Bukowski and Li Po

By Tom ChristieJanuary 20, 2024

Bukowski and Li Po

In the mid-1980s, I was a young editor at California magazine under the tutelage of Harold Hayes, renowned for his stewardship of Esquire during the New Journalism ’60s. Harold had a knack for connecting moments and icons: it was he who sent William Burroughs, Terry Southern, and Jean Genet to cover the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago; who recognized and gave space to Diane Arbus's genius; who famously put Gay Talese on the trail of Frank Sinatra, despite the singer having a cold; who okayed George Lois's iconic covers of Andy Warhol in a can of tomato soup and Mohammed Ali as an arrow-pierced Saint Sebastian. 

The internationally renowned Esquire in the 1960s and the regional California in the ’80s were two very different animals, of course. Harold, then in his sixties, did his best to harness and show off the state’s riches, both cultural and natural. We subeditors were not always in love with these ideas, but Harold stuck to his guns. One such effort was his notion of the Italian “cicerone,” a sort of travel-cum-cultural guide, and we were tasked with asking prominent cultural figures, “Where in California would you take an interesting travel companion of your choice, and why?”

The results were predictably mixed: a few were forgettable (Joan Rivers’s Hollywood for New York’s Ed Koch—oy!); some were smart and fun (Matt Groening’s Life in L.A. for Lynda Barry); a few were witty (Yakov Smirnoff’s Hollywoodgrad for Mikhail Gorbachev—“It’s always been a dream of mine to tell a Soviet leader where to go”); a couple managed to inspire envy (John Adam’s Sierra Cabin for Philip Glass, where a half-empty bottle of whiskey lay in wait); and one was surprisingly snarky (Bruce Anderson’s Boonville for Garrison Keillor, in which the iconoclastic small-town newspaper editor dissed the writing of Prairie Home Companion host as, “well, fey”).

And then there was Charles Bukowski, for whom I believe I left a voicemail explaining the issue’s concept. Part of being a magazine editor is a willingness to embarrass yourself, to ask of certain people something you don’t necessarily expect them to agree to. Did I think I would ever hear back from the bard of San Pedro? Of course not, but in the mail one day came this most Bukowski little piece, dashed off quite possibly over a vodka 7. The only surprise is that it existed—and still does. Touché, Harold.

LARB Contributor

Tom Christie is a writer based in Los Angeles and Berlin.


Did you know LARB is a reader-supported nonprofit?

LARB publishes daily without a paywall as part of our mission to make rigorous, incisive, and engaging writing on every aspect of literature, culture, and the arts freely accessible to the public. Help us continue this work with your tax-deductible donation today!