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Life Arts

Reading Bukowski for fun and profit

By       Message Bob Patterson     Permalink
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Charles Bukowski died in 1994, thus some folks might be surprised to learn that the second of three book featuring new material, titled <a href => Absence of the Hero</a> has just been published. Bukowski fans were on hand Tuesday night at Moe's Books in Berkeley when the book's editor, David Calonne and his editor Garrett Caples, talked about the circumstances surrounding the publication of this new installment in series of three volumes. The series features material, such as early magazine fiction stories, not previously published in book form. They also took turns reading some of the previously unpublished material from the cult favorite.

They discussed Bukowski's literary reputation and discussed the fact that some folks consider Bukowski a member of the American literary group known as Beat writers. Some folks think Bukowski should be considered a beat while others maintain that he was just a contemporary who knew and interacted with people whose beat credentials are not subject to debate.

One of the tidbits that Calonne shared with his Berkeley audience was that often Bukowski would be inspired by news stories he read in papers such as the defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner. He read a letter to the magazine editor noting that "Christ with Barbecue Sauce" in particular was inspired by a news story about gruesome murders in Texas. (Where would the horror genre be without murders in Texas?)

Recently the New York Times published a story about writers who produce material about and aimed at the working man. The Times published a letter to the editor from Calonne pointing out that it was a mistake for their writer to omit Bukowski from the article.

Bukowski inspired the movie "Barfly."

To get a good read on Bukowski's audience it may be best to relay a letter that Bukowski recedived from a prisoner in Australia. He was told that the Bukowski book was the only one that passed from cell to cell.

For a columnist who has always been interested in the beat writers, a fascination with Bukowski seemed like destiny. Back in the late seventies a coworker (at a weekly Santa Monica newspaper) strongly recommended that this columnist read Bukowski's novel "Post Office."

The fact that he did buy it and read it would spark a new bit of literay enthusiasm and also help save him from a bad situation. That, in turn, gives us a perfect chance to inject a true life example of life in a newspaper environment into this column.

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About two and a half decades ago, when this columnist was "the new guy" at the Santa Monica Evening Outlook (RIP), an odd bit of conversation occurred during the "becoming a member of the team" phase of working towards a pension. A young fellow who didn't have to make much of an adjustment to celebrate the annual "Talk like a Pirate" day, sidled up next to the new hire and rasped: "Want a chance to make a few bucks?"

It seemed that since one of the paste-up artists, a tall Icobod Crane-ish fellow, named Burke, who had a voice that might make John Carradine envious, would finish his shift at 1 p.m. and have time to go out to the race track in Inglewood and make a few wagers on the races in the last half of the day's program. Since he had a "hot tip," he was collecting some fins and sawbucks from the folks who had more normal shift hours and had offered to act as their proxy agent and place bets on this "sure thing" nag to win, despite the very long shot odds that were being offered.

Being an Irishcatholicdemocrat of modest means, the chance to turn a sawbuck into more than a C-note seemed irresistible, but in a fit of moderation we replied: "Tell Burke that I've read Bukowski." The fellow, who was rather well read and, in the contemporary-culturally aware sense of the word "hip," was flummoxed and befuddled by the literary reference.

After the flock of fans bid the fellow a fond farewell, I explained my reasoning for balking at the chance to cash in on the fellow's kind and generous offer to provide the means for a sudden influx of unexpected paper money into my wallet.

Charles Bukowski had written an autobiographical novel about a rogue titled "Post Office." In it, after working for a dozen years for the folks with a monopoly on delivery of mail within the borders of the USA, the rascal had quit his job and drifted into a picaresque existence. He had, on the first day of being assigned to urban domestic delivery duties, got (as the crude people would put it) lucky with a woman on his route and thus inspired him to spend a dozen years waiting for a recurrence of the delightful interlude. After leaving the Post Office he wound up working for the Los Angeles Times on a shift that ended just after lunch time.

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Bukowski's literary alter ego, named Henry Chinaski, would hustle off to the race track after convincing his coworkers that he had insider race track knowledge about a long shot that would surprise the audience with a come from nowhere burst of speed and a place in the winner's circle. The guy would pocket the proxy bets and use those funds for lavish meals and extra liquid refreshments protected by the iron clad excuse that the nag had failed to deliver the windfall of the monitary kind.

Buying that Bukowski novel in the late Seventies had paid for itself in the mid eighties.

We kept our venture money in our wallet for the next several repeat performances knowing that eventually the law of averages would make a dramatic appearance in the day to day existence of the constant repetitious monotony accompanying the production of a daily publication.

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BP graduated from college in the mid sixties (at the bottom of the class?) He told his draft board that Vietnam could be won without his participation. He is still appologizing for that mistake. He received his fist photo lesson from a future (more...)

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