A Dollar for Carl Larsen

dedicated to Carl Larsen
owed to Carl Larsen
paid to Carl Larsen

…….it was a lazy day and a lousy day to work, and it seemed that even the spiders hadn’t thrown out their webs. And when i got to the railroad yards I found out that Henderson was the new foreman.

The old Mexican, Al or Abe or somebody had retired or died or gone insane. the boys were matching pennies down by the barn when Henderson called me over.

“Gaines,” he said, “Gaines, I understand you’re somewhat of a playboy. Well, that’s all right. I don’t mind a little horse-play now and then, but we’ll get our work done first and then we’ll play.”

“Just like recess at school, eh coach?”

Henderson put his face real close to mine. I put mine real close to his.

“Or haven’t you been to school, Hendy?”

I could have look right down into his red mouth and his frog jaws as he spoke: “I can tie the can to you, boy.”

“Proving what?” I asked.

“Proving you are out of position.”

Which was a pretty good answer, and a pretty good criticism: I was always out of position.

I took a nickle out of my pocket and flipped it to the cement where the boys were lagging to the line. They stood back stunned, looking from the nickle to me. I turned around and walked the hell out of there.


I layed up in my room and studied the Racing Form for a couple of hours and knocked off half a bottle of left-over wine. Then I got into my ’39 Ford and headed for the track…

I wrote the morning line down on my program and walked over to the bar where I noticed a big blonde about 35, and alone– well, about as alone as a big babe like that can get in amongst 8,000 men. She was trying her damndest to burst and pop out of her clothes, and you stood there watching her, wondering which part would pop out first. It was sheer madness, and everytime she moved you could feel electricity running up the steel girders. And perched on top of all this madness was a face that really had some type of royalty in it. I mean, there was a kind of stateliness, like she’d lived beyond it all. I mean, there were some women who could simply demand fools out of men without making any type of statement, or movement, or demand– they could simply stand there and the men would simply feel like damned fools and that was all there was to it. This was one of those women.

I looked up from my drink as if it didn’t matter and as if she were anybody else, and as if I were a pretty jaded type (which, to tell the truth, I was) and said, “How you been doin’?… with the ponies, I meant”

“All right,” she said.

I’d expected something else. I don’t know what. but the “all right” sounded good, though.

I was about half-gone on the wine and felt I owned the world, including the blonde.

“I used to be a jockey,” I told her.

“You’re pretty big for a jock.”

“210, solid muscle,” I said.

“And belling,” she said, looking right above my belt.

We both kinda laughed and I moved closer.

“You want the winner of the first race? To kinda start you off right?”

“Sure,” she said, “sure,” and I just felt that big hip-flank touch the upper side of my leg a moment and I felt on fire.

I smelled perfume, and imagined waterfalls and forests and throwing scraps to fine dogs, and furniture soft as clouds and never awakening to an alarm clock.

I drained my drink. “Try 6,” I said. “Number six: Cat’shead.”


Just then somebody tapped me, I should say–rapped me on the back of one of my shoulder blades.

Boy,” this voice said, “get lost!”

I stared down into my drink waiting for her to send this strange away.

“I said,” the voice got a little louder, “run along and play with your marbles.”

As I stared down into my drink I realized it was empty.

“I don’t like to play marbles,” I told the voice.

I motioned to the bartender. “Two more–for the lady and myself.”

I felt it in my back then: the sure, superior nudge of a peerless and no doubt highly efficient automatic.

“Learn,” said the voice, “learn to like to play marbles!”

“I’m going right away,” I said. “I brought my agate. I hear there’s a big game under the grandstand.”

I turned and caught a look at him as he slid into my seat, and I’d always thought I was the meanest-looking son of a bitch in the world.

“Tommy,” I heard her tell him, “I want you to play a hundred on the nose for me.”

“Sure. On who?”

“Number six.”

“Number SIX??”

“Yes: 6.”

“But that stuff is 10 to 1!”

“Play it.”

“O.K., baby, o.k. but…”

“Play it.”

“Can I finish my drink?”


I walked over to the two dollar win window.

“Number 6,” I said, “once.”

It was my last two dollars…

6 paid $23.40.

I watched my horse go down into the Winner’s Circle like I do all my winners, and I felt as proud of him as if I had ridden him or raised him. I felt like cheering and telling everybody he was the greatest horse that had ever lived, and I felt like reaching out and grabbing him around the beck, even though I was 2 or 3 hundred feet away.

But I lit a cigarette and pretended I was bored…

Then I headed back to the bar, kind of to see how she took it, intending to stay pretty far away. But they weren’t there.

I ordered a double backed by a beer, drunk both, ordered up again and drunk at leisure, studying the next race. When the 5 minute warning blew, they still hadn’t shown and I went off to place my bet.

I blew it. I blew them all. They never showed. At the end of the last race I had 35 cents, a 1938 Ford, about two gallons of gas and one night’s rent left.

I went into the Man’s room and stared at my face in disgust. I looked like I knew something, but it was a lie, I was a fake and there’s nothing worse int he world than when a man suddenly realizes and admits to himself that he’s phoney, after spending all that up to then trying to convince himself that he wasn’t. I noticed all the sinks and pipes and bowls and I felt like them, worse than them: I’d rather be them.

I swung out the door feeling like a hare or a tortoise or something, or somebody needing a good bath, and then I felt her swinging against me like the good part of myself suddenly coming back with a rush. I noticed how green her dress was, and I didn’t care what happened: seeing her again had made it ok.

“Where’ve you been?” she said hurriedly. “I’ve been looking all over for you!”

What the hell is this? I started to say, I’ve been looking–

“Here comes Tommy!” she halted me, and then I felt something in my hand and then she walked out, carefully, slowly to meet him. I jammed whatever it was into my pocket and walked out toward the parking lot. I got into my car, lit my next-to-last cigarette, leaned back and dropped my hand into my pocket.

I unfolded 5 one hundred dollar bills, one fifty, 2 tens and a five. “Your half,” the note said, “with thanks.” “Nicki.” And then I saw the phone number.

I sat there and watched all the cars leave, I sat there and watched the sun completely disappear; I sat there and watched a man change a flat tire, and then I drove out of there slowly., like an old man, letting it hit me, inch by inch, and scared to death I’d run somebody over or be unable to stop for a red light. Then I thought about the nickle I’d thrown away and I started to laugh like crazy. I laughed so hard I had to park the car. And when the guy who’d changed his flat came by I saw his white blot of a face staring and I had to begin all over again. I even honked my horn and hollered at him.

Poor devil: he had no soul.

Like me and one or two others. I thought about Carl Larsen down at the beach rubbing the sand from between his toes and drinking stale beer with Curtis Zahn and J.B. May. I thought about the dollar I owed Larsen. I thought maybe I’d better pay it. He might tell J.B.

Charles Bukowski
Original manuscript
This poem appeared in the following books: