the burning of the dream

the old L.A. Public Library burned
down
that library downtown
and with it went
a large part of my
youth.

I sat on one of those stone
benches there with my friend
Baldy   when he
asked,
“you gonna join the
Abraham Lincoln
Brigade?”

“sure,” I told
him.

but realizing that I wasn’t
an intellectual or a political
idealist
I backed off on that
one.
later
I was a reader
then
going from room to
room:   literature, philosophy
religion, even medicine
and geology.

early on
I decided to be a writer,
I thought it might be the easy
way
out
and the big boy novelists didn’t look
too tough to
me.
I had more trouble with
Hegel and Kant.

the thing that bothered
me
about everybody
is that they took so long
to finally say
something lively and/
or
interesting.
I thought I had it
over everybody
then.

I was to discover two
things:
a) most publishers thought that anything
boring had something to do with things
profound.
b) that it would take decades of
living and writing
before I would be able to
put down
a sentence that was
anywhere near
what I wanted it to
be.

meanwhile
while other young men chased the
ladies
I chased the old
books.
I was a bibliophile, albiet a
disenchanted
one
and this
and the world
shaped me.

I lived in a plywood hut
behind a roominghouse
for $3.50 a
week
feeling like
Chatterton
stuffed inside of some
Thomas
Wolfe.

my greatest problem was
stamps, envelopes, paper
and
wine,
with the world on the edge
of World War II.
I hadn’t yet been
confused by the
female, I was a virgin
and I wrote from 3 to
5 short stories a week
and they all came
back
from The New Yorker, Harper’s
The Atlantic Monthly.
I had read where
Ford Madox Ford used to paper
his bathroom with his
rejection slips
but I didn’t have a
bathroom so I stuck them
into a drawer
and when it got so stuffed with them
I could barely
open it
I took all the rejects out
and threw them
away along with the
stories.

still
the old L.A. Public Library remained
my home
and the home of many other
bums.
we discreetly used the
restrooms
and the only ones of
us
to be evicted were those
who fell asleep at the
library
tables–nobody snores like a
bum
unless it’s somebody you’re married
to.

well, I wasn’t quite a
bum. I   had a   library card
and I checked books in and
out
large
stacks of them
always taking the
limit
allowed:
Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence,
E.E. Cummings, Conrad Aiken, Fydor
Dos, Dos Possos, Turgenev, Gorky,
H.D., Freddie Nietzsche, Art
Schopenhauer, John
Steinbeck
Hemingway… and so
forth…

I always expected the librarian
to say, “you have good taste, young
man…”

but the old fried and wasted
bitch didn’t even know who she
was
let alone
me.

but those shelves held
tremendous grace:   they allowed
me to discover
the early Chinese poets
like Tu Fu and Li
Po
who could say more in one
line than most could say in
thirty or
a hundred.
Sherwood Anderson must have
read
these
too.

I also carried the Cantos
in and out
and Ezra helped me
strengthen my arms if not
my   brain.

that wondrous place
the L.A. Public Library
it was a home for a person who had
a
home of
hell
BROOKS TOO BROAD FOR LEAPING
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
POINT COUNTER POINT
THE HEART IS THE LONELY HUNTER

James Thurber
John Fante
Rabelais
de Maupassant

some didn’t work for
me:   Shakespeare, G.B. Shaw,
Tolstoy, Robert Frost, F. Scott
Fitzgerald

Upton Sinclair worked better for
me
than Sinclair Lewis
and I considered Gogol and
Drieser complete

but such judgments come more
from a man’s
forced manner of living than from
his
reason.

the old L.A. Public
most probably kept me from
becoming a
suicide
a bank
robber
a
wife-
beater
a butcher or a
motorcycle policeman
and even though some of these
might be fine
it is
thanks
to my luck
and my way
that this library was
there when I was
young and looking to
hold onto
something
when there seemed very
little
about.

and when I opened the
newspaper
and read of the fire
which
destroyed the
library and most of
its
contents

I said to my
wife:   “I used to spend my
time
there…”

THE PRUSSIAN OFFICER
THE DARING YOUNG MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE
TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT

YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN.

Author
Charles Bukowski
Written
1986
Source
Original manuscript