Few things are as endlessly entertaining as depictions of Philadelphia in pop culture, which is why we're launching The 19102 Review, a new column devoted to Philly books.
Notes of a Dirty Old Man
Essays, 1969, City Lights, 204 pp.
Off and on between 1942 and 1947, Charles Bukowski, poet laureate of the slums, resided in Philly. During this time, he worked several odd jobs, spent 17 days in Moyamensing Prison for draft evasion and got very drunk (obviously). Tales of his time here make up some of Notes of a Dirty Old Man, a collection of articles written for Open City, an underground L.A. newspaper in the late ’60s.
It’s clear from these stories that Bukowski very much enjoyed his stay. Although he was “retired” from writing during these years, he gathered a lot of content for down the road. Several pieces involve him hanging out and getting in trouble at a perpetually raucous bar on 17th and Fairmount, some of which would end up in his screenplay for Barfly. The best Philly tale is about losing his virginity to a “300-pound whore,” breaking all four legs of his bed in the process. (According to his recollection, he’s so good that she doesn’t even ask for any money.)
The rest of the book is Bukowski writing about what he knows best: horse races, drinking and horrible people (himself included). Notes of a Dirty Old Man might not be a good place to start for newbies to The Buk, but for diehards, it’s just another piece of the beautiful, wretched puzzle that was Charles Bukowski, filled with classic moments and brilliant caveats like this excerpted one: “According to my figures I’ve only had 2,500 pieces of ass but I’ve watched 12,500 horse races, and if I have any advice to anybody it’s this: Take up watercolor painting.”
If you have a book that'd be perfect for The 19102 Review (the dustier, the better), email ten.repapytic@gylime, or just drop it in the mail it to Emily Guendelsberger at Philadelphia City Paper, 30 S. 15th St., 14th floor, 19102.