What's All This Then?
What's All This Then?
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Writers George Saunders, Jonathan Eig, and Andrei Codrescu
review experiences at Field-Tested Books.
Field-Tested by Alissa Walker
in Hollywood, California
As a struggling writer new to Los Angeles, I went to bed with Charles Bukowski almost every night. Id wake up at noon, puffy-eyed and irritable, swearing at him under stale breath. But it didnt end there. We worked the same mindless day job and drank at the same bars to help forget it. And we both lived in rundown 1920s-era apartments in Hollywood.
So when it was announced that Bukowskis long-abandoned residence was to be demolished, I aided the preservation effort the only way I knew how: I climbed under the covers with the novel most closely associated with the property. Like most Bukowski stories, it starred a familiar alcoholic writer named Henry Chinaski. But this book was actually based on activities that happened in that Spanish-style courtyard apartment, activities accurately summarized in the one-word title: Women.
His description of the apartment would have been flagged on Craigslist. Empty bottles perforated the walls, appliances upended, windows pulverized. Various bodily fluids were spatter-painted across the bathroom floor. Women were used as decorating accessories: tucked into an armchair, draped over a mattress, wadded up in a corner of the floor. The living room was a revolving door for speed-freaks, pill-poppers, hookers, pimps, rapists, Facists, anarchists, Communists, cokeheads, swingers, Socialists, and Nazis. He abused the house almost as expertly as he abused himself.
Yet on February 26, 2008, the Los Angeles City Council miraculously approved Buks place as a landmark. Soon after, I found myself winding through the ethnic checkerboard of pastel cinderblock apartments right at the Thai street festival, past the Ukrainian church to 5124 De Longpre Avenue. I was prepared to snap a few shots of the sagging building through the chainlink fence. But when I got there, Bukowskis door hung slightly ajar, the screen door lazily scraping the blistered paint of the porch. I stepped quickly inside.
It was too late. Crews had gutted the unit, ripped out its moldy entrails, power sanded the filth away. In the bathroom, the air trembled with drywall powder, fresh from the installation of an unblemished porcelain sink; the dirty old man had been castrated with a putty knife and a pair of crappy light fixtures. I saw the wall where he sat at his kitchen table and ravaged the typewriter, bottle in hand, now glossed over with a thick coat of eggshell whitewash. It was as sterile as the high rises casting late-afternoon shadows over this corner of Hollywood. They might as well have torn it down.
I was still fuming as I unlocked the door of my bungalow and breathed in its crusty familiarity. I stood there in the slanted glow. Suddenly I loved every inch of crumbling stucco, the ill-fitting screens, the dust-spewing air conditioner, some busted pipe seeping raw sewage onto the driveway. For good measure, a cockroach picked over yesterdays dishes. And, if I remember correctly, there was a half-bottle of vodka chilling in the freezer.
I put my computer on the kitchen table and started to write.
Alissa Walker writes about design and architecture for a myriad of publications. Her new blog, GelatoBaby, offers overly insightful commentary on food, walking, Los Angeles, Star Wars, and every so often, gelato.
Read the next Field Test by Andrew Womack