by Dr. Derek Lamar
We really do find out more about ourselves by the people around us than really looking at ourselves. Why? Because looking at ourselves is the last thing we are usually willing to do. But looking at others is the next best thing. I mean really observing them and somewhere along the way deciphering what it says about you: your thoughts, your feelings, your shortcomings, your talents. .. that is the key.
At 17 you think of little besides your self. You are totally self absorbed but rarely from an objective viewpoint. Few people know what being objective is. To start with, you need the ability to step outside of yourself so that you can view yourself without getting personally involved. So there we were with Neal Cassady and it was time to eat. We were all going to eat Chinese food. We went to downtown Los Angeles but instead of Chinatown we went to Little Tokyo. We managed to find a secret hideaway Chinese restaurant that a lot of the locals frequented. There we were: John Bryan (Editor of Open City) and his wife Joan, Bob Garcia (Associate Editor), Neal Cassady, forget who else. Joan decided I couldn't have a damn fork. It was time for me to learn to use chopsticks. I think I almost cried before she would finally release me from that torture. Of course now I use them all of the time.
A day or two later Bukowski said: "Neal (Cassady) ate all of his plate and most of mine too. we had a bit of wine. John had a highly intelligent young homosexual baby-sitter, who I now think has gone on with some rock band or killed himself or something. anyhow, I pinched his buttocks as he walked by. he loved it."
(Left: Neal Cassady)
First off, Bukowski never pinched my ass. He was always very polite and respectful and gracious as I handed him one beer after another. Buk was a great listener. He would take the limelight occasionally but usually sat quietly... and drank more beer. I was in the snake pit of pulp friction doing my best to look hip. I was busy trying to figure out if I was doing the right thing and did it match up with what my teenage impulses were at the moment, while at the same time attending to the needs of others without someone poking me with a stick.
Bukowski and Cassady chatted. As Buk recollects: "...the baby-sitter kept talking about Hemingway, somehow equating me with Hemingway until I told him to shove it and he went upstairs to check Jason (John & Joan's son)." Interesting dialogue though it never happened like that. But that is what his kind of writing was like. Parsing through the facts, changing a noun here and there, shoving in a verb, caressing an adjective, rubbing out the confusion and adding a little beer for color and voilà... a story in the making.
(Left: Associate Editor, Bob Garcia, later moved on to work at A&M Records for 24 years)
John called Buk on the phone a few days later to give him the bad news: "Neal is dead." Buk was pretty much speechless and John told him how Neal had been found in Mexico in jeans and a white T-shirt dead from an overdose of downers. John suggested that Neal might have been murdered. "He didn't take downers," John said, "Neal only took amphetamines." But no one seemed to really know anything except Neal was gone. Bukowski summed it up pretty well: "all those rides, all those pages of Kerouac, all that jail, to die alone under a frozen Mexican moon, alone, you understand? can't you see the miserable puny cacti? Mexico is not a bad place because it is simply oppressed; Mexico is simply a bad place. can't you see the desert animals watching? the frogs, horned and simple, the snakes like slits of men's minds crawling, stopping, waiting, dumb under a dumb Mexican moon. reptiles, flicks of things, looking across this guy in the sand in a white T-shirt." Bukowski wasn't the type to cry but he could put his tears on paper. He knew that Neal had "...hurt nobody. the tough young jail kid laying it down alongside a Mexican railroad track." Buk said, "Kerouac has written all your other chapters. I've already written your last one."
It was around that time John Bryan's father visited. He was a big newspaper man from Cleveland. I am sure that he wasn't impressed with John's newspaper. And John and his dad always had this kind of love/hate thing which had a life of its own. John's dad was like that man who played Elaine Benes' father on Seinfeld. The one who put Jerry and George through hell while they waited for Elaine to show up at the restaurant. Very much a Hemingway character. But we talked. Well, he talked and I listened.
(Above: Charles Bukowski)
He told me he had been friends with Hemingway. I believed him. I didn't think he was running with the bulls... Now, how this made its way over to my conversation with Buk I don't know. But I do find it ironic. John's dad was a gruff old cuss, yet kind and respectful to me, maybe because I listened. But being kind to a strange 17 year old kid you didn't even know and giving your son, then in his 30's, what he needed was altogether different. My dad is 85 now and still I don't get the support I needed when I was a kid. And as an adult I find that the only thing I need from him would be something to make that kid not feel like an unworthy piece of crap. But he can't give that and he never could. So I have made a life of it trying to discover that on my own.
(Right: young Ernest Hemingway, Below: Ernest Hemingway writing at campsite in Kenya, 1953)
But in discovering the connections one is often drawn to the absurd, as well as the incredible. John made sure that his dad met his friend Bukowski, because it was an important step in John's independence. But Mr. Bryan was from an entirely different generation. They may have shared the same testosterone and they may have both been in the newspaper business but the lack of discipline in the 60's wasn't the masterpiece of art that Hemingway created with words. Mr. Bryan would argue that four letter words would not take the place of the blood and suffering endured by a real man in the real world. Like Velikovsky's "Worlds In Collision" we see generations crumbling in the eyes of all observers as bridges are built only to be torn down by contempt. Mr. Bryan's discreet rigid mentality would never be seduced by the walls being torn down by an upstart in the wings. A clash of values, and ultimately, of religion, was at stake and this battle continues today. The religion has more to do with self-awareness than devotion and that is where the differences lie.
(Right: Immanuel Velikovsky)
(Quotes from Charles Bukowski courtesy of Notes of a Dirty Old Man, City Lights Books, 1973, San Francisco, CA)
Next issue the saga continues with Chris Bunch, Charles Bukowski, Tim Rose, Leon Russell, Barney's Beanery, still waiting for the "Magic Bus". Next Installment: Chris Bunch Meets Charles Bukowski.
© 2003 Derek Lamar