Here’s another excerpt from Jonathan Shaw’s long-awaited, soon-to-be-published memoir, Scab Vendor – Confessions of a Tattoo Artist.
“The writer is the Faust of modern society, the only surviving individualist in a mass age. To his orthodox contemporaries he seems a semi-madman.” — Boris Pasternak
“Once I’d gained a certain ‘credibility’ at the Free Press office,” Cigano reads, “I began pestering this slutty-looking older chick who worked there till she finally told me where my favorite writer lived. From talking to her, I got the vibe she’d already been over to visit him a few times herself, probably for a bit of the old slap and grunt, I imagined. Maybe she was one of the hilarious drunken floozies he always wrote about! As she handed me a slip of paper with his address hastily scribbled on it, I noticed his place was pretty close to where I was living at the time, down near Western Avenue. So one late afternoon when I had a good combination of liquor and drugs in my system, I finally got up the balls to stagger over there.
“I trudged purposefully along the smoggy streets of seedy East Hollywood,” he reads, “like some crazed pilgrim on a holy mission. Pretty soon I was making my way through an especially nasty stretch of the neighborhood. As I neared the intersection by his place, I came to a slummy desolate area peopled almost entirely by heat-crazed beggars and winos. Everywhere I looked,” he reads, “sweaty two dollar whores with melting lipstick and runny mascara lingered in greasy shadows of despair. A nondescript stench of Welfare ruin and human decay hung heavy in the air. Everything I was seeing there, I marveled, seemed to have suddenly sprung full-blown right out of one of his unforgettable lowlife tales! Poetry was all around me as I neared his street.
“When I got to his corner,” Cigano reads, “I stopped at a little Mexican liquor store there and bought some booze. Better to not go meet a living literary legend empty handed, I figured. Supplies in hand,” he reads, “I walked up the cracked weedy sidewalk, past rows of rundown wooden houses with faded old facades. Rusty shopping carts vied for space with stripped-down engineless cars parked crookedly across the dried-up dirt brown lawns. The whole street was peppered with ancient cigarette stubs, rusty beer cans and empty short-dogs with peeling sun-bleached labels.
“Finally I found the place. I stood there for a moment, looking at the paper in my hand. This was the address alright. I walked up into one of those ratty little alleys Los Angeles slumlords call ‘courtyards,'” he reads. “Then I was standing before an anonymous little bungalow all the way down in the back on the right. As I stopped beside his kitchen window,” Cigano reads, “I could feel butterflies in my stomach. Or maybe they were cockroaches. I peered inside. I could vaguely see a shadowy figure moving around. It was him!
“My literary hero was dressed for comfort, I saw, wearing a wife-beater and a pair boxer shorts, sitting at a cramped breakfast nook beside the window. His nicotine-stained fingers pounded away at an old Royal typewriter while Classical music played from a little plastic radio sitting on the counter beside an empty whiskey bottle. He seemed to be moving his head in a strange rhythm to the music as he wrote, I noticed, kind of like a prizefighter bobbing and weaving in a motion so subtle only the spirits of his poetry would respond.
“I just stood there at the window for awhile,” Cigano reads, “looking in, feeling oddly paralyzed. Finally, the great Charles Bukowski stopped typing long enough to fish a half-smoked cigar out of an overflowing ashtray surrounded by a dozen empty Miller beer bottles. I watched him shove the cigar stub into his battered junkyard face, light it, then resume his work.
Finally,” he reads, “I turned away from the window and gave a timid little knock on the door…”
“Go’wa-aay!” the big man growls as he continues pounding away at his typewriter.
Several short raps on the kitchen window beside him get his attention again.
“Who ar-rre ya, whaddya waa-ant?” he shouts again in a weary W.C. Fields-like drawl, without looking up from his work.
“Hey… uuuh, sorry to bother ya,” the young writer says to the window. “I… uh… I write for the Free Press…?”
Bukowski curses distractedly under his breath as Jonathan stands on the dirty concrete porch, waiting. Nothing. Finally, he talks to the window again, playing his last card.
“I got some beer…?”
Bukowski begins to say something, then stops, as if editing himself. He surveys the empty beer bottles standing like little ghosts around his typewriter. Finally he yells out, “yeah, alrii-ight, just hold on-nnaa minnit.” He pounds out a last line on the typewriter, then grabs a dirty kitchen towel off the counter, throws it over his work, and rises to his feet. The big man steps into a pair of ratty slippers and slouches across the little living room to the door.
“I stood out on his porch for what seemed like an eternity,” the tattoo man reads, “looking down at the dirty grey cement landing. Hallowed ground. No welcome mat. I shifted my weight nervously from foot to foot, holding the heavy case of beer. It felt cold in my hands as I waited there in the warm late-afternoon summer breeze, breathing in the colorful scent of cat piss and night-blooming jasmine. I could hear the sound of classical music playing behind Bukowski’s kitchen window, blending with a baby’s cries and a television blaring from an apartment across the courtyard. What sounded like a gunshot popped off in the distance.
“Awkward as a schoolboy on his first blind date,” he reads, “I stood there by that dirty screen door and waited… and waited. Suddenly the door popped open and Bukowski’s big battered face was right there before me. I was standing in the presence of Genius! And it looked like it was about to knock me flat on my scrawny ass.”
“Without ceremony,” Cigano reads, “Bukowski reached into the cardboard box I held in my hands like a temple offering, casually extracting a can of beer and cracking it open. Without giving me a backward glance, he turned away and disappeared back into the dark little bungalow. My eyes scanned the cracked cement landing, my brown leather boots, the cuffs of my dirty jeans…”
“Jeee-sus, kid,” the big man’s voice drawls from inside. “Ya just gonna staa-aand around out there? C’mo-on, bring it in-siiiide.”
“I snapped out of it and stepped over the threshold,” he reads. “Suddenly I was in. The great writer looked up and gestured at me to sit…”
Jonathan, half drunk now, sits across from Bukowski at a cheap little coffee table covered with empty cans, drinking. An empty pint bottle of whiskey sits on Bukowski’s end like a captured Queen in a chess match. A pile of Jonathan’s hyperactive speed-freak poetry lays unread on the table between them.
“After a long drinking session,” Cigano reads, “I reached into the empty cardboard box and cracked open the last can of beer. That’s when things started to get pretty lively…”
“He-eey, gi-iime tha-at!” Bukowski protests. Jonathan ignores him, taking a swig of beer.
“So-ooo, yer a wriii-iiter, haa-ah?” The older poet says.
Jonathan passes the half-finished can over. Bukowski takes it and guzzles it down. He burps.
“We-eelll,” he says, looking suddenly drunk and very nasty, reminding Jonathan of his uncle Robert, “if yer a wri-iiter, then what ya gotta do is wri-iiite, get it? What ya don’t do is sit aro-oouund all day ta-aalking abo-oouuut wriiiting with other guys who wriiiite. Ya wriiiite. And then, ya wriiiite some mo-ooore. That’s it, baby. But if ya got nothing to write about, then yer just another bum with a ten dollar ty-yper with alotta big ta-aaalk and shit for bra-aiiins. And, to be quite ho-onest, kid, you impress me as a self-conscious little pu-unk who needs to go out and do some fuckin’ li-vi-iing…”
“Who the fuck you callin’ a punk? Ya old fart!” Jonathan hears himself say, instantly regretting it.
“YOU! YA LITTLE CUNT LICKIN’ FISH LIPPED MOMMA’S BOY!! PUNK!! PUNK!! PUUUU-UNN-NNK!!!”
Too late. Fuck this shit! “Motherfucker!” the young writer snarls, rising to his feet fast, knocking the empty beer cans off the cluttered table-top.
“Yeeea-ahhh, I fucked your mother! And I’m gonna fuck you too now, ya little fish fucker!” Bukowski taunts, coming around the table and lunging at him like a speeding freight train.
“Drunk and crazed,” Cigano reads, “I took a wild swing at him. I felt my fist connect with the rough bearded skin of Bukowski’s face. Not fazed, he clobbered me right on the ear. Shit! I could see stars! And then, before I knew what was happening, we were duking it out, right there in his living room! I could taste the blood in my mouth from where he nailed me again. I just kept hitting back. Bukowski was getting the best of me though, pounding away like a demented ape with those ugly red mitts. I crouched low, defending my head. I tried to head butt him in his ample beer gut, but the old bastard suddenly grabbed me like a bear and we both wrestled to the floor, toppling over the coffee table. It cracked and splintered under our weight, and there we were, the two of us, a pair of drunken poets rolling round on that dirty old wall-to-wall carpet in a spinning chaos of beer cans and pages of poetry flying, pissed and crazed and gasping like some savage, lumbering beast of old, an ugly deformed drunken puppet destroying everything in its path…”
Breathing hard, bloody and sweating, finally they stop fighting. Bukowski begins to laugh.
“Ge-ee-eez, kid!” he cackles. “Ya fi-iiight just like a girl I usta fuck in a toiiii-let…”
“Was that before or after she took a shit in yer fucking mouth?” Jonathan snaps back.
“Shit? Hah! I shii-iit bigger than you, maa-aan! Look at my beautiful coffee ta-a-ble. You ow-we me for that, ya little turd!”
“I trudged back up to the little liquor store on the corner,” Cigano reads, “eager to make good my first debt to Charles Bukowski. I didn’t know it then, but it wouldn’t be my last. When I got back, we spent the rest of the night sitting on his floor amidst the rubble and wreckage of our meeting, drinking, trading insults, reading poetry, and repeatedly toasting to each other’s speedy demise.
“Finally,” he reads, “the sun came up through his dirty windows, emerging like a punch-drunk dusty old sea monster from the smoggy Purgatory of Bukowski’s doomed and beloved City of Angels.”