For six months bartender Mike Zimmerman has been bringing together a small collective of Charles Bukowski enthuisiasts to read select poems at the Frolic Room in Hollywood, right next door to the Pantages theater, and right across the street from that celebrity party hangout, the W hotel.
This Monday was one of the worst on record for me. Nothing worked in my small little world, and especially, the old gray brain upstairs was giving me a seriously hard time getting itself jumpstarted. See, a few months back, after the near-death of my angelic son, a wave of depression and anxiety sank me. The doctors have put me on their beige pills, which made things worse, which made me try and detoxify, which made me nearly lose everything, which made my marriage crumble, which made my day job impossible…and made even the simplest things unbearable.
For weeks I’d heard about Bukowski Mondays down at the Frolic Room. The night before I managed to drive my barely-there car out from the sun-bleached North Hollywood sandlot of a housing unit I share with my barely-there wife and sling a drink or three for Mike’s birthday. Once there I met several Bukowksi Moday regulars, like Hollywood historian and writer Bill Nelson, Crystal and Reese and Carly. I knew I had to make it down. As I stood outside on Hollywood Boulevard looking down on the reddish brown Walk Of Fame stars, I thought, This is why I came back to Los Angeles! I had to live, God Damn It.Live like there was no tomorrow. Because of the horrific and fragile state of my head, there just might not be a second chance.
All day the next day I struggled. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t make heads or tails of anything. Did I eat breakfast? Did my son make it on the bus? Did my wife just leave with my mother in law? Everything blurred. One of the positive effects of the pills is that they take away a certain amount of panic, but they trade that for a debilitating mental slur that feels momentous to overcome. Maybe the Scientologists haunting Sunset Boulevard are onto something with their claims against these pill-pushing doctors—the fucking pills can be mental poison when prescribed for the wrong personality.
Bill turned me onto parking on Yucca, so I did so, saving myself from parking in one of the sand traps close to the bar. It’s about two blocks away and I loved the walk down the hill, past the Capitol Records building, to Hollywood Boulevard, and right to the Frolic Room. Inside I took a seat and took a tap beer. Carly immediately asked, “What are you reading?”
“I’m not reading anything,” I said. “I’m just going to watch—get the lay of the land.”
She pushed a Bukowski collection toward me. “This is my copy. Go on and choose one to read.”
Okay. So I was reading. Pull yourself together, I thought. You can do this. You should be doing this. Of all the things you are capable of, this is you…this is writing…this is what you’re best at.
“Cigarette Of The Sun” seemed to speak to me at the moment, so I picked it. I found the sign-up sheet and put in my card. Before I knew it, Mike topped off everyone’s drinks and we were off. He started the show with a reading…and get this: the reward is a six-dollar tab straight from Mike’s tip jar. “Welcome to week twenty-three…”
I was lucky and was slotted right after Mike. It was men first and ladies second, or should I say, the men would be the opening act. Good idea. The women usually choose the sexier poems and are hard acts to follow. I was glad to get in with it.
I felt alive and raw and exposed. Each word jiggled my nerves. I thought, This was a place where Bukowski himself would come to drink…this has to be done right…this cannot be a lie…this must be real…bring the pain from the pills…bring the ache from separation…bring the struggle…bring it all…
There was no way I could give any less…not while standing in that room…not with everyone listening…not with Bukowski’s very ghost haunting us. No way.
Others read, and read well. The women chose the dirtiest poems. I was not surprised. They lit the small, yet attentive, crowd on fire. In the end, though, it was Reese who won for the fourth time. His take on “Chicken Giblets” was powerful and moving: Something to strive for next time.
I could taste the minerals from the tap water used to clean my beer glass beneath the brew. I took in the cologne of the long-haired fellow sitting next to me, who I overheard saying, “I like L.A. a whole lot more when I’m not working.” I smelled the cigarette smoke drifting in from outside, and heard the traffic of Hollywood Boulevard, and I felt at home for the first time in months.
Here it was: there is a small sense of connection and of unity and of shared passion…and there is a place where the written word has come alive…where poems are delivered like precious gospel…and a place where one man’s tortured soul found, if only for a small amount of time, a moment of ease and a moment of virtue…
Here’s to many more.