"If you're going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don't even start. This could mean losing girlfirends, wives, relatives, and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery-isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance., of how much you really want to do it. And, you'll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you;re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire.You will ride the straight to perfect laughter. It's the only good fight there is." -Charles Bukowski
A few days ago I was walking down active Market Street with my close friend and coworker. We were strolling through the old San Francisco theater district which is in the labyrinth of the infamous Tenderloin. We walked under some industrial scaffolding which was roughly positioned on the sidewalk in front of a condemned theater. The empty and cracked out marquee look appalling with sadness. On the boarded up doors someone had scribbled in large black letters: LOVE IS A DOG FROM HELL on the plywood flanks. My friend told me that was a line from Charles Bukowski. He then proceeded to ask me if I had heard him. I told him that I had never heard of him. It was then that he gave me a general introduction down Market Street, down a street that has given me so much.
My friend never ceases to amaze me. He's full of wisdom (even though he doesn't think he is), I consider him a teacher (and a Filth Elder). He's the type of man that will give you a bone and let you chew on it. However, he always gives you the freedom to dismiss his offering if it shows no interest. He does not get offended, he does not force. He tells me just enough about something to gain my interest, then allows me to do my own research, thus allowing me to come back to him and tell what I've learned. He has a good record of not saying too much, saving me the pleasure of discovering the big surprises about his subjects for myself. In my opinion he presents his interests to me like a good movie trailer. Admit one please! A few days later, he came to work with his copy of Bukowski's Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame. It's a book of poetry. He let me borrow it. That evening, I started reading Charles Bukowski for the first time and it made me cry.
My friend was happy that I grasped Bukowski, that I understood him to some degree. He was pleasantly surprised that I liked him since he does not consider me a "worldly" person. He also inclined after that previous statement: "You don't have any hard lines in your face." A few days later I hopped on the F-Line and headed towards the lower Castro to my favorite used bookstore in San Francisco: Aardvark Books. It was there that I embraced Hot Water Music and You Get So Alone at Times That Is Just Makes Sense. His publisher Black Sparrow Press has done a bang-up job on his book covers. Each one has it's own special flair.
Why do I feel close to Bukowski? First, I think it's because I'm lonely, young, and struggling in the big city financially like everyone else in the Bay Area. But I'm genuinely happy in retrospect. Second, he sees things so clear and accurate. His prose is deliciously straightforward, heart touching, cynical, wise, disgusting, and devastatingly erotic. He's brutally honest and beautifully channeled his alcohol addiction and lust for women into something that all humanity can relate to. Somehow, some way, his readers can feel something familiar the way he did, regardless if his audience has not participated in any of his life's illicit activities: like going to the brothels of Tijuana. There in lies the mystery and irony in my observations. The man was a genius with a dirty mind. When you boil Bukowski down, he's a drunk womanizing galute (I love that term) who is wise beyond words because he writes about Life, true life, and has a sentimental heart. Time Magazine proclaimed him a "laureate of American lowlife." Indeed, he is and he wore the title proudly.
Perhaps his writing has such a strong power over me because I work on the edge of the Tenderloin. Every day I see the kind if people that inhabit his short stories and poems. They pepper the streets in their drunken madness and deplorable actions. I walk through the streets as the large mortar single occupancy hotels surround me. Windows open with curtains blowing, fire escapes twisting down. In one story he wrote about a character entering into a single occupancy hotel to visit a friend and described the halls as smelling like piss and shit. The scent of someone frying chicken lingered through the air also, and he could hear a woman getting her brains fucked out and not giving a damn who heard her. He knocks on his friend's door and the tenant responds, "Hello Chinasky! How in the hell are you?" Every day 7th Street in San Francisco looks like a Charles Bukowski story.
The majority of his work takes place in his hometown Los Angeles, he wrote about the drunks, whores, lunatics, and all the other sick humanity that swarmed the streets above his own hotel room. He also worked for the city post office. That job fueled him with the ideas for his novel Post Office which I have yet to read. He certainly had a gift for phrases and attention grabbing titles. Some of his other works include: At Terror Street and Agony Way, Poems Written Before Jumping Out of an 8 story Window, The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills, Mockingbird Wish Me Luck, Legs, Hips and Behind, Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit, What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through the Fire, The Flash of the Lightning Behind the Mountain, All the Assholes in the World and Mine, and Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness. There are many more.
Readers near and far: If you ever get your clutches on one of his books, do invest a little of your money and time into his offering. You will not be disappointed.