Dan Fante, Confronting His Demons On The Page

Author Dan Fante i i

Fante began his first novel, Chump Change, after he had been sober for three years. He says the process of writing helped him confront the pain of his past. Volker Corell/Harper Perennial hide caption

itoggle caption Volker Corell/Harper Perennial
Author Dan Fante

Fante began his first novel, Chump Change, after he had been sober for three years. He says the process of writing helped him confront the pain of his past.

Volker Corell/Harper Perennial
86'd
By Dan Fante
Paperback, 272 pages
Harper Perennial
List price: $13.99

Read An Excerpt

With a style reminiscent of Charles Bukowski and a similar predilection for vice, author Dan Fante has carved out a successful literary career by writing novels based on his experiences as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict.

Bruno Dante functions as Fante's fictional alter ego, an alcoholic writer living — just barely — in Los Angeles. Many of Fante's novels focus on Bruno's misadventures as he struggles with his talent and his temptations.

Fante's writing is gritty and provocative. Much like his father, author John Fante, he views life in an unsparing way. His novels and poetry, which include Chump Change, Short Dog, and his most recent, 86'd, reflect a man who has seen and done it all — and survived to tell the story.

Excerpt: '86'd'

Cover of Dan Fante's '86'd'
Harper Perennial
86'd
By Dan Fante
Paperback, 272 pages
Harper Perennial
List price: $13.99
Note:This excerpt contains language that may offend some audiences.

I have no idea why I am crazy and angry and edged-out most of the time and why alcohol and painkiller pills and Xanax-type stuff are the only things that help to keep me remotely calm. I have no idea why I experience life as pointless and screwed and I know that most people don't pour a cup of bourbon into their milk and oatmeal in the morning. That's just how it is.

After the publication of Until the Fat Lady Sings was postponed indefinitely I decided that I needed a change from the telemarketing industry. For months I had been hawking risk-free Pinkerton burglar alarm installs out of a cave: a windowless, industrial, cinderblock office in Manhattan Beach. A hundred calls a day to set five realistic sales appointments. Torturous, brutal shit.

Behind the workload quota and hitting the juice too hard I'd developed attitude problems and begun showing up late for my 5:30 a.m. shift.

Me and Kassim, my boss, had disliked each other from jump street. The prick was a former math professor from Tehran with a Godzilla ego. He spoke three or four Middle Eastern tongues but his combined English syntax and cultural grasp of anything American equaled shit. Each time—especially with other people around—when I'd ask the jerk if he wouldn't mind speaking more slowly, or repeating what he'd just said, Kassim would consider that I'd challenged his authority or was somehow mocking him. His expression would blacken and he would glare at me murderously.

Things came to a head near quitting time one Friday afternoon. The office's ceiling intercom blasted: Bruno Dante—Bruno Dante—to Kassim's office. Now. Strike one.

Once there, I was ordered to sit in the outer waiting room for half an hour and watch as the rest of the staff came and went, picking up their paychecks. Strike two.

Finally, in front of Kassim's desk, his henchman, the tele-marketing manager, Gretchen—the hugest deep-fried, ass-kissing, hogface, grease-soaked twat to ever sit in an office chair in Los Angeles—handed me my call records as evi-dence. Turns out that Professor Kassim and blubbergirl had been monitoring my phone work over the last several shifts.

Kassim began waving his copy of my stats. "Dree bersonal kallz ober de lass doooo daze. Und fourrr dimez, diss sheeeef alone, jou hab borgodden do hoffer de flee Dizzylannn teekets ah de enn off your prezendadion."

Gretchen stood by wheezing, nodding sycophantically at whatever additional unpronounceable broken English mumbo jumbo snot came from her boss's mouth.

I looked at her for a clarification. "So I'm fired, right?" I said. "Is that it?"

"Correct," she oozed. "Terminated, as of today."Strike three.

Refusing any more eye contact, Kassim handed pigass a sealed envelope. My paycheck. Blubbergirl passed it to me.

Before leaving, I stuffed the check into my pants pocket then tossed my headset on to his desk. Then I leaned in close to his ear. "You and big Gretchen here must be having some pretty hot sex," I hissed. "No kidding, I'd pay good money to watch you hump that shit."

Once outside in the parking lot, after hearing the steel build-ing door hiss closed then latch behind me, I lit a cigarette and sucked the smoke in.

The voice, the one always screaming in my head, telling me what a fool and an asshole I was, was getting louder. Worse all the time. Sometimes, like now, when I had quit or left a job or woke up drunk not knowing where I was, the goddamn thing was maddeningunstoppable. I decided that from now on I would give it a name. From now on I'd call the prick Jimmy.

At least I was free and re-eligible for unemployment. I'd al-ready paid my rent two weeks before so I decided to splurge on a few extras over the weekend: A paperback or two. A couple of bottles of decent wine. Maybe a movie. So I tore open my pay envelope to verify the amount: Five hundred and eleven dollars.

That's when the real curveball cracked me in the center of my forehead. The goddamn thing was unsigned.

Now, completely out of money, with the sun beating in through the window of my ratbox room in the Venice house I shared with my ex-girlfriend's eighty-five-year-old uncle, hoping to counteract last night's excessive gin and tonic with gulps of milk and spoonfuls of peanut butter, I sat at my writing desk staring at the computer keys.

Through money worries and too much down time and the almost constant boozing that'd been assaulting my health and sanity, I'd taken Hubert Selby's advice to heart and kept my commitment to "keep going." I had written one good page a day—no matter what—do or die. For the last few weeks I'd scribbled in my notebook while in my car or in a bar or a coffee shop, then transposed them to my laptop. But there they were. All there in front of me. I'd done it. I'd kept my promise to myself.

So what if I couldn't pay my rent. So what if I had to go back to another boiler room gig or even the taxi business. So what if Canonball Press didn't publish Until the Fat Lady Sings for another two years or another five even. So fucking what! Through my madness and boozing and the pain pills I'd kept my promise to myself. I was writing.

But with the loss of my job I was beginning to be scared. Afraid of a bad crash. Over the last year or so I had been working five different doctors to get my pills; my Vicodin, my Halcion, and my Xanax. When I needed the stuff or when I would overdo the booze for days or weeks at a time, I offset my alcohol use with the pills to get relief. But that option was running out. I could no longer afford my scripts and I was scared.

Shutting down my computer I flipped open the Sunday L.A. Times to the employment section. When I got to "Drivers Wanted," I stopped. The company name at the bottom of the box surprised me. Dav-Ko.

David Koffman picked up the phone when I called in and remembered me right away. I had worked for Dav-Ko in New York five years before as a chauffeur and part-time night dispatcher. In those days his company was in its infancy and little more than a gypsy cab car service that did periodic chauffeur jobs. Koffman really only had two limos. One was an eight-year-old dented, black, stretch Caddy with over a hundred thousand miles on the odometer and the other was a big blue Lincoln sedan that was more for personal use than the livery business. We stored them both and a half dozen beat-up airport vans and station wagons behind a gas station and ran the whole deal out of a three-bedroom brownstone apartment on Sixty-fourth Street and Second Avenue.

Koffman was a speed-talker, an ace business guy, almost seven feet tall, and an unashamed homosexual. For a year when I lived in Manhattan me and David's cousin Stewie split dispatch duty while he spent his days taking people to lunch and drumming up new clients. Stewie and me wore the same size chauffeur jacket, so at night we'd take turns playing chauffeur, putting on a black cap and clip-on bow tie, jumping out of the car to open and close the back door for David while he passed out business cards and acted the role of the big shot limo owner in front of the gay after-hours clubs below Fourteenth Street. But as the company grew so did my personal clientele. In the end I had no life other than the East Side Saloon on First Avenue and spending twelve hours a day behind the wheel. My writing was out of the question. I'd return home only to sleep and shower, then take the IRT subway uptown back to the office. The money was decent and in those days I was less insane. So eventually I packed it in, leaving on good terms to take a four-hour-a-day bootleg DVD phone sales gig at an office building in Times Square. There were no hard feelings.

Koffman hadn't changed. He'd never been much for telephone chitchat so he came right to the point and wanted to know my work history since I'd been with Dav-Ko. Had I, over the last few years, had any experience managing people, over-seeing a staff? Work other than chauffeuring?

Without hesitation my lips composed the necessary lies. "Sure. Absolutely," I said. "It's right on my resume. I can show you."

My reply caused him to shift gears. He immediately began "selling" me, reciting the statistics of how successful and hip Dav-Ko had become since I'd left. The company now operated ten new stretch limos and another half dozen town cars out of a three-story Midtown New York garage. They had a full-time mechanic, fifteen drivers, and an in-house training manual. All the chauffeurs wore Greek seaman's caps and vested blue suits as a uniform. Dav-Ko's "hip" trademark was a red hankie in the breast pocket of each chauffeur's suit jacket. Koffman bragged that his current customer base consisted mainly of celebrities and rock stars and New York-L.A. entertainment big shots.

For the last week he'd been renting a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel and intended to be in town for as long as it took to make Dav-Ko Hollywood a turnkey operation.

Trust was important to Koffman. I could tell that he liked the idea of having a known quantity—a former dispatcher-driver like myself—working with him again. For David, us having re-found each other after so long was a kind of sign. A good omen. He had been a heavy social drinker with his gay buddies when we had worked together. I assumed that was still the case.

I'd gotten lucky and I knew it. The longer we stayed on the phone the closer I was to being offered a job. Before hanging up he and I set up a breakfast meeting for the next morning at the Formosa Cafe on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood.

I arrived at the restaurant early and headed for the men's room. Once inside with the door locked, I set the manila envelope containing my fictitious job resume down under the paper towel rack then finished off one of two half-pint bracers I'd picked up on the way, tossing the empty into the trash.

Then I took a minute to focus in on the face in the mirror. I looked okay. Eyes clear. Good close shave. I'd been sweating through my shirt as usual and my tie had a stain—snot or food or something—but it wasn't that noticeable. I smoothed my hair down with my fingers and that was that.

To quiz myself on my bogus work history I un-clamped the envelope and took a last look at my resume. If Koffman required a document that showed management in addition to straight chauffeuring, no problem, I was ready. I had one.

It was ten-thirty and after the breakfast rush, so the Formosa wasn't busy and I was able to find a booth with a window.

The owner of Dav-Ko Hollywood made his appearance as I was finishing my second cup of coffee. I watched as his hired-by-the-hour chauffeured blue stretch Lincoln pulled up in front of the restaurant blocking the Santa Monica Boulevard crosswalk. Before entering, David Koffman, all six foot seven inches and three hundred pounds of him, now with shoulder-length gray hair, stood outside the restaurant's glass door, a spring fashion statement in his Tom Wolfe, open-collared, white-on-white linen suit. Posing there, half man, half tent, he chatted amiably with his driver long enough to make sure everyone inside the place had a good opportunity to check him out.

He shook my hand, flashed me his million-peso grin, then flopped his long body into the booth. He looked older. The night life and years with the booze had taken their toll.

"Is that for me?" he asked, pointing at the brown envelope on the table.

I nodded and pushed it toward him. I couldn't help but notice that this guy and his Buffalo Bill act were ideally suited to a city composed mainly of status junkies and now-you-see-it-now-you-don't flimflam sincerity.

After ordering eggs and green tea and taking a quick cell phone call, Koffman gave my resume a ten-second once over then looked up. "Soooo . . . you drove a yellow cab here in Los Angeles for over a year?"

"Yeah. Correct," I said. "Long hours. Lousy pay." Then I went on. "There's a limo job there too—underneath the taxi job."

"Right, okay, here it is. A private-party chauffeur position. Part-time. You drove for an ex-CEO?"

This of course was a lie. From here down everything I had written on the resume was an exaggeration or outright bullshit. For me it had always been easier to make stuff up than to remember the sequence of an unimportant and ridiculous job or its dates in history.

"A retired guy," I said. "He traveled with a large, stinky, fifteen-year-old Irish setter. The dog had a bladder problem and the old guy never bathed him. He died—I mean the guy died—probably the dog too. Anyway, I'm not a big Irish setter fan."

Koffman seemed amused. "The important thing is that you know the L.A. streets."

"Hey, I know the streets. No problem."

"Okay, okay—here we go; you managed a staff of three to five at Kassim's Worldwide Precious Metals and Rare Coin Consortium in . . . in Manhattan Beach."

"Right. Correct."

"Long name. What sort of consortium?"

"It wasn't a consortium at all. This is L.A. I guess the guy just needed a flash title for his telemarketing boiler room."

"Reason for leaving?"

"Reorganization, I guess you'd call it."

"Reorganization? Ha-ha. You mean the place went tits up?"

Suddenly I had an overwhelming need for a drink. For the last thirty seconds I'd been controlling the onset of leg tremors by tightly crossing the fuckers at my ankles. Even now the heebie-jeebies appeared to be traveling their way up my body to my upper torso. Maybe I was about to get a sudden spell of the fly-aways because my left hand had just begun to shake—my coffee cup hand. I slid it under the table then pinned the prick beneath my thigh. "Right," I said. "Bad management."

"I see," said Koffman, whose hands never seemed to shake at all.

Now I was dizzy. My throat was dry and I needed air. My heart began slamming itself against the inside of my rib cage. The guy in the polar bear uniform leaned closer. "Are you okay?" he whispered. "You're trembling."

My mouth formed words but the lips refused the marching orders. I had to settle for wagging my head up and down. My full attention was fixed on the glove compartment of my Pontiac—parked at a meter fifty feet away—where I'd left my backup half-pint of vodka. I was now acutely aware that I'd be unable to endure another four seconds of this moron inter-view. I needed an excuse—any excuse—to get up and leave the booth.

"Bruno, what's up? What's going on? Are you . . . hung- over?"

Unlike me David Koffman was an excessive episodic drinker and not a day-to-day juicer. There was no way he could not get what was going on with me. I thrust a trembling thumb down on top of the resume and was finally able to blurt some words. "Bottom line," I said, "that company was a total Chinese fire drill. If you want to know, the guy . . . the owner, was a foreigner. He spoke about five words in American. He wouldn't know a cold call from the goddamn La Brea Tar Pits."

"I see. I understand."

"Swell. Can we move on?"

"Okay, but just below that in your job description you write that you ran a staff of three to five people? I'm confused. Was it three or was it five, or what?"

Sweat was now soaking my hair, forehead, and armpits. For some reason—beyond my control—my voice was getting steadily louder. I pointed back down at the page. "Confused! I was a supervisor," I barked. "I managed trainees. Some weeks there were three and some weeks there were more than three—sometimes five. Sometimes more. Sometimes two. Sometimes one. Sometimes seven. Okay? Jesus Christ!"

"Okay, fabulous. And you did this supervisor job for how long?"

"It's there in front of you typed out in bold New Courier twelve-point font!"

"Right, I see it. Two years. And what products did you sell?"

"Rare coins! Valuable! Rare! Coins!"

"Why are you so nervous?"

"You're mistaken, David. You've misconstrued my enthusiasm as a sign of tension. I get warm sometimes. Sometimes I sweat. What's the big deal?"

Koffman took a sip of tea. "May I suggest that we keep our voices down? We appear to be attracting attention."

"Sure, no problem. Fine with me. Fabulous."

"Okay, let's move on. Tell me about the precious metals aspect of the company?"

I sucked in air. I could feel my face reddening and I was beginning to experience the onset of two simultaneous physi-cal sensations: Either (a) I was going to pass out or (b) I was going to shit in my pants. "That's just more hyperbole, prevarication, and cocksnot," I snarled. "Like calling the company a consortium. We didn't sell precious metals. No such thing. We sold coins. You know, un-calculated old silver dollars and Buffalo nickels 'n' shit. Krugerrands. Stuff like that."

Setting my resume on the table Koffman folded his arms. "What's bothering you, Bruno? Is it a hangover or what? Just tell me what's going on."

It became apparent to me that I needed to murder this huge, tea-slurping faggot.

Leaning across the table I was an inch from his face. "Okay look, here's the deal," I blurted. "My Pontiac is parked down the street at a meter. Okay. That meter is about to expire. I've been here over an hour. Okay. This is Hollywood. Okay. Expired meter parking tickets here are forty-nine fucking dollars. Okay. And I'm about to get one. Okay! And additionally, I think I'm coming down with something. It isn't a hangover. Possibly it's the flu."

Koffman rolled his eyes. "We're almost done. Can't you just calm down. I'll pay the ticket. Your car will be fine. We were discussing your last job."

"I know what we were discussing, David. I'm not a mongoloid imbecile."

"Will you be straight with me about something: Have you been drinking this morning? Be completely candid, please."

"Here's what I'm saying, okay?" I whisper-yelled. "I'm saying that the owner of that company—the main guy—the prick that ran the coin place—was a Middle Eastern anal-retentive Taliban fuck. I lied, okay? They didn't reorganize the company. I quit. I quit because I became aware that they were recording all our phone calls. Believe that shit? Recording calls! Every goddamn call!"

Koffman inclined his lanky body away from me, press-ing his back against the red Naugahyde. He looked scared. "Soooo, you're saying that you left that position voluntarily."

"Yes, I did. I quit. Know w'amsayin'?"

"Okay, fine, but as far as I know there's really nothing il-legal about a company recording calls."

"Hey, this is the United States of America if I'm not mis-taken! Okay. We have laws relating to espionage and wire-tapping here. The particular rectumshitbreath jerkoff I'm referring to was a vindictive Persian prick. A pernicious towel- head un-American alien pompous shitsucking dorf. And the sonofabitch beat me out of my final paycheck. Okay! Five hundred and eleven bucks. If that's not the definition of a card-carrying cocksucker then I don't know what the hell is?"

"I can see that we're not on the same page here."

"The page you're on is the page I'm on. Ten thousand per-cent the same page. I promise you."

"So, is it your car? Or the flu? Or are you upset about your last boss?"

"Okay, look, I'm sorry about the cocksucker remark, David. I apologize. Okay. It was uncalled for and off-the-cuff, completely out of context and inappropriate to our discussion. I'll just say this: In my book a cocksucker can be male or female, anatomically. Cocksuckers are—let's say—potentially inter-changeable. That doesn't make 'em right or wrong. I think we can both agree on the definition of the word cocksucker as sort of neutral. Okay. I mean you yourself may or may not suck cock. That's none of my concern. It's a private matter between you and your conscience and any other consenting adult whose cock you might be sucking. What I'm saying is that it doesn't necessarily follow that all homos must ipso facto be cocksuckers. Perhaps most are but who says we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. Right?"

On the table by the menus and the sugar shaker Koff-man's cell phone began to chime to the tune of "Dancing in the Dark."

"Go ahead," I said, still battling dizziness, gulping in as much air as possible, pointing at the chrome-colored chiming turd on the table, "answer your phone. I'll go put some quarters in my meter."

Big David was staring at me—ignoring his phone. He sighed deeply. Then, extending his thick arms, a benign expression infecting his face, he covered my hands with his massive paws in a misguided dumbfuck homosexual attempt to soothe me. "I know you're upset, Bruno," he whispered. "It's okay."

Now I was impaled, pinned to the formica by a gay Hulk Hogan in a milkman's uniform. "Okay, Jesus," I howled. "Yes I am. I'm upset. I admit it."

"Please listen carefully, Bruno. Just try to let in what I'm saying. I'm offering you an excellent opportunity—a live-in chauffeur manager position. Are you interested?"

"Jesus—of course I'm fuckin' interested! I want the job."

"Good."

A minute or two later, as I was sliding across the booth's fake-leather bench seat to get to my feet, somehow the trembling butt of my hand came down on the outer rim of my coffee Its contents were launched across the table and landed on the sleeve of David Koffman's white jacket. It didn't help seal the deal. It just happened.

I was half-sure I'd blown it until he phoned me the next day. One of his ex-lovers had been an active New York City AA guy. Based on that, in the end, Koffman must've decided he'd take a chance. His one condition was simple and straightforward: He knew I'd been drinking. He insisted that I attend twelve-step meetings.

"You and I have worked together before with good results," he said. "I realize I'm taking a big chance but I'm betting with an opportunity like this one, you'll clean up your act."

"You won't be sorry," I said.

"Will you do it?" he asked. "Will you cut down on your alcohol consumption and go to meetings?"

"Absolutely. One thousand percent!" I shot back. "You can count on it. You have my word. And I'll pay the cleaning bill for your jacket too."

Excerpted from 86'd by Dan Fante Copyright 2009 by Dan Fante. Excerpted by permission of Harper Perennial, a division of Harper Collins Publishers. All rights reserved.

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