Hanging with Dylan

An incident that occurred yesterday engendered a frustrating dream last night, or to be more accurate, this morning. 

On most weekday afternoons around five o’clock, I walk to Chico Feo for two or three beers. Yesterday was particularly lovely with its offshore breeze and low humidity. I found a seat at the bar and chatted with someone named Thomas about Charles Bukowski. Later, I learned from my friend Jim that the operator of Folly toll booth of the 1920s could refuse entrance to undesirables. Right before leaving, I hung awhile with the swashbuckling twenty-something surf crew, Connor, Nathan, Ike, etc. Eventually, I forked over fifteen bucks to bartender Gavin for three low potency IPAs (tip included) and began my seven-block trek back to East Huron for a chat on the deck with Caroline before she prepared fried chicken, air-fried broccoli, and couscous for dinner. 

When walking home, I take various routes, depending on the heat and shade or my mood. Yesterday afternoon, I took East Erie to 4th Street, and as I made the turn, I spotted a couple in their forties playing badminton. She was wearing a knee-length floral dress and giggling girlishly as she retrieved what we vulgarians call the “birdy.”[1]

Lovely, I thought, wholesome.

As I turned right from 4th to Hudson, I encountered eight or so short-term renters who had placed the largest inflatable pool I’d ever seen in the side yard. Three of the young men, in their late twenties or early thirties, splashed around sitting in the pool while three or four women stood over them with their wine. Completing the tableau was a springer spaniel in profile defecating, his head facing the pool. 

It was a wonderful sight to see, the cast of characters spaced harmoniously, the modest one-story cream colored clapboard house in the background, the dog triangular. I thought, “Man, Edward Hopper would love this,” and then, “I ought to take a picture,” but I had already passed and knew that if I turned around, the dog likely would have finished its business.

In this age of unlimited photo-shooting, many of us – and I’m including myself here – feel that if we don’t have a photo, it didn’t happen. I remember visiting the Louvre years back and marveling at Japanese tourists viewing masterpieces through the lens of cameras and my ruing their inability to nakedly gaze in appreciation of the art in and of itself. But now here I was approaching the fifth block of Hudson and chiding myself for both not taking the picture and for regretting not taking the picture, which led to more general musings about behavioral oddities in the age of social media.

Fastforward ten hours or so. 

I’ve bumped into Bob Dylan on Folly, a younger version than I one I last saw in concert.[2] He’s dressed modestly and is relatively friendly. Afraid of alienating him, I don’t share what a pivotal role he played in my life or ask any of the thousands of questions that have popped up in my now teeming brain. 

I’m desperate, though, to take a picture, to prove to the world I was hanging with Bob. He is on Folly for an exhibit of his art, and I ask if I can take a picture of one of his paintings, but he doesn’t answer . I walk away to fiddle with my phone so I can take a photo, but when I come back, he has vanished, replaced by a core of festive people saying, “We heard that Dylan was just here.”

Yes, he had been, and I had been in his presence, sort of, but sort of not, because rather than living the moment, I abstracted the experience by wanting photographic proof, validation for my coolness, hoping that some of his immortality would rub off on me.

A day late and a springer short

[1] I can’t bring myself to use “shuttlecock” even though “giggling girlishly as she retrieved the shuttlecock” sounds more musical, an improvement over “what we vulgarians call the ‘birdy.’”

[2] I don’t know if this is related, but Bill Murray was at Chico Feo three weeks ago, and I had no inclination whatsoever to engage him in any way or to take a photo. Also, a couple of Christmases ago, I met Stephen Colbert at a relatively small house party. We conversed about Porter-Gaud, his alma mater and where I used to teach. During the party, only one person asked to have his picture taken with him, which I considered très gauche. 

Confessions of an Indoorsman

drafty garret claustrophobia

Back in the early 50s when I first became aware of sensations, diesel fuel was a predominant smell, and I grew to savor it. My grandfather owned a service station, and early in my life for a year or so our family lived there in a commercial building that doubled as a domicile. We called this abode “The Station.” Out front it was all concrete, though there was a grassless backyard with one lone sycamore tree standing on the edge of the property. 

A Doberman pincher named Ace roamed the desert domain of the backyard, and he was about as friendly as Cerberus, the three-headed canine guardian of the Greek Underworld. So I spent my days inside safe from traffic and attack dog, a preschooler cut off from nature. There wasn’t that much nature to see at the Station anyway. The only wildlife I remember encountering were a black snake sunning on summer pavement and bats zigzagging overhead at dusk.

At night, eighteen wheelers rushed past in swooshes, sounding somewhat like waves breaking on a beach. In fact, the Station was sort of like a barren island standing in a sea of cement. We lived in isolation.

The Station in the 50s

What a contrast to the town of Summerville itself, “Flowertown in the Pines,” a garden of earthly delights where the sweet ephemeral smell of tea olive wafted in front and back yards among the other flowering shrubs, azaleas and gardenias.

We had moved from the Station to Laurel Street across from the Playground with its swings, sliding boards, a foot-propelled merry-go-ground, and a bell-shaped contraption we called the “ocean wave.” Unfortunately, I contracted rheumatic fever at Laurel Street and spent three months confined to bed after a weeklong stay in Dorchester County Hospital. Like Ace the Doberman and highway traffic, disease also kept me inside before I started kindergarten.

Did these early experiences of mandatory house arrest contribute to my becoming “an indoorsman?”[1]

Dunno. Maybe? Whatever the case, a prefer the not-so-great indoors. I’d much rather hunker down in a dark basement bar in Asheville than hike the Appalachian Trail.

ocean wave

Now, however, I live on the Folly River, and the windows that line the outer walls of our house look out over the marsh to uninhabited Long and Morris Islands. Now I can’t avoid nature; it’s been thrust upon me, even in our air-conditioned living room. Sitting on the sofa or out on the screened porch or deck, I have witnessed owls, wood storks, ospreys, painted buntings, egrets, bats, deer, bald eagles, river otters, and minks, not to mention the frogs that inhabit our water garden and fill the night with constant croaking. Also, I’ve seen my share of Wild Kingdom carnage, hawks swooping down to snatch birds, ospreys lumbering over the house with fish in their talons.

I still spend an inordinate time cooped up in my study, which I have dubbed “the drafty garret.” Cut off from the outside word, I spend way too much time staring into an iMac screen reading depressing news stories and fiddling around with words.

However, I still savor the evocative odor of diesel and the memory-producing aroma of tea olive and the flora and fauna of the backside of the Edge of America.  In other words, I enjoy being, whether indoors or out, thanks in great part to my wife Caroline and her daughter Brooks. Oh yeah, and KitKat, whom I’ve grown very fond of, a chihuahua terrier mix that wouldn’t have been my first pick of dog crossifications. Unlike Ace, her bark is worse than her bite.

Anyway, It’s summertime, and at least for now, as the song says, “the living is easy.”


[1] I was, on the other hand, an avid surfer until my mid-60s when old age made me feel as if I’d been in a minor auto accident after each surf session.

An Anthropological Adventure Highlighting Late Pandemic Folly Beach Behaviors

The last time I donned the ol’ pith helmet and ventured inside the rich anthropological domain of Folly Beach, SC, was on 17 March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic. Even though it was St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday associated with the consumption of intoxicating spirits, a day when inebriates typically jampack the bars of the so-called Edge of America, only a few foolhardy hedonists stumbled the streets that Saturday, their left hands clutching red cups, their right hands thumbing their noses, as it were, at Dr. Fauci’s fervent pleas to stay indoors to stem the contagion.

Why would I – whom sociologists classify as geriatric, advertisers term a golden ager, and young people consider an old fart – expose myself to possible infection? After all, at 67, I fell into the likely-to-die demographic. Why, you ask?  

Because I’m a scientist, damn it; that’s why.

Of course, I submitted a report of that field work, including video, which you can access here.

Well, 407 long days have elapsed since that death-defying foray onto the potentially contagious sidewalks of FBSC 17 March 2020. Now, with COVID cases waning nationwide (albeit spiking in India and elsewhere abroad) and having received two doses of the Moderna vaccine – the second one a month ago – I decided it was high time to investigate. With Caroline, my invaluable anthropological colleague, erstwhile grief counsellor, and crackerjack photographer at my side, we trekked to Center Street to determine to what degree behaviors have changed since the early days of the pandemic.

We set up base camp at Chico Feo and found that outdoor eatery a-swarm with Friday night foragers, mostly tourists, but a considerable number of local denizens lolled there as well. After one low-impact libation, Caroline and I decided to head straight to Ground Zero, the shitshow known as the Rooftop at Snapper Jack’s, a two-block walk. Before departing however, our sponsors, pictured below, suggested we be on the lookout for topers tippling drinks that Jenny (pictured far right) has dubbed “ho-a-canes” and “bro-nados.”

from left to right, Dylan, Patrick, Faith, and Jenny

At the base of the stairs leading to Snapper Jack’s rooftop bar, we encountered our first bachelorette crew, pictured below. They seemed to me, despite the festive pink cowgirl hats, a bit subdued. Caroline and I peppered them with questions. The 23-year-old bride-to-be (second from the left) had found, according to her, the “man of her dreams,” but her companion, the most loquacious of the quartet (far right), said she was patiently waiting for a man who “worshipped the very ground she stood upon” and would settle for nothing less. Upon hearing this, my subconscious selected from its poetic jukebox these lines from Yeats’s “Never Give All the Heart”:

Never give all the heart, for love 

Will hardly seem worth thinking of 

To passionate women if it seem 

Certain, and they never dream 

That it fades out from kiss to kiss . . .

Anyway, we bade them good fortune, wished the bride-to-be a long happy and fruitful marriage, and climbed the stairs passing through a portal that ferried us to the Jersey shore.

No doubt these images can attest far better than my spendthrift prose.

Ladies and gentlemen, as far as these folks are concerned, the pandemic is kaput.


Easter Weekend 2021: Matt Gaetz and Barroom Brawls

I wonder what Matt Gaetz is up to this weekend. Shopping for lawyers? Taking one last peek at nude pix of his sexual conquests before erasing them on his iPhone 12?[1] Checking out rehab facilities?

I suspect right about now Matt probably agrees with TS Eliot’s assessment that April is the cruelest month, breeding investigations out of his sordid past, mixing memory with desire, etc. 

You’ve probably heard the Hemingway definition of beauty: grace under pressure. Well, Matt’s initial response to the revelation that he may have been involved with sex trafficking with minors wasn’t exactly pretty. He allowed himself to be interviewed by Tucker Carlson and spewed a bucketful of ill-considered information, for example, that his father wore a wire in an FBI investigation. And although Gaetz has categorically denied the various lurid allegations, the long list of colleagues and acquaintances who can’t stand him are sharing raunchy stories of deviant behavior stretching back to his days in the state legislature where he represented Florida’s Panhandle, the setting of the murder in Easy Rider, i.e., a rustic-ridden south-of-Alabama rightwing hellhole.

Well, all I can say to Representative Gaetz are the very words I said to a drunk who got punched out by a woman last night at the Surf Bar, “There’s some danger in being an asshole.”

This incident is the second instance in which I’ve been interviewed by the Folly Police in the last year. The first dealt with a couple behaving Gaetz-like on the screened porch of a neighbor who had moved. He had asked me to keep an eye on the house, and when I saw a strange car in the driveway and the workshop door open, I donned my Philip Marlowe persona and investigated.[2]  Despite my deafness, I heard some clamor on the screen porch and caught a heterosexual couple in flagrante delicto.[3] I suggested they leave, and they apologetically obliged, but the police caught wind, so I had to be interviewed. The owner was benevolent, didn’t press charges, but wanted the lustbirds to suffer some slight discomfort for their misdeeds. 

The fellow last night at the Surf Bar suffered more than a little discomfort: he got punched twice in the face by a young woman who could have been Laila Ali’s sparring partner. 

Caroline, our friend Whitney, and I were braving the cold on the porch of the Surf Bar enjoying their excellent Philly cheesesteak. This short White fellow in his twenties, dressed like an Eminem wannabe, approached our table and asked for a light, which we couldn’t provide.[4] There’s a fireplace on the porch, and five young women were sitting in a semicircle in front of it, enjoying the flames. After a while, I noticed that the young lighter-seeking man had joined them on the far end of the semicircle. I also noticed that the man and a couple of the women were engaged in a heated conversation. I asked one of the women who had returned from the restroom if the fellow was bothering them, and if so, I’d be happy to intervene. She smiled and said, “No thanks.” She then circled around the back of the dude and yanked the leg of his chair, sending him sprawling backward. As he attempted get up, she smacked him in the face twice with two well-delivered rights. Before she could cause more carnage, I leapt up and pulled them apart. He, of course, had been harassing them, had called one next to him the c-word, told her she was too ugly to sit next to, and continued to harass them until our heroine had had enough. 

the fireplace at the Surf Bar

I suggested to the fellow that he mosey along because he wouldn’t want the police involved, but he adamantly refused and sat back down in the now upright chair, whining about how he had been hit. Some muscle from inside the bar emerged and escorted him out, trying, as I had, to reason with him. 

It was sort of exciting in an adrenaline pumping way, and our meals were comped, but then who returns with policemen in tow. The twerp. He actually summoned the police because “a girl” had punched him. After interviewing the provocateur, the officer asked for my version, and I gave him a non-judgmental cinematic retelling of what had transpired, including the toppling and punching. The officer said this fellow had already been banned from several Folly bars and that he was from Philly on the lam from a petty larceny charge that was too smalltime to warrant extradition. 

So that was that, but I couldn’t help but feel in light of how horribly Gaetz treats women, how horribly many men treat women, a certain warm glow of satisfaction to see the sawed-off Kid Rock get coldcocked by a pissed-off damsel.

Yes, there is some danger in being an asshole.


[1] I understand that nude photography is now commonplace among romantic partners and that sending explicit photos of oneself can be part of the early stages of wooing, and although I have no personal experience in the phenomenon, I do have some advice for Representative Gaetz: hire an airplane, fly down to Costa Rica, and drop the phone into the volcanic vent of Arenal. 

[2] Not surprisingly, I was sporting a fedora. 

[3] Literally, “in flaming offense.”

[4] A less delicate sensibility than mine might tag him as a w-word, you know, that designation for funky clad White hip-hop aficionados that rhymes with the name of Roy Rogers’s horse. 

Shagging Revisited

Early in July, my good friend and former college/grad school roommate Warren Moise wrote an article for the Charleston Mercury describing his former existence as a beach musician in the 60s and 70s. He admitted in the article that he had never learned to shag, which for me was a shocking revelation.

No, British readers, not that kind of shagging!

We’re talking about the venerable North and South Carolina dance known as “the shag.” According to the website NCPEDIA, the shag might trace its evolution back to early settlers of the Carolina in an attempt to preserve their European musical lineage. According to the article, in the 1920s and 30s, the shag evolved as dancers adapted it to swing music and jazz. However, the dance really came into its own in 50s and 60s with the advent of Beach Music, a genre made famous by such groups as The Drifters, Tams, and the Embers and performed at beach pavilions up and down the Carolina Coast.

Essentially,  the shag is a two person hand-holding shuffle that allows room for much improvisation. Knowing how to shag is almost a social necessity if you live in Charleston or Myrtle Beach. Nevertheless, like Warren, I, too, never learned how, essentially because I didn’t have the inclination.

Folly Beach, where I live, used to have a shag dance club on Center Street where old people attempted to keep the fires of their youth ablaze, and you can still see lots of shagging at the Sand Dollar Social club on weekends.

Curmudgeon that I am, I saw members of the old shag club as victims of their youth, incurable nostalgia-holics stuck, like a stylus on a scratched record, in a repetitive rut, so I wrote the following rather acerbic poem. 

If you look closely, you can detect the traces

Of teenagers drowned in the puddles of their faces.

Perhaps this is beauty’s curse, the clinging,

King Canute by the seaside singing:

Stop in the name of love. But the aging process

Stops for no one. There’s no recess

In decay’s school day, no stopping the seasons,

Even if you’re sockless and sporting Bass Weejuns.

Not Among School Children

For whatever reason, in the second half of my teaching career, the last fifteen years or so, I became much more lenient.  In fact, one of the reasons I decided to retire was that I thought I was becoming too lackadaisical. When colleagues complained about slacker advisees from my homeroom, I didn’t rebuke the advisees. After asking them if everything was okay, I informed them that Mr.or Ms so-and-so was complaining to me about undone homework or subpar test performances, so they needed to talk to the teacher and rectify the situation. I rarely if ever called their parents myself.

In the olden days of the previous century, I would have warned the underachiever that in China or India youthful competitors were going to school eight hours a day year-round and would be competing with them economically on a global scale. “Why pay top dollar for an American CPA,” I would ask rhetorically, “when I can electronically send my taxes to Mumbai for a fraction of the cost?”  I’d point out that their parents’ wealth (I taught at an independent school) would be divided among their siblings, that the moment they graduated from college, they’d need health insurance,[1]that they were very likely as adults to suffer a lower standard of living than they’re accustomed unless they put their all in all into their studies. Then I might wax more spiritual by pointing out the cultural riches they were squandering – the elegance of algebraic formulae, the grand sweep of history, the thunder of Milton, the dirges of Keats. The more you know the more interesting you are, I’d tell them. “You don’t want to be an ignoramus, do you? Ignoramuses are boring.”

The older I got, though, the more I remembered what a slacker I had been in high school.  I mostly read my English assignments and history assignments, scratched out my papers on time, but I hardly gave math or science the time of day (or night, to be more exact). In my last few years as a teacher, when worn out Bennington (male) or Mason (female) laid their sleepy heads on their desks, I’d let them snooze. If they were that exhausted, I figured sleep was more beneficial to them that morning than the smug, self-righteous proclamations of Henry David Thoreau. Sometimes, if students were talking in class, I’d say.”Shhhhh, Bennington’s trying to sleep.”

My classes were still challenging, my tests still demanding, but I was less draconian in grading essays. 

Given that late mellowness, why then, now that I’m retired, do I find myself getting so easily irked by the petty transgressions of the people I encounter on the small bohemian barrier island I call home? 

This morning, for example, as I was walking my dog, I felt the hall monitor’s self-righteousness, felt like suggesting to pedestrians they walk on the left facing traffic and to cyclists that they ride on the right with the flow of traffic. “And while you’re at it, stand up straight!” I felt like bellowing.

And, oh, these just beyond toddlers, wearing their colorful little helmets, wobbling on their tiny bikes in the middle of Hudson Street. Haven’t their parents heard of natural selection? Don’t they realize that texting teens barrel up and down these thoroughfares?  Have they not noticed the memorial cross on the corner of 2nd and Cooper where some drunkard ran the stop sign and snuffed out another’s life?

But, of course, I keep my mouth shut. I don’t even bother to shake my head sadly. As Yeats put it:

Better to smile on all that smile, and show

There is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow.


[1] Obamacare didn’t exist.