Suffer the Children

Slap her down again, pa

Slap her down again

Make her tell us more, pa

Tell us where she’s been

We don’t want our neighbors

Talkin’ ’bout our kin

Slap her down again, pa

Slap her down again

       as covered by Arthur Godfrey in a 1947 recording

The above mid-century snippet certainly demonstrates that times have changed.  It’s hard to imagine anyone outside a Montana militia camp or Pentecostal rattlesnake farm who would adhere to the childrearing principles practiced by the vengeful patriarch of the song (spurred on, it would seem, by a brother who suffers a case of sibling rivalry that makes Edmund’s hatred of Edgar in Lear seem like mere disgruntlement).  The song also projects a Taliban-like sexism in its relegation of females into the realm of property.  

Of course, the lyrics are meant to be humorous, but it’s hard to imagine their not offending a large number of North American citizens of both sexes.  

The word sadistic comes to mind.

another Arthur Godfrey knee-slapper

No, we middle class denizens of the Late Empire no longer treat our children as property, nor beat them with belts nor switch them with switches, which is all to the good. However, elevating them to the status of major deity might not be such a hot idea either. If judging from some of the Facebook posts of the current generation of DNA replicators and actual 3-D encounters with their offspring, a number of millennial parents seem to be transforming childrearing into some sort of strange counter-intuitive fetish in which the power of household management is ceded to tiny monomaniacs whose accumulated world wisdom would not fill one dimple of a thimble.

Idolatry!

Father to 5-year-old-daughter:  Anastasia, tell Mr. Wesley where you went today.

Anastasia:  [sullen silence, no eye contact]

Mr. Wesley:  Yeah, Helen.  I’m just dying to know where you went today.

Father [frowning]:  Helen?

Mr. Wesley:  Yeah, as in Helen Keller.  

Anastasia  [frowning]:  Why did he call me Helen, Daddy?

Father: [squatting to accomplish eye-level conversation].  Because you didn’t answer Mr. Wesley, honey, so he was pretending that you were Helen Keller, a very accomplished person.   Helen Keller was a famous girl, who well, had some obstacles to overcome.  She couldn’t hear, so she didn’t know how to talk, but a wonderful woman named Anne Sullivan worked with Helen and taught her how not only to talk, but to write, and Helen Keller became a world-renowned writer –

Mr. Wesley: And she lived happily ever after even though she was blind as well.

Anastasia [tugging at parent]: 

Father:  Um, nice seeing you, Wesley.  Say goodbye to Mr. Wesley.

Anastasia:  [sullen silence, no eye contact]  

My late wife Just Birdsong inherited a book from her mother Emily entitled Our Darlings’ ABCs, which sort of blew my very-difficult-to-blow mind.

A pretty book of A B C’s

The tiny folk is sure to please;

So here it is in colors bright,

With every letter placed in right,

And more than this, a rhyme as well

That will some Bible story tell,

To help the children learn with ease

The puzzling list of A B C’s.

Sounds innocuous enough, right?  Well, it doesn’t take us long – the B’s in fact – to discover that childrearers around the turn of the previous century (the book appeared 40 years before Godrey’s recording of “Slap Her Down Again”) were a bit more brutal back in the day.  Here are the facing pages for B.

As one who like Elisha has “no hair on the top of his head,”  I find the children’s taunt of  “Go up, thou bald head” hurtful in the extreme and agree with the author’s observation “How unkind to speak of his head in that way.”  Certainly,  Elisha’s wish to punish the children is understandable, and God knows, they certainly will never commit that unkindness again because “God heard and sent two large bears out of the woods.  The bears were very fierce, and they soon tore forty-two of the children in pieces.”

Nighty night.  Sweet dreams, sugarplum.

That’ll teach them to mock their elders

As I was perusing the alphabet and  encountering Bible stories with which I was not familiar (e.g., how Moses told his people “to hasten away from Korah’s home” before “the ground opened up and swallowed Korah”). I couldn’t help but think of the ABC book I have written and how it reflects the kinder, gentler world of 2012.  

Or [have you ever] barbered* a barbarian?*


*You can read the entire primer here and my complete guide to childrearing here

We both use the same method, alliteration and assonance – “bad bald back” and “barbered barbarian” and offer illustrations to complement our lessons, though my primer is a tad bit less didactic.

As in most cases, the Middle Way is better – too much rod = brutish child and too much parental kowtowing = loutish child.  

Anyway, I doubt if many millennials are reading goodnight stories from the O.T.

Well, enough. Good night, and may God bless!

Korah, his family and all they own fall into a bottomless grave.

1969 – Welcome to Brand-New Summerville High (a guest essay by Anthony Proveaux)

Editor’s Note: Anthony Proveaux, a musician, photographer and writer based in Eugene, Oregon, has shared with me this coming-of-age essay about the social stresses of being a high school freshman in the small Southern town of Summerville, South Carolina, in a time of social upheaval. Enjoy!

Change comes slow to small southern towns like Summerville South Carolina, where I
was born and raised. But in the late 1960s, the times they were a-changin’ fast in our little slice of Mayberry. There, like in most places across America, we sat in front of
our new color TVs and watched a world that was changing too fast for the times. The
nightly newscast regularly broadcast images of unrest across the nation, followed by
stories of flower-power and love-ins, in places like Haight Ashbury and Piedmont Park
in Atlanta. It was hard to tell if the country was coming apart or coming together.

Among youths, there was a definite sense of change in the air. Everywhere, hair was
getting longer, and music was getting louder. Down at the local Tastee-Freez, the new
sounds of Hendrix and Cream could be heard blasting from many of the 8-track
players in the muscle-cars that cruised the loop. And in school, long hair was starting
to challenge the dress-codes. Those were heady days for an impressionable young teen
like myself, and like kids everywhere, I was totally swept up in the current of events.

Of course, the elephant in America’s living room at the time, and source of much of the nation’s angst, was the very real war going on in Vietnam. Our town, like so many other places across the country, had patriotically sent their sons “over there,” but sadly, an increasing number of them weren’t coming home. But I was too young to worry about the dreaded draft notice yet, and I couldn’t make much sense of it anyway.

In the late 60s I was in the thick of the terrible-teens and still learning to navigate the
awkward world of post-puberty ‘boy’s life’. Over the course of a few short years, I’d evolved from science-fair kid with a crew cut, to a mop top teen, tie-dying t-shirts on
the back porch. And the most challenging part of the teenage gauntlet lay just ahead,
as I was about to become part of that great social experiment called high school.

In the fall of 1969, I was a fifteen-year-old freshman at the newly opened Summerville
High. Walking those shiny hallways in the new modern buildings, passing the juniors and seniors that I had mostly only seen in my big sister’s yearbooks, was like entering a brave-new-world. It was also downright intimidating, but I was determined to fit in.

portrait of the artist as a 9th grader

I’d always been a good student with good grades, but by high school my studies had
turned more towards girls, music, and teen trends (in that order). To get girls to
notice you at that age, though, you had to be more than just a bright kid. You had to
either be somebody, and/or be cool. Unfortunately, I was neither. Being a shy kid
from a working-class family, I was three or four rungs down on the social ladder, and
about as cool as a glass of day-old water. I definitely had some branding work to do.

So, in that ninth-grade year I began walking around Summerville High with a copy of
Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in my back pocket, making sure the
title was showing, of course. It was a book I could barely get through. The writing was
way over my head, and I’d never even been properly buzzed on beer, much less done
“drugs.” But the paperback sure had a cool cover, with that psychedelic sugar cube,
and what an awesome title (the K in cool really meant something back then).

That little stunt only succeeded in making me look even more nerdy than I was. I
quickly realized that if I wanted to be cool, I needed to hang out with the cool kids. In
Summerville that meant teens like the Folly Beach surfers, guys that played in bands,
and the college-bound students from the prominent families around town. At the new high school, I noticed that during lunch time the “in-crowd” hung out in the breezeway down by the cafeteria. So, I gradually started lurking around on the fringes of the group, half-hoping I wouldn’t be noticed, but desperately hoping that I would.

Of course, that group of cool guys and classy young ladies had no use for a gangly
ninth grader, hanging around trying to infiltrate their hip little social clutch. No one
was particularly rude to me. Genteel Summerville had good manners, and those with social status were always graciously “stuck-up.” So, I was politely, but totally ignored, save for a few “wtf are you doing here kid” looks from some of the jocksters.

However, there was one dude who noticed me lurking and actually tried to bring
me into the conversation a few times. His name was Rusty Moore, a quick witted
red-headed junior whom almost everyone seemed to like, except perhaps some of the local rednecks.

Rusty even gave me a comeback line once. After some snobby kid cut-me-down about
this hideous paisley shirt I was wearing, Rusty leaned over and whispered in my ear. “Tell him his belt looks like it’s made out of beer can pop-tops” (my antagonist was wearing one of those ‘60s belts made with metal rings). Unfortunately, I totally blew the delivery of the comeback line and just further embarrassed myself. It was a pretty pathetic stab at a touché, but I really appreciated the encouragement from Rusty.

I only lasted a week or so with, hanging with those hipsters. I was way out of my class,
and in Summerville class was still taken seriously. Social relations were generally
amiable in our town. But everyone had their place, from the old family names, on
down to the black folks that lived in clapboard shacks in the segregated checkerboard
neighborhoods around town. Our family was somewhere below the middle of the
social line. My father was a shade too dark for proper Summerville, and he managed a
gas station. There was never any talk of us kids going to college. I was definitely
bumping my head on the class-ceiling, trying to break into those trendy social circles.

Fortunately, a family with several rambunctious and attractive teenage daughters
moved in right across the street, and it wasn’t long before cool dudes were hanging around the neighborhood. My big sister and I soon found our own little tribe, hanging out with those girls and their boyfriends, and other early Summerville “heads” – and oh, the long, strange trippy times we had.

A few years later, when I’d just turned seventeen, my sister and I followed her boyfriend out to California where we hitch-hiked, hopped trains, and bummed around for about a year. Now that was a real education. In the early 1970s, the highways were filled with on-the-road youths of every color and class, out to “Look for America.” I stayed on the west coast, went to college and finally settled down in Oregon as a musician, photographer, and writer (I made my folks real proud – ha-ha).

I never lived in Summerville again, but still have fond memories of growing up there.
Navigating through the perils of high school sticks with us all, and that early incident
of trying to climb my way up the social ladder, always stayed with me for some reason.

I also never got to know Rusty Moore, the kid who threw me a lifeline when I tried to
swim-with-the-sharks. He was a few grades above me, and I left Summerville early on. He’d certainly never remember that insignificant event anyway, but it made an impression on me. So, a shout out to Rusty Moore for a brief moment of mentoring.

by Anthony Proveaux


Here’s a video modern-day Anthony (on harmonica) making music during the quarantine.

And a couple of his photographs.

courtesy of Anthony Proveaux and Eugene Magazine

Back Roads in the Age of the Internet

One of the benefits of retirement is that “dicing time” becomes less thinly sliced, its passage vaguer, elapsing as it did before that infernal invention the clock transliterated the overhead sun into 12:00 P.M.  Because I no longer have workday pressures that dictate how I spend my hours – no essays to grade, no lessons to plan, no report cards to crank out – I can take my own sweet time. 

For example, on road trips, rather than enduring a regimented slab of interstate stretching forth with its green mile markers clicking past tick-tock like, you can opt for the back roads, which, if you’re driving from Athens, Georgia, to Folly Beach, South Carolina, means you motor through mostly farmland – cornfields, peach orchards, but also tiny towns in various stages of civic decay.

Sometimes, if you’re fortunate, you can run across something truly remarkable, as my wife Caroline and I did outside of the tiny town of Wrens, Georgia.

What caught Caroline’s eye

***

We had dropped Brooks off at Camp Illahee[1] and spent a couple of nights outside of Athens with our friends Jim and Laura. Both they and our friend Ballard, whom we met tending bar at Five & Ten, suggested we take the backroads home. 

The route we chose took us through Thomson, Georgia, the birthplace of Blues legend Blind Willie McTell, whom I had discovered on a compilation LP called The Story of the Blues, a gift I received for my nineteenth birthday. So Blind Willie and I go way back.

I mentioned to Caroline that Blind Willie had been born in Thomson, so for a moment she abandoned her post as navigator and googled “Blind Willie.” She reported that there was a statue of Blind Willie in Statesboro but also that he was buried about eight or so miles outside of Thomson in Jones Grove Baptist Church Cemetery. So, as upright Protestants used to say – what the hay – we decided to take a side pilgrimage to pay our respects to Blind Willie. As Bob Dylan put it in one of his greatest compositions: “No one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell.”

***

I’ve visited Oscar Wilde’s and Jim Morrison’s graves at The Père Lachaise in Paris, both graves bedecked with flowers, notes, and in Wilde’s case, lipstick-like kisses imprinted on the stone obelisk that marks his resting place.

Not surprisingly, McTell’s grave is not as rich in gifts bestowed. There were no flowers, only a sprinkling of pocket change that wouldn’t cover the cost of a Coca Cola, a mini bottle, and a guitar pick. 

Rather than backtracking to return to our original route, we improvised, GPS-ing out a more southerly passage. As I was tooling along, Caroline let out a “Whoa, what was that!” 

“We ought to turn around,” she suggested. “We need to check it out.” Which we did.

Now you can check it out. Southern Gothic Deluxe.

After ten or so minutes taking in this remarkable outdoor installation, we continued to Allendale, the county seat of the poorest county in South Carolina. Not to put too fine a point on it, Allendale is the po-dunk equivalent of a Blade Runner hellscape, a stalled freight train of shuttered businesses lining the highway in succession, not to mention human habitations in various stages of collapse.

abandoned motel, image courtesy of ABC news
image courtesy of ABC News

At any rate, we arrived at the kennel to pick up KitKat, who, was beyond ecstatic to see us, and headed back to Folly, which, of course, offers its own offbeat pleasures.

I’ll leave you with a snippet of Dylans'”Blind Willie McTell

Seen them big plantations burning
Hear the cracking of the whips
Smell that sweet magnolia blooming
See the ghost of the slavery ship
I can hear them tribes moaning
Hear the undertakers bell
Nobody can sing the blues like blind Wille McTell


[1] What a gorgeous-sounding word, Cherokee for “heavenly world.”

Sam Cooke, Shreveport, and “A Change Is Gonna Come”

Sam Cooke’s plaintive, moving civil rights ballad “A Change Is Gonna Come” was born in 1963 of discrimination after he and his wife were turned away from a segregated Holiday Inn at Shreveport, Louisiana. Incensed when the desk clerk lied and claimed no vacancies, Sam made a scene in the lobby, vociferously protesting, and while driving off, he and his entourage honked horns and lobbed insults like Molotovs as their taillights disappeared into the night. 

When Sam and company arrived at the Black hotel downtown, the police were waiting. However, the arrests created abysmal p.r. north of the Mason-Dixon line after the NY Times and UPI caught wind and publicized the discriminatory arrest of an affable fellow (at least he sounded affable on his records) who only wanted a place to sleep after twisting the night away. In 2019, Shreveport’s mayor apologized to the Cooke family and awarded Sam a key to the city – a mere fifty-six years after Cooke’s death at thirty-three. Nothing like a posthumous award to salve the wounds of a no-longer-sentient being.

According to Peter Guralnick’s biography Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” also spurred Sam to compose “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Sam, the story goes, felt chagrined that a White fellow had written such a moving civil rights song. In fact, Sam admired “Blowin’ in the Wind” so much that he included it in his live performances not long after its release. 

Of course, the songs are much different. In “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Dylan asks in third person a series of questions that ponder “how long” it’s going to take to end discrimination. “A Change Is Gonna Come,” on the other hand, is deeply personal, written in first person, and cites incidents of hurtful slights and expresses existential despair. However, despite the dirge-like tone of the song, the narrator feels certain that eventually “a change is gonna come” and justice will prevail, so the overall effect is hopeful rather than depressing.

Well, despite the election of Obama and the proliferation of people of color in national advertising, we’re not quite there yet, and it seems that many in the South have recently become emboldened to unfurl and wave their inner Stars-and-Bars, not to mention Republican-led state legislatures’ ongoing successful attempts to make voting more difficult for African Americans. 

In fact, to me, 2021 feels an awful lot like 1961, though at least now, Sam would have no trouble checking into a Holiday Inn – though he might turn up his nose at one – and Confederate statues are coming down as opposed to being erected. 


Sickroom Notes from a Whiny, Wounded Epicurean

painting by H. James Hoff

Sickroom Notes from a Whiny, Wounded Epicurean[1]

Perhaps boasting non-stop about my superhuman immune system for the last thirty years wasn’t all that judicious. Oh, you should have heard my cock-a-doodle-doing![2].

My immune system makes Arnold Schwarzenegger look like Denver Pyle.

I haven’t been ill since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

An airborne virus does a one-eighty when it sees me bopping down the boulevard, etc. 

And it’s true that in my thirty-four years at Porter-Gaud, I maybe missed ten or so days in total, most often because of laryngitis.[3]

Well, comeuppance has arrived, taken off his mask, and sneezed in my face. For the last four days, when it comes to coughing fits, I’ve been giving tubercular John Keats and DH Lawrence a run for their money. Although doubly vaccinated, I drove the day before yesterday for a Covid test, which unsurprisingly was negative. Afterwards, I retreated to bed, ministered to by nurse Caroline, who throughout my malady has plied me with chicken broth, hot tea, and good advice, like not going the Singer/Soapbox Open Mic the previous Monday[4]

Let’s face it: a summer cold isn’t exactly kidney stones or a case of the shingles (not to mention bone cancer), so the source of this whine festival lies not so much in physical discomfort but in the boredom I’ve experienced, borderline ennui. I felt so drained Wednesday afternoon, I couldn’t read anything longer than a tweet, and scrolling down my feed is disheartening, with all that talk of the decline of democracy coming from the likes of Steve Schmidt and Bill Kristol. And I have two books I’m rarin’ to read, Peter Guralnick’s Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing and James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird, which until today lay on my bedside table like a couple of concrete blocks, heavy, cumbersome. Petite misère but for a second or two, misery nonetheless.

But, hey, I must be on the mend because I’m sitting at my desk and taking this opportunity to roll my right foot over a frozen water bottle to combat a king hell case of plantar fasciitis I’ve developed walking to and from bars on Folly Beach in flip flops.

Like they, say, there’s no fool like an aged, wounded epicurean.

still from WF Murnau’s film The Last Laugh


[1] No one can accuse me of click-baiting with that title.

[2] And no doubt you have if you know me personally.

[3] I also took a couple of personal days along the way, one to see the third game of the ’91 World Series, another to see the Stones in Columbia, and several during my late wife’s last week.

Missing school is a drag. It’s more work to miss than to trudge through (and I never got close enough to students infect, I’d like to think).

[4] I’d made a solemn promise to Kelly West I’d be there for her debut poem, and who would break a solemn vow because of what at that time was merely a scratchy throat?

Amnesia Comes A-Calling

Exactly five years ago an ambulance carted me off the MUSC emergency room after I bonked my head on the floor, lost consciousness, and came to suffering from a strange case of amnesia.

The bedroom smoke detector had gone off, and I leapt to my feet before my blood could be pumped into my brain. My late wife Judy described my falling “as straight-backed like a tree – timber!”  When I regained consciousness, the first thing I said was, “Judy, why are you bald?”

She looked surprised. “I have cancer. Don’t you remember?”

“What kind of cancer?”

“Lymphoma.”

“Lymphoma! What type of lymphoma?”

“T-Cell.”

“Oh no!”[1]

I [forgive me] absent-mindedly wandered to my study and got on the computer as Judy awakened our neighbor Jim who waited with us – I think – until the ambulance arrived.

When I got to the hospital, physicians began quizzing me. “Who’s running for President?”

Although it was July and Hillary and Trump had secured the nominations, I catalogued who had run against them in the primaries as if those contests hadn’t been settled. The last six months had been erased from my memory.

So, they wheeled me down to run tests, and over the course of a couple of hours, my memory slowly returned.

Before releasing me, a doctor asked, “Now, how far back can you remember?” 

I recited the first couplet of The Canterbury Tales.

“WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote . . . “
 

So, memorizing the first twenty lines did have some practical utility after all!


[1] It’s strange that I hadn’t forgotten the types of lymphoma, which I had learned after Judy’s diagnosis.

The Devil’s Workshop

“An idle mind is the devil’s workshop” – English Proverb

Some weirdness going down on the back side of the Edge of America.

Freud is about to leap from the second story, and Jung is whispering, “Jump, jump, jump.”

We have a madwoman in the attic, and a saint on the roof, Ophelia and St. Joan.

“Her sin is her lifelessness.”

Master Will and the Dalai Lama engaged in a staring contest.

All these people that you mentioned
Yes, I know them, they are quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can’t read too good, don’t send me no more letters, no
Not unless you mail them from Desolation Row

Bob Dylan, “Desolation Row”

Oh, Those Old Southern Barbershops of Yore

Barbershop by Joan Estes

One of my favorite Tom Waits songs is “Barber Shop” from the 1977 album Foreign Affairs. It’s a jazzy, Beat poet-like monologue propelled by stand-up bass and drums. The song condenses a cascade of rhyming cliches into an archetypical visit to a Mid-20th Century barbershop.[1]

He sets the scene with one ass-kicking couplet:

Bay rum lucky tiger butch wax cracker jacks

Shoeshine jawbreaker magazine racks.

Then he treats us to typical idle barbershop chatter:

Morning Mr. Ferguson, what’s the good word with you?

[snip][2]

You lost a little round the middle and you’re looking real good.

[snip]

What’s the low-down Mr. Brown? I heard your boy’s leaving town.

[snip]

Throw me over the sports page, Cincinnati looking good.

[snip]


The hair’s getting longer, you know the skirts are getting shorter,
And don’t you know that you can get a cheaper haircut
If you wanna cross the border.

If your mama saw you smoking, well, she’d kick your ass.
Now you put it out you juvenile and put it out fast.

Well, if I had a million dollars what would I do?
I’d probably be a barber not a bum like you.

Still got your paper route now that’s just fine.
And you can pay me double because you gypped me last ti
me.

In Summerville, South Carolina, my hometown, going to the barbershop was not one of my favorite activities, right up there with visiting the dentist. In pre-adolescence, we patronized Homer’s, which conformed almost perfectly to Waits’s depiction. My father took me in those days because he thought women didn’t belong in barbershops – the way men didn’t belong in “beauty parlors” – because their presence would curtail free expression, whether it be an off-color joke by the males or juicy lady gossip by the females. 

At Homer’s you could get a shoeshine and a shave. I remember watching the barbers sharpen their razors on strops after they’d lathered the reclining recipients with soft-bristled brushes. To me, it looked scary. 

Mr. Homer, as we called him, employed another barber, Ben, a robust, heavy-set Filipino proficient but not fluent in English. Whenever someone came in with flipflops, he’d bellow, “How ‘bout a shoeshine?” and then laugh loudly at his own joke.[3]

At barber colleges, they must have a course in how to engage in small talk. Truth be known, I’ve never enjoyed Q and A small talk from service providers, whether they be barbers, dental hygienists, or the Porter-Gaud dad who peppered me with questions while performing my vasectomy. 

Also, sometimes small talk can seem like lying. 

“Don’t you think Gone with the Wind is the greatest movie of all time?”

“Uh, maybe.”

Anyway, in adolescence, I ditched Homer’s for a barbershop I think was called Bryant’s, which was owned and operated by African Americans, though think they only cut White people’s hair. It was located a couple of doors down from. Dr. Melfi’s Pharmacy, my go-to source for Mad Magazines

Bryant’s didn’t conform at all to Waits’s Homer’s-like barbershop. It had a New Orleans vibe with ornate shrines set up to honor JFK and MLK, Jr. with other photographs of less famous civil rights icons along with Hubert Horatio Humphry campaign buttons. It also seemed not as glaringly well-lit as Homer’s. On the other hand, I don’t think they offered comic books or magazines to flip through while you waited.

The barbers at Bryant’s weren’t all that big on small talk either, which suited me just fine. I think the last time I had my hair cut there was in August right before my junior year of high school. After that, I started cultivating a “freak flag” do and would get slight trims from girls I knew, just enough snipped so I wouldn’t get thrown out of school. Hair couldn’t touch your collar, and sideburns could only come down halfway down your ear. I had a friend named Gray who actually wore a short-haired wig to school.

The last old-fashioned barbershop I patronized was Gloria’s on Center Street at Folly Beach not long after we moved there in the very late Nineties. Like my ol’ man, I took my boys to the shop to get their hair cut. Gloria’s cat had full range of the joint, and although it didn’t seem all that hygienic, it was picturesque, and she only charged me five bucks because I’m bald. A proud lesbian, her small talk wasn’t all that small.

Now, of course, the building has been converted into a tourist bar. 

Ah, no; the years, the years; 

Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs.

On a brighter note, I’ll leave you with Waits’s song. Enjoy.


[1] In fact, when I taught the Beats in my American Lit class, I played the song for my students on a Porter-Gaud phonograph, a relic that nevertheless produced high quality sound, albeit not stereophonic.

[2] [snip] designates I’m omitting lines; though, I’ll confess, it’s an onomatopoetic play on the action of the song. 

[3] Interestingly enough, we children called him Ben, not Mr. Ben, the way we called our maids Lucille or Alice while they called us Mr. Rusty or Mr. David. 

Hanging with Dylan

An incident that occurred yesterday engendered a frustrating dream last night, or to be more accurate, this morning. 

On most weekday afternoons around five o’clock, I walk to Chico Feo for two or three beers. Yesterday was particularly lovely with its offshore breeze and low humidity. I found a seat at the bar and chatted with someone named Thomas about Charles Bukowski. Later, I learned from my friend Jim that the operator of Folly toll booth of the 1920s could refuse entrance to undesirables. Right before leaving, I hung awhile with the swashbuckling twenty-something surf crew, Connor, Nathan, Ike, etc. Eventually, I forked over fifteen bucks to bartender Gavin for three low potency IPAs (tip included) and began my seven-block trek back to East Huron for a chat on the deck with Caroline before she prepared fried chicken, air-fried broccoli, and couscous for dinner. 

When walking home, I take various routes, depending on the heat and shade or my mood. Yesterday afternoon, I took East Erie to 4th Street, and as I made the turn, I spotted a couple in their forties playing badminton. She was wearing a knee-length floral dress and giggling girlishly as she retrieved what we vulgarians call the “birdy.”[1]

Lovely, I thought, wholesome.

As I turned right from 4th to Hudson, I encountered eight or so short-term renters who had placed the largest inflatable pool I’d ever seen in the side yard. Three of the young men, in their late twenties or early thirties, splashed around sitting in the pool while three or four women stood over them with their wine. Completing the tableau was a springer spaniel in profile defecating, his head facing the pool. 

It was a wonderful sight to see, the cast of characters spaced harmoniously, the modest one-story cream colored clapboard house in the background, the dog triangular. I thought, “Man, Edward Hopper would love this,” and then, “I ought to take a picture,” but I had already passed and knew that if I turned around, the dog likely would have finished its business.

In this age of unlimited photo-shooting, many of us – and I’m including myself here – feel that if we don’t have a photo, it didn’t happen. I remember visiting the Louvre years back and marveling at Japanese tourists viewing masterpieces through the lens of cameras and my ruing their inability to nakedly gaze in appreciation of the art in and of itself. But now here I was approaching the fifth block of Hudson and chiding myself for both not taking the picture and for regretting not taking the picture, which led to more general musings about behavioral oddities in the age of social media.

Fastforward ten hours or so. 

I’ve bumped into Bob Dylan on Folly, a younger version than I one I last saw in concert.[2] He’s dressed modestly and is relatively friendly. Afraid of alienating him, I don’t share what a pivotal role he played in my life or ask any of the thousands of questions that have popped up in my now teeming brain. 

I’m desperate, though, to take a picture, to prove to the world I was hanging with Bob. He is on Folly for an exhibit of his art, and I ask if I can take a picture of one of his paintings, but he doesn’t answer . I walk away to fiddle with my phone so I can take a photo, but when I come back, he has vanished, replaced by a core of festive people saying, “We heard that Dylan was just here.”

Yes, he had been, and I had been in his presence, sort of, but sort of not, because rather than living the moment, I abstracted the experience by wanting photographic proof, validation for my coolness, hoping that some of his immortality would rub off on me.

A day late and a springer short

[1] I can’t bring myself to use “shuttlecock” even though “giggling girlishly as she retrieved the shuttlecock” sounds more musical, an improvement over “what we vulgarians call the ‘birdy.’”

[2] I don’t know if this is related, but Bill Murray was at Chico Feo three weeks ago, and I had no inclination whatsoever to engage him in any way or to take a photo. Also, a couple of Christmases ago, I met Stephen Colbert at a relatively small house party. We conversed about Porter-Gaud, his alma mater and where I used to teach. During the party, only one person asked to have his picture taken with him, which I considered très gauche. 

Daliesque Playing Field

The cliché “level playing field’ has a pleasant lilt to it; it’s a sweet-sounding pair of trochees followed by a vowel-laden accented syllable. Fairness, it proclaims, should be a prerequisite. Unfortunately, the playing field of US politics is tilted way right – it’s warped, Daliesque, unsettling, at least for small-d democrats.  

For example, Wyoming has two senators; DC has zero, though more people reside in the District of Columbia than on the lone prairies of the Tumbleweed State. For me, it’s weird that the dispersion of a smattering of like-thinking people in the boondocks should have more say than a concentration of like-thinking people in urban areas, that folks in Albin WO (pop. 181) should have the same Senatorial representation of folks in the Bronx (pop. 1.435 million), but that’s the case, the plan from the get-go – though I doubt that a majority of the Founding Fathers would be happy with the rejection of Enlightenment thinking that characterizes the philosophies of many in the Hinterlands. 

To quote a song from the days of my youth that looped a lot on AM radio: “Something’s happening around here/ What it is ain’t exactly clear.”

I realize that Twitter is also skewed, the extremes getting more than their share of attention, but according to my Bloomsday[1] feed, many Republicans tweeters are cheering for Putin in today’s summit today over Biden. 

Gimme a C, gimme a U, gimme an L, gimme a T.  What does that spell? 

Atavism. 


[1] 16 June 2021