Written on Charles Bukowski’s gravestone.
I write this on the occasion of the birthday of Charles Bukowski, but it is not his biography. Only snapshots of it.
I remember I was an adolescent when I was first acquainted with him through a collection of his works. Two friends of mine had told me back then that he was but a drunkard putting pen to the paper. I didn’t agree with that, but now I think that the writer himself would have.
I don’t think that those who have it all handed to them on a silver platter would make any sense of Bukowski’s works. You’ve got to eat shit to appreciate what he writes about. You must have been broken, unemployed, taken on any shitty job, got sloshed quite many nights wandering around the streets scanning them to spot ten cents you are short of buying a sandwich.
You must have been broken-hearted, on the verge of suicide and madness, thinking you are nothing but a trash. And as you wade through this swamp, find the courage to write three words.
I heard of his death on the news from TV.
-Did you know him? My father asked me.
-Kind of, I replied him.
I would get to know him better with the passage of time.
He was registered in my mind as a novelist until a friend of mine introduced me to his poetry. It is as dirty and lyrical as his novels, the words of a demon who detested authority, be it god or state or you-must-do-this.
Or, more precisely, a demonized angel because by reading carefully between the lines about boozing and fucks, you can see a poet that loves people – especially the female ones.
Bukowski neither was a misanthropist, nor did he look down his nose at the crowd. How could he? He always belonged to the lower class, together with the listless men and the fooled women.
He wasn’t living in ivory towers but in run-down rooms in Los Angeles and usually he would avoid any contact with the landlady because he was behind with the rent.
That’s right, he is the down and outer drunkard next door with the ugly mug who wakes up at noon and returns back home well after midnight. And everybody speaks ill of him.
I have seen Mickey Rourke on Barfly. I have seen Matt Dillon on Factotum.
The movie starts with Henry Chinaski, the alter ego of Charles Bukowski, delivering ice. The supervisor shouts at him “Chinaski!”
And Matt Dillon takes a look to the sky, as if it is god that shouts at him.
I have spent many nights with Chinaski. He used to drain my glass and I had to order up again. We used to wind up hanging around in the streets, staggering all the way back home to get some sleep before we go to work.
And every now and then we took a look at the sky, because we thought that god was shouting at us.
I look at his mug on the photographs. Pockmarked, unshaved and ugly. His eyes are always half-closed, like tiny cracks that allow only a few rays of sunshine to reach the oceans of beer. A punk, if you hold the view that what makes somebody a punk is their face instead of the tons of the dope they sell from their manors or the laws they sign with their dirty hands.
I know many costumed with clean-cut faces that the glorious drunkard who goes under the name Bukowski knocks them into a cocked hat.
I know also some ostensible liberals who name the murdered black Afro-American, the cunt vulva, the gypsies Romanies; politically correct guys who would sell their mother’s vulva to gain some votes, popularity, pots of money and equal ‘likes’.
Bukowski didn’t care a whit to be politically correct. He didn’t even bother to write “black”, he wrote “nigger”. He didn’t write “pussy” but “hole”. He didn’t write “romany” but “gypsy”.
He was not a racist. He was working and fucking together with the niggers.
He was not a sexist. Only a handful of men have loved women as he did. No sugar-coating or delusions.
Bukowski’s women. His works reek of wine and cunt.
He didn’t write about impeccable, mysterious women, deeply in love – quite the contrary. His women have cellulite and crow’s feet, they are sloshed and ditch him once they get wind that he is a has-been.
They are women of the real world, no dreamy or fantasy ones. They have flesh and bones, they feel pain and desperation and their knickers, when they toss it next to the bed, are a bit dirty.
They are women who piss and shit and puke their guts out and straighten their ripped socks before they leave.
He is gutted to see them go, but Chinaski knows it is the best for them to do. “A loser never wins the girl”.
Bukowski was not a “good man”. Probably you wouldn’t cope with him even for a minute. He might cut a vulgar and dirty figure to you. But he bore all the rottenness of the world like a latter-day Nazarene. And he also associated with prostitutes, gamblers, homeless, drunkards, outcasts and those who had gone astray.
Bukowski is not a good novelist. His works were not as sublime as his compatriot Falkner, neither as his go-to guys, that is Hemingway and Dostoyevsky. Their books are to be admired as if you stand before Parthenon.
Bukowski’s novels and poems are petty and worthless like your parent’s house. You don’t feel awe but you’re moved. Because that’s where you grew up, between these musty walls, together with these drunken words.
Perhaps one day Parthenon will crumble. Perhaps one day no one will be interested in reading Falkner’s magnificent lines.
Bukowski and Henry Chinaski will remain.
Because he was one of us. Disappointed and small, mistreated and weak.
Yet strong enough to get up the next morning in the wake of ten thousand beers and an equal dose of pain and take a look in the mirror and say: “Well, you made it another day, you ugly bastard”.
The bottom line is no matter how low you have fallen, no matter how shit-faced you’ve got, no matter how disappointed you are, the point is to get on your feet once again; to get a laugh out of the situation you are in.
Until they put you down a hole and cover your carcass with a gravestone.
Until then, my friend Chinaski we’ve got enough time to down a beer.
And to see the light of a new day, if we make it, just to keep on doing what we love to.
Until the end. It’s the only good fight there is.
Until the end.