I hiked into LaVista Park early this morning. June 13, sunny, temperature about sixty-five and a cool north breeze. And the buffalo gnats were dying out. It was a perfect day.

Silence. Because the Mississippi River has flooded for nearly two months, there was no traffic therefore no farting motorcycles on the Great River Road, nothing but birdsong: Carolina wrens, pileated woodpeckers, redwing blackbirds, puffed-out cardinals and shameless mockingbirds.

A lone bullfrog was imitating that HBO intro sound: Bwaaaa.

Down in the valley I came across what I thought was a copperhead. It was stretched across the path, three feet long, nonplussed at my presence. As I got closer, I could see it was an eastern fox snake, a specie which is known for docility and I am a big load of docile. I moved the snake into the underbrush by hoisting it onto a long stick because I knew someone would come along and kill it. I will never understand people’s irrational fears of reptiles.

The lower park was open, the flood waters receding rapidly. I was able to walk all the way to the swollen river, still as high as the street signs. A flash of electric blue went by, and I turned to see an indigo bunting, a rare sight in these parts, finch-size, surely the most beautiful bird alive, its feathers like an azure glaze on a pot made by a potter on LSD. The indigo bunting worked the reeds along the path, gathering up topseed.

I climbed five hundred feet up the bluff road, my heart hammering, my right knee screaming, across the hill line then back down into Clifton Park. Stiritz Lane is there, the only way in and out for thirty homeowners up at the top.

There was an enormous snapping turtle on a boating tree branch, and Mr. and Mrs. Mallard swam around it. Down the path was Stevie’s house. Her son Michael came from California weeks ago to help her cope with the flood and he never left. They have no hot water and they can’t use the toilet. Four feet of water is in the basement. The air conditioner is failing. Stevie’s front steps are flooded. You could sit on her porch and toss out a line for a catfish.

A car parked at the Stiritz lane flood blockade, and a hippie-looking couple got out. They were wearing waders and sporting badges, Red Cross volunteers going door to door and ordering supplies for the stranded. They had a drone in the air scanning the homes below. Did I know anyone who needed help? Yes, I said, Hummingbird Man’s house is underwater. I directed them to Stroke Hill and how to find that unfortunate family. (“You know how it is, Gene,” Hummingbird Man told me while he sat in a lawn chair in the knee-high river water. “We’re river rats. We take what comes.”

I don’t know how it is. I live above it all. But the farmers above it all are hurting. Rain keeps coming. Peaches—forget it. Autumn apples—not likely. Farmer Orville’s tomato plants are drowning. The color up from the river is fade green, washed-out cornflowers, and there are exhausted butterflies and cynical honeybees.

Orville, Quilt Queen, Ruby Puppy and I sat on the porch and bitched. We’re out of jokes. We have been told that these two flooded months will now be the new norm. We won’t get California-style fires and ultra-hurricanes; we will just drown.

The couple are about to give Ruby Puppy to a daughter. They don’t have the energy to care for a young herder dog that needs lots of running. I’ll take her, I said, and Quilt Queen snapped, “You aren’t family.”

And this is true, I am an orphan. I am in exile in my own hometown, and I’m writing about racism, and people don’t want to hear it. The synonym for Alton is Whitey Town. Ask Elijah P. Lovejoy shot to death on his printing press: You don’t belong. If the book gets published you can’t live here.

But every once in a while, visionlike, one sees indigo, ethereal indigo, one sings with birds, all the professionalism gone and who gives a shit that once I sang like an angel? Now I write the songs, not sing them, mostly in minor keys.

Today the song is “Indigo,” a Joni Mitchell jazz riff. Key of D. A turtle and some ducks and snakes walk into this bar and….

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The Kingdom of Plastica

“The Kingdom of Plastica”
It is the time of the small. Inchworms dangle from trees and arch along pathways, aiming to become geometer moths—carpet, winter, ennominae, peppered, pug. Web strands dangle like high wires across the jungle (woods, but the deep humidity changes the feel). Whole colonies of insects exist under oak leaves.

Mayflies, Junebugs. Nipping buffalo gnats—my body is covered in welts. The food is blood, leaf, stick, soil, garbage. You can’t sit like a character in an E. M. Forster novel, contemplate Pan and take in the view. The view will eat you, skin you, bruise you, suck you, lay eggs in you.

Quid pro quo: In the time of the small, a hiker inadvertently kills with every step. What look like dragons under a microscope are in fact soft, mushy, malleable, soupy, saucy. “I’m going for a hike,” also means “I’m going out and murdering.”

Speaking of which: We have murdered a river. The flooding Mississippi River is a cauldron of human hormone medication, birth control pill residue, farm chemical runoff, radiation detritus, Styrofoam and shredded plastic, prostate shots, human shit, sick fish. This is not the bluff view, of course, the Pan view, but the actual sum of the river.

The new hymn, lyrics by us, is “Shall We Shit on Our River.”
But this is what we wished for.

And now, 80% of teenagers have BPA in their bodies. They have increased risk for mammary problems, immune disorders, liver and kidney malfunction. That is a small price to pay for progress.

Our spawn are the children of the Kingdom of Plastica. Scores of them will die in front of your eyes—better here than in Iran, right? Take comfort: Like soldiers, they will have sacrificed for their countries; like good little Capitalists, they are dying for their corporations. It would be our little secret if loudmouths like that bitch Ocasio-Ortiz hadn’t started ranting about it.

Why would a river poison itself? It is a mystery. Why would species commit suicide? It is a mystery. Yet, poison and commit suicide they do. All we can do is sit on the sidelines and place bets, helpless because we are innocent. Well, there was that eating of the forbidden fruit thing, but that was then.

In the Kingdom of Plastica, it’s a ‘you say minutia, I say Mnuchin’ kind of thing. Nobody’s to blame. Wait. Harriet Tubman—stealing contented slaves and shepherding them north? Maybe, those damn inchworms.

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Jonathan Swiftboat’s A Modest Proposal

The Missouri legislature, already known for Whitey, pre-Darwin behavior, in addition to passing a particularly draconian abortion bill, recently decided that Missouri voters were misguided when they voted for a “Clean Missouri,” initiative, a package of laws which included raising the minimum wage, end lobbying at the statehouse and redrawing Republican jerrymandered districts. Clean Missouri passed in a Republican state!


But, how did Republican Whitey governor Mike Parson and the legislature respond? They held a press conference and pledged to follow the will of the people. Just kidding. They insulted the voters by insinuating that the electorate was not knowledgeable enough to vote this way, and they passed laws which would make the Clean Missouri initiative unenforceable.

“Fundamentally, you think when the people vote you shouldn’t be changing that vote,” Parson told the AP. “But the reality of it is that is somewhat what your job is sometimes, if you know something’s unconstitutional, if you know some of it’s not right.”

In other words, Parson and his fellow Whitey conservative Republicans know better than the voters.

The Whitey Alabama legislature, oblivious to the overwhelming majority of voters who support a woman’s right to choose, and citing horrifying false information re fetuses, have voted to make the unborn “people.” Will these unborn “people” be able to: Vote? Get health insurance? Carry conceal carry weapons? Masturbate while watching “Mike Pence Gay Porn for the Unborn?”

Donald Trump is guilty of the same hubris, nominating anti-environment people to key environmental positions, even at the risk of destroying the environment. His anthem, to the tune of “Power to the People,” is “Fuck You to the People.”

A Modest Proposal:

  1. It shall be lawful for voters to grab legislators who don’t act on constituents’ wishes by the lapels, drag them to public spaces, and put them in stocks and force them to listen 24/7 to Rush Limbaugh and Nancy Pelosi. Imagine Mike Parson having to repeat over and over: “I am an arrogant whitey asshole” while Pelosi’s voice licks his earhole.

2. It shall be lawful to force self-interested legislators such as Mitch McConnell to bloviate, “I am the Grim Reaper when it comes to the Green New Deal,” while sitting in a pig manure retention pond.

3. It shall be lawful to force the head of EPA and his grandchildren to drink crude oil with their natural gas injected pork chops while sitting outside a grizzly bear den.

4. It shall be lawful to make lobbyists for the plastic industry subsist on a diet of plastic dust while sleeping on plastic water bottles and spending jail time removing plastic from wild animals.

5. It shall be lawful to make Sarah Huckleberry Hound Sanders eat unlimited Colonel Sanders—his chicken, that is—while she lies to the press, grease spewing from her dead eyeballs and congealing on her daddy Whitey Mikey.

6. It shall be lawful to make President Trump eat Legos preformed into his own verifiable lying words and fed to him by clients of an abused women’s shelter.

I said it was modest, didn’t I?

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A Death

I don’t want to hear about your hatred of snakes.

All humans are born with the fear of reptiles and fear of falling—no doubt cellular memories of our 200,000-year-old ancestors who, if they fell out of their nest trees, perished by fearsome predators such as sabretooth tigers and enormous reptiles. Our charge is to overcome our fears, especially in the modern world where you stand more of a chance being hit by lightning than bit by a snake, and snakes, like every single living animal, are now utterly dependent on our stewardship.

And just now I failed at my charge. I ran over a beautiful black and yellow striped snake, with my lawnmower. It was partially hidden in long grass under a bush. Worse, she was alive but cut in two, her jaws snapping open and closed with pain, her thick body sliced and spewing out young. She was pregnant. She had intestines; she had veins; she shed her blood for me.

I prayed for her to die, to let me not feel my horror, but she kept opening and closing her mouth. I picked up a piece of limestone and smashed in her head, and I bawled like a baby. When one becomes God, you see, one rolls the dice for all living things, deciding which will die and which will live.

She is out of her pain and I am deep in mine. I don’t want to be God. I can’t imagine anyone wanting that, yet here we are. We live in such an unbalance, an obscene unbalance wholly created by us, an unbalance the illogic of which could scarcely be explained to first graders.

Hi children, I am Gene, and in but a short amount of time I have become the destroyer of worlds. I will teach you how to be a destroyer of worlds, how to live free of all insect life, all reptiles, all noseeums, all bad things; all you have to do is fear everything and react to everything then, with Mommy and Daddy’s help, kill everything that’s left. Then you will live a perfect human life, with one tree per city, and the new forests of ten trees, one per state, in which nothing can hurt you.

Children, we all hate snakes. You know why. Why? I don’t know.

I know nothing, my words signify nothing. You—you have tee-ball and roller coasters and support animals and play dates and achievement certificates and no pain: yay you! Bad snakes! Bad!

You have nothing to be afraid of. We adults have made sure of that. We are engaged in killing all your fears. We have already killed half of all animals on earth. We are sterilizing your food. We have told you fairy tales about good people who do good things! We have made it clear that people who are different than you are will not harm you up to and including we hang them!

Just. One thing. You are going to die.

But that’s for another day!

I don’t want to hear about your fear of snakes. Look in the mirror and behold a horror film, a hallelujah killing machine. If you love anyone, advise them to run as fast as they can—from you.

I am a murderer. What do you do for a living?

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The Homeless of Atascadero

On Capistrano Street, in Atascadero, California, the homeless humans sit in and around the downtown bus stop, the benches lined with adults and children; and the neighborhood end of the street, above Atascadero Creek, which empties into the Salinas River, lined with trees and forest-like, hosts tens of homeless cats attended to by volunteer folks who feed and water the cats several times a day. New cats in town are caught and spayed or neutered and released.

At the west end of Capistrano, near Highway 41 which plunges down to Morro Bay and the Seven Sisters mountain range, is the business part of the desert town—restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, and even a Starbucks.
Yesterday morning, I walked five miles, circling back to the Starbucks for an iced green tea. A young woman was sitting in the outdoor seating area, nursing a coffee drink and writing with pencil onto a steno-type notebook. I asked her the time, and she looked up and said, “When you find out the time inside the store, come and tell me.”

I was instantly embarrassed, as I hadn’t really looked at the twenty-something woman, and now I saw dirty blond hair, unfashionably torn and filthy jeans, a threadbare white tee shirt and sneakers with no shoestrings. She resumed her writing and I walked inside.

Atascadero is a small town, 27,000 people, on the bank of the most literary river of them all, the Salinas, which flows north then cuts left to the Pacific Ocean at Salinas, California. Tom Joad and George and Lenny and the river rats of Canary Row are evoked there.

Palm trees are ubiquitous, as are cacti and yucca plants, and the style of the business buildings is faux Spanish, and the housing is all over the place. But the smallest house, the smallest apartment ($1,400), and even the footprints of the numerous trailer parks, are super expensive. The homeless congregate there because the climate is dry and mostly temperate—hot in summer, cool or warm in winter.

The homeless people, a mix of mostly Mexicans and whites, can get their meals free from various social work and religious agencies. They can bathe at the shelters. The kitties rely, whether they know it or not, on mostly women who unload SUV’s stocked with food and fresh water, and who sit in lawn chairs and greet the cats and talk to them.

Back to the young woman at Starbucks: She got cold—it was about 55 at mid-morning—and came inside the store, and, dear reader, I was drinking my iced green tea and munching on a yummy brownie, and I felt the urge to approach the woman and offer to buy her some food or treats. She was slumped over a tabletop, still writing—maybe the great novel or a poem to a loved one, a fellow writer, and I wanted to help her. And I didn’t. I was acutely sensitive to me the old man reaching out to the kid.

I walked home past the bus stop benches. A tiny brown girl, maybe seven, with tangled black hair, dressed in a short skirt and a tee with a cartoon logo, sat alone. I slowed and waited until I saw a momma emerge from behind a bush. Had that little girl been alone, I would have tried to adopt her. A pickup truck, its load space piled with two mattresses, was being relieved of cargo by some brown men. They dragged the mattresses over the bank of Atascadero Creek, disappearing into the wooded area.

I walked on down Capistrano Street, reaching the kitty dining space, and seeing an elderly lady sitting in her lawn chair, bowls of water and food at her feet.

None of what I saw seemed tragic in the bright sunlit day, the backdrop of green mountains and lawns, Lady Salinas her flowing robes of water flowing northward. Seemed. I am shaken to the core. I wish I had bought a meal for the young writer, adopted the little brown girl homeless, schoolless, friendless.

I walked into Dave and Linda’s house, the kitchen filled with light, the backyard bright with flowers, my guest room cozy, my needs attended to.

The sun would set into the Pacific Ocean, orange fire drowned by pulsing waves:Another beautiful day in the neighborhood of Atascadero, California.

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What do Stephen Miller and Karl Rove have in common? I don’t mean how ugly they are on the surface—though they are butt ugly. Miller, once he started filling in his bald spot with shoe polish or whatever, is fair game. Internally, both men are monsters-in-training.

Karl Rove, Republicans like to say, was a mealy-mouthed kid whom no one liked. Rove told friends that a little girl pulled him off his bicycle and pummeled him. He spent his career extracting revenge. According to his classmates, Stephen Miller was a rightwing asshole from childhood, berated and bullied. I would bet money that the two of them taunted other kids. Smart, these two. Devoid of conscience.

This has become the norm in the Trump White House: Dumbo Betsy Devos from Education with zero qualifications and her brother, Blackwater stooge Eric Prince; Barr, a condescending prick clinging to his believed white superiority; Sessions, Southern racist; Miller, also condescending, without any hint of passion other than to hurt people; Kirstjen Nielsen, who may have been dropped on her head as a child, so devoid of feeling is she; Steve Mnuchin, born with a sneer or maybe a kid cut his mouth like that—smug, snarky, superior. These are repulsive people.

The right wing is going after people who criticize Mnuchin and Miller, claiming critics are antisemitic. No, they’re just the rightwing extremist Jews in the Trump administration. Trump also has extremist Pentecostals, assorted crooked Christians, New York mobsters, Ayn Rand’s corpse, whores and his pal convicted child molester of thirty underage girls, Jeffrey Epstein, with whom he prefers to hang.

Without white working-class support Trump et al would drown in the cesspool of their own making. Historically, working class and unemployed, powerless whites have needed someone to hate. Blacks are the victims, have been since 1867. “People Who Need to Be White: Hating Blacks Since 1867!”

If I were Czar of the US, and aren’t you glad I’m not, I would order these extremists to reside in those Nielson-ordered border cages built for brown kids, Trump improvising speeches until the rest of them wither and die from word poisoning.

A guy can dream.

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My friends David and Linda live in the desert north of San Luis Obispo, California, a prettier place one cannot imagine. People commute to San Luis, their drive taking them through mountain canyons down to the sea. When I’m there, I am overwhelmed by the beauty of place—it never gets old. But does it get old if one lives there?

My father once owned fifty acres of wooded Jersey County, a place he called Baldwin State Park. It was remote, wild and peaceful. He didn’t last three years, telling me that his dream of sitting on a back deck overlooking a wooded valley was… meh.

Perhaps because I am a writer, perhaps because I possess a singular ocular enhancement— archaeologists call it “the eye”—wherein I see arrowheads in piles of stone in creek beds, camouflaged animals, morel mushrooms and the like, perhaps this also enables me to not take anything in nature for granted. I see the way great baseball hitters “see” the ball.

We denizens, of the Mississippi River Valley, are presented year-round with amazing sights. The Confluence, the mating site of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers, is within our territory. The American Bottom, that pregnant, fecund soil nourished by limestone, blankets the spaces between the river sloughs.

And there are the animal residents, thirty or more species of bird, muskrats, river otters, coyotes, red and grey fox, bobcats, reptiles including the astounding alligator snapping turtle and blue racers and stunning copperheads and king snakes.

The other day, mid-afternoon, I was walking down a wooded trail when suddenly a high-pitched scream erupted above me. “Wooooooooo—oooooooo-ooooooo (high note) oooooo!” It was like a tornado siren, starting low and long and rising to crescendo. Then came another scream, then another. Then tens of coyotes began yipping, the pack moving parallel to where I was standing. It was broad daylight.

We hear them nightly in our fields, the alpha coyote and the pack, driving the local dogs mad. The other sunrise, Farmer Orville and I were finishing carrying some brush, and I stopped and listened. “It’s just coyotes,” Orville said. There is no such thing as “just.” A coyote song is a miracle.

Today, I was driving home after an MRI exam on my knee, from St. Louis. The rivers were flooded. The trees were budded. As I drove over the Missouri river bridge, I saw a white tornado: perhaps thirty pelicans swirling counter-clockwise, the sun lighting their white underwings, the languid, liquid, lazy flying formation, a ballet of aeronauts.

I couldn’t even pull over to worship, with the flood reducing the highway to two lanes and cars lined behind me.

Pelicans are miracles. Hummingbirds are miracles. Rivers and river creatures are miracles. Ants are miracles, and so are spiders.

None of us could live in a world without ants and spiders, yet we treat them as predators. We imagine them as enemies. We fear them and our fears are groundless. I’ve been bitten by a black widow spider, a scorpion and a brown recluse. In each case, I was the intruder. My punishment: discomfort. Period.

Oh yes. My tribe fears the black tribe. Read my new book.

Do not drive or walk the Great River Road and say, “Pelicans,” to your kid. Say, “That is a miracle. We must help preserve them.” We all know some overzealous naturalist who is compelled to identify every little flower—but not meditate on that flower, not Van Gogh that flower, not breathe in the flower.

As I write, robins are scurrying about and plucking worms. Do you think about worms? Do you know the American earthworm is nearly extinct, that our robins are eating foreign species of worms which have evolved and driven the natives away? Sound familiar?

Take life, teeming life for granted, and condemn your children to stare at smart phones. Oh wait—we do that already.

Look up. Look down. Listen to your blood. Lie among the ferns and sing the frog song. There is plenty of frog song—for now. 70 % of frogs are now extinct.

Look it up on your smart phone.

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Concerto for Viola

Viola Liuzzo was murdered on March 25, 1965 between Selma, Alabama and Montgomery, but it was the why of her death that led to her sainthood.

I was a junior at Alton High School, rehearsing for the musical Wonderful Town, in love with Carla Price, hanging out at Dairy Queen (Elaine Bunse from my Sunday School class—her dad owned the Dairy Queen) and full of myself.

Did Ms. Liuzzo get mentioned in our history class? I don’t remember. How did I hear the news, or how was I even aware of events transpiring in Alabama? I don’t remember. I do remember that I was slowly evolving into an activist but I had to keep it to myself. My old man, on the verge of leaving my multiple sclerosis-cursed mother and my sister and me, would have whipped any overt activism out of me.

Viola Liuzzo was a Unitarian Universalist activist and Detroit housewife, white, obsessively watching on television the newscasts covering Bloody Sunday, the March 7 protest in Selma, watching march leaders James Bevel and Amelia Boynton and others being beaten bloody under orders from Alabama governor George Wallace. Boynton was beaten unconscious in full view of news cameras. Liuzzo left her home and drove for Selma.

The second march took place on March 9. Among the marchers was James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston, compelled to drive all night and join the second march. Obeying a court injunction, Martin Luther King led the marchers off the Edmund Pettis Bridge. James Reeb was pulled by white supremacists from the marchers and beaten to death.

The third march, starting on March 21, took place along the fifty-four mile stretch of Route 80 between Selma and Montgomery, known by the locals as the Jefferson Davis Highway. President Johnson ordered 1,900 National Guard troops to line the highway and protect the marchers. The caravan arrived in Montgomery on March 25.

Viola Liuzzo volunteered to shuttle marchers to airports and back to Selma. That night, as Martin Luther King stood at his portable pulpit at the foot of the steps of the Montgomery statehouse and delivered his “How Long” speech, as thousands of marchers stood shoulder to shoulder with the likes of writer James Baldwin and singer Harry Belafonte and now-congressman John Lewis and Joan Baez, Viola Liuzzo drove some protesters back to Selma.

On the return trip to pick up more folks from Montgomery, Liuzzo and passenger and nineteen-year-old black man Leroy Moton were spotted by white supremacists, one of whom was FBI informant Gary Thomas Rowe Jr. The white men, no doubt enraged by the sight of a white woman and a black man in the same car, jumped in a car and gave chase, opening fire and killing Viola Liuzzo. Moton was wounded, but he survived the attack by pretending to be dead.

J. Edgar Hoover characterized Mrs. Liuzzo as a crazy person come to Alabama for drugs and illegal sex with blacks. An all-white jury acquitted the shooters but they were later arrested on federal civil rights violations.

Wonderful Town was a smash hit at Alton High School. I knew I was headed for a singing career and salvation, through the healing power of art. Meanwhile, the Reeb and Liuzzo families, whose loved ones paid the ultimate price for justice, buried their dead.

The full weight of human activity is such that most of us go about our business. We may wince at the occasional horror, such as the deaths of Reeb and Liuzzo, but we rehearse and perform and go to work and make love and chase Carla Price and watch sunsets and smoke behind the barn and tickle our grandkids and go to the big game…and heroism shall not touch us or wound us or change us. Shall not.

And now we are perfectly complacent to the point of not voting. And now comes, the scene is set for Fascism.

On March 10, 1995, George Wallace (“I’ll never be out-niggered again,” “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”), wheelchair bound from being shot by a would-be assassin, showed up at St. Jude’s Church in Montgomery. The occasion was the thirtieth anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches. “Much has transpired since those days,” Wallace told the crowd. “A great deal has been lost and a great deal gained, and here we are. My message to you today is, welcome to Montgomery. May your message be heard. May your lessons never be forgotten.”

An historic marker at the side of the Jefferson Davis Highway reads: In Memory of Our Sister Viola Liuzzo Who Gave Her Life in the Struggle for the Right to Vote…. March 25, 1975.

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In Memoriam

I grew up a Methodist. Epworth Methodist Church in Belleville, Main Street in Alton, Godfrey Methodist.

Joe Evers was the pastor at Epworth. I would know him for a long time, as he played a pivotal role in my life when my mom was killed in 1972. At Epworth, I remember Brother Joe railing against presidential candidate John F. Kennedy—the Catholics would take over. This fit my father’s worldview to a tee. Joe himself would later regret his comments. He was capable of self-reflection. Brother Joe would be the first pastor in the history of the Illinois Methodist Church to be tried for the sin of adultery. He ended up selling pots and pans, even asking me if I could lend him money.

At Main Methodist Street, Pastor Henderson, thinking he had spotted future minister talent and wanting to start a fund so I could attend Garret Theological Seminary at Northwestern, invited me to deliver a series of Sunday evening sermons—heavy stuff for a kid. Two talks in, Henderson took me aside and said that Plato’s allegory of the cave was not a fit reference in a sermon. He was probably right, but I was done preaching—show business was calling. Later, he told me my views on the Vietnam War were not acceptable. In other words, hit the road, would-be rev.

This would-be rev hit the road to Godfrey Methodist Church and Judson Souers, a charismatic man if there ever was one. I spent a lot of time in his house, often late at night, talking about books and ideas and drinking beer.

Yesterday, the Methodist convocation in St. Louis voted against inclusion for gay marriage and LGBT folks. Either the church is right, to firmly hold on to “teachings” of a Bible, its Old Testament of which was written by women-hating, ignorant patriarchs (ignorant of the nature and genetics of humans), or the church now—not ignorant of science and genetics and human nature—has a political motive.

Methodism, like all region-based isms, is becoming irrelevant. To keep up its numbers, it now appeals to more Methodists in Africa than here. And those Methodists, citing the fact that ministers in homophobic cultures feel they have to ban gay and LBGT rights, or be killed.

The church dies, or the homophobes, the bigots, fill the pews. Stand up for moral right—or be killed. Ironic. Interesting.

Growing up, I slowly became uneasy with the notion of prayer. If God is like Santa Claus, a metaphor, no problem. If: God is a Deity who resides in the clouds, picking and choosing who will die and who will live; all the while, this God encourages entreaties for saving lives and enriching people—the best pray-er of prayer wins. The narcissistic, women-hating patriarchs wrote that “we are in His image” blather.

You are a bigot, or you’re not. Religion is not a cloak to hide in. Subconsciously, we’re all bigots. But acting consciously is what is needed here. We can pray for our internal sins all we want.

Consciously and prayerfully, with no outward sign of shame, with a nod to attendance statistics over morality, over ethics, the Methodist Church has just announced its official stance.


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Catbelly Heat on My Knees

I came across this song lyric from 1883, in a file marked “Blind Bobbybaby Jax.” Indeed, records show an old black man living in Macoupin County, an itinerant laborer, fruit picker and two-finger banjo plucker.

“I done scratched away my fleas/a little sour mash if you please/I wouldn’t mind a woman to squeeze/I got catbelly heat on my knees.”

Mr. Jax (an orchard owner back in the day dubbed him Bobbybaby) was renowned for his ability to pick perfect apples even though he was blind. He would stand on a ladder against a tree, and his hand would touch apples as if they were targets. Local white children would visit just to watch the apple picker. They would place dollar bills at the foot of the tree, so Jax tolerated them.

“Oh, them chi’dren how they bleat/they tiny hands clappin’ a beat/Don’t feel like singing—sheeet/Little white kids at my feet.”

Come the night, Jax would hold court outside the barn where he lived and slept, white folks and the other two black residents of Macoupin County, Mr. Chas and Miss Gospelette, brother and sister servants in a mansion in Jerseyville, gathering to hear the signature “Mis’ssip” growl of the bluesman as he sang remembered songs from the Delta of his youth.

The referenced catbelly belonged to an enormous Maine Coon cat named Auntie Plato, a feline which adopted Jax and spent much of its life on the blues man’s lap. Auntie Plato was a legendary mouser and had birthed, by the orchard owner’s estimate, over two hundred cat mutts with grotesque body shapes.

Auntie Plato, Jax told anyone who would listen, had cured him of arthritis purely by the feline’s intense body heat. The cat spent much of its daytime hours straddling the shoulders of a bull, riding about the pasture and looking queen-like.

Rumor has it that the first blues man to ever be recorded, Charley Patton, on his way to Chicago from Memphis and hearing about Blind Bobbybaby Jax, stopped by the orchard and communed with Jax for part of a day. Patton was known for his guitar style, which would influence the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and his voracious appetite for women and booze.

We will never know if Blind Bobbybaby Jax was discovered that day, because Auntie Plato the cat attacked Patton, knocking him off a milking stool and angrily ripping the musician’s hands to bloody shreds. (Robert Johnson posited in Blues Magazine that the Auntie Plato shredding might be responsible for Charley Patton’s frenetic fretwork.) Curiosity didn’t kill the cool cat, but we do know that Patton drove away, and Jax wrote a song, “Ol’ Cat Done Ripped My Heart.”

“Dang ol’ catty ain’t you smart/Jealous pussy from the start/No more spooning in the dark/Ol’ Maine cat done ripped my heart.”

Blind Bobbybaby Jax died in 1935. Still picking apples, he reached for what he thought was a ripe fruit but was in fact a hornet’s nest, his hand stuck inside the nest and the hornets stinging the old man hundreds of times. Mr. Jax was buried next to the long dead Auntie Plato in a grove of oak trees.

Bluesmen tell an anecdote about Charley Patton backstage at a concert in Atlanta, who, upon hearing of the death of Jax, supposedly said. “Goddam coon.” He meant the cat, of course.

If you’re driving east on Route 16, just a mile past the hamlet of Piasa, you will see a historic plaque along the shoulder of the highway.

“In memory of Blind Bobbybaby Jax, blues man and apple picker. ‘I got catbelly heat on my knees.’”

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