My friend, Pamela "Cupcakes" Wood, author of Charles Bukowski's "Scarlet" in a rare and revealing interview with Joan Jobe Smith of Pearl Magazine
Question One: Cupcakes, uh, I mean Pam, your just-out memoir from Sun Dog Press Scarlet, in which world famous poet Charles Bukowski played a significant role for nearly 2 years of your young life, is the most fascinating biography I've read in a long time. You've captured a big chunk of Swinging Seventies' gritty reality and showed ably and winsomely what it was like back then to be a single mom of 24 with a baby to care for in the raunchy midst of all the crazy, let-it-all-hang-out, love-the-one-you're-with happenings in that L.A.- Hollywood backdrop. What inspired you to tell your true story now, after all these years that have run away like wild horses over the hills?
Hi Joan. Firstly, thank you for your kind words about my memoir. I consider this high praise coming from someone who personally knew Bukowski and whose work I admire. And please feel free to call me Cupcakes; since my book release all my friends do.
The idea of writing my memoir did not occur to me until 1997 after being approached by two gentlemen on separate occasions, both requesting an interview for their respective Bukowski projects; John Dullaghan, who produced the documentary, "Born into This", and Howard Sounes, author of the Bukowski biography, "Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life."
At that time, aside from reading "Women" and viewing "Barfly," I had not followed his career since we parted ways in 1977. I was surprised they felt I played a significant enough role in his life to seek me out. Both pointed to several poems, letters, etc., written after our split, which I found stunning.
Though, I admit not being thrilled about his painting a less than flattering portrait of my character in "Women," I figured that was his way of getting back at me for a freshly wounded ego. "Tammie" was such a preposterous flibbertigibbet - and the entire book so hilarious - I found it hard to be angry with him.
I imagined him typing those scenes and thinking, oh yeah, that's a good one...this will really get her pink panties in a twist, ha, ha, ha... However, after reading several items, the letters in particular - so full of venom and disdain, I was upset. I felt more confused than angry - mostly over the common thread of deception and wickedness he attributes to my true character while we were together. The more vile the insult, the sadder I felt. Not for me, for him.
It broke my heart to think he felt the need to demonize me in such a ugly fashion. Not that I expected to read glowing tributes, but it was so far removed from my recollection that I even found myself wondering if I had possibly blocked out portions of our affair as some sort of defense mechanism. An angel, I was not, but nor was I the grubby, conniving nymph he so frequently suggests.
Believe me, I have many flaws, but vicious and manipulative are not part of my nature; both involve too much work. I supposed by convincing himself that I was a dirty rat, maybe he was better off without me, right?
No offense to Buk, but if I were that type of woman, I would have focused my vamping powers on someone who actually had money and a much more comfortable, appetizing environment in which to languish. I could not understand why he felt this way, real, or fabricated.
It was my need to find some answers about that period in my life that prompted this memoir. I decided to write it primarily for me - like a diary. I knew I had to be painfully honest and objective if I was to learn anything about our relationship and myself.
It would take ten years, inspired by the worst tragedy of my adult life, to find the time to write this book. I've been working in the real estate business since 1977. In 1997 the Los Angeles market was catching fire. I was working 12, sometimes 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. It was pure insanity.
It wasn't until 2005, when my sister died of a brain tumor, that I realized how fragile and unpredictable life is. She was 47 years-old when diagnosed in 2002, one month after my brother died of a drug overdose. He was 54. My brother's death was sad, but given his lifestyle, not unexpected.
My sister Tracey was a joyful, healthy, vibrant, successful woman, with two beautiful young daughters. She had the world at her feet - then BOOM! - Her life shattered in an instant. Not only confronted with my own mortality, I was consumed with inconsolable grief.
I began to reevaluate everything. I made a "bucket list," and decided once I had enough money set aside to get through a year without working I would quit my job and do whatever I damn well pleased. That day came in November, 2007. I figured this would be the best time to write the book - while all my faculties were still in working order.
Question Two: Your young life would make a fabulous movie. What actors today would you pick as suitable to play Bukowski? Yourself?
Without a doubt, Jack Nicholson would be my first choice. Hollywood can make anyone look the part with makeup, but to capture the essence of someone who actually existed is difficult. Nicholson embodies many of the same personality traits as Bukowski, including his impish devil-dog quality. Nicholson also has the wide-ranging talent necessary to carry off the role of such a complex character. Runners-up would be Sean Penn, Robert Downey, Jr. and Bill Murray.
I don't consider my young self in the same league as these beautiful women, but, once again, they possess some of the Cupcakes essence. They are: Christina Hendricks, Kate Hudson and maybe Kristen Stewart. Lindsay Lohan would have made my list a couple years ago, but, sadly, appears to be going through now what I was then.
Question Three: What actors of 1976, if you'd published your Scarlet back then?
Humm, that's a tough one; Nicholson may have been too young then; Maybe William Holden, Gene Hackman, or Orson Wells; Valerie Perrine, Susan Sarandon, or Ann Margret.
Question Four: What's the most important thing about you as Young Pamela/Cupcakes you'd like the readers to know?
As I mentioned in the first answer; that I wasn't a schemer. That takes more brains, effort and patience than I had then, or now, and would not find plotting to take advantage of anyone the least bit satisfying. That's probably why I'm such a lousy chess player. Don't get me wrong, I could be a brat, but always a well-intentioned one who never set out to deliberately hurt another.
Question Five: How about Pamela Wood, go-getter Career Woman, of Now?
The most important thing about me now that I'd like the readers to know? - honestly? - nothing. I know that may sound rude, but I don't intend it to. I've always been pathologically private about my personal life. I'm sure that also sounds ridiculous having just written a book full of extremely intimate details, but that was a lifetime ago -
Question Six: If Bukowski were still alive and wrote an Apologia to the women he skewered in his 1977 Women, what anecdote about you would you like to see revised?
Interesting question...Given all the immoral sexual behavior, and the lack of any sense of decency, intelligence or conscience he assigns to the character Tammie, you may find this hard to believe, but I was most offended by the anti-Semitic remark she makes in the New York segment. That, to me, was obscene. The rest was so hilarious, I had to laugh.
Question Seven: What kind of flowers and what color would you want him to bring to you when he begged your forgiveness for his being such a Ham on Rye in 1976?
A bouquet of pimpernels - scarlet, of course. Seriously, pink Gerbera daisies - I love them! There is something so sweet and whimsical about them. They always make me smile. Then again, any flowers sent my way make me smile.
Question Eight: When a little girl, I loved dolls, believed in dolls, collected them. If I were to find a Bukowski's Women Doll Series, what would your Cupcakes Doll look like? Barbie look-alike, G.I. Jane, Raggedy Ann, a Cabbage Patch, Dora the Explorer?*
All the above in the form of a life-size blow-up doll.
Question Nine: What is your favorite Bukowski poem/book?
My favorite poem is "Shoelace." I relate to that poem daily. My favorite novel is a tossup between Women and Hollywood - followed by Ham On Rye, Post Office, Factotum and Pulp. I also get a huge kick out of his illustrated works; The Day it Snowed in LA, Bring Me Your Love and Dear Mr. Bukowski still crack me up - no matter how many times I read them.
Question Ten: You're in L.A. Real Estate sales now. You know L.A. maybe more than anyone. What's the best part of the part you like best?
Besides the awesome wonder of the Pacific Ocean, I would have to say West Los Angeles. In my opinion, this is the hub of LA culture. Museums, art galleries, fine restaurants, latest fashions, it's all there. You also have very trendy pockets, like Melrose Avenue, full of LA-centric shops. Even the best hospital, Cedars Sinai, is located there.
The atmosphere is full of creative energy. Many people I meet there remind me more of New Yorkers; sophisticated, yet down to earth. Sometimes I'll hop in my car and drive 20 miles to the west side with no particular destination in mind just because I find it exhilarating.
Question Eleven: How did knowing Charles Bukowski interfere with or enhance your life?
Very good question. Except for my daughter wondering what her mommy was doing with that strange looking old man who lived in that icky apartment, and my last husband almost calling off our wedding after reading Women, can't say he interfered with my life.
After all, I chose to be with him. He did enhance my life in many ways. Aside from the obvious benefits of living with a literary genius, you may find this surprising, but I believe his decision to stop bailing me out of difficult situations facilitated my road to recovery. That may not have been the true motivation behind his tough-love, but it was the best thing he could have done for me. Naturally, I didn't see it that way at the time, but now realize what an amazing gift that was.
"Ok, Pamela, uh, Cupcakes, so here we are at Canter's nearly 34 years after we last saw each other at the Troubadour, July 11, 1976 and here you are with your own book called Scarlet now, your exhilarating memoir, autographing one the way I watched Bukowski autograph the First Scarlet he wrote about you in 1976. I think I hear Bukowski har-harring amongst the trumpets, saying to you: ‘Way to go, baby.' If he really were here in Canter's right now knoshing a ham on rye what do you think Bukowski'd say?"
"Not bad, Red, not bad at all. I taught you well. The old man's proud of ya,' kid".
*Ignore this Question if you find it stupid. I don't know why I asked it.
Questions by: Joan Jobe Smith & Fred Voss, May 27. 2010
Published with permission.
Visit http://www.BukCalledHerScarlet.com for more information about Pam, and to buy the book!