Mooch - By Dan Fante


With Chump Change and Mooch, Dan Fante ratchets up the acceptable pain level of the personal hell/puke-in-the-kitchen-sink school of letters to painfully brilliant new heights. There are no good guys or bad guys in the squalid corners and soul-destroying office spaces of Fante’s Southern California—the struggle between good and evil goes on entirely inside his hero Bruno Dante’s head. The doomed son of a doomed father, Bruno careens perilously through life, always on the verge of that last irredeemable fuck-up. It’s breathtaking writing and deliciously excruciating, like watching a crack-smoking circus knife-thrower—you just KNOW something awful will happen.

Once you read Fante, Jim Thompson will read like pure optimism. A basically decent guy, Bruno grapples with the Beast inside himself with such unflinching honesty, casually copping to every possible unlovely urge, that the wall between salvation and destruction seems filament thin. Everyone is both predator and prey in Fante’s sunlit underbelly, part of a voracious food chain in which everyone gets devoured. Life is a hideous carnival fairway where love, loyalty, charity and kindness are the flip sides of darker impulses: liabilities to be exploited by the canny and the uncaring.

Burroughs wrote about The Algebra of Need, but Fante makes you smell it. The sweat-soaked hair plastered to a crack-whore’s neck becomes strangely beautiful, the idea of vodka before breakfast seems—suddenly—perfectly reasonable, a drone’s job in telemarketing hell becomes triumph…until the whip comes down and everything turns to shit.

Somebody somewhere wrote a passage in which a character describes the end of a long drinking jag: ‘I went to brush something off my cheek and it was the floor.’ Reading Fante reminds me of that sudden moment of realization, that ‘How did I get here?’ feeling of finding oneself unexpectedly at the very brink, peering straight down into hell.

This is dark, dark stuff—and presumably, very close to the bone. Fante, too, is the son of a doomed father and it’s hard not to read Chump Change and Mooch as memoir. The author sifts through entrails too incisively to avoid the supposition that some of those guts are his own.

Angry, acerbic, self-pitying and often painfully funny, Bruno’s account of his own addiction and obsession, his heartbreaking need to redeem himself through writing even a magazine story in a men’s magazine is a caustic enema which boils straight through to the brain. Read it at your peril.

Anthony Bourdain

March, 2001

Chapter One

I HADN’T WRITTEN a word or a story or anything in months. And I hated my job. But that didn’t matter now. Nothing mattered because of the heat. It took an hour for me to finally make myself get up, put on a shirt, and get ready for work. I’d been avoiding it since Thursday.

Outside on the burning, suffocating street, I yanked a new parking ticket out from under the windshield wiper of my 11-year-old Chrysler, then tore it into as many small pieces as possible, flinging it at the sky. I hated being back in L.A. I hated that I hadn’t had a drink in months. I hated that I was losing my hair. I hated my job. I hated filtered cigarettes and rap music and Tom Cruise’s big, stupid white teeth. And I hated the fucking Parking Violations Bureau.

Opening the car door to my Chrysler was a mistake. The contained force of what had built up in an automobile after several days in the sun in a heat wave with the windows up, hit me. Exploding stagnation, decaying vinyl, strangled dust. A clear warning to go back to my room.

I was running late, so I threw my canvassing book and my coupon demo packets across to the passenger side of the car, sucked in a gulp of the rancid oxygen, then stuck the key in the ignition.


I repeated the procedure. Nothing.

I switched the ignition back all the way to the left to see if the electrical stuff, the gauges and flashers and the other shit, were working. Still nothing.

Sweat was beginning to collect on my forehead and beneath my shirt.

I tried the key again a new way: wiggled it, jiggled it sort-of, hoping that the motor might catch. It had worked before—another time on some other car before my life had turned on me. But not now. Again nothing.

A man walked by.

He appeared to be on his way to his own car. Dressed for the heat wave. Carrying a briefcase and wearing a pair of neatly-pressed tan slacks and a floral, green-mostly, silky, Hawaiian, sports shirt. L.A. casual. I recognized this person as a