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Style & Culture

The Bukowski tour

May 23, 2004|John Dullaghan | Special to the Times

Thomas Schmitt, a young German documentary maker, visited Bukowski here in 1976. He stayed at a motel up the street from Bukowski and remembers: "I was awakened in the middle of the night by a pimp trying to drown one of his girls in the swimming pool. He was yelling and screaming at her to give him his money, pushing her head into the water. This seemed very much like the Bukowski kind of environment I had always imagined."

San Pedro

In 1978, Bukowski was ready to move out of the East Hollywood courts. He and Linda Lee chose a house in the working-class community of San Pedro, where he would be far enough away from the old distractions, could lead a quieter life and concentrate on his writing.

Here Bukowski would marry Linda Lee in 1985 and adopt a health-food regimen. His writing output would explode (especially after the arrival of an Apple Macintosh in 1990), and he would create some of his greatest work, including six volumes of poetry and the novels "Ham on Rye," "Hollywood" and "Pulp." The screenplay for "Barfly" was also written here.

By this time, he had become an international celebrity, with fans and journalists seeking him out from around the world. He lived in a comfortable home, with a swimming pool and Jacuzzi. But his writing remained as edgy and forceful as ever.

Contrary to popular legend, Bukowski did not tear up the bars of San Pedro. Instead, the folks at the carwash, health-food store and local restaurants remembered him as a quiet, gentle and kind old man -- more of a grandfather figure than the legendary "dirty old man."

According to Linda Lee Bukowski, he evolved throughout his last years in San Pedro. "He didn't have to live up to the hard-drinking, womanizing Bukowski myth. He became more comfortable in himself, and discovered he could be a source of goodness." Eventually, he even curtailed his famous drinking considerably.

In March 1993, Bukowski contracted leukemia, succumbing to the disease a year later. During this time, he underwent chemotherapy treatments, stopped drinking and, when in remission, discovered meditation, which he practiced daily. Recalls Linda Lee Bukowski: "It was so courageous of him to go there, because he hadn't in all those years. He was able to experience a kind of peaceful acceptance -- it was so beautiful that he was finally able to do that in his life."

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