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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

South of No North

Great piece on the late Hunter S. Thompson on Railbird, including an excerpt from his 1970 article from the Kentucky Derby that is credited with being his breakthrough into gonzo journalism. …Thompson's Derby piece, " The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved ," was savage, acerbic, and "a breakthrough in journalism," capturing the chaos and craziness of American racing's most debauched day..[Railbird]

I don’t know if the late Charles Bukowski officially falls under the “gonzo” category as primarily a fiction writer, but there’s no doubt he belonged to the same fraternity of alcohol-addled scribes with a twisted (some may say, realist) view of the world. Bukowski, who authored numerous books, wrote poetry, and penned the screenplay for the film Barfly, was a racing fan and player, and sometimes incorporated the sport into his stories. In this hilarious brief excerpt from his collection of short stories South of No North, reprinted here without permission from this website based in Russia that I found (good day Googling), he wrote in the first-person of a newbie he took to Santa Anita who won 8 out of 9 races on his first day (don’t you HATE when that happens?).

That night he knocked on my door and he had a fifth of Grandad and the Racing Form. I helped him with the bottle while he read the Form and told me all nine winners the next day, and why. We had ourselves a real expert here. I know how it can go to a man's head. I had 17 straight winners once and I was going to buy homes along the coast and start a white slavery business to protect my winnings from the income tax man. That's how crazy you can get.

I could hardly wait to take Joe to the track the next day. I wanted to see his face when all his predictions ran out. Horses were only animals made out of flesh. They were fallible. It was like the old horse players said, "There are a dozen ways you can lose a race and only one way to win one."

All right, it didn't happen that way. Joe had 7 for 9—favorites, longshots, medium prices. And he bitched all the way in about his two losers. He couldn't understand it. I didn't talk to him. The son of a bitch could do no wrong. But the percentages would get him. He started telling me how I was betting wrong, and the proper way to bet. Two days at the track and he was an expert. I'd been playing them 20 years and he was telling me I didn't know my ass.

We went all week and Joe kept winning. He got so unbearable I couldn't stand him anymore. He bought a new suit and hat, new shirt and shoes, and started smoking 50 cent cigars. He told the relief people that he was self-employed and didn't need their money anymore. Joe had gone mad. He grew a mustache and purchased a wrist watch and an expensive ring. The next Tuesday I saw him drive to the track in his own car, a '69 black Caddy. He waved to me from his car and flicked out his cigar ash. I didn't talk to him at the track that day. He was in the clubhouse. When he knocked on my door that night he had the usual fifth of Grandad and a tall blonde. A young blonde, well dressed, well-groomed, she had a shape and a face. They walked in together.

"Who's this old bum?" she asked Joe.

"That's my old buddy. Hank," he told her, "I used to know him when I was poor. He took me to the racetrack one day."
You can read the whole story here. Enjoy.