At the time, in 1975, I was in my senior year of high school, and my mother and Aunt Linda were in the throws of publishing their erotic poetry magazine, (Purr, now a rare poetry book). It was a time when walking in, I might walk past Charles Bukowski, or a number of 'the meat puppet poets of L.A.', to my room upstairs. In 1975, Bukowski and Aunt Linda were gradually coming to the end of their five year relationship, so there was constantly tension in the house, fueled with copious amounts of alcohol as well as other substances less apparent. Some of my more aware friends at school, (including my theatre teacher) seemed overly interested in me living in a house that was so often occupied by the 'now becoming more well known' poet of Bukowski. I was mostly oblivious, as my self interested encompassed my own teenage exploits, which included playing Elwood P. Dowd in the play 'Harvey', trying to learn to surf, smoking lots of pot, and playing my music as loud as I could. I was aware that the house was full of people typing and discussing, but mostly things that I wasn't interested in. Bukowski affectionally called me, 'kid', but I noticed he also called anyone 'kid' who was under twenty-five. My observation of Bukowski at the time was of someone who was funny when he wasn't drinking, and mean and belligerent when he was. Like lots of alcoholic writers, he was not drunk all the time, in fact, there seemed to be periods he went through like all drinkers go through, an episode, a drama, followed by several days of being contrite and 'good'. I was not immune to the drama.
One evening, My Mother, Baby Dan, Aunt Linda, Bukowski, and I, all went to some sort of literary party somewhere near the beach. At the party, I quickly found the alcohol and a way to sneak it, as Bukowski drank it out in the open. I remember lying to a group of kids there, "telling them I was just about to work on 'The Brady Bunch' as an actor. I don't know why I did, I guess because I wanted to make an impression as I was perceiving everyone in L.A. had to do.
On the way home, I was sitting in the front seat of the car as my mother was driving. She seemed rather distressed as it was evident that I was drunk, and of course Bukowski was in full 'fighting' mode. Suddenly, Bukowski reached forward and grabbed onto my rather long hair and started pulling. Now, you must understand, I was no stranger to holding my own in a fight, especially when I was drunk. Although most of my fights were with kids my own age, I was unfortunately, fearless when I was drunk.
As we started to tussle in the car, Bukowski yelled out, "I'll take ya', kid!"
Although he had the advantage of having his hand firmly ahold of my hair, I was not going to go without a fight.
So, I yelled back,
"Your nothing but an old man! I could kick your ass all over the street!"
"Stop this car!" he yelled to my mother who was now in a state of panic.
"I'll take ya' kid!" he kept yelling.
As the fight continued to escalate, my mother pulled over to the side of The Golden State Freeway, either to let us fight or to keep the car from wrecking. This was where my Aunt Linda took over. I firmly believe that had she not grown up with my Grandfather, who was also a fighting and mean drunk, she may not have stayed with him so long, and certainly would not have known how to handle the situation. I think, however, none of us were rookies at handling drunks, in many ways, Bukowski had met his match. All of us in that car, had lots of living experience. Even at my young age, I had seen a lot, as had my mother and Aunt Linda. Even Baby Dan, (my younger brother) was just starting to get his. (I remind him sometimes that he was in the car that night, a strange degree of separation). Aunt Linda and my mother expertly handled the two drunks in the car trying to get out on the freeway and fight. When Aunt Linda had reached her boiling point, she was no one to contend with. She soon was able to pull Bukowski's hand apart from my hair, as I got out of the car to fight. To my best recollection, Bukowski opened the door but never got out of the car.
"Raymond," my mother said, "get back in this car !"
Soon we were traveling home again, but it was still a tense situation, and I remember thinking I may have to fight this man when we get home. Soon, all was forgotten, and then Bukowski observed that no one would win if he and I fought. "If he won the fight, he said, he would be 'kicking the ass' of 'a kid'", and if I won, "I'd be 'kicking the ass' of an old man." I was relieved that his temper had seemed to turn. We got home without further incident.
After that, Bukowski seemed eager to 'make it up' to me. He took me to the fights at the Olympic, where I had never seen anything like it. No wonder he liked to fight! The under card fights were the bloodiest battles I've ever seen. We were close enough to watch the blood fly from the fighters mouths, noses, and ears. He took me to the race track once, just the two of us, where he tried to teach me 'his system'. Our near battle seemed to bond us, and he was eager and gracious when he came to see me act in the play, 'Harvey'. For a short while in my senior year of high school, Bukowski attempted to be at least, some kind of role model. I do think he could see I was a 'wild child', and I think in retrospect, he related to that. I've never completely written down the story as I have now, perhaps its a good thing that I do.
There were other stories and parties from 'The House On Edgewater Terrace' but that one seems to be the most significant, for many reasons.
I'll end with a poem of another incident that I remember. Although there is some rancor in this poem, I don't mean any indictments to my mother and Aunt Linda, I was just, 'a kid'.
The Great Drunken Poet
I'm standing in front
of the house on Edgewater Terrace,
high on speed,
yelling at the ghost of a poet.
watching him vomit in the front yard ivy.
The chaos is breaking out amongst
the meat puppet muses
in the house I call home--
I'm rushing towards that
gorgeous poetic image
the whole world is waiting for.
I walk in the house,
past John Bennett,
past my Aunt Linda,
past my Mother,
past half the worthless
drunken word shepherds in L.A.
past the drunken actors,
past the stoned painters,
past the posers in gauze shirts,
finally past Bukowski himself,
trying to hold court from a blackout.
He lets out a howl when he sees me,
"Where ya' goin', kid?"
"Up to my room, Hank, where you going, NASA?"
He stares at me for a moment,
trying to determine if my statement is in fun or folly.
I don't give him a chance,
I'm off to my room,
and out on the roof to smoke a joint.
The gray dome of L.A. looms above my head,
I'm in seventeen year old angst,
cursing all poets,
cursing all writers,
cursing all sons and daughters of writers.
I yell at the smog
its blocking my way to the stars,
I yell at the moon
because it hasn't a face,
I yell at God because
he left town
after the earthquake of 1971.
I hear the voices of my Aunt Linda and mother,
laughing at the wit of the great drunken poet,
like shills charming up the great joke--
as the room burns up like a brush fire!
As the room burns up,
I hear the devil beckoning me to suicide--
I hear the great emptiness of the silver lake--
the roar of all the young souls lost on rooftops.
I smoke another joint,
now I'm beginning to hallucinate,
the voices downstairs are comical now,
the poets are all Saturday morning cartoons,
I walk down to see the show.
I go to the fridge to get a beer.
The great drunken poet greets me,
as my hand reaches for the writing fuel,
He says to me, "Have a Schlitz, kid,
just don't tell your mother I gave it to you."
I want to say, "Thank you great drunken poet, thank you
for giving me what great poets in training need!"
But I don't,
I don't say anything,
I laugh at the great drunken poet's wit,
like everyone else does,
ashamed of all of us.
I go up on the roof to smoke yet another joint,
suddenly, I'm sobbing.
I'm frantically looking around me,
I'm looking for the way down from the speed,
I'm looking for the way back to God,
the way back to my lost childhood,
the way to death,
the way through the smog,
the way to my high school graduation,
the way to satisfy this great emptiness,
the way to paradise,
the way to find some courage,
the way to find some fucking courage!
Then I'm screaming,
there is no sound in my screams
my silent scream--
I'm screaming up
I'm screaming up
I'm screaming up
my guts and my blood,
I'm screaming up poets.
I'm sobbing up the silent screams,
I'm sobbing up great possibilities,
I'm sobbing up great thoughts
I'm sobbing up demons
I'm sobbing up God
until I am empty.
I'm looking for the way out,
I'm looking for the way in,
I'm looking for just one fucking answer,
I'm looking for the way,
far from great drunken poets.