“Tiny snail assholes” and the savior’s balls, Bukowski had me at hello
One of the many things I’ve been trying to do over the past few years is expand my reading horizons. I’ve got a fantastic reading list of international writers, past and present, who are brilliant and not necessarily all well known… and then I also just want to read off my shelves.
I compromised by ending 2022 with Notes of a Dirty Old Man, a collection of newspaper stories by Charles Bukowski. Funny enough it was originally compiled by an erotica loving imprint called Essex House, and is now published by beat generation enthusiasts & San Fran publishing gurus, City Lights Publishing.
Ahh I love all the history there, the web of ties between the publishers and beat generation writers, the crazy lifestyles, just something the average person can’t fathom. Bukowski was never to my knowledge grouped with that lot but he was tied up with the same publishers, knew the authors, and he had opinions 😅
About the collection itself, I found the eclectic mix of fiction and nonfiction a little jarring. I’m spoiled and used to sections and titles in short story collections now, so we know how it’s organized, but this seems like total hodgepodge or possibly chronological by publication date. I‘m not really sure why it was compiled at all (way back in 1969) unless Essex House (who published a lot of erotica) was looking for the vastest spread of sex stories possible. Now I know that’s a vast oversimplification but most of the stories are true, or have true elements! Some are pure fantasy (like a guy with wings playing baseball) while many others happened to some extent, and almost all include some kind of graphic sex (I’m not going there to describe it).
A few stories were sad to me, such as a vivid recounting of how years of beatings and other abuse turns someone into a living but kind of mostly dead person. It’s an extremely personal look at his life. Alcohol, homelessness, bouncing around various places to live and taking menial jobs, abusive relationships that went both ways, these are the real life parts. Probably/hopefully exaggerated a bit but who really knows, people are crazy.
What’s interesting too is just objectively seeing what he chose to write about once he knew the editor gave precisely zero fucks and let him write whatever he wanted! Remember, everything in the book appeared in an underground newspaper.
That said, back to my note about finding the stories sad: most of the collection is pretty funny. Bukowski said, at one point or another, that he put the comedy into his writing so that people wouldn’t pity him – and the ironic thing is that it attracted quite a few odd admirers, many of which he writes about. Some of the writing went right over my head and I had no idea what he was talking about. Some got a chuckle. Something about tiny snail assholes had me cracking up, like yeah if you eat something whole you’re eating it’s asshole too 🤣
Of the many columns and blurbs here, there is one about a party and the time Bukowski met Neal Cassady. He took a crazy car ride with Neal driving and John Bryan (who published Cassady’s letter to Kerouac in City Lights (and gave Bukowski the platform in his Open City paper to write the segments contained in Notes of a Dirty Old Man).
P.S. John Bryan and Jesus’ balls, literally. What a strange and irreverent road to publishing and more than a bit refreshing in today’s PC era to go back and read these old guys writing *what-the-fck-ever*.
I totally sidetracked there. Anyway, in that particular segment about meeting Cassady and his suicide, there’s quite a dig that shows how Bukowski really felt 😅
Jack had only written the book, he wasn’t Neal’s mother, just his destructor, deliberate or otherwise
Oyy ok let’s get this wrapping up, I’m rambling which means I had a lot of thoughts and didn’t know how to frame them. A little bit less gay bar action would have been nice for me personally but I don’t think anyone delicate or easily offended would read Bukowski past his introduction. I’m not worried about discussing the writing here. It’s irreverent in every sense of the world and the title is aptly named. I actually started listening to this book on audio because Will Patton’s voice is everything, but without actual chapter breaks it was too hard to follow.
Overall, I think Bukowski is an interesting character in American literature and I enjoy his short stories in small doses. He’s a decent tie in for those interested in the beat generation and those looking for irreverence in everything. Barfly (the movie he wrote about his life) wasn’t bad, I watched it after reading, but then I read that he didn’t like his actor’s portrayal. I guess the takeaway is that you can see a lot of the stories in the film too. Anyway, give him a shot if you are checking out American short story writers
P.s. if anyone wants sources for anything I was writing about, I can find them for you for further reading. Most of the nonfiction type info is general knowledge or came vaguely summarized from a publisher’s information, or something else Bukowski wrote