Grief Counseling Noir

Five weeks ago my wife Ellie died of pancreatic cancer. We did the hospice thing, and the dying went fairly smoothly, thanks to the morphine. There were no eyes popping open and arms reaching upwards to invisible loved ones hovering around the bed, just a slow diminishing of breathing in the midst of a coma-like unconsciousness. She, unlike Dylan Thomas, went gently into that good night, which suited the both of us.

Our two girls are grown, 25 and 26, both in med school, so they were there with us, but now they’re back doing their residencies, one in DC, the other in Chicago. They both insisted I get some grief counseling, but I was resistant, that is, until about a week ago.

I had my reasons for not wanting to go to grief counseling. For one thing, I hate group activities. I’d rather watch 96 hours of consecutive Brady Bunch reruns than experience again that Lamaze class we went to when Ellie was pregnant with Lillian.

The girls informed me that you didn’t have to go group; you could go one-on-one.

I told them I didn’t want to go one-on-one either. “Look”, I said, “I’m a literature professor. My master’s thesis was Death and Dying in Yoknapatawpha County: Faulkner and that Undiscovered Country. I know all about death and dying. I was right there with Emma Bovary when she passed, right there with Lear as he carried dead Cordelia in his arms.”

“Plus, your mother was a psychologist,” I added. “Believe me, I know the drill. I’ve read pro Kubler-Ross and anti-Kubler-Ross. “

I did, though, promise that if I thought I needed help, I’d seek it.

Once the girls left and I was all-alone in the house with Ellie’s tops and skirts hanging in our walk-in closet, her jewelry in a jumble on her dresser, I started feeling more down than I had. Waves of sorrow would sometimes wash over me, and I would occasionally weep out loud with sobs that sounded like sardonic laughing. Right after one of those episodes when I was washing my face and lamenting the revival that my long-gone adolescent acne was restaging on the ruined contours of my already pocked-marked face, the phone rang.

It was a woman from the hospice following up to see how I was doing. Talking to her, my voice went wobbly, like a retiring coach’s voice as he blinks back tears in an interview after his final game. She mentioned that they offered grief counseling, but I resisted offering a less arrogant and pretentious reprise I had given my daughters.

I told her I had a lot of support from friends, colleagues, and former students, which was true.

She said, “Okay, bye sweetie.”

That sealed the deal. I wasn’t going with anyone who called me sweetie, anyone who was going to infantilize my suffering. So I went on google to check out counselors in the area and frankly didn’t like what I saw, mostly younger, attractive women with bleached teeth who “empower” and “help resolve” a laundry list of personal issues like anxiety, self-esteem, family issues, and grief.

Then I ran across this ad.

 

I did some snooping on my own with Marlowe.  His degree was legit, but he had been fired from MUSC after only two years for insubordination.  He had lost his wife Linda Loring early in his marriage (steeple chase, broken neck) so he’s been around grief’s mournful block of consignment shops, hole-in-the-wall bars, pawnshops, and laundromats. His office/apartment is located on Folly Beach over an outdoor bar called Chico Feo on the corner of Second Street and Ashley, you know, right across from that mural of the pirate painted on the side of Berts.  I went ahead and made the appointment.  A secretary with one of those irritating interrogative lilting voices hit me up for Friday at 11:30.

You go up some rickety outdoor stairs to get up to his office. Two beautifully hand-painted signs hang next to the door. The top one reads: “Philip Marlowe, Psy.D.” The one below: “Yes, smoking, a lot of smoking in here, unfiltered Pell Mells. If you don’t like cigarette smoke, turn around. I wish you the best of luck. Otherwise, come on in.”

The door has a small set of wind chimes attached that tinkle/jingle. Inside there’s an old oak desk in desperate need of refinishing with a neat stack of forms on top, a jar with a variety of pens and pencils, and an ashtray in bad need of emptying.  Behind the desk a wooden slatted office chair on rollers.

On the other side of the room a green corduroy sofa and two chairs around a coffee table.  On that table a neat stack of New Yorkers diagonally situated in its center. No framed diplomas on the wall, only a strange, amateurishish painting (pictured below). A black curtain whose rod runs along the length of the room separates this office space from the living quarters. In a word, this joint is seedy and reeks of stale smoke.[1]

 

When I entered, there was no sign of Marlowe. I went back to the door, opened it, and waggled it back and forth creating a tintinnabulation. Marlowe’s head appeared between the curtains. An ocean breeze billowing them in and out. “McNully, right? I’ll be right with you. Grab one of the forms on the desk, a pencil, and have a seat. My girl called in sick with a hangover.”

The head disappeared but reappeared. “By the way, nice fedora.”

I sat down in one of the chairs, picked up a New Yorker to to support the form.  What you would expect.  Date of birth.  Date and cause of death.  Occupations.  Your medical history.

In three or four minutes, Marlowe returned dressed in a retro double-breasted coat and tie. The picture on the ad wasn’t current.  He’d aged since then. Here’s what he looks like today:

He grabbed the ashtray, emptied it in the metal trashcan next to his desk, and placed it on the coffee table next to me. After shaking my hand, he plopped down on the sofa, offered me a Pell Mell from his pack. “No thanks,” I said.

He placed a cigarette directly from the pack to his lips, retrieved a box of matches, and lit one from the bottom of his shoe.  He ignited the cig, took a deep drag, tilted his head back, and then expelled the smoke through his nostrils as he dropped the match into the ashtray..

“How about a drink?” he said. “A shot of rye? I could make a new pot of coffee.”

“No thanks, a little early for whiskey and a little late for coffee.”

A tic messed with his mouth. “Mind if I do?”

“Help yourself,” I said.

He produced a pint bottle from his side coat pocket, unscrewed the cap, and took a long slug. Then a short one. Then another long one.

He screwed the top back on and placed the bottle on the table. The label read “Templeton Rye, aged 4 years.”  He then picked up the form I filled out and gave it a cursory once over.

“Mr. McNully, sorry about your loss. I read your wife’s obituary. Remarkable woman. Even though now you feel like shit, you’re a lucky man, if you know what I mean.“

“Yeah, I think I know what you mean. I feel the same way, sort of.”

“Some days you feel okay; some days you feel like, Niobe, all tears, right?

He paused to cough, a dry hoarse smoker’s cough.

“Not so much the latter,”  I said when he had finished,  “But feeling ‘like shit is fairly accurate.’”

“You’re an English teacher, right.”

‘A professor,”  I said.

“Then you know different people are going to react differently to grief. Faulkner’s Caroline Compson isn’t Hemingway’s Frederick Henry. On one extreme, you got your Niobes, your Caroline Compsons, your basketcases, weeping unceasingly or taking to bed, doping up with camphor, and on the other extreme you got your tough cookies like Frederick Henry in A Farewell to Arms. You’ve read that, right.”

“Coincidentally, I did my thesis on Faulkner, on death and dying in Faulkner,”  I threw in, rather awkwardly, which seemed to throw his rhythm off a tad.

“A hopeless rummy.  Anyway, you know Hemingway?”

“Better than most,”  I said, almost wishing I had opted for the hospice counselor.

Remember the ending of A Farewell to Arms?”

“Yeah, the nurse dies in childbirth.”

“Here’s the last paragraph. I’ve memorized it:

But after I had got them out and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn’t any good. It was like saying goodbye to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.

“Yipes. I’d forgotten that.”

“I’m guessing you fall somewhere in between Niobe and ol’ Frederick. Am I right?”

“Happy to say, closer to Fred than Ny.”

“Okay, Prof, I want you to study that painting over there on that wall. It’s an allegory of grieving.”

I thought but managed not to say, “You gotta to be kidding me,” but instead “Okay?” in that tone my students use when trying to express incredulity.

I stood up, walked over, and looked at the painting, which I only had glanced coming in. I stared at it for about a minute. “You say it’s an allegory on grieving?”

“Look, Prof, I’m going to save you some money, cut to the chase and explain the symbolism rather than pulling it out of you with Socratic questions.”

“Suits me.” We hadn’t discussed remuneration, but I assumed it charged by the half-hour.

Now he was standing next to me, pointing with his cigarette. “Okay, the Lighthouse represents the earth’s axis; it’s centered, phallic, pointing upwards. The ocean represents the female, suffering, the unconscious, you name it.”

I inwardly rolled my eyes.  This was simplistic, sophomoric analysis.

“You see those whitecaps; the ocean is rough. Did you notice those legs sticking out of the water?”

“What legs? Where?”

He pointed. “Those are Icarus’s legs from the Breughel painting.”

“You mean Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, the painting Auden alludes to in his poem,”  I said as if I were a character in a B movie.

He was supposed to say “precisely,” but instead,  replied, “You got it, prof.”

 

 

Cupping the cigarette in his hand, he took one last drag, leaned over, and crushed it into the ashtray.

”Okay, follow the diagonal line from Icarus’s legs, to the man battling the rabid weasel, up to the dame running towards shore, to the mermaid sitting on the rocks.

“Yes?”

“That’s grief’s progression, simplified.  It immerses you; eventually you stick your head out of the water, only to be attacked by whatever you want those weasels to stand for, guilt, depression, numbness.  But note he’s battling those weasels.  Has one by the tail.  Soon as he dispatches that one, he’ll reach for the one gnawing on his neck.  He’s gonna have scars, for sure, but scars heal and eventually fade, even though, they never really go away.”

He reached for another cig and offered the pack almost reflexively.

“No thanks.  But I have a question.  I’m assuming the woman on shore is part of the progression.”

“Right.”

“Why not make her a man and the mermaid a merman?

“I’ve got female clients, too. It doesn’t mean that grief makes you change genders, though it might make you take on some of the traits of the other gender.  Of course, you got grief going with sons and dads, moms and daughters, queer couples.  As it turns out, most of my clients are queer.”

He rubbed his hand across his chin.

“So, you probably realize that it’s not linear like this, but it’s eventually the progression.  What you’ll become with time is the mermaid on the rock – or, in your case, a merman on the rocks — a creature of both worlds.  Note her expression of detached interest.”

“I see,”  I said.

“Good, That’s it. I could waste your time and money by going on about this shit, but this is really all you need to know.”  Once again his tic jerked the corner of his mouth.

“That’s it?

“That’s it.

“How much do I owe you?”

“Fifty bucks.”

“Do you take credit cards?”

“No but Charlie or Hank can accept on my behalf at the bar below. Seems like nobody carries cash or checks nowadays.”

“I could write a check.”

“Perfect.”

As I descended the steps, I looked over my shoulder at the ocean across the street. It was gray with a nasty riptide. It occurred to me that Marlowe wasn’t exactly the perfect role model for recovery.

It was noon, so I went over to the bar and sat down on a stool and grabbed a menu, ordered a Pabst on draft and a Mahi taco. The lager and taco were good, as Hemingway might say. I asked the bartender, a thirty-something sporting a lumberjack’s beard and a shaved head, the scoop on Marlowe. He rolled his eyes. “He’s okay when he’s sober but a pain in the ass when he’s drunk. He can be a mean drunk.”

“Does he get drunk a lot?

“The bartender grinned. “Is the pope a commie from Argentina?”

“Yes, I reckon he is,” I said.

“Hey,”  he said.  “Sorry about your loss.  I lost my brother in Afghanistan.  I’m still not over it. ”

As I left, I glanced up at the porch, and there sat Marlowe with his coat off, his pants supported by suspenders, his retro 40’s tie loosened at the collar. Smoking one of his Pell Mells, he was staring out at the ocean, his eyes hidden by wrap around shades.


[1] Marlowe would probably point out that’s six words.

 

 

Tales of Bad Parenting

As my regular readers know, I possess an incredibly delicate, depression-prone sensibility. I find large “family friendly” crowds especially nerve-wracking, particularly if those families come from “all walks of life.” I can handle “non-family friendly” gatherings just fine. Heavy metal rock concerts, ecstasy-fueled raves, St. Patrick Day’s pub-crawls, and violent protests don’t bother me a whit; however, a day trip to somewhere like Six Flags hurls me headlong into Sylvia-Plath-like pits of deep despair.

We’re talking Mariana Trench, Dante’s Malebolgia, i.e., super subterranean levels of depression.

Imagine my horror, then, when one Saturday twenty years ago around noon, my 8th grade son Harrison asked if I would take him and his 6th grade brother Ned to the Coastal Carolina Fair.

“It’s the very last day,” he added.

Mental montage:

 

We were driving on Ashley Avenue in the small beach community where we live.[1] I looked over at my wife Judy whose expression was one that you might encounter if you had just informed someone that she was being sequestered for jury duty for a Gambino brother trial in Newark.

These words came out of my mouth: “You boys ever hear of Playboy magazine?”

They answered in the affirmative.

“Well, what if instead of taking you to the fair, I bought you a copy of Playboy magazine instead?

“You’re kidding, “ Harrison said, the glee in his voice approaching bicycle-under-the X-mas-tree levels.

“I’m absolutely serious,” I said. “By the time we return home, get ready, battle the bumper-to-bumper traffic, find a godforsaken place to park, trudge the five miles to the entrance, we’ll all be exhausted.”

“You’re sure you’re not kidding?”

“Watch me.”

What he left unsaid, but it registered loud and clear: “You’re the greatest dad in the world!”

So we pulled into Bert’s Market, and I found the magazine rack and secured the current issue of Playboy, which featured the German figure skater Katrina Witt.[2] The transaction was made, the product sheathed in a brown paper bag.

Once we returned home, the boys scampered into the room and slammed the door.

The next day, while they were out skateboarding, I slinked into the room with the intention of checking out the issue myself, but they had hidden it, as if it were contraband.

Finally, I had to ask them outright if they minded if I took a look at it. I promised to give it back.


[1] Let me hasten to add that despite the tale that is to follow, our two sons have managed to graduate from college (one has a masters in linguistics, the other makes 30K more than his old man who has 31 years of teaching the same gig). In other words, they no longer live with us.

[2] People often ask why both boys majored in German. It just occurred to me that this event might have played a role.

 

Blow, Matthew; Crack Your Cheeks; Rage, Blow

Winslow Homer:

Winslow Homer: “Hurricane”

Between foreseeing and averting change
Lies all the mastery of elements
Which clocks and weatherglasses cannot alter.
Time in the hand is not control of time,
Nor shattered fragments of an instrument
A proof against the wind; the wind will rise,
We can only close the shutters.

                              Adrienne Rich, “Storm Warnings”

As I type this, my wife Judy Birdsong and I are awaiting Hurricane Matthew’s arrival on a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina. Ominously enough, Folly Beach is the name of this island. Folly’s main historical claim to fame is that Union soldiers occupied the island during our Civil War[1] and Gershwin wrote the music for Porgy and Bess here while staying at DuBose Heyward’s beach house. Heyward’s novel Porgy, by the way, features a hurricane, but one that sneaked upon the characters in those simpler days before Jim Cantore became a household name.  Nothing against Jim and the well-meaning folks at the Weather Channel, but enduring the high keen of their histrionic prophecies is a bit of a drag for us seasoned veterans of what Adrienne Rich calls later in the poem quoted above “troubled regions.”  Also, no doubt, well-meaning, Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina shut down the state from the capital to the coast Tuesday evening.  She actually decreed all capital city schools be closed, including the University, even though the capital, Columbia, is situated 100 miles inland, and the order came over 48 hours ago.[2]

Here’s what it looks like right now from our bedroom window (i.e. 3:05 EDT 7 Oct 2016).

Our decision to defy Governor Haley’s mandatory evacuation order worries some of our friends, and it ‘s not surprising given the Weather Channel correspondents’ brow-beating and pleading. Perhaps because I am a native here, and this will be my sixth storm, I’ve come to resent the complete and utter lack of nuance we are subjected to during tropical events.

For example, we’ve been warned that there will be “storm surges that we’ve not seen since Hurricane Hugo,” which is true, though with Matthew the surges at Charleston are estimated to be 4 – 6 feet and with Hugo the largest was measured at 21 feet.

post Matthew damage on Daytona Beach

post Matthew damage on Daytona Beach

Sullivans Island post Hugo

Sullivans Island post Hugo

Believe me, if I lived in a mobile home or a one-story house on a slab at sea level, I would be long gone. However, we don’t, are in our 60’s, and as Judy puts it, “I  have cancer anyway.” In other words, we’re having fun, an adventure.   If only Fernando and Alameda Marcos could join us and sit in these throne-like stacked chairs hauled in from the screen porch.

img_0101

We believe in science. Matthew’s pressure has risen 9 millibars in 6 hours, our house was built to exceed hurricane codes, and its bottom floor is 30+ feet above sea level.

In fact, my biggest concern is that we’re going to run out of boiled peanuts.

img_0103

[1] AKA among the unreconstructed as “the War Between the States” or, worse, “the War of Northern Aggression.” As Hamlet put it, “though I am native here/And to the manner born,” I somehow ended up a liberal and acknowledge my region’s “manifold sins and wickedness” yet still somehow love Dixie, treasure my native soil. Go figure.

[2] Governor Haley, once the darling of Sarah Pallin, perhaps, to use hurricane lingo, has jogged to the left during her two terms, though it would appear that she’s not all that big on science. My son, who teaches in Orlando, much closer to the storm’s “wrath,” had a full day of school on Wednesday and a half day yesterday.

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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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 Beach: Tales of Intoxication

Folly Beach Tales of Intoxication

Trigger warning: The following post tells the story of the first time I got drunk and mentions common topics of intoxication like lying to one’s mother, entertaining foolish possibilities, dancing on tables, and vomiting a retainer-like false tooth out of the window of a moving Oldsmobile going at least 70 mph on an Interstate Highway.

Here’s the sad story of the first time I got drunk, a tale of self-inflicted woe, a narrative featuring Brazilian exchange students and bad choices galore.

It occurred on a Saturday night in the late fall of 1969 when three Summerville High juniors and two Brazilian exchange students decided to skip the parent-sanctioned dance at the American Legion Hut and head to Folly Beach for some more sophisticated fun. My pal – I’ll call him Arthur – had connections, could get us in a Citadel Senior Party. We’d be posing as college students from Wofford in a daring act of James-Bond-like subterfuge [cue 007 guitars].

I was all for the change in venue, Folly Pier trumping American Legion Hut for sure. And who knows — it was not out of the realm of possibility — I might conceivably maybe could perhaps find myself in the arms of some jaded older almost-woman and receive backseat tutelage in the arts of love — about which I had only the slightest of cinematic clues.

It was possible. That very July we had put a man on the moon.

None of us were at the legal beer drinking age of eighteen at the time, but in Summerville in those days, that was not, as the sales clerks say, a problem. If you were tall enough to be able place a quarter and a dime on the counter of S_______’s Grocery, Mr. S________ himself would go back to the cooler and procure for you a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, place it in a brown paper sack, and presto — fun ahoy! – off you drove.

Our driver was Gordon Wilson, a capital cat, and my other friend — I’ll call him Gene — was someone I’d known for so long we’d been playpen mates.

Two Brazilian exchange students, Paulo and Jacó, staying with Gordon, also accompanied us. As it turned out, these two would be our saviors, or at least Jacó would. Thanks to his anti-samba sobriety, his reckoning of his own safety, he volunteered to chauffeur us home (despite not having a valid South Carolina driver’s license).

Sure, he got confused about which way to go and got us stuck for a while in a sand dune, but with the help of Good Samaritans, we – make that the Samaritans — somehow extracted the Olds, and we made it home, not only alive/unparalyzed, but in my case, undetected by my parents, even though the doors were locked and I had to crawl through a window (and in my condition, my locomotion, Buster Keaton pratfallful, you would reckon).
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Okay, I’d be lying if I tried to turn the party into a coherent narrative.

Montage time:

Inside the Folly Pier. Bright lights. Beach music. Citadel cadets, their dates. Bottle-guzzling. Flirting. What you see when looking down from a table you’re dancing on at a Citadel Senior Party.

Slipping and falling and getting up laughing.

Now, I’m in the car. After a long time of not, the car is moving. What’s his name’s driving. We’re going fast. I’m puking out of the window.

I awake, not unlike Satan on the burning lake of fire in Paradise Lost; only, actually, I’m in my bed in my underwear and desert boots.

No need for montage here. I remember all too clearly.   It felt like someone had jabbed and twisted a screwdriver in the base of my brain after water boarding me during my unconsciousness with bile from the liver of Jackie Gleason.
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I vaguely remembered something about my tooth missing. I felt with my hand. No, it wasn’t in my mouth, nor on the dresser, nor in either pocket of my wadded up Levis. Not in the front pocket of my vomit stained shirt, whose smell almost prompted a heave. No, my fake tooth was long gone, runover, crushed, obliterated somewhere along the shoulder of I-26.

16-year-old-despair.

I’ve never liked lying, and I’m not good at it. But on this occasion I lied to my mother. I told her I had gotten sick at the dance (technically true) and gone out to vomit (technically true) and lost my tooth somewhere outside the American Legion Hut (patently false).*

She asked me if I had been drinking.

“No ma’am.”

The American Legion Hut in Summerville

The American Legion Hut in Summerville

She went to look for the tooth because I was in no shape to. I felt fearful and wretchedly guilty, my mother on a Sunday morning scavenging in vain among the discarded beer cans and cigarette butts in the grass of the yard of the American Legion Hut.

The next week, though, Mama got her revenge and tricked me into telling the truth.

The following Saturday, Gordon and I stayed out to 2 am, and when he pulled up to my house, I said. “I sure hope my parents are asleep.”

Like I said, Gordon was a capital cat. He smiled and said, “Isn’t that them sitting there?”

There, there, very there, sitting in lawn chairs on the edge of the yard, the tips of their cigarettes glowing orange dots. Gordon let me out without pulling into the driveway, and after offering a meek wave to my parents, drove off.

No, I had not been drinking. I blew into their faces my untainted breath, whose purity did practically nothing to abate my father’s fury. He kicked me in the back of my legs as I walked up the steps. Mama told me that Gordon’s mother had told her Gordon had gotten drunk last week and so had I. I fell for it, cursed Gordon’s mother, which resulted in an “ah-ha!” Mama said she had made that up to trick me. Now I think of it, she probably was lying herself, covering for Mrs. Wilson.

Lies beget lies.

My punishment: I was told that I could no longer be me. I had to start dressing like a preppy and to change my attitude.

But, of course, that was impossible. Like Bob Dylan had sung in that record going on ten years old, I was beyond their command. I did, though, have to go to school without a false front tooth for a month. Being a redhead and freckled, I looked like a skinny headed Alfred E Neuman. (By the way, that’s actually my head photoshopped on the male hula-hooping dancer on the comic).

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So I did suffer for my sins and still feel guilty for sending my mother on that wild goose chase. Let’s not forget that “The evil that men boys do live after them./The good is oft interred with their bones.”

*See first comment below.

Folly Beach Life, Ain’t the Good Life, But It’s My Life

Eddie Cabbage

Eddie Cabbage

Okay, I’m on the upstairs porch of Chico Feo the afternoon after a Screamin’ J’s Friday night gig listening to some jamming when Eddie Cabbage asks me if I would like a poem on demand.

I demur, but he insists.

Hank Weed suggests something that incorporates cancer and poison ivy, because Hank claims that last year he asked me how it was going, and I said, “I have a bad case of poison ivy, and, oh yeah, Judy has cancer.”

[cue the Coasters]: Going to need an ocean of calamine lotion (and fifty bags of chemo).

Before I share the poem, here’s Eddie at work yesterday.

And here’s the poem with the warning that the squeamish might find its imagery unpalatable.

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And here be the Screamin’ J’s