Sunday, April 16, 2006

Reading: Bukowski. (Fiction).

I'm not sure how it happened, but it all started with Post Office. Somehow I was scanning the shelves at the bookstore for something to read on a trip to Italy, and it caught my eye. For years my glance had slipped past Bukowski, searching for something by Bulgakov (conveniently, alphabetically to the right) and ignoring the many, weirdly titled books to my left (what on earth could a book called Notes of a Dirty Old Man be about?). It was time for something new. I slipped the book in the bottom of my suitcase, beneath layers of t-shirts and balled-up socks and tubes of sunscreen, and forgot about it for the first ten days of my trip. I saved it for Rome.

In Rome I lay on my bed in our hotel room and fell into the world of Henry Chinaski, a world of drinking and smoking and writing and sex. And the endless drudgery of a post-office job punctuated only by drinking and smoking and writing and sex. It was funny. I liked it. I laughed out loud, sprawled across the bed in a room overlooking the rooftops of nearby Roman apartment buildings, with their tv antennas and lines of laundry, and when my mother asked me what I was reading and would she like it too, I told her she wouldn't. There was something so relaxed, easy, natural, if that's the right word, about his writing. The texture of his words. I was falling into something new, a totally different world. But I wasn't in love, not yet. That comes later.

I came home, and headed back to the bookstore. There were more novels about Henry Chinaski. Post Office was just the beginning. I had to read more. Women came next. I read it sitting in a booth at my favorite pub, by the window. It was a bright September day. I remember reading the conversation between Chinaski and Dee Dee, the part where he tells her not to love him, and so she replies, "All right, I won't love you, I'll almost love you. Will that be all right?" And feeling that moment when you find that connection with a book, or a person, or a work of art that you hadn't felt before. The beginning of love, or the beginning of the realization that you are in love. But it was a passage later on, several chapters (and women) later (and I have to say, I was constantly confusing all the women in the novel. When I read this book again, I will take detailed notes to keep track of all the women coming in and out of Henry Chinaski's life. I don't know why I was surprised. The book is called Women, after all), that stopped me dead. He's waiting at the airport for a woman he calls Katherine, and describes himself as "225 pounds, perpetually lost and confused, short legs, ape-like upper body, all chest, no neck, head too large, blurred eyes, hair uncombed, 6 feet of geek, waiting for her." It was at the "6 feet of geek" when I fell in love with Bukowski.

Reading Bukowski is a bit like falling in love with the last person on earth you ever thought you would love. Like being hit by a train that you didn't see coming because you were looking in the other direction. But then you wonder how you could not have loved him before, seen him before. And that now you feel things in a way that you never thought you could have in that other, previous life.

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