Swapping Stories, Southern-Style

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I actually witnessed this implosion in November of 1971.  Stayed up all night to see it right before dawn with my personal bodyguard Haboo Garbowski, a bear of a mannishboy.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of hanging out with old college friends who attended the University of South Carolina with me in the early to mid-70s, and, of course, we told stories because that’s what old Southern boomers do.[1]  We relive the past because, as the song says, “old times [here] are not forgotten.”[2]

The majority of these tales are comedic, thematically connected. For example, the time when ol’ so-and-so was wandering around someone’s house in the wee hours drunk as a skunk wearing only an oxford dress shirt as he stumbled around munching on a chicken drumstick, and another, even more embarrassing incident, when an extremely inebriated newlywed became disoriented and crawled naked in bed with his mother-in-law. Here, the written word is no substitute for the oral transmission, the whoops and hollers, the rhythm of the vernacular.

That story led to one about a young woman who house sat for B and D.  This woman, a free spirit, slept in the nude. One morning, she stepped out onto the deck in her naked majesty and closed the sliding doors.  CLICK.  She tried to reopen the door, but it wouldn’t budge. All the other doors were locked as well.

Fortunately, she had her phone in her hand, which she had picked up out of habit, a rather absurd situation, to be outside naked except for a cell phone, which brings to mind this lovely ditty from Robert Graves.[3]

For me, the naked and the nude
(By lexicographers construed
As synonyms that should express
The same deficiency of dress
Or shelter) stand as wide apart
As love from lies, or truth from art.

Lovers without reproach will gaze
On bodies naked and ablaze;
The Hippocratic eye will see
In nakedness, anatomy;
And naked shines the Goddess when
She mounts her lion among men.

The nude are bold, the nude are sly
To hold each treasonable eye.
While draping by a showman’s trick
Their dishabille in rhetoric,
They grin a mock-religious grin
Of scorn at those of naked skin.

The naked, therefore, who compete
Against the nude may know defeat;
Yet when they both together tread
The briary pastures of the dead,
By Gorgons with long whips pursued,
How naked go the sometimes nude!

Well, by Graves’ definition, she was naked, not nude, as naked as a jaybird, as my grandmother would say, who herself has relocated to “the briary pastures of the dead,” but that’s another story.

Obviously distressed, the young woman called one of the owners, D, and asked her if she should ask people in the neighboring house for help, but D said, “We live at the end of a dirt road.  We don’t have neighbors. I’ve hardly ever talked to those people.”

The good news, though — and how lucky is this – the house was equipped with a trap door.  All she had to do was fetch the ladder, find the trap door, push it open, and enter from below, which, bless her heart, she did successfully.

This narrative led to other getting locked out of the house stories, like poor ol’ Sherman T who was told he could crash at that very house, but found it locked. His door knocking coming to naught, he decided to crash on a lounge chair next to the pool.

“So I wrapped myself in towels,” he said.  “They were dog towels. I spent the night wrapped up in dog towels under the moon.”

Of course, I have a couple of getting out of the house stories (here’s one), but the one I was going to tell involved in-laws, a rental house in St. Simons, and the Swimming Pool Q’s.

“The Swimming Pool Q’s,” D and B shouted.  “They’re good friends of ours!”

So instead of hearing my lame story we talked about the Pool Q’s, which had nothing to do with my favorite story of the evening , the Great Mount Pleasant Mushroom Disaster, but I’ll have to tell you that one in private the next time I see you.

I’ll leave you with this peek of the Pool Q’s until the folks at YouTube remove it because of copyright concerns.


[1] Pardon the redundancy.

[2] Despite the copious amounts of intoxicants involved in many of these stories.

[3] Graves doesn’t distinguish “nekkid,” unlike Lewis Grizzard, who famously  explained, “There’s a big difference between the words, ‘naked’ and ‘nekkid.’ ‘Naked’ means you don’t have any clothes on. ‘Nekkid’ means you don’t have any clothes on … and you’re up to something.”

 

What’s Become of All the Dear, Dead Typewriters?

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I miss the sound of the clicking-clacking typewriter keys.

My very first typewriter was an Underwood that I bought for next to nothing, a slow-motion engine whose keys would sometimes stick, freezing in midair before they could imprint a letter on the scrolled paper.  The keys were small and round and perched aloft by long metal attachments. When you hit them, they sort of catapulted through the ribbon onto the paper. At the end of a line, you had to yank a metal flange so the carriage would return to the left margin, producing a clear audible “ding.” As it turned out, the ribbon couldn’t be replaced unless I could locate a time machine, so the Underwood and I had a short-lived romance, little more than a fling.

Nevertheless, with it I composed a few very bad poems, love poems or satiric poems in tiny typeset.  Only a couple of the satiric ones survive, written in a self-invented fifteen-line rhyming stanza form I called the bonnet, in honor of my favorite bartender, Hartley Bonnet, who worked at Oliver’s Pub on Devine Street in Columbia. It was a private club, so you could drink on Sundays.  Jimmy Buffett was a member. He was dating a girl from Columbia, whom I heard he eventually married.

I think my daddy provided me with my first electric typewriter, a throw off from his business, and after banging on the Underwood, I had a hell of a time adjusting to the gentle touch that the sensitive electric model demanded.  At first, the keys would stutter when I banged them, a staccato hiccup that meant starting over, or positioning correction tape to efface my mistake, or if I had splurged and bought erasable bound paper, scrolling up, erasing the errata, repositioning the paper, and retyping. If I were writing a research paper, sometimes when I was typing a footnote, the paper would shoot out because I’d misjudged, typed past the bottom of the  page, the last couple of strokes hitting the black cylinder where the paper should be.

Here’s what a typed page looked like:

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And a close up of a correction.

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I was typing  the words to that soon-to-be abandoned novel when I lived in the Manigault House on East Bay Street, which was divided into three apartments, one upstairs and one downstairs in the main house.  The third apartment,  ours, was two stories on the back end and sported an upstairs porch overlooking the projects.

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wesley porch typing

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One day, my neighbor, whose name I didn’t know, asked me if I were a writer.  “Well, sort of,”  I said, pleased to think I may have possessed an author’s aura.  “I’m working on a novel.”

He told me he could hear my typing through the walls.

When I landed a state government contract to crank out descriptions of various jobs you could get with an associate degree from the local community college, I went ahead and bought a Tandy computer and printer.  This was early, in the days before hard drives, and this contraption sported ten-inch twin disc drives.  The salesman assured me that ten-inch disc drives would be the wave of the future.  One drive accommodated a ten-inch floppy disc that contained the word processing program, the other a blank disc for your writing. The printer was sort of like a typewriter and produced clicking sounds.

When I first started teaching at Porter-Gaud, I would type out my carbon-backed report cards and feed them individually into the printer, making me way on the cutting edge of technology.

Of course, I wouldn’t go back to those lesser technologies. In fact, I could if I wanted to; an electric typewriter is languishing in my attic. On the other hand, I think something is lost by not having to retype manuscripts after editing a page by hand, which encourages polishing, and you can make editing changes too rapidly without having time to digest the alterations.  Of course, a meticulous, patient person can still edit the old way, but as this typo-plagued blog attests, I’m not that person.

Time’s winged chariot and all that jazz.

Speaking of jazz, here’s a video of the poet Eddie Cabbage accompanying some cool cats up on the porch in the upstairs Chico Feo Airbnb.

 

 

 

Lindsey Graham and Me

 

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Lindsey and Me in the late 70s

Although I enjoyed my teaching career at Porter-Gaud, the happiest job I ever had was tending bar at the Golden Spur, an alcohol dispensary located in the student union building at the University of South Carolina in those glorious days when 18-year-olds could legally imbibe beer and wine. It was there that I met the mother of my children, the late Judy Birdsong, and there where I became known as “the Reverend” after an impromptu Dionysian sermon delivered in Afro-jazz riffs a la Dr. John to my pals Furman Langley and Steve Rhea.[1]

I always looked forward to going to work and never, as they say, took work home with me.

What brings this to mind is that I’ve been contemplating the psychological underpinnings of my fellow South Carolinian Lindsey Graham, wondering about his formative years, contemplating what mental dynamics allow him to flip flop so shamelessly, sometimes in the matter of days, from one position to its opposite. In this respect, his switch from revering McCain to pimping for Trump is instructive.

Anyway, as it turns out, the story of Lindsey Graham’s youth is somewhat sad, especially his late youth. He was born a Baptist in the small Pickens County hamlet of Central, South Carolina. Despite that religious affiliation, Lindsey’s parents ran what Wikipedia describes as “a restaurant-bar-pool hall-liquor store, the ‘Sanitary Café’.”  So at an early age, Lindsey must have grown accustomed to dealing with paradoxes, alcohol considered by strict adherents as evil manifest, the antithesis of what they considered sanitary.

Prohibition 1

He was the first person in his family to attend college and joined ROTC, but here’s where his life takes a dolorous turn.  His mother died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 52, and, bam, 15 months later, a heart attack dispatched his father, leaving orphaned Lindsey with the responsibility of being the legal guardian of his 13-year-old sister.

He studied – get this — psychology at the University of South Carolina, pledged Phi Kappa Phi, and graduated in 1977, the same year I dropped out of graduate school.  Therefore, Lindsey and I were both at USC from 1973-1977, which means, in all likelihood, I served him beer either at the Spur or at Bell Camp where I also bartended for fraternity parties.  Although extremely unlikely, he literally could have been in the Spur the very night I delivered my Dionysian sermon. Back then,  I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t have given him the time of day – or in this case night.

Obviously, I’m not a fan of Senator Graham’s.  I would love to see him defeated, Trump driven from office, etc.  However, I have to admit that delving into his past has resulted in a bit of sympathy on my part.  He faced adversity at a young age and succeeded mightily as resumes go.  On the other hand, it must be horrible to be so conflicted, to have your better angels drowned out by the braying of a sociopathic vulgarian.

That said, the harm that he has imposed is real, extremely perilous as far as the American Experiment goes, and for that he can’t be forgiven.


[1] I commenced in Dr John’s voice to sermonificating on the glorification of the party impulse present in all of us – Baptist and Bohemian alike – and why that party bud must be allowed to bloom into boogie, cause if it ain’t, your existiment bound to be as flat and tasteless as BiLo brand Tonic Water what ain’t had the cap screwed on tight.

Or worser, that block-up party impulse knocked back down, squeezed back down in the reptilian recesses of your brain gonna mutate into some awful sexual dysfunctification like dwarfophilia or bovineophlia or hollywoodstar-obessification or some such other mental donemessedupness.

 

The Joys of Deafness

When I was five or so, we lived across the street from a playground and tennis courts on Laurel Street in Summerville.  When no one was playing tennis, we would ride our bikes on the court and hear, quite clearly, a television blaring from across the street. The first time I noticed it, I asked my Aunt Virginia, only six years older, what was causing all that racket.[1]  She informed me that Mr. Whatshisname was watching The Edge of Night.

“Why does he have his tv on so loud?” I asked.

“Because he’s deaf, you nitwit.”

“Wow.  He must be really deaf.”

“No shit, Sherlock.”[2]

Flash forward sixty years.

Me (passing a student on a school stairway): How’s it going Lucas?

Lucas: Terrible!

Me: Great.

Or worse.

Me: sitting across from someone in a bar leaning across the table, trying to hear.

My companion: We just found out last week that Mom has inoperable brain cancer.

Me: smiling, nodding, saying nothing.

Of course, given my, as Dr. John might say, my lassitudinoushood, until today I had not done anything about my condition.[3] Although I sensed others’ irritation with my saying sorry and leaning over with a cupped ear, it was tolerable to me to spend the rest of my life following in the footsteps of the old drinker in Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”

“You should have killed yourself last week,” [the Young Waiter] said to the deaf man. The old man motioned with his finger. “A little more,” he said. The waiter poured on into the glass so that the brandy slopped over and ran down the stem into the top saucer of the pile.”Thank you,” the old man said. The waiter took the bottle back inside the cafe. He sat down at the table with his colleague again.

[snip]

“Another brandy,” he said, pointing to his glass. The waiter who was in a hurry came over.

“Finished,” he said, speaking with that omission of syntax stupid people employ when talking to drunken people or foreigners. “No more tonight. Close now.”

“Another,” said the old man.

“No. Finished.” The waiter wiped the edge of the table with a towel and shook his head.

The old man stood up, slowly counted the saucers, took a leather coin purse from his pocket and paid for the drinks, leaving half a peseta tip. The waiter watched him go down the street, a very old man walking unsteadily but with dignity.

So anyway, I drove to North Charleston where I had my ears examined, and a goodly quantity of wax vacuumed from my right ear, which Caroline had correctly identified as my worse ear. I then took a hearing test in which I scored a 100% on spoken words but not so hot on frequencies, especially upper level frequencies.  The physician concluded that “I had a fair amount of hearing loss” and “would probably benefit from hearing aids” but seemed sort of “meh” about it.

So, I’m going to – forgive me – play it by ear.  If I can hear the cat loudly mewing outside my bedroom door while I nap, I’ll know I’m good.  If I hear her just audibly whispering a mew, I’ll go ahead and get hearing aids – but not until by Medicare B kicks in.

Why do today what you can put off till September?


[1]Even in those days, your beloved blogger had a way with words, despite having a speech impediment that prevented him from pronouncing the letters S and L.  According to my mother, on Sunday evenings when our television beamed Timmy calling his beloved collie to come, I would scream along with him.  “ASSIE! ASSIE!” 

[2]Virginia was quite a character.  For example, click here.

 

[3]My wife Caroline took the bull by the horns Quasimodo by the ear and made an appointment.


 

A Mother Day’s Message

Lisbon, Portugal

I’ve never been one to celebrate what I call Hallmark Card holidays, i.e., money producing scams concocted by our Capitalist non-tax-paying overlords to cash in on sentimentality.

“Shit, I forgot it was tomorrow’s First Ex-spouse Day!  I better overnight Brandi a comical tee shirt.”

Once my late wife Judy Birdsong became a mother and the boys were old enough, a mock tradition arose in which we designated Mother’s as a day when Judy would work extra hard to make us happy.

Mother’s Day would begin with undesired sex, followed by her producing a delectable brunch of eggs benedict, cheese grits, buttered toast.

Don’t get me wrong, it was tongue-in-cheek; I cleaned up the kitchen mess, washed, and put up dishes. However, at some point we quit exchanging gifts for Mother’s and Father’s Day.  Late in both my mother’s and Judy’s life, we took MeMaw to a jazz alfresco Mother’s Day brunch underneath majestic live oaks in a little place in Summerville.  So we did end up celebrating in a way.

On Mother Day’s Eve two years ago, Judy announced it’s time “to get this show [of dying] on the road,” and, sure enough, at four something o’clock the next day she was gone.

I am very grateful for a few things: she walked to her death bed was never incontinent and gave up the ghost peacefully with her eyes closed.  She was absolutely unafraid to die, which helped the boys and me enormously.

Judy was a stellar mother: loving, non-nagging, even-tempered, sanely un-overprotective, considerate.  Her dying on Mother’s Day has managed to make the day a hallmark in the lives of Harrison, Ned, and me.

Now Mother’s Day is our day to celebrate her life.  It’s real now.

It’s All about Me, Me, Me!

Vain the ambition of kings
Who seek by trophies and dead things
To leave a living name behind,
And weave but nets to catch the wind.

John Webster

“Vanitas Vanitatum”

School’s been cancelled. After all, a hurricane has made landfall half-a-continent away in the Central Time Zone and tomorrow may pass a hundred miles north of us.

Picture an angry old man cycling his fists like John L Sullivan itching for a fight.  [Not me, cycling my fists, the personified hurricane].

So here I am literally the only customer at Chico Feo, sitting on a rain-soaked stool distraught as I contemplate what TS Eliot called “the immense panorama of futility and anarchy that is contemporary history.”[1]

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Note the handy Founders All Day IPA and legal pad and pen

It’s little recompense that on Chico’s sound system the so-limited but oh-so-cool baritone of Lou Reed is celebrating “a magic moment as sweet as wine.”  And now it is — was —  David Byrne with sugar right there on his tongue –  and now Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman.”

My one-time housemate James Paul (aka Mike) Rice used to listen to Donovan back in ’74.  Mike was a romantic (still is, I suspect, if he’s alive).  Donovan’s Greatest Hits is a treasure trove of hyper-romanticism.  For example, indulge me and check this out:

I hadn’t heard from Mike until about four years ago. In fact, it was the day Judy and I first met with her oncologist to confirm that indeed she had cancer, probably a lymphoma; he hoped it was a lymphoma.  Awkwardly, I cut Mike off and said we had a doctor’s appointment.

Anyway, Mike had called to tell me that the University of South Carolina Press was considering publishing the manuscript that he had mailed me months ago, the one, he said, “that I was probably too busy to read.”

Oops. I still had the manuscript so starting ripping through its lush prose.  It was about the antebellum world of Denmark Vesey and a made-up slave woman named Lucinda.

The plot propelled me right along, but occasionally a technical problem would intrude, a slight violation of point-of-view or the omniscient narrator’s voice lapsing too poetic, reminding the reader that this was historical fiction, not real life.

USC rejected the novel, so he revised it, and the very next publisher he sent it to, Knox Robinson, accepted it.

Mike Rice novel

 

He ended up dedicating the novel to I-and-I:

“To Wesley Lee Edward Moore III, a real Charlestonian.”

The only problem is I’m not from Charleston.  It should have read to WLEM3, a real Summervillian.

Unfortunately, I’m no longer the “onliest” (as we sometimes say in Summerville) customer at Chico’s. An old genial man named Alex and some know it all 30-something are droning on about biking on James Island, swapping various adventures.

Swat!  A mosquito. Bartender Jen has fronted me some repellent, which I slapstickishly spray onto my sunglasses.  This, the same day that I ‘ve ruined a relatively new shirt by placing an uncapped blue pen in its breast pocket . . .

[Cut to footage of Category 4 Hurricane Michael ripping apart people’s houses . . .]

Anyway, poor Mike has serious kidney issues and spends an inordinate amount of his time on dialysis and will no doubt end his life in the dark shadows of the First or Second Trump Administration.

Talking about “futility” and “anarchy.” Somehow the warranty has run out on the Founding Father’s clever contraption, and a narcissistic[2]wanna-be mobster who looks like a clown and runs the country like a second rate criminal enterprise is in some stadium inciting furious white people to chant “lock her up” while he blusters about how unfair it was that Brett Kavanaugh didn’t receive proper due process.

Here’s Kavanaugh, who prides himself on hiring females, pushing his wife out of the way at his signing ceremony.

Whoa, Donovan has reappeared.  “Hurdy Gurdy Man.”

A couple of weeks ago Mike left a whispering message on my landline.  I’ve called him back a dozen times but no answer,

And so it goes.

Nevertheless, thanks, maybe, to the panhandling flattening fury of Michael, a pleasant breeze has kicked up at Chico, which should blow away the mosquitos.  The thirty-something has moved away from me to sit next to Alex, so I can barely hear him.

“As a small boy, he told me, Dylan . . .”

Hey, Mike, Do not go gently into that good night.


[1]Un-fun facts to know and share: 4 of the last 5 Supreme Court justices have been appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote.

[2]Who’s calling whom a narcissist?

Honeymoon Adventures, TMI Edition

As my dedicated blog and Facebook followers may know (we’re talking of literally tens-of-people), I got married last Saturday to Caroline Brooks Tigner Traugott, a woman known for her beauty, intelligence, learning, and Hellen-Keller-grade blindness (hence the possibility of our union).

Anyway, Caroline booked a couple of days at the Grove Park Inn Monday and Tuesday for our honeymoon.[1]  Sunday night, thanks to the generosity of Hank Weed, the owner of Chico Feo, Caroline and I stayed in the upstairs apartment, which boasts perhaps the best porch on Folly Beach, especially if, as former resident Charlie Neeley has noted, you’re into 4 am people watching.  A couple of weeks earlier, I had traded Ashville musician Luke-Dogg a copy of one of my masterpieces, “Greetings from the Edge of America, Swim at Your Own Risk” for tickets to his show in Ashville.

View from the porch at Chico Feo

So after a lovely Sunday evening of porch sitting and chatting with younger son Ned, we awakened to sunny skies and took off in Caroline’s Prius for the Grove Park Inn.

Caroline had booked rooms on the club level, and upon our arrival, the desk clerk congratulated us for being upgraded to the Penthouse Suite, where Mrs. Grove herself used to spend her summers.  Not surprisingly it’s a huge corner suite of beautifully furnished rooms that feature panoramic views of mountains, sunsets, and Ashville’s skyline.

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Soon after we unpacked, a lovely young woman brought in chocolate strawberries, a bottle of champagne, and a celebratory note addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Traugott.”

So here’s what you get on the club level: breakfast, drinks, and dinner on the hall, access to the spa, and in-room performances by none other than the retro 70s Chippendales revue.

Frankly, I wasn’t too keen on going to the spa.  When I think of spas, I think ancient Rome, frighteningly obese and  hirsute Chris Christie types wrapped in towels and sweating like professional wrestlers.  So I quickly wove my way through the men’s section to join Caroline in the co-ed pool area, which featured hot tubs with waterfalls and a cooling pool, and most importantly, a bar.

Ta da!  I thoroughly enjoyed it![2]

The views from the suite were so spectacular we hesitated to leave, but we had friends to see.  First, on Tuesday night, Anna Williams, daughter of best friend Jake, and on Wednesday after checkout the mighty Cat Forester who gifted us two of her beautiful prints.  We met her at Nine Mile, a killer Jamaican restaurant I highly recommend.

Anna, I-and-I, and Caroline

Crammed into the front seat of Cat’s car

We killed time in an underground Brewery before meeting Luke-Dogg at 4 at the farmhouse, and as we sat there sipping on craft beers, the lights went out thanks to a lightning strike on a power station that wiped out all the traffic lights in Ashville. Once it was time to go, Caroline, undaunted, hopped behind the wheel of the Prius and negotiated the traffic-clogged thoroughfares and got us to the farmhouse in time.

Luke-Dogg met us there, introduced us to his housemate Leslie, and later transported us to the gig in his VW bus.  He’s associated with at least two bands, “What It Is” and “Pleasure Chest,” who play at Chico Feo now and then.  Interestingly, for “What It Is” he plays guitar but the drums for “Pleasure Chest.”

Move over, Stevie Wonder.

The venue, whose name I forgot was killer, and so was the music.

Here’s a snippet from Pleasure Chest from last night at Chico Feo.  The cat on trumpet, Justin Stanton, also plays for the three-time Grammy winner instrumental jam fusion band Snarky Puppy.

And here’s a clip of Snarky Puppy:

From left to right, Luke-Dogg, Wesley, Caroline, Leslie, and Justin

Alas, like all good things, our honeymoon came to an end, which means, not alas, the beginning of a new life of love.


[1]Because we had more overnight guests than bedrooms, I spent Saturday night on the sofa while Caroline slept with her daughter Brooks.

[2]No cells or cameras allowed.