Saturday, May 19, 2012
Charles Bukowski was a poet of the profane, or, as Time called him "laureate of the lowlife." A student of the gritty streets, he wrote about the shadow side of America. Prostitutes, dingy bars, human cruelty, lonely trysts. He was a brutal drunk, a misogynist, a self-admitted louse. But he was also a prolific writer and at times a sensitive poet with a twisted sense of humor.
Born in Germany in 1920, Bukowski grew up in Los Angeles son to an abusive, alcoholic father. Bukowski began writing (and drinking) in his teens. He struggled for decades, toiling as an on-again/off-again postal worker until 1969. He was a private person who loved cats and valued his solitude. "I don't hate people...I just feel better when they're not around."
Los Angeles was Bukowski's milieu and creative muse. Many of his fabled haunts have long since been torn down but some locations remain intact and provide a unique view into the life of LA's literary son.
Post Office Terminal Annex, Downtown LA
Bukowski worked as a letter-filing clerk for 14 years. During this period he penned a column called Notes of a Dirty Old Man for a local weekly The LA Free Press. He felt the post office was killing him slowly and poisoning his desire to write. Black Sparrow Press Publisher John Martin offered Bukowski $100 a month for life if he would quit his job and dedicate himself to writing. Bukowski finally quit in 1969. He documented his experiences in his first novel Post Office written at age 49.
Pink Elephant Liquor Store, East Hollywood
Located at Western & Franklin, the Pink Elephant was where Bukowski picked up his booze and bidis (Indian cigarettes). His favorite drinks included Cutty Sark (for his boilermakers), Riesling white wine, red wine, Vodka & 7 and Miller Beer. He despised Coors calling it the worst beer in America. After Bukowski tallied a number of DUIs, the Pink Elephant delivered liquor to his home.
Bukowski famously wrote about his drinking in the novel Women: "That's the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen."
5124 De Longpre Avenue, Hollywood
This is the bungalow Bukowski rented from 1963-1972. It was here he formally became a writer and where he fathered his only child. Bukowski wrote the novels Post Office and Factotum at De Longpre and the location was the setting for his novel Women.
In 2007, developers attempted to demolish the site and build condominiums. Preservationists and celebrities like Johnny Depp intervened and the location became a historical landmark. Bukowski himself probably wouldn't care. After all, he said of his own writing, "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."
LA Central Library, Downtown
As a young man, Bukowski spent many days in the Philosophy Room reassured by the thousands of books around him. It was here Bukowski discovered his literary idol John Fante (Ask The Dust). "It was like finding gold in the city dump." Other literary influences included Celine, Sartre, Hemingway and Knut Hamsun. Bukowski devoured every book he could get his hands on and the library was where he developed an ambition to become an author.
Clifton's Cafeteria, Downton LA
Started in 1935, Clifton's remains the oldest surviving cafeteria-style eatery in Los Angeles. Bukowski ate many meals here during the Great Depression. In his novel Ham And Rye, Bukowski wrote "Clifton's Cafeteria was nice. If you didn't have much money, they let you pay what you could. And if you didn't have any money, you didn't have to pay."
Hollywood Park Racetrack, Inglewood
After he quit his post office job, Bukowski spent his days playing the horses to make ends meet. He viewed this as "just another job" and he developed his own betting system in which he rarely lost and often ended up with a tidy profit. The track also provided a venue for Buk to observe humanity and meet shady personalities whom he often wrote about in his Free Press column.
Other Los Angeles Bukowski haunts include Phillipe's Restaurant where Buk ate French Dip sandwiches, Olympic Auditorium where he took in boxing matches and Musso And Frank Grill where he schmoozed with studio executives and celebrities in his later years.
Bukowski published more than 60 books. Hollywood has made multiple movies about him (Barfly, Factotum, Tales of Ordinary Madness) and his writing remains as popular as ever. Bukowski died of leukemia in 1994. His funeral was conducted by Buddhist monks. His headstone features a graphic of a boxer and the zen-inspired epitaph "Don't try." (5" x 6, black ink print)