trouble in the ghetto

today my car broke down in the ghetto on the
way to the racetrack.
I had it towed into a Chevron gas station
at Arlington and Jefferson
run by tired Mexicans in a black district:
       minus tax”
I told the mechanic that the wire from the
gas pedal to the carburator had snapped.
he put the ’67 Volks up on the rack and
began working.
jive-ass young blacks, slim, on-stage,
vicious and humorous
drove in with ten year old cars and filled
up with premium at 77 cents a gallon.
I walked to the taco stand across the
street where a Mexican lad fixed me a
chili burrito and I went inside and
read the Herald-Examiner.

when I got back the mechanic said he
couldn’t do it with the wire he had
he needed to go to a Volk’s place.


I sat in a chair outside and waited.
then I saw this man with broken yellow teeth,
and his shirt hanging out.   he was smoking a
cigarette like he always did.
“hey!” I said.   I walked over to him.   he knew
me.   it had been 7 years but he knew me.
“you still there?” I asked.   “no, they fired
me.   how you making?”   “I gamble. fuck-off. lay
around.”   “you did that there.   I remember you.   you
took a lot of days off.”   “I didn’t like it.”   “nobody
liked it.”   “well, you knew when you went in you had
eats and a wall.”   “there was that.”
he pointed east down Jefferson:   “see that green
building?”   “yes.”   “that’s where I hang.   you can come
by there, lay up, drink coffee.   I’ll take your bets.
I don’t give a damn if it’s 40 grand, I pay up.”
“see that building, that white building?”
“I own that too.   I own this whole block.   what’s wrong with
your car?”
“the dental floss broke.”
“what you do?”
“I told you:   I gamble.   every day.   I get better.   you
need something?”
“like what?”
“a couple of bucks…”
shit, man…”
he reached down into his right front pocket just like he
used to do and he pulled out his roll of ones covered with
a couple of twenties and a couple of tens and a couple of
fives, just like he used to do.   “shit, man, I’m never
“you’re covered, ace,” I said, “you’ll
he walked off down Jefferson.
the mechanic finished and I paid and thanked him, arrived
at the track for the 4th. race and lost a twenty on Shelly
G., a sucker bet, not enough time to study board action or
the Form.   I always lose those.   then I hit on Rising Arc
at 4 to one in the 5th., Agree at 9/5 in the 6th., took the
7th. with Crew of Ocala at 3/2, got Reminiscing in the 8th.
at 9/5, then put 20 win on Afifa at 5/2 in the 9th. figuring
the favorite, Delinda Sue would never catch me. I left the
track and got the race re-run over the radio at Beverly and
Wilton.   Afifa won, drawing out by 2.   $186 profit for the
tomorrow I’ll take a day off.   dirty dishes everywhere.
maybe I’ll take a tour of the Universal Studios.   what
the hell’s a man without culture?   dirt under my finger-
nails and I haven’t washed my hair in two weeks.

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