Charles Bukowski

In ’79, late August, I saw Milhoud for a routine checkup before I caught a ride out of town for New York and other points eastbound. Turned out something was wrong with me, and it had to be fixed. By the time I’d been through a second and a third operation I was somebody or something else. Chopped meat. For months, I could do nothing but read – and what I read was all right, but didn’t correspond to my state of mind. During one of those sojourns, I’d met a girl on 4th floor West, a leggy Scot named Dorothy who took to me, and got me thinking about the future for the first time in a long while. She had a thick Glaswegian brogue, and I hung onto her breasts and her laughter like a lifeline.

One Saturday afternoon, I dropped by the American Hotel to shoot some eight ball. I asked Minelli what he’d been up to – “I’ve been nailing a mean piece of pussy, some broad from Scotland”. Minelli’s tale was received by three or four smirks and nodding heads around the table. It was an amazing coincidence. We all knew somebody named Dorothy. Obviously there were a hell of a lot of Dorothys in Glasgow,and at least a half dozen of them had moved to Vancouver.

MacDonald dropped by the day after.

“Don’t take it so bad. Listen, there’s somebody named Charles Bukowski doing a gig at the Viking Hall on East Hastings. Wanna come?”

Bukowski was sitting at a table as we walked in, a liver lipped man with slouched shoulders and face boils, shouting for more wine. There were men like him down on the docks; it was the look in their eyes, not the size of their biceps that made you think twice before antagonizing them. You could smash a man like that a hundred times over, and he wouldn’t budge an inch. Whatever this Bukowski was, he felt no need to cover it up.

One of his poems was about a woman who trained lap dogs to perform unnatural acts. I liked that. There’s lots of truth and humour in rat dogs humping each other, and incontinent old drunks shitting their pants, and fighting when you know you’re chances of winning are nil.

Why is it that the simplest things are so hard to say? It was pretty raucous in the Viking Hall, but the place got quiet when Buke read out a poem called Consummation of Grief:

I even hear the mountains
the way they laugh
up and down their blue sides
and down in the water
the fish cry
and all the water
is their tears.
I listen to the water
in nights I drink away
and the sadness becomes so great
I hear it in my clock
it becomes knobs upon my dresser
it becomes paper on the floor
it becomes a shoehorn
a laundry ticket
it becomes
cigarette smoke
climbing a chapel of dark vines…
it matters little

very little love is not so bad
or very little life
what counts
is waiting on walls
I was born for this

I was born to hustle roses down the avenues of the dead.

To be there, in front of this man who ripped open his soul, leaving a wounded gash for you to peer in at what was inside, was a grace. And, it left you sad and lonely yourself, and it made you love that old son of a bitch, and his liver lips, and the fact that he never gave in to anybody. The next day I signed on at the toilet factory and caused myself a lot of pain and grief voluntarily, probably got into more fights than the Buke, and picked up a 1970 Grand Prix with a 440 under the hood, and tore up and down the Island highway with Jaws and the Mulcher, tossing bottles out the window, bully driving and going out on six day tears. What the Buke did had nothing to do with books. He was a rude saint, straight out of Chuang-Tzu. Every time I saw reason and held back instead of taking some prick’s head off, I felt guilty for days, as if I’d betrayed the Buke somehow. That was his gift and his curse.

I always thought of Buke when I was at the Exhibition Park race track, or on the assembly line, or when I managed to screw up another relationship…