For whatever perverse reason, I prefer dives to tony bars and restaurants. The same goes for neighborhoods. You couldn’t pay me to live on Kiawah or Daniel Island. The manicured bicycle paths, the antiseptic standards of what is allowed architecturally, the non-diversity of income and outlook, and the bland, vowel-less intonations of their residents and tourists would produce in me fogbanks of despair.
Nor would I want to live in an upstate mill village where all the small clapboard houses have the same floor plan and everyone twangs vocally the verbal equivalent of out-of-tune banjo strings.
No, what I like is diversity, the mixed neighborhoods of the Upper Peninsula and the non-gated barrier islands. So I’m very happy here on Folly where a million dollar house might stand next to quaint cottage or a ramshackle two-story paint-peeling survivor of Hurricane Hugo, happy to live in a community where trick-or-treating is forbidden because the poorly lighted streets have no sidewalks and vehicular traffic can be, well, unsteady.
Like the various options in housing on Folly, the island also offers a variety of drinking and eating establishments, and since the closing of the Brew Pub on Center Street, my favorite hangout is Chico Feo, an outdoor Caribbean “restaurant” whose limited menu consists of curried goat, Dominican beans, or shark or pork tacos. In the unlikely case you’re an old-time Charlestonian, think Captain Harry’s without walls or a roof. Like Captain Harry’s, beers are sold out of coolers and the seats are not very comfortable.
Click the arrow in the frame above for a panoramic pan of Chico Feo
Counting the left turn onto Second Street, Chico Feo lies a mere six blocks from my house, so I ride my bike there, weaving my way through the clogged cars of day trippers to enjoy a brew or two beneath the overarching trees – and maybe, just, maybe, to knock off six or so essays.
Yesterday, however, I left my stack of essays at home [‘”Argue that Conrad’s Heart of Darkness can be read as the debunking of stereotypes found in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The White Man’s Burden”‘] and carried with me instead Hugh Kenner’s 1964 book TS Eliot: The Invisible Poet, my journal, and a trusty pen.
Chico Feo attracts locals – a homeless man named Greg, surfers in their late twenties and beyond, musicians, C of C alums/dropouts who never left (damn them), and Folly residents like me – and, yes, many of us are indeed “ugly boys” in keeping with the English translation of the bar’s Spanish name.
After the bartender Charlie provided me with my Bell’s IPA, I found an empty table with a view of Second Street where I could watch locomotive skateboarders with backpacks glide past the mural of Bert the Pirate that graces his iconic market, or I could cast my critical eyes on the never ending parade of pedestrians headed either to or from the beach.
Yesterday, inside the friendly confines – and Chico Feo is incredibly friendly – the bar was occupied with an eclectic group of imbibers: a limping, bearded 50-something sporting a straw cowboy hat, a slender long haired surfer dude, and a group of already-over-the-hill 20-somethings with expanding hips and incipient beer bellies.
On the large picnic table a tableaux of young, middle class hedonists bowed down looking at their cell phones in the attitude of prayer. The temperature was perfect, and the onshore breeze provided a bit of respite from the gnats.
So I opened Kenner’s book and began a chapter devoted to the philosopher Francis Herbert Bradley’s influence on Eliot’s thought and came upon this passage:
My external sensations are no less private to myself than are my thoughts and feelings. In either case my experience falls within my own circle, a circle closed on the outside, and, with all its elements alike, every sphere is opaque to the others which surround it [. . .] In brief, regarded as an existence which appears in a soul, the whole world for each is peculiar and private to that soul.
I looked up from that passage and caught sight of one of the most grotesque human beings I’ve ever encountered.
Where to begin?
The words “obese” and “corpulent” don’t begin to do justice to this shambling Rabelaisian, Falstaffian 400-pound 25-year-old. All he wore was a pair of board shorts that clung precariously an inch or two below the broad expanse of the Brobdingnagian belly that sagged and quivered with every painful, bare-footed step he took on sun-blistered feet and legs. I’ll forego a description of his breasts – let it suffice to say they drooped the way you might imagine Mae West’s drooping in her Myra Breckinridge era. I could see from where I was sitting that he was stoned or tripping or worse.
I returned to Kenner ‘s take on TS when I heard, “Hey, man, how’s it going?”
My deafness has gotten so bad that I didn’t even notice that the giant had pulled up at my table.
I looked up, and there he was sitting, his blue eyes as vacant as a Detroit warehouse, glazed, abnormal.
He commenced a monologue of his surreal misadventures of the previous 24 hours, which I’ll summarize as briefly as possible.
Someone had offered him an LSD-laced drink because they wanted to kill him because he had come here from Kentucky to make and sell art, i.e., sun hats made out of palmetto fronds. They had drugged him, and he had passed out on the beach. He was supposed right now to be with some “sweet honey” from Summerville [I’m ashamed to admit I tried to imagine what contortions must take place to achieve heterosexual intercourse with this man], but now he’s lost her forever, and he remembers the night before gaining consciousness in a restroom downtown washing his hands and screaming, “The water is scalding my hands!”
I patiently listened as I sipped my beer, nodded my head sympathetically, muttered an occasional, “wow-that-sucks.” Finally, when the beer was done, I bid him good-bye and wished him better luck.
Alienation – the great theme of 20th century literature – “every sphere is opaque to the others which surround it” – or as Marlow puts it in Heart of Darkness, “No it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation in any given epoch of one’s existence – that which makes the truth, its meaning – its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream – alone.”
Or as Eliot himself puts it in “The Waste Land” :
I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison . .
The image that stays with me is that of those friends around the picnic table together but apart, prayerfully bowing their heads as they stared into their cell phones – an image of our times.
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