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December 15, 2017

Bukowski and the Barfly Life

On this day in 1994 Charles Bukowski died. He published over fifty books of poetry and prose in a career spanning a half-century, becoming the Grand Old Man of the fringe presses. He came by his skid-row, blue-collar themes honestly, enduring decades of bosses
    ...with bad breath and big feet, men
    who look like frogs, hyenas, men who walk
    as if melody had never been invented....
and the inevitable landlady,
    execrating and final,
    sending me to hell,
    waving her fat, sweaty arms
    and screaming
    screaming for rent
    because the world had failed us
    both
and closing-time:
    I uncap the new bottle
    from the bag and she sits in the corner
    smoking and coughing
    like an old Aunt from New Jersey
There would be appeals about all this -- inner-city Lear-howls "to all the gods, / Jewish gods, Christ-gods, / chips of blinking things" -- but by the 70s there were appearances with Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, interviews in Rolling Stone, and sold-out readings in Europe, to which Bukowski now arrived not with the two six-packs but four bottles of good French wine. By the time his past had become the movie Barfly, his battered '67 VW Beetle -- the one that he and bed-sit neighbors Brad and Tina (Brad the manager of a pornographic bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard, Tina a go-go dancer) so often took out drinking and driving; the one with a hole in its windshield, from the heel of his girlfriend Cupcakes (she was Miss Pussycat Theatres 1973, and so variable that Bukowski would soon have to admit, "Cups, I can't do this any more, it's tearing me apart") -- had become a new BMW, sun-roof, cash.

In the barfly days, Bukowski says, he used to let bartenders beat him up in exchange for drinks. By 1992, with TB and cancer and old age now hitting, Bukowski allowed his wife to talk him into her New Age cures, although he could laugh:
    sitting naked behind the house,
    8 a.m., spreading sesame seed oil
    over my body, jesus, have I come
    to this?
His wife's attempts to cleanse him of impurities persisted in the funeral arrangements, and Buddhist monks were asked to conduct the service. Bukowski seems to have arrived at this, too, with a sense of humor:
    . . . and to think, after I'm gone,
    there will be more days for others, other days,
    other nights.
    dogs walking, trees shaking in
    the wind.

    I won't be leaving much.
    something to read, maybe.

    a wild onion in the gutted
    road.

    Paris in the dark.
Bukowski's gravestone bears the inscription, "Don't Try." Whatever this means, you know it's right.

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