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Friday, March 29, 2013

Book Review: Charles Bukowski More Notes of a Dirty Old Man: The Uncollected Columns (Edited with an Afterwood by David Stephen Calonne), San Francisco, City Lights Books, 2011 (248 pages).

This book is a shadow of Bukowski’s Notes of a DIRTY OLD MAN (1969) but might be of some interest to Bukowski fans. As Bukoplile Dr. David Stephen Calonne points out in his afterward, the original publication ‘contained only forty of the hundreds of works’ Bukowski submitted under the ‘Dirty Old Man’ banner between May 1967 and March 1969. Other columns have subsequently appeared in Erections, Ejaculations and Other Tales of Ordinary Madness (1972), South of No North (1974) and Hot Water Music (1983) as well in the posthumous collections Portions from a Wine-Stained Notebook (2008) and Absence of the Hero (2011) which Calonne edited. In More Notes of a Dirty Old Man Calonne is clearly probing the bottom of Bukowski’s cesspit of writing regarding his DOM 'brand'. This is not a sequel to the original but rather a bringing together of the uncollected ‘Dirty Old Man’ columns which first appeared in Open City (6 columns), NOLA Express (3), Los Angeles Free Press (16), Smoke Signals (1) and High Times (3) between 1967 and 1984  (see SOURCES pages 223-4).

There is a wide variety of material in More Notes of a Dirty Old Man including short stories, interviews, journalistic pieces, rants, mock letters, thinly veiled auto-biographical fiction and a collection of aphorisms. The individual columns are not identified by headings but appear one after another in the book separated by a small iconic Bukowski drawing which alternate between that of a dog checking out a tree , a naked man or a boozer with a large flagon. 

In flipping through the collection the best & most entertaining columns include the following:
The sexual romp about a red-haired woman who knocked at his door (pp.15-19) is amazing. Calonne points out in his Afterword that Bukowski was being investigated by the FBI in the late 1960s for obscenity & ironically for his political leanings and this story was one of four of his writings in their dossier. The story first appeared in Open City (29 December- 4 January 1969). 

In an extended dramatic monologue (pages 19-26) Bukowski adopts the point of view of a ‘degenerate peepfreak’ which clearly recalls the venomous outpourings of Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man. 

A series of quirky aphorisms (pages 169-174) which first appeared in an article called ‘Ecce Hetero: Bukowski’s Thoughts to Live By’ in High Times (February 1983). Here are a few of my favourites:

I am only a realist in certain areas. For instance, it discourages me that people have upper and lower intestines. As I watch people, I am conscious of these (and other) parts. I’m hexed. For instance, when a man says to me, “She’s really a beautiful woman,” I feel like answering, “I won’t know until I examine the healthiness of her excreta.”

The best people are the ones you never meet.

One of the most depressing places to be upon the earth is to be sitting in some Los Angeles café at 9:35A.M. and having the waitress hand up the menu of various egg delicacies as her ankles are thin and her buttocks resigned, she had been used and abandoned by her men and she just wants the rent and a way to go, and then you look up and in a mellifluous voice full of victory and hope and understanding you order item #3, the cut-rate special.

Also impressive is the short story (pages 174-186) where the narrator has a fight with a crim he meets in a bar after midnight. They team up later in the night and events morph out of control. The story of the narrator’s experiences in a drunk tank (71-78) are also intriguing and hilariously appeal for a sense of justice for the alcoholic.

If you are not familiar with Bukowski’s enormous body of work, you are better off reading his largely underrated collection of stories Hot Water Music or any other book published during his lifetime. That said, in reviewing my notes on the thirty columns in More Notes of a Dirty Old Man the collection is more solid and innovative than first appears. There is huge variety in the collection and Bukowski is always open to improvisation and experimentation with form, idea and style. Despite this book's burrowing into the dregs of Buk's Dirty Old Man's writings, it will delight & amuse his avid readers. And forty years after the first publication of Notes of a Dirty Old Man Calonne concludes, Bukowski's work 'will surely find new fans among those hungering for alternatives to the trivia offered by what still passes for American culture today.’