The Death of the First Summer of Act 3

I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise.

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”


Now that I’m not hanging in the Social Security office or at the estate law offices of Kuhn and Kuhn (whom I robustly recommend) or the Charleston County RMC office, I have in the last couple of weeks been able to revert to being a simple beach bum.

It’s the life of Jimmy Buffett, sans the Hawaiian shirts – it’s sandy, gritty, humid, free.

Had a great weekend just past. Gave my first surf lesson in four years on Saturday and spent part of the Sabbath promenading Walt-Whitman style up and down Center Street where I bantered with a twangy husband and wife with matching calf tattoos.

Saturday evening as I was leaving Mosquito Beach, an old black man with a walking stick stopped me, climbed onto the hood of my car and lay spread eagle with his back against the windshield.

After maybe ten seconds, he hopped off laughing.

Once on his feet, he performed the old-fashioned roll-down-the-window cranking pantomime and welcomed my companion and me with a friendly greeting laced with f-words. He was happy; we were happy.

The night was just getting started. Fun ahoy!

But now, just when the summer has become like a sort of typical summer for me (i.e., not teeming with post-mortem to-dos), it’s time to stick a fork in it. Next Thursday, I need to show up not-hungover at my school and begin my 32nd year of striking through linking verbs and offering alternate phraseology. Pontificating about the great linguistic blessing of William’s kicking Harold’s ass at Hastings. Tapping talkers in chapel on the shoulder to shut them up.

Anyway, this, my last week, I’m going to embrace it, to rage, rage against the dying of the reggae riff.

Chico Feo on a December Saturday

Around four today, I went down to Chico Feo with my 9th graders’ summer reading book and annotating pen in hand. A loudmouthed young man (i.e., early forties) smoking a cigar at the bar asked if there were any other “hidden gems” around the beach. Greg, the bartender, said, “We generally don’t like plugging the competition.”

But then Greg caved and mentioned the Jack of Cups, adding, “It’s not really hidden though.”

The cigar-chomper started talking about how cheap everything was down here compared to Ohio — even downtown Charleston in the touristy places — and just when I was getting ready to reposition myself out of earshot, Jeremy, one of the cooks, sat down beside me.

Unfortunately, you don’t get to know the cooks at Chico Feo as well as the bartenders because, duh, they’re in the kitchen rassling up Mahi tacos or a noodle bowl or a batch of curried goat.

I’d talked to Jeremy before a few times on slow nights and knew he was from Louisiana. I told him I was headed to New Orleans in early September, and he said that he’d just gotten back from there yesterday. He and his extended family had spent ten days on the southern coast fishing, eating, and drinking beer. He said that the youngest of that clan were teenagers and one of his parents had chided him for using foul language in front of them. “I try to use polite language when I’m in polite company,” he said, “but I’m never in polite company,”

We had a wide-ranging conversation in which I discovered Jeremy has a way with words, a sharp wit. He had a roll of blue tape with him, and I asked him what it was for, and he said, “labeling things in the kitchen.” He said he had been looking for the tape all day. “That’s why I like living alone,” he said, “because I know where everything is.” This reminded me that in my recent widowerhood, I had developed an incredibly efficient way to load the dishwasher.

Me: Do you have a dishwasher?

Jeremy: No, I don’t have any dishes.

We started about talking about New Orleans, and he asked me if there was anything specific I was going to do, and I said I was definitely going to hit the Rock and Bowl, which, as it turns out, was one of his favorite high school hangouts because back then the drinking age was 18, he was tall, and never carded.

“Tell me about a cool spot I should go?” (asking like the Ohioan for the inside scoop on hidden gems).

“Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge.”

Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club

I’ll leave you with one last of his witticisms. Greg was emptying ashtrays with a pair of vice grips, and I said, “Man is a toolmaker, a user of tools.”

Jeremy said, “or just a tool.”

So with that, I bid this Monday a fond farewell, will saunter downstairs (saunter’s a stupid verb, by the way) and have a chat with John Jameson.

The Swashbuckling Syphilitic and the Jolly Drill Sergeant

 

blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein

 

The swashbuckling syphilitic looks a little like

a walrus with that mustache of his.

 

The jolly drill sergeant is, of course, clean-shaven,

close-cropped, and he barks his orders like a ramrod ringmaster.

“Step right up and burnish that brass!”

 

The swashbuckling syphilitic and the jolly drill sergeant

don’t see eye-to-eye. “God is dead,” cries the former.

“I must have missed the obituary,” chuckles the latter.

 

“Gaze into the abyss,” intones the syphilitic,

“but don’t lean too far over,” warns the drill sergeant.

 

“Whoever does not have a good father . . . ”

“What’s done is done.”

 

The jolly drill sergeant

Puts his hand on the syphilitic’s shoulder.

 

“Enough of this nonsense.

The Shnapps’s on me.”

 

“Alcohol, like Christianity, intoxicates!”

“Okay, okay, forget it,” says the jolly drill sergeant.

 

And so they go their separate ways,

neither one the wiser.

Cool Runnings, Island Breezes

the porch at Island Breeze

When I was a kid, Channel 5, Charleston’s CBS affiliate, broadcast a locally produced American Bandstand-like dance show called Jump Time. Hosted by (I think) Big Bob Nichols, the show featured local African American teens dancing to the magnificent R&B and soul hits of the mid-60s. I tuned in religiously, and in between numbers, Big Bob (or whoever it was) would catalogue upcoming events in the exaggerated smoothness of his on-air radio voice. One of the most frequently mentioned party sites was Mosquito Beach.

Back then Folly was off limits for blacks, so they came up with their alternative. When I was watching Jump Time, I’d conjure images of a strand with a pavilion swarming with dancers listening to the likes of Rufus Thomas live. The name, Mosquito Beach, enhanced the air of mystery, its negative connotation for me reversed the way African American argot tends to flip negative denotations and turn them positive, like funky connoting not the odor of mullet-gone-bad but the syncopated riffs of Jimmy Nolan chopping away at “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”

Mosquito Beach back in the day (courtesy of the College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center for African American History an Culture)

Truth is ain’t no ocean at Mosquito Beach, though it does front a gorgeous Lowcountry marshscape. Unfortunately, over the years, the beach became rather notorious for black-on-black violence and developed the reputation of being a place where white people weren’t welcome.

I have a pal who owns the funkiest spot on Folly, Chico-Feo. Hank had mentioned before that he used to hang out at this black roadhouse on Folly Road called Phas 2. I asked him if he’d ever been to Mosquito Beach, and he said sure. He offered to take me out there to introduce to Norman and Nora, owners of the Island Breeze, a kickass cool bar/restaurant with a huge backyard that boasts a covered stage.

I’m the kind who doesn’t like to share. I didn’t dig it when loudmouth attendants of a destination wedding party showed up at Chico, and I’m very leery of getting the word out about the Island Breeze. Like most natives of this area, I like things to remain the same. Heading down Sol Legare Road to get to Mosquito Beach is like driving through a time warp and entering the 60’s, like driving into a Jonathan Green painting. I’d really, really hate to see it ever “developed” by Charleston real estate magnates.  I’d hate to see Island Breeze overrun with tourists.

On the other hand, keeping the Island Breeze a secret borders on Scrooge-like selfishness.

Here’s yesterday’s menu. You see those prices?

Here’s what the finished product looks like.

It’s delicious!

Norman, who hails from Ocho Rios, and Norma, a James Island native, are as nice and welcoming as they can be. You got rub-a-dub reggae pulsating from the speakers, a pool table, a porch, inside dining, and very comfortable bar stools. So if you’re reading this in Charleston, you really ought to check it out. Tell Norman or Nora the Teecha with the hat sent you.