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A small improvement upon the truth, reading Charlene Rubinski


“”I would not be surprised at all if one of his last dying instructions of Bukowski’s was don’t publish the letters I sent Richmond!”

“It seemed Zelda had got Charlene to sign a contract with Black Marrow Press that gave Zelda sole right to publish Charlene’s next five books. To attempt to reconcile differences among the three of us, a meeting was called at Zelda’s office. I arrived first, then Charlene with a six-pack and several small paintings.”

3:AM: Yeah, Bukowski was always a little bit differential to Martin…I told him though, ‘Does he want the lint in your belly-button?’ he said, “Well, if he could sell it, he would take it.”

SR: Yeah, but look what he did for him? He really put him out there. Bukowski told me once…as I was attacking Martin, he said, “Well, he’s not much a human being, but he’s efficient.” Which means that, you know, exactly what it says.

“Zelda and Charlene did not want me to ruin it all. I had trouble figuring how a small letter book could hurt Zelda and Charlene. After all, Charlene had asked me for 20% royalties and I was set to pay for it.”

3:AM: Is that true?

SR: She actually asked me for 20% on the record, so I transposed, she never got around to asking me for anything on the book because they didn’t want me to do it…and everything she wrote to me in the letters, what I liked about the letters was it shows him totally in the light of helping a young unknown writer…everything he wrote in the letters practically was what he wrote elsewhere, ‘cause he wrote the same thing over and over…

3:AM: Yeah, but a lot of the things he wrote to you, they kept out, does not appear anywhere, and I quoted some of it.

SR: Yeah, I know it’s true. Well, they don’t…I would not be surprised at all if one of his last dying instructions of Bukowski’s was don’t publish the letters I sent Richmond!

“No wonder Charlene and Zelda are wealthy today. If I’d worn ear plugs and feigned deafness…if I’d had the two of them communicate with me by written note…I’d be RICH today too…and a good book of Charlene Rubinski’s great letters would exist that doesn’t exist.”

3:AM: I happen to agree with that. I don’t think you would be rich today…

SR: I know what it is like to be wealthy. It almost came a hair from killing me—I couldn’t control my vices.

3:AM: Why don’t we be honest about this: the basic thing is that you’ve written a lot of really fine poetry and it deserved to be published, I would say, I’d rather see it in City Lights…

SR: City Lights is, uh, if I had to pick a publisher, I’d pick City Lights.

[talking over each other about the other authors from City Lights]

3:AM: …they did Miller…

SR: …they did Norse…City Lights is better than New Directions.

3:AM: Now the bookstore is like a death place, it’s like a death trap for the would-be writer.

SR: It didn’t really die, but it died when they put in all those…30 years ago they started putting in all those topless bars. It used to have all Italian coffee-houses.

3:AM: There are still two of them up there. Now we have:

“I believe Harold just desired a two or three week affair with Charlene to write of it in his journals or diary.”

SR: Oh, that’s what’s-her-name, Katherine.

3:AM: You have “Harold” and “Hannah.”

SR: Harold Leopold.

“Hannah was gay with a wig. Charlene, Neelia, and myself would mock Hannah for her false hair…behind Hannah’s back and out of earshot. Hannah had manuscripts scattered about her flat and posters of Plath on her walls.”

3:AM: Who did he have on his walls?

SR: Rimbaud, just one. He didn’t have any posters of Plath, but he mentioned her, that’s where I first heard her name. I had a lot of respect for Norse’s work and the guy, he didn’t go into any of that for the money. That’s what was Bukowski’s huge conflict…look what it did to him?

3:AM: “Hotel Suckery.” [Hotel Nirvana] It says:

“Neelia hadn’t yet gone to ‘Frisco to become a dyke herself. Charlene was probably too drunk by this time to care. She all of a sudden leaned her head out the car window and covered Randy’s bare feet with a half-gallon of vomit.”

3:AM: Do you remember that?

SR: She leaned out of the car, we were going over to Norse’s. We were at the candle-shop, and she leaned out and threw-up. She didn’t throw up on anybody’s feet…what do you call that? Embellishment.

3:AM: Remember The Randy Tar? Some kind of a bar or something.

SR: Yeah, we went there about 50 times.

3:AM: What was that like?

SR: It was a club in the Marina. It was a place to go drink and I knew the musicians. Molly Ramay took me there…

3:AM: Who is Molly Ramay?

SR: Her father was someone big in Hollywood, I don’t know, she was one of the people I knew, we were just a bunch of drug addicts.

3:AM: Yeah, you took me there one time, because I thought of it because you had the name Randy in there and I remember it was somewhere around here.

SR: It’s right around here… I doubt if it’s called The Randy Tar anymore.

3:AM: So when you wrote this piece, it came out twice, right?

SR: Yeah, I printed up 100 copies, maybe more, and I sent them out all over the place. And then a magazine called Nausea, edited by Leo Mailman, he was a poet, I sent him a copy and he put it in one of the issues. He published it as half an issue, the other half was poems by a fella, I can’t remember his name.

3:AM: Good, so there are two versions of it: the first one you did for Stance 5, it was published in 1980 or something like that, and you sent a copy to Bukowski, did he call you back?

SR: No, but I just saw a reference, he said, “Never cross Richmond.” He either dug you, or…he’d never say anything bad about you…

3:AM: Did he mention it at his wedding?

SR: You know when he mentioned it? He mentioned it, like he’d mention Neely: the 9th greatest woman poet in the United States. Charlene Rubinski is kinda one of his little creative asides. He couldn’t be fazed, this guy’s a mountain; I was the molehill, he was the mountain. Which is fine, it’s the way I wanted it. He’s still going.

3:AM: It’s true, I saw him on Gossip Girls. Bukowski was mentioned on Gossip Girls as a literary killer. Ok, so what was the response you got to this? I assume the one person who wouldn’t want this would be John Martin.

SR: I was mad at him. Because Martin, he wouldn’t have published one poem of Bukowski’s if it didn’t sell. Bukowski could’ve wrote every word he ever wrote, Martin was more into [Robert] Kelly and [Clayton] Eshelman, he’d publish Eshelman before he’d publish Bukowski, and Kelly…he wanted to be elite. I read in this article, some Eastern literary publication did an interview with Martin, and he wants to be an elite, which means he isn’t an elite.

3:AM: Did John Thomas read this? Did you have much of a relationship with him?

SR: We’d see each other once in awhile; it was always “Hey, how are ya?” He came to my reading at KPFK once…he had on this whole camouflage, like one of Castro’s guerrillas…he was crazy, but he didn’t act…

3:AM: He acted dangerous, like he was just about ready to punch you in the head…

SR: He had a soft spot for me, and he was Bukowski’s connection, where Bukowski got his speed, you know.

3:AM: I was there one day when John Thomas was at Bukowski’s house, where this German crew was there filming Bukowski, and Bukowski was making some kind of a tribute to John Thomas’ work. It was really quite nice…but it just never seemed to do him any good. He was really self-destructive.

SR: God, he ballooned up to about 400 pounds and was clapped in jail and died…Thomas his poems, his poetry, like we said, are not easily accessible.

3:AM: Well, he wrote this one great poem about a Zen master who basically lived up in a mountain in China someplace, and when people tried to see him, he threw them off the mountain and stuff like that it was really a scary poem, full of rage and hatred. That one I heard him read that at Lawrence Lipton’s house, I thought ‘Man, that is a great poem!’ I said, ‘That’s a tremendous poem,’ he just pushed me away and said, “Get outta my way.” [laughing]

SR: He was a bear. I was walking one way on the alley in the Speedway in Venice, and he’s walking the other and he asked me a question, he looked ok, he…

3:AM: Well, he was in jail, he was in prison, died in prison.

SR: Yeah, the least prestige you have in jail is if you’re in for child molestation.

3:AM: Yeah, that’s what he was there for.

SR: So the 12 prisoners just let him lay there and die.

3:AM: That’s what they said. Did you see that article they had, I guess it was in the L.A. Weekly. I think a lot of people think the L.A. Weekly killed him, ‘cause they wrote all this stuff before he died first, at least that was what I was told by Jay Kugelman. Do you know Jay Kugleman?

SR: No.

3:AM: He’s at KPFK, he’s been doing plug work for years. When my book came out he did an hour or so. So kinda weird, huh?

SR: I liked Thomas. We were at the collating party after number two…nah it was a different time, we were there to shoot 50 poems for the L.A. Poets Anthology. Neely was there with his father and Sam Cherie was going to take the photograph, everyone was at Lockland and we all sat out on the church steps, the church down three or four doors from Bukowski’s pad. But I remember asking Thomas about it, he had an upper, he said “That’s for jellyfish.” [laughing]

3:AM: Well, his wife at the time, Rosie, was a pharmacist, so he could get anything. Bukowski told me – I got this on tape – about how he had this jar filled with pills.

[Interview transcribed by Lisa Zucker & © Ben Pleasants 2009]


Ben Pleasants is a writer and the author of Visceral Bukowski: Inside the Sniper Landscape of L.A. Writers. You can find more of Ben’s work here and ‘American Rimbaud’, part one of Ben’s interview with Steve Richmond, on 3:AM here.

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First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, May 11th, 2009.