you come on downstairs, O.K.?” “O.K.” Mr. Henley closed the door. I heard him go down the stairs. I opened the little window and looked out at the world. Then I sat down, relaxed, and smoked a cigarette.


Janeway Smithson had been on the job for twenty-five years and was dumb enough to be proud of


Janeway Smithson had been on the job for twenty-five years and was dumb enough to be proud of it.


So I was very taken with the new girl. Also I was still drinking heavily with Jan which befuddled the brain, gave it a strange airy feeling, made it take strange twists and turns, gave it courage. So the first day she came back with the orders I said, “Hey, let’s touch. I want to kiss you.”


She walked away. As she did I noticed she had a slight limp. It figured: the pain and the weight of centuries…


“We’re going to make it. You are the wisdom of centuries and I am me. We are meant for each other.”


“You’re no pro,” he said. “Try me sometime when I’m not hungover. I’ll run you right off the lot.” “O.K.,” he said, “come in some time sweet and clean and we’ll try it again. I decided right then to never come in sweet and clean.


know.” The men began to form a line but with much jostling and cursing. I didn’t get into line. I looked at all my fellow workers dutifully giving their names and addresses. These, I thought, are the men who dance beautifully at parties.


The dishwashers were hired at noon. I stepped out of the office. Forty bums stood there. “All right now, we need five good men! Five good ones! No winos, perverts, communists, or child-molestors!


“I hate it when he fucks me,” Jan had said. She was now probably saying the same thing about me to him.


“I hate it when he fucks me,” Jan had said. She was now probably saying the same thing about me to him.


“You look down in the mouth. You all right?” “Lost a woman.” “You’ll have others and lose them too.”