Bukowski, Audiobooks, and Biking in the Basement

23 days of rain in 30 days.  I’m too lazy to actually verify that stat, but it’s close enough.  I’m glad I took Safelite up on the new wiper blades when I had my windshield replaced a few weeks ago.  A pissed off boss, frustrated customers, red brake lights flashing for no reason and cars drifting into my lane while driving hundreds of miles in circles around CT are enough. Old squeaky wipers that don’t work might actually put me over the edge. Like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Or, the broken shoelace in Charles Bukowski’s Poem, “The Shoelace”:


“It’s not the large things that
send a man to the
madhouse.  death he’s ready for, or
murder, incest, robbery, fire, floods…
no it’s the continuing series of small tragedies
That send a man to the madhouse…”

“…with each broken shoelace
out of one hundred broken shoelaces,
one man, one woman, one
thing
enters a
Madhouse.”

I watched “Born into This”, a documentary about Bukowski while riding my bike on the indoor trainer in the basement as the rain was pouring outside. Bukowski was a poet and writer who lived most of his life in Los Angeles. I really don’t get most poetry. I think it’s the kind of thing I want to like so I sound smart, but I really don’t understand most of it.

I like lyrics in music.  I like how Bob Dylan sang,


“Early one morning the sun was shining
I was laying in bed
Wonderin if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red.”

I also like the limerick about the man from Nantucket.

But the documentary about Charles Bukowski I watched while I was working out on my trainer in the basement got stuck in my head.  Where do I begin.

In one scene, Bukowski, a 50 something now somewhat well known poet for the 1970s, is being interviewed in his dingy apartment. Mid interview, a ringing phone, possibly a call from a girlfriend, grabs his attention. He ambles into another small room, past empty beer bottles on the floor, to answer the phone. Being the 70s, the receiver is tethered to the phone by a long cable, which Bukowski stretches to his ear from the phone base. The phone base doesn’t hang on a wall or sit neatly on an end table, it’s on the floor, by itself, resting on the carpet.

Bukowski listened to classical music and typed for hours in his small, dirty Los Angeles apartment, writing poetry, short stories, and eventually novels. He would hold down a full time job, including a long career at the Post Office, and write while he drank in his spare time, with little recognition, for years.

Another scene shows his 1972 appearance at the City Lights Poets Theater, where he reads poems, a year after his first novel, Post Office was released. The rowdy crowd of several hundred who he reads to is a stark contrast to the small groups in bookstores that he is used to. He sits at a table and drinks beer while reading poetry and sparring with the also inebriated hecklers and crowd.  Yes, there were hecklers at his poetry reading. “One more beer, I’ll take you all, all a you,” growls the poet right before standing up to grab a fresh beer from the full sized refrigerator standing next to him.

Bukowski also wrote novels, many of them autobiographical.  Since I spend a lot of time in the car for my job, I listen to a lot of podcasts.  I used to listen to audiobooks, but I have a hard time concentrating, and have shied away from audiobooks.

If I listen to an audiobook, I struggle to keep my focus locked on piloting my multi ton vehicle down roads like the nerve gauntlet known as the Merrit Parkway. My brain involuntarily skips between the drive itself and a myriad of other unrelated thoughts, like, “Can I transfer that part from my old mountain bike to my new bike,” or “Should I  walk or take a bus to get to a warmer climate when I lose my job and end up homeless.” The effort required to keep my attention on my drive rather than the spontaneous thought eruptions in my head often impairs my comprehension of character development or the plot twists of an audiobook novel. And when I finally steer my consciousness back to the story, I’m lost.  Either lost as to what’s going on in the the story or lost as in “Where the hell am I?” So, I’ve gotten away from listening to audiobooks while driving.

I also don’t like paying for audio books. Audible is like $15/month and audiobooks from iTunes or Amazon can be $10 or more each. Factor in how I barely pay attention to them as they play, and it really feels like throwing money away.

But, I needed to know more about Bukowski. And with several hours of driving on my schedule for the upcoming week, it was time to give audiobooks another try, and  luckily I found his novel, “Women” on Youtube, for free.

Though Chenaski develops enough of a following to have groupies, he never gets so famous that people recognize or bother him at public places like the bars or race track he frequents. It’s pretty close to a perfect life for a reclusive alcoholic misanthrope.

Women is one of Bukowski’s semi autobiographical novels about Henry Chenaski, a fifty something writer who likes drinking, betting on horses, and hanging out with sketchy people.

Four years without sex ends early on on the book for Chenaski when he meets Lydia, a younger, very attractive women, who comes to one of his poetry readings. Chenaski has become just famous enough that quitting his job at the post office has become economically viable, and he can stay up all night drinking and writing, and sleep until noon the next day. He also has pretty female fans, who like Lydia, are the main subject of the book. They write him letters, they call on the phone, and several sleep with him, which Bukowski narrates in vivid and uncomfortable detail.

Bukowski is criticized for being vulgar and misogynistic, but also has been hailed the “poet laureate of LA lowlife” .  I guess he’s not for everyone.

And I do like some of his poetry, like “The Law” which you can find on YouTube as well:


So I’m glad I watched “Born into This”, the Bukowski documentary while riding the bike in my basement. I’m on that damn thing too much. But it’s still raining. It passes the time, and it’s making me a stronger rider while I’m also becoming more cultured. William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, pretty soon people will start thinking I’m pretty smart. Can’t fail.

Usually, when Spring comes, I spend every free minute I have mountain biking. But the crappy weather has allowed me more time to write, do trainer road workouts, and work on on my bike.

I grabbed an old mountain bike wheel and spent a good part of a day working on it so I can use it on the trainer. Now, I have two functional rear wheels that I can swap out to do either a trainer workout indoors or to take the bike for a spin outside. Before I had to change the tire on my rear wheel if I wanted to ride it outdoors. This required more work, or to be precise, never happened, because it would have taken more work, and my cross bike never saw the outdoors. Now I just have to take one wheel off, and replace it with another, instead of taking one off, changing the tire on it, and then placing it back on the bike.

I’ve been riding on my trainer so much, I “needed” a new one.

Last weekend I went ahead and swapped wheels and took my cross bike out for a ride on some gravel roads and paths near my house. Not far along the rocky trail leading into the woods, the rattling bones and joints in my hands and shoulders made me wish I had just taken my mountain bike instead. Looks like the cross bike is better suited for the trainer. So that was a waste a time. I really hope it stops raining.

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