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CHARLES BUKOWSKI TAUGHT ME 'HOW TO WRITE A SHORT STORY'

by Ben Pleasants, guest contributor.  [November 7, 2003]

 

 

 
[HollywoodInvestigator.com]  Charles Bukowski was a warrior and he used words as a weapon; he loved literary squabbles.  Verbal warfare was his métier and his typer blazed more brightly when he was on the attack, but only when the names were changed to protect him from lawsuits. When lawyers got involved, Charles Bukowski, a celebrated tightwad, withdrew, viewing an attack on his bank account as life-threatening.

In the late 1970s, as his star began to rise and his bank accounts swelled, Bukowski sat up in the highest room in his house in San Pedro and looked out on the harbor at night with all its marine lights and loading cranes and docked ships, aiming his typer like a 50-caliber machine gun down on all the enemies of his life: the women who'd betrayed him; the critics and scholars who'd dismissed him as a "gutter poet," the poets who envied his success; the bosses who'd fired him; the friends who'd sold him out for a $200 magazine article; the editors who'd mocked his work; the editors who owed him money; and every member of his family who ever gave him a minutes' grief. Bukowski was at the top of his game, and the game was King of the Mountain; now it was time for revenge. As long as he changed the names.

But in July of 1976, Bukowski was still stuck in Hollywood, sharing conversation with Sam the Whorehouse man, and I was having my own problems. I'd named names in print, and if I wasn't hounded by lawyers I was attacked by what Bukowski called "the lit/crit shitters."

One of them was Clayton Eshleman, editor of such solipsistic poetry journals as Caterpillar and Sulfur. On July 20, 1976, Eshleman attacked me in print, taking me to task for a review I wrote about John Ashbery's poetry volume Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.

I said of Ashbery's work:

 

    It is a kind of private meditation that is best kept private, but Ashbery wants it both ways. He wants our praise and he wants to be left alone to his sensitive genius, such as it is. It is time to openly flail such art. A few prestigious poets will praise it (in return for future praise), a few woeful fossils of magazines like Poetry will find it "vibrant" or "refreshing  expressive," a large enough number of libraries will dump it out on a dusty shelf after the New York Times Book Review has done its best to push it along, but ultimately the work is hollow, hopelessly cut off from the real world, wrapped in conceits. Sadly, Ashbery has written his own little epitaph: "His case inspires interest but little sympathy; it is smaller than at first appeared."


A few weeks later Clayton Eshleman struck back. In a letter to the Times Book Review titled "The Cult Lint," he attacked the review and a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti published in the L.A. Times a few weeks earlier. Eshleman wrote:

 

    Ben Pleasants' review of John Ashbery's Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (Book Review, July 13) reads like a follow-up on the Ferlinghetti poem that appeared in the Book Review several weeks previously. Both the Ferlinghetti poem and the Pleasants review mock serious poetry by asserting that unless poetry is written for "the people" there is something ridiculous about it.... Pleasants' "voice" is that of a little man (in the Reichian sense), outside of the central evolving image of poetry in our time, and bitter about it.... Both the Ferlinghetti poem and the Pleasants' reviews appear in the Book Review because there is no serious reviewing policy.... It is a continual shame, an aspect of failure in Los Angeles for poetry to ever be taken seriously, that Book Review backs such pot shots.


When Bukowski read the review and Eshleman's response, he was delighted: literary warfare in Los Angeles at last! It was like the old Kenyon Review days from the 1940s. The thought of those old Marxists who'd attacked Jeffers and Pound and John Crowe Ransom made his eyes fill with rage.

But what he told me surprised me. He said I'd finally gotten to where I wanted to be; I'd made the establishment so mad they wanted me gone. He said that was really enough; that I'd done my job reviewing poets no one else reviewed and now it was time to move on. He told me to write more poetry and begin writing fiction. He said it was time for me to grow up and listen to my own voice.  "Write some short stories. I'll help you send 'em out."

He'd just received a large check from Hustler and he wanted to celebrate. So he drove his little blue Volks over to Barney's Beanery for drinks. Strictly on Bukowski! We'd been there several times, on Santa Monica in West Hollywood. The food was terrible, but the drinks were large and cold. The customers were working-class types who spat on the floor, smoked while they drank, and sprinkled "cunt," "fuck," and "cocksucker" into every line of conversation they spoke. Bukowski's kind of people.

He always stopped and pointed out the sign in front: Founded in 1920. "Same as me," said Bukowski. "Andernach, 1920."

He liked the other sign even better -- the sign over the bar: NO QUEERS ALLOWED. He'd shout it out like a bad little boy in the first grade who'd just pulled the panties off a crying six-year-old girl. And just in case you didn't get the point, he'd quote Steve Richmond's poem "Let the fags have San Francisco." He wanted me to know where he stood.

 

 

* Meat Poetry Society


It was the perfect hangout for members of the Meat Poetry School. But I never got it, the macho stuff. I still liked F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hart Crane; I read Pablo Neruda and H.D. and Galway Kinnell and Emily Dickinson and Charles Tidler and Marge Piercy. Bukowski yawned at the thought of them. But he was happy for me; that letter from Eshleman was like a medal from Kaiser Wilhelm.

"You drew blood this time," he said over a pitcher of dark beer. He told me I should put it to work for myself in stories. Like him. He told me what he was getting from Hustler was real good money, a lot better than The Sparrow or the Free Press, even if it wasn't steady.

He said I should write about the women I knew, especially the teachers and nurses who were living on the edge, caught between ecstasy and hypocrisy; their sexual habits, their drug usage. He was especially fond of a story I told him about a woman I'd worked with in a drug hospital who slept with all the principals on both sides of a labor dispute and, by using her body as a weapon, broke the strike.  I told him I disapproved of what she'd done. He said I was hopeless. He called me his "Beverly Hills Anarchist Boswell."

By then I was supposedly writing his biography; but whenever he sent me to interview a friend it always ended the same way -- either he owed them money or he'd smashed up all their furniture or he'd peed on their sofa, or he slept with the wife or girlfriend.

He thought all people on the West Side lived off their parents' wealth, spent their evenings in nightclubs, and lived in fear of two things: venereal disease and drug overdose. He held Steve Richmond up as the prototype of West Side lifestyle: a rent collector who lived off his father's millions.

I told him I didn't come from money, I'd been working since I was fifteen, and I was only a quarter Jewish. He told me being a quarter Jewish was like being a quarter crazy; it didn't matter if I didn't take it seriously. I told him I didn't. I told him I found it hard to write about women I knew intimately.  He told me I'd get over it. "You have to be hungry," he said.

He said if I couldn't write about women who'd fucked me over, I should write about what I knew: newspaper people, the inside stuff; how much they drank; who fucked them over; their troubles with money and ego and drugs; their suicides. Did I know any? I said I did. I told him the Gary Mayfield story, but he said that was too easy; it was already in print.

I reminded him of the Ramon Navarro story he'd written, about his murder up on Laurel Canyon. He told me he was hard-up for a column that week, and besides the story had caused him problems.

He asked me to tell him the real stuff at the L.A. Times. We were on our third pitcher of beer and our second bloody steak. Meat School Poets; only I wasn't one of them.

I said I once met Otis Chandler in the elevator and he was carrying a fine leather case. Everyone else stood there not making a sound, but I asked Otis Chandler what was in the case and he told me a hunting rifle. He was shooting wild sheep on Catalina Island. I asked if he'd open the case. He did right there in the elevator, or maybe it was the lobby. I said it was like a kid playing with his toys.

He asked if I hated Otis Chandler. I told him he was the best editor the Times ever had.  Bukowski was disappointed. He wanted an Otis Chandler scandal. I told him he ran over an eighty-year-old lady and they knocked it right off the news. He told me that wasn't sexy enough. It had to be a blonde in a tight skirt; but I could start with the story and add the blonde. That was the joy of fiction.  I was beginning to get it. After all that beer I was starting to feel the hunger.

He said I should take on the big boys, because I was stubborn enough to survive in a rich man's world; stubborn enough to draw blood. That was true.

So I told him what I knew. I told him I'd worked as a copy boy at twenty-six just to get my nails into the concrete enough so the L.A. Times would publish my stuff. I told him I liked being called an anarchist, not a Marxist; that it was better than being called a rent collector behind your back, like Richmond; that nobody owned me. He told me he liked the fact that I could keep up with him, bottle for bottle, on an all-night bender; that I laughed at myself, at my wife's infidelities with stock brokers; that I let life hit me in the mouth and could still see the sadness without giving up. I liked what he said. I still do.

Bukowski was very careful with writers' truths, but every once in a while he'd hit me in the face with one, using the Bukowski Zen stick.

He also said a real writer should have kids. We both had daughters about the same age. He'd met my daughter once in the living room of my Beverly Hills apartment, while he spent most of the afternoon looking up my wife's shorts. My daughter was ten at the time and she seemed afraid of him.

I'd seen his daughter, Marina, several times when she was little, playing with crayons and paper on his beer-soaked carpet. He told me over and over that whatever money he made from his writing would go to Marina. Money didn't matter much to him, he said, as long as he had a place to write and publishers who'd print him and enough money for beer and smokes.

He told me having a daughter gave him a special edge; it allowed him to see through the eyes of a child. He thought poets who lived for their work alone -- for art, and had no children -- were cut off from the real world; the world of  love and work and murder and sweat.

He said that poets were sad creatures but they could be funny. He mentioned a dozen we both knew, all with no children. He ended with Steve Richmond. He told me he was so tired of the small presses. He laughed about all the stuff John Martin had asked him to do so he could sell out his "Collector's Copies" for Black Sparrow. He said Martin would ask him to sign copies of Black Sparrow books in his own snot if he thought it would make him a buck, but he did it.

Larry Flynt, on the other hand, asked him for the typed manuscripts, pure and simple. "There's a guy who understands women," he told me. He told me it was time to "fuck off poetry, let those cunt suckers choke on the cum of the poet. Write prose. Write stories. Just give up on poesy [sic] unless you can curse the gods like Jeffers. Or me."

"But how?" I asked. "How do you break through?"

He thought back to when he was a kid of twenty, sitting on a park bench, running away from World War Two. He told me he'd been reading Kenyon Review and Sewanee, which he pronounced as it was spelled, not as it's sung in the song "Way Down Upon..." And he was surprised it was the same word.

So we talked about critics. The New Critics. He said that the poetry he read on that park bench in Texas was stilted and dead, without any feeling, so different from Jeffers who always thrilled him; but the critical articles were bristling with anger, frustration, and hatred.

"These guys were so neatly bitchy in such a high intellectual, vicious way. The way they used the language in those critical articles was on a far higher level than all their creative work." He told me to forget about Eshleman, to laugh off the viciousness of a minor leaguer. "It doesn't count for anything."

Bukowski told me that poets have only that little bit of turf to quarrel about. "Nobody reads them. They read each other. They hate me because my poetry sells; because I connect with the real world and guys like Eshleman and Ashbery connect with no one." He told me they were born dead and could only exist through viciousness. "Just cool off and get the fuck off the poetry train.  Write straight fiction. Write a play. Anything but poetry."

I had another beer and considered his words. I felt better already. That was the third time Bukowski told me to read Dan Fante. Fante would help me find the way just as he'd lit up Bukowski.

Bukowski showed me a story he'd written and sent out to Hustler. "These guys publish real stuff.  Send them something. And they pay real money." On the table was a check for $1,200. He told me to forget about guys like Eshleman. "They always fuck up. It's just ego. You'll see." And then we got down to writing short stories, holding the line, hammering it home.

I asked him how he got started with the short story. He told me when he was in his twenties he was turning out five stories a week. "They were lyrical. They were rambling. The plot and content were secondary. It was a vomiting up, an effusion of feeling." The rejection slips told him he should write poetry. "I didn't think much of poetry. I thought I was really cutting loose with this new form, like a Mahler symphony."

When he started writing stories in 1940, he told me he was looking for something; looking for a mentor, so he headed east on his way to Florida to find Ernest Hemingway. "I made it to Miami and then I ran out of money," he said. He got stuck with the same dead-end jobs he always had and continued batting out stories until he hocked his typewriter in Philadelphia and couldn't afford to get it back. "That's all in the new book, Factotum."

I asked if he'd read Dan Fante by then. He told me he'd read him when he was nineteen or twenty, but Fante's method of vivid writing and short chapters was hard for him to imitate.

Only when he ran into D.H. Lawrence's The Prussian Officer did he get it. "It's about ultimate human cruelty," he told me. "There's a tightness of line." He recalled his earliest stories, the ones he'd hand-printed and sent out, always about the same thing: "People mentally fucked up and unhappy, not knowing what to do, how to get out of bed, how to get a job, how not to get a job, how to get through another day."

He recalled working at a job at Coronado Parts Warehouse on Flower and 17th Street. "The job was easy and the boss was not too bad." He went home and wrote "Twenty Tanks From Kasseldown," which was accepted for publication by Black Sun Press in 1946. Henry Miller was the prose editor, but Bukowski didn't like the story. He was learning.

Then he wrote a story for a small magazine titled Matrix. It was about a baseball player who'd been playing baseball "for quite a while. One day he's standing in the outfield. He's been doing some thinking. The baseball came to him and he just didn't want to catch it. He just stood there. He didn't care. I think it was a pretty good story," he told me, "but I think I could write it better now."

I asked if he'd like it republished. He said no. He was still learning then. He didn't quite have it. Not the way Fante did. Drinking and working tired him out. "I don't think I had so much energy in those days. I didn't put as much into each story. I just pushed them out. I didn't keep carbons. I'm a little bit calmer now. It gives me a chance to put more feeling.... I don't want to say false feeling, that can happen, too." He knew he was getting there. He put in the time but the stories weren't jumping off the page.

He recalled writing another story called "The Itch To Scribble." But he told me he still didn't have it.  He said he was learning how not to write a short story. What he needed was to learn about THE FEMALE.

 

* Bukowski's Battle of the Sexes

 

He was between women at the time and laughing a lot about his busted relationships. He told me how Lisa Williams tried to hold onto him by taking pills; by trying to overdose. "I had to reach down her throat and she had these false teeth. I pulled out the teeth." He was laughing. The blood, the pills, the vomit, the false teeth. "You need those smoking hot cunts that drive you crazy, that keep you up all night smoking and drinking and screaming at the moon. That's when you learn...but first let me tell you how not to write a short story."

He talked about all the early work that had disappeared into the trash. "They were full of complaints.  I wanted too much too fast, and I was weeping in the wind. The unrecognized artist shit. 'THE WORLD SHOULD KNOW THAT I HAVE THIS GIFT.' "

We finished our beer and drove back to his place on Carlton Way. He made a few comments about my wife. Was she fucking someone? I told him about the stockbroker.

"Yeah," he said. "Not good." He told me to handle it, to use it, to get it down. "Write about the two of them," he told me. "Think about it till it drives you crazy, then get it down." That, he said, is what he learned from Fante; the war between men and women -- it had to be real. "Camilla was no made up cunt," he said. She was still out there somewhere.

He asked what I was working on. I told him about a story I was writing about Vietnam. He turned up his nose. It was after 2:00 a.m. We drank more beer and there was a knock on the door. It was Cupcakes and her friend, Georgia. Cupcakes needed some money.

Cupcakes, Bukowski told me, had been Miss Pussycat Theatre a few years back. She was the kind of women who drove him crazy and moved him to his typer. Georgia was the ugliest woman I ever met. Cupcakes grabbed a twenty, then split with Georgia. Bukowski said they were headed to the Time Motel. He liked the name. He said his neighbor, Sam the Whorehouse Man, worked there at night. They were all in his stories, he told me.

That was the way it worked. You needed materials you could work with, even if they looked like Georgia and Sam and Neeli Cherry (later Cherkovski), with that tic of his that twisted his head around whenever he got flustered. The dregs, he said, just like the people in Celine; but they had to be fictionalized.

Cupcakes went off, wobbling on her high heels, smoking a cigarette. Bukowski waved at her through the window. "See, that's what you need. A woman like that."

"How about Jane?"

"Jane was worse." He told me about Jane. About Jane and Baldy and about Jane and all the other guys he'd caught her with. He asked me if I ever caught my wife in bed with another man. I told him one day I came home early from work, and she was lying in the bed stark naked when she should have been at work, but I never found the guy. He laughed.

I told Bukowski he probably climbed out the window. He remembered the apartment on Doheny. It was on the second floor. He laughed. "Maybe he broke his back." He told me I should use that, but make it ten times worse; first drink some beer and then get it all down like a blues singer crying about his lost love, but make it funny; that was the thing.

"Use pain," he said. "Let it all in." He told me when he was struggling writing stories it just got worse and worse. He had to stop. He had to take in all the pain and let it settle like grounds in bitter coffee. He said he got up one day and threw all his stories away settling down to drinking. He really didn't care then whether he lived or died. He lived on a candy bar a day.

I'd heard this story many times; how he'd hocked his typer in Philly and started over with his stories.  He told me he learned to print faster than he could type and sent out his new stories to magazines like Harpers, The Atlantic, and Story. "Story was the only one that responded. The others, you know, would say, 'This nut again who hand-prints his stories. Ah ha ha ha.' Maybe they didn't even read them.”

He told me it was women who make men write. He knew that woman, Camilla, had really put her hooks in Dan Fante. He told me to look for a woman who was really hot but not too smart, like Cupcakes. I told him I had my eye on a few. He wanted to know who. I said Kate Braverman was one of the most beautiful and exciting women I'd met.

Bukowski was aware of her. He'd read her work, but he told me she was too smart, and she was Jewish. Jewish women always put him off. He told me a woman like Kate Braverman could really make a man crazy, but he thought she'd pack it all away in her own poetry and the fiction. I argued it was possible for two people to take away materials from one experience. He told me I'd be better off writing about my wife's infidelities. "Just write real stuff."

I decided to try out his suggestions. I gave up writing poetry reviews. I walked across town and got myself a job at the Free Press as Special Arts Editor. I checked out Braverman, followed her around for a while and began poetry readings at the Alley Cat. And I wrote a few stories. One was for Hustler. They bought it and I showed Bukowski the art work. He was surprised. It wasn't what he'd told me to write. Where was the stockbroker?

 

 

* Kate Braverman

 

I took Braverman on a date. She wanted some dream candy, but I wasn't a user. She told me she'd thrown away her "works." Could I get her some? I called a friend who'd been a user of heroin, but she was now on methadone and no longer injected herself.

I told Braverman that Bukowski had read her poetry and liked it. I told her what he'd said about a few of her poems: "She writes like a man."


Kate Braverman; Lithium for Medea book cover.

She was flattered. She asked me if I used drugs. I told her about Steve Richmond and Tim Buckley and Jim Morrison, who I'd met at UCLA, and how drugs scared me. I suggested she give up the coke she was shooting into her ass and try some red wine. She said she'd been on a diet.

She pulled up her peasant blouse and showed me her belly. She was hot, sensual, dusky. We talked about her father; how he was old and sick and nobody looked after him. She said he used to hang out at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, sitting out by the pool for just the price of a cup of coffee or a soda, but they kicked all the old-timers out. He had no place to go but his seedy room, while her mother, Millicent, lived in a luxury house in Beverly Hills.

She told me about all her boyfriends at Venice High School; how they were innocent and how she was not. She remembered all their names and how her parents had to struggle to survive. She insisted we play a game of Scrabble, which she won by two points. She talked about how she wanted to be a mother. She asked me about my wife and my job. I told her I had to work in the morning.

I told her she should give up her dream candy and stick to liquor like Bukowski and me. She told me she could handle her drugs; they were useful in her writing. She was writing about people she knew, and more than half the people she knew were on drugs. We walked across the street to an Italian restaurant in her neighborhood, Echo Park. We drank a lot of red wine. We both got very drunk. We talked about France and Venice and South America. We drank two bottles of red wine.

When we left the restaurant she lay down on the roadway with cars coming in every direction. I had to drag her to her feet and carry her across the road and up the hill to her home. She told me she was feeling a little numb; when we got to her house she rushed into the bathroom and threw up all the Italian food. I held her up as she vomited into the can, and she gave me a very sad look. We were staring into the bathroom mirror.

"Baby don't look too good," she said, stripping off her clothes. Vomit trailed down her chin onto her breasts, but to me she still looked beautiful; those sad, lonely dark eyes, so much like a gypsy, her wild dark hair, that soft mouth of hers that could use words like a razor, and her pale, taut body. I wiped her off but she pushed me away. The night air and what she'd flushed down the toilet reduced her drunkenness. She told me she didn't think wine would work for her. Then she made me a cup of coffee, but I was still very drunk.

She called my wife and told her I was too drunk to drive home. Then she put me on the couch, covered me up with a blanket, and kissed me goodnight, more like a mother than a lover. When I woke in the morning she gave me breakfast and checked to see if I was okay. I reminded her that she was the one who vomited up her dinner. Then she called my principal and told her I'd not be in that morning. She was very efficient.

When I told Bukowski about my date with Kate Braverman, he made some comments about living up to the motto of the Meat School, like Richmond. I told him the last time I'd seen Richmond he was suffering through his fifth round of the clap. Bukowski wasn't satisfied. The Meat School of Poets was engaged in an all-out war with The Female, and once again I was on the losing side.

He wanted to know more. How did her breath taste? Did I get a look at her clit? He asked me to describe her body. I told him I was pretty drunk and with her hair falling over one eye she reminded me of a young woman I'd known at UCLA. The one who looked like Anouk Aimee. He told me I'd read too much Fitzgerald.

"How about her nipples?" he asked.

"Which one?"

"Both."

He was talking about nipples and I was talking about Braverman and Anouk Aimee. I told him the girl who looked like Anouk Aimee had large breasts and tiny nipples. He only wanted to know about Kate Braverman. I said Braverman's breasts were large, but they drooped downward like two large pendants and I couldn't remember if I'd seen her nipples at all.

"Maybe she didn't have any," he said.

Then he told me about a woman who worked at the downtown library who'd wear low-cut sweaters, and you could see her whole breast when she bent down, only she had no nipples -- none at all. I told him I thought Kate Braverman had nipples, I just couldn't remember what they looked like. Then I drove home and started to write stories.

Sometime later Kate called me back. She asked if I'd do a reading with her at the George Sands Book Store in Westwood. "I'll give you head right out in front of the audience," she said. We'd read in tandem, just the two of us. She suggested we read all our Europe poems, after she gave me head.

I thought she was kidding.

The reading took place in the late 1970s. Kate and I read poems about Europe, and she did threaten to give me oral sex in front of the audience but I declined. My friend Kenneth Achitity introduced us.  We traded quips back and forth and read from published and unpublished works.

 

 

 

* Poet's War With Clayton Eshelman

 

When the reading was over I spoke with the owner, Charlotte Gusay. She had a question for me: Did I know Clayton Eshleman? I laughed and told her no, I'd never met him. She had a letter to show me written by Clayton. It was about Charles Bukowski. Charlotte had written Eshleman to ask about Charles Bukowski. Would he be a good reader?

Eshleman thought not. Bukowski was unpredictable, he said. He could be violent. He was boorish and crude. Eshleman neglected to mention that Bukowski was getting from $500 to $1,000 up front for each reading and the rooms were always packed.

I was amused. Bukowski and Eshleman had the same publisher. I asked Charlotte if I could photocopy the letter. I told her I was Bukowski's authorized biographer. That was true at that time.  She gave me the letter. I called Bukowski and read what Eshleman had written. I thought it would give him a laugh.

It didn't. He was angry. He wanted a copy of the letter. Over and over he'd told me he was the locomotive pulling the Black Sparrow train. "I have to deal with these cocksuckers cutting my balls off behind my back." I took him a copy of the letter and handed it over personally. He bought me three pitchers of beer.

A few weeks later Bukowski was brimming over with joy. He told me Eshleman had been John Martin's house guest for the weekend. "Martin asked him when he got there if he'd been saying anything about me. Cursing me out. Eshleman denied it. Then he asked him again at dinner." 

Bukowski was smiling. He loved stories like this.

"John asked him the same question a few more times. 'Have you been saying anything bad about Bukowski?' Clayton said, 'No.' He loved Bukowski. Bukowski was great. And then he showed him the letter to Charlotte Gusay, owner of the George Sand Book Store."

By this time Bukowski's voice was animated. He told me Eshleman just stood there stunned. He didn't know what to say. He was caught in a flat-footed lie. Bukowski laughed his evil laugh. Ah Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha. He'd finally caught one of his backstabbers with his pants down. He reminded me about the letter Eshleman had written to the Times, The Cult Lint.

"See," he said, "what did I tell you?"

A short time later I heard from Charlotte. She wasn't too pleased, but she did see the humor in the situation. Eshleman had called her. He was furious. She'd given him my number. Then Eshleman called me. He could hardly contain his rage. Why did I give his letter to Bukowski?

I told him I didn't. I gave him a copy. He could read between the lines. All those poetry wars were still going on in Eshleman's little head, but for me events were merely comical. I laughed in his face and reminded him about his attack on Ferlinghetti. He was irate and he wanted his letter back.

It was 1979. I'd returned from France a week early; my wife was with a new boyfriend off S.F. on the island of Tiburon. The word means shark in Spanish. She was there with a lowly clerk and his brother from the same brokerage house she worked for in Los Angeles. My daughter was at home and gave me the number in Tiburon.

Shortly after, my wife filed for divorce. At first I was angry and then I was glad. The clothes were all over the place, and in the middle of the adventure the house was robbed, but I was smiling.

I told Bukowski the latest about my wife. He said it was good I didn't catch the two brothers in my own bed. He knew I collected rifles. "Now you have a novel," he told me.

I told him I'd rather write short stories. He said to "Beware of overabundance; too many lines. The unsaid things can be much more powerful than the said." He told me not to feel sorry for myself. I said I just felt sorry for my daughter; she was in the middle.

Since I had him on a subject he never talked about, I asked WHO Bukowski wrote for. He told me "D.H. Lawrence said 'Art for my sake.' Let's just say I'm getting the poison out. It helps me survive."

But we were both still laughing about Clayton Eshleman.

It still makes me smile when I think of the expression Eshleman must have had on his face when John Martin read that letter.

As for Kate Braverman, she kicked her drug habit, went on to write two fine novels and several volumes of poetry. I did an interview with her for the L.A. Times about poetry, of course, when she was thinking about having a baby. I met the guy.

His name was Pedro something. They never married but she had a lovely daughter like me and Bukowski. I was glad for her. She was still very beautiful and she still wrote like a man, but as Bukowski told me, she was too smart for me and too Jewish.

Hustler published my first commercial story in their July 1978 issue: "Even the Kings in Their Winter Palaces," a story about a Vietnamese father who carried the head of his dead son from Quang Tri to Hue. Bukowski thought it was a good story and it all turned out okay.
 

Copyright 2003 by Ben Pleasants.

 

 

Ben Pleasants is a playwright and author of Visceral Bukowski: Inside the Sniper Landscape of L.A. Writers.

His most recent novel is Spearmint Leaves.

He can be contacted at: benpleasants@msn.com.

 

 

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