My TS Eliot Spring Break

illustration by Wesley Moore

illustration by Wesley Moore

Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc’d.
Tereu

TS Eliot, “The Waste Land”

Although Yeats gets quoted a lot in these traumatic days – things fall apart, the center cannot hold, etc. – TS Eliot was no slouch himself when it came to apocalyptic naysaying. For example, dig this ditty from “The Waste Land”:

What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London
Unreal

Because most of us Americans are consumed with the 24/7 Jerry Springer extravaganza that is the current presidential campaign, I doubt if your casual consumer of the news is aware that Europe’s political turmoil makes ours seem rather bland by comparison.

For example, on New Years Eve in Cologne, Germany, gangs of young males assaulted scores of females celebrating the holiday. Some blame newly arrived Muslim immigrants for the outrages while others suggest caution before jumping to conclusions.

Here’s a snippet from the conservative British paper the Spectator:

The German police made a similar point: they are used to handling drunks. But gangs of young men encircling and then groping women at large public gatherings: who has ever heard of such a thing?

In the Arab world, it’s something of a phenomenon. It has a name: ‘Taharrush gamea’. Sometimes the girls are teased and have their veils torn off by gangs of young men; sometimes it escalates into rape. Five years ago, this form of attack was the subject of an award-winning Egyptian film, 678. Instances of young men surrounding and attacking girls were reported throughout the Arab Spring protests in Cairo in 2011 and 2012. Lara Logan, a CNN journalist covering the fall of Hosni Mubarak, was raped in Tahrir Square. Taharrush gamea is a modern evil, and it’s being imported into Europe. Our authorities ought to be aware of it

On the other hand, here is Ishaan Tharoor from the Washington Post:

To be sure, there are legitimate security concerns posed both by the surge in new arrivals as well as the continuing instability and conflicts in the Middle East. The attacks in Cologne, writes the Algerian novelist Kamel Daoud, were a reminder to the West of the Muslim world’s “sick relationship with women” — a product both of patriarchal and religious norms as well as the stifling legacy of authoritarian rule.

But perverse, misogynist behavior is not the province of just one culture or society. And much of Europe’s anti-refugee hysteria, as my colleague Adam Taylor charted this week, has been overblown and fueled by often misleading innuendo and rumor circulating on social media.

Very few of the identified culprits in the Cologne attacks were themselves refugees. And countries like Poland and Hungary, while leading the conservative charge against E.U. policies that would allow in desperate Middle Eastern asylum seekers, still have minuscule Muslim populations of their own. The risk of a cultural invasion somehow contaminating their societies is, frankly, a phantasm conjured by fear-mongers.

Of course, this week, we Americans were treated to some man-on-woman physicality when police charged Donald Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski with battery after an encounter with “former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields.”

In this case, we have video, so you can make up your mind yourself.*


*My personal view is that by the standards of Summerville High School that encounter doesn’t approach “battery.”

The bottom line is that the big blinding, buzzing cacophony of computerized existence obliterates contemplation. The blitzkrieg of information, much of it contradictory, is harmful for a species who has spent most of its existence sitting in small groups on a savannah among birdsong and rustling leaves.

The ruling class – the Koch Bros, etc. – should know that oligarchies lead to revolutions, that the Occupy Movement was a Shakespearian comet of foreboding, but who has time to contemplate history or to think beyond tomorrow’s Dow Jones closing averages?

Then there’s Hillary trying to thread the needle between big business and young debt-ridden would-be socialists as she attempts to be all things to all people.

Meanwhile, followers of Bernard Sanders engage in magical thinking imaging 30+ redneck gerrymandered districts somehow going blue so that he’ll be able to break up the banks, overhaul our healthcare system, make college free while by creating the largest middle class tax hike in the history of our republic.

What we see here in the Republican Party – factionalism – is also playing out in Europe. Things are falling apart – perhaps most alarmingly, glaciers!

Oh, by the way, it’s my spring break, and we all know that April is the cruelest month, so I’ve been having a sort of TS Eliot holiday, riding around with the radio/cd player off, popping Ativans like M&Ms, reciting poetry out loud to myself:

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities. Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What’s not believed in, or is still believed,
In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon
Into weak hands, what’s thought can be dispensed with
Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.

As the Lone Ranger used to say, “Adios!”

 

Good Friday

Today’s the day they nail him to a cross.

I wonder if arriving at Golgotha was actually a relief after being run through the stony streets barefooted and bearing a heavy, rough-hewn cross. Those streets lined with howling citizens mocking, spitting, guffawing.

Despite the excruciating pain, as the cross was raised to its upright position, at least he could suffer in solitude as he looked out over the waste of the world.

Jesus-Crucifixion

For a few years my mother forced us to attend a Good Friday vigil at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Summerville, SC. At the vigil the seven last words on the cross were spoken over a period of time, maybe three hours.. We didn’t stay for the entire service, but dropped in and out after an hour or so.

I recall clearly in 1969 standing beneath the tree in our front yard in a coat and tie listening to Jose Feliciano’s cover of “Light My Fire” hoping against hope that Mama would relent but to no avail.

no time to wallow in the mire.

If I remember correctly (and it’s been 47 years), the ritual consisted of kneeling in silence in a darkened black-draped sanctuary – everything was black; even the cross was sheathed in black crepe. Occasionally, a bell would chime, and Father Skardon would recite one of the seven last words, actually, strictly speaking, phrases like “I thirst” and “My God, my God, why have thou forsaken me?”

For me, it was impossible to think of anything but Jesus’s suffering. Of course, I wanted to leave, but there was something aesthetically powerful about the ritual that transcended the mundane. In other words, I was alive in there.

Eventually, Mama would look over and nod, and we would get up, reposition the kneeling bench, bow to the cross, and head out the door. Exiting through those doors from that darkened sanctuary into the bright sunshine of springtime was not unlike you were exiting a tomb yourself — happy, happy — not realizing that down the road somewhere that excruciating sorrow, inexpressible grief, and intolerable suffering would be your lot as well.

ST Paul's Episcopal Church, Summerville, SC

ST Paul’s Episcopal Church, Summerville, SC

What Celebrity Endorsements Can Tell Us

After Donald Trump’s announcement to seek the presidency, virtually all pundits pooh-poohed his high poll numbers as an early election-cycle aberration. After all, early on in 2012, Michelle Bachmann and Herbert Cain had been flying high. Nevertheless, now with 20-plus contests behind us, it appears that the Donald has won the hearts and minds spleens of somewhere between 30% and 40% of Republican primary and caucus voters. Even though these numbers are higher than his opponents’, they still fall short of a majority. The question arises, what might it take to push Trump above the 50% level? Could celebrity endorsements help?

Obviously, critically acclaimed celebrities often cast their lot with liberal Democrats, so it’s no surprise that Trump isn’t garnering as many high-end celebrity endorsements as Bernie (Susan Sarandon, Will Farrell, Danny DeVito) or Hillary (Beyonce, Lena Dunham, Robert de Niro). Nevertheless, several celebrities have endorsed Donald, and a quick glance at a few of them might tell us something about Trump’s appeal.

2014-12-11-HulkLet’s start with Hulk Hogan. Born Terry Eugene Bollea, son of Pietro Bollea, Hogan has, according to Wikipedia, Italian, French, and Panamanian heritage. Although most famous for his career as a professional wrestler, Hogan started off as a bassist, another profession that can feature head-banging.

Donald Trump supporter Kid Rock, a native of Detroit, is such an important artist that Wikipedia divides his career in eras – the hip-hop era, the rap rock era, the Southern rock revivalist era, and the Heartland rock era. Actually, Kid Rock originally endorsed Dr. Ben Carson but has subsequently gone over to Trump. One thing that Kid Rock and Trump share is antipathy towards Megyn Kelly. After the Charleston Massacre when Al Sharpton’s NAN Chapter threatened to boycott Rock’s shows, which prominently display Confederate flags, Rock emailed Megyn Kelly at Fox News with this Trumpian response: “Please tell the people that (sic) are protesting me, that they can kiss my ass.”

Mike Tyson needs no introduction. The former heavyweight champion says he supports Trump because he wants “to try something new.” By the way, there have been no reports of ear biting at any Trump rallies.

busey-460_1014998aAnd, let’s put this post to a merciful end by naming one last Trump celebrity endorser, Gary Busey, the movie actor and star of Celebrity Rehab. Busey, famously, fractured his skull in a motorcycle wreck in 1988. Dr. Charles Sophy, a psychiatrist on the show, conjectured that “Busey’s brain injury had a greater effect” on him than he originally realized.   According to Wikipedia, Sophy recommended “Busey take valproic acid (Depakote), with which Busey agreed.”

So there you have it. Three out of these Trump celebrity endorsers have suffered brain trauma. Kid Rock doesn’t appear to have suffered any head injuries, even though someone named Jason McNeil got sucker punched at one of his shows and is suing the promoter for $150 million because he’s suffering from “a severe brain injury.”

Perhaps beating up protesters at these rallies has an ulterior motive?

 

 

An Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet, Pulp Fiction Type of Guy

5+ Iconic Movies this so called cultural anthropologist has never seen:

Star Wars – When I saw the trailers in the mid-70’s, I knew I’d be bored stiff. The only sci-fi I ever watched was the old Buster Crabbe serials on TV when I was a kid and only because I was breastfed.

Dale Arden was hot, Princess Leia not so much.

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Plus, I hated the robot on Lost in Space, never took to Hal, ain’t got the hots for Siri, so I suspect Artoo Detoo  ain’t gonna elicit any chuckles. In fact, the most disappointing film I’ve ever seen, given expectations, is Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

ET – see above.

(By the way, special effects never fail to Hindenburg my suspension of disbelief)

 

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Love Story, The Brian Piccolo Story.

(I did, though, make it all the way through the Garbo/Gable Camille)

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Frankly, I prefer the more abstract unhappiness I get by reading the life stories of young, attractive people whose pictures appear on obituary pages.

Forest Gump – This nation is stupid enough (cf. Trump’s political success). We don’t need to be glamorizing the virtues of low IQs.

The Titanic – No way it could be better than the Thomas Hardy poem “The Convergence of the Twain” By the way, I did go see but hated Avatar. You can read the review here.

No Pixar film ever. What can I say? I’m allergic to wholesomeness.

 Nope, I reckon I’m just an Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet, Pulp Fiction type of guy.

Trigger Warning:  Smack shooting, needles, i.e., drug use.

Yeats’ s Second Coming, the 2016 Election Edition

 

Turning and turning in the never-ending news cycle

The primary voter cannot hear the RNC;

Coalitions fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Donald Trump is loosed upon the world.

The slime-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of commonsense is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

 

Surely some revolution is at hand;

Surely another revolution is at hand.

Another revolution! Hardly are those words out

When a vaunting image out of black-and-white newsreels

Troubles my sight: raised hands at rallies where

A shape with a man’s body and the hair of a troll,

A face with stunted gaze and a sphincter-like mouth,

Spews feces of hate while all about him

Swarm legions of lemming-like whites,

Shouting curses and slugging protesters!

It looks as if a half-century of stony sleep has been

vexed into nightmare by yet another authoritarian,

who now that his hour has come round again

slouches towards Washington to be sworn.

donald sphinx

Confessions of a Future Opium Eater

opium addict wesIt’s been my experience that the more eventful a period, the longer that span seems to last. Take college, for example. The four years from my days as a freshman to those of my senior year seem like decades, the Stones’ “Brown Sugar” and David Bowie’s “Young Americans” separated, not by 48 mere months, but by twenty years or so.

Dorm rooms, dives, suitemates, hook-ups, break-ups, friends, foes, professors, TAs, incense, cafeteria trays, campus bars, road trips, acid flips, pick-up basketball, lecture halls, black beauties, kegs, bathroom graffiti, the clicking of typewriter keys . . .

College memories crowd the file cabinets of my mind in such profusion that it seems as if those experiences couldn’t have transpired in so short a span.

And the same goes for this goddamned interminable presidential campaign. The 24/7 news cycle frenetically spins stories like those jugglers of yore on the Ed Sullivan Show spinning plates — each story delivered with the gravitas of an announcement that a Kennedy has died.

Did the first Republican debate actually occur on 7 August 2016, or was it during the Peloponnesian War? Were hula-hoops all the rage back when Carson was a serious contender? Crazy college kids swallowing goldfish and cramming themselves into phone booths when Florina was the darling of the under-debates?

No, believe it or not, that was just a couple of months ago, not in the 1950’s.

For example, take the rise and fall and rise and fall of Marc Rubio: rat-a-tat-tat, he ascends above Jeb! (remember him?), racks up endorsements like young Tiger Woods collecting championship trophies, goes robotic before the New Hampshire Primary, has his campaign pronounced as dead as Houdini, then the next week struts across a stage arm-and-arm with Nikki Haley, goes after Trump with both pea shooters popping only to get mugged by the irony-mongers on Twitter for being a vulgarian, and now he’s reduced to addressing a stadium “crowd” that could fit comfortably in a high school gymnasium.

With all of this quick cutting, we lose all perspective. Each spinning plate becomes a monumental game changer. Bernie ties Hillary in Iowa. She’s in real trouble.  Now he’s obliterated her in New Hampshire. Whoa, wait a minute. Hillary wins Nevada, trounces him in South Carolina! She’s racking up delegates galore! It’s all but over. Hold on! He upsets her in Michigan!  Now she’s in real. real, trouble (until next week when she wins Florida and Illinois).

So I have decided to pack my bags and head to the nearest opium den (Laos?) and spend the next eight months in a stately pleasure dome. Maybe do some kayaking on the sacred river Alph.

Wake me up and get me into rehab when it’s over.

Coleridge2_102211

 

Open-Eyed, Laughing: In Memory of Pat Conroy

patAlthough I didn’t know Pat Conroy well at all – maybe five close encounters (including one at our house on Folly Beach) – I was, however, privy to his condition during his last days because while Pat received treatment at MUSC, I met his daughters Megan and Jessica Sunday night for a drink downtown, and they ended up staying with us Monday night at the beach before heading back to Beaufort on Tuesday where Pat passed away.

Even though I only hung with Pat a view times, I could detect the hurt beneath his quick smile and alert eyes. Like many who have suffered bleak childhoods, he viewed life through the blackest of shades and attempted to illuminate that darkness through flashes of sardonic humor. If he hadn’t been a novelist, he could have made a fortune doing stand-up. I certainly hope somebody somewhere has recorded his story about not taking Barbra Streisand’s calls because he thought she was his pal Bernie playing a practical joke.

Pat remembered and cared about you. A year and a half ago when we were visiting Megan at his house at Fripp, Pat told me that I had a good life, that teaching English was a good life. A couple of weeks ago at his house in Beaufort, the first time I’d seen him since, he again asked me about my teaching, if I had retired. He insisted on getting up as Judy and I were leaving.

He knew he was a goner but was stoic and flashed that quick smile throughout our conversation. Monday night, Megan told me that he had said good-bye to her and her sisters at ICU, and as they were leaving in tears, he added, “Damn, I’m going to be so embarrassed if I don’t die tonight.”

Bingo.

Yeats wrote in his poem “Vacillation” that he tested “everything his [own] hands [had] wrought” according to whether or not it was “suited for such men as come/ Proud, open-eyed, and laughing to the tomb.”

Pat Conroy was such a man.

May he rest in peace and the family he has left behind thrive.