Monday afternoon was my day to see the girl. She was 7.

The hangover wasn’t too bad and I drove down to Santa Monica via Pico Boulevard. When I got there the door was open. I pushed in. She was writing a note. The mother of my child. Her name was Vicki.

“I was just going to leave you this note. Louise is at Cindy’s.”

“O.K.”

“Look. Could I have some money?”

“How much?”

“Well, I could use $45 now.”

“I can only let you have 20.”

“All right.”

She lived in an unfurnished one-bedroom Synanon apt., $130 a month. Vicki was one of those who had to always belong to some organization . . . she had gone from poetry reading workshops to the communist party to Synanon. Whenever she became insulated she went to a new organization. Well, that was as sensible as anything else.

We walked over to Cindy’s. Cindy was black. The 2 girls played with their paper dolls on the floor. Her mother was white, fat and in bed.

“She’s got asthma,” Vicki said to me.

“Hello,” I said to Cindy’s mother.

Cindy’s father wasn’t about. He was on the cure and working a gas station.

“Will you drive me to Synanon?” Vicki asked. “Or I can take the bus.”

(Synanon had a bus line too.)

“All right,” I said, “I’ll drive you down.”

“Come on, Louise,” she said, “pick up your stuff and let’s go.”

“But, Mommy, I just want to get this last dress on the doll.”

“All right, but hurry up” . . .

 

I left Vicki off in front of the building. Then we drove east.

“Where we going, Hank?”

“To the beach, I guess.”

“But I wanted to go to the Synanon beach . . .”

“The beaches are all alike . . . there’s dirty water and dirty sand.”

Louise began sobbing. “But I wanted the Synanon beach! They don’t like war! They don’t kill people!”

“Look, little one, we’re almost at the other beach. Let’s try it anyhow.”

“But people don’t carry guns at Synanon!”

“You’re probably right, but I’m afraid that sometimes we still need guns just like we need knives and forks.”

“Silly,” she said, “you can’t eat with a gun!”

“A lot of people do,” I said.

It was winter and cold and there weren’t many cars about or people either. Louise had had lunch at noon but I hadn’t eaten yet. We walked into the little Jewish grocery store next to the candleshop. I got a hotdog, some chips and a 7-UP. Louise got some kind of candy cracker and a 7-UP. We walked to the last cement table near the water.

“It’s cold,” I said. “Let’s turn our backs to the sea.”

So we sat there facing the boardwalk. There were 14 or 15 people about but they had the strange tranquility of the seagulls, the winter seagulls. No, it wasn’t a tranquility but a deadness. They were like bugs. They simply stood or sat together, motionless, not talking.

“It’s too bad I have to look at those people,” I said, biting into my hotdog.

“Why don’t you want to look at them?”

“They have no desire.”

“What’s ‘Desire’?”

“Well, let’s see. ‘Desire’ is wanting something you usually can’t get right when you want it, but if you have enough ‘Desire’ you can sometimes get it anyhow . . . Oh, hell—that sounds like ‘Ambition’ which is something you’re trained to do instead of something you want to do . . . Let’s just say that those people don’t want anything.”

“Those people don’t want anything?”

“Right. In a sense, nothing affects them so they don’t want anything, they aren’t anything. Especially in Western Civilization.”

“But that’s the way they are. Maybe that’s a good way to be.”

“Some wise men say so. I guess all of everything is how you work at it. A direction. I still don’t like to look at those people while I’m eating.”

“Hank! You’re not nice! There’s nothing wrong with those people! I ought to slap you across the face with this cracker!”

She picked up the cracker as if to hit me with it. I thought that was very funny. I laughed. She laughed too. We both felt good together, at last.

We finished eating and walked down toward the water. I sat down on a little cliff above the water and wet shore, and Louise built a sand castle . . .

It was then that I noticed the two men walking along the waterfront from the east. And the one man walking along the waterfront from the west. They all appeared to be in their mid-twenties. The man walking from the west had a large bag and seemed to be stopping and picking things up and dropping them into this bag. He didn’t seem to sense the two men approaching him from the east, but there was still quite a football field between them. 2 football fields.

The two walking from the east had on heavy boots and kicked at things along the shore. The one from the west almost swayed in the wind, bending over, picking up things for his paper sack. And I thought, it’s too bad, but the poor guy with the paper sack doesn’t realize that the other two guys are going to jump on him and beat him up. Can’t he realize that? It was a surety. And since I sensed it, I couldn’t understand how the guy with the bag couldn’t sense it. And the lifeguard in his little white shack on stilts . . . couldn’t he see?

It almost happened in front of me. All the men had beards but the 2 from the east had shorter beards; their beards almost looked angry . . . The guy with the paper sack just had hair all over his face and neck and back and front and everywhere. Then he looked up and saw the other two
. . . He tried to walk around them, on the side toward the sea. Just then a wave rolled in and the guy nearest him pushed him into the water. His paper sack went out with the tide.

As he got up, the other guy hit him and he went down again and then they were kicking at his body and his face with their boots. At first he held his hands over his face, then his hands fell away, but they kept kicking at his face.

Then they rolled him over and took something out of his pocket. A wallet. They took something out of the wallet and then threw the wallet far out into the sea.

Then they looked around and saw me sitting there. They looked at me. It was a kind of zoo thing—the way monkeys looked at you. They could see that I was old but they could see that I was big too, and I looked bigger in that black lumberjack my landlord had given me.

I looked at their faces and noticed that they were not particularly brave faces. I turned to the kid and told her, “You stay up here on the sand . . .”

Then I leaped from the cliff and hit the wet sand and walked toward them. I pulled the switchblade, hit the button and the blade jumped out.

They didn’t move. Their game. I moved forward.

Then one guy started running and the other guy moved after him. They ran down the shore, around the pile of searocks and were gone. The lifeguard still stared out
at sea . . .

I walked over to the guy and turned him over. Sand was mixed in with blood and hair. I took the sea water as it came in and splashed it over his face. Hair grew upon his face where it wasn’t supposed to grow. It grew right in near the nose. I don’t mean under it, I mean right around the edges of the nose. Up by the eyes. There was a bird-like thing about him, an inhuman thing about him. I disliked him. I helped him up.

“You o.k.?”

“Yeah. Yeah. But they took my money. 3 dollars. My money’s gone.”

I picked him up and walked him over to a small cliff, away from Louise and sat him down.

“I live under the pier,” he said.

“Are you serious?”

“5 years now. I think it’s been 5 years.”

“I can only give you a dollar.”

“Will you?”

“Here.”

The dollar seemed to bring him out of it.

“Do you live around here?” he asked.

“No. Los Angeles.”

“How do you make it?”

“Luck, I guess.”

Then Louise waved from her sand castle. I waved back. My friend and I looked out at sea. A small ugly boat of some sort was slowly passing by out there, doing something.

Then my friend said, “Yesterday 2 guys were sucking each other off under the pier and some plain-clothes cops caught them and locked them up. Do you think that’s right?”

“Well, I don’t know,” I said.

“I mean,” he said, “if 2 guys want to suck each other off, that’s their business, isn’t it?”

“Well, looking at it from that angle, I suppose you’re right . . . But look, I’ve got to check on my little girl right now.”

I walked over and sat down by Louise.

My friend walked up the sand toward the boardwalk.

She smiled at me:

“You like my castle?” she asked.

I looked.

“It’s beautiful,” I said, “but better than that, it’s very nice.”

“What’s the difference between ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Very nice’?”

“Well, ‘Beautiful’ is usually what people say when they don’t mean it and ‘it’s very nice’ is usually what they way when they really mean it.”

“Oh.”

It was a very nice sand castle. We both hated to leave it there like that, so we smashed it down with our feet. Then she held my hand as we walked across the sand toward the parking lot. There were quite some hours left in our Monday together and we needed something different to do.

 

Copyright © 2011 by the Estate of Charles Bukowski. Afterword copyright © 2011 by David Stephen Calonne.

Photo by Michael Montfort, printed with kind permission of Daisy Montfort. Copyright © 2011 by Daisy Monfort for the Estate of Michael Monfort.

Used with permission by City Lights Books. 

 

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In 1967, after toiling unrewarded for many years, CHARLES BUKOWSKI found fame with his weekly autobiographical newspaper column, "Notes of a Dirty Old Man," followed by a book of that name in 1969. He continued to write the column for almost 20 years, using it as a workshop in which to develop ideas for his later books. Yet over the course of this time, the prolific writer allowed many uncollected gems to fade into obscurity.

More Notes of a Dirty Old Man: The Uncollected Columns gathers many of these fugitive pieces, unseen in decades, into a single volume modeled on the form of the original. Filled with his usual obsessions--sex, booze, gambling--More Notes features Bukowski's offbeat insights into politics and literature, his tortured relationship with women, and his lurid escapades on the poetry circuit.

Edited by Bukowski scholar David Stephen Calonne, More Notes features and Afterword outlining the history of the column and its effect on the author's creative development.

13 responses to “Excerpt from More Notes of a Dirty Old Man: The Uncollected Columns

  1. Paul Clayton says:

    Wow! I really like this guy, his writing, anyway. I don’t know if I would have liked to hang out with him, and he probably would have been bored with me. But, like him, I do enjoy drink, although not as much. He had the persistence of rust and a brazen passion for what he saw as truth, no matter how ugly it might be. Happy to see TNB paying attention to him.

  2. emily says:

    I am always amazed at the clarity in bukowski’s writings. Thank you for getting your hands on this.

  3. […] That’s an interesting moment you mention. That is one of my favorite stories. He has picked up his daughter from his ex-wife and is taking her to the beach. He witnesses this […]

  4. Melissa Chadburn says:

    that was beautiful and very nice.

  5. Art Edwards says:

    This guy’s not going anywhere.

  6. Becky Palapala says:

    Huge Bukowski advocate.

    Which I’m especially proud to say wasn’t always the case.
    Because it means he was able to convert me.

    I’m especially partial to his poetry, but this lovely. Seems to me he’s always striking this elusive balance between sainthood and horribleness. Never sentimental, often technically unlikeable but always sympathetic.

    Ah, Chuck.

  7. jmblaine says:

    clarity.
    God grant me clarity.

  8. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    It’s another reminder that I’m at the right place seeing this name on TNB.

    It’s easy to forget Bukowski’s particular brand of humor, that he shares with no other except maybe Fante. He’s viewed as such a lover of the dreary and dirty, but for me few writers can induce the deep laughs that he can. It’s likely wrapped up in that Romantic sensibility mentioned in the interview on this collection.

    “How do you make it?”
    “Luck, I guess.”

  9. David halenda says:

    This excerpt begs the question, does Bukowski think we are all a bunch of whining drones lost in a society about as meaningful as a popsickle wrapper left on the ground?
    A couple paragraphs thru, he writes, regarding others sitting nearby, “No, it wasn’t a tranquility but a deadness. They were like bugs. They simply stood or sat together, motionless, not talking.” And a couple lines down, “they have no desire.”
    I’m not the one to psychoanalyze my good friend Charley, but on first reading, it’s very easy to conclude, ‘now here’s one bitter fuck who’s so damaged, (what with his daddy whacking him up side the head repeatedly with the nearest durable object), he can’t see there’s actually living breathing beings about, with, yes, desires, and many of them’. But I know Charly, I know him well, and he’s anything but a one dimensional writer. So this begs the question. Is something else going on here? Is his entire persona, the drunken brawling bastard with the heart of gold, just that, a persona created by a mind far more sensitive than he lets on? Is he cleverly using that persona, with all his bleak observations, as a kind of foil to create a subtle form of tension in his work? Maybe his intent is to goad us, force us to examine where in fact we are. Or maybe not. Maybe he could care less.
    Bukowski is one of those writers I would in times of darkness turn to. Charley’s work is a form of American theater-of-the-absurd, and in my youth, floating from abandoned house to pay-by-the week hotels, to the woods about the edges of town, stone broke and not a friend to speak of, I’d always find myself circling back to the local library, hunting the latter end of the B’s. It was such a strange place to find solace, humanity. Or was it?

  10. Timmy! says:

    I found bukowski in a collection of contemporary short stories. All the other stories had some message to give to make the reader a better person. Bukowski wasnt trying to say anything. The other writers were lousy. CB is great.

  11. Fernand Roqueplan says:

    If you like this then you’ll love BROTHER DIONYSUS by Sean Brendan-Brown; bought it a couple days ago from the Apple Store and can’t put my iPad down! Brown’s short stories remind me of Bukowski and Raymond Carver only more intense, violent, sexual: I’m a total fan and you’ll be, too!

  12. […] You can check out some interesting excerpts from ‘Notes Of A Dirty Old Man’ here. […]

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