Wesley’s Inferno, Canto 3

 

Canto 3

 

Charon chided Catullus as the cab

pulled into a line labeled LUST.

Waving arms, speaking Latin, babbling,

 

Catullus flashed credentials. Trust me;

Charon was one ugly dude. Liberace crossed

with Elephant Man, plus a dash of Jackie Gleason,

 

snot running down his nose, the grossest

shit I’d ever seen. As we rolled onto the one-car ferry,

it occurred to me that here there was no rest,

 

no coffee breaks, no take five, no reprieves.

The river, appropriately hellish, polluted,

frothing, malodorous, reeking

 

of industry and death. I recruited

all my strength, closed my eyes, the screech

of machinery assaulting unabated.

 

I passed out, my sense driven beyond the reach

of enduring. A thunderclap awakened me

after what seemed centuries. “That’ll teach

 

you,” Catullus, said enigmatically,

apropos of zilch. “When’s the last time

you’ve been to a drive in?” he asked. “See,

 

bro you, bout to get dipped into some slime,

awful porno, meet punishment for the lustful,

who squandered earth-time

 

always seeking sex, overdoing it, never fulfilled.”

The ferry approached a dimly lit dock,

An oily humidity had replaced the river’s dank chill.

Free Novel Titles from Dylan’s Canon of Cool Lyrics

dylan typing

Although I had a tiny bit of success as a fiction writer in my younger days, creating short stories and novels is way too hard — too lonely, too unprofitable — so I’ve given it up.  Nevertheless, I still love coming up with titles.  In fact, in the good ol’ days, a title might come to me before the story, which was the case with “The Harlequin Globetrotters.”

Like virtually all my publications, “The Harlequin Globetrotters” is lost to posterity because the journal in which it was published is now defunct.  So I’m afraid you’re out of luck if you’re dying to read about Katrina Piedmont, a female ref who adored Globetrotter star Skylark Keats.  He had visited her younger brother when he had been dying of cancer, and when Katrina found herself reffing a Globetrotters’ game, she overcompensated for her adoration by calling questionable fouls on him. Just before the buzzer and with the Globetrotters down by two, Skylark drove to the basket, collided with Katrina, and ended up on the floor on top of her. Oblivious to the hubbub that surrounded them, they allowed their lips to touch, at first tentatively, a gentle butterfly of a kiss, and he could feel her arms encircling his back, her tongue flicking across his earlobe, darting to the tip of his ear, and so he crushed her to him and began to kiss her eagerly, his tongue exploring, then plundering the warm, wet cave of her mouth  Swept away in utter abandon, they surrendered to the tidal surge of their pent-up passion as the roar of the crowd washed over them like the sea. . . .

Perhaps a copy exists somewhere, its pages yellowed, like the author’s teeth, with age, but I rather doubt it, so like I say, you’re out of luck.

Be that as it may, I still like coming up with titles.  As a bonus, I provide possible scenarios, hoping that someone in cyber space might take the bait as I did when a fellow writer told me he had a great title – “The Insomniacs’ Ball” – but no story.[1] It took me years, but I finally came up something that ended up winning a Piccolo Spoleto fiction prize and was read by an actor in Marion Square in front of literally tens of people (well, maybe a couple of dozen).[2]

The titles that most appeal to me are ones culled from other literary sources like “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “The Sound and the Fury,” and “Of Mice and Men.” Allusive titles like these provide the erudite reader a hint as to the major themes.  The secret is to use a catchy phrase, and who has come up with catchier phrases in the last 50 years but Bob Dylan?   So I surveyed the jukebox of my mind and came up with three Dylan phrases that would make killer titles, and here they are, fiction writers, yours for the taking.

Titles from Dylan’s Canon 

From “The Gates of Eden”

The motorcycle black Madonna

Two-wheeled gypsy queen

And her silver-studded phantom cause

The gray flannel dwarf to scream . . .

The Gray Flannel Dwarf

Genre: melodrama, 2 hankies.  This narrative revolves around a talented but diminutive fashion designer named Sebastian Gorky, a snazzy dresser who loves retro ‘50s fashion. The plot revolves around his doomed unrequited passion for a strapping transgendered seamster named Rex Renault.  Gorky is an Alexander-Pope like figure, saturnine, cynical, but beneath it all possessing a sweet if somewhat sullied soul.  Think of it as Cyrano de Bergerac meets Willow. Gorky tries to protect Renault from the predators of the fashion industry as the two jetset from New York to Paris to Milan.  The movie version is rated PG-13 for language and brief, gratuitous nudity in changing rooms.

Gray Flannel Dwarf

From  “Stuck Inside of Mobil with the Memphis Blues Again”

When Ruthie says come see her

In her honky-tonk lagoon

Where I can watch her waltz for free

‘Neath her Panamanian moon

Honkey-Tonk Lagoon

Genre: action/adventure. 4 explosions.  Townes Van Barnes is an ex-pat living on a Caribbean island, and, like Rick in Casablanca, runs a bar.  Of course, the joint is teeming with a cast of colorful characters, and Townes’s mysterious personal tragedy (involving a strapping transgendered drug runner named Jan Auster) is stoically covered up by a prodigious amount of emotional scar tissue.  Add whatever complication flips your switch: Jared Kushner’s company’s plan for developing a resort that will ruin the island’s culture, radioactive waste being dumped offshore by a nefarious multinational corporation, or a spring break culture clash featuring politically correct Middlebury students and some wild partiers from the University of Alabama.

ramshackle-bar

From “Hurricane”

Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties

Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise

While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell

An innocent man in a living hell

All the Criminals in Their Coats and Their Ties

Genre: political thriller. 15 indictments.  This fast-moving far-fetched scenario traces the rise and fall of narcissistic mobster/real estate developer who as a publicity stunt runs for president on a phony populist campaign in which he promises to kick corporate America in its fat ass.  Much to everyone’s surprise – especially his own – he beats his well-intentioned but terminally unlikable opponent and goes on to do the exact opposite of what he promises.  His administration runs like a fine-tuned machine until a former lover, a strapping transgendered exotic dancer named Rick Rambler, blackmails the president by threatening to release information proving that the pre-President had paid for an abortion back in the days when the exotic dancer was a slender blonde barfly who went buy the name Tiffany Texarkana.  After Rambler is found dead from blunt head trauma, a clandestine group of female British investigative reporters unravel the mystery as the agents of the president’s private security staff zero in on them.

nintchdbpict000296532549

All I ask for these potential best sellers is a brief mention in the acknowledgements.


[1] The writer was Harlan Greene, the year 1983.

[2] Actually, “The Insomniacs’ Ball” is a poem, but I retyped it without line breaks so it would qualify as “short fiction.”  You can read it here.

Tales of Bad Parenting

As my regular readers know, I possess an incredibly delicate, depression-prone sensibility. I find large “family friendly” crowds especially nerve-wracking, particularly if those families come from “all walks of life.” I can handle “non-family friendly” gatherings just fine. Heavy metal rock concerts, ecstasy-fueled raves, St. Patrick Day’s pub-crawls, and violent protests don’t bother me a whit; however, a day trip to somewhere like Six Flags hurls me headlong into Sylvia-Plath-like pits of deep despair.

We’re talking Mariana Trench, Dante’s Malebolgia, i.e., super subterranean levels of depression.

Imagine my horror, then, when one Saturday twenty years ago around noon, my 8th grade son Harrison asked if I would take him and his 6th grade brother Ned to the Coastal Carolina Fair.

“It’s the very last day,” he added.

Mental montage:

 

We were driving on Ashley Avenue in the small beach community where we live.[1] I looked over at my wife Judy whose expression was one that you might encounter if you had just informed someone that she was being sequestered for jury duty for a Gambino brother trial in Newark.

These words came out of my mouth: “You boys ever hear of Playboy magazine?”

They answered in the affirmative.

“Well, what if instead of taking you to the fair, I bought you a copy of Playboy magazine instead?

“You’re kidding, “ Harrison said, the glee in his voice approaching bicycle-under-the X-mas-tree levels.

“I’m absolutely serious,” I said. “By the time we return home, get ready, battle the bumper-to-bumper traffic, find a godforsaken place to park, trudge the five miles to the entrance, we’ll all be exhausted.”

“You’re sure you’re not kidding?”

“Watch me.”

What he left unsaid, but it registered loud and clear: “You’re the greatest dad in the world!”

So we pulled into Bert’s Market, and I found the magazine rack and secured the current issue of Playboy, which featured the German figure skater Katrina Witt.[2] The transaction was made, the product sheathed in a brown paper bag.

Once we returned home, the boys scampered into the room and slammed the door.

The next day, while they were out skateboarding, I slinked into the room with the intention of checking out the issue myself, but they had hidden it, as if it were contraband.

Finally, I had to ask them outright if they minded if I took a look at it. I promised to give it back.


[1] Let me hasten to add that despite the tale that is to follow, our two sons have managed to graduate from college (one has a masters in linguistics, the other makes 30K more than his old man who has 31 years of teaching the same gig). In other words, they no longer live with us.

[2] People often ask why both boys majored in German. It just occurred to me that this event might have played a role.

 

Wesley’s Inferno, Canto 2

 

 

Canto 2

 

Outside the cab colors swirled,

like a miasmic kaleidoscope,

obscuring the street. The whorl

 

eventually dissipated. A sign. “Abandon all hope,

you poor pathetic bastards.” A guard

nodded to Catullus, unhooked a rope,

 

and we drove on past, through a junkyard

of cars stuck in an epic traffic jam.

“We call this Limbo Boulevard,”

 

Catullus said. “Hollow men and women stranded;

You know the Eliot poem. These nobodies

In life never took a stand, didn’t

 

vote, etc., Not bone fide sleazes,

per se, so this is their punishment.

“Can they one day cop a plea?”

 

I asked. “Make atonement?”

“Naw, but this ain’t nothing,

not having no movement.

 

“What you bout to see on the other side will wring

your heart, if you think this here is hell.

Like, I said, tain’t nothing.”

 

Looking in the cars it was hard to tell

any of the passengers apart. We drove past,

swerved left, through a dell

 

towards the car ferry, the last

stop in Limbo. We took our place in the line

of cars. Across the river lightening flashed.

 

You can read/listen to “Canto 1” here.

 

Mentally Diagnosing the Donald

trum-narcissist

After yesterday’s barrage of Cheetos-stained tweets claiming that Obama had wiretapped Trump Towers before the election, some on my Twitter feed conjectured that Donald was in the throes of “a nervous breakdown,” accused him of harboring paranoid delusions. In fact, for some time now, mentally diagnosing the Donald has become a popular topic of conjecture for amateur psychologists all over the Internet.

Well, as I am fond of asserting, “Although I am not a psychologist, I do sleep with one” [not to mention that my undergraduate minor was in psychology, which means I had a least 30 hours of instruction (and in fact became very proficient at darkening bubbles on multiple choice tests)]. These two “facts” certainly establish my credentials as a credible source of wild conjecture, so allow me to weigh in on the mental pathologies that plague our 45th president.

I’ll list and then debunk two prominent theories before I share with you my ultimate diagnosis.

Theory 1: He’s bat shit crazy

bedlam

Although the phrase “bat shit crazy” sounds cool with the consonant t-sounds and its spondaic bang-bang-bang beginning, in the case of Donald, it’s simply not true. He’s not bat shit crazy, nor, fortunately, “crazy like a fox.”

A bat-shit-crazy person couldn’t have read from a teleprompter to deliver in relatively hushed tones (albeit dripping with insincerity) a speech even as pedestrian as the State-of-the-Union Trump delivered last week. A bat-shit-crazy person couldn’t have systematically turned his head from teleprompter to teleprompter as if he were watching a Ping-Pong match in super slo-mo. No, bat-shit-crazy people twitch and constantly scratch themselves.

A bat-shit-crazy person would have seen the original letters of the speech transform on the screen and start dripping blood as he shrieked, “Evil Triminicons have launched an evasion from Faltour and will be arriving on earth at any minute to destroy us all!!!

Conversely, a crazy-like-a-fox person wouldn’t lurch from crisis to crisis because you can’t be a lazy ignoramus and be crazy-like-a-fox. You need systematic thought, and Trump’s thought is about as systematic as shards of glass spraying from an empty Jim Bean bottle launched from a car in the parking lot of a frat house.

On the one hand, Donald is too well functioning to be bat shit crazy and on the other hand not well functioning enough to be crazy like a fox.

Theory 2: Trump suffers from “Narcissistic Personality Disorder

At first glance, this theory seems rather convincing.

Here’s Wikipedia’s (the go-to source for amateur psychologists like myself) list of criteria:

  • Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
  • Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
  • Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
  • Needing constant admiration from others
  • Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  • Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
  • Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs
  • Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
  • Pompous and arrogant demeanor

Okay, check check check check check check check check check.

But, whoa, hold on; it’s more complicated than that.

In fact, according to Raw Story, Professor Allen Frances, “the psychiatrist who wrote the diagnostic criteria or narcissistic personality disorder” wrote a letter to the New York Times in which he stated “[Trump] may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.”

In the letter he goes on to note that

Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).

Frances concludes with a statement that throws a very cold towel on the very purpose of this post:

His psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab. The antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.”

Well, obviously, I disagree with the idea of Trump’s psychological motivations as not being interesting. After all, you’ve read on this far, right?

Theory 3: Trump is merely a lazy, ignorant and intemperate non-reader whose mother and father didn’t love him

 freud-couch

(How do you copyright a theory? Is it enough to superscript a © over the “him” above?)

Anyway, I’ll quickly and eloquently prove my theory so you can get off this site and contact your representatives.

Exhibit A:

A temperate person who is not lazy would have done a little research to remedy his ignorance and discover that a president doesn’t have the power to order a domestic wiretap, that only a federal judge who must have compelling evidence can bug US citizens in the US. This intemperance will now cost Donald at least 3 days of bad press. Indeed, if there’s a document authorizing a wiretap at Trump Tower, Donald has in essence declassified it with his outburst.

But Donald doesn’t like to read as his misspelling of “tap” suggests.

Why read intelligence briefings when you can be watching Fox and Friends. Steve Bannon, Ph.D will explain them to you anyway.

Exhibit B:

web-ny1-trump-queens-long186376jpg

Certainly, if Donald had received paternal love, he wouldn’t be so starved for affirmation.  Look at the expressions on those wretches posing for a family photo. Sad!

It’s always the parents’ fault, people.

Was Follygras a Disaster or Perhaps Not So Much So?

Aging punks too lazy/cheap to dye their gray/white hair descend on Folly Beach

Aging punks too lazy/cheap to dye their gray/white hair descend on Folly Beach

I fear that Trump’s propensity to amp up his descriptions past hyperbole’s red line might be politically contagious.

A sampling of blaring Trump[eted] overstatements from the last debate before the election:

Our energy policies are a disaster.

Your regulations are a disaster, and you’re going to increase regulations all over the place.

We invested in a solar company, our country. That was a disaster.*

Not surprisingly, these “disasters” have transformed our once great nation into a hellscape where billionaires have to scarp over a higher percentage of their wealth than they did before Obama to fund health insurance for the poor.

Carnage!

Kiawah Island, the barrier island just south of Folly.

Kiawah Island, the barrier island just south of Folly.

[cue impatient cough]

Okay, okay, okay, back to my main point concerning contagion. Folly Beach’s mayor, whom I like just fine and would vote for tomorrow, has declared last weekend’s city-sanctioned Carnival street party known as Folly Gras “a disaster.”

You can see footage of the festivities here (with the extra attraction of hearing a soundtrack featuring the Wild Tchoupitoulas).

Trigger warning. If inconveniences and non-lethal foolish human behavior drive you to despair, you probably don’t want to read the following list of off-putting occurrences that when totaled = disaster.

The Post and Courier reports that Department of Public Safety Director Andrew Gilreath cited numerous problems with the festival, where his officers arrested 21 people and wrote 29 citations for “[l]itter, extreme drunkenness, disorderly conduct, underage drinking, public urination, narcotic use, indecent exposure, drunk driving, etc.,” [. . .]. “We could have arrested 100 people and not made a dent, and that was just within the confines of Center Street.”**

C’mon, Tim. Remember Hugo? That was a disaster. The Japanese earthquake that destroyed the nuke plant was a disaster.

Words matter. What we had last weekend on Folly was merely a shitshow – or in the words of the Public Safety Director — “a perfect storm that happened because of the combination of sunny skies, unseasonably warm 80-degree weather and the popularity of the festival.”

Folly after Hurricane Hugo

Folly after Hurricane Hugo


*Writing tip for today: “Disastrous” can be a handy, economical adjective for writers wanting to liposuction flaccid phrase-fettered verbs-of-being like “are and “was.”

** No telling what those aging hippies on the dirt road section of Huron were up to!