I Was Charles Bukowski’s Life Coach

1969
A grizzled man comes in. He reeks of booze. Calls me a con man bullshitter snake oil scumbag.

He says he works at the post office but he wants to be a writer.

You can be anything you want to be! I say.

Are you out of your mind?

You can, I insist. But good personal hygiene really helps.

He gives me a look. I’m sure usually he’s the one who gets the looks.

But… money, he says.

I ask him if he thinks that identity is provided by a paycheck.

A paycheck means money to drink. And write, And screw.

I nod.

And fuck you for the hygiene remark, he says.

It came from a place of encouragement, I say.

He makes another appointment.

Life coach, he says. What bullshit.

1970
He walks in with a black eye. I quit, he says.

Smoking? Drinking? Fighting? I ask.

The post office. Work. I’m just writing.

I sniff the air and think: and drinking, too. Instead I say, That’s great! I am all about grabbing the brass ring.

I’m going to write, he snarls.

Yes! I say.

I can grab that brass ring and fucking throw it down the sewer! Or give it away. Tell a girl it’s jewelry.

Absolutely! You can!

What a crock of shit. Is that your job? To cheerlead?

1972
The phone rings. I answer.

The judge wants someone responsible to get me home, he says.

Okay, I say. I’ll get my jacket.

Don’t be a pussy, Pep Squad. Just come now, he says.

1973
He brings over a paperback with his name on the front.

I’m proud, he says. And broke.

I ask about goals for the book.

I want to document a life not well lived that feels real. Honest. The brutality. The pain. The sex. Put life’s hangovers, bloody noses and blow jobs on the page.

Excellent! You really seem born to do that.

He nods

Do you think showering hurts your writing?

Fuck you, he says. You are nothing but a yes man.

No, I am not, I say.

Yes, you are, he says.

I look at him.

Silence.

Bow-wow bow-wow, bow-wow-wow-wow. he says.

1976, 3:47 a.m.
My phone rings. He is bawling. When he stops bawling, he starts braying.

What can I do for you, I ask.

I want to get cleaned up, he says. I’m a mess and I want to be sober. I want to do something good with my life!

What about a life not well lived? You’ve been fantastic with that! I’m really proud of you. You should be proud of you!

I want to stop this! You’re my coach, right? Why don’t you fucking do something, you scumbag!

What do you want to do?

I want to help people.

Help people? You do! With your writing!

You lie like a rug, you dirtbag. I want to help the world. I should have been a doctor. Or a nurse. I fucking love nurses. The best people in the world.

You are at the top of your game. This is drunken self-pitying nonsense. Just like last week. Remember? You called and said you wanted to be priest!

A teacher. I should have been a — STAY IN SCHOOL KIDS! YOU HEAR THAT, EVERYBODY?

Listen, this is really worrying. I’ve made note of your feelings. I’m going to hang up in a moment. Why don’t you sleep a bit, and then have a few drinks in the morning and come by my office so we can discuss why you want to wreck everything in your dead end life you’ve worked so hard to build. Or not build. Okay?

YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE MY CHEERLEADER!

Goodnight, Charles.

Go hug your pom-poms, you pansy.

1979
He is waiting outside my office.

Hello, I say. Nice to see you.

Fuck you, Pep Squad.

He comes in. There’s an ugly gash over his forehead. It’s as if he was cut by broken glass and needed stitches but didn’t get them.

I got a big check. From Germany, he says.

Congratulations.

I spent it. On booze. And the wrong women. That’s what I’ve been doing these last few years.

Fantastic, I say. That’s great! A life not well lived, but expertly so. That was the goal.

He looks at me.

And writing, I say. That was the other goal.

Sex. That was the goal, too. I spent the money I owed you.

That’s okay. You’ll get more and send it to me. I trust you after all these years.

Then you’re an idiot.

1981
He’s got a bottle in one hand and two shot glasses in the other.

I’m dead sober, he says.

That’s a lot better than just being dead, I say.

Oh, you’re the comedian now,

You’re dead sober, but you’ve got a bottle, I see.

That’s right. It’s 5 p.m.

And you want me to drink with you?

That’s right. Time for my coach to walk the talk.

I listen. You walk the talk. None for me, thanks

Why? Is it in violation of the hypocritical oath that all pep squad coaches take?

No. I just never drink with my clients.

But I never pay you.

You do in your way. You’re my great success.

Ha! Pom-Poms, don’t flatter yourself. You’re nothing but a yes man.

No, I’m not.

Yes, you are.

Silence.

` He pours the drinks and hands me one.

I throw it back.

It’s a big drink. Really big.

Bow-wow bow-wow, bow-wow-wow-wow, I say.

You can grab the brass ring, Pep Squad, he says.

I think the drink is fighting gravity, I gasp.

Or in your case, Pom-Poms, you can grab the porcelain bowl.

My Safe Words List

“Choose a word, Ana.”
Oh . . .
“A safe word,” he says softly.
“Popsicle.” I say, panting. – Fifty Shades Freed

Most people have positive associations with popsicles. Popsicle isn’t a “stop” word, it’s a “go” word, like ice cream, basketball, bicycle or kangaroo. Everyone loves popsicles; it’s not a word you associate with torture or pain or discomfort in any way.

Algebra is on my safe words list. I use it mostly when my wife and I play binge scrabble. At some point, usually around the 12th game of the night—we can get insatiable for Scrabble—my wife will hold out the bag with the tiles with that come-hither look. Even though I’m exhausted, stripped bare by the ecstasy of seven letter words and the dazzling, steroid effect of triple word scores—that threesome where nobody’s feelings get hurt—the bag pulls me in. I start to fantasize about the smooth perfection of a blank tile and the anything-goes polymorphous flexibility of the “S” tile, and I reach for it. But my hand is trembling. We’ve been playing for 6 hours straight. And the last game, I had seven vowels for five consecutive turns. I need food. I need sleep. I pull back away from the letter bag. “Algebra,” I whisper.

Instantly, my wife drops the bag. The tiles scatter and the spell is broken. Thank god for our safe word.

Telemarketer is an extremely powerful stop word. I use that one with my personal trainer, Raoul. He can work me pretty hard, that Raoul. He’s constantly moving the finishing line, like some sadistic, energy bar-eating addict. You know: “One more rep, you can do it! That’s it. You did it! Now let’s just do two more! Two easy ones. Come on, man! The pain is only in your mind!”

“Telemarketer! Telemarketer!” I gasp. “And the fucking pain is everywhere!”

Instantly, the huge man I pay to badger me into doing endless reps of abdominal crunches, retreats to the water cooler. With a behemoth cajoler like that, you definitely need a safe word.

At work, I use secret safe words that nobody knows about but me. They are safe phrases, really. When a coworker persists in endlessly dissecting various marketing proposals after our scheduled 30 minute conference has ended, and proves is incapable of picking up on my subtle social cues—me gathering up my papers to leave a meeting, me saying “let’s pick this up later,” me standing up and walking away and him following –I turn to my clueless colleague and I say: “Excuse me, I have to make a phone call.”

Pain over.

But I think “tomorrow” might be my favorite safe word. It’s feigning “go” while saying “stop,” right? When my boss asks to see a project I haven’t even started on, when my kids ask for their allowance that I don’t have, when my wife asks about getting the car inspected on a Saturday afternoon and I’m crashed out on the couch, recovering from Scrabble, I pull it out. “Tomorrow.”

See? It’s like saying no, but with no negativity.

Still, my most powerful safe word or phrase, is one you’ve probably used, too. Last week I used it with the neighbors’ kids when they were throwing snowballs at my dog. I use it all the time. It’s all about the delivery.

“Stopthatfuckingshitrightnow.”

It’s not as brief as popsicle, but it has a certain gravitas.

Philosophy Questions For DJs

What is your personal party anthem?

At what point can the party be considered started?

What is house?

Can a great song, like “Uptown Funk” or “Good Times,” subvert free will?

Is there a perfect Beats-Per-Minute number?

Is getting your freak on a key to personal fulfillment?

If you rocked the mic but nobody was listening at 4:27 a.m. Tuesday, did you make a sound?

What is fidget House?

Is the meaning of life to:
a. Light up the phones?
b. Rock the party?
c. Pump up the jams?

If the Iliad were about warring DJ nations, would Skrillex or Girl Talk be Odysseus?

Why are French DJs so good?