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Alcohol and Charles Bukowski

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By: Kristen Bialik


Part of the Network Awesome Salute to DRUGS.

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Alcohol is a Hydra sprouting ticks and personas with each severing shot. Alcohol is a shape-shifter, a mood-lifter, an undresser, and a depressor. It is the fraternal twin to a great meal, an unhinger of inhibitions, a religious rite, and a glass of demolition. And it is everywhere.

Since fermentation is a natural process requiring only yeast and carbohydrates, alcoholic beverages have been an ancient and widespread phenomenon. As long as recordable history, beer, wine, and more potent distillations have held a mystique thought to be divine. Bacchus, Greek god of wine, led bands of maenads on drunken rites considered so unpredictable they contained an essence of the secrets of the Gods themselves. Christians commemorate the blood of Christ through the Eucharist wine. Back in 2600 B.C, Mesopotamian Queen Puabi was buried with all her servants (each ceremoniously/forcibly poisoned) and hundreds of gold and silver goblets for her daily allotment of beer. The point is, no matter what grows where, people have found a way to unleash the power packed in potatoes and grains, and if there was ever a modern man set on harnessing the product, it was Charles Bukowski.

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Charles Bukowski, American poet, short story writer, and novelist writes panegyrics for alcohol like a giddy medieval alchemist. Called a "laureate of American lowlife" by Time in 1986, Bukowski also frequently covered the lives of poor Americans, underpaid drudgery, and depraved, urban underbellies. Bukowski loved the maddened life of drunkards, the vivacity of dingy bars. "Alcohol gives you the release of a dream without the deadness of drugs," he said. Between the 1940s and 1990s, Bukowski published over forty-five books, a feat that, by his own admission, would likely not have happened if it weren't for alcohol. Though he infrequently had to give up his elixir of life due to medical issues, Bukowski believed alcohol saved his life by providing a cool glass of reprieve from his reoccurring will to die. "If I hadn't been a drunkard," he said, "I probably would have committed suicide long ago." In the end, Charles Bukowski died of leukemia in 1994.

drunk on the dark streets of some city,
it's night, you're lost, where's your
room?
you enter a bar to find yourself,
order scotch and water.

you ask for a vodka.
you pour the vodka into the top of
the beer bottle.
It's one a.m. In a dead cow world.

Excerpts from "Big Night On The Town" by Charles Bukowski

Though alcohol might have saved Charles Bukowski's life, it retains the inherent contradiction as both healer and destroyer. In the United States today, excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading preventable cause of death, falling just behind smoking and poor diet and exercise. In a recent government study, it was estimated that alcohol is responsible for 75,000 deaths annually, costing each fatal drinker an average 30 years of life.

Yet on a broader scale, alcohol has been attributed as a primary factor in the development of Western civilization, as its drinkers, though inebriated, experienced longer life and greater reproductive success. Since then, alcohol has had all kinds of medicinal uses, from the Black Death plagued waters in the Middle Ages to the 19th century when, despite Quaker finger shaking, the antiseptic superpower provided deliriously delicious protection from water rife with the promise of cholera, typhoid, or dysentery.

Whether demonic or divine, the power of alcohol, when respected with moderation, will treat you well. Or, in the words of Charles Bukowski, "I think a man who can keep on drinking for centuries will never die."