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September 21, 2005

If you're thinking about visiting Charles Bukowski's childhood home, don't.

You will make the current resident very upset. I know this because I did.

If it's really that important to you, write first asking permission to visit and/or
to take photographs. If he says no (as he probably will), respect his wish.

Chancing to be in L.A. and knowing the address from various published sources,
I went in search of Bukowski's childhood home (which he himself was only too
eager to escape due to the suffering he endured there) in order to get a more
physical sense of the places described in so much of his writing. The streets
there are wide, the houses neat and trim, the lawns all seemingly manicured
with the same meticulous attention demanded of Bukowski by his abusive father
70 years ago. After asking directions a few times, I parked the rented car across
the street and shot a quick movie. Just as I finished, the homeowner stormed up
his driveway (I hadn't noticed him previously) and came quickly across the street
where he loomed over me. I had to squint and shield my eyes to look at him, the
noon sun blazing over his head with a fury to match his. What gave me the right
to invade his privacy? Why hadn't I asked permission? What would I do if he came
and took pictures of my house? You'd call the police! This went on for something
like ten minutes. A famous writer lived here, I lamely explained. My favorite writer...
(as if that mattered to him). I know--Charles Bukowski. The first time this happened,
I looked him up in the library. This has been going on for 9 years. People come from
as far as Japan. I'm sick of this. Just get away from my house, man.
I felt really bad.

In the end, I hardly had a chance to look at the house or meditate on the surroundings.
Poor me. But it did set me thinking all day long--and I still haven't shaken the feeling--
about how casually I photograph this or that without ever thinking what it means to
the people on the other end of the lens. That guy really got to me and I still feel like shit.