I ate last week at Fred 62 in Los Feliz. Apparently the place was designed by two guys both named Fred, both born in 1962 – which seems as good an explanation as any. I like it there, it’s a kind of superior diner (not all THAT superior), hipsterish but not offensively so, with automotive-styled interior, car head-rests on the back of the seats in the booths, Cadillac tail lights for lamps. It’s the kind of place you go when you can’t think of anywhere else to go and you get exactly what you’re expecting, and you enjoy it. What more you want from a diner, superior or otherwise?
I’d always known there was a sandwich on the menu called The Charles Bukowski, but I’d never ordered it. In fact I didn’t even bother to investigate what kind of sandwich it was. I naively assumed it had to be ham on rye, because that’s the only food connection I could think of in relation to Bukowski. So this time I ordered it. It came looking like this:
Now, the first think to observe is that it’s not ham on rye: it’s grilled ham and melted cheddar cheese on sourdough. And that was fine by me. I actually think I like grilled ham and melted cheddar cheese on sourdough better than I like ham on rye – I think it’s got something to do with the melted cheddar cheese.
But I couldn’t help thinking that good ol’ Charles Bukowski would have been pretty snippy if he’d been presented with such an elegant, dainty little sandwich. He was bitching about the gentrification of his part of LA back in the eighties, so gawd knows what he’d make of it these days.
Fortunately I am not Charles Bukowski, and I thought the sandwich was perfectly good, though I wouldn’t have complained if it had been bigger. The thing in the little bowl is potato salad, which was actually more like cold mashed potato.
It seems that, like most serious drinkers, Bukowski didn’t care all that much about food. He did apparently go to the Sizzler on Hollywood Boulevard, some sources say often, some say just once, but either way that doesn’t suggest a highly refined palate. That Sizzler has now closed down. And sometimes he went to Musso and Frank, though often just to drink. I think that's where he is in the picture below - that looks like the Musso way of stacking bread - but I wouldn't swear to it.
We know from Ham on Rye that Bukowski, or at least his fictional alter ego Hank Chinaski, had a pretty rough childhood. Quite early in the book he’s had a whupping from his dad, and he’s still feeling the pain when he gets called in to dinner. He doesn’t want to eat:
“You’ll eat your FOOD!” said my father. “Your mother prepared this food!”
“Yes,” said my mother, “carrots and peas and roast beef.”
“And the mashed potatoes and gravy,” said my father.
“I’m not hungry.”
“You will eat every carrot, and pee on your plate!”
He was trying to be funny. That was one of his favorite remarks.
I don’t doubt that Bukowski had every right to hate his father, but somehow, in the middle of this argument, it does seem that dad is making the kind of joke a kid might be expected to enjoy, that might lighten the mood just a little. Certainly some of my most bitter fights with my dad took place over dinner, and he certainly never made any attempt to lighten the mood. Although, as in the book, I probably didn’t really want the mood to be lightened. I wanted to suffer and feel victimized, though Bukowski would no doubt have thought my childhood was completely pampered.
I haven’t been able to find a picture of Bukowski actually eating: there are obviously plenty of him drinking, as you see here. But there is the one above. I don’t know the whole story of what’s going on here. At first I thought that was a plate of food on the table, but in fact I now realize it's a huge ashtray. There's a jar with with something that looks vaguely edible in it. Olives? Pickles? In any case, Bukowski doesn’t seem very interested in it. Understandably in the circumstances, he may have had other things on his mind.