when the sun goes down, I think of Charles Bukowski

photo taken by Steve Jackson outside a coffee shop in Amsterdam
photo taken by Steve Jackson outside a coffee shop in Amsterdam

I like to imagine what he might think about the world today. Not that I knew the guy, it’s just an interesting exercise. I thought of him this morning for reasons I’ll get to in a minute.

I have a couple of CDs of his readings–Poems and Insults and Solid Citizen–recorded in what sound like dive bars. The audience is drunk, so’s he, and there’s a palpable danger in the room. Like he could set the place on fire or someone could run up to the stage and punch him in the face at any moment.

Maybe because he wrote about people who don’t always get to see themselves in poems and stories. Drunks, jailbirds, blue collar workers who aren’t living some academic’s version of the “stolid American working the land,” ugly women, uglier men, gamblers, fighters, poor people. That’s who his audience was. They came to see themselves and revel in all their glory and grotesqueness.

Though Bukowski wrote a few things about writing, he mostly wrote about the struggle of living. About working for the post office or begging money off some pock-marked woman he met in a dark bar on a sunny LA afternoon. He didn’t write about sitting at his typewriter, waiting for the words to come. When given the opportunity to meet “important” writers of his day, he generally said no thanks (only with a few expletives thrown in). I’ve quoted him here before: I disliked them all immediately, sitting around acting clever and superior. They nullified each other. The worst thing for a writer is to know another writer, and worse than that, to know a number of other writers. Like flies on the same turd.

I thought of him, and specifically that quote, today when I read a post in a playwriting forum about someone weeping when they killed off a character. “I cried for hours!” a commenter said in reference to their own experience. Another said, “That’s how you know you’ve written a great character!” It was a circle jerk of people smelling their own intellectual farts, and I wanted Buk to show up and tell them all to stop writing about writing (like flies on the same turd) and actually do some fucking writing.

This sort of thing goes on there all the time. “Does anyone else ever find when you’re writing a play that it just veers off in a direction you didn’t expect?” No, fancy writer, you’re the only person who’s ever experienced that. We’ll just go ahead and send the Tony to your house now.

I can’t even imagine Bukowski in the same room with some of these people. I’d wager his whiskey shits were more dramatic than their plays are. Mine, too. Plays, that is.

Writing is a solitary experience, so I understand the need some people have to reach out and talk about it. I need to stick to groups that discuss dogs or hamburgers or national parks. I’d happily read about someone shedding a tear after taking their new puppy to Yosemite and  grilling up some burgers. “Does anyone ever have that moment when the sun is just about to set and you’re a little buzzed and it feels like you’re connected somehow to the past but firmly in the present and you weep for the beauty of it all?” Yes, my friend. Yes.

Listen to Mr. Bukowski read his poem Style.

sometimes it’s nice not being on the inside

This blog has frequently hosted my ramblings about Houston, both positive and negative. The negative usually focused on the things I felt Houston was losing to the ever-present push of “progress.” Tear down the Astrodome and install a monument that “celebrates the Astrodome.” Tear down a burger joint that’s been hopping for 50 years, pave the whole thing and make it a parking lot. Tear down my grandparents’ 3/2 and replace it with a 4,800 square foot faux Tuscan with a fucking elevator (true story). Tear it down, tear it all down, and let’s get us some luxury-living condos on this b.

History–and Houston–marches on. So do we all.

In a way, it’s been an emotional relief to live in a place where I have no history. I can’t be sad about what Pacific Grove’s lost because I  don’t realize it’s gone. And physical change, if it comes, comes slowly here.

That constancy isn’t an accident.

I recently joined a Facebook group for Pagrovians (you know, like Houston = Houstonians). Where I’ve found the locals to be nice, almost to a fault, in person, the people in this group are a little more razor sharp. And often angry. About things that seem to my outsider’s eyes to be insignificant. A recently controversy was about a restaurant taking up two parking spaces to install a parklet. That battle raged for weeks, and I had to bite my virtual tongue to keep from making a snarky comment.

Here’s a picture of the parklet.


I recognize I’m new here and don’t have a sense of place yet. And I also recognize the unwavering efforts of people like this are why PG has very few buildings less than 50 (or even 100) years old. They’re why stately old homes on the main drag have been turned into restaurants or B-and-Bs instead of torn down and replaced with something shiny. They’re why there aren’t tacky souvenir shops littering the coastline. In fact, you can walk along the coast from one end of town to the other without having your way hindered by a building, parking lot or fence. And not because people haven’t wanted to build all kinds of shit here. Because they haven’t been allowed to. That’s the thing about a small town. The vocal minority can wield power. Unlike in a city. When Walmart’s coming, best get out of the way.

Except San Francisco. You can’t do shit in San Francisco.

Maybe I’ll join their efforts some day. For now, I’m happy to leave those battles to them while I enjoy the view and luxuriate in the kind of stuff that makes it into the local crime log (as reported in the Carmel Pine Cone).

Man reported opening his wife’s Forest Avenue business and finding a handwritten note tucked in the doorway. He stated that a subject known as “Joe” has repeatedly left handwritten notes at the place of business. He said “Joe” stopped writing notes for approximately eight months but recently started again. The handwritten note is not addressed to anyone in particular and does not threaten or harass. The letter was addressed from “Joe” stating he was going to make dinner, spaghetti and meatballs. Officer advised the man to let “Joe” know his letters are not welcome and to to stop writing notes.


no pants workday

Now that I work from home full-time, my entire routine has changed. There’s the obvious–not getting up to a squawking alarm, not packing a lunch, not sitting in traffic, not making small talk. But there are a lot of other changes I hadn’t anticipated. Like the view.

My desk is situated between two windows that look out on our backyard. Through one window are a huge pink rose bush and something called monkey flower. The other window looks toward our garage and a stone fence topped with potted plants. Each day is a parade of hummingbirds, golden crowned sparrows, scrub-jays and blackbirds. The cat from across the street. Invisible gophers that make our grass move. Winds blowing in off the Pacific. Bright blue skies and gray mist.

The view inside is nice, too.

This was an easier transition than I expected, thanks in part to the fact that it happened at the same time as our move. Change one thing, change everything.

There’s a running joke among my friends that those of us who work from home don’t wear pants. That’s not entirely accurate. Most of us wear *something*, it’s just not something we’d wear outside the house. Okay, maybe a quick trip to the mailbox. Or the garage. Or to get something out of the car. But that’s as far as it goes.

In honor of the people whose commute is to the other side of the house, I created no pants workday. It’s a place to share images of your home office, the view from your window or the questionable outfits you wear. I went first and hope others feel moved to join in. Maybe it’ll provide a small sense of community among those of us who are floating on an island. Not wearing pants.