Yonchak’s dreads have been 49 years in the making. Rastafari!
Last night (15 February 2020) Caroline and I wandered down to Mosquito Beach and the Island Breeze for some Jamaican irie-ites.
Three different reggae bands mixed and matched in some joyful musical gumbo-combo kung-fu drum-dancing positive vibration.
Last night we witnessed something very unusual: a Lowcountry historic site still in the making. Mosquito Beach was recently named to the National Historic Register, but the heartbeat at the center of this special, still-evolving place is Norm & Norma of the Island Breeze…here is the story in brief:
The Island Breeze, cultural centerpiece of Mosquito Beach:
Norm Khouri and Norma Lemon, founders and proprietors.
As the Charleston community searches for direction in how to create an atmosphere of racial understanding and harmony, many are feeling grateful for the recent naming of Mosquito Beach to the National Historic Register.
In its heyday, the 1950s and ‘60s, Mosquito Beach was the premier entertainment mecca for African-Americans in the Charleston area. Mosquito Beach had a sixteen-room hotel, restaurants, and a pavilion where African-Americans danced to live music from well-known R&B groups. Charleston’s CBS affiliate, Channel 5, produced an American Bandstand-like dance program for African-Americans called Jump Time that announced upcoming Mosquito Beach events, as did the SCETV public service show The Job Man Caravan, hosted by Bill Terrell, which garnered SCETV its first Emmy.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, as drugs became prevalent in American society, a turf war broke out between young people in the Sol Legare Community and outside gangs. Mosquito Beach acquired the reputation of being a dangerous place, and not surprisingly, suffered economically as establishments closed down and the buildings that housed them fell into disrepair. However, over the last two decades, due to more frequent police patrols and a concerted attempt to reclaim its past glory, Mosquito Beach has turned the corner to become a vibrant gathering place. A major boon to the area in recent years has been the inspired and gracious efforts of Norm Khouri and Norma Lemon, proprietors of the Island Breeze restaurant.
Norm and Norma opened 2225 Mosquito Beach Dr. in 2016 as the Island Breeze, a Jamaican restaurant where the pavilion once stood. Now the centerpiece of Mosquito Beach, Norm and Norma’s restaurant is not only fun and successful, but is also a keystone of outreach for the Sol Legare community and beyond. Among many events, they host the yearly “Gullah – Geechee Famlee Days” and recently organized a fundraising event for Bahamian hurricane relief which generated over $11,000.00. Norm and Norma have welcomed the white communities of James Island and Folly Beach to eat, drink and enjoy music with locals. Word has gotten out about Norm and Norma, both for their restaurant’s richness of character and for the reliability of their business practices. Hollywood has taken note: they recently worked with Netflix, their setting transformed into a scene in Haiti for the series Black Earth Rising, and HBO has asked to film another series there.
But most days at the Island Breeze, you will hear simply the rich intonations of the Lowcountry’s African-American patois, men telling tales of racing boats in the creek, or remembering dancing at the pavilion. You might hear folk historians on open mike night tell of the area’s rich lore, or the struggles of the civil rights era. It is no longer surprising, because of the Island Breeze, to see white people at Mosquito Beach, looking to support this important part of Charleston culture, and simply to relax and enjoy themselves. The Island Breeze embodies African-American memories of Mosquito Beach’s past, and Norm and Norma have singlehandedly—and extraordinarily effectively—taken the lead on opening up a space for a more racially integrated future in Charleston.
~ Caroline and Wesley Moore
From last night:
And Some pix from the past for your viewing pleasure:
Norma Lemon (on left)
Norman Khouri (on left)
You can play pool there for free!
 Let me be clear. Not only don’t have anything against juke joints, I dig them. My point is that the Island Breeze is so much more, a museum-like venue where Mosquito Beach’s own James Brown (no, not that James Brown, not the Godfather of Soul) can provide eloquent oral histories of both segregation and funkification, a place where Caribbean culture manifests itself in music, cuisine, and language.
The prophet Paul Harvey and I go way back. I first heard the silken gravel of his voice emanating from my grandfather’s radio circa 1960. Kiki, as we called our granddaddy, and his two younger children had in their spare time the peculiar* habit of barricading themselves in their rooms for hours (in my grandfather’s and aunt’s case, years) listening to AM radio (he) and Barbra Streisand records (she).
My uncle also hid in his room listening to jazz when he wasn’t working on a spy ship or at the Navy Yard, but he was the breadwinner in this close knit but distant family (They all lived together but rarely communicated with each other). In addition to the radio, Kiki also played the ukelele, sang, and yodeled. He also enjoyed an occasional half pint of whiskey he hid in his shoes.
“Hey, Kiki, what’s this?”
“Hey, what you doing in that closet? Get out of there! Don’t you tell your grandmama, you hear?
*I wish I could find a more positive adjective, but none come to mind.
aged in a canvas shoe for up to two hours
Anyway, Kiki was a Joseph McCarthy conservative, and Harvey was the 1961 precursor of Fox News, i.e, a welcome antidote to the liberal bias in network news (The News and Courier, on the other hand, was about as liberal as John A Stormer). Being only 10 or so, I didn’t have a clue about politics, but even back then I detected something false in Harvey’s voice, an echo of hucksterdom, the intonation of a Snake Oil barker.
At any rate, Paul Harvey like so many things from that era – Silly Putty, dammit dolls – had faded from my memory until one of my Facebook “friends” linked via Glenn Beck what they considered an uncannily accurate prophecy Harvey had issued in 1965. You may listen to it here, if you dare, but I’m going to deconstruct the prophecy via the transcript.
The conceit here is that Harvey is impersonating Satan, the Father of Lies, in corrupting the nation by whispering abominations in the citizens’ ears.
“If I were the devil … If I were the Prince of Darkness, I’d want to engulf the whole world in darkness. And I’d have a third of it’s [sic] real estate, and four-fifths of its population, but I wouldn’t be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree — Thee. So I’d set about however necessary to take over the United States. I’d subvert the churches first — I’d begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: ‘Do as you please.’”
That’s right, dear reader. Turn off the damn contraption you’re reading this on, go sell everything you own, and give it to the poor. Also, forget about binge-watching this weekend.
“To the young, I would whisper that ‘The Bible is a myth.’ I would convince them that man created God instead of the other way around. I would confide that what’s bad is good, and what’s good is ‘square.’ And the old, I would teach to pray, after me, ‘Our Father, which art in Washington…’*”
*Whose initials now happen to be DJT and who recently has described himself as “the second coming.” Wonder what Harvey would make of the Donald.
That’s right, the Bible isn’t a myth; it’s literally true.
For example, displeased with his creation, God orders Noah to gather a male and female from every species – Aardvarks (because they don’t have cloven feat, a Middle Eastern delicacy), Bengal tigers, polar bears, etc. – and place them on an ark so they can survive a world deluge. After the flood, Noah plants a vineyard, gets drunk, passes out naked, is seen by his gossiping son Hamm, then is covered by sons Shem and Japheth. Noah wakes up and creates an apology for slavery when he punishes his indiscrete son and his descendants: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.”
No way that’s not all literally true (even if it does call to question the God’s choice of Noah as the the progenitor of the world’s population).
Rant on, Prophet Harvey:
“And then I’d get organized. I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting, so that anything else would appear dull and uninteresting. I’d threaten TV with dirtier movies and vice versa. I’d pedal narcotics to whom I could. I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.”
“If I were the devil I’d soon have families that war with themselves, churches at war with themselves, and nations at war with themselves; until each in its turn was consumed. And with promises of higher ratings I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames. If I were the devil I would encourage schools to refine young intellects, but neglect to discipline emotions — just let those run wild, until before you knew it, you’d have to have drug sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every schoolhouse door.”
Now, I have to admit the drug-sniffing dogs and metal detectors do seem prophetic for 1965. Maybe Harvey should have added, “I’d whisper to politicians to shift welfare dollars from the poor (we’ll always have them) to farm subsidies (where they’ll enable the idolators who worship Mammon even wealthier). So without a chance of bettering themselves, these children of poverty will turn to crime.”
“Within a decade I’d have prisons overflowing, I’d have judges promoting pornography — soon I could evict God from the courthouse, then from the schoolhouse, and then from the houses of Congress. And in His own churches I would substitute psychology for religion, and deify science. I would lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls, and church money. If I were the devil I’d make the symbols of Easter an egg and the symbol of Christmas a bottle.”
The American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals …”
Imprison the black cannabis user; award the manufacturers of Xanax massive tax breaks.
Pfizer CEO Ian Read’s total 2018 pay fell to $19.5 million [sob]
“If I were the devil I’d take from those, and who have, and give to those wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. And what do you bet? I could get whole states to promote gambling as thee way to get rich? I would caution against extremes and hard work, in Patriotism, in moral conduct. I would convince the young that marriage is old-fashioned, that swinging is more fun, that what you see on the TV is the way to be. And thus I could undress you in public, and I could lure you into bed with diseases for which there is no cure. In other words, if I were the devil I’d just keep right on doing on what he’s doing. Paul Harvey, good day.”
Which reminds me of an old joke:
Q: What’s the difference between AIDS, genital herpes, gonorrhea, and a time-share condo?
“Picture,” I’d tell my British Lit classes, “all that we’ve studied so far depicted on a cathedral-sized stained-glass window – the Pilgrimage to Canterbury, the pageantry of the Elizabethan stage, shepherds piping, Milton’s magnificent blank verse descriptions of Eden, the Augustans, the Romantics, the Victorians.”
Then I’d project the images below and say, “The top photo was taken in 1910, the bottom in 1920. Obviously, something profound has happened in the decade between 1910 and 1920 to have fashion alter so dramatically. Anyone have an idea?”
“World War I.”
“Yes. World War I shattered that stained-glass window, shattered civilization, and rather than trying to gather the shards and reconstruct the past, poets and artists and musicians picked up the shards and rearranged them in radical ways. For example, listen to this:
I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Of course, that description is over simplified. Picasso created “Girl with a Mandolin” in 1910. Other factors were in play. Otto Planck and Albert Einstein were shattering Newtonian physics in the decade before the War to End All Wars, and in 1900 Sigmund Freud published On the Interpretation of Dreams.
“Girl with Mandolin”
I’d do my best to explain Planck’s and Einstein’s theories [e.g., here’s a cool clip on the relativity of time I used: https://newt.phys.unsw.edu.au/einsteinlight/index.html (click on #4 “Time Dilation”).] I’d offer a bare bones summary of Freud’s divisions of the psyche, reminding them of Locke’s tabula rasa, then offer them the following “personal anecdote” of Freud’s theory in action.
I’d pause, feigning emotion, placing my fist to my mouth, breathing deeply, and say, “To help you understand how this theory works, I’m going to share with you something very personal, my own experience with psychoanalysis.”
Once again, feigning emotion, I paused, took a deep breath. “When I was a baby, whenever my mother changed my diaper, she stabbed my fanny with uncooked spaghetti. Not only that, while she was stabbing me, she’d screech the music from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho’s shower scene.
The expressions on the faces looking up at me were a mixture of bemusement, shock, or horror.
“But Mr. Moore,” sometimes someone would ask, “why would she do something like that?”
Me, sighing: “That I do not know, but according to Freud, what would my mind do with such a horrible memory like that?”
“Repress it,” hopefully someone would say.
“Yes, like Poe’s Madeline Usher, bury it deep underground, entomb it in the subconscious.
“And I was successful in repressing the memory,” I’d say, “led a fairly normal life, the horror not consciously recurring like a bad memory of your youth, like the PTSD-inducing sight of accidentally seeing your Great Aunt Polly stepping out of the shower, which you can never un-see no matter how hard you try.
“No, looking back on it, the only really abnormal consequence is that in college, rather than socializing, joining fraternities, going on panty raids, or protesting the war, I “entombed” myself in the stacks of McKissick Library amassing the prodigious learning you’re witnessing this morning.”
“Mr. Moore, what’s a panty raid?”
“Anyway,” I’d continue, “I graduated, married Judy Birdsong, and lived on Limehouse Street in the bottom floor apartment, taught at Trident Technical College. Everything was going well till one day I went grocery shopping. In those days there was a Piggly Wiggly on Broad Street, a funky store with wooden floors, but a Piggly Wiggly nonetheless. It was just around the corner from where I lived, so I walked there to pick up some lasagna, but when I arrived at the pasta aisle, I suffered a severe panic attack. My heart raced, I couldn’t breathe, paramedics arrived, but after a battery of tests, my physicians couldn’t find anything wrong with me.
17 Limehouse 1978
“So I continued teaching and living the life of a newlywed, but then one night during a Chef Boyardee commercial, I had another attack. To make a long story short, these attacks became more frequent and more severe until finally we decided that I needed to travel to Vienna to receive care from a genuine Freudian psychoanalyst.
“Thanks to the Birdsong family fortune, I received the finest psychoanalytical care possible. First, I had to keep a dream journal (‘Last night I dreamed I was trapped in a bowl of slithering snakes’), then we’d do word association (Dr. Müller, ‘ropes’, Me: ‘linguine.’), and, of course, Rorschach tests (Vat does ziss look like, Herr Moore? Me: ‘O my God, vomited bruschetta’).
Eventually, after months of therapy and tens of thousands of dollars, one morning a memory burst forth from the fortress of my repression. I’m lying on my back, my mother in her nurse’s uniform, white cap and all, comes to me shaking a box of spaghetti like a maraca, and POP!, just like that, I was cured.
“Mr. Moore, that didn’t really happen, did it?”
“Who could make something like that up?” I would say. Then add: “You don’t get that at the Magnet.”
 I’d memorized these last lines of “The Waste Land” confident that no one in the class would know I was butchering the Italian.
 Obviously, an anachronism, I born on 14 December 1952, the movie premiering 8 September 1960, but then again, time is relative.
 Although none of them had read “Fall of the House of Usher,” I’d drop the allusion as if they did, trying to convey it’s fun and advantageous knowing a lot of literature.
 I told my students that my late wife Judy Birdsong’s family had a monopoly on paper products. “No you must skip lines, no you can’t write on the back, dammit!”
 I.e., the Academic Magnet School, our biggest academic rival.
I am – as far as generations go – not all that far removed from my Civil War ancestors. I remember with cinematic precision the evening circa 1970 when my high school girlfriend dropped on the uncarpeted floor of our ranch-style house the slab of glass that held my great-great grandfather’s image. That raw-boned, thin-lipped scowler posing in his Confederate uniform evaporated before our very eyes, the molecules constituting his outline rising through the crack in the glass like a soul vacating a corpse. Gone, those small penetrating brown eyes, the prototype of my father’s eyes, my eyes, and my son Ned’s eyes.
I, in fact, met that ghost’s son, my great grandfather, who lived past 90, and I also remember a winter night in Sumter, South Carolina, when my college roommate’s great-great aunt, a centenarian, the daughter of a Confederate general, told us long-haired hippies that we were two of the prettiest girls she’d ever seen. She was a lovely woman, alive, engaged, this daughter of the general, a genteel wrinkled skein of a skeleton sitting, smiling before a fire, practically deaf, practically blind.
I think there might have been a painting of the general over the mantel — or perhaps he was a colonel? — I really can’t remember as my memories flicker and fade in the old musty museum of my mind. I am certain, however, that “the evil that men do lives after them,” and “the good is oft interred with their bones.”
Note: Richard Dawkins coined the word “meme” in his 1976 bestseller The Selfish Gene. The word — which is ascribed to an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture — has since been reappropriated by the internet, with Grumpy Cat, Socially-Awkward Penguin and Overly-Attached Girlfriend spreading virally, leaping from IP address to IP address (and brain to brain) via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. From Wired.