St. James Infirmary iPhone Blues

I first heard “St. James Infirmary Blues” covered by Eric Burdon and the Animals, and the song really moved me, the horror of it, having to encounter the corpse of your lover “stretched out on a long white table/ So cold, so stiff/ She was dead.” Throughout the years, the song really stuck with me.[1]

The other night, Caroline and I were at the Lowfife Bar on Folly, and somehow the topic of public domain tunes came up. I mentioned that Dylan had borrowed the melody of “St. James Infirmary Blues” for his masterpiece “Blind Willie McTell.” In fact, I sang two verses of the Burdon cover right there at the bar.

Well, the very next day, an ad showed up on my Facebook feed for this book, which I’m eager to read.

Anyway, we can probably chalk up the ad’s appearance to coincidence, but, man, could it be some bot was listening to us via our phone?

Then last night at the Soapbox open mic at Chico a banjo player covered the song. WTF?

So, this morning, during one of my undelightful stints of insomnia, I composed this piece of doggerel in my head, which I consider a more productive use of my time in the wee hours than contemplating politics, my health, the past, or the future.

(BTW, occasionally, a reader accuses me of cultural appropriation one of these paeans to Black culture, but my conscience is clear on that score.)

St James Infirmary iPhone Blues

Tapping a cane,
Mr. Andre Beaujolais,
with some hoodoo magic
in his front pants pocket
bopped down St. Charles
on his way to see
Miss Hattie Dupree,
the one-time lover
of McKinley Morganfield,
better known as Muddy Waters,
King of the Chicago Blues.

Those who got bad mojo
go see Miss Hattie Dupree
for the inside dope
in the hope of counteracting
shenanigans ¬– hexes,
curses, wet nurses,
vexations, permutations,
marital relations.
genetic mutations,
Haitian sensations,
and genital truncations.

Mr. Andre Beaujolais
was on his way
to deliver a batch
of John the Conkeroo juice
to help some dude
whose private
conversations had
been swiped by
advertisers, enterprisers,
franchisers, monopolizers,
and merchandizers.

He’d been telling his gal
about Blind Willie McTell,
how the Dylan song
by the same name
was sung to the same tune
as St James Infirmary Blues.
Their moment of intimacy
the next day mysteriously
appeared in an ad
for a book being peddled
on the dude’s Facebook page.

“I Went Down to the
St, James Infirmary:
Investigations in the shadowy
world of early jazz-blues
in the company
of Bling Willie McTell, Louie Armstrong . . .
where did this dang song
come from anyway?
“That title don’t trip off the tongue,”
Mr. Beaujolais said when
he heard the dude explain.

“Hand me your phone,” Andre say,
then took off its cover,
whupped out the Conkeroo juice,
poured it over the device,
mumbled some discrete mumbo jumbo.
“Ta da! problem solved!”
“Wait a minute, “the dude hollered.
My phone’s quit working!”
“No shit,” Mr. Andre replied.
“That’ll be fifty dollars.
I’ll accept ten fives.”


[1] In fact, I asked Gary Erwin to play it at Judy Birdsong’s memorial service, which he graciously. BTW, Gary is an underappreciated Charleston treasure.

Folly Disunited

Folly Beach is in the throes of a political battle that wages real estate interests versus residents who would prefer Folly remain a community rather than become a resort destination.

Two competing collectives have formed, Saving Folly’s Future and the Folly United, which employs the shaka “hang loose” hand signal as its logo.[1]

I certainly understand real estate investors wanting to expand their net worth and protect their investments. However, I wish they’d make their case without resorting to misinformation.

My friend Chris Bizzell has taken the time to analyze some of the erroneous information from the flyer that Folly United recently distributed and from the Folly United web site.

First, Folly United argues that Folly Beach residences have grown 2% per year since 2015; however, even though the number of houses, i.e., residences have grown, the number of full-time residents has fallen, as shown in the chart below.

Chris provides the following analysis:

Based on the latest 2022 data from the US census, the current population of Folly Beach is 2,056.
What was the peak population of Folly Beach?
 
The peak population of Folly Beach was in 2010, when its population was 2,617.

Folly Beach’s population is currently 21.4% smaller than it was in 2010 and 6.0% smaller since the year 2000.
 
In fact, Folly Beach’s growth is below average. 63% of similarly sized cities are growing faster since 2000. If the STR market is not capped, we can easily expect Folly’s full-time population to decrease further.

The flyer also contends that fewer short-term rentals will lead to higher crime rates because the properties are left empty.

Again Chris:

While studies do show that empty properties can lead to higher crime rates, this has nothing to do with STR levels. In fact, a new study shows that a proliferation of Airbnbs, or similar short-term rentals, in a neighborhood contributes to higher rates of crime in the area.
 
The study compiled 911 data from 2011-2018 determined that higher STR properties in a community does in fact lead to higher crime rates. A major finding in the report was that certain violent crimes, including fights, robberies, and reports of someone wielding a knife, tended to increase in a neighborhood a year or more after the number of Airbnbs increased. “What seems to be the problem is that Airbnb is taking households off the social network of the neighborhood and eroding its natural capacity to manage crime,” says O’Brien, who also studies criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern.
 
“What we’re seeing is evidence of a slower process, one that becomes significant over the years,” Babak Heydari (associate professor at Northeastern and author of the study) says. “It’s another support that changing the social fabric of the neighborhood is what’s undergirding these results.”

Folly United’s web site has a page entitled “Did You Know,” that ends with incredible bit of so-called information:

The STR commission discovered that STR had NO impact on the number of Long term rentals and no impact on population growth. INCONVENIENT FACTS that have repeatedly ignored.

C’mon, commonsense tells us that this couldn’t be true. As off-island owners transform their properties from long term to short term rentals the renters who called Folly home are replaced by vacationers.

Chris Bizzell:

As more properties are converted to STR’s, the supply of available housing open for long-term renters and homeowners shrinks. With housing in short supply, everyone ends up competing for the same tiny pool of rental properties and rents increase.
 
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that Airbnb “mildly cannibalizes” the long-term rental supply. And in the cities they studied where Airbnb was popular, residents faced a more severe reduction in housing stock.
 
Research at the University of Arizona and University of Denver found that Airbnb is indeed making the real estate market more expensive. By enriching its hosts while making housing less affordable for others, Airbnb and other home-sharing platforms may be compromising public affordability for private wealth, the research suggests. “It’s going to increase the gap between the rich and the poor,” Wei says. “It’s going to make inequality a little worse.”

The study concluded: “STR’s have become a major alternative for real estate investment and have had a significant impact on housing affordability.”
 
We can learn by looking at what has happened in other vacation destinations.
 
In Colorado ski towns, the demand for short term rentals and the increase in supply of STR’s are growing at such a rate that it is displacing local residents of the towns they are supposed to serve.

Margaret Bowes, Colorado Association of Ski Towns executive director, says that the perfect solution to the crisis is still not within reach. “The trajectory of the number of properties becoming (short-term rentals) is not sustainable,” according to Bowes. She adds that at the current rate, no one working in the said communities will be able to live in them.

Look, like I said earlier, I understand that property owners, especially those who don’t live on the island, want to increase their wealth, and certainly, if you live in your Folly residence nine months out if the year, you should be able to rent it short term and that goes for adjacent properties. However, we’re not talking about eliminating short term rentals but capping them, creating a happy symbiosis between full time residents and vacationers.

But, please, don’t resort to cherry picking data and resorting to misinformation to make arguments.

Aloha.


[1] Cue George Orwell: “Yes, war is peace!” If Folly were united, there would be no issue, and nothing screams “hang loose” and the aloha spirit like frenetically placing signs in the yards of short-term rentals that read “Don’t Cap Folly’s Future,” as if Folly is sentient being that would prefer to have its few remaining lots clear cut for the construction of McMansions than maintain a verdant residential vibe.

Spasmadico

Photoshopped from Jerry LoFro’s Clumsy Painting

In pains me to admit I have the fine motor skills of a duck-billed platypus. I’d hate to add up the total time I’ve squandered in supermarkets struggling to open those plastic bags you unspool from rollers in the produce department. When shoppers stroll by, they probably attribute my fumbling ineptitude to senescence – or perhaps to a stroke I’ve not fully recovered from – but truth be told, this disability has plagued me from my earliest years.  

The humiliation began in kindergarten when Miss Marion hauled out some shoes and attempted to teach the class how to tie them. As my playmates looped and threaded, the laces kept slipping from my tiny fingers. Miss Marion had to come over and help me, and when I had finally accomplished the feat, the bow I had managed was so loosely constructed, the whirr of an oscillating fan unraveled it.[1]  

Then there were those horrid two weeks after third grade when Mama made me go to Vacation Bible School at Summerville Baptist Church, a church we didn’t attend regularly, so many of the kids were strangers to me, especially the older ones. We were required to thread a knitting needle, which took me so long I had missed steps two and three and suffered verbal abuse from a tall dark-haired older kid. Thank Allah this was not a Muslim religious school because if it had been, my ineptitude in later painting the clay likeness of our Lord might have been mistaken for desecration.

I could go on with further examples, like my attempting to carve a likeness of the Statue of Liberty from a bar of soap in Cub Scouts or much later struggles in freeing prophylactics from their tiny plastic pods; however, for me the most embarrassing incident concerning my total lack of fine motor coordination occurred when my older son Harrison and I teamed to construct a Pinewood Derby racer from a block of wood.

As a boy, I would turn over such a project to my father, who would fashion the car at his workplace. Once he got home, I fetched newspapers so he could paint it in the carport. 

See, I helped!

So, when Harrison and I tackled the job, I followed my father’s lead, in a way. I carved a very un-aerodynamic semblance of a car, but, in a more honest rendition of my old man’s methodology, I had Harrison sand and paint it. After I had attached the wheels, I wrote “Free Tibet” on the side of the car with White Out.

I had the good sense not to photograph this monstrosity.

The great race took place at the gym of the Isle of Palms rec center. Harrison and I arrived early and got in line to have our car inspected, which essentially meant weighing it. The lady in charge was very complimentary to Harrison, and as she handed to car over to me, she leaned over and whispered in my ear, “It’s so nice for a change to see a dad who let his child do all the work all by himself.”

I smiled and said, “Thank you.”


[1] The year was 1957 before such establishments were equipped with air-conditioning. I remember being in the first grade sitting in my reading circle in early September eagerly awaiting the fan to turn its puny breeze my way.

2022 in the Ol’ Rearview

Well, dear scrollers, Time’s turbocharged chariot has rocketed past another year – ‘Tis here!” “Tis here!” “Tis gone!” – poof.

However, before it disappears in memory’s rearview, I thought I’d recap the year in posts, providing links to a few I think worthwhile. So without further ado, I’ll bid adieu to this intro and get the retrospective rolling.

January

By far, the most popular post of not only January but of the entire year was a melancholy meditation entitled “The Gentrification of Folly Beach, which laments the metamorphosis of a community into a resort. This fall and winter have seen the slowest bar and restaurant traffic in the quarter century I’ve lived on Folly. Could it be that the exodus of long term renters and home owners is the culprit? As I type this, the din of construction across the lane assaults my ear.

Here’s a view from my front porch as two identical behemoth short term rental clones arise from low lying lots that required groundwater to be pumped into a tidal ditch.

As Bobby Zimmerman once pointed out, “Money doesn’t talk; it screams.”

February

Slim pickings in February. I guess I’ll go with “Strange Encounters,” a weird-ass conversation I had with two puttering tourists.

March

After checking out Dylan (i.e. “Bonny Zimmerman”) at the Performing Arts Center, my friend Keith Sanders and I tuned into the Academy Awards just in time for the Will Smith/Chris Rock brouhaha, which I commented on in “The Sixth Deadly Sin.”

And there can be silver linings to dark clouds. From that sad incident, my friend, the prolific Pernell McDaniels, wrote this brilliant song, “The Ballad of Chris and Willy,” which you can watch him perform by hitting the link.

April

Here’s another post featuring a live performance at Chico Feo’s Singer/Songwriter Soapbox, this one by George Fox, who took the above photo of Pernell. If you’re from the Charleston area, you need to make the trek to Folly on Monday nights to check it out.

This one’s called “Song Lyrics as Opposed to Poetry, George Fox Edition“.

May

For May, let’s go with “The Folly of Living on Folly.

June

In June Caroline and I travelled to Germany to visit my ex-pat son Ned. We had a great time, got to meet his girlfriend’s Ina’s parents, have dinner with them, and visit their home.

Before all that wholesomeness, though, Caroline and I visited a speakeasy that was so weird it was like being on acid.

Decadence Lite, Berlin Edition.”

July

Here’s a post for you language mavens: “Redundant Tautologies” whose very title merits a footnote.

August

I took August off, essentially recycling old posts.

September

Dig this live reading of an original poem from Meg Posey (pictured above), who doubles as my spiritual advisor.

“Screen-Faced Nation”

October

I only produced four posts in October. Even though it’s really stupid to follow the above poem with one of my own, I can be really, really stupid. This is called “From Old Wes’s Almanack.”

November

Oh man, in November, a pickleball tournament took place on Folly, and I went all gonzo.

The Pickleball Extravaganza.

December

This may not surprise you, but I first smoked marijuana in high school. You can, too, vicariously, by shitting this link: “Smoking Pot, Weed, Refer in the Bad Ol’ Days.”

Thanks so much for reading, dear scrollers. Caroline and I are headed to DC to see my boys, my daughter-in-law Tayrn, Ned’s Ina, and my glorious grandson Julian.

Happy Holidays!

Caligula-Grade Delusions of Grandeur

Last Wednesday night at the dinner table, I mentioned to Caroline and Brooks that I’d run across an ALL-CAP Trump post on Truth Social heralding a MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT to be revealed the next day.

I confidently suggested that they “mark my words,” that Trump was going to announce that defeated Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake was his choice for vice president. After all, Lake has been a ubiquitous presence at Mar-a-Lago, and she and Trump share the conviction that the elections they lost had been stolen from them. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if they’ve engaged in a little extramarital hanky-panky.

”Whatcha wanna bet that the announcement is about Lake?” I asked.

Luckily for me, they demurred, because as we now know, the “major announcement” was that the Trump organization was trotting out an “official Donald Trump Digital Trading Card collection” in the form of non-fungible tokens. For a mere $99 dollars a pop, you could collect cards depicting the former president in various heroic poses – as superhero, sheriff, hunter, astronaut, etc.

To quote Aretha Franklin, “I ain’t no psychiatrist, I ain’t no doctor with degrees,/
but, it don’t take too much high IQ’s ” to see Trump’s got him a mental disease.

Acute Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

I mean, you’re talking Caligula-grade delusions of grandeur.[1] Check some of these out, a svelte yet swole Trump glistening godlike in poorly photoshopped incarnations from images illegally lifted from the internet.

These are especially inept:

I mean, what sane adult would publish altered images of himself to impress total strangers.

Okay, never mind.


[1] During his reign, Caligula, not only proclaimed his divinity and appeared in public dressed as various gods, but he also had heads removed from various statues of the gods and replaced with his own (not unlike Trump with these cards).

Smoking Pot, Weed, Reefer (Whatever You Wanna Call It) in the Bad Ol’ Days

Smoking Pot, Weed, Reefer (Whatever You Wanna Call It) in the Bad Ol’ Days

I started out on Burgundy

But soon the harder stuff.

Dylan, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”

In the fall of 1970, I abandoned the friend group I’d embraced since kindergarten and Cub Scouts to become a member of Summerville’s small but growing counterculture.[1]

Rather than going to football games on Friday nights, my new friends and I started hanging out at an apartment, swapping stories, and drinking Old Milwaukees in fourteen-ounce cans.[2]

Sometimes, we’d head out to the Clay Pits, an abandoned heavily wooded former phosphate site, and do essentially the same thing, except under the stars and around a campfire. We had all grown up in the Southern tradition of storytelling and were learning how to practice the art ourselves.  

We sported bellbottoms, wide flowery woven belts, dingo or desert boots. We boys had hair longer than the dress code allowed, and occasionally we’d get sent home from school to get it cut. Our girlfriends could grow their hair down to the waists but weren’t allowed to wear pants to school, so miniskirts became all the rage.

Hippies gotta do what hippies gotta do.

Eventually one of us, probably Gordon, purchased a nickel of skank-ass seeds-and-stems from some Middleton High surfer dude. Back then, Summerville was so small that if you went down to the Piggly Wiggly and bought a pack of rolling papers, the checkout lady was liable to tell your mama. So, we ended up rolling our first joints in Juicy Fruit chewing gum wrappers.

Sad? Pathetic? Comical?

I’d never even smoked a cigarette, so I didn’t know how to inhale. I sort of gulped the smoke in swallows. Of course, I didn’t get high, but I did suffer stomach distress the next day that had me bending over in pain as I attempted to rake some wealthy people’s expansive yard for pay. It was a weekly October Saturday gig.  I dreaded it so much it gloom-shadowed my Friday nights.

I didn’t have to burn the leaves but merely haul them to the edge of the woods that bordered their house. On that day, after I had dumped a load of leaves onto an established waist-high pile, I lay down on top it, clutching my stomach, eventually rolling on my back, lying there, looking up, closing my eyes, following the sun-spawned blobs of color floating in greyness.

“Rusty!”

It was the woman, the homeowner, I don’t remember her name.

“Rusty, what are you doing?”

I told her I had a stomachache. She commanded I get back to work, which I did. This was before I could drive, so my mother picked me up at four. When the lady paid me, she told me my services were no longer required. She said it pleasantly.

I think she paid me something like two dollars for four hours work, so I was happy about getting dismissed. I’d rather collect cast away Coke bottles on the side of the road for deposits than suffer the Sisyphean labor of raking her yard and coming back the next week to see it again blanketed and to do it all over again, to have the onus of the obligation weigh me down on Friday nights.

Mary Jane had set me free.[3]


[1] Summerville, South Carolina. Population 1970, around 3,000

[2] I could barely force two beers down at first. I hated the way it tasted and sometimes even surreptitiously poured out a swallow or two. I’d get slightly buzzed but never really drunk.

[3] Mary Jane is the lamest of all cannabis sobriquets in my esteemed opinion.

On Turning Seventy

Marius van Dokkum

On Turning Seventy

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

            Psalm 90:10. King James Version

I have a milestone birthday coming up, the big SEVEN-O, the biblical three score and ten, the average life expectancy for a red-blooded American male when I was a kid, a birthday so far distant that a child couldn’t take it seriously.

O, yeah, yeah pissing in my pajamas, slop drooling out of
my mouth.
2 young schoolboys run by—
Hey, did you see that old guy
Christ, yes, he made me sick!

Charles Bukowski – “the last days of the suicide kid”

Charles Bukowski by Drew Friedman

Cue the cinematic cliches: sand moving through an hourglass, the winds of time ripping pages from a calendar, time-lapsed growth, and decay.

Trite but true: in the wink of an eye, you transition from making out in the back seat of station wagon to being wheeled into assistant living.

But the thing is – as I keep the cliches coming – it’s hard to smell the roses when you’re changing diapers, sitting through interminable meetings, or visiting a loved one in a cancer ward.

Chances are you’re not old enough to remember Mike Douglas’s cloyingly sentimental hit “The Man in My Little Girl’s Life.”

Well, before I knew it, time had gone
My, how my little girl had grown: Then it was:
“Uh! Father! There’s a boy outside – his name is Eddie

He wants to know if we can go steady?
Can we Father? Yes Father?
Oh! can we borrow the car Pop?”

Yes, it seems like only yesterday
I heard my lovely daughter say:

“Dad! There’s a boy outside – his name is Jim
He asked me if I’d marry him?
I said yes, Dad! – Got something in your eye – Dad?
I love him, Dad.”

A child, an adolescent, a young lady, a wife
Oh! and oh yes, Heh! Heh!
There’s another man in my little girl’s life

Hi Dad! There’s a boy outside – his name is Tim
I told him Grandpa was gonna baby sit with him
Thanks Dad. Bless you Dad. Goodnight, Dad.”

Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.


Wise old men and women no doubt take Cicero’s De Senectute to heart, or rather, to head. Cicero wrote it in this sixty-third year and argues that the longer perspective that old age provides is rich compensation for the lost pleasures of youth, that “each stage of existence has been allotted its own appropriate quality; so that the weakness of childhood, the impetuosity of youth, the seriousness of middle life, the maturity of old age — each bears some of Nature’s fruit, which must be garnered in its own season.”

Whistling past the graveyard, he offers this:

[T]he fact that old age feels little longing for sensual pleasures not only is no cause for reproach, but rather is ground for the highest praise. Old age lacks the heavy banquet, the loaded table, and the oft-filled cup; therefore, it also lacks drunkenness, indigestion, and loss of sleep. But if some concession must be made to pleasure, since her allurements are difficult to resist, … then I admit that old age, though it lacks immoderate banquets, may find delight in temperate repasts.

If only!

Yeats, who, on the other hand, cast a jaundiced eye on old age, who bemoaned it as “an absurdity” that had been “tied to [him] as to a dog’s tail,” nevertheless acknowledged that through art one could vicariously hold on to youth by studying “monuments of unageing intellect.”

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence,

WB Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”


Hey, it’s the week after Thanksgiving, and I am grateful for so many things, my old age being one of them. The romantic notion of living fast, dying young, and leaving a beautiful corpse is patently absurd. Adrenaline rushes are fun, but near fatal auto crashes aren’t (and I’ve lived through one). Plus, there’s no such thing as a beautiful corpse. Sure, nowadays, I’m not much to look at, my auburn locks have given way to a freckled scalp, my once lithe frame gone paunchy, and my ability to remember names a semi-serious social liability; however, at the moment, I enjoy good health, a harmonious homelife, successful sons, a thriving grandson, and a remarkably wise and kind thirteen-year-old stepdaughter. I enjoy reading, writing, listening to music, hanging with Caroline, and holding court at Chico Feo.

No doubt my good health will not last, but I would like to think I won’t end up like Philip Larkin’s old fools, “crouching below/ Extinction’s alp,” suffering through “a hideous, inverted childhood.”

As Caroline says, “we can hope; we can dream.”

And, hey, if you’re on Folly 10 December 2022, come have a drink with me after the Xmas parade at Chico Feo while I’m still among the quick, because, to quote Ulysses from Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida:

Time hath, my lord,
A wallet at his back, wherein he puts
Alms for oblivion.

The old me circa 1978

the new me 2021

Sports Tribalism, Ear Worms, and Falling Acorns

One of my many irritating habits is repetitively singing/reciting snatches from old songs or jingles or poems that have risen from the playlist of my inner jukebox and loop through my consciousness like irritating commercials that repeat time and again during a television broadcast.

After yesterday’s unexpected Gamecock triumph over the 14-point-favorite Clemson Tigers, a line from Warren Zevon’s “When Johnny Strikes Up the Band” took up repetitive residence in my mind. 

“They’ll be rocking in the projects.”

I sang that line out loud at two or three junctures during my six-block trek to Chico Feo, and it is what came out of my mouth as I mounted a bar stool and received my first All Day IPA from Casey. He gave me a quizzical smile. I explained I was happy because the Gamecocks had finally beaten the Tigers after eight long years so I had a song in my heart.

Sitting to my right were twenty-eight-year-old identical twin Kelsey McCormick, a Chico regular, and a young man I’d never met. We started talking sports, and I confessed that although I intellectually understood the atavistic absurdity of team sports tribalism that I whooped and hollered when the Cocks recovered that late fourth quarter Clemson fumble.

“They’ll be rocking in the projects.”

The young man, whose name is Zac, asked me if I was watching any of the World Cup. I said I was paying secondhand attention to the outcomes and was pulling for Germany because my sons had gone to school there, one in Berlin and the other in Bamberg. I mentioned that Ned is currently living in Nuremberg.

Ned (second from right) on an ad for a bar in Bamberg

Kelsey asked me to guess where Zac was from based on his accent. “Three guesses,” she said.

I guessed Minnesota, California, and Goose Creek, South Carolina.

Zac smiled and said, “Pretty Close. I’m from Montana and lived in Seattle and also Phoenix and for a short time in Sweden.”

I asked him what he did for a living, and as it ends up, he had just retired from professional soccer as a goalie.

So, I had been oldmansplaining the tribal nature of sports fans to a professional athlete, a somewhat famous one as far as American soccer goes.

Zac Lubin

He asked me about my line of work, and I said that I had a novel coming out but had taught English for thirty-four years before my retirement. Kelsey mentioned that she had heard me read poetry at the Singer/Songwriter Soapbox and enjoyed my stuff but was less enamored of the some of the other poets she had witnessed. I mentioned two superb poets, Chuck Sullivan and Jason Chambers, but admitted one or two of the other poets read prose chopped up in lines that lacked the compression that makes a poem a poem.  I mockingly intoned:

As I walk around the grounds of the asylum,

the brown leaves like a carpet in a boarding house,

I think of father’s irritating habit of smacking his lips

while smoking unfiltered Chesterfields.

Kelsey got it. “The more condensed the more powerful.”

“Like splitting an atom as opposed to sorting socks.”

Then I leaned over and asked if they wanted to hear my favorite lines of poetry. I mean, what could they say?

O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,

Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

And right at that moment, an acorn fell from the sky and bonked Zac right on the head.

Zac asked about the possible meanings of the acorn hitting him at that moment. and I explained that in a piece of short fiction, you could have acorns fall periodically and serve as symbols that support the theme and provide unity. In a comedy, it could be funny, the acorn hitting him on the head, like a cartoon Sir-Isaac-Newton epiphany, that he was in love or something.

“An acorn’s a seed, right?”

“Right, Zac! The acorn seed sperm hits the ovum of your head. It’s a very good omen for your relationship’s growing.”

“On the other hand,” I went on, “in a sad story the acorns could represent failure, dropping off the trees, rolling across the bar, down across the cooler, onto the ground to be crushed by the bartenders’ feet as they concoct Samurai slings and pull drafts.”

Kelsey asked what advice I’d give a 28-eight-year-old and a 33-year-old.

“Find someone to love, be kind to them, marry them, have children, and be happy around the children.”

We sat there quietly for a while.

“Hey, Wesley,” Kelsey said. “You haven’t asked what advice a 28-year-old would give a 70-year-old.”

I smiled. “What’s your advice?”

“You get to decide how old or young you get to be. It’s up to you. I mean, mentally how old you want to be.”

I said that teaching keeps you young, and I was appreciative of that.

We finished our drinks and said our goodbyes, Zac was headed up to Montana Monday, and Kelsey would be at the Soap Box. He plans on moving down here and starting a soccer-related business.

Kelsey wanted to know if Zac fit in at Chico Feo. “Desitively,” I said. “He’ll be rocking in the projects.”

Moms for Liberty: Vice Crusaders Farting Through Silk

Moms for Liberty: Vice Crusaders Farting Through Silk

“Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings, too.”

Henrich Heine

“the vice-crusaders, farting through silk,
waving the Christian symbols . . .”

Ezra Pound, Canto XIV

Wandering through war torn Twitter these days reminds me of Neville Shute’s On the Beach, a novel dramatizing the last days of the last survivors of a nuclear war who await their inexorable doom as a radioactive cloud descends upon southern Australia. Except in this case, Twitter is already burning; perhaps a better analogy would be wandering through the streets of ancient Rome during a hostile takeover.[1] Many of the posts project a Titanic-tinged, goodbye forever friends, end-of-an-era, fin de civilisation vibe.

Among the tearful good-byes, the cancer chemo updates, and the political diatribes, I ran across this depressing piece of tweeted news:

Of course, it’s possible that race had nothing to do with the dismissal. However, the timing is problematic, the board has not provided the grounds for his dismissal, and Moms for Liberty’s viewpoints on Critical Race Theory certainly seem racist to me.

For example, the MFL[2] chapter of Williamson County Tennessee complained that showing students films of Bull Connor’s thuggish cops unleashing attack dogs, fire-hosing protesters, and beating Freedom Riders with billy clubs created “negative view of Firemen (sic) and police.”[3]  The same Williamson County MFLers wanted to counterbalance the negativity of the Catholic Church’s persecution of Galileo with praise for the Church: “Both good and bad should be presented,” they demanded.

Of course, book censorship is also a high priority. In this morning’s Post and Courier, there’s a below-the-fold front page story headlined: “Removal of books sparks outcry in Beaufort.”[4] On Page A5 the headline “Horry board OKs controversial library book changes.” And below that story, the continuation of the front-page Beaufort story lists 97 titles removed from Beaufort County Public School libraries, including Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer, Margaret Atwood’s The Hand Maid’s Tale, and Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.

The MFLers seem especially, almost perversely, antagonistic to LBGQ children and want to prevent those children from reading about themselves, to keep them from knowing that they’re not alone, that happiness may very well await them.

[Cue Yeats]:    The best lack all conviction, while the worst

                        Are full of passionate intensity.

I guess what we’re going to have to do is organize, be vigil, curate candidates, donate money to try to oust these fanatics from the boards.

I mean, removing Martin Luther King, Jr. from school curricula harms our children much more than their reading about sexual ambiguity. I mean, this smacks of Soviet-style state run education where a free exchange of ideas is forbidden.


[1] I.e., during an invasion of barbarians: burning, looting, pillaging, raping,  . . .

[2] I’m sick of typing out its blatantly Orwellian double speak. The liberty of ban books. From now on it’s MFL. (In a rare display of discretion, I’m not going to provide my alternative wording for the initials.

[3] Not to mention snarling German shepherds. BTW, these examples are culled from Kelly Weill’s article in the Daily Beast:  “Moms for Liberty’s conservative activists are planning their next move: Taking over school boards”

[4] The home, of course, of Pat Conroy.

A Speech on Scholarship

Scholar by Osman Hamdi Bey

A friend recently sent me the copy of a speech that a friend of his had delivered at a Cum Laude induction at Exeter, which reminded me that I too had given a similar speech at Porter-Gaud in the 2010s, so I thought I’d pass it along, for what it’s worth.

Congratulations, inductees for embodying excellence. 

However, as John Donne famously proclaimed:  No man is an island.  These honorees did not arise on the foam of the Aegean fully formed. 

First, we need to acknowledge your parents.

Who read you bedtime stories, salved your skinned knees, said no, then sent you to time out.  

We need to acknowledge your teachers.

Especially those in the so-called lower grades who are not present to hear this praise, the ones who taught you how to read, how to form letters and Arabic numerals, how to add and subtract. 

I suspect none of us has forgotten our first grade teacher’s name.  Not you ninth graders, not you, Dr. Mac.

Mine was Mrs. Wiggins.  Who would be about 125 by now I guess, but who will live on as long as there’s one surviving student who remembers her.

And, finally, we need to acknowledge all of the friends of the inductees.

Research has shown that as far as influence goes, peers of teenagers wield by far the most potent power in high school, much more than parents and teachers.  So, thank all of you for being good friends, for providing needed support, or offering good advice.

Also, keep in mind that if you are a senior and not on this stage this morning, it does not mean that you won’t be honored when you graduate from college.   

And, likewise, your being inducted into an honor society in high school doesn’t ensure that you’re going to be inducted into a collegiate honor society.

Life is a process – we’re not seeds, nor buds, but an ever evolving becoming.

Interestingly enough, though, high grades and scholarship are not synonymous.  The student who gruntingly masters information for grades lacks the scholar’s curiosity and never comes close to experiencing the scholar’s joy.  So when I urge you to become engaged in your studies, it’s not so you’ll receive accolades or a handsome salary, it’s so that your life will be more meaningful.

The following statement is going to sound absolutely absurd to many of you, but I fervently believe it:  Being a true scholar is much more profitable than being a CEO, movie star, or hall-of-fame athlete, because if you become a true scholar, i.e., a life long learner, you will escape the nets of boredom, and boredom, as far as I am concerned, is death-in-life.

Despite the caricature of the pallid, bespectacled outsider ill-at-ease in his own body, I dare say that true scholars enjoy charmed lives because they’ve mined the kryptonite that protects them from those empty temptations of the temporal – all of those singing sirens – those manufactured products that are a lot of fun but not all that enlightening – e.g., Modern Warfare 3, or as I have rechristened it, Modern Warfare 3 Homework 0.  

The metaphorical kryptonite that scholars possess is a love of learning.

They have, as Joseph Campbell put it, found their bliss, and are following it.

What thrills a scholar is delving deeply into the profound mysteries of being. 

The scholar marvels at the truncated evolutionary transformation that takes place in the womb.  

The scholar attempts to fathom the idiocies that resulted in WWI.  

The scholar is fascinated by the metamorphosis of Jamaican dance hall toasting into rap music and then hip hop and traces the underlying musical commonalities of all three sub-genres as she conjectures how popular music reflects 21st century American society.

In short, the scholar seeks to see the immense interconnectedness of things, to rip down Maya’s veil of illusion.  

True scholars have found the elixir that is the antidote to one of Adam’s curses – labor – because for a true scholar labor and love are the same, the quest to know more and understand better.

And although Adam’s other curse – that ferry ride across the River Styx – cannot be avoided – by studying what Yeats called “monuments un-aging intellect” – the cave paintings of Lascaux,  The Tragedy of Prince Hamlet, the  3rd Law of Thermodynamics,  Beethoven’s 9th Symphony,  Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal –  our deeper understanding can be liberating and offer comfort as we contemplate our own demise.

I’d like to end by reading two quatrains of a poem that conveys this theme much more powerfully than I could ever hope to do. 

It concerns Alexander the Great who supposedly wept when he thought there was nothing left of the world for him to conquer, and Sir Isaac Newton, who took a very different view of his accomplishments.

It’s called “Worlds”

By Richard Wilbur.

For Alexander there was no Far East,


Because he thought the Asian continent


India ended. Free Cathay at least

*

Did not contribute to his discontent.



But Newton, who had grasped all space, was more


Serene. To him it seemed that he’d but played


With several shells and pebbles on the shore


Of that profundity he had not made.


I ask you, who would you rather be? 

Thank you, and again, congratulations.