by Roger Lyons
There’s been some talk of introducing casino-style customer service to racing. The late Charles Bukowski, an inveterate raceplayer, would have had a good laugh over that idea, but, faced with the reality of it, his soul would puke–at first. Once he’d digested it as one more weird eventuality in the unfolding of the American dream, he might welcome it as further incentive to drink. Bukowski understood that racing is not for narcissists.
In the first place, people who actually play the races are not customers, and, for that reason, customer service would be completely wasted on them. Bukowski would offer no sympathy to those who complain that playing the races should be like shopping at the mall or going to Disneyland. He didn’t go to the racetrack to have a good time or to be a consumer of “the racing product.”
In life, it was always Bukowski against the throng. There was almost certainly no particular respect in which he aspired to be different from anyone else, but he knew what drove him to drink. He just wanted to be not like that, and he certainly didn’t want to be a customer. Consumer society’s intolerance of difference is such that the racetrack is one of the few places–maybe the only place–where being Charles Bukowski can actually be rewarded. At the racetrack, being at odds with the crowd gave him a fighting chance.
He understood that you can’t beat the crowd without a system. If Hank Chinaski, his fictional counterpart (alter-ego, Bukowski himself, whatever), is to be believed in the novel Hollywood (1989), Bukowski had as many as 20 different systems–all methods of betting against the crowd. He didn’t always bet longshots, but he hardly ever bet a favorite, especially at odds-on. One other thing. No matter how much everybody else drank, Bukowski drank more.
You’d never get Bukowski to join in a boycott over the takeout. It was just part of the risk of losing, without which the whole thing would be meaningless, and, besides, he was neither a joiner nor a crybaby. He wouldn’t have placed much stock in a boycott, anyway, judging from these lines of his poem “the world’s greatest loser”:
I guess nothing ever works for us. we’re fools, of course–
bucking the inside plus a 15 percent take,
but how are you going to tell a dreamer
there’s a 15 percent take on the
dream? he’ll just laugh and say,
is that all?
Nobody would mistake Bukowski for a dreamer, but most people are, and most of them dream the same dream, more or less. Bukowski orders another drink from his favorite waitress (who, he’s convinced, is only pretending she despises him) and goes for the alcohol-induced, but quite plausible, reality in which the six, at 10-1, ends up with a nose in front, and the waitress drives him home.
“Now that,” he laughs, “is what I call customer service.”