Sure, I’m a Marxist

During the 50s and 60s, my grandmother’s television, a small black-and-white model perched on a metal stand, played constantly, both day and night, commencing with Dave Garraway’s Today Show and ending with Jack Paar’s Tonight Show[1]

When I spent the night with Mama Blanton, she allowed me stay up as long as I could keep my stinging eyes open. As a young child, I fought sleep as if it were an enemy, as if it were death itself. At home, I had to be in bed by 7:30 on weekdays and nine on weekends, so I always looked forward to staying over at Mama Blanton’s on Saturday nights and watching those old black-and-white movies, which seemed in my naivety ancient artifacts from a more glorious age.[2]

When I was five or six, I recall watching a Marx Brothers movie – probably Duck Soup – and making it past midnight. The Brothers’ antics enthralled me, especially horn-honking Harpo. I struggled mightily that night to stay awake but eventually succumbed to the Sandman’s strangle hold. Mama Blanton let me sleep on the couch until the movie ended, then led me, shuffling like a blind boy, to bed. I can’t recall if I realized then that the Groucho in the movie was the same Groucho (now twenty years older) who hosted the gameshow You Bet Your Life. However, I do I remember some time after the movie purchasing one of those Groucho masks featuring glasses, nose, eyebrows, and mustache.

I didn’t see another Marx Brothers’ film until college when my high school friend and Citadel cadet Gene Limehouse visited USC for a weekend.  High on whatever, we decided to catch a matinee screening of A Night at the Opera at the Russell House theater in the student union building. Fifteen or so years had passed since that first taste of manic Marx Brothers madness at Mama Blanton’s, but once again, I was laughing out loud, though now appreciating more than the slapstick, taking note of the verbal cleverness and also the mockery of the upper classes, most deliciously, Groucho’s offering a tuxedoed opera attendee a tip for retrieving his top hat that had fallen from the balcony. “Go buy yourself a stogie,” Groucho says, leaning over the railing and offering the fuddy-duddy a coin, which he refuses in a huff.

Yet another fifteen years later when I taught AP English and we studied Marxian criticism, I’d show A Night at the Opera on the week of Porter-Gaud’s musical, offering exhausted students a reprieve of sorts. I’d explain how the promotion of the impoverished tenor, the rollicking fun the peasant passengers below deck enjoy on the trans-Atlantic voyage (as opposed to the stiff stiltedness of the first-class passengers), and the Marx Brothers’ revolutionary takeover of the performance of La Traviata conform to Karl Marx’s theories.

Although students back then – perhaps still do – balked at anything in black-and-white, the classes eventually got into it, sometimes applauding at the film’s conclusion.

A Night at the Opera, Marx Brothers’ movie with a Marxian message.

At any rate, I appreciate my grandmother’s liberality in allowing me to wander into her late-night adult world and watch movies not not necessarily suited for children, a benefit I passed along to my boys when they were growing up. 

Despite the clucking of a few disapproving tongues at the time, I’d say we turned out okay.

[1] I remember the local NBC station’s signing off with the National Anthem, followed by a short film featuring the poem “High Flight,” and then an announcer’s canned spiel about kilowatts and licensing. That done, the Indian head test pattern appeared with its accompanying high-pitched whine. Finally, exactly at one a.m., a blizzard of static would obliterate the test patten. Time to go nighty-night.

[2] Ironically, many had been filmed during the Depression.

Open Mike Community Spotlight

Captain Phil (You Can’t Keep a Maimed Man Down) Frandino

If you live within thirty miles of the Edge of America and can afford to party on Monday nights, you owe it to yourself to take in the Singer/Songwriter Soapbox held at Chico Feo from six to ten.

This event, hosted by the killer musician and songwriter George Alan Fox, showcases an eclectic array of music makers and poets, not only rockstar wannabes, but established entertainers like Danielle Howle and Robert Lighthouse.

The sessions have led to community building on Folly the likes I’ve never seen. Caroline and I I have met so many talented musicians –  Pernell McDaniel, Jeff Lowry, and Captain Phil Frandino, for example. Plus, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for talents of people I already knew, like Charlie Stonecypher and his funky ukulele (complete with wha-wha pedal), and now I’ve developed an even greater appreciation of the deep and soulful poetry of my pal Jason Chambers. Not only have the performers grown closer with each other, but they have also formed friendships with the audience as well. The word family is overused, but it is sort of like that, like distant cousins at a family reunion.

Last night the guitarist David Sink sat in with the acts, and man, oh, man. 

The first clip features George Fox performing a lovely original song “Books, Seeds, and Bullets” inspired by the Singer/Songwriter Soapbox.[1]

[1] And what an honor have my name mentioned in the lyrics.

video shot by Fleming Moore

Next some solo guitar work by David Sink at the end of Brother Fleming Moore’s paean to marital discord, “Busted Husband.”

Oh yeah, and Pernell McDaniel was in the house selling copies of his new CD. More about that later!

If Dogs Run Free

Jack the Mighty Springer in Rantowles, SC, circa 1982

If dogs run free, why not me
Across the swamp of time? – Bob Dylan

Several years ago, my late wife Judy Birdsong and I rented a car and crisscrossed Costa Rica on a combination surf safari and sight-seeing tour. Among my favorite spots was the surfing mecca Malpais located at the southeastern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific coast. The town itself hardly qualifies as a town, consisting of a handful of shops and small dwellings along an unpaved road running parallel to some of the most beautiful coastal scenery I’ve ever seen.

Malpais (photo credit Judy Birdsong)

What really struck me about Malpais, however, wasn’t the stellar surf or the intricate rock formations that studded the beach, but it was just how happy everything around there seemed to be – the school children in their colorful uniforms smiling and skipping along the muddy road, the shopkeepers beaming from the doors of their humble establishments, the birds trilling somewhere out-of-sight. Even the dogs seemed to be grinning as they trotted to and fro unencumbered by fencing or leashes. The only discouraging sound to be heard was the dragon-like bellowing of howler monkeys looking askance from treetops.

Malpais Howler Monkeys (photo credit Judy Birdsong)

A Facebook post from my former student Elizabeth Rowell Griffiths has awakened my memory of the happy pooches of Malpais. In her post, Elizabeth reminiscences about a couple of canines that ran free on the Porter-Gaud campus in the previous century, a golden retriever named Chief and a basset hound named Rufus. Rufus belonged to Berkeley Grimball, the headmaster, whose house was part of the campus, so it makes sense that Rufus might wander among the students of the Lower, Middle, and Upper Schools; however, I don’t remember to whom Chief belonged – maybe he lived in the Crescent, an upper end neighborhood adjacent to the campus.

What a charmed life these dogs led, beloved by scores of children who knew them by name, cooed to them, petted and scratched their heads. Elizabeth’s post elicited happy responses like “We loved those dogs” and “Those were our dogs.” Some fellow I don’t know added, “I never went to PG but I remember those dogs! We lived in Wappoo Heights.” So it seemed these free-range dogs enjoyed a rather large territory.

Of course, it comes as no surprise that my hometown of Summerville featured dogs that ran free in the less regulated ‘50s and ‘60s.  My favorite was Ludie, a springer belonging to the Baldwin family who lived between South Main and Sumter Avenue. Ludie frequently visited James Spann Junior High and, like Chief and Rufus, enjoyed both fame and devotion. My friend Becky Baldwin tells me that Ludie was named after a bootlegger from Hell Hole Swamp. Even when Becky’s mama would lock him up to prevent him from following Becky to school, Ludie would head to Spann immediately after being let out later in the day. He was, I think, the first springer I’d ever seen and played a prominent role in Judy’s and my choosing springers as our first pets as a married couple. We eventually through carelessness bred Jack and Sally who produced two litters. In fact, we ended up selling one of the puppies to a family who lived in the Crescent. After the second litter, we had Sally fixed, which put an end to that. I have to say, though, those puppies sold like Chick-Filet sandwiches.

Ludie and Becky

My boyhood dog, a black cocker named Bozo, also enjoyed freedom but rarely wandered outside our half acre. Perhaps “Beetle” (as in Beetle Bailey) would have been a more appropriate moniker given Bozo’s propensity to spend the vast majority of his days asleep under a tree.

I recall sadly that day when Bozo did wander off and we couldn’t find him for a few hours until our neighbors the Foxes informed us that they had discovered Bozo dead in their backyard. 

Alas, for me, it’s sad that dogs’ abbreviated life spans mean that we get to know them both as puppy toddlers and stiff-legged geriatrics. In my adulthood, I have gone through the springers Jack and Sally, a golden retriever Bessie, a short-lived German longhaired pointer named Saisy (you can read her elegy here), and now KitKat, a chihuahua rat terrier mix who is two and has a very good chance of outliving me. 

But I kind of hope not.

photo credit Taryn Moore

The Killing Off of Innocence: Dropping Acid in the Wilds of Summerville

From James Fenimore Cooper through Toni Morrison, American Literature features themes that appear again and again in different guises. 

One theme is interracial bosom friendship, which is much more common in American literature than in American life.  Before the Revolution, Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook roam the wilderness of the eastern seaboard battling bloodthirsty tribes and rescuing damsels. Later, Ishmael and Queequeg circumnavigate the seven seas in pursuit of the great white whale while Huck and Jim drift down the Mississippi encountering scalawags at every bend of the river. And let’s not forget about the Lone Ranger and Tonto thundering forever westward on the backs of Silver and Scout. 


Tall tales constitute another motif in the American canon in exaggerated heroes like Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill. Occasionally, more serious works incorporate characteristics of tall tales, as in Faulkner’s magnificent story “The Bear” where Sam Fathers, an ancient native American, teaches young white Ike McCaslin the ways of the woods.  Each year, the generations of Jefferson’s menfolk have hunted for Old Ben, a seemingly immortal bear of mythic proportions.  Old Ben remains unvanquished until the hunters encounter and half tame a wild airedale mix that might well give Cerberus, the Hound of Hades, a dog-whipping. Alas, Ben’s killing, so long sought after, depresses his pursuers, marks the end of an era, because Ben himself had become synonymous with the wilderness.  The old days are done. Farewell, country store; hail Walmart.

Indeed, the wilderness itself represents the most constant motif in American literature, and even as early as The Leatherstocking Tales, it is beginning to vanish, “the doomed wilderness whose edges were being constantly and punily gnawed at by men with axes and plows who feared it because it was wilderness.”[1]

As children growing up in Summerville, South Carolina, we Twin Oaks kids enjoyed acres and acres of woods where we built forts, played cowboys and Indians, and acquired chiggers. Of course, those woods were also doomed, their trees eventually felled, replaced by ranch-styled three-bedroom houses with lawns of centipede and Bermuda. 

Along with Salisbury Acres and the Tea Farm, Twin Oaks was one of the earliest settlements subdivisions, and as other housing developments sprung up, more and more of the woods within and surrounding Summerville disappeared. By the time I was in high school, much of it was gone, except for a large tract of undeveloped land behind Newington Plantation, an old phosphorous or sand-mining site we called “the Clay Pits.”  

The “Clay Pits” with its ponds and crisscrossing dirt roads provided a refuge for crazy mixed-up kids seeking a secluded spot for, as we called it back then, “making out”[2] or adventures as we rode motorcycles back and forth on the rutted dirt roads and camped out among the loblolly pines. Although we didn’t realize it, our carefree days were receding as rapidly as the woods in and around Summerville.

In fact, it was on one of these campouts in the Clay Pits that I first dropped LSD. It was the night of my 18th birthday, and let me assure you, a good time was not had by all. That December night marked the end of my childhood. It was not an adventure that Tom Sawyer might enjoy, but a misadventure, a depressing sequence of hapless events more suited for a documentary on social decline than a celebration of youthful exuberance. 

To protect the guilty, I’ll change the names in “Dear Abby” fashion. There were “Farley,” “Micky,” “Marty,” and “Ian.” Farley had acquired four hits of the same variety of acid and one hit of something called “Czechoslovakian Cherry,” which I unfortunately ingested. 

After an hour or so, everyone but me had gotten off and was oohing and aahing at phantasms invisible while I shivered forlornly in the cold. Farley suggested we take a drive within the Clay Pit confines, which would at least provide some warmth, and it was during that drive that I first started feeling the effects. While the Hollies’ hit “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” – a song I didn’t particularly like – was playing on the radio, an electrical rush of sensation shivered up my spine.

Back at the campsite, suddenly I found myself in the throes of harrowing hallucinations and felt overwhelmed, only to discover that my girlfriend and her best friend had sneaked out of their houses and ridden their bikes to the campsite. Under normal circumstances, I’d be delighted, but my girlfriend’s appearance filled me with dread that her mother would discover her disappearance and track us down somehow. At one point as we lay on my sleeping bag, it felt as if a gigantic boulder was crushing me. 

Eventually, the boulder lifted, my girlfriend and her friend pedaled off, and my paranoia abated. At one point Ian said to me, “Look, Micky looks just like Moses,” and sure enough, there Micky stood with a long white beard and wearing a long white robe.

The last phase of an LSD trip, a physiological event that for me negates whatever fun you might have had, is crashing, coming down off the drug. They said back then that LSD contained strychnine, which was responsible for the bodily trauma that crashing produced, but as it turns out, that’s an urban myth. Whatever the cause, when the sun came up on the first day of my nineteenth year, I was one miserable, guilt ridden human being, racked by remorse and bodily aches and pains.

Farley drove me home. When I arrived at the house, everyone but my father had gone to church. He was lying in bed smoking cigarettes as I slipped into my room, then headed to our one bathroom equipped with a tub. Lying there guilt-ridden in lukewarm water accompanied by a bit of floating pine straw, feeling as woebegone as I had ever felt, I heard my father’s voice booming from his bedroom.

“Rusty, what did you do with my wingtips?”

This really pissed me off.  Rusty wore desert boots, not wingtips, in fact wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair of wingtips and didn’t wear the same size shoe as his father.

“Rusty, what did you do with my wingtips?”

Oh, to be able to hop on that raft with Huck and Jim or to sign onto a whaling voyage (albeit a doomed one) with Ishmael and Queequeg or to track a mythic bear through the wilds of Yoknapatawpha County with Ike and Sam!

Oh, to be anywhere else besides 201 Lenwood Drive with Wesley and Wesley.

[1] William Faulkner, “The Bear.”

[2] Some called the activity “parking,” but none of us, to my recollection, ever called it “petting” or “canoodling,” the last being a word I never heard until adulthood. One night, my former school bus passenger-turned-police-officer Pike Limehouse shooed my girlfriend and me from the Clay Pits, an embarrassing encounter if there ever was one. By the way, have you ever noticed that in ‘50s horror films, teens making out tend to be the monsters’ first victims, a tribute to the puritanism that is also a major American literary motif. 

In Hawthorne, unlike Thoreau, the Wilderness is manifest darkness, the abode of witches and Old Scratch himself, the New England equivalent of the Clay Pits.

A Malcontented Blogger Turns His Back on Aggression: Roman Empire/Super Bowl Edition

If ever an event exists that epitomizes Late Empire decadence, it’s the Super Bowl, the trashy teenage illegitimate daughter of Walt Disney and Joan Rivers.

First, there’s the obscenity of the salaries of these gladiators who essentially entertain us through ritualistic war, a string of overhyped “battles,” each becoming less memorable as the Roman numerals march on into Super Bowl oblivion.  Admittedly, it can be fun to watch these impressive specimens of predatory machismo smash into one another, sidestep tackles, propel perfect spirals, and make acrobatic diving fingertip grabs (though their inability to master the snap count can become tedious).[1] Nevertheless, you can’t help but wonder if the over-compensation for these essentially physical skills is indicative of some sort of skewed cultural atavism that harkens back to Spartacus.  Why, for example, does the secondary coach of the Baltimore Ravens, whoever he is, earn considerably more per annum than Pulitzer winning novelist Richard Ford?  Not to mention Deion Sanders[2] whose career earnings undoubtedly dwarf Cormac McCarthy’s, Toni Morrison’s, and Philip Roth’s combined?

Because our priorities are fucked-up perhaps?[3]

Can you guess which house belongs to Deion Sanders and which to Robert Frost?

Second, there’s the Roman circus of the halftime show, which began innocently enough in the late Sixties with marching bands, but now features antediluvian rockers like Steve Tyler and the Who or commercial hiphoppers like the Black-Eyed Peas.  These performances nearly always end up flat (Prince and Springsteen being exceptions) and occasionally can be painful to watch (Grandpa Jagger frenetically cavorting back and forth across the stage as if it were strewn with red hot coals).[4]  I’m far too lazy to research the cost of these extravaganzas, but I suspect we could coax the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hahn to meditate on the artificial turf at halftime for free, which would be more entertaining than 90% of the halftime shows I’ve suffered through.

Brittany Spears passing gas at the 2008 spectacle

What, may you ask, binds together all of these facets of this undeclared national holiday – the verbal jostling of the interminable lead-ins (Terry Bradshaw bickering with Howie Long) – the game itself, the outsized attempt at halftime entertainment, the pratfalls of the commercials?

Aggression, that’s what.  Aggression is what separates the winners from the losers, those who pay sticker price from those who browbeat the salesperson into surrender, those who claw their way to the top from those who rely on honor and integrity to guide their lives, those who bury their helmets into the runner’s chest from those who wanly attempt an arm tackle.

Aggression is what fuels capitalism, and sports is a wonderful training ground for aggression, from the bestial grunting of tennis players returning volleys to the narcissistic celebratory endzone fandangoes of wide receivers.  These gladiators are worshipped in their high schools and wooed by head coaches who during recruiting banter with mothers they would never actually associate with otherwise. No wonder most professional football players possess Caligula-sized egos. These mannish boys have clawed their way to fame and fortune (the latter thanks in part to their labor unions).  

Who can blame them for copping the Conan the Barbarian look?

Mike Roemer Photography Inc

[1] When I played junior varsity football for the mighty Summerville Green Wave, we were so collectively stupid that we could only go on “hut one.”

[2] I had the misfortune to share an elevator with Deion once, who exuded all of the warmth of a Secret Service agent as he avoided eye contact with the children asking for his autograph.

[3] Here’s a longish quote copped from Business Insider website that discusses one of the reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire: 

The richest 1 percent of the Romans during the early Republic was only 10 to 20 times as wealthy as an average Roman citizen. Now compare that to the situation in Late Antiquity when an average Roman noble of senatorial class had property valued in the neighborhood of 20,000 Roman pounds of gold. There was no “middle class” comparable to the small landholders of the third century B.C.; the huge majority of the population was made up of landless peasants working land that belonged to nobles. These peasants had hardly any property at all, but if we estimate it (very generously) at one tenth of a pound of gold, the wealth differential would be 200,000! Inequality grew both as a result of the rich getting richer (late imperial senators were 100 times wealthier than their Republican predecessors) and those of the middling wealth becoming poor.”

[4] To be fair, I saw the Stones in 2019, and they were terrific. The Supper Bowl performance was an aberration.

From the Journal of Percival Reginal Ignatius Morehouse

[Editor’s note: Dr. Morehouse is the esteemed editor of Latinate Locutions for the Habitually Silent.]

Perhaps what occurred last Friday is the result of the moon’s and the sun’s elliptical longitudes differing by 180 degrees, for in the wee hours, having been prompted from my recumbent position in the arms of Morpheus by a corporal need for vesical relief, I noticed from the bathroom window that the lunar hemisphere facing me was completely sunlit, appearing as a circular disc illuminating the night sky.

You know, it’s possible that these geriatric spouses’ curtailed narratives possess smidgens of veracity. No, I didn’t bay at the full moon, nor did thick fur suddenly pullulate from my epidermis in a lupine metamorphosis; however, the synapses of my cerebral cortex did misfire – if that’s the word –  into a subversive ideation, a completely impractical plan of action, as if the Imp of the Perverse had commandeered my common sense. 

Or as Ovid might say, Habeo cilium barbam supra Fundamentum meum.

A few hours after Dawn had painted the eastern sky with her rosy digits, I descended the stairs to find my consort standing before a pile of dishes  an accumulation of platters in that domestic space where meals are prepared.

“Beloved,” I said, “how would you like to engage in an impractical odyssey that would have us motor from the Holy City to her sister city Savannah for lunch and then turn around and drive home in time to retrieve Haselden from the halls of academe?”

A smile of enchantment beamed from that face capable of launching a thousand ships, a face so beautiful it might prompt Mrs. Menelaus herself to google “plastic surgeons.”

Consort vis-a-vis Rossetti’s Helen (aka Mrs. Menelaus )

Still smiling, she queried, “But do we have time?”

“Yes, my darling,” I replied. “I have officiated a marriage of science and serendipity. If we depart in thirty minutes, we can arrive at Chive Seabar & Lounge on Broughton Street at eleven when it opens, enjoy a repast of an hour-and-a-half, and then drive home and arrive at Haselden’s educational institution by 2:30 post meridian.”

Savannah, Georgia

By nine, we were in transit, headed south on Highway 17S, motoring past the three Rs: the Red Top Community, Rantowles, and Ravenel, the last hamlet infamous for its severe enforcement of municipal strictures governing vehicular speed. On we progressed through Jacksonboro, past the quaint Edisto Motel, and that notorious naval launch site that has been christened with the unfortunate appellation of “Cuckold’s Landing.” 

After what NASCAR aficionados term a “pitstop”* (where I encountered the abomination below), we merged onto I-95, and in a mere hour found ourselves traversing the Savannah River and into the city itself.

*No, I do not suffer from a lisp.

Exactly at 10:55, our cellular amanuensis Siri informed us that “the destination is on your left,” and much to our astonishment, a parking space devoid of vehicle presented itself for the taking.

Even though what happened next might mislead the reader to consider the narrative a fictional account, just as my consort and I reached the door of Chive Seabar & Lounge, a masked woman of Asian heritage somersaulted the sign from closed to open, unsheathed the deadbolt and ushered us in to a corner table. 

Otherwise, the restaurant was devoid of customers.

We ordered mussels in a yellow curry festooned with onions and pickled cucumbers, skewered scallops, and a mushroom salad, which in honor of Mr. Biden’s election, we shared socialistically. 

Each dish was a savory culinary concoction of toothsomeness. And though castigated in verse for his winged acceleration, Time’s airborne Pegasus-propelled transport did not seem in a haste-post-haste mode, so the luncheon progressed in a comfortable sequence of leisurely elapsing.

By 12:30 PM, after the remuneration of the computation of the meal’s reckoning had transpired, we had exited, were ensconced in our automobile, and retracing the trip in reverse order.

The only glitch in an otherwise splendid sojourn was that we arrived at Haselden’s educational institution forty-five minutes early, although, truth be told, that miscalculation afforded us a premiere position in the vehicular parade known as – pardon the vulgarity – “the pick-up line,” but then again, our prolonged  idleness also presented me with the opportunity to chide the English Department Chairman for refusing my suggestion of adding Tristram Shandy to the 6th grade reading list.

At any rate, it was a full day, and I am now more than ready to close the leaves of this journal and retreat once again into Morpheus’s narcotic embrace.

8:45 PM, 29 January 2021.

Woody Guthrie, Chimney Sweeps, and Taxation

I’m not requiring Woody and Pete to wear masks because they’re dead

When Jennifer Lopez hit the first note of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” during the Inauguration,  I wondered if she would include those two stanzas my elementary school music teacher omitted when we sang it in the early 60s. It was during the folk revival, and for some odd reason Guthrie’s song had acquired a sort of Kumbaya campfire wholesomeness.[1]

J-Lo did leave out the stanzas, but then again “This Land” had been fused into a medley with “America the Beautiful,” and the negative omitted lyrics don’t mesh well with the latter song, essentially a paean celebrating America’s beauty and God’s bestowal of grace.

Here are the oft-omitted stanzas of Guthrie’s song.

In the fifth stanza, the wayfaring narrator –  presumably Guthrie himself – encounters

[. . .]  a high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said: Private Property,
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing —
God blessed America for me.
This land was made for you and me.[2]

In addition, this verse didn’t make the cut:

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple
By the Relief Office I saw my people —
As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if
God blessed America for me.
This land was made for you and me.

The latter stanza brings to mind stanza from William Blake’s “London”:

How the Chimney-sweepers cry

Every blackning Church appalls, 

And the hapless Soldiers sigh

Runs in blood down Palace walls.[3]

(Allow me here a quick aside: note the difference between song lyrics and poetry, how the former lacks the evocative rhythm and the compression of the latter. So, no Bennington, you may not bring song lyrics instead of poem. With song lyrics all you’ll talk about meaning when I want you to demonstrate how rhythm, rhyme, imagery, symbolism, diction, etc. underscore the meaning).

Guthrie and Blake both, two centuries apart, complain about disparities of wealth and point out religion’s failure to redress wrongs.

And let’s face it.  Wealth in the US is not evenly distributed, and the disparity between rich and poor is widening.

For example, the wealthiest 1% possess ~ 40% of the nation’s wealth, the bottom 80% own ~ 7%.

I’m too lazy to perform computations to determine how much money Jeff Bezos rakes in a week compared to the total income I earned in 34 years of teaching nor the even deeper disparity between Jeff’s income and a minimum wage employee’s.

On the other hand, no one forced me to major in English or to drop out of graduate school. My meager gifts and temperament don’t calculate into untold riches. I don’t begrudge Bezos’s success. He is highly intelligent, hardworking, and ruthless when it comes to business – advantageous qualities for one seeking to amass billions. 

What gripes me (and should the rest of us 99%ers, even Confederate flag-waving militiamen) is that billionaires like Donald Trump can get away with paying $750 in income taxes in a given year. Don’t we have evidence enough that massive tax cuts for the super wealthy don’t result in a trickling down of their wealth but instead create massive budget deficits, deficits that Republicans don’t care about until the second they’re out of power?

Well, it’s a new day and all that jazz. The times, they may be a changing. However, given the narrow margins of Democratic control of Congress and the on-going gerrymandering of districts by Republican dominated state legislatures, I wouldn’t bet even one of my vintage folk LPs on any significant changes transpiring.

Speaking of capitalism, that fake painting produced by the author is for sale

But then again, if Trump breaks away from the GOP and starts a third party that recruits crazies like Laura Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene to run for House and Senate seats against establishment Republicans and Democrats, that could result in a more European-like US economy.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

I’ll leave you with this Guthrie ditty:

This song was written in New York City
Of rich men, preachers and slaves
Yes, if Jesus was to preach like he preached in Galillee,
They would lay Jesus Christ in his grave.

Hear that, Franklin Graham?

[1] Driving my stepdaughter to school this morning with Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” playing, I mentioned that it was a highly misunderstood song because people mistook the oft repeated line “Born in the USA” as jingoistic crowing rather than an indictment of the narrator’s mistreatment as a war veteran even though he had, not only been born in the US, but also fought for the US. 

“It doesn’t sound very positive to me,” she said. 

[2] Native Americans have taken issue with the inclusion of Guthrie’s song in the ceremonies because it ignores that “this land [that] belongs to you and me” was stolen from them, though I would give Guthrie a break here in that the lyrics suggest that the land belongs to everyone equally and somewhat calls into the legitimacy of  private ownership itself. After all, he was com-MU-nist.

[3] I’ve presented Blake’s stanza as it was published, i.e., with random capitals and missing apostrophes. Give me an S, give me an I, give me a C. 

Beware of Baphoons: an Extended Definition

painting by Olayinks Taylor-Lewis

More and more I see the bare feet of passengers in SUVs  propped up on dashboards in the posture of the baboon pictured above.

Hurtling along I-81 doing 70-plus, the footloose lefty below fills in her lottery ticket trusting the laws-of-average when it comes to trips per-auto-collision while discounting them when it comes to the odds she’ll claim the Powerball jackpot and spend the rest of her days flying in private jets to luxury boxes to sip mint juleps as she watches the horses run at Pimlico.

Let’s call her foolish.  Certainly, despite her simian posture, baboonish is way too inappropriately pejorative.

The man below, a recent recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, claims that volcano eruptions, not industrial pollution, are depleting the ozone layer and that “Columbus saved the Indians from themselves.” 

Here’s Rush via on personal responsibility concerning drug abuse: 

If there’s a line of cocaine here, I have to make the choice to go down and sniff it [. . .]. If there were a gun here, it wouldn’t fire itself. I’ve got to reach for it and pull the trigger [. . .] We are rationalizing all this responsibility and all the choices people are making and we’re blaming not them, but society for it. All these Hollywood celebrities say the reason they’re weird and bizarre is because they were abused by their parents. So we’re going to pay for that kind of rehab, too, and we shouldn’t. It’s not our responsibility.

From  the LA Times’:

Radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh was booked on drug charges in Florida on Friday, and his lawyer said Limbaugh had agreed to a deal enabling him to avoid prosecution in the prescription case if he continued treatment for addiction problems and avoided any other run-ins with the law.

Let’s call him a buffoon.  Although crude in his intellectual machinations and often grotesque in his bodily incarnations, Rush is too slick to be called a baboon.

Once, in the picturesque Irish village of Roundstone,  Judy Birdsong, JT Crow, and I had what would have been a delightful noontime meal if a shirtless hirsute man and his morbidly obese wife had not plopped themselves next to us at the luncheon counter. Alas, in this case, no-shirt received service. Although he hadn’t shaved any Arabic numerals in his dorsal fur, he did resemble the fellow below.

I don’t think baboonish is too severe a descriptor.

Once a student of mine mistyped baphoon for baboon, and I thought too myself, “What a great word,”  a cross between a buffoon and a baboon.  It sounds just like what it means. Here’s my definition: a baphoon is a humanoid whose buffoonery crosses crudely into the ass-displaying, territorially aggressive subhuman behavior, a combination of buffoonery and boorishness characterized by passionate overreaction. (Note, baboons don’t possess Second Amendment rights, but baphoons do).  

This illustration should go in the dictionary next to the definition:

Of course, most of us only encounter baboons in zoos, and generally we can avoid buffoons if we avoid certain venues; however, baphoons tend to aggressively invade our territory, so they’re a different matter all together. Whatever you do, don’t try to reason with them.

An Orgy of Ennui Gives Way to the Roaring’ Twenties Revisited

The publishers of the vocabulary series Wordly Wise seem obsessive in their campaign to promote the word ennui. It appears in the 9th, 10th, and 11th grade workbooks, and I can’t think of any other word that appears in multiple editions.[1] Here are pages 76 and 77 from Book 6, which we used for our 9th grade students.

Note that the words “yokel,” “ennui,” “transient,” and “orgy” appear in the same lesson and how quaint yokel’s definition comes off: a “gullible country fellow” and how orgy’s definition – “wild, abandoned merrymaking” – sidesteps its sexual content altogether. I learned early in my career that having students write sentences using unfamiliar words was a waste of time, for the same reason I discouraged them from consulting thesauruses: they more often than not misuse the word because they don’t know its connotations. (Here’s a great example of thesaurus misuse from an earlier post).

If they are unfamiliar with the words, students tend to come up with sentences like this:

The landscape company sent over some yokels to dig our koi garden.

We had an orgy at the pep rally with lots of loud cheering.

Or let’s see if we can use both words in one sentence.

The yokels had a veritable orgy of tobacco juice ejaculations as they dug a koi pond in our back yard.

Anyway, back to ennui.  Certainly, ennui transcends mere boredom. It’s more like a malaise, a world weariness, an existence where even orgies seem like a drag. When I taught the word, I also taught John Berryman’s “Dream Song 14.”

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.   
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,   
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy   
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored   
means you have no

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no   
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,   
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes   
as bad as achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.   
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag   
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving            
behind: me, wag.

Now that’s ennui!

Well, having endured a year of a pandemic, we all may be suffering to some degree of ennui, despite Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime, and TikTock. For most people, simple human contact is a need, whether it be at a sold-out concert or merely in the simple act of shaking hands with a just-introduced barroom companion.

But, hey, it’s the 20s, and the end of Covid (our Spanish flu) in sight. With the Trump Administration (not exactly the equivalent of WWI but pretty damn gruesome) over, and with the legalization of cannabis (our Prohibition) sweeping across the land, we just might set the decade a-roarin’.

In fact, my beloved and I are getting a head start by going full tilt Gatsby (while keeping a sharp eye out for roadside yokels) as we celebrate what we hope to be a new era of love and prosperity).

Happy New Year!

[1] In my 34-year career at Porter-Gaud School, I taught 7th, 8th, 8th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades, including AP Literature and Composition, so I’m very familiar with the Wordly Wise series. 

Recipe for Rusty-O Chicken, a Mexican-Style Easy-to-Fix Delicioso Dish

A decade or so ago, my Porter-Gaud colleague Jimmy Owens turned me on to a recipe whose only prep was pouring Picante sauce over chicken breasts. My sons dubbed the dish “Jimmy-O Chicken.”  Over the years, however, I’ve made so many changes to the recipe that I now call it my own, “Rusty-O Chicken,” the O in honor of both Jimmy and the recipe’s Mexican flavoring.

It takes only ten minutes max prep, and is, as Cousin Minnie would say, “DEE-licious,” so Dear Readers, here it is.

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cut four chicken breasts (I use scissors) into hunks that are a bit bigger than bite-sized and coat them with chicken taco seasoning.

3. Pour a complete bottle of Picante sauce over the nuggets.

4. After draining a can of black beans, dump it on top of the Picante sauce.

Sprinkle a packet of Mexican cheese over the concoction.

6. If you choose, arrange black olives over the cheese.

7. Bake for about forty-five minutes or until bubbly.

8. Serve over white rice.