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, Guinness be the choice

When I open up my Joyce.

 

(Finnegan’s Wake sober

Mean 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.

 

 

 

A Guided Tour of Last Night’s Insomnia

Insomnia by ~diablozz

Insomnia by ~diablozz

On the Sunday night before the Monday morning of my return, given that I had missed seven consecutive days of school, I could have predicted that when I lay me down to sleep in my half-empty bed, I would suffer a potent spell of insomnia.

My wife and I had been on a medical junket to Houston, Texas, where she received a PET scan, an MRI, an extra-scheduled brain MRI, and subsequent “lumbar puncture” (née spinal tap). Add to that existential dread the students’ missed work, the now screwed-up syllabi, my dislike of grog-producing sleep aids, and insomnia was, as Richard Nixon once said, a foregone conclusion.

When that switch goes off in my head and those darkened corridors become suddenly illuminated and I’m instantaneously wide, wide awake, I don my imaginary Sigmund Freud mask with its glasses, white beard, and cigar. A re-visitation and evaluation of recent dreams is in order.

Dream 1: During my absence the government has constructed a road that runs through the marsh and river that are in essence my back yard. So long serenity; hail ceaseless traffic. [Interpretation: cancer invasion].

road-in-marsh

Dream 2: I’m at a family reunion where my mother and father are among the quick, and some female baby relative cousin is screaming her head off — no one can quiet her — so I pick her up to see what I can do and discover that feces is flowing lava-like from her dripping diaper onto a Persian rug, so I hand her off to my mother and grab rags and paper towels and try to sop up the diarrheic outpouring. [Interpretation: cancer has shitted on our lives].

Dream 3: I’m in some exotic location in the South Seas where a swimming pool overlooks the most pacific of Pacific seascapes. I’m having a conversation with two of my former students, Allen and Willy Hutcheson, and Allen is telling me about his life when I detect some commotion in the pool. I look down and see a dead Macaw lying at the bottom, which I know will upset Willy because he is an ornithologist, but then there’s this terrible thrashing, and low and behold, an exotically neon-hued very alive crocodile has replaced the dead parrot. [Interpretation: sigh].

croc-in-pool

Okay, perhaps a different mental activity might be in order.

This is probably stupid, but when I have these spates of insomnia, I create overly metric nonsense verse, stupid adult versions of nursery rhymes, and the following is what I came up with last night, and I share it, not because it is any good at all, or even particularly clever, but because of where it leads us next.

Dr. John and I

shared a piece of apple pie

baked by that angel grandma

Chloe of Senegal

who is as scrawny

as the doctor is brawny,

though if I weren’t

bound by rhyme

I might opine

that big-bellied would be better

to describe a waistline so unfettered.

The Great Dr. John, aka Mac Rebennack

The Great Dr. John, aka Mac Rebennack

This exercise leads me to think about English, that hybrid language with its blunt Anglo-Saxon roots, supple Norse syntax, and treasure trove of French words. We’re talking here the assimilation, not of immigrants, but of invaders, yet Anglo-Saxon girls married Vikings, their offspring married Normans, who ate poultry instead of chicken, the combination of the three languages creating such a wealth of ways to express ourselves.

Scrawny, brawny – a potent spell of insomnia . . .

[scrawny – probably from Old Norse skrælna to shrival]

[brawny – from Old French braon fleshy or muscular part, buttock]

[potent – from Latin potentem powerful]

[spell – from Old English gespelia – a substitute, shift work, continuous stretch]

[spell – from Proto German spellam “report, tale, fable. ” From c. 1200 as “an utterance, something said, a statement, remark”; meaning “set of words with supposed magical or occult powers, incantation, charm, first recorded 1570s; hence any means or cause of enchantment.” (Oxford Dictionary of Folklore via Online Etymology Dictionary)

I think of the ad in Back of the Boy’s Life magazines I read when I was a Cub Scout, the ad with the 98 pound weakling sharing a beach blanket his a buxom companion, their outing spoiled by having sand kicked in their faces.

“Hey, you pathetic emaciated excuse for a hominid,” ejaculates the muscular ruffian.

“Hey, you scrawny bitch,” spews the rock-hard bully.

shapeimage_2

And these thoughts of assimilation lead me to think of how many Muslims I saw in Houston, all the women in hijabs, both at the Galleria Mall and at MD Anderson, one woman sitting in the hospital in a black niqab but also wearing a mask beneath the veil to ward off infection, and then there was the Iraqi veteran who had worked as a translator for the US Army and who was now working as a concierge at the Wyndam Suites, and also we met with a former student and his Pakistani wife, their marriage being the first non-arranged union in the history of her family, and she told Judy and me that even as a coed at the University of Georgia her curfew at her home in the summertime was seven p.m. and, oh boy, a yawn, a good sign, my body hinting to just breathe, and maybe the mind will empty if I pay attention to inhalation and exhalation, if I just let go and allow the swirls of grey behind my eyelids to take whatever shape whatever.

Jim Crow, Treme, Iago, Dr. John, and I-and-I

James T Crow, Spiritual Advisor

James T Crow, Spiritual Advisor

Last night the shamanic JT Crow, one of my spiritual advisors, came over for pizza, and we started yapping about the HBO series Treme, which chronicles the travails of (perhaps too many) characters trying to get their lives together in those wretched days just after Katrina wasted New Orleans.

Although Mr. Crow, who goes by Jim (and, by the way, voted for Obama), and I agree that New Orleans itself is the protagonist of the narrative and that the music [cue James Brown] is bam BAM BAM BAM BAM! – OUT-OF-SIGHT!!!! – we mildly disagree about the overall quality of the production.

For one thing,, I think some of the acting sucks — the Hindenburg of my disbelief has crashed a few times.  For example, the Davis McAlary character’s parents don’t seem like the decadent uptown parents of a wastrel son but like actors playing the decadent uptown parents of a wastrel son. I start wondering where they’re really from, if they get along off the set, etc.

Even Declan MacManus doesn’t do a very good job of playing Elvis Costello.

Davis McAlary played by Steve Zahn

Davis McAlary played by Steve Zahn

Anyway, the most interesting difference of opinion between Crow and me concerns the above-mentioned character Davis McAlary, whom Jim likes but whom I’d like to see sporting orange overalls and a leg shackles while gigging trash amid swarms of mosquitoes on the side of a desolate Louisiana road.*

Do I need mention that Jim’s nicer than I am**?

Jim considers Davis a good person at heart, but to me his picture should appear next to asshole in the American Heritage Dictionary of Vulgarity.*** Because of some sort of megalomaniac disorder, Davis feels entitled to ignore the playlist of the radio station where he works because the playlist isn’t authentic enough, never mind that it’s during a Beg-O-Rama (aka Pledge Drive) and the station is teetering on the edge of financial collapse.   Davis feels entitled to steal a bottle of $200 wine from a lover’s restaurant even though it’s teetering on the edge of financial collapse (though he does leave her as compensation some vintage out-of-print music he looted from a record store). He also aims his speakers outwards from his windows towards his neighbors’ house and blasts them with New Orleans’ hip hop. Working as a concierge, he sends young Mormon volunteers to authentic but dangerously located clubs so they can experience the real New Orleans, etc.

The would-be cat ain’t got no clue about existentialism. He’s about as tolerant as Boko Haram.


 *Obviously, Zahn is going a terrific job of acting if I’ve developed such an animus towards his character.
** E.g., I was sitting on Jim’s couch one evening getting machine-gun blasted with hate tweets from a disgruntled former colleague, and when I started punching in a retaliation, Jim stopped me and said, “Don’t do that.  The poor man is suffering.”
Also, Jim has seen two seasons as opposed to my two episodes.  Maybe Davis changes as the narrative progresses (but it seems to me to be dramatically viable it would take a road-to-Damascus Jesus-hurled thunderbolt).
***Aaron James’s definition from Assholes, A Theory: n., a person who “allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systematically” because of “an entrenched sense of entitlement,” and who “is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people.”

But then, sitting there with Crow, I had to concede that if Davis lived on Folly Beach, my little slice of purgatory, it would be fun to hang with him on a casual basis, given his passion, knowledge, and exquisite taste in music. That got me to thinking about some less than noble characters I hung with in my troubled youth, which, of course, got me thinking about Shakespeare’s Othello.

[Feared reader response: WTF! Huh? Time to click out of this joint].

Sample Page from Shakespeare Insult Generator

Sample Page from Shakespeare Insult Generator

As it happened, Jim’s Xmas present to me, a Shakespeare Insult Generator, was on the table next to us, and it got me to thinking.

A SIG allows you to randomly select two adjectives from any play in the canon and affix them to a Shakespearean noun to create curses for, as PEE WEE GASKINS might say, “them what we love to hate.” For example, flipping through the kit with my left hand as I type, I see I could call Davis a “churlish, beef-witted braggart” or a “mammering, hollowed geck.”

One of the adjectives in the kit is “swag-bellied,” which I actually recognize from 2.3 of Othello. In the scene, Iago, as sociopathic a character in all of literature, is regaling his comrades with descriptions of the English’s domination in the consumption of alcohol over formidable but lesser rivals:

Cassio: Fore God, an excellent song!

Iago: I learned it in England, where indeed they are most potent in potting. Your Dane, your German, and your swag-bellied Hollander – drink, ho! – are nothing to your English.

Cassio: Is your Englishman so exquisite in his drinking?

Iago: Why he drinks with facility your Dane dead drunk; he sweats not to overthrow your Almain; he gives your Hollander a vomit ere the next pottle can be filled.

Let’s face it, if you were on Iago’s good side, i.e., if he’s not robbing you blind or plotting to bring about your total destruction, he’d be an entertaining drinking buddy, much more clever than pretty boy Cassio.

Ah, but here’s the rub. Shakespeare inserts this true-to-life comic skit in the infernal machinery of a tragedy, the skit underscoring dimensions of character, e.g., Cassio’s naivety and Iago’s verbal cleverness.

Shit, then, why am I watching Treme when I could be watching Henry IV, Episodes 1 and 2?

Because, for one thing, Falstaff can’t rip up a piano and sing like Dr. John.

Oh yeah, Mac Rebennak does an Emmy-deserving job of playing Dr. John in Treme.