Old Man Trouble Laying Awaiting

old man trouble

Old Man Trouble by David Parkins

Trouble took my money, Cadillac’s gone
Best suit of clothes, all raised up in the closet, oh lord
But I’m so glad
Trouble don’t last, always

“Trouble You Can’t Fool Me” as performed by Ry Cooder



I was born on a rare snowy December afternoon in Summerville, South Carolina, during the waning weeks of the Truman Administration. It was the very same year that J. Fred Muggs, the chimp on NBC’s Today show, was born and the year the first issue of Mad Magazine appeared. Six months later, on June 19th, 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg received 1700 volts of electricity in New York State’s Sing Sing Correctional Institute.

Hello, World; hello, Cold War.

Mama, look an H-Bomb (sung to the tune of “Shortening Bread”)

“Mama, look an H-bomb,” they all shout.

Mama say, “Watch out for the fallout.

See your daddy, he know.

Fallout make him ugly so.”

Hit the dirt, join the crowd.

“Mama, look a mushroom cloud!”[1]

Thanks, Mad Magazine.

mad castro


I remember standing in the weeds of the front yard of our two-bedroom rented house watching Sputnik travel across the night sky and recall squatting underneath a desk in the third grade during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Also, there was a sign hanging in the stairwell of Condon’s Department Store designating it as an official fallout shelter. I’ll admit the sign creeped me out whenever I saw it, but to say I grew up under the specter of nuclear annihilation would be inaccurate. The skies of my childhood were mostly sunny. I had escaped polio, my parents and pets lived long lives, though I did, come to think of it, suffer from an unrelenting series of unrequited crushes.


John F Kennedy had the top of his head blown off when I was a fifth grader. I remember my teacher Miss McCue dabbing her eyes, but no tears were shed at my house. The following year our Ford Falcon station wagon sported a “Goldwater for President” bumper sticker, and I lamented when I woke up on 5 November 1964 to learn that ol’ AuH2O had been buried in a landslide. My first year of high school, James Earl Ray picked off Martin Luther King, and the following year Sirhan Sirhan shot Bobby Kennedy at point blank range after he had won the California Primary. Of course, all the while men and boys in body bags were flying in from Southeast Asia, and African Americans were being battered with billy clubs across the South.

Geopolitically speaking, it was a lousy time to grow up. You sort of winced when you picked up the paper each morning.




Well, I don’t know, but I’ve been told
The streets in heaven are lined with gold
I ask you how things could get much worse
If the Russians happen to get up there first
Wowee! pretty scary!

Now, I’m liberal, but to a degree
I want ev’rybody to be free
But if you think that I’ll let Barry Goldwater
Move in next door and marry my daughter
You must think I’m crazy!
I wouldn’t let him do it for all the farms in Cuba.

Bob Dylan, “I Shall Be Free No. 10”


The Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties seemed less traumatic. September 11th, of course, was horrible, but you have to be extraordinarily unlucky to be killed by an international terrorist. You’re more likely to be gunned down in a theater, school, night club, church or synagogue by a red-blooded American.

Whatever the case, Apocalypse was in the air. Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy wrote about it. Across both large and small screens zombies marched and pandemics raged.

Here’s a snippet from a post from 2014:

Horror is all the rage in Late Empire America. Walking your rescue dog past young Bentley’s house, you can hear heavy gunfire and explosions emanating from his manipulations of a video console. Hmm, sounds like he’s playing Mortal Kombat Armageddon, or is it World of WelfareLet’s Kill the Bloodsuckers?

All of this got me to wondering when the West quit writing utopias a la Thomas More and started portraying the future world as a nightmare. Of course, my go-to unscholarly source is Wikipedia, and it anoints Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver Travel’s as the first dystopian “literature” – though Oedipus Rex might lay some claim to being the first, with its plague-ridden Thebes ruled by a tainted king whose sexual misdeeds make the Clinton/Lewinski dalliance seem downright wholesome in comparison. But Oedipus Rex predates empire, and I suppose you must have an empire, a nation state, or a polluted planet to qualify as a dystopian society. My colleague Aaron Lipka tells me the civilization must be a fallen one in a dystopian society.


So what we have been dreading has arrived, a crippling pandemic; we have become actors ourselves in a historical drama. Nothing in my past can compare to what’s going on right now, and, of course, economically no one really knows what’s going to happen, but with all due respect to the President, we have seen something like this before.

In fact, Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker provides a succinct history of pandemics in the 30 March issue.  Here’s a brief catalogue:

541-50 CE – the Bubonic plague known as the Justinianic plague spreads from Egypt to Britain, playing a significant role in the fall of the Roman Empire.

1400s through 1720: smallpox. “Parents would commonly wait to name their children until after they had survived smallpox.” Exported to the Americas, smallpox essentially wiped out indigenous populations.

1817 –  now – Cholera, a resurgent pandemic whose latest outbreak has killed approximately 10,000 Haitians in 2010.

20th century – influenza, polio, measles, typhus . . .

21st century – influenza, Ebola, Covid-19 [to be continued].

Forgive the cliché, but what goes around comes around. Here are Kolbert’s final three paragraphs:

Whenever disaster strikes, like right about now, it’s tempting to look to the past for guidance on what to do or, alternatively, what not to do. It has been almost fifteen hundred years since the Justinianic plague, and, what with plague, smallpox, cholera, influenza, polio, measles, malaria, and typhus, there are an epidemic number of epidemics to reflect on.

The trouble is that, for all the common patterns that emerge, there are at least as many confounding variations. During the cholera riots, people blamed not outsiders but insiders; it was doctors and government officials who were targeted. Smallpox helped the Spanish conquer the Aztec and Incan Empires, but other diseases helped defeat colonial powers. During the Haitian Revolution, for example, Napoleon tried to retake the French colony, in 1802, with some fifty thousand men. So many of his soldiers died from yellow fever that, after a year, he gave up on the attempt, and also decided to sell the Louisiana Territory to the Americans.

Even the mathematics of outbreaks varies dramatically from case to case. As Adam Kucharski, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the author of “The Rules of Contagion” (forthcoming in the U.S. from Basic Books), points out, the differences depend on such factors as the mode of transmission, the length of time an individual is contagious, and the social networks that each disease exploits. “There’s a saying in my field: ‘if you’ve seen one pandemic, you’ve seen . . . one pandemic,’ ” he writes. Among the few predictions about covid-19 that it seems safe to make at this point is that it will become the subject of many histories of its own.

The good news, however, is that at least as far as contagion goes, we non-medical personnel are the masters of our fate. We can distance ourselves, wash our hands if we go out, and train ourselves not to touch our faces.  In the catalogue of pandemics, Covid-19, to quote a physician I saw online, “is a wimpy virus,” done in by a simple soap.  Perhaps, if you allow me to wax all Panglossian, some good will come out of all of this, greater respect for science maybe, a reconfiguring of our medical insurance situation, a change of political leadership, a more equitable distribution of wealth.

Hang in there, y’all. Who knows?

Thinking of Noah, childheart, try to forget
How for so many bedlam hours his saw
Soured the song of birds with its wheezy gnaw,
And the slam of his hammer all the day beset

The people’s ears. Forget that he could bear
To see the towns like coral under the keel,
And the fields so dismal deep. Try rather to feel
How high and weary it was, on the waters where

He rocked his only world, and everyone’s.
Forgive the hero, you who would have died
Gladly with all you knew; he rode that tide
To Ararat; all men are Noah’s sons.

Richard Wilbur, “Still, Citizen Sparrow”

[1] I’ve scoured the Internet in vain seeking the issue in which this ditty appeared. However, I’m confident the lyrics are accurate because it’s one of the myriad of selections recorded in the juke box of my brain.


Buster Keaton Meets Kafka


Me in 1973 (or at least my head in 1973)

Back, in ’73, it still got cold in early October.

In August of that year, I had on a whim enrolled in a tennis course mistakenly thinking it would count as an elective. Given my busy schedule of sometimes going to class, washing dishes at Capstone Cafeteria, and making the rounds of various pubs each evening, I had put off to the afternoon of the last day to drop a course without penalty to go through the rigamarole necessary to avoid further tarnishing my transcript.   To successfully do so, I needed to accumulate certain signatures.

After visiting the registrar’s office and securing the drop form, I trekked over to the far distant PE department and copped the john henry of the so-called instructor, the most difficult task in what seemed to me at the time as a Herculean quest – I had never been to class; I didn’t know his or her name.

After a bit of a runaround, somebody signed the form, so now all I had to do is to get my advisor to sign on the dotted line – something she no doubt would be delighted to do – but this rather severe woman gave me the heebie-jeebies. I sensed she held me in contempt -maybe because I was red-headed? or betrayed a contemptuous smirk when I dealt with her? or perhaps because I reeked of cannabis?  – I had no idea why she disapproved of me, but I imagined her animus was as palatable as dandruff-sprinkled wool.

Of course, she signed it – probably not even really knowing exactly who I was.

With the two signatures secured, I rode the elevator down to the lobby of the Humanities Building with a half-hour to spare before the Registrar’s Office closed.  As the elevator door opened and as I stepped out, the form somehow fluttered from my hand – and I swear I’m not making this up – it disappeared cartwheeling through the gap between elevator and lobby into the dark underworld of that hideous structure.

I could have tried a thousand times to flip the form through that gap and probably not been successful even once.  I stood there astonished, frozen, unbelieving.

elevator gap

I literally ran back to the registrar’s office, grabbed another form.  With the clock reading ten till five, my only recourse was to forge signatures, and in the case of my tennis instructor, to make up a name because I had already forgotten it.*

*Although I doubted it at the time, this strategy of forging and making up names worked.  In a pre-digital university with 20,000 students, what functionary is going to check to see if the the signatures are legit?

I shared that year an apartment with a bassist named Stan Gibbons who worked at the Record Bar at Richland Mall and who possessed a record collection extraordinare.  It was an upstairs apartment in a ramshackle house built in the Twenties on Henderson Street, a house long ago purchased by USC and transformed into a parking lot.

After the traumatic experience of having some malevolent spirit snatch the form from my hand and deposit it sideways through the one inch slot of the elevator shaft, I trudged up the steep hill to my house and up the steep stairs to the shithole I called home (my bed was in the kitchen) to watch the NL playoff game between the Mets and Reds on Stan’s black and white portable TV.

As the sun set and a cold front passed through, it started getting very chilly in the apartment. Need I mention that the apartment was unairconditioned and every window frozen into an open position? I managed to ram two windows down, but a third, one of two facing the front of the house, wouldn’t budge.  However, summoning every ounce of my 140 or so pounds, in a Samsonlike shouting concentration of force, I slammed the window down with such violence that the glass shattered.

What else, I inwardly whined, could go wrong today?  Now ice cold wind was streaming through the broken glass. I had no recourse but to light the heater, a gas fueled relic from the 1950’s.  This action required igniting a pilot light, something, again, I had never attempted, yet after maybe twenty or so attempts, whoosh, success.  I turned up the heat to a nice toasty temperature.

So I leaned back in a threadbare chair to watch the game.  In a minute or two, however, I smelled something burning, and turned around to see flames leaping from the stove upon which Stan’s record collection rested.  How could I have not noticed them sitting there in their cardboard boxes?  After all, I played them all the time.

I snatched the records off the stove, sickened by the stench of melted vinyl.  Every single LP was severely warped, unplayable.  Desperate ideas darkened my mind.  Hitchhiking to Nome, Alaska, never to return.  Telling Stan an outrageous lie: “Hey, Stan, someone must really hate you.  They broke in to the apartment through that window and set your records on fire.”

But I did neither.  When I heard his dreaded tread upon the stairs, I confronted him there and told him I had accidentally ruined his record collection.

He smiled broadly.  “Ha ha! you’re kidding,” he said.


Dan Scott:  Increasing Confusion

It didn’t take long for the truth to register with the smell and my unchanging woebegone expression. He said he might have to move out but stuck with me until the end of our lease; then on amiable terms we went our separate ways.





[Cue ‘Tara’s Theme’ from “Gone with the Wind”] or an Old Descendent of a Confederate Soldier Tells Not Much

luther's gravestone

Son of Wesley Moore, CSA, my great-grandfather’s tombstone

“Beware of using up your last forty years in being the curator of your first fifty.”
― Allan Gurganus, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All

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.”


Bishopville, SC

Swapping Stories, Southern-Style


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?


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:


And a close up of a correction.


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.

manigault house

wesley porch typing

wesley limehouse typing 1

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


1977-mgbgt 2

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.


“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.