So, for that matter, does Mallory. His poetry can be lusty ("I'd like to be your washer / you & me / a permanent press") and his performances wild; hosting at Alta and the Gypsy Den in Santa Ana, he was known to shout improvisations, even smash dinnerware to climax his poems.
Still, Mallory shows a dapper streak. A Santa Ana College professor until his retirement last year, he often wore a coat and dress shirt to readings amid a crowd of T-shirted poets. When the Newport Beach Independent profiled him two years ago, it dubbed him "the Grandfather of Poetry in Orange County." He represents a link to poetry's past, in more ways than one.
Bukowski is talking and puking in his kitchen sink. He's made the rounds of most all the women but had no luck because most of them are married. For the unmarried his approach is simple and direct. "How 'bout it baby? Let's go do it." But even so, they don't get pissed because he's always got that smile and that funny tone in his voice that maybe says he's not being altogether serious. But he is. The men he treats differently. He's a host. He's an aggressor. It seems that the better he knows a guy the more viciously he tests him.
Back to that word: "Wistful."
One of Mallory's favorite photos shows him standing next to Bukowski on a Southern California street in the early 1970s. Bukowski, on the left, squints into the camera with cigarette in mouth, one hand in his pocket and the other clutching a stack of papers. To his right, Mallory beams with his hands on his hips, looking like a disciple giddy to be beside the master.
That was the relationship the two of them enjoyed at their best. Other times, the king of confrontation reared his head. Mallory recounts a night he stayed up late at Bukowski's apartment and made a comment that the poet was drinking too much, that his behavior was self-destructive. Bukowski leaned in closely, summoned his cold stare and told Mallory not to bring up the topic again.
"I said, 'You're killing yourself,'" Mallory recalls. "He said, 'I know.'"
Months later, at a post-New Year's party at Bukowski's home, the tension between them almost erupted. In Mallory's recollection, some of the other guests were chiding Bukowski for still having a Christmas tree, and the flustered poet grabbed the tree and threatened to chuck it through the window. A woman implored him to stop, an argument started to brew between them, and Mallory, fearing an explosion, stepped in and told Bukowski to cool it.
Bukowski called Mallory a "punk" and told him never to intervene between him and a woman again. For the rest of the party, he acted cool to Mallory, who wondered if he had overreacted. In the ensuing weeks, Mallory wrote to Bukowski expressing regret for the falling-out and got halfhearted replies. Then, in 1973, Mallory joined the military, and the two drifted apart.
In later years, talking to others who had been close to Bukowski, Mallory asked if the poet ever mentioned his name. They replied, yes, he did. But it was no more than a mention, no indication of fondness or dislike.
Still, it's not just the falling-out that Mallory feels wistful about. Even though he witnessed Bukowski's dark side firsthand, he feels his role model was misunderstood for much of his life. Some poets, he says, considered Bukowski a sellout when he married his last wife, Linda Bukowski, in the 1970s and left Los Angeles for San Pedro — an accusation that Mallory regards as unfair.
Seated at Alta, Mallory rattles off a list of other Bukowski myths: that he was misogynistic ("He wrote very tender poems to women sometimes"), that he used profanity for shock value (Mallory sees it as reflecting the street culture) and that his epitaph, "Don't try," was a slogan of defeat (it was a message to writers to let the muse come naturally).
After Bukowski's death in 1994, Mallory wrote tributes to him for the Daily Pilot and Orange County Register and printed a limited-edition broadsheet of one of his poems. Bukowski, for that matter, may have written a public tribute to Mallory as well: His early-1970s poem "Slim Killers" includes the lines "well, we don't have a car / and Lee needs a ride to this nightspot / in Hollywood." Is Mallory the Lee mentioned? The question has always haunted him.
Meanwhile Buk is ranting at the guests about the miserable plight of the tortured artist. Half-serious, half-funny he goes on and on about PAIN. And what drama. What entertainment. But don't be misled — it wasn't as if he was trying to hold center stage. In fact, for long portions of the evening he was not there at all. But when he did get going he was dramatic and FUNNY and he could really pull it off. WHAT CAN ANY OF YOU POSSIBLY KNOW ABOUT PAIN?, he'd cry out, he'd scream. PAIN! I've known it deep down in my guts, he'd say; and past your smile and through his you knew it was true.
When Mallory slid the New Year's Eve document out of a binder in his office at Santa Ana College, he barely recognized it. The typewritten font had faded over nearly four decades, and most of the text felt so unfamiliar that it might have been another person's writing.
Mallory had gone into his archives to find early work for a volume of his selected poems, "Now and Then," which came out in 2009 from Moon Tide Press. (Full disclosure: I'm the publisher of Moon Tide, and Mallory was among its co-founders. Like Bukowski, he's taken a lot of younger poets under his wing.) The early poems went into the book, but the New Year's Eve account didn't. Here at Alta is the first time anyone outside his family has seen it.
I know what this transaction means, in part: Bit by bit, Mallory is dismantling the poetry career he's built in Southern California. The next stop is Las Vegas, where he is already scouting the poetry scene. His office at school has been cleared out. The Alta reading has expired, and another poet, Jaimes Palacio, has taken over the Gypsy Den. Old books are being offered to the Santa Ana College library; documents are being sorted for archives, personal use or disposal.
After Mallory's death, he plans to have the New Year's Eve story sent to UC Santa Barbara's Special Collections library. For years, he's helped the library preserve Bukowski's story; its archive includes photographs of Mallory with his mentor, letters between them, posters and fliers of long-ago readings. When Spanish journalist Abel Debritto set out to research Bukowski for a book — "Charles Bukowski, King of the Underground: From Obscurity to Literary Icon," scheduled for release from Palgrave Macmillan this year — Mallory was among the sources he contacted.