Charles Bukowski. He fills his cup to the brim with cheap wine, downs it in a gulp, then keeps on filling. This sweaty, balding, unkempt, rotund, scoundrel of man glances up from his stained and wrinkled stack of papers. A gleam of satisfaction cuts across his smirking face, pure bliss at wasting his audience’s time. Alternating between drinking and taking long drags on unfiltered cigarettes, he adjusts his glasses every so often. The ritual is well practiced, rehearsed to perfection. He’s yet to begin the reading.
The audience grows restless. Having paid for the show and arriving early, they hoped to make it home by a reasonable hour. He’s aware, but he keeps drinking. He doesn’t want to be there anyway. He gets paid regardless.
Taking pity on this self-important, pompous, college crowd, he addresses them, announcing that the reading will begin shortly. Smoke billows around him. You can smell the pungent, aromatic mixture of cheap liquor, tobacco, and that warm, onion, body odor scent of a large crowd. It’s an acquired sense of beauty.
When he finally begins reading, it’s poetry. This isn’t pristine, cleaned up, whimsical verse. It’s raw, real. He’s telling stories, recounting experience in the most honest way. His words aren’t beautiful, at least most wouldn’t say so. It’s self-loathing and pessimistic, with a dash of sardonic humor. It’s farting, fucking, being an asshole, an alcoholic, the worst kind of deviant. The crowd responds with uproarious laughter at the punchline of each piece as he lulls them back into another tedious intermission. The crowd groans, giving way to heckling. He takes a drink and a drag, laughing to himself, occasionally humoring them with a pointed retort, goading them with a pubescent sense of mischief.
He resumes this ritual to the reading’s eventual end. Slurring through the remaining poems, he invites but a couple of the virile, young collegiate men to try their hand at him.
There’s something commendable in this anarchist display, this contemptuous subversion of expectations. Very few can know such freedom, such uninhibited behavior. Bearing witness to this performance acts as a kind of vicarious liberation. It is the spirit of self-interest, the soul of passive resistance.
Beneath the carapace of jaded descent though, belies the husk of bright-eyed optimism. As aggressive his performance, as vulnerable his naked soul. These, his stories and experiences, present him as despicable pervert, frame him a drunkard and a lout. A lonely man whose best days are behind him and they no better. In this horrid figure of ill repute we catch a glimmer of ourselves, at least if we allow ourselves a moment of brutal self-reflection and honesty.
Most of us, caught in the fine, silken thread of a web of social norms, take refuge in the facade which has been fashioned for us by culture. Haggardly, we rush to preserve the stance that all things are well, all things positive, avoiding critical eyes and condemning those which see the other side of the coin. There is an acquired beauty in this coarse outlook though, a beauty in things as they are, not as we wish them.