n. the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet—a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds—an emotional afterimage that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are so conspicuously absent they glow like neon signs.
In 1969, publisher John Martin offered to pay Charles Bukowski $100 each and every month for the rest of his life, on one condition: that he quit his job at the post office and become a writer. 49-year-old Bukowski did just that, and in 1971 his first novel, Post Office, was published by Martin’s Black Sparrow Press.
15 years later, Bukowski wrote the following letter to Martin and spoke of his joy at having escaped full time employment.
Thanks for the good letter. I don’t think it hurts, sometimes, to remember where you came from. You know the places where I came from. Even the people who try to write about that or make films about it, they don’t get it right. They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s OVERTIME and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place.
You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”
And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.
As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?
Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: “Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don’t you realize that?”
They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn’t want to enter their minds.
Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:
“I put in 35 years…”
“It ain’t right…”
“I don’t know what to do…”
They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?
I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I’m here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I’ve found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.
I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”
One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.
So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.
To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.
College authorities that had so far refused to take either our complaints on the chick chart seriously or had found the vandalism of college property by their students a matter of any serious concern, were now jolted into prompt action by the newspaper reports. Except that in line with the sexist philosophy permeating the institution the action was directed against the women students; especially those amongst us who had been consistently speaking out on the issue. Dr. Hala and Mr. Dwivedi had been unanimous in directing their ire at us for daring to speak to ‘outsiders’ about college issues that they described as ‘family matters’. Patriarchy was in full damage control. Section 144 was imposed within the campus forbidding any meetings or even groups of students to assemble. We were ordered to keep our mouths shut to ‘outsiders’. And our fellow male students, in two and threes took it upon themselves to shadow the more ‘troublesome’ elements amongst the women including me to insure that we behaved ourselves, did not speak or meet or conspire to further bring down the ‘reputation’ of ‘their’ esteemed college. And just to make sure that we were truly terrorized into submissive silence they would keep muttering as they followed us around, the words that had been emblazoned upon the driveway of the college they professed to love so much –“Fuck off!”
Take Off Your Clothes,acrylic on hanji, 3.11 x 6.04, 2010
The North Korean painter Song Byeok began his career as an official propaganda artist, painting posters exalting the glory of Kim Jong Il. One day in 2000, everything changed for Song when he and his father attempted to cross a river into China to buy rice for their family. Song’s father was swept away and drowned while he — despite his connections with the regime — was arrested and spent six months in a prison camp.
A short time later, Song escaped the country and defected to South Korea, where he went on to attend university and study art. Today, the 44-year-old has earned acclaim in his second career, painting subversive and often hilarious satires of North Korean life and politics.
From April 13-20, an exhibition of Song’s work will be held at the Dunes gallery in Washington. The artist spoke by phone with FP from his home in Seoul about his work and hopes for North Korea’s future.
Drink. Smoke. Work.
Mad Men illustrated by Katie Kirk
40 years and counting: Justice for Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace. Decades of isolation in Louisiana state prisons must end
“I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body; and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye and sense of touch as scars upon the flesh; because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore the more I denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay.”
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