House of Cards = Small Batch Bourbon


Television and film tend to caricature Southerners.  We’re all familiar with the types – the drawling sadistic sheriff who looks as if he has swallowed a sack of horse feed whole; the I-do-declare coquettish belle all aflutter, the tart-tongued steel magnolia, the wiser-than-he-lets on Negro manservant, etc.


Therefore, when I finally got around to peeking in on House of Cards for the first time last weekend, what a pleasure to witness Kevin Stacey’s portrayal of Congressman Frank Underwood, who not only sounds like a real Southerner but who also rises above the stereotypes non-Southerners generally associate with someone from Dixie – rightwing politics and racism – which is not to say that Frank is an admirable character.  Part Richard III, part Iago, he’s the apotheosis of Machiavellian machination, a son of a bitch who makes the historical LBJ seem like Atticus Finch in comparison.

Frank not only sounds like a Southerner, but he has a way with words reminiscent of those who have grown up in the oral tradition of story telling, a tradition that appreciates a clever, alliterative turn of phrase.  Here he is provoking NEA union boss Marty Spinella into assaulting him:  “I’m a white-trash cracker from a white-trash town that no one would even bother to piss on. But here’s the difference. I’ve made something of myself. I have the keys to the Capitol. People respect me. But you, you’re still nothing. You’re just an uppity dago in an expensive suit turning tricks for the unions.” Some of my favorite moments occur when Frank turns directly to the camera in Shakespearean asides looking you, the viewer, in the eye and saying shit like this, “Every Tuesday I sit down with the speaker and the majority leader to discuss the week’s agenda. Well, ‘discuss’ is probably the wrong word… they talk while I imagine their lightly-salted faces frying in a skillet.”

Frank hails from Gaffney and represents South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District, a district that just a few years ago had as its representative courtly Democrat Congressman John Spratt, Davidson-educated, a man of immense integrity, as unlike Frank as Henry V is from Macbeth.  Of course, now the district has fallen in Republican hands.  It would appear as if Democratic elected officials in South Carolina like Spratt and Fritz Hollings have gone the way of the Carolina parakeet – that is, offstage forever.

At any rate, if you like small batch bourbon, chances are you’re going to like House of Cards. Although occasionally you may find your suspension of disbelief in peril, in fact, on the verge of Hindenburging, but the characterization is superb, complex, including Frank’s ruthless, insecure, profoundly unhappy wife Claire and his doppleganger of a mistress Zoe; even his chief of staff comes off as an authentic human being.

The series is strong, tasty, addictive, and capable of knocking you smack dab flat on your ass, like Jefferson’s Reserve, a great small batch bourbon that I wish I had some of right now.

The Delicate, Censorious Damsels of Wellesley


In case you haven’t heard, a number of delicate damsels and/or censorious puritans at the so-called liberal arts college Wellesley have gotten their granny panties in a knot over a temporary outdoor installation of art by Tony Matelli entitled The Sleepwalker.

Warning: the image below may be offensive to you, especially if you’ve been sexually assaulted by an older male somnambulist undergoing chemotherapy.

The account below comes from the “Globe,” the newspaper, of course, no stranger to controversy having covered in its day the banning of many works in Boston including Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and the Everly Brothers’ Wake Up Little Susie.”¹

Anyway, “Zoe Magid, a Wellesley College junior majoring in political science, started a petition on with other students asking college president H. Kim Bottomly to have the statue removed.” The petition in part reads

[T]his highly lifelike sculpture has, within just a few hours of its outdoor installation, become a source of apprehension, fear, and triggering (sic) thoughts regarding sexual assault for many members of our campus community [. . .] While it may appear humorous, or thought-provoking to some, it has already become a source of undue stress for many Wellesley College students, the majority of whom live, study, and work in this space.

Here’s a thought, Zoe.  Given that you’ve only been out of high school for 3 years, why not leave the selection of temporary art installations to professionals who know what they’re doing and stick to those skills you’ve mastered, like Tweeting (#philistine),  You’re following in the footsteps of Jesse Helms and John Ashcroft, the latter who famously had the piece of filth below covered with curtain in the Robert F Kennedy Department of Justice Building because exposure to an aluminum breast is, well, um, not necessary.


Not only are poly sci majors down on The Sleepwalker, but art history major Annie Wang² also wants the statue removed because she sees it as an “assault”.:

“I think art’s intention is to confront, but not assault, and people can see this as assaulting,” Wang said. “Wellesley is a place where we’re supposed to feel safe. I think place and a context matters, and I don’t think this is the place to put it.”

I just don’t get it.  The statue ain’t exactly Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du monde, and I believe my 83-year-old mother could out run the poor [pardon the tautology] unhip, unattractive, tightie-whitie wearing somnambulist.  I suspect that what really offends these young ladies is that the statue embodies unbeautifully the thing they most fear: growing old.


1.  I shit you not.

2.  By the way, I’m offended by Ms Wang’s surname because it brings to mind verbal assaults I suffered in locker rooms after PE in junior high school.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Asshole

the author circa 1976

the author circa 1976

I was such a loser in the mid-Seventies [see above photo] that I actually failed at dropping out of grad school.  That’s right.  Talking about the epitome of incompetence, failing at dropping out of school ranks right up there with attempting suicide by swallowing a handful of artificial sweeteners.

It’s not all that long of a story.  After getting dumped by an ex-fiancée in July of ’76, I said to myself, “This here grad school thang ain’t working out.”[1]  I decided to go back to Summerville and tread water because, after all, home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.[2]

Impoverished, I had been working two jobs (tending bar in the University Union, washing dorm dishes).  Unable to afford textbooks, I checked Whitman, Dickinson, Hardy, Epson, Yeats, and, Auden out of libraries, racking up fines as fast as empty beer cans.  In the wee hours, I slapped together underdeveloped essays on manual typewriters.  When I made it to class, I shuffled in sporting  pre-grunge grunge and reeking of cannabis.  Occasionally, I might manage an insightful comment in class or turn an arresting phrase in an essay, but, that ain’t gonna get you a tenure track job, much less a degree.

On the plus side, my fellow students treated me deferentially because not-seeming-to-give-a-shit somehow had come to be  – maybe always has been – an admired American trait; on the minus side, my professors were absolutely immune to my slouching charm.

So, on the sunny Monday morning after my revelation that my learning to read and write in a foreign language, passing comps, and writing a board approved dissertation was not likely to occur in the next academic year, I informed my bosses I was quitting, dropping out of school, going home.  I blamed my sudden departure on a family emergency, which was true in the sense that a series of family emergencies over the course of my young life had jangled my nerves.  I was having what was called in those days “A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN.”

Of course, I didn’t bother to inform the University of my departure.

* * *

Three weeks later I very slowly came to consciousness in a hospital in Hilton Head.  To this day, I have no idea how long I was there or how I got home.  I do know that no charges were filed and that I had stitches still in my back, sutures I assumed were self-dissolving but weren’t.

I had forgotten how much Summerville sucks.  My landlady/mother insisted that I participate in cattle calls for manual laborers at temp agencies, which got real old real fast even though they never chose me.   [again, see above photo].

So I called my pal Jake-the-Snake, who had been placed in a managerial position at the Golden Spur, the Student Union bar, and his boss hired me on the condition I could cop work study status, hoop jumping I resented, especially since there was a whole slew of new bartenders who had been hired straight up, people like Veda Smith and Judy Birdsong, legitimate graduate students with assistantships who didn’t need jobs in the first place.

Nevertheless, I successfully accomplished the task of being officially classified as financially challenged, and found myself once more racking up student loan debt, tending bar, and slapping together underdeveloped essays on manual typewriters in the wee hours.

But I vowed to myself that I would never ever fail at dropping out of grad school again, and indeed, at the end of the spring semester of ’77, I successfully pulled it off!

[1] I speak to myself in the vernacular.

[2] Frost’s publisher insisted he drop the subsequent line  although they wish you’d stay the fuck away.

Judy Birdsong Moore 4 February 1978

Judy Birdsong Moore 4 February 1978

Radio Noir

Toshiba Digital Camera


Click grey arrow above for sound.


Airboat, bayou,

black cat, voodoo

Sam Spade, razor blade,

rattlessnake, bad synapse,

prison break, loan lapse,

nylon rope, smoking






crack  . . .


. . . static . . .


Hitchhike, tattoo,

peg leg, hoodoo,

tat rat, concrete block,

trunk bang, thump-thump-thump,

shitcan, arm stump,

nylon rope, prison punk.






crack  . . .



. . . static . . .


Knock knock.

Who dat?




hoo-hoo    hoo-hoo


Crash door, on the floor,

rasp frisk, arm twist

pistol whip, deep shit . . .






crack  . . .


. . . static . . .







On ’95 Headed South to Key West




Click the great arrow above for sound:


When I put my hand upon that bible

(its old leather cover was cracked),

I wondered how many hands, both black and white,

were as steady as mine taking that oath.


I slowly raised my right hand and swore

to tell the truth, the whole truth,

nothing but the truth – so help me God.


I said it as if the Lord was as real as you and me.

I looked each juror softly in the eye,

the way Jesus might, if he was on trial.


* * *


They claimed I had to know the 4  kilos

were hidden in those bags, mashed

under wads of dirty clothes.


“No, sir, I did not,” I said. “I swear,

I did not know, would have hid

them better if I had.”


The fat man snarled; his sarcasm dripped,

“We’re supposed to believe you didn’t look?”

“No sir,  I don’t believe in snooping

through other people’s property.”


The fat man lost his cool, sensing he might lose,

raised his voice, “What about the smell?

The patrolmen could smell it, the K-9s went wild.”


I sighed an exhausted sigh and said,

“With all due respect, sir, I’m no dog;

plus I lost me some olfactory in the Iraqi war.

You can check my records on that,” I said.


* * *


My PD, she played a role as well,

was less a Yankee, more of a good ol’ gal.

She appealed to the jury’s sense of fair play.


“Let us hope,” she said, hand on heart,

“we have not come to that sad day

when we’re so cynical

we ‘re incapable of

mustering a reasonable doubt

in favor of a fellow human being.


“He could be your brother or son.

Let us hope we can still manage

to muster a reasonable doubt.”


* * *


There’s nothing quite like getting out of jail.

You feel so free it’s almost worth

getting locked up to get out again.


You look up and see clouds overhead,

and in your car with the windows rolled down,

you can feel the wind blow back your hair

as you bid adieu to that goddamned town.


You’re free to take this road or that,

free to head north, south, east, or west,

free to holler a rebel yell – you’re free again –

on ’95 headed south to Key West.

Too Many Dark Nights

Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange

Click grey area above for sound


Oh, Leah, I ‘d resign tomorrow

if I could steel myself and endure

mom’s patronizing, smug I-told-you-so,

but no, I’ll continue to slog my way

through this damned Despond of Despair,

continue to suffer our insufferable DA.

No, I’m  good at least for one more year,

my own self-imposed sentence, you might say.


It’s almost always drugs.  Smack, crack

meth, Ecstasy.  With the resources

we waste prosecuting weed, we could feed

so many food insecure kids! We need

to get them out of those trailers

into pre-K if this unrelenting

cycle of poverty is ever to cease!

We’re talking Dorothea Lange like squalor here.


Let me tell you about these two clients of mine,

Jimmy Joshua Jeffcoat and Henry David Dobson,

as different as night and day, but in

a similar plight. Unable to make their bail,

they share the same cell.  Jeffcoat’s a creep,

with pitted methadonic rotting teeth.

Dobson, on the other hand, reads Oscar Wilde

and flashes a crooked grin of orthodontic white.


Jeffcoat’s doomed to serve at least seven,

if not more, but Dobson wants, as he says,

“a jury of my peers to decide.” Who knows?

He’s kind of charismatic.  DOB 4/1/75.

He sports a full head of slicked back hair.

A ruddy face, creased, furrowed, but kind.

I’d say he’s suffered way too much sun,

and a few too many dark nights to boot.


He calls me “Miss” in a formal sort of way,

and he’s practically tattooless, the only one

his dead son’s name, in between his fingers,

upside down from our perspective.

Yes, I guess he could be gay, though I hadn’t

thought of that.  But, yes, you’re right, the tat

is indeed a man’s name, and yes, Wilde, could be,

but if I had to bet, I’d bet he’s straight.


When this gig’s over, I’ll bugaloo back

to Boca, having done my time.

Might go grad school, SCAD, get an MFA

in photography.  I’ve learned being a lawyer

is not for me.  Should have listened to my

heart instead of my mom.  Oh, sure, she’s proud

of what she’s made of me, my Ivy League degree,

her youngest brand name of a daughter.

When Jimmy Jeffcoat’s Meth Lab Blew


Click the grey button above for sound


When Jimmy Jeffcoat’s meth lab blew,

me and Tiny Wade was smoking a joint

back behind outside the Stop and Go.


Boom.  One blast.  BOOM.  Tiny jumped

about a foot and a half, like a bullet or bigger

was headed his way.  “Got damn, what was that?”


I told him I reckoned a transformer blew,

or maybe a sonic boom? but then we heard a siren’s

whoop-whoop and knew that something bad was up.


“For sure, it ain’t no Islamic terrorist,” I joked.

“Ain’t nothing in this shitty skank ass town

worth the trouble of blowing up.”


* * *


We still ain’t recovered from that tornado

two years ago. The kids gone off to college

ain’t never coming back.  Tallahassee, Orlando,

Atlanta, they got movie theaters and restaurants.

Their parks ain’t littered with them empty canisters

the teens been huffing on all night long.


* * *


I hear they hauled Jimmy down to Duval County.

He lost his dog and parrot, both burnt to a crisp,

that parrot that perched and shat on Jimmy’s shoulder,


like Jimmy was some long lost landlocked pirate.

“Arrggh,” Jimmy’d growl,” and the parrot’d go

“Arrggh” over and over. I swunny it got old.


I suspect Jimmy ain’t laughing right now,

and I know for sure the parrot ain’t,


and that dog won’t keep me up ever again

barking his chained-up ass off all night long.


Yep, the sun comes up, and the sun goes down,

and now there’s one less loser in this po-dunk town.

The Back Roads to Tallahassee



Click the grey arrow above for sound.


Took the back roads to Tallahassee

to avoid the monotony of mile markers,

dead armadillos, and exit signs.

Took the back roads and took my time.


Didn’t make it quick enough to see him die,

but my step-mama filled me in,

sucking on a Marlboro like a man,

“A horrible death, a horrible death,” she said,


over and over, shaking her head.

I didn’t know what to say. “Too bad.”

“He fought it hard,” she said, “screamed

‘Get that Gotdamn light out of my face,’


then up and passed.”  She’d took a picture

and showed it to me.  Looked like

all dead people look – his eyes froze,

his mouth froze open like a fish.


No, my daddy and me didn’t get along,

the house not big enough to hold

the two of us.  Like in that

Springsteen song.  We’d cuss each other


and sometimes come to blows.  Of course,

me 35, half his age, been able whip him

for a while.  He sure whipped me

back then before, cracking a buckled belt.


Can’t quite pity the poor dead bastard,

laying there waxy with his hair slicked back

in that Sears and Roebuck suit, striped tie,

his mouth glued closed, his eyes glued shut.


His daddy beat him, and that daddy

beat that daddy before that.  I ain’t

got no offspring, but got my own

business, mind my own business,


so I have the time to take my time,

to take the back roads, to avoid

traffic, to miss all them 18-wheelers in a hurry

to reach them warehouses they can’t abide.

On the Slave Ship Lolly Pop

Click the grey button above for sound

                                                        for Nancy Reagan

I used to stuff my face with candy

when I was a little boy,

couldn’t cop enough Mary Janes,

would kill for an Almond Joy.


Then I graduated to the Real Thing – Coke.

I was popping five cans a day,

plopping my dimes down on the counter

under caffeine and sugar’s sway.


Now I’m hooked on heroin,

am little more than a thug.

Wish I’d known then what I know now –

that sugar is the gateway drug.