What harm? Men die — externally — It is a truth — of Blood — But we — are dying in Drama — And Drama — is never dead — Emily Dickinson
The dream done, my eyes open, it hurt to be awake.
Outside my bedroom window faint predawn light seeping through the dark fabric of the sky.
My late wife had been alive just now, in the dream her death merely a dream.
I had held her in my arms, explaining to her that I had dreamed she’d died, but she hadn’t, no, she was smiling, warm, lying next to me in bed,
so lifelike, so palpable, I thought as I lay there afterwards that her spirit had come to me.
I closed my eyes and fell asleep again, and, as if in a new episode of the ongoing series of my sleep, she reappeared, sitting in a chair in an unfamiliar room.
Not smiling now, possessing the wisdom of the dead, she explained in her soft Georgia accent that we were out of synch, that our ages no longer matched, and it was true, she was young again, in her twenties, but I was old and stiff.
I rose from bed, and looked down upon sleeping Caroline, lying there beautiful, a breathing angel, her hair luxuriant, disheveled, cascading over the pillow that she embraced, like a lover in a Leonard Cohen song.
The light strong now, the sky outside the window bright blue, my dead wife, like Eurydice, tumbled back into black oblivion.
I struggled into my corduroys, puddled on the floor next to the bed, and tiptoed out, quietly opening and closing the bedroom door.
Descending the stairs, I shook my head, waved my arms, to buck myself back into the land of the living.
Time to brew a pot of coffee and retrieve the morning paper, which lay where flung, next to a clump of lantana, the newspaper sheathed in plastic, protected from the dew, which had evaporated, had disappeared into the seeming emptiness of air.
The first car I learned to drive was a bottom-of-the-line four-cylinder 1964 Ford Falcon station wagon that lacked seatbelts and a radio and instead of carpet was equipped with some sort of plasticine flooring reminiscent of linoleum. Of course, given my parents’ frugality, it had a standard transmission, three gears and reverse on the steering column, the antithesis of sporty.
In fact, I was responsible for this car’s demise. One afternoon, my friend Gordon Wilson, desperate to see his West Ashley girlfriend, cajoled me to ask my parents for the car on a school night, and, alas, they consented, Gordon was in a king-hell hurry, so I, not wanting to get a speeding ticket, handed him the keys. In a ridiculous short period of time, we made it to his girlfriend’s house, where I made myself scarce, and it was dark by the time we headed home on Highway 61, the so-called River Road that ran from my hometown Summerville, South Carolina, to Charleston past Middleton and Magnolia plantations and Drayton Hall.
Gordon also drove on the way back, and as we sped around a turn on 61, Gordon suddenly cursed, slammed on breaks, and I looked up to see something dark looming in the middle of the road. We skidded, an awful whoomph ensued, followed by the nauseating sound of crunching metal and shattering glass.
When I came to – I don’t know how long I was out – I saw radiator steam rising from the crumpled hood and realized that the roof had caved in on Gordon’s side. He was bleeding but essentially okay. When we got out of the car, we discovered a mule lying on its side, still breathing but with labored, wheezy respiration. Weeping, Gordon stood over the doomed animal saying over and over, “You poor thing. You poor thing. You poor thing.”
I, on the other hand, was lamenting, not so much the plight of the mule, but the death of my car. I dreaded relaying the news to my parents, who would chastise me for letting Gordon drive, a fear that came to be a reality.
As it turned out, however, the mule had escaped from the stables of Middleton Plantation and was not, as I had feared, the property of some impoverished farmer. Of course, Middleton was at fault – the mule wasn’t equipped with reflectors – but my parents, not being litigious, merely received insurance money equal to the Falcon’s worth, which wasn’t much.
Nevertheless, in a rash act perhaps prompted by a midlife crisis, my father replaced our family car with a brand-new chocolate brown 1971 Triumph Spitfire with four-on-the-floor and a radio, not exactly the most practical vehicle for a family of six.
This was a great boon for me, whose previous car, the now deceased Falcon, had been the butt of unkind ridicule from friends whose more prosperous parents tooled around in Buicks and Oldsmobiles.
Fastforward a couple of months to May. Gordon and I and two friends I’ll call Tom and Ron were participating in school sponsored parties celebrating the Class of ‘71’s graduation from Summerville High. The four of us were on the way to Givhans State Park for a party, the top of my Spitfire was down, and Tom and Ron were sitting up in the back compartment a la beauty queens or mayors in a parade.
We passed a school bus, and either Tom or Ron said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we mooned that bus.” I was so naïve I didn’t know what mooning meant, and before I realized what was happening, they had lowered their pants were displaying their skinny white butts to the bus behind us.
We thought better of going to Givhans, ending up at the poolroom the way we almost always did. I went home, took a nap, awoke, and started listening to records in my bedroom.
Around five or so, my brother David came in – maybe with my neighbor Paul Yost – besides themselves.
“Did you hear what happened?”
“Ron Roe and Tom Doe got arrested for indecent exposure!”
I thought to myself, “Wow, it must be addictive, twice in the same day,” not realizing that the arrest was the consequence of the earlier incident in which I had played a part. Although innocent – I hadn’t spurred them to expose themselves or even condoned it – I was terrified that I too would be arrested.
As it turned out, neither Gordon nor I were, though virtually everyone but my parents eventually learned we had been involved.
Rumors ran rampant – one woman asked me if I was the boy driving the car that had run the school bus off the road. Now that I think of it, I’m really amazed my mother never found out because she eventually heard of the incident and asked me if Tom and Ron were, as she put it, “homosexuals.”
I can’t recall how their legal liability played out, but both went on to enjoy prosperous careers, so the misadventure did not do them any lasting harm – though I can’t speak to what mental damage the children on the bus may have suffered.
 Going to church, my mother might drive with my brother David and I next to one another in the passenger seat and with my younger brother Fleming and sister Sue Ellen crammed in the back compartment. Believe it or not, we drove all the way to Holden Beach, North Carolina in this configuration, including luggage and a surfboard.
2] In fact, Glenn Farrar and I, armed with peashooters, drove Julie Simmons, a candidate for Homecoming Queen, in the Homecoming parade. Whenever miscreants pelting us with peas from their shooters, which was a parade tradition, Glenn and I returned fire, much to Julie’s chagrin.
More and more I see the bare feet of passengers in SUVs propped up on dashboards in the posture of the baboon pictured above.
Hurtling along I-81 doing 70-plus, the footloose lefty below fills in her lottery ticket trusting the laws-of-average when it comes to trips per-auto-collision while discounting them when it comes to the odds she’ll claim the Powerball jackpot and spend the rest of her days flying in private jets to luxury boxes to sip mint juleps as she watches the horses run at Pimlico.
Let’s call her foolish. Certainly, despite her simian posture, baboonish is way too inappropriately pejorative.
The man below, a recent recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, claims that volcano eruptions, not industrial pollution, are depleting the ozone layer and that “Columbus saved the Indians from themselves.”
Here’s Rush via on personal responsibility concerning drug abuse:
If there’s a line of cocaine here, I have to make the choice to go down and sniff it [. . .]. If there were a gun here, it wouldn’t fire itself. I’ve got to reach for it and pull the trigger [. . .] We are rationalizing all this responsibility and all the choices people are making and we’re blaming not them, but society for it. All these Hollywood celebrities say the reason they’re weird and bizarre is because they were abused by their parents. So we’re going to pay for that kind of rehab, too, and we shouldn’t. It’s not our responsibility.
Radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh was booked on drug charges in Florida on Friday, and his lawyer said Limbaugh had agreed to a deal enabling him to avoid prosecution in the prescription case if he continued treatment for addiction problems and avoided any other run-ins with the law.
Let’s call him a buffoon. Although crude in his intellectual machinations and often grotesque in his bodily incarnations, Rush is too slick to be called a baboon.
Once, in the picturesque Irish village of Roundstone, Judy Birdsong, JT Crow, and I had what would have been a delightful noontime meal if a shirtless hirsute man and his morbidly obese wife had not plopped themselves next to us at the luncheon counter. Alas, in this case, no-shirt received service. Although he hadn’t shaved any Arabic numerals in his dorsal fur, he did resemble the fellow below.
I don’t think baboonish is too severe a descriptor.
Once a student of mine mistyped baphoon for baboon, and I thought too myself, “What a great word,” a cross between a buffoon and a baboon. It sounds just like what it means. Here’s my definition: a baphoon is a humanoid whose buffoonery crosses crudely into the ass-displaying, territorially aggressive subhuman behavior, a combination of buffoonery and boorishness characterized by passionate overreaction. (Note, baboons don’t possess Second Amendment rights, but baphoons do).
This illustration should go in the dictionary next to the definition:
Of course, most of us only encounter baboons in zoos, and generally we can avoid buffoons if we avoid certain venues; however, baphoons tend to aggressively invade our territory, so they’re a different matter all together. Whatever you do, don’t try to reason with them.
The publishers of the vocabulary series Wordly Wise seem obsessive in their campaign to promote the word ennui. It appears in the 9th, 10th, and 11th grade workbooks, and I can’t think of any other word that appears in multiple editions. Here are pages 76 and 77 from Book 6, which we used for our 9th grade students.
Note that the words “yokel,” “ennui,” “transient,” and “orgy” appear in the same lesson and how quaint yokel’s definition comes off: a “gullible country fellow” and how orgy’s definition – “wild, abandoned merrymaking” – sidesteps its sexual content altogether. I learned early in my career that having students write sentences using unfamiliar words was a waste of time, for the same reason I discouraged them from consulting thesauruses: they more often than not misuse the word because they don’t know its connotations. (Here’s a great example of thesaurus misuse from an earlierpost).
If they are unfamiliar with the words, students tend to come up with sentences like this:
The landscape company sent over some yokels to dig our koi garden.
We had an orgy at the pep rally with lots of loud cheering.
Or let’s see if we can use both words in one sentence.
The yokels had a veritable orgy of tobacco juice ejaculations as they dug a koi pond in our back yard.
Anyway, back to ennui. Certainly, ennui transcends mere boredom. It’s more like a malaise, a world weariness, an existence where even orgies seem like a drag. When I taught the word, I also taught John Berryman’s “Dream Song 14.”
Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so. After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns, we ourselves flash and yearn, and moreover my mother told me as a boy (repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored means you have no
Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no inner resources, because I am heavy bored. Peoples bore me, literature bores me, especially great literature, Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes as bad as achilles,
who loves people and valiant art, which bores me. And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag and somehow a dog has taken itself & its tail considerably away into mountains or sea or sky, leaving behind: me, wag.
Now that’s ennui!
Well, having endured a year of a pandemic, we all may be suffering to some degree of ennui, despite Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime, and TikTock. For most people, simple human contact is a need, whether it be at a sold-out concert or merely in the simple act of shaking hands with a just-introduced barroom companion.
But, hey, it’s the 20s, and the end of Covid (our Spanish flu) in sight. With the Trump Administration (not exactly the equivalent of WWI but pretty damn gruesome) over, and with the legalization of cannabis (our Prohibition) sweeping across the land, we just might set the decade a-roarin’.
In fact, my beloved and I are getting a head start by going full tilt Gatsby (while keeping a sharp eye out for roadside yokels) as we celebrate what we hope to be a new era of love and prosperity).
Happy New Year!
 In my 34-year career at Porter-Gaud School, I taught 7th, 8th, 8th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades, including AP Literature and Composition, so I’m very familiar with the Wordly Wise series.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.
roundel: an eleven-line poem consisting of three stanzas – a quatrain, tercet, quatrain. The opening line becomes a refrain of the fourth and 11th lines. It is an English variation of the roundeau introduced by Algernon Charles Swinburne.*
Rhyme scheme: abaa bab abaa
The S.A.D. Roundel Rag
Snide winter suns don’t heat on their blustery ride; flashily indiscrete, snide winter suns don’t heat.
Winter suns glide, bold but effete, expansive as they slide
over the edge into the deep. No matter how you search for the bright side, that lackluster light spells defeat – snide winter suns don’t heat.
*When in his thirty-eighth year, William Butler Yeats’s sister informed him that Swinburne had died, Yeats declared, “Now I am king of the cats.”
A decade or so ago, my Porter-Gaud colleague Jimmy Owens turned me on to a recipe whose only prep was pouring Picante sauce over chicken breasts. My sons dubbed the dish “Jimmy-O Chicken.” Over the years, however, I’ve made so many changes to the recipe that I now call it my own, “Rusty-O Chicken,” the O in honor of both Jimmy and the recipe’s Mexican flavoring.
It takes only ten minutes max prep, and is, as Cousin Minnie would say, “DEE-licious,” so Dear Readers, here it is.
1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cut four chicken breasts (I use scissors) into hunks that are a bit bigger than bite-sized and coat them with chicken taco seasoning.
3. Pour a complete bottle of Picante sauce over the nuggets.
4. After draining a can of black beans, dump it on top of the Picante sauce.
Sprinkle a packet of Mexican cheese over the concoction.
6. If you choose, arrange black olives over the cheese.
7. Bake for about forty-five minutes or until bubbly.
Although by no means do I consider myself an Orwell scholar, I did teach 1984 for a number of years, so I can claim a fairly deep acquaintance with its text, so it irks me when I see or hear the adjective Orwellian employed as a sort of catchphrase to describe any situation that occurs when information brought to light results in negative political consequences.
For example, take Senator Josh Hawley (R MO) seen above co-opting the Black Power clenched fist from the 60s to show his solidarity with the soon-to-be rioters amassing outside the Capitol last week. Because Hawley spearheaded a Senate faction that challenged electors during the certification process and exacerbated the grievances of the mob that ransacked the Capitol, Simon and Schuster rescinded a contract to publish one of those PR tomes aspiring presidential candidates produce prior to launching their campaigns. According to Hawley, a private for-profit corporation’s decision to back out of a book deal after its author had played a role in encouraging a violent takeover of the Capitol building “could not be more Orwellian.” He goes on the call the cancelled contract “a direct assault on the First Amendment” as “[t]he Left look[s] to cancel everyone they don’t approve of.”
Actually, there is nothing “Orwellian” about Simon and Schuster’s decision not to publish Hawley’s book. Now, it would have been Orwellian if Simon and Schuster had translated the text into Newspeak and manufactured a fake biography of Hawley’s life or had company spies record Hawley’s every move or had had him seized and transported to a reeducation facility. However, if my First Amendment right meant that a publishing company that earned 184 million dollars in sales last year was obligated to publish my novel Today Oh Boy, I would be one very happy fiction writer.
In fact, the insurrectionists’ subsequent identification by the authorities as commissioners of crimes stemmed not from the omnipresent surveillance of Big Brother but from their own narcissistic need to record themselves in live streams and selfies and to capture their fellow rioters in action to demonstrate how important they all are. To echo William Blake’s phrase from his poem “London,” our “manacles” are “mind-forged” in that we ourselves choose to bind ourselves to devices that track our every movement, our purchases, our internet searches. We are, if not exactly Big Brother, Little Brother and Little Sister, documentarians of our own little lives, seeking fame thorough exposure, amassing “likes” to validate our existence in a culture that reckons worth by numbers.
 In fact, I’ve developed an overarching lesson plan in teaching the novel as a whole that you can find here.
When examining adult pathologies, the Freudian in me wants to hop into Mr. Peabody’s Way Back Machine and check out the childhoods of the damaged adults who have perked my curiosity. For example, I’ve read South Carolina’s most prolific mass murderer Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins’s autobiography where he describes being hung upside down naked as a boy and walloped by a tag team of fucked-up parents. This abuse obviously contributed the sadism that characterized the hundred or so murders he committed.
Another pathological Donald, the 45th President of the United States, also suffered a lovelorn childhood. His father Fred taught him, to quote Patrice Taddonio’s profile from Frontline, that “there were only two kinds of people in this world: winners — or ‘killers’ — and losers.”
Mary Trump, the President’s niece, claims that Trump’s mother “essentially abandoned” him, so the parents shipped the 13-year-old off to a military school that became for the next 5 years a sort of bullying bootcamp. There, to quote Marc Fisher, a co-author of Trump Revealed, “ Donald Trump yelled at his classmates. He pushed them around [… ] He ruled dormitory life with an iron fist.”
Which brings me to Trump enabler Lindsey Graham, who last night attempted to pivot from Trump in a cringe-worthy post-insurrection speech from the Capitol, a speech that might be described as jocular in tone, and what better time to yuk it up than in the aftermath of an Animal House like coup, or if you prefer, a Beer Belly putsch.
Graham’s devotion to John McCain while McCain was living is well-documented, as is Graham’s abandonment of his mentor’s maverick ethos once the senior Senator from South Carolina became Trump’s number-one toady. Now that Trump’s about to leave the White House, whether through a traditional exit or via the 25th Amendment or impeachment, it seems as if Graham is once again metamorphosizing.
If you recall, Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger cited Graham’s pressuring him to adjust Georgia’s vote tallies as the reason he decided to record Trump’s recent call to, um, adjust Georgia’s vote tallies. However, suddenly now Lindsey’s flattering Hunter Biden’s dad.
So what are we amateur psychologists to make of Lindsey Graham’s protean transformations from moderate McCain acolyte to fascistic Trump enabler, and now, it would seem, back into a more moderate political persona?
Is there something in his childhood to explain these permutations?
Graham, according to his 2015 memoir, grew up in a segregated establishment called the “Sanitary Café,” sleeping in a room behind the bar, “sharing a bathroom with patrons who worked down the street at a nearby mill plant [. . . ] [taking] baths with water heated up on the stove.” Despite the privation, he seems to have fond memories of his younger years, considering the regulars at the bar “his extended family.” In school he was a mediocre student and athlete but, according to the memoir, scored an 800 on the SAT.
He seems, unlike the two Donalds, to have had a positive relationship with his parents, who died within a year of each other when he was 21 and 22, leaving Lindsey as the guardian of his 13-year-old sister, whom he looked after with love and attention. Although he’s never successfully cultivated a long-term romantic relationship, Graham has imagined to achieve, at least resume-wise, a life of admirable achievement.
Perhaps Graham, having lost his father at a relatively early age, has sought the friendship of powerful older men, first McCain 19 years Graham’s senior and then Trump, 9 years his senior, but I doubt it.
Maybe he’s being blackmailed by Trump.
Or maybe he has only himself to blame. Like so many politicians, he seems to lack the ability to self-scrutinize, to apologize for shortcomings, to rein in his arrogance.
Whatever the case, “The evil that men do lives after them./ The good is oft interred with their bones.” What profit a man, etc.
 [TRIGGER WARNING! Don’t read this footnote if you possess a delicate sensibility] Peewee: “Next thing I knew, they [Pee Wee and Marsh’s stepfathers] was dragging Marsh and me to the barn. They stripped Marsh first — roped his ankles together and threw rope over a joist and strung him-up upside down, then his mama commenced to paddling him with a pine slat. Soon his ass was bleeding, and then she told his step daddy to whup him with his belt [. . .] Then it was my turn to be strung up naked. I felt the pine board splitting my butt; then my step-daddy (sic) stropped me with his belt like I hadn’t never been stropped before.
 Alas, I can’t claim these witticisms as my own. I copped the Animal House analogy from my friend Jake Williams and “Beer Belly Putsch” from my friend and former student Alex Werrell.
 If you recall, Graham, seeking Trumpian approval, called for Congressional investigations into Hunter Biden.