Wild Kingdom 2020, Folly Beach Backyard Edition

bunting uncnscious

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s the matter?”

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

“What kind of bird?”

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

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

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

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

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

We cheered!

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

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

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

Bang Endings

Barry-White-Soul-SeductionA while back, I posted a piece called “First Impressions,” which celebrated killer opening sentences from various novels like [cue Barry White] this here delicious, obsessive echo chamber of a love song from Mr Baddass himself, Влади́мир Влади́мирович Набо́ков:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

However, as Franz Kafka once told me, “Starten eines Roman ist eine verdammt viel einfacher, als Abschluss einer“* so I decided to lay 5 of my favorite closing lines on you, lines that rat-a-tat-tat the novels’ themes in sound and sense. (BTW, the actual quotes themselves should be read aloud).

*Starting a novel is a helluva lot easier than finishing one.


1. The Sound and the Fury: “The broken flower drooped over Ben’s fist and his eyes were empty and blue and serene again as cornice and façade flowed smoothly once more from left to right, post and tree, window and doorway and signboard each in its ordered place.”

If Mr. Faulkner were employed by SparkNotes, he might “summarize” that last sentence like this: A description of Benjy — christened Maury — Compson, idiot grandson of the Confederate General patriarch of that fallen family, the drooping and broken flower an emblem of Ben’s beloved lost sister’s honor, Maury/Benjamin just having gone apeshit because the black tween servant Luster had swung the wagon bearing the family on their ritualistic visit to the grave of General Compson’s alcoholic son Jason Sr. to the left of the monument, provoking sounds of ”horror; shock; agony eyeless, tongueless, just sound,” from the that thirty-three-year-old with the mind-of-a-three-year-old, bellowing until the “only sane” Compson brother, Jason Jr., catches the reins to swing the horse Queenie in the opposite direction, calming Benjy, the sentence itself capsuling the fall of the House of Compson, the disappearance of the Old South, its doomed fetish for tradition.

joyce mainUlysses: O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down Jo me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

Riding the rapids of Mrs. Molly Bloom’s stream of consciousness as she contemplates her hubby Leopold, heroic cuckold, who has come home again, home again, jiggedy jig, and who lies in bed next to her, his feet facing the headboard and his head facing the footboard, and what can you say to the life-affirming ending of that concluding sentence but yes sir ree bob tail– Yes!

Y’all ready now for a slow dance?

The portrait of Abert Camus by Haeree Choi

The portrait of Abert Camus by Haeree Choi

3. The Stranger: For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.

Mon Dieu, is smoking a cigarette during the absurd ritual of sitting up all night with your mother’s corpse or having casual sex the night after her funeral so wrong? How absurd! These acts by our narrator Meursault seem to shock his all-white Algerian jury more than the offing of a mere native (which in Colonial Africa is tantamount to jaywalking).  You might say that Meursault’s jail sentence has been a Godsend – i.e., you might say that if he didn’t exist in an arid, godless abyss of a universe — but the good news is that in the fleeting ever disappearing now in which he types the concluding paragraph, he has discovered that he and the indifferent universe are one. OM.

4. The Sun Also Rises: A taxi came up the street, the waiter hanging out at the side. I tipped him and told the driver where to drive, and got in beside Brett. The driver started up the street. I settled back. Brett moved close to me. We sat close against each other. I put my arm around her and she rested against me comfortably. It was very hot and bright, and the houses looked sharply white. We turned out onto the Gran Via.

“Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.”

Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.

“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”fiesta-sun-also-rises-ernest-hemingway-paperback-cover-art

Who knows if Viagra would have worked on narrator Jake Barnes. Did his war injury render him a gelding or sever his penis? No crisp declarative sentences answer those questions. Certainly, as a man Jake is the opposite of what the vulgar call “dickless.”  Whatever, all I really care about is that mounted policeman raising his baton is an invaluable tool in convincing skeptical students that phallic symbols aren’t perverse illusions engendered by English teachers’ diseased minds .

5. “Midnight Rambler”: I’ll stick my knife right down your throat, baby, and it hurts!

Okay, as Condoleezza Rice’s and Colonel Kurtz’s lovechild might say, “Strictly speaking, ‘Midnight Rambler’ isn’t exactly a novel, but it is a narrative, sort of, and this post is getting too long, and goddammit, that last line of the Stones’ classic absolutely nails the sound and sense of the sort of narrative, and it‘s literally “killer”, so fuck you and your rigid mind-forged manacles.”  

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