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.

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


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