It’s America’s most beloved and whacky alcoholic!! THE CHARLES BUKOWSKI SHOW!!

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In tonight’s hilarious episode, Marion Ross co-stars as a well-meaning prostitute with a heart of gold who tries to get Bukowski off of alcohol by getting him hooked on methamphetamines. And then the whacky hijinks begin!!

 

In 1992 a TV producer wrote Charles Bukowski and tried to interest him with the idea of doing a television series, a sit-com, based on Bukowski’s life. Starring the actor Harry Dean Stanton as a “disreputable old writer.” And the producer attached three one hundred dollar bills to the letter to pique Bukowski’s interest. Bukowski took the 300 bucks and spent the day at the horse racing track.

A couple days later Bukowski called up Harry Dean Stanton (who he was friends with) and the producer, and invited them to his house to discuss the project. It sounded like pretty typical cheesy TV fare. The Bukowski character was written as sort of a curmudgeonly-but lovable Al Bundy/Archie Bunker type. And they had the whacky next door neighbor and all that. Pretty horrible.

Fortunately — even though it would have been a good paying gig for him — Harry Dean Stanton talked Bukowski out of it. “In that format, network television, there’s no way they could do Hank’s work or do anything about Hank.”

Thank God for that.

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Cats can save your ass

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In his later years Charles Bukowski became fond of cats. Particularly stray cats. Which he would adopt when they showed up around his house. Ended up with about 10 of the little rugrats.

“I always feel a little better when I look at my cats.”

For a tough guy, Bukowski was a bit of a softy.

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 His cats ended up paying him back for his kindness.

In his later years Bukowski got deathly sick. Bukowski had spent most of his life poor, on skid row. But at this point in his life he was rich. So when he got sick he went to all these expensive Beverly Hills doctors in the hopes of healing him from his sickness. But none of the Docs could figure out what was wrong with him.

So after a solid year of feeling like dogshit on the verge of death, one day Bukowski was taking one of his cats to the vet. The vet happened to have his office in the seedy part of town. And the vet was well familiar with poor people, and the diseases that poor people suffer from.  Long story short: as soon as the vet saw Bukowski, and his sickly pallor, the vet said: “You’re obviously suffering from tuberculosis.”

Which turned out to be the exact correct diagnosis. The doc prescribed some meds for TB (tuberculosis). And Bukowski immediately recovered.

TB is a “poor man’s disease.” Which is why none of the rich, expensive Beverly Hills doctors were familiar with it (and boy were those well-respected physicians humiliated that they had failed to correctly diagnose what a humble vetinarian in the seedy part of town had instantly spotted).

But the point is: If Bukowski hadn’t been caring for his cats he probably would have died. The cats saved his ass.

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World class drinkers

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We were talking about world class drinkers the other day.  Could Ernest Hemingway out-drink Hunter Thompson, etc.

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Hunter Thompson drank virtually every day, all day long, for nearly 50 years. So it’s hard to beat that.  His wife said he would start with the beer right after his morning 5 cups of coffee. And then alternate the beer with whiskey throughout the day. Hunter Thompson drank so much that he almost died when he had hip surgery. Not from the surgery. But from the DTs from going several days without alcohol. I heard the doctors fed him whiskey intravenously just so they could stabilize his metabolism.  What’s weird is: In spite of his massive substance abuse, his organs were in fairly decent shape at the time of his death. It was his bones — his back and his hips — that were starting to go.
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Charles Bukowski’s drinking was a little more complex.  As a young man he spent 10 years as a straight-up oblivion drunk who’s main goal in life was to drink as much as he could for as long as he could until he passed out. Then when he got the Post Office job he spent a decade or so as primarily a weekend drinker.  When he quit the Post Office to write full-time he went through another period of heavy drinking. In part to alleviate his fears that he wasn’t gonna make it as a writer. And because he no longer had to live a structured life and could drink whenever he felt like it.  He mostly went for rotgut wine and cheap beer, and hard liquor whenever he could afford it.  When he married his wife she got him off the rotgut and into fine red wines, and cocktails when they went to bars. I think in his later years he was mostly an evening drinker, staying pretty sober during the daytime.  During the last year of his life, when his health was failing, he quit drinking altogether. And said he didn’t miss it.
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I think Jack Kerouac mostly drank rotgut wine during his bohemian days. And his drinking was somewhat tempered due to his lack of funds.  He was more moderate with his drinking during the first half of his adulthood — at least compared to the second half. And there were periods — like in DHARMA BUMS when he had the look-out job — where he would go months without drinking. And when he was driving cross country with Cassady it wasn’t like they had a case of beer in the car.  But as soon as he became famous and had unlimited spending cash he went on a non-stop drinking binge, drinking from the moment he woke up until he passed out. And he didn’t STOP drinking until he finally blew a big hole in his stomach.   I think Kerouac was one of those incredibly over-sensitive people. And he drank to dull the wattage. And I think he was hopelessly conflicted. Couldn’t accept that he was gay, etc. And then the instant fame and cultural icon status just completely overloaded his circuits. The story I always heard was that Kerouac always wanted to commit suicide, but as a Catholic he was forbidden to do that. So he drank himself to death instead. Which seems like cheating. But what the heck.
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One wag suggested I should up my game and dedicate myself to reaching the level of these world class drinkers.  But I could never make the big leagues. I lack the truly self-destructive side that separates the superstar drinkers from the run-of-the-mill.  I am a powerful drinker. I out-drank virtually all my drinking partners over the years (they’re either dead or in programs).  But I have no illusions that I’m up there in the same class as the elite boozers.
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One of my favorite Charles Bukowski stories

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Bukowski was friends with the famous actor Sean Penn at this point.  For most of his life Bukowksi had been a skid row alcoholic bum.  But at this point, Bukowski was the Famous Writer.  So he’s hob-nobbing with the likes of Sean Penn.  So Sean recommends that Bukowski sees his personal doctor — this great Beverly Hills doctor.  The doc runs all these sophisticated tests — blood tests, x-rays, charts and graphs.  The whole deal.  But they still can’t figure out what’s wrong with Bukowksi.

So one day, Bukowksi is taking one of his cats to the vet.  Bukowski was a cat lover.  Always a good sign.  The vet had his office in a seedy part of town.  And he dealt with a lot of poor people.  He took one look at Bukowski and said:  “You have tuberculosis.”  He didn’t need any charts and graphs to recognize it.  Tuberculosis is a poor man’s disease.  Which is why all the rich Beverly Hills doctors didn’t recognize it.   They had never even seen a case of tuberculosis.

Of course the Beverly Hills doctor was embarrassed when he realized the vet was right.  So the doc prescribed  some meds to deal with the TB.  And in a couple of months Bukowski was feeling fine.

The moral?  Doctors are cool.  But even the “experts” get it wrong.  ALWAYS get a second opinion.

Or, maybe the moral, as Adam Parfrey suggested, is:  Don’t hang out with Sean Penn.  And only see a vet as your personal physician . . .  Who knows.  I’m sure there’s a moral in there somewhere.

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Charles Bukowski and John Martin

One of the oddest collaborations in the history of literature is Charles Bukowski and John Martin.  Martin had never published anything in his life.  But in 1965 he became so enamored with Bukowski’s poetry (which at the time were only published in obscure chapbooks with print-runs of about 100 copies) that he told Bukowski:  “I’ll pay you $100 a month for the rest of your life if you quit your job and write full-time.”

Even odder, John Martin was a straight-laced Christian Scientist and a tea-totaler who never drank.  And here he is publishing Charles Bukowski, the patron saint of Skid Row drunks.

You could say it was a successful collaboration.  Eventually, Martin would be paying Bukowski $20,000 every month.

Bukowski was a compulsive writer; a man who had a powerful need to write.  “Writing saved my ass,” he’d often say.  Anyways, for whatever reason, John Martin got it in his mind that he wanted to publish Bukowski.  So he made arrangements to meet Bukowski in person at his hovel so they could discuss matters.  “Do you have any new poems I could publish?” asked Martin.

“Yeah,” said Bukowski.  “Look in the closet.

Martin opened the closet door and was dumb-founded to find that the entire closet was full of poems. Stacks and stacks of paper piled practically to the ceiling.  Martin scooped up a bunch of them and started publishing them.  And they never looked back.

Bukowski used to like to sit at the type-writer every night, drinking red wine, listening to classical music on the radio and writing poetry.  “It’s the best party in town,” said Bukowski.

When he finished a new batch of poems he’d send them off to Martin, his editor-publisher.  Martin would go through the poems.  They’d usually start out really good, and then get better and better.  Until they’d start to trail off.  Bukowski would just be babbling gibberish.  Writing just to write without really having anything to say.  Probably those poems were from the end of the night when Bukowski was too drunk to make sense.  Martin wouldn’t print those poems.

Bukowski never asked Martin about that.  He just sent the poems to Martin and let him pick whatever he felt like publishing.  The whole thing seemed to work out pretty well.

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Charles Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson: A compare-and-contrast thing

 

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It’s interesting to compare Charles Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson.  They have a lot of similarities as well as differences.

Both came into prominence through the ’60s counterculture press.  Bukowski writing a column for the Los Angeles underground newspaper Open City in the late ’60s.  And Thompson writing for Rolling Stone magazine in San Francisco a couple years later.

Both would become just as famous (and notorious) for their larger-than-life personas, as they would for their writing.  Both were kind of self-styled “outlaws.”  Both were famous for their chemically-altered states:  Bukowski, mostly on booze; Thompson on booze and a wide variety of drugs.  Both were macho kind of “man’s man” writers, reveling in booze, broads and barroom brawls.  Both had an affinity for violent sports: Bukowski as a boxing aficionado, and Thompson with his love of football.

Both were wildly admired by Hollywood actors.  Johnny Depp became close friends with Thompson, while Sean Penn was close to Bukowski for awhile.  In part because the two writers embodied the two traits most revered by actors:  They were both outrageously original characters.  And they could both write the kind of words that made actors look good when they performed those words.

Both Thompson and Bukowski saw themselves as “outsiders.”   Thompson had a life-long chip on his shoulder from growing up as a poor Kentucky hick from the wrong side of the tracks, who viewed the Louisville high society with both envy and contempt.  Bukowski was raised in a grim and loveless household, his alienation from mainstream society further heightened by a terrible case of adolescent acne that left him permanently disfigured and turned him into, in his words, “the ugliest man in Los Angeles.”

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One key difference:  Hunter S. Thompson was almost an instant success.  His first two books — Hells Angels and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas — were not only smash hits, they were cultural sensations that rocketed Thompson to superstardom.  Whereas Bukowski’s road to success was a smoother, more gradual ride.  He didn’t begin to gain real prominence and fame until he was in his 50s.  And his career — and his output — would continue to grow right up until his death at age 73.

Thompson, on the other hand would spend most of his life striving (and failing) to come up with a second act after his initial success.  His third book, Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail, ’72, showed promise that Thompson could develop beyond merely writing about America’s subterranean underbelly (biker gangs and drug subcultures) to that of a keen observer of mainstream America.  But it would be pretty much downhill from here on in for Thompson as a writer.  His subsequent books would mostly be slapped-together attempts at rehashing his former glory.

Rolling Stone writer, David Felton, probably pin-pointed the reason for Thompson’s lackluster second act when he pointed out:  “Being a celebrity is easier than being a writer.  One thing Hunter does not enjoy is writing. He hates it and he fears it.  He would rather do anything than write, even be a celebrity.”

Unlike most writers — who tend towards being introspective and solitary, and have the kind of personality that lends itself to sitting alone in a little room with just a typewriter for long stretches of times — Thompson was an extremely outgoing and sociable person who liked to constantly be surrounded by people.  He liked to have a court of people around him at his Colorado home, with him as the center of attention, performing for an audience.  To get him to sit alone at a typewriter was like pulling teeth.  Editors and publishers soon realized that in order to get anything out of Thompson they had to ply him with a full-time assistant who would badger him and bribe him, 24 hours a day, in the hopes of pulling some words out of him.

Bukowski, on the other hand, loved nothing more than to be “sitting alone at the typer, with a bottle of good red and classical music on the box.  It’s the best party in town.”

Another difference between the two men:  In my opinion, Thompson’s basic personality had a deep streak of infantilism to it.  He was like a super-brat that needed to be constantly indulged and pampered.  One friend maintained that Thompson’s love of drugs was primarily an offshoot of his deep fear, and low threshold, of pain.  The smallest injury — a stubbed finger, anything —  would send Thompson running for his medicine cabinet.  And the slightest discomfort would inspire the most violent outburst of childish temper tantrums.

Whereas Bukowski always struck me as more of a fully developed adult.  Bukowski largely saw human life as a grim and painful affair. But fancied himself as the great battler.  No matter how tough life was, Bukowski would always be tougher.  Fighting to his very last breath.  “I judge a man by how he walks through the fire.”  And on his tombstone, Bukowski would have a silhouette drawing of a boxer.

Thompson, on the other hand, would commit suicide at age 67, for the reason that life was “no longer fun” — words that one could easily imagine a child uttering.

Bourbon whiskey

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One of my Facebook friends,  Parks,  saw the photo of me that I posted with the bottle of Jim Beam and wrote:  “Dude, just do it and save yourself.  This looks like a booze advertisement, we know the truth, it isn’t cute or cool and will finish you off.  Lay it down and focus on creative things, brother.”

That struck a nerve.  Because the last thing I want to do is romanticize my drinking. I never said drinking was “cute or cool.”  I’ve always felt excessive drug and alcohol consumption is primarily a symptom of mental torment, moreso than “partying.”  That said, I’ve always felt  my primary function as a creative artist was to capture the different states and stages of my life — by writing, cartoons, photos, music, whatever.  I see my life as primarily an endless series of polaroids (I guess they call them “selfies” nowadays). And, needless to say, some of the pictures aren’t always flattering.

Another Facebook friend, Martyn, wrote: “You don’t solve problems by putting more problems inside you.  The answer is to face up to them and be tougher than them.”

Maybe I’m weird, but I don’t look at life primarily as a problem to be solved.  I look at life mostly as a series of weird, dream-like images, of which I sort of ponder the meanings and symbolism and mystery of.

Another Facebook friend, Thomas,  asked me if I had the “shakes.”  He had heard that “noticeable  DTs is a threshold point which you really should seek medical help.”

Nah.  My hangovers are mostly psychological: suicidal depressions and extreme embarrassment at having made a fool of myself.  Though I will say, after polishing off that fifth of Jim Beam in 24 hours (along with the sudden combination of 100 degree Arizona desert heat) I still feel a little woozy two days later).  But yeah, the “shakes” is a sad one.  I’ve spent years living with hardcore street alkies where they wake up in the morning with the shakes and have to pound a quick beer just to get normal.  Whatever “normal” is.

Another Facebook friend, Jon, said: “You know, I used to drink a lot. But then it just gradually tapered off to almost non-existent.  I never did make a conscious decision to stop drinking.”

That’s the interesting thing about alcohol.  I’ve known many alcoholics where nothing worked except AA.  Total abstinence.  While others can get a grip by tapering off.  I once went 5 years without drink or drugs.  And it wasn’t a matter of will power, but because I was in such a high mental state from meditating that I didn’t want to tamper with it.  But, alas, I couldn’t sustain it.  For whatever reason the meditating stopped working and I went back to the sauce.

For me, the great paradox of alcohol has always been: Over the years I’ve seen so many people who’s lives and/or health was ruined by alcohol.  And yet, alcohol has also been part of some of the best times of my life.  And everything in between.  I guess that’s why it’s so hard for me to get a bead on the stuff.

By the time you reach my age (57) most of your drinking and drugging buddies have either cleaned up their act, or are dead.  Mostly the latter in my case.

Jon said:  “I couldn’t even tell you the last time I used a recreational drug.  Caffeine and alcohol are my drugs of choice.”

I could have easily went WAY overboard with the “recreational drugs.”  The thing that saved me from becoming a hardcore druggie was I hated the whole routine of “scoring” drugs. That whole stupid dance involving sketchy people and sketchy scenes.  Plus cops.  I figured it was simpler to just go down to  7-11 and buy a damn 40.  Ha ha.   Even the word “scoring” had sleazy connotations to me.  This sleazy quasi-sexual overtone.  Like you’re trying to score with a chick at a bar or something.

One of the worst things about getting into crack or meth — aside from the obvious toxic nature of those substances — is that you suddenly find yourself in the middle of all these “social scenes” with people who are even more fucked up than you are.

One of my favorite writers, Charles Bukowski, wrote often about alcohol.  While Bukowski always maintained a bit of a romantic idea about himself and his life (no matter how sordid it sometimes got) I don’t think you could accuse him of romanticizing his drinking.  Bukowski ruthlessly wrote about  the truth of his alcoholism, both positive and negative.  With Bukowski, you certainly knew what was in store for you when you went down that path, that’s for sure.  Which is all you can really ask of a writer.  One of his most harrowing (and hilarious, in a gallow’s humor way) stories was about when he blew a big hole in his stomach from drinking all that rot-gut, was spitting up blood and came just about as close to dying as you can come.   They threw him in the basement of the charity ward hospital, basically to die.  But somehow Bukowski pulled through.  When they were releasing him from the hospital, the doctor told him: “If you have one more drink you’ll be a dead man.”  Bukowski was so freaked out about that, he went into the first bar he passed and bought himself a drink. The bastard went on to live another 30 years.

The cartoonist, R. Crumb, described Bukowski as “a difficult guy to hang out with in person.  When he was in social situations  he desperately wanted to numb himself with alcohol.  He was very uncomfortable around people; a very solitary guy, basically.”

That would probably describe me, too.  I guess the beguiling thing about most drugs and alchohol is that they often work in the short term, but rarely in the long term.

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