Charles Bukowski did not suffer from a boring life. Nor did he lack for bravery. Here he tells an incredible story of almost getting killed by a madman. Bukowski gives credit to luck and to also being a nut.
This Charles Bukowski interview comes from the DVD The Charles Bukowski Tapes, conducted by Barfly Director Barbet Schroeder – an intelligent nut in his own right (see the story of him threatening to cut off his finger in the novel Hollywood for further illustration).
Bukowski: Happy night, you know? Everybody, you know – sometimes you have a good night. Everybody’s laughing, you’re feeling good.
So while we’re going to the store to get more beer – of course I’m buying. I’m one of these type who always buys. I’m a sucker. Anyhow, so coming back I’m carrying all these six packs – so everybody, three or four people, we’re all laughing, and all of a sudden this guy comes up.
He says, “Gee, you guys seem to be having a good time. You mind if I come along?”
And I said, “Hey, wait.”
He says, “Oh, come on! Let me come on.”
I said, “Alright, come on.”
So we are all in, we start drinking, drinking. So, there’s a piano there, I go to play the piano, the night goes on. I can’t play it, but I play it. Then I’m sitting in a chair – I don’t like this guy too much and I’m giving him – oh, what he’s doing, he’s talking about the war he’s been in and how many people he’s killed. And that didn’t interest me too much, you know? Because in a war you can kill people and it doesn’t mean anything. It’s legal. It takes guts to kill somebody when it’s not legal. Got it?
Barbet Schroeder: Yeah.
Bukowski: Okay. So I told him this (drinks). He kept talking, bragging about various things: what a good shot he was, how many people he killed.
I said, “Bullshit, get out of here.
He said, “You don’t like me?”
I said, “Yeah, leave.”
So he left awhile, we’re all talking. You know, you drink. Is the lighter here?
Schroeder: Yes, this one.
Bukowski: I keep losing it – Oh. So uh (lights cigarette), all of a sudden he came back. He had a gun. Suddenly I had no friends around me. You know, they kind of disappeared away.
And then he came up behind me and he said, “You don’t like me, do you?”
(Smokes cigarette) Well, you know, this is the point where people often make a mistake, but I’m not going to talk about myself. I told him the truth, I said, “No, I don’t like you.”
So he came up behind me, and he put the gun to my temple. He says, “You still don’t like me, do you?”
I said, “No, I still don’t like you.”
And let me tell you something, I really wasn’t frightened, at all. It was almost like seeing a movie somewhere.
So he said, “Well I’m going to kill you.”
I said, “Okay. Let me tell you something.” (Puffs on cigarette) I said, “If you kill me now you’re going to do me a favor.”
It was true what I told him (laughing and relighting his cigarette). I said, “I’m a suicide case anyhow. I’ve been wondering how to do this thing, now you’ve solved my problem.” And also I said, “P.S., by the way, if you kill me, you’ve solved my problem and you’ve got a problem: either life in jail or the electric chair, whatever the hell’s going on around here.”
So there was silence. (Puts finger up to side of his head like a gun) And I could feel it just pressing on me. It just stayed there. I didn’t say anymore, he didn’t say anymore, and then he put the gun down, and he walked to the door and the screen door slammed. He walked out.
And what I said was really true. I had a suicidal – it didn’t matter. But he came up a wrong (misspeaking), along, a wrong, around, in between, on top of the wrong guy. He came across a nut as bad as he was. There was no solving.
But I think if the person had, you know, been me and said, “Oh no, don’t do it!” he might have done it, you see.
Even though I wanted him to do it. So, later, all my friends come round, “Oh, Hank, you alright?”
I said, “Yeah, you guys were really great while I was in the – you really helped me, didn’t you? Just standing, watching. You couldn’t have grabbed him from behind or anything?”
I said, “Okay.”
So later it was discovered he’d gone into some drug store with a gun, and did something, smashed somebody with a gun butt and tried to shoot, and they put him in a madhouse later. So he was really for true, you know?
But you know, there’s nothing like one nut talking to another, you know? There’s nobody – well there are many so crazy you can’t get to them. But, uh, I lucked it. But I was really read to go. It wouldn’t have been a big thing, and he knew it. If you don’t feel the fear you don’t react. Sometimes. Some don’t feel the fear and they still react.
So that’s all, no big story.