328. Vacate the Premises

A few times per year I need to vacate the premises. It gets chilly, plus too much continuous time in Turtle Town, like secondhand smoke, may be hazardous to my health. I know this because short bursts of time in Turtle Town make me a danger to self and others, so it only makes logical sense that longer periods of time simply aggravate the aggravation, gravitating toward a grave situation.  My butt gets deflated and spreads out like peanut butter on a warm summer day. My hips cry out for support, but none comes, not even Tom Brady. My protruding pelvic bones imprint shuffleboard cue stick marks on my leather office chair, skeletal remains are all that remains… or maybe I’m just hallucinating again. If you listen to paranoid clients long enough, you need Haldol too.Image result for person melting in lava

Either way you just know when it’s time to leave town. It’s like knowing when you have to turn off the Neil Young song train before you hang yourself with the power cord next to your I pod dock. [CSI investigator Bob… “Looks like he was listening to Down By the River.”  Ed, “This much sadness it too much sorrow…” Bob, “Yeah, it’s impossible to make it today.” ]  This is just good self care, Blogobblers. So, off we went to the true South, where grits and alligators live in harmony, that is if no ducks connect them. Add one stinking duck, however, and the feathers fly. The duck eats the grits, the alligator eats the duck, and the grits eat… uh, let me get back to you on this one. (Think!! What do grits eat? Alligator poop, that’s gotta be it.)

Last year it was Savannah, Georgia we graced and were graced by. (We  also visited Jekyl Island and the beach nearby.  It was a-gracing maze where the wealthiest Americans once roosted in the winters… Roosevelts and Rockefellers and the Burritos.) Walking around the city of squares and live oaks covered by Spanish moss and sordid gossip, we gaped and gasped and gulped at the jaded beauty of it all… lovely and culturally osmotic how that Southernness crosses the air/skin barrier and gets into your very marrow. In mere moments you begin drawling, “Ya’ll good folk, bless your little Rebel hearts.  Come on and give yo’ Mama a big ole hug. Look at that po’ homeless panhandler, Junior . Izn’t he precious? Give’m a dollar, Sugar. Ya’ll got nuff tea to melt yo sugar? We can double fry that Oreo cookie for you.” After an hour you’re singing Dixie and talking NASCAR with religious fervor. “In Dixie Land make a left hand turn, Look away, away.”

This year our destination was Charleston, S.C.  Folks, I am blog-plugging this city, though they don’t need my plug. Our tour guide told us Charleston is the Number One tourist destination in the USA. I can’t argue with a man who drives two mules and a carriage through a three hundred year old city without hardly watching. (See that? I tossed in a smooth Southern double negative there.) It became clear that Savannah was the little brother, the distant cousin to the throne of this historic bling. Wow!! The old city of Charles Town grew by filling in marshlands that had functioned as the municipal dump. Land was scarce, so many of the Charleston buildings of a certain age are one room wide, three stories high, and go deep in their narrow lots.

 Now you’re with me, huh?  Notice the open porches, piazzas, Baby!  In subtropical temperatures and humidity levels this was a breezy form of free air conditioning. Still is. Charming. Naturally you’d have to get along with your next door neighbors when you hang out so closely without electricity or television.  No wonder Southerners are famous for their nice manners. Sardines are also known for their quiet compliance once laid in tins full of oil, which is what the humidity levels feel like in August in Charleston. I’ve never heard of a sardine bar fight. Have you?

The John C. Calhoun House was beyond words. The current owner has taken artsy hoarding to Olympic levels. Priceless, one of a kind, irreplaceable, bubble over your mind’s cognitive dam as your senses are totally bombarded by perceptions and information. I never took LSD but I imagine its effects would be like a tour of the Calhoun House– psychedelically endless and ultimately unknowable– Tiffany lamps, Russian Czar silver, Chinese incense burners big enough to cook a whole pig. “Yeah, I tripped out there once…like Vegas in a snow globe, Man, or Jimi Hendrix’s walk in closet. Totally trippy and synaptically  sizzling. Words fail, Man. Dig it?”

It wasn’t till the next day at Boone Hall Plantation that the economic engine for all this magnificent wealth stepped clearly out of the antebellum fog. 13 brick slave quarters line the driveway up to the mansion house.

Three hundred and fifty year old live oaks shade the sandy lane but cannot hide the stain of slavery. Hundreds of Africans were run through and run down on this soil, making attempts at  producing rice, cotton, indigo, bricks, pecans and a host of other crops. The extant mansion house was actually built in 1935, so it’s a bit of an anachronism. It’s an odd spirit that settles in after you visit a few of these vacated cabins. They were well built with bricks and ceramic roof tiles made on the plantation when a German family owned it all. It is a strange premise that work will set you free. Where have I heard that before? There is that neat, orderly German thing going on where precise engineering went into producing things while not a drop of humanity was spilled exploiting human beings. A darkness builds as you visit each cabin and realize that the imperial wealth of nearby Charleston was extracted from the sinews and marrow of slaves.

Old-slave-mart-facade-sc1.jpg  The shame is not simply a Southern burden, though, even if Neil Young says it was. “I saw cotton and I saw black, tall white mansions and little shacks…Southern man when will you pay them back?”  Well, just like the darn duck in the earlier allusion, somebody bought all that cheap cotton. And somebody sailed those slave ships. And somebody bought all the slave made products at rock bottom prices. The market place was not the South. It was the disapproving, highly moral, can’t resist a bargain world that kept the slaveholders in business. Hmmmm. How about that? Not sure much has changed since the official end of slavery. The world still chooses to look away, look away, look away from the misery beneath the bargains we capitalized consumers enjoy.

I know that free market folks like to speak of the freedom that capitalism has inspired, how it has modernized and improved living conditions for the masses. I’m just not sure how I’m going to be real with the enslaved workers who made my cheap cotton t-shirts and socks when I meet them in heaven. Someone may have to vacate the premises.

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326. Falling

Fall’s muddy footprint is pressing into the wet, gray landscape of my soul, and I don’t like it one bit. I am one of the foolish melancholics who complains about the weather. It’s fruitless, blogglers, but I still do it. Unproductive is what I mean. After all, it’s not as if I can put the weather on a performance improvement plan. Just gotta suck it up, Buttercup. Ironically I have four different fruit trees in my back yard that produce no good fruit. Still I keep them for shade and the amusement of critters. Not a single peach on the peach tree. One apple, One! on the entire apple tree. The pear was branch-breaking pregnant with fruit that was insect ridden. The semisweet cherry actually did produce a nice crop this year, but we weren’t interested in picking much. Pie cherries wind up in the bottom of the freezer years later, mistaken as freezer burned hamburger. Most years the birds devour all the cherries anyway. So, overall, after adjusting for exaggeration, it was a nearly fruitless summer. Though you can influence fruit productivity, you can’t make trees produce. There are just too many variables– frost, drought, bees, wind, other bugs, blight, fungi– and I’m not an orchardist with a sprayer. I’m just a guy with a blow dryer and hair gel. No extension cord. You just wait and see what you get; that is also life’s prescription.

Perhaps this attitude speaks of luxury and ingratitude. I remember when my wife and I were new parents and collected fallen fruit off the ground on our walks around Scotland School, tucking pears and apples into the baby buggy next to our first born child thirty four years ago. We humbly ate those pears and apples all winter long, stretching food dollars as far as we could, never imagining the day when we’d have all our material needs met and paid for. Which is where we are today. Zucchinis, goose necked, butternut, and acorn squash are piled in a corner downstairs. No hurry to consume them. We give more away than we eat. Our grapes did well this year and the red raspberries are finally catching on. No waste there, but I suspect this had more to do with timing than good stewardship. Heck, I rototilled our strawberries plants just to clean them up. The fruitfulness of our garden is almost an after thought these days. Mice and insects eat more of our strawberries than we get to.

Those thin, meager days of the depressed 1980’s were pretty bleak. We were the mice then, scavenging for sustenance. Scraping by. No need to worry about exercising then. We had to walk up two flights of stairs to our two bedroom apartment above the stream with a baby and groceries, and then back down to do laundry in the basement. It was a pleasant place to start a family, though my heart weeps a bit when I think of how naïve we were, how isolated.   Our sheltie collie CoCo used to chase ducks and run  on his hind legs on our porch, tap dancing with excitement. One tragic day he tapped right off the deck and fell 22 feet onto the concrete pad below. Fortunately for him he only blew out his hip socket and lived a couple more years without any disability. We were bad dog parents, admittedly. We were slightly better with our human charges.

Our house was situated right at the dam. Its drone was a dull roar in the soundscape. Some nights in April we’d see fisherman along the banks of the stream with lanterns, determined to seduce those fresh trout into a frying pan. It was a rather odd experience to have your yard invaded overnight by strange men in hip waders exercising their waterway rights. “Hey, Buddy, that palomino trout has my name on him.” I suppose the original Indians felt the same way about Western territorialism, but they are all gone. Maybe, just maybe their spirits live on in those ghost fish. Those trout were generously stocked in our back yard stream by men in a big tanker truck filled with water and fish. I fished with corn and hope, never caught a thing. I once considered shocking the stream just to get my hands on one of those elusive trout, and I don’t even eat fish. So why fish anyway? Maybe it was about proving my manhood adequacy quotient. Probably the same reason I shoot groundhogs nowadays. Dunno, Mate. Seems so silly now, don’t it?

Something about damp chilly fall days that gets my melancholy going. It’s just the opposite when spring’s warm wet days arrive with a trillion promises. Fall feels final. The spigot of sunlit glory gets shut off,  not deadly but prophetic of the sunless cold to come. So Neil Young songs come to me unbidden..

“Birds”

Lover,
there will be another one
Who’ll hover
over you beneath the sun
Tomorrow
see the things
that never come
Today
When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go
It’s over, it’s over.
Nestled in your wings my little one
This special
morning brings another sun
Tomorrow
see the things
that never come
Today
When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go
It’s over, it’s over.”
You can always count on Neil Young to take you to a foggy Canadian wasteland and abandon you there as wolves and bears pick up your hopeless scent. Thanks, Neil. I think after my funeral I’ll just plug in Neil’s greatest hits for background music at the buffet reception. Even if the attendees don’t like me, they will be sad, melancholy or morose. If you are there, blogmourner, try to put fruitful in a reference to my life. I’d really appreciate that, Mate.

243.billie holiday’s chillynching voice

 

Admit it: if you heard her on The Voice, you’d wonder how Billie Holiday got past security. Weak, thin, even post-nasal drippish. And yet haunting, tender, and forlorn. Ghostly. How to describe this oddly desirable quality?  It’s as if she started with a rich, deep red oil painted voice and then added paint thinner until a bloody vocal jellyfish floated to the surface of the Dead Sea . Plush red velvety tones are certainly nice and comforting, but Billie Holiday’s smokily transparent vocals always seemed to open up a tortured soul on the other side of a pane of glass, trying not so much to escape as to be witnessed. “Listen. Validate my anguish, my longing, my devastation. Don’t leave me.”  Her songs were like prepared slides you’d examine in biology class… “Homo sapiens in extremis”. If Neil Young were a Black woman torch singer without bushy sideburns, yeah, he’d be Billie Holiday. Just imagine Neil singing “All of Me, Southern Man, Why not take all of me? better keep your head”.

 

Hmmmm. Come to think of  it, why not a race relations remix from two tortured souls?

“Southern Man”

Southern man
better keep your head
Don’t forget
what your good book said
Southern change
gonna come at last
Now your crosses
are burning fast
Southern man
“Strange Fruit”

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees
I saw cotton
and I saw black
Tall white mansions
and little shacks.
Southern man
when will you
pay them back?
I heard screamin’
and bullwhips cracking
How long? How long?
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin’ eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin’ flesh
Southern man
better keep your head
Don’t forget
what your good book said
Southern change
gonna come at last
Now your crosses
are burning fast
Southern man
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop
Lily Belle,
your hair is golden brown
I’ve seen your black man
comin’ round
Swear by God
I’m gonna cut him down!
I heard screamin’
and bullwhips cracking
How long? How long?
Well, that’s not a magic trick or someone playing possum. “Look at this stuff!” they cry out like belt sanders on stained wood. Don’t smooth it over with faint allusions and a lovely melody. No, make it brutally unforgettable because that’s what it was.  Cleanse the grotesque scar on the shoulder blade of American justice, where the whiplash ripped through sweaty flesh. Staunch the bloody welts around the ribcage of Christian decency. Our high school history books have had their eyes gouged out on this subject of summary justice. A million tongues didn’t need to be cut out to silence the public outcry that did not come. The crimes by themselves were horrendous enough, but the lack of any legal accountability still simmers in our collective consciousness. At least the Nazis had the Nuremburg trials. Have you ever heard of a lynching trial in U.S. history? There have been a few that were even more insulting to honesty than the lynchings. Look up Sheriff Shipp in Chattanooga, for example, in the lynching of Ed Johnson. Google “Travesty”. Google “I know why we must kill the mockingbird”. Google “Pathetic”.

“Following the murder, President Roosevelt made it his goal to have the members of the mob put in jail by getting the secret service men in on the investigation.[3] Sheriff Joseph Shipp, who had arrested Johnson, was found guilty of contempt of court in United States v. Shipp, the only criminal trial ever held by the United States Supreme Court.

Johnson while in jail, made a Christian profession and was baptized. He publicly forgave those who were about to kill him. On Johnson’s tombstone are his final words “God Bless you all. I AM A Innocent Man.” at the top. On the bottom is written “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord”‘.  (Wikipedia)

Another innocent man was put to death by a mob and forgave his murderers before they crucified him. That would be Jesus in A.D. 33. But there is more.

“Johnson was murdered on the evening of March 19. A group of men entered the virtually unguarded jail between 8:30 and 9:00 pm and broke through a door using an ax and a sledgehammer, which took over an hour. They then took Johnson to the nearby Walnut Street Bridge, and hanged him with a rope hung over a beam. Around a dozen men, believed to be Sheriff Joseph Shipp and some of his deputies, were actively involved in the lynching, while more spectators gathered around the jail and followed to the bridge.[12][13] The measure was to act as a deterrent to the city’s blacks that resided on the opposite side of the bridge who walked the Walnut Street Bridge daily to go to and from their jobs in the downtown Chattanooga area.” (Wikipedia)

This incident and 61 other lynchings of Blacks occurred in 1906 in the U.S.A. A  banner year for lynching in our country.  Strange Fruit was written in 1937. Southern Man was recorded in 1970. I’m sure there are more recent updates of racial tensions since then. Livin’ Just Enough for the City by Stevie Wonder comes to mind. Certainly there are many more over the past 40 years or so. It’s not like the problem has evaporated.

In any event, what needs to be lynched? Racism, injustice, hatred, bigotry, racial supremacy nonsense, religious intolerance, sexism, and much more. The grandfather of all these vermin offspring is the King Rat,  Ignorance. His first lieutenant is Pride. Together they have honed a double-edged machete throughout history which has cut tribe from tribe and nation from nation as easily as cutting a head from a neck.