Los Angeles, it has been said, is that sad little flower in the sand.
And it is. It’s a dreadful place.
Full of broken dreams and senseless violence.
The place of Hollywood Hills and Skid Row.
Where diamonds are plenty and the gutters are swarmed.
Like life, I didn’t want to experience LA on the surface.
I wanted to go deep,
deep enough for trouble and revelation.
I didn’t want its trivialities or its chains
or its plastic people or its conventionalities
or its fine dining or shopping centers.
I wanted the real city.
I wanted to taste it from the inside.
I wanted the dive bars, the back alleys,
Skid Row, graffiti walls, the history.
Give me the dirty truth of the city
rather than its veneer of luxury.
I arrived alone, with a backpack and camera
in the dead of night, street lights gleaming,
splashing light into the shadows of Hollywood Blvd.
The January wind, crisp and ugly, slung pieces of debris
down into back alleys
as the motel vacancy sign flickered in the dark.
I crept up to the ragged motel
with only two cars in the parking lot.
I parked, skeptically, and walked with my head on a swivel,
up to the after-hours window.
An old Asian woman pops out of bed,
disheveled, and pulls the curtain away from the window.
The world hasn’t been pleasant to her.
What you want? She snaps.
Just a room, mam’.
She taps a few keys on her computer and says:
I give her my card and she says:
here the remote, ten dollar deposit, cash.
I told her I don’t watch TV so I won’t be needing the remote.
ten dollar you take remote now.
The hallway to my room looked like something from a horror film.
Narrow, filthy carpet, white walls, low light, eerily quiet.
I find my room, enter and throw my pack down.
Nothing much to it. A bed, a desk and a toilet. It would do.
I pop open a bottle of whiskey from my pack and took a long pull.
It hit the arteries instantly, flushing the venom to the vital organs,
warming the face, stirring the soul.
I took out Charles Bukowski’s poems and read a few.
Took a few more hits of whiskey
and went down the street to Hollywood’s famous dive bar
–the Frolic Room.
The little joint is one of the last remaining bars of old Hollywood. It formally became a bar in 1934. And it was said to be the watering hole of some of the most famous like Sinatra and Judy Garland. Bukowski himself was known to throw back a few here, too. It was also the last place Elizabeth Short (AKA Black Dahlia) was seen alive. Her murder remains unsolved.
I sat for a few beers not really talking to anyone. Everybody was involved in their own conversations. I was a stranger in their land and accepted that role. I liked the ambiance of the place, though, but it bored me. After 3 beers I left. It was a long day, so I hit the sack.
The next morning I hit downtown LA.
Roamin’ the streets, I looked into the eyes
of some of the emptiest souls on earth.
Broken people, with scarred faces, muddled minds,
living in tents on the curb,
the dealers drunk with paranoia
the whores who beg for love
the man whose wife took it all
the struggling artist who’d rather survive on crumbs than
sell out on their art.
There I am,
alone, trying to rekindle that flame,
trying to cling to that dream,
romanticizing under moonlit palms,
falling in love with the unknown,
staggering through a land of insanity,
the way it has to be.
LA is a mean place, man.
People come here to be swallowed up by success
or eaten alive by failure.
It’s one or the other.
The choppers fly over the bleak streets
looking for the villain of the day. I walk on,
through Koreatown, through the hipster bars,
the corner offers, the stench of madness everywhere.
The commotion of the day ripens as the sun falls.
The darkness dances in the alleys
and in the hearts of the forgotten.
I go on to my cheap motel
make a stiff drink and sit
listening to the sounds of the city.
I downed it,
and made another
I’m realizing that where I sit
is just a few blocks away from where
Bukowski lived, wrote and drank.
And after a day of walking, seeing, listening,
capturing images through my lens,
letting the soul absorb the sight and sounds
of the underbelly, I felt Bukowski’s LA.
His misanthropic writings
make sense now.