Excerpt from Charles Bukowski’s “Ham on Rye”

I’m two thirds in. It’s a very good book.

I never slept on my back. But when I awakened I was on my back and it surprised me. My legs were bent at the knees in front of me, making a mountain-like effect with the blankets. And as I looked at the blanket-mountain before me I saw two eyes staring at me. Only the eyes were dark, black, blank … looking at me from underneath a hood, a black hood with a sharp tall peak, like a ku-klux-klansman. They kept staring at me, dark blank eyes, and there was nothing I could do about it. I was truly terrified. I thought, it’s God but God isn’t supposed to look like that.

I couldn’t stare it down. I couldn’t move. It just stayed there looking at me over the mound of my knees and the blanket. I wanted to get away. I wanted it to leave. It was powerful and black and threatening. It seemed to remain there for hours, just staring at me. Then it was gone … I stayed in bed thinking about it. I couldn’t believe that it had been God. Dressed like that. That would be a cheap trick. It had been an illusion, of course. I thought about it for ten or fifteen minutes, then I got up and went to get the little brown box my grandmother had given me many years ago. Inside of it were tiny rolls of paper with quotations from the Bible. Each tiny roll was held in a cubicle of its own. One was supposed to ask a question and the little roll of paper one pulled out was supposed to answer that question. I had tried it before and found it useless. Now I tried it again.

I asked the brown box, “What did that mean? What did those eyes mean?” I pulled out a paper and unrolled it. It was a tiny stiff white piece of paper. I unrolled and read it.


I rolled the paper up and stuck it back into its cubicle in the brown box. I didn’t believe it. I went back to bed and thought about it. It was too simple, too direct. I didn’t believe it. I considered masturbating to bring me back to reality. I still didn’t believe it. I got back up and started unrolling all the little papers inside the brown box. I was looking for the one that said, GOD HAS FORSAKEN YOU. I unrolled them all. None of them said that. I read them all and none of them said that. I rolled them up and put them carefully back into their cubicles in the little brown box.

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