I’ve been to Southern California many times, and yet, I’ve never quite seen the Los Angeles that I wanted to. As a book nerd, I’ve always dreamt of doing a book tour, visiting famous literary sites. But Los Angeles County feels unwieldy. However, on this last trip, I lucked out. I stayed in downtown Los Angeles proper, with my friend, Erin Eyesore (check out her post-punk feminist radio show, erineyesore.tumblr.com). While she attended a conference for work, I did some sight-seeing. First on the list, The Last Bookstore which I’ve seen photos of on friends’ Instagram feeds. We were staying just blocks away from this heavenly place. It’s like the Cemetery of Forgotten Books in The Shadow of the Wind by Arturo Perez Reverte—you enter a noir bookstore, a space selling books in another realm, a fictional place that you wish existed—touching things seems unreasonable because they will flitter away in smoke because they exist in another dimension. But the labyrinth you wander is real and if you go on a slow day, which I did, you find yourself in mazes all alone, which of course, makes things more surreal.
I became a Bukowski fan at the ripe age of 18, and in the past few years, as I’ve matured, I wondered, would I still love the old Buk’s writing? Was the novelty of reading Notes of a Dirty Old Man tired as an older reader? As a more pronounced feminist? The answer is no. He’s problematic, yes, but I still love his writing. And so, I followed him around. My mini Hank Chinaski pilgrimage began with King Eddy Saloon, which still felt like a dive bar I’d frequent if I lived in the neighborhood. Sticky floors, empty spaces devoid of unnecessary decorations. A bar in the middle, pronouncing the importance of procuring liquor from every corner of the room.
We stayed with Erin’s friends, who disagreed on whether or not the King Eddy Saloon was actually frequented by Bukowski. People that work there swear that he used to go there (so the internet tells me). Erin’s friend argued that the saloon was one of the first places in LA to have a liquor license, so of course Bukowski would have gone there.
The next day I visited the Los Angeles Public Library, where Bukowski was known to frequent. I didn’t know where to go, so I wandered around, found the John Fante section and imagined these were the exact copies he read and that they were on the same shelves he pulled the books from. I realize how inaccurate it was, but allow me my fantasies.
As I left the library, I discovered I walked past the John Fante Square to get to the library, so I took a snapshot.
After visiting and shopping alone at The Last Bookstore, I went back with Erin after the conference ended. She generously took photos of me in all the photo-opp backdrops lovingly created by the The Last Bookstore staff.
There’s a bar every SoCal local seems to know, called the Dresden. That was our destination, but I looked, and the Bukowski murals I wanted to visit were not even a block away. And so, Erin indulged me and took more touristy photos, in front of these murals at night, with locals walking by, cars driving by, and Erin stepping in and around parked cars to get the right angle. I generally don’t take a lot of photos of myself, but stick me in front of something paying homage to a dead writer, and I shove my phone in someone’s hand and say, “take my picture!”
The next night we stayed in Hollywood and when we left the hotel in the morning, we rolled our little suitcases over to one of the many residences that Charles Bukowski lived at, his bungalow at 5124 De Longpre Avenue. I was ecstatic. We were late meeting a friend because time flew by, taking photos, looking around, taking it all in. What was there to take in? A building with a small plaque on it, a chain link fence to keep out lookie-lou’s (ahem, me), a tree, and a mattress. It felt so appropro. It’s hard to describe why I wanted to go—it simultaneously makes sense and no sense. He’s not there, and he didn’t leave anything behind there, so there’s nothing to see. And yet, it felt right to pay a visit, to take it all in, think about him where he used to live, and show some respect to a man who would have likely thrown an empty bottle at me if he saw me near his lawn.
This trip wasn’t intended to revolve around Bukowski, but somehow, all the things I wanted to see were within walking distances of places we stayed or were already going to. Touring based on literary history is a fun way to explore cities and neighborhoods. And it’s a way to reflect on the authors that have affected and influenced you. Those books reflect who you were and part of who you are. Even if you don’t like a book you’ve read, you’ve ingested it, and it’s become a part of you, to embrace, reject, or question.
Next authors to explore in Los Angeles? Joan Didion and Bret Easton Ellis.