“You must be Charles Bukowski,” he said.
“Yes. Poet, and lover,” I answered.”
L.A. Skid Row's unofficial poet laureate is back again, with outrageous boozy adventures of staring up women's skirts and, more often than not, ripping them off.
On September 15, City Lights will be publishing a new collection of Bukowski's essays, culled from the infamous Notes of a Dirty Old Man columns that he wrote in various forms from 1967 through the eighties.
These columns garnered Bukowski an international reputation as an outsider avant la lettre when they were first published. He wrote them for San Francisco's Open City, Nola, and the Los Angeles Free Press, small weekly papers that ran his writing virtually unedited. His brutal and visceral view of life blasted through many taboos of the sixties and seventies: suicide, outrageous alcoholism, rape, anal sex, and fetishistic fantasies were all fair game for Bukowski's pen.
More Notes of a Dirty Old Man comprises a second, and until now uncollected, series of essays. Most date from his later years writing for the Free Press in Los Angeles. To anyone familiar with Bukowski's work, they're more of the good stuff — essays on pure desire that demonstrate his lust for the physical world. And of course, they're shot through with Bukowski's admirable denial of a higher meaning to his work — to an earnest interviewer, he writes, “When I die they can take my work and wipe a cat's ass with it. It will be of no earthly use to me.”
Yet he's pointed, honest and direct. For a crude alcoholic mostly obsessed with tits and ass, he yields surprisingly insightful statements. This is, of course, Bukowski's charm and magic, and why he's considered a great poet instead of being filed away as a raving crank or filthy misogynist.
In one column, he recounts a conversation with his daughter at the beach, in which he tells her that her sandcastle is beautiful, but also very nice. She's confused at first. He explains, “'Beautiful' is usually what people say when they don't mean it and 'it's very nice' is usually what they say when they really mean it.” That's the thing about Bukowski: he always really means it.
Though he was born in Germany, his family moved to South Central L.A. when he was 10. Bukowski became an L.A. writer through and through. He never left the city. Important landmarks from the City of Angels pepper his writing, and Richard Schave, an art historian and entrepreneur, even created a “Bukowski bus tour” with alternative city tour company Esotouric.
LA Weekly spoke to Schave for a run-down of Charles Bukowski's Los Angeles, and found a couple of additional odd haunts in More Notes. Here's our guide to ten quintessential Bukowski locations:
10. Post Office Terminal Annex, Downtown
It's where Bukowski worked as a letter-filing clerk, and, Schave says, “It's also where he got into trouble — when he quit in 1969, he felt weeks away from being fired.” At that point, the post office authorities had found out about his Open City columns, and were preparing to suspend him for absenteeism. Bukowski, in turn, felt like the post office was killing him slowly, and poisoning his urge to write.
9. Clifton's Cafeteria, Downtown
Clifton's is a haunt from Buke's early days, and his days of eating there are long gone by the time he begins writing Notes. But we have Clifton to thank for Bukowski's survival through his leanest years: he'd go there when he had no money, and he'd eat for free, Schave says. The owner, Clifford Clinton, had made a pledge to never turn away hungry folks in need — and amazingly, didn't go bankrupt while feeding millions of people during World War II.
8. East Fifth and Los Angeles Streets, Downtown
Though this location isn't mentioned in More Notes, it's as quintessential to Bukowski's life as the Post Office was. When he was young, he would go down to the job boards there and watch other skilled workers find work for the day. Schave explains, “This itinerant labor theme was something that would carry him into his thirties. He would go down to the job boards and watch skilled laborers get jobs. He couldn't get a job. He had no skills. East 5th Street in Los Angeles is really the last place that you have that feel from the Skid Row that Bukowski knew in the '50s.”
7. Santa Monica
For a man who was famous for spending time on Skid Row, and who later set up shop in Hollywood on De Longpre, Bukowski spends a lot of time pacing (and insulting) the streets of Santa Monica in this new collection of columns. Perhaps the best nugget comes from a heated speech that he delivers to a bunch of fellow jailed drunks: “Bathing is a disease, catching fish is a disease, calendars are a disease, the city of Santa Monica is a disease, bubblegum is a disease.”
In More Notes he spends time taking his daughter to Synanon beach, located near the Casa Del Mar Hotel, named for cultish drug-rehab facility Synanon that was there until 1989.
6. The Hollywood Park Racetrack, Inglewood
Horse races were how Bukowski made enough money to keep himself afloat after he quit his job at the post office. He'd worked out a betting system in which he rarely lost, and usually ended up with quite a tidy profit at the end of the day. Racetracks were where he observed humanity, and where he made a couple of friends.
In More Notes, he tells the story of meeting two French gangsters and small-time crooks who came to L.A. to make films. One of them has such bad luck betting at the racetracks that he repeatedly ends up in jail from committing crimes to pay off his debts. The crook defeatedly tells Bukowski, “When I win, I feel nothing, when I lose, I feel the pain. What good is winning? Winning is no good.” The racetrack always put things in perspective for Bukowski; or rather, it shows him how much worse things might have gone for him.
5. The Los Angeles Central Library, Downtown
Bukowski revisits the Central Library in one of the more (dare I say) heartfelt pieces of this collection. He writes of his love for the Philosophy Room, where he was reassured by the many tomes that listed the benefits of solitude. “I have never been lonely. I have been confused, depressed, insane, suicidal, but never lonely in the sense that some person or persons might solve something for me,” he claimed.
In many ways, this statement forms the crux of Bukowski's paradoxical personality. On the one hand, he was self-contained, always acting and thinking independently. But on the other, he formed unhealthy relationships with women and had incredibly low self-esteem. Schave believes that Bukowski didn't necessarily enjoy his solitude as much as he claimed: “He was really very lonely, so when people started to appear and started to spend days living on his sofa, he enjoyed that.”
4. Los Feliz Boulevard
In typical Bukowksi fashion, one of his columns concerns a crazed love triangle between him and two women given the pseudonymns of Nina and Patricia (the latter referred to his girlfriend Linda King). After watching a boxing match with Patricia at the Olympic Auditorium, he goes to pay Nina a visit. Patricia later pulls up to the house, and dukes it out with both of them, beating them up with her purse and breaking booze bottles on Los Feliz Boulevard. This is one of many fights that Bukowski describes in this collection, but it's the only one with a location attached to it. Maybe some glass shards are still hiding in a gutter somewhere along the road.
3. 151 S. Oxford Ave.
This Koreatown apartment had a couple odd roaches crawling behind the refrigerator, as Bukowski shares with us. He only lived there for a couple months, after a failed attempt at living with Linda King, a long-time girlfriend. For a Bukowski haunt, it receives a pretty dampened endorsement: “I live in a rather modern apartment on Oxford Avenue, it's all very quiet, and I sneak my bottles down the stairway, play my radio at low key, and I bathe, modestly, under the arms.”
2. Musso and Frank
Bukowski began frequenting Musso's later in life, after he stopped writing his columns, and it's one of a few of his bar and restaurant haunts that still exists. In More Notes he sends his alter ego Henry Chinaski there to schmooze with movie executives in order to produce a screenplay. He promptly pisses them off — opining on a movie title, he tells a producer, “you use that title and I've got to equate you with some guy in a circle-jerk singing God Bless America.” The executives refused to talk to him again.
Schave adds, “I don't think he was going there until 1978 or 1979…He didn't trust himself to get used to expensive dinners at Musso's until the royalty checks started coming in. One of the reasons he started going to Musso's more was to look good and impress his wife — his bookmaking at the track was starting to pay off.”
1. 5124 De Longpre Avenue
Though Bukowski lived in Downtown L.A. for many years, he moved into a bungalow on De Longpre shortly before he quit his job for the post office and began a life as a full-time writer under contract with Black Sparrow Press. He wrote his novels Post Office and Factotum there, and it became a central setting for his book Women.
Many of the columns from this collection were written there too, since Bukowski lived there from 1963 to 1972. De Longpre was where fans and friends crashed and got drunk. It's probably also where the beautiful redhead he rhapsodizes about in this collection tracked him down. Most importantly, it was where Bukowski really started getting laid. Bukowski didn't venture out much from De Longpre, since he was busy writing or drinking most of the time. “He really was a bit of a homebody. He had Pink Elephant deliver his liquor because he had a lot of DUIs,” says Schave.
Though his bungalow was threatened with destruction at the hands of developers in 2007, there was a strong push from L.A. Bukowski fans to turn the building into a historic monument. It was saved in 2008.
More Notes chronicles Bukowski's trips to New Orleans, Utah and Detroit, all of which he enjoyed in their own, odd and forsaken ways. So why did he never move away from Los Angeles?
In typical nonsensical fashion, he writes: “I'm here to begin with and then you build around that. Or I build around it. I've lived most of my life here and I've simply gotten used to the place. I can't even get lost, sober. And just the other day I found out where the L.A. zoo was. And the women here seem to love old men. I've never seen women like that. At the same time, I'm suicidal and there's the smog to help me out.”
More Notes of a Dirty Old Man is published by City Lights Publishers, and will be available in bookstores starting September 15.
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