That Was the Year That Was

One of the many Mongolians who didn't click on this site in 2014

One of the many Mongolians who didn’t click on this site in 2015

Thanks to all of ya’ll who clicked on the blog this year, which received 20.022 hits by visitors from 110 countries. I’d like especially to thank those solo souls in Lithuania, Guadeloupe, Liechtenstein, Ethiopia, the Isle of Man, Libya, Congo-Kinshasa, not to mention whoever it was in Papua New Guinea looking for porn who got sidetracked in Hoodooland.

Of course, several countries were no-shows, including predictable sourpusses like North Korea, Mongolia, and Greenland, but come on, Botswana, Paraguay, and Fiji, where’s your sense of adventure?

Happily, except for a death-haunted January that featured a stem cell transplant, 2015 was a big improvement over 2014, so I thought I’d offer a reprise of some of the most popular posts.

January

Although “Endangered Lowcountry SC Locutions,” featuring my mother and written exactly a week before my her death, was by far January’s the most popular post, I prefer “Super Bowl XLIX Preview,” which I could easily update this year by merely dropping those clunky Roman Numerals designating forty-nine for the sleek – dare I call them Arabic – numerals 5 and 0.

February

20140511_inq_jriordan11-bOne of the top news stories in February was an outbreak of measles at Disney World, which brought to light that luddites on both the far right and far left are not vaccinating their replicated DNA, so I produced this piece “Natural Selection at Work” that features not only a vintage photo of smiling polio victims but also a full color photo of an autistic dog.

February also brought us the Brian Williams scandal, which sent me into true confession mode. Dear Readers, believe it or not, I’m no stranger to “misremembering,” as the self-explanatory title “My Most Cherished Mismemory Debunked” testifies.

 

March

March came in like a lion with a very popular post, “Ten Literary Riddles.” If you don’t want to see the answers, don’t scroll down past number 10.”

April

granda-and-ted2What better way to celebrate a month dedicated to fools than a post entitled “A Brief Analysis of the Likability of 2016 Presidential Candidates,” which is so fair and balanced that Larry Sally, my most ardently Republican friend, says he more or less agrees with it.

I also caught Dylan in concert for the only-god-knows-how-manyeth-time, and “Review of Bob Dylan Concert 17 April 2015” got a ton of hits.

May

governor-watching-tvMay brought the news that Texas’s wheelchair bound governor was preparing the state for an invasion from the US Federal government, and I realized what a great movie it would make, hence, “The Invasion of Texas – Coming to a Theater Near You Soon!”

Like Donald Trump, I ain’t no fan of political correctness, as this piece “Political Correctness Academy” demonstrates.

 

June

Folly Beach, my adopted home barrier island, is a frequent subject, and this piece “Folly Beach’s Cat Lady, Potential Serial Killer” still generates some traffic on the site.

Also, in June, I got my hands on the uncorrected proofs of “Elijah’s Wald’s ‘Dylan Goes Electric,’” which was picked up by the mega Dylan website “Expecting Rain: Bob Dylan.” Wald himself weighs in with a comment on the post.

Alas, June also brought us the Charleston Massacre, and this post “Way Past Time” struck a chord.

I also finally got to go to a Jewish wedding: “My First Jewish Wedding.”

July

A lazy month that featured video of a hotdog eating contest (“Celebrating the 4th on Folly after the Alcohol Ban”), a paean to drive-in movies (“Enjoying Genocide at the Drive-in“), and more spoiled elite college student bashing (“America’s Culture of Hyperachievemnt among the Affluent).

August

donald-trump-750x455Oh my God, where has the summer gone? Life is short. I’ll be dead in no time. Better turn to the Good Book. And who better to lead a Bible lesson than the Donald: “Bible Study with Donald Trump.

September

Here’s a poem: “What Guilt Feels Like: A Series of Pickpocketed Similes,” an exercise in collage.

And a behind-the-scenes peek of my decadent lifestyle hanging out with beat poets at Chico Feo: “Folly Beach Life, Ain’t the Good Life, But It’s My Life.”

kaye-paulAnd I’m surprised this post didn’t catch on, a “Casting the Republican Primary Farce,” in which I find photos of dead movie/tv starts who are – drumroll – dead ringers for the Republican candidates.

October

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang upon those bows that shake against the cold, what better time than to go all nostalgic: “That Time I Threatened to Hang Myself If Student Housing Didn’t Transfer me out of That Dorm Suite I Shared with Antithetical Monsters.

November

Actually, not only do leaves not turn yellow where I live, they don’t even fall from the trees: “Whining on Thanksgiving.”

December

Which brings us to December, today, Christmas. I’ll give Santa the final word:

“Santa Agonistes.”

Naw, I get the final word. Thanks so much for reading. I sincerely appreciate it.

Dylan Deserves a Nobel Prize in Literature, Damn It!

In my book, Bob Dylan should win the Noble Prize for literature, and before you scholarly snobs start tsk-tsking that Dylan is a mere folk-singer-rock-star- minstrel, not a poet, let me share with you these gems from past Noble-winning poets.

In this world all the flow’rs wither,

The sweet songs of the birds are brief;

I dream of summers that will last

Always!

                         from “In This World” by Sully Prudhomme

Keep dreaming, Sully.  You’ve been dead for 107 years.  Here’s another:

The vase where this verbena is dying

was cracked by a blow from a fan.

It must have barely brushed it,

for it made no sound.

Evening sunshine never

Solace to my window bears,

Morning sunshine elsewhere fares;-

Here are shadows ever.

from “A Sigh” by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

No doubt it loses something in translation.

When I bring to you colored toys, my child,

I understand why there is such a play of colors on clouds, on water,

and why flowers are painted in tints

—when I give colored toys to you, my child.

from “Colored Toys” by Rabindranath Tagore

We can’t blame a bad translation on that one; it was originally written in English.

Ah but not the bottle, not the chicken,

Would I touch, however fine and tender;

Nothing but herself, but Fraulein Anna!

Her I’d set upon the pony, clasping

Both my arms around her, and would gallop

All along the street, along the village,

Up the hill, and stop at Friedli’s hostel –

Then we would be married in the autumn.”

from “Puberty” by Carl Spitteler

Compare the above with this:

Darkness at the break of noon

Shadows even the silver spoon

The handmade blade, the child’s balloon

Eclipses both the sun and moon

To understand you know too soon, there is no sense in trying

or this:

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind

Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves

The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach

Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free

Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands

With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves

Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

or this:

When Ruthie says come see her

In her honky-tonk lagoon

Where I can watch her waltz for free

’Neath her Panamanian moon

An’ I say, “Aw come on now

You must know about my debutante”

An’ she says, “Your debutante just knows what you need

But I know what you want”

or this:

It was Rock-a-day Johnny singin’, “Tell Your Ma, Tell Your Pa

Our Love’s A-gonna Grow Ooh-wah, Ooh-wah”

I rest my case!

 

220px-Bob_Dylan_-_Azkena_Rock_Festival_2010_2

A Very Short Plea to Listen to What You Read

I’ve decided to devote the scant few years left of my teaching career attempting to get readers to sound out the music of language.

I hate that multi-taskers register words as mere mute visual signs while some MP3 drowns out the onomatopoetic echoes that very well might make what they’re reading magical. Like, for example, the auditory drop you physically feel when you read Hardy’s lines, “Down their carved names/The rain drop plows.”

Say it outloud. Feel the drop drop from your palette into the empty air.

musicOr this from “The Waste Land”: “Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop.”

Say it outloud. Eliot’s mimicking the song of the wood thrush.

I hate the idea of a student sitting on a Green somewhere reading Ishmael’s killer opening riff of Moby Dick, his ears plugged with ear buds streaming Nick Drake into a brain that cognitive scientists claim hasn’t fully formed.

That can’t be good for you.

The Struggle Itself

Each weekday morning when Judy’s getting her 96-straight hours of EPOCH at Roper, I pull into the Doughty Street Parking Lot around 7,  just when the hospital staff switches from day to night shift. As I cross Doughty on foot, Judy’s morning paper in hand, I work against the oncoming pedestrian traffic of off-duty nurses, technicians, engineers, many in their uniforms. Nurses in their navy blue combinations and high-priced athletic shoes seem especially happy.  I see them walking in groups of three, smiling, chatting, heading to their cars. They work 3 day-12 hour shifts in a fulfilling profession; nevertheless they’re delighted at the moment to be free.

(Now, what do they do? Devour a delicious breakfast and slurp down a bloody mary before drifting off in front of the Today Show?)

Going with my flow, the on-coming staff marches in, but, even though they seem relatively eager to start work, their affect isn’t nearly as upbeat as their departing colleagues. Then again, we aint talking all doctors and nurses here. Some of these people’s jobs don’t seem fulfilling at all, like those men awkwardly manipulating box-stacked carts into narrow elevators, like those cafeteria workers breathing for hours the odor of hospital food, like the crew out front dealing with valet parking.

Their minutes probably crawl by.

MC Escher: Convex and Concave

MC Escher: Convex and Concave

Of course, I’m on the way to work myself to shift through dozens of emails before advisory, and if I’m brave enough, to peek at the day’s school calendar, an absurd, way-too-busy color-coded chart of lines and rectangles that look as if they could be the work of MC Escher. We ride a rotating schedule – either Week A or Week B — and when I arrive at work on a Friday morning, people often greet me with the salutation “Happy Friday” or comment sunnily “it’s Friday.” Some time during the day I’ll receive an email inviting me to a “happy hour” in some conveniently located spirit-stocked decompression chamber.

TGIF!

Mythically speaking, labor is one of Adam’s curses, punishment for his uxoriousness, his casting his lot with Eve instead of Yahweh, which brought death into the world and all our woe, e.g. work — in Adam’s case tilling “cursed ground” that produces “thorns and thistles” — in my case dealing with an educational agenda that might be likened to a jewel box of tangled necklaces — academics, sports, service, chapels, assemblies, advisories, peer reviews, study halls. Or think of circus clowns, not leaving a car one after another after another, but entering a car one after another after another.

Actually, I interpret the Eden myth as a story about the shift from hunting/gathering to agriculture, the shift from running around half naked to the natural pulse of the earth’s heartbeat to our settling down to the soul-crushing repetitiveness of the punch clock.  Thus, the knowledge of good and evil becomes the knowledge of how to cultivate plants from seeds, which many scholars believe was a discovery made by women, the gatherers of edible plants. And, of course, settled communities brought us the establishment of property and its evil twin poverty.  I maintain that Amazonian tribespeople untouched by Western civilization live more meaningful lives than the average American who watches five hours of TV a day.

There’s a cool Philip Larkin poem about what a bitch work is called “Toads.” It goes like this:

Toads

Why should I let the toad work

Squat on my life?

Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork

and drive the brute off?

 

Six days of the week it soils

With its sickening poison-

Just for paying a few bills!

That’s out of proportion.

 

Lots of folk live on their wits:

Lecturers, lispers,

Losels, loblolly-men, louts-

They don’t end as paupers;

 

Lots of folk live up lanes

With fires in a bucket,

Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-

They seem to like it.

 

Their nippers have got bare feet,

Their unspeakable wives

Are skinny as whippets-and yet

No one actually starves.

 

Ah, were I courageous enough

To shout Stuff your pension!

But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff

That dreams are made on:

 

For something sufficiently toad-like

Squats in me, too;

Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,

And cold as snow,

 

And will never allow me to blarney

My way to getting

The fame and the girl and the money

All at one sitting.

 

I don’t say, one bodies the other

One’s spiritual truth;

But I do say it’s hard to lose either,

When you have both.

 

I’m with you, Philip. After listening to my litany yesterday about how frustrating teaching has become in the age of technology,  a colleague asked me why didn’t I retire.  A reasonable question given the frustrations I had just catalogued – parents having access to the grades I post on the website, shooting me emails that proliferate like mushrooms while I’m bouncing from meetings to covering detentions or contacting the help desk because the projection wire in one of the rooms where I teach doesn’t work.

Why don’t I retire?  Because I don’t want to. I eventually get bored in the summers if I’m not traveling or working on a project. I like interacting with students, instructing them about the bane of unnecessary linking verbs and the sloppiness of the “naked this” — not to mention the fun introducing them to the Wife of Bath or riding with them up the Congo with Marlow as we steam towards Mistah Kurtz.

It’s like what Camus says in “The Myth of Sisyphus.” –

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Sisyphus-e1298413740742

Nassau Street Dub

Here’s the dub version of “Nassau Street Song,” copyrighted in 1987 by University of South Carolina Press

Click the arrow above for sound.

 

Mad Luke went down to the shanty town

To find the mon dat stole he wife.

With whiskey on he pantin’ breath

And wit he brother switch blade knife.

 

He be so mad he blood do scald

And tears gush out he bloodshot eyes.

He curse de two dat cause de strife

Still hoping’ dat it be a lie.

 

But in he heart he know it true –

He seen de looks dat she be given’.

He see dat mon a-hangin’ round.

He heard the wimmins whispering.

 

So he run down the street a-wailin’

Swearin’ he gwine put den underground.

De other folk look out dey door

To see what make dat devil sound.

 

When he get back to he own house

He kick de lock door open wide.

And there in bed be he own wife

With another mon by her side.

 

They rumble in dat shanty house.

Luke cut de mon, den cut he wife.

Dat bedroom be all colored red

Dat just last month been painted white.

 

De police siren scream through town

and lights was flashing everywhere.

And when the police squad show up,

Dey shocked to find that Luke still there.

 

Dey put den two under de ground.

They took mad Luke to the prison farm,

And now them two can’t cause no strife,

And now mad Luke can’t cause no harm.

Osmond Watson, "City Life"

Osmond Watson, “City Life”

Disorder Above Key West

Image

Click the grey arrow above for sound

 

I lifted my head and croaked

Like a crow, and the nails

Vibrated with something like music . . .

James Dickey, “A Folk Singer of the Thirties”

1

Henry David Dobson

Out of action, losing traction,

I slid down South, a bad mistake.

Florida is flat, crawling with con men,

rattlesnakes, swamps, and tattooed

waitresses who call you “Sugar Britches.”

 

Shooting for Key West, got waylaid in Mayo,

Way down upon the Suwannee River,

A taint of a town (tain’t panhandle,

tain’t peninsula), impoverished

in more ways than one.  No fun.

 

Met Loquacia at a juke joint call’d Phas 2,

a concrete block shit hole

not far from the “Bo Gator Motel” where

I was staying – not clean, not well-lighted –

and my money was dwindling.

 

Loquacia was into iguanas, had them

inked all over her skin, crawling up

her back from butt crack to shoulder

blade and up over down betwixt her tits

crawling down under disappearing into her panties.

 

Just got one tat, the name of my dead son,

Thom, one letter from left to right

in the crotches between my fingers.

I open my hand and spread the span,

and poof! his name appears in Gothic.

 

Anyways, I spent my days scrounging,

hooked up, thanks to L, with this cat who claimed

to be from JA, Mo-Bay, but could have been

some South Carolina geechie for all I know,

but he paid me good to make a run.

 

Seems he supplied some squids

at the base up in Jacksonville.

2 kilos of what the geechie calls ganga

stowed in the trunk of my Chevy

in duffel bags. What could go wrong?

 

Long story short.  I’m writing this

from the Duval County Jail.  Loquacia

ain’t darkened the door.  Silver lining,

my rap sheet ain’t that bad: shoplifting,

public drunkenness, simple possession.

 

Working with a public defender, an

idealistic Jewish girl named Rachel.

She asked me about the tats, and sort

of teared up, she did.  Maybe she can get

me off – and by that I mean out of jail.

 

Anyways, here I sit, way

out of action, with absolutely no

traction. a semi-literate Oscar Wilde,

waiting for my upcoming trial

where I’ll sing like Joan Baez.

2

Durwood Jett

Took the back roads to Tallahassee

to avoid the monotony of mile markers,

dead armadillos, and exit signs.

Took the back roads and took my time.

 

Didn’t make it quick enough to see him die,

but my step-mama filled me in,

sucking on a Marlboro like a man,

“A horrible death, a horrible death,” she said,

over and over, shaking her head.

 

I didn’t know what to say. “Too bad.”

“He fought it hard,” she said, “screamed

‘Get that Gotdamn light out of my face,’

then up and passed.”  She’d took a picture

and showed it to me.  Looked like

all dead people look – his eyes froze,

his mouth froze open like a fish.

 

No, my daddy and me didn’t get along,

the house not big enough to hold

the two of us.  Like in that

Springsteen song.  We’d cuss each other

and sometimes come to blows.  Of course,

me 35, half his age, been able whip him

for a while.  He sure whipped me

back then before, cracking a buckled belt.

 

Can’t quite pity the poor dead bastard,

laying there waxy with his hair slicked back

in that Sears and Roebuck suit, striped tie,

his mouth glued closed, his eyes glued shut.

 

His daddy beat him, and that daddy

beat that daddy before that.  I ain’t

got no offspring, but got my own

business, mind my own business,

so I have the time to take my time,

to take the back roads, to avoid

traffic, to miss all them 18-wheelers in a hurry

to reach them warehouses they can’t abide.

3

Chuckie Brent

When Jimmy Jeffcoat’s meth lab blew,

me and Tiny Wade was smoking a joint

back behind outside the Stop and Go.

 

Boom.  One blast.  BOOM.  Tiny jumped

about a foot and a half, like a bullet or bigger

was headed his way.  “Got damn, what was that?”

I told him I reckoned a transformer blew,

or maybe a sonic boom? but then we heard a siren’s

whoop-whoop and knew that something bad was up.

 

“For sure, it ain’t no Islamic terrorist,” I joked.

“Ain’t nothing in this shitty skank ass town

worth the trouble of blowing up.”

 

* * *

 

We still ain’t recovered from that tornado

two years ago. The kids gone off to college

ain’t never coming back.  Tallahassee, Orlando,

Atlanta  – they got movie theaters and restaurants.

Their parks ain’t littered with them empty canisters

the teens been huffing on all night long.

 

* * *

 

I hear they hauled Jimmy down to Duval County.

He lost his dog and parrot, both burnt to a crisp,

that parrot that perched and shat on Jimmy’s shoulder,

like Jimmy was some long lost landlocked pirate.

“Arrggh,” Jimmy’d growl,” and the parrot’d go

“Arrggh” over and over. I swunny it got old.

 

I suspect Jimmy ain’t laughing right now,

and I know for sure the parrot ain’t,

and that dog won’t keep me up ever again

barking his chained-up ass off all night long.

 

Yep, the sun comes up, and the sun goes down,

And there’s one less loser in this podunk town.

4

Rachel Feldman

Oh, Leah, I’d resign tomorrow

if I could steel myself and endure

mom’s patronizing, smug, I-told-you-so,

but no, I’ll continue to slog my way

through this damned Despond of Despair,

continue to suffer our insufferable DA.

No, I’m good at least for one more year,

my own self-imposed sentence you might say.

 

It’s almost always drugs.  Smack, crack

meth, Ecstasy.  With the resources

we waste prosecuting weed, we could feed

so many food insecure kids.  We need

to get them out of those trailers

into pre-K if this unrelenting

cycle of poverty is ever to cease!

We’re talking Dorothea Lange like squalor here.

 

Let me tell you about these two clients of mine,

Jimmy Joshua Jeffcoat and Henry David Dobson,

as different as night and day, but in

a similar plight.  Unable to make their bail,

they share the same cell.  Jeffcoat’s a creep,

with pitted methadonic teeth.

Dobson, on the other hand, reads Oscar Wilde

and flashes a crooked grin of orthodontic white.

 

Jeffcoat’s doomed to serve at least seven,

if not more, but Dobson wants, as he says,

“a jury of my peers to decide.”  Who knows?

He’ kind of charismatic.  DOB 4/1/75.

He sports a full head of slicked back hair.

A ruddy face, creased, furrowed, but kind.

I’d say he’s suffered way too much sun,

and a few too many dark nights as well.

 

He calls me “Miss” in a formal sort of way,

and he’s practically tattooless, the only one

his dead son’s name, in between his fingers,

upside down from our perspective.

 

Yes, I guess he could be gay, though I hadn’t

thought of that.  But, yes, you’re right, the tat

is indeed a man’s name, and yes, Wilde, could be,

but if I had to bet, I’d bet he’s straight.

 

When this gig’s over, I’ll bugaloo back

to Boca, having done my time.

Might go to grad school, SCAD, get an MFA

in photography.  I’ve learned being a lawyer

is not for me.  Should have listened to my

heart instead of my mom.  Oh, sure, she’s proud

of what’s she made of me, my Ivy League degree,

her youngest brand name of a daughter.

5

Bobby Lee Thornhill

“Please help me help yourself,” my PD said.

“A little remorse could go a long, long way.

Even if you don’t really feel it,

Try feigning it, you know, like an actor in a play?”

 

“No ma’am, I can’t.  I won’t.  In fact,

I’d love to kill him all over again.

Watch him jump when I pump

them shells in place, watch his face go white,

them tiny rodent eyes terrified

as I suggest he pray –

“Boom – “before he can mutter ‘Our Father’ – boom –

bits of brain and skull splattering

sticking to the concrete block wall behind.

 

“No ma’am, remorseful I am not.”

 

Some icy thing shot up her spine,

like she was looking at Satan himself.

 

“It’s cause what he done to that

little girl,”  I said.

 

She shivered again

and crossed her hands across her chest.

6

Henry David Dobson

When I put my hand upon that bible

(its old leather cover was cracked),

I wondered how many hands, both black and white,

were as steady as mine taking that oath.

 

I slowly raised my right hand and swore

to tell the truth, the whole truth,

nothing but the truth – so help me God.

I said it as if the Lord was as real as you and me.

I looked each juror softly in the eye,

the way Jesus might, if he was on trial.

 

* * *

 

They claimed I had to know the 4  kilos

were hidden in those bags, mashed

under wads of dirty clothes.

 

“No, sir, I did not,” I said. “I swear,

I did not know, would have hid

them better if I had.”

 

The fat man snarled; his sarcasm dripped,

“We’re supposed to believe you didn’t look?”

“No sir,  I don’t believe in snooping

through other people’s property.”

The fat man lost his cool, sensing he might lose,

raised his voice, “What about the smell?

The patrolmen could smell it, the K-9s went wild.”

 

I sighed an exhausted sigh and said,

“With all due respect, sir, I’m no dog;

plus I lost me some olfactory in the Iraqi war.

You can check my records on that,” I said.

 

* * *

 

My PD, she played a role as well,

was less a Yankee, more of a good ol’ gal.

She appealed to the jury’s sense of fair play.

 

“Let us hope,” she said, hand on heart,

“we have not come to that sad day

when we’re so cynical

we ‘re incapable of

mustering a reasonable doubt

in favor of a fellow human being.

“He could be your brother or son.

Let us hope we can still manage

to muster a reasonable doubt.”

 

* * *

 

There’s nothing quite like getting out of jail.

You feel so free it’s almost worth

getting locked up to get out again.

You look up and see clouds overhead,

and in your car with the windows rolled down,

you can feel the wind blow back your hair

as you bid adieu to that goddamned town.

You’re free to take this road or that,

free to head north, south, east, or west,

free to holler a rebel yell – you’re free again –

on ’95 headed south to Key West.