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Drunk and Disorderly: Charles Bukowski in Hollywood

by Chris Dickerson


Charles Bukowski never considered himself part of the Beat Generation; in fact, he frequently disparaged the idea. He wasn’t a joiner, he didn’t like drugs (except booze), and while the Beats haunted San Francisco or New York’s Greenwich Village, Bukowski clung proudly – often on wobbly drunken legs – to his hometown, Hollywood, California.

So Bukowski prowled Hollywood, its dive bars and run-down rooming houses, writing about it exclusively. And if we can accept that, say, Ernest Hemingway was the Clark Gable of American letters – handsome, dashing, muy macho, an outdoorsman and globe-trotter – then Bukowski was akin to Humphrey Bogart.

“His special knowledge was of the jungle of the city at night,” film historian Richard Schickel wrote of Bogart in his 1962 book, The Stars. “Which clubs the syndicate ran, which one-arm restaurants served good coffee, which hotels a whore could use, which streets were safe to walk upon after midnight.” Those words fit Bukowski like a comfortable old jacket. Hollywood, the dark underbelly of it, not the glittering bastion of the Entertainment Capital of the World, was his town.

Home for Bukowski was almost Baltimore; that’s where he and his father and mother landed from Andernach, Germany when little Heinrich was nearly three years old, in 1923. Baltimore had a strong German-speaking working class (it still has), but Henry the Elder, an American soldier who’d served in World War I and decided to stay on in Germany at war’s end, was born and raised in Pasadena. His parents still lived there, so he moved his family West, to what was then the sleepy, dusty village of Los Angeles. In the twenties, the place had more in common with the Mexican pueblos from which it sprang than the undulating, traffic-stuffed, neon-lighted metropolis it would become over the next three decades.

The family settled in at 2122 Longwood Avenue, in South Los Angeles. Mother and son proceeded to become Americanized: Katrina was known as Kate and the boy, Heinrich Karl, was thereafter called Henry Jr., or Hank (his middle name became Charles). It was also the scene of Bukowski’s horrific childhood, with regular beatings from his father meeting only indifference from his mother. The foundation for life as a drunken loner was laid early.

To make matters worse, when he was about 13, Bukowski’s face exploded with boils and severe acne that would leave scars, plaguing him all his life. The lonely and beaten boy was now something of a freak. The situation didn’t improve when he transferred from Susan Miller Dorsey High to Los Angeles High School in 1937, in the affluent confines of L.A.’s Hancock Park.

Hancock Park was (and is) where the rich and the beautiful of Los Angeles lived; Beverly Hills East, before Beverly Hills and Brentwood existed. Bukowski was neither beautiful – far from it – nor from a wealthy family. He craved the attention of girls, but was too painfully shy and self-aware to speak to anyone. He was a borderline average student, and though the school had a poetry club, he lacked the confidence to join it.

He had, by now, discovered books and writing, at the sprawling Los Angeles Public Library, downtown on 5th Street. He consumed the works of Hemingway and D.H. Lawrence, Fitzgerald and Dos Passos, and Sinclair Lewis, and the legendary Russian writers of the previous century. The ostracized teenager found company and solace among the greats.

“Words weren’t dull, words were things that could make your mind hum,” he’d write years later in his novel, Ham On Rye. “If you read them and let yourself feel the magic, you could live without pain, with hope, no matter what happened to you.”

From high school, Bukowski enrolled at Los Angeles City College on Vermont Avenue, thinking of maybe becoming a journalist. The school had then, as it does now, a thriving arts, drama, and English department, but Bukowski again managed to be an undistinguished student. He dropped out in 1941, unable to get a job as a cub reporter with any of L.A.’s several daily newspapers.

He returned to the only place that gave him safety and sanctuary, the public library. One day he plucked from the shelf a relatively new novel, Ask the Dust, by John Fante. He read the first few pages. Bukowski’s world was transformed.

Fante’s Ask the Dust tells the story of Arturo Bandini, a struggling young writer living in the down-at-heels Bunker Hill section of L.A. (not far from the library). Bukowski immediately identified with Bandini, deciding then and there to set his goal on becoming a writer.

Bukowski, was in fact so grateful to Fante, that years later when Black Sparrow Press was established exclusively to publish Bukowski’s novels and poetry, he’d only agree to the contract if Black Sparrow also reissued all of Fante’s work, long out of print.

Bukowski moved to the predominantly-Mexican neighborhood of Bunker Hill, into a crumbling stucco boarding house (just like Bandini). And, like Bandini, he pounded out short stories for the pulps and lower-level “literary” magazines, while working a series of menial jobs in factories, or in the train yards of nearby Union Station. He drank in the seedy bars and ate in the greasy spoon diners, his stories racking up rejection slips, one after another. None of them sold.

With America flung into the turmoil of World War II, Bukowski decided that what a young writer needed was experiences to write about. He left Bunker Hill by bus, heading off across the country; it was here, over the next years, that Bukowski established his legend, what he called his “lost years,” a “ten-year drunk,” of flophouses, whores, dead-end jobs, low-life bars, and drifting, yet all the while, writing, writing, writing.

As with most legends, the facts are somewhat different: yes, Bukowski made sojourns across the country, but unlike his self-created mythology of the “hobo poet,” he was seldom gone from Los Angeles for more than two months at a time; he was never homeless, never slept on the streets; he watched his money carefully, always maintaining a bank account; and when he did go home to L.A., it was to his parents’ house on Longwood Avenue.

None of that meant that he was getting along any better with his father, and he wouldn’t stick around for long. But something must have clicked: in 1944 he had his first professional sale, to Story magazine, a humorous little piece entitled “Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip.” The byline read, “Charles Bukowski,” because he didn’t want to use his first name (as it was the same as his hated father’s), and he didn’t think “Hank” sounded sophisticated.

The story didn’t launch his career as a writer; it was little more than a one-off. He was disappointed, but he kept writing, and from then, in print, he was Charles Bukowski.

Bukowski returned to Los Angeles in 1947 (he’d been willing to serve in the Army, but was declared 4-F for unspecified physical reasons), getting a job as a department store stock boy. He moved into MacArthur Park, another predominantly-Mexican neighborhood bordering downtown, spending his evenings drinking in the cheap Alvarado Street bars.

It was in one of these bars that he one night talked with Jane Cooney Baker, the woman ten years his senior who would become mistress, muse, drinking companion, and sparring partner. Bukowski would immortalise their combative booze-fuelled relationship in the novels Post Office and Factotum; in many poems, such as the ones collected in 1969’s The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over The Hills; and in the screenplay Bukowski created for Barfly, where she’s played by Faye Dunaway.

Bukowski and Baker lived in a succession of rooming houses around MacArthur Park, but their drunken fights were often so loud and violent that they were evicted time and again. They finally took up residence together in a tiny wood-frame house on North Westmoreland Avenue – and Bukowski went to work for the postal service.

Neither situation lasted. Bukowski suffered a severe haemorrhage. He was told by doctors that if he ever drank again, he’d die. He had to quit his post office job, and Jane left him. He was thirty-four years old.

He threw himself back into writing – and drinking, doctors be damned –submitting poems to a host of little magazines. With one, Harlequin, his poetry made a hit. Not only did Editor Barbara Frye agree to publish his work, she wrote him a long fan letter, telling Bukowski he was a great poet, as great as William Blake. Their correspondence became so “friendly” that Barbara eventually quit her job in Texas, moved to Los Angeles, and, in October 1955, became the first Mrs. Charles Bukowski. The couple moved into a house in Echo Park, smack between Downtown

Los Angeles and the bohemian, working class community of East Hollywood.

Barbara encouraged Bukowski’s writing, and prompted him to go back to Los Angeles City College, but nothing lasted – except the writing and drinking. Bukowski again dropped out of school, and after only fifteen months of marriage, he and Barbara divorced.

Bukowski was now in Hollywood, after living for years on its fringes, though not on the glamorous West Side, but in the blue collar confines of East Hollywood, an area of family-owned shops and liquor stores, old apartment buildings and neighborhood bars. East Hollywood was where he would spend most of the rest of his life, and, somewhat like Raymond Chandler, capture the time and place forever in his work.

He first found apartment 303 at 1623 North Mariposa Avenue, between Sunset and Hollywood Boulevard; a cold water flat with the communal shower upstairs, where the hallways with their ratty carpeting were lighted by an overhead fluorescent strip. He went back to work for the postal service, at the Terminal Annex downtown. He worked the nightshift, leaving his days free to write and to play the ponies at Hollywood Park Racetrack.

It wasn’t long before he took up again with Jane Cooney Baker, though by now, whatever sexual attraction they’d had for each other was gone. They were simply drinking buddies. But when she died in 1962, Bukowski was one of the few at her funeral. He described the scene in Post Office:


“There was the coffin. What had been Betty (her name in the novel) was in there. It was very hot. The sun came down in one yellow sheet. A fly circled around. Halfway through the funeral two guys in working clothes came carrying my wreath. The roses were dead, dead and dying in the heat, and they leaned the thing up against a near-by tree. Near the end of the service my wreath leaned forward and fell flat on its face.”


It was around this time, the early sixties, when Bukowski’s fortunes as a writer slowly began to shift. From his bug-ridden flat on Mariposa Avenue, still working nights for the postal service, he kept pounding away at his “typer,” classical music wafting through his little cell, a bottle of beer and a deck of smokes always at hand. He was suddenly getting published on a regular basis, his work appearing in cheap chapbooks or tiny literary magazines which paid next-to-nothing, if anything at all. Bukowski somehow became the bridge between the fading Beat Generation of the fifties, before the likes of poetic songwriters such as Bob Dylan or Lennon and McCartney became the new voices of poetry. Publishers Jon and Louise Webb included Bukowski in their high-octane literary magazine, The Outsider, alongside established writers like Allen Ginsberg, Henry Miller, William Burroughs and Robert Creely. Bukowski the loner was suddenly in heady company, finally getting noticed. Persistence, if nothing else, was paying off.

It was also in the early sixties that Bukowski met avant-garde poet Frances Smith. Their friendship flowered into an affair, with Frances becoming pregnant. Neither of them were happy about it; Frances was 41, and believed her child-bearing years were over. Bukowski offered to marry her, but she declined. Still, they moved in together to another ramshackle East Hollywood neighborhood, a one-bedroom bungalow at 5126 De Longpre Avenue. Bukowski’s only child, Marina, was born there in 1964. Frances soon moved out, taking Marina, but Bukowski kept his word and provided child support, seeing his daughter frequently.

But if it was yet another relationship down the hole, Buskowski’s literary ship was coming into port, all flags flying. He’d been writing a column, “Notes Of A Dirty Old Man,” for the underground L.A. magazine Open City. When the magazine folded, he moved the column to the underground weekly newspaper, the Los Angeles Free Press. The column became one of the paper’s most popular features. He was a journalist – of sorts – at last. His poetry continued to be regularly published, but he still wasn’t secure enough financially to quit the daily grind of the post office.

All that changed in the early seventies. John Martin, an independent (though by no means affluent) businessman, struck a deal with Bukowski: Martin would guarantee Bukowski $100 a month for life if Bukowski quit the post office and wrote full-time, giving Martin exclusive publishing rights to any of Bukowski’s future books. Done deal. Martin founded Black Sparrow Press, with Bukowski as its sole author. Black Sparrow published Bukowski’s collections of poetry (and later, reprints of John Fante’s books) and, in 1970, Bukowski’s first novel, Post Office.

To augment his $100/month from Black Sparrow, Bukowski accepted invitations to read his poems at small venues around Los Angeles. All that was fine and good, reading for fifteen, twenty, or maybe thirty people, until Beat legend Lawrence Ferlinghetti invited Bukowski to San Francisco for a solo poetry reading in 1972.

Filmmaker Taylor Hackford, then an aspiring young director, was in the midst of crafting a black and white documentary on Bukowski for the L.A. PBS outlet, KCET. Hackford decided to tag along up north and record the City Lights event.

As Hackford recalled in the 2003 documentary on Bukowski, Born Into This, they found themselves confronted by eight hundred rabid, noisy fans. Bukowski was a hit, and collected the princely sum of $400 for the hour-long reading.

Now free to write full-time, becoming a celebrity in the bohemian circles he claimed to dislike, Bukowski moved one more time in Hollywood, to an apartment at 5437 Carlton Way, smack on the demarcation line between East Hollywood and “Hollywood Proper,” the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue. It still wasn’t “Ritzy Hollywood,” by any means. Most of the movie studios had long ago folded their tents (though Paramount Studios was – and is – still going strong on nearby Santa Monica Boulevard). Bukowski’s neighbors were sex shops and low-life saloons like “The Study” on Western Avenue (still standing, if long out of business, until the building was levelled in early 2013), and liquor stores like the Pink Elephant, where he bought his beer, whiskey, and cigarettes. He’d wander as far as the Frolic Room, next to the Pantages Theater, near Vine Street (a neighborhood dive from which he was often 86ed; his portrait now hangs over the bar, an irony he might appreciate).

He kept his name and address listed in the phone book, so the girls who loved his poetry could find him, and they did, showing up in droves on his doorstep. Bukowski, now in his early fifties, ravenously made up for lost time.

And he wrote. In his second novel, Factotum, he solidified the character of “Hank Chinaski,” who – like Hemingway’s Nick Adams, or Kerouac’s Sal Paradise, or Fante’s Arturo Bandini – would be the alter ego for which he’d become famous. Other novels – Women and Hollywood – followed, along with the poetry collections. He used all the people he was meeting in his work, especially all the “girl friends” who peopled Women. John Martin at Black Sparrow Press saw his investment pay off, with the $100 he’d promised Bukowski blossoming into as much as $7000 a month, as more and more books sold.

Hollywood itself soon came calling, in all its glamour and glory, in the form of actors like Sean Penn, or the Irish musician Bono. Bono, in the documentary Born Into This, recalls that he loved the Beats because, being Irish, “you could eat the language.” But Bukowski was different. “Here was a guy,” Bono said, “who stripped the language down to the bone, down to the marrow of the bone. He was like, ‘I have no time for metaphor.’”

More documentaries chronicled Bukowski: The Ordinary Madness of Charles Bukowski in 1981, and Mirrored – The Charles Bukowski Tapes by Barbet Schroeder in 1987. Then movies: Tales of Ordinary Madness in 1983, featuring Ben Gazzara as Hank Chinaski, Barfly (directed by Schroeder) in 1987 with Mickey Rourke in the Chinaski role, and Factotum in 2005, starring Matt Dillon.

True to form, Bukowski claimed to be unimpressed by any of it. He savaged both Gazzara’s and Rourke’s portrayals (Bukowski would be dead for over a decade by the time Dillon came up to bat, but the odds are, he wouldn’t have liked him, either).

At first more popular in Europe than in the United States, Bukowski received speaking and reading engagements from France and Germany, capping it all with a notorious drunken appearance on Bernard Pivot’s über-intellectual talk show in Paris, from which Bukowski was unceremoniously evicted mid-interview.

By now, the late eighties-early nineties, it was all part and parcel of the party. Henry Charles Bukowski Jr., the tortured little boy, the shunned teenager with the horribly scarred face, the man who worked dozens of mind-numbing, back-breaking minimum-wage menial jobs for decades, but who never quit writing, was somehow now a well-to-do and famous author. He married again, a young and beautiful health food restaurateur, Linda Lee Beighle, and he made his last move, with her, to a spacious and comfortable home in San Pedro, California. He swapped his battered “typer” for a computer, his beer and whiskey for wine. He wrote his last novel, Pulp, a surreal private eye pastiche (maybe in revenge for all those now-gone pulp magazines which rejected him in his youth). It was set… where else?… in Hollywood.

Bukowski died of cancer in 1994, age seventy-three. On his gravestone at Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes are two words: “Don’t Try.” Like most things about his legend, the words belie his actions; nobody ever tried harder; and finally made it…

Alt Lit as the New Beat Generation

Tao Lin and Jack Kerouac

“Do you think in five years the national media will create a stupid term like blogniks to describe us?”


As a scholar of the Beat Generation, the recent public attention focused on the current phenomenon known as Alt Lit has inspired in me some observations of similarities between the two literary movements. Indeed, one could provide comparisons to other movements or “generations,” but for me the similarities between these two sets of urban hipsters, sixty years apart, seems interesting.

The above quote, from Tao Lin’s novel, Shoplifting From American Apparel, shows an apparent awareness that the group of people he describes will become subject to, in the near future, the same sort of media scrutiny that was foisted upon the Beat Generation, who were derided in the press as “beatniks.”[1] Indeed, Noah Cicero, another key member of the Alt Lit community, described as central to the Alt Lit movement “the idea of the return to the literary life.” He goes on:

The literary life is about ‘living,’ like Rimbaud, Whitman, Celine, Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, traveling, doing drugs, partying, standing on street corners in cities and thinking crazy thoughts, taking shits in gas stations in Nebraska at 4 in the morning, going to Asia to teach English, flying over from New Zealand or England just to get drunk with people who’ve met online. Staying up till 5 in the morning talking about philosophy and politics. Making a ten-minute long YouTube video about something you can’t get off your mind. It’s that kid walking down the street with headphones playing Ladytron, carrying a laptop, and a copy of The Stranger, who just feels like this is fucked.

In referencing Rimbaud, Whitman, and Celine he is acknowledging key influences on the Beats, and in mentioning Bukowski and Thompson he is talking about writers who’ve later been categorized as “Beat” or at least in the Beat vein. His language in the description, too, is Kerouacian and Ginsbergian. He is channeling On the Road and listing like Howl, yet applying these techniques to his own generation.[2] In a word, he is placing Alt Lit as the next step.

Like the Beats, there is no real unifying style in Alt Lit. There is certainly an influence taken from Lin’s own unique voice, but Alt Lit is as diverse as the massively varying approaches taken in the Beat classics. However, there are of course elements that unite these groups, not just into social networks but also a literary framework. The Beats were categorized by their confessional prose, their drug use, and their challenging of social and sexual norms. There is, in their work, the notion that nothing is too personal or sordid to tell the world. Likewise, in Alt Lit writers like Marie Calloway and Megan Boyle document the most intimate details of their own lives, treating sexuality in a manner that would not seem out of place in a poem by Ginsberg, while Lin depicts his own drug use as matter-of-factly as William S. Burroughs.

Moreover, there is also the breaking of grammatical rules and attempts to move away from literary convention. From Kerouac’s “automatic writing” and “spontaneous prose” it is hardly a great leap to the treatment of Twitter feeds as literature, and the inclusion of Gmail chats in novels. Where the Beats took liberties with run-on sentences and attempted to imbue their narratives with the jargon of their times, so too are Alt Lit writers willing to forgo capitalization, punctuation, and embrace internet vernacular into their own prose and poetry. Rather than look back and embrace their literary forbearers, both groups sought to immortalize their own generations. The Beats and Alt Lit are united by the documentation of their own times and their almost insular literature. The Beats wrote about each other, like the Alt Lit writers, and their works stand as a biography to their times. People like Neal Cassady have become virtually household names through their depictions as characters like Dean Moriarty, and in the future we will surely remember some of the less prolific Alt Lit writers as their published alter egos.

What readers of Beat Generation literature often failed to observe is that although the Beats became known as a literary force in the mid-fifties with the publication of On the Road and the Six Gallery reading, the Beat group that is described in these works existed ten years earlier. By the time the Beats were a cultural phenomenon, the Times Square hipsters and Columbia group that made up the core of the Beat legacy had largely disbanded, and were leading lives far apart from one another. Perhaps, had Kerouac had access to Createspace and Lulu, or even a Blogger or Tumblr account, it might not have taken so long. Ginsberg, certainly, would’ve enjoyed promoting his friends’ work via Twitter and Facebook.[3]

If this essay is descending into increasingly random observations, then I apologize for what is coming next: a far-fetched comparison of various Beat and Alt Lit figures.


Tao Lin = Jack Kerouac.


Kerouac was famously the “King of the Beats,” the man whose style and philosophies were adopted and mimicked by millions of young fans. His stories documented the lifestyle of his contemporaries, and his work influenced other writers and artists.

Lin is the father of Alt Lit, and writers considered “Alt Lit”, whether by their own admission or labeled by others, are either involved with Lin on a social level, or draw heavily from his stylistic and thematic innovations.

Both men have chronicled the lives of their fellow young hipsters and the times in which they lived, and utilized the patterns of speech of their generation in order to create the definitive novels of their day. Their work has garnered the most attention to their movements, and been viewed as inspirational to their followers and contemporaries


Noah Cicero = William S. Burroughs

Although his place in literature is as part of the Beat Generation, Burroughs was only briefly part of the Beat group, and largely took off on his own. He was older than the other Beats, and following a few arrests in New York City, he went off on a decades-long journey around the world. His style deviated tremendously from those of the other Beats, and he rejected the idea that he was a part of the movement, or indeed that it ever really existed.

Cicero, while only three years older than Lin, is also like an elder to his so-called generation. Like Burroughs, is prose bears little resemblance to that of his peers, and while they seem to have maintained a relatively tight social group, Cicero wanders off to far-flung locations.[4] In many regards, these men appear set apart from their literary labels, yet their associations appear cemented.


Megan Boyle = Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg was one of the most important members of the Beat Generation, promoting the work of his contemporaries tirelessly, and later ensuring the continuation of certain Beat ideas in the cultural shift to the Hippies. His poetry was intensely open and confessional, and he sometimes appeared naked on stage.

Megan Boyle wrote an essay called “Everyone I’ve Ever Had Sex With,” and is in the process of liveblogging her life. These alone make her a unique and Ginsbergian genius. Her writing is as revolutionary as her better-recognized peers, but it is only a matter of time before she is considered one of the more important poets of her era.


Steve Roggenbuck = Peter Orlovsky

Peter Orlovsky was Allen Ginsberg’s long-time lover/boyfriend/husband/partner, and his fame was largely accredited to his association with Ginsberg. However, Orlovsky was a poet himself, yet even in that capacity he was derided for his inability to spell.

Roggenbuck has become a key member of the Alt Lit community, too, in spite of his apparently lacking literary credentials. Like Orlovsky, Roggenbuck can’t or won’t spell correctly, and his editors appear content with that, allowing spelling mistakes in the titles of his books, as did Orvlosky’s. Roggenbuck is better known for his YouTube videos, wherein he often appears manic, and also his status as an Alt Lit social butterfly. These traits also place him surprisingly close in stature to Orlovsky.

[1] The term Beat has a debatable history but was popularized by John Clellon Holmes and Jack Kerouac. The suffix “-nik” was added by Herb Caen following the launch of Sputnik in order to associate the Beats with Communism.

[2] These phrasings are not arbitrary. Cicero is well-read in Beat literature, with a particular affinity for William S. Burroughs, whose work he says inspires “hope.”

[3] I’ve spoken with one of Ginsberg’s old assistants and he concurs with this notion, agreeing that Ginsberg would’ve made a thoroughly irritating Twitter-fiend.

[4] On the advice of this reporter, Cicero took a job in South Korea.

Beatdom #13 On Sale

After much delay, Beatdom #13 – the DRINKING issue – is now on sale. Get it on Amazon, Kindle, or via our website.

This issue features essays about William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Charles Bukowski’s thoughts on alcohol.

Beatdom #13

Coming Soon

Beatdom #13This is the cover for Beatdom #13: the DRINKING issue. It features legendary booze-hound, Charles Bukowski, as drawn by the talented Waylon Bacon.


What Can Be Learned from Charles Bukowski

by Izzy Woods

On the peripheral edge of the Beat Movement sits Charles Bukowski. Lauded as all manner of things from the “laureate of American lowlife” to a “pulp fiction professional”, Bukowski’s style and indeed, volume of work makes him appealing. With thousands of poems, hundreds of stories and six novels under his belt, there’s definitely a lot to be learnt from Bukowski’s methods, however harebrained they may seem in hindsight. Of course, drinking yourself into oblivion and sleeping with anything that moves is not the answer to becoming the darling of the fiction writing but Bukowski’s appeal is in the believable, genuine and portrays a sect of society that is rarely considered honestly in literature. Here’s a few things that a reader or even a budding writer can learn from one of America’s greatest novelists, whether applying them to your literary life or otherwise.

The first thing that can be learnt from Bukowski and his writings is persistence. His first novel wasn’t published until he was nearly 50. Previous to this, he had had a couple of stories published in his mid-twenties but then found his work rejected every time. It looked like he’d basically given up but in the fifties he started up again and began submitting hundreds and hundreds of stories and poems to different publications. Despite this, it still took years to find success but nothing stopped his commitment to writing. Bear in mind, Bukowski’s personal life was far from rosy, as he passed through tens of jobs, sunk deeper into his alcoholism and three feisty wives. Bukowski’s poem ‘so you wanna be a writer’ is a testament to the reasons behind his commitment.

The next thing is honesty. Bukowski is a candid and at times, painfully honest writer whose first four novels are almost direct parallels with his own personal life, using his literary double Henry Chinaski. The attitudes he gives to his protagonist are basically mirrors of his own and as he discusses in depth his neglectful parents, his apathetic approach to work and his love of prostitutes and lack of respect for women, the real man behind the words is created. In his poetry there are many direct references to particular individuals or groups he hates and by being honest, Bukowski’s narratives are believable and entertaining. Fiction is naturally about creating myths and making stuff up but Bukowski uses the stuff he knows to good effect, creating a wholly different an enjoyable form of literature.

Everyone can also learn from Bukowski’s discipline. Every day he would write, his first novel Post Office (1971) catalogues the endless ten to twelve hour shifts which were then followed by several packs of beer and quarts of whiskey and then, the writing began. This was his routine of sorts throughout the whole of his working life and the discipline allowed him to get to the published state that he did. Before turning to writing he used this discipline to discover and explore his love for literature. Hours spent in the library getting to know the greats and forming his opinions on them. Through this time he was able to shape and find his own voice and it’s the first tip for all writers that to be able to be successful, you must first read voraciously.  Bukowski was never one to sit back and relax in his reading recliner, he worked endlessly to achieve the results he ended up with.

The final area in which Bukowski can be learnt from is by studying what you could call his ‘literary map’. This simply means seeing exactly how Bukowski drew upon influences of others and in turn became an influence, continuing the evolving development of literature. Throughout his work, Bukowski is explicit in his descriptions of his personal influences namely Norwegian Knut Hamsun, of Hunger fame, French author Céline and John Fante, the Italo-American author of Ask the Dust. Fante is probably most influential to Bukowski’s work as he too works in a semi-autobiographical way talking about the same LA areas. The scores of authors since Bukowski whose work shows elements of his style are numerous and although some may have done little more than offend him personally, all are a testament to his literary map.

Charles Bukowski was never integral to the Beat Movement and was very much on its edge but he moved in many of the same circles and knew those involved personally. Despite his many foibles (if that isn’t too weak a word) Bukowski produced a catalogue of work to be admired and an attitude which all can learn from.

The Bukowski Project

Here’s something surely of interest to Beat readers: a musical performance of some of the work of Charles Bukowski. This month, Ute Lemper will perform The Bukowski Project at New York’s Abrons Art Center.

For details about tickets and times, see here.

To read about her previous performances, see here.

Loneliness and Waitresses: Tom Waits and Charles Bukowski

By Ardin Lalui

Imagine a world without waitresses. Who’d want it? There’s some men have no use for a world like that. For them a life without waitresses is no life at all, no life worth living.

Take Tom Waits and Charles Bukowski. Waitresses have left a deep mark on the art of both and have helped shape and add meaning to some of their best work. They have both drawn waitresses as romantic and mysterious. Waitresses have altered the landscape of their worlds, made it a wistful place, and full of longing. Maybe it’s because they’re lonely, but it’s a certain kind of loneliness, beautiful and tragic and poignant. It’s a strange loneliness comes through in their lyrics and poetry.

Closing Time, Waits’ first album, talks about this loneliness in track nine, “Lonely.” It’s a short song, a lament, it doesn’t say much but it says lonely like no other. “Lonely eyes, lonely face, lonely lonely in your place.” It’s a loneliness that’s unexpected, “I thought that I knew all that there was to,” and it’s unfair, “Melanie Jane, won’t feel the pain,” but mostly it’s just inevitable, self-inflicted, and almost welcome because its your own refusal to let go that drives it, “I still love you, I still love you, lonely, lonely….”

It’s a very specific loneliness of which Waits sings.  It doesn’t depend who you’re with, it’s carried on the inside, and its reasons can only be found on the inside. It might be the most beautiful of human emotions. It doesn’t come without sadness. For every real thing there’s proof, and the proof the human heart is made to love is loneliness. There’s not always a girl in mind, maybe there’s no girl at all, but there he is, loneliest living man in the world. That’s the loneliness that has a man walking into a diner at 2 a.m. looking for a waitress.

This longing for a waitress has nothing to do with looks. That’s not to say there’s any problem with a pretty waitress, nothing in the world like a pretty waitress, but that’s gravy, a bonus, like having a pretty mom or sister.

Bukowski had no problem with pretty waitresses. He once had an affair with a cocktail waitress, name of Pamela Miller. He said, “she’ll be the death of me but it’s worth it.” She was a knockout, red hair, Miss Pussycat 1973. They called her Cupcakes because of her 38D chest and Bukowski said “each time I see her she looks better and better, 200 years ago they would have burned her at the stake.” That’s a pretty waitress. She worked at The Alpine Inn.

But this waitress thing isn’t about sex. It’s more important, and fills a more basic, innocent need. An old, 300-pound waitress has the magic soon as she puts on that dress. She’s apart from other women. Don’t underestimate the dress. In Septuagenarian Stew Bukowski says:

“I should not have blamed only my father, but,

he was the first to introduce me to

raw and stupid hatred.

he was really the best at it…

…when I left that … “home” … I found his


everywhere …

I was simply the target to their discontent

some old fat waitress bringing me a cup of coffee

is in comparison

like a fresh wild wind blowing.”

He’s talking about his father and growing up and being unhappy and all it takes is a waitress and bang, “fresh wild wind blowing.” And Bukowski is not exactly given to looking on the softer side of life.

That’s waitressing. That’s why waitresses are important. They’re a fresh wild wind to every afflicted soul. You need a waitress sometimes and they’re always there. Wherever you are, whoever you’re with, and most importantly, whatever you’ve done, they’ll be there waiting for you. A waitress has got no place else to go. She’ll listen to you, whatever lame joke, lame compliment. She’s waiting for your order, doesn’t know what you’re going to say, she’s got to be there. That’s part of the beauty of it. Nine times out of ten, only reason she’s free to be nice to you is because it’s her job. If it wasn’t her job she couldn’t do it. Her husband wouldn’t let her. It wouldn’t be appropriate. That’s why no other woman will do.

A waitress is always your chance to talk to another human soul, a woman’s, however brief. She’ll hear it. That’s enough. Maybe she liked it. Maybe she liked you.

And of course, maybe she didn’t like you. That’s ok. She doesn’t have to like you. She doesn’t have to be nice. She doesn’t owe you anything. She’s not your girlfriend. There’s a certain guy goes into a diner and thinks the girl in the dress is in love with him. I’ve got nothing to say about guys like that. That’s not what I’m talking about here. That’s a different thing. It’s sad but it’s a different sad. And it can be uncomfortable for the waitress because maybe she’s got a man. She’s not hustling, she’s just smiling when she gives you your coffee. A waitress doesn’t want a guy to get the wrong idea.

No matter how nice a waitress and how much you think you need her, you’ve got to remember your place, who you are, and who she is. Waits wrote about it on Small Change, track six, “Invitation to the Blues”.

“Well she’s up against the register with an apron and a spatula,

Yesterday’s deliveries, tickets for the bachelors

She’s a moving violation from her conk down to her shoes,

Well, it’s just an invitation to the blues.”

You watch a waitress and a customer, you’re watching life. And all life’s got rules. You play by the rules, don’t overstep, and don’t let your mind run away, you’ll do just fine with waitresses, and the cup of coffee they serve is better than a cup of gold. But you let your mind run you’re just asking for blues.

And no waitress wants to be an invitation to the blues. They don’t want to torment a man so lonely he’s getting designs on the first woman he’s spoken to all day.

But you know, even when that happens, who’s to say it’s so bad? A guy gets the wrong idea once in a while, but if that waitress’s smile is the best thing he’s seen all day, the only smile he got, well thank god she was there. There are worse things than the blues.

The tie between the lonely soul and the waitress runs deeper than smiles. Waits had no problem with an unfriendly waitress. On track five of Small Change, “The Piano has been Drinking (Not Me)”, the waitress doesn’t smile. Song says,

“you can’t find your waitress with a Geiger counter

And she hates you and your friends and you just can’t get served without her.”

She doesn’t love him, she’s at work, but she’s still his waitress.

Waitresses are good for art, and for some art they’re crucial. The reason waitresses don’t kill the art they inspire, like some other women, is because no matter how nice they are, they never really cure the loneliness. They can’t, and thank god. Sometimes they ease it. That’s what has you coming in every night. Even a mean waitress eases loneliness. But they also prolong it. And the prettier the waitress the further she invites you into the blues. And that’s the invitation feeds good music and poetry.

America, beat art, Waits songs and Bukowski poems are all populated by men on the road. Drifter men with homeless minds. They don’t have a woman to go home to. They don’t want one. They don’t know what they want. And anyway they can’t find it. There’s a searching, a yearning, and there are a lot of greyhound buses and railway boxcars. Here’s an excerpt from Bukowski’s poem, “where was I?” from his collection, Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way.

I always seemed to be

on a cross-country




looking out a dirty

window at

nothing at


I always knew exactly how much

money I was


for example:

a five and two ones

in my wallet

and a nickel, a dime and

two pennies in my right

front pocket.

I had no desire to speak

to anybody nor to be

spoken to.

I don’t know what it is keeps these men moving. It’s a by-product of their loneliness but also a cause. And it wouldn’t survive without waitresses. They wouldn’t. The men. The men of Bukowski poems, the Henry Chinaskis of a thousand small towns, stumbling from bar to bar, wouldn’t last without waitresses. The men in Waits’ songs, curious and varied, would perish. Without waitresses the world would be too cruel for them, they would die, the art they inspire would die, and the world would lose something beautiful.

I don’t know what it is that waitresses have, especially the old fat ones and the ones that hate you, but they have something, every one of them. It’s undeniable. All the late night diners of the world are full of men and cigarette smoke and day old newspapers, and they’re irrefutable proof of something important. Think about it. What are those men there for? Some of them are on a shift, killing time, waiting, would rather be at home in bed, but some of them, the ones we’re interested in, couldn’t be anywhere else. They’ve got no place else to go and even if they had they wouldn’t be there.

“Gypsy hacks and insomniacs”, that’s what Waits calls them in “Eggs & Sausage (In a Cadillac With Susan Michelson)”, track six on Nighthawks at the Diner. Here’s an album devoted almost entirely to those men and those waitresses, keeping watch while the rest of the world sleeps. An entire album exploring that feeling, that place, the diner late at night and the coffee and cigarettes and waitresses, the men in there looking for something nameless. He describes the waitress in verse two of “Eggs & Sausage”.

“In a graveyard charade, a late shift masquerade

2 for a quarter, dime for a dance

with Woolworth rhinestone diamond

earrings, and a sideway’s glance

now the register rings

and now the waitress sings.”

Who knows what has those places full so late? You don’t see too many women in there. And what would happen to them, those men, and the poetry and music, without the waitresses?

There’s one last poem by Bukowski I want to finish with. It’s not necessarily about a waitress or about the loneliness, but they’re in there. They have to be. The poem was recorded by Waits in 2006 on Orphans (Bastards), track eleven. It shows they were on the same page. Maybe it even has an answer.


Not much chance, completely cut loose from purpose,

He was a young man riding a bus through North Carolina on the way to


And it began to snow.

And the bus stopped at a little café in the hills and the passengers entered.

And he sat at the counter with the others, and he ordered, the food arrived.

And the meal was particularly good.

And the coffee.

The waitress was unlike the women he had known.

She was unaffected, and there was a natural humor which came from her.

And the fry cook said crazy things.

And the dishwasher in back laughed a good clean pleasant laugh.

And the young man watched the snow through the window.

And he wanted to stay in that café forever.

The curious feeling swam through him that everything was beautiful there.

And it would always stay beautiful there.

And then the bus driver told the passengers that it was time to board.

And the young man thought: “I’ll just stay here, I’ll just stay here.”

And then he rose and he followed the others into the bus.

He found his seat and looked at the café through the window.

And then the bus moved off, down a curve, downward, out of the hills.

And the young man looked straight forward.

And he heard the other passengers speaking of other things,

or they were reading or trying to sleep.

And they hadn’t noticed the magic.

And the young man put his head to one side,

closed his eyes, and pretended to sleep.

There was nothing else to do,

just listen to the sound of the engine,

and the sound of the tires

in the snow.

Beatdom Growth

Firstly, I would like to say “Merry Christmas!” (or Happy Holidays) to our readers and to those of you who’ve just stumbled upon the website. Beatdom is neither Christian or Jew or Muslim or Buddhist or whatever. But we love Christmas. We are capitalist swine and we love gifts and food.

I would like to also take this chance to say “Thank you!” (the capitalization and exclamation point are necessary) for visiting and for reading the magazine. These past few months have seen tremendous growth across all of our online endeavours, as well as in sales. The new website seems very popular, and as we iron out all the little bugs we appreciate the links from other sites that seem to be popping up across the web.

Lastly, I’d like to make a few announcements about the long awaited (yup, it’s been around six months) eighth issue of Beatdom. This will be the sex issue. Submissions are now closed and you can expect to see a few more notices popping up over the coming weeks about developments in editing and whatnot. For the moment, we have a list of tentative inclusions that we’d like to share:

We have essays on: Bob Dylan as a romantic

Jack Kerouac and sex

Gary Snyder, Diane di Prima and the male/female poetic divide

Female Beat writers and the second-wave feminist movement

Elise Cowen

Allen Ginsberg’s sexuality

Tom Waits, Charles Bukowski and waitresses



An oral biography of Gregory Corso

An interview with Carolyn Cassady

And here’s a sneak peak at the cover…