A Confession

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Despite my lower-middle to middle-middle class background, despite my mediocre education, despite my all-too-average IQ, I have somehow become an elitist.

Yes, I confess that I’m one of those insufferable aesthetes who find Forrest Gump, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Dave Matthews tedious, one of those arrogant, pretentious, overbearing know-it-alls who roil the stomach acid of the vulgarians at Fox News, one of those liberals Trumpsters want “to own.”  In fact, now that I’ve passed through the gateway of old age, suspending my disbelief has become a mission worthy of NASA.   I’m as disdainful of middle brow art and dogmatic ideology as today’s teenagers are of pre-digital special effects.

For example, even though I adore Ray Charles and admire Johnny Cash, I found both of their critically acclaimed biopics unbelievable, not because I doubted the veracity of the depicted events of their lives, but because everything seemed ersatz. I kept looking in vain for some scrap of atmospheric imperfection – a balled-up napkin on the counter, dead moths in a light fixture, a shitty haircut, anything that suggested that I wasn’t consuming a product manufactured in Hollywood.

Oh, to be able to enjoy a mainstream movie!  Oh, to be able to finish a John Clancy novel!   Oh to be Rupert Murdock!

The tragic truth is that once you become an elitist, it’s virtually impossible to go back.  After strolling around Dublin with Leopold Bloom and acquiring a sense of wonder at  Joyce’s magnificent mastery of language, seventy pages of ventriloquist dummy John Galt’s lip-synching of Ayn Rand’s theory of Objectivism ain’t gonna cut it.  After forty years of listening to Lester Young, you’re not going to find Yanni interesting.  Going back would be like trading in your Austin Healey for a Honda Accord.

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Lester Young

 

Trump Cultists at Play During the Pandemic

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You would think an old fellow like me would have developed a sane hobby, something like numismatics or philately or heraldry, but no, ever since I was a wee lad, I’ve been keenly into cultural anthropology, consider myself an amateur Franz Boas, if you will.

This hobby has taken me into some fairly dicey places like Jamaican dance halls, USC football games, Louisiana juke joints, and any number of the folk festivals of Folly Beach, SC, the narrow barrier island I call home.

Obviously, given the current situation, I haven’t donned the ol’ pith helmet in a while, but yesterday I had a hankering for some Cuban beans and rice, so my assistant Caroline and I traveled to Chico Feo for some take out, being cautious to wear our protective gear.

While we were there, a very strange thing occurred.  A group of Trump cultists clad in regalia honoring their orange icon descended upon the bar, ignoring social distancing, and it occurred to me that perhaps they are seeking a Jones Town and/or Heaven’s Gate-like tribute in honor of the master.

Anyway, here are a couple of photos.

I recently read on Twitter, that infallible source of information, President Trump suffers from arrested development, that he actually possesses the emotional behavioral quotient of a toddler. Of course, this can’t be true, but, damn, after reading the piece, every photo I run across of the president, he looks like a three-year-old.

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Trump toddler

Just goes to show you how potent the power of suggestion can be.

Farewell, Porter-Gaud Class of 2020

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photo of Class of 2020’s Day of Caring lifted fro Porter-Gaud’s website

I’m distressed that Porter-Gaud’s sterling class of 2020 cannot celebrate publicly the important rite of high school graduation. Last night, they should have donned their flowered dresses and seersucker suits to celebrate baccalaureate at the Church of the Holy Communion on Ashley Avenue. Beforehand, I would have ducked into a nearby bar, Fuel, and consumed two IPAs, then jauntily rounded the corner on foot to greet the progression of faculty members and seniors waiting in front of the church. Everyone would be smiling, the parents proud, the siblings impatient, looking forward to it being over.

Once inside, I would gaze up at the Jesus-of-Color who looks over the congregation from the stained glass behind the altar, listen to the lovely choral music, watch the senior choir members leave the altar and disappear backstage[1] to shed their robes. Then they would reemerge and take their seats with the rest of the graduating class, a transition fraught with emotion. Finally, I would strain my ears to try to catch the homily but undoubtedly fail, my hearing having been destroyed by the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and heredity. The final “amen” would be intoned, the seniors would march out nodding and smiling to the congregation as they headed for the freedom of the late afternoon sunlight, fading, the last few hours of their childhoods fading.

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Church of the Holy Communion

I feel a special connection to this class. They were with me during my late wife’s illness and death. I especially remember teaching a short story to two sections of them as 9th graders on Skype from Houston where Judy was getting consultations, a melancholy prelude to the last weeks of their education.  I also taught three sections of them as sophomores the next year when Judy died.

Porter-Gaud undeservedly has the reputation with some in the community of being  a haven for “a bunch of spoiled rich kids,” but it’s a terrible misrepresentation. Just ask the leaders of Charleston’s charitable organizations. They’ll set you straight. When I returned to school the Wednesday after Judy’s death, all three of the whiteboards in my classroom had been covered with their hand-written condolences and sweetly drawn hearts and musical notes.

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Love manifest.

What a remarkable group of young people, talented in so many different ways. I would love to hear the graduation speeches, discover who has won the academic awards, and watch each receive that hard-earned diploma, but, of course, it’s impossible. Pandemics are indifferent to sentimentality.

A few years ago, our Head of School asked me if I knew of a suitable poem that he might read at graduation, and I suggested this one:

To a Daughter Leaving Home

When I taught you

at eight to ride

a bicycle, loping along

beside you

as you wobbled away

on two round wheels,

my own mouth rounding

in surprise when you pulled

ahead down the curved

path of the park,

I kept waiting

for the thud

of your crash as I

sprinted to catch up,

while you grew

smaller, more breakable

with distance,

pumping, pumping

for your life, screaming

with laughter,

the hair flapping

behind you like a

handkerchief waving

goodbye.

—Linda Pastan

 

I know they’ll be fine. They’ll certainly get over this disappointment – even make wry jokes about it  – but I did want to honor them in some small way and to let them know that I wish I could say goodbye in person and that they will not be forgotten.


[1] Bad role model that I am, I’m too lazy to look up the correct ecclesiastical term. PS. Update, a friend of mine who is a priest has enlightened me: “In ecclesiastical terms, they left the sanctuary via the sacristy and chapel and re-entered the nave to be seated with their classmates. ” Hat tip to Brian McGreevy.

A Statistical Foray into the Funkification Ratios that Separate Folly Beach, SC from the Isle of Palms and Sullivans Island (Not to Mention Kiawah)

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photo by Caroline Tigner Moore

To say Folly Beach is peculiar is to say the sun is hot, night is dark, and that Marty Feldman never graced the cover of People magazine as the “Sexiest Man Alive.”  After all, Folly Beach is – in the now famous phrase coined by my friend and former boss Bill Perry – the Edge of America.[1]

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the late great Marty Feldman

 

I’ve always liked the sound of the word peculiar. According to my very own OED  (whose print Superman with telescopic vision would have difficulty decoding), peculiar comes to English from the Latin peculium, originally meaning “property in cattle.” That cow over there – let’s call her Elsa –  belongs to US Representative Devin Nunes. She’s peculiar to Representative Nunes in that she’s his alone. She’s peculiar to him.  But it’s also peculiar that Devin Nunes is suing the cow known as “Devin Nunes’ Cow.” I’m not making this up. [2]

Over time, as words are wont to do, the definition of “peculiar” branched out from the pasture of private ownership and took on the meaning of being different from others. Not surprisingly, being different acquired somewhat of a negative connotation, because to many, especially those intent on keeping up with the Joneses, being different (or unusual) is often not a good thing.

No PR person would ever come up with the phrase “Edge of America” to promote Kiawah Island. Kiawah doesn’t mind being different in an exclusive or unique way, but it certainly doesn’t want to come off as edgy, and it’s succeeded. Kiawah is about as edgy as Jack Nicklaus.

Not to be confused with Jack Nicholson.  I remember seeing an interview with Jack Nicholson not long after the actor Hugh Grant’s arrest for solicitation. The interviewer (maybe Barbra Walters) asked Jack why someone rich and good-looking and married to a beautiful woman (i.e., someone like Hugh Grant) would require the services of a prostitute.

“Peculiarities,” Jack said with his trademark leer, “peculiarities.”

So another denotation of peculiar  – actually the number one denotation – is “strange or odd,” like walking in “polka dots and checkered slacks,” to borrow a phrase from Elvis Costello (and to avoid examples of possible outré sexual inclinations that might have prompted Mr. Grant to seek peculiar connubial pleasures outside the bounds of his marriage).

Good God, I’ve wandered far afield from paragraph one. Actually, what I want to know is what makes so Folly different from its barrier island neighbors, the Isle of Palms and Sullivans Island?  What is it about Folly that makes it so peculiar?

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IOP pc

 

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To attempt to find the answer to this ultimately useless question, I did some googling on Yahoo (mixed metaphors is where it’s at) and compared the demographics of the three island communities.[3]

Population:

Folly Beach  2,623

Isle of Palms 4,322

Sullivans Island 1,921

That tells us not much at all, except that Folly is the median and the mean population is 2,955.

Racial Composition

Folly Beach  White: 99.32%  Black 0.68%  Asian: 0%  Others 0%

Isle of Palms  White 94.75% Two or more races 2.85% Black 0.25% Asian 1.47%  Others 0%

Sullivans Island  White 97.11%  Two or more races 0.93% Black 0.28%  Asian 1.07% Others 0%

Who would have guessed Folly is the least diversified?

Median Ages

Folly Beach 49.7 (43.7 for males, 58.4 for females)[4]

Isle of Palms 56.2 (58 for males, 54.7 for females)

Sullivans Island 48.1 (45.8 for males, 49.6 for females)

Once again, Folly is the median.

Education

Folly Beach

Less than 9th grade 0% , 9th to 12th  1.98%, HS grad 11.05%, Some College 23.17%, Assoc. degree 4.29%, BA/S 38.25%, Graduate degree 21.27%

Isle of Palms

Less than 9th grade 0% , 9th to 12th  0.32%, HS grad 11.84%, Some College 14.05%, Assoc. degree 2.49%, BA/S 40.83%, Graduate degree 30.48%

Sullivans Island

Less than 9th grade 0% , 9th to 12th  0.77%, HS grad 4.95%, Some College 11.13 %, Assoc. degree 3.34%, BA/S 41.93%, Graduate degree 37.88%

All three probably better educated per capita than similar sized SC towns.

Income

Folly Beach

Average overall $49,495 ($65,714 male, $38, 324 female)

Isle of Palms

Average overall $53,782 ($74,714 male, $46,161 female)

Sullivans Island

Average overall $62,750 ($103,947 male, $38,913 female)

Wow, the average Sullivans’ male makes $38, 233 more than the average Folly male, the difference being a mere $91 less than the average Folly female salary. Is that peculiar? No, it’s what you’d expect.

Conclusion

So let’s face it. That was a waste of time. If you’re going to come up with an answer, demographics aren’t going to help. You need to go maybe to history or —

Wait, Caroline just popped into the drafty garret to ask what I was up to, so I told her I was trying to determine via demographics why Folly was more peculiar, funkier, than the IOP and Sullivans.

“More barstools per capita,” she immediately said.

Damn!  Being so much smarter, why in the hell do women make so much less than men?

Yes, Caroline: Planet Follywood, Sunset Cay, the Washout, Jack of Cups, Drop-In, Loggerheads, the Crab Shack, the Surf Bar, Taco Boy, St. James Gate, Lowlife, Wiki Tiki (or whatever it’s called), Rita’s, the Tides, Snapper Jacks, Chico Feo.

I’m sure I’m leaving somebody out – and except for one, none of them smack of commerciality.


[1] Wisely, Bill copyrighted the phrase.

[2] https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2019-10-20/abcarian-sunday-column

[3] All data is from the World Population Review website

[4] Re. the wide gap in medial ages for males and females on Folly: I remember going into Planet Follywood several years ago where the clientele was quite a bit older than the folks gathered on the rooftop bar across the street. Planet Follywood is old school, caters more to locals than tourists. Anyway, sitting across the bar from me was an older woman – and by older I mean Methuselahian, way over the 14-year difference between male and female in the Folly data above. I noticed her looking over at me, excessively batting her eyes, in almost cartoon coquetry. I hate to be ageist, especially given that I myself am an aged man in a paltry thing sort of way, but being hit on by what very well might be the daughter of a Spanish-American War veteran creeped me out. As I was getting up to go, I sneaked a peek at her and discovered that what I had deemed flirtatious winking was actually some sort of spasmodic tic.

 

In Living Memory

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In memory of Judy, on the anniversary of her death, a villanelle about Everyday Use and the grafting of new life, in which she has the last word ~  Caroline Tigner Moore

 

In Living Memory
a villanelle

There hangs a patchwork quilt above our bed
A stained and storied past in pastoral,
Skylit purple, indian summer red;

Clary, sea glass stitched with auburn thread.
Tuck to rimple, soft in autumn’s thrall,
A damocletian quilt above our heads.

Aboard the river bark where we were wed,
The innocents stood by in quiet pall
As each we swore to share our daily bread.

And like a bruise that first appears bright red
Then blue and green and ochre in its sprawl
We lay this patchwork quilt across our bed.

So stitch together prints of all our dead,
In orisons, from labyrinthine walls.
Her face was viridescent while she bled,

But now at peace… and lovely overhead,
A Pride of India[1] shades her, green and tall.
Here lies a patchwork quilt across our bed.
“What you see is what you get,” she said.

Caroline Tigner Moore


[1] “Pride of India” is an alternate name for a crepe myrtle.

Romanticizing Defeat

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Edward Hopper

Any sports fan who grew up in the Sixties has seen the intro to ABC’s Wide World of Sports hundreds, maybe, over a thousand times:

 

Of course, here, “the agony of defeat” makes better theater than “the thrill of victory.” Watching fans hoisting a futbol hero on their triumphant shoulders or a grand prix racer popping a cork in the winner’s circle lacks the high drama of witnessing an Olympian pinwheeling off of a ski jump ramp or a motorcyclist skipping stone-like across a lake of asphalt.

Even as exhilarating as it is to see a big wave surfer survive a precipitous drop and then ascend the crashing slope of a breaking avalanche, I’m still not sure that it produces the vicarious adrenaline rush of one of those Wagnerian wipeouts that make you grit your teeth and shudder in wonder. [Warning, in addition to harrowing wipeouts, this compilation has a soundtrack that might make Sid Vicious cringe].

 

* * *

If you’re a Southerner born near Charleston, South Carolina, in the early Fifties, you grew up in the shadow of defeat. When I was a child, the “War” my granddaddies talked about wasn’t Korea, or WW2, or the Great War, or the Spanish American War. It was the War Between the States.[1]

Among the fanatical, that defeat was a miasma that hung in the air like an enervating narcotic.  My friend Don Doyle convincingly argues in New Men, New Cities, New South: Atlanta, Nashville, Charleston, Mobile, 1860-1910 that citizens from Charleston and Mobile were so traumatized after Appomattox that they couldn’t bring themselves to do business with Northerners,[2] perceiving it as treasonous – unlike folk from Atlanta and Nashville. While those two cities readjusted to postwar changes and modernized, Charleston and Mobile stubbornly wallowed in the romanticizing of the Lost Cause, rationalized that defeat was somehow noble­ –  tragedy, after all, being the highest of literary genres.

As late as 1988, VS Naipaul in the New Yorker wrote about his visit to Charleston when he interviewed a non-Reconstructed blue blood celibate who monklike had abandoned all worldly pleasures for a life devoted to lamenting the fall of the Confederacy.  I think I encountered this person in 1978 when my late wife Judy and I lived on Limehouse Street, a block from the Battery. You could see this fellow – or one like him – assume catatonic postures as he stared out towards Ft. Sumter, not moving a muscle for something like twenty minutes. He almost seemed like an apparition.

So, if you grew up in this culture, a culture that had fetishized defeat, and you were cursed with a Romantic bent of mind, you might come to see defeat as inevitable, or worse, as preferable – defeat being more Romantic.  Yeats masterfully expresses that sentiment in a gorgeous ottava rima stanza whose beauty deepens the tragedy because you realize that Yeats’ canon, too, will be disappear when the annals of civilization are wiped away.

He who can read the signs nor sink unmanned

Into the half-deceit of some intoxicant

From shallow wits; who knows no work can stand,

Whether health, wealth or peace of mind were spent

On master-work of intellect or hand,

No honour leave its mighty monument,

Has but one comfort left:  all triumph would

But break upon his ghostly solitude.

                        “Nineteen-Hundred and Nineteen”

 

Indeed, there might be some truth to idea that defeat builds character in the Dostoyevskian sense of suffering being good as a regimen for redemption, or even if, like me, you think eternal life seems as about as likely as Dan Brown’s receiving the Nobel Prize in literature, repetitious disappointment can, if you live long enough, inure you, to reverse Gerard Manley Hopkins – “More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, [less] wilder wring.”

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photograph by Caroline Tigner Moore

But let’s get real. Losing sucks, as does the pathology of obsessively dwelling on lost causes, whether they be wars, loved ones, or championships. Although the season of spring has been a time of loss for me in the past, I’m making the most of this spring’s beautiful weather, sitting each afternoon on the deck with my beloved wife Caroline talking about literature and art, checking out the play of light and shadow on the spartina, noting the mated robins who nest nearby as they dart back and forth, reveling in how much clearer the air seems, going through the photos Caroline has taken of Folly during the quarantine, discovering through them hidden gems never before noticed, treasuring the rich life afforded us on this funky, narrow strip of a barrier island we call home.

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[1] I never heard any of my people call it the War of Northern Aggression, and I always called it the Civil War myself without ever being reprimanded.

[2] cf. Southern governors refusing federal stimulus money.

 

If Richard Wilbur Were Alive and a Much Less Talented Poet, He Might Write Something Like This about This Latest Quarantine

 

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If Richard Wilbur Were Alive and a Much Less Talented Poet, He Might Write Something Like This about This Latest Quarantine

 

Master Will didn’t waste his time,

When the authorities shut down the Globe.

Stuck at home, he wrote King Lear.

Deep into the dark he dove.

 

Sixty years later, when the plague returned,

Sir Isaac, too, avoided idleness.

Sitting beneath an apple tree,

He invented calculus.

 

No obsessive tweeting for those two,

No staring all day at computer screens.

They found much better things to do

Than reposting the latest kitty memes.

 

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