This city is Bukowki’s turf and it’s funny to have forgotten that important fact. In light of this realization I can feel his ghost stumbling home from the bars or chasing after the pretty young girls. But what has more of an impact on me is the characteristics of this city that obviously made the man such a brute.
Take a limping walk to Skid Row and you’ll see the makings of another Great Depression. It’s happening, even if you didn’t know it is happening. The tent cities are growing every day spreading throughout downtown LA and the tenants are more than just down on hard luck. Their faces are bleeding with the remnants of two hundred and fifty years of the man beating them up. The hard drugs and cheap alcohol no cushion for their forgotten bodies finally collapsing under the weight of this grand machine we’re all sinking in. There’s an estimated 70 to 100 thousand of them too, larger than some of the smaller cities I’ve traveled through. They don’t have much left and what hasn’t already been stolen from them will soon be lost when the police come to kick them out for the month’s third routine raid.
Walk a little around the surrounding neighborhoods and you’ll find the black man, or the white man, or the Chinese man, or the Mexican, who all at one time built railroads and worked in our country’s industries, now passing their aimless days testing door handles on cars to see if they’re unlocked or walking down the middle of the street hoping to be hit by a drunk driver passing along towards the freeway.
Some even make it down to Venice Beach where the game is a little different. For the price of a good knife you can sleep on the beach piled in with several travel bags and all of your most prized belongings. Some campers even pair together for protection from the elements that merely a sleeping bag can’t provide, setting up temporary communities where trust is hard to come by.
Then during the day there is an audience and even a boardwalk stage to perform upon. Both travelers and static dwellers and more established retailers hustle their flow often handing their product to unsuspecting vacationers and demanding that an exorbitant amount be paid without much true words being exchanged. Several musicians are Bob Marley’s cousins and everyone needs sixty cents for the bus line home, though the track lines are visible on their outstretched forearms.
And then there are the Christians who are spookier than all the rest. Usually they are made up of several young high school aged cult-eyed women who draw you in with some new age twist like fortune-telling or tarot to stay relevant, and don’t mention anything about God until enough time has passed in conversation and their audience is starting to check their pockets for their wallets, wondering how much they’re going to have to pay. Then a spooky calm falls over the girl’s expression and God’s eternal love is all they can talk about. They get fanatical and when I try to walk away they stop me so that they can bless me and save me from my sins.
I can’t even escape it in the bars which are mostly clubs where either the Cali bros or the Hollywood understudies are chasing after women who look not a day over 21 yet more in control of their lives than most people I’ve met even twice my age. The men swarm these sirens as they pass through the entire odyssey in sweeping intensity of perfume, subtle make-up, gym fit forms, and gentle smiles. Then they stand off against the walls of the bar playing their pan flutes, snapping their fingers like jazz hounds, and counting how many phone numbers they conned. The whole thing turns to a dance scene as the DJ cranks the psychedelic rock tunes and then the 80s classics begin as if Brett Easton Ellis hasn’t taught anyone about trends.
Even at the dive bars where the swingers spend less of their leisure there is the constant influx of bad seeds with hidden flasks held to escape the high prices and other designer drugs, typically the acid of the future like sassafras and MDMMA, to extend the buzz. These drugs, mixed with the stoneage that everyone is on creates a vapid world where social centers are subdued, cliquey, and everyone is alone slobbering through their own individual seizures. These soul-seeking individuals slowly become the ruffians of the dark and they spend their late nights exploring mysticism in a depressed, egocentric way, often digging darker even though they desire what we all want, to feel light and full of dream. Surprisingly, god is here too, even in the darkest corners. From their conversations, I gather that these cult makers and practitioners of witchcraft are also stuck in the anachronistic belief that there is a god or a special life meaning given to the human race beyond the simple joy of friendliness. They reveal feelings of being betrayed when I tell them that they are God and we’d all be better off listening more closely to our own hearts rather than what some halfwit spiritual leader muses upon.
But what rings true out from the heart of it all is the depression that haunts us all, that we are not what we are supposed to be and that something out there is better. The grass is greener on the other side. This mechanized hustle and bustle working better than the tanks you’ll find in Ferguson to keep every person I meet down on the ground. Everyone hates the techie, the new certificate holding yuppie, and if there was more time for empathy, we’d have a serious class war on our hands. One that might actually go somewhere.
But the designers of this city thought of that one too, and as they starve the residents (and even the surrounding counties) of food and water, they take away all affordable shelter which makes everyone so driven into the workforce there is no time for reflection.
And so back to Bukowski. Where would he fit in, in all this mess? I’ve seen his ugly mug on the street corners just released from jail and ready for another break from sobriety. He asks for a quarter but he looks worse off than before. His lapse into the more brutal realms of humanity has led him down crooked streets, inspiring an entire generation to be just as miserable. His hospital bills are running high from all the bar fights, and his days as a barfly have left him desperate, with no hope for anything other than anarchy.
His photographed image taped to the walls of several bars I’ve frequented. I share a drink with him and reflect on the place where free love has finally died and a West Coast greed I was previously unfamiliar with has taken its course and won.
There must be a reason besides the good weather that so many actual cults (Manson, Yod, Hubbard to name a few) have found their home here. Perhaps it’s a continuation of the gold rush which has turned to silicon and hyperspace. Or maybe all of LA is built on an Indian burial ground and it’s curse is that no matter how sunny the weather is its residents will never experience true happiness. There’s too much competition to let that be the case.
But all the same, the canyons, the ocean, the mountains, the art, the murals, the poetry, the culture, even the Disneyland-like hipster attractions, and the infinite palm trees have a beauty that doesn’t exist anywhere else I’ve been. These other things I describe are just the dregs. And the dregs are what follow me everywhere, where ever I go. I’m used to them by now and I see their hidden poetry.
But for others who are not as aware, look to the streets. The dregs are growing. We can no longer ignore their desperate cries for help. They are everywhere. See, we’ve reached a breaking point and it’s about time that the whole populace does something to change its direction. Because right now the whole country is hurting. And there’s no place it’s more obvious than the state of California, especially in the city of LA.