BY CHARLES BUKOWSKI. Flower Office of Postmaster United States Post Office January 1, . JONSTONE HAS BEEN WITH THE POST OFFICE FOR "It began as a mistake." By middle age, Henry Chinaski has lost more than twelve years of his life to the U.S. Postal Service. In a world where his three tru. Factotum - Charles ruthenpress.info - Libcom · Post-Scarcity Anarchism - Murray ruthenpress.info - Libcom · Advancing a Novel Process for Post-Anoxic Denitrification.
|Language:||English, Spanish, Portuguese|
|Distribution:||Free* [*Register to download]|
[DOWNLOAD -PDF-] Post Office: A Novel FULL-PAGE Click button poet, and Dirty Old Man Charles Bukowski and his fictional alter ego. G R E AT W R I T E R S CHARLES BUKOWSKI G R E AT W R I T E R S Losing his post office pay meant Bukowski had to find another source of income. Post Office is a novel written by Charles Bukowski. In the same way that Ham On Rye can be said to be an autobiographical account of Bukowski s.
ISBN 1. Bukowski, Charles. Authors, American—20th century—Biography. Beat generation—Biography. Great writers Philadelphia, Pa. Both men were known for their generous and democratic distribution of work to the small presses.
Stafford had been dead for months. Bukowski, meanwhile, responded with three forceful poems, and I was delighted. A sad and ironic postscript: I learned of both deaths just in time to dedicate the inaugural issue of the journal to the poets who had inspired its inception. Note the simultaneous empathy toward and dismissal of the lives dimming within those gray walls and wasted hours. The poem includes a trademark Bukowski paradox: The missing piece of this puzzle, of course, is artistic creation, a rigorous writing life that enables, empowers, and informs, a life of gamble and magic; in short, a religious life of privacy and introspection that sustains and partially redeems everyday dreariness.
A lot of bombastic and self-serving nonsense has been written about Charles Bukowski, and a lot continues to be. We get the context we need and, when some amount of interpretation is required, Baughan is consistently balanced in his assessments.
He seems to get just about everything right, and I gulped down this pleasant bonbon of a biography in one sitting. I think you might find it equally tasty. I do believe, though, that Mr. Although Bukowski is still conspicuously and shamefully absent from mainstream anthologies, lots of my friends and professional colleagues read and enjoy his writing, and more than a few have come out of the closet to pepper their literature classes with a selection or two.
And believe me: How blessed can we be? We discussed this earlier, and maybe you know the feeling. I was interested in writing a book for the series but was hesitant to devote two years of my life to any of the subjects available: Then, in March of , I received a cryptic and enticing note: So he is up for grabs.
The very next day after receiving the note, I was sitting in my office when the telephone rang. A friend told me that Charles Bukowski had died of cancer. My immediate response was to cancel classes for the day. Bukowski, by the way, hated the country, what he considered its monotony and, yes, lack of humanity. Who in his or her right mind would want to? You have to do it for yourself. I am not foolhardy enough to propose the definitive answer, but do feel it necessary and possible to justify my own small contribution.
First and foremost, I did not attempt to surpass the efforts of Neeli Cherkovski author of Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life. If the quality of their work made that unlikely, the more modest scope of the present work rendered it impossible.
The former knew Bukowski very well during the headiest years of his career and delivered an extremely readable first-hand account, and though he included a number of factual inaccuracies, his book is filled with the kind of anecdotal detail no researcher could hope to match.
The resulting work is by far the most thoroughly researched book on Bukowski ever written, and will in all likelihood remain the definitive biography. I owe a huge debt to both of these authors and have made every effort to give them credit for any information I have drawn solely from them. A Biography of Charles Bukowski Where relevant, I have highlighted the discrepancies between existing accounts of given events or perceptions, and pointed to possible means of rectifying them. Furthermore, I cite many other works some of which were still unpublished when Cherkovski and Sounes wrote their books that will prove helpful to any student wishing to conduct additional research.
Most of all I endeavored to rescue Bukowski from the onedimensional prison to which he has been confined all too often by cult fans and snide academics alike. The myth of Bukowski as the wildman laureate of skid row and nothing more or less has robbed him of both his essential humanity the right to be mutable, complex, even hypocritical and a well-earned place in the canon of twentieth-century literature.
In sketching a more subtly shaded portrait I have not shied away from subjective assessments when I felt a point needed emphasis, but neither have I left any such judgments unchallenged, if contradictory evidence exists.
It was a table, I saw a table leg, I saw the legs of the people, and a portion of the tablecloth hanging down. It was dark under there. I liked being under there Though used interchangeably in the pages that follow, each of these names carries a slightly different connotation, each identifies distinct personality traits and legacies, and each is a combination of hardcore reality and sometimes self- perpetuated myth.
The real man lies somewhere between these names. In some ways, particularly in regard to the treatment he has received from academia, he is still hiding under the table that he described at the beginning of Ham on Rye, a fictionalized recounting of his childhood years: Nobody seemed to know that I was there.
There was sunlight upon the rug and on the legs of the people. I liked the sunlight. The legs of the people were not interesting, not like the tablecloth which hung down, not like the table leg, not like the sunlight. As would the misanthropy, the solipsism, and the desire to express things simply, in a way that everyone could understand.
In the paragraph following the one quoted above, Bukowski symbolically touches upon other major themes that run through his life and career: Bird ornaments; birds with small berry branches in the beaks.
A star. Two large people fighting, screaming. People eating, always people eating. I ate too. My spoon was bent so that if I wanted to eat I had to pick the spoon up with my right hand. If I picked it up with my left hand, the spoon bent away from my mouth.
I wanted to pick the spoon up with my left hand.
It was a fight he never won, but his readers get a ringside seat and those who can stand the squalor of his settings and the frankness of his speech are rewarded with a degree of truth and realism too often lacking in literature, as well as a hard-won grace and humor that just might help them through their darkest days. In Ham on Rye, Bukowski gives his under-the-table reverie a date of His father, Henry senior, was an American G.
His mother, Katharina Fett, was a German seamstress whose brother, Heinrich, ran a canteen for the American troops; it was there that Heinrich met the tall, curly haired sergeant who would marry his sister.
The two men became fast friends, especially after Henry began bringing meat and other hard-to-come-by items to a Fett household suffering from postwar deprivations.
Henry also spoke their language, a product of his own German ancestry. The pair fell in love, married, and moved to Pasadena, California, where Henry and his three brothers and two sisters were born. Soon thereafter, Katharina found herself pregnant. Bukowski often claimed he was born out of wedlock, but according to Howard Sounes, author of Charles Bukowksi: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life, Andernach city records indicate Henry and Katharina were married on July 15, , a month before little Heinrich came along.
At the time, Henry was working as a building contractor, but times were tough in postwar Germany, and before long they moved to nearby Coblenz in search of more work. Less than a year after that, Henry decided to return to the U. Back in the States, Henry quickly Americanized his foreignborn wife and child, changing their names to Kate and Henry, Jr. They landed in Baltimore just long enough for Henry senior to work up the money to travel west, back to California.
He also remembers the canaries she kept, the cages covered each night with white hoods, and the piano he plinked away at while the grownups talked. The random notes annoyed his father, who yelled at the boy to stop, but Grandma Emilie always came to his defense. He and his wife had aspirations of upward mobility, but in the meantime Henry settled for a milkman job at the L. Within three years they moved again, to a bungalow on Virginia Road.
By all accounts, Henry senior was a thoroughly bitter man who constantly badmouthed his siblings for minor faults and eschewed his father entirely. When Bukowski began attending Virginia Road Grammar School, his parents often sent him to school dressed in precious little outfits and forbade him from playing with other children, lest he dirty his clothes.
They tried to cultivate an air of superiority and were deathly afraid of giving off the merest hint of impropriety. Soon enough, the inevitable happened: Bukowski got into a fight. He claimed a bully threw the first punch, but the other boys blamed it on him. But the punishment did not end there. Forced to deliver a note to his parents, young Henry suffered woeful condemnations from his mother and his first real beating from his father.
Both seemed more concerned about the shame his actions would bring to them than the situation at school that caused the altercation. Bukowski took the beating and said nothing. Not yet ten years old and his skin was already beginning to thicken. Sometime during his grammar school years, the family moved again, to a bigger house at Longwood Avenue. In his writings and interviews, Bukowski often gives conflicting portrayals of his rank in the playground hierarchy during his adolescent years.
He alternately claims he was both a loner and a leader of a pack of misfits, a perpetual victim and a fearless tough guy, a gawky misfit and a heroic late-bloomer. The reality was probably more jejune; outside his own mind Hank was likely a marginal character that inspired neither love nor hate. If his peers felt anything towards him, it was probably pity. One day Henry asked his son to mow the lawn and handed down precise instructions for how to do so.
Every time Henry Bukowski made an inspection he found an errant blade, and he beat the boy for these unforgivable transgressions. Katherine did nothing to stop the beatings and even participated in the ludicrous judging process. As a result, Hank lost whatever remaining shred of respect he had for his parents and began to think of them as callous strangers and more irrefutable evidence of a society aligned against him. Coliseum and write an essay about the experience.
The insecure boy was greatly surprised and pleased by this rare show of positive reinforcement, especially because he had never attended the presidential address and had fabricated the entire essay.
Involuntarily admitting this fact to the teacher after class only seemed to increase his achievement in her eyes. The experience had a confusing effect on Hank. On the one hand he was encouraged to write more, as a means of getting attention and relieving his social alienation.
Consequently, he also lost a measure of respect for the very people who could provide his salvation—his readers. In the years to come this love-hate reaction to the attention his writing earned him became a Bukowski leitmotif, driving him to disrespect and alienate just about everyone who got too close.
The onset of puberty and the Depression only exacerbated an already bad situation. Henry lost his milkman job, forcing Katherine to earn what little she could by cleaning the houses of wealthier families. They tried other methods—ultraviolet rays and salve-soaked bandages—but nothing seemed to help and eventually the free treatments were halted when the hospital discovered his father had found a job at the Los Angeles County Museum. Mortified by his appearance, Hank completely withdrew from society, refusing to see even the few friends who stopped by to check on him.
It was during this time that he wrote his first short story, a far-fetched fantasy based on the exploits of Baron Manfred Von Richthofen, the legendary World War I pilot otherwise known as the Red Baron. The plot was outlandish and improbable, but once again Hank turned to real life people and events as his primary sources. Several years before, Hank had begun to take refuge in public libraries, relishing the time alone but often struggling to find literature to which he could relate.
During his time away from school, isolated by his affliction, Hank began to read with renewed fervor, diving headlong into Sinclair Lewis, D.
Lawrence, and the early stories of Hemingway. The last of these would prove a lifelong influence, inspiring Hank to write simply and honestly, without embellishment. He gravitated towards works that reciprocated his outsider misanthropy and those which depicted a harsh, cruel world that mirrored his own.
Catcher in the Rye is a perfect example, and although Bukowski was born too early to read it in his adolescence, it became an instant favorite when he did. Bukowski claims that he and his father argued over which high school he was going to attend. The story goes that Hank preferred nearby Polytechnic High, but his father still had high hopes for his only son and enrolled the boy against his wishes in the betterreputed Los Angeles High.
Bukowski also claims L. High was a school for rich kids and snobs, but his contemporaries maintain it was a public school like any other, with students from all levels of society, and that Bukowski went there simply because it was closest to his house. Regardless, Hank clearly felt ostracized. But the military training had its own gruesome drawbacks—often he would rupture one or more of his boils while drilling with his rifle and the blood and puss would soil his uniform.
His mother lost her job cleaning houses, exacerbating their financial woes.
Before he was finally able to find work at the museum, Henry Bukowski had become so embarrassed by his unemployment that he began driving off in his car each morning to make the neighbors think he was working. Then, during the interview for the museum job, he lied about having a college degree. Hank was all too aware of these deceptions and they did nothing to divest him of the notion that his father was a hypocrite and a slave to the status quo.
Hank began to sneak out of his bedroom window after his parents turned in and visit bars downtown, where apparently the bouncers mistook his acne scars for signs of maturity. He met a few older boys—lowlifes and pretty criminals, mostly, and even one married man who plied them with whiskey and provided a spare apartment where they often held drinking contests. Despite his inexperience, Bukowski outlasted the other boys, foreshadowing the decades of heavy drinking to come. They also attended burlesque shows, giving Hank his first taste of women.
But all that would come later. At the time, Hank was just a pimply teen who felt certain no woman could ever find him attractive. So he drank and he rebelled. On one night in particular he arrived home too drunk to try the window and went around to the front door and knocked. His mother woke up first, saw the state he was in and woke her husband, who refused to unlock the door.
A rage welled up inside of the boy, and when he finally broke free, he punched his father in the face. Fortunately, the row eventually subsided without anyone getting seriously hurt, and even had a positive outcome: High school ended the way it began for Bukowski, with him on the outside—literally.
In a scene worthy of Hollywood, Hank spent his senior prom alone, gazing at his peers through the gymnasium windows, overlaying the vision of their easy grace and smiling faces with the ugliness of his own reflection in the glass.
For a moment he was able to convince himself his time of happiness would come. Graduation proved equally traumatic.
All he wanted was to get out on his own. He hoped his writing would show the way. Unsure of what else to do, Hank took a stock boy job at a Sears Roebuck, schlepping merchandise to the various departments.
It was a lousy fit from the start. His fellow employees were all lifers—sad cases who long ago had given up the dream of anything better or else petty midlevel clerks who enjoyed stepping on the fingers of anyone trying to climb the ladder after them. In a pattern that repeated itself over and over again for more than a decade, Bukowksi kept the job for a week or so, did something to get himself fired, and then moved on.
In the fall of , Bukowksi starting taking Journalism and English courses at Los Angeles City College, with the help of a government scholarship. His parents had long been associated with the Deutsche Haus, a local meeting place for German-Americans located not too far from their home, and his mother had often praised Hitler as a hero to the working class. The Deutsche Haus had a small bookstore attached to it that featured many German works translated into in English, and it was there that Bukowski apparently discovered Mein Kampf.
He must have experienced a powerful attraction to this fellow outcast and misanthrope, whose own father had also tried to dictate his future and was constantly full of criticism. In later years, he characterized his Nazi sympathies as merely a continuation of his anti-conformist streak, coupled with a desire to shock the status quo; but like everything else that came out of his mouth or his typewriter, these rationalizations should be taken with a grain of salt. Ask the Dusk was a particular favorite and remained one of the few works that Bukowski continued to praise long after he lost faith in the latter-day works of better-known writers like Hemingway and Henry Miller.
Despite this growing love for literature, Bukowski continued to be an indifferent student at City College. School authorities put him on academic probation and threatened to take away his scholarship. There were exceptions, when words and ideas flowed out of him spontaneously, almost involuntarily. He remembered one writing class in which he was assigned one piece per week; by the end of the term he had easily surpassed the quota, submitting dozens more than any other student.
On the whole, however, he disliked his professors, whom he considered leftist egotistical bores. He became friends with a few classmates, among them fellow writer Robert Stanton Baume, whose short fiction Hank enjoyed, and Robert and Beverly Knox, who contradict the monolithic image of wild man Bukowski by describing him during these formative years as shy and civil.
Hank dreamed of becoming a professional writer but lacked any clear idea of how to make that dream a reality. The Bukowskis even bought their son a typewriter to help with his coursework. That brief period of support came to a dramatic end one day when Hank ran into his mother on his way home from class.
Katherine was in quite a state. Instead of being scared, Hank was incensed by the news and rushed home for the inevitable showdown. Seeing his things strewn helter-skelter across the lawn he so hated to trim only angered him all the more, and Bukowski called for his father to come out and fight him like a man.
When his father never materialized, Hank collected his things, borrowed a little money from his mother, and found a cheap room downtown on Temple Street. Finally free of his parents, Hank discovered other ways of getting in trouble.
The freewheeling fight only ended when the marine knocked Bukowski out cold, and Hank awoke the next morning to find his alarmed landlady calling to him from behind the door. Hank ignored her entreaties and she finally went away, but when he next emerged from his room he found a handyman on apparent sentry duty pretending to pound nails into the carpet. Paranoid he had been set up for some kind of ambush, Bukowski packed what little he had and grabbed his typewriter, but when he tried to leave the handyman got in his way and asked him where he thought he was going.
The only place he could think to go was Bunker Hill, the sketchy neighborhood John Fante had immortalized in Ask the Dust and a haven for people trying not to be found. Bukowski rented a room there and tried to plot his next move. He could not have known it at the time, but his life among the drunks, the hookers, and the dispossessed had only just begun. He was a stranger. My mother was nonexistent.
I was cursed. Looking at my father I saw nothing but indecent dullness For the next six months he eked out a living at a couple dead-end jobs like cleaning the sides of boxcars with other young roustabouts at the Southern Pacific railroad yards.
Another encounter with college pal Robert Baume ended with the pair barhopping downtown until a news bulletin broke over a transistor radio and informed them the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor.
To his way of thinking, military duty demanded a mindless enslavement. After accompanying Baume to the bus station, Bukowski said goodbye to his friend for the last time; Baume was later killed in the Pacific during his tour. Fed up, Hank decided he had to get out of L. He saved some money from his job at the train yards and caught a bus to New Orleans in early , with the idea of gaining some real-world experience to ground his writing.
En route he met a pretty redhead named Dulcey Ditmore who showed enough interest in him to suggest he stop off awhile in her hometown of Fort Worth. Bukowski declined at first and they parted ways, but fellow passengers on the bus laid into him for throwing away a chance at love and Hank eventually acquiesced, getting off in Dallas, backtracking through Texas, and ultimately finding Dulcey with the help of a story-hungry newspaper columnist.
The reunion turned sour, though, when Dulcey revealed she was engaged to a guy in the navy and began proselytizing Hank with talk about the helping hand of God. Hank split town almost immediately, but his desperate need for companionship is evidenced by the fact that he continued to write Dulcey for some time thereafter.
In New Orleans Hank found cheap housing and a job at a magazine distributor, packing and verifying orders. The work was dull and the pay meager and once again he lasted just long enough to make some money for rent. With the exception of one other short stint setting type at a local newspaper, Hank spent the rest of his time in New Orleans writing in his room and occasionally submitting stories to magazines in New York.
All were rejected but sometimes the responses contained a few words of encouragement that helped sustain him. Evidently that life of simple anonymity was not enough to keep him in the Big Easy, though, because Bukowski made plans a few months later to head back to California by joining a railroad crew bound for Sacramento.
Bolstered by such examples, and a confidence born of his self-sustainment, however tenuous, Bukowski could return to California not as a failed wanderer but as a man who had reaffirmed his prime directive. His mother apparently welcomed him back but his father threatened to charge him rent and Hank continued to provoke him with drunken, late-night disturbances. Another short-lived job at an auto parts warehouse earned Hank enough to move to San Francisco in the spring of , where he found much more tolerable work driving for the Red Cross.
The Bay Area also afforded him a nice place to live, in a rooming house with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and a charitable landlady who kept cold beers on hand for him and offered him unlimited use of her gramophone to play the classical records he swapped at a second hand store. All in all it was the sweetest set up he had found yet, but good or bad, Hank could not seem to get it together—he blew it by showing up late to work one day.
In a St. Louis basement he stuffed boxes full of ladies dresses. In New York he took another stock boy job and shivered in his West Coast clothes.
In Philadelphia he worked as a shipping clerk for Fairmount Motor Products and, when that gig ended, survived by gophering for fellow lushes in a downtown bar, placing their bets with bookies, making lunchtime runs to the deli, and perpetually picking fights with a hulking barback named Frank McGilligan.
Inevitably Bukowski took a beating but his indomitable spunk always earned him a few drinks and the respect of the bar. Nearly a half-century later, this last locale would serve as the setting for Barfly, the film Barbet Schroeder directed from a script by Bukowski see Chapter Seven.
The first was important not so much because it was memorable or sensual but because it lifted Hank over the hump so to speak of his unchecked insecurity and augured the onset of a late-blooming virility potent enough to transform him from ugly duckling to veritable womanizer.
By all accounts the lucky lady was a fat girl in Philadelphia who was just intrigued enough by his inebriated entreaties to let him have his way.
Despite her girth and homely looks, Bukowski was still so convinced of his own repulsiveness that he offered her money the following morning. Whether she was in fact a prostitute remains somewhat unclear, though she quickly became one in the stories he told of the experience. Despite a growing collection of rejection slips, Hank set his sights high and doggedly continued to submit his stories to some of the most prestigious magazines in the country, like The Atlantic Monthly and Story.
He also felt compelled to expunge any connection to his father. Like most struggling writers, Bukowski was elated beyond all proportion by his first publication and was soon envisioning a major breakthrough. Convinced it had only been accepted as a lark, to dam his flood of submissions, Hank never sent anything to Story or corresponded with Whit Burnett again.
The compositional slight accompanying his first publication was nothing compared to the trouble that found Bukowski when the law came looking. He merely failed to keep the authorities properly appraised of his whereabouts. Bukowski was sent to Moyamensing Prison, a gothic detention center in Philadelphia for debtors and men awaiting trial that had once held Edgar Allan Poe.
Because it was low-security and housed no violent criminals, he had a relatively easy time behind bars. After complaining about the teeming bed bugs, Hank was later paired with another inmate who apparently went by the name of Tara Bubba. The results of his second psychological examination also remain ambiguous. Regardless of these minor inconsistencies, the outcomes were the same: Oddly enough, Bukowski responded to these significant life events by putting a virtual moratorium on his writing for nearly ten years and sinking even further into alcoholism and depression.
As Sounes has shown, there is proof to the contrary, albeit spotty, in his publishing record. Presaging the style and content of his many works to come, the poems were gritty and laconic, the stories autobiographical sketches of a man named Chelaski, just a few letters different from his later pseudonym, Henry Chinaski.
Hank got a room downtown, within walking distance of the bar, and one night he spied an older blond sitting solo and looking melancholy. Hank was immediately attracted to her tragic bearing and slightly faded good looks. That his come-ons were met with a hard-edged indifference and a weary fatalism only increased his interest, and it did not hurt that she was every bit the boozer he was and willing to sleep with him the night they met.
Ten years his senior, Jane was already well on her way to alcoholic oblivion by the time she met Charles Bukowski. Traumatized by the early demise of her father, impregnated and married just out of high school in that order , widowed by the drunk-driving death of a man who may or may not have divorced her just before he died, and too drunk and despondent to care for her two children, Jane Baker put to shame any claims Bukowski made to having lived a hard life.
Given her background, it was no wonder, really, that she drank to forget her troubles, that she had a violent streak, and that her antics often edged close to outright dementia. Nor it is any great mystery what drew them together. That the cops were occasionally called in to intercede probably helped them on that score. Hank and Jane shacked up together in a series of apartments downtown, on at least one occasion posing as a married couple to secure a lease.
By all accounts their relationship had a surfeit of passion, swinging wildly from heated arguments to equally incendiary lovemaking.
It would be over-reaching, though, to characterize all their time together as contentious and debased. Even a cursory review of the poems and stories that Bukowski wrote about his time with Jane contain as many instances of humor, hard-won grace, and underdog solidarity as they do squalor and indignity.
Jane even worked for a time to help ends meet, and Bukowski would lovingly prepare a bath for her when she got home. In early , Bukowski finally found a stable source of income, in the unlikeliest of places: A two-week temp assignment helping out with the Christmas excess in led to him being hired full-time a year and a half later, and Hank stuck with the job for the next three.
The irony of becoming a cog in one of the largest bureaucratic machines of all was not lost on Hank, but he found the work soft, at least until he had to interact with his coworkers. In any case, something about the mail suited him because future stints working for the United States Postal Service would run even longer and ultimately produce Post Office, his first novel. Lacking insurance or savings, he was taken to the charity ward of Los Angeles County Hospital and spent a terrible night in a room full of equally forsaken men before an X-ray was taken.
The news was not good. Bukowski had a bleeding ulcer and without a blood transfusion would likely die. A nurse even suggested he call in a priest. The problem was, he only qualified for a transfusion if he could prove he or someone in his family had donated. In some families, and most literature, the resultant scene in the hospital would have played out like a hymn to redemption and forgiveness, with father and son burying the hatchet and forging a new bond.
But the animosity between them ran too deep, and there would be no reconciliation with his father, then or thereafter.
The way Bukowski remembered it, they nearly came to blows in his recovery room. He was released from the hospital with the admonition that he would die if he ever drank again. Greatly weakened and once again chafing under the yolk of an anal, unsympathetic supervisor, Bukowski resigned from his job at the post office and began to write with increased prolificacy. Poems began pouring out of him at a rapid clip.
He did not, however, stop drinking. Even if he had wanted to, living with Jane would have made that impossible. Tentative sessions brought on no more physical breakdowns and so he dove back into the bottle as if nothing had ever happened. Losing his post office pay meant Bukowski had to find another source of income. Apparently it was Jane who suggested the horsetrack. Bukowski barely knew of its existence, let alone how to bet, but nevertheless one day they set out for Hollywood Park and within a few hours Bukowski was already devising a system.
Characteristically, it was based on betting against the majority. Uncharacteristically, luck was on his side, and they had three winners in the first day alone, one of which brought home fifty dollars. Bukowski was hooked. They served liquor at the track, and that, combined with the thrill of the races and his continued winning streak, all but sealed his fate as an inveterate horse gambler.
His relationship with Jane took a downswing when she began to accuse him of cheating on her and then her daughter arrived out of nowhere, pregnant and in need of care and a place to stay. Hank moved out and spent his additional free time writing poetry, gradually refining his straight-shooting style and keeping to his earthy subject matter. Distrustful of the major periodicals, he began to look for publication opportunities in the little magazines and journals.
One day he saw an advertisement calling for submissions to Harlequin magazine, published out of Wheeler, Texas. Astounded by the attention, Bukowski wrote a grateful response and soon the two were corresponding regularly. As the letters grew more personal, Frye began to complain of loneliness and bad luck in love, which she blamed on a vaguely described congenital defect in her neck. In letter after letter she bemoaned her situation and worried about ever finding a husband. Bukowski was extremely sympathetic and consoling; to the point of offering a proposal to prove she was marriage-worthy.
Clearly he empathized with her physical deformity and the feeling she had that no one could ever love her. Whether he was serious or not, however, is another matter. Bukowski recalled that he was not exactly sober when he wrote the letter. Regardless, Frye took the offer to heart and soon wrote back to say she was on her way to Los Angeles.
She also included photographs of herself that depending on which source you read either alarmed Bukowski or allayed his worst fears. Evidently, Frye was born with two vertebrae missing from her neck, leaving her chin sitting atop her sternum and preventing her from turning her head from side to side.
They cleared up the confusion the following morning and consummated the relationship properly. Then they drove across the desert and got hitched Vegas-style. The date was October 29, For a while they settled in Los Angeles. Bukowski was working as a shipping clerk again and they lived on that income until Barbara decided she wanted Hank to meet her family and see her hometown.
The Fryes turned out to be everything the Bukowskis were not—wealthy, successful, and respected. Great-grandfather Frye had carved himself a huge chunk of land in the last quarter of the 19th century and promptly struck oil.
Born eleven years after Hank to parents who would shortly divorce, Barbara had been raised by her grandparents and given a house on Frye Ranch in which to live. In addition to editing Harlequin, she had a good job as Wheeler court clerk. Despite these advantages, Barbara was intent on making her own way. Marrying Bukowski offered her a ticket out and the chance to prove her independence.
Most of her family disapproved of the marriage, anyway, and after a few weeks of visiting, they returned to Los Angeles to begin their new life together. They celebrated their return by publishing a special issue of Harlequin that included eight poems by Bukowski.
They also co-edited additional issues, though Bukowski apparently took advantage of his veto power and ruffled a few feathers with his heavy-handed criticism. Barbara was unsatisfied with this career track, however, and she somehow convinced Hank that the doodles he had been making since he was a child could land him a job in advertising. Towards that end, Bukowski enrolled in an art class at City College that had him designing a Christmas ad for Texaco gas stations, but his heart was not in it and he soon dropped out again.
She disliked living downtown, so they moved into a house in Echo Park, a suburb to the northeast. Barbara clearly had expectations for a standard of living that Bukowski did not share.
Coming from a wealthy, prestigious family and believing she had married a great writer, she must have been shocked by his low class, haphazard lifestyle. Even more devastating than his economic instability or bad manners was the deconstruction of her image of him as a rebel poet about to set the world on fire.
Needless to say, the disillusionment was a two-sided affair. To make matters worse, they disagreed on the subject of children. Perhaps she was hoping to threaten Hank into changing his ways by insinuating and perhaps initiating an affair. The couple was officially divorced on March 18, In actuality, he was the one served with the divorce papers and not the other way around, but that fact takes little away from the visceral power the poem draws from pulling no punches and purpling no prose.
Instinctively, Bukowski knew that emotional honesty trumped flashy technique or hundred-dollar diction and that if poetry was ultimately about communicating universal feelings and ideas, then one blue-collar stanza was worth more than a thousand ivory Cantos. The trick lay in convincing everybody else. But before he could do that, he had to find a way to work after 9: Evidently his furious typing annoyed the neighbors and his landlord handed down a curfew that severely hamstringed a personal schedule that had him warming exactly when he was now told to cool down.
They had since moved to another house in the slightly more upscale suburb of Temple City, still inching their way along the yellow brick road of the American dream.
Both would die long before they were even in eyesight of Oz, though. Collapsing under the strain of her marriage to an odious man, she evidently began to drink when Henry was away at work.
It got much worse when she was diagnosed with the cancer that would eventually kill her. Bukowski first heard of her illness when she was already dying. The discrepancy over exactly what she said to him that day at the Rosemead Rest Home is good example of how small changes in a story can result in quite different characterizations.
Nevertheless, the truth only mattered to Bukowski, and if he did not get what he needed from his mother in real life, he made sure to do so through his re writing. Great or terrible, Henry Bukowski did not linger long over the memory of his wife of thirty-six years. As fate would have it, he never got the chance to remarry. He dropped dead in his kitchen on December 4, On the contrary, he was ecstatic. He was now beholden to no one, blessedly free to do as he pleased.
Still, he performed his duties as a son, making funeral arrangements and contacting everyone he thought would want to know. The list was not long. Virtually all the Bukowskis were already dead, the Fetts still in Germany.
A few neighbors came, and fewer friends. Fact is, he got a kick out of divvying up what little booty the old man had amassed from his dogged pursuit of membership in the bourgeoisie. Bukowski downplayed the windfall in his writings and to his friends, maintaining that it was swiftly spent to support his drinking and gambling habits, but the truth, as revealed by those closest to him, is that he socked away a little nest egg as a hedge against lean years ahead. I wonder if you realize how much bad stuff is written in all earnestness?
However much he tried to ignore and defy that pressure, it had still poisoned his self-perception and kept him from truly believing that the writing life was worthwhile. Bukowski almost certainly would have continued to write anyway, and he did not inherit enough to quit his job at the post office, but that sense of impending destitution no longer breathed down his neck. There he could focus on nothing but the next race— victory, defeat, happiness, despair, the whole panoply of human experience distilled to a set number of laps around a finite loop, life played out at a galloping pace.
What mattered was the thrill of the race, the exhilaration of letting go the reins and going for broke. But what I am trying to tell you is, that the reason most people are at the racetrack is that they are in agony, ey yeh, and they are so desperate that they will take a chance on further agony rather than face their present position Notes of a Dirty Old Man, 41 Los Angeles may be sprawling, but like all cities it has its niches and its neighborhoods and Bukowski kept to his corner more than most.
It was perhaps inevitable that he would bump into Jane again. It happened sometime in , before his father died, and for the next four years or so they saw each other off and on, but the mad fire between them had been snuffed to a barely glowing pile of ash.
Nevertheless, he was devastated when he visited her apartment one day and found it vacated, the bedsheets soaked with blood. He heard from the landlady that an ambulance had taken her to Los Angles County Hospital. The immediate cause was a hemorrhage brought on by too much drink, but when the doctors took a closer look they found cancer in advanced stages all over her body, not to mention a cirrhotic liver on the verge of collapse.
Once again Bukowski faced the extreme unpleasantness of making funeral arrangements. Perhaps a deeper love was forged in their drunken struggle for survival that no one will ever understand but them. Whatever the case, Bukowski continued to grieve and write about Jane for the rest of his life. She became Betty in Post Office and Laura in Factotum, and when he sat down to write Barfly, the screenplay based on his early years, it was Jane who got the starring role of Wanda, eventually played by Faye Dunaway.
What ultimately pulled Bukowski out the wreckage of his grief was the fact that his work was finally attracting some attention. Bukowski fit that bill perfectly and he fed the small presses with a never-ending stream of words. In , his poems appeared in Nomad, Coastlines, Quicksilver, and Epos.
And those are only the ones we know about. Whether any of these works made their way into publication uncredited and uncompensated is something we will probably never know for certain, given the ephemerality of the magazines in question.
He maintained correspondences with a whole host of writers, editors, publishers, and friends. A letter from Bukowski was an up-to-the-minute dispatch from the front lines of a war perpetually raging, a plea for help and a howl of rage, leavened here and there with dirty talk and sarcasm.
No less than five volumes of his correspondence have found their way to print and any fan or researcher who overlooks them is missing out on the richest resource available for understanding the man behind the myth. In addition to exposing a less guarded and more self-questioning side than he allowed be seen in his fiction and poetry, all this letter writing helped Bukowski develop strong relationships with the kind of people who could get his work into print.
One of the first to take up the cause was E. Griffith, editor of Hearse magazine. The project was plagued by delays that nearly sent Bukowski into a tailspin of depression and frustration. This time he was effusive with his praise and closed with contrition: Cuscaden, editor of Midwest magazine and publisher of another Bukowski chapbook called Run with the Hunted March Individually, these appearances in the small press exposed Bukowski to a small group of readers, but collectively they kicked off his career and gave him the confidence needed to continue with his work.
Although great fans of his poetry, none of the editors mentioned above were prepared at the time to devote all their energies exclusively to Bukowski.
That distinction belongs to Jon and Gypsy Lou Webb. Jon Edgar Webb was a curious mix of literature aficionado, gentle outlaw, and blue-collar workingman. A grammar school teacher in early adulthood who went on to become a police reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and other large newspapers, Webb also wrote short fiction and developed acquaintances with some major literary figures, like Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson.
While inside, he produced a prison newspaper and learned the basics of typesetting. Together they moved to New Orleans and founded Loujon Press in the cramped basement apartment and former slave quarters of a crumbling French Quarter manse.
Their first major undertaking was issue number one of a new literary magazine they dubbed The Outsider, which appeared in the fall of Two years in the making, it was painstakingly printed on quality stock using an obsolete letterpress and featured poems and prose by the rising stars of avant-garde literature: The Webbs distinguished themselves not only by making attractive, award-winning publications by hand but also with their keen editorial eyes.
Two more of his poems were selected for the second issue of The Outsider published in the summer of , but the third issue spring focused almost exclusively on his work and even featured a photo of his pockmarked mug on the cover. Bukowski struggled over a title for a while before settling on a line from a poem by his personal favorite, Robinson Jeffers.
It was clearly a labor of love. John William Corrington was enlisted to write an introduction, and hundreds of pages were sent to Bukowski to sign. The result spoke for itself, but Bukowski was too overjoyed to contain his admiration and gratitude. These days, copies of It Catches easily fetch thousands of dollars, if they can be found at all.
While that project was still taking shape, Bukowski began an affair with a woman who had written him earlier in the year to express her enthusiasm for his poetry. Born in San Rafael, California, she later moved to Massachusetts after her father died, and was raised by her paternal grandparents.
Her marriage ended sometime thereafter and she moved across the country to be with her mother in Garden Grove, near Los Angeles. This desperation, coupled with her desire to meet the man whose work she so admired, helps explain why she was willing to walk several miles, take a bus, and then OUTSIDER OF THE YEAR 37 hail a cab in the middle of the night to console Bukowski after he finally called her one drunken evening and demanded that she come over. The next day they went to the horse races together and soon they were inseparable.
In retrospect, it is clear that she invested more into the relationship than he did, learning to accept his drinking, his gambling, and his foul turns of temper despite her strong distaste for all these things. Bukowski would later disparage her looks, and her liberal beliefs, but he badmouthed almost all his lovers and friends and there is no questioning that his reaction to what happened next suggests at least some degree of emotional investment. Bukowski worried constantly about getting FrancEyE pregnant and warned her often that he was entirely against the idea of having children, but that is exactly what happened towards the end of Bukowski took the news as best as could be expected and even proposed marriage, but FrancEyE declined, having long before soured on the institution.
Their new landlords proved to be much more accommodating. Beyond overlooking their unmarried status a real stigma and dealkiller in those days , Francis and Grace Crotty were also known to supply their tenants with whiskey, beer, and dented tins of food to help them through lean times.
More importantly, Bukowski could type whenever he pleased without worrying about downstairs neighbors banging on the floor with their broomsticks. As the pressure of impending fatherhood grew, Bukowski began drinking to excess more often and openly criticized everything that defined FrancEyE, from her progressive social beliefs to the poetry workshops she attended and the friends she made there.
Once he even questioned his paternity of the child she was carrying, in front of her, to his friend Jory Sherman. They were headed for a split, and both of them knew it, but with the baby on the way they somehow managed to keep it together. One happy distraction came in the form of an extended visit from Jon and Gypsy Lou. The couple made the long trip from New Orleans to finally meet the man behind the words that had inspired such devotion in them.
They were also there to discuss his next volume of verse. Bukowski felt they had plenty of material to choose from already, and that they should consider putting out a less lavish production to speed things along. The Webbs, however, held true to their standards and argued that they had already selected the print-worthy poems from his voluminous submissions and more quality work was needed if they were going to invest their time and money in another collection.
But beyond these editorial quibbles, their visit was suffused with mutual admiration, affection, and relief that they got along as well in person as they did on the page. Several weeks later, on September 7, , Marina Louise Bukowski was born, her middle name a heartfelt tribute to Gypsy Lou. He and hundreds of coworkers staffed a giant work floor futilely attempting to keep up with the never-ending flow of incoming mail.
The work was repetitive and mindless, the din of the machinery deafening, the production expectations of his superiors draconian. Before long it began to take a serious physical toll on him. His back and shoulders ached constantly. His morale slipped and his surliness surfaced more and more often.
For a while, he somehow continued to find time to write despite the hardships, not to mention a new baby and constant visits from friends and admirers. But inevitably his output slowed. Tensions between Hank and FrancEyE continued to mount as he drank himself ugly and uncorked his frustration all over her. To make matters worse, Jon Webb was constantly asking for more poems for the new collection.
After talking it over with the Webbs, Bukowski decided a break from everything was required to focus his mind on writing, so in March of he boarded a train out of Union Station to New Orleans. According to Gypsy Lou, he was drunk on arrival and just kept on drinking when they got to their place in the French Quarter, where he found pages and pages of his work piled chest high and squirreled into every corner.
The Webbs put him up in the house of a friend named Minnie Segate, who cooked and cleaned for him while he was there, happy at first just to be near the great Charles Bukowski. The Webbs had also asked a New York artist named Noel Rockmore, newly transplanted to the Crescent City, to design etchings for the cover and some interior illustrations.
He and Bukowski hit it off and drank together for a few nights, causing havoc and upsetting Minnie before Jon Webb finally drew the line and told Bukowski to get cracking. I am not a very good drunk. It seems I make a lot of mistakes and it seems that I am not allowed any. It looks like I got to travel pretty much alone.
Screams, But once again Bukowski proved he could hunker down and produce when he put his mind to it. If he did not have any new verses with him when he went to visit the Webbs, then he was not allowed inside.
Jon and Gypsy Lou drove themselves as hard as they did Bukowski, working twelve-hour days to keep the pages coming. Gradually the book took shape. Excerpt from Post Office It began as a mistake. It was Christmas season and I learned from the drunk up on the hill, who did the trick every Christmas, that they would hire damned near anybody, and so I went and the next thing I knew I had this leather sack on my back and was hiking around at my leisure.
What a job, I thought. They only gave you a block or two and if you managed to finish, the regula carrier would give you another block to carry, or maybe you'd go back in and the soup would give you another, but you just took your time and shoved those Xmas cards in the slots. I think it was my second day as a Christmas temp that this big woman came out and walked around with me as I delivered letters. She seemed a bit crazy, but I kept looking at her body and I didn't care.
She talked and talked and talked. Then it came out. Her husband was an officer on an island far away and she got lonely, you know, and lived in this little house in back all by herself.
She wrote the address on a piece of paper. But I couldn't help thinking, god, all these mailmen is drop in their letters and get laid.
This is the job for me, oh yes yes yes. So I took the exam, passed it, took the physical, passed it, and there I was—a substitute mail carrier. It began easy. Every day I expected to get laid but I didn't.
But the soup was easy and I strolled around doing a block here and there.