Thursday, February 3, 2011

Post Office By Bukowski Turns 40

Post OfficeWhen a down and out barfly named Henry Chinaski becomes a substitute mail carrier, he quickly finds it's not in his nature to hold on to the trappings of a normal life. He quits, hoping to live off his winnings at the track. But when the luck runs out, he returns to the post office as a mail clerk, a job he considered one of the most menial, boring and degrading.

Chinaski has sometimes been described as a tribute to nobody in that he is everyman's anti-hero. But an even more exacting description of Chinaski is Charles Bukowski, the cynical, drunk caretaker who wasn't afraid to hold the mirror for anyone brave enough to count their own imperfections.

An autobiography about the rest of us.

In 1971, John Martin, owner of Black Sparrow Press, took a gamble of sorts. He offered Bukowski, then 49, $100 a month for life if he gave up working for the Post Office and wrote full time. The German-American poet took the offer.

"I have one of two choices — stay in the post office and go crazy ... or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve." — Charles Bukowski [attributed: Dougherity]

BukowskiHe finished Post Office within a month after leaving his position, drawing up his life experience like he might take a long drag from a cigarette. Once he started, he couldn't stop. He released a pent up lifetime of prose, poetry, and nonfiction in an unapologetic exhale through bared teeth and a half grin.

Of course. As a mail carrier Bukowski had gotten a glimpse of everyone in Los Angeles. The retentive, anxious resident who would hold out his hand for the mail. The crazed woman who raked his face after he delivered a registered letter. The endless drone of managers relying on procedure to make vassals out of employees to elevate their sense of importance.

What makes Post Office compelling aren't various roadblocks thrown in his way or the detours created by his own hand. The charm of the anti-hero is how he handles it all, chucking off any sense of what is supposed to be done and randomly making choices that kept everyone around him off balance. He was like that in life, too.

Not everyone appreciates his minimalistic rawness, morally repulsive content, and sometimes alcohol-infused rants that teeter between ego and self-loathing. But he had a point. He wanted to write about what other people and poets would never write about.

Post Office is especially tenuous in its journal entry approach to presenting a slice of life that is unordinary only in that some people will find the ordinary. There are plenty of tragic people in the world, and Bukowski, through the only slightly fictional eyes of Henry Chinaski, seems to attract all of them, from broken to bureaucrat, because he looks at us with eyes wide open.

Post Office by Charles Bukowski Rankles At 9.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

If there was anyone who could capture an unromanticized account of pointless existence felt by the blue collar of an American worker in the 1960s, it was Bukowski. While many people were attempting to capture the illusionary trappings of the 1950s mystique, he decided to throttle up his life against the grain.

Post Office: A Novel is available on Amazon. iTunes offers the documentary about Bukowski — Born Into This — by director John Dullaghan. It's a favorite among fans, whom Bukowski has touched like no other poet and author.
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