THE CHARLES BUKOWSKI/SECOND COMING YEARS
By A.D. Winans
(Published by Beat Scene Press, Warwickshire England)
(For a copy send $13.00 to D. Hsu at PO Box 105, Cabin John, Maryland 20818, USA. Make payment out to D. Hsu. Then drop a card to the publishers, BEAT SCENE PRESS, 27 Court Leet, Binley Woods, Nr Coventry Cv3 2jq, Warwickshire, England, telling them you've done that--the book will be airmailed directly to you. This saves you the trouble of sending money to England.)
I remember another time in San Francisco. Bukowski and I spent a short time together. Bukowski wanted to visit North Beach, but didn't want to drink at the bars, afraid that he would be forced to discuss poetry with his many well wishers and certain poets that he didn't like and was afraid he might might encounter. Bukowski wanted to save his drinking for later that night when he was scheduled to give a reading. I showed him where the old Beat bars had once been, and the few bars that had survived the Beat generation. On the way back down Grant Avenue, we passed the Cafe Trieste, a popular North Beach coffee house and gathering place for the literary crowd and the pretentious elite. Bukowski stopped outside the Cafe Trieste and stared at the crowd sitting at the intimately close tables. Then, moving to the front entrance, he peered inside and said in a semi thundering voice, Look at all these people waiting for something to happen, only it never will. Bukowski's remark was met with stunned silence, as a good number of the patrons looked up, immediately recognizing him. Bukowski hurried away without waiting for me. I heard one of the patrons, a skinny woman with glasses, make an insensitive remark. God, did you see all that acne and what a drinkers nose. Hell be dead before you know it. Her remark was met with a smattering of laughter, as she continued drinking her espresso. She was wrong. The scars weren't from acne but childhood boils, and Bukowski would live a relatively full life for someone who abused his body as much as he did. I managed to catch up with Bukowski and drove him across town where he was staying at a friends pad. In the car, he talked about his dislike for the kind of people who hung out at places like the Cafe Trieste. He described them as soft boiled egg and parsley eaters. Bukowski talked about getting used to brawls as a teenager, having to defend himself because of his pock faced looks. He lived in the slum streets of Los Angeles where survival meant being able to take care of yourself. Bukowski was quoted as saying, The trouble is that I liked it. Liked the impact of knuckles against teeth, of feeling the terrific lightning that breaks in your brain when somebody lands a clean one and you have to try to shake loose and come back and nail him before he finishes you off. He confessed, however, that he was too old for that kind of life anymore.
I would later write Hank and ask him for his advice on my quitting work as I approached my 50th birthday. I was considering devoting my full time to writing, much the way Hank had when he quit the post office at the same age. Hank wrote back and said, I don't know what to tell you. I had to quit my job. My whole body was in pain, and I could no longer lift my arms. They had beat on my body and mind for decades. And I didn't have a dime. I had to drink it away to free my mind from what was occurring. I decided that I would be better off on skid row. Yeah, I was afraid. I had fear that I could never make it as a writer, moneywise. I just drank and sat at the typewriter. I wrote my first novel POST OFFICE, in nineteen nights. I drank beer and scotch and sat around the apartment in my shorts. I smoked cheap cigars and listened to the radio. I wrote dirty stories for the sex magazines. It got the rent paid, and also got the soft ones and the safe ones to say,He hates women. The poetry readings came and I hated them, but it was more $$$, and I wrote and wrote and wrote. I loved the banging of the typewriter. Hank went on to say, sometimes I think it was only the sound of the typer that I wanted. It wasn't so much that I was trying to be a writer, it was more like doing something that felt good to do. The luck gradually mounted, and I kept on writing, and certain writers began to hate me. That doesn't matter. What matters is that I didn't die on that post office stool.
Hank closed his letter by advising me that if I wanted to try quitting work that I might want to consider working part time, five hours a day. Hank felt that a part time job wasn't that bad, and wouldn't kill a man, while still leaving him enough time to write. He advised me, If any of this gives light to what you're trying to do, trying to escape from, good. I think that any gamble beats sitting still when the intolerable walls close in.
When it came to decision making time, I didn't have Hank's courage to quit my job and devote my time to writing. I knew that I possessd skills as an investigator, but was worried about who would hire a man fifty years old, who had spent the majority of his life devoted to poetry and the arts. Then again, there was the 1973 Saint Patrick's Day arrest to consider. With the exception of the CETA arts job, the arrest had always turned up to haunt me.
I knew that the Men's magazine field had dried up and was no longer a viable source of income, having sold a few Bukowski like short stories to the old Berkeley Barb and a biker magazine, EASY RIDER, shortly before the magazines untimely demise.
In September 1985, Hank wrote me a letter saying that if I still wanted to visit him, this might be the time. I had planned on visiting Hank later in the year, or early 1986. He warned me that he was sixty six years old, and for me not to expect a firbrand. Again, he enclosed several new poems for use in Second Coming. I accepted two of the enclosed poems for a series of boadsides that Second Coming planned on doing the following year.
I was surprised to receive a letter from Hank dated January 9, 1986, just three days before my birthday. Hank said, The big fifty is something. Once you get there you can handle most anything. After fifty, its like each year is a free one to play with. Its a great feeling. The older you get the more you learn how to duck shit you wouldn't have ducked before. It gives you time for the essentials. And one of the essentials is not letting other people waste your life. Hank went on to relate several horror stories regarding his recent experiences with the Men's magazines, and the editors who had stiffed him. He said, I thought Id warn you about this because if you're thinking about free lancing, you'll need to find some reliable markets.
Hank rarely wrote political poems, and it was rare for him to discuss politics, but in this particular letter he talked about the Reagan Administration. This is one of the most sickening times in our history. The poor whites openly hate the blacks again. Those fifty years that you've lived, Al, all those gains made in the half century, they have been lost back to this smiling oaf, Ronnie. Christ, I seldom get this way about politics, but its all so obvious. Let me puke. Hank's outburst may have been brought about by a book I had written and sent him, THE REAGAN PSALMS. The Reagan Psalms was part fact, part satire, and part poetry. I sometimes wonder what Hank would think today with the Republicans in control of the Congress, and moving to dismantle affirmative Action, Civil Rights, and Environmental protection laws.
POEM FOR THE OLD MAN
By A.D. Winans
I tried to picture him
but still managing just
20 days before his death
to send a poem
to Wormwood Review
filled with life
to the end
perhaps a wry smile
on his face
for the doctor
and a hand on the ass
of the nurse
playing out the game
to the end
like only the old man
was capable of doing
We know this much about Hank's funeral. The memorial services were held at Green Hills Memorial Park, which looks down upon San Pedro and the Los Angeles Harbor. Sean Penn was in attendance, informal dress. Also attending were Gerald Locklin, a poet friend; John Martin, Hank's publisher; Carl Weissner, Hank's German translator; John Thomas, a writer and long time friend, and a few writers associated with Black Sparrow Press. It appears, however, that most of the mourners were non literary friends that Hank knew and enjoyed from neighbourhood local restaurants shops and coffee houses. The ordinary folk that Hank wrote and cared about. I suspect that this is what Hank would have wanted. We are told by Locklin in an article that appeared in SURE magazine that the religious rites were conducted by a trio of Buddhist monks, and that there was a lot of chanting and bowing. I'm sure that Hank wouldn't have been offended in the least, and might even have been amused. Locklin tells us that the Monk in charge of the rites spoke in two languages from the pulpit, but was difficult to understand in either of them.
After the memorial services, the crowd filed out of the chapel and made their way to the ridge of the hill located on the side of which the grove awaited Hank's remains. The ceremony at the grave site was said to be brief, with only a few people tapping the coffin, in what Locklin described as a gesture of good luck.
A few things seem worth mentioning. The first is that the casket almost got away from the handlers on its way down the hill and Locklin tells us that one of the monks positioned himself for a photo opportunity at the grave. The thing most worth mentioning is something that Hank would chuckle over. We are told that Sean Penn told Locklin, as the pigtailed teal veiled monks chanted around Hank's casket, Don't they know this is America? Why aren't they speaking Spanish?
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