I Have Measured My Life Out with Barrooms

Juarez Muchado
“A Bar in Copacabana

The mornings, evenings, afternoons . . . 

TS Eliot, “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock

I started hanging out at bars at a very young age because whenever my mother left me alone with my old man, he’d throw me in the car and head off to some hole-in-the-wall near the Navy Base. There were no such things as kiddy car seats in those days. Come to think of it, there were no seatbelts either, at least in the cars we owned. Nor were we stowed in the backseat for safety’s sake.

Whenever Daddy hit the brakes, he’d reflexively extend his right arm as a barrier to prevent us from hurtling into the dashboard with its array of dangerous knobs, seemingly designed with poking out eyes in mind. I was only thrown into the dashboard once when my grandmother let me stand up in the front seat. I lost my front baby teeth, and one of my permanent front teeth grew in discolored and had to be capped. The cap kept falling off, and what was left of the tooth had to be drilled down to fit on another cap. Eventually, when there was hardly anything left, it had to be pulled, which made me look like Alfred E Newman until we acquired a retainer like false tooth.[1]

At any rate, sometimes, if you’re lucky, natural selection doesn’t work out the way it’s supposed to.

That grandmother, a Baptist, despised demon alcohol and considered bars dens of iniquity, though she and her sisters (Pearl and Ruby) traded pharmaceuticals like jelly beans.[2] My mother, though less severe, didn’t like to come home and discover us missing. The story is that she could mysteriously intuit what bar we were at by flipping through the Charleston phone book, which was much thinner in those days in before the Old South turned into the Sunbelt. According to the dubious story, she’d call the bar, offer a description, get the old man on the phone, and he would come dutifully home with little me in tow.

My vague memories of hanging in bars with my father in the mid-Fifties may be manufactured. They may be based more on movies I’ve seen featuring dark, small, smoky spaces. I do clearly remember him playing pinball machines, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. These were in the days before aluminum cans were equipped with pop-tops, a great invention. Back then, bartenders opened cans of beers with small metal openers [see illustrations below] and had to make two openings to create airflow to help gravity along.

That reminds me. When I was around ten, my father had this foolish idea that I needed to drink one beer a week to gain weight – as if the weight gain would be equally distributed along my skeletal frame instead of creating a stick-legged, stick-armed tween with a beer belly. I absolutely detested the taste of beer. Now that I think of it, it may have been a ruse to allow us to have beer in the house.

The next bar I visited in my youth was a roadhouse called Morris Knight’s, a one-story honky-tonk-like establishment about a half-mile from my house. It consisted of two rooms, one with a bar and stools (where they sold candy and fireworks to kids in the day time) and a back room with a vending pool table and a jukebox. One night when we were camping out, we made an excursion there to score some Squirrel Nut Zippers and encountered staggeringly drunk men and women. The fat woman bartender kicked us out, informing us it was no place for children. It seemed at once both sinful and fascinating, Felliniesque in a po-dunk sort of way.

The S & S poolroom, where I hung out in high school, wasn’t, strictly speaking, a bar, though they did sell both draughts and canned beers. They served the most delicious hot dogs ever thanks to their secret chili recipe. Sometimes my mother would have a craving for one, and Daddy would go fetch her “a poolroom hotdog” because “ladies” didn’t dare step inside.

It was tacitly understood that I was not to go into the poolroom, but I did for the first time when I was a 7th grader, the victim of peer pressure. You couldn’t get away with sneaking in there, though, because you would come home with the telltale poolroom smell, a sort of sour smoky odor laced with fried food.

The poolroom was sort of a grander Morris Knight’s and employed young black boys to rack the tables and collect the dime it cost to play a game of nine ball. When the game was over, you’d holler “Rack!” Gambling was allowed. I saw a friend of mine, Glenn Farrar, win a hundred dollars in about forty minutes one time. It was a Friday, payday.  Tensions ran high.

Anyway, my parents eventually didn’t mind my hanging out there, and in the early 70’s a couple of girls actually started frequenting, which sullied their reputations. By then, the hissing sound of the double metal can opener had been replaced by the plunk of tabs you tore off.

You had to be somewhat circumspect in the poolroom, though. Using a word like “whom” might end up getting your “ass cut,” as we locals put it. You weren’t allowed to cuss, though. A “No Profanity” sign was displayed prominently behind the bar beside prints of monkeys shooting pool and playing poker.

You could drink legally at eighteen in those days, so college was where I learned the art of making eye contact with the bartender, the advantages of busing your own tables by returning your bottles, and how leaving a tip could help you get served faster when the joint was busy.

My freshmen year I hung at a place called the Opus that served only Bush Bavarian beer, or at least that’s my memory, but they tore the Opus down to build the new Law School. There was also the Campus Club, a cool space with a wraparound scaffolding-like structure that created a sort of second story but was open to the space below, like the saloons you sometimes see in old Westerns. I liked sitting there in the afternoons after class when dust-moted sunbeams bore down on the tables like spotlights.

Here it is in its new iteration as “The Hunter Gatherer”

I never really liked the Golden Spur, the bar located in USC’s student union building, a sort of cafeteria-like soulless place where unadventurous students hung. Ironically, I ended up tending bar there along with my future wife, who had white-lied to her parents and told them that she worked at “the student center.” The bar did boast some really cool musical acts, like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. That may have been my best job ever. If we went out after work, it was to Oliver’s Pub on Devine Street, a private club where you could drink on Sundays.

Like a chip off the ol’ block, I started taking my two sons to bars early in their lives.  When then they were pre-adolescents, on nights their mother attended classes to get yet another graduate degree, we’d eat out at bars. Our favorites were the Acme Cantina on the Isle of Palms and Station 22 on Sullivan’s Island. The boys were on a first name basis with the bartender, Fronz, at the Acme, and with Cathy Coleman at Station 22. The big difference between my childhood experience and theirs is that their mother didn’t mind at all, especially on 25-cent wing night.

Now, our sons are in their 30’s, and, of course, we still enjoy venturing out to a bar when they’re home, and Folly Beach where their mother and I now live may have more bars per capita than anywhere in this side of Vegas.  Our favorites are Chico Feo and the Jack of Cups, but the Surf Bar is top-notch as well.

By the way, the worst bar I ever visited was outside of Leningrad on the Bay of Finland.  Black walls, red lights, bad vodka, the reek of Turkish cigarettes, drunken Finns looking for love. It made Morris Knight’s look like a Dairy Queen.


[1] You can read a sad, alcoholic-themed story about that very tooth here.

[2] My grandfather hid half-pints of rum in his dress shoes in his closet.

The Dying Oral Tradition (Southern Gothic Edition)

Although my brother had not been born when the incident occurred, he has heard the retelling so often that he swears he witnessed it, that he remembers the alligator snapping as it scuttled in the shallow water of the tub. I, myself, aged two or so, who shrieked there naked in that linoleum bathroom, have no recollection of the incident at all, though I, too, from multiple retellings and my from own renderings, can see the events unfold on my mind’s drive-in movie screen, see the climax of the tale, a red-haired 24 year old mother and her red-haired toddler at bath time encountering a baby gator that Daddy had deposited in the tub before departing to continue his revelry. Of course, the best retelling was the duet of Mama and Daddy counterposing their split screen roles in the Gothic comedy. The pre-story, Daddy and his pal Tea hitting juke joint after juke joint, taking a propitious gator-discovering ditchside piss, the mighty hunt and bagging. Meanwhile, Mama out somewhere with me and then back home impatiently shelling peas on the porch in the humidity. Their mutual laughter in the telling declaring that they’re glad it happened. It made for a great story.*


*Of course, now in my role as mandatory reporter of child abuse and neglect, I’d probably have to call DSS if one of my students shared a similar story with me, perhaps resulting in the child’s removal from the home and replacement into foster care to live with someone wholesome like Michelle Bachman.

I probably perfected my version of the tale over the years at work, but storytelling has disappeared from our workplace, partly because we share no common space and partly because the pinging of emails and the flashing of voice mails demand too much of our attention. I have a colleague who in years past regaled us with her forlorn trips back to Barnwell where, in the shadow of the “Atomic Bum Plant,” she’d celebrate what she called “a Tennessee Williams Christmas.”

As a storyteller, she possesses the Chaucerian talent of individualizing a type. Her mother, the dowager, going Compson in the slow decay, but with her own unique identity, the drawled zinger, the hawk-eyed fault finding. Add a maiden aunt, the clutter of knick knacks, darkened rooms, the smell of cedar – and you’ve recreated a palatable world. I’ve been there, though I have never set foot in that house.

We’re both the descendants of Flannery O’Connor, perverse, reveling in the grotesque, living the nightmare and finding it funny.

Alas, I fear that raconteurs like my friend are a dying breed – not only that – but that the old eccentrics are dying out (or being rendered bland by homogenization). Of course, hoary headed malcontents have been bemoaning modern ways since Socrates complained that writing would ruin language, that reading would silence words, remove the oracular from the narrative, render the dactyls mute, transform the communal experience into a solitary one.

Now some fear that reading itself will disappear, replaced by easily processed images, the hungry eye not patient enough to bother with decoding, needing the quick fix of quick-cut rat-a-tat editing.

However, I, for one, doubt that movies will ever supplant poetry and prose as the chosen vehicles for our highest narrative art, whether we’re reading those words in leather-bound books or on Kindles.

Ah, but the storyteller – where is he to go to tell his tales? In neighborhood bars with those massive screens that draw your head away like a hypnotist? On the screened porches of the Ion neighborhood? From the pulpits of Baptist churches in dying., congregation-starved towns like Branchville or Eloree?

Despite its endangerment, I suspect that the oral tradition will never really die completely out, even in suburbia, because people naturally love to hear a good, well told story. I can attest to this: PowerPoints for all their snazzy transitions and striking images are for students the bane of contemporary education. Fire one up and hear the groans.

Last year, when I was teaching Tennyson’s “Marianna,” I gathered my tenth graders around our table and told them that today we were going to have story time. I told them the story of Measure for Measure, with all of its hilarious shenanigans – disguised dukes, horny puritans, self-righteous sisters, and trickster sex, and a few days later, I heard these iPhone addicted 15-year-olds say, “When are we going to have story time again?”

So who knows?

Two Fools in Love

wes-chaplin

Although 25 and engaged to be married, I didn’t own an automobile until my future father-in-law, Ralph Birdsong, suggested his daughter Judy lend me the money, which he no doubt hoped would facilitate my gaining some sort of gainful employment before the nuptials.

In Columbia, SC, where I had recently dropped out of grad school and earned a whopping $1.15 an hour as a dishwasher at Capstone Cafeteria, I had applied for some jobs, had even gotten an interview, but without enough money for cab fare, I had ridden a borrowed bicycle to the interview in a three-piece suit that was so sweat-soaked by the time of my arrival, I turned right around and pedaled home, a pathetic, clueless, Chaplinsque figure wobbling along the shoulder of Two-Notch Road inhaling diesel exhaust as sixteen-wheelers rushed past in 98-degree heat.

My first meeting with Ralph Birdsong had occurred some months before when Judy invited me to her home in Atlanta during one of our breaks. Because I didn’t want to arrive in a Greyhound bus, I concocted a romantic, grandiose scheme where I would hitchhike from Summerville to Spartanburg and take the train from there to Atlanta after spending the night with my former housemate Mike Rice, better known as James Paul Rice, now that he’s just published a novel under that name. No passenger trains ran from Charleston to Atlanta so I would be hooking up with Southern Railway’s City of New Orleans in Spartanburg.

Anyway, I could crash with Mike, and the timing was propitious, because he had been invited to the pre-opening of a swanky bar. He told me to bring a suit, so I borrowed one from my father and also his matching a half-size-too-small cowboy books. Mike agreed to take me to the train station at the ungodly post party hour of 5 a.m. Hitchhiking with a suitcase, I scored a ride to Columbia and then another to Spartanburg without having to stand illegally on the shoulder of I-26. Once I landed in Spartanburg, I called Mike from a payphone to pick me up.

The pre-opening of the swanky bar was a blast – free booze – the beautiful people of Sparkle City in attendance – and I-and-I looking swank in my black suit and whipped back hair – looking swank, that is, until I noticed a yellow strip of fresh yellow paint running down the right side of my suit. I had leaned against a wall that had been recently touched-up.

So I didn’t arrive at the domed train station in Atlanta sporting a black suit, but Judy was there waiting, and her parents were very nice to me despite my ragtag appearance and the rather obvious chip on my shoulder. I don’t remember much more about the trip except that we went to a park and right before we left, I got to meet Judy’s sister Becky who was pregnant not long after having lost her first child, fifteen months old. I remember Becky saying that she thought the baby she was carrying might end up being an acrobat given how her nerves had been creating spasms during those difficult days. Now that child – a builder, not an acrobat — is pushing 40, has two daughters of his own, and is the epitome of laidback.

Of course, Judy gave me a ride home to Columbia, and it would be three months before we decided to get married, both jobless, but headed to Charleston to begin a life.

from left to right, I-and-I, Judy Birdsong, Ralph Birdsong, Dot Birdsong, and Jake Williams

from left to right, I-and-I, Judy Birdsong, Ralph Birdsong, Dot Birdsong, and Jake Williams

 

By the way, I bought a very used MG-BT for $1700 with the money Judy lent me, a choice that could not have pleased Ralph, and come to think of it, I’ve never paid her back. Maybe I’ll surprise her with a check at our 39th anniversary.

1977-mgbgt

What truly amazes me now is the generosity and tolerance of Judy’s parents who embraced me for what I was and throughout the rest of their lives never uttered a negative word to me, except for that one time when Judy’s mother Dot told me it wasn’t a good idea having my toddlers fetch beer from the refrigerator for me.

A Year Most of Us Would Like to Forget

Gebhard Fuge: An den Wassern Babylons

Gebhard Fuge: An den Wassern Babylons

A couple of posts ago, I stated that I wasn’t going to do my annual review because I lacked the courage; however, I’ve changed my mind hoping that the exercise might provide some catharsis, serve as a purgative to wash away pity and terror, as I rent my sackcloth and tear out my few remaining  strands of hair.

January

Prophetically setting the tone for horror over the horizon, my very first post this year was a New Year’s Day comparison of Hank Williams and Townes Van Zandt, two doomed cool rocking daddies who both died on New Year’s Day 44 years apart.  Click Here.

hank and townes

Of course, David Bowie would die later that month while those undelightful Bundry Boys, who later would be acquitted, occupied federal property in Montana.  Instead of going there, I’ve linked the cautionary tale of my first acquaintance with alcohol.  Read it and weep. Click Here.

Folly Beach Tales of Intoxication

February

In February my Aunt Virginia died, which led to musing on mortality as my siblings and I scattered her remains to the Folly River.  Click Here.

ashes to ashes

Here’s also a review of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, which I listened to driving to a funeral home after a stranger in a bar the previous evening showed me photographs of her husband’s severed finger stumps, which he had acquired a couple of hours earlier. Click here.

March

patPat Conroy, the father of a close friend, died.  She and her sister stayed with us during his hospitalization. Click here.

In addition, March brought us the news of the return of Judy Birdsong’s T-Cell Lymphoma, which, of course, was profoundly disheartening.

This post was created on Good Friday right after finding out the news.  Click here.

April

Teaching Keats while in despair proved quite difficult but do-able.  Click here.

And, of course, Prince, whom I dubbed “the Lord Byron of Pop, died.  Click here.

screen-shot-2015-12-08-at-7-58-05-am

 

May

Yet another death, this time a student’s.  Click here.

And I review Don DeLillo’s just released not-exactly-upbeat novel, Zero K.

 

Edward Hopper: "Morning Sun"

Edward Hopper: “Morning Sun”

June

dylan-ali-2-300x201June brought us a mass shooting in an Orlando Nightclub.  Click here.

Ali, a sort of boyhood hero died, which took me back to the early 60’s when my father tried to teach me how to box.  Click here.

So I decided to cheer myself up by reading the Brothers Karamazov.  Click here.

the author fleeing from an ant attack

the author fleeing from an ant attack

July

Trump + Putin = Love. Click here.

Also, there was that festival of bad taste known as the Republican convention. Click here.

Adelson's luxury suite

Adelson’s luxury suite

August

Okay, how about a little sunshine.  I donned my anthropological pith helmet and crashed a bachelor’s party at Chico Feo (click here) and talked a colleague into letting me publish a brilliant letter she wrote to her students (click here).

September

Snazell, Sarah; Doppelganger; Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/doppelganger-178168

Snazell, Sarah; Doppelganger; Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/doppelganger-178168

In September we travelled to Houston for treatment, and my Judy Birdsong met the other Judy Birdsong, a bright light in a year of darkness (click here).

October

Before Leonard Cohen died, I published this piece after reading David Remick’s splendid New Yorker article.  Click here.

13c6ce05571f948557d191ce5f1d7cb0

Blow Hurricane Matthew, break your checks, rage blow. Click here.

November 

Oh my God NO! Click here.

melania-libertyDecember

So here we are.  On the edge.  Waiting.  But, hey, thanks to all for reading, especially my regular crew.  Happy New Year!
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A Life of Quiet Desperation vs. a Life of Not-So-Quiet Desperation

img_0045-original

Last Sunday evening, right before sunset, after taking a little something for my nerves, I left the island to run an errand. It was a beautiful autumnal day, the sun hanging above the expanse of marsh bordering the Atlantic.

On the way home, as I took a left from Secessionville Road onto Folly, someone in a Wonder Woman costume, her cape flapping behind her, scampered across the six lanes of the highway in a foolish superheroinic[1] feat of derring-do.

She had just left a roadside bar called the Barrel, which no doubt had some pre-Halloween shenanigans going down. Encountering Wonder Woman was sort of a surreal sight, and I thought to myself I could see me doing that when I was young, running across a six-lane highway like a fool.

I then refocused on that suspended but sinking sun and decided to try not to think.

That didn’t last long, a deep breath or two. I was going against traffic, tooling past the long line of vehicles inching home from the beach. I considered the occupants in their little bubbles of being, feeling, no doubt, a little down, their weekends just about kaput.

How melancholy, I thought, that most of us squander our precious moments jumping from idea to idea, like Johnny Weissmuller swinging from vine to vine, thrashing through the years like jungle trees in a Tarzan movie. It brought to mind Thoreau’s smug observation that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” and I reckoned it was true – at least here in Late Empire America in the Age of Polarization.

It occurred to me that when I was young, I lived a life of not-so-quiet desperation. I was, to quote the James Dickey poem “Cherrylog Road,” wild to be wreckage forever. I got in trouble in high school and later college, risked my and others’ lives driving recklessly for laughs, offered loudly unsolicited provocative opinions, mocked those I considered uncool, blasted music in the wee hours. Yet, despite my Marxian mania (think Harpo, Groucho, not Karl), I was essentially unhappy, if not depressed, profoundly pessimistic, a lost soul.

Despite my hitchhiking, death rudely did not stop for me,. I survived, married a good woman, mellowed somewhat – or maybe more than somewhat – and am finding the wreckage I sought through the wear and tear of time’s decay.

So, on my way home, I was going the state-proscribed 35 miles and hour, slowing to 30 as I rolled onto Center Street, Folly’s main drag, no place for old men, the young in one another’s arms – strike that – the young staring down at their devices hooking up via Tinder.

On Hudson, I drove even slower, taking in the jumble of eclectic houses – the shacks, that two- story brick Italian-looking place with balconies, that tilted green-shingled house that juts at an angle so close to the road, those tiny twin remodeled rental cottages, the collection of cars crowding the shoulder, the last boy in the skateboard park putting off as long as he dared going home where his unpacked bookbag lay just where he had flung it Friday.

I thought of my wife upstairs in the house now coming into view. Forty tears ago this week we kissed for the first time on the night Carter defeated Ford. Perhaps she was preparing our supper, clanging cutlery, her head covered by a scarf or perhaps nakedly bald, or perhaps she was sitting on the sofa with her computer in her lap in the right now that is the only time anyone ever has.


 

[1] Okay, OED scholars, this is superheroinic’s debut in our language. Def: possessing the qualities of a superheroine, not some strong ass opiate.

 

Blow, Matthew; Crack Your Cheeks; Rage, Blow

Winslow Homer:

Winslow Homer: “Hurricane”

Between foreseeing and averting change
Lies all the mastery of elements
Which clocks and weatherglasses cannot alter.
Time in the hand is not control of time,
Nor shattered fragments of an instrument
A proof against the wind; the wind will rise,
We can only close the shutters.

                              Adrienne Rich, “Storm Warnings”

As I type this, my wife Judy Birdsong and I are awaiting Hurricane Matthew’s arrival on a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina. Ominously enough, Folly Beach is the name of this island. Folly’s main historical claim to fame is that Union soldiers occupied the island during our Civil War[1] and Gershwin wrote the music for Porgy and Bess here while staying at DuBose Heyward’s beach house. Heyward’s novel Porgy, by the way, features a hurricane, but one that sneaked upon the characters in those simpler days before Jim Cantore became a household name.  Nothing against Jim and the well-meaning folks at the Weather Channel, but enduring the high keen of their histrionic prophecies is a bit of a drag for us seasoned veterans of what Adrienne Rich calls later in the poem quoted above “troubled regions.”  Also, no doubt, well-meaning, Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina shut down the state from the capital to the coast Tuesday evening.  She actually decreed all capital city schools be closed, including the University, even though the capital, Columbia, is situated 100 miles inland, and the order came over 48 hours ago.[2]

Here’s what it looks like right now from our bedroom window (i.e. 3:05 EDT 7 Oct 2016).

Our decision to defy Governor Haley’s mandatory evacuation order worries some of our friends, and it ‘s not surprising given the Weather Channel correspondents’ brow-beating and pleading. Perhaps because I am a native here, and this will be my sixth storm, I’ve come to resent the complete and utter lack of nuance we are subjected to during tropical events.

For example, we’ve been warned that there will be “storm surges that we’ve not seen since Hurricane Hugo,” which is true, though with Matthew the surges at Charleston are estimated to be 4 – 6 feet and with Hugo the largest was measured at 21 feet.

post Matthew damage on Daytona Beach

post Matthew damage on Daytona Beach

Sullivans Island post Hugo

Sullivans Island post Hugo

Believe me, if I lived in a mobile home or a one-story house on a slab at sea level, I would be long gone. However, we don’t, are in our 60’s, and as Judy puts it, “I  have cancer anyway.” In other words, we’re having fun, an adventure.   If only Fernando and Alameda Marcos could join us and sit in these throne-like stacked chairs hauled in from the screen porch.

img_0101

We believe in science. Matthew’s pressure has risen 9 millibars in 6 hours, our house was built to exceed hurricane codes, and its bottom floor is 30+ feet above sea level.

In fact, my biggest concern is that we’re going to run out of boiled peanuts.

img_0103

[1] AKA among the unreconstructed as “the War Between the States” or, worse, “the War of Northern Aggression.” As Hamlet put it, “though I am native here/And to the manner born,” I somehow ended up a liberal and acknowledge my region’s “manifold sins and wickedness” yet still somehow love Dixie, treasure my native soil. Go figure.

[2] Governor Haley, once the darling of Sarah Pallin, perhaps, to use hurricane lingo, has jogged to the left during her two terms, though it would appear that she’s not all that big on science. My son, who teaches in Orlando, much closer to the storm’s “wrath,” had a full day of school on Wednesday and a half day yesterday.

Hurricanes I’ve Known and Loved

wave-breaking

6th Street East Folly Beach 26 August 2011 photo by Ned Moore

 

If you’re a native of the Lowcountry and eligible for AARP membership, you’ve experienced your share of hurricanes (or, as we pronounce them down here, hur-rah-kens).  Gracie is the first one I remember, which hit in September of’59, my first full month of first grade. My parents, adventurous folk, rented a small cottage in Summerville and had little to lose, so the preparations for the storm took on a rather festive air.  Gracie offered excitement – a glorious pre-storm sunset, the solemn glow of hurricane lamps, howling winds, and a week off from school spent scrambling up and down uprooted oaks, their tangle of limbs creating grotto-like openings and aerial opportunities for make-believe Johnny Weissmullers.

gracie-1959

Gracie 1959

After Gracie, whenever a hurricane churned its way northward from the Caribbean, I desperately wished it would strike so that we’d miss school and enjoy the romance of 19th century lightening and outdoor grilling.  Alas, my boyhood hopes were always dashed, though a few storms coyly teased us every so often, only to run off to North Carolina and the Outer Banks.  At any rate, I had become very interested in hurricanes and became very good at determining their ultimate destination, a talent that has served me well.

moffett-house

The Andrew Moffett House

There was one pre-Hugo glancing blow, Hurricane David, but I was grown, in fact, lawfully wedded, and living in the Andrew Moffett House on East Bay Street.  JBirdsong and I-and-I hauled our furniture, paintings and books to the upper floor to avoid a storm surge that never materialized.  Yet, I confess, I still wanted David to hit.  For some perverse reason, I craved chaos. Concerned relatives cajoled us to flee inland, but I told them I suspected that the Moffett House had seen its share of hurricanes and would hold up just fine, thank you.

By the time Hugo appeared in ’89, we were homeowners on the Isle of Palms with two springer spaniels and two sons.  Harrison was in kindergarten, and, like his ol’ man, was about to experience some hurricane vacation, though his was to be longer and a lot less fun-filled. As a matter of fact, Hugo destroyed his school, and he had to finish the year inland in Mt. Pleasant at Whitesides Elementary.

hurricanhugo

Now, wasn’t that a mighty storm?

As the storm approached, I could see we were about to get clobbered.  This hurricane wasn’t following the typical pattern of sweeping up from Florida but was funneling between upper level low and high pressure systems.  Hugo was bearing down on Charleston from the wide open ocean.

Pressure drop, oh, pressure drop!

On the Tuesday before Thursday’s landfall, I went to hear Allan Garganus read from his just published The Oldest Confederate Widow Tells All at Chapter Two Bookstore.  I bought a copy, had him sign it, drove home, and boarded up the house in the dark.

With dogs, sons, photographs, books, paintings, and insurance policies in tow, we drove to Summerville around eleven, spent the night, and were off to Columbia by six the next morning, beating the horrid traffic jams to follow.  The Garganus novel ended up being a good antidote for the ensuing destruction.  Reading about the horrors of Reconstruction put our plight in perspective.

So, I’ll spare you the saga of our homelessness –  the inability to return to the island to find out if we still had a house, the pulling up ocean-soaked carpets, etc. and instead offer these photos, all taken by JBirdsong:

Back Camera

Sullivan’s Island Bridge

Back Camera

Our street, Forest Trail

Back Camera

the boys’s tree house in our back yard

 

Back Camera

Harry and Ned posing in our front yard in front of debris

Perhaps, however, my greatest Hurricane coup was deciding to ride out Floyd here on Folly in 1999. We avoided the nightmarish gridlock of I-26 where it literally took hours to inch up a couple of car lengths.  (I’d rather huddle in a closet in fetal position all night than be stuck in non-moving Interstate traffic).

HURRICANE FLOYD EVACUATION

Hurricane Floyd traffic

Floyd was the typical Florida skirter who bumps more northerly than the prognosticators predict, and having seen this phenomenon so many times in the past and realizing that Floyd was no Hugo, we enjoyed a night of swaying on pilings in gale force winds and watching the transformers blow across James Island.  As an added benefit, the next day, no one but residents could return, and the boys and I had the 6th Street swell all to ourselves.

Hurricane Irene

Of course, I no longer wish for hurricanes, but as soon as I saw the Irene’s first trajectory, I knew that she wouldn’t be hitting Charleston.  In fact, I was sorry that school closed because I wanted to organize a happy hour expedition to Blu to watch the breakers from the front beach.  I knew the surf was going to be enormous because on Thursday evening we could see from our deck waves crashing out beyond Morris Island.

back-yard-copy

waves breaking on the horizon, zoom shot from our deck 25 August 2011

Alas, when I awakened Friday at 5:30 to walk Saisy, a phone message informed me that school was cancelled.  JBirdsong, on the other hand, drove inland to Berkeley County for a half day of work, which, given the looming daylong power outage, wasn’t that bad of a fate.

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Washout at Folly Beach 26 August 2011, photo by Ned Moore

By 7:30 a power pole had snapped and fallen across the bridge, robbing us of electricity and all of its beloved by-products – air-conditioning, lights, refrigeration, and the Internet, so Ned and I drove down to the Washout to check out the waves.  There, a professional photographer informed us that the beach was closed to traffic.  Lance Crosby, the cat who rakes reeds and builds dunes on the east beach, regaled us with his libertarian views on public drinking and pissing.  “Where are the Port-o-lets?” he asked, extending his arms in exasperation.  “People were drinking on this beach before we were born and people will be drinking on this beach after we’re gone.”

A few brave surfers made it outside and were rewarded with some steep and hairy drops but no one was, as they say, “ripping it up.”

Lance said he thought it was better at 6th, my spot of choice.  Here’s a shot by Ned of 6th Street:

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6th Street East Folly Beach 26 August 2011 photo by Ned Moore

So once Judy got home we spent a lovely day sitting on the bug free deck being buffeted by the winds, and sure enough, once the storm passed, we were treated by one of those surreal hurricane sunsets, as beautiful a phenomenon you’re likely to witness on the 3rd planet from the sun.

sherbert-sunset

photo by Ned Moore

The breathtaking beauty lasted at least a half hour with every ensuing second bringing a different shade – robin egg blue, sherbet orange, aquas, and purples.

Heaven on earth and the very best aftermath imaginable – a few shorn palm fronds, some reeds on the dock, and a sky whose beauty affirms the pricelessness of being alive to witness.

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patriarch and matriarch after the light show

It’s enough to make you type something stupid like “bring on the next one.”