Partying During the Pandemic: Hubba, Hubba, Hubba, Hack, Hack

 

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Of course, whenever there’s a celebration on Folly Beach, I shed the fedora and don my pith helmet to study the folkways of the island’s men and women, whether they be our ancient, reptilian residents who seem to make up the majority of the population[1]; the younger year-round renters who often work in the food and beverage industry; the bourgeois house-renting vacationers; or the daytrippers, which include surfer dudes and dudettes, but mostly consist of young people eager to ditch their sobriety.  The question arose: what type of person (besides intrepid anthropologists) seeks out crowds during a pandemic?

I began my foray early, keeping at least six feet away from those as foolhardy to brave the great outdoors as I walked to Center Street via the beach. The strand itself was wind-swept, and the few cloud-bathers who braved the beach had placed their chairs and blankets on the leeward side of the concrete groins where they huddled and shivered. Most of the other beach strollers consisted of dog worshipers, who barely outnumber the host of young females who have chosen The Edge of America as the destination for their bachelorette parties.

Over the course of the day, I counted six different groups engaged in celebrating the waning days of some betrothed female’s singledom. Depending on the socio-economic situation, the attire of the ladies ranges from civvies to tee-shirts printed for the occasion. Although anthropologists are not supposed to let ethnocentric emotions like pity come into play, I felt sort of sorry for these chilly, less-than-festive seeming young women in short sleeves hugging themselves.  Who can blame them, having planned the events months ago not knowing it was going to be a Masque-of-the-Red Death weekend?

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Indeed, the numbers of revelers who decided to come out was scant. It was like, as Caroline noted, living in Charleston thirty years ago when parking spaces were plentiful and sidewalks easily traversed. I began and ended my fieldwork at Chico Feo with brief stops at the rooftop of Snapper Jack’s, St. James Island Pub, and the Sand Dollar Social Club (cash only).  Here’s a virtual visit for my social-distancing readers.

On a typical St Patrick’s Saturday on Folly, these venues would have been packed to, as they say, the gills.


[1] The overall median age of Folly residents is 49.7 years, 43.7 years for males, and 58.4 years for females.

 

Public Houses I Have Known and Loved

My mother’s side of the family — the Baptist side – considered alcohol an abomination, Satanic spittle concocted to rob the imbiber of his or her moral wits, or to shift to a perhaps more accurate metaphor, concocted to de-magnetize the self-polluter’s moral compass.

My father’s people, on the other hand, despite their Protestant names – Luther and Wesley – didn’t much adhere to Holy Writ. My mother – praise be — was a non-judgmental, fun-loving redhead with a heightened, countercultural aversion to self-righteousness, so she didn’t consider drinking sinful and enjoyed a Crown Royal and Coke on occasion.

Mama's childhood residence, the setting of one very unmerry Xmas

Mama’s childhood residence

Nevertheless, her father when he drank could be a belligerent drunk, and my own father reacted to alcohol in Jekyll/Hyde fashion — either he had you on the carpet rolling in laughter or cowering as he hurled some odd or end across the room. So I suspect that early in their marriage, Mama might have followed in her own mother’s footsteps and attempted to discourage my father from drinking.

Perhaps Mama’s antipathy to Daddy’s drinking explains how I ended up hanging out at bars at a very early age — even before I acquired language and therefore memory. These bar excursions must have occurred when we lived on Wentworth Street or when my parents lived at Clemson. The story goes (and my parents shared it together on numerous occasions to numerous audiences) that sometimes when Mama left me in Daddy’s care, he absconded with me in tow to the most obscure bar he could think of, only to have the phone ring there and the barman to ask if there were a Wesley Moore present. Daddy, according to this legend, awed by Mama’s preternatural ability to track him down, would come straight home to face the wrath of his red-headed Scotch-Irish wife.

No telling the impact the conviviality of taverns — the blinking pinball machines, the raucous laughter, the seductive perfumes, the voice of Nat King Cole on the jukebox — had on my tiny developing cerebral cortex. Some studies claim that exposing infants with their rapidly developing brains to classical music enhances math skills, so perhaps my exposure to cigarette smoke, vulgar jokes, and male camaraderie helped to develop my Dionysian social skills, my ability to strike up an amiable conversation to the occupant of my adjacent bar stool, whether he be a vacationing Wall Street bigshot at Rue de Jean or a bushy bearded homeless rummy at Chico Feo.

Truth be told, I like hanging out solo at what my ancestors called public houses.

The Pool Room

My first post-toddler bar/tavern/pub hangout was the S&S Sporting Center (aka the Pool Room) located on Main Street in my hometown Summerville. Although it wasn’t literally a tavern, Mr. George, his wife Monkey, and son Boise served draft and canned beers in an establishment that featured a long bar with at least twenty swivelable bar stools. I sat at that bar many a Saturday afternoon or summer day slurping down delicious chilidogs, sipping Cokes, eavesdropping on beer swilling rustics or wayward Episcopalians.

Scrupulously honest, the Pool Room proprietors demanded proof of age, and when you turned 18, handing your license to Boise as you ordered a draft was a rite of passage. You could go there by yourself and be sure to know someone — if even if were only Boise, who not only had a degree from Brevard College but who had also served his county in the arm forces. He was our hometown Hemingway, a stoic who had seen the world.

Once I hit college and my hair had reached my shoulders, I quit hanging at the Pool Room in the summers. The last time I remember being there, some white stranger with a Hendrix-sized jew-fro and tie-dyed tee shirt strolled in, and I overheard a native son say, “Let’s kick his ass before he puts one of them psycheee-DEL-ic records on the jukebox.”

Morris Knight’s

I don’t know how exactly to characterize Morris Knight’s. Because it was within walking distance from my house, and not far at all if you cut through the woods and later people’s yards, we would go there in the daytime to buy firecrackers. There was a bar with floor-attached stools and a coin-operated pool table. This was back in the days before pop tops, and I remember the bartender, a fat woman, opening the cans with a church key, puncturing two triangular openings across from one another. I’m pretty sure they didn’t serve draft.

I only went there at night once on a camping out excursion when I was in junior high, and the joint was rocking, as Chuck Berry might say. The odor of beer mixed with cigarette smoke was heavy in the air, and I saw a man staggeringly drunk try to traverse the narrow front room. Whoever ran the joint immediately ran us off when we tried to cop some firecrackers.

Later there was a place on the north side of town called the Teepee Lounge when I was in college, but I only patronized it a couple of times.

By then, we had started driving to Charleston to hang out at College of Charleston bars like Hogpenny’s or to the Isle of Palms to destinations now long gone.

USC Bars

IMG_1468Let’s see, the Campus Club, the Opus, the Second Level, Don’s, the Senate Plaza, Capitol Coal, Oliver’s Pub — and, of course, the Golden Spur where my late wife Judy Birdsong and I met as bartenders.

Located in the back of the student union building, what the Spur lacked in style — it felt sort of like a cafeteria — it made up in convenience and prices. Happy Hour beers cost 15 cents and a pitcher a dollar. Also, sometimes the Spur featured musical and comedy acts. Steve Martin performed there before anyone had ever heard of him, and I saw Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee play there for free. sonny-1

Being a bartender at the Spur made you sort of a minor celebrity around campus in that seeming strangers recognized you and called you by name, but I tended not to dig lots of the regulars, a few of who seemed to be nascent alcoholics. We had this irritating promotion where you’d by your own Golden Spur mug and carry with you to the bar and receive your first draft free.

In the dead summer time, when I was the only non-managerial bartender, some kids would come in at 11 and stay virtually all day and night. You could set your watch by their coming and going. Then in the high season during Monday Night Football or Columbia’s big party night Thursday, the place would be packed wall-to-wall, and occasionally you’d have to deal with belligerent drunks or puke-bespattered restrooms.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed my time there. It might be the best job I ever had.

Charleston Bars

Rue de Jean is my downtown hangout, and back before the pandemic, I’d show up there around 9:30 on the second Tuesday of each month after my book club dispersed. Although he no longer works there, what distinguished the Rue from any of the other bars was Mr. Steve Smoak, a world-class bartender who on a busy night moved with the grace of Nureyev as he glided over to grab a bottle and in one fluid motion scooped ice and poured while seeking eye contact with the next customer. When things weren’t busy, he was a witty raconteur, a cat who knew his way around, a latter-day Bosie, if you will.

Of course, the so-called City of Folly Beach probably has more bars per capita than any other municipality in the Palmetto State. I suggest the Surf Bar for visitors and the Jack of Cups for beer connoisseurs, the Sand Dollar for Saturday Night dancing, the eponymous Sunset Cay for marsh vistas, but, by far, my major hangout is Chico Feo, an outdoor Caribbean bohemian confab of the homeless, the homely, and the hip. The superb bartenders reach for an All Day IPA, which costs a mere 3 bucks, when they see me at a distance parking my bike.

Some of the clientele are down and out but seem happy, like characters from a Jerry Jeff Walker song. When I was teaching, I’d grade essays there on fair-weather Saturdays and Sundays. Once, my friend Greg, who was at the time homeless, chided me for grading my essays at the Jack of Cups when the temperatures were what I’d call uncomfortable. “You should grade them outdoors,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever sleep indoors ever again.”  He said it as if sleeping under a roof was somehow inhibiting.

“What about the winter,” I asked. “Don’t you get cold in the winter?”

“I have a sleeping bag,” he said and smiled and ordered another PBR.

The Krushtones + The Sand Dollar Social Club = Federico Fellini

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The Sound Track

One of the most pleasurable rites of spring celebrated in the Lowcountry each year occurs at the Sand Dollar Social Club on Folly Beach when the Krushtones take the stage for their annual April gig.

[Cue country preacher]: We’re talking glorification, brothers and sisters, talking bout light!

Krush-tones: (krùsh’- tõns) n. a band that features high-Watt[s] drumming; a bodacious bottom; a searing, eloquent guitar; and a latter day Jerry Lee Lewis on keyboards.

Joyous!

I swear, even if they were a mediocre band, the Krushtones’ taste is so exquisite I’d pay to hear the song sets. Al Green/Talking Heads, the Beatles, Stones, Chuck Berry. But mediocre they ain’t. They exude this palatable vibe of happiness that spreads in concentric circles as if a pearl has been dropped into a pool of sound.

Make you want to dance and holler hallelujah!

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The Venue

The Sand Dollar itself is difficult to categorize. As a private social club, it offers all of the exclusiveness of a subway station. One dollar secures you a year’s membership, but you can’t actually enter the club until 24 hours after your card has been issued. A typical Friday and Saturday night offers free live music, canned beer for a buck*, and and an eclectic clientele that, depending on the vibe the night you happen to be there, ranges from Felliniesque to Lynchian.

Bikers comprise a large contingent of the revelers, parking their Harleys (I don’t think I’ve ever seen a BMW) perilously close together out front like a chorus line of internally combustive Rockettes. I dread the day some reeling rummy trips and sets them crashing domino style one after the other. Years ago, before the bikers arrived, I had parked my VW minibus just in front of the designated space. When JB and I left for home, I was horrified to see at least twenty Harleys lined up about six inches from my back bumper and another car looming about a foot from my front bumper. Luckily, the fellow pictured below, a regular, helped me successfully to negotiate the scores of gear shifts, wheel turns, and progressions/reversals that liberated me from that straitened space.

*In 2014, a Bud will cost you $1.50

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Joining the bikers as a discernible group are the long-in-the-tooth dead-end hedonists, who can be subdivided into old hippies and old shaggers. These sybarites, who hated each other in high school (the former letting their freak flag[s] fly, the latter sliding sockless feet into their Bass Weejuns) have mellowed over the years and appreciate each other in their shared ethos of self-medication and the never ending but increasingly difficult quest of getting laid.

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A calico combination of others rounds out the squad – attractive, young preppies; South of Broad slummers; working folk shooting pool; the occasional bombastic prophet-of-doom blogger.

Lynchian vis-a-vis Felliniesque

What’s the distinction, you may wonder, between these two cinematic adjectives denoting surrealism?

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Although baroque, Fellini’s surrealism tends towards the comic/satiric. His Satyricon, for example, counterbalances sensuous shots with grotesque images of Late Empire overindulgence. Carnivalesque might be an appropriate approximation.

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Lynch’s surrealism is darker, a world of evil where the hideous co-mingle with grotesquely bland clichés of Americana, a la the image of above, where the sinister red-clad midget sits beside someone who looks like he may be employed as a hardware store clerk in a Norman Rockwell painting or the son of the couple depicted in Grant Wood’s American Gothic. Kafkalite-ish.

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If I had to choose between the hellish dilemma of spending eternity in a Fellini film or a Lynch film, I’d definitely opt for the former. Underneath all of the grotesqueness of Fellini lies a positive procreative impulse. Take “The Widow of Ephesus” segment of The Satyricon, for example, where a woman who has decided to starve herself in her husband’s tomb is seduced by a soldier guarding crucified corpses.

Now that’s what I call pro life.

Lynch, on the other hand, is anti-life. Not that his films aren’t hugely enjoyable and laugh-out-loud funny. Nevertheless, like the parents in Eraserhead, procreation begets monstrosity. You don’t want to bring a child into David Lynch’s world.

In short, a Felliniesque evening at the Sand Dollar is more pleasurable Lynchian evening,

Friday, 9 April 2010

I’m not making this up. During the Krushtones’ first set, I witnessed the departure of one of Charleston’s wealthiest septuagenarians and his seeing-eye trophy wife. She, a blonde, a head taller and thirty years younger, held his hand mommy-like as she led him through the throng. As they were leaving, three female dwarves dressed to the nines flowed past them and took their place at the corner of the stage. I repeat, I’m not making this up.

Lynchian or Felliniesque?

If Johnny Mac had been playing that night, a man deeply in love with the sound of his own guitar, or Jeannie Wiggins, trapped in the wrong gender, thumping serviceable rock to her adoring groupies, the karma might have darkened the brain chemistry that ultimately determines the existential nature of my world. However, with the Krushtones on stage, beaming, jumping, singing “Lady Madonna,” the positive vibration was infectious. Even the stern-faced bouncer who looks like the promotional US Marine of recruitment commercials cracked a smile.

Too bad the Krushtones were too young to play at Altamont.

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