In the Wind Somewhere

photo red: Hamlet Cloud website

photo red: Hamlet Cloud website

The phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” is a not so subtle suggestion that human beings don’t ultimately amount to much as far as corporeal matters go.

Just ask Hamlet. Here he is next to Ophelia’s freshly dug grave ruminating on what base uses we may return:

Alexander[1] died, Alexander was buried,

Alexander returneth into dust; the dust is earth; of

earth we make loam; and why of that loam, whereto he

was converted, might they not stop a beer-barrel?

Imperious Caesar, dead and turn’d to clay,

Might stop a hole to keep the wind away:

O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,

Should patch a wall to expel the winter flaw!

Yesterday, we disposed of Aunt Virginia’s cremains,[2] which, and I’m not making this up, smelled like cigarettes. My brother Fleming kept them in his car, and as soon as he opened the door, I could smell that distinctive Virginia smell.

Nothing dealing with Virginia was ever easy. We had planned to scatter the ashes in the Folly River via kayak from our dock, but when Fleming arrived, it was dead low tide, so we decided to try the dock at the Folly River Park instead, hoping on such a chilly day that at 5 o’clock it might be deserted.

The park is across from a Catholic church, which was celebrating mass, so parking was a problem. Nor was the dock deserted. Three young men, National Guardsmen as it turned out, were fishing. It occurred to me that dumping human remains in water where people were fishing would be a gross violation of the Golden Rule, but as luck would have it, they started packing up their gear to leave. As I glanced down the long dock, another man was approaching in the far distance with his dog.

“Look, fellows,” I said. “I want to give you a head’s up. We’re getting ready to scatter my aunt’s ashes, that is, if y’all don’t object.”

“Not at all,” the tallest one said. “Sorry about your loss.”

So Fleming opened the velvet bag, brother David cut open the plastic bag inside, and Fleming poured the contents over the rail and into the water. I had never seen human ashes before, and I was quite shocked how beautiful they were as they drifted down into the water, creating a cloud as they dispersed, as if matter cannot really be created nor destroyed, as if Virginia were getting a second chance via recycling.

As we made our way down the dock to Fleming’s car, as if on cue, the church bells began to chime as mass let out, a beautiful sound, and I thought of this poem by Richard Eberhart:

For a Lamb

I saw on the slant hill a putrid lamb

Propped with daisies. The sleep looked deep

The face nudged in the green pillow

But the guts were out for crows to eat.


Where’s the lamb? whose tender plaint

Said all for the mute breezes.

Say he’s in the wind somewhere,

Say, there’s a lamb in the daisies.

ashes to ashes


[1] I.e., Alexander the Great

[2] A word I learned from the presiding priest at her funeral.

Poor Dead Aunt Virginia, Missing Fingers, Kendrick Lamar’s Hero Journey, and I-and-I


Sunday, I had the melancholy chore of driving from Folly Beach to Summerville to sign papers granting unsmiling folks at a funeral home permission to cremate my Aunt Virginia’s remains. It had been a strange weekend. Friday night, at the Jack of Cups Saloon, I ran into a woman just back from the emergency room after her husband had sacrificed his thumb and portions of two fingers to a buzz saw.

Jack of Cups 19 Feb 2016

Jack of Cups 19 Feb 2016

He was now home zonked out on painkillers, and she was downright giddy, maybe slightly hysterical, as she showed me images of his mangled hand on her phone. Under the influence of high gravity beer, I had found the spectacle somewhat amusing in a macabre Flannery O’Connor sort of way. At the time, the incongruence of her manic good mood and the awful image of the thumb stump on the screen of her iPhone struck me as paradoxically life affirming, but 36 hours later, on this overcast Sabbath morning, the incident seemed merely strange and sad.

Adding to my melancholia is the mournful state of our body politic. The Republican Party primary in my home state and the Democratic caucuses in Nevada had just gone down. Last week, the Hoodoo household suffered a relentless barrage of robo calls that could have driven even Stewart Smiley to suicide. A recorded message from the Cruz campaign, for example, featured one of the Duck Dynasty stars shilling for Ted, quoting none other than Thomas Jefferson himself. I could hear it blaring from our landline’s speaker as I worked on Saturday’s crossword puzzle.

Because we’re smack dab in the middle of the Roman spectacle of this campaign cycle, I doubt if we can fully appreciate just how surreal it actually is. The leading Republican candidate, who has won two of the first three contests, resembles Don Rickles more than John McCain or Mitt Romney. The Republican debates seem more like Hollywood Roasts than they do serious discussions of the profound problems facing our aging Republic – the threat of ISIS, grotesque economic inequality, an epidemic of mass murders, an aging population being supported by tax dollars siphoned from the paychecks of young people with massive student loans, the increasing unrest of a black population sick and tired of the status quo – of seeing their children murdered by suspicious white neighbors or gun downed/strangled by overzealous police officers. Then there’s the matter of Flint’s water supply being poisoned by misfeasance or worse.

Speaking of race, before I left for Summerville, I had downloaded Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, a rather melancholy piece of business itself.

Because of Butterfly’ s almost universal critical acclaim[1], I had listened to snippets via iTunes but decided to not purchase the album. However, a student  I’d turned onto Dr. John told me he thought I’d like the new rap music he was listening to, and the next day handed me a long handwritten list of songs, several of which were from the Lamar album.

So I decided to devote the two-hour round trip to checking out the record, listening to it once on the way to the funeral home, and once on the way back. That way I could avoid thinking about Virginia, who unlike Lamar, never made it our of her cocoon.

 To Pimp a Butterfly


Okay, what we’re dealing with here is essentially narrative collage, a sonic novella akin to a not-all-that-positive LSD trip. Unlike most male-produced hip-hop, Butterfly doesn’t traffic in braggadocio; i.e., it is not an exercise in self-exaltation where a DJ catalogues his sexual conquests/treasure trove of top end cultural artifacts.[2] Instead, Butterfly explores Lamar’s guilt over what he sometimes perceives as the abandonment of his friends and family back in the ghetto of Compton after his entrance into the gilded realm of the rich and famous.

In a sense, it’s a classic Jungian battle between persona and self. Actually, it’s not so much like an LSD trip but more like a guided tour of someone’s unconscious with memory motifs periodically rising to the surface amid a dense swirl of background noises, bass riffs, horns, pianos, etc. Of course, the central theme is race – the difficulties urban African Americans face, shit, as Lamar would say, like teen pregnancy and gang warfare. Ultimately, the record can be seen as a parallel to the hero’s journey, a mannish boy leaves the circle of his home in the ghetto, endures a series of trials, and returns a Man with knowledge to share with his countrymen and women – in this case, his homies.

The record begins with “Wesley’s [as in Snipes] Theory,” what Greg Tate of Rolling Stone describes as “a disarming goof that’s also a lament for the starry-eyed innocence[3] lost to all winners of the game show known as Hip-Hop Idol.”

Unlike most instances of the hero’s journey, we begin in medias res, already outside the ghetto homeland and in the realm of celebrity. The track features both Dr. Dre and the great George Clinton.

Lamar describes his behavior after first getting signed to a record deal and the disillusionment that soon follows. He loses his “first girlfriend” and finds “[b]ridges burned, all across the board/Destroyed, but what for?”

He “hit[s] the dance floor,” goes predatory “snatch[ing] your little secretary bitch,” and then embarks on a spending spree with “platinum on everything.”

When I get signed homie I’mma buy a strap

Straight from the CIA, set it on my lap

Take a few M-16s to the hood

Pass ’em all out on the block, what’s good?

I’mma put the Compton swap meet by the White House

Republican, run up, get socked out

Hit the press with a Cuban link on my neck

Uneducated but I got a million dollar check, like that

Both Dr. Dre and George Clinton offer warnings. Dre’s practical:

But remember, anybody can get it

The hard part is keeping it, motherfucker

Clinton’s metaphysical:

Lookin’ down is quite a drop (It’s quite a drop, drop)

Lookin’ good when you’re on top (When you’re on top you got it)

A lot of metaphors, leavin’ miracles metaphysically in a state of euphoria

Look both ways before you cross my mind

Bad news for uneducated moguls:

Tax man comin’

Tax man comin’

Tax man comin’

Tax man comin’

Tax man comin’


George Clinton

Musically, the next two cuts, “For Free” and “King Kunta” are my favorites, the former some serious bitchin’ rapped over a discordant, jazzy blend of drums, piano, bass, and horns.  It reminds me of toned down version of Tom Waits’ “Minute,” which, in turn, reminds me of the soundtrack of a manic car chase from a ’50’s TV crime drama.

“Kin Kunta,” killer funk, owes an awful lot to James Brown’s “Payback.”

He’s mad:

Got a bone to pick

I don’t want you monkey mouth motherfuckers sittin’ in my throne again

(Aye aye nigga whats happenin’ nigga, K Dot back in the hood nigga)

I’m mad (He mad), but I ain’t stressin’

True friends, one question

Kendrick’s Mr. Big Shot:

I was contemplatin’ gettin’ on stage

Just to go back to the hood see my enemies and say

Bitch where you when I was walkin’?

Now I run the game got the whole world talkin’, King Kunta

Everybody wanna cut the legs off him, Kunta

Black man taking no losses

Bitch where you when I was walkin’?

Now I run the game, got the whole world talkin’, King Kunta

Everybody wanna cut the legs off him

This inauthenticity can’t last. Repeated throughout the narrative is a memory of a breakdown:

I remember you was conflicted

Misusing your influence

Sometimes I did the same

Abusing my power full of resentment

Resentment that turned into a deep depression

Found myself screaming in a hotel room

The 6th track corresponds to the “belly of the whale” stage of the hero’s journey, deep depression, Odysseus in the Underworld. It’s a powerful, raw, authentic confession of self-contempt.



And you the reason why mama and them leavin’

No you ain’t shit, you say you love them, I know you don’t mean it

I know you’re irresponsible, selfish, in denial, can’t help it

Your trials and tribulations a burden, everyone felt it

Everyone heard it, multiple shots, corners cryin’ out

You was deserted, where was your antennas again?

Where was your presence, where was your support that you pretend?

You ain’t no brother, you ain’t no disciple, you ain’t no friend

A friend never leave Compton for profit, or leave his best friend

Little brother, you promised you’d watch him before they shot him

Where was your antennas, on the road, bottles and bitches

You faced time the one time, that’s unforgiven

You even faced time instead of a hospital visit

You should thought he would recover, well

The surgery couldn’t stop the bleeding for real

Then he died, God himself will say “you fuckin’ failed”

You ain’t try.

In the ten tracks that follow, the hero begins his ascent. God provides the Supernatural Aid universally present in the hero’s journey. The protagonist’s focus becomes less egocentric and more visionary.

On the track “i” we get apotheosis:

I done been through a whole lot

Trial, tribulations, but I know God

Satan wanna put me in a bow-tie

Praying that the holy water don’t go dry, yeah yeah

As I look around me

So many motherfuckers wanna down me

But ain’t no nigga never drown me

In front of a dirty double-mirror they found me


And I love myself

(The world is a ghetto with guns and picket signs)

I love myself

(But it can do what it want whenever it wants and I don’t mind)

I love myself

(He said I gotta get up, life is more than suicide)

I love myself

(One day at the time, sun gone shine)

Some of these latter cuts bring to mind Gil Scott Heron.  The record ends with  Lamar interviewing poor old dead Tupac (thanks to an old radio interview) and an oral SparkNotes-like explanation of the caterpillar/butterfly motif.

I’m, of course, not doing the record justice. I can’t come even remotely close to conveying the magical meld of sound and sense and image that is the record.  Plus, I’ve left out Lucy (Lucifer) and all kinds of political subtexts, but, just leave it at this: I give it an A+++++ going on masterpiece.


On the morning after the Charleston massacre, I had to go to the cleaners to pick up a tux for my son’s wedding and go buy some black shoes.  I reckoned I’d encounter anger among African Americans given that I was angry myself.  The first black man I saw was sitting in a lawn chair drinking a beer on the edge of the parking lot of the laundry.  I waved, and he waved back.  A black woman rang me up at the shoe store, and when she asked me how it was going, I said that all this hatred had me feeling really low, and she said things would get better. I don’t know if she had made the connection to the shootings that had taken place about five miles away.  Probably she thought it was just some kind of personal trauma, even though I was sporting all my fingers and both thumbs as I handed her the credit card.


[1] E.g., this from Rolling Stones’ Greg Tate: “To Pimp a Butterfly” is a densely packed, dizzying rush of unfiltered rage and unapologetic romanticism, true-crime confessionals, come-to-Jesus sidebars, blunted-swing sophistication, scathing self-critique and rap-quotable riot acts. Roll over Beethoven, tell Thomas Jefferson and his overseer Bull Connor the news: Kendrick Lamar and his jazzy guerrilla hands just mob-deeped the new Jim Crow, then stomped a mud hole out that ass.”

[2] He does, however, by my count twice boast of the size of his dick, claiming nine inches at one point.

[3] “Starry-eyed innocence in Compton?

Faces of the Republican Party

New Fce of Republican Party

“Rubio-Haley new ‘face’ of Rpublican Party

Beneath the headline “Rubio-Haley new ‘face’ (sic) of Republican Party,” Friday morning’s Post and Courier’s front page displays a photograph of Marco Rubio and Nikki Haley standing on a stage in Spartanburg, SC.   A “drop head” right above the photo reads: “Governor’s endorsement amid rumors she could land on GOP ticket shines light on 2 rising stars, may broaden appeal of conservatives.”

Haley endorsing Rubio in Spartenburg

Haley endorsing Rubio in Spartanburg

I guess the premise is that people hesitant to vote for 21st Century candidates who don’t believe in science will be more likely to vote for 21st Century candidates who don’t believe in science if they’re younger ethic minorities who appear more physically attractive than, say, Mitch McConnell.

Mitch McConnell

Mitch McConnell

I thought it might be interesting, if not instructive, to compare Senator Rubio’s policy positions vis-à-vis Senator McConnell’s. After all, whether or not you accept Darwin’s theory probably has little impact on how you might govern. For all I know, Andrew Jackson believed the earth was flat. Perhaps, we’ll discover more progressive positions that Rubio offers that will appeal to younger voters as the old. white Republican electorate follow Harper Lee and Umberto Eco offstage to that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.

Let’s start with what I continue to quaintly call global warming.

Climate Change

According to Scientific American’s website, Marco Rubio “believes climate change is happening, but not that it is caused by man.”   Here’s a direct quote: “And I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy.”

Here’s a piece from the USA Today website affiliate Courier Journal on McConnell’s position: “Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told the Cincinnati Enquirer’s editorial board on Thursday that he doesn’t know if climate change is a real problem because he’s ‘not a scientist’ and that he’s more interested in producing cheap energy than worrying about it.”

So, as you can see, Rubio, although not a scientist, does boldly admit that global warming is real whereas McConnell because of his lack of expertise dare not judge.

Nevertheless, they both stand together in their opposition to the Paris Climate accords.

I doubt if these positions are going to get the millennials’ hearts a-thumpin.

2nd Amendment

Here’s Senator Rubio’s website on his hearty approval of the District of Columbia v. Heller 5-4 ruling on “gun rights.”

The Second Amendment right to bear arms is one of Americans’ most fundamental rights. Indeed, it is a right that reflects our country’s founding values. Opponents of gun rights often maintain that it is outdated, but it is as important as ever, and no one knows that better than America’s law-abiding gun owners. Marco understands the threats facing gun owners in part because he’s a gun-owner himself.

Furthermore, Senator Rubio is dedicated to

  • Voting to block the Manchin-Bloomberg expansion of background checks
  • Protecting the Second Amendment rights of veterans and their families
  • Standing against any federal attempt to ban commonly owned sporting rifles and standard capacity magazines
  • Pushing to make concealed-carry permits function like drivers’ licenses, so gun owners’ constitutional rights don’t end at state lines
  • Opposing U.S. involvement in the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty
  • Working to expand opportunities for sportsmen on federal lands
  • Fighting to defund the Department of Justice’s radical “Operation Choke Point” and other federal attacks on law-abiding gun manufacturers and dealers
  • Pushing to bring fundamental Second Amendment rights back to D.C. residents

Okay, let’s see if we can come up with some nuanced differences from Senator McConnell.

Darn tooting we can. Here’s what the ultra “conservative” Madison Project has to say about Senator McConnell’s record on guns:

“Here is a sampling of some of McConnell’s shortcomings on gun rights issues:”

  • Voted against Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) Amendment to block authority under Patriot Act to obtain gun records [RC #82, 5/26/11]
  • Voted for an amendment by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) prohibiting the sale or transfer of handguns by a licensed manufacturer, importer or dealer unless a secure gun storage or safety device is provided for each handgun. 25 Republicans and 2 Democrats voted against it. [RC #17, 02/26/04]
  • Voted for Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) amendment to spend taxpayer funds for Department of Education grants used to disseminate a gun control agenda in schools and through public service announcements. [RC #32, 03/02/00]
  • Voted for Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) Amendment requiring that all guns be sold with trigger locks [RC#122, 5/18/99] Voted for the 1991 Crime Bill (S. 1241), sponsored by then Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), that imposed a waiting period for handguns and a ban on 14 types of assault style weapons. [RC #125, 07/11/91]
  • Senator McConnell cut a deal with the Democrats to allow all of Obama’s second term nominees to sail through the Senate.  Included in that deal was the confirmation of anti-gun zealot Todd Jones to serve as Director of the ATF.

Despite this apostasy, “The NRA endorsed him anyway, and his relations with that influential group have continued to be good.”

At any rate, it would appear that Mitch McConnell is softer on guns than Marco Rubio.


According to his website, Senator Rubio is for simplifying the tax code and slashing income taxes:

His plan

  • Cuts taxes, letting taxpayers keep more of their own money instead of sending it to Washington.
  • Dramatically simplifies the tax code by eliminating all itemized deductions and tax “extenders.”
  • Under Marco’s tax reform plan, the charitable-contribution deduction and a reformed mortgage interest deduction would be available to all taxpayers.
  • Creates a new $2,000 (individual) / $4,000 (married filing jointly) refundable personal tax credit in place of the standard deduction: Credit phases out beginning above $150,000 (individual) / $300,000 (married filing jointly) and would be unavailable to taxpayers with an annual income in excess of $200,000 (individual) / $400,000 (married filing jointly).
  • Eliminates the Marriage Penalty and the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).
  • Consolidates the maze of higher education tax incentives into a single, $2,500 universal tax credit for the first four years of post-secondary education and costs related to eligible job skill training. The credit phases out between 400 – 500 percent above the Federal Poverty Level (roughly $97,000 – $121,250 for a family of four).
  • Addresses the tax treatment of health care as part of a comprehensive effort to repeal and replace Obamacare with consumer-centered reforms. The plan repeals all 21 Obamacare taxes.

McConnell’s votes on taxes.

  • Comprehensive tax reform can work if it’s revenue-neutral. (Jul 2013)
  • 1977 AdWatch: Horse Sense understands when tax cuts are real. (Sep 2010)
  • Resolve to lower capital gains taxes. (Aug 2008)
  • Voted NO on increasing tax rate for people earning over $1 million. (Mar 2008)
  • Voted YES on allowing AMT reduction without budget offset. (Mar 2008)
  • Voted YES on raising the Death Tax exemption to $5M from $1M. (Feb 2008)
  • Voted YES on repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax. (Mar 2007)
  • Voted YES on raising estate tax exemption to $5 million. (Mar 2007)
  • Voted YES on supporting permanence of estate tax cuts. (Aug 2006)
  • Voted YES on permanently repealing the `death tax`. (Jun 2006)
  • Voted NO on $47B for military by repealing capital gains tax cut. (Feb 2006)
  • Voted YES on retaining reduced taxes on capital gains & dividends. (Feb 2006)
  • Voted YES on extending the tax cuts on capital gains and dividends. (Nov 2005)
  • Voted YES on $350 billion in tax breaks over 11 years. (May 2003)
  • Voted NO on reducing marriage penalty instead of cutting top tax rates. (May 2001)
  • Voted NO on increasing tax deductions for college tuition. (May 2001)
  • Voted YES on eliminating the ‘marriage penalty’. (Jul 2000)
  • Voted YES on across-the-board spending cut. (Oct 1999)
  • Voted YES on requiring super-majority for raising taxes. (Apr 1998)
  • Rated 76% by NTU, indicating a “Taxpayer’s Friend” on tax votes. (Dec 2003)
  • Rated 0% by the CTJ, indicating opposition to progressive taxation. (Dec 2006)
  • Taxpayer Protection Pledge: no new taxes. (Aug 2010)
  • Supports the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. (Jan 2012)

Yawn. Both favor slashing taxes for the wealthiest taxpayers, which, if you believe in history and math, doesn’t stimulate the economy but leads to massive deficits.

Let’s transition to something less bloodless. Social issues.


In the first Fox debate Senator Rubio seemed to suggest that he doesn’t favor any exemptions for abortion, including, incest, rape, or the health of the mother.

Kelly: “You favor a rape and incest exception to abortion bans. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York just said yesterday those exceptions are preposterous. He said they discriminate against an entire class of human beings. If you believe that life begins at conception, as you say you do, how do you justify ending a life just because it begins violently, through no fault of the baby?”

Rubio: “Well, Megyn, first of all, I’m not sure that that’s a correct assessment of my record. I would go on to add that I believe all –”

Kelly: “You don’t favor a rape and incest exception?”

Rubio: “I have never said that. And I have never advocated that. What I have advocated is that we pass a law in this country that says all human life at every stage of its development is worthy of protection. In fact, I think that law already exists. It is called the Constitution of the United States.”

However, more recently, he’s been walking back from that rather draconian view. Here’s what his website has to say.

Protecting life [except for capital punishment] defines who we want to be as a society. All life [except for those on death row] is worthy of protection, and all life enjoys God’s love.

Marco believes that Roe v. Wade was not only morally wrong, but it was a poorly decided legal precedent and should be overturned.

Marco has a record of supporting pro-life policies [like capital punishment], and will continue to do so in public and private life.

Marco believes that as a nation we must always come down on the side of life [except in cases of capital punishment]. We must speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.

Can you guess McConnell’s views on abortion?

That’s right; he’s against abortion, as evidenced by his spearheading the 20 week ban in the Senate, but but does allow exceptions for the life of the mother.

So once again, it appears that Marco Rubio is to the right of Mitch McConnell.


Even though their dire predictions about how the Affordable Care Act would wreak havoc to healthcare and the economy has proven patently false, both continue to advocate its abolishment.

Marco wants a “market-driven” alternative.

Iran Treaty

They hate it!!!


They love him!!!!


Marco, the son of immigrants himself and despite his being a one-time member of the Gang of Eight, is essentially anti-immigration and especially against détente with Cuba.

Mitch wins this battle. He was not a member of the Gang of Eight.


Essentially, there’s not much difference between Rubio and McConnell – except that McConnell’s attendance is much, much superior to Marco Rubio’s, whose chronic truancy dates back to his days as a Florida legislator.

So, to return to the Post and Courier’s headline’s, what about him might broaden Conservative’s appeal to younger voters? His Latin good looks?


I doubt it. Here’s the cat all the young voters are swooning over.





The Unhappy Wanderer

by-any-means-necessaryOn the corner of Robert E Lee Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard, I pick up a hitchhiker — there’s a knapsack on his back — he’s unwashed, emaciated, Whitmanesque in a Johnny Winter sort of way, somewhere between the ages of 40 and 65.

I’m in a good mood, have just gotten word The Kenyon Review has accepted one of my poems. When I pull over, I sing, “Val-deri, val-dera” as I lean over and open the door for him.

There’s the spring 2014 issue of The Paris Review on the seat, which I stick into the side pocket of the open door. He frowns, takes off the knapsack, which is actually a blackened, tattered bookbag, and struggles to jam it between the seats into the back compartment of my Fiat. Finally successful in the stowing, he sits down and turns and grabs for the seat belt like he’s just fallen overboard.

“Where to?” I ask, once the commotion is over, a little ashamed of myself for singing.

“Ultimately, way out west, I reckon.”

He reeks of cigarettes, campfire, mildew, and that metabolic sour wino sweetish stench that in-excess Mad Dog 20-20 and digestive systems produce.

He says, “Let me amend that. Wherever.”


“Drop me off wherever?”

The smell is getting to me as we tool down Malcolm X past Eldridge Cleaver Middle School. I decide I’ll take him to the Interstate exit, which is both headed west and qualifies as wherever.

He turns to me, and I can tell he’s looking at me, so I take my eyes off the not-so-heavy traffic and make eye contact with his barely blue eyes all rheumy and sad and staring at me.

“Who’s your favorite poet?” he asks.

I know the answer to this one: “Me.”

“You’re a poet?”

“Yep, as a matter of fact.”


“You bet.”

“Okay, then. Who’s your second favorite poet?”

Frederick Seidel,” I say, thinking I’ll name someone he’s never heard of.

“Okay,” he says. “You can let me out here.”

“Here? How come?

“Seidel’s a pervert; that’s why.”

You sure you don’t want me to take you to the Interstate?”


I pull over, he gets out, and I bid goodbye with a sarcastic salute. Self-righteous son-of-a-bitch.

I pull back into traffic, the post-industrial claptrap warehouses scrolling past my side windows, but I can still smell him five blocks away. I have a theory that loud noises drown out odors. I click on the music. Big Brother. Cheap Thrills.

It’s not until I’m past the Huey Newton on-ramp that I realize his bookbag’s still in the back.

No telling what I’m going to find in there.


The Curable Romantic

Dark blues make me frantic

Black jazz brings me down.

Once I was romantic.

Now I stay uptown.

“Harlem Madness” – Fletcher Henderson, Ned Williams, and Irving Mills

519aMi139BL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I was eaten up with Romanticism when I was a boy growing up in Summerville, SC. On any number of bright, sunny spring days, perfect for playing outside, you could find me in the cave of my bottom bunk reading The Count of Monte Cristo or The Complete Stories of Edgar Allan Poe.

I was especially a sucker for doomed protagonists who suffered the perpetual ache of unrequited love, sardonic swashbucklers like Cyrano de Bergerac or Poe’s gloom-devoured intellectuals forever grieving for their lost Lenores. Of course, I didn’t share these somewhat pathological predilections with my friends or family. Maybe if I had, some kind soul might have pointed out that celebrating heartache is unhealthy and Darwinianly ineffective when competing for mates.

A consequence of this peculiar focus is that I developed an anachronistic, almost Victorian, appreciation of females as icons worthy of worship, practicing what Yeats describes in his poem “Adam’s Curse” as “the old high way of love.”*

There have been lovers who thought love should be

So much compounded of high courtesy

That they would sigh and quote with learned looks

Precedents out of beautiful old books;

Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.

“Idle” as in non-productive. In those days, snagging a touchdown pass or smacking a double was a more reliable pathway to a young girl’s heart than penning cliché-ridden verse that doesn’t scan — still is, as a matter of fact.

So I had a string of crushes I worshipped from afar, for example, the beautiful Joanne Elder, whom I would escort around the circumference of Dogwood Circle never daring to clasp her hand and confess my adoration. I had cultivated an ideal medieval maiden in my psyche and projected her onto this not intellectually curious but practical girl. Meanwhile, in any number of carport utility rooms and out in the still abundant woods around the subdivision of Twin Oaks, other less literary 7th graders were learning how to French kiss. I still can clearly remember one day on an overcrowded school bus Joanne’s writing in the dust on the back door’s window the name of Steve Hoates.

[cue funereal violins]

stones-65Puberty itself was a great help in overcoming the blight of romanticism. I began reading less and listening to music more, Mick Jagger replacing Edmond Dantès as a role model, and despite singles like “As Tears Go By,” many Stones songs like “Under My Thumb” and “Stupid Girl” were openly dismissive of “the fair sex,” if not downright misogynistic.

My attitude coarsened a bit.

A couple of real live heartbreaks made me realize that the Marvelettes were right about the vast number of fish teeming in the sea of love. I came to realize that when you “got a heartache,” you’re much better off using your fingers to punch in jukebox selections rather than manipulating typewriter keys.

I figured out that the old Yeats was wiser than younger Yeats. Take it away, Crazy Jane:

A woman can be proud and stiff

When on love intent;

But Love has pitched his mansion in

The place of excrement;

For nothing can be sole or whole

That has not been rent.

Cyrano and Me

Cyrano and Me

*Of course, over a half-a-century later, I realize this attitude of placing females on pedestals is sexist, a byproduct of the patriarchy, etc, but look up at that less-than-ninety- pound weakling right above this note.  He didn’t know any better.

Quaint, Twitter-Ready Insults

Michael J O'Donoghue

Michael J O’Donoghue

In the ‘70’s, the late great Michael O’Donoghue published a hilarious piece in the National Lampoon entitled “The Churchill Wit” in which he replaced those time-honored, oft-quoted Churchillian zingers with-

Well, I don’t want to step on his punchline. Here’s the original anecdote.

“I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend … if you have one.”

— George Bernard Shaw, playwright (to Winston Churchill)

“Cannot possibly attend first night; will attend second, if there is one.”

— Churchill’s response

And O’Donoghue’s version

When the noted playwright George Bernard Shaw sent [Churchill] two tickets to the opening night of his new play with a note that read: “Bring a friend, if you have one,” Churchill, not to be outdone, promptly wired back: “You and your play can go fuck yourselves.”

Alas, it seems, as least when it comes to social media, O’Donoghue was prescient in that vulgarity is now to the go-to response in verbal battle, especially on Twitter.

Of course, exhibiting wit in 140 characters – much less waging an argument – is challenging, so it makes sense that the un-clever resort to shit-slinging.

Obviously, trying to out-Andrew-Dice-Clay Andrew Dice Clay makes you look like a psychopath yourself, so, of course, the judicious adult response to scatological insults is no response.

Andrew Dice Clay

Andrew Dice Clay

Unfortunately, judiciousness and I-and-I don’t even have a passing acquaintance. I’ll admit my skin is lens-cleaner thin. For the world of me, I cannot stand to let some cretin tripping on the Kool Aid reduce me to some emblematic body part. Being compelled to respond, I’ve come up with a system to counter foul-fingered trolls who call me “a pussy” or invite me to “suck their dicks.”

Rather than going Medieval on them in the Pulp Fiction sense, I go what you might call “quaint,” wielding minced, old-fashioned oaths inspired by (but not lifted from) those Shakespearean Insult Kits you can find on-line.

For example, let’s say I tweet something like “Does America really want a 79-year-old President in the situation room during a massive cyber attack?” and some Oscar Wilde wannabe responds with “Fuck you, pussy. Hillary’s a liar. It’s proven.”

Instead, of tooth-for-tooth vulgarity, I might respond with “Clever use of synecdoche, you ear-wax-witted nincompoop.”

The key is to throw the assailant off guard. Chances he doesn’t know what synecdoche is, which should give him pause, and even if he does, whatever he responds is going to make him seem ridiculous.

Here’s a quick list of quaint pejoratives: pettifogging, rapscallion, miscreant, bobolyne, scullion, lubberwort, jackanapes, scapegrace, ninnyhammer, poltroon, blatherskite, fopdoodle

Hey, I’m a school teacher, look them up, you lubberwort-eating jackanapes. It’s Friday, going on happy hour, so I’m off to Chico Feo to banter with the wits and all that jazz.


Bernie’s Big Challenge

 Photo by Betty Void

Photo by Betty Void

One of the noteworthy early triumphs of Bernie Sanders’ campaign has been his enchantment of millennial voters with degrees from prestigious universities who, though they themselves wouldn’t slum it at a state school, seek free tuition for upcoming matriculators.[1]

Some of these graduates with pedigree degrees whine about the massive debt they’ve incurred seeking humanities diplomas from joints like Columbia, Duke, Stanford, Georgetown, etc. Call me callous, but racking up an ocean of red ink for an English or history or education BA strikes me as demonstrating very poor “critical thinking” skills, or even worse, if you’ve borrowed 200K for an English degree from Columbia, you’ve flunked the basic Darwinian test of financial fitness.

In fact, if you could get into Columbia, chances are you could cop a free ride at the University of New Hampshire or Iowa, graduate summa cum, and with off-the-charts GRE scores, get a Columbia masters for a fraction of the undergraduate expense.

Entitled elitists hankering after socialistic solutions for their elitist mistakes ain’t doing nothing to alleviate the toxic levels of cognitive dissonance poisoning this here Republic founded on rationalism.

But, hey, don’t get me wrong — I’m not blaming them – it’s their parents’ fault.

In fact, I tip my fedora to Bernie and don’t at all question his sincerity or integrity. He’s certainly won over a wide swathe of white voters in New Hampshire and Iowa who identify as Democrats. Moreover, his campaign’s Olympian transcendence of paltry expectations and dismal early poll numbers suggests that his message resonates. It does, of course, in large part because of the effectiveness of Bernie as medium..

The cat possesses not only credibility but also charisma.[2]  His performance among snowy Democratic demographics has been, at least in New Hampshire, spectacular. The day after, right-wingers like Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post are hyperventilating/salivating at the prospect of “an vowed socialist as the Democratic nominee.”

[cut to snow ball gaining mass as it tumbles down Mt Bernie aimed smack dab at Goldman Sacks]



Now, what Bernie needs to do, and in an awful hurry, is to convince female African American primary voters like the ones pictured above to vote for a Jewish man who doesn’t believe in an anthropomorphic god.


[1] Perhaps, the one-word-for-two EB White rule doesn’t work so well with matriculators. At any rate, I applaud the millennials’  philanthropic spirit.

[2] Of which I’m immune.

Jive and Prejudice

enhanced-buzz-5008-1375426913-1Coincidentally today, on my 38th wedding anniversary, we finished Pride and Prejudice in the 10th grade Brit Lit survey course I teach.   I’d like to think that over the thirty years I’ve been teaching P&P, I’ve managed to come up with ways to make it engaging for the students, even for some of the boys, who, if they read at all, prefer action-packed fare like Fight Club or sci-fi/fantasy titles like Fine,We’ll Do It in My Spaceship Tower. Unfortunately, for them, in Pride and Prejudice, Napoleon’s troops don’t invade Merton and shish kabob Mr. Wickham, only to be repelled by non-commissioned Darcy and Bingley looking fabulous on their prancing steeds.

Anyway, to prepare students for the pleasures of P&P, you first have to get across that the novel is prototypical, that it’s the mother of modern romantic comedy. [1]

Once that’s established, I concentrate on the characterization, and what a rich array we have. It takes a rather humorless drudge not to find Mr. Collins funny and a very unobservant one not to have encountered an asshole like Mr. Wickham somewhere along life’s escalator ride.

Anyway, today, we looked at the last few chapters, especially the tete-a-tete between Elizabeth and Darcy in “Chapter 60” when she asks him “to account for his ever having fallen in love with her.”

He replies that he couldn’t “fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation,” which could very well describe my own falling in love with Judy Birdsong.

Like Darcy, “I was in the middle before I knew that it had begun.”

Judy jokes that we have a “marriage made in Milwaukee” because we met in graduate school as bartenders at the student union bar – the not quite immortal Golden Spur — back in those halcyon days when 18-year-olds could drink legally. I must have first met Judy B right before the Spur opened for the semester in a meeting conducted by University employees in charge of the Russell House. I cannot say that it was love, or even attraction, at first sight.

In fact, alas, these are the very first words I said to her after she had benignly asked me how it was going.

“You can call me ‘Wesley’” I said, “or ‘Rusty,’ but don’t call me Wes.”

Call me FitzWilliams.

Truth is, I didn’t take much note of her or any of the other neophyte bartenders because I was pissed off. I, the only returning employee besides the manager, had to jump through the hoops of the work-study application process to get my old job back.


I do remember on opening night we had a reggae band and the manager assigned Judy to exclusively work the cash register, which was really stupid and unfair. I felt sorry for her stuck there  for six-plus hours frenetically ringing up Schlitz Malt Liquors and Lays Potato Chips.

That was in August, but as the weeks progressed, I found myself looking at the schedule hoping that Judy would be sharing my shift. On the surface, we had very little in common. I dabbled in contraband; she didn’t. I had spent a night in jail; she hadn’t. She made straight As; I had racked up an impressive string of Incompletes. She supported Gerald Ford; I supported Jimmy Carter. Her family had a considerable amount of new money; my family had a considerable amount of debt. In short, I was wild, rebellious, immature, and penniless, and she was stable, a conformist, mature, and well-to-do.

Yet, over those weeks I came to appreciate her more and more. I remember one evening when I was checking IDs at the door.  She stopped, and we chatted, and I felt ill at ease. I remember feeling a longing and loneliness bordering on hopelessness as she was leaving.

Miss Judy Birdsong

Miss Judy Birdsong

Unbeknown to me, the crush was mutual, but I could not imagine such a nice, attractive, clever girl being interested in a lout like me, nor did she think that a rogue like I-and-I would be interested in a nice girl like her. However, we started to flirt and “pretend” to have crushes on each other. In fact, I remember coming into the Spur when I had a date with an ex who had dumped me the summer before and Judy’s standing behind the bar with a theatrical frown as she pantomimed wiping away imaginary tears.

What a dumb ass not to figure it out!

The good news is that it didn’t take an elopement and rescue a la Lydia and Darcy to bring us together, but merely alcohol, the liquid Cupid. Although the University was closed on election night in 1976, the Spur was open, and Judy and I were behind the bar, which closed at one, but the staff and a couple of regulars stayed on to continue watching the returns. Somehow after Carter had been declared the winner in the wee hours, one of us  made a move – we can’t remember who – but somehow we found ourselves sitting there on stools at the bar holding hands.

As it turned out, like Darcy and Elizabeth, we had more in common than we had thought, and despite some of Judy’s friends’ reasonable advice that marrying the 1978 version of me was a mistake, she did, and it’s by far the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me or that will ever happen to me.