Tales of Ordinary Madness is a Charles Bukowski short story collection published by poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s famous City Lights Books.
In 1972, City Lights published Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness, the first collection of Bukowski short stories to ever appear in print. In 1983, City Lights republished the book, but split into two separate collections: Tales of Ordinary Madness and The Most Beautiful Woman in Town & Other Stories, both of which remain in print today.
Best Quotes from the Charles Bukowski Book Tales of Ordinary Madness
“‘aren’t there any happy people?’
‘there are many people who pretend that they are happy.’
‘because they are ashamed and frightened and don’t have the guts to admit it.’”
“do you believe in the war? he asked me.
are you willing to go to war?
(I had some crazy idea of getting up out of a trench and walking forward into gunfire until I was killed.)
he didn’t say anything for a long time and kept writing on a piece of paper. Then he looked up.
by the way, next Wednesday night we’re having a party of doctors and artists and writers. I want to invite you. will you come?
all right, he said, you don’t have to go.
to the war.
I just looked at him.”
“Belford stopped outside a bar. We went in. I hated bars. I’d written too many stories and poems about bars. Belford thought he was doing me a favor.
You can get just so much out of bars and they won’t go down anymore. They come up. People in bars were like people in 5 and dime stores: they were killing time and everything else.”
“‘Would you suggest writing as a career?’ one of the young students asked me.
‘Are you trying to be funny?’ I asked him.
‘No, no, I’m serious. Would you advise writing as a career?’
‘Writing chooses you, you don’t choose it.’”
“Why was it that the buzz of human beings talking could be so senseless?”
“the racetrack is just another JOB, finally, and a hard one too. when I sense this and I am at my best, I simply leave the track; when I sense this and I am not at my best I go on making bad bets. another thing that one should realize is that it is HARD to win at anything; losing is easy. it’s grand to be The Great American Loser – anybody can do it; almost everybody does.”
“a man who can beat the horses can do almost anything he makes up his mind to do. he doesn’t belong at the racetrack. he should be on the Left Bank with his mother easel or in the East Village writing an avant-garde symphony. or making some woman happy. or living in a cave in the hills.”
“there’s a lot of murky downgrading of Hemingway now by critics who can’t write, and old ratbeard wrote some bad things from the middle to the end, but his head was becoming unscrewed, and even then he made the others look like schoolboys raising their hands for permission to make a little literary peepee. I know why Ernie went to the bull-fights – it was simple: it helped his writing. Ernie was a mechanic: he liked to fix things on paper. the bullfights were a drawing board of everything: Hannibal slapping elephant ass over mountain or some wino slugging his woman in a cheap hotel room. and when Hem got in to the typer he wrote standing up. he used it like a gun. a weapon. the bullfights were everything attached to anything. it was all in his head like a fat butter sun: he wrote it down.
With me, the racetrack tells me quickly where I am weak and where I am strong, and it tells me how I feel that day and it tells me how much we keep changing, changing ALL the time, and how little we know of this.”
“one day at a racetrack can teach you more than four years at any university. if I ever taught a class in creative writing, one of my prerequisites would be that each student must attend a racetrack once a week and place at least a 2 dollar win wager on each race. no show betting. people who bet to show REALLY want to stay at home but don’t know how.”
“I was working as a packer in a huge factory that turned out thousands of overhead lighting fixtures to blind the world, and knowing the libraries useless and the poets carefully complaining fakes, I did my studying at the bars and boxing matches.”
“outside were the parked cars, and the people walking around. none of them read poetry, talked poetry, wrote poetry. for once the masses looked very reasonable to me.”
“a woman got out of the car next to me and I watched as her skirt fell back and showed me flashes of white leg above the stockings. one of the world’s greatest works of Art: a woman with fine legs climbing out of her car.”
“the workers were hardly human. their eyes were glazed, stricken, insane. they laughed at anything and mocked each other continually. Their insides were stamped out. they had been murdered.
‘those are good men,’ said the cigar.
‘sure they are. half their salaries go to state and federal taxes; the other half goes to new cars, color t.v., stupid wives and 4 or 5 different types of insurance.’”
“leaving that building he got the same free and wonderful feeling he got every time he was fired or when he quit a job. leaving that building, leaving them in there – ‘you’ve found a home, Skorski. you never had it so good!’ no matter how shitty the job was, the workers always told him that.”
“women always got in the way. they could kill a man in 9,000 different ways.”
“show me a man who lives alone and has a perpetually dirty kitchen, and 5 times out of 9 I’ll show you an exceptional man.”
“show me a man who lives alone and has a perpetually clean kitchen, and 8 times out of 9 I’ll show you a man with detestable spiritual qualities.”
“you begin saving the world by saving one man at a time; everything else is grandiose romanticism or politics.”
“since the death of Thurber the New Yorker has been wandering like a dead bat among the ice-cave hangovers of the Chinese red guard. meaning, they’ve had it.”
“Out of all the millions of women, now and then you see one that brings it all out of you. There is something about the shape of them, the way they are hung together, a special dress that they are wearing, something about them that you cannot overcome.”
“if you don’t have much soul left and you know it, you still got soul.”
“then he’d sit down and look across the water and when you looked across the water, everything was hard to believe. say like there was a nation like China or the U.S. or someplace like Vietnam. or that he’d once been a child. no, come to think of it, that wasn’t so hard to believe; he’d had a hell of a childhood, he couldn’t forget that. and the manhood: all the jobs and all the women, and then no woman, and now no job. a bum at 60. finished. nothing. he had a dollar and 20 cents in cash. a week’s rent paid. the ocean…he thought back over the women. some of them had been good to him. others had simply been shrews, scratchers, a little crazy and terribly hard. rooms and beds and houses and Christmases and jobs and singing and hospitals, and dullness, dull days and nights and no meaning, no chance.”
“people who come by my place are a bit odd, but then almost everybody’s a bit odd; the world is shaking and trembling more than ever and its effects are obvious.”
“I tell him that the problem with revolutions is that they must begin from the INSIDE-out, not from the outside-IN. the first thing these people do in a riot is run and grab a color tv set. They want the same poison that made the enemy a half-wit.”
“‘I don’t have any politics. I’m an observer.’
‘it’s a good thing everybody isn’t an observer or we would never get anywhere.’
‘have we gotten somewhere?’
‘I don’t know.’”
“human history moves very slowly.”
“you can’t move too fast on the big boys or you’ll find yourself whistling Dixie through a cardboard toiletpaper holder at Forest Lawn. but things are changing. the young are thinking better than the old used to think and the old are dying. there’s still a way to do it without everybody getting murdered.”
“that’s ONE thing that’s wrong with intellectuals and writers – they don’t feel a hell of a lot except their own comfort or their own pain. which is normal but shitty.”
“a coward is a man who can foresee the future. a brave man is almost always without imagination.”
“the people come to me, they talk, the fill me: the future Rabbis, the revolutionaries with their rifles, the FBI, the whores, the poetesses, the young poets from Cal State, a professor from Loyola going to Michigan, a prof from the University of Cal at Berkeley, another who lives in Riverside, 3 or 4 boys on the road, plain bums with Bukowski books stashed in their brains…and for a while I thought that this gang would intrude upon and murder my fair and precious moments, but I’ve been lucky lucky for each man and each woman has brought me something and left me something, and I no longer must feel like Jeffers behind a stone wall, and I’ve been lucky in another way for what fame I have is largely hidden and quiet and I’ll hardly ever be a Henry Miller with people camping on my front lawn, the gods have been very good to me, they’ve kept me alive and even, still kicking, taking notes, observing, feeling the goodness of good people, feeling the miracle run up my arm like a crazy mouse. such a life, given to me at the age of 48, even though tomorrow does not know is the sweetest of the sweet dreams.”
“bad writing’s like bad women: there’s just not much you can do about it.”
“actually, the whole horrible answer was that NOBODY COULD DO ANYTHING – poets couldn’t write poetry, mechanics couldn’t fix cars, dentists couldn’t pull teeth, barbers couldn’t cut hair, surgeons fucked up with the knife, laundries ripped your shirts and sheets and lost your socks; bread and beans had little stones in them that broke the teeth; football players were cowards, telephone repairmen were molesters of children; and mayors, governors, generals, presidents had as much sense as slugs caught in spider webs. and on and on.”