“But after I got them to leave and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn’t any good. It was like saying good-by to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.”
Frederick Henry after his wife’s death in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms
Although I enjoy Twitter as a medium through which I can follow intelligent journalists and receive breaking news faster than I can on cable news networks, it teems with self-pitying grandstanders, which I find off-putting. Desperate for sympathy in numbers, these popularity seekers bombard feeds with truncated accounts of their personal travails, as if a casual scroller clicking a heart or typing a phrase of consolation is meaningful in any significant way.
Here’s a sample of o-woe-is-me tweets culled in the last two days:
My only child has a fever and chills. She is driving home alone, from a testing site. I am dying inside.
Talked at my dad earlier today, hoping he could hear me. Got the call tonight. My dad died from Covid. In a nursing home. Alone.
My dad got home from MON-GENERAL at 1:30 p.m. He died at around 1:55 Does anyone care?
It’s my birthday. I’m home alone. No one cares.
No, as it turns out, lots of people care, given that these cri de couers rack up thousands of responses from sympathetic followers (their laments limited, however, to 280 characters), and I myself also care in the very limited way in that I’m sorry when anyone suffers, and certainly there’s more than enough of that going around on a planet where approximately 150,000 humans die on a typical day and many more than that on a day during a worldwide pandemic.
On the other hand, it’s also depressing for me to note that the rugged individualism and stoicism that once defined the American character is as dead as Davy Crockett.
Look, no one is a stranger to heartache. I was holding the hand of my wife of forty years when she died on Mother’s Day, of 2017, but the last thing I can imagine doing is logging on to Twitter seeking sympathy before her corpse had been buried or cremated or come to think of it, even after that.
It was, of course, very moving to receive so many handwritten expressions of sympathy from our relatives and friends, and I also would have appreciated unsolicited sympathy from a total stranger who might have written, “I read your wife’s obituary in the paper, and she seemed like a wonderful person. I’m sorry for your loss.” However, it would have been very less meaningful if I had solicited sympathy by posting on Facebook, “My darling Judy is dead. Does anybody care? How about flooding my mailbox with sympathy cards?”
Sorry about this hard-hearted, cynical grousing, but my spiritual advisor, Mencken Bierce Twain, thought it would be a good idea to get it off my chest.
Anyway, here’s to a happier 2021 when I hope fewer folks will have occasion to post about the trauma of COVID.
 Not to mention the death of pets, debilitating diseases, house fires, hurricanes, homelessness . . .
 As exemplified by self-pitier-in-chief President Donald Trump, who is about as stoic as Blanche DuBois.
I hadn’t planned to read last night but was coaxed on stage where I belched my poem “Drunk Me Some Wine with Jesus” to a somewhat inattentive audience who were [cue backwoods evangelical voice] more in-TENT on gluttony and idle chatter than they was in hearing that our Lord was a wine-bibber and a comm-U-nist.
And who could blame them?
Here’s the text of the poem:
Drunk me some wine with Jesus
At this here wedding in Galilee.
He saved the bestest for second
And provided it all for free.
So I quit my job on the shrimp boat
To follow him eternally,
No longer bound by then blue laws
enforced by the Pharisee.
And we had us some good times
Till then Pharisees done him in.
Ain't got no use for the religious right
After I seen what they done to him.
So when Paul Saul stole the show,
I sort of drifted away
Because he never quite understood
What Jesus was trying to say.
He was more like a Pharisee,
Dissing this, cussing that
Giving the womens a real hard time,
Gay-bashing and all like that.
So I drink at home most nights now
Trying to do some good,
offering the beggars a little snort
Whilst praying for a Robin Hood.
Drunk me some wine with Jesus.
I was the besets day I'd ever seen.
Drunk me some wine with Jesus,
Partying with the Nazarene.
By the way, the poem is sort of a riff on Ezra Pound's
"Ballad of the Goodly Fere."
Ballad of the Goodly Fere
Simon Zelotes speaking after the Crucifixion
Ha’ we lost the goodliest fere o’ all
For the priests and the gallows tree?
Aye lover he was of brawny men,
O’ ships and the open sea.
When they came wi’ a host to take Our Man
His smile was good to see,
“First let these go!” quo’ our Goodly Fere,
“Or I’ll see ye damned,” says he.
Aye he sent us out through the crossed high spears
And the scorn of his laugh rang free,
“Why took ye not me when I walked about
Alone in the town?” says he.
Oh we drank his “Hale” in the good red wine
When we last made company,
No capon priest was the Goodly Fere
But a man o’ men was he.
I ha’ seen him drive a hundred men
Wi’ a bundle o’ cords swung free,
That they took the high and holy house
For their pawn and treasury.
They’ll no’ get him a’ in a book I think
Though they write it cunningly;
No mouse of the scrolls was the Goodly Fere
But aye loved the open sea.
If they think they ha’ snared our Goodly Fere
They are fools to the last degree.
“I’ll go to the feast,” quo’ our Goodly Fere,
“Though I go to the gallows tree.”
“Ye ha’ seen me heal the lame and blind,
And wake the dead,” says he,
“Ye shall see one thing to master all:
’Tis how a brave man dies on the tree.”
A son of God was the Goodly Fere
That bade us his brothers be.
I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men.
I have seen him upon the tree.
He cried no cry when they drave the nails
And the blood gushed hot and free,
The hounds of the crimson sky gave tongue
But never a cry cried he.
I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men
On the hills o’ Galilee,
They whined as he walked out calm between,
Wi’ his eyes like the grey o’ the sea,
Like the sea that brooks no voyaging
With the winds unleashed and free,
Like the sea that he cowed at Genseret
Wi’ twey words spoke’ suddently.
A master of men was the Goodly Fere,
A mate of the wind and sea,
If they think they ha’ slain our Goodly Fere
They are fools eternally.
I ha’ seen him eat o’ the honey-comb
Sin' they nailed him to the tree.
Well, ladies and gents, despite this being a year of too many foul subtractions, too much self-isolation, and a cluster bombed political landscape about as verdant as a WWI battlefield, this blog has enjoyed significant success, if you count success in the number of visitors who peeked in and the total number of hits registered on the site.
Perhaps, we can attribute this growth in readership to the old adage misery loves company.
At any rate, here’s a look backward at some of what I consider the worthiest posts. To revisit the posts, hit the highlighted word, which will transport you to the piece in its entirety. In January I was ignorant that old man contagion was hiding behind a tree laying (sic) in wait to throw at brick.Nevertheless, not realizing that many would turn to the solace of spirits (not to mention IPAs and spiked seltzers) in the coming months, prophetically I posted a pro-alcohol piece .
To counterbalance the somewhat positive with sort of negative, I also produced this piece on the great American songwriter Stephen Foster.
“I was tuning in the shine on the light night dial.” Elvis Costello, “Radio, Radio”
I acquired my first radio when I was 14 or so, an antiquated amplitude modulationmodel. I’d listen to it for hours at a time until the radio’s vacuum tubes would overheat, which necessitated removing them with a damp wash cloth. I’d hold the terry-cloth-shrouded tube in my hand until it cooled and I could reinsert its delicate prongs into the semi-circular holes from which they’d been extracted. Although I possess the fine motor skills of an untrained seal, by necessity I became adept at removing and reasserting the tubes, sometimes having to adjust slightly a prong that had been bent in the operation. Usually, the radio was tuned to the Mighty WTMA – Tiger Radio – whose premiere DJ, the late great Booby Nash, entertained the Charleston area with his repertoire of monologues, skits, fictitious call-ins, and playlists.
In fact, Booby Nash was the first person I heard employ the phrase “late great.”
“And here’s an oldie but goldy,” he’d say in his easy-on-the-ears baritone, “the late great Sam Cooke’s ‘Chain Gang.’”
Ignorant, I didn’t like most of the oldies; they were unfamiliar. I’d much rather hear Marvin Gaye’s contemporary 1967 cover of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” than the Shirelles’s 1961 rendition of “Tonight’s the Night.” In my estimation, WTMA played too many oldies. I wanted to hear the Beach Boy’s “Sloop John B” or Bobby Fuller’s cover of “I Fought the Law,” not Elvis’s or Chuck Berry’s antediluvian 1950s tunes.
Like I said, I was ignorant.
In the summers, before there was such a thing as cable, I’d listen to the Atlanta Braves on that radio, the broadcasts fading in and out as competitive wavelengths waxed and waned, which could be, shall we say, a tad frustrating at times. The Braves’ play-by-play announcer Milo Hamilton might have Phil Niekro checking a runner at first when suddenly scratching static would avalanche over the play-by-play as some other station butted in with forty seconds of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” By the time Milo’s voice reemerged from the deep, the runner at first had scored, and now runners stood at second and third. And, of course, the radio’s tubes could go on the fritz at the most inconvenient times during those Braves Baseball broadcasts.
Still, there were some stations like WNOX in Knoxville whose 50,000 watts provided better wavelength stability. That’s where I first heard “heavy” bands like Cream and Grand Funk Railroad. In Chronicles, Dylan describes staying up in the wee hours listening to distant niche radio stations that provided him with an invaluable education in Americana music. By the way, I highly recommend Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour where he plays a DJ doing an old-time radio format. Although the program’s now defunct, you can still catch his whiskey-themed broadcasthere. Dylan’s knowledge of the history of American music is encyclopedic, and listening to these broadcasts is highly educational if you’re into popular music.
Eventually, alas, that old radio kicked the bucket, and I can’t remember if we replaced it or not. I think probably not. My father, though, rigged half a stereo system with an amp, turntable, and one speaker he encased in a fabric-façaded cabinet so I could listen to mono LPs. Thanks to my impatience and lack of fine motor skills, the mid-side songs I’d manually re-cue on the LPs would end up scratched and with their pop and crackle replicate the static of nighttime am radio listening.
I actually used to claim that a record doesn’t have character if it hasn’t been scratched.
In December of 1974, my senior year of college, I lived with another English major on Fairfield Road in Columbia, South Carolina, at least a ten-mile trek from campus. Neither of us had cars, so we rode city buses to class and back home to our not-exactly-quaint two-bedroom house jammed between two rundown convenience stores [see above]. The buses quit running at eleven PM, which meant occasionally having to hitch a ride late at night.
Otherwise, riding the buses wasn’t all that bad because poverty can seem somewhat romantic to bookish people just starting out in life. On these trips, I encountered scores of ragtag citizens, some of them interesting folk with tales to tell. Of course, the bus stopped whenever someone wanted to get off, which you signaled by pulling a metal wire that triggered a bell. Smoking was allowed everywhere back then – even in medical waiting rooms – so the buses reeked of exhaled tobacco whose fumes had permeated the Naugahyde of the brown saggy seats. Of course, the fewer the passengers, the quicker the ride and vice versa. Predicting the duration was imprecise; you had to allow for sufficient time.
Anyway, it was the second week in December during exams, and I was sitting on the living room sofa reviewing my notes before trudging off to the chilly bus stop where I would dance around like a boxer to keep warm, vapor streaming from my mouth.
Suddenly, the backdoor flew open, the screen door banging, and in stormed a young married woman my housemate had been seeing, a petite, bordering-on-beautiful woman in her early twenties. She was a student in my TS Eliot seminar, so I knew her from class, though not socially, despite her affair with my housemate.
She was weeping. “Where’s that son-of-a-bitch?”
I don’t mean to brag, but I tend to be calm in crises, or to put it perhaps more accurately, I tend to transition into a robotic fallback mode of affectless inaction.
“I think he’s in the bathtub,” I said matter-of-factly, and, boom, she charged into the bathroom where the two engaged in some high-decibel communication, if you want to call hurling epithets, demanding answers, and shouting recriminations communication.
I gathered my books and put on my coat to exit this beyond-awkward situation when she came back in sobbing, my housemate following, completely naked, dripping, his face lathered for shaving.
They stood there screaming at each other as I squirmed on the sofa, my mental condition oscillating between amusement and horror. It’s like I had been caught in a collaboration of an SJ Perelman and Edward Albee production entitled Who’s Afraid of Harpo Marx. My housemate eventually went back into his room, threw on some clothes, and left, and once he was gone, his now-ex threw her arms around me, relating through sobs the rather sordid turn of events that I was sort of hip to because I had warned my housemate that his blabbing to her husband that they were having an affair seemed like a really bad idea.
I comforted her as well as I could and then asked if she would mind giving me a lift to school, given there would be no way I’d get to the exam on time if I rode the bus. During the trip to campus, I continued in my role as counselor, and when I finally entered the classroom to take the exam, I had an adrenaline rush-and-a half, just the thing for someone who had spent a semester with Prufrock, Gerontion, and Madame Sosostris.
What I didn’t know was that my housemate would leave Columbia that very day, not take any of his exams, and end up moving in with his parents, in other words, abandoning college his senior year with only one semester to go. Before all this happened, we had decided not to stay in that house, had agreed to find separate living arrangements, so I wasn’t exactly left in the lurch. My sophomore roommate Warren Moise and I ended up renting yet another two-bedroom clapboard house in a mill village a mile or two even further away from campus, which, as it turned out, ended up being a mistake, a mistake costing me money I didn’t have.
 This seemed ridiculous, two rival commercial establishments sandwiching a residence. Ironically, I don’t remember patronizing either. There was a much cheaper Winn Dixie on Fairfield within walking distance.
 In fact, one such occasion turned into a nightmare, which I have written abouthere [mature audiences only].
 The narrative to the above link above leads to offers an excellent example.
 I’ll forego the chore of untangling the love-fraught threads of why my housemate had chosen to kamikaze his relationship in an act of revenge.
Chapter Two – I Think They Done It to Pick on Me and Warren or “Please Don’t Murder Me”
It never occurred to me that two long-haired college students moving into an otherwise blue-collar community would be frowned upon by our neighbors, whose bumper stickers proclaimed them to be followers of Jesus. However, the admonition to “love thy neighbor” hadn’t exactly taken root with those brethren. And it wasn’t as if Warren and I were throwing raucous parties. Who in his right mind would drive all the way to podunkville to get hammered and have to negotiate the multiple lanes of North Main Street to arrive home safely?
Warren played in a rock-n-roll band and was often on the road, so I ended up frequently staying at the North Main house by myself, especially on weekends. Because he had provided the security deposit, Warren had earned the better bedroom. My bedroom, which was on the side of the house, had its own outside entrance that led to a small, sagging porch.
Not long after we moved in on a weekend when Warren was out of town, my girlfriend Margaret and I had gone to bed after a quiet Saturday evening of listening to LPs in the living room.
Around three a.m. a thunderous crash shattered our sleep. Someone had pounded once on the exterior door about ten feet from the foot of the bed. Margaret let out a startled cry, and I leapt out of bed to throw on some clothes. Instead, of opening the pounded-upon-door, I slipped around to the front of the house, sliding along the façade, trying to keep out of sight. Once I got to the corner, I peered around to see if the Reverend Harry Powell or John Wayne Gacy was standing there, but to my great relief the porch was empty. I went back inside through the front door and then went back to the bedroom and opened the bedroom exterior door to inspect it for damage. It was okay, a mere fist, not a hammer, had produced that sleep-shattering explosion of sound.
Now slumber was not an option. Margaret had gotten dressed, and we fretted about, my going outside numerous times to check on things. When we finally decided to try to go back to sleep, I walked out on the porch one last time.
In the dark unseen someone was whistling a tune. Calmly whistling a tune.
Of course, when Warren returned later in the day, I told him of the incident, which made us both uneasy. About a week later when I arrived home after classes, I discovered the house had been broken into, vandalized. Books, clothes, bed linens were strewn everywhere, the stereo and record collection gone, but nothing else was missing. I walked into the kitchen where the vandals had opened containers and dumped all the food on the floor, including slices of bread. To top it off, a pile of human feces had also been deposited smack dab in the middle of the room.
Obviously, we had been visited by the “unwelcome wagon,” and their message was clear: “We don’t want your kind around here.”
Thinking back on it, I find it remarkable that we didn’t call the police on either occasion. Back then, if you had long hair, the police thought of you as the enemy. It was a lighter-shade-of-pale approximation of being Black, though, of course, not as profoundly prejudicial.
Happily, coincidentally, I bumped into my friend Jim Huff not long after, and he asked if I knew of anyone looking for a place.
Yes, as a matter of a fact, I did.
As it turned out, he had found a four-bedroom mansion on Greene Street for rent, just up from Five Points, within easy walking distance to the Humanities Building.
 I.e., the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division
Chapter Three – Here We Go Again
What a change in abodes, from the mill village vandal-plagued clapboard cottage we’d been run out of in North Columbia to the semi-stately, just-slightly-gone-to-seed edifice located on respectable tree-lined Greene Street!
Our new house, located at 1830 Greene, had been the boyhood home of the fellow who owned the real estate company that rented it to us. He took special care of its yard, bringing in crews to mow the front lawn and attend to the terraced gardens in the back where on a monthly basis they trimmed the shrubbery that descended the hill in tiers. Without those tiers, it would have been a very steep hill, difficult to negotiate. At the very bottom, tucked in the southeast corner, a hammock hung between two large trees.
 BTW, one of our next door neighbors was the Columbia artist Blue Sky.
The back patio was sheltered by a roof supported by six or so arches and boasted a giant brick barbecue pit. The patio’s concrete floor had a shuffleboard court painted on it, but we never found discs or cue sticks. There was also an unheated room under there, a sort of basement that Chris Judge, a local rock musician rented for a second or two.
The deal was that only four people would be living in the house, but I think at one time eight were staying there. My bedroom, long and narrow, was off the living room and had been used as a conservatory. The back wall featured two large windows looking out over those terraced gardens in the rear of the house. An air-conditioner, the only air-conditioner in the house, had been built into the wall between the two windows.
I only knew a few of my housemates, Warren, of course, Jim Huff and his high school buddy Phil Compton, a non-student cartoonist/artist Richard McCarthy from Beaufort, but the rest, John Robinson, and a couple of the others, I hadn’t met.
To move my furniture from North Columbia, I had borrowed by mother’s college roommate’s husband’s pickup, which allowed me in one trip to transfer my meager belongings – a bed, desk, chair, typewriter, books, knickknacks, and clothes. I had parked the truck in the driveway, and when I was trying to back up on Greene to leave, a car on the street stopped to let me out, then pulled in after me.
Margaret accompanied me on the trip to return the truck, and my mother’s former roommate, Jean Holler, was nice enough to give us a ride back. I’m fairly sure I didn’t have a key yet, and we hardly needed to lock the house anyway because with so many residents, someone would likely to be home.
Upon my return, after I turned the handle and pushed the door open, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The house had been trashed, just as the bouse on North Main had, with shit strewn everywhere. I marched straight to my room, which was also a wreck. Even the air-conditioner filter had been removed and flung on the bed, the clothes I had carefully put away scattered everywhere.
“Wow, Margret,” I said. “Those mill people really must hate our guts.” I actually thought I was being stalked by the xenophobes who had robbed us in our previous house.
I went upstairs, which was in the same condition. Not a soul was home, yet every light was blazing.
We didn’t have a phone, so I couldn’t call the police, though it seemed high time. As we were standing around contemplating our ill luck, Jim Huff showed up with the news that everyone in the house except for him, Warren, and me had been busted by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Department. They had stormed in with assault weapons, and after a mad-dash search, found two separate nickel bags of marijuana and a couple of hits of speed, not exactly a lot of dope given that seven or so students were living there.
As it turned out, the car that had let me out was SLED, so Margaret and I had just escaped arrest. Even though neither of us was holding, the law said if there was any dope in the house, it belonged to everyone.
The timing of my departure and SLED’s arrival was suspicious enough to have one of the housemates I didn’t know accuse me of being a narc. His parents made him immediately move out, which, despite the loss of rent revenue, suited me. I’m fairly certain I raised my voice in response to his accusation, an ugly scene too vaguely remembered.
The actual scoop was that the University’s newly installed president William Patterson had decided he was going to distinguish himself from his predecessor Thomas Jones, whom many believed mollycoddled the rioters who had taken over the University in May of 1970, so President Patterson and the Governor orchestrated a widespread raid to send a message the times are a’ changing – back.
So our house was only one of several that had been raided that night. Dozens of students were hauled in for meager stashes of cannabis. It made the front page of the State newspaper, but so far, I’ve come up empty in my google searches.
As it turned out, at least in my experience, Law and Order looked a lot like disorder.
Q. What’s the difference between vandals breaking into your house and a SLED raid?
A. SLED doesn’t shit on your kitchen floor.
So thus began my last semester of undergraduate school, a busy semester indeed. I was taking Shakespeare’s Comedies, Shakespeare’s Tragedies, Latin Literature in Translation, Music Appreciation, and French 101 as an elective.
Ah, those were the days, my friends, I thought they would never end.
I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve had more than enough of this farcical post-election tragicomedy with its drunken star witnesses; its Bethlem-Royal-Hospitalgrade conspiracy theories); its madcap Marx-Brothers press conferences in parking lots shared by landscaping companies, crematoria, and porn shops. I’ve had enough of smirking Lou Dobbs, looking like a seventy-year-old seventh grader, smugly spewing hyperbolic lies to the detriment of our democracy, and most of all, I’ve had more than enough of pusillanimous Republican officeholders who, when it comes to courage, make the Scarlet Letter’s Arthur Dimmesdale look like Beowulf in comparison.
Allow me to fill in some of the blanks of Ezra Pound’s brilliantly obscene “Canto XIV”:
Io venni in luogo d’ogni luce muto; The stench of wet coal, politicians Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani, their wrists bound to their ankles, Standing bare bum, Faces smeared on their rumps, wide eye on flat buttock, Bush hanging for beard, Addressing crowds through their arse-holes, Addressing the multitudes in the ooze, newts, water-slugs, water-maggots, And with them. Lindsey Graham, a scrupulously clean table-napkin Tucked under his penis, and William Barr, Who disliked colloquial language, stiff-starched, but soiled, collars circumscribing his legs, The pimply and hairy skin pushing over the collar’s edge, Profiteers drinking blood sweetened with sh-t, And behind them Donald Trump and the financiers lashing them with steel wires.
[Deep Sigh] Oh, I feel so much better.
 To quote Steven Casale, “But there was once an insane asylum so notorious that its very name entered the English language as a word for chaos, mayhem, and confusion. That institution is London’s Bethlem Royal Hospital—nicknamed Bedlam. Founded in 1247, Bethlem is Europe’s oldest center devoted solely to the treatment of mental illness.”
 My favorite: former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, prior to his death seven years ago, orchestrated the development software that from a server located in Germany switched votes from Trump to Biden.
Up there, the sweet plain girls would possess the incandescent beauty of immortality, removed from the stress of status, smiling, gliding, singing, free at last to be above it all.
But let’s face it. Wallace Stevens had it right. Mystical death is the mother of beauty. Our non-sentient bodies must feed the root of willows bending over our forgotten flesh, now boughs where birds nest and trill and feed their hatchlings.