Allow me to wax metaphysical for a moment. Life doesn’t begin at conception (the sperm and ova are alive after all) but began 3.5 billion years ago. Life is a continuum through which beings may or may not replicate their DNA. Randomness, not God, is the determinate in the clusterfucked process known as evolution – mutative, extinction-plagued, indifferent.
My grand transition from the birth-cave to the here-and-[not now]-now occurred on a rare snowy day in Dorchester County, SC, on 14 December 1952, a leap year, an election year. Thanks to my paternal grandmother’s terminal cancer, Clemson class-cutter meets student nurse, they elope, eschew contraception, and B-I-N-G-O!
In other words, I owe my existence to a 40-year-old woman’s terminal cancer. If she had lived to a ripe old age, my father wouldn’t have met my mother. He would have mated with someone else and produced a different Wesley Lee-Edward Moore III, and my mother, no doubt, would have produced other children with different surnames. Rather than sitting here flailing away at the keyboard, the matter that constitutes me would be distributed elsewhere, and the not-I-and-I would be as oblivious to the Orwellian chicanery of Trumpworld as it was to Oliver Cromwell’s right-wing Interregnum, as oblivious to tonight’s World Series Game 5 as it was to Shoeless Joe Jackson’s stellar .375 batting average in the 1919 Black Sox series.
My not being would merely be a matter of indifference.
What youthful mother, a shape upon her lap Honey of generation had betrayed, And that must sleep, shriek, struggle to escape As recollection or the drug decide, Would think her Son, did she but see that shape With sixty or more winters on its head, A compensation for the pang of his birth, Or the uncertainty of his setting forth?
Since Halloween is the day after tomorrow and tonight I’m headed to a costume party dressed up as Dr. John, the Night Tripper, a practitioner of voodoo, I thought I’d darken your day (or night) with some musings on the concept of evil.
Frankly, in my philosophical musings, I’ve avoided the origin of evil. I’ve read a bit of Augustine, a bit of Hume, but the left side of my brain leaves much to be desired; it is a virtual empty lot where tumbleweed tumbles and winds of distraction drown out the lecturer who argues in soporific sentences like these:
From [the idea that nature is not as good as its creator] there follows that there is nothing to be called evil if there is nothing good. A good that wholly lacks an evil aspect is totally good. Where there is some evil in a thing, its good is defective or defectible (sic). Thus, there can be no evil where there is no good. This leads us to a surprising conclusion: that, since every being, in so far as it is a being, is good, if we can say a defective thing is bad, it would seem to mean that we are saying that what is evil is good, that only what is good is ever evil and that there is no evil apart from something good.
Like I said, my analytical skills leave much to be desired, but Augustine’s argument that evil is a privation of good (thus letting God off the hook for evil’s existence) strikes me as whistling past the boneyard.
Hume ain’t buying it:
The whole presents nothing but the idea of a blind nature, impregnated by a great vivifying principle, and pouring forth from her lap, without discernment or parental care, her maimed and abortive children!
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
Ignoring the incredibly complicated question of why a morally perfect Deity would allow evil into his creation, the Hebrew myth of Lucifer’s Fall does a pretty damned good job of capturing evil’s innate human cause – pride and territorial dominance.
In a sense, we can attribute the Fall to a kinghell case of sibling rivalry, Lucifer’s jealousy of Yahweh’s power (or in the Miltonic version, the creation of Jesus as favorite son). Of course, that other pillar of Western Civilization, the Hellenic, also has much to say about the evils of hubris, the harmatia of many an ancient tragic hero and contemporary public servant.
If we’re to accept Hume’s bleak assessment (finished in 1776, eighty-three years before Darwin published Origen of Species), then perhaps a peek at our maimed and abortive cousins chimpanzees might shed some light.
Territory and sex seem to be the two main motives for chimpanzee murders. Clara Moskowitz is a little easer reading than Augustine or Hume:
“The take-home is clear and simple,” said researcher John Mitani of the University of Michigan. “Chimpanzees kill each other. They kill their neighbors. Up until now, we have not known why. Our observations indicate that they do so to expand their territories at the expense of their victims.”
Sex is also a motive, especially in infanticide. Further down the chain, langur monkeys, like their more sophisticated chimpanzee cousins, also engage in infanticide:
Ifthe alpha langur is not successful [in defending his place in the pecking order], the young males then take over the troop, and systemically and brutally kill infant langurs, smashing them against the trees, crushing their skulls, until all infants are dead.
The young female langurs in the troop remain unhurt, as they are the love object of the young males.
The young males then begin to seat themselves at the head of their own helm, to take many females who will then bear offspring only to them.
Biologically, it is important for the band of marauding young males to to kill the infants, because the infants are preventing the females from bearing new young.
The females are suckling the infants, and by so doing, are incapable of having new infants.
We share ~ 98.7% of our DNA with chimps, interestingly enough, the same percentage we share with bonobos, who are less studied than chimps. They and chimps were at one time the same species, but after the Congo River formed, they separated into two distinct species, chimps organizing along patriarchal lines and bonobos along matriarchal lines.
Can you guess which species relieves its tension through sex and which through violence?
So I say we let Eve and Pandora off the hook. What do Charles Whitman (University of Texas August 1966), Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech 2007), and Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook December 2012) have in common?
Y chromosomes, a sense of entitlement, thin skin, territorial insecurity, and pride.
I’ve always been disdainful of anthropological depictions of heaven as wish-fulfillment, so in the poem “After All,” I take the concept to a ridiculous extreme.
What has Ursula Hazelwood Hunt Blanton been up to in Heaven all this time?
Shelling beans, watching soaps, cackling among gossiping seraphs and cherubim?
I’d like to think so, along with her sisters, Ruby and Pearl, up there over yonder in Heaven’s Baptist wing doing what they loved most doing but without life’s worries gnawing away at the back of their heads.
And what about their husbands, where are they? Certainly, not with them, but outside behind some cloudy bank sneaking a drink, enjoying the fiddle music of some winged, yodeling hillbilly gone to his reward.
Mama’s up there now as well, maybe with daddy, his restlessness abated. Curled up on a sofa, they smoke cigarettes that can’t kill them, chuckling about how, after all, it all turned out all right.
Because as a toddler I couldn’t pronounce Kistler,
my grandfather became known as Kiki –
as opposed to Grandpa, Peepaw, Pawpaw, or Pops.
Scots Irish, raw-boned, ruddy red, he stood five-foot-five, a bantam rooster of a man.
He owned and operated the Nation Station just outside of Summerville, and he’d pump your gas and check your oil and wipe your windshield, making sure you were good to go in those days of yore before self-service and debit cards.
When it was his time to go, at the hospital overnight we took turns sitting vigil so he wouldn’t have to die alone.
On one of my nights, he commenced, as he might say, to hallucinatin’, being chauffeured by long-dead second cousins once twice, but now, forever removed.
I tried to talk him down as if he were tripping, not knowing that it’s not uncommon for the dying to seek refuge in the ether.
Kiki didn’t believe in God, so at the funeral the rent-a-preacher didn’t know him, spoke in generalities, blandishments, insuring that Kiki would not come back alive.
No mention of the sun’s having baked his bald head and exposed neck into a permanent ripe tomato red.
No mention of the angry invectives That spewed like lava when he was angry “That goddamn psalm-singing son-of-a-bitch!”
No mention of the ukulele, the yodeling, his tenor voice,
No mention of the radio, Paul Harvey, the Atlanta Braves.
No mention of the half-pints of Old Crow hidden in his shoes in the closet so his wife, my grandmother,
In a Downton Abbey episode, the Dowager asks some lower order of humanity, and I’m paraphrasing, “This weekend you speak of – what is a weekend?”
Now that I have attic-stashed my academic robes, I can somewhat identify. Although my wife Caroline and stepdaughter Brooks are still bound by the chains of weekday responsibilities, I am not. There’s no place I must be on a Monday or Tuesday of Friday morning unless I have scheduled a doctor’s appointment or a meeting with my ace financial advisor Jumping Jack Flash Evans, or better yet, brunch with an out-of-town visitor.
Nevertheless, I still prefer weekends over weekdays because they’re more festive. No longer do I have the Sisyphean routine of essay assessment intruding upon a glorious Saturday, 65-degree, low humidity morning. I can walk with my [tautology warning] high-strung Chihuahua/rat terrier mix to the post office, taking either beach or river route, picking up her poop with aplomb, punishing ordinance-breaking layabouts on the river route who have left their garbage receptacles on the street by plopping the biodegradable shit sack into their trash cans.
I can do yard work or not or watch ESPN’s Game Day or not or crank out a blog post or not.
This is not to say that my life is stress free. Yesterday, for example, I obsessed over the upcoming Game 6 of the Braves vs. Dodgers, NCLS game. In the morning, I puttered around the house, clipping Elaeagnus, solving crosswords, and fretting about a Capital One card that had gone AWOL. Although the Braves were in the enviable position of being up 3-2 in the series, a decades long legacy of losing shadowed that rosy scenario. After all, they were up 3-1 last year and failed to win the series.
Although I hesitate to share with my readers (so far this year 17,000 visitors from 125 countries, including Mongolia), when I’m anxious about something, I tend to self-medicate. So, I cracked open a beer earlier than usual. Selfless Caroline was escorting Brooks and two of her friends to Fright Nite, a Halloween extravaganza 45-tedious-minutes away (we’re talking crossing at least five bridges and encountering hundreds of un-masked people standing in lines for hayrides), so given the early beer and etcetera, I decided to stay at home on the island and watch Clemson and Pitt collide on the gridiron.
As I sat in front of computer waiting for kickoff, I received a text from my friend Nick Daily, who was enjoying a beverage at the Drop-In on Center Street. So, I hopped on Caroline’s bike and pedaled the six blocks, stashed the bike in an alleyway, and ambled on in to find Nick and his neighbor William at the bar. Nick has a bad jones for VWs and had driven a vintage (I think 70s) micro bus that wouldn’t start, so he and William were sitting around waiting for whatever was ailing the bus to heal itself. Disgruntled, William fretted over the fact that he had sneaked away while his wife was gone and his dogs needed to taken outside to relieve themselves.
Nick was confident that the bus would start, William less so. Nick left a couple of times to try to crank it, and although without success, he intimated that the engine had hiccuped, which was a good sign. William had had enough, however. He paid his bill and left, perhaps to hire an Uber. His farewell was, shall we say, brusque.
I suggested to Nick we split for Chico Feo, and he agreed. He’d decided to try to start the bus again, so we both clambered aboard. I’ve owned two such vehicles, and, let me tell you, they all smell exactly alike, a musty old upholstery aroma augmented by an olfactory trace of leaking oil.
I love that smell.
Lo and behold, as Nick turned the ignition, the engine coughed its way into life, and we drove the two blocks to Chico where a bachelor party was going strong with sleeveless toxic males chugging beer to the Dionysian chants of vociferous inebriates.
On the corner of the bar sat Jenny, a former colleague. Her husband Allan had just purchased a Harley, so they were in the best of moods. My pal Greg was a-foot, and bartender Katie had just gotten a new tattoo (pictured below). I checked my phone. Clemson, who had been ahead at the Drop-In were two touchdowns down (PRAISE HIS NAME!). Wait, what was this? My missing credit card hiding beneath another! (PRAISE HIS NAME!)
Eventually, Nick toted me home for an afternoon-cap, and former colleague and super cat Al Wilson showed up. All of this helped to distract from the upcoming game.
Eventually, they left, and Caroline and the Fright Nite crew arrived. It was game time.
I’ll give Paul Newberry of the Associated Press the last word and end with a photo of my son and grandson.
ATLANTA — Eddie Rosario capped a remarkable NL Championship Series with a three-run homer, sending the Atlanta Braves to the World Series for the first time since 1999 with a 4-2 victory over the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night.
The Braves won the best-of-seven series four games to two, exorcising the demons of last year’s NLCS — when Atlanta squandered 2-0 and 3-1 leads against the Dodgers — and advancing to face the AL champion Astros.
 I have been doing business with Mr. Evans since Jimmy Carter slept in the White House. I think the Dow was something like 780 when Judy B and I first met Jack at his Robinson Humphrey office.
 When I checked the etymology of layabout on the on-line Etymology Dictionary, I was tempted – but resisted – clicking the ad link to “Toenail Clippers for Seniors.” (I’m not making this up).
 Jenny, a talented maker of jewelry and superb bartender – a different Jenny from my former colleague – has dubbed bachelor party males as “bronadoes” and bachelorette party females as “ho-a-canes.” For whatever reason, Folly Beach has become a mecca for these prenuptial blowouts.
Jasper Johns’ half-sister, Owen Lee, and I were acquaintances, not quite friends, in the very late 70s or very early 80s. We both taught Developmental Studies English at Trident Technical College in North Charleston, South Carolina. Between classes, we’d yuk it up and trade cynical witticisms like a couple of podunk Dorothy Parkers and HL Menckens.
One night after classes, she invited me to join her at the Garden and Gun, a gay bar that had recently opened to cater to the Spoleto crowd. Weeks earlier, she had dropped her famous semi-sibling’s name, but the sad truth is all I knew of Johns’ work were the targets and flags, and in keeping with my late-twenties ignorance, I was not overly impressed.Anyway, Owen invited me to her place for a nightcap and showed me some original Johns works hanging in her apartment. After the drink, I headed home to Limehouse Street.
Fastforward thirty-five years. The week of my son Harrison’s marriage in DC, the Hirshhorn was staging an exhibition of Johns’ work, so we hopped the Metro to check it out. Now, I was duly impressed. Of course, we saw the iconic flags, targets, and maps, but also large arresting canvases with strings and flatware and shadows, works that I found emotionally moving.
However, it wasn’t until last week until I really came to appreciate Johns more fully after taking in his current exhibition (October 2021 through February 2022) at the Whitney. Thanks to my brand-new hearing aids paired with my iPhone, a website dedicated to the exhibition guided me through eleven gallery rooms. Chief curator Scott Rothkopf and others talked about the paintings and sculptures. John Cage read Jasper’s words excerpted from a documentary. He said early in his career he attempted to create impersonal works but that ultimately “was a losing battle.” Nevertheless, he remains reticent about his art because he believes that the viewer must bring his or her own life experiences into the mix.
The thematic division entitled South Carolina particularly interested me. Johns, like Truman Capote, spent much of his childhood being shuttled off to various aunts and cousins. How disorienting it must be to be passed around without a permanent home. Here’s a painting based on his childhood called Montez Singing.
Montez was Johns’ step grandmother, and the song she sings is entitled “Red Sails.” The web-based tour guide notes the red ship and offers interpretations on the Picasso-like cubist body parts.
Another of my favorites is “Spring” where we encounter Johns’ shadow and the rigid arm that appears in many of his paintings. Also note the child’s shadow, below the adult’s shadow. How remarkable to produce such stunning objective correlatives to your vaporous memories.
Owen Lee ended up moving away after a stint in Edisto. Around the turn of the century, out of nowhere, I received a message on my voice mail on my landline. She had moved back in Charleston to a downtown apartment and suggested we get together, which never came about. I did see her one last time at our friend Ted Phillips’ funeral. We sat together in a back pew, and because she had walked to the service, I gave her a ride to her apartment when it was over. She poured me a scotch and reminisced about a period when she worked for Jasper and Andy Warhol. This apartment had originals as well, and I worried a bit because Owen repeated stories, lost her way in conversation a couple of times, and explained these lapses by claiming that she had received a blow to the head as a child.
She was still a lovely person, fascinating to listen to, despite having entered an early stage of dementia.
 Known as “remedial English” in a previous, less sensitive era.
 I wouldn’t go so far as call myself a philistine. For example, unlike the babysitter in Flannery O’Connor’s “The River,” I wouldn’t say, “I wouldn’t have paid for that,” [the babysitter] said, nodding at the painting, “I would have drew it myself.”
 Actually, it was John Cage reading Johns’ words.
 The voice on the guided tour pronounces it ed-DEES-toe
As a Jesus-revering lapsed Buddhist, I know I should detach myself from desire and step beyond the swirl of samsara.
I know, I know.
But, goddamn it, sometimes my ego’s tempted to unzip its amiable persona so Mr. Hyde/Incredible Hulk can bust out and snatch from the cuddling arms of certain Youth Ministers their teddybearjesuses! I long to confront, to bellow like a crazed evangelist on a street corner, “Grow up, you [minced oath alert] theologically stunted pathetic puerile protoplasmic pondspawn!”
How could you not have picked up on this untidy detail: Jesus’s own father allowed him to be nailed alive to boards!
“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.”
Ezra Pound, “Ballad of the Goodly Fere”
Given the illustration above [hat tip to Mel Gibson] and the never ending reaches of eternity, why would you presume that the Trinity-That-Is-One desires what is most comfortable for you in this abbreviated vale of tears? Or that the most comfortable outcome – what you desire – is best for you spiritually. We’re so blessed [I hear people say] Sally got into Swanee. We’ve been so blessed [others say] our dishwasher didn’t need replacing after all. Christianity isn’t about copping fringe benefits for the faithful but about taking an unworldly long perspective on our short stay here and sacrificing our own comfort to make others more comfortable.
It’s a hell of a lot to ask.
From what I read, blessed are the poor, not comfortable smug upper middle class lower-case christians who love Jesus but hate Biden, who write generous checks to the Good Cheer Club but who want to see unemployment benefits cease. They’re the crowd of know-nothings huddled around Job.
Hey, Youth Ministers, how about offering your pledges some muscular Christian theology that doesn’t whistle past the Darwinian graveyard but confronts the ever-growing chasm between Christian dogma and science?
In other words, bring in the Jesuits.
If you’re extolling faith over reason, you might as well be peddling snake oil.
Q. What’s one thing that Osama Bin Laden and George W Bush had in common?
A. An unwavering, absolute and certain faith (in two very different deities).
Based on what? Mother’s milk, that’s what.
If the raw unfiltered DNA that made up Osama had somehow been born to Barbara and Poppy, would he have fervently believed that there is one god and his name is Allah?
Or switcher-roo, picture W with in long white robes and a beard hanging to his sternum. Reared in Saudi Arabia, would he know in his marrow bone that Jesus is Lord?
Let’s face it: faith is culturally conditioned and therefore unreliable as far as narrow religious affiliations go.
As my dear erstwhile friend Ed Burrows once told me, if you can’t justify your beliefs through reason, then your beliefs are worthless.
Amen, Ed. We really should go out for a drink one of these days.