Happy Birthday, Charles!

Today would have been Charles Bukowski’s 94th birthday. I remember the first Bukowski novel I read, „Hollywood“. I was about 20 years old and sure I had discovered a writer who would be there with me for the rest of my life. I loved Chinaski’s and his girlfriend’s visit over at the posh house in L.A. and how discontent Chinaski was, how he felt like a fish out of water, and how grumpy he was especially about the fact that not all people could be like him. I was so impressed with Bukowski’s style and the way he wrote about this weird thing we are, the human being. And I continued reading, first the novels, then some of the poetry. 

Ever since I have read Bukowski, I dream about attending a horserace, but I never did. When I started working at a new job a couple of years ago, I made friends with one of my colleagues. He is a real character, funny, too, and soon we found out about a lot of things we had in common, movies we both liked, music, and so on. My friend also wanted to go to a horserace, and we continually made plans to go place a bet or two, but somehow our idea was star-crossed. And I forgot about it.

About two weeks ago, I had ants in my pants and was looking for an adventure or trouble. Either way, I wanted something to happen which would satisfy my unrest. So I looked up horseraces on the internet and found there would be a derby in Berlin on August, 10th. Immediately, I wrote my friend a message and he was in on it. His girlfriend would join us, too.

So last Sunday was our day. We had decided we’d all wear hats, because that’s what you wear to a horserace. I was thinking hard what else to wear, because I wanted to look good when I placed a bet and watched the horses run. I chose my new, long, white lace dress I adore because it looks like freedom and summer and promise.

My friends told me they would pick me up at noon, but as I was antsy and needed to buy cigarettes, I left my apartment early. When I ordered my cigarettes, the kiosk owner told me he was out of my brand. He looked at me and suggested that I take Parisiennes instead. I agreed and bought a pack. Now, Parisiennes are a bit of a cliché. They are this kind of pseudo-hobo-brand, I think only Berlin hipsters smoke them. But to hell with it, I thought, today I am a hobo, too. So I sat outside the kiosk, waited and smoked. Parisiennes are too light for my taste, I figured. So I smoked another one. My friends kept me waiting. The sky was grey and heavy, and I worried it might start raining soon. The air was sticky and I found it hard to breathe. I actually could hear myself breathing heavily, the pressure was clogging my ears somehow. By then, I was in a bad mood.

Then my friends arrived, finally, with their convertible car. I had never ridden a convertible before and I forgot about my bad mood and got excited. I liked the wind and the hair up in the air. We drove and I was looking up towards the sky through my tinted aviator sunglasses and watched the clouds and followed the rays of sunlight that broke through the clouds and I thought to myself, Berlin is not so bad after all.

We arrived at Hoppegarten, Berlin’s renowned race course, and I felt at home immediately. There were food stands with all sorts of delicious snacks, concession stands that sold strawberry punch, champagne and whisky, ice cream carts, a shoeshine boy and a gazebo where a two-man-band was playing random weird music. The sky was clearing and it was nice and hot.

We placed several bets. My friend was on winning street, his girlfriend and I, well. No. But then I placed a bet in the fourth race. I had chosen Alcohuaz, a horse from Chile, and went for the win, because I thought a Latin American horse would not deceive my good faith. And I won. Seven Euros. I couldn’t really see how he came home because everything went so fast and I had forgotten to take my grandpa’s old field glasses with me, but I heard the good news hollering from the loudspeakers. We ordered whisky and gin & tonic and celebrated our luck.

I noticed several weird-looking people and enjoyed their presence. Big hats, small hats, big bellies, tiny dogs, absurd costumes and dresses, an elegant Cuban-looking guy in a to-die-for white suit, black shirt, white necktie and a Panama hat. And this young rich couple in their twenties. He was blond and – honest to God! – had a Nazi haircut, she was brunette and wore a short white summer dress. They were both so relaxed. How incredibly self-evident everything is to those people. I was envious and thought, well, it is what it is, deal with it.

By then I was already a bit tipsy, though, so I wasn’t capable of following my feelings of jealousy into self-pity, which was a good thing. I rather continued keeping my fingers crossed for my friend who was still placing bets in each race. And he kept winning and we kept having fun although our speech was slurry and the jokes were lame. After the last race, we finished our drinks, walked back to the convertible and then enjoyed a sunny evening ride back home, the wind singing along the music on the radio while each of us was listening to their own voices deep inside. Next thing we wanna do: go to a boxing match!

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