Contemplating Charles Bukowski’s First Kiss

by bart plantenga and Black Sifichi

(performed in Finnegan’s Wake in Paris with artist Helena Villovitch; CBGBs,     Anseo & WFMU in NYC.)


Sure. He had kissed a dog. A dog named “Puddles.” Puddles had kissed Charles Bukowski’s mother. & his mother had kissed Charles. But then, his mother would have kissed a stone or Hitler even. That’s just how she was. To her anything or anyone could use a little pity.

Someone down at the post office had told Charles it was not the same with a dog. Even if it was your own dog. To kiss a woman was meant to be different. So that songs could be written about it. So that men could howl like Tex Avery wolves or say “VA VA VA VOOM.”

Charles had not been contemplating a songwriting career, however, the day he did not go home. It was May 6th & 63 degrees. He was 28 years old & his hormones had long ago begun to tell him that the time had come.


Yea, the time would come for a lot of other things too. Maybe he’d be carrying a bazooka in Africa or drinking a martini in Paris. Time would tell. & over time questions arose: Should he wipe his mouth after kissing a woman? Should he let her sniff his crotch while he scratched her behind the ears? Should he offer her beer from his tongue into her mouth? He thought that THIS might end up being the best part of a kiss; spitting the beer back down her throat. Anyway, alot of questions were rolling around in Bukowski’s head as he entered the Palomino Bar & Grill. The guy next to him ordered up another Salty Dog. Bukowski got a beer. Bukowski thought maybe he’d like to kiss a woman named “Babine.” A French woman’d be perfect, he figured. Dyed apricot hair, a collar around her neck, in Pigalle. In fact, it just HAD to happen because Bukowski had recently learned the power of the will. The responsibility of Dreams! What Puddles nipples felt like!


He ordered another beer & listened to the jukebox. A guy in the first booth was kissing his cross. Charles almost barfed just observing this. Even Puddles had been better than that.

The new juke, he was sure, had been installed to mock him. & maybe force him to find a new hole to get soused in. The songs were just too happy – like Valentines from a planet he’d never been to.The gold brocade, the sombreros & lacquered caracas were meant to attract a new clientele. A clientele bereft of soul who needed dining dioramas like some needed dialysis machines.

The Palomino, like a snake, had shed its old skin. & Bukowski, not yet 30, had come to feel like old skin. He’d already lost 1 tooth to a pack of rabid Giants fans, the kind of guys who never seem to loosen their ties.

“Castrated by a bunch o’ constipated Giants. Bunch o’ goddamn fairweather fags!” Bukowski snarled into the head of his beer. But no one paid him any mind. Like his voice had gone inside out. Or something. & Bukowski’d rather lose a tooth or even his mind than be ignored. Maybe it was the weather or geography or the demographic chemistry of post-urban sprawl. He wended his way down to the booth of the crucifix kisser.

“You why the Giants keep winnin’.” “It’d be rather flattering to think so.”

“That there cross work for dames too? You know, sorta like a divining rod for hormones. HEHEHE.”

“Men are composed of 4 humours & it is said women have 5.”

“Yea, & 3 of ‘m are bad. Which, of course, can be good.”

“Woman’s function on this earth is to tempt men from God’s embrace.”

“Now THAT don’t sound all bad. I’m ready & waitin’. Whatta you a 7th Day Adventist? Or a Moslem? Or…I used to be a catcher.”

“I played center.”

“Center’s as close to heaven as catcher is to hell.” “Batted .382 one year.”

“Hmm, I swung for maybe half that. If I didn’ homer I was an easy out. Look! These ain’t legs, they’re stumps. & somehow the ball got past me a lot. Had trouble with the screwball. ‘Pass The Buck’ they called me. I’d be dreamin’ of catching dames’ lovely floating orbs in my mitt & then – WOOSH! – another passed ball!”

“I shook Duke Snyder’s hand.”

“I had Roy Campanella autograph a baseball. Imagine, man, he’s a pro at 15! Fuckin’ 15! & then comin’ up as a rookie after 8 years in the Negro Leagues. Now there’s a guy with guts. Old man’s Italian, old lady’s a Negro. He’s the second Negro player in the big time. & bam, right away he’s the best.”

“I prefer Yogi Berra.”

“Campanella, now he knows pitchers. He can run, hit & he’s the best behind the plate. & just like that i give the autographed ball to this dame I’d had my eye on down at the post office – Linda Fahrenheit. She sorts mail like no other. Anyway, I give her the ball & she don’t take it. & later I hear she’s talkin’ daggers into my back callin’ me this nigger-lovin’ circus freak.”

“Your face does seem to embrace the very essence of the sufferings of Christ.”

“Yea, well, it usually gets a lot closer to Jesus after 12 beers. It hurts cuz fists seem to be attracted to it.”

& Bukowski’s 13th beer suddenly shut the door. & he was gone & the light had gone out in him. This world of Giants & crucifixes & hormones had always been inhospitable to his kind. The kind usually kept locked away from the general populace because their gruesome chemically-bent DNA-warped deformities would rend the slender hope we all seem to float on so precariously, a mere mockery.

When Buk came to, his face, which had already begun to resemble 2 lbs. of chuck that had been karate-chopped one too many times, faced the mop soaked in ammonia. The floor was cold & the ammonia brought him back to a world not at all improved by his absence. He looked at the mop & mumbled; “ Babine, Sweet Babine, my lil dishwater fiend.”


The mop, ie. the situation: It was sadder than a glass of flat beer. It was sadder than an unworn hat. It was sadder than a NO SMOKING section. It was sadder than a dog tied up in a hot sun. It was sadder than burying his mother. It was sadder than no money. It was sadder than rejection. It was sadder than the cardboard I’M HUNGRY signs. Charles, with lights flashing in his eyes, was alone again. No kiss. No friends. No money.

‘Fuck this,’ he thought. ‘Life’s hard, but fuck this. I’m gonna get pissed tonite & then get myself kissed. Roll the dice. & read the race sheets tomorrow. Blow $50 bucks. So what if I got nothin’ now. That don’t mean I won’t have $50 tomorrow. That don’t mean “Valentine Kiss” can’t come in at 43 to 1. $50 times 43. Now that’d be OK.’

Charles sat down on a cinderblock & started to sob. It was just too much. These speeches he made to himself in order to fortify some fledgling spirit were getting thinner & thinner. Face it. Even dogs were ignoring him because he smelled of nothing good. He didn’t even smell like a different dog. He smelled of dust, of dead pollen, of washed out cigarette butts. He smelled like a finished fire. Like nothing to even piss on. He smelled invisible, absolutely invisible.

He wiped his face, blew his nose into his shirt cuff & tried to remember Puddles. Her tongue -long, fine, tasting of pate. He grinned. He had found an anchor, a small apricot peninsula to hold on to. He had found an idea of hope. Puddles was probably still out there somewhere strutting around free, freer than he’d proabably ever be with all his reasoning power.

Ah, this so-called reasoning power had only brought him to parapets of self-consciousness, of personal limitations with presumptions of taste as an excuse. He seemed to have so many problems. ‘Life creates you, steps on your face & then spits you out. What else is there?’ Bukowski asked himself. ‘Maybe a restructuring of the laws would be a good start. Give dogs human rights & humans dog rights. Make us equal. Open up a dialogue. Sapian meets canine. Bukowski marries Puddles.’

& oh, that kiss! What was between him & his first REAL Sapian kiss. Non-mother, woman of desire kiss? A kiss not of pity. A body kiss. A pecker peck. Tongue in ear. Triple X. 120o Fahrenheit. 46o Celcius. Tongue on tongue.

He walked along in a dream. In history. Not a history that he invented or had ever commanded. A history that just happened. The giant kiss had all but affixed itself to his pickled brain. He thought being a good kisser might eventually open doors into sumptuous homes, better restaurants, drinks in fancy bars. Be a Playboy. But what was he gonna do? He really didn’t have a clue.

Later he got some work filling a truck. For money. He thought they’d agreed on $50. He got $35.


The wad of dough lay thick inside his becrusted slacks. $1000 bucks could certainly sing his tune. But what tune.

He road a taxi back from the Santa Monica Track with a big smokestack Havana stogie puffing from his kisser. He imagined this was Howard Hughes must’ve felt in the early days. & Bukowski imagined his first museum: THE CHARLES BUKOWSKI BEER MUSEUM.

In Hollywood he bought a silver tie clip with a thoroughbred on it. A thousand bucks just because you entrust your money – all of it – to a horse that darts around some hardcake track. The absurdity of betting, however, didn’t in the slightest dent his sense of triumph.

He bought a suit he’d seen Peter Lawford wear once. Botany 500. $149 clams – BAM! – just like that. He made one call & $100 more bought him an escort. A flaming tart who had apparently never washed a dish in her life. A furious dame who thought the world of entertainment was conspiring to keep her out of the Big Time. People in L.A. were either burdened with success or the lack of it.


For $25 more clams she allowed him to call her “Babine.” & he called her Babine or “Babs” 25 times in just that first hour. A bottle of Pommery Champagne & a bottle of Bordeaux got her yakking. In the cab to her place she said: “I’m too distinctive to be just wallpaper in some soap opera.”

“Yea, yea. But, uh, are those real tits, Babs?” Bukowski needed to know. “As real’s anything else in L.A.” She said.

On the stairs to her walk-up she complained about her escort agency. “They take 60%!” In her place the carpet smelled musty like wet dog fur. Bukowski poured liquor into glasses. & Babine, while fingering the 3rd button on her blouse, mentioned the agency’s outrageous percentage again. & something about dental work. Bukowski stuffed a $50 bill behind her belt buckle.

“Can this buy yer silence, Babs?” He imagined this is how Bogart might have proceeded. & Babs wiggled around as if beach sand were being poured down the crack of her ass.

“Silence? Don’t silence drive yuh nuts. It drives most people nuts.”

“Yea, but if yer gonna talk, talk about horticulture, talk about pruning or gardening secrets. Talk about a bouquet of long-stemmed narcissus in Place Clichy. In Paris.”

“Gardening? In Paris?”


But Bukowski’s mind had long ago entered the potential explosive nature of her skin. “OK, well then, talk to me about the Kama Sutra.”

“Kama Sutra?! Hon, were you in WWII?”

“Iwo Jima, Babs. ‘44. Before Iwo Jima i looked just like Gary Cooper.”

& her kiss glanced off the nape of his neck the way a butterfly might – or a half-hearted knife thrust. She’d been paid to render services. & render she would. She’d done much more unsavory things. Her mouth had seen more gruesome regions. Places no sun had ever graced. & Charles knew how to proceed. He’d read adult manuals. He’d seen adult movies. & Charles had been an adult for some time when he decided to take his mouth off the bottle.

“Keep yer heels on, Babs.” “Anything you say, Chuck.”

& he shoveled his hands in around her waist that brimmed lusciously over her belt like a wad of melted Gruyer & found a humid patch of perspiration in the small of her back. His mouth moved from the bottle in a simple arc of perhaps 1 foot & found the professionally pouted lips of “Babine.” The impetuous movement from bottle to lips, however, had NOT been smooth. The journey had been turbulent. Like a ferry crossing. & suddenly her coffee table was here, then there, then over THERE. Like a nervous mutt.


& he positioned his lips to hers. & the conspiracy of K-Mart perfume, the fetid heat of her breath, the perfunctory nature of her $15 embrace left him – or rather, his riotous internal plumbing that could, at its best, be termed as the REMAINS of his intestines – in a state of dispeptic disarray.

Involuntarily somehow, his innards had suddenly reversed the sucking action he’d thought so necessary to manufacture a successful & manly kiss. The inhalation suddenly went inside out. & the organs he had once owned vented an anxiety so complete that nothing inside him remained intact & he puked.


He puked up everything & this everything went down her gullet, her esophagus. & her intrepid tongue which had been so expertly & Frenchly exploring his deteriorating dental landscape, was buried in an avalanche of vomit & the repressed stench of a man who had been dying since the day he was born. A man who had just prematurely ejaculated every bodily fluid, every corrosive liquid, every bloated spermatozoan, every inch of tapeworm & bad food & ulcerous organ lining into the maw of his $150 dame.


& this vomiting action had created a kind of vacuum that sucked everything out like a de­pressurized airplane cabin in some action flick. & his heart sat teetering there on the edge of his esophagus & too would have gone the way of lesser organs had she not suddenly bolted back, gagging & flailing.

She kicked Bukowski & Bukowski fell to his knees, his Catholic knees, his penitent knees. & with a ferocious backhand that would have done any Wimbledon star proud, she chopped Bukowski on the back of the neck. & kicked him with her gold, strapless hi heels until she’d managed to shove him out the door & down the long staircase.

She rifled through his jacket & wallet before tossing them down to him. & he laid there on the stoop, bleeding & moaning. But he remained oblivious to all the departing blood as his addled mind led him back to Chicago where only 2 years prior, while visiting a cousin to hit up for some bucks, he’d been greeted in much the same manner.


It was winter in Chicago. 1945. & the winter was like a scalpel. & everything in the landscape was equally vicious. & he remembered how his mouth had found a wrought iron railing or how the railing had found his mouth. & how his lips had come glued to the iron of the cold cold railing.

& how, when he tried to stand up like the homo erectus they’d told him he was supposed to be, he’d left a part of his mouth there – on the railing.

He’d left his mark, his tag, his indelible, ragged lip print in the shape of a grimace that also looked oddly like a kiss, a cinematic kiss, a yearning hypothetical kiss, a disembodied kiss that he had no choice but to leave behind.




Black Sifichi [] is the undisputed voice of alternative music in France – & elsewhere. His vocals have appeared on well over 100 recordings. But he is also an important photographer, artist, writer, producer, performer & radio/club DJ in Paris & Montreuil. We have collaborated on a number of other projects including the short story & radio play “Wet Dreams of the Pope.”

bart plantenga[] is the author of Beer Mystic [], a novel that circumnavigates the globe in a unique pub crawl. He is also the author of Wiggling Wishbone, Spermatagonia: The Isle of Man, Paris Scratch, & NY Sin Phoney in Face Flat Minor. His books Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World & Yodel in HiFi & the CD Rough Guide to Yodel have created the misunderstanding that he is a yodel expert. He is also a DJ & has produced Wreck This Mess [] in NYC, Paris & now Amsterdam for 26 years.


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