HARLES BUKOWSKI, the “Poet Laureate of Skid Row” had humble beginnings. He was born Charles Brown, aka Charlie. His parents were somewhat cold and distant. They talked in odd muted trumpet-like voices that were unintelligible to almost everyone. As a young adult, in an effort to put his conflictual relationship with his parents behind him, he changed his last name to Bukowski.
The trajectory of Charlie Bukowski’s life from being a melancholy pessimistic boy to alcoholic, whore-loving misanthrope can be said to start with his friendship with Bobby “Pigpen” Jones. Charlie first met Pigpen while lying flat on his back after a football “mishap.” Pigpen was a dirty, ostracized young boy. And while many may have seen Charlie’s other childhood friend, Linus Fitzgerald, as a great influence in his early life, it would be Pigpen that Charlie referred to in an interview when he stated: “He helped me get off my back that day with a dusty hand. And the grit of that dust was etched forever into my flesh.” Pigpen would come to represent an almost zenlike, careless disregard to anything wholesome and clean which Charlie came to emulate.
Clearly, though, one of the main themes in Charlie Bukowski’s life was his conflictual relationship with women. He was married several times. But once his writing career began to gain some traction, he took to one night stands and love affairs. Charlie detailed many of these trysts in his book Women: Always Leaving Me Flat on My Back. More than one biographer has drawn a rather clear line through all the females that Charlie took up with. That line begins with the Little Red-Haired Girl, an elusive femme fatale who plagued Charlie’s listless and insulated childhood. He drew up a near-obsessive focus on this young woman who “never once noticed even the single greasy strand of hair on my prematurely balding head.” This line ends with Pamela O’Brien (aka “Cupcakes” due to her buxom nature) a redheaded single mother. Charlie tried to recreate this fantasy woman in every relationship right up to Cupcakes. When Cupcakes painfully left him for Linus Fitzgerald, Charlie “swore off of f***** red heads for the rest of my life.”
Noted literature critic, Michael McCall, after culling through all sixty of Charlie’s published books, also notes the reoccurring theme of footballs (and especially their connection to devious women) in Charlie’s writing. Footballs show up through-out the poetry collections: Dangling in Midair Before Falling, Slouching Toward the End Zone and Pigskin Ballet. Maybe more so than the Little Red-Haired Girl did a girl named Lucy (thought to be a pseudonym) seem to affect Charlie’s life. The image of this girl, in particular, snatching away the infamous footballs (perhaps a metaphor for sobriety) reoccurs numerous times throughout his work. Lucy also showed up as a figure in the dreamlike short story “The Devil Is Lucy,” in which she tries to counsel a morose young boy in a pretend game of psychologist. Her final refrain: “You are a loser, Charlie Brown” could easily have been a summation of this man’s life. This theme, however, becomes most obvious in the epitaph on his tombstone. Below the phrase “Don’t Try” is the inscription, “Here I lie flat on my back, staring skyward, just as I did so many times when the football was taken away. I think I’ll just stay put now.”