Marcel Robert: La Fin de l’Hiver

A few years ago, I received an email from a stranger requesting to “interview” me in conjunction with her School of the Arts project on The Catcher in the Rye.  As it turned out, the interview ended up being a survey of written questions that I answered electronically.

    Q.   How old was I when I first read Salinger’s novel?

    A.   Old/young enough to have had my complexion likened to a pepperoni pizza.

    Q. My initial reaction to the book?

    A. Respectful underwhelment.*

     Q. Did I identify with Holden?

     A. Yes, we shared a nostalgia for childhood in a darkening world.

     Q. Have I ever taught Catcher?

     A. No, but it has appeared on my reading lists.

      Q. How do I feel about censorship?

      A. Liberal to a degree: yes, you may read Lolita; no, you may not read Justine.

      Q. What do I think is  theme of The Catcher in the Rye?

      A. Adolescence is a particularly hard time for idealists who have begun to realize the

           Himalayan heights of the bullshit they must conquer in order to succeed in the adult


*In tribute to my two sons’ degrees in German, the “w” in “underwhelment” is pronounced like a “v.”

The student’s query/project struck me as quaint.  Certainly, hapless Holden’s naive attempt to efface the “fuck you” some churl has scratched into the wall of his sister’s elementary school no longer outrages parents of the Late Empire who blandly witness each January the obscene decadence of Super Bowl Halftime Extravaganzas.  After all, the novel is a year older than I, so Holden (if he was fifteen in the year of Catcher’s publication) would have been born in 1936 and if not dead subsisting now off of Social Security and Medicare, a wizened old man in a wheelchair, his orange hunting hat cocked at a jaunty angle in some subsidized assistant living facility.

Last I heard of Catcher causing commotion was twenty  years ago.  This account comes from The Post and Courier.

Perhaps because Mr. Bagwell had pilfered from my former high school’s library and because I had grown up just down the street from him, I felt chagrined enough to send him the following correspondence (signed with my return address):

Answers: 1.D  2. E  3. F  4. A  5. G  6. I  7. C  8. J  9. H  10.  B

At any rate, the student’s interview request prompted me to do some digging into what texts have now replaced Catcher in the Late Empire as catalysts for censorship, those books in 2011 that rile parents into pitching protests, so I googled “most challenged books,” and lo and behold, there in the top 10 was Catcher, along with that other adolescent mind-warper, To Kill a Mockingbird.

No, I was wrong.  Some Late Empire parents still see Holden as a threat; this confused boy still scares shitless certain curtained consciousnesses that seek to shelter their darlings from the muck and mess of the ever looming out there.

The degradation of childhood in the Late Empire is a curious phenomenon.  In some ways it ends way too soon (sex at fourteen) and lasts way too late (under-employed and living with mom at thirty-four).  Books are considered more dangerous than movies, an unclothed human body much more offensive than graphic violence.  However, I truly believe there is little to fear in a good book because it portrays life as it is lived.  Virtually no one gets horny reading the sexually explicit passages from The Color Purple (nor, for that matter, desires to become a homosexual penguin after finishing And Tango Makes Three).

Of course, in the beginning, puritans considered any novel dangerous because novels dealt with worldly matters, tempting readers, especially vulnerable young ladies, from God’s Holy Word into the profane and vulgar concoctions of scribblers who entertained rather than edified.  I don’t know about you, but essentially, my early reading was all about escape.  I’d rip through every Hardy Boys cardboard bound adventure I could get my hands on wishing I lived in a town blessed with abandoned mills, haunted houses, and inept criminals.  Television in those days consisted of two stations that played soap operas in the mornings and afternoons of scorching summer days so reading novels offered a way to slip through the looking glass into jungles where apemen swung through the trees with scantily clad English girls clinging to their backs.

Eventually, I graduated to biographies, books about dinosaurs and deep space, classics like Tom Sawyer and The Count of Monte Cristo, yet even reading those non-controversial tomes posed the danger of a sedentary, cloistered lifestyle that spurned the Wordsworthian glories of nature’s here and now.  In other words, through books you could abandon your own precious life for the abstractions of the printed page, curl up in the bed of one of the houses houses below, and become deathly pale.

Marcel Robert: La Fin de l’Hiver

Of course, nowadays, computers have replaced books as the vehicles for escape, and now, thanks to cell phones, it’s not unusual to see someone walking on the beach oblivious to the plunging pelican as the beachcomber stares downward manipulating the screen of that tiny computer.  Even though books may have blinded Milton, they are easier on the eyes than this infernal monitor you’re staring at.


2018 Recap: Ch-ch-ch-anges

Click fiend that I am, I’ve decided to once again do a round-up, a sort of greatest hits [insert ironic cough] of the pieces I posted this year, significantly fewer than in years of yore (67 to be exact, as opposed to 141 in 2016 and 142 last year).

So hold onto your hats or toupees or do rags; here we go.




Miles Davis at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, 1986

For whatever reason, in January I wrote mostly about music, an appreciation of a Miles Davis/John Coltrane video of “So What?” and a profile of two contemporary artists I admire, John Hiatt and Lucinda Williams. My favorite, however, is this meditation on the distinction between verse and poetry.




I only published three posts in our shortest month, the best two, I think, a short memoir celebrating lethargy  and a paean to Ireland that I composed after listening to the last of my 42 cds of Joyce’s masterwork Ulysses.





March was a bit more productive.  I fantasized about the reign of terror I’d wage against those who violated my very few grammatical pet peeves if, as I have always dreamed, I could manage to overthrow the government and declare myself a sun god.

I also produced a satirical series of haikus, a form of poetry I detest, which you can experience through the magic of my recorded voice, that gorgeous Lowcountry baritone that so many have come to know and love.




The filmmakers: Andrew Austin and Adam Ward

A filmmaker named Andrew Austin crashed at my house, and I reviewed his documentary The Power of Glove.  I also posted yet another lament on the process of aging, but my favorite is entitled “Good Advice, Take It or Leave It.

My dating profile picture for eharmony




In May, on the anniversary of his mother’s death, I reblogged my son Ned’s moving post from his site The King of Nowhere.  In addition, I sort of like this one on the importance of providing students with the traditional Western canon (not a very popular viewpoint nowadays).




June found me, my fiancée, Caroline, and her daughter in Andalucia to visit my great friend Charlie Geer.

Check this  travelogue out, which features some flamenco.




The Widow of Ephesus by Philip Banken

In my opinion, the very best post from July is “The Widow of Ephesus Conquers Her Eating Disorder” ; however, if you hate Trump, you might like “How Could Such a Clownish Spray-Painted Raccoon-Eyed, Combed-over Lard-Ladled Cement Tongued Buffoon End Up Being a Cult Figure?

Oh yeah, and “Prufrock Turns 103” deals with men’s inability to have Platonic relationships with very attractive women.




Caroline and I married in August, hung out at the Grove Park Inn, sandwiched between crashing at Chico Feo on Folly Beach and at a Luke-Dogg’s pad outside of Asheville.  Here’s the scoop.





Ugh, Bret Kavanaugh, another would-be hurricane, but on a more positive note, a profile of my brother, the musician Fleming Moore.





Slim pickings.  A rambling piece called “It’s All about Me. Me, Me!” and once again a reposting from Ned’s blog on Kavanaugh.





In November, Caroline and I attended a festival in Beaufort honoring Pat Conroy, and I announced my retirement publicly in this post, as I whined about all those essays I’ve graded throughout my 33-year teaching career.


If you haven’t checked out “Idle Questions,” please do so and make sure to hit the link, scroll to the very end, and read the dictionary, which is actually a cross-referencing narrative.

Thank all of y’all who follow me.

The very best to each and every one of you, especially Rich O’Prey and Rodney Gantt.

Happy New Year!


His Own Worst Enemy



tossing red meat


Despite his bluster about one of the greatest landslides in American electoral history, Donald Trump actually squeaked out a narrow Electoral College victory (a flip of 80,000 votes collectively in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan would have resulted in a Madame President Clinton).  As far was the popular vote went, Trump lost the election by 2,864,974 votes.

Given those numbers, it would have been judicious for Trump to try to expand his base rather than consistently bending over backwards to accommodate its xenophobic inclinations, which aren’t shared by a majority of Americans.  For example, he could have cut taxes for the middle, rather than the donor class, and worked on infrastructure, but he remained and remains fixated on immigration.

Let’s look at some numbers.  

On the week of 16 December  2018, according to Gallup, Trump’s approval level stood at 38%

Here’s a recent Pew poll on Americans’ views on immigration:



Present level Increased Decreased No opinion
% % % %
2018 Jun 1-13 # 39 28 29 4
2017 Jun 7-11 38 24 35 3
2016 Jun 7-Jul 1 ^ 38 21 38 3

Of course, we’re talking about legal immigration here.  Nevertheless, the most recent number is that only 29% want to see immigration decreased, which is nine points lower than the number of voters who approve of Trump.  

Trump’s making illegal immigration the cornerstone of his midterm election rally blitz in the campaign’s last days didn’t work out very well for him.  Although Republicans kept control of Senate, in fact increasing the majority by two seats, they did so by winning in red states.  The Democrats, on the other hand, took over the House by flipping forty Republican seats as suburbanite Republicans abandoned their party and Independents went heavily blue .  

So what does Trump do?  Doubles down by rejecting a budget deal passed by both the House and Senate and shutting down the government.

Why?  Because Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter got their panties in a knot, assailing his manhood.*   

Trump’s pathological need for attention and adulation is his worst enemy.  These rallies, populated by fanatical and inchoately angry rural white people must satisfy some atavistic tribal need in him.  The fact that they need to be under-educated and misinformed doesn’t seem to matter to him.  



He’s his own very worst enemy.

Meanwhile, our government is rudderless.  We have an acting chief of staff, and acting attorney general, and an acting secretary of defense.

I’ll resist the urge to quote from Yeats’s “The Second Coming,” which has become almost a cliché.  Instead, I’ll leave you with a snippet of his “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen.”


Come let us mock at the great 

That had such burdens on the mind 

And toiled so hard and late 

To leave some monument behind,

Nor thought of the levelling wind.  


Come let us mock at the wise;

With all those calendars whereon 

They fixed old aching eyes, 

They never saw how seasons run, 


And now but gape at the sun.  

Come let us mock at the good 

That fancied goodness might be gay, 

And sick of solitude 

Might proclaim a holiday: 

Wind shrieked — and where are they?  


Mock mockers after that 

That would not lift a hand maybe 

To help good, wise or great 

To bar that foul storm out, for we Traffic in mockery.

* I concede forcing you to picture Rush Limbaugh in panties isn’t in keeping with the holiday spirit. Sorry about that.


I actually still own a set of encyclopedias, Collier’s, which takes up more than a yard of my precious bookshelf space in my drafty garret/book depository. Judy Birdsong and I bought the set in 1983 from a traveling salesman in Rantowles when Judy was pregnant with Harrison.

I had grown up with the Encyclopedia Americana and its companion set for children, the Book of Knowledge, which I loved, not only for the magic tricks and entertaining scientific articles, but also for the images of naked female breasts sported by the likes of Aphrodite and La maja desnuda. The Book of Knowledge had abridged novels like Treasure Island and A Christmas Carol, plus children’s verse galore.  I see this evening it’s possible to purchase a complete 1952 [1] set for $250 from Amazon, which seems like a bargain.

I’m tempted, but no, there’s no room at the inn, as it were.

For the hell of it, from my Collier’s set, I’ve randomly pulled out “Volume 19, Phyfe to Reni.”

As it turns out, the first entry, “Duncan Phyfe“ [faif], was an 18th and 19th century American cabinetmaker.  Born in Scotland, Phyfe moved to New York City about 1783.

Not surprisingly, a hick from the Lowcountry of South Carolina, I  hadn’t heard of him.

In approximately, 350 words, the author of the entry, Donald D. Milliken, offers this rather faint praise of the cabinetmaker:

Phyfe was an adapter rather than an originator of furniture designs, but he did create a style.

Wikipedia’s entry, on the other hand, runs to almost a thousand words and provides a more glowing assessment:

Although he did not create any new furniture style, he interpreted fashionable European trends in a manner so distinguished and particular that he became a major spokesman for Neoclassicism in the United States, influencing a whole generation of American cabinetmakers.

Collier’s doesn’t mention the 1922 Metropolitan Museum’s exhibition of his work, the first ever for a cabinetmaker.

In addition, Wikipedia provides some fun facts to know and share.  For example, did you know Karl Shapiro in his poem “The Fly” refers to Phyfe? I remember this poem from my “Contemporary Poetry” course from 1973, but, of course, I didn’t bother looking up “Duncan-Phyfe.”

O hideous little bat, the size of snot,

With polyhedral eye and shabby clothes,

To populate the stinking cat you walk

The promontory of the dead man’s nose,

Climb with the fine leg of a Duncan-Phyfe

The smoking mountains of my food

And in a comic mood

In mid-air take to bed a wife.

F. Scott also drops Phyfe’s name in this passage from Tender is the Night:

She wept all over a set that cost a fortune, in a Duncan Phyfe dining-room […]

Homophonic Phyfe even shows up in a season one episode of Andy of Mayberry “A Plaque for Mayberry,” when Barney Fife claims Duncan as an ancestor.

A sofa of his can be found in the Green Room of the White House, and a replication of one of his chairs is “one of the world’s largest roadside attractions” in the furniture-making city of Thomasville, NC.

I admit, Collier’s possesses a bit of musty charm;  no doubt it is probably much more accurate than Wikipedia, but you can’t cut and paste from Collier’s. You got to type out the stilted prose yourself.

Very few are going to bother to do that nowadays, so maybe it makes sense to ditch the staid black and red bound beauties for a set of something else, like, say, the 1952 set of the Book of Knowledge. I can relearn some of those magic tricks and entertain my bar mates today and future neighbors at the assisted living home tomorrow.

the man himself

[1]Coincidentally, the year of my birth, way back in the Truman Administration.

Here They Come – and I Ain’t Talking About Immigrants


image credit: Markku Lahdesmaki’

If y’all think these immigrants are nefarious, stealing our lawn-mowing and curing-cancer jobs, you’re really going to resent the robots.

Of course, they’ve been displacing factory workers for decades, but they’re getting ready to start driving our taxis, buses, and semis. If you don’t think that’s a big deal, on your commute tomorrow, count delivery trucks parked outside convenience stores, supermarkets, and liquor stores; check out the garbage trucks rumbling off to the landfill; take note of those cement trucks on the way to the soulless and practically treeless developments where the houses look like inbred siblings.

Where are these drivers, mostly males, going to find gainful employment?  How are they going to earn a living?

Not at Uber or Lyft.

Use your imaginations, dental hygienists.  I suspect you’re not long for this world of employment if you’re counting in decades.


Maybe barbers will survive —  or maybe not. Rather than boring you with chitchat about professional sports, your robotic barber could be programmed to sing arias or replicate Lenny Bruce’s stand-up routines, depending upon your predilections.

Of course, they’ll have personalities, like Siri does, sort of.  I find myself asking “please” and calling her by name. “Siri, would you please call Loquacia Muldoon?”

She sometimes direct-addresses me using my childhood moniker Rusty.   We’re one little happy master/slave duo. “No, sorry, Rusty, I can’t chant the Odyssey in Linear B Greek.”

Our mechanic servants will be charming, whether urbane, or folksy; you’ll get to choose, to designate their personalities, i.e., if you’re one of the lucky ones, i.e., employed, i.e., not scrounging around the Blade Runner hellscape picking through garbage.

I have to admit, though, the only robots I’ve ever encountered that I like are the ones on Mystery Science Fiction 3000.

The rest of them — the Jetsons‘ robot maid, for example, the Class M-3 Model B-9 General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robo from Lost in Space, and even Hal from 2001, a Space Odyssey– bore me.

Working folks and professionals should find robots much more frightening than Guatemalan refugees. Automatons don’t need Social Security or Medicare or Xmas bonuses.   They don’t get black lung or pregnant or ask for raises.

Or pop bennies on cross-country trips in their sixteen-wheelers.

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