Sunday, March 26, 2023

Dark Clouds Sunday Night

We tell ourselves that we're significant and important, but the clouds roll over us without noticing any of this.  Sometimes they send down fingers of God that destroy our homes and our fields, but they mean no offense; they're settling some argument among themselves and just don't notice the industry of the less-than ants below them.  

Dozens dead in the delta.  Homes and crops destroyed, lives ended, and the gaseous giants roll on over us without a word.  They can't see us.  They can't conceive of us.  They can sure kill us, though.  At any moment, they can send down a spinning finger of death and take everything, then return to the sky unaffected.  

Our place in the universe is a lie we tell ourselves because we need to feel important.  How many thousands of years did it take before we could even touch the clouds, and now, now that we can touch them, now that we can use our satellites to track their every move, we still can't do anything, not even a tiny bit to control them.  They give us life-providing water or not.  They send down tornados or hurricanes or lightning storms that kill us and destroy what we make or not.  Either way, we have no impact on what they do.  

We push many tons of carbon into the atmosphere so we're not inconvenienced in travel, carbon that would kill us straight away but only seems to make the clouds more active in their normal activities.  More floods, more droughts, more tornados, more hurricanes, and in return, we get bigger cars.  Doesn't seem like a very effective trade on our part.

The clouds pass over me.  Blotting out the sun.  Sending bolts of unimaginable electrical power between them, occasionally down to earth to destroy some massive tree on earth with me.  It's hardly the first time something incredibly powerful didn't acknowledge my existence.  I acknowledge theirs, though.  I paint them, I draw them, I write about them, and I make colorful lights to imitate their effect on the land.  I am in awe of their vast power and capricious nature, so much greater than anything we ants have ever created.  

I was going to be light and joyous and carefree this weekend, but my gaseous overlords chose to put on a display that soured my mood, storms then sunlight that blistered my ears but not my crown, then storms again to make me think twice about driving to town for church.  

Bottled water they need.  Everything in the past few years seems to depend on bottled water.  A few million pounds of plastic that won't bio-degrade should help things.  It doesn't matter to the clouds; they'll just roll over mountains of plastic like they roll over us.  Nothing we do impresses them.  I hear them speak now.  Words like I heard my father say in my crib before I knew what words mean.  They're not talking to me, I know.  Talking to each other, I suppose, I wonder what they're saying.  We call them non-sentient with the vain idea that only creatures like us have thought.  I doubt that's true.  All things have thought.  Thought creates reality and the reality is that I'll write about the clouds, but the clouds will never write about me.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Doubt and Success

I love writing about feelings.  I hate having them.  Fear, doubt, guilt, pain, more guilt, I can wax large about these all day, when I have them though--when I have them, it's like a swollen boil somewhere uncomfortable and impractical and waiting to burst, but stubbornly not, frozen at that point of not bursting and relieving the stress for what seems like the foreseeable future.  

I can plan my way out of any conflict, but then time becomes a factor.  Each step has a yes-no transition that leads to the next step or to another alternative step, and I feel like giving up before every decision, but I don't because the only way to relieve the pressure is to move on.  Failure, pain, suffering, and embarrassment are always an option but not a preference.  

Challenges build character.  Working through them makes you stronger, but does it really?  Failure makes you feel weaker even if you gain knowledge, smarter, but weaker; life's energy spent on a path that led nowhere.  I hate this feeling.

Life is a series of transitions.  The cogs turn, and the clock ticks, and you move from one state to another, or you fail and fall back on the previous state, but with less optimism and less hope for the future--all of it is up in the air until it is the past. Victory or failure, you move on because the past is falling away under your feet, and the future is the only option.   The future can turn in any direction, and that is why we suffer such crushing doubt; although we pretend we don't, it's always there.   

It's waiting for me now.  Prove yourself, little man.  Pass or fail; it's your turn.  I hate this.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Breakfast at Old Tyme

I'd sell some of you into hard labor for lox and bagel at Old Tyme with a conversation with Irv over the counter one last time. He'd come around and fill my coffee sometimes, but most of the time, he manned the register and talked to me over the glass case filled with cheesecakes and eclairs. While doctors and lawyers, and professors, and old gay men made up most of the early-morning crowd.

In those days, I would buy a Clarion Ledger going into Old Tyme, and read all the signatures. I had a trick for folding the newspaper that alleviated some of my dyslexia so I could read and try to understand what was happening around me. Uncle Tom sold the paper a few years before, and the new editorial staff changed the entire outlook of the paper. It was more literary, more educated, and more liberal. I traded knowing everybody who wrote for the paper with liking everybody who wrote for the paper and never looked back.

My nights were rarely alone but rarely with the same person from one week to the next. When someone did catch me on the repeat cycle it was usually because some aspect of their life had gone to shit and they weaponized the "les dames" part of "dieu et les dames," but breakfast, breakfast was when I connected my head into the community.

At six-thirty, I met my father and grandfather to open the mail. Coffee for twenty minutes, then breakfast at Old Tyme. Lox and Bagel. Jewish food, the Jewish experience in Jackson, was centered at Old Tyme.

In many ways, the American Jewish experience defines the second half of the twentieth century. The Jewish experience in Jackson was hardly My Favorite Year or The Education of Duddy Kravitz. Jews here could get bombed out for speaking their minds. Living here, there was always a road back to Kristallnacht; only half these rednecks couldn't identify a jew on sight, so they'd have to reference each other on who to hate.

On my street, the Jews and the Arabs lived next to each other in peace. The Freemans and the Meena's and the Crystals spoke and attended standing cocktail parties together, and there never was a conflict, while down Ridgewood road, some good ole rednecks planted a bomb in Rabi Nussbaum's office. I was a kid then, but it doesn't matter because I remembered, and nobody ever let us forget. Living in Jackson, any one of us could become a monster. That was the lesson. It's still that way. Different reasons, same monster.

Old Tyme was gentile. It was neutral politically, but everyone was left of center. We just didn't discuss it much. The educated were always left of center, and at Old Tyme, nearly everyone was working on a book. A book that usually came from Lemuria, which was in the same shopping center before they moved across the interstate. They served slices of tomato with the lox and bagel. Fresh, ripe, Mississippi tomato with the red onions and capers, and lox imported from New York.

There were other places that served breakfast in those days. Governor Waller ate breakfast most days at the Mayflower, then again for lunch. Primos number two had a very regular Belhaven breakfast clan. Sometimes daddy and I ate with them on Saturdays. Lefleur's had breakfast. When Sonny Montgomery came to Jackson, he'd stay at the Jacksonian and eat at Lefleur's. Sometimes daddy would have a breakfast meeting with him there. A few of those times, I was invited along as sort of daddy's attache but also his protege. He would have been better off taking my sister. She was much more likable and much more interested in that trajectory of life. I wanted to do absurd things like make movies or write about nothing.  The eggs were good, though, and knowing Sonny Montgomery was a pleasure.

Due to poor design choices, Old Tyme ended up windowless. Once inside, you had to focus on your book or your paper or your food, or, god forbid, you come with a friend, which almost nobody did. It probably would have made more sense for me to find a place closer to my office in West Jackson, but there wasn't anywhere that great, and Northside Drive was a direct route to Industrial Drive; you just had to drive through a growing spot of urban decay before you got there.

Lunch was usually at the Office cafeteria. When I was little, the cafeteria food was fantastic, but as Annie Ruth retired and women who worked under her retired, we ended up with cooks who weren't nearly as talented, and food costs started going through the roof, so quality suffered.

Many lunches would find me at the Zoo with a hot dog and fries. The Zoo was my special place. I wasn't Boyd Campbell II there, I was just Boyd, and even the animals knew me. It's a strange feeling when an elephant recognizes you and walks toward you, and turns her head so you can make eye contact. If only she should talk. Marre would reach out her trunk, and I would reach out my hand. We couldn't touch, but we could almost, and contact was made. You're my friend, my old friend, and I miss you when I'm not here. I wish you could speak.

Old Tyme was a terrible place to take a date. There was no bar and even fewer pretensions, and the servings were enormous. There was a girl from Memphis who was miserable in Memphis and miserable everywhere else, too, and would visit me because I'd spend all weekend trying to make her less miserable, and she loved the food at Old Tyme and Mayflower. Her, I could take to Old Tyme. She was blonde and bright-eyed and didn't read and hated my movies, and was everything I said I didn't want in a girl, but she had all of my attention, and making her smile, even knowing it wouldn't last, was all I thought about. Not many women could finish an open-face Reuben sandwich with potato salad and a pickle, but she could.

Irv wanted to retire, so he brought in a guy I knew from Creative Crafts and Hobbies across the street to run the store, but it crashed and burned, and he ended up with a fifteen thousand dollar phone bill and back taxes, so Irv went back to work himself. For a while. Not a very long while, though. He shut the place down and sold off the cases and settled the debts, and retired while he was still healthy enough to enjoy some of it, and an era ended. We have breakfast places now. Broadstreet has a very devoted crowd and really good food, but it's not the same.

Jackson never got another Jewish restaurant. Nobody ever talks about Greek restaurants, run by actual greeks, or Italian restaurants, run by actual Italians. Chinese restaurants and Thai restaurants, and Sushi restaurants are all run by Viet Namese immigrants, but nobody has a Viet Namese restaurant, which is actually excellent food. We have lots of cuisines but no cultures.

I miss Jackson the way it was. Obviously, we made mistakes because look at where we are now, but in those days, breakfast at Old Tyme, Lunch at the Zoo, and tickets to the symphony at night with some raven-haired creature I was afraid to even speak to made me feel like the world was on the way up and there would only be good things in the future. It didn't work out that way. There were much more than just good things in the future. The future held decay and pain and loss unimaginable. Maybe I miss the days when I didn't know that. Maybe I miss the optimism of youth, but I'm pretty sure it's the Lox. And Irv. I miss Irv.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Tall Girls In Heels

The fates returned me to a world occupied by twenty-year-old women, despite my attempts to avoid it.  My long absence makes my observations that much more vivid.  Among other new growth, I've marked the distinct development of a phenomenon where the tallest girls wear the highest heels.  To make up for past sins, we spent forty years on confidence exercises and esteem-building on our daughters to create a new race of being, of which these may be the new model.  

Fun-sized cheerleader models still exist, but they're no longer the unchallenged queens.  Girls of every shape and size are embraced and celebrated now with an almost intimidating confidence.  I've heard these memes discussed for a while now, but seeing them in action is still very new.

The trope of a shy, tall girl in flats is no longer.  They not only wear heels now, but they wear extreme heels.  The kind that's probably not safe to wear for men.  The points of their stilettos are microscopic now, actual weapons on each foot.  I've even seen a pair shaped like scimitars point down.  Their chunky heels are immense.  I've seen the felter shoes worn by Boris Karloff, Glen Strange, and Fred Gwynne to play Frankenstein, and they aren't as high or as chunky as these.  Daring hemlines are back, too; along with the shoes, the combined effect being enough exposed flesh to make another person. 

I always preferred tall girls.  They changed the rules enough to make things very interesting.  Most lacked romantic confidence, though, but mine was worse so that usually killed any spark of connection.  I usually needed the extra push from a fun-sized cheerleader type, either telling me what to do or begging me to rescue her before it's too late.

Boys are different now too.  I think it's more internal than external, though.  Maybe there wasn't this concern about correcting past mistakes.  I suspect we have a way to go with girls yet, though.  Younger beasts learn early to hide their doubts or get consumed by their peers.  I'm more than pleased with the progress, although seeing it makes me laugh.  I keep it to myself, though.  I love you.  Go!  Be Tall!  You earned it!  I'll tell Mr. Karloff he ain't gettin' his shoes back.  

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Wednesday Haiku

Peanuts are good food

boiled tastes better than roasting 

my father said so

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Duel of the Fates

Should I not survive, I've left money in my will for someone to read this either at the wedding of Jack Cooke or the funeral of Jay Cooke, with an extra stipend if they are concurrent.  

Because the Campbell boys chose mates based on sentimental rather than logical reasons, the Campbell Clan remained childless for a quarter of a century after the birth of my sister.  She would be the one to break the drought when she announced at family Sunday dinner that a child was on the way.   Katie Aiken had pioneered the process a few months before and declared it safe, at least the child-bearing part; the child-rearing part remained undetermined.  Months later, my boy Jack was born without any hope of escaping a wicked mouth or a mind on his own, as he inherited it from dozens on either side of his genome.  

Sixteen years after his last space epic, George Lucas presented The Phantom Menace to revive his most successful franchise.  I had seen it at a theater that's now closed for the very first showing with some Millsaps kids.  Jay, despite his deep-abiding love for genre films, had not.  At Sunday dinner with grandmother, Jay declared that his firstborn would not survive this earth without a love for Star Wars, and, although he was but four years old, Jay and I should take our young padawan to see The Phantom Menace at the Northpark multiplex cinema.  

Having already seen the movie, I knew it kind of sucked.  Completely sucked, actually, except for one part where the two good Jedi had the greatest lightsaber duel yet with the evil Darth Maul.  Tickets were purchased, popcorn and cokes for three, and we entered the theater only to find that the only seats together were on the third row from the screen.  

As a child, I loved sitting in the front row as it made me feel more a part of the action.  As an adult, I learned that was actually a terrible place to sit because you have to look straight up, and it distorts your perspective on the screen.  We didn't have a great deal of choice, though, so seats were procured with Jay to the left, me to the right, and Jack nestled safely between us, or so we thought.

With Jack being in the first round of children in our social group, none of us were prepared for what it might be like.  The women seemed to have a handle on it, but we men were still determined to carry on as before, but occasionally carrying a tiny mascot with us.  It was still our practice to visit the Cherokee every Thursday for beers and sandwiches and rounds of mutual defacing and sometimes pool or video poker.  

In those days, a pretty dreadful man from Memphis decided to bring topless entertainment to Jackson, and our Thursday night adventures began to end at Tiffany's Cabaret, mere blocks south of the Cherokee.  Jay's contribution to these side-quests usually involved him asking the dancers if they ever regretted not finishing high school and why they wanted that godawful tattoo.  This practice came to an end when one member of our retinue forgot he was borrowing his wife's car on a night when he had the misfortune of winning a Tiffany's Cabaret T-Shirt in a lapdance competition.  When she found the T-shirt he drunkenly left in her car, or rather smelled it before she found it, on her way to work in her car the next day, our visits to topless joints soon came to an end.  While we may have been ready for adult entertainment, we may not have been ready for the adult responsibility of taking a four-year-old to the movies.

Although it had been nearly twenty years since the last Star Wars movie, George Lucas didn't do such a great job writing the script for his return to that universe.  Far too much of the film centers around a frog-like creature who talks like an idiot and has the unfortunate name of Jar-Jar Binks.  Jay was making the best of it, though.  Nobody ever called him Jay Jay Binks, but they could have.  He'd waited so long for more Star Wars, he was going to make the best of it, and even if the movie sucked (which it did), his progeny, the fruit of his loins, his firstborn, was there with him, experiencing this "masterpiece" with him, and that made it worth-while.

Once you're introduced to the character of Darth Maul, you know there's a pretty good chance that at least one cool scene might be ahead.  At some point, this (very cool-looking) Sith knight must do battle with the two Jedi.  I'd already told Jay how cool it was.  After enduring what seemed like days of Jar Jar Binks, Boss Nass, and a teenage Natalie Portman phoning in her lines, you could tell the one cool scene in the entire goddamn movie was coming soon.

Much of the success of the first three films was due to the score by John Williams. Returning to the Star Wars universe, he was determined to come up with something new and impressive.  Knowing in advance that there was just the one cool spot in the movie, he saved his considerable talents for that and composed a moving piece called The Duel of the Fates for the fight between the Sith Darth Maul and the two Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Qui-Gon Jinn.

With the two Jedi facing off against the horned Sith, I could see Jay's knuckles grow white as he gripped the armrest.  This was it--the only cool thing in the movie.  The Lightsaber Duel was about to commence.  Williams' score begins with an ominous choral note.  The light sabers light up with the now famous swisssssh sound.  

Among people I know, there's something of a rule that the more you want something, the less likely you are to get it.  Jay had waited sixteen years for another lightsaber duel.  He wanted so much for it to be cool.  I had told him it was cool. He'd heard the music on the radio and seen video snippets.  This was it!  The moment was now!

Just as the lightsabers first clashed with an electric spark and a bit of smoke, at the bottom of the screen, away from the considerable action on the screen, was the unmistakable figure of a completely naked four-year-old running in front of it.  Jay looked at me.  I looked at him, and we both looked down at the spot between us where Jack was supposed to be safely nestled, now an empty bucket of popcorn.  With a pained look on his face, Jay seemed to plead that, since I'd already seen this part of the movie, I might field this crisis for him.  I mentally ran down my inventory of how to handle social situations and found there was no entry for how one handles a naked four-year-old at the movies, and I turned my hands up.  

We were indoors, and there's every reason to believe that Jack would have survived unharmed had we ignored him for three minutes until we get to the part where Darth Maul gets cut in half (spoiler alert).  I would survive, and Jack would most certainly survive, but if his mother found out we let him run naked through the theater unhindered while we watched the movie, there's every reason to believe that Jay may not survive, and if he did, Jack would be an only child because Jay would spend the rest of his life sleeping on the sofa. 

Regretfully, painfully, Jay motioned, "I got this," to me and left his seat in pursuit of the naked child.  I'm sure there were times when Jay got to see the entire sequence unhindered on television.  The movie wasn't really that great, anyway.  There's just one chance to see the first Lightsaber duel in sixteen years, though, and my brother-in-law sacrificed it for his firstborn.  There would be other times and other opportunities to screw up, but for this one, Jay did the right thing.  

Friday, March 3, 2023

Do Say It

 In several parts of the country, including Mississippi, there is a movement to eliminate any mention or suggestion of homosexuality from undergraduate education.  In Florida, it surfaced as the much talked about "don't say gay" bill.  Their goal here is to protect children from ideas and influences that can harm them--without any proof that these ideas or influences actually do harm them.

I am a product of that kind of education.  Until I went to college, there was never a mention of homosexuality in any of my educational experiences.  We learned that Pangloss lost the tip of his nose due to syphilis, but there was never any mention that a man could love another man in even the most remote fantasy.  I was a product of that kind of education, and at sixteen, I tried to use it to ruin a man's reputation and destroy his career.

I've written before about the troubles I had with my headmaster, David Hicks.  David called us dolts, degenerates, and worse.  He was making, what seemed to be, a specific effort to push half my friends out of the school on charges that could have applied equally to others but didn't because David Hicks never touched the kids who he imagined had fathers who earned more than the rest.

My efforts to discuss the situation rationally with David went nowhere and were evidently irritating him.  By the spring of my tenth-grade year, it was clear we were headed for a collision course, one that I would lose.  My dad agreed to sit in on one of my meetings with our headmaster.  It was generally his policy to let me fight my own battles, secure that his reputation was enough to help aid me along the way without having to show his face.  That he went in person to this meeting was most likely my mother's influence.

Although my father had little to say, David Hicks was not impressed by him, by me, or by anything either of us had to say.  I could tell by the look on my father's face that even if David Hicks didn't kick me out of St. Andrews, I wouldn't be returning the next year.  He had had enough.  

Desperate to turn the tide of this battle and give me something to use against Hicks, I blurted out, "Professor X is a Gay!" hoping to prove to my headmaster that the true degenerates were on his side of the field, not mine.  It's not important that you know who Professor X is.  More than forty years later, I haven't any idea if he was actually "a gay" or not.  I do know that my friend had said he was and I should be careful, or he'd look at my butt.  He said it often enough that, in my moment of desperation, that's what came to mind.  

Keep in mind, this is the same friend who said I should put my "mule" on the overhead projector in the hall and shine it into Peppermint Patty's classroom because it'd be funny. When I pointed out that it'd be just as funny if he projected his own "mule" into Peppermint Patty's classroom, he told me to shut up.  I should have remembered that before using his reference to try and smear another man's reputation, but I didn't.

The truth is, at sixteen, I had no idea what homosexuality meant.  It was in none of the books I read, none of the movies I saw, no teacher ever mentioned it, and I had yet to meet a single person who was willing to say they were gay.  I was as shielded from the concept as Ron Desantis wants the students of Florida to be, and I tried to use my ignorance as a weapon.  

The truth is, I was actually surrounded by homosexuals, but nobody ever said it.  A fair number of my classmates would come out by the time they were thirty.  Several of the shows I watched on television had people like Paul Lynde, Charles Nelson Riley, Rock Hudson, and Raymond Burr in them, but it'd be another fifteen years before I had any idea of this.  Paul Lynde even sued a reporter who said he was gay once and won!

All I knew about homosexuality was that it was something you really didn't want to be, and this Hicks character was endangering us by forcing a teacher on us who might look at our butts.  Of all the times David Hicks ignored what I was saying when he shouldn't, this is a time when I'm glad he paid me no mind.  Accusing a teacher of being a homosexual in 1980 could have been a career killer.  A few years later,  there was an extremely popular professor at another school who made the mistake of admitting to his students what he was and was shortly thereafter shown the door with no recourse.

My ignorance could have really hurt somebody.  I wasn't a mean or vindictive kid, but the kid underground told me these people were bad, and they were bad for us, and nothing in my experience gave me any positive information about homosexuals to counter that.  

Let's amplify this situation a bit.  At the same school, there were several kids who would eventually tell the world they were gay.  There was even one of us who was transgender.  Neither society nor our school gave us any way to conceptualize this situation as anything but negative stereotypes.  One woman I know who eventually told us she was a lesbian was one of the meanest kids I knew.  I never understood that at the time.  She was so pretty.  Now I understand that she was mean to protect herself from us.  We were unintentionally being really very cruel to kids we didn't mean to hurt simply because we didn't know any better.

Psychologists tell us that up to ten percent of the population doesn't fit into the traditional heterosexual description.  In the late seventies, our upper school was around two hundred kids.  That means that twenty of them weren't heterosexual.  That means that, had they been found out, twenty of them would most likely have been bullied by my friends and me because we didn't know any better.  We were told they were aliens.  We were told they were this odd combination of very weak but also very dangerous.    It means that there were at least twenty kids at our school who couldn't tell us a very fundamental thing about themselves for fear of how we would react.  

That's a dangerous and painful situation, and it could easily have been avoided by an education that treated homosexuality as a human condition that should be discussed at least as much as the Syphilis that Pangloss died of.   That's the world these "don't say gay" bills create.  Children who are ignorant and uninformed can be vicious and hurtful.  I was.  People say they're very tired of having the "gay agenda" rammed down their throats, but I lived in a time when nobody said gay, and there was a genuine cruelty about it, cruel because homosexuality does exist and it exists without taking any victims, but without guidance, people can easily fall into victimizing them.  

Wednesday, March 1, 2023


Many people choose to see nothing in the world beyond the tip of their nose.

It's a matter of self-preservation.  Blinding yourself to the troubles of the world gives you more time, energy, and resolve to deal with your own.

Shortening our vision creates a deficit because we can't see threats as they approach, so we pay people to go out into the world and report back on what they see.  There once was a time when we could rely on these reporters to simply tell us what they saw.  Men learned there was money to be made by reporting back what they saw, but from a particular perspective, and then the reporters became unreliable.

Because we cannot see who our enemies truly are, there's money to be made in telling us who to hate and who to trust.  Telling people they have enemies to fear makes them very loyal and their generosity very dependable.

Finding things out for yourself is a difficult path, but in the end, who else can you trust?  In the world there are many more people who are afraid then there are people to fear, but the only way to know who is who is to find out for yourself.

Official Ted Lasso