Jazzy Danielle

Here’s a snippet of the great Danielle Howle from the May 31 iteration of the Singer Songwriter Soapbox at Chico Feo. She currently has a kickstarter campaign to secure funds to record her 16th studio album. You can contribute here.

A good time was had by all.

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.


Live Reading of “Dr. Seuss on the Juice”

Dr. Seuss on the Juice

(as performed by Dr. John)

When I read Kafka
I get wasted on Vodka,

Though Mr. William Faulkner
Go better with Johnnie Walker.

Can’t do Proust
With no gin in my juice.

Obviously, Jameson be the choice
When I open up my Joyce.

(Finnegan’s Wake sober
Means a walloping hangover).

Never do Virginia Woolf
Unless the bottle say 100 proof.

Nobel Laureate TS Eliot
Requires an even stronger inebriant.

And remember,
if you want to stay alive,
Don’t read and drive.

Robert Lighthouse, Swedish Bluesman Extraordinaire

What do you think of when you think of Sweden? Viking ships? Ingmar Bergman? The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? The blues?

The blues? What in the hell am I talking about?

I’m talking about Robert Lighthouse – nee Ivan R. Palinic[1], the Swedish blues guitarist who at the tender age of fourteen heard an Alan Lomax field recording of Muddy Waters – boom – Road to Damascus. Farewell, Nazareth, hail, Dr. Ross, John Lee Hooker, and Jimi Hendrix.

“Muddy ’67” photograph by David Gahr

I chatted with Robert in bright sunshine on our dock yesterday before his gig at the Singer/Songwriter’s Soapbox at Chico Feo, the best free music you’ll find in anywhere in what once was called Tri-County Area.[1]

Prompted by my questions, Robert related a CliffNote summary his life: moving to the States at eighteen, playing for tips on DC street corners, getting discovered by Charlie Sayles, the one-eyed harp master (who also got his start in music playing for tips on street corners).

Charlie Sayles

Robert toured Belgium and Holland with Charlie’s band and ended up landing a record deal of his own. His critically acclaimed first album, Drive-Thru Love, available on Smithsonian Folk Ways Recordings[2], includes both covers and originals. In addition to his second record, Deep Down in the Mud, Robert also appears on the Folkways compilation 1996 album, The Blues You Would Just Hate to Lose, Vol. II.  He has shared a stage with Dr. John and opened for Taj Mahal and Johnny Winter, whom Robert describes as a man of few words but many bong hits.

The pianist/blues impresario Gary Erwin (aka Shrimp City Slim) recruited Robert to appear at blues festivals in Camden, Greenwood, and Charleston, and somehow, Robert and my brother Fleming met, and, the rest, as they say, is history.

If you ever get the chance, check him out.

Here’s a clip of his version of the Charlie Patton tune “Rattlesnake Blues.”

And him warming up at Chico Feo last night (8 March 2021)

photo credit I-and-I


[1] That be Charleston, Dorchester, and Berkeley Counties. The Soapbox runs on Mondays from 6 to 10. Be there are be square.

[2] How cool to share a label with Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger Leadbelly, and Dave Van Ronk. I made the mistake of clicking on their website and see a Lord Lavender calypso record I can’t live without.


[1] Robert tells me that his surname, which is Croatian, means fire-starter, as in arsonist, so he anglicized it to “Lighthouse” in the sense of setting a house on fire, not in the sense of guiding sailors safely to shore. 

The Cancan Do Man (a reading)

Cop my cannabis from Canada,
not Cancun, like you might think.
Canonized saints in white lab coats
cure the shit in absinthe, baby.

I can cancel out a credit card
quicker than RD Foxx can say
cock-a-doodle-do, a bone fide
can do type of dude.

Can you dance the cancan, baby?
Like the poster in your apartment?
You know, a little dab’ll do you.
You know that, I know that.

Yes, I can’t take no for an answer.
I been hurt, hurt, hurt, yes I been –
Why can’t you see that I can do?
Can do, babydoll, not a problem.

Gonna pick myself right up off
the canvas of unrequited love,
do the “Shadowbox” with my badself
on a moonless midnight in December.

A can do type of fooooool.
Did I mention my Canadian doobies?
That I’m a Cancer, have eaten a Toucan?
That’s right, baby, big bright beak and all.

“toucan” by Elvira Gimaeva

To Distance or Not to Distance

Alas, the other day a woman, who (perhaps not coincidentally) happened to be an enthusiastic lover and promoter of animal life, perished when she wandered too close to an alligator on Kiawah Island.

Here’s Post and Courier reporter Gregory Yee Gyee’s account of the unfortunate incident, which I have subtitled, “The Report Said.”

[The victim] Covert saw an alligator in a pond behind her friend’s home on Salt Cedar Lane and wanted to get closer, the report said.

The friend told deputies that Covert was on the back steps of her home and eventually moved down toward the pond.

″(She) kept yelling for her friend to get away and saw her friend was about four feet from the edge of the water when the big alligator came up and attacked her friend,” the report said.

The friend’s husband grabbed a shovel while Covert’s friend called 911, the report said. The husband tried to hit the alligator in a bid to make it release Covert, but those efforts were not successful.

The alligator dragged Covert under the water, the report said.

“She stated her friend never screamed,” the report said.

Will this unfortunate incident go viral as a sort of parable for the dangers of violating social distancing during what I have come to call Da Cora?

I’m betting not.

reopening+columbia+sc-55

Patrons waiting outside Jake’s, a Columbia, SC restaurant on 4 May 2020 (photo by Sean Rayford via Soda Citizen)

Damn, why didn’t I sell my Boeing stock and reinvest it in some cut-off jean manufacturer?

Anyway, in the USA, divided as it is, we have two opposing factions clashing across social media about how we should handle the contagion, and, not surprisingly, ideas about how to deal with the crisis tend to align themselves to opposite ends of the political spectrum.

On the one hand, we have the left, citizens who believe in science and place human life above economic considerations. They see the denizens of nursing homes as memaws and papaws, not as statistical models who have in many cases outlived the expected average lifespan of 78.54 years.

The left believes opening too soon is ill-advised, that a new wave of contagion will result, which will wreck the economy the other side hopes to rescue by reopening restaurants, barbershops, beauty salons, tattoo parlors, and strip joints.[1]

The left has faith in human rationality, believes that restaurants will remain empty because people won’t feel safe. They believe we all should wear masks, as much to protect others as ourselves. Ideally, some would like social distancing to continue until a vaccination is available.

On the other hand, we have the right, Gadsden-flag-waving, mask-eschewing rugged individualists who don’t want the government treading on them. They cite articles from outlier scientists who claim the infection and death tolls are statistically insignificant, that the way to overcome Da Cora is to have a majority of the population get infected and  develop antibodies, which eventually will choke off the virus. Embracing social Darwinism, they argue that young folks (with a few exceptions) tend to suffer only mild symptoms, so let’s get them infected so they can develop antibodies, recover, and go back to serving those beers and inking those biceps, and if the aged and others suffering from pre-existing conditions die, well, that’s too bad –  that’s the way that nature works.

Of course, things would be much better if we had adequate testing to determine whom it’s safe to be around and who isn’t, but the fact of the matter is that we don’t.  I personally don’t know what ultimately is right. I tend to seek a middle way in life’s dilemmas. Is there one to be found here? Dunno. Maybe?

Anyway, at least in South Carolina, where I live, the Governor is reopening the state. I also read in this morning’s paper that the beaches are letting non-residents back on. Yesterday, here on Folly, restaurants were offering outdoor dining, and when I went for pick-up at Chico Feo, the customers were, unlike at Jake’s, practicing safe social distancing.

organic mask

One of my personal heroes, Kenny, modeling one of nature’s very own protective masks

At Chico, there were one-way entrances and exits and bottles of hand sanitizer available. Nonresidents were being allowed on the island at seven, but I was safely at home by then and didn’t gander back out to take a peek.

At any rate, I would suggest that if you’re old (like me) and/or suffer from an underlying condition, you might want to postpone that barbed-wire tattoo or foray to the Wild, Wild Joker Club.

But, hey, it’s up to you, dear existentialist.


[1] Lap dances, I have read, occur much closer than the six feet of separation epidemiologists consider safe.

Partying During the Pandemic: Hubba, Hubba, Hubba, Hack, Hack

 

red death

Of course, whenever there’s a celebration on Folly Beach, I shed the fedora and don my pith helmet to study the folkways of the island’s men and women, whether they be our ancient, reptilian residents who seem to make up the majority of the population[1]; the younger year-round renters who often work in the food and beverage industry; the bourgeois house-renting vacationers; or the daytrippers, which include surfer dudes and dudettes, but mostly consist of young people eager to ditch their sobriety.  The question arose: what type of person (besides intrepid anthropologists) seeks out crowds during a pandemic?

I began my foray early, keeping at least six feet away from those as foolhardy to brave the great outdoors as I walked to Center Street via the beach. The strand itself was wind-swept, and the few cloud-bathers who braved the beach had placed their chairs and blankets on the leeward side of the concrete groins where they huddled and shivered. Most of the other beach strollers consisted of dog worshipers, who barely outnumber the host of young females who have chosen The Edge of America as the destination for their bachelorette parties.

Over the course of the day, I counted six different groups engaged in celebrating the waning days of some betrothed female’s status as a single. Depending on the socio-economic situation, the attire of the ladies ranges from civvies to tee-shirts printed for the occasion. Although anthropologists are not supposed to let ethnocentric emotions like pity come into play, I felt sorry for these chilly, less-than-festive seeming young women in short sleeves hugging themselves.  Who can blame them, having planned the events months ago not knowing it was going to be a Masque-of-the-Red Death weekend?

IMG_9850-1

Indeed, the numbers of revelers who decided to come out was scant. It was like, as my fellow anthropologist Caroline noted, living in Charleston thirty years ago when parking spaces were plentiful and sidewalks easily traversed. I began and ended my fieldwork at Chico Feo with brief stops at the rooftop of Snapper Jack’s, St. James Irish Pub, and the Sand Dollar Social Club (cash only).  Here’s a virtual visit for my social-distancing readers.

On a typical St Patrick’s Saturday on Folly, these venues would have been packed to, as they say, the gills.

 


[1] The overall median age of Folly residents is 49.7 years, 43.7 years for males, and 58.4 years for females.

 

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.