Charles Bukowski's More Notes of a Dirty Old Man: 10 of the Buke's Dirty L.A. Haunts
Courtesy of City Lights Publishers
"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
Flickr / The toe stubber
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
Flickr/evefouche Skid Row
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.