Ever read that melancholy writing that romanticizes alcoholic, desolate characters as broken geniuses hiding their light under dirty hair and scruffy clothes? I’ve heard it called drunken literature. Charles Bukowski and William Burroughs owned the genre.
I just finished reading a short story along those lines, so I was intrigued to stumble upon a real life example. A stoned, disheveled man and woman sat outside a sandwich shop in North Hollywood where I was having lunch. They had been nursing one salad between them for so long that the lettuce was turning brown along the edges. I couldn’t decide if they were mother and son or drinking buddies. The woman had the weatherbeaten skin of someone who spends a lot of time outdoors, and grey, coarse hair sticking out from a black baseball cap with stylized flames stitched on it. Her sneakers matched the hat. He was bald and overweight and wore a navy tshirt and jeans.
I took the table next to them, outside on a sunny August day with a cool breeze, and settled in to eat my lunch and see what gems of wisdom these two might have to offer. It’s all about finding wisdom and life lessons in unusual places. And didn’t Confucious say something about teachers being all around us, if only we are willing to be students? Bring it on, I thought.
And here is the conversation:
“Isn’t that Shane?” the man said.
“Shane. Shane. Shane.”
“Shane. Your boyfriend.”
“I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“Shane. Right there.”
“He’s stupid. He’s got no common sense.”
“Isn’t he your boyfriend?”
“He’s stupid. No common sense. Stupid.”
Several minutes of silence pass. I sneaked a look at the woman. She pushed shredded lettuce around with a fork. She seemed ready to pass out, then blinked her eyes open.
“He’s stupid,” she said.”I’m intelligent.”
This was not the stuff of literature, I thought to myself. This was the stuff of the dark, slippery path to the bottom, and minds that are tuned out in a bad, boring way. Nothing romantic or insightful about that. I finished my sandwich and left.