A Cynic’s Shit Colored Glasses (Sorry, Buk)

When I was young and more naive than now, Bukowski really resonated. And sometimes now he still does. They say with propaganda, the reason it works is cause there’s enough truth in it to lay a foundation to pile the rest of the bullshit on.

There’s greed and avarice and shittiness in people. There’s reason for nihilism or cynicism or however you wanna label having an overall shitty/pessimistic view of existence. But if you look close enough – if you get outta the basement and off the cum stained couch playing video games or out of a bar or an office with a typewriter and radio and bottle of wine – you might see that people aren’t all bad. That they struggle with their shittiness to triumph as compassionate, though flawed (sometimes deeply), parents and citizens and co-workers. I don’t necessarily like admitting that cause I’ve learned that cynicism, like chewing tobacco or cigarettes or cheap beer, can become an acquired or accustomed taste. And once your tastebuds get saturated with all that tobacco scum, you become used to the taste of all things tainted that way.

There’s narcissism and jealous and greed and resentment. But these people, sometimes they sacrifice. Life attempts to grind ’em down and at the end of it, most don’t murder or rape or steal. Sure, they might cheat on their taxes a bit and be envious and a bit jealous and lazy, but most don’t slit their children’s throats. They watch Netflix or take grandkids to Spongebob Live or professional wrestling. They do bullshit work and stay on track so their kids might have a better life and/or to provide themselves with a bit of delayed pleasure or gratification. To provide themselves and others a life better than the gutter. We might rage against those who aggrieve us while driving but we mostly rage with slurs, not guns. We redirect the animosity felt toward a boss who makes our jobs less than what they could be – we redirect that ire from him to our political enemies with slander and rhetoric, which aren’t great but better than bombs or gas chambers. And sure there might be some anger directed toward the man with more freedom. But you got your freedom, so fuck it. Let the haters hate. Let the atheist have his reason while the theist has his God. Let them have Big Bang Theory while you got Knut Hamsun. Don’t shit on the other one just to make yourself feel better. It’s a pint of piss either way.  Whether it’s draught (not draft) or can or bottle or room temp or ice cold in a frosty mug, it’s all just piss, ultimately.

We retreat into fantasy worlds where we’re the hero for rejecting such a shitty bourgeois culture. We retreat into propaganda that tells us that women’s values and the culture as a whole is a cesspool since none of those women want to fuck us. But they want to fuck others, just not us….so that must make them the dupes. And as the non-dupe, we’re woke (i.e. the hero). That must make the man who’s content mowing his lawn the dupe too, but not me – who can’t stand mowing the fucking grass. There’s no way of glorifying the bourgeois because it’s the norm. It’s to be rebelled against. Rebellion is edgy. Plus, it must be Marx condemning me from the grave with my tire’s slow leak, a just punishment against a bourgeois apologist. Don’t wanna piss off the poltergeist of Marx! Rebellion and revolution and pushing boundaries is what art’s all about…rebellion against disco and Andy Williams mighta spawned the progression of punk (though it was arguably equivalent to disco in terms of faddishness). Or however you wanna explain Abstract Expressionism, it was unquestionably edgy for its time. Edgy like Burroughs and Ginsberg and even Bukowski were in their time.

As I recall, Buk said a lot of about dealing with reality and not making things all perfumery or whatnot. Well, decency is reality. Framing acts of decency and humility as ultimately selfish fits the counter-narrative nicely but that’s the thing of politicians, not artists. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s a necessary condition of the artist who’s necessarily not that much unlike the politician. It’s all a form of persuasion through rhetorical device.

Buk’s got a poem about the bluebird or songbird in his heart. That it’s a part of him that wants to sing but he won’t let it. If we are honest, we explore that. We question seriously what that boundary is that keeps it suppressed. And is that semi-conscious/semi-willful suppression keeping us from seeing part of the world the way it really is? That keeps us seeing the world through the spectrum of the opposite of John Conlee’s Rose Colored Glasses? Whatever the taint, we shouldn’t dismiss or deny it. Isn’t that part of being an artist? Exploring all things and trying to get through or around the obstacles to seeing things, including ourselves, how they really are? How do you claim to be genuine when, at the same time, you deny a chunk of what you really are? But it doesn’t fit the creation or caricature. A surly and bitter old man can’t risk the career by being softened even though that part of himself that begs for it is as much a part of himself as his bitterness (in terms of existence, not necessarily in quantity) is. But we focus and harness and cultivate the one aspect out of what? Laziness? Knowing that (or easing into the understanding) that there’s a market for the art of misanthropy? Not unlike the Abstract Expressionists who incrementally pushed the boundaries against traditional representation, form….whatever…..as they came to understand there was at least a momentary appetite for their stuff? And they were clever, maybe even daring enough, to ride the wave to attention.

Maybe that’s why the academics ignore him. Maybe it’s far too trite since shitting all over bourgeois culture and glorifying the downtrodden is the adolescent fodder of comic book or romance novel narratives. But it’s okay. It just means you’re false just like me and everybody else.

Some days, like today, I get really cynical. They say Proust laid in bed for 13 years writing his masterpiece…..a masterpiece of memory and detail. But isn’t that just what the artist does – embellish what he has? Glorify and romanticize what he has in his heart and mind? Romanticizing memory and detail into a virtue since you’re stuck in bed and can’t fuck or get drunk and go to a concert? In more colloquial terms, it’s called “making a mountain out of a molehill”. Or, like Buk, romanticize his misanthropy. See, the non-artist sits on his couch, jerking off and playing video games and drinking Red Bull or some shit. But he’s not an artist, so he doesn’t necessarily try to romanticize it. He needs someone to come along and romanticize it for him. To show him that his existence is far more than what it really is. Far more than what much of anybody else understands. Anybody else but him and the artist who writes about it and the handful of others who get it. Only the artist can articulate the feeling of his quasi-warriorhood as he blasts through enemies with plasma pistols. Only the artists can adequately describe the sublimity of the triumph of beating the final boss in Heroic mode, first time through without even losing a life. The artist captures the glory of that feeling, a feeling better than perhaps orgasm. And the even more clever artist learns to extol the virtue of the principles involved in such a solitary and benign existence, be that video games in the basement or all that you’re left with while writing in a bed. Or, rather than the sublime of the ordinary, conversely, the artists glorifies the carnality of fucking and boozing. Either way, it’s their glorification of what they and you are or what you’ve allowed yourself to become. Are you a lifeless loser playing Halo Infinite or wasting your life in a room staring at walls (instead of stuck in bed) rather than out fucking or boozing? Or are you a lifeless loser with no job or money? With nothing but a room and a bottle so you craft a narrative of grandiosity to that bottle and that lifestyle. There’s something to suit everyone, whether it’s Proust or Buk or Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen or Joni Mitchell or the Grateful Dead or The Sex Pistols or Captain and Tennille.


I hate throwing you under the bus like this, old man. You helped me get through many a day in decades past. But the stank and taste of those Marlboro Blacks have finally gotten old and I realize I can’t climb a flight of stairs without losing my breath. And I’m tired of being the deadbeat that can’t climb those stairs cause he’s too lazy and stupid to put down a cigarette and ever go for a fucking walk instead. Or even worse, cause I’ve learned to glamorize chain smoking, arguing (poeticizing) that it takes will and fortitude to continue to fuck yourself over even as your body cries, “no more.” Honestly, that seems the stuff of an utter fool. Instead, I’m gonna try tasting a steak and banana without it and maybe spray myself with some Axe instead of going around like a squished out butt. I’m interested in trying all that on for a while. And I’m gonna savor a real fucking steak, not some White Castle bullshit, cause I’ve earned that steak and I’m not gonna feel bad or apologize for it. Or listen to anybody who tells me that it’s petty. I know it’s petty. Fuck you. I’m gonna enjoy that fucking steak anyway and let the hens cackle their anti-bourgeois bullshit among themselves inside their chicken wire fence. But I’m not gonna turn around and write a poem about it either, glorifying its tenderness or the savoriness of the au jus or dwell over how to cleverly describe how well the horseradish compliments it. I’m just going to enjoy it for what it is – a petty reward for playing by the rules. Rules that are boring and lead to petty rewards, not an endless stream of unmitigated pleasure. Petty rewards like satisfying a kid with the birthday or Christmas gift they really want cause you can afford it. Petty reward like heated leather seats rather than unheated synthetic. Petty rewards like taking a poor and disabled friend to see a guitar player he never got to see. Being able to do it cause you can afford the tickets and the cost to park. And you can give the two of you a better meal than he gets in the nursing home every day cause you’ve played by the boring old bourgeois rules. Providing that experience that we’ll remember for years cause I made it happen instead of sitting at home alone with a boring bottle of booze (yes, I’ve done that before too and it was truly boring).

I’m a prick who can be cynical or nihilistic but I can’t deny some desire to forgive and I’ll accept them both no matter the hypocritical asshole it makes me. And I won’t deny the pettiness and shittiness of the masses, including myself, while also acknowledging some of their virtue, like my friend Johnny who rationed cheese and a daily hotdog for a week (maybe more) to give a crippled boy $20 for his birthday. Or the more grand examples of a pedestrian sacrificing his own life to save another. It happens. People donate kidneys. Shit like that. It really exists. And whether it’s those or giving to charity, somehow it balances out with our pettiness to make most of us okay. Sometimes, individually and collectively, we shine while other times we reek of decay. Those extremes balance out too. We’re not great but not deplorable either. Just okay. People on the whole aren’t monsters of greed and avarice and jealously. They are that (which, such a monochromatic portrayal is, in itself, romanticized) but mostly they’re just okay. But okay doesn’t sell. Shit.

This is the problem with being dumb and thinking/writing out loud. I don’t know shit about Proust, really. Somebody slightly more scholarly can come along and easily eviscerate my analysis of Proust, justifiably. But I’ll take it cause without giving this shit form…without acknowledging these ideas and beliefs and trying to get them to fit, then they never will. And if not congealing into a whole, then at least into parts onto which others might find a fit later. That’s the only hope, anyway.

It’s been a rough day. I can be nihilistic and cynical at times. Today I turn that cynicism toward the cynics and decide to give a bit of a break to everybody else.

Anyway, fuck Black Sparrow Press for now. I’m going with Hee Haw for a dose of truth and then on down to Market Street Grille for the Saturday prime rib special. Enjoy, and I’ll try to too.

These rose colored glasses

that I’m looking through

show only the beauty

cause they hide all the truth

– John Conlee

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