254. A state of lethargy

We took a bus trip over the Thanksgiving holidays. South, my friends, to Savannah, Georgia. It was nice to be in the South. Folks seem a lot friendlier and courteous. They also drink a lot, I noticed. You can get a carry cup at the bar so you never have to leave half a beer behind you, or in front of you if you walk out backwards. This seems like a good idea until you notice that out on River Street there are guys with full beers staggering along the cobblestones and singing badly as they approach you, your wife and daughter.  Looking at it that way, you know it may not be such a great idea.  Some ideas look better going away from you than coming at you.  “Go Dawgs!! Whoohoo!!!” On top of this imminent danger hover the various steep, very worn slate, historic steps that rise about thirty feet to the upper level of Bay Street. newsflash 1: I guess you can’t fall up them. newsflash 2: drunks always seem to have soft landings anyway.

It was a nice reprieve from the sucky weather we’ve been experiencing up north lately. You know how tense you get just from being in the damp cold? Then you walk into a warm restaurant or store and ahhhh, you instinctively relax. Seems pretty simple really. And we did just this at various points of interest. The lovely cathedral of St. John the Baptist was one long ahhhh for us as we meandered along viewing the stained glass and murals. I forget which saint it was who was carrying his own head in his hands. His halo was empty. It appeared to be an overhead shot of a pilsner beer placed on the shoulders of a man walking along with his head in his hands. Sort of like the drunks on River Street from the night before. Funny how the most bizarre stuff is what you remember.

On River Street an old guitar player named Walter engaged us and persuaded us to listen to him play his guitar and sing some toothless blues songs. He invited my daughter to sing with him. She obliged and sang “What a Wonderful World” alongside Walter. He never asked for money but we knew the drill and happily put some in his can. Where he had strategically placed himself possessed some strange acoustics. Somehow it produced an echo in the little brick circle where he stood. Walter explained that there was an old tunnel underneath that spot which accounted for the strange echoing. “When I’z a boy, we ud break on into it, yeah, till they covered it up. Dats wheya da echo be com from.” I asked him to sing Sam Cook’s “A Change is Gonna Come”. He complied in a voice that wheezed like a rusted out muffler on an old Chrysler Imperial.

On Thanksgiving evening we ate dinner at Paula Deen’s restaurant, The Lady and Son. The food was good, buffet style. The wait staff were fabulous, like Disneyworld employees, smart and gracious, good looking, young and talented. What surprised me was the fact that roughly half of the customers were black. I had assumed, incorrectly, that with all the bad racist publicity that surrounded Paula Deen two years ago blacks would not support  her. Happily, I was wrong. I guess forgiveness is the business of business.  In any event I felt good leaving the restaurant/store and waddling back to our hotel. I am a fan of forgiveness and  second chances. I don’t believe in perfection.

You know, if you eat a lot and take bus rides everywhere, you gain weight. I figure that I put on a half pound per day with the extra food and deficit of exercise. It was a challenge to eat more than twice a day with the rich food and abundant availability. All your energy goes toward trying to digest the three egg omelet with everything on it plus the bagel and bacon with hash browns and grits breakfast. On the bus we sat like 29 upright pythons trying to digest what we’d gorged on. Fortunately we had limbs to brace us on turns. Still, with negligible blood flow to our brains, a state of lethargy crept in, slowing our breathing, dropping eyelids, inviting somnolence. A serpent of sleep constricted our brains gently, rocking along with the hum of radial tires across an asphalt carpet. ZZZZZZZZZZZ

Lethe was one of the five rivers of Hell in the Greek myths. here’s some cool background info on it…

In Greek mythology, Lethe /ˈlθi/ (Greek: Λήθη, Lḗthē; Ancient Greek: [lɛ́:tʰɛː], Modern Greek: [ˈliθi]) was one of the five rivers of Hades. Also known as the Ameles potamos (river of unmindfulness), the Lethe flowed around the cave of Hypnos and through the Underworld, where all those who drank from it experienced complete forgetfulness. Lethe was also the name of the Greek spirit of forgetfulness and oblivion, with whom the river was often identified.

In Classical Greek, the word lethe literally means “oblivion”, “forgetfulness”, or “concealment”.[1] It is related to the Greek word for “truth”, aletheia (ἀλήθεια), which through the privative alpha literally means “un-forgetfulness” or “un-concealment”.

I find etymology fascinating, my bloggentas. Some words carry rich histories in their letters, speaking deeper than mere surface connection. But  here we were crossing the Savannah River and entering an entire state of lethargy. And what we forgot is maybe more important that what we remembered. Ahh, stress for one. Forget it. And who won the Civil War? Who cares? If blacks and whites eat elbow to elbow at Paula Deen’s on Thanksgiving, it turned out well. And bitterness, resentment, class consciousness, indignity, who needs them? Let’s all forget some more. Four things were forbidden in the original charter of Savannah– slavery, lawyers, Catholics and Jews, and liquor. Eventually all would be allowed due to self interested pragmatism. There’s a shocker. Oh well, go back to sleep children. We’ll be there soon.



233. On Vacation

So we were vacationing on the Florida panhandle last week. It’s funny how time seems to change when you move down a few latitudes and across a few longitude lines. You lose or pick up an hour, depends on how you look at it, when you cross an invisible line near western Georgia, I think. And then as you relax in the pool or on the beach, your internal clock goes silent because your ear drums relax and your vocal chords go slack. The tree frogs croak when it’s dark and mockingbirds chirp when it’s dawn. That’s all you need to know. Slow down, blog clowns.

The Deep South is just about tropical. There are a whole lot of water bodies down there– swamps, creeks, streams, puddles, rivers, ponds, lakes, lagoons, and the huge Gulf of Mexico. Naturally there’s a commensurate level of humidity, about a billion gallons per cubic mile, which makes moving in and out of air conditioning an acute experience either way. One morning I stepped out onto our third floor balcony at 7 a.m. I was engulfed in a heavy soup of moisture in that small space. Imagine if Queen Latifah had twin sisters who all mashed you into a family reunion group hug after exiting a sauna. Now take that image and cover it in melting marshmallow crème head to toe. Roll it all in a tortilla and toast it. Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about.

Kids were everywhere at the gated and very safe resort. No kidnappings were reported during our stay. I did have two interesting experiences at the pools, however. One direct and one indirect, okay I eavesdropped. While in the hot tub a father/son combo came by. The boy was talking about all drugs being bad. His father corrected him. “Son, the ones a doctor gives you are good for you.” To which his son rejoined, “Justin Bieber uses drugs, Dad, and he’s bad.” His dad chuckled and went to check on a younger child, leaving his innocent son jabbering to me in a lilting southern accent.

“Justin Bieber wears girls shoes and make up. Did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“He takes drugs to schools too.”

“I didn’t know that either.”

“He’s bad. He acts like a girl, a bad girl.”

“Well I don’t know the Beebs very well.”

“Do you like baseball?” and off he went on another tangent.

The second conversation was between a very aggressive and articulate youngish mother and her sullen preteen daughter. The tone and intensity were something you might hear in a courtroom. Mom did all the talking. Seems that the daughter had been on her phone/computer all week long, ignoring the other sullen preteen girl who was presumably a cousin or friend.

“You’ve been in front of a screen the entire time, Honey, and it’s disturbing. You don’t know how to interact without that technology. I want you to just be human, talk, ride bikes, swim. But you treat your phone like it’s your very heart. Now I know Daddy and Uncle Jim are techno nerds, and they spend all their time in front of a screen. They think it’s normal to live like this, but it’s not. They’re IT engineers, Honey.  It’s slowly destroying their social skills, and I don’t want that for you. Promise me you’ll stay off the phone or I’ll take it and keep it for the rest of the week. Promise me you’ll talk with Megan. Okay? I’m so worried about you turning into a robot like your father.”

“Okay, Mom!!”  And they both sulked away, back to their dysfunctionality.

Now karaoke is an okay thing to do. We decided on our last evening at the resort to attend Friday karaoke at the little bar/restaurant around the corner. It was okay, I guess. But I noticed that families with small children were eating and drinking there. It seemed weird to me that little kids shuffled about while grown up strangers drank hard liquor at the bar. At around 7 pm the dysfunctional d.j. got his gear going and began calling for the folks who had signed up to sing. It was an eclectic bunch. There was an older woman at the table next to the stage. She sang a country tune, maybe “All My Exes Live in Texas”. Then her young adult daughters eventually followed her lead. One sang Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” while trying to look sexy. The other daughter actually did a nice job with a deeper sort of song I have forgotten. Along the way kids under ten years of age sang “Let it Go” from the Disney movie Frozen and “Happy” from Pharrell the Dude.  Awkward and yet cute collided, and I kept wondering “Aren’t there laws against having little kids in active bars?” Apparently not in Florida. Anyway, my daughter sang two Adele songs and did her usual nice work, but wouldn’t you know it? One of the little tykes sang a second “Rollin’ in the Deep” after Jess. Eight year olds should not be permitted to sing Adele songs. It’s creepy not cute.

I drank two Blue Moon beers. My limit. Naturally I had to use the bathroom and I asked the waitress where the facilities were. “Go out to the lobby and take the elevator to the second floor. They are down the hall to your left.” I was a bit surprised. I’ve used upstairs bathrooms before, but I thought sending tipsy people on an elevator to go potty was a bad idea. What if they get sick along the way?  Anyway I did as she said. I took the elevator up to the second floor and got off. It was weird. Apparently there had been a sports bar up there at one time. It was roped off and taped off now like a CSI crime scene. Plus the a/c was not working on that floor, so as you exited the elevator you were hit with a twenty degree increase in temperature and a 200 % increase in humidity. The dark wood and dirty red carpet were depressing, as if they held murder clues mixed with old beer and dried blood smells. I turned left since the other directions were cordoned off. I went into the men’s bathroom reluctantly, feeling as if some presence were lurking about this place. It was so quiet and stagnant at the same time. I half expected to find a dead body slumped over the toilet. No such luck, but the creep factor was strong. Then back to the elevator to travel ten feet down into a family friendly bar. At least it was cool downstairs.

Of course there were good moments, but I tend to recall the bizarre ones. They are more interesting, dontcha think?


231. Uninspired Torpidity 1961


Inspire conjures up the act of breathing, breathing in some magic spirit like freedom that leads to the creation of something new. But that breath does not always show up, just like perfect crystalline days don’t show up too often here in Central Pennsylvania. Many days are smudgy with all the humidity loitering in the warm air. Old timers blame all the trees that grow here for the moist weather. They expire, the trees and the old guys do… and I don’t get their reasoning. However, when the dew point moves past 60, muggy is the word. I sort of like the criminality of that weather word, as if the very air is forcibly robbing us with nothing more than a sweaty hand in its saggy pocket.

“Stick’m up, pardners! This here is a wet robbery. I got a big old squirt gun under this paper bag. Plus, I got a fat lady with a wet wool blanket ready to squeeze  you taight if you don’t behave.  Ya’ll been sweatin’ up a bunch of stink. You’ns can put your arms down now. Whew. I’m just muggin’, okay? Nobody needs to get hurt here if you just slow down and act like some good ole Alabamians. Get you some tea and put your feet up in a shady spot. There ya go. Just procrastinate a while. Live in the past. Drink a lot of liquor.”

Whether or not you like it, weather is not that polite or predictable. It swarms in over night and saturates the local atmosphere. No negotiations.  The combination of heat and humidity can stultify a man’s brain, leaving him uninspired, a locked vault door behind which are wonderful treasures piled high. We can’t have this outcome, bloggitties. A psychic thunderstorm must well up and conquer this wet blanket of oppression. We cannot tolerate weather thugs with bags on their heads mugging us.

 Ah, much better. Refreshing actually. But is it enough to turn over the inspiration ignition?  Let’s see. “Vrrr, rrrr,rrrr, room, room, room.” Alright! I’m breathing hard and deep. Ready to run a creative marathon. Maybe just finish this post. We’ll see.

So, I’ve been observing lately that doubt precedes faith, which precedes proof or facts, and then eventually along comes validation. The other night I was watching a show about The Freedom Riders in the 1960’s Deep South. What heroic folks they were. They knowingly boarded Trailways and Greyhound buses for Montgomery, Alabama and Jackson, Mississippi in order to be arrested at their destination and put into prison on bogus racially discriminatory charges. Along the way they were often beaten or nearly killed. In Mississippi they were put in an infamous prison and forced into hard manual labor or death row accomodations. And still more came, flooding the prison. In the film footage I watched, the Freedom Riders looked curious and resolute but never scared. They complied nonviolently with hostile morons in police uniforms who believed in or belonged to the KKK. Somehow the Freedom Riders stayed united in spirit, unbroken in their faith that they would prevail along with justice. The native whites reminded me of nauseating Nazis off the leash, unrestrained. How on earth did that unjust oppression work for so long against so many? Makes me wonder if we have a similar atrocity building up today that is merely tolerated and buried in the back pages of our news. There is no shortage of ignorance or guns in our country after all.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the Kennedy brothers looked for political solutions. They did not want to turn the conflict into federal versus states’ rights. Backing southern governors into a corner only fueled the anti-federal government feelings already at fever pitch in Old Dixie.  The rule of law had to come from their pens not from the elitist East Coast Kennedys or the Supreme Court. The south refused to recognize the fact that Jim Crow laws were found to be unconstitutional. They simply continued on as usual. The political humidity built and built past muggy into severely oppressive, into  total saturation. Southern torpidity was complete; a fresh wind had to blow through like a tornado and turn shacks and shanties upside down. And that is what happened.

The fresh cool wind was actually comprised of committed black and white Americans on buses and then trains heading south, into the torpid wall of resistance and ignorance. Cold dry air slamming into hot moist air creates tornados which create havoc and destruction. Yes indeed, as in mother nature so too in human nature. The two forces collided and both moved.

On May 14, Mother’s Day, in Anniston, a mob of Ku Klux Klansmen, some still in church attire, attacked the first of the two buses (the Greyhound). The driver tried to leave the station, but was blocked until KKK members slashed its tires.[8] The mob forced the crippled bus to stop several miles outside of town and then firebombed it.[9][10] As the bus burned, the mob held the doors shut, intending to burn the riders to death. Sources disagree, but either an exploding fuel tank[9] or an undercover state investigator brandishing a revolver[11] caused the mob to retreat, and the riders escaped the bus. The mob beat the riders after they escaped the bus. Only warning shots fired into the air by highway patrolmen prevented the riders from being lynched.


I wonder what the sermon was on that Mother’s Day that those Klansmen had heard? I don’t ever recall hearing a call to arms in all my 58 years of going to church. Never heard one that urged me to hate my neighbor or to kill my perceived enemy. Rather, I recall being urged to love my neighbor and my enemy, to seek justice and to give mercy.

Eventually the federal troops arrived; desegregation began in earnest; and the humidity of stupidity began to drop below muggy for the first time in 350 years.