Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Bukowski's "More Notes of a Dirty Old Man"


One thing I miss about working at the university library (which I haven't done since 2000) is being able to go on massive "writer kicks" -- reading every available book by and bio on 'til it (he or she) is all out of my system. Back when I was floor supervisor and trapped there for 8 hours a day, I'd get all the work done in 2 or 3 hours, then have the rest of the day to just browse the stacks and discover.

At some point in the late '80s or early '90s, I had my initial Charles Bukowski kick. It has now been around 20 years since I first read him, 'til I just found his "More Notes of a Dirty Old Man" (2011) last weekend at the city library. (He died in 2004; these are all essays/sketches/stories published in non-mainstream magazines from '67 through '84.)

The guy puts me in a good mood and makes me feel good about life!

Here's from a funny sketch about a groupie who'd come to his house unannounced:

She put down her bottle. "You are a great writer," she said.
"That's no reason for coming to see me."
"Yes it is, yes it is. You see you fascinate me, you write this way and you look like, you look like --"
"The trashman?"
"Yes, or a diseased gorilla, an undergrown aged gorilla dying of cancer. And those goddamn eyes, slits of eyes but when you finally OPEN them for just that second -- shit, I never saw eyes LIKE THAT, that COLOR, that VICIOUS FIRE --"

They end up doing it on the rug; afterward, she says "ooooh ooooh ooooh I liked it, I liked it I liked it, you filthy greasy pig," and then she leaves while he's in the bathroom.

I was fascinated by that sex (which I'm guessing really happened): It kind of turned me on to read, but then when I started to think about it, and ME: There are some writers, however much I admire them, that I have no actual desire to have sex with, and Bukowski is one of them! :) Yes, just based on the fact that he looked like a trashman/diseased gorilla! I don't think that I could have, unlike the red-haired groupie in the sketch, ever gone beyond that external analysis, despite his writing and his "goddamn" eyes! But... now I feel like I've been missing out! :)

That whole passage made me think about exactly which writers I like that I'd want to sleep with: Bukowski, noooooo. Kerouac, noooooo. (Both too sloppy.) Mailer, maybe. Fitzgerald, probably not (too neurotic). Hemingway, yes. Plath, no. Sexton, yes. Ted Hughes, yes. Rilke, Yeats, Eliot --- noooooo. (Though I'd like to stay up very late drinking and talking with Yeats and Rilke, and all of the above, I suppose.)

Back to Bukowski's writing, though: I like the fact that he writes about a lot of rough stuff and about a lot of dreary, mind-numbing day-to-day stuff (both of which I've experienced too much of), but with insight and humanity and detail. Like Raymond Carver's story about having a guy friend over to hang out and drink; a few hours into the evening, the main character sees his friend kissing the main character's wife in the kitchen --- it's a stunning, potentially life-changing moment... and simultaneously, as he sees the kiss, the main character has just spilled some beer on his new Hush Puppies and is worried about the stain coming out... Life is LIKE that. I've had a hundred moments like that. It's so hard to capture in writing.

One Bukowski sketch in this book that I liked a lot: He's at a camp out in the wilderness with his girlfriend and a bigger group. His girlfriend seems kind of distant one morning, so he goes off by himself to write, wondering about the "inconsistency of woman"... And then gets lost in the woods. He wonders around for hours, eventually truly scared, to the point of abandoning his notebook... After about 8 hours (and contemplation about his potential demise), he finally winds his way back to the camp by chance:

"My god I'm glad to see you! I thought I might die..."
His girlfriend's callous: "I think you got lost on purpose...I thought maybe you went over the mountain to get a drink... Now you'll have something to write about."

As they're trudging back to their tent: "We had to climb between and over old barbwire fences. I got stuck in one, three or four barbs stuck into the back of my shirt. My arm was too tired to reach up and pluck myself free. I just stood there between the strands. Linda waited. I couldn't move. She walked back and lifted the top strand off my back and I got out and followed her."

I laughed out loud about Bukowski idiotically being semi-trapped in the barbed wire. And then laughed out of happiness at Linda's kindly, despite her pique, lifting of one strand to "free" him. Yeah, there's symbolism there, but it was also just a very cute moment of a real-life dynamic between a couple. That kind of thing is very hard to put into words. And Bukowski, and Carver, could do that so well.

Finally: In this book, I also enjoyed Bukowski's recollections of libraries and the idea of solitude:

"After sitting in [LA's] Pershing Square and listening to the boys argue about whether there was a God or not I would walk over to the library... I found myself in the Philosophy Room. Those boys had some style. They talked about what mattered... One of the things they talked about was the need for Solitude. That made sense to me. That need. I mean, when I was sitting at a table reading a book and somebody came to my table and sat down it disturbed me. Why sit near me? And when I looked about and saw other empty tables, I felt really repulsed. I know that I am supposed to love my fellow man but I don't. I don't hate him; I often dislike him; I just don't want him about. I feel better alone.

I loved Solitude. Still do. I grow when I am alone. People diminish me. Especially men, they seem quite unoriginal. Women, at times, are useful. Also they are funny and tragic. But too many continued hours and days with them leads to madness."

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