Summerville’s Tastee-Freez: Be There or Be Square

Tastee-Freez back in the day

I suspect that most small North American towns in the latter half of the previous century featured a commercial spot where teenagers gathered to be seen, to strut, to make asses of themselves, a spot like Mel’s Drive-In in American Graffiti

At these gathering places cars and trucks crammed with hormonally imbalanced funseekers cruised the parking lots looking for love, or in the case of my hometown, Summerville, South Carolina, if you couldn’t “be with the one you loved,” you could start a fist fight “with the one you were with.” 

In Summerville, Tastee Freez was the place.  There we gathered after football games or dances to keep the night alive. At Tastee Freez, I ordered my first cup of black coffee as an antidote for the two beers I had forced down like castor oil in those early days of intoxication. At Tastee Freez, I witnessed an acquaintance break his hand punching a brick wall after receiving his draft notice. At Tastee Freez, I received an apology from Bobby Bosheen[1] for punching me at the Curve-Inn Pool the previous weekend. 

“Sorry Bubba,” he said, “beer and liquor just don’t mix.”

With its circular driveway that allowed vehicles to “round, round, get around,” Tastee Freez was the place to check out the scene and to be seen. The bigger and louder the engine the better – 440 magnum bush cam, 4-on-the-floor, Hedman Headers, dual exhaust, and all that jargony jazz. 

Before the OPEC embargo, gas cost as little as 35 cents a gallon, about the same as a can of PBR, the brew of choice in Flowertown circa 1969. Commercial radio stations were more likely to play oldies like “Stand by Me” than Hendrix, though “Crosstown Traffic” would have been somewhat apropos – though, come to think of it, much more so now. 

On a Friday or Saturday night, my parents might let me borrow our 1964 Ford Falcon station wagon, a white four-cylinder bland-mo-bile with 3-on-the-steering-column. After my friend Gordon Wilson plowed into a runaway mule from Middleton Gardens and totaled the Falcon, my father in an act of spontaneous irrationality replaced it with a Triumph Spitfire two-seater, a convertible, which jacked-up my cool quotient a couple of notches as I orbited the Freez with the top down.

Little did we know that Summerville would soon explode, not from napalm or an ICBM, but from a population influx. As Springsteen put it, “there’s just different people coming down here now, and they see things in different ways.” Even though “everything we’ve known [wasn’t] [completely] swept away,” crosstown traffic does makes it hard “to get to the other side of town.”

Inching along the Berlin G Meyers Parkway ain’t exactly my cup of tea. Folly Beach, where I now live, is supposed to be overrun with people, but Summerville isn’t.  But, hey, c’est la vie; you can’t blame folks for wanting to live in a beautiful place.

what an exquisite photograph by Anthony Proveaux

[1] A nom de guerre 

The Latest News from South Carolina Features Firing Squads

I guess it’s way past time to retire the cliché “hot off the presses,” and, as a matter of fact, the term BREAKING has supplanted HOTP as an indicator of new news “coming down the pike,” i.e., speeding down the turnpike headed your way in a 1961 Studebaker.

Anyway, hot off the proverbial presses, BREAKING, coming down the pike, this from the Associated Press:

The South Carolina House has voted to add the firing squad to the state’s execution methods amid a lack of lethal-injection drugs. The bill now goes to [prolife]Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, who has said he’ll sign it.

Dunno, wouldn’t hanging be a better alternative? Less messy? After all, gas chambers, electric chairs, hangings, and lethal injections seem more appropriately impersonal than shooting someone. Less messy, no hosing off blood splattered walls. Plus, only one or two people drop the pellets, pull the switch, knot the noose/trigger the trap door, or wield the syringe. A fire squad expands the number killers. Why spread potential guilt around?

Speaking only for myself, I’d hate to shoot a sentient being– and don’t beat me up for being sexist here – especially a woman, whether she be Elizabeth Bathory[1], Ma Barker, or Lizzy Bordon.

Questions arise. Where will the event take place? In the prison yard, at a firing range, or William Brice Stadium? How will the participants be chosen? From SLED, the Columbia Police Department, a local chapter of the NRA?  Hopefully, the squad will wear uniforms; otherwise, it would seem very much like a lynching. The whole concept seems barbaric to me. I think of poor Fyodor Dostoevsky[2], the Easter rebellion participants[3],  Eddie Slovik, etc. 

Here’s a suggestion, state legislators: why not go 20th Century and opt for carbon monoxide poisoning? 

Less fuss, less muss. 

Or here’s an even better idea: pull the switch on capital punishment.


[1] Guinness World Records has her pegged as history’s most prolific serial killer/torturer/mutilator (~ 650 women between 1585 and 1610). Rumor also has it she “bathed in the blood of her victims to retain her youth.”

[2] The victim of the cruelest of practical jokes.

[3] I write it out in a verse—

MacDonagh and MacBride   

And Connolly and Pearse

Now and in time to be,

Wherever green is worn,

Are changed, changed utterly:   

A terrible beauty is born.

An Anthropological Adventure Highlighting Late Pandemic Folly Beach Behaviors

The last time I donned the ol’ pith helmet and ventured inside the rich anthropological domain of Folly Beach, SC, was on 17 March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic. Even though it was St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday associated with the consumption of intoxicating spirits, a day when inebriates typically jampack the bars of the so-called Edge of America, only a few foolhardy hedonists stumbled the streets that Saturday, their left hands clutching red cups, their right hands thumbing their noses, as it were, at Dr. Fauci’s fervent pleas to stay indoors to stem the contagion.

Why would I – whom sociologists classify as geriatric, advertisers term a golden ager, and young people consider an old fart – expose myself to possible infection? After all, at 67, I fell into the likely-to-die demographic. Why, you ask?  

Because I’m a scientist, damn it; that’s why.

Of course, I submitted a report of that field work, including video, which you can access here.

Well, 407 long days have elapsed since that death-defying foray onto the potentially contagious sidewalks of FBSC 17 March 2020. Now, with COVID cases waning nationwide (albeit spiking in India and elsewhere abroad) and having received two doses of the Moderna vaccine – the second one a month ago – I decided it was high time to investigate. With Caroline, my invaluable anthropological colleague, erstwhile grief counsellor, and crackerjack photographer at my side, we trekked to Center Street to determine to what degree behaviors have changed since the early days of the pandemic.

We set up base camp at Chico Feo and found that outdoor eatery a-swarm with Friday night foragers, mostly tourists, but a considerable number of local denizens lolled there as well. After one low-impact libation, Caroline and I decided to head straight to Ground Zero, the shitshow known as the Rooftop at Snapper Jack’s, a two-block walk. Before departing however, our sponsors, pictured below, suggested we be on the lookout for topers tippling drinks that Jenny (pictured far right) has dubbed “ho-a-canes” and “bro-nados.”

from left to right, Dylan, Patrick, Faith, and Jenny

At the base of the stairs leading to Snapper Jack’s rooftop bar, we encountered our first bachelorette crew, pictured below. They seemed to me, despite the festive pink cowgirl hats, a bit subdued. Caroline and I peppered them with questions. The 23-year-old bride-to-be (second from the left) had found, according to her, the “man of her dreams,” but her companion, the most loquacious of the quartet (far right), said she was patiently waiting for a man who “worshipped the very ground she stood upon” and would settle for nothing less. Upon hearing this, my subconscious selected from its poetic jukebox these lines from Yeats’s “Never Give All the Heart”:

Never give all the heart, for love 

Will hardly seem worth thinking of 

To passionate women if it seem 

Certain, and they never dream 

That it fades out from kiss to kiss . . .

Anyway, we bade them good fortune, wished the bride-to-be a long happy and fruitful marriage, and climbed the stairs passing through a portal that ferried us to the Jersey shore.

No doubt these images can attest far better than my spendthrift prose.

Ladies and gentlemen, as far as these folks are concerned, the pandemic is kaput.


The Danger of Being Different

photograph by Wesley Moore

And alien tears will fill for him
Pity’s long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.

                                    Oscar Wilde, “Ballad of the Reading Gaol”

In 1882, Oscar Wilde visited Charleston, South Carolina, a late stop on his tour of the United States and Canada.  Although the tour had begun triumphantly with a fawning press hanging on the Irishman’s every word and with Wilde’s having killed a bottle of wine with Walt Whitman at his Camden home, trouble ensued when Wilde shared a train from Philadelphia to Baltimore with Archibald Forbes, a Scottish war correspondent who, according to Richard Ellmann, “found Wilde’s knee breeches [. . .] particularly repellent” and who “stung Wilde with stupid jokes about the commercializing of aestheticism.”  

Wilde was, in fact, on his way to attend a lecture by Forbes entitled “The Inner Life of a War Correspondent,” but after suffering Forbes’ slings and arrows, Wilde decided to skip the lecture and head to Washington.  This slight spurred Forbes to mock Wilde in that lecture and in letters to various newspapers. This negative publicity spilled over to influence other philistines of the press who found Wilde’s clothes and manners effeminate and ostentatious.

Forbes
Wilde

I say who is without ostentation cast the first stone.

At any rate, by the time Wilde rolled into the Holy City, he was an inviting target for smug homophobes like the News and Courier reporter who provided the following story excerpted from  Oscar Wilde in America, The Interviews:

Of course, that Archibald Forbes and the unknown Charleston reporter are mere footnotes to Wilde’s story would not surprise Wilde, who said about his treatment by the press during his tour:

“I have no complaints to make.  They have certainly treated me outrageously, but I am not the one who is injured; it is the public.  By such ridiculous attacks the people are taught to attack what they should revere.  Had I been treated differently by the newspapers in England and in this country, had I been commended and endorsed, for the first time in my life I should have doubted myself and my mission.”

As a former teacher in a middle and high school, I am all too familiar with this ostracizing of people who are different, and I warned students that bigoted impressions they make could become indelible, and though I won’t name names, I consider several people of classes who graduated in the early years of the previous decade cruel, the latter-day equivalents of Archibald Forbes, that boorish metal-bedecked blowhard Lilliputian pictured above.  Unfortunately, for him, his boorishness lives on whereas those student bullies’ acts of unkindness will be merely remembered by their victims. Perhaps they have changed, but perhaps they’ve merely become more circumspect in expressing their contempt.

The good news, however, is that, for whatever reason, students today are so much more open-minded, especially towards homosexuality, than ever before, which no doubt is part of the sea change that has occurred in this country in the last three decades.

Tolerence, on the whole, is on the rise.

Shadow Self-Portrait with Judy Birdsong at Wilde’s tomb.

Garage Band Modernism

I’ve never cared for rock songs with lush orchestral arrangements, cellos and violins sugar-coating the three or four chords that make up the melody. Take the Stones’ “As Tears Go By,” for example, overwrought in every way, the lyrics lamenting unspecified dissatisfaction, the strings transporting the speaker’s melancholy to the suburbs of tragedy, Schmaltzville, where eyes mist over at the slightest sentimentality: puppy dogs, Grandmas, Eugene Fields’s bathetic “Little Boy Blue.”[1]

This is what I’m talking about:

snippet from “As Tears Go By”

Hey, crybaby singerboy, take a hint from Frederick Henry, read some Lucretius, grab an umbrella, and head to a pub.[2]

Compare “As Tears Go By” with this ditty from the same album, December’s Children.

snippet of “Get Off My Cloud”

Now, that’s more like it. 

And speaking of the Stones, man oh man, after the psychedelic silliness of Their Satanic Majesties Request, hearing the six successive opening G chords of “Honky Tonk Women” was like welcoming home a long-lost prodigal cousin returning deprogrammed from some sort of Scientology-like hypno-indoctrination. 

beginning of “Honky Tonk Women”

To quote that Big Mama Thornton of Modernist literature, Sweet Molly Bloom, “Yes!”  

Anyway, I really dig garage bands, Sam the Sham, ? & the Mysterians, the Kingsmen, the Human Beinz, etcetera.

Forgive my Western predilection to have to rank things. It’s sort of stupid really, but that said, in my not-all-that humble opinion, the greatest garage album of all time – and this may surprise you – is Patti Smith’s first release, Horses – a masterpiece whose subtitle could be “TS Eliot meets the Troggs.”

For example, here’s a snippet from the first song of the flipside, “Kimberly.”

snippet of Kimberly

You “Waste Land” junkies out there no doubt caught the echoic allusion to bats with baby faces and violet skies.

Horses is Modernist garage band, flashing with fragmented musical and literary allusions that imbue its songs with concentrated meaning and ultimately create a constellation of images revolving around alienation.

In other words, it’s a work of art.

The masterpiece cut of this masterpiece album is the 9:42 penultimate song “Land,” which, to my ear, has the greatest transition in all of rock-n-roll. Check it out. (The transition occurs at 1.11 minutes.)

the beginning of “Land”

The boy was in the hallway drinking a glass of tea
From the other end of the hallway a rhythm was generating
Another boy was sliding up the hallway
He merged perfectly with the hallway,
He merged perfectly, the mirror in the hallway

The boy looked at Johnny, Johnny wanted to run,
but the movie kept moving as planned
The boy took Johnny, he pushed him against the locker,
He drove it in, he drove it home, he drove it deep in Johnny
The boy disappeared, Johnny fell on his knees,
started crashing his head against the locker,
started crashing his head against the locker,
started laughing hysterically

When suddenly Johnny gets the feeling he’s being surrounded by
horses, horses, horses, horses
coming in in all directions
white shining silver studs with their nose in flames,
He saw horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses.
Do you know how to pony like bony maroney
Do you know how to twist, well it goes like this, it goes like this
Baby mash potato, do the alligator, do the alligator

What follows is eight minutes of stream-of-consciousness as Johnny’s brain transitions from sentience to eternal silence.

Now that’s what I call transcending a sub-genre. It’s simultaneously raw and polished, gritty and eloquent, Rimbaud and Wicked Wilson Pickett playing pingpong backstage in a dance hall.


[1] I’m being unfair to the Stones, “As Tears Go By” isn’t nearly as bad as “Little Boy Blue.” 

[2] Here’s Henry describing leaving the corpse of his wife in A Farewell to Arms.

“But after I had got them out and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn’t any good. It was like saying good-bye to a statue. After a while, I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.”

A Short, Disjointed History of Recreational Cannabis Use, 4/20 2011 Edition

Indians eating bhang (cannabis) circa 1790

Happy 4/20 recreational drug users! 

Hey, you’re probably too young to remember when Jack Casady, the bassist for the Jefferson Airplane, admitted that, like President Ford’s son Jack, he, too, had experimented with marijuana. 

These twin bombshells dropped in October of 1975.  President’s Ford’s “shaggy-haired, free-spirited son’s”[1]admission created quite a brouhaha, making the front pages of the New York Times and Washington Post

ALEXANDRIA, VA – AUGUST 9: (NO U.S. TABLOID SALES) President Gerald R. Ford (R) and First Lady Betty Ford (L) pose with three of their four children (L-R) Steven Ford, John “Jack” Ford (not looking all that shaggy-haired), and Susan Ford in the family home on August 9, 1974 in Alexandria, Virginia. Ford stepped into office as president that afternoon, after the resignation and departure of ex-President Richard M. Nixon. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

Of course, the Airplane’s bassist’s tongue was firmly in his cheek when he followed up Jack Ford’s confession with his own. After all, Jack Casady had laid down the bass licks on the Airplane’s 1967 hit “White Rabbit,” which ends with this exhortation – “Feed your head, feed your head, feed your head!”

Needless to say,[2] people had been fueling their crania via cannabis long before the double Jacks discovered its mind-altering qualities, as this soporific sentence from Wikipedia attests[3]

The oldest archeological evidence for the burning of cannabis was found in Romanian kurgans dated 3,500 BC, and scholars suggest that the drug was first used in ritual ceremonies by Proto-Indo-European tribes living in the Pontic-Caspian steppe during the Chalcolithic period, a custom they eventually spread throughout western Eurasia during the Indo-European migrations.

Not surprisingly, it was the French, the inventors of un baiser avec la langue[4], who introduced marijuana to the West. Jacques-Joseph Moreau experimented with and wrote about cannabis during his travels to North Africa and the Middle East in the late 1830s. 

In 1842, an Irish physician William Brooke O’Shaughnessy copped some quantity in Bengal and brought it back with him to Britain. Later, Charles Baudelaire got a hold of some hashish and extolled its effects. The red-eyed munchie-afflicted genie was out of the bottle. 

Baudelaire demonstrating why it’s preferable to wear shades when you’re stoned. At least with shades, people might guess you’re stoned rather than seeing for sure that you are.

I won’t bore you with the history of its criminalization/ decriminalization. Even in South Carolina, which is about as progressive as electric shock therapy, a medicinal marijuana bill made it out of committee last week in a 9-5 vote. Now, it’s headed to the full Senate. At this rate, who knows, recreational legalization might take place by the centennial of the two Jacks’ admissions in 2175!

I should add, however, that the argument about whether cannabis is a gateway drug is still in dispute, despite the appearance of Wesley Moore’s score-settling poem published over a decade ago.

On the Slave Ship Lollipop

I used to stuff my face with candy
when I was a little boy,
couldn’t cop enough Mary Janes,
would kill for an Almond Joy.

Then I graduated to the Real Thing – Coke.
I was popping five cans a day,
plopping nickels and dimes upon the counter
under caffeine and sugar’s sway.

Now I’m hooked on heroin,
am little more than a thug.
Wish I’d known then what I know now –
that sugar is the gateway drug.


[1] This hipster description comes to us from Business Insider’s website.

[2] EB White would disapprove of this transition, but he’s dead, and I don’t care. 

[3] Don’t even attempt to read the senetence if you’re stoned.

[4] Or as it was known in my hometown of Summerville, SC, “swapping spit.”

Smugness, a Etymological Analysis of Matt Gaetz’s Maledic[k]tions

If you know anything about language, you can tell immediately that the English adjective smug is of Anglo-Saxon origin. It’s short ­– one syllable – but certainly not sweet.  After all, smug rhymes with ugh, that imitative sound of a cough that over time evolved into an interjection of disgust, the involuntary mouthing you might make when running across roadkill or this photograph.

[As in the case of Melville’s detailed explanations of various aspects of cetology in Moby Dick, an impatient reader is advised to skip the next two paragraphs and pick up the prose following the book image below.]

In English, smug first appeared in the 1550s and meant “trim, neat, spruce, smart.” Smug and smock are the immigrant offspring of Middle Low German smücken, “to dress,” as in “to creep or slip into.” [1]  You smücken into a smock. Smücken itself comes from Low German smuk, which means “pretty,” even though it’s a homophone for the Yiddish word schmuck, which means dick, as in penis or schlong

I can’t speculate on why the Low German word for pretty sounds so ugly or how it morphed into the Yiddish word for penis, which over time came to mean “a contemptible person.” I would hazard to say, however, that smug people are generally schmucks.

Ugh, smug Matt Gaetz is a dick, an entitled asshole[2], the type of insecure Lothario who carves notches in his bedpost (i. e., flashes photos of sexual conquests to acquaintances from his cell phone), the type of scuzzball whose success stems from being the scion of a wealthy shitwad who made a fortune providing hospice care, the type of chuff who frat-boyed his way from prep school to Congress exuding entitlement like a princeling dipped in AxL. Obviously, anyone who behaves with such reckless abandon has never faced any real consequences for his misdeeds. 

And perhaps he’ll sidestep repercussions this time as well. After all, he’s hired Harlan Hill (pictured below) as his spokesperson.

But I wouldn’t bet on it. 

[Full Disclosure: over the years, some have accused me of smugness just because of my relaxed demeanor, because I’m trim, neat, and smart, but they are wrong. I’m just snazzy, that’s all[3]].  

the blogger, circa 1980

[1] etymonline.com

[2] C.f. https://wlm3.com/2017/10/25/my-favorite-vulgarity/

[3] I’d insert a “tongue-in-cheek” emoji here, but they all suck.


Easter Weekend 2021: Matt Gaetz and Barroom Brawls

I wonder what Matt Gaetz is up to this weekend. Shopping for lawyers? Taking one last peek at nude pix of his sexual conquests before erasing them on his iPhone 12?[1] Checking out rehab facilities?

I suspect right about now Matt probably agrees with TS Eliot’s assessment that April is the cruelest month, breeding investigations out of his sordid past, mixing memory with desire, etc. 

You’ve probably heard the Hemingway definition of beauty: grace under pressure. Well, Matt’s initial response to the revelation that he may have been involved with sex trafficking with minors wasn’t exactly pretty. He allowed himself to be interviewed by Tucker Carlson and spewed a bucketful of ill-considered information, for example, that his father wore a wire in an FBI investigation. And although Gaetz has categorically denied the various lurid allegations, the long list of colleagues and acquaintances who can’t stand him are sharing raunchy stories of deviant behavior stretching back to his days in the state legislature where he represented Florida’s Panhandle, the setting of the murder in Easy Rider, i.e., a rustic-ridden south-of-Alabama rightwing hellhole.

Well, all I can say to Representative Gaetz are the very words I said to a drunk who got punched out by a woman last night at the Surf Bar, “There’s some danger in being an asshole.”

This incident is the second instance in which I’ve been interviewed by the Folly Police in the last year. The first dealt with a couple behaving Gaetz-like on the screened porch of a neighbor who had moved. He had asked me to keep an eye on the house, and when I saw a strange car in the driveway and the workshop door open, I donned my Philip Marlowe persona and investigated.[2]  Despite my deafness, I heard some clamor on the screen porch and caught a heterosexual couple in flagrante delicto.[3] I suggested they leave, and they apologetically obliged, but the police caught wind, so I had to be interviewed. The owner was benevolent, didn’t press charges, but wanted the lustbirds to suffer some slight discomfort for their misdeeds. 

The fellow last night at the Surf Bar suffered more than a little discomfort: he got punched twice in the face by a young woman who could have been Laila Ali’s sparring partner. 

Caroline, our friend Whitney, and I were braving the cold on the porch of the Surf Bar enjoying their excellent Philly cheesesteak. This short White fellow in his twenties, dressed like an Eminem wannabe, approached our table and asked for a light, which we couldn’t provide.[4] There’s a fireplace on the porch, and five young women were sitting in a semicircle in front of it, enjoying the flames. After a while, I noticed that the young lighter-seeking man had joined them on the far end of the semicircle. I also noticed that the man and a couple of the women were engaged in a heated conversation. I asked one of the women who had returned from the restroom if the fellow was bothering them, and if so, I’d be happy to intervene. She smiled and said, “No thanks.” She then circled around the back of the dude and yanked the leg of his chair, sending him sprawling backward. As he attempted get up, she smacked him in the face twice with two well-delivered rights. Before she could cause more carnage, I leapt up and pulled them apart. He, of course, had been harassing them, had called one next to him the c-word, told her she was too ugly to sit next to, and continued to harass them until our heroine had had enough. 

the fireplace at the Surf Bar

I suggested to the fellow that he mosey along because he wouldn’t want the police involved, but he adamantly refused and sat back down in the now upright chair, whining about how he had been hit. Some muscle from inside the bar emerged and escorted him out, trying, as I had, to reason with him. 

It was sort of exciting in an adrenaline pumping way, and our meals were comped, but then who returns with policemen in tow. The twerp. He actually summoned the police because “a girl” had punched him. After interviewing the provocateur, the officer asked for my version, and I gave him a non-judgmental cinematic retelling of what had transpired, including the toppling and punching. The officer said this fellow had already been banned from several Folly bars and that he was from Philly on the lam from a petty larceny charge that was too smalltime to warrant extradition. 

So that was that, but I couldn’t help but feel in light of how horribly Gaetz treats women, how horribly many men treat women, a certain warm glow of satisfaction to see the sawed-off Kid Rock get coldcocked by a pissed-off damsel.

Yes, there is some danger in being an asshole.


[1] I understand that nude photography is now commonplace among romantic partners and that sending explicit photos of oneself can be part of the early stages of wooing, and although I have no personal experience in the phenomenon, I do have some advice for Representative Gaetz: hire an airplane, fly down to Costa Rica, and drop the phone into the volcanic vent of Arenal. 

[2] Not surprisingly, I was sporting a fedora. 

[3] Literally, “in flaming offense.”

[4] A less delicate sensibility than mine might tag him as a w-word, you know, that designation for funky clad White hip-hop aficionados that rhymes with the name of Roy Rogers’s horse. 

The Not-So-Good-Humor Man

illustration by Emily Wood

When I was a child, I grew up across the street from Mr. Fagylalt, a Central European immigrant who owned and operated an ice cream truck.[1]  In the summers, he circumnavigated our neighborhood, his truck tinkling repetitive music that lured nickel-and-dime-toting children to the edges of their yards. Back then, even in the heavy humidity of a South Carolina August, we mostly played outside.

I doubt that Mr. Fagylalt could make it today with children ensconced in their rooms engaged in Mortal Kombat or OD-ing on TikTok videos. I know I would have stayed inside if I had owned Madden NFL 2020 instead of the electric football game we owned. Most of the vibrating plastic players merely rambled around and around in circles. With an open field in front of him, a running back would suddenly hang a hard right and run out of bounds. You passed the ball by putting a felt oval in the quarterback’s hand, pulling his arm back, and catapulting the felt in hopes of hitting the receiver. It was so boring I rarely found anyone willing to play it with me.

Anyway, in those days, people called mobile ice cream vendors “good humor men, ” and, sure enough, Mr. Fagylalt was always in a good mood when I talked to him, or rather, when he talked to me. However, now when I think of Mr. Fagylalt, the adjectives “dirty” and “old” have supplanted  “good” and “humor” as modifiers. Let’s put it this way: although Mr. Fagylalt never attempted to molest me in any physical way, he did infuse my vocabulary with a host of Anglo-Saxon vulgarities, words that no one used (at least in front of us) in our house. He didn’t define the words; I picked up their meanings in context from the same old stories he told over and over.[2]

Stories delivered in an accent as thick as Porkolt.[3] One of his favorites featured a mutt named Champ and our neighbors the Foxes, who lived on the corner of Lenwood and Dogwood. The Foxes kept a meticulous yard with neatly trimmed shrubbery and manicured grass. They took great pride in their yard’s appearance, seemingly removing fallen pine needles on a daily basis. One day Champ got into some ice cream chemicals stored in the Fagylalt carport. He ended up slurping down the found treasure and urinating on the Foxes’ chain link fence. “Oh, zat, dog,” Mr. Fagylalt would say in an aside and launch into a side story about the time he saw Champ mount such-and-such a bitch vividly describing the apparatus involved in the procreative act. Eventually, he’d return to the main plot, to wit: Mr. Fox mistook the brownish urine staining his fence for rust until a rainstorm washed it away. At the end of these too-oft-told tales, Mr. Fagylalt laughed and laughed. I hated every minute but was too timidly polite not to stand there for at least one retelling. I don’t remember if I faked-laughed myself, but I doubt it.

Luckily, Mr. Fagylalt and I had a falling out. One summer, when the Fagylalts vacated their house for several weeks, some friends and I entered his ice cream truck, which was unlocked. When inside, we merely looked around to see what it was like in there, and I discovered to my delight that the truck’s music was produced just the way a jack-in-the-box makes music –  with a crank that propels a rubber mechanism that goes around and around plucking out notes. 

Unfortunately, others at various times also got inside the truck and engaged in a bit of vandalism. When the Fagylalts returned and made inquiries, someone noted that he or she had seen a red-headed boy over there, so Mrs. Fagylalt told my mother, who ended up taking my word that I had not vandalized the ice cream truck. I also think my parents (and others in the neighborhood) were hip to Mr. Fagylalt’s off-color ramblings.

When I left for college at eighteen, the Fagylalts still lived across the street. I remember bumming a ride home one Friday for a weekend in Summerville.  Upon arrival, as I walked across our lawn with a sack of dirty clothes slung over my back, a swarm of kids on banana bikes were popping wheelies in our yard. As I shouted “hey” to my nine-year-old brother Fleming, he yanked back on the handlebars too hard and landed on the ground on his rear end.

“If you keep that up, you gonna break your coccyx,” I warned.

He looked up at me with a puzzled expression. 

“Sounds like you’ve been talking to Mr. Fagylalt.”


[1] Even though this man and his wife must be long dead by now – they were older than my parents – I’m going to obscure his identity in the very unlikely event that one of his offspring were to happen upon this post.  Just for fun, though, see if you can guess his country of origin, as I sprinkle hints throughout the post. Hint #1: his native language is not Indo-European in origin.

[2] In James Joyce’s short story “An Encounter,” the young narrator runs across a Mr. Fagylalt-like man whose stories also orbit in circles: “He began to speak on the subject of chastising boys. His mind, as if magnetized again by his speech, seemed to circle slowly round and round its new centre. He said that when boys were that kind they ought to be whipped and well whipped. When a boy was rough and unruly there was nothing would do him any good but a good sound whipping.”

[3] A meat and vegetable stew popular in Székesfehérvár.

Robert Lighthouse, Swedish Bluesman Extraordinaire

What do you think of when you think of Sweden? Viking ships? Ingmar Bergman? The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? The blues?

The blues? What in the hell am I talking about?

I’m talking about Robert Lighthouse – nee Ivan R. Palinic[1], the Swedish blues guitarist who at the tender age of fourteen heard an Alan Lomax field recording of Muddy Waters – boom – Road to Damascus. Farewell, Nazareth, hail, Dr. Ross, John Lee Hooker, and Jimi Hendrix.

“Muddy ’67” photograph by David Gahr

I chatted with Robert in bright sunshine on our dock yesterday before his gig at the Singer/Songwriter’s Soapbox at Chico Feo, the best free music you’ll find in anywhere in what once was called Tri-County Area.[1]

Prompted by my questions, Robert related a CliffNote summary his life: moving to the States at eighteen, playing for tips on DC street corners, getting discovered by Charlie Sayles, the one-eyed harp master (who also got his start in music playing for tips on street corners).

Charlie Sayles

Robert toured Belgium and Holland with Charlie’s band and ended up landing a record deal of his own. His critically acclaimed first album, Drive-Thru Love, available on Smithsonian Folk Ways Recordings[2], includes both covers and originals. In addition to his second record, Deep Down in the Mud, Robert also appears on the Folkways compilation 1996 album, The Blues You Would Just Hate to Lose, Vol. II.  He has shared a stage with Dr. John and opened for Taj Mahal and Johnny Winter, whom Robert describes as a man of few words but many bong hits.

The pianist/blues impresario Gary Erwin (aka Shrimp City Slim) recruited Robert to appear at blues festivals in Camden, Greenwood, and Charleston, and somehow, Robert and my brother Fleming met, and, the rest, as they say, is history.

If you ever get the chance, check him out.

Here’s a clip of his version of the Charlie Patton tune “Rattlesnake Blues.”

And him warming up at Chico Feo last night (8 March 2021)

photo credit I-and-I


[1] That be Charleston, Dorchester, and Berkeley Counties. The Soapbox runs on Mondays from 6 to 10. Be there are be square.

[2] How cool to share a label with Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger Leadbelly, and Dave Van Ronk. I made the mistake of clicking on their website and see a Lord Lavender calypso record I can’t live without.


[1] Robert tells me that his surname, which is Croatian, means fire-starter, as in arsonist, so he anglicized it to “Lighthouse” in the sense of setting a house on fire, not in the sense of guiding sailors safely to shore.