Reefer Madness

A member of the SC Medical Association and Attorney General Alan Wilson experimenting on a marijuana user

Alas, I find it necessary yet again to haul down from the attic James Petigru’s way-too-often quoted description of my native state:

South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.

What prompts today’s revival of Petigru’s apt observation is Attorney General Alan Wilson’s idiotic proclamation that marijuana is “the most dangerous drug” in America, edging out, it would appear, crystal meth, cocaine, crack, heroin, and [drum roll] aspirin.

[1]

 

Here are some 2017 numbers from the CDC:

According to the Centers for Disease Control, using data available for analysis on September 5, 2018, there were a reported 70,652 deaths attributed to drug overdose in the US for the year ending December 2017. Some deaths were still under investigation. The CDC projects that the total for 2017 will be 72,222.

Of these:

Opioids were detected in 47,863 reported deaths, and are predicted to be involved in 49,031 deaths.

Synthetic opioids, excluding methadone, were detected in 28,644 reported deaths, and are predicted to be involved in 28,644 deaths.

Heroin was detected in 15,585 reported deaths, and is predicted to be involved in 15,941 deaths.

Natural and semi-synthetic opioids were detected in 14,553 reported deaths, and are predicted to be involved in 14,940 deaths.

Cocaine was detected in 14,065 reported deaths, and is predicted to be involved in 14,612 deaths.

Psychostimulants with abuse potential were detected in 10,420 reported deaths, and are predicted to be involved in 10,703 deaths.

Methadone was detected in 3,209 reported deaths, and is predicted to be involved in 3,286 deaths.

Here’s what the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology has to say about marijuana:

Tetrahydrocannabinol is a very safe drug. Laboratory animals (rats, mice, dogs, monkeys) can tolerate doses of up to 1,000 mg/kg (milligrams per kilogram). This would be equivalent to a 70 kg person swallowing 70 grams of the drug—about 5,000 times more than is required to produce a high. Despite the widespread illicit use of cannabis there are very few if any instances of people dying from an overdose. In Britain, official government statistics listed five deaths from cannabis in the period 1993-1995 but on closer examination these proved to have been deaths due to inhalation of vomit that could not be directly attributed to cannabis (House of Lords Report, 1998). By comparison with other commonly used recreational drugs these statistics are impressive.”

What prompted Wilson’s injudicious misrepresentation of the facts was not a call for the legalization of marijuana in South Carolina but merely the introduction of legislation “that would allow patient’s to obtain it with a doctor’s prescription.”

More from Wilson’s press conference:

[Users employ] words like stoned, high, wasted, baked, fried, cooked, chonged, cheeched, dope-faced, blazed, blitzed, blunted, blasted, danked, stupid, wrecked — and that’s only half the words they use,” Wilson said. “Are these consistent with something that describes a medicine?”

Now that’s what I call scientific!

The truth of the matter is that your chances of croaking, bellying-up, kicking the bucket, cashing in chips, joining the invisible choir, buying the farm, and shuffling off the mortal coil are infinitely greater from a perfectly legal prescription of OxyContin than it would be from medical marijuana.

I’m in no way advocating the use of marijuana but merely pointing out the inanity of our public officials, how the Republican Party ignores science in formulating policies.

Speaking of gateway drugs, I’ll leave you with this:

 

 

On the Slave Ship Lollipop

I used to stuff my face with candy

when I was a little boy,

couldn’t cop enough Mary Janes,

would kill for an Almond Joy.

 

Then I graduated to the Real Thing – Coke.

I was popping five cans a day,

plopping nickels and dimes upon the counter

under caffeine and sugar’s sway.

 

Now I’m hooked on heroin,

am little more than a thug.

Wish I’d known then what I know now –

that sugar is the gateway drug.


[1]According to a recent study, “Taking a daily aspirin is far more dangerous than was thought, causing more than 3,000 deaths a year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Angels and the Afterlife

I realize that most Late Empire Americans don’t literally believe in angels – celestial beings that predate the Earth’s creation, minions of the Creator, avian humanoids who play harps and warble hosannas.

Of course, some Christians literally believe the story of Gabriel’s Annunciation, literally believe insemination had come via the Holy Spirit, a Dove delivering via ear the Holy DNA, and I sincerely envy them.

I love the concept of Angels, thrill to see them aloft in Renaissance paintings, violating anachronistic Newtonian laws. When I was with Judy Birdsong at her bedside in her very last moments, I chanted, “May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” over and over until it was over.

Nevertheless, questions arise: how are angels spawned, or begot, or ushered into being?  Fully formed with pubic hair?  Perfect fingernails never in need of clipping?

Or do angels grow like children, appearing post-fetal in an opening lotus bloom via asexual birth?

Do they, without lacking mothers and fathers, learn to fly via instinct?

You’d think angels would be the happiest of happy beings, winged Bodhisattvas, egoless, ennui an impossibility.

Not in Paradise Lost. Angels have not only personalities but hierarchal social status.

Nor do they seem all that happy in 15th Century painter Jean Fouquet’s Madonna and Child.

I’m not arrogant to declare there”s not an afterlife.  In fact, I’m a fan of the concept.  However, if there is an existence beyond this Vale of Tears, I bet it’s not all that anthropomorphic.

In other words, unimaginable, to which I can only say, “Praise God.”

 

Excess

 

Sometimes I fantasize capping* otherwise innocent people who use the word awesome to describe piss-ant phenomena like the grooviness of their athletic shoes, the merely competent performances of tweens at recitals, or even the ho-hum occurrence of a flight being on time.

“Awesome, dude!”

The word, as you may have forgotten, used to be reserved for extraordinary occurrences like a volcano rising from the sea or the aurora borealis strobing above a winter horizon. For whatever reason, awesome’s sibling awful has remained immune to hyperbolic overuse.  I guess it makes sense that human beings wouldn’t want to jack up merely unfortunate events into the realm of tragedy the way we do mundane matters into the realm of apotheosis.

     Hmm, these tomatoes are rather tasteless.

     Oh my God, dude!  That’s awful!

This Late Empire compulsion towards hyperbole is stripping language of meaning, which bodes poorly for a culture with really serious problems that demand precise articulation of nuanced parameters.**

*With a low-caliber derringer that would merely result in a ‘flesh wound.’  After all, I do practice Buddhism.

** I’m talking, apocalyptic tsunamic horrorshow problems like athletes taking steroids and traffic backups on Bees Ferry Road.

ओं मणिपद्मे हूं

Think of how many times lately you’ve heard the word ‘hilarious’ to describe something that wasn’t even all that amusing.  Almost always the superhyperbolification is delivered in a deadpan voice that might be rendered “THAT is hilarious.”

For example, I recently shared with colleagues the Bataan Death March frustrations I suffered a few years ago when I drove my schizophrenic aunt from her facility to a lawyer’s office in Summerville.  Our mission was to sign some papers disentangling the gordian knot of my late uncle’s estate in which he left half of his house to his live-in girlfriend’s three Tweetle-dee-dum daughters while the deceased live-in girlfriend had left a third of her house to him.

OMG!  TMI!

At any rate, it was to be a long day that included rushing to the bank between classes to lend the estate two grand to buy off the ravenous daughters; picking up said schizophrenic aunt from said facility on Dorchester Road; picking up aged mother from Tennessee Williams Estates; driving to the lawyer’s for the melancholy transactions; driving to the CVS so S.A. could pick up toiletries; dropping her back off at the facility but then returning to my place of employment to attend a “milestone dinner” where I would sit and eat and chitchat at a table with the parents of 8th graders anxious about the transition from adjacent buildings, i.e., from the Middle to the Upper Schools; and finally leaving there for my book club, normally an enjoyable experience, though this night’s topic of discussion was Eugene O’Neil’s The Iceman Cometh, a play that is about upbeat as Chopin’s “Funeral Dirge.”

All in all, I was to spend fifteen hours away from the shelter of my home and the bosom of my family, not exactly a tour in Afghanistan, but irksome nevertheless.

When I went to pick-up my aunt – let’s call her Blanche – she was sitting on the front porch of the facility with a couple of wheelchair bound residents.   I beckoned her to the car, but she hollered that I would have to sign her out.  “Let me park then,”  I said, getting ready to shift from neutral to reverse.

“No,” she said.  “It’ll only take a second.”

Here, she was exaggerating.  It took at least two minutes, more than enough time for my car to roll down an incline and smash into another car parked along the curb.

As I surveyed the damage, Blanche suggested we leave the scene, but, of course, I went back in and tracked down the owner of the car, exchanged insurance information, and then behind schedule, finally began the dismal journey down Dorchester Road in the rain.

All in all, things went smoothly at the Lawyer’s, though I was a bit distracted wondering how much the wreck would add to the two grand I had bestowed on the estate.

On the way back, Blanche asked me what I thought about Obama, and I gave her my 3.5-star review, but then she said, and I quote directly, “Obamacare terrifies me.”

Let’s say I wasn’t in a good mood, let’s say that I blamed Blanche for my accident because if it hadn’t been for her I wouldn’t have been at her facility on a Tuesday afternoon, and if she hadn’t suggested that I leave the car running in front of the facility, I would have found a parking place and avoided the accident.

“For Christ’s sake, Blanche,”  I said in exasperation.  “Has it not occurred to you that you haven’t had a job in forty years?  When’s the last time you’ve written a check to anyone?  Who do you think pays for the roof over your head, your meals, your prescriptions?  Good God, woman!”

I shared with my colleagues – who, like you, were suffering through this account – that I felt like stopping the car and literally throwing Blanche out onto the street.

“THAT is hilarious,”  one of them said.

The truth is that we need hyperbole to spice up our mundane existences, and throughout the above narrative, I have had to strike through inclinations to inflate (and left in the gordian knot metaphor); nevertheless, I do wish that we would not use the same degree of astonishment when describing this:

“awesome”

and this:

An Ode to Bartenders

From left to right, Hank, Charlie, Greg, and Jen

To my mind, the most important component of a great bar is a great bartender.  I’d rather be enjoying a cocktail in in a seedy dive with a personable bartender than drinking in splendor at the Castell Rooftop Lounge with an aloof one. Of course, it’s in the best interest of a bartender to be friendly, given that he or she obviously would like to be tipped, and it goes without saying that bartenders should be attentive, efficient, and if you’re a regular, reaching for what they know you drink as you climb upon your stool at the bar. However, the very best bartenders end up being something more than just a friendly face; they become confidants.

One of the all time great bartenders I’ve encountered is Steve Smoak, who used to work at Rue de Jean on John Street.  When the joint was packed, you’d see Steve busting his ass.  It was as if he were dancing, pouring to a rhythm.  In those inside smoking days of yore, one time I saw him with a drink in his left hand slide past a customer, light her cigarette with his right hand, and deliver the drink in his left hand to another customer two stools down — all in one fluid motion.

It was literally entertaining to watch, almost like one-man ballroom dancing

If Rue was really crowded, and Steve saw me stuck behind a throng, he’d step out from behind the bar and deliver my Jameson’s.  Perhaps the biggest favor he ever did was talking me out of resigning from my job.  After listening carefully to my tale of woe one week night, he said, “Wes, I’ve talked to lots of your former students.  Don’t be a fool and quit over something like this. Swallow your pride.  It’s not worth quitting over.”

Even though Judy Birdsong, my late wife, had given me permission to quit, I did swallow my pride, took Steve’s good advice, and continued my career..

Steve Smoak

Chico Feo is my go-to hangout because of the bartenders, Hank, Greg, Jen, Kelly, and Phillip, and I miss those who have left for greener pastures, like Jude and Charlie.

I’d rank Charlie right there with Steve Smoak as far as greatness goes.  During Judy’s long illness, Charlie offered a sympathetic ear and later dating advice when I began seeing Caroline.[1]  He had become a sort of confidante.

 

Alas, Charlie left Chico for a downtown peninsula gig in a basement bar associated with the restaurant One Broad Street.  I’d been missing my man, so last Wednesday, Caroline and I stopped in to see him during Cotillion.

The place is friendly, cozy, well appointed, and rumor has it the pizzas are the best in town – and cheap. However, its most valuable asset is Charlie, a master bartender and a helluva a guy – intelligent, articulate, easy going.  Going downtown can be irritating with traffic and parking, but hanging out with Charlie makes it well worth the hassle, and as it turned out, an empty parking place was waiting for a customer right at the front door.

img_3506

From left to right, Charlie, Amy, Caroline

So check it out.  Tell Charlie Wesley sent you.




[1]I hadn’t been on a date since November of 1976.

Escape

Marcel Robert: La Fin de l’Hiver

A few years ago, I received an email from a stranger requesting to “interview” me in conjunction with her School of the Arts project on The Catcher in the Rye.  As it turned out, the interview ended up being a survey of written questions that I answered electronically.

    Q.   How old was I when I first read Salinger’s novel?

    A.   Old/young enough to have had my complexion likened to a pepperoni pizza.

    Q. My initial reaction to the book?

    A. Respectful underwhelment.*

     Q. Did I identify with Holden?

     A. Yes, we shared a nostalgia for childhood in a darkening world.

     Q. Have I ever taught Catcher?

     A. No, but it has appeared on my reading lists.

      Q. How do I feel about censorship?

      A. Liberal to a degree: yes, you may read Lolita; no, you may not read Justine.

      Q. What do I think is  theme of The Catcher in the Rye?

      A. Adolescence is a particularly hard time for idealists who have begun to realize the

           Himalayan heights of the bullshit they must conquer in order to succeed in the adult

           world.


*In tribute to my two sons’ degrees in German, the “w” in “underwhelment” is pronounced like a “v.”

The student’s query/project struck me as quaint.  Certainly, hapless Holden’s naive attempt to efface the “fuck you” some churl has scratched into the wall of his sister’s elementary school no longer outrages parents of the Late Empire who blandly witness each January the obscene decadence of Super Bowl Halftime Extravaganzas.  After all, the novel is a year older than I, so Holden (if he was fifteen in the year of Catcher’s publication) would have been born in 1936 and if not dead subsisting now off of Social Security and Medicare, a wizened old man in a wheelchair, his orange hunting hat cocked at a jaunty angle in some subsidized assistant living facility.

Last I heard of Catcher causing commotion was twenty  years ago.  This account comes from The Post and Courier.

Perhaps because Mr. Bagwell had pilfered from my former high school’s library and because I had grown up just down the street from him, I felt chagrined enough to send him the following correspondence (signed with my return address):

Answers: 1.D  2. E  3. F  4. A  5. G  6. I  7. C  8. J  9. H  10.  B

At any rate, the student’s interview request prompted me to do some digging into what texts have now replaced Catcher in the Late Empire as catalysts for censorship, those books in 2011 that rile parents into pitching protests, so I googled “most challenged books,” and lo and behold, there in the top 10 was Catcher, along with that other adolescent mind-warper, To Kill a Mockingbird.

No, I was wrong.  Some Late Empire parents still see Holden as a threat; this confused boy still scares shitless certain curtained consciousnesses that seek to shelter their darlings from the muck and mess of the ever looming out there.

The degradation of childhood in the Late Empire is a curious phenomenon.  In some ways it ends way too soon (sex at fourteen) and lasts way too late (under-employed and living with mom at thirty-four).  Books are considered more dangerous than movies, an unclothed human body much more offensive than graphic violence.  However, I truly believe there is little to fear in a good book because it portrays life as it is lived.  Virtually no one gets horny reading the sexually explicit passages from The Color Purple (nor, for that matter, desires to become a homosexual penguin after finishing And Tango Makes Three).

Of course, in the beginning, puritans considered any novel dangerous because novels dealt with worldly matters, tempting readers, especially vulnerable young ladies, from God’s Holy Word into the profane and vulgar concoctions of scribblers who entertained rather than edified.  I don’t know about you, but essentially, my early reading was all about escape.  I’d rip through every Hardy Boys cardboard bound adventure I could get my hands on wishing I lived in a town blessed with abandoned mills, haunted houses, and inept criminals.  Television in those days consisted of two stations that played soap operas in the mornings and afternoons of scorching summer days so reading novels offered a way to slip through the looking glass into jungles where apemen swung through the trees with scantily clad English girls clinging to their backs.

Eventually, I graduated to biographies, books about dinosaurs and deep space, classics like Tom Sawyer and The Count of Monte Cristo, yet even reading those non-controversial tomes posed the danger of a sedentary, cloistered lifestyle that spurned the Wordsworthian glories of nature’s here and now.  In other words, through books you could abandon your own precious life for the abstractions of the printed page, curl up in the bed of one of the houses houses below, and become deathly pale.

Marcel Robert: La Fin de l’Hiver

Of course, nowadays, computers have replaced books as the vehicles for escape, and now, thanks to cell phones, it’s not unusual to see someone walking on the beach oblivious to the plunging pelican as the beachcomber stares downward manipulating the screen of that tiny computer.  Even though books may have blinded Milton, they are easier on the eyes than this infernal monitor you’re staring at.

 

2018 Recap: Ch-ch-ch-anges

Click fiend that I am, I’ve decided to once again do a round-up, a sort of greatest hits [insert ironic cough] of the pieces I posted this year, significantly fewer than in years of yore (67 to be exact, as opposed to 141 in 2016 and 142 last year).

So hold onto your hats or toupees or do rags; here we go.

 

January

 

Miles Davis at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, 1986

For whatever reason, in January I wrote mostly about music, an appreciation of a Miles Davis/John Coltrane video of “So What?” and a profile of two contemporary artists I admire, John Hiatt and Lucinda Williams. My favorite, however, is this meditation on the distinction between verse and poetry.

 

February

 

I only published three posts in our shortest month, the best two, I think, a short memoir celebrating lethargy  and a paean to Ireland that I composed after listening to the last of my 42 cds of Joyce’s masterwork Ulysses.

 

March

 

 

March was a bit more productive.  I fantasized about the reign of terror I’d wage against those who violated my very few grammatical pet peeves if, as I have always dreamed, I could manage to overthrow the government and declare myself a sun god.

I also produced a satirical series of haikus, a form of poetry I detest, which you can experience through the magic of my recorded voice, that gorgeous Lowcountry baritone that so many have come to know and love.

 

April

 

The filmmakers: Andrew Austin and Adam Ward

A filmmaker named Andrew Austin crashed at my house, and I reviewed his documentary The Power of Glove.  I also posted yet another lament on the process of aging, but my favorite is entitled “Good Advice, Take It or Leave It.

My dating profile picture for eharmony

 

May

 

In May, on the anniversary of his mother’s death, I reblogged my son Ned’s moving post from his site The King of Nowhere.  In addition, I sort of like this one on the importance of providing students with the traditional Western canon (not a very popular viewpoint nowadays).

 

June

 

June found me, my fiancée, Caroline, and her daughter in Andalucia to visit my great friend Charlie Geer.

Check this  travelogue out, which features some flamenco.

 

July

 

The Widow of Ephesus by Philip Banken

In my opinion, the very best post from July is “The Widow of Ephesus Conquers Her Eating Disorder” ; however, if you hate Trump, you might like “How Could Such a Clownish Spray-Painted Raccoon-Eyed, Combed-over Lard-Ladled Cement Tongued Buffoon End Up Being a Cult Figure?

Oh yeah, and “Prufrock Turns 103” deals with men’s inability to have Platonic relationships with very attractive women.

August

 

 

Caroline and I married in August, hung out at the Grove Park Inn, sandwiched between crashing at Chico Feo on Folly Beach and at a Luke-Dogg’s pad outside of Asheville.  Here’s the scoop.

 

September

 

 

Ugh, Bret Kavanaugh, another would-be hurricane, but on a more positive note, a profile of my brother, the musician Fleming Moore.

 

October

 

 

Slim pickings.  A rambling piece called “It’s All about Me. Me, Me!” and once again a reposting from Ned’s blog on Kavanaugh.

 

November

 

 

In November, Caroline and I attended a festival in Beaufort honoring Pat Conroy, and I announced my retirement publicly in this post, as I whined about all those essays I’ve graded throughout my 33-year teaching career.

December

If you haven’t checked out “Idle Questions,” please do so and make sure to hit the link, scroll to the very end, and read the dictionary, which is actually a cross-referencing narrative.


Thank all of y’all who follow me.

The very best to each and every one of you, especially Rich O’Prey and Rodney Gantt.

Happy New Year!

 

His Own Worst Enemy

 

 

tossing red meat

 

Despite his bluster about one of the greatest landslides in American electoral history, Donald Trump actually squeaked out a narrow Electoral College victory (a flip of 80,000 votes collectively in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan would have resulted in a Madame President Clinton).  As far was the popular vote went, Trump lost the election by 2,864,974 votes.

Given those numbers, it would have been judicious for Trump to try to expand his base rather than consistently bending over backwards to accommodate its xenophobic inclinations, which aren’t shared by a majority of Americans.  For example, he could have cut taxes for the middle, rather than the donor class, and worked on infrastructure, but he remained and remains fixated on immigration.

Let’s look at some numbers.  

On the week of 16 December  2018, according to Gallup, Trump’s approval level stood at 38%

Here’s a recent Pew poll on Americans’ views on immigration:

 

 

Present level Increased Decreased No opinion
% % % %
2018 Jun 1-13 # 39 28 29 4
2017 Jun 7-11 38 24 35 3
2016 Jun 7-Jul 1 ^ 38 21 38 3

Of course, we’re talking about legal immigration here.  Nevertheless, the most recent number is that only 29% want to see immigration decreased, which is nine points lower than the number of voters who approve of Trump.  

Trump’s making illegal immigration the cornerstone of his midterm election rally blitz in the campaign’s last days didn’t work out very well for him.  Although Republicans kept control of Senate, in fact increasing the majority by two seats, they did so by winning in red states.  The Democrats, on the other hand, took over the House by flipping forty Republican seats as suburbanite Republicans abandoned their party and Independents went heavily blue .  

So what does Trump do?  Doubles down by rejecting a budget deal passed by both the House and Senate and shutting down the government.

Why?  Because Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter got their panties in a knot, assailing his manhood.*   

Trump’s pathological need for attention and adulation is his worst enemy.  These rallies, populated by fanatical and inchoately angry rural white people must satisfy some atavistic tribal need in him.  The fact that they need to be under-educated and misinformed doesn’t seem to matter to him.  

 

 

He’s his own very worst enemy.

Meanwhile, our government is rudderless.  We have an acting chief of staff, and acting attorney general, and an acting secretary of defense.

I’ll resist the urge to quote from Yeats’s “The Second Coming,” which has become almost a cliché.  Instead, I’ll leave you with a snippet of his “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen.”

 

Come let us mock at the great 

That had such burdens on the mind 

And toiled so hard and late 

To leave some monument behind,

Nor thought of the levelling wind.  

 

Come let us mock at the wise;

With all those calendars whereon 

They fixed old aching eyes, 

They never saw how seasons run, 

 

And now but gape at the sun.  

Come let us mock at the good 

That fancied goodness might be gay, 

And sick of solitude 

Might proclaim a holiday: 

Wind shrieked — and where are they?  

 

Mock mockers after that 

That would not lift a hand maybe 

To help good, wise or great 

To bar that foul storm out, for we Traffic in mockery.


* I concede forcing you to picture Rush Limbaugh in panties isn’t in keeping with the holiday spirit. Sorry about that.