In 1999, Gary Aposhian and I decided to team-up in re-launching Gary’s FreeThought literary newspaper. FreeThought was a newspaper publication that Gary published in Sacramento during the early 1990s when the two us, along with our “tribe,” did a lot of crazy poetry readings and caused a lot of chaos in general. However, by 1993 Gary had moved to Southern California and discontinued the newspaper.
Throughout the 90s Gary and I both worked jobs we didn’t like and by the end of the decade we decided it was time to bring back FreeThought, but in order to revive the newspaper we’d have to do something special—like a tribute to Charles Bukowski.
So I wrote a letter to Bukowski’s wife, Linda Bukowski, and included some sample questions. Luckily, she quickly replied and called Gary. She said our questions were "off the beaten path," and set up a meeting for the Summer of 2000.
I drove down to San Clemente, then Gary and I drove to San Pedro from there. By the time we hit San Pedro we got a little nervous and stopped by one of Hank’s local watering-holes. We each had a shot and a beer, and the bartender said: “What are you guys doin’, hiding from church?”
“We’re going to interview the wife of Charles Bukowski.”
“You guys look nervous. Maybe I should do it. I’ve been here all day.”
We drank ‘em down and headed for the door.
Someone said: “Leaving already?”
"Yeah," said the bartender, “they’re going to interview Charlie Lowbonski.”
We knocked on the door and soon felt the tension leave as Linda's easygoing personality put us at ease. We found Linda to be very friendly and a lot of fun to talk with. She made a big batch of pina coladas and put that blender back to work several times during our stay.
The interview was a fairly long talk (a few hours) recorded on a reel to reel tape. Gary and his crew down south transferred over the conversation in rough form and I was to edit from there. However, I had just opened a new retail book and collectibles store called: Mystery Island (in Sacramento), and Gary was sadly approaching the end of his marriage. In the midst of the chaos I was editing the interview with a few drafts going back and forth between Linda and myself. She wanted it shorter, more concise, and of course typo free, but as I was working on the final draft Gary decided to go with the original raw transcript. I was never sure why he chose to do that (typos and all) but it was his call and I know he was working under a deadline. Gary and I continued to work piece by piece on projects for FreeThought and his newer 12 Gauge Press over the years, and we created some pretty interesting broadsides, chapbooks, and other small press publications, but not until now has the proper edited version (with correct notations as to who’s speaking) ever been published.
Gary Aposhian died last year and FreeThought Publications and 12 Gauge Press merged with Mystery Island Publications in 2007 with the expressed desire of his family to not let the work Gary did be forgotten. Here then is the interview with Linda Bukowski, conducted June 2000, by Bradley Mason Hamlin and Gary Aposhian.
BRAD: Linda, what were you doing before you met Charles Bukowski?
LINDA: Well, several years before I met Hank, I was living in Redondo Beach, California. I owned a health food restaurant, which I had started in 1970.
GARY: What was the café called?
LINDA: It was called Dew Drop In. It was one of the first natural food restaurants in the South Bay.
In the summer of 1976 I began a fast lasting four weeks. I had eaten nothing but grapes with pure water. It was the last day of the fast, and a woman I knew heard that Bukowski was giving a poetry reading at the Troubadour in Hollywood. I had never met him but had been to many of his readings over the years. So we went and it was packed with people, wild and amazing. He gave a terrific, wonderful reading. He was beginning to get pretty rowdy and he and the audience were flinging insults back and forth, which is what happened at Hank’s poetry readings. Rowdy people would yell obscenities back. Hank could not stand doing poetry readings. He just needed some money, you know?
LINDA: At the end of the reading all these people gathered around at the table. He was signing books and signing autographs and lots and lots of women were there, all sorts of different types of women were there, and I got very shy. So I didn’t go up to him until towards the end. I went up to him and said hello and told him my name. He signed a little scrap of paper, wrote his telephone number on it and drew a little man, his little man.
I gave him my phone number, then he left with some young, lovely, women.
Two days later the phone rang. Hank said, “Hello? This is Charles Bukowski. Is Linda Lee there?”
My knees sort of went to rubber. He said, “Well, maybe I’ll come down there and visit you, or do you want to come up here?”
“No, no, no,” I said. “Come down to my place. I’ll make you a nice healthy sandwich and a smoothie.”
“Well,” he said, “how do I get there?”
I gave him directions, and he was to come in two days, so I told him to call me when he was on his way. He called me and said, “Okay, I’m coming down.”
Time passed and no one showed up. I thought he just went to a bar or something. Finally I got a phone call. He said, “Shit, I’m lost. I missed your exit. I’m in fucking Lakewood. I don’t know what the … I don’t know where … I’m gonna go home.
I told him, “No, no, no! I’ll give you explicit directions. You’ll be all right. Don’t worry about it.”
“I don’t know about this,” he said. “Maybe I shouldn’t come over.”
About an hour and a half later I look out the window of my restaurant and see his blue Volkswagen slowly driving by. He looks over into the window and he make this face [Linda imitates Hank’s terror]. A half hour later he calls me and says, “Hey kid, listen, I saw your place but I had to stop at this bar. It’s called The Bull Pen. It’s right up the block. It’s this crazy place. It’s the middle of the day and it’s packed. People are in here. They’re eating, but most of them are just drinking and they’re not just drinking beer. They’re drinking mixed drinks. I like this place. Maybe I’ll stay here.
I said, “Oh, well, stay as long as you want, but I’ll be here.”
Shortly after he made his way into my restaurant. On the bookshelf I had all of his books and other books by writers I like. He looks up and says, “Ah Rimbaud, Hem, Lorca—did you put these up because I was coming?” But they were books I always had. I made him a sandwich, and a smoothie. He loved it. That started our relationship and that was in September, late September … early October 1976.
GARY: That’s great. Much of [Hank’s] writing mentioned that you were adding ten years to his life through better diet. What was the health plan?
LINDA: No plan. I would tell him about why I ate the way I did or why I didn’t like to eat certain things and he picked up on it immediately. He said, “This makes me feel good!”
BRAD: Bukowski had a tough guy image …
LINDA: Yeah, yeah.
BRAD: But was he really hard to live with?
LINDA: Mmm, yeah, terrible, terrible. Are you kidding me? He was tough. Absolutely. He was very, very, tough. He was a hugely sensitive, powerful, verbally articulate, emotional human being. He excelled at all of those things, and so when you get to know somebody very intimately—you find that there are many facets and intimate layers. Hank had such a great deal of intellectual power, psychological power, verbal, philosophical power. He didn’t explode. He was a man of the greatest integrity.
GARY: He never compromised that along the way.
LINDA: Never, never, never. He never would. When I used to get ornery with him I’d call him a creampuff, because he had this tough exterior, you know, a tough crusty old thing, wasn’t he? You get to know this soft, gentle, smooth, amazing, deep, vulnerable, precious, sensitive man. We would have ups and downs, and our ups and downs would be profound, very strong and extreme, but on the other end of it—the ups would be just a gentle walking through life together, going out to lunch at Musso and Frank’s or just going to pick his daughter Marina up in Santa Monica, taking her to a film and going to dinner.
His voice was very soft and very sweet and he had a center. His center was something that was as sturdy as a mountain. He had an inside central awareness, a conscious spirituality. He wouldn’t want to say that, but a profound inner center that never wavered no matter what was going on in the world outside, whether he was winning at the racetrack or not winning at the racetrack. He didn’t like to think of himself outwardly as a so-called spiritual person, but he was one of the most spiritual human beings I’ve ever known in my life.
GARY: I feel that in his writing, certainly.
LINDA: He had gotten into the racetrack before I’d met him and he would go maybe four to five days a week, whether it was Santa Anita or Hollywood Park or Del Mar. I told him, “Hank, this is your temple where you go to contemplate.”
GARY: Did he explain to you the formula?
LINDA: The formula? There were, as long as I knew him, maybe eight hundred or nine hundred. It fluctuated all the time. One worked for awhile, and then he’d alter it and just change it a tweak. You should see what his racing program would look like. He’d have a black felt tip pen and he’d be crossing things out and making circles and making his own little symbols.
BRAD: Did better wine become a part of the later writing?
LINDA: Oh, yes.
BRAD: Did he have a favorite?
LINDA: We drank a lot of wine, a lot of German white wine. We’d buy it by the case, and basically during that time were drinking a case a week. It was pretty wild. I was working and he was going to the track and we were just putting it down somehow. When you buy it by the case you get a 10% discount. So we’d do that, or go to Trader Joe’s.
BRAD: I love Trader Joe’s.
LINDA: He’d drink beer, occasionally, on a hot day. But for typing he’d go up there [points to the upstairs writing room] with a bottle of wine generally. He’d play the piano with red wine and classical music.
BRAD: Did he have a favorite composer?
LINDA: Oh, he loved Mahler, also Shostakovich, but most of all I think, Sibelius, a Finnish composer who is unbelievable.
BRAD: Very passionate.
LINDA: Very passionate, very deep, very strong. He loved many classics, Wagner, Mozart he didn’t like so much. He liked major symphonies more than quartets or small groups. He liked Sir Edward Elgar. He adored Elgar, who is modern, contemporary. He loved the strong stuff, of course Beethoven, you know, powerful.
GARY: Beethoven was mentioned in a lot of the writing.
BRAD: You actually got him out to a couple of rock concerts, didn’t you? U2 or the Stones?
LINDA: We did. We went to U2 because Bono and Edge were huge fans of his and also friends with Sean Penn, who is a very dear friend of ours as well. So Bono called. I don’t know when he called or how it happened but he said he wanted us to be his guests at the concert at Dodger Stadium for the Zoo T.V. tour. Dodger Stadium is huge. How many seats?
BRAD: Too many.
LINDA: Too many. So he said, “Okay, kid, I know ya love the U2.” (Laughter). I had talked to Bono and Sean one night. They called drunk out of their minds from Dublin at four in the morning. Sean introduced Bono to Hank over the telephone and I was freaking out because I really loved U2 at the time. He sent down his limo with Sean Penn and his wife Robin Wright and Harry Dean Stanton. We took off and made our way to Dodger Stadium. When we got there it had already started and we missed the opening band. We were smashed by the time we got there because we were in traffic. There was a huge bar in one of these really amazing limousines, really ultra. We were pouring drinks, there was bad traffic, and it took us about an hour and a half to get from here to Dodger Stadium. We finally got there and they took us to the wrong entrance. It was so late at that time, but Sean was saying, “It’s all right. I know how to get there.” So he’s dragging me and Hank and all the other people all around the damn stadium and finally to the VIP area. We got there, and there was Jack Nicholson, which was a mind blow, and several other stars in this area. It was like a sound booth. Dodger Stadium was just packed and people were screaming and waiting for the band to come on. Then all of a sudden out comes the band, the music starts playing … I don’t know if they played one song. I think they did, and then shortly after that Bono comes up to the microphone and says: “Ladies and gentlemen, I want to dedicate this concert to Linda and Charles Bukowski!”
I mean, my knees, they went. I never heard anything like this in my life. I almost fell down on the floor, and the whole Dodger Stadium—whether they’d heard of Charles Bukowski, it didn’t matter—they went wild with applause and cheers! You know, like the world and Hank and I, we just sort of looked at each other. We hugged, and as we hugged, we’re holding each other up, and there was Jack Nicholson with his pink sunglasses glasses on. He winks and gives me the thumb’s up. It was mind-blowing. It was just like being in a crazy movie. It was unreal.
Then, during the concert, we went to this special area for partying. Oh, all these movie stars and musicians were there and then the band came. They sat down at our table and spent hours and they adored it.
GARY: Where’s that special place where people go? Where is that? Like underground? We want to know. We want to go there.
LINDA: Well it was a huge setup, a catered affair with a giant bar with tables setup very elegantly.
BRAD: How did Hank feel about that much interaction?
LINDA: He was pretty sloshed, but he was okay, and he got so much adoration. I mean real true love from Bono and Edge. It was amazing. They got along straight away and we all sat around chatting. Then Edge went and got his mother, his little mother from Dublin. She was maybe in her late 60s, early 70s. She sat with us for forty-five minutes and we all talked; it was the sweetest thing.
Then we got back in that limo somehow. We got back here and Hank got out of the limo and was staggering up to the door. He fell and cracked his head on the brick floor and it started gushing blood. I looked back to the limo and everybody’s drunk …
GARY: A superficial wound?
LINDA: Superficial, luckily, so we got him sort of cleaned up and then they left. That was something else, just completely unreal. It was absolutely like living in some movie.
GARY: You know Bukowski, in the 70s, he read at venues like The Cuckoo’s Nest and The Golden Bear, which were traditionally kind of punk rock hangouts and that’s where me and Brad come from. That’s our generation, the whole punk rock thing, and we wanted to ask you: Did Hank get off on the energy from the punk rock crowds that showed up?
LINDA: He did not like rock and roll. He did not. It’s not his era. It wasn’t his generation. He never tuned into rock and roll, per say.
BRAD: He’s in the outlaw writer category, which will naturally make the punk kids like him.
LINDA: Oh yeah, (she laughs), oh yeah. Oh, I’m glad to hear that. See, I can relate to why punk, alternative people, were into his writing and appreciate him and his outlaw attitude, so I guess they thought he was a sort of anarchist.
BRAD: It’s just being real.
LINDA: I know, I know, saying it like it is and being raw.
GARY: How about one more question?
LINDA: Of course.
GARY: We’d like to end the interview with a positive memory. What is one of the highlights of your life with Charles Bukowski?
LINDA: Meeting him, being with him. You see, to me, before Hank is a writer, he’s a man. Then he’s obviously a great writer, and then there’s all the mythology, myth, legend, stories, and scandals, but I think of him being the man, the soul-mate in life, and everything that happened was significant. I think the most meaningful thing probably in both of us, if I could speak for him, was enduring, relating to each other, two human beings living as, as closely as two people can as husband and wife.
GARY: How did you deal with enduring with each other?
LINDA: When you’re married it’s not a little kiddie game. All the people I know that got married in college or their twenties—they’re all divorced, every single one of them. I just don’t think they had the moxy. Hank would use that word, meaning to endure what you need to go through to find out what the truth is, what love is, through the mirror of your mate. You have to go through hell states at times, and if you can’t do that, it’s not real. No marriage or relationship is perfect. Nobody walks through life just on a high the whole time.
GARY: Thank you, thank you. You’re awesome. We love you. (She laughs). That wasn’t too painful, was it Linda?
LINDA: Well, yeah, I’m beginning to like it.
GARY: Let’s go on then.
BRAD: Hank often wrote about writers previous to him, and the respect he had for them. Were there any contemporary writers that he respected or considered his peers?
LINDA: Hmm, let me think for a minute on that one. (Drinks a pina colada). This is how few there were, because I actually have to think about it. Living writers?
LINDA: He would read one poem for a few lines and he would say, “That’s pretty good,” but as far as living writers—this is really tough.
BRAD: It’s like the living dead out there.
LINDA: He did not like Kerouac. He did not like any of the beat crowd. They were not his people. He thought they were putting on a whole damn show, and well, they were. I was raised in that generation and I could understand it, but Hank, I mean he came from the classics. He’d read every book in every library.
GARY: We were curious if Bukowski had named any of the cats and what were the names of his cats?
LINDA: He didn’t name them. I did. He let me name them.
BRAD: What are the names of Bukowski’s cats?
LINDA: This is pathetic. Well, most of the cats that were alive when Hank was here are gone. The two that were here when Hank was here are Beauty and Butch. [Butch] came from Carlton Way. Now he, I think he might have named him or Sam the Whorehouse Man.
GARY: I think he even mentioned him in a poem.
LINDA: He’s in Women. He’s the cat that Hank opens the can of tuna fish for.
LINDA: I mean, it’s like, hey, so who were Bukowski’s friends? His cats.
BRAD: There you go.
GARY: You can kick us out anytime you want.
LINDA: Not yet, not yet.
BRAD: On the Barbet Schroeder tapes Hank is seen kicking you while you’re sitting on the couch. Was that real?
LINDA: That was real. That happened. That was really scary.
BRAD: So that wasn’t put on for the camera?
LINDA: No, that was Hank after about seven bottles of wine. He’d been interviewing all day outside and then we came in and we ate and we drank and it was this long ordeal.
GARY: You could see it in his eyes.
LINDA: He was blasted, and it just got to where he was getting fed up with being in this scene that was happening and I did become the scapegoat of that night. It was treacherous, but it changed my life. I was always shy to the extreme and I never really got to emerge in the back and forth banter, because he’s so verbally articulate. I mean, he can crush you to little tiny pieces of dust with his words, make you feel as nothing. He’s so good I couldn’t get near that, and I knew it, but that night he came off so insanely and so absurdly and here we were on camera and I was just dying. The camera was rolling, and the camera had a little bit to do with the fact that he hopped it up.
Ever since that time our arguments were different. When we’d get into blazing arguments after drinking at night, and you know we’d get into it, I stood up for myself. I would say: Okay, I’m going to go upstairs right now and I’m going to sleep and I’m not going to listen to your bullshit. You sit down and scream at the fucking wall!
When he shoved me off the couch, that was the only time he ever did any abusive physical thing with me. That happened right were you’re sitting.
GARY: Did he ever slam the door on somebody’s foot?
LINDA: Yeah, he slammed the door on many people, many people, because they’d get in there. They’d get their little feet in there, literally, physically. They think they’re going to be little Bukowskis.
GARY: Do you know how many books in total, in all languages, that have been published?
LINDA: Not a clue. I don’t think anybody on Earth knows that. Oh, not a clue.
GARY: I’ve heard that it’s over fifteen million worldwide.
LINDA: You mean sold, right?
LINDA: Over the years it’s very possible, all the books, all the translations, it’s possible. That’s a lot.
BRAD: That’s a lot of books for somebody the critics just don’t like.