Bukowski. The best description I’ve heard said about him was that he was the poet laureate of skid row. Nihilism and alcoholism mix with Los Angeles poverty. He has a kind of understanding in his work that he is in the gutter and deserves to be there. My favourite stories of his read like diary entries, which I am sure they are at least partially. He drew from his own life, barely disguising himself in his stories as Henry Chinaski. Nut Ward Just East of Hollywood is narrated by Chinaski, but at times his first person narration will speak to the reader as he was the writer of the piece, saying that he’s telling the story and he’s happy to jump the narrative around the place.
The story doesn’t tell much. Chinaski lives in a squalid apartment, he is visited by Mad Jimmy who seems to be reasonable enough (at least when your only point of reference is Chinaski). However Chinaski says that Jimmy is wanted in court for breaking his girlfriend’s rib in a domestic argument. Jimmy freaks out but only to the extent of boring Chinaski, so Chinaski rings their mutual friend Izzy to move Jimmy along. Izzy arrives and kicks Jimmy out, but not before stealing his bottle of wine. Afterwards Chinaski and Izzy settle in to get drunk.
That’s the plot, if one had to pull some sort of narrative backbone out of the piece. But what happens really doesn’t matter. It is Bukowski’s descriptions of everyone and his eye for detail, along with insightful oddness which makes one keep turning the pages. Chinaski is given two garbage bins by his landlord, but it is still not enough to hold all his empty wine and beer bottles, so he has to smash the glass first in a wooden box the shape of a coffin in the middle of his lounge room. Only some of the glass always escapes and cuts up his feet. His doctor is an ex-Nazi with stories of being captured by the allies and having stinkbombs and used rubbers full of ant poison thrown at him.
Does this piece deserve to be considered fiction? Yes. I am not sure if all the events described happened to Bukowski in one night, or if they were separate incidents taken from over ten years and merged together. Characters may be composites, one person in the room could be real, while someone else might be joined together from five separate people. I am sure there is no adherence to an accurate retelling of events, but an attempt to catch the documentary feel of an occasion by stitching bits and pieces together. I am sure he winds up with something more truthful than any incident that actually happened.
Yes, Chanaski (Bukowski) is a sexist, an alcoholic and a low life. But he also reads voraciously and listens to classical music. One does not excuse the other. They are all ingredients that go into the mix. In great darkness sometimes one can find great beauty.