It’s hard to imagine another person as utterly horrible as Hunter S. Thompson.
Antisocial alcoholic drug addict who even failed as a narcissist. Verbally abusive, a liar, and a self-absorbed pedant.
Not far behind him are people like Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, Burroughs, a few others. You want people like that around you?
Bukowski? Don’t get me started.
I rate Charles Bukowski a little worse than Thompson, myself, for reasons rooted in my upbringing.
One day when I was about eight or so a derelict approached me in a parking lot in Searchlight, Nevada. I recognized him. I’d seen him before at the bar my parents managed — the one behind which we parked the RV we called home. I was on my way back from the one-room schoolhouse that actually had two rooms. They couldn’t count so well in that town. He came stumbling towards me. “Hey Kid!” he said. This guy’s face looked like the crust of dried gum and snot on the underside of a bar stool. He stunk of rotgut gin and Coors. With some gobbed-up guttural slur, he asked me if I liked poetry. I wasn’t scared, but I didn’t know how to respond. I slowly nodded. Beneath the dark bags of his eyes he flashed some creaky arc that passed as a smile. He handed me two pieces of thick paper — maybe cardboard from underwear packages. Their white sides were covered with block letters made with crude strokes from a blue ball-point pen. I still couldn’t read very well at that age, but I remember something about “pussy,” “balls,” and “ass.” Something about Popeye giving it to Olive Oyl. I thanked him. I couldn’t imagine my good luck as I scampered off back to the bar. Excitement coursed through me. I was honored — honored — to have been selected as the audience for this rough-hewn man-of-the-world. I looked forward to exploring the wonders of the grown-up world those two tablets described. I ran into the barroom where my dad was polishing pint glasses and waved the tablets before him, delight in my eyes. “Look at the poems this man gave me!” I shouted.
Dad’s shoulders sank. He trembled. His lips pursed. He frowned. Hands shaking, he ripped the tablets and threw them in the garbage. Dad’s trembling overcame me — it transferred almost like an infection. Then came a few minutes of his trademark mixture of shame combined with deep regret. He deeply regretted the circumstances that forced us to live in a place where his eight-year-old son had encounters behind gas stations with dirty old sots who delighted in giving filthy poems to little boys — especially dirty old sots he likely still had to serve as “customers.” Also, he was making me feel ashamed of myself for even being involved with it in the slightest, though I had known no better. It was one of dad’s signature moves: that combination of needlessly inflicting shame while demonstrating a deep, personal guilt. It got burned into me at an early age.
Another thing that got burned into me: This staggering old wino was a writer, and what he did was what writers did. Writers constantly thrust forward a view of the real that their readers would otherwise never see — either out of denial or sheer innocence. In doing that, writers show far more of themselves than is usually wise to reveal. I think of that bum every time I read anything by Bukowski, and most of the others listed above.
I also think about him when I’m writing and I feel a chickenshit impulse to hold something back; to spare the sensitivities of the reader; to preserve something of an impression of emotional normalcy I might have given someone at sometime, somewhere. Maybe.
See, it wasn’t a bad experience at all. No, no, no: It was actually good. It was good because I remember it. I remember that encounter far better than any of the clean-shaven religious types who handed me Jesus pamphlets hundreds of times both before and after I ran into that literary derelict. That meeting stands out far better than the infinity of commercial flyers handed to me by toothy people who just fell off the Up With People bus. I remember that encounter with the bum because it was real.
So that brings us to the nads on Twitter pretending they’re writers and pushing their books by playing the candy-ass model citizen card. You’re so nice. Nice, nice people.
You’re worse than derelicts. You’re the sorts of bores who go on about the great deal they got on a garden hose reel at WalMart, and how it will really spruce up your yard there at the homestead in Aryan Acres if the wife will only let you use the cordless drill that weekend. Perhaps she’s still upset with you for blowing off that laundry-basket project she’s been using as an excuse to withhold sex for the last six months.
Do something interesting. Say something interesting. Take a chance. Offend someone. Be a transgressor. Be real. If you want my attention, show it. If I happen to think you’re desperately trying not to seem too . . . oh, I dunno. . . weird to keep your day job at a call center helping people select the right kind of scarf for their dog or whatever, I will think you are handjobbing me. You are wasting my time and everyone else’s. You are a priss and a bore, and you should just stop. If your books are anything like the prim, droning personas you put forward, your obscurity is well-earned and likely permanent.
There’s a writer on Twitter who actually is interesting. David Henry Sterry. He’s a former male prostitute who provided an 85-year-old woman with some licky-pokey action for the first and probably only time in her life. And that’s just a mild example of what he puts out there in public every damn day. He’s worth reading. I don’t think I’d hire him as a babysitter, but that’s not what this is about. I just want to hear a good story from someone who might — just might — be more interesting than I find myself to be.
Show me something real.
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