After you read Bukowski you can’t help but wonder how he was raised. This man whose writing is so simple yet soft and deep. Sometimes hilarious and often honest and without shame; About things that most of us would rather bolt tight and hide in dark places.
I picked up Ham on Rye recently and got a chance to pull back the curtain of his early childhood and young adult life. Here are some snippets from the book that I felt expressed what made the man, the myth, and the legend we know today as Charles Bukowski.
“My father seemed to sense the difference in me and he began to lash me harder, again and again, but the more he beat me the less I felt. It was almost as if he was the one who was helpless.”
Bukowski was often the release of his father’s anger and frustration in the form of merciless beatings. He grew up to hate and resent him to the point where he was angry and cynical about the world. Fighting his way through it and eventually coming to the realization that however many punches you threw at the world, it could throw a hundred more.
The poor woman was yanking at the back of my shirt. “Henry, listen, get yourself a room somewhere! Henry, I have ten dollars! Take this ten dollars and get yourself a room somewhere!”
“Forget it,” I said. “I’ll just go.”
“Henry, take the money! Do it for me! Do it for your mother!”
This was in college after his father discovered his writing and kicked him out of the house because he considered it to be vulgar. His mother was the victim of her husband and her son and I couldn’t help but feel for her—the one thing that Bukowski hated most. Pity.
His Severe Acne
“I figured that at best the needle would leave scars on me for the rest of my life. That was bad enough but it wasn’t what I really minded. What I minded is they didn’t know what to do with me. I sensed this in their discussions and in their manner. They were hesitant, uneasy, yet somehow disinterested and bored.”
To get an idea of how terrible his acne was, his doctor was shocked to the point of calling other doctors to marvel at his deformity. It was so bad his grandmother and mother thought it was the devil and tried to purge it with a crucifix. This made him withdraw even further into himself.
“I watched them come out of the water, glistening, smooth-skinned and young, undefeated. I wanted them to want me. But never out of pity. Yet, despite their smooth untouched bodies and minds they still were missing something because they were as yet basically untested. When adversity finally arrived in their lives it might come too late or too hard. I was ready, maybe.
He’s at the beach alone watching his friend having fun with pretty girls. You can feel the pain in him as he talks about this. He is battling his insecurities and at the same time trying to make sense of everything he has gone through. Hoping that it all counts for something but unsure if it really will.
“Mr. Chinaski, whether you arrive at 7:30 am or whether you arrive at all will not matter. I am assigning you a ‘D,’ for English 1.”
“A ‘D,’ Mr. Hamilton?” I asked, flashing my famous sneer. “Why not an ‘F’?”
“Because ‘F,’ at times, equates with ‘Fuck.’ And I don’t think you’re worth a Fuck.”
“The class cheered and roared and stomped and stamped. I turned around, walked out, and closed the door behind me. I walked down the hallway, still hearing them going at it in there.”
Bukowski had a general mistrust for college and it’s no wonder he dropped out before he even began.
“You still want to be a writer?”
“Yeah,” I said. “But it’s pretty hopeless.”
“You mean you’re not good enough?”
“No, they’re not good enough.”
“What do you mean?”
“You read the magazines, the best short stories, The New Yorker, Harper, The Atlantic. They are still publishing 19th-century stuff, heavy, labored, and pretentious. You either get a headache reading the stuff or you fall asleep.”
He is talking to his writer friend Becker and you can hear the despair in his voice. Most writing today is pretentious and a bore, I can only imagine how it must have been back then.
I thoroughly enjoyed the read, even though towards the end there was too much physical fighting, which I don’t have a taste or the stomach for. But I suppose sometimes you have to physically fight a world that keeps telling you, you’re not good enough, when you know it’s the one that isn’t.
If you enjoyed this, take a minute to like, comment, and share. I will be grateful and new readers will be too. Adieu!