What’s Going On?

Marvin Gaye performs on stage at De Doelen, Rotterdam, Netherlands, 1st July 1980. (Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

Where is Marvin Gaye when you need him?

“What’s Going On,” his seminal song of 1971, begins with a cool, communal Afro-party conversational vibe. After a second or two of whatz happenings and hey brothers saxophonist Eli Fontaine’s sudden wail smothers the banter. The over all sound: percussive jazz/funk with just a hint of Caribbean percolation.

 

Marvin’s calm, reasonable voice rises above the groove.  The lyrics suggest we all turn it down a notch, to chill.  There’s too many of you crying he sings.  Don’t punish me with brutality.  Here’ a message I wouldn’t mind hearing more of nowadays: We don’t need to escalate/War is not the answer.

Fin de Siecle Seventies

The same year “What’s Going On” came out, ’71, I registered for the draft in April, donned a green graduation gown (girls wore gold) in May, attended freshman orientation in July in Columbia where I deposited a Roosevelt dime or two Jefferson nickels into a newspaper dispenser for the evening edition of The Columbia Record.  The lottery numbers were just out.  Not the lottery numbers that inform you that you haven’t won the jackpot but the lottery numbers that told you the odds of your being drafted. You eyeballed the headlines, flipped to page something-A, ran your forefinger down the columns of birthdays.

Some smiled, some scowled, some shrieked. (I danced a jig).

Viet Nam, which had been going on for as long as I could remember, appeared to be deescalating.  The zeitgeist of 60’s was late in the process of transforming from a movement into a style.  Ubiquitous bell-bottoms signaled corporate infiltration and soon-to-be triumph.  (In the good ol’ days you could distinguish someone in the Silent Majority from Bob Weir, but in ’72, you’d sometimes spot bandana-banded longhairs sporting Nixon’s the One campaign buttons).

And though Marvin’s sociological dream of equality didn’t come to pass, folks did chill, quit rioting for a while (unless some urban nightmare sports franchise happened to win a world championship). I’m not suggesting that Marvin had anything to do with these changes.  After all, he was fatally shot by his old man.

Here come the 80’s

In a mere fluttering of calendar months: Disco! Corporate supremacy! The charming Parkinsonesque head bobbing and bright billion dollar gleam of Ronald Wilson Reagan’s smile!

It had been a wild, crazy trip, but as Eric Burdon once sang to the tune of  “Mother Earth,”  “When the LSD trip is over, baby/ You got to go back to mother booze.”

The 90’s

Budget surpluses! Blue dresses!

The Oughts

Terrorism, tax cuts, wars, deep deficits.

The Narrowing Gyre

WB Yeats had this cockamamie idea that history/time coursed in gyres that looped in two thousand year cycles.  His famous poem “The Second Coming” embodies the concept with the Antichrist slouching toward Bethlehem to usher in a 2000-year cycle of post-Christian barbarity (not that the Inquisition was exactly a love-in).

Less grandiose statements like what goes around comes around and history repeats itself suggest something similar.

If history does spin in cycles, the gyres aren’t widening but narrowing.  As the pace of life picks up, it seems the cycles have taken on a crashing aircraft’s doomed trajectory.

The tribal divisions of the 60’s seem to have returned in the 2000-teens, and so has the real possibility of atomic warfare as two very inexperienced men with very bad haircuts exchange childish insults across the Pacific.

Like the 60’s, we’re living in very scary times, which means we’re living in very interesting times.

I’ll give James Baldwin the final word:

Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.

Let’s put that to music.

James Baldwin

 

 

 

Growing Old Ungracefully

What shall I do with this absurdity –

O heart, O troubled heart – this caricature,

Decrepit age that has been tied to me

As to a dog’s tail?

WB Yeats

No, you’re not only as young as you feel.  Six decades of strutting and fretting put an aesthetic hurting on you.  Cf. Ginger Rogers, her golden tresses flowing over the cottage cheese of her cleavage in her latter years.  Thinking you’re still glamorous doesn’t necessarily make it so.

 

before

 

after

Shall I Wear My Trousers Rolled?

Listening to Sandy Denny as you  gaze into an indiscrete flourescent-lit mirror as you prepare for a young couple’s first wedding can make you feel past your prime, which, of course, you are if the bride is a younger childhood friend’s 26-year-old daughter.  Nevertheless, you try to look as cool as possible; I-and-I, for example, choose a white linen suit that screams I’m-from-Charleston and/or Colonel Sanders has come back to life in a pale approximation of Tom Wolfe.

The plumage ruffling manifests itself right up there near the top of the ladder of years – the grandparents, great aunts and uncles, etc. at this wedding decked out in resort casual: Korean Conflict veterans promenading the hotel lobby sporting Polynesian flowered prints on what used to be called polyester, their wives strutting around in britches that a half-century ago went by the name of  clamdiggers but that are now marketed as capri pants.

E.O Wilson and Richard Hawkins agree: projecting attractiveness is s a biological imperative, hard-wired into our brains, a hard habit to forego.

I feel chilly and grown old!

A Qualified Yes to Trouser Rolling

Okay, to echo the Tams,  be old, be foolish, but be happy.

Who cares if you gross out the youngsters?  If they’re lucky enough, their turn’s a-coming.

On the other hand, I suspect that a certain perspective and awareness of your body’s transformations might hold you in good stead as you tone down rage-ing, rage-ing against that good night to merely flipping it off.

In that case, I suggest we forego the comb-over and cover up the cottage cheese.

Decorating Classrooms

Obviously, the décor of a room, especially if you’re stuck there for a while, can have a positive or negative effect on you. In No Exit, Sartre, for example, furnishes his room in hell in the style of the French Second Empire, i.e., too too ornately Trumpian, too floridly opulent, hence nausea-inducing.

Contemplating an eternity spent in a room like that has me reaching for my Lorazepam.

Of course, the idea of décor affecting psyches applies especially to schoolrooms. As the educational trio Dombro, Colker, and Trister Dodge (not to be confused with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer) put it in a 1997 paper: “The environment in the classroom has a profound effect on the feelings and actions of the children, their families, and the teachers. Children organize their world through the environment we provide.”

Because I generally hated school once I hit the sixth grade, I try to make my classrooms look not like laboratories of learning, but like a room in an eccentric great aunt’s house.  You know, an unconventional room that doesn’t display posters addressing comma splices or spouting chirpy optimistic blandishments but a space crammed with bookcases, knickknacks, dolls, toy trucks, finger puppets.

On the walls of my room hang a tapestry, a cool industrial expressionistic painting, Tibetan prayer flags and a Hindu decoration. I’ve also propped own Photoshop generated paintings along a white board I don’t use.

This August, the Upper School moved into a newly constructed building, which though state-of-the-art and spacious, seemed sort of antiseptic so I sought the help of my spiritual advisor KD (who had harmonized my previous room via feng-shui years ago) to refashion my new room 207.

A before picture:

All of the rooms on my side of the hall share the same configuration with the teacher’s desk being the first thing you see as you walk into the door, which is a big time feng-shui no no.

In a Herculean effort, my spiritual advisor ( a wise woman about my age) and I with the help of a colleague slid the desk on a rug into the back left-hand corner and rearranged the some bookshelves where the desk had been.

A peek of the final result:

Some of these toys come in handy, Here’s Hamlet’s ghost talking to his son on the battlements.

And, of course, no classroom could be complete without an actual human skull.

 

 

 

 

 

On the back bulletin board, I display some of my musical heroes and have included a couple of pictures of I-and-I to show that I wasn’t always this old, comfortable kind of scarecrow

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and that I too had pretty plumage once.

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Old pictures tend to humanize teachers I think.

At any rate, the college counseling office has asked if they can sometimes use Room 207 when they have an overflow of reps coming, so I the energy must be inviting.

Kudos to spiritual advisor KD!

Written the Day after I Promised Someone She’d Never Catch Me Whining

the poet wearing shades indoors

 

The doomed young envy the old, the doomed old the dead young

                                   John Berryman “Dream Song 190”

 

The wind, is moaning like John Berryman on a bad day,

and my sunglasses have sneaked away somewhere.

There’s no sun to block, but they would be handy

to hide my eyes at the Piggly Wiggly where I’m headed.

 

“Blind men and [racial epithet plurals] are the only ones

who wear dark glasses indoors,” a stranger once said

to hatless redheaded me inside a mall where I be sporting Ray Bans.

 

I’ve upscaled in my prosperous baldheaded old age to Costas,

but the stranger should have added “mourners,”

or better yet, minded his own fucking business that day.

 

John Berryman

 

Hurricane Hysteria

Escorting Ruth, Jonathan Green

Last night, I happened to catch Governor Henry McMaster, broadcasting from his Potemkin crisis center, issue a mandatory evacuation from Edisto Beach, Fripp Island, Daufuskie Island, Harbor Island, Hunting Island, Knowles Island and Tulifinny Island, all of which at the time lay outside the so-called “cone of uncertainty” drawn up by scientists at the National Hurricane Center.[1]

This morning’s prediction

Call me a curmudgeon, but I’ve never been one who believed in “an over abundance of caution.” If I did, I would have never danced in an all-local Montego Bay dance hall, surfed a hurricane swell, or placed a “Lobotomy for Republicans – It’s the Law” sticker on my back bumper during the Reagan years.[2]

The last two years have seen what I call ‘Hurricane Hysteria.” As soon as a storm wheels it way halfway across the Atlantic, panic-stricken citizens descend upon stores and gas stations, emptying shelves and draining underground tanks. The elderly seem especially prone to paranoia when it comes to weather events.

Given that Irma has averaged 13-mph hour on her westward voyage, it might be more judicious to wait until she’d left the Caribbean before suspending school for three days, especially given that predictions of landfall a week out are about as reliable as a Nigerian emails promising bank-vault-sized payouts for your cooperation.

As it happens, yesterday my younger son Ned slaved away teaching at a school outside of Orlando, which is right smack dab inside the projected cone. And as it turns out, chances are early Monday morning he’ll face sustained winds of 40-60 mph, but I suspect by then, they’ll be even less than that.

Don’t get me wrong. Although I stayed on Folly for Floyd and Matthew, we fled Hugo 48 hours before it hit. If you pay close attention over a lifetime, you can be your own meteorologist. Before Hugo, the configuration of high and low pressure systems created a metaphorical gun barrel aimed right at Charleston. So Judy, Harrison, Ned, and our dogs Jack and Sally took off in a station wagon packed with insurance policies, photos, signed autograph copies, and our Jonathan Green lithograph. Yes, and if you live in a non-Hurricane code dwelling on a barrier island in Jasper County, leaving might be a good idea the day before the storm, but the government shouldn’t make it mandatory.

I’m not suggesting to do nothing if a powerful hurricane will hit in a couple of days; I’m only saying you should do yourself a favor and wait and see.

A confederacy of doofuses


[1] With its supporting cast, including a ASL intermediary, these performances bring to mind a Monty Python skit.

[2] Nor do I have a stash of canned goods and cases of bottled water horded away in my underground bunker. Of course, on Folly, you’d need scuba gear to survive in an underground bunker.

The Old High Way of Love

Medieval-Love-Letter.png

Today I staged my annual finger puppet play Courtly Love. My sophomores are reading “The Miller’s Tale” this weekend, perhaps in the romantic glow of hurricane lamps, so I wanted them to get a peek at the concept before Chaucer skewers it.

I guess I could set my phone’s camera up in a stationary position and try to record Courtly Love as I did with the underappreciated finger puppet classic Freud, Jung, Hamlet, and Joyce, but Judy Birdsong assisted me in that production, and the absolute silliness of a 64-year-old man engaging in such childish behavior makes me hesitant to ask any of my friends to help.[1]

Anyway, here are still shots of the key scenes.

marriage

The marriage of Allyson and Gerontion

pining

Allyson pining

appearance

the arrival of Bayard singing Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely”

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Serenading her to improvised lyrics sung to the tune of “Louie, Louie”

[not pictured: an intermediary delivering a poem]

[not pictured: her refusal]

[not pictured: her acceptance]

the kiss

the consumation

Every year, the kids howl in laughter during the performance and clap enthusiastically at its conclusion. One student today naively suggested I could market the play and become a wealthy man.

The problem is that for the rest of the year, I’ll hear a constant refrain of “Hey, Mr. Moore, when are we going to have another puppet show? And all they have to look forward to his a human production of John Milton Dictates Paradise Lost to His Daughters.[2]

Anyway today after the play, I did something a little different. I projected onto the so-called “Smart Board”[3] Yeats’ beautiful lyric “Adam’s Curse.”

Here’s, as they say in the porn biz, the “money” stanza.

I said, ‘It’s certain there is no fine thing

Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.

There have been lovers who thought love should be

So much compounded of high courtesy

That they would sigh and quote with learned looks

Precedents out of beautiful old books;

Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.’

Through Socratic questioning I coaxed that the rituals of Courtly Love became a sort of how-to-make-love manual as romantics like Romeo would “sigh and quote with learned looks” as he pined away for Rosaline, not to mention Willy B himself in his relentless pursuit of that flinty muse Maud Gonne.

Of course, now movies have replaced “beautiful old books” in this regard. We learn how to kiss (among other things) from watching cinematic stars lock lips.

I don’t see Chaucer with his ironic detachment, even as an adolescent, embracing those rituals of wooing, but then again, Chaucer never wrote lines more beautiful than these:

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;

We saw the last embers of daylight die,

And in the trembling blue-green of the sky

A moon, worn as if it had been a shell

Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell

About the stars and broke in days and years.

 

I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:

That you were beautiful, and that I strove

To love you in the old high way of love;

That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown

As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

Oh, my.

maud gonne

Maud Gonne


[1] Perhaps I should recruit one of my younger friends’ children?

[2] Picture Milton in shades, rocking back and forth like Stevie Wonder, intoning “Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit/Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste/Brought death into the world and all woe . . .”

[3 It’s constantly overreacting to my movements, jumping slides ahead when I merely saw the air with an emphatic gesture.

Chico, Feo, Folly Beach’s Cannery Row

Not to be over-self-congratulatory, not to be so much hipper-than-thou, but brothers and sisters, if you ain’t hanging at a proletariat bar at least once in a while, you missing out.

Chico Feo, my personal cannery row, boasts a clientele of regulars that rivals the characters in a Jerry Jeff Walker song.[1]

Last Sunday, for example, I spent a couple of hours conversing with Brandon, an official member of the Lumbee tribe of Robeson, North Carolina. In Summerville, when I was growing up, these Native American offshoots were targets of scorn, denigrated as “half breeds,” “Summerville Indians,” or “brass ankles.”

(If you got the time – or better yet you should make the time – read Jo Humphreys’ Nowhere Else on Earth and learn about the Lumbees and Henry Berry Lowery. We’re talking Robin Hood-meets-Swamp Fox Civil War swashbuckling. Also, vicariously, you experience the trials and tribulations of being that breed back then. It’s historical fiction at his finest.

Anyway, Brandon has the Confederate battle flag tattooed on his left side beneath his shirt somewhere (in honor of his father’s ancestry) and Indian iconography tattooed on right arm and fist (in honor of his mother’s).[2]. He also whipped out his official tribal ID card and explained what the dates signify on the tribal ring he proudly wears. The bad news is that I doubled the couple of All Day IPAs I had planned on and abandoned my essay-grading regimen.

The conversation began with me talking about the ‘60s history course I’m trying to teach, and he told me he was really into Nam, that his two favorite Viet Nam movies are Platoon and Apocalypse Now because Platoon captures the day-to-day grind of warfare and Apocalypse Now the insanity.

He should know. He’s served in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Brandon

Four days later, I met Brandon’s former roommate Kenny, who a few months ago had his motorcycle rear-ended in the wee hours on Arctic Avenue by some drunk woman supposedly going 70.[3]

It was touch-and-go for a good while, and after months of hospitalization, this was his first appearance back to Chico. The staff essentially abandoned their posts momentarily to shake his hand.

Kenny, too, has Indian tattoos, the word letters I-N-C-A tattooed on the space above his finger joints and knuckles on his left hand. He now lives with his fiancée Miranda just off the island and wears the beatific smile of a survivor. I stupidly told them how lucky they were, told them about losing Judy.

Believe me; they get it.

* * *

Best quotes of the week:

Me: Got this pal in NOLA with a one-room condo, so when you come to visit him, he’ll put you up in a hotel because the money he saves by having a one-bedroom condo saves him so much money he’s happy to foot hotel bills for his guests.

Jason: Got lots of friends living in cars saving all kinds of money, and they won’t even buy me a fuckin’ beer.


John, sitting at the bar, struggling to fetch his cigs from his pants pocket.

Jason: The ladies expect tight pants these days; if you can’t get your cigarettes out of your pants, so be it.


Walking Joel: Guess what my mom got at Harris-Teeter? Grapes, man, and you know what? They taste just like cotton candy! You close your eyes. Put one in your mouth, and I swear, even though it’s a grape, it tastes just like cotton candy.

John (cocking a skeptical eyebrow): So how many pounds of this stuff did she buy?

Walking Joel: Blocks, man. They come in blocks.

One more, Jude, please.


[1] I’m too lazy to look up to see if “clientele” is considered singular or plural. Calling Catherine Salmon, my very favorite grammar maven!

[2] And, yes, he is painfully aware of the paradox of the clash.

[3] Which frankly defies credibility.