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.

158. Totalitarian penguins

With a title like that what would anyone expect?  I have no idea either, I just like the odd juxtaposition. I also like the word juxtaposition. It makes the user of it seem smart, whether he is or not. Juxta means beside. I’m going to try “rapper styling” this line with my wife, “I just wanna get juxta you, Baby .” I wonder how far I’ll be slapped. Across the room? Across the street? Into next week?  But penguins? They are universally loved and esteemed. Why, there was a lovely movie made about them years back, The March of the Penguins. I saw it and oohed and awwwed at those big birds and how they huddle together sacrificially to survive in the brutal Antarctic climate. They are just wholesome and good and clean and well dressed in their perma-tuxes. Who does not love penguins? Let’s see, their predators. South Polar bears and kangaroos, separated by continental drift in the Second Ice Age, but in their collective unconscious kangaroos and the beige South Pole bears slaver over mythical penguin jerky strips that were once regular menu items in Old Australia. Please fact check me on these assertions. I could be wrong. I might be confusing history with an episode of the cooking show Chopped.

Image result for rebel emperor penguin pictures

But just for a moment, imagine if a single (or married) penguin began to talk or squawk smack about their awful conditions and how the seals and sharks had forced them to live on ice and krill. And this Alpha penguin developed great oratory skill over time, always focusing on the pain at hand… or at wing, or flapper, you know what I mean. If this Emperor of Emperor penguins stood on a little squinty-eyed sycophant (another smart sounding word) and railed against the cultural oppression and poor financial situation the flock faced, well, stuff could happen. Then if he, let’s call him Flappin, focused the hate on walruses, how they had so much blubber and were responsible for global warming and overfishing, you see where this would naturally go. Since penguins are the bird equivalent of sheep, they would get in line behind “Slappin’ Flappin” and elect him Emperor of the Third Ice Age. Zeig Heil!!!

Flappin’s press agent would arrange to have him arrested for inciting chaos (actually, cross dressing will do it) and crowd surfing (felonies in penguin colonies), and then publish his autobiography, Mine Cough, in which he would continue his conspiracy theories and megalomaniacal (There is a whopping smart word, folks.) schemes as well as offering home remedies for respiratory ailments.  Then, when Flappin was released from his brief stint in the walrus jail to the strains of I Am the Walrus, he would be welcomed as a hero, the return of the phoenix, and other such mythological drivel. He would go around Antarctica, wearing John Lennon granny glasses, speaking at penguin beer halls and stadiums, building even bigger audiences that would pitch their feathered heads back and cluck straight up, “Flappin, Flappin, Flappin” until they were hoarse and needed one of his home remedies for irritated avian throats.

Over time Flappin would organize a new Penguin Nationalist Party and get elected to the Parliament, or Diet as it is called in the Southern Hemisphere. He would have such a strong majority that his squawk would be law. Loan sharks and Navy seals, gay polar bears, and especially intellectual walruses would be rounded up and tortured, their food and property expropriated for the Nationalist Party. They would be thrown together in igloo gulags (which I challenge you to say three times fast) surrounded by razor-edged barbed wire, forced to wear Mickey Mouse ears. Abject humiliation has never been known at such levels. Meanwhile the rest of the civilized world would cry out, “What has happened to the penguins? They were so calm and cute. Guess that movie went to their heads.”

Flappin would delve deep into the penguin psyche, maybe five millimeters, and play on old symbols, associating kangaroos with giant squid, in order to justify the necessary conquest of Australia. Crack teams of penguins would work undercover at zoos around the world and send coded messages back to Villa Las Estrellas and Flappin via carrier penguins on refrigerated UPS next day delivery with zip drives built into their frosty beaks. Meanwhile, back at base camp, Flappin would appoint evil henchmen to run his air force and secret police– Hurtmann and Blud. The PP, penguin patrol, would teach all penguins to goose step and flap salute the Emperor in parades, as the low rumble of war built up in the sunless Antarctic winter. (Wow, I like that last sentence. Re-read it in movie trailer voice.) And there is nothing more sinister than a sunless secret. Just ask Kim Young Fool of North Korea or Robert Dumbass Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

The attack would begin in late August, the end of winter in the upside down Antarctic monosphere. The Norwegian slice of Antarctica would be the first target. First of all and primarily, what is Norway doing there? Did they get into the colonization business after the bubble burst? It’s as absurd as the British owning the Falkland Islands, don’t you think? Did they not have enough snow and ice and bleakness at home? Holy Flippin’ Fjords! So you see, Flappin would fire up his big birds with a visceral hatred of all things Norwegian– mostly dried fish products and cheese– and then attack in darkness. By the Antarctic spring (also known as November) they would have overrun the Norwegian wedge and the four drunken security guards left to defend it. Then the rest of the civilized world, not wanting to start up the engines of war again, would concede that slice of ice to the Emperor Flappin.

Sadly, the rest of the March of the Penguins would look like a slow motion domino nation domination. They would swarm across the Australian slice of Antarctica on their bellies while wearing white ski jackets, virtually invisible to the naked Aussie eyes, or the eyes of naked Aussies. They would form flying belly wedges and break through unsuspecting Australian defenses. From there it would be a short hop, skip, and a jump to the tip of Chile and Argentina, up the Amazon tributaries to the banks of Bermuda, and world conquest. And, most tragically of all tragedies, this strange totalitarian penguin juxtaposition could have been avoided if the world had only listened to an old white guy with an obscure blog whose wife makes him shave. Sadly, those who learn to fail from history (and good hygiene tips) are doomed to repeat it.