Birthday: August 16, 1920
Birthplace: Andernach, Germany
Real Name: Henry Charles Bukowski
Parents: Henry Charles and Katharina [Fett] Bukowski
Description of Father: “[A] cruel shiny bastard with bad breath . . .”
Education: Attended Los Angeles City College, 1939-41
Work History: Manual worker in a dog biscuit factory, slaughterhouse, potato chip warehouse and various other dead-end jobs; Postal Carrier; Postal Clerk; Drunk
Medical History: Suffered from Acne Vulgaris, Hemorrhoids, Acute Alcoholism
Literary Influences: Conrad Aiken, Louis Ferdinand Celine (Journey to the End of the Night), Catullus, Fyodor Dostoevsky (Notes from the Underground), John Fante, Knut Hamsun (Hunger), Ernest Hemingway (early writings), Robinson Jeffers (long poems), James Thurber
Nonliterary Influence: Red Strange (aka Kid Red), a mentally ill tramp and derelict friend of Bukowski who wandered the highways and byways of America. Bukowski often plied Red with beer and encouraged him to relate his wildest stories, many of which ended up in Bukowski’s own poems and short stories.
Interests: Horse playing, classical music, fat whores
Alter Ego: Henry “Hank” Chinaski
Drug of Choice: Alcohol
Long-time Publisher: Black Sparrow Press (defunct)
On Solitude: “I was a man who thrived on solitude; without it I was like another man without food or water. Each day without solitude weakened me. I took no pride in my solitude; but I was dependent on it. The darkness of the room was like sunlight to me.” [Factotum, 1975]
On Work: “It was true that I didn’t have much ambition, but there ought to be a place for people without ambition, I mean a better place than the one usually reserved. How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?” [Factotum, 1975]
On Skid Row: “Those guys down there [in skid row] had no problems with women, income tax, landlords, burial expenses, dentists, time payments, car repairs, or with climbing into a voting booth and pulling the curtain closed.” [Factotum, 1975]
On Rejection Slips: “And rejections are no hazard; they are better than gold. Just think what type of miserable cancer you would be today if all your works had been accepted.” [Letter to Jory Sherman, April 1, 1960, included in Screams from the Balcony, 1993]
First Published Short Story: “Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip,” March-April issue of Story magazine, 1944
On Short Stories: “I do not believe in writing a short story unless it crawls out of the walls. I watch the walls daily but very little happens.” [Letter to Ann Bauman, May 21, 1962, in Screams from the Balcony, 1993]
On Hemingway: “Hem had style and genius that went with it, for a little while, then he tottered, rotted, but was man enough, finally, and had style enough, finally.” [Letter to Neeli Cherry, 1962, in Screams from the Balcony, 1993]
On The Beat Generation: “Now, the original Beats, as much as they were knocked, had the Idea. But they were flanked and overwhelmed by fakes, guys with nicely clipped beards, lonely-hearts looking for free ass, limelighters, rhyming poets, homosexuals, bums, sightseers – the same thing that killed the Village. Art can’t operate in Crowds. Art does not belong at parties, nor does it belong at Inauguration Speeches.” [Letter to Jon Webb, 1962, in Screams from the Balcony, 1993]
First Book of Poetry: Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail, 1960 (shortly after the publication of this chapbook, Bukowski attempted suicide by gassing himself in his room, but quickly changed his mind . . .)
Post Office (1971)
Erections, Ejaculations and General Tales of Ordinary Madness (1972)
Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame (1974)
Love is a Dog from Hell (1977)
Dangling in the Tournefortia (1981)
Ham on Rye (1982)
War All the Time (1984)
On Drinking: “Frankly, I was horrified by life, at what a man had to do simply in order to eat, sleep, and keep himself clothed. So I stayed in bed and drank. When you drank the world was still out there, but for the moment it didn’t have you by the throat.” [Factotum, 1975]
On Personal Hygiene: “Nothing is worse than to finish a good shit, then reach over and find the toilet paper container empty. Even the most horrible human being on earth deserves to wipe his ass.” [Factotum, 1975]
Films Based on Work:
Tales of Ordinary Madness (1983 – Italian) – Director: Marco Ferreri. Starring: Ben Gazzara, Ornella Muti, Susan Tyrell, Tanya Lopert, Roy Brocksmith. Gazzara is severely miscast in this debacle based loosely on “The Most Beautiful Woman in Town.” Still worth at least one viewing.
Barfly (1987) – Director: Barbet Schroeder. Starring: Mickey Rourke, Faye Dunaway, Alice Krige, Jack “Eraserhead” Nance, J.C. Quinn, Frank Stallone. Bukowski wrote the screenplay for this cult classic based on his early experiences in skid row. He even appears in a cameo as one of the barflies.
Love is a Dog from Hell (1987 – Belgium) – Director: Dominique Deruddere. Starring: Geert Hunaerts, Josse De Pauw. Adapted from Bukowski short stories, mainly “The Copulating Mermaid of Venice, California.” Bukowski considered it the most faithful adaptation of his work. Also known as Crazy Love.
Walls in the City (1995) – Director: Jim Sikora. Starring: David Yow, Michael James, Tony Fitzpatrick, Paula Killen, Bill Cusack. Three short films based on Bukowski short stories about assorted barflies.
On Politics: “I used to lean slightly toward the liberal left but the crew that’s involved, in spite of the ideas, are a thin & grafted-like type of human, blank-eyed and throwing words like vomit.” [Letter to Tom McNamara, July 14, 1965, in Screams from the Balcony, 1993]
On Luck: “I’m one of those who doesn’t think there is much difference/between an atomic scientist and a man who cleans the crappers/except for the luck of the draw – /parents with enough money to point you toward a more/generous death./of course, some come through brilliantly, but/there are thousands, millions of others, bottled up, kept/from even the most minute chance to realize their potential.” [“Horsemeat” in War All the Time, 1984]
On Death: “I want to die with my head down on this/machine/3 lines from the bottom of the/page/burnt-out cigarette in my/fingers, radio still/playing/I just want to write/just well enough to/end like/that.” [“suggestion for an arrangement” in War All the Time, 1984]
Cause of Death: Leukemia
Date of Death: March 9, 1994
Final Resting Place: Green Hills Memorial Park, Palos Verdes, California
Epitaph: “Don’t Try”
Leonard Cohen on Longevity, Money, Poetry and Sandwiches
“I was always like a bear in a honey tree, just trying to get something without getting stung to death”
| September 19, 2014
Leonard Cohen is our leading poet of love, wisdom, and sorrow – and according to the lyrics of Nirvana’s “Pennyroyal Tea,” the guiding spirit in Kurt Cobain’s afterworld. We sat down with the singer-songwriter on the occasion of his 13th studio album, Popular Problems, in a formal dining room at the Canadian consulate in Los Angeles (he primarily lives in L.A. and mostly recorded the album in his home studio, but he hails from Montreal). He discussed producer Patrick Leonard (“It was an unusually fraternal collaboration”), his fedora (“I’ve got about 20 of these”) and the aging process (“My high jump is definitely degraded”). Cohen turns 80 on Sunday, and Popular Problems will be released two days after that.
When you finish something like this record, are you proud of it?
It’s the done-ness of it that I really like. It nourishes me. Some guys don’t know how to open a door.
What are the pros and cons of working at home?
I don’t know if there are any cons. It’s very nice to go into your backyard and climb up into your studio. We had some good mics there, and both Pat and I had our keyboards, so we were able to flesh out these songs.
Patrick said that part of the process of working together was stripping out any excesses or fripperies.
Yes, both in the music and in the lyric. We were both, I think, quite compassionately savage about our vision. Pat, because he has such an abundance of musical ideas, he’ll sometimes overproduce. But he’s quite aware of that. So sometimes we’ll just say we don’t need a chorus here, we don’t need horns here, you know, we need to break it down here. And same with the lyric: If something’s obscure or just on the wrong side of accessible, then Pat will mention that and I’ll happily redirect.
How do you know when a song’s working?
You can pretty well tell. We play it for select people, like my daughter – there’s a few people who aren’t afraid to tell you that it isn’t working. We had another song on the album, which was called “Happens to the Heart,” which will be on the next album. It’s a very good lyric, a very good tune, but we didn’t nail it. So we didn’t put each other on about it – not for more than a week or two. “You know, this song really doesn’t make it.” “Thank God you said that, Pat, because I can’t stand it.”
Has your approach to making music has changed over the decades?
I never had an approach. I was always like a bear in a honey tree, just trying to get something without getting stung to death.
Is financial necessity is good or bad for art?
I think it levels the ground. I never had huge amounts of money when I was young. I had huge amounts of fame, and I always had the sense of labor and recompense. I always said I don’t want to work for pay, but I want to get paid for my song. Financial necessity of course arose in a very acute manner a few years ago. [His then-manager stole over $5 million from his retirement account.] I thought I had a little bread, enough to get by. I found I didn’t – for which I’m very grateful because it spurred a lot of activity.
I was curious about a lyric on “Nevermind,” “There’s truth that lives and there’s truth that dies.”
“There’s truth that lives and truth that dies. I don’t know which, so never mind. There is no need that this survive, there’s truth that lives and truth that dies.” It’s one of those phrases that resonates in some corner of the heart. And I don’t think it serves us well to explain it or to analyze it or to interpret it. It sounded right to me. There are certain truths that are in a dormant stage that you can’t always locate or be nourished by. But they’re there.
When you’re writing a song, are you aware that you’re tapping into something that you may not have a conscious handle on?
Well, I think that sometimes when you’re in ninth gear, or when you’re really skiing down the slope – you’re right on top of the snow, you don’t want to go any deeper. As someone said, you learn to stop bravely at the surface. If you hear something that really resonates, you just fold your hands in gratitude and try to incorporate it into the song. Sometimes those obscurities are just bullshit and they have to be excised; they have to be ruthlessly removed even if they sound good. Because they produce a disconnect in the song that every listener feels unconsciously. If you feel somebody’s trying to put you on, you really feel it.
Do you write much poetry that isn’t suitable for lyrics?
Oh, yeah. And sometimes I think, “What the hell am I doing? It doesn’t mean anything, it’s deeply irrelevant. Not just to everybody else but to myself.” But what else are you going to do? Everything else has gone away. Most of the things that I’ve liked to do, for one reason or another, it’s often inappropriate to do them.
At age 80, are there things you can’t do that you used to be able to?
There’s a lot of things that you can do that you couldn’t do when you were younger. You depend on a certain resilience that is not yours to command, but which is present. And if you can sense this resilience or sense this capacity to continue, it means a lot more at this age than it did when I was 30, when I took it for granted.
What are you good at that has nothing to do with music?
I can make a couple of good sandwiches: tuna salad and chopped egg salad. And Greek bean soup. I was a cook for my old Zen master for many years. So there were two or three dishes that he liked, you know. Teriyaki salmon, a few things. I wouldn’t call myself a good cook by any means. My son is a very good cook. My curries are not bad.
Do you write songs faster or slower than you used to?
There’s always a group of songs that I’m working at. Some of them are 10 years old, and some of them are just a few weeks old. I’m always trying to adjust these songs to some position where I can bring them to completion. There’s a few songs that I would like to finish before I die. One in particular, it’s a lovely melody that I can’t find any words for. I’ve been trying for a good 15 years. I’ve tried many, many versions. And God willing, maybe something will happen.
After you’re gone, what would you want people to remember about you?
I never give that much thought. Some people care about their work lasting forever – I have little interest in it. You probably know that great story about Bob Hope. His wife came to him and said, “There’s two plots available at Forest Lawn. One looks at some beautiful cypress trees, one looks over the valley. Which do you think you’d prefer?” He said, “Surprise me.” That’s the way I feel about posterity and how I’m remembered. Surprise me.
Bill Boggs Interviews Tennessee Williams
“It’s an honor to have this great American Playwright in my archives. This interview came to be because Tennessee’s agent was a friend of mine and he actually offered to have his client do the program. It was a big day at the station, and after the interview we all went out to lunch together. An odd footnote is that three days after doing this interview I ran into Tennessee at a party in New York and he did not remember me. That aside, in this interview Tennessee reads one of his favorite poets, Hart Crane. This is a memorable literary moment.”—Bill Boggs
THE GLASS MENAGERIE- ENTIRE PLAY
“A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE”
“THE GLASS MENAGERIE”
Playwright Tennessee Williams was born on March 26, 1911, in Columbus, Mississippi. After college, he moved to New Orleans, a city that would inspire much of his writing. On March 31, 1945, his play, The Glass Menagerie, opened on Broadway and two years later A Streetcar Named Desire earned Williams his first Pulitzer Prize. Many of Williams’ plays have been adapted to film starring screen greats like Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor. Williams died in 1983.
Playwright Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams on March 26, 1911, in Columbus, Mississippi, the second of Cornelius and Edwina Williams’ three children. Raised predominantly by his mother, Williams had a complicated relationship with his father, a demanding salesman who preferred work instead of parenting.
Williams described his childhood in Mississippi as pleasant and happy. But life changed for him when his family moved to St. Louis, Missouri. The carefree nature of his boyhood was stripped in his new urban home, and as a result Williams turned inward and started to write.
His parent’s marriage certainly didn’t help. Often strained, the Williams home could be a tense place to live. “It was just a wrong marriage,” Williams later wrote. The family situation, however, did offer fuel for the playwright’s art. His mother became the model for the foolish but strong Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, while his father represented the aggressive, driving Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
In 1929, Williams enrolled at the University of Missouri to study journalism. But he was soon withdrawn from the school by his father, who became incensed when he learned that his son’s girlfriend was also attending the university.
Deeply despondent, Williams retreated home, and at his father’s urging took a job as a sales clerk with a shoe company. The future playwright hated the position, and again he turned to his writing, crafting poems and stories after work. Eventually, however, the depression took its toll and Williams suffered a nervous breakdown.
After recuperating in Memphis, Williams returned to St. Louis and where he connected with several poets studying at Washington University. In 1937 returned to college, enrolling at the University of Iowa. He graduated the following year.
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When he was 28, Williams moved to New Orleans, where he changed his name (he landed on Tennessee because his father hailed from there) and revamped his lifestyle, soaking up the city life that would inspire his work, most notably the later play, A Streetcar Named Desire.
He proved to be a prolific writer and one of his plays, earned him $100 from the Group Theater writing contest. More importantly, it landed him an agent, Audrey Wood, who would become his friend and adviser.
In 1940 Williams’ play, Battle of Angels, debuted in Boston. It quickly flopped, but the hardworking Williams revised it and brought it back as Orpheus Descending, which later was made into the movie, The Fugitive Kind, starring Marlon Brando and Anna Magnani.
Other work followed, including a gig writing scripts for MGM. But Williams’ mind was never far from the stage. On March 31, 1945, a play he’d been working for some years, The Glass Menagerie, opened on Broadway.
Critics and audiences alike lauded the play, about a declassed Southern family living in a tenement, forever changing Williams’ life and fortunes. Two years later, A Streetcar Named Desire, opened, surpassing his previous success and cementing his status as one of the country’s best playwrights. The play also earned Williams a Drama Critics’ Award and his first Pulitzer Prize.
His subsequent work brought more praise. The hits from this period includedCamino Real, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth.
The 1960s were a difficult time for Williams. His work received poor reviews and increasingly the playwright turned to alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms. In 1969 his brother hospitalized him.
Upon his release, Williams got right back to work. He churned out several new plays as well as Memoirs in 1975, which told the story of his life and his afflictions.
But he never fully escaped his demons. Surrounded by bottles of wine and pills, Williams died in a New York City hotel room on February 25, 1983.
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Charles “Hank” Bukowski
don’t worry, nobody has the
beautiful lady, not really, and
nobody has the strange and
hidden power, nobody is
exceptional or wonderful or
magic, they only seem to be
it’s all a trick, an in, a con,
don’t buy it, don’t believe it.
the world is packed with
billions of people whose lives
and deaths are useless and
when one of these jumps up
and the light of history shines
upon them, forget it, it’s not
what it seems, it’s just
another act to fool the fools
there are no strong men, there
are no beautiful women.
at least, you can die knowing
and you will have
the only possible
VERY SPECIAL TAIL
Peter got up as soon as the alarm went off, put his slippers on and trudged to the shower. The hot water felt good on his tired skin, he rubbed voraciously lathering up bubbly foam from the last of the soap. He rubbed himself dry and looked in the mirror. He saw a vigorous pressed into the feather pillow, her brown hair spread around her neck. She looked peaceful. She sensed that he was leaving, and mumbled something about going out to dinner. In a louder voice she said as she was waking up, leaning on one elbow.
“Darling we’ve been together for two years. We need to celebrate?”
“Yes, let’s go to the restaurant in the Village,” he said while putting on a crisp blue shirt and cargo pants.
“I’ll get all dressed up in that blue silk dress you like me in and even wear high heels.”
“Will you be home on time? I need to make reservations.”
“For you in that dress of yours I’ll surely be ‘smack bang on time,’ as they say.”
“Who says that, Peter?”
He kissed her night breath and she lay back down in bed.
“I wish we could have breakfast together sometimes, Jane.” It was a light hint. She was as lazy as a sloth.
She ignored him and closed her eyes.
He shook his head and finished dressing. He pulled on his highly polished brown boots and crept out of the room. “That’s right,” he thought, “This is Tuesday and they would have sex tonight around ten o’clock.” After dinner, he began to get excited and pressed his erection down with the palm of his hand. Jane was good in bed and they had a satisfying sex life, but she was a lazy bitch, he thought.
He drove to work, leaving early because the roads were empty. His listened to jazz and classical. It was Tuesday, Pressure day. He needed classical. Schubert’s military marches would do. He drummed on the steering wheel while holding his potent cup of Starbucks coffee. He always performed well under pressure.
Today he had a presentation and he was well prepared. He worked for an advertising agency. He was pushing for a new line of baby food, and his presentation was perfect. He had worked on the project for a week, day and night to the point of exhaustion, making his fiancé unhappy. His boss put all her faith in him. They needed the account. Business had been slow and Ms. Finn was pressuring all the staff, 15 of them. Their jobs were on the line.
They had worked often late into the night pouring over his sketches, without being too obvious she had sat elbow to elbow with him as close as she could. She was a lonely woman, her good looks and out-going ness often were intimating. She liked Peter, his David Bowie look, androgynous; blond tall and lean with pale blue eyes. He was very sexy.
Oh man she thought he’s probably great in bed, I’ll let him know whatever way I can, and if he doesn’t catch on he’s not worth it!
Pete had a feeling that she had a “crush” on him. She did and deliberately hung around his office making lame excuses, that he could see right through. She was sexy, a tall slender woman with freckles green eyes and a long luxurious mane of red hair that tumbled down her pale shoulders. She often wore off-the-shoulder blouses, to show off her lovely skin. She knew she turned him on, although he never showed it, but there was that glint in his blue eyes that he couldn’t hide. She looked at him thinking, He doesn’t know how much I want him and I’ll do everything to get him.
“Our clients are arriving soon Pete, hope you are well prepared?”
“Yes Ms. Finn I think they’ll be impressed.” She patted him on the back, feeling the warmth of skin through his shirt. She wanted to keep her hand there but it would be too obvious. He knew it, he had known all along that she wanted him. She would take him on his desk if he gave her inkling, or a hint. She was not one to beg. She was the boss after all.
She is very sexy but I’d have to plan it, he thought.
The Japanese businessmen sat facing the screen as Pete turned on the projector. Their eyes barely blinked. They watched a bunch of babies feeding each other. Slopping around the delicious purees. Pete used his pointer to show the expressions on the messy babies faces. Their tight mouths loosened. They began to laugh, shaking Ms. Finn’s hand.
Thanking her and Pete for a great job. “We are sold, your idea is marvelous. The head businessman wrote a big check. They bowed and left.
Ms. Finn took Pete out to a deli for lunch to celebrate, and to come on to him. They feasted on corned beef on rye sandwiches, which, being Irish, was Ms. Finn’s favorite sandwich. As they ate kosher dill pickles. With a pop and a squirt, she asked him if he was still single.
“Yes Ms. Finn, I am, but I am engaged to be married.”
“Oh when?” She said, disappointment showing through her freckled face.
“April. I planned the date and the caterers and the band. My fiancé picked her wedding dress.”
“How nice. Congratulations,” she said with mounting disappointment, all the while thinking, I still want him, and I’ll have him.
After lunch they were back in their respective offices. His with a sailing theme, boats in bottles, pictures of old schooners, shipping maps and a buoy. Hers filled with Irish souvenirs, a shamrock coffee mug, a picture of her dad in a kilt playing the bagpipes and the family genealogy framed in a poster frame. It took the edge off their high-pressure jobs, giving them homely comforts. They thought of each other in their respective offices separated by a thin wall.
That evening when Pete returned home at precisely six o’clock Jane greeted him at the door with a hug and kiss.
“Hello darling. How was your day, Pete?”
“I landed that big account I was working on.”
“You were, how come you didn’t tell me?”
“Because you are not interested.”
“Don’t say that, Pete. I’m just preoccupied.”
“With what, Jane dear?”
“I have been working on the invitations.”
“You never ask me about work, you always seem to drift off. It’s hurtful.”
“I am not going to argue. Is this what it’s going to be like when we are married, Jane?”
“Sorry, Pete. I am so discombobulated , I don’t like my wedding dress at all.”
“So get another one. I have to change out of my uncomfortable clothes.”
‘What about the restaurant?”
“Sorry Jane, I just can’t. This week has been so hectic. I am wiped out. Please change the reservation. How about tomorrow?”
She stamped away with indignation.
Pete being an obsessive compulsive, he hurried and changed into his sweats. He went into the basement of their town house, and lifted weights, used his treadmill and finished up by riding five miles on the exercise bike. He felt he had overdone it as his lower back began to hurt. Walking up the stairs was painful, but he grinned and bore it. Jane was ready with one of her easy meals ready at the table. She hasn’t put much effort into this he thought. What does she do all day, while I bust my ass? Now I have really busted my ass, ouch it hurts.
They spoke not a word as he did the few dishes. And threw away the sectioned off cardboard TV dinner containers.
“I need to lie down my ass and back are throbbing.”
“How did that happen? Did you fuck Ms. Finn?”
“Shut your ugly mouth, Jane! I am afraid you.”
He went to the bedroom and changed into his pajamas, lay on the bed and switched on the TV. He couldn’t get comfortable.
“Jane,” he yelled, “are you coming to bed soon? I need you to rub my back.”
“I’ll be up soon dear, I’ll bring the rub.”
She came up a few hours later and found him in the fetal position fast asleep.
The following day Peter woke with severe lower back pain. As he showered he felt a lump on his tailbone.
They can’t fix a tailbone I’ll just have to grin and bear it. Jeez it hurts! He pecked Jane on the top of her head, and drove to work. This time he didn’t want the music on. The ride seemed interminably long, but he got to his office on time, as always. He shut the door to fester in his pain. He was unable to sit at his drawing board to work on an ad for children’s vitamins. This was to be of a cartoon kid and a cartoon mother and a bouncing vitamin. He preferred a drawing board than designing on a computer. He was old school.
As lunchtime came close, he was unable to sit anymore; the pain was dreadful. He paced up and down and angrily swatted a pile of papers off his desk. They fluttered all around. Then he threw a stapler against the wall.
There was a soft knock on his door.
“Are you alright?” Ms Finn said, opening his door. “What’s up? Are you okay?”
“I hurt myself on my exercise bike. My tailbone hurts like a bitch. I couldn’t sleep.”
“Let me look,” she said, approaching his desk.
He pulled out his shirt from his pants. She wants me and I can’t perform I am in pain.
She pulled his pants down a bit, bent him over his desk. She saw a red lump. It was pretty big. She gasped, “That doesn’t look good, Pete. You have a ginormous lump there. You’ve really hurt yourself. I’ll get some ice.”
“Thanks, Ms. Finn.” She looked concerned. So she really doesn’t want me. She looks worried. He waited, L-shaped over his desk feeling foolish. She returned fast carrying a bag of ice, and took him into the lounge and made him lie on his side.
“Keep it on until it melts.” She stroked his fine hair and left the room.
That evening he didn’t talk about his injury to Jane, her lack of concern shut him up. She took two Hungry Man dinners out of the microwave and gave him one.
“No more of these TV dinners, Jane. They are loaded with chemicals and salt. Since you’re home all day, can’t you cook, even if it’s simple?”
“I despise cooking. You know that, Pete.’
“Yup, I know all the things you don’t like. What do you like?”
“I like shopping…what are you getting at?”
“There are so many cards in your wallet, you’ll put us in the poor house even before we’re married.” He shifted around on the kitchen chair. She didn’t notice. She was thinking he was cruel and uncaring. And he didn’t care. It was becoming clear to him that maybe his love for her was fading, like old curtains.
In the shower the next day he cautiously felt, his tailbone was bigger. The lump was pliable and prickly. As soon as he got into work Ms. Finn asked him about his injury.
“It’s getting bigger and I am getting rather concerned,” he whispered. She looked at it again, going through the same routine as the day before.
“Jeez it’s so much bigger! You have to see a doctor.”
“They can’t fix a tailbone.” Pete was terrified about doctors. What if it’s a tumor? He turned pale.
“Pete, let’s go the hospital right now.”
“I don’t want to. What if I die?! What if I have some sort of tumor—cancer?’
She encouraged Peter to go home and rest.
“I can’t Jane doesn’t give a shit anyway.”
“Come home with me. I’ll take care of you.”
He reluctantly agreed. She drove slowly so as not to cause him pain. She owned a big Victorian house that was detailed in hues of green and mauve and touches of yellow.
She made them a steaming pot of tea. They talked for many hours about their lives. She told him she had been born and raised in Boston. She was one of a large group of Irish immigrants. She had many brothers and sisters and often couldn’t remember some of their names. He laughed at her stories, she told them so well.
“And you, tell me everything about yourself.” She sat next to him on the Victorian sofa with its wooden legs, and rubbed his shoulders “Thanks for being so caring, Ms. Finn.”
“Call me Jennifer,” she said. “Now it’s time to share your life with me.”
“Well,” he said, “I was raised in New York City. I am of Italian descent and I have three sisters. My Mom and Dad both love to cook. They make huge dinners—pasta, sausages, risotto, cheesecake. We eat with them every Sunday at the beginning of the month. It’s a lot of fun.”
“Talking about food, I think we must be both hungry. I made a stew yesterday. How about I heat it up, and we’ll eat some of my homemade biscuits?”
His stomach growled at the thought of real food, and nodded heartily. They feasted on the thick stew, buttering her homemade biscuits and drank wine.
“How do you feel now? Did the conversation, meal and wine help ease your pain?” She leaned over him and kissed him gently on his mouth.
“I have to call Jane, my fiancé, and tell her I will be very late, that I am loaded down with work.” He opened his cell phone to call, but Jennifer said,
“Wait a minute, stay the night, Pete. Tell her your car broke down or something.”
It was at that moment he knew something would happen. By God, did he want this beautiful woman! All his boundaries disappeared into a fog laced place in his heart. He put the thought of Jane aside as she led him upstairs to bed. They kissed and held each other for what seemed for hours. He couldn’t wait any more and slid down her pale beautiful skin making her moan as he went down on her. She took him inside her and he thrust hard and strong until they came panting together.
“Jennifer, that was incredible.” He said kissing her lips. He eased himself on his side remembering his painful tailbone.
“That was incredible. Are you alright?” she asked.
“I think so,” he said, touching his back. Something had changed. He felt bristles sprouting from the lump, and suddenly he got terrified. He kept it to himself. He didn’t want to gross her out, and he was sure she would be.
The next morning they showered together. He soaped up her soft skin as they clung together under the steaming hot water. They did it hungrily like teenagers for the first time.
“Stay here today, Pete. The work can wait.”
“Let me check that lump again.”
“No. I’m fine,” he said.
She looked at him with curiosity. “What’s going on?” She felt his back and then withdrew her hand fast. “You’ve got bristles growing! What’s happening to you?”
“I don’t know. I’m scared.” He lay on her couch, nervous as a Jack Rabbit, while she went to the office.
“Call me if you need me.” She kissed him and left.
He called Jane not knowing what to tell her. She complained that she was in the middle of a show.
“Fuck you, Jane! You do nothing all day. Don’t you care where I was last night?”
“You said the car broke down.”
“It did and I had to stay in a motel.’
“I’ll be home later, we have to talk.”
“Is something wrong?
“I’ll tell you later.”
When Jennifer came home Pete had gone. He had left her a note.
Jennifer I have to go home and talk to Jane. Maybe I’ll see you later if that’s okay?
She sat at the table forlorn and read the newspaper. The time was passing slowly. She began to want him. She fell into an erotic trance and couldn’t shake it off.
Pete pulled into the garage nervously. He had to talk to Jane. She was standing before the microwave, her usual place. Her usual stance.
“I have something to tell you.” He spoke first in a whisper and then into a crescendo.
“Get away from that damn microwave and sit down. This is important.”
She walked slowly to the kitchen table, her pleasant face now somber.
He sat down too. His tailbone throbbed. “Jane, I have met someone else. Sorry, but you and I are not compatible, and you are a lazy b…..”
“What about the wedding? What about us?!” A tears slowly trickled down her face and she wiped them off with her sweater sleeve. “I hate you Pete! You’ve strung me along all this time, being engaged and all.” She wriggled off her ruby engagement ring and flung it at him. It made a tinny noise as it fell to the floor. She had doubted it was real gold and a real ruby. The light tinkle gave it away. “You fucking asshole, I hate you!” She yelled between tears.
“You don’t care about me, Jane. Yesterday I asked you to rub my tailbone and you never did it. I needed you, and you were in your own world of Woman’s Day, and Soap Opera Digest. I’m so outta here!” He packed up his clothes in the suitcase that was meant for their honeymoon and stormed out, wincing in pain as he went.
An hour later he was standing outside the Victorian house with its purple painted gables. He knocked on the yellow door.
Jennifer was expecting him. All her men came back around, but Pete was special; he was now her lover. The feelings were raw and untamed. There was also a growing tinge of love.
“I missed you at the office today, you seem to cheer everyone up. How is your tailbone?”
“I haven’t had time to look but it feels really strange. I broke off my engagement today.
Jennifer’s eyes widened. She had him now, all to herself. “Come on in Pete,” she said, not knowing how to process all the information.
She pulled off his gray trench coat, pulled down his pants and underwear, as if he was a little boy, and stared at the spot. “Pete, it’s longer. Reach behind you and feel it.
He was filled with dreaded fear as his hand slowly touched the raw area. “Oh my God!” He stopped for a minute; the words were stuck like bubble gum in his throat.
“It’s about a foot long, stubby, hard and furry. It’s brown,” she said excitedly. Her nipples turned into hard cherries, and there was dampness forming in her underwear. “Come on upstairs, Pete. You turn me on.”
She led him upstairs, and he kissed her hard and furiously, flicking his new tail across her wetness. He guided his splendid tail into her.
“I could get used to this,” she said. “Do you want to move in? We’ll have lots of babies’ smushing and smearing baby food all over the place!” She said at the moment of ecstasy.
“Yes, yes, I do.” He said proudly. “I love you, Ms. Finn.”
“I love you too, Peter.”
They both laughed.
Philip Whalen: Plums, Metaphysics, an Investigation, a Visit, and a Short Funeral Ode
Philip Whalen reads
On Friday, October 7, 1955 Philip Whalen read at the underground art gallery the Six Gallery in San Francisco. Also reading that night were Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Phillip Lamanita, Michael McClure, and Gary Snyder. Conceived by Wally Hedrick, co-founder of the Six Gallery, the reading brought public attention to the West Coast Beats. Though Whalen hung out with beat poets, his own voice differs from theirs. On the Poetry Foundation’s biography web page for Whalen, they point out that his work’s reverential treatment of the mundane, its self-deprecating humor, and its generally apolitical tone. distinguishes him from other beat poets.
Born October 23, 1923 in Portland Oregon, Philip Whalen grew up in the small town of The Dalles, eighty miles south of Portland. He attended Reed College on the GI Bill after serving in the US Army Air Force in WWII. In High School he had read Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. In a 1999 interview he told David Meltzer that after reading Blavatsky …I went to see where was she coming from? Where is she getting all this stuff? And then I found the actual translations of the actual Vedanta writings. You know the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita and so on. And that was very satisfying that this system was really there, and it made sense to me…. After release from the army, he visited the Vedanta Society in Portland, but did not attend due to the expense. He was introduced to D. T. Suzuki’s books lent to him by his roommate Gary Snyder, and followed a Zen path eventually becoming head monk of Dharma Shagha in Santa Fe.
Whalen wrote his poetry in notebooks and accompanied them with doodles and other visual elements. He considered his calligraphic text an important layer in his work. In her introduction to his selected works Overtime, Leslie Scalapino says: Whalen not only posits the poetry to be a graph of the mind moving, but he contrives to break that mind apart: writing is to make no connection as it’s being in the instant of and being the act of disjunction.
He appears as the character Warren Coughlin in Jack Kerouac’s novel The Dharma Bums. In addition to poetry, Whalen wrote two novels: “You Didn’t Even Try” and “Imaginary Speeches for a Brazen Head”.
Philip Whalen is often labelled a “Beat poet” because he enjoyed his first creative achievement during the years when Beat literature thrived. As an ally and confidant of the major figures of the Beat Generation—and as a significant poet in his own right—Whalen is generally considered one of the pioneering forces behind the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance of the mid-1950s. The author’s work differs from much Beat writing in its reverential treatment of the mundane, its self-deprecating humor, and its generally apolitical tone. Dictionary of Literary Biography essayist Paul Christensen writes: “Whalen’s singular style and personality contribute to his character in verse as a bawdy, honest, moody, complicated songster of the frenzied mid-century, an original troubadour and thinker who refused to take himself too seriously during the great revival of visionary lyric in American poetry.”
As a writer living in the West during the Beat era, Whalen certainly shared many of the concerns of other Beat writers—Zen Buddhism and other Asian religions, a concern for the environment, sexual freedom, experimental poetics, and exploration of hallucinogenic drugs, for instance. Christensen notes that the poet “got his start from the wild energies released in his early years in California,” but adds that Whalen’s “purposes and his ambitions always lay outside the immediate ethos of that original circle. He shared in its good ties and believed in the purposes of the other writers, but his humor and curious loneliness made for a different vein of verse, not better necessarily,
but unique and durable as the voice of a diffident, intelligent American.” Christensen concludes that Whalen “thought of art as an act of personal delight and as a consolation to solitude…. It was in keeping with his image of writing that he could devote himself to his work without making it serve any other end but its own self-fulfillment.”
David Kherdian comes to a similar conclusion in Six Poets of the San Francisco Renaissance: Portraits and Checklists. “Many poets today look on themselves as the saviors and martyrs of their time,” Kherdian writes. “Whalen, on the contrary, is not concerned with revolutions and social panaceas. If he sees the big man at all he sees him in the small situation: tripping over a pebble on his journey to deliver a rose. Out of themes that are often seemingly mundane and prosaic he creates poetry of significance because his vision is peculiarly his own and because the clarity of his intelligence is capable of grasping and arresting meaning in seemingly ephemeral and unimportant subjects.” Christensen sees this unique vision as a particular strength of Whalen’s work: “Whalen has managed to espouse the religious principles of Zen Buddhism without renouncing the world around him, retaining a humorous, whimsical balance in his poems, and mixing the pleasures of California life with contemplation in such a way as to persuade readers that the flesh and spirit may be enjoyed together in the fulfillment of one’s life.”
Whalen was born in 1923 in Portland, Oregon. He grew up in the small Columbia River town of The Dalles and attended public schools. He began writing poetry at the age of sixteen, experimenting with various traditional forms of verse and contributing to his high school’s literary magazine. According to Christensen, Whalen “had the ambition to follow the kind of double life of the poet William Carlos Williams, who supported a poetry career by his medical practice.” Unfortunately, the Whalen family could not afford college tuition fees, so Whalen took jobs as a laborer in a Portland airplane factory and at the local shipyards.
In 1943 Whalen was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps and was trained to teach radio operation and maintenance. The position kept him stateside during the Second World War and allowed him enough free time to read and write. Thus he was able to widen his experience with Asian literature and philosophy, an interest begun in his high school years. Also during his military service Whalen expanded the use of notebooks for jotting down his impressions and experimenting with scribbled bits of poetry.
After his discharge in 1946, Whalen returned to Portland and enrolled at Reed College under the G.I. Bill. There he worked at his studies and his creative writing at a near-frenzied pace, determined to become an accomplished writer. He received encouragement from his instructors and from William Carlos Williams, who visited Reed in 1950.
Perhaps more important to Whalen’s development was his budding friendship with Lew Welch and Gary Snyder. Whalen met Welch and Snyder in the late 1940s and moved into a rooming house with them in 1950. Christensen notes that the young writers “shared their works, encouraged one another, and established a bohemian style of their own in the subculture of the Reed literati.” As the 1950s unfolded, the critic adds, Whalen, Snyder, and Welch “brought a compelling style of writing to the California ferment—a style clearly marked by subtle intelligence, compassion for nature (doubtless borne into them by the beauty of the Oregon mountains and wilderness), and a keenly felt spiritual reality which Snyder and Whalen both interpreted religiously in later years.”
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