I Have Measured My Life Out with Barrooms

Juarez Muchado
“A Bar in Copacabana

The mornings, evenings, afternoons . . . 

TS Eliot, “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock

I started hanging out at bars at a very young age because whenever my mother left me alone with my old man, he’d throw me in the car and head off to some hole-in-the-wall near the Navy Base. There were no such things as kiddy car seats in those days. Come to think of it, there were no seatbelts either, at least in the cars we owned. Nor were we stowed in the backseat for safety’s sake.

Whenever Daddy hit the brakes, he’d reflexively extend his right arm as a barrier to prevent us from hurtling into the dashboard with its array of dangerous knobs, seemingly designed with poking out eyes in mind. I was only thrown into the dashboard once when my grandmother let me stand up in the front seat. I lost my front baby teeth, and one of my permanent front teeth grew in discolored and had to be capped. The cap kept falling off, and what was left of the tooth had to be drilled down to fit on another cap. Eventually, when there was hardly anything left, it had to be pulled, which made me look like Alfred E Newman until we acquired a retainer like false tooth.[1]

At any rate, sometimes, if you’re lucky, natural selection doesn’t work out the way it’s supposed to.

That grandmother, a Baptist, despised demon alcohol and considered bars dens of iniquity, though she and her sisters (Pearl and Ruby) traded pharmaceuticals like jelly beans.[2] My mother, though less severe, didn’t like to come home and discover us missing. The story is that she could mysteriously intuit what bar we were at by flipping through the Charleston phone book, which was much thinner in those days in before the Old South turned into the Sunbelt. According to the dubious story, she’d call the bar, offer a description, get the old man on the phone, and he would come dutifully home with little me in tow.

My vague memories of hanging in bars with my father in the mid-Fifties may be manufactured. They may be based more on movies I’ve seen featuring dark, small, smoky spaces. I do clearly remember him playing pinball machines, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. These were in the days before aluminum cans were equipped with pop-tops, a great invention. Back then, bartenders opened cans of beers with small metal openers [see illustrations below] and had to make two openings to create airflow to help gravity along.

That reminds me. When I was around ten, my father had this foolish idea that I needed to drink one beer a week to gain weight – as if the weight gain would be equally distributed along my skeletal frame instead of creating a stick-legged, stick-armed tween with a beer belly. I absolutely detested the taste of beer. Now that I think of it, it may have been a ruse to allow us to have beer in the house.

The next bar I visited in my youth was a roadhouse called Morris Knight’s, a one-story honky-tonk-like establishment about a half-mile from my house. It consisted of two rooms, one with a bar and stools (where they sold candy and fireworks to kids in the day time) and a back room with a vending pool table and a jukebox. One night when we were camping out, we made an excursion there to score some Squirrel Nut Zippers and encountered staggeringly drunk men and women. The fat woman bartender kicked us out, informing us it was no place for children. It seemed at once both sinful and fascinating, Felliniesque in a po-dunk sort of way.

The S & S poolroom, where I hung out in high school, wasn’t, strictly speaking, a bar, though they did sell both draughts and canned beers. They served the most delicious hot dogs ever thanks to their secret chili recipe. Sometimes my mother would have a craving for one, and Daddy would go fetch her “a poolroom hotdog” because “ladies” didn’t dare step inside.

It was tacitly understood that I was not to go into the poolroom, but I did for the first time when I was a 7th grader, the victim of peer pressure. You couldn’t get away with sneaking in there, though, because you would come home with the telltale poolroom smell, a sort of sour smoky odor laced with fried food.

The poolroom was sort of a grander Morris Knight’s and employed young black boys to rack the tables and collect the dime it cost to play a game of nine ball. When the game was over, you’d holler “Rack!” Gambling was allowed. I saw a friend of mine, Glenn Farrar, win a hundred dollars in about forty minutes one time. It was a Friday, payday.  Tensions ran high.

Anyway, my parents eventually didn’t mind my hanging out there, and in the early 70’s a couple of girls actually started frequenting, which sullied their reputations. By then, the hissing sound of the double metal can opener had been replaced by the plunk of tabs you tore off.

You had to be somewhat circumspect in the poolroom, though. Using a word like “whom” might end up getting your “ass cut,” as we locals put it. You weren’t allowed to cuss, though. A “No Profanity” sign was displayed prominently behind the bar beside prints of monkeys shooting pool and playing poker.

You could drink legally at eighteen in those days, so college was where I learned the art of making eye contact with the bartender, the advantages of busing your own tables by returning your bottles, and how leaving a tip could help you get served faster when the joint was busy.

My freshmen year I hung at a place called the Opus that served only Bush Bavarian beer, or at least that’s my memory, but they tore the Opus down to build the new Law School. There was also the Campus Club, a cool space with a wraparound scaffolding-like structure that created a sort of second story but was open to the space below, like the saloons you sometimes see in old Westerns. I liked sitting there in the afternoons after class when dust-moted sunbeams bore down on the tables like spotlights.

Here it is in its new iteration as “The Hunter Gatherer”

I never really liked the Golden Spur, the bar located in USC’s student union building, a sort of cafeteria-like soulless place where unadventurous students hung. Ironically, I ended up tending bar there along with my future wife, who had white-lied to her parents and told them that she worked at “the student center.” The bar did boast some really cool musical acts, like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. That may have been my best job ever. If we went out after work, it was to Oliver’s Pub on Devine Street, a private club where you could drink on Sundays.

Like a chip off the ol’ block, I started taking my two sons to bars early in their lives.  When then they were pre-adolescents, on nights their mother attended classes to get yet another graduate degree, we’d eat out at bars. Our favorites were the Acme Cantina on the Isle of Palms and Station 22 on Sullivan’s Island. The boys were on a first name basis with the bartender, Fronz, at the Acme, and with Cathy Coleman at Station 22. The big difference between my childhood experience and theirs is that their mother didn’t mind at all, especially on 25-cent wing night.

Now, our sons are in their 30’s, and, of course, we still enjoy venturing out to a bar when they’re home, and Folly Beach where their mother and I now live may have more bars per capita than anywhere in this side of Vegas.  Our favorites are Chico Feo and the Jack of Cups, but the Surf Bar is top-notch as well.

By the way, the worst bar I ever visited was outside of Leningrad on the Bay of Finland.  Black walls, red lights, bad vodka, the reek of Turkish cigarettes, drunken Finns looking for love. It made Morris Knight’s look like a Dairy Queen.


[1] You can read a sad, alcoholic-themed story about that very tooth here.

[2] My grandfather hid half-pints of rum in his dress shoes in his closet.

Bachelor Party at Chico Feo’s: An Anthropological Study

chico bachelor party

 

Last Saturday, I had the opportunity as an anthropologist to observe a late afternoon bachelor’s party at Folly Beach’s little corner of the Caribbean, Chico Feo.

By the way, bachelor parties for centuries have been traditional components of mating and marriage rituals in the West. Whether you’re bidding “farewell to bachelorhood” in Munich at a Junggesellenabschied or in Arles marking the “burial of the life of a boy” at an enterrement de vie de jeune fill, you can be assured of one commonality: the Junges and garçons are gonna get shit-faced just like the lads in Liverpool and the dudes of Malibu.

 

Berlin Junggesellenabschied

Berlin Junggesellenabschied

Indeed, even though it was merely four in the afternoon at Chico Feo, a few of the entourage exhibited telltale signs of intoxication — sleepy, glazed eyes; mouths that hung open; wobbly legs. The first reveler in this condition I encountered kept bumping into the vacant bar stool adjacent to me.  Charlie, Chico’s world-class bartender, informed me with a scowl that these fellows were part of a bachelor’s party. It appeared that Charlie had already cut this fellow off.

I’d estimate these young men to be from the Northeastern United States, a section of the country in which good-natured mockery seems to be an ubiquitous social custom (see Tolerating Middle Class Northerners for Dummies). The bros bantered about slinging insults, ordering beer after beer, and slurping down in one swallow Chico’s delicious tacos as if they were oysters.

Most of these young men were large in stature, and even if they weren’t, they sported over-sized biceps and an array of body art ranging from rustic gunmetal blue barbed-wire wraparounds to high-end multicolored patterns that screamed Gauguin. It seemed, though, that some had acquired their muscular upper arms a while ago because now their abs resembled not so much washboards as loads of laundry.

It was interesting to try to determine who reigned as alphas of the cartload. One “dude” particularly seemed in charge, a vociferous twenty-something who looked as if his ancestors may have entered Ellis Island from Brindisi. He had an olive completion, aquiline beak, and jet-black short-shorn hair covered by a baseball cap worn backwards. He was conversing with some female patrons, boasting of the Adonis-like beauty of one of his friends, Paul, a ridiculously good-looking and fit fellow whose sandy hair fluttered in the on-shore breeze. Paul was sitting at the bar but looking in the opposite direction at the bacchanal taking place beneath the overarching trees that provide shade for Chico’s tables and chairs.

“These chicks want you to take off your shirt, Paul,” the alpha shouted in an accent that I’d place somewhere close to Newark.

Paul sat there passively grinning.

“C’mon Paul.   Show ‘em what you got.”

The females nodded their heads, and the ringmaster shouted, “C’mon, Paul, take off your shirt. Now! Show us your tits,” and a chant began “Show us your tits, show us your tits,” to which bartender Charlie, the real alpha, put an immediate stop. The ringleader opened his mouth and raised his arm as if he were going to continue, but Charlie’s stare short-circuited the bravado, and the erstwhile alpha dropped his hand and benignly smiled what I would call (removing my pith helmet of anthropological professionalism for a second) a stupid, shit-eating grin.

“Hey, which one’s getting married?” I asked Charlie.

“I don’t care,” he said shaking his head.

Unlike Dian Fossey or Jane Goodall, I didn’t ingratiate myself my this cartload[1] of not-so-fun-folks to follow them to their next destination, the Tides Hotel where they were wisely staying, eliminating even the need of Uber for their locomotion. However, I suspect that before the evening came to its inevitable end, these celebrants would witness some form of burlesque for hire, i.e., a stripper performing that age-old ritual.

I’ll leave you with this from Wikipedia:

In Israel, the bachelor party is called מסיבת רווקים. Such parties often feature heavy drinking and sometimes the presence of strippers.

Israeli מסיבת רווקים

Israeli מסיבת רווקים

We have so much in common with each other. Why can’t we seem to get along?

Did you know you call a group of chimps a “cartload?” It’s a troop of gorillas and baboons, a barrel of monkeys, but a cartload of chimps. Go figure.

The Whatness-of-the-Right Now

06_10_018861Chapter 1: Losses and Gains

I’m a 47-year-old man who’s lost a portion of my left leg to diabetes, my erstwhile wife to — and I’m not making this up — a yoga teacher ten years her junior.

I would like to think, however, that through these two rather major subtractions, I have gained a greater appreciation for what I’ve come to call the Whatness-of-the-Right Now (WORN), Now I pay heed to the slow softshoe of the keyboard’s clicking, note the redness of the Bic lighter lying next to my empty coffee cup, the grain of the walnut of this desk that once was a tree, the steady samba sway of the branches of magnolia outside my study’s smudged window panes.

As that master of the Whatness-of-the-Right-Now, Van Morrison, once scatted, “It ain’t why why why why why; it just is.”

So I’ve tried to jettison the dichotomy of wise and unwise and replace it with interesting versus uninteresting, which, of course, is inviting Old Man Trouble to crash on your couch. Also, I guess I should mention I have a 17-year-old daughter Bronwyn whom I’m attempting to nudge in the right direction, i.e., a path that leads to happiness. Of course, at her point in life, WORN and opting for what’s-interesting over what’s-not-interesting is as foolish as encouraging her to read The Sound and the Fury in the dad/daughter book club we’ve formed. [1]

Dad, I’ve decided to go to the all-night rave in a club downtown instead of the Drama Club production of Annie. The rave sounds more interesting. Yes, I have my fake ID! Jeez, Dad!

The thing is, though, when WORN kicks in, everything is interesting – even the logo of the Allstate bill that lies next to the empty coffee cup.

 

images

Why blue?

Are the hands about to receive a communion wafer?

Are we the communion wafer?

Are they the Hands of God?

How come the A is listing to the right?

How much was the creator of the logo paid?

 

Hang Outs

After our divorce, Gwen and I sold our house on Limehouse Street in Charleston, SC, and I moved to a barrier island called Folly Beach, the most bohemian of Charleston’s beaches. I live on the backside facing the Folly River in a small one-story, two-bedroom bungalow propped on pilings, but my study faces the front of the house because I don’t want the constant Darwinian dissonance of pelican plummet – splash – or the baby-butchering sounds of raccoon sex — or the insect-like buzz of  jet skis to distract me as I try to put into words what is happening.

After the amputation, which I prefer to call dismemberment, I retired from my job as the arts editor at the paper and became a househusband, which drove both Gwen and Bronwyn crazy. Did I mention I am a smoker? An occupational hazard in journalism and a must-not for diabetics. Of course, I smoked outside on the verandas (there were two, one upstairs, one downstairs) running along the front the house (whose side faced the street in typical Charleston fashion), but even my smoking on the porches irritated spouse and daughter. Also, I had erectile issues, not-exercising issues, Jameson whiskey issues (another diabetic no-no); nevertheless, Gwen’s affair with the vapid spike-haired Brandon I could have not imagined; her moving out on me and in with him after 22 years of marriage seemed almost goddamned cartoonish. In this case life imitates unimaginative romantic comedies.

Milton’s Satan, one of my boyhood heroes, says that “sometimes solitude is best society,” and I get plenty of it now, but I do every afternoon, depending on my mood and/or the weather, visit one of two Folly Bars, Chico Feo or The Jack of Cups. 

 

Chico Feo is right across Second Street East from Berts, a small grocery store that’s been in operation for 60 years. I guess you could call Chico Feo an alfresco dining experience featuring Caribbean cuisine or a funky drinking establishment without a roof. It’s in the backyard of an old un-air-conditioned two-story house where they prepare the food, goat curry, beans and rice, tacos.  The bar forms a barrier to the back door of the house where the kitchen is located. Beers are retrieved from coolers, or rather, large ice-filled tubs. Throughout the day whatever bartender’s on duty — Charlie, Tyler, Paul, or Greg — makes the trek across the street to Bert’s to procure more ice.

Chico Feo is only six blocks from my house, so I ride my bike, adding to the island’s quirky charm, a one-legged man with a notebook in his hand peddling a mountain bike on a flat barrier island. By the way, prosthetic legs have come a long way since Flannery O’Connor’s Hulga stumped her way up into the hayloft and into the arms of Manly Pointer. I opted for functionality rather than cosmetics in choosing mine, which I have rather pompously christened “Ahab,” though if you check out this link on eBay, you can find some pretty tempting vintage models, advertised with élan: http://www.ebay.com/bhp/prosthetic-leg

From my private collection :

Rare german steampunk vintage pre WW1 (about 1900 – 1910)  leather wooden foot with metal spring!

Very rare steampunk collectible – stay like this or do some restoation work on it for art design, museum collection or just an outstanding weird item for home design

outside leather is in very good condition for it’s (sic) age, rust on metal braces , inside of socket worn out and very used .

an unique item!

of course not for medical use !!!

mNAsu-ycUT4gj6RTrjTmBCw

Anyway, I usually wear long pants, unless temperature tops 90 or so, and though I admire those who flaunt their prosthetics, like Paul McCartney’s ex-wife, I’m also a great admirer of Ray Charles, whose dark glasses shielded children from at least one awful truth.

The Jack of Cups, my other hang out, is a small brew pub that features kickass Thai-like cuisine, though the owners/chefs are very white people from Santa Monica, as nice as they can be, and very talented when it comes to cooking.

I’m there right now, talking to one of the bartenders, Fiona, an articulate, culturally aware young woman with gorgeous wavy red hair, very pale freckled skin, and prominent hazel eyes that chameleon like change colors from light brown to green. She’s originally from Savannah, and although I wouldn’t quite yet call her Rubenesque, she’s headed in that direction. She actually edited the literary magazine at Bowdoin, has published poetry in on-line journals. We end up talking about Devon, an aspiring fiction writer who works at Berts.

“So, what you working on, Jake?” she says as I turn the page of a manuscript.

“It’s not mine. It belongs to Devon. It’s his latest novel.

Fiona rolls her eyes, adds a theatrical sneer.

Devon is a very upbeat young African American in his early twenties with excellent facial features but who is uncomfortably overweight. If one day Fiona might be Rubenesque, Richard is already giving Sydney Greenstreet a run for his money. Apparently, he spends every moment off work writing (and eating). When he talks about his latest project, he goes manic, as if you might be as interested in his made-up world as he is, which makes him a very poor conversationalist for a practitioner of WORN. He’s not interested in anything else but his “art,”  not sports, not politics.  I don’t think he’s ever asked me a personal question like “how did you happen to lose that leg?”

Sydney Greenstreet

Sydney Greenstreet

“You poor, stiff,” Fiona says. “You should’ve just said no. Let me be your role model, pal. When he asked me, I said, ‘no way, amigo, no can do,’ and believe me, he can take no for an answer.”

“Well, I am a man of some leisure, and I told him I’d be brutally honest, which I intend to be.”

“Yeah, and you don’t have to worry about any potential romantic delusions he might harbor  Anyway, What’s it about?”

“It’s sort of hard to explain. I just started it. Two paragraphs in. But according to him, it’s actually a video game, the plot of the novel is a video game, and like those choose-your-adventure books, you – the reader – can opt where to go, to skip 50 pages ahead if you decide to go to a movie, or instead of that, drop some LSD and jump 150 pages ahead.  He fantasizes that they’ll make it into a movie and then ultimately into a video game.”

“Sounds fucked-up. Delusional. Unpublishable.”

“It’s not the plot but the prose I’m dreading.”

“Well, sweetheart, I’ll let you get back to your reading,” she says wiping off the bar. Fiona’s writing a dissertation on film noir and has started to parrot the lingo of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.

“Thanks,” I say, and start over reading the manuscript.

 

[1] Actually, we’re reading Houseman’s A Shropshire Lad, which, though a tad bit sing-songy and cloyingly melancholy, is age appropriate for both of us:

 

         Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

         Is hung with bloom along the bough,

         And stands about the woodland ride

          Wearing white for Eastertide.

 

         Now, of my threescore years and ten,

         Twenty will not come again,

         And take from seventy springs a score,

         It only leaves me fifty more.

 

         And since to look at things in bloom

         Fifty springs are little room,

         About the woodlands I will go

         To see the cherry hung with snow.

A Taste of Folly

 

hoodoo headquarters

Outside of Hoodoo Headquarters

11: 10 a.m. Saturday 16 January 2016

As the sun arcs across the bluest of skies on this glorious Saturday of a three-day weekend, why squander my benevolent mood by overturning the rock of US politics and commenting on the spectacle of the scurrying vermin underneath?

Let’s not go into Trump and Cruz bouncing off the ropes of Thursday’s debate delivering forearms and leg kicks like Jessie Ventura and Nikolai Volkkoff.

Let’s not revisit the pairing of Lindsey Graham and Jeb! standing awkwardly abreast at yesterday’s endorsement like Muff and Jeff .

jeb and lindsey

photoshopped cartoon by WLM3

And what about this century’s remake of the 1972 Democratic contest with Hillary Clinton in the role of Edward Muskie and Bernie Sanders playing George McGovern?[1]

Enough! Already I feel dyspepsia roiling the previously pacific pools of my stomach acid.

No, I’m headed to the closet to don my pith helmet for another episode of “Hoodoo Anthropology.” Today, my adopted hometown Folly Beach celebrates its annual culinary extravaganza a “Taste of Folly, which I’ve never checked out, so I’m curious to see what type of crowd the festival attracts. You would think attendees might be a bit more subdued than the roisterers who descend for Folly Gras and Follypalloza, but frankly, I dunno.

What I do know is that the streets have been cordoned off, draught beer is flowing from sidewalk taps, and, of course, the chefs of Folly have taken extra care to present their signature dishes.

1:30 pm

Your intrepid reporter/anthropologist (IRA) and his spouse/assistant (SA) park their bikes at Chico Feo. Charlie, bartender extraordinaire, informs them that a bluegrass trio will be performing at 5, and that the owner/proprietor/chef (OPC) Hank Weed has set up a station offering a taste of Chico on the main drag that bisects this seaside community.

We cover the block to Center Street on foot.

IMG_2495

Over time, your IRA has developed mild anxiety when enmeshed in the amoeba-like pulsations of a crowd. SA Birdsong is hungry, a happy coincidence, but the lines for food are long along the bustling thoroughfare. As luck would have it, the queue for the Jack of Cup’s (JOC) curry is manageable, so the two split up; SA Birdsong procures two bowls while IRA goes inside the saloon to obtain a beer.

As sometimes happens in small villages, sitting right outside of the JOC are two friends, Larry and Jed, who offer an area of the table where SA and IRA can stand and enjoy the absolutely delicious combination of rice, potatoes, curry, peppers, etc.

curry.jpg

Jack of Cups Curry

Since Larry has been on site since “the crack of eleven,” he has procured a wristband that allows him to transport beers as a pedestrian.

wrist band

“Since when do you need a wristband to drink at a Folly festival?” IRA asks.

“It’s new this year,” Larry says. “It’s not too bad. Costs a buck. They make it efficient.”

“Maybe so, “ IRA thinks, “but here’s another instance of government complicating the lives of citizens.” He wonders where Cruz, Trump, and Bush might stand on the issue.  No doubt nanny staters Bernie and Hillary are all for it.

As IRA enjoys his beer, someone approaches him from the back and begins to tenderly massage his shoulders. Out loud IRA wonders who it might be — Emmylou Harris? Chrissie Hynde? Margo Timmins? Ambrosia Parsley?

No, it’s Vinnie Folly Beach’s most prolific songwriter.

vinny

Vinnie

“You know what,” Vinnie says, “I’m going to get drunk today.”

IRA: “You are?”

Vinnie [emphatically]: “Yes I am. You know why?”

IRA: “Nope.”

Vinnie: “Because I got drunk last night, and I can’t get over it.”

Two beers are long enough for IRA to determine that the visitors for a Taste of Folly are very much like the visitors to the other festivals. Bands play, like at any other festival. There’s a Jump Castle (JC) for the kiddies, like at any other festival.

Bottom line: the festival goers seem to be having a fairly good time.

3:41

SA and IRA arrive home safely via bikes. Decompression time before Chico Feo 5pm bluegrass trio.

[1] Dream tickets: Sanders and Sharpton vs. Cruz and Cotton in a “the-center-cannot-hold” contest.

Folly’s Rather Subdued Xmas Parade

With the specter of terrorism, both domestic and jihadist, haunting contemporary life, it’s no wonder that yesterday’s annual Folly Beach, SC, Christmas parade seemed somewhat subdued. For example, no eardrum-shattering Shriner-produced gun battles “betwixt” Revenuers and Moonshiners terrified toddlers. Instead, we baby boomers were treated to this rather melancholy spectacle.

[For those not proficient in Southern US English, here’s a translation: “This gentleman right here is 91-years-old, still working for the burned and crippled children (not the burning crippled children)].

Compare that to this scene from four years ago when all the little Masons and Benningtons were treated to some semi-authentic street drama, a Western tradition dating back to the glorious days of the Hundred Years War and the bubonic plague.

police

Also conspicuous in their absence were the vintage car clubs, those MG-Bs, Triumph Spitfires, XKE Jags that ascot-wearing playboys used to tool around the countryside in with their scarf-headed mistresses headed to the Timberland Inn for a mid-afternoon tryst.

red austin healey

And, for me, an owner of two late departed VW microbuses, what a disappointment that nary a one puttered past belching clouds of oil-laden exhaust (as opposed to in years past when they appeared in abundance, transforming Center Street into a miniature Beijing).

parade of buses

Nor did the Surf Rider drill team wow us with their shenanigans.

surfers

Not that the parade was a complete bust. The James Island band was in fine form.

Plus, the Roller Derby girls are always a welcome addition.

roller derby gal

Of course, Santa appeared, albeit with an armed guard:

Santa

And, of course, the after-party at Chico Feo never disappoints. Check out these not-exactly vestal virgins preparing to sacrifice this cloven-footed beast to Jah so Mr. Weed back in the kitchen can whip up some of his world class curried goat.

Amber, Satan, and Judy

And as Solstice present to all of you wherever you be, a rare photograph of your humble narrator at Chico Feo with his bodyguards.

wes, kelly, maureen

Halloween on Folly Beach

Jack of Cups Saloon by Wesley Moore
     Jack of Cups Saloon by Wesley Moore

Last Thursday, I was at one of my favorite Folly Beach oases, the Jack of Cups, talking Halloween with the Jessie, an impressively sophisticated twenty-something bartender who double majored in philosophy and theater in college, a young woman who can expound on Kant and Hegel as well as Kurt Cobain and Patti Smith.

I confessed that I rarely indulged in dressing up for Halloween, but that perhaps the most creative costume I put together was in grad school when I decided to transform myself into the personification of a libido. After I described the costume (black tee and jeans, white pancake makeup, red-laced fringed Lone Ranger-like mask, phallic walking stick), Jessie said that coincidentally she had been talking to three of her friends about doing Halloween as the chorus of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – you know, a mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, a libido.

She went on to say that when she had mentioned the idea to someone else, the person had made a sour face and declared the concept “offensive.” What was really cool, Jessie claimed, was that her friend who originally had come up with the idea was biracial and loves the word mulatto and that she, Jessie, has been diagnosed with Ocular Albinism, Type 1, so coming up with a mosquito and libido would have been all they needed to pull it off.

I said, “Go for it. How humorously inappropriate for the politically correct crowd to chide, given the ironic brilliance of the concept.”

b21261aladdinsane-cropped-975x731 cmpltunknwn-inspiration-david-bowie-4Naw, she had abandoned the idea for an easier one. She was going as David Bowie from his Ziggy Stardust days and her fiancé was going as the mid-70’s David Bowie a la the Young Americans album. She said she and her fiancé were going to make out at parties, which, I said, made delicious narcissistic sense.

I had just reposted my “You Won’t Believe These Killer, Innovative, Somewhat Offensive Halloween Costumes,” and when Jessie disappeared into the kitchen, I checked my email to find this costume suggestion: Sylvia Plath with cardboard box oven.

Now, that’s what I call spooky.

Anyway, last night I decided at the last minute to wander down to Center Street on Folly to see what was out there, hoping against hope that I might run into twin Bowies sucking face. No such luck, but I did run into Thomas Ravenel and Kathryn Dennis.

Southern Charm

Southern Charm

 

 

Folly Beach’s Cat Lady, Potential Serial Killer?

Folly Beach’s Cat Lady, Potential Serial Killer?

Greetings From Folly Beach, SC

Greetings From Folly Beach, SC

There’s a high profile, eccentric old lady on Folly Beach whom I encounter practically every day feeding feral cats. I’d say she’s in her mid-to-late 80s, and even if you were to straighten out her stoop, she wouldn’t hit 4’10.” Not surprisingly, people who don’t know her name – and I don’t – call her the Cat Lady.

Every block or so she has placed plastic containers, and every afternoon feral cats gather in anticipation of her arrival. Sometimes, she has a helper, but on most days when I see her, she is alone, wearing an expression of great seriousness as she leans over dumping dry cat food into the bowls. In fact, I saw her this afternoon when I was headed to Chico Feo for a pre-supper malted aperitif. Staring off into space, she had her hands on her hips, like a diminutive, determined, female edition of General Patton. Obviously, this diurnal “mission trip” is her raison d’etre.

Of course, feeding feral cats is an environmental no-no. According to FETA (not exactly an anti-animal organization):

Many people who encounter feral cats start feeding them, but feeding alone can actually make the situation worse. Feeding ferals increases their ability to give birth to even more kittens who are destined to suffer and die premature deaths. It is essential to get these cats off the streets in order to prevent not only their own suffering, but that of their offspring. Feeding should only be done as a prelude to trapping, to get cats accustomed to eating in a certain place at a certain time.

The article goes on to state that feral cats have abbreviated life spans, suffer from a multitude of maladies thanks to non-vaccination, and even if their autism rates are super low (I just made that up), the food can also attract non-feline varmints. The Cat Lady learned this the hard way last year when a rabid raccoon took a chunk out of her, an event so newsworthy it made the Charleston papers.

Folly Beach is certainly no “Mayberry by the Sea” – its official civic moniker is the Edge of America – but even after the coon attack, the authorities, Sheriff-Taylor-like, look the other way as she putts along in her cart circumnavigating the island. Maybe they figure what the hell, stopping her would kill her, so what if scores of cats suffer or some surfer comes down with a case of rabies? Sometimes targeted human compassion trumps common sense, and going by Haruki Murakami’s brilliant novel Kafka on the Shore, feral cats dig the freedom of homelessness.

ILLUSTRATION BY SAM BOSMA

ILLUSTRATION BY SAM BOSMA from The New Yorker

One of the characters in the novel, Satoru Nakata, through circumstances too complex to relate here, has obtained the ability to converse with cats. People hire him to find their lost pets. Nakata usually begins his investigations in city parks where the ferals hang. In one incident, he strikes up a conversation with a stray and asks the cat his name. “I used to have one when I lived with people,” the cat says, “but I’ve forgotten what it was.” You get the idea [absurd mixed-animal-metaphor-cliché alert] that wild horses couldn’t drag him back to domestication.

 

I’ll admit that the Cat Lady has irritated me on occasion, blocking my path when I’m running late, but even if her head isn’t in the right place, her heart certainly is. Nevertheless, I sense something sinister about her, so for fun, I’m outlining a murder mystery set on Folly in which she’s a serial killer. What’s really enjoyable is deciding whom among the people on Folly I don’t like she murders, in what order, and how. Hey, it’s summer time. It keeps me off the streets, safe from a potential attack by a mad, foaming calico.