22 November 1963

 

huxley-marcocau-nl

[Credit: marcocau.nl.

This Friday marks the 56th anniversary of the death of Aldous Huxley.

Midmorning on that day as a fifth grader, I sensed something amiss.  Miss McCue’s eyes were red, and she sniffled as we hunched over our worksheets, but for whatever reason, she decided not to tell us that author of Point Counterpoint had checked out of this Motel 6 of woe for superior lodgings in that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns.

I guess she figured the news would bewilder us or that it would be better coming from our parents.

triple final headline

I found out on the school bus from a sixth grader, Steve Ripley, who seemed delighted at the prospect of Huxley’s not producing any more novels that might be assigned as book reports.

I, on the other hand, was devastated by Huxley’s passing because his novel Brave New World had given me reason to hope that the 21st century was going to be a blast – an endless hallucinogenic phantasmagoria that included indiscriminate sex with a variety of partners.

What a miserable weekend with football games cancelled and regular programming preempted.  What’s an early late empire tween to do but stare at the short bio on his dog-eared copy of Chrome Yellow and think Huxley was alive when the book was bought.

51PzwtLhLiL._SL600_

Sandwiched between the passing of eminent composer Cecil Forsyth on 7 December 1941 and American author Alice Stewart Trillin on 11 September 2001, Huxley’s death was especially eerie given that a very famous someone also expired on that day.

That’s right.  CS Lewis also died on 22 November 1963, a day that will live in infamy.

But let’s end on a positive note.  Those fifty years have come and gone, and many of Huxley’s prophecies have come true – we live in a hedonistic age to the tune of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes.”  As days pour at increasingly swift rates through our lives’ hourglasses, what can we do but embrace Richard Wilbur’s sage advice:

It’s almost noon, you say? If so,
Time flies, and I need not rehearse
The rosebuds-theme of centuries of verse.

If you must go,

Wait for a while, then slip downstairs
And bring us up some chilled white wine,
And some blue cheese, and crackers, and some fine
Ruddy-skinned pears

                                        “A Late Aubade”

Fun Tips for a Fantastic Halloween

blobfish

After a Saturday of crushed dreams (Volunteers devouring the Gamecock Nation whole) and last night’s Washington Nationals World Series triumph, I should probably draw the drapes, take to bed, and place a camphor-soaked handkerchief on my forehead.

But no, despite being infused with a tragic vision that makes Cormac McCarthy’s world view seem like a Cialis commercial, I take mouse in hand and swerve my despair Lucretius-like into some positive tips for unusual-themed Halloween costume combinations, especially suited for undergraduate bio majors.

mccarthy

Cormac McCarthy, 1992 Cormac McCarthy, 1992
© Gilles Peress/Magnum Photos 

One thing that makes these costumes unique is that, not only are they frightfully hideous, but they also form a Darwinian food chain of predation, a theme that should frighten anyone who has seen Jaws or read Camus’s La Peste.

CJohnstonHeatPlagueL

Chris Johnson’s Heat Plague

So Let’s start at the bottom down for our first costume, an alga known as Gephyrocapsa oceanica.

300px-Gephyrocapsa_oceanica_color-1

Making this costume would be a breeze.  Just buy three dozen tutus, scissor off the bodices, and dye the skirts scum green.  Staple the tutus in a circular combination as above, leaving the bottom hollow.  Traverse the tutu openings with strong pieces of Styrofoam wrapped in green crepe.  As Bob Dylan put it in “I Shall Be Free No. 10,”  “Wowee, pretty scary.”

Next up, how about a pelagic sea slug?

seaslug

Glaucus atlanticus

This cool-looking devourer of algae actually only measures ~2.5 cm, but who’s counting?  For the costume, two possibilities come to mind.  You could go for the above picture in a two-person, two part, donkey-head/donkey tail configuration, but I’d advise for a costume that mimics the illustration below so you can walk upright.  All you need is a close-fitting white Garboesque dress, strips of blue fabric, and a 100 or so ostrich feathers dyed blue.

6a00d8341c030d53ef00e54f1f0f8e8834-800wi

Sea slugs are one of the many delicacies upon which the star-nosed mole feeds.  This strange creature’s eyes disappear in utero and are replaced by a series of fan-like appendages.  You could go as an embryonic (but sort of too cuddly in an Olympics-mascot-sort-of-way) star-nosed mole (see below),

embryo

but I’d go ahead and opt for the scarier full adult version:

star-nosedmole

You could almost adapt a gorilla costume sans head and attach some red chili peppers (or rooster-comb red dyed sea sponges) to a white Lone Ranger mask, then attach spray-painted pez dispensers sans heads to gloves to create this truly hideous being that can smell underwater as it tunnels through east coast marshes.

The star-nosed, by the same token, offers owls a tasty if somewhat fishy-tasting  mammalian repast.*  Of course, whoever opts for the owl costume in your posse is going to be the least unusual creature, but still, given the multiplicity of owl species, you’re sure to find one your your liking.


*Think river otter but stringier.

a41b83435387e36a3a533a8ae9e90445

One last suggestion, though it doesn’t fit in this particular food chain (it’s a denizen of the Pacific and is inedible ) is the Blobfish, a sort of hybrid of Rodney Dangerfield and the baby in Eraserhead.  Hell, unless you have some marine biology PhD candidate at the party, no one is going to know the difference.

blobfish

Blobfish

So, boys and girls, have fun horrifying folks with the random mutant horrors of evolution as you blast Barry McQuire’s “Eve of Destruction” from your dorm windows!

 

The Doggerel-Gone-It Impeachment Blues

andrew-johnson-impeachment-summons-340x191

 

The Doggerel-Gone-It Impeachment Blues

 

The stench of wet coal, politicians . . .

Ezra Pound, “Canto XIV”

 

Johnson’s impeachment occurred so far back.

No one can remember the Tenure of Office Act.

 

Once upon a more recent time,

J Gordon Liddy committed a crime,

 

a burglary some have called third rate,

which led, of course, to Watergate.

 

Dick Nixon was forced to take the fall

(in those days Republicans sported balls),

 

which sadly isn’t the case today.

They had Goldwater; we have Graham.

 

Weak-willed Bill Clinton in the Oval Office

ran afoul of a couple of orifices,

 

creating quite a sordid mess,

alleged perjury, a stained blue dress.

 

Yet the Senate voted not to convict,

(though most agreed he was a prick).

 

So here we are again, forsooth,

dealing with presidential abuse:

 

The number of allegations should give us pause:

obstructing justice, violating the Emolument Clause,

 

withholding aid for dirt in a quid pro quo.

The days go past, the catalogue grows.

 

I say let’s subpoena those stories killed by the Enquirer

so we can extinguish this orange dumpster fire.

 

It’s time we got back to something like normal

With a Commander-in-Chief less hormonal.

How Not to Generate a Dating Profile

wes and yorick

I’m sure we have a lot in common

 

People tell me I haven’t missed anything at all by never really dating someone I hadn’t known rather well. The fact is that I’ve never dated a stranger, except for a blind date that was sprung on me without my knowledge when I visited an out-of-town cousin. It was a double date at that, and I was exclusively seeing someone else, which I mentioned to my blind date right away.

I did go on one other date in college with a girl from my hometown I didn’t know well, but we had had a couple of long conversations, and I could tell she was interested.  Plus, we had a host of mutual friends, so it wasn’t as if we needed to strain to find something to talk about.

My late wife Judy Birdsong and I had worked together for months in a bar before we started seeing each other, so we were very comfortable together.  It wasn’t like meeting a stranger for coffee to see how you got along.

judy wes beth's reception

Judy and I a decade or so ago

Similarly, my wife Caroline and I had been friends and members of the same book club for five years before we started our romance, so ditto.

Caroline and Wes Tides-2

Caroline and I

So the long and short of it is that I’ve never created a dating profile for eHarmony or any of the other dating platforms, which no doubt is a good thing because I’ve never really known anyone who has successfully cultivated a lasting relationship through electronic dating (or whatever you call it).

I guess, you need to market yourself, to choose a flattering image, and then to present your personality in a way that would make a congenial spirit willing to devote a few hours in your company.

As a thought experiment, I thought I’d create a theoretical dating profile, just to see what it would be like.

So I filled out this dating profile generator I found on-line.[1]  It asks you questions, you supply answers, and it creates an introductory essay.

Here’s what it came up with.

Good day ladies!

I’m a learned sort of gentleman, who likes nothing more than drinking with the right woman.

The first thing people usually notice about me is my ironic personality, closly (sic) followed by my smashing legs. I am not one of those fake people who pretends not to notice their (sic) own qualities. My legs and ears are top notch. These gems of honesty are just part of the learned person I am.

I work as a retired teacher[2], helping students. This allows me to exercise my skills: eloquence and humor. I would like to tell you about the time I met Dizzy Gillespie, which is true, but it’s important to me that you know I’m honest, so I’ll save the wilder parts of my life for another time.

My life goals include:

  • Meet Eric Idle
  • Become the best retired teacher I can be
  • Help all the students in the world[3]

If you’re the right woman for me, you’ll be intelligent and kind. You won’t be afraid to skinny dip and will have a healthy respect for integrity.

My ideal date would involve writing in Folly Beach with a tall woman by my side. While we’re there, I compliment your proportional face.

Honesty and openness are the most important qualities in a relationship. I will be honest with you, if you will be honest with me. I will never hit on your best friend whilst (sic) you’re visiting a sick relative, never text my ex behind your back while you’re asleep, never post naked photos of you on Facebook. That’s just the kind of gentleman I am.

A nod’s as good as a wink to a blind bat, eh?

I urge you, get in touch,

Kingbeat

 

As the youngsters say, OMG! Believe it or not, I chose “earnest” as the type of profile I wanted.


[1] From its diction, I’m pretty sure this thing originated in the UK.

[2] Work by not making lesson plans, not grading papers, not teaching classes, not attending faulty meetings.

[3] By remaining retired.

Bring in the Clowns

Probably no creative artist in history can match the universal adoration that Master Will Shakespeare enjoys (well, would enjoy if not dead for 403 years).  However, a recent biography claims that when his theatre company, the King’s Men, travelled to Whitehall to entertain James I, the actors actually served their royal patrons meals between performances.

Imagine the author of King Lear approaching some drooling Hapsburg-lipped hemophiliac with the greeting, “Hark, I’m William Shakespeare, and I shalt be thy server this evening.”

His much scrutinized signature?  An autograph unsought.

The fact is that Elizabethans and Jacobeans looked upon actors and playwrights the way we old folks do fire eaters and tattooed bearded ladies.  Amusing, perhaps, but not the sort we want visiting our homes.  Of course, nowadays, entertainers are the royalty: Sir Mick Jagger.  Sir Nick Faldo.  Sir Johnny Rotten (just wait).

Johnny Rotton sporting slimming vertical stripes

On the other hand, poets remain as impoverished as ever.  For example, when appointed, Poet Laureate Billy Collins taught at two different universities to make his mortgage. As my man, Willie B, whined so exquisitely in “Adam’s Curse”:

[. . . ] A line will take us hours maybe;

Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,

Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.

Better go down upon your marrow-bones

And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones

Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;

For to articulate sweet sounds together

Is to work harder than all these, and yet

Be thought an idler by the noisy set

Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen

The martyrs call the world.

[muffled sob]

Well, if you happen to be reading this post on lifted wifi in a drafty garret as you warm your hands over a burning pile of rejection slips, here’s a suggestion in how to augment your income.  Start touting yourself as a body language expert.

It’s as easy as lying.

Just apply the analytical process you use in interpreting poems to the dress, postures, and mannerisms of celebrities.  For example, courtesy of Us magazine, here’s body language expert Patti Wood on winsome Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock.

She is gripping the coffee cup very high up [. . .] That’s what you do when you really want to grab a hold of something and show your power.  She’s really making it obvious and playing toward the camera to show that empty [i.e., ringless] finger.

[snip]

Bullock also is wearing a black North Face jacket, black ball cap and scarf around her neck.

She’s chosen a heavily padded jacket and has it zipped up very high,” observes Wood. “The choice of her scarf, which is tied over heart, means that she is hiding her heart window and throat window, which is the communication window.”

As you might know (and congratulations if you don’t), Sandra Bullock’s story book marriage (as in Creepy Comics story book) to dashing motorcycle mechanic/television personality/daredevil Jesse James ended when she discovered hubby James had been trysting with “tattoo model and stripper Michelle ‘Bombshell’ McGee” [Wikipedia].  James’ previous, not-so-winsome wife, adult film star/producer Janine Lindemulder, had battled James the year before for custody of their daughter Sunny.  James, whose cocky sneer might outnumber Shakespeare’s pate in a Google image search face-off, has conceded having “made bad decisions” (i.e., committing adultery over an 11-month period with someone who goes by “Bombshell”) but blamed his transgressions on his abusive father, who once when 7-year-old Jesse tripped over a wire, “laughed at [him] and called [him] a dummy” New York Daily News.

No wonder Sandra has shrouded her heart window, opened the trench coat of her naked ring finger, and covered her communication window in tinfoil.

* * *

Poets, I guarantee you that Body Language Guru Patti got paid more for her analysis of Sandra’s ensemble than you did the last time you got published.  What was it? Two complimentary copies of the flimsy issue that featured your open wound of a love poem?

I bet we can do just as well as Patti Wood.  All we need is a degree from an on-line university, and we’re in business.  Let’s give it a shot.  Here’s a photo of disgraced Ponzi Master Al Parish in his glory days before the hook of law-and-order yanked him off the stage of the Charleston Chamber of Commerce production of No New Taxes. He’s in his eleventh years of a twenty-four year sentence at Butner Federal Correctional Complex in Raleigh.  Bernie Madoff is also an inmate there.

 

Al Parish, aka Economan

Piece of (purchased cheese) cake:

Falstaffian in appetite, Professor/Post Courier columnist/ official Chamber of Commerce economist Parish wraps himself in regal purple to accentuate his ties to the powers-that-be.  Even though his 300-plus pounds of sidewalk dominating heft might catch the eye of the blind man selling pencils on the corner, grey and black swirling patterns on purple demand even more attention, screaming I’m comfortable in my 24-square yards of skin, parachute-sized fabrics, jumbo-sized Cadillac.  Note how jauntily he cocks the angle of his right jowl across the 12-lane highway of his lapel – lapels that steeply climb his belly, that Great Divide of his torso and legs.  He’s at once a king and sycophant, a mogul and court jester

 And yet – and yet – the ensemble displays Rorschach-like signals of chaos ahead, his left shoulder bearing a hurricane-like swirl, his tie twisted like a cyclone, both boldly streaked in ominous black . . . 

Like, I said, it’s as easy as lying.

In Populous City Pent

 

Far from our southern border where children torn from their parents languish in cages, the din of a Midtown Manhattan construction project is wreaking genuine havoc.

Think Noah’s Ark:

How for so many bedlam hours his saw

Soured the song of birds with its wheezy gnaw,

And the slam of his hammer all the day beset

The people’s ears.

But here, we’re talking jackhammers, pile drivers.

Dig this from yesterday’s NYT:

Ms. Brown, who has lived on the block since 1969, blames the cacophony in part for her new $5,000 hearing aids.

Her miniature poodle, Dorian Gray, has been even more affected: he’s taking Trazodone, a tranquilizer. (“One tablet orally up to three times daily as needed for calming during construction,” the bottle helpfully directs.)

[snip]

Apart from Dorian Gray’s anxiety, Ms. Kelly’s dog, Lola, now shakes even when the jackhammers are idle. The cat living at No. 66, Titania of the Greil, is “overgrooming” and fighting irritable bowel syndrome, while Meadow at No. 51 is a “nervous wreck.” Birds on the block have stopped singing, one resident complained.

Poor Dorian, no more languid lolling, alas.