HAM ON RYE (1982) is a semi-autobiographical novel by Charles Bukowski about his alter ego Henry Chinaski’s life in Los Angeles.
12/01/09 | Novel

Ham on Rye

by Darby Larson

I like to get sandwiches at Mr. Pickles. I usually get a thing that’s called a Big Jake on sliced wheat with no onions, no peppers, no pickles. You’d think the best thing about Mr. Pickles would be the pickles but it’s not, it’s the cream cheese and avocado and garlic sauce. A Big Jake is a turkey sandwich, basically.

One day I go to Mr. Pickles and there’s a woman there eating, a little boy sitting under her table. I sit near them and eat my Big Jake. There’s nothing special about her or the boy under the table which I assume is her son but could just as easily be her nephew or something. He looks like an average boy. There’s a preschool down the street that’s full of average boys and girls.

I notice the woman is eating a Miss Piggy which is ham on rye with extra pickles. Here’s a woman who comes for the pickles, I think to myself.

So we’re both eating our sandwiches and looking up at the flat screen TV on the wall between bites, and the boy under the woman’s table suddenly runs out the door and into the parking lot. A car horn honks and brakes slam and we all go running outside and the kid is on the ground with his face all bloody and chewed up because it had just been scraped across the parking lot.

The boy is crying but not too loud. But then it gets louder. Then it’s really loud. It’s the perfect loud for someone who just got hit by a car and scraped by the parking lot.

Then Mr. Pickles appears. I didn’t even know he was there, or that there even was a ‘Mr. Pickles,’ but he’s there, in full Mr. Pickles attire; a giant pickle suit wearing a tie and monocle and top hat. Kind of like Mr. Peanut from Planters except he’s a pickle instead of a peanut. Anyway, he’s out there, down on one knee, looking at the boy. Then he picks the boy up and brings him back inside and lays him on top of the table he’d been sitting under only moments ago.

Through all of this, the woman is stoic or in denial or something so I think she is either not the boy’s mother or is maybe his grandmother because she suddenly seems very old to me.

The boy seems okay though. He’s breathing and answering obvious questions that people are asking him. “Does your head hurt?” Somebody asks him, and the boy says, “There’s something under my head.” Mr. Pickles lifts the boy’s head and there’s the woman’s half-eaten Miss Piggy. It looks like his face, or the other way around. It seems to suit the boy as a pillow so Mr. Pickles lays his head back down on it.

Someone calls 911 and other people call other people and the whole Universe shows up wanting to know what’s all the fuss. They’ve wrapped the boy’s face with paper towels for now, so people can eat without having to think about bloody faces.

I see the woman talking to a younger woman who has arrived. They are talking like they are related, and this makes me think of even more complicated familial scenarios. When they are finished talking, the younger woman goes to the boy and stands by him and hugs him and cries a little. The older woman, whose face remained stoic and slightly old and moderately attractive the whole time, turns around and walks out. She puts on sunglasses as she moves passed the window.

I look around for my Big Jake but it’s been knocked onto the floor. There’s so many people everywhere that it’s been stepped on quite a few times. Looking at it makes me never want to have a Big Jake again, but next week I’m back and I get a Big Jake again because a Big Jake is a Big Jake and I don’t come for the pickles.