The Post Labor Day Wardrobe Blues

The Post Labor Day Wardrobe Blues

 

Labor Day, brother,

put them white pants away.

I reiterate: Labor Day;

put them white shoes away.

Nobody told that blazing sun up there,

but the etiquette polices get the final say.

 

Way past Labor Day,

shred that seersucker, fool.

The calendar say September,

so ditch them white bucks, too.

No matter what the thermometer say,

We talking ’bout society rules!

 

Science book say white jacket repel the heat

help to keep your arm pit dry.

Science book say dark clothes sorbs the heat

and make your poor body fry.

But the science also say they ain’t

no heaven to go to when you die.

 

Up in heaven, it always the month of May

Up in heaven it always the month of May

You can wear that white robe without no snooty dismay.

 

Gots to get to heaven to ‘scape global warmin’

Needs to get to heaven to ‘scape global warmin’

It be almost Christmas and the skeeters still be swarmin’

 

Oh, do Lawd, it Labor Day,

time to put them white clothes away.

Done be Labor Day,

 

gotta put them white clothes away.

Time to don you some wool

and pray for the Judgment Day

Yo dub poet hisself

The Robotics of Pledging Allegiance

The K-12 independent Episcopal/African Anglican institution* where I teach celebrates the beginning of each school year with an outdoor all-school assembly.

It’s quite a confluence – Lower School teachers shepherd their little ones in lines, the Middle School bursts from Tyler Hall in a hormonal scrum, Upper School students meander down the steps to join the other two divisions beneath canopies of shade-providing oaks. Faculty members should, I suppose, hang with the grades they teach, but these well-behaved, considerate boys and girls need little supervision. I generally roam among each division until the show actually commences when I reposition myself as far back as discretion allows.

In Episcopal/African Anglican fashion, the ceremony begins with a processional led by a cross-bearing acolyte followed by the Chaplin, the Head of School, the Head of Admissions, sixteen flag-bearing students, and a bag-piping Latin-teaching devotee of Lucretius bringing up the rear.

Then follows a prayer, words of welcome, and introductions of the flag-bearers, natives or citizens of the countries of the flags they awkwardly wield. The last introduced is a US citizen, and one of the aforementioned dignitaries leads the assembled in the Pledge of Allegiance, words I haven’t recited since Lyndon Johnson was president.

kids-saying-pledge1To me, pledging allegiance to anything, especially when you’re too young and too ignorant historically to understand the words smacks of insecurity, if not paranoia, and is in a sense insulting. The Moore/Birdsong son-producing combine never demanded that Harrison and Ned and Mother and Father place their hands upon their hearts and swear fealty to the clan — it was a given that we all loved one another and wouldn’t endanger the family unit in any kind of serious malfeasance.

a cartoon from a '50's edition of Highlights for Children magazine

a cartoon from a ’50’s edition of Highlights for Children magazine

Furthermore, the words of the Pledge simply aren’t true. For example, I first recited them in a segregated school, and when I went for my smallpox vaccination, I flipped through Highlights magazines in an all-white waiting room (blacks had their own waiting rooms in the fashion of veterinarian clinics that separate dogs and cats).

So much for liberty and justice for all.

Not to mention that the Pledge itself violates the separation of church and state that the Constitution decrees — one nation under God, indivisible. I can also argue, as some Texans do in spasms of Obama-hating frenzy, that damn right it’s divisible, like in 1860’s, for example.

Having children place their hands on their hearts to solemnly swear to bullshit is unhealthy.

How about a compromise? How about changing a word here and there to make the Pledge less paranoid, less mendacious? Here’s a immodest proposal:

I pay homage to the ideals of the Constitution of the United States of America — liberty and justice. We are one nation of melded immigrants who treasure our freedoms of speech, religion, and assembly and will remain mindful of them as we live our lives in this great nation of ours.

Just an idea.

Wanna hear a really creepy idea?  What if they made you pledge allegiance to the flag of the state of South Carolina?

 


*Not unlike some of our parents, the Episcopal Church in South Carolina and some of its parishes are going through an ugly divorce.

 

A Reluctant Grammarian Goes Over to the Dark Side

imagesBecause I was dream-ridden, impractical and enjoyed reading, I majored in English without giving future employment a nanosecond’s consideration. Not adept at linear thinking (or delayed gratification), I floated day-to-day through the eight seasons of my undergraduate career bullshitting, wooing, drinking, reefering, eating cafeteria food, listening to and talking about music, reading, writing papers, and studying (not necessarily in that order).

Something would come up or happen or not.

No way did I ever envision myself as a future high or middle school teacher. I recall my pre-undergraduate days, not with nostalgia, but with a feeling of good-riddance, like Japanese Californians might look back on their internment during WW2.

Ironically, my English class in the 8th grade was what I dreaded most each day: constructing mobile-like diagrams of stilted workbook sentences or splashing misspelled words between prim blue lines as I stacked one atop the other five mechanically engineered paragraphs.

Sometimes I foolishly envied my teachers because I thought they didn’t suffer the anxiety I did (they seemed to have their shit together), but no way did I ever even remotely consider expending

hours . . .

days . . .

years . . .

decades . . .

in concrete-block enclosures forcing kids to read the Fireside Poets.

Nevertheless, I am an English teacher, which means, alas, people who don’t know me well think I might judge them on the standardization of their grammar, whether spoken or written. I try to reassure them that I digs the vernacular, that they can feel free to split infinitives, confuse lie with lay, end sentences with prepositions. It’s all good/well with me.

I could [not] care less (unless they confuse number with amount [petty] or use literally to mean figuratively [deadly]).*

Nevertheless, me, myself and I-and-I hesitate to violate grammatical rules in written language, even though I know the best prose sounds as if like someone’s talking to you.

See what I mean? Grammar books teach that one in written language should not introduce a clause (as in the sentence above) with the preposition “like,” but you sound like some stilted schoolmarm if you use “as if,” not to mention, one. In fact, I violate the subordinate pronoun rule in the last clause of the last sentence of paragraph 3 – like Japanese Californians might look back on their internment during WW2.

Truth be told, I had to spend some time getting that clause right. I’d prefer a singular antecedent – a Japanese Californian – but I didn’t want the clutter of singular gender specific pronouns like his and her  – however, I also didn’t want to drop the pronoun altogether as in like a Japanese Californian might look back on internment because the rhythm wasn’t quite right. After a bit of praying and fasting, I ended up opting for a plural antecedent Californians so I could correctly use “their.”

In fact, I’m almost at the point of endorsing plural neuter pronouns like they and their as a practical, ear-pleasing alternatives to cluttering sentences with hises and herses.

Compare this cliché with its politically correct alternatives:

A measure of a man is his

A measure of a wo/man is his or her

A measure of a person is his of her [or his/her]

A measure of a person is their

I’m thinking the last one might be best. It doesn’t suggest that women are subsets of men, it doesn’t bring attention to the differences between the two, and it doesn’t clutter/ruin the rhythm of the sentence. Obviously, it’s grammatically wrong, but to most people it doesn’t sound wrong.

After all, the construction “I’m a good ventriloquist, ain’t I” makes more grammatical sense than “I’m a good ventriloquist, aren’t I?”

After all, I are a ventriloquist extraordinaire.

*”I contradict myself?  So I contradict myself.  A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” sez Ralph Waldo.

Hieronymus Bosch Deals with Cancer

 

Hieronymus Bosch - Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights _detail 13_

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which cell first rebelled,

fueled the insurrection

taking over the town?

Bosch-born monsters breed,

ruttish rumpfed bladders on legs

scurrying across the canvas,

an obscene carnival, clots of chaos everywhere.

Dey run amok fuck-up go cruzy clump

disrupt – sisrupt – pile-up

piles of corpses

mangled tangled

elbows, torsos,

heads, mouths

frozen open, rictus,

Dachau, Austerlitz

anus world, a world of shit.

* * *

But here comes the chemo,

scouring, healing poison –

not no cavalry, not no Marines,

but bleach, lye,

molten lava pumping,

spreading o’er the obscene canvas

obliterating blight,

like hell fire, consuming those

misbegotten cankered creatures,

restoring order, an earlier order,

purging, drowning,

cooling,

covering,

creating rich soil

for fresh garden growth

a world of . . .

Cliffs of Fall, Frightful

Not surprisingly, Robin Williams’ death has ignited a war of words between those who believe that suicide is a selfish act of cowardice and those who believe that it is a regrettable symptom of mental illness — that the suicide is in essence innocent of his own murder by reason of insanity.

Among the former is Shepard Smith who observed on Fox News:

You could love three little things [Williams’ children] so much, watch them grow, they’re in their mid-20s, and they’re inspiring you, and exciting you, and they fill you up with the kind of joy you could never have known.’

‘And yet, something inside you is so horrible or you’re such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide that you have to end it. Robin Williams, at 63, did that today.’

What do you have to say to that, Gerard Manley Hopkins?

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall

Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap

May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small

Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,

Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all

Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

"The Dark Mountains" by James Craig Annan (1864 - 1946)

“The Dark Mountains” by James Craig Annan (1864 – 1946)

Obviously, Shep Smith “ne’er hung there,” and though Matt Walsh, self-professed “professional sayer of truths” claims to have “struggled with [depression] his entire life,” he’s obviously “ne’er hung there” either:

So I’m just like you, then, because I can’t stomach the thought of [suicide]. I’ve seen it in the neighborhoods where I’ve lived and the schools that I’ve attended. I’ve seen it in my family. I’ve known adults and kids who’ve done it. I’ve seen it on the news and read about it in books, but I can’t comprehend it. The complete, total, absolute rejection of life. The final refusal to see the worth in anything, or the beauty, or the reason, or the point, or the hope. The willingness to saddle your family with the pain and misery and anger that will now plague them for the rest of their lives.

It’s a tragic choice, truly, but it is a choice, and we have to remember that. Your suicide doesn’t happen to you; it doesn’t attack you like cancer or descend upon you like a tornado. It is a decision made by an individual. A bad decision. Always a bad decision.

Hmmmmm.

Of cuff I button at my wrist. The presser, the cutter,

The wringer, the mangle. The needle, the union,

The treadle, the bobbin. The code. The infamous blaze

 

At the Triangle Factory in nineteen-eleven.

One hundred and forty-six died in the flames

On the ninth floor, no hydrants, no fire escapes—

 

The witness in a building across the street

Who watched how a young man helped a girl to step

Up to the windowsill, then held her out

 

Away from the masonry wall and let her drop.

And then another. As if he were helping them up

To enter a streetcar, and not eternity.

 

A third before he dropped her put her arms

Around his neck and kissed him. Then he held

Her into space, and dropped her. Almost at once

 

He stepped to the sill himself, his jacket flared

And fluttered up from his shirt as he came down,

Air filling up the legs of his gray trousers—

 

Triangle Factory Fire

Triangle Factory Fire

Obviously, depression is an existential, individual disease that manifests itself in different individuals in different degrees. I’m assuming that Mr. Walsh hasn’t suffered Gerard-Manley-Hopkins or David-Foster-Wallace-grade depression, endured those hideous nightmares that plague the sufferer, who pulls down the comforter to discover the rotting corpse of his mother, nightmares that slaughter sleep, which further exhausts the sufferer, who now shuffles blank eyed through a bleak day where nothing – no thing – will bring him joy nor alleviate his excruciating pain.

Yes, suicide is a horrible act, an act that plagues family and friends with sorrow and perhaps guilt; however, if someone’s psyche is a Triangle Factory on fire, I can understand and forgive his or her leaping.

 

Robin Williams, Maria Bamford, and Shamanism

Last night CNN’s Errol Barnett and Larry King pondered why someone like Robin Williams, a man whom they claimed had everything — genius, riches, awards galore – would take his own life.

King went on to paraphrase EA Robinson’s famous poem “Richard Cory,” the one Simon and Garfunkel put to music; only King misidentified Richard Cory as “Mr. Blackwell” and embellished with extra info like “he had parties on every Halloween.”

Here, look at it yourself. (And also enjoy the dulcet tones of Judy Birdsong yakking on the phone in the background)

Here’s the poem “Richard Cory”

Whenever Richard Cory went downtown,

We people on the pavement looked at him;

He was a gentleman from sole to crown,

Clean-favored, and imperially slim

 

And he was always quietly arrayed.

And he was always human when he talked;

But still he fluttered pulses when he said,

“Good morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

 

And he was rich — yes, richer than a king —

And admirably schooled in every grace:

In fine, we thought that he was everything

To make us wish that we were in his place.

 

So on we worked, and waited for the light,

And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;

And Richard Cory, on calm summer night

Went home and put s bullet through his head.

Here is Errol Barnett extolling the nuanced wisdom of Larry King.

Now, dear reader/viewer, take a look at Robin Williams’s first appearance on Johnny Carson.

Nancy C Andreasen’s article “Secrets of the Creative Brain” in the July/August Atlantic explores the connection between creativity and mental illness.  According to her 15-year study of participants of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop that included the likes of Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Yates, John Cheever, “and 27 other well-known writers,”  Andreasen writes that her “writer subjects came to my office and spent three or four hours pouring out the stories of their struggles with mood disorder — mostly depression, but occasionally bipolar disorder.  A full 80% percent of them had some kind of mood disturbance, compared with just 30% of the control group.”

Although Williams never acknowledged that he suffered from bipolar disorder, his manic highs certainly seem to suggest that a BPD diagnosis is reasonable, and if we can imagine lows that counterbalance the highs on display in the clip above, those those lows would be Marianas-Tench-like, bottomless.

Coincidently, just last week I caught the comedienne Maria Bamford being interviewed on NPR describing a visit she received from a Whole Foods aficionado while Bamford was in a mental hospital.  Bamford, who’s famous for channeling voices, echoed the all-knowing tone of a Californian new ager as she impersonated the visitor.

Visitor: Look, Maria, you need to, like, get into nature.

Maria:  You mean like Virginia Woolf and the river?

old pictures 004Even before yesterday’s dismal news, I wondered in a different culture if Williams might turn out to be a shaman, and watching Bamford’s most recent special (see trailer below), it’s almost as if she’s possessed, not by demons, but by a number of different personalities.  Here’s Joseph Campbell explaining the difference between a Shaman and a priest:

There’s a major difference, as I see it, between a shaman and a priest. A priest is a functionary of a social sort. The society worships certain deities in a certain way, and the priest becomes ordained as a functionary to carry out that ritual. The deity to whom he is devoted is a deity that was there before he came along. But the shaman’s powers are symbolized in his own familiars, deities of his own personal experience. His authority comes out of a psychological experience, not a social ordination.

To become a shaman or shamanka (the term for a female shaman), one must undergo a psychological crisis.

Here’s anthropologist Douglas Mackar’s description of the shaman state:

The most basic aspect of how we are Shamans is the experience of the trance state.
 All creation occurs in a trance state. In trance, your old attitudes can’t disrupt creation and evolution. It’s only when you release from that trance state that you fall back into your old mind state. It’s always a temptation to go back to the familiar. True change- transformation- is incorporating new knowledge into your psyche and holding it there long enough for it to become a permanent part of your thinking. (Douglas Mackar)

Of course, the 20th and 21st Century LA was Williams’s and Bamford’s milieu, and I don’t mean to imply that they literally were sha-people, only that they share some similarities, and a trance state is not a bad way to describe some of their comic performances.

And also we shouldn’t conflate Williams with Richard Cory.  Cory “glittered when he walked” and Williams bounced around whatever room he was in like an Indian rubber ball.

His suicide didn’t surprise me.

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Sons Grow Up to Be Poets or House Painters

Thanks to a steady intake of fumes from solvents, house painters suffer a greater susceptibility to alcoholism than any workers except for maybe poets.[1]

You think you got it rough, surveyor, roofer, house painter, Sisyphus?

Dig this poetic whining:

A line will take us hours maybe;

Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,

Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.

Better go down upon your marrow-bones

And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones

Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;

For to articulate sweet sounds together

Is to work harder than all these, and yet

Be thought an idler by the noisy set

Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen

The martyrs call the world.’

Not to mention that you also have to teach college to pay your bills.

The horror! The horror!

Yet, you could — and I do — argue that house painting is more dangerous to your health than banging out villanelles.

the good lifeFor example yesterday was, in the words of a house painter acquaintance, “paycheck Friday,” which brought him to the bar at Chico Feo with more than enough cash to tie one on. HP — as I will call him —  is a rather handsome but unkempt 40-year-old who sports shoulder-length brown hair, a greying beard, and a number of eclectic tattoos, including the dog Odie of Garfield fame, tongue out, panting on his left bicep. HP hangs with Gregory, a gentlemanly toper who also sports shoulder-length hair and a Whitmanesque beard.   Although I don’t think either one is homeless — I know that HP isn’t — they could be mistaken for one of those slouching men you sometimes see shuffling on the side of Folly Road with knapsacks on their backs.

And they ain’t singing “Valderi, Valdera. ”

Bespattered with paint and suffering from a case of psoriasis on his arms and legs worthy of an illustration in a medical encyclopedia, HP took a seat a couple of stools to my right. In between sat at my pals Jim Crow and John Harvey Rogers. Across the bar from us were a young, wholesome couple from Asheville who happened to have been married by a former student of mine.

joker clubAnyway, somehow the conversation turned to the Wild Wild Joker, Charleston’s most famous but now defunct strip club. Before I go any further, I guess I should admit that I once visited the Joker in the late ’70’s when I was being groomed for management in a company that sold safety equipment. Part of the job entailed entertaining out-of-town customers, many of whom, not surprisingly, would rather take in a strip show than a Chekhov play. Anyway, I have a vague memory of the joint. It had a stage, booths, tables, and women who walked around offering to let you buy them a bottle of $100 champagne.

As it turns out, HP worked as a DJ at the Joker as a 22-year old,.

“DJ?” I asked. “You spun records there?

“No, I would introduce the acts, do some bouncing.”

“MC, not DJ,” I wondered.

A smile suddenly brightened HP’s face. “If there wasn’t a lady present,” he said. “I could tell you a great story about one night when me and the girls and the manager and bouncer stayed up till eight in the morning partying at the Joker.”

I gently chided him, informing him in so many words just how insultingly sexist was his statement, that the “she” he referred to was a grown woman and probably as interested in a tale of Chaucerian bawdry as we.

I asked him if I could record the story with my phone, and he said no. Who could blame him? Maybe this story would rival the one I recently heard about a pal who had worked his way through college picking up bodies for a funeral home, and who had, when tripping on acid in the funeral home’s morgue, accidently shot an old-lady-viewing-ready corpse in the face with a .22.

“Okay,” HP said, “I’ll tell it.

We all leaned toward him as he lowered his voice. “That night I’m talking about. We did lines off the bodies of the girls.”

He wore the grin of a former athlete reminiscing about a touchdown of yore. Just sat there grinning.

“And I said.”

“That’s it.”

“That’s it? That’s the story?”

“That’s the story.”

The End

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1012122/

Cancer, Camaraderie, and Clichés

Unless you’re atypically morbid, like David Sedaris, who whiles away his time in airports “wondering which of the many people around me will die first, and of what,” chances are you’ve exiled the thought of your own mortality to the deepest, remotest outpost in the penal colony of your consciousness. And nothing screams mortality like a bald, cadaverous middle-aged woman sporting a pink baseball cap and a tee that reads “I Got Chemo Brain. What’s Your Excuse.”   Encountering her on a sidewalk, you might nod a quick greeting, or if she were preoccupied, avert your eyes.

That is, unless you — or someone very close to you — have/has been diagnosed with cancer. In that case, this plucky woman is a cognoscente, a knower, a fellow sufferer, a sister, so you look her in the eye, smile your most winning smile, and say hello.

Since my wife Judy’s diagnosis of lymphoma, we’ve by necessity been hanging out with cancer patients — at Roper’s/St Francis’s West Ashley Cancer Center, on the fifth floor of the old downtown Roper, and at an adjacent building where nurses administer white-blood-cell-enhancing injections on Sunday mornings to folks undergoing chemo.

Our first visit takes place on a day so bleak weatherwise that I expect to see the words “Directed by Ingmar Bergman” projected on the bank of dark gray clouds squatting over the harbor. There’s a flash flood warning until eleven, and the rain is steady but not torrential at the moment.

We arrive, take the elevator to the fifth floor (what is it about cancer and fifth floors?) to find at least a dozen people waiting for their injections. What strikes me foremost is how cheerful these folks seem to be. At first, the office is so crowded that we stand out in the hall and have a conversation with a robust-seeming but patchily bald thirty-something who is  (cliche #1) battling relapsed colon cancer, a disease first diagnosed when he was overseas on active duty. Obviously, he’s been dealt an unlucky genetic hand; his brother is also battling cancer, a lymphoma. He gives us the name of an author and book about some miraculous diet.

caneAs people exit, we make our way inside and have a seat. I’m across from a large man in his seventies wearing suspenders and holding a hand-carved cane in the shape of an egret in the big paw of his hand. This man’s head looks like a giant flesh-colored bowling ball, and he doesn’t have any eyebrows. As it turns out, he lives in the town of my birth, Summerville, and commissioned some local artisan to carve the cane for him. He says with a smile that his wife was supposed to come with him, but her head was under the covers when he left. “So I’m going to get some breakfast,” he says good-naturedly. “She can get her own breakfast.”

And then there is the smiling, petite, and ever so fragile-seeming older woman who looks as if she might weigh all of her eighty pounds. She’s wearing a baseball cap and speaks in a cheerful, clipped Northern cadence.

She knows things we as yet don’t know and serves as a wonderful role model. She’s come here alone with her (cliche #2) head held high, and seems perfectly happy.

Oh, these cliches! They’re impossible to avoid. When people ask, we say we’re optimistic but (cliche #3) taking it one day at a time, which, if you stop to think of it, is how we should live whether we’re suffering from cancer or just won the Powerball Jackpot. When I walk Saisy now, I take note of what I might have missed before, the smell of lighter fluid, the sight of pelicans in an unbalanced vee overhead, the sounds of squealing little girls dabbling in the waves.

In Defense Of Hipsters

Background

In the 2014 edition of the United States, prudent people don’t criticize the state of Israel, nor do they praise hipsters.

Certainly, I have no intention of casting aspersions Israel’s way; however, as imprudent as it might be, I have decided to attempt an apologia for hipsterdom, that haven for non-alphas where unconventionality breeds a sort of countercultural uniformity that many find off-putting. What interests me most about this topic is the degree of animus the word “hipster” engenders among several acquaintances and one very good friend, who, ironically, might be the hippest person I know.

A while back, I started to notice a proliferation of on-line deprecations of hipsters, and when the post office version of this month’s Atlantic arrived, I checked out James Parker’s piece “The Twee Revolution” in which he attempts to understand “the strangely persistent modern sensibility that fructifies in the props of Wes Anderson movies, tapers into the waxed mustache ends of young Brooklynites on bicycles, and detonates in a yeasty whiff every time someone pops open a microbrewed beer.”

“Consider the cultural degradation of the ‘hipster’ [Parker goes on to say] — once a jazz-and-orgasms spirit warrior with battle hymns by Norman Mailer, now a dude with a funny hat rooting through a bin of used vinyl.”

What’s so insidious about wearing funny hats or preferring vinyl to CDs? Why so much contempt for someone doing so little actual harm?

Etymology

By the way, if you’re unfamiliar with the derivation of hip, it comes from hep, a jazz term originating in the ’40’s, a term describing an avant garde aficionado of hot jazz and/or bebop (as opposed to swing), in other words. a cat or chick in the know, or as Cab Calloway would put it, a cat or chick who got their boots on. Somehow hep morphed into hip, though I have also read that hip as a synonym for cool might owe its derivation to the posture of the habitués of opium dens who lay on their sides (i.e., hips) as they toked their hookahs.

mid- 20th Century hipsters

mid- 20th Century hipsters

Cab Calloway, who published in 1940 The Hepster Dictionary, would not necessarily physically recognize the person Mr. Parker describes above as a hep cat; however, the hep cat of Cab’s day and Parker’s hipster do share some common characteristics.

Here’s a Wikipedia copped quote from Frank Tirro’s Jazz A History that describes 1940 version of hipster: “He is amoral, anarchistic, gentle, and overcivilized to the point of decadence.”

Anecdotal Evidence

typical Tuesday at Chico Feo (featuring self- portrait by the artist)

typical Tuesday at Chico Feo (featuring self- portrait by the artist)

I brought up Parker’s article at Chico Feo, the hippest bar in the most bohemian town in South Carolina, and wondered aloud why so many people hate hipsters so.

Suddenly, Charlie, the most affable of bartenders (and who sports a Whitmanesque beard[1]) launched into a passionate denunciation of the subculture, of its uniformity, its too-cool-for-you-ness.

John, sitting across the bar from me and rolling a cigarette, joined in on the spirited dissing.

Their antipathy genuinely surprised me. These two rather unconventional-looking men’s animus for hipsters probably rivaled, or even surpassed, your typical frat boy’s.

“C’mon,” I say, “they’re not as nearly bad as your typical, entitled, swaggering Lacrosse jock. I never hear about hipsters inviting strippers to parties where alleged sexual assaults take place. These assholes certainly deserve to be hated more than hipsters.”

As my luck would have it, Charlie played lacrosse in high school.

John’s disgust with hipsters seemed to lie in their lack of utilitarian usefulness. “They’re caught up in this fake world of bullshit,” he said. “They’re not living in the real world; they’re living in the cyber world. When something breaks, they don’t fix it. They throw it away and buy a new one.”

“Plus,” he added, “They’re always multi-tasking, doing four things at once. You can’t multi-task. You can only do one thing well at a time.”

The fog of one too many high gravity micro brews was starting to roll in, so I didn’t do a good job of expressing the sentiment that comes immediately to mind after typing John’s response: so what? It’s not as if they caused the Great Recession through avarice and idiocy and walked away scott free with billions in their offshore bank accounts.

Easter in Brooklyn (from left to right Judy Birdsong, Wesley Moore, Jim Cline, Jim Crow)

Easter in Brooklyn (from left to right Judy Birdsong, Wesley Moore, Jim Klein, Jim Crow)

So I got on my bike and pedaled home to call the hippest cat I know, Mr. Jim Klein, the Abstract Expressionist, who lives in Brooklyn, a subway stop or two from Williamsburg, the Ground Zero of hipsterdom. You can read about Judy and my Easter visit to Jim and his wife Sue’s loft here, but suffice to say, it’s got to be one of the most interesting domiciles anywhere, and Klein possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz and the arts in general.

Mr. Klein ended up being just as down on hipsters as my barmates. “Zombies controlled by stupidity,” he called them. Echoing John, he cited their dependency on technology, their exuding a vibe of unearned superiority. In a voicemail he sent the following day, he added their sense of entitlement as a negative; they exude a sense of superiority without every having accomplished much of anything.

Possible Explanations for the Passionate Dislike

As I’m found of saying, even though I am not a psychologist, I do sleep with one, so allow me to posit a possible reason hipsters produce what seems to me such a disproportionate quantity of spleen for the petty misdemeanors of their outré aesthetic, technological proclivities, and lack of productivity.

All I can come up with is that hipsters evoke some aspect of insecurity or some shared but repressed negative characteristic the hipster-hater harbors within his or her own being.

I remember some student back in the day telling me that I reminded him of the asshole comedian Dennis Miller. “What,” I complained, “I hate Dennis Miller. He’s arrogant, sarcastic, flaunts his learning, goes out of his way to use arcane diction to prove just how effing smart he is and is needlessly vulgar.”

The student’s look screamed, “Like I said, you remind me of Dennis Miller!”

What else can it be? Skinny jeans, shitty dyed hair, vintage store dresses, leggings don’t strike me as any more pernicious than Ralph Lauren polos or those garish Hawaiian shirts geezers of my generation sport. Why not hate surfers as much — they, too, lead hedonistic lifestyles, sport their own types of uniform, engage in their own distancing argot.

Surfers tend to be attractive — or at least fit. Maybe, the hipsters’ tendency to flip off fashion also contributes to their unpopularity. Rumor has it even hipsters with 20/20 vision sport clunky horn-rims for effect. Maybe the fact that this dweeby, pasty, pink-haired girl thinks she’s cooler than her bleached blonde beauty queen cousin is what drives some people to foam at the mouth.

Personal History

I attended Summerville High School, an institution where football is taken as seriously as Ayatollahs take Ramadan. Especially, when I was there, if you weren’t a jock, particularly a football player, you were a lesser being. The star players and cheerleaders, on the other hand, were celebrities. Jerry Reese, the starting quarterback, once told me near the school bus line-up, “Hey that little guy just told his friend, ‘that’s Jerry Reese.’” Also, it goes without saying that some of the players (not Jerry) were bigoted, bullying assholes.

In 1969, I started hanging out with an iconoclast named Tim Miskel, swapped out my alpaca sweater for a blue jean jacket, cultivated my anger by straining it through irony, and ended up abandoning my childhood friends for a new set, Summerville’s first hippies, people like Adam Jacobs, Gray Eubank, Jack McDonagh, Christine Richards, Glen Farrah, Margie Bradshaw, Mike Moore, among others. We, too, all more or less dressed alike and received much First World abuse for our unconventionality. Once, my Spanish teacher asked derisively if I had gotten my shirt at the Psychedelic Shack.

Nevertheless, this subculture, I bodily state, was much more interesting than the preppie/jock Green Wave culture where virtually everyone stupidly and reflexively supported the Viet Nam War, preferred Three Dog Night to Jimi Hendrix, and were okay with school segregation.

Although I would have had trouble bench-pressing a broomstick, I could satirize school culture knowing I had a supportive band of renegades behind me. Hipness — knowing the difference between Ingmar and Ingrid Bergman — became sort of cool. After all, it offered others like ourselves an alternative path to popularity, which is what most high school students crave.

Schools desperately need countercultures, and the hipster students at my school also offer counterweights to the cult of the athlete. As it so happens, the hipsters at my school are some of my favorite students — they’re bright, interesting, skeptical, artistic.

Anyway, who am I to criticize funny hats and skinny jeans?

[1] Was Walt Whitman the very first hipster? “The scent of these armpits is aroma finer than prayer,” he writes in “Song of Myself.”

a couple of hipsters

the author at the Poetry Outloud Regional Finals