Let’s Get Real

A few years back, I contemplated moving to western or southern Ireland for retirement, maybe to the Beara Peninsula down in County Cork or up to County Mayo on the coast, perhaps purchasing a rustic cottage with a glimpse of distant mountains or of the sea.

3229244181_a516f6ab0d_zHave you ever witnessed a rainbow in Ireland? I don’t know if it’s the air up there or the angle of the sun, but the rainbow Judy Birdsong and I saw in ’79 mesmerized us. It was so misty-shimmering wonderful that it could almost make you believe in leprechauns, in magic, in Lir.

Beara’s and Mayo’s landscape is gorgeous, their people gregarious. The Irish and my kinsmen, folk from the South Carolina Lowcountry, share a love for the oral tradition of story-telling. We’d get along fine I think. The Irish love music and poetry and literature. For example, before the Euro, James Joyce himself appeared on Ireland’s ten-pound note, which would be like having Walt Whitman on a US fifty. We Americans might put our beloved authors on stamps, but they don’t rank high enough in our estimation to appear on legal tender. Of course, Irish currency doesn’t have “In God We Trust” printed on it, which would not go all that well thematically with Mr. Joyce’s bespectacled mug nor with Herman Melville’s otherwise presidential countenance.

IEP-banknote-10-irish-pounds-james-joyce

melville fifty

 

 

 

 

But I digress. When I mentioned this silly romantic notion to Judy, she reminded me that my three trips to the Emerald Isle occurred in May or June, not December or February, and she reckoned that in those dark and dreary months the odor of burning peat might very well lose its allure as building a fire transitioned from exoticism to drudgery.

Miss Birdsong knows all too well that dreary weather and Wesley don’t get along. In fact, a shrink back in the day suggested that I could very well suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (which I have immortalized in a poem you can listen to me read in my golden Lowcountry baritone HERE). No, day after day of leaden skies, the sun setting by three or four, would be bad for my state of mind.

Take this winter, for example. We might as well be in Ireland — or Ingmar Bergman’s Sweden. A glance at the five-day forecast, more often than not, has yielded a succession of cartoon clouds, dark, with resiquite raindrops slanting down.

Max Von Sydow

Max Von Sydow

My neighborhood “pub,” Chico Feo, roofless as it is, has been closed for days at a time, often for rain, less often for cold, but closed nonetheless. As I have driven to work morning after morning through fog, I have half expected to see Max Von Sydow and/or Liv Ullman trudging along the side of Folly Road.

But as PB Shelley famously put it, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” Sure enough, the sun peeped out on consecutive days this week, so I popped in at Chico Feo. On the first day, I got to witness a book burning and on the second some low wattage police brutality.

Perhaps I underestimate Folly as a retirement locale.

bookiburning 2But, before I go, let me assure you that the book burning wasn’t Fahrenheit 451.1.0 but part of a very indie film noir murder mystery starring the Chico crew, my hobo hero Greg, and prolific Chris, a graphic artist and novelist who works at Bert’s.

And the “police brutality” merely consisted of a very, very, very drunk man having his arms twisted behind his back and then being slammed rather roughly to the pavement of Second Street. Alas, I had absentmindedly left my phone at work, so I didn’t get to capture the disturbance, which was quite a spectacle taking place as it did in front of the mural of Bert done up like a smiling, squinting, dismembered pirate.

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Alms for Oblivion: The Lighter Side of 2014

As the last few grains of sand from 2014’s proverbial hourglass slide through oblivion’s passageway, I thought preserve some moments — a least for a moment – for memory’s sake — lest we forget.

Domestically, it’s been an uneventful year with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, the legalization of cannabis and gay marriage, and the mid-term elections topping the charts as far as significant occurrences that will ultimately matter in the future — unlike say, the Ebola pandemic panic or the indictment of Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Internationally, it’s been a different story with ISIS taking over parts of Iraq and Syria, the Soviet Union Russia annexing Crimea and marching its jack boot into the Ukraine, and our establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba.

However, we’re going to look at the lighter side of 2014 month by month unleavened somewhat by mentioning of a few significant passings, as the squeamish say.

So, let’s roll the newsreel!

January

Note: click all-caps for links to original posts.

Pete_Seeger2_-_6-16-07_Photo_by_Anthony_PepitoneBoo hoo, the BREW PUB closed on Folly, but Woo Hoo, we had a SNOW DAY; plus the Ravenel Bridge turned into a 3-D VIDEO GAME featuring ice javelins. Let’s call it Arctic Cleft Auto.

Pete Seeger died, but who wouldn’t trade his or her potential fruitful longevity for his?

Well I got a hammer,

And I got a bell,

And I got a song to sing, all over this land.

Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, “If I Had a Hammer”

February

140206_dx_wellesleynudestatue-crop-promo-mediumlarge-2Not much going down, except an artist named Tony Matelli traumatized the delicate damsels of Wellesley with this terrifying statue of SCANTILY CLAD SOMNAMBULIST.

Yeah, and bummer, Philip Seymour Hoffman died and so did Maximillian Schnell, another great Oscar-winning actor — but the right way as a newlywed in his 83rd year.

 

March

prespaulThe big news for the blog was that NPR wrote a story on one of our posts and provided a LINK; however, even bigher news was the debut of Bravo’s reality series Southern Charm, providing the nation a peek of people-from-off moving to Charleston and getting drunk and high with a not-very-interesting native scion.

You can read Sparknotes’ invaluable summary, analyses, and character sketches here: SOUTHERN CHARM.

The Jack of Cups opened in the Brew Pub’s former space in tribute to the season of rebirth.

Slow death month with all-but-forgotten David Brenner and Shelia McCrae leading the way.

April

imagesSenator Larry Grooms tried to defund the College of Charleston’s Summer Reading Program because the small government Republican didn’t like last summer’s book Fun Home – providing at least one English teacher a current-events example of irony in his subversive mission to convert his well-heeled students into Democrats.

Of course, the highlight of every April for us on Folly Island is the return of the KRUSHTONES.

Alas, the great GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ left us, but once again, he’s up there in the Pete Seeger range in the fruitful longevity category.

Oh, yeah, Mickey Rooney also made his earthly exit.

May

I started hanging out at CHICO FEO, which led inevitably to my second, very unsuccessful career as DUB POET FILMMAKER.

TREY GOWDY the chameleon, allegedly heterosexual South Carolina Congressman, chaired yet another Congressional investigation into Benghazi.

Celebrity deaths: Maya Angelou.

June

set-listExcept that a FRIEND DIED and my house caught on fire (details, details), June was an okay month in which we spent an “intimate evening” (no one took clothes off) with ART GARFUNKEL and got to watch a rehearsal for ROMEO AND JULIET.

A smorgasbord of celebrity deaths: Former Tennessee Senator Howard Baker, former San Diego Padre Tony Gwynn, former DJ Casey Kassam, and Ruby Dee, who wasn’t a former anything at the time of her death on June 11.

 

July

Despite a rather off-putting diagnosis of T-Cell Lymphoma, we had our share of fun in July watching the up-lifting TV series TRUE DETECTIVE and catching JOHN HIATT AND ROBERT CRAY at the Performing Arts Center.

And we bid adieu to James Garner, Johnny Winter, and Nadine Gordimer.

August

School started back up so once again for the 29th straight year I got to stand mutely while everyone else PLEDGED ALLEGIANCE to a flag.

No way to make this funny: ROBIN WILLIAMS OFFED HIMSELF.

Other deaths: Richard Attenborough, Lauren Bacall, Don Prado.

September

South Carolina small government Republican Senator Mike Fair tilted his lance at the teaching of NATURAL SELECTION in the second decade of the 21st Century CE.

Notables bound for that undiscovered country from whom no traveler returns included Ian Paisley and Joan Rivers, two insult-slingers extraordinaire.

October

images-2
We rediscovered at BOYHOOD HERO and started a highly unsuccessful on-line STUDY GUIDE SERVICE while simultaneously dealing with the deaths of bassist Jack Bruce and rock musician Raul Revere. Say what you like, but that song “Kicks” is cool.

November

BIGGEST FOLLY BEACH NEWS STORY OF THE YEAR: WOMAN PUNCHES BABY IN ITS CUTE, ADORABLE, MODELING-WORTHY FACE!!!

That and PD James won’t be writing any more mysteries nor will Tom Magliozzi solve any more car problems, but more significantly, Mike Nichols died, another Pete Seeger, Garcia-Marquez super-productive human being.

December

Not quite over yet as I type this, but it did mark the debut of what undoubtedly will be a Holiday Classic: BUBBA, THE REDNECK SNOWMAN.

Even though Joe Cocker and Mary Anne Mobley won’t be enjoying a happy new year, I certainly, sincerely wish you one!  And I especially thank my few, consistent readers.  Best wishes!

wesely tech guru

Public Houses I Have Known and Loved

My mother’s side of the family — the Baptist side – considered alcohol an abomination, Satanic spittle concocted to rob the imbiber of his or her moral wits, or to shift to a perhaps more accurate metaphor, concocted to de-magnetize the self-polluter’s moral compass.

My father’s people, on the other hand, despite their Protestant names, like Luther and Wesley, seemed not to give a rip about Holy Writ. My mother – praise be — was (and is) a non-judgmental, fun-loving person with a heightened, countercultural aversion to self-righteousness, so she didn’t consider drinking sinful and enjoys a Crown Royal and Coke on occasion.

Mama's childhood residence, the setting of one very unmerry Xmas

Mama’s childhood residence, the setting of one very unmerry Xmas

Nevertheless, her father when he drank was a belligerent drunk (he once locked the entire family out their house on Christmas Day), and my own father reacted to alcohol in Jekyll/Hyde fashion — either he had you on the carpet rolling in laughter or cowering in the closet as he hurled some odd or end across the room. So I suspect that early in their marriage, Mama might have followed in her own mother’s footsteps and attempted to discourage my father from drinking.

Perhaps Mama’s antipathy to Daddy’s drinking explains how I ended up hanging out at bars at a very early age — even before I acquired language and therefore memory. These bar excursions must have occurred when we lived on Wentworth Street or when my parents lived at Clemson. The story goes (and my parents shared it together on numerous occasions to numerous audiences) that sometimes when Mama left me in Daddy’s care, he absconded with me to the most obscure bar he could think of, only to have the phone ring there and the barman to ask if there were a Wesley Moore present. Daddy, according to this legend, awed by Mama’s preternatural ability to track him down, would come straight home to face the wrath of his red-headed Scotch-Irish wife.

No telling the impact the conviviality of taverns — the blinking pinball machines, the raucous laughter, the seductive perfumes, the voice of Nat King Cole on the jukebox — had on my tiny developing cerebral cortex. Some studies claim that exposing infants with their rapidly developing brains to classical music enhances math skills, so perhaps my exposure to cigarette smoke, vulgar jokes, and male camaraderie helped to develop my Dionysian social skills, my ability to strike up an amiable conversation to the occupant of my adjacent bar stool, whether he be a vacationing Wall Street bigshot at the Rue de Jean or a unwashed bearded homeless rummy at Chico Feo.

Truth be told, I like hanging out solo at what my ancestors called public houses.

The Pool Room

My first post-toddler bar/tavern/pub hangout was the S&S Sporting Center (aka the Pool Room) located on Main Street in my hometown Summerville. Although it wasn’t literally a tavern, Mr. George, his wife Monkey, and son Boise served draft and canned beers in an establishment that featured a long bar with at least twenty swivelable bar stools. I sat at that bar many a Saturday or summer day slurping down delicious chilidogs, sipping Cokes, eavesdropping on beer swilling rednecks or wayward Episcopalians.

Scrupulously honest, the Pool Room proprietors demanded proof of age, and when you turned 18, handing your license to Boise as you ordered a draft was a rite of passage. You could go there by yourself and be sure to know someone — if even if were only know-it-all Boise, who not only had an associate degree from Brevard College but who had also served his county in Korea.

Once I hit college and my hair had reached my shoulders, I quit hanging at the Pool Room in the summers. The last time I remember being there, some white stranger with a Hendrix-sized jew-fro came in, and I overheard a redneck say, “Let’s kick his ass before he puts one of them psycheee-DEL-ic records on the jukebox. ”

We started driving to Charleston to hang out at College of Charleston bars like Hogpenny’s or to the Isle of Palms to destinations now long gone.

USC Bars

IMG_1468Let’s see, the Campus Club, the Opus, the Second Level, the Senate Plaza, Capitol Coal, Oliver’s Pub — and, of course, the Golden Spur where Judy Birdsong and I met as bartenders.

Located in the back of the student union building, what the Spur lacked in style — it felt sort of like a cafeteria — it made up in convenience and prices. Happy Hour beers cost 15 cents and a pitcher a dollar. Also, sometimes the Spur featured musical and comedy acts. Steve Martin played there before anyone had ever heard of him, and I saw Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee play there for free.

Being a bartender at the Spur made you sort of a minor celebrity around campus in that seeming strangers recognized you and called you by name, but I tended not to dig lots of the regulars, a few of who seemed to be nascent alcoholics. We had this irritating promotion where you’d by your own Golden Spur mug and carry with you to the bar and receive your first draft free.

In the dead summer time, when I was the only non-managerial bartender, some kids would come in at 11 and stay virtually all day and night. You could set your watch by their coming and going. Then in the high season during Monday Night Football or Columbia’s big party night Thursday, the place would be packed wall-to-wall, and occasionally you’d have to deal with belligerent drunks or puke-bespattered restrooms.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed my time there. It might be the best job I ever had.

Charleston Bars

Rue de Jean is my downtown hangout, and I’m show up there around 9:30 on the second Tuesday of each month after my book club disperses. What distinguishes the Rue from any of the other bars is Mr. Steve Smoak, a world-class bartender who on a busy night moves with the grace of Nureyev as she slides over to grab a bottle and in one fluid motion scoops ice and pours while seeking eye contact with the next customer. When things aren’t busy, he’s a witty raconteur, a cat who knows his way around.

Of course, the so-called City of Folly Beach probably has more bars per capita than any other municipality in the Palmetto State. I suggest the Surf Bar for visitors and the Jack of Cups for beer connoisseurs, the Sand Dollar for Saturday Night dancing, the soon-to-be-defunct Sunset Cay for sunsets, but, by far, my major hangout is Chico Feo, an outdoor Caribbean bohemian confab of the homeless, the homely, and the hip (though the bartender Charlie is on record as to hating hipsters). Like, Smoak at the Rue who reaches for a bottle of Jameson’s when he sees me coming, Charlie or Hank at Chico dips into the cooler an All Day IPA, which costs a mere 3 bucks.

Some of the clientele are down and out but seem happy, like characters from a Jerry Jeff Walker song. In fact, last Saturday, Greg, a homeless regular, chided me for grading my essays at the Jack of Cups. “You should grade them outdoors,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever sleep indoors ever again.”  It said it as if sleeping under a roof was somehow inhibiting.

“What about the winter,” I said. “Don’t you get cold in the winter?”

“I have a sleeping bag,” he said and smiled and ordered another PBR.

In Defense Of Hipsters

Background

In the 2014 edition of the United States, prudent people don’t criticize the state of Israel, nor do they praise hipsters.

Certainly, I have no intention of casting aspersions Israel’s way; however, as imprudent as it might be, I have decided to attempt an apologia for hipsterdom, that haven for non-alphas where unconventionality breeds a sort of countercultural uniformity that many find off-putting. What interests me most about this topic is the degree of animus the word “hipster” engenders among several acquaintances and one very good friend, who, ironically, might be the hippest person I know.

A while back, I started to notice a proliferation of on-line deprecations of hipsters, and when the post office version of this month’s Atlantic arrived, I checked out James Parker’s piece “The Twee Revolution” in which he attempts to understand “the strangely persistent modern sensibility that fructifies in the props of Wes Anderson movies, tapers into the waxed mustache ends of young Brooklynites on bicycles, and detonates in a yeasty whiff every time someone pops open a microbrewed beer.”

“Consider the cultural degradation of the ‘hipster’ [Parker goes on to say] — once a jazz-and-orgasms spirit warrior with battle hymns by Norman Mailer, now a dude with a funny hat rooting through a bin of used vinyl.”

What’s so insidious about wearing funny hats or preferring vinyl to CDs? Why so much contempt for someone doing so little actual harm?

Etymology

By the way, if you’re unfamiliar with the derivation of hip, it comes from hep, a jazz term originating in the ’40’s, a term describing an avant garde aficionado of hot jazz and/or bebop (as opposed to swing), in other words. a cat or chick in the know, or as Cab Calloway would put it, a cat or chick who got their boots on. Somehow hep morphed into hip, though I have also read that hip as a synonym for cool might owe its derivation to the posture of the habitués of opium dens who lay on their sides (i.e., hips) as they toked their hookahs.

mid- 20th Century hipsters

mid- 20th Century hipsters

Cab Calloway, who published in 1940 The Hepster Dictionary, would not necessarily physically recognize the person Mr. Parker describes above as a hep cat; however, the hep cat of Cab’s day and Parker’s hipster do share some common characteristics.

Here’s a Wikipedia copped quote from Frank Tirro’s Jazz A History that describes 1940 version of hipster: “He is amoral, anarchistic, gentle, and overcivilized to the point of decadence.”

Anecdotal Evidence

typical Tuesday at Chico Feo (featuring self- portrait by the artist)

typical Tuesday at Chico Feo (featuring self- portrait by the artist)

I brought up Parker’s article at Chico Feo, the hippest bar in the most bohemian town in South Carolina, and wondered aloud why so many people hate hipsters so.

Suddenly, Charlie, the most affable of bartenders (and who sports a Whitmanesque beard[1]) launched into a passionate denunciation of the subculture, of its uniformity, its too-cool-for-you-ness.

John, sitting across the bar from me and rolling a cigarette, joined in on the spirited dissing.

Their antipathy genuinely surprised me. These two rather unconventional-looking men’s animus for hipsters probably rivaled, or even surpassed, your typical frat boy’s.

“C’mon,” I say, “they’re not as nearly bad as your typical, entitled, swaggering Lacrosse jock. I never hear about hipsters inviting strippers to parties where alleged sexual assaults take place. These assholes certainly deserve to be hated more than hipsters.”

As my luck would have it, Charlie played lacrosse in high school.

John’s disgust with hipsters seemed to lie in their lack of utilitarian usefulness. “They’re caught up in this fake world of bullshit,” he said. “They’re not living in the real world; they’re living in the cyber world. When something breaks, they don’t fix it. They throw it away and buy a new one.”

“Plus,” he added, “They’re always multi-tasking, doing four things at once. You can’t multi-task. You can only do one thing well at a time.”

The fog of one too many high gravity micro brews was starting to roll in, so I didn’t do a good job of expressing the sentiment that comes immediately to mind after typing John’s response: so what? It’s not as if they caused the Great Recession through avarice and idiocy and walked away scott free with billions in their offshore bank accounts.

Easter in Brooklyn (from left to right Judy Birdsong, Wesley Moore, Jim Cline, Jim Crow)

Easter in Brooklyn (from left to right Judy Birdsong, Wesley Moore, Jim Klein, Jim Crow)

So I got on my bike and pedaled home to call the hippest cat I know, Mr. Jim Klein, the Abstract Expressionist, who lives in Brooklyn, a subway stop or two from Williamsburg, the Ground Zero of hipsterdom. You can read about Judy and my Easter visit to Jim and his wife Sue’s loft here, but suffice to say, it’s got to be one of the most interesting domiciles anywhere, and Klein possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz and the arts in general.

Mr. Klein ended up being just as down on hipsters as my barmates. “Zombies controlled by stupidity,” he called them. Echoing John, he cited their dependency on technology, their exuding a vibe of unearned superiority. In a voicemail he sent the following day, he added their sense of entitlement as a negative; they exude a sense of superiority without every having accomplished much of anything.

Possible Explanations for the Passionate Dislike

As I’m found of saying, even though I am not a psychologist, I do sleep with one, so allow me to posit a possible reason hipsters produce what seems to me such a disproportionate quantity of spleen for the petty misdemeanors of their outré aesthetic, technological proclivities, and lack of productivity.

All I can come up with is that hipsters evoke some aspect of insecurity or some shared but repressed negative characteristic the hipster-hater harbors within his or her own being.

I remember some student back in the day telling me that I reminded him of the asshole comedian Dennis Miller. “What,” I complained, “I hate Dennis Miller. He’s arrogant, sarcastic, flaunts his learning, goes out of his way to use arcane diction to prove just how effing smart he is and is needlessly vulgar.”

The student’s look screamed, “Like I said, you remind me of Dennis Miller!”

What else can it be? Skinny jeans, shitty dyed hair, vintage store dresses, leggings don’t strike me as any more pernicious than Ralph Lauren polos or those garish Hawaiian shirts geezers of my generation sport. Why not hate surfers as much — they, too, lead hedonistic lifestyles, sport their own types of uniform, engage in their own distancing argot.

Surfers tend to be attractive — or at least fit. Maybe, the hipsters’ tendency to flip off fashion also contributes to their unpopularity. Rumor has it even hipsters with 20/20 vision sport clunky horn-rims for effect. Maybe the fact that this dweeby, pasty, pink-haired girl thinks she’s cooler than her bleached blonde beauty queen cousin is what drives some people to foam at the mouth.

Personal History

I attended Summerville High School, an institution where football is taken as seriously as Ayatollahs take Ramadan. Especially, when I was there, if you weren’t a jock, particularly a football player, you were a lesser being. The star players and cheerleaders, on the other hand, were celebrities. Jerry Reese, the starting quarterback, once told me near the school bus line-up, “Hey that little guy just told his friend, ‘that’s Jerry Reese.’” Also, it goes without saying that some of the players (not Jerry) were bigoted, bullying assholes.

In 1969, I started hanging out with an iconoclast named Tim Miskel, swapped out my alpaca sweater for a blue jean jacket, cultivated my anger by straining it through irony, and ended up abandoning my childhood friends for a new set, Summerville’s first hippies, people like Adam Jacobs, Gray Eubank, Jack McDonagh, Christine Richards, Glen Farrah, Margie Bradshaw, Mike Moore, among others. We, too, all more or less dressed alike and received much First World abuse for our unconventionality. Once, my Spanish teacher asked derisively if I had gotten my shirt at the Psychedelic Shack.

Nevertheless, this subculture, I bodily state, was much more interesting than the preppie/jock Green Wave culture where virtually everyone stupidly and reflexively supported the Viet Nam War, preferred Three Dog Night to Jimi Hendrix, and were okay with school segregation.

Although I would have had trouble bench-pressing a broomstick, I could satirize school culture knowing I had a supportive band of renegades behind me. Hipness — knowing the difference between Ingmar and Ingrid Bergman — became sort of cool. After all, it offered others like ourselves an alternative path to popularity, which is what most high school students crave.

Schools desperately need countercultures, and the hipster students at my school also offer counterweights to the cult of the athlete. As it so happens, the hipsters at my school are some of my favorite students — they’re bright, interesting, skeptical, artistic.

Anyway, who am I to criticize funny hats and skinny jeans?

[1] Was Walt Whitman the very first hipster? “The scent of these armpits is aroma finer than prayer,” he writes in “Song of Myself.”

a couple of hipsters

the author at the Poetry Outloud Regional Finals

Folly Beach, East Coast Macondo

Half a decade ago, sick of the blood-sucking capitalists at the MLA changing their research paper guidelines every other year, I decided to create my own how-to guide, something I could run off to students but also update whenever some OCD sufferer at the Modern Language Association decided that placing periods after abbreviations was so last century.

I decided that rather than writing a dry, clinical exposition, I would make this how-to-guide a narrative featuring two fictional Porter-Gaud students, Bennington Rhodes and Robert “Flip” Burger. Bennington, a good student but not particularly interested in literature, goes about the process systematically whereas poor Flip waits to the night before due dates, which, as the omniscient narrator points out, is not the way to go. Not only could I provide students with a handy guide, but I could also mock their fads and peccadilloes.

Here’s a snippet to show you what I’m talking about:

macondoEven though White Noise looks interesting, Bennington is going ahead to see about Chronicle of a Death Foretold while he’s at it. He types in “garcia marquez literary criticism bibliography,” and presto, right away the number one hit is applicable: “Garcia Marquez – Criticism.” Once again this site yields a plethora of potential sources including one of those handy Harold Bloom anthologies. Although he’s leaning toward White Noise, a painting on the Garcia Marquez site catches his eye. It’s called Macondo and features a Latina sleeping with her hair in her hands next to two oranges that are about to be scaled by a trio of ants on a dish next to her bed.

To save time, Bennington logs onto the Porter-Gaud Library page and discovers to his delight not only does the library own White Noise and Chronicle of a Death Foretold, but also that they are available. He punches the call letters into his cell phone and heads to the library before the bell rings. As he passes the back entrance to the S&T building, he sees his friends playing hackysack. One of these, Robert Burger (aka Flip) is going to wait until the last minute and choose on a whim Henry James’s The Ambassadors because he’s heard of Henry James and thinks being an ambassador would be a great job because you have diplomatic immunity and can park anywhere you like. Not until it’s too late he discovers his error as he attempts to read the fourth sentence of that novel:

The principle I have just mentioned as operating had been, with the most newly disembarked of the two men, wholly instinctive–the fruit of a sharp sense that, delightful as it would be to find himself looking, after so much separation, into his comrade’s face, his business would be a trifle bungled should he simply arrange or this countenance to present itself to the nearing steamer as the first “note,” of Europe. (9)

Not only is the novel virtually unreadable, the criticism might as well be written in Sanskrit for all of the sense it makes to Flip. Even Pink Monkey and Spark Notes summaries are way over his head. If only he had taken his sage teacher’s advice and devoted the time to select a book more to his liking!

Gabo and Clinton

Gabo and Clinton

As part of the process, I decided to have Bennington compose a high school research essay on Chronicle, which, of course, meant i had actually to do a bit of research.  I discovered a fascinating piece from Salon by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez about his first meeting Bill Clinton at a dinner party at William Styron’s on Cape Cod that also featured Carlos Fuentes.

When [Carlos and I] talked about Latin America in general, we realized that
he was much more interested than we had supposed, although he
lacked some essential background. When the conversation seemed to
stiffen a bit, we asked him what his favorite movie was, and he
answered “High Noon,” by Fred Zinneman, whom he had recently
honored in London. When we asked him what he was reading, he
 sighed and mentioned a book on the economic wars of the future,
author and title unknown to me.

“Better to read ‘Don Quixote,’” I said to him. “Everything’s
in there.” Now, the ‘Quixote’ is a book that is not read nearly
as much as is claimed, although very few will admit to not having
read it. With two or three quotes, Clinton showed that he knew it
very well indeed. Responding, he asked us what our favorite books
were. Styron said his was “Huckleberry Finn.”
I would have said “Oedipus Rex,” which has been my bed table
book for the last 20 years, but I named “The Count of Monte
Cristo,” mainly for reasons of technique, which I had some
trouble explaining.

Clinton said his was the “Meditations of Marcus Aurelius,”
and Carlos Fuentes stuck loyally to “Absalom, Absalom,”
Faulkner’s stellar novel, no question, although others would
choose “Light in August” for purely personal reasons. Clinton,
in homage to Faulkner, got to his feet and, pacing around the
table, recited from memory Benji’s monologue, the most thrilling
passage, and perhaps the most hermetic, from “The Sound and the
Fury.”

Faulkner got us to talking about the affinities between
Caribbean writers and the cluster of great Southern novelists in
the United States. It made much more sense to us to think of the
Caribbean not as a geographical region surrounded by its sea but
as a much wider historical and cultural belt stretching from the
north of Brazil to the Mississippi Basin.

Mark Twain, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck and so many
others would then be just as Caribbean as Jorge Amado and Derek
Walcott. Clinton, born and raised in Arkansas, a Southern state,
applauded the notion and professed himself happy to be a
Caribbean.

* * *

As I was sipping on an “All -Day IPA” at Chico Feo last week, a polite young couple plopped down next to me at the bar. The male was unusually clean cut for the clientele, with short well-kempt hair and sporting some subdued ink on his right arm. His lovely companion spoke with a slight accent, so I asked her where she hailed from.

“Columbia.”

“Ah ha,” I said, “the homeland of the great Gabo – Gabriel Garcia-Marquez!”

“He is dead, you know,” she said with a rueful smile.

So we shot the mierda about the great man’s canon, of which she was very familiar, and that wonderful little magical village Macondo, Gabo’s Yoknapatawpha, and I mentioned that even though Ronald Reagan wouldn’t give Gabo a visa to visit the US , he and Bill Clinton ended up being drinking buddies. I mentioned Gabo’s comment about Southerners and Caribbean folk sharing folkways and attitudes.

Given that probably most people associate Colombia with drug cartels, I suspect it was nice for her to hear praise for her homeland, and suddenly it occurred to me that Gabo was right, that the eastside of Folly was Mercondo-like. Just this month, I’ve hung out with a parrot who tortures her owners’ dogs by mimicking both their accents, asking if they’s like to go for a walk, and then does a dead-on sound effect of a screen door creaking open. Also, I’ve witnessed a young man get butt naked in broad daylight clogging to” Rocky Top.”

“Especially this place,” she said, talking about Chico Feo. It reminds me of home.”

No printed menus, no roof, beers sold out of coolers, the aroma of curried goat wafting from the kitchen inside, free music, day and night . . .

Oh me oh my oh, Chico Feo.

I shook hands with them both and waved good-bye

My Colombia sister

My Colombia sister

 

The Screaming Js Address Same Sex Marriage at Our Lady of the Chico Feo

Proponents of traditional marriage have suffered legal setback after setback in the last couple of years as the populace has undergone a sea change in its opinion of whether or not people of the same sex should enjoy the emotional and legal benefits of marriage.

As a high school English teacher, I’ve witnessed this shift towards tolerance toward homosexuality firsthand. As recently as the early 90’s, gay students (and even non-athletic males) suffered taunts — some muttered, others clearly voiced — about their presumed orientation.   The word “gay” was often used as a pejorative term, as in that song or that shirt is “so gay.” However, nowadays, I never hear “gay” used pejoratively, and even more positively, gay students are treated with respect (at least in the halls and classrooms). This spring, I assigned an essay that prompted students to find an op-ed piece with which they disagreed, to analyze its reasoning, and to rebut its arguments. Out of 37 students, three students (two boys and a girl) chose to defend same sex marriage.

Not surprisingly, opponents are up in arms. The National Organization for Marriage is planning a march on Washington next week to show the nation they have not given up what they consider a holy war. Of course, many of these folks base their arguments on Judeo-Christian scripture, which they claim corresponds with natural law.

Take it away Bishop Morlino of Madison, WI:

Marriage is, and can only ever be, a unique relationship solely between one man and one woman, regardless of the decision of a judge or any vote. This is not based on any private sectarian viewpoint, but on the natural moral law that is universally binding on all peoples, at all times, and inscribed into our human nature, as man and woman from the beginning of creation. It behooves us to safeguard the sacred ecology of all nature, especially of our human.

Huh? Not based on “any private sectarian viewpoint” but “on natural moral law?” Obviously, the Most Reverend slept through his anthropology classes and skipped those OT passages written in the heyday of polygamy. Furthermore, his argument ignores evolution with the idea of “natural law inscribed into our human nature.” All in all, it’s preposterous.

Then, there are the whiners. Here is Doug Mainwaring playing the persecution card. (I would like to point out to him that if he thinks what he describes is persecution, he ought to read a history of the Inquisition). He writes

No tactic of the powers opposing Judeo-Christian mores has proven more effective than political correctness. Why? Non-adherents are threatened with social isolation and anaclitic depression. Thus, the peer pressure that dominates middle schools, high schools, and college campuses retains all its horrifying power [ my emphasis] to intimidate American adults, causing multitudes to suppress free inquiry.

 

A sufferer of the4 "horrifying power" of political correctness

The horror of politically correct torture

 

Good old fashioned torture from the Inquisition

Good old fashioned torture from the Inquisition

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At any rate, in Late Empire America hedonism trumps unscientific dogma any day of the week. I’ll give the Screaming Js on the final word on the subject. They preached this sermon last Sunday night at Our Lady of the Chico Feo.

 

Chico Feo, TS Eliot, Joseph Conrad, Lost Souls, & I-and-I

For whatever perverse reason, I prefer dives to tony bars and restaurants. The same goes for neighborhoods. You couldn’t pay me to live on Kiawah or Daniel Island. The manicured bicycle paths, the antiseptic standards of what is allowed architecturally, the non-diversity of income and outlook, and the bland, vowel-less intonations of their residents and tourists would produce in me fogbanks of despair.

Nor would I want to live in an upstate mill village where all the small clapboard houses have the same floor plan and everyone twangs vocally the verbal equivalent of out-of-tune banjo strings.

No, what I like is diversity, the mixed neighborhoods of the Upper Peninsula and the non-gated barrier islands. So I’m very happy here on Folly where a million dollar house might stand next to quaint cottage or a ramshackle two-story paint-peeling survivor of Hurricane Hugo, happy to live in a community where trick-or-treating is forbidden because the poorly lighted streets have no sidewalks and vehicular traffic can be, well, unsteady.

Like the various options in housing on Folly, the island also offers a variety of drinking and eating establishments, and since the closing of the Brew Pub on Center Street, my favorite hangout is Chico Feo, an outdoor Caribbean “restaurant” whose limited menu consists of curried goat, Dominican beans, or shark or pork tacos. In the unlikely case you’re an old-time Charlestonian, think Captain Harry’s without walls or a roof. Like Captain Harry’s, beers are sold out of coolers and the seats are not very comfortable.

Click the arrow in the frame above for a panoramic pan of Chico Feo

Counting the left turn onto Second Street, Chico Feo lies a mere six blocks from my house, so I ride my bike there, weaving my way through the clogged cars of day trippers to enjoy a brew or two beneath the overarching trees – and maybe, just, maybe, to knock off six or so essays.

Yesterday, however, I left my stack of essays at home [‘”Argue that Conrad’s Heart of Darkness can be read as the debunking of stereotypes found in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The White Man’s Burden”‘] and carried with me instead Hugh Kenner’s 1964 book TS Eliot: The Invisible Poet, my journal, and a trusty pen.

Chico Feo attracts locals – a homeless man named Greg, surfers in their late twenties and beyond, musicians, C of C alums/dropouts who never left (damn them), and Folly residents like me – and, yes, many of us are indeed “ugly boys” in keeping with the English translation of the bar’s Spanish name.

After the bartender Charlie provided me with my Bell’s IPA, I found an empty table with a view of Second Street where I could watch locomotive skateboarders with backpacks glide past the mural of Bert the Pirate that graces his iconic market, or I could cast my critical eyes on the never ending parade of pedestrians headed either to or from the beach.

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Yesterday, inside the friendly confines – and Chico Feo is incredibly friendly – the bar was occupied with an eclectic group of imbibers: a limping, bearded 50-something sporting a straw cowboy hat, a slender long haired surfer dude, and a group of already-over-the-hill 20-somethings with expanding hips and incipient beer bellies.

On the large picnic table a tableaux of young, middle class hedonists bowed down looking at their cell phones in the attitude of prayer. The temperature was perfect, and the onshore breeze provided a bit of respite from the gnats.

So I opened Kenner’s book and began a chapter devoted to the philosopher Francis Herbert Bradley’s influence on Eliot’s thought and came upon this passage:

My external sensations are no less private to myself than are my thoughts and feelings. In either case my experience falls within my own circle, a circle closed on the outside, and, with all its elements alike, every sphere is opaque to the others which surround it [. . .] In brief, regarded as an existence which appears in a soul, the whole world for each is peculiar and private to that soul.

I looked up from that passage and caught sight of one of the most grotesque human beings I’ve ever encountered.

Where to begin?

The words “obese” and “corpulent” don’t begin to do justice to this shambling Rabelaisian, Falstaffian 400-pound 25-year-old. All he wore was a pair of board shorts that clung precariously an inch or two below the broad expanse of the Brobdingnagian belly that sagged and quivered with every painful, bare-footed step he took on sun-blistered feet and legs. I’ll forego a description of his breasts – let it suffice to say they drooped the way you might imagine Mae West’s drooping in her Myra Breckinridge era. I could see from where I was sitting that he was stoned or tripping or worse.

I returned to Kenner ‘s take on TS when I heard, “Hey, man, how’s it going?”

My deafness has gotten so bad that I didn’t even notice that the giant had pulled up at my table.

I looked up, and there he was sitting, his blue eyes as vacant as a Detroit warehouse, glazed, abnormal.

He commenced a monologue of his surreal misadventures of the previous 24 hours, which I’ll summarize as briefly as possible.

Someone had offered him an LSD-laced drink because they wanted to kill him because he had come here from Kentucky to make and sell art, i.e., sun hats made out of palmetto fronds. They had drugged him, and he had passed out on the beach. He was supposed right now to be with some “sweet honey” from Summerville [I’m ashamed to admit I tried to imagine what contortions must take place to achieve heterosexual intercourse with this man], but now he’s lost her forever, and he remembers the night before gaining consciousness in a restroom downtown washing his hands and screaming, “The water is scalding my hands!”

I patiently listened as I sipped my beer, nodded my head sympathetically, muttered an occasional, “wow-that-sucks.” Finally, when the beer was done, I bid him good-bye and wished him better luck.

Alienation – the great theme of 20th century literature – “every sphere is opaque to the others which surround it” – or as Marlow puts it in Heart of Darkness, “No it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation in any given epoch of one’s existence – that which makes the truth, its meaning – its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream – alone.”

Or as Eliot himself puts it in “The Waste Land” :

I have heard the key

Turn in the door once and turn once only

We think of the key, each in his prison

Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison . .

The image that stays with me is that of those friends around the picnic table together but apart, prayerfully bowing their heads as they stared into their cell phones – an image of our times.

 

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