[What in Those Days Were Called] Village Idiots

I’ve come to distrust memories, which, if you want to get technical, are basically chemical/electric configurations warehoused somewhere, somehow in the brain. Over the course of my six decades, I have not always consumed the recommended daily allowance of vitamins.* I also plead guilty to attempting to blunt the pain of my existence by drinking more than the recommended daily allowance of malted beverages — a combination of behaviors that I suspect over the course of a lifetime might fray synapses, make brain chemicals go bad — might muddy memory, desire, dream, daydream.

*My mistyping of vitamins was auto-corrected to “citizens.”

For example, it seems that every time I tell a story, my wife Judy has a different, more prosaic memory of the events, like the tattoo on the palm of the hand of the panhandler not actually being on the palm of his hand but on his wrist.

When I’m telling the story, I’m sure I’m right — can see the swastika clearly slashing across the wrinkles of his palm — but I’ve been proven wrong so many times I’ve lost virtually all confidence in my recollection of events.

Today!This lack of confidence in the reality of my memories is more pronounced the further back I go. For example, did I dream this up, or was there in my hometown of Summerville, SC a [what in those days was called] colored man who travelled the streets in a mule-pulled buggy equipped with automobile tires? In my mind’s eye he’s wearing a slouching felt hat. But who knows? Maybe I’m confusing him with the image of Mississippi John Hurt on the album cover.

Then there was a [what in those days was called] retarded man whom everyone called Pepsi Cola, because he’d come up to you — in this case me, an 8-year-old — and ask you to buy him a Pepsi Cola. I think even though he was a grown man, he lived with his mother, so he didn’t roam around the town but might accompany her to the Piggly Wiggly where he’d wander off. You could tell he wasn’t “right” by his head bobbing and slurry annunciation and the repetitive, obsessive poverty of his diction.

But the absolute king of the Summerville town [what in those days were called] idiots was a man whose Christian and surname I’m not going to repeat for his family’s sake but whom everyone called Beakie.

Although he seemed much younger than my mother, she told me that they rode the same school bus and that he would try to impress the girls by sticking pencils so deep into his gums that they would embed and stick out.

In my junior high days, Beakie rode a bicycle back and forth along the sidewalks of Summerville, and he wore national guard fatigues — or was it that he only wore a national guard hat, the kind that Fidel Castro wore back in the day?

Anyway, what earned Beakie his notoriety was that he would trade firecrackers to naive newcomers to town for a pair of their underwear and a photograph of them. He would say, “I’ll give you 50 pack of firecracker for your drawers.” If successful in the transaction, he would tie the underwear (always tightie whities) behind his bike, place the photograph of the victim in the underwear, and pedal his bicycle all over town.

There was a band in town who actually played a version of “For Your Love” with these lyrics:

For your drawers, for your drawers,
I’ll give you 50 pack . . .

It sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Is my memory of Beakie coasting by on his bicycle dragging drawers and a polaroid of some sucker a legitimate memory or concoction?

Frankly, I have no idea.

Yahoo Digest

This evening, I thought I’d take a break from ranting about the vast abyss of metaphysical meaninglessness and instead whine about minutia — first world problems — those irritations that seem like big deals because our having plumbing, heat pumps, disposable income, and oral hygienists at out beck and call has spoiled us, as my grandmama used to say, rotten.


For example, aptly named Yahoo, the homepage I more or less am forced to use because it’s tied to my email account, has turned into little more than a tabloid, a digital National Enquirer. The top story under a blue banner blares this eye-catching headline: “Dwarf Stripper Finds Love with Army Sergeant.”

Beneath the photo of that tiny temptress is a headline that provides the shocking revelation that Mr. Pawdy Johnny Manziel’s teammates consider him a turd. (I might be wrong about this, but I think Manziel had more missed team meetings than completed passes in the 2014 campaign).

Oh look! SNL’s Blake Shelton will try anything! Okay, Blake, here’s a challenge: see if you can steal the dwarf stripper from her true love, the Sergeant.

Further down, I could, if I dared, click on the link that invites me to “take a Luminosity fit test,” to learn just how close I am into slipping into early dementia, but I dare not, because not only don’t I want to know, but also I’m terrified that if I took the test, the science team with “40+ years of combined experience” would start bugging me with emails for the rest of my non-Alzheimer-ridden life. Wow, 40+ years of combined experience! Given that six scientists are featured on the site, they average an eerily Satanic 6.666666 years each!

Human Ken Doll

Human Ken Doll

Plumbing to the bottom of Yahoo’s All Stories, I succumb to this irresistible tease: Human Ken Doll Explain (sic) Why He Got His Forehead Veins Removed. Yipes? Does that also mean that he has had his genitals and nipples removed?

I certainly hope so.


Oh Boy, Oh Boy, It’s the 21st Century!

After listening to the SOTU address the other night, I’ve decided that If I had the dictatorial power to outlaw any adjective in contemporary English usage, it would be 21st Century – as in 21st-century economy, 21st-century technology, 21st century classroom.

After all, we’re a decade and a half into the century, so, c’mon, let’s drop the term and simply say current economy, current technology, etc., or future economy, future technology. I’m certain no one will think you’re talking about the 5th century BCE when the conversation turns to contemporary pedagogical practices.

definitionAs a teacher, I hear the phrase 21st Century education or 21st century classroom virtually every day, thanks, I suspect, to Thomas Friedman,* whose bestseller The World Is Flat spawned scores of educational entrepreneurs seeking fortunes by informing parents and teachers in books and lectures that books and lectures are relics of the past.

21st education, they say, demands “new building blocks for learning in a complex world,” and for students “to survive and thrive” in “[this] complex and connected world,” teachers must ditch abaci, slide rules, TRS-80s, and equip classrooms with state of the art technology. We need to abandon lectures and tests and embrace project-based, collaborative learning so we can produce technologically literate capitalists who, though they might think the Ottoman Empire is an HBO mini-series, know how to collaborate and find answers to their questions in a rapidly changing, increasingly interdependent world.

You see, I got the rap down myself.

my classroom

my classroom

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against technology. For example, in the accompanying photo of my classroom, you can see I use a table and chairs.

(Technology is, after all, defined as “the embodiment of a technique,” so strictly speaking chalk, slate blackboards, bobby pins, and bongs all fall under the category of technology).

Tables, invented by the Egyptians circa 3300 BCE, are not common in contemporary classrooms, unlike puzzle-like individual desks that interlock in threes for group work; nevertheless, I find that having students sitting in an oval facing one another facilitates polite discussions, as King Arthur himself realized, he being on the cutting edge of 6th century CE innovation.

Around the table we can tackle a subject in depth, learn from each other, disagree, counter argue, explain, and question without the distraction of open laptops and cell phone notifications. And, by the way, how do you efficiently provide students with all the information they need to fully understand a comprehensive subject without lecturing? How am I going to provide them with an overview of 18th Century British culture unless I explain empiricism, deism, coffeehouses, etc?  And by lecture, I mean Socratic lecturing, asking questions, soliciting opinions, not merely standing there behind a lecturn droning on about Juvenalian satire or neoclassic architecture.

As far as introducing students to technology, it seems to me that the authors of these books must not hang around many 21st century children. Whenever I have problem with hard or software, I can count a student coming quickly to my aid, and it has been my experience that sometimes they are even more adept than our IT department (which is excellent) in quickly finding a solution.

On the other hand, their vocabularies have shrunk appreciably since I started this gig in 1985, as have their attention spans, which I blame on quick-editing on Sesame Street and ear buds. (Click HERE on my invaluable guide to childrearing).

10.25-6Of course, this minor irritation of people echoing the 21st century cliché is bound to abate as we get further and further into the century. I suspect that the denizens of the American dystopia of 2075 will have stopped using 21st-century as an adjective, as they scrounge around the depleted planet exercising their 2nd Amendment rights because their grandparents voted for politicians who didn’t believe in science, but, alas, I won’t be around to enjoy not hearing it.

*The same Tom Friedman who from the Op-ed pages of the NY Times urged us to invade Iraq and depose Saddam because it would engender the spread of democracy across the Middle East. So much for his soothsaying.

Endangered Lowcountry SC Locutions

Last spring, I drove my 83-year-old Mama and her 83-old-friend Jean Thrower to the funeral home for Mary Boyle Limehouse’s visitation. Afterwards, I took them out to eat, and for some reason, they were talking about all the new cars on the road and how the auto industry must be booming. Perhaps this is something you notice in a small town like Summerville, South Carolina, because I hadn’t noticed that Charleston’s roads were suddenly teeming with the latest models. Anyway, during this conversation, Jean uttered a word I hadn’t heard in decades – swanny. “I swanny,” she said, “I’ve never seen so many new ca-ahs,”  i.e., cars.

Right then and there, I promised myself I was going to video her and Mama’s having a conversation about their childhoods so I could possess an auditory keepsake of their disappearing accents and locutions, and Mama convinced Jean to agree, but I never got around to it, and, of course, now it’s too late, because Mama’s on her deathbed, though Jean is still hale and hardy.

Yesterday, I heard another word you don’t hear much any more – commotion – as in “She doesn’t need all this commotion; what she needs is peace and quiet,” so I’ve decided to start a list of old Lowcountry Southernisms and provide a definition and a sentence that shows the words in context. Of course, because I’m lazy, I’m going about it in piecemeal fashion, adding them when I hear them, but here’s a start.

South Carolina Lowcountry Locutions

Bo-Gator – n., (pronounced bo-gatah) a male, often a term of affectionate greeting. You still hear people round here call males bo, but now, it’s more often bro, which flies in the face of most linguistic evolutions because the trend is usually towards simplification. My pal Steve Smoak, the bartender at Rue de Jean, still says, bo, but I haven’t heard anyone say bo gator since high school.

Commotion, n. irritating noise and activity. This word I doubt is a Southernism, but I don’t remember hearing a person “from off” using it, nor do I nowadays hear anyone using commotion all that often, which is too bad because it sounds like what it is.

Johns Island Dah circa  1950

Johns Island Dah circa

Dah, n. African American nanny. Why so many people in Charleston developed a geechee brogue and why it’s dying out. When I first started teaching, some of my students fathers’ had the Charleston brogue, but their sons didn’t. Now you only hear the brogue in people over 65. “Doughnt-cha keep dat gay-ate open, fool.”

Near about (pronounced neahaboot), adv., almost or nearly as in “I neahraboot broke my back falling off that ladder.”

Reckon, v., suppose. I reckon he got what was coming to him.

Right, adv., somewhat to considerably. It’s right warm today.

Swanny – v., to declare, to aver. I swanny I never seen nothing like it.

Whatchasay, v., a expression of greeting, the elision of what-do-you-say, as in que pasa, what’s happening, etc. Often this greeting was followed by bo and was rendered whatchasaybo.   When my friend, Tim Miskell moved to Summerville from Croton-on-the-Hudson, he literally had no idea what people were saying. He said whatchasaybo sounded African to him, which, of course, it does. Like I said, some of us learned to talk from our dahs, though, I never had one, nor do I speak with the Charleston brogue.

Yonder, adv – in that direction.

Let’s see if I can come up with one paragraph that incorporates all of the above.

Whatchasaybo? You hear that commotion last night over yonder at the short term rental on Huron?  It was nearabout two AM, and I swanny it was loud enough to wake my dead dah. I reckoned I better go over and tell them I was about to sic the police on ’em.  Judy was right exhausted after her chemo; plus, we need to nip this shenanigans in the bud. So I pull on my pants and headed out the door. Before I got within twenty feet of their yard, one of the partiers started discharging what looked like an AK-47 into the air. Who knows, maybe they were celebrating an Afghan wedding or something. Anyway, catch you later, bo gator.  I’m headed down to Center Street to file me a complaint.

A World of Woe (Redacted Version)

Marty Feldman

Marty Feldman

Hyperbole – over exaggeration — has always been my go-to cheap way to get a laugh, e.g., Marty Feldman was ugly enough to raise a blister on a bulldog’s ass, ugly enough to back a buzzard off a gut-wagon, ugly enough to send Mother Teresa packing.

However, I’ve decided to forego bombast here and merely say the last eighth months have been difficult.  Rather than exaggerating, overreacting, getting all melodramatic on you, I’m merely going to tell it, as they used to say, like is.

[cue mournful violins]

The first of the succession of events that would have driven Job into atheism occurred last May when I offered my resignation twice over a miscarriage of justice that makes a Stalinist show trial seem fair over the administration’s insistence that I apologize to an eighteen-year-old for placing him/her in a non-honors class.   The forced apology seemed to me like betrayal like not fully appreciating an employee with three decades of service to an institution he had faithfully supported financially and verbally, an institution that now seemed to him unconscionably unfair to value students’ Kim-Jong-Un bat-shit crazy irrational parents more than its teachers.

self-moBecause of my cowardice of the insistence of wives (actually I only have one), colleagues, and my favorite bartender Steve Smoak, I relented and told the student in front of his/her parents in administrative offices and in front of administrators that I regretted hurting the student’s feelings, which I do, though I continue to maintain I delivered the placement news with compassion. Looking back on it, I wish I had doused myself with kerosene and lit a match in an act of self-immolation expressed resentment to the inquisitors assembled audience. Ha, that would have shown them!

Anyway, the incident has left me disillusioned, which, strictly speaking is a good thing (ain’t no Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Meaning-to-Life) but nevertheless depressing. However, I now realize that incident pales in comparison to the subsequent shit that was about to go down.

The second and third events happened on the same day, 17 June 2014, when my deck caught on fire and I learned that a childhood friend had died. In the blaze, I lost two surfboards, one a Sunshine shaped by Claude Codgen, the loss of which ordinarily I might lament by donning sackcloth, smearing myself with ashes, renting my garments as I howled to the Indifference above by feeling sorry for myself, but Paul’s death prevented that indulgence.

Instead, I wrote this bitter poem, which now seems downright prophetic predictive.

Hit arrow for sound.

The Grill

In memory of Paul Yost 1955-2014

I’m tearing apart paper,

newsprint, the obituary page,

shredding descriptions of lives:

of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers,

bachelors, partners, husbands, wives,

shredding their black-and-white

faces, their smiles, their stares,

ripping also the memorial verses

loved ones have left,

wadding it all up

to fuel my charcoal chimney.


Yet not enough.

So here comes the sports page,

the World Cup, accounts of pop flies

dropped, ripe for ripping,

ripped, balled, stuffed, ready

for the match’s fiery effacement.

And that poor chicken! hatched, harried,

pecking its food among hordes,

pulled from transport crates,

shocked for the throat cutter’s convenience,

plucked, eviscerated.


This one’s also been

deboned, yet not sold soon enough,

skewered by butchers along with

aging onions and overly ripe peppers.

After its scraping, red and black,

slightly rusted, the grill stands ready,

top open, at attention.


I place the chimney

upon the barred metal, pour in

the briquettes, and torch the

shredded lives of others,

their wins and losses,

and watch the smoke

rising into the dissipation

of the silent, cloud-shifting sky.

No, something far, far worse was in store – my beloved Judy’s diagnosis of a virulent strain of T-Cell lymphoma, which you can read about HERE.

So, the incidents detailed above that seemed at the time like the end of the universe so vexing declined in the hierarchy of woe to mere inconveniences.

The good news, the very good news, is that Judy’s treatments have been successful, she’s in remission, and as I write this, she’s getting pumped with bone-marrow killing chemo in preparation for a stem cell transplant that offers real hope for a permanent cure. Of course, I might add, that celebrating getting bone-marrow-killing chemo suggests that your life has been a tale-told-by-an-idiot,-full-of-sound-and fury, signifying nothing less than rosy .

If only I could end the story here, but by far the most tragic event of this narrative occurred, appropriately enough, on Halloween, when my good friend Nancy suffered a massive stroke, she, the beloved wife of my better friend Ed, which brings to mind Frost’s bitter lines:

No more to build on there. And they, since they

Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

The final three instances of misfortune in this catalogue of woe actually pale in comparison with Judy’s cancer and Nancy’s stroke.

First, my mother is in hospice and suffering mental turmoil in the forms of hallucination and restlessness, but she’s 83, unlike Judy (60) or Nancy (69), and I’ve always thought Ecclesiastics makes the most sense of anything in the Old Testament.

from Robert Crumb's graphic bible

from Robert Crumb’s graphic bible

(Imagine the Byrds recording a hit song using Bible verses from Genesis 38, 9-10:

Onan from his brother’s wife

Prematurely withdrew,

And for practicing birth-control,

Onan Yahweh slew).

As for my falling off a ladder and wrenching my back last Saturday, I attribute that to my idiocy, carelessness.

However, the last thing, the last fucking thing, has shattered the Hemingway mask of stoicism I’ve been sporting.

On the eve of her transplant, Judy found our dog Saisy dead on the living room carpet, lying there as if asleep, save for the frozen mouth.

Fuck, dear readers, I don’t like to think of myself as a whiner, but fuck.

Saisy 200? - 2015

Saisy 200? – 2015

For now is the time for your tears.

Jim Crow, Treme, Iago, Dr. John, and I-and-I

James T Crow, Spiritual Advisor

James T Crow, Spiritual Advisor

Last night the shamanic JT Crow, one of my spiritual advisors, came over for pizza, and we started yapping about the HBO series Treme, which chronicles the travails of (perhaps too many) characters trying to get their lives together in those wretched days just after Katrina wasted New Orleans.

Although Mr. Crow, who goes by Jim (and, by the way, voted for Obama), and I agree that New Orleans itself is the protagonist of the narrative and that the music [cue James Brown] is bam BAM BAM BAM BAM! – OUT-OF-SIGHT!!!! – we mildly disagree about the overall quality of the production.

For one thing,, I think some of the acting sucks — the Hindenburg of my disbelief has crashed a few times.  For example, the Davis McAlary character’s parents don’t seem like the decadent uptown parents of a wastrel son but like actors playing the decadent uptown parents of a wastrel son. I start wondering where they’re really from, if they get along off the set, etc.

Even Declan MacManus doesn’t do a very good job of playing Elvis Costello.

Davis McAlary played by Steve Zahn

Davis McAlary played by Steve Zahn

Anyway, the most interesting difference of opinion between Crow and me concerns the above-mentioned character Davis McAlary, whom Jim likes but whom I’d like to see sporting orange overalls and a leg shackles while gigging trash amid swarms of mosquitoes on the side of a desolate Louisiana road.*

Do I need mention that Jim’s nicer than I am**?

Jim considers Davis a good person at heart, but to me his picture should appear next to asshole in the American Heritage Dictionary of Vulgarity.*** Because of some sort of megalomaniac disorder, Davis feels entitled to ignore the playlist of the radio station where he works because the playlist isn’t authentic enough, never mind that it’s during a Beg-O-Rama (aka Pledge Drive) and the station is teetering on the edge of financial collapse.   Davis feels entitled to steal a bottle of $200 wine from a lover’s restaurant even though it’s teetering on the edge of financial collapse (though he does leave her as compensation some vintage out-of-print music he looted from a record store). He also aims his speakers outwards from his windows towards his neighbors’ house and blasts them with New Orleans’ hip hop. Working as a concierge, he sends young Mormon volunteers to authentic but dangerously located clubs so they can experience the real New Orleans, etc.

The would-be cat ain’t got no clue about existentialism. He’s about as tolerant as Boko Haram.

 *Obviously, Zahn is going a terrific job of acting if I’ve developed such an animus towards his character.
** E.g., I was sitting on Jim’s couch one evening getting machine-gun blasted with hate tweets from a disgruntled former colleague, and when I started punching in a retaliation, Jim stopped me and said, “Don’t do that.  The poor man is suffering.”
Also, Jim has seen two seasons as opposed to my two episodes.  Maybe Davis changes as the narrative progresses (but it seems to me to be dramatically viable it would take a road-to-Damascus Jesus-hurled thunderbolt).
***Aaron James’s definition from Assholes, A Theory: n., a person who “allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systematically” because of “an entrenched sense of entitlement,” and who “is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people.”

But then, sitting there with Crow, I had to concede that if Davis lived on Folly Beach, my little slice of purgatory, it would be fun to hang with him on a casual basis, given his passion, knowledge, and exquisite taste in music. That got me to thinking about some less than noble characters I hung with in my troubled youth, which, of course, got me thinking about Shakespeare’s Othello.

[Feared reader response: WTF! Huh? Time to click out of this joint].

Sample Page from Shakespeare Insult Generator

Sample Page from Shakespeare Insult Generator

As it happened, Jim’s Xmas present to me, a Shakespeare Insult Generator, was on the table next to us, and it got me to thinking.

A SIG allows you to randomly select two adjectives from any play in the canon and affix them to a Shakespearean noun to create curses for, as PEE WEE GASKINS might say, “them what we love to hate.” For example, flipping through the kit with my left hand as I type, I see I could call Davis a “churlish, beef-witted braggart” or a “mammering, hollowed geck.”

One of the adjectives in the kit is “swag-bellied,” which I actually recognize from 2.3 of Othello. In the scene, Iago, as sociopathic a character in all of literature, is regaling his comrades with descriptions of the English’s domination in the consumption of alcohol over formidable but lesser rivals:

Cassio: Fore God, an excellent song!

Iago: I learned it in England, where indeed they are most potent in potting. Your Dane, your German, and your swag-bellied Hollander – drink, ho! – are nothing to your English.

Cassio: Is your Englishman so exquisite in his drinking?

Iago: Why he drinks with facility your Dane dead drunk; he sweats not to overthrow your Almain; he gives your Hollander a vomit ere the next pottle can be filled.

Let’s face it, if you were on Iago’s good side, i.e., if he’s not robbing you blind or plotting to bring about your total destruction, he’d be an entertaining drinking buddy, much more clever than pretty boy Cassio.

Ah, but here’s the rub. Shakespeare inserts this true-to-life comic skit in the infernal machinery of a tragedy, the skit underscoring dimensions of character, e.g., Cassio’s naivety and Iago’s verbal cleverness.

Shit, then, why am I watching Treme when I could be watching Henry IV, Episodes 1 and 2?

Because, for one thing, Falstaff can’t rip up a piano and sing like Dr. John.

Oh yeah, Mac Rebennak does an Emmy-deserving job of playing Dr. John in Treme.



Copping Hamlet’s Rap

Art by DP Sullivan

Art by DP Sullivan

For the last 30 winters I have taught Hamlet to high school seniors. Obviously, this cat Hamlet has his issues — we all do — but I think the world of him, and unlike a lot of people, I don’t judge him, don’t consider him a coward or a misogynist.

Let’s face it: Professor Naysayer Ph.d. might not be so rational if he lost a beloved father, had his mother remarry of all people his uncle within the time frame of one menstrual cycle. Follow up that trauma with getting dumped by your girlfriend — and to escalate matters to the unbearable — receiving a visitation from your dead daddy who informs you your mama was fucking the above uncle before that uncle offed your daddy by pouring a leprous distillment into the porches of [his] ears.

Oh, yeah, and the ghost daddy guilt-trips poor Hamlet into promising to go all Beowulf on the uncle’s ass by revenging his murder, even though Hamlet, unlike Othello, has moved past all that Medieval shit into a more progressive, less-tribal sensibility.

But I’m not here to sparknote the play but to share with you some ways you can have fun with the text of Hamlet because what I love most about the poor boy is his way with words.

Not surprisingly, I have recorded in the book and volume of my brain many of the Prince’s quotable quotes, so much so that when I’m teaching the play I can recite in context line after line with my eyes fixed, not on the text, but on my students to determine who’s got a soul and who ain’t or who might be thinking about transmitting some surreptitious text neath the seminar table.

But here’s the thing; you can take Hamlet’s words out of context and slip them into your rap and nobody knows you’re echoing or alluding — they just think you’re incredibly articulate or incredibly weird.

Before I give you an example, I’ll go ahead point out something I reckon should be obvious: I express myself differently at school than I do at home, and I speak differently when I’m hanging with real cats like JT Williams, JT Crow, Keefus Sanders, Mr. Jim Klein, Ed Burrows, and Furman Hurry-Curry Langley than I do when I’m talking to my wife Judy Birdsong. In fact, this is the first post in the history of this blog where I’m indulging in my [warning: Un-PC terminology alert] redneck negro lowcountry gumbo patois.

PorterGaud-495x400Okay, here’s an example of co-opting lines from Hamlet to spice up (or obscure) your speech in everyday life. This morning I’m walking at a brisk pace from the faculty parking lot towards the vaguely Disneyesque facade of the school, walking briskly because it’s -5 degrees C. in Charleston, South Carolina, and we ain’t used to Arctic air.

I enter the double doors of the lobby and somebody says “good-morning, how ya’ doin’,” and I say, “Tis bitter cold, and I am sick at heart.”

They smile, I smile, and head to my room. Truth is, though, not only is it bitter cold but I am truly sick at heart. After school I’m driving straight to Summerville to visit my mother who’s lying in a hospice-supplied hospital bed and on a sort of bummer LSD death trip in which she thinks I’m her daddy, can hardly utter an intelligible word, and tries vainly time and time and time again to rise from bed to be somewhere else.

But back to the exchange of morning greetings. By copping Francisco’s lines to Bernardo from 1.1 in the play, I can comment on the weather in a more interesting way than my typical “damn it’s cold,” I can be completely honest in my answer about how I’m doing without being specific, and I can treat me and my greeter to metrical music:: tis BIT-ter COLD and I am SICK at HEART: bum-BUMP-bum-BUMP-bum-BUMP bum-BUMP bum-BUMP.

Or, you can use it as I did forty years before as a pick-up line in a university bar. Talking about an ice-breaker.

But you can also take quotes completely out of context and apply them to completely different situations. For example, dig this great prose speech when Hamlet’s explaining to his treacherous college acquaintances Rosencrantz and Guildenstern why he’s been out-of-sorts, the most eloquent description of clinical depression out there:

I have of late–but

wherefore I know not–lost all my mirth, forgone all

custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily

with my disposition that this goodly frame, the

earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most

excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave

o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted

with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to

me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.

Okay, let’s go with “a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.”


Colleague: You think this Congress might get something passed this term?

You: What? That foul and pestilent congregation of vapors?

Or somebody has farted and you demand to know who is responsible for the foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.

Ever been hunched over a book in an outside venue and some total stranger comes up and asks, “What you reading?”

Look up at him looking crazy and say, “Words, words, words.”

I could go on and on, but it’s been a rough day so I’m bidding adieu, but returning to my poor mother’s condition, no one has ever put it better than my princely pal:

If it be now,

’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be

now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the

readiness is all . . .

She’s headed, of course, to that undiscovered country where no traveller returns, and a helluva lot of people are going to miss her.



The Parakeets’ Funeral

1957-Ford-Station-Wagons2In Summerville, South Carolina, way back in the early 1950’s, when my consciousness slowly awakened and started taking note, you couldn’t drive up to a gas station in your spanking brand new Ford station wagon and fill her up yourself. No, when you pulled up to the pumps, you were met by a worker in overalls who would not only provide you with fuel, but also check your oil, fan belt, and tire pressure. He would clean your windshield, take your cash, and bring you your change.

Where Highway 78 splits into West 5th North Street and Richardson Avenue, my mother’s parents owned such an establishment called the Nation Station and actually lived within its confines. When you entered the front door, you encountered a white-washed wooden counter and a cash register where my grandmother Hazel Hunt Blanton sat perched on a stool. Behind the counter a sheet-like curtain separated a space where tires were stacked, and beyond that was a door leading to three rooms, a hallway with steps, a “living room,” and a kitchen.

Those steps led steeply up to the bedroom — I only remember one – a cavernous barn-like space with a sink that stood out in the open. There my Scots-Irish grandfather Kistler, a bantam rooster of a man, ruddy as a crake, would apply frothy cream with a brush and shave himself with a straight razor that he would snap shut with authority when the ritual was over.

Red-Necked Crake

Red-Necked Crake

The sleeping arrangements were peculiar — a less decorous narrator might use a stronger word.   I don’t remember where my grandfather slept. My grandmother slept with my aunt Virginia, who was only six years older than me.*  A ratlike (redundant?) Chihuahua named Perfidia also shared the mother-and-daughter’s bed. Why they would name a dog the Spanish word for “faithlessness” is beyond me.  “Here, faithlessness!  Come faithlessness!”

I do know why “Fiddy” slept in the bed with them, however. It was for medical purposes: Chihuahuas were supposed to be good for asthma, which periodically plagued my grandmother, sometimes resulting in stays at brown-bricked Dorchester County Hospital. I can see her now, encased in an “oxygen curtain,” wheezing, gasping for breath.

In addition to Perfidia, my aunt kept two parakeets whose whistling provided a sonic counterpoint to Fiddy’s high-pitched yelping. They resided in a cage near one of the windows and spent the long, long, days of my fifth year pecking at bells and suet (and, of course, defecating).

One day, when Virginia got home from school, she discovered to her horror that both of the birds were drenched and behaving oddly. She went into a frenzy — and for good reason. My toddler brother David had given them a “bath” with a Black Flag insecticide sprayer. Of course, Virginia directed her inchoate rage at David rather than my grandmother who had left the poison within a toddler’s reach.

il_fullxfull.298559756We have no idea what David’s motives were. They could have been altruistic (the birdies looked like they needed a bath, though in that case mangy Fiddy seems a more rational target.) At any rate, I’m fairly certain David didn’t make the connection between spraying the insecticide and killing its recipients.

So I stood around and watched the birds have spasms amid the Euripidean howls from Hecuba Virginia.   There was nothing anyone could do. How much does a parakeet weigh? What antidote was there? Eventually, the spasms ceased. The soon-to-be uncolorful birds lay still on the newspaper lining the bottom of their cage.

No doubt the Station sold cigars because Virginia had used a cigar box for the birds’ coffin. Behind the Station (whose “front yard” was a slab of triangular concrete narrowing to the intersection of the two highways) was a small area with one fairly substantial tree. Beneath it Virginia dug a hole and buried the gauze-wrapped birds side-by-side like Abelard and Heloise.   Dirt thumped upon the lid of the cigar box, Virginia said a few words, and a marker was erected.

She told me that in a few months we could dig them up to see their skeletons, but thankfully, we never did.

My Uncle Jerry and Jack Delk in front of "The Nation Station" in the 1950's

My Uncle Jerry and Jack Delk in front of “The Nation Station” in the 1950’s

* Though grammatically incorrect, “me” sounds so much better then “I.”

5 Healthy New Years’ Resolutions That Virtually Everyone Can Keep!

article-2561201-1B9107F900000578-416_634x4971. Resolve not to visit North Korea.

Not only will you save a couple of grand, but you also can avoid the possibility of being arrested and thrown into a prison that makes Kafka’s Penal Colony seem like Club Med in comparison.

2. Refrain from making that donation to Pat Robertson’s Regent University.

These quotes from its founder suggest that your educational donations might be better spent elsewhere:

“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

“You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense, I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.”

“Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians! It’s no different! It is the same thing! It is happening all over again! It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-based media and the homosexuals who want to destroy the Christians! Wholesale abuse and discrimination and the worst bigotry directed toward any group in America today! More terrible than anything suffered by any minority in history! … And it is happening here and now! Same thing, but directed against Christians by the liberal government and media! Send money today or these liberals will be putting Christians like you and me in concentration camps!”

3. Don’t beat up on yourself for eating poorly, drinking too much, and frittering your life away on Facebook.

Masochism is an even uglier bad habit.

4. Promise yourself to quit mowing your lawn.

Here’s what Naturalist Dave Crawford of Minnesota’s Wild River State Park has to say about lawn maintenance:

Help_selling_house_8_369273Your lawn makes you into a bad citizen of Planet Earth. If you pour water on a driveway and measure how much runs off compared to how much soaks in and replenishes soil moisture, and then do the same test on a mowed lawn, you’ll find that lawns don’t hold water much better than driveways do. That means the free water you get from rain is mostly wasted, because most of it runs off instead of soaking into the ground where plants can use it. It also means that all the rain and sprinkler water that runs off your lawn carries anything that’s on the lawn with it into storm sewers and ditches and eventually into lakes and rivers. That includes fertilizers which cause algae to clog rivers and lakes, insecticides which kill fish and the insects they feed on, and weed-killers that are harmful to animals and kill aquatic plants that many animals depend on. Even if you don’t fertilize your lawn, the runoff contains nutrients from decaying leaves and grass clippings which will cause algae blooms in lakes and rivers.

In other words, quit being a selfish bastard and recycle that lawnmower.

5. And finally, don’t make any resolutions that you’re fairly sure you’ll fail to keep, e.g., resolving to sit in the full lotus position under a bodhi tree until you discover the meaning of existence. I tried that last year and was done in about the time that your typical NFL wide receiver covers 100 yards.

Happy New Year!

Wes Buddha -meditate-under-a-Bodhi-tree