When I was eighteen, I was on tour with my ska band and we were in Florida right as a hurricane was touching down. If memory serves, we were in Pensacola and we were playing at some dumpy bar that no one was planning on showing up at anyway, but on this particular night, there being a hurricane and all, it was more desolate than usual. The upside of all this was that they were serving us beer. We had recently gotten a booking agent, and though I now recognize his operation as the half assed run-out-of-a-garage program that it was, at the time the fact that we showed up somewhere and they had a contract that stated that they’d give us free beer seemed like the pinnacle of rock star grandeur. Anyway, they had beer for us so some of us started drinking.
Well, the show was unmemorable, but what was memorable was this old man at the bar. He was gross, pockmarked, stinky with his hair slicked back. He was loud and he was the only person I’ve ever seen in my life who had actually bought an entire bottle of whiskey from behind the bar. He literally had the whole bottle in front of him. I was sitting a few stools down and we started shooting the shit. He offered me a shot and I came over and sat by him.
Now, at this time in my life, I was unbelievably interested in strangers, drunks, old guys and random conversations. I ended up talking to lots and lots of bums and degenerates and this ended up informing a lot of my opinions about homelessness and the general harsh realities of uh…you know, livin’ in a society, man. Anyway, point being, if this story happened today, I’d have never gone and sat next to this guy, as now I have no interest in talking to strangers, but I digress…
His name was Charlie and, as I mentioned before, he was disgusting. When he talked, he sprayed gross, yellow spit all over my face, which wasn’t hard for him to do because when he talked he put his nose less than half an inch from my nose. He was pretty magnetic and intense and he had this crazy eye contact that kind of pulled me in even as his rotten breath and spatial proximity combined to repel me. He talked, loudly, extremely loudly, about how he wanted to fuck the bartender, how he wanted to eat the ass of the girl who was walking by, how he bet I had a nice smooth ass and dick sucking this and ass-pounding that and so on and I was loving it. I thought he was hilarious. I was also eighteen and far from home and drinking whiskey from a bottle and generally living the dream, so I think some of his creepier statements went kind of unchecked, just, you know, in the spirit of keeping the moment going.
Well, the moment went on and on and on and suddenly Pete was standing there saying “Brendan, come on! We’re all in the van and we’ve been waiting for you for half an hour!” The ska band was, not for the last time, bummed out at me.
I said bye to Charlie and went out into our van. The van’s name was Bernice and she was a tin, windowless cargo van with couches bolted into the back. As we drove off, I settled into my seat between Danny and Pete and picked up my book, which was “Memoirs of a Dirty Old Man” by Charles Bukowski. Pete looked at the cover of the book and pointed to the photo of the author and said “dude! That’s the guy you were JUST talking to at the bar!” Dan and I looked at the cover and sure as shit, same dude.
I think back about this every once in a while and it kind of blows my mind. I wish I remembered the details a little better. Like, what was the whiskey? That’s not the kind of thing an 18 year old notices, but it’s the kind of thing that EVERY Bukowski fan has asked me when I’ve told this story.
People often ask me what Bukowski was doing in Florida, to which I can only reply “I have no fucking idea. I mean, I was in Florida too. I’m not from there either” Yeah. There’s a lot of unanswerable questions surrounding this story and it’s all pretty unconfirmable and mysterious. I’m not trying to set it out there as anything other than a personal anecdote told exactly how I remember it. And fuck, man. If that guy WASN’T Bukowski, fuck, he really, really really really really really really really kind of stole his whole style, from the ass breath to the creepiness to the look, and fuck, if it wasn’t him, I gotta imagine that’s about as close as a person can get to that kind of thing, both as an impersonator and as a young kid having a brush with grandiose perversity.
But I think it was him. We looked at that picture less than 2 minutes after we left Charlie sitting at that bar and it was fucking identical. I don’t know. Pretty wild, right?
That is all.