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Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Charles Bukowski Tattoo Narrative

I received an unusual request from an Argentinean reader a few days ago. He had read my review in Bold Monkey of Bukowski’s Portions From a Wine-Stained Notebook and he sought help about a phrase in the story ‘Distractions in the Literary Life’ which first appeared in High Times (June 1984). He wanted to use a phrase from the story and tattoo it onto his body.

The reader had a Spanish translation of a fragment in the story which read “no te mueras en mi infinidad.” He wanted to know what the original phrase was in English. Google initially translated the fragment to me as “DO NOT DIE IN MY INFINITE.” I quickly found Buk’s words at the bottom of page 199 in Portions and it read as follows: “DON’T DIE ON MY INFINITY.”

The context of the quote is hilarious and makes the tat a particularly unique and impressive one. Most of the Buk tattoos you view online are achingly sentimental in the 'Blue Bird' tradition. ‘Distractions in the Literary Life’ is a clever eight-page meta-fictional story, a product of Bukowski’s outrageous imagination. One very hot summer night his alter ego Chinaski types out a “dirty story for one of the mags” on a broken table and it begins to tilt. After buying a deal of coke and getting some close attention from his girlfriend Sandra, he returns to his story.

He begins typing a story about a guy with an odd fascination with a very large mammal. The writing is bizarre but highly memorable. He is disturbed momentarily.

“Hey, Jack Off! Sandra hollers from the other room, “you writin’ some good shit?”

“Yeah, but I don’t know how to end it.”

“Have them drop the fucking bomb.”

“Hey, great! I’ll do it! Nobody, nobody has written a story like this!”

Just then the table leg gives way and I only have time to grab the bottle as the typer crashes to the floor. Never happened to Mailer or Tolstoy. I take a slug from the bottle, then go over to the old typer. Don’t die on me, m.f., in any way at all…It has landed upright. I sit down on my ass, reach out, and tap at the keys. I type: DON’T DIE ON MY INFINITY. It types me right back, like that. It’s tough, like me. I take a drink of joyful celebration for the both of us. Then I get bright: I decide to type on the m.f. floor, I will finish typing the m.f. floor. Celine would dig that.”


The short story then morphs off in typical twisted Buk tropes. It’s not clear what Bukowski meant by the phrase “DON’T DIE ON MY INFINITY.” In his many interviews he often spoke about wanting to create "immortal" poems and stories. My guess is that in this story as his typewriter crashes to the floor he is hoping his typer will continue to pour out his creative juices & will not fail him. The typewriter, in fact, seems to take on a life on its own- somehow channelling Bukowski’s thoughts as “it types me right back.”

In the final analysis, the story is highly successful. Certainly no one has written a story quite like 'Distractions of a Literary Life.’ Certainly it takes a brave soul to personalise a Bukowski phrase in a permanent tattoo engraving on one's body part.