An Anthropological Adventure Highlighting Late Pandemic Folly Beach Behaviors

The last time I donned the ol’ pith helmet and ventured inside the rich anthropological domain of Folly Beach, SC, was on 17 March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic. Even though it was St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday associated with the consumption of intoxicating spirits, a day when inebriates typically jampack the bars of the so-called Edge of America, only a few foolhardy hedonists stumbled the streets that Saturday, their left hands clutching red cups, their right hands thumbing their noses, as it were, at Dr. Fauci’s fervent pleas to stay indoors to stem the contagion.

Why would I – whom sociologists classify as geriatric, advertisers term a golden ager, and young people consider an old fart – expose myself to possible infection? After all, at 67, I fell into the likely-to-die demographic. Why, you ask?  

Because I’m a scientist, damn it; that’s why.

Of course, I submitted a report of that field work, including video, which you can access here.

Well, 407 long days have elapsed since that death-defying foray onto the potentially contagious sidewalks of FBSC 17 March 2020. Now, with COVID cases waning nationwide (albeit spiking in India and elsewhere abroad) and having received two doses of the Moderna vaccine – the second one a month ago – I decided it was high time to investigate. With Caroline, my invaluable anthropological colleague, erstwhile grief counsellor, and crackerjack photographer at my side, we trekked to Center Street to determine to what degree behaviors have changed since the early days of the pandemic.

We set up base camp at Chico Feo and found that outdoor eatery a-swarm with Friday night foragers, mostly tourists, but a considerable number of local denizens lolled there as well. After one low-impact libation, Caroline and I decided to head straight to Ground Zero, the shitshow known as the Rooftop at Snapper Jack’s, a two-block walk. Before departing however, our sponsors, pictured below, suggested we be on the lookout for topers tippling drinks that Jenny (pictured far right) has dubbed “ho-a-canes” and “bro-nados.”

from left to right, Dylan, Patrick, Faith, and Jenny

At the base of the stairs leading to Snapper Jack’s rooftop bar, we encountered our first bachelorette crew, pictured below. They seemed to me, despite the festive pink cowgirl hats, a bit subdued. Caroline and I peppered them with questions. The 23-year-old bride-to-be (second from the left) had found, according to her, the “man of her dreams,” but her companion, the most loquacious of the quartet (far right), said she was patiently waiting for a man who “worshipped the very ground she stood upon” and would settle for nothing less. Upon hearing this, my subconscious selected from its poetic jukebox these lines from Yeats’s “Never Give All the Heart”:

Never give all the heart, for love 

Will hardly seem worth thinking of 

To passionate women if it seem 

Certain, and they never dream 

That it fades out from kiss to kiss . . .

Anyway, we bade them good fortune, wished the bride-to-be a long happy and fruitful marriage, and climbed the stairs passing through a portal that ferried us to the Jersey shore.

No doubt these images can attest far better than my spendthrift prose.

Ladies and gentlemen, as far as these folks are concerned, the pandemic is kaput.


For Caroline, Christmas 2017

Chin H Shin

For Caroline, Christmas 2017

It was my first son’s first birthday
After his mother’s Mother’s Day death.
I had never Ubered downtown before
That windy rain-drenched Wednesday,
But I would be drinking, drinking, aiding and abetting
Zoloft’s numbing affectless effects.

A warehouse converted into a restaurant,
Bricks, tables, a mirror-backed bar,
Water dripping from the brim of my fedora,
“A Jameson’s on the rocks, please.”
Twenty minutes later, the rain still coming down in sheets,
She came in drenched and sat down next to me as planned.

Later, we moved to a table, and I shared my guilt,
What I had not done in those awful last hours.
Shaking her head, she took my hand —
Perhaps she took my hand — but I know for sure
Word for word what she said — too sacred to share —
Seeds of love sown that windswept Wednesday.

2020, the Year in Review

Well, ladies and gents, despite this being a year of too many foul subtractions, too much self-isolation, and a cluster bombed political landscape about as verdant as a WWI battlefield, this blog has enjoyed significant success, if you count success in the number of visitors who peeked in and the total number of hits registered on the site.

A record shattering year with 37,840 hits and 22,969 visitors from 132 countries

Perhaps, we can attribute this growth in readership to the old adage misery loves company.

At any rate, here’s a look backward at some of what I consider the worthiest posts. To revisit the posts, hit the highlighted word, which will transport you to the piece in its entirety. In January I was ignorant that old man contagion was hiding behind a tree laying (sic) in wait to throw at brick.[1]Nevertheless, not realizing that many would turn to the solace of spirits (not to mention IPAs and spiked seltzers) in the coming months, prophetically I posted a pro-alcohol piece .

To counterbalance the somewhat positive with sort of negative, I also produced this piece on the great American songwriter Stephen Foster. 

February

On February 15th, Caroline and I visited Mosquito Beach’s Island Breeze for the last time, not knowing it was the last time. Alas and Alack!

By 29 February, the virus was flourishing, so I published this enlightening expose on vultures.

March

The Charleston community lost a richly talented English teacher, a learned Charleston historian, and lovely human being, Erica Lesesne.

Also, my pal the poet Jason Chambers allowed me to read and record on of his compositions.


April

April is, as Eliot, put it, is the cruelest month, so I brought this post up from the dead land, the first post directly dealing with the pandemic

I also wrote a poem dedicated to my friend Richard O’Prey, who is alive and well I’m happy to say. 

May

My wife Caroline wrote this brilliant villanelle in memory of my first wife Judy Birdsong who died on Mother’s Day of 2017. There’s an audio clip of Caroline reading that accompanies the text of the poem.

I also bid farewell to Porter-Gaud’s Class of 2020 who lost out on the springtime rituals of severance they so richly deserved. 

June

With the year half done, I came up with this pandemic parody of of William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus.” 

July

In July, I began a series dedicated to my native town of Summerville. Here’s the most popular one that brings together two rather antithetical citizens of that once quaint village. 

August

Not much going on in August. Here’s another one from the Summerville series chronicling my first night ever spent in a jail.

September

For some odd reason, I had death on my mind

October

Another pandemic poem, this one on the wearing of masks. 

November

With the election seemingly over, I posted this celebratory poem

Also, here are a handful of videos celebrating George Alan Fox and Chico Feo’s  Songwriters’ Soap Box Open Mike Extravaganza.

 

December

Ah, those lazy crazy deathly dangerous days of college.

Thanks to all of you who stop by and read the blog, especially my regulars, Rodney, Bill and Dana, Furman, Sue, Gary, and, of course, my siblings, and my loving, patient, and beautiful wife Caroline.


[1] With apologies to Ry Cooder

Wild Kingdom 2020, Folly Beach Backyard Edition

bunting uncnscious

To tell the truth, I’m not a fan of nature documentaries. For one thing, I don’t need to be constantly reminded that exotic habitats are rapidly disappearing from our poisoned planet, nor do I enjoy the spectacle of claws, talons, and incisors ripping the flesh from scampering rodents, warthogs, zebras, giraffes, antelopes, or baby elephants. The whole Darwinian horror show of survival shivers me timbers, sends rushes of disgust up my spinal cord.

And who in the hell are you supposed to pull for?  The pride of lions with their adorable cubs and dead-beat dads need to eat, but the elands about to be preyed upon seem somehow more sympathetic. Inevitably, after the kill come packs of scurvy hyenas (who also need to eat) who chase off the lions and take over the flesh-ripping and ravenous swallowing. Yuck.

Not surprisingly, given my delicate sensibility, in my youth I became an avid indoorsman, an inept male incapable of stringing a rod and reel (or baiting a hook for that matter) but one who could distinguish Jimmy Cagney from George Raft, Buster Keaton from Harold Lloyd. Why go traipsing through insect infested swamps when you can read “The Big Two-Hearted River” while sipping on a peaty single-malted Scotch?

That said, I happen to live in a spot that provides wide open views of the Folly River, which boasts an abundance of wildlife. Out back I’ve seen dolphins, otters, a mink, herons, egrets, ospreys, bald eagles, wood storks, bats, racoons, and rats. About twenty years ago, my late wife Judy Birdsong cajoled me into building a bird feeder, which consisted of a sheet of plywood positioned on a metal pole in the backyard. Judy would scatter seeds there, and birds would visit, chasing each other off until that fateful day when a red-tailed hawk swooped down and snatched one of the birds while the rest frantically peppered the plate glass windows that provide us our views. Afterwards, Judy insisted I disassemble the feeder, which suited me fine.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against sunlight, consider vitamin D an asset. In fact, my favorite watering hole Chico Feo is an al fresco bar that closes when it rains or gets too cold. So now with Chico Feo shut down during the quarantine[1], my wife Caroline and I spend our happy hours on our back deck enjoying a couple of pre-dinner libations. This April has featured unusually low humidity, and it’s enjoyable looking out over golden sunlight dappling the greening marsh and watching merchant ships in the distance sliding past the Morris Island Lighthouse in and out of Charleston Harbor.

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So there we were yesterday sitting on our deck enjoying our ridiculously highbrow conversation (was Wallace Stegner’s Lyman Ward a more sympathetic amputee than Hemingway’s Harry Morgan) when Caroline suddenly stood up cried, “Oh, no!”

“What’s the matter?”

A bird just slammed into the window and dropped to the ground!”

“What kind of bird?”

“I think it was a cardinal,” she said.

“Oh, it’ll probably come to,” I said, unmoved (and unmoving), but Caroline was already scampering down the steps to comb through the Asiatic jasmine for fallen bird, which, amazingly she found in a couple of minutes, a male painted bunting, not a cardinal, inert but not dead.

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Caroline picked him up and placed him in a net we use for scooping out our water garden and placed the net in the middle of the yard. We watched intensely, hoping for some movement, but there was none. Then the shadow of a large bird darkened the deck, and sure enough, we looked up to see a red-tailed hawk cruising.

So both of us went down and placed the net in a wax myrtle for greater camouflage. The bunting was now standing, but otherwise not moving, looking like the taxidermized Carolina Parakeet (long extinct) that was displayed in the Old Charleston Museum off of Calhoun Street.

Caroline noticed that maybe his claw was entangled in the mesh of the net, and as she reached down, the bunting flew off into a thicket of Elaeagnus, where I think he and his mate nest.

We cheered!

The gorgeous fellow will live to see another day –– maybe.

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And as far as the red-tailed hawk is concerned, let him eat rats.

hawk 3 (original)


[1] You can on some days still get takeout.