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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253. Glomorous

“California Dreaming” comes to mind this morning as a cold gray rain drizzles relentlessly on the scattered layers of trampled maple leaves.  Creamy yellows, rusty reds, and shades of orange lose all their glory when they are plastered against the wet ground like forgotten Play Doh pie crust.  Fallen beauty now awaits the mouldering process that turns organic matter back into soil. It’s a necessary step in the cycle of life, this cold fall rain that strips away litters of leaves from their tenacious parent trees. Euthanasia comes to mind. It’s sometimes called mercy killing. And I wonder is it a merciful death that’s meant or the death of mercy? In any event, I take the thuggish assault by this weather personally.

Good Lord! I am a weather wimp, I tell myself. So the damn leaves have fallen on the cold wet ground? Get over it!! Winter is early and you are not really ready inside your head. So get the psychic equivalent of a wool sweater out of storage and put it on your oversensitive neural synapses. Turn up the thermostat and Man up! Seek and enjoy the warmth that is available and stop whining about what has moved on. Whew! That felt good, like the football coach pep talk to his losing junior varsity team. Still, a glommy gloom lingers on this dark Monday. A cruise ship could silently slip into town under the fog and drizzle and not be noticed till the frozen sunlight returns.

Joel, “What is that large object in the square? It looks like the Costa Concordia or the Titanic.”

BS, “Looks like someone left a cruise ship stranded there where the fountain used to be. That’s something you don’t see every day.”

Joel, “Hmmmm, there will be litigation here. I can almost taste it.”

BS, “What does litigation taste like, Counselor Joel?”

Joel, “That’s an astute question. Hmmmm. It tastes like precious metal in your mouth, like pure gold, fizzing in a bath of Dom Perignon champagne, chasing Russian caviar or goose liver pate into your upper gastro intestinal system.”

BS, “That’s a pretty complex palate, my friend.”

Joel, “Why yes, litigation is an acquired taste. It’s not for everyone, mind you.”

BS, “What if a person didn’t want it, you know, but was accidentally exposed to it. Like an attorney’s kid sips what it thinks is Coca Cola but it turns out to be liquid litigation. What then? Is there an antidote?”

Joel, “Again, astute, very astute. The antidote, though I can’t imagine why anyone would want it, is a tall glass of goat’s milk.”

BS, “Why goat’s milk?”

Joel, “It gloms onto one’s taste buds and coats the drinker’s throat, much like this nasty weather is coating our town.”

BS, “And does it leave an equivalent cruise ship in its aftermath?”

Joel, “Don’t be silly.”

BS, “It’s too late for that Joel. We are deep behind silly lines now and will have to fight our way back to normalcy. And since I did not have the ROTC training that you received during the Vietnam Conflict, I will follow your orders.”

Joel, “Very good then. One tactic I learned back in my training was to play possum in battle. In other words, when the lead began to fly, one should simply lie down until the shooting was all over. I found that to be the very essence of survival.”

BS, “Isn’t that also known as cowardice?”

Joel, “Oh no, quite the contrary. Sterling officers in my class were trained to survive and then lead a lead free life.”

BS, “You mean they never deployed?”

Joel, “Well, that’s why they were sterling, untarnished by the caustic atmosphere of war.”

BS, “But you did go to that famous civil rights march in Petersburg, Virginia, as I recall, didn’t you?”

Joel, “Yes, though my parents knew nothing of my liberal leanings, it was one of my proudest moments.”

BS, “Do tell, oh Prophet.”

Joel, “In my liberal college days, maybe because I was harassed for being in the ROTC, I signed up for the trip to Petersburg to protest the Jim Crow laws still on the books. In fact, this may be one of the key reasons why I chose law as a career.”

BS, “Please, Counselor. Remember that the first time you told me this story you signed up right after that most pretty young hunk of undergraduate woman signed up, and furthermore, that if she had signed up for the Sudanese equivalent of the Iditerod, you were going to sign up after her. Do you recall that, sir?”

Joel, “Well, there was that. But I was sprayed with fire hoses and chased by German shepherds.”

BS, “The breed of dog or the actual shepherds?”

Joel, “I will not dignify that question with a response. As we were abused by the militia and police that infamous day, I was knocked unconscious, only to be revived by the screaming pain of a broken collarbone.”

BS, “So what did you do?”

Joel, “My mates helped me back to the Rambler we had driven down from Pennsylvania, but when we got to the hospital, the staff refused to treat me. They hurled insults and scorn at us, and I could not even raise an arm to protest.”

BS, “That’s horrible! What cretins, what vermin, what termites in the good wood of society!!!”

Joel, “Actually it wasn’t so bad. I rode home with my head on Suzie’s freedom loving lap just inches below the forbidden fruit of her bosom. It was tantalizing: if I reached for her in my delirious state, the pain of moving my hand would coerce me to drop it. For hours I was so close to a lusty desire that could never be fulfilled.”

BS, “I thought you were a freedom fighter.”

Joel, “I- I- I was. Remember it was the Sixties; there were many causes to support.”

BS, “And your favorite was a double D?”

Joel, “Please, you make it all sound so self serving.”

 

 

 

 

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.

174. Shadows across the parking lot

PictureOutside my second story office window is a charcoal parking lot that holds maybe thirty spaces. Beyond that is the unspectacular three story beige southern wall of a large church. It looks like a rectangular cruise ship stuck in asphalt and concrete. A rusted green dumpster sits at the left side of that wall where the alley runs through north/south behind the church for easy trash pick up on Monday mornings. There is a utility pole exactly halfway between my window and the wall, with utility wires running horizontally across the townscape framed by my square window. Traffic rumbles up and down the poorly paved alley and zooms by the opening of Route 30, between the end of the church wall and what used to be the Salvation Army store. It’s the sort of view that only a New Yorker could love. In the upper left quadrant, blue sky completes the picture. Two streaks of grey-bottomed clouds stretch diagonally northeastward this October morning.

Image result for dark october clouds over urban buildings pictures

Before noon the shadows run right (East) to left (West). They straighten out and move backwards as the day wanes. I look out on this intersection of boxes planted around the black macadam streets, trying to supply the missing beauty. It could be beautiful in an urban sort of way, but no one seems to want to put on shutters or hang a nice sign in front of their building. No plants or flowers are evident. The paint choices are tedious– white, beige, green. Not that it’s worth the effort, but I think a hipster urban decorator could easily jazz up this boring patch of boro.

In the left third of my view is a narrow opening between two buildings that reveals a green patch of unpaved ground. It’s a little gem of a park in the middle of downtown Chambersburg where a branch of the Conococheague Creek tumbles past the remains of an old mill wheel. I think of a cherished ruby presented in a stained old cigarette box; the heart of our town deserves better presentation. Instead, the prettiest spot in town is surrounded by parking lots and the backs of sad buildings. Poor planning, I think.

Image result for urban alley pictures

That beautiful spillway was a primary reason for the rest of the town’s existence. But now it’s just an afterthought, after the streets were paved and lit. After the industry had come and gone. After the money had been extracted from the intersection of Commerce and Greed streets. Still, it remains defiantly beautiful, like a prisoner who grows younger and more vibrant behind bars, wrongfully convicted by impatient, aging jurists.

It’s a funny thing, beauty. It seems to be reborn every year if not every season. Take that rusty dumpster, for example. Last fall I was walking by it and noticed an intense bluish-purple dash of color against the beige background wall. Growing up out of the gap between macadam parking lot and concrete block wall was a purple iris which had somehow taken root. I imagine that funeral or wedding flowers had been dumped sloppily and a single tuber had found its way into the sheltering gap. I took a picture of it with my cell phone. This accidental drop of beauty spoke to me of hope.Image result for purple iris growing out of concrete pictures

Then there is the stream that cuts through our town. I walk by it every day and wonder why it is not esteemed. It could be and should be so beautiful, except locals dump mattresses and shopping carts in its pure waters. There is your basic littering and then there is raping and scarring a landscape. I think willful polluting of a pristine stream deserves more than a civil citation. But then, we’d have to jail the strip mining companies, wouldn’t we? I wonder what the land would look like if it could be returned to the First Nation folks for one hundred years. That stream would be honored, I’m sure, because it provides water and fish and game and direction and transport, i.e., life. But we don’t see that any more. It’s just that wet thing below the bridge.

Again, we have jewels, pearls buried in the excrement of swine. Like old relationships that are taken for granted, we don’t even see the beauty of our blessings. We are a faithless bunch. This town owes its birth to the Falling Spring that feeds the stream that nurtured it… and we have literally turned our backs on it in the pursuit of speed and greed. Now the town fathers look to the torrents of Interstate 81 for more. Prime farmland is paved over for gaudy strip malls and convenience stores. No expense is spared to grease the path of the big chains who promise concrete jobs and progress. We are now a mecca of box warehouses that supply box stores along the arteries of rail and roads. And this display of beauty is the equivalent of a bleached blonde Hooters waitress. Alluring? Yes. Real? No. Come back in ten years and check it out when it will be as sexy as a cigarette butt.

I’m thinking about trees in planters out there. Heavy pots full of flowers. Window boxes spilling out petunias and ivy and such. Spots of beauty that say, “I see. This matters. I am renewing this urban desert.” Now I’m wondering about setting these signs of hope outside my office. I can’t stand vandalism, but I can’t let vandals stop beauty and hope. Yes, I could certainly add two more flower boxes, two potted trees and a whiskey barrel of flowers. These will not be accidents or after thoughts, not prisoners but free exclamations of life being lived. Isaiah 55:

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn bush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”

I need to go to Lowe’s.