Charles Bukowski, Red Stodolsky and the Baroque Book Store
Having recently returned to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, I was gradually becoming acquainted with the many used bookstores in the greater Los Angeles area. When I wandered into Red Stodolsky’s Baroque Book Store in 1985, I knew nothing of it, nor Red. Once inside and after a brief survey of his holdings, I knew I had found a home, and Red and I seemed to click. From then until his passing in 1998, I always looked forward to my next purchase and our some times weekly chats around his large, heavily book-laden (usually with new Bukowski issues) desk at the front of the store. With only a few exceptions, the items in this catalog were purchased from Red in his Book Store.
A small, narrow place, Red’s shop was one of a string of such older, classic looking storefronts on Las Palmas Avenue, south of Hollywood Boulevard, just past the newsstand. His stock was select, primarily modern literary firsts with a heavy emphasis on the generation of the Twenties, Henry Miller, the Beats, various Black Sparrow authors, and of course, Hank. Red introduced me to Wanda Coleman’s powerful work through her Black Sparrow issues. He also had a shelf set aside for contemporary local poets, most in pamphlet form, where I discovered S.A. Griffin. His mantra was always, “I stock what I like.” Indeed, everything in his select holdings testified to his personality and tastes.
He was just as fastidious in determining whom he would allow in his shop. On more than a few occasions, he would interrupt our conversation with a direct challenge to a lingering browser, “Buy something or get out!” Then he would turn to me and exclaim, “They’re driving me nuts!” After his stroke, a few years before his passing, he would keep the front door locked, opening it only for people he recognized, or for those who might plead a good enough reason to be permitted entry.
Red was one of the first dealers to trumpet the work of Bukowski. And because of his special relationship with Hank, and, consequently, with John Martin of Black Sparrow Press, he usually had more material on hand than anyone else, everything from trade copies through the full range of limited editions. You could not only pick up one of the limited editions with an original artwork, but you could choose between a number of copies of that book, each with a different painting. When I purchased the very limited Horsemeat, Red said he was on his way to see Hank the next day, and, if I wished, he would bring the book to him for an inscription. A week later, he called to say the book was ready. The inscription read, “For __________ __________ / Horses teach us / what we know and / do not know. / The track is the / greatest university. / Charles Bukowski” / [drawing of classic Chinaski figure & bottle] …. This one remains in my library.
During another visit, the postman entered and dropped a pile of mail on Red’s desk. As we talked, Red thumbed through it. He opened a large manila envelope, and emptied the contents on the desk. Hank had sent him the typescript poems for Love Is a Dog From Hell, each signed and dated. Red asked if I wanted any of them, and I chose two of my favorite Bukowski poems, “Trapped” and “the meek have inhereted” [sic].
Red also had Bukowski material on display in his glass cases in the midst of the store, as well as photographs, posters, flyers, etc., hanging on the walls and on bookcases. Then there were the special items he kept in the back storage area, along with extra copies of the books. This area was off limits to all but an invited few. During another visit, he motioned me back there and pulled out a large portfolio in a manila paper cover. He walked to the glass cases, placed it on top, and pulled out seven, large charcoal drawings, commenting, “These are the only charcoal drawings Hank has done. You want one?”
There were so many wonderful days like this, though not all as dramatic, and I miss our conversations to this day, which ranged across many literary, political, and, in particular, Bukowski subjects. We also lived in the same neighborhood for a few years, and on more than a few occasions I was fortunate enough to meet Red and his wife, Mina, as they took their evening stroll, and we carried on talking.
Red was unique and special. No one can replace him. Hank said it best in his poem “Red”:
“and Paris is dead now / and so is Henry Miller / but down there on skid / row Hollywood / with only Musso’s and / Frederick’s left, / there’s still a little / bit of the old / Paris / and a large touch of / class: / Red Stodolsky.”