Foto by tgw, "Moon at 4 AM," New York City, March 2011
Say Goodbye to Fellow Right Thinker, Joe Bageant: Joe Bageant, 64, American novelist, columnist and social commentator, cancer
The View From Pompey's Head
After Pompey was stabbed to death as he was getting out of his boat thinking he was going ashore in Alexandria, Egypt, seeking asylum, Ptolomy sent his severed head in a box to Caesar thinking Caesar at the time was thinking of Pompey as his enemy. Caesar instead got pissed off when he saw Pompey's (once his son in law) head in that box and it disturbed him to the point that he wept.
I remember being in my brother's bookstore in 1954 when on the store's NYTimes Bestseller List table there appeared a novel. It was The View From Pompey's Head by a writer from New Orleans named Hamilton Basso. I just read a Boston Globe article of a few years back on how obscure very successful writers can become--that fame as a writer has nothing to do with your success as a writer. Basso wasn't a first novelist; he had already published a novel on the Civil War--I saw his novels descirbed as "comin' back to" novels. Also, he'd been an associate editor on the New Yorker. Critics panned Basso's new book; however, The View From Pompey's Head fooled the critics and turned out to be one of the hottest bestselling books of all time, staying on the NYTimes Bestseller List for 40 straight weeks. The book was so popular, Basso was paid $100,000 for the movie rights.
The title of that book intrigued me back then--BUT, I've never read the book. I was the bookstore janitor when the book came out--a teenager not into reading anything but books on hunting tigers in India, playing golf, and faithfully reading Down Beat and Metronome jazz magazines--though I do remember the local literati types, including my at that time unpublished brother, discussing the book--a New Orleans-born New York lawyer "comin' back to his hometown" to defend a famous writer...blah, blah, blah. The book "sensationally" dealing with that oh-so taboo subject at that pre-Civil Rights time: miscegenation. That's all I remember about it. Hamilton Basso? I tried to remember his name--my intentions to read the book were honorable. Like a whole lot of southern boys who aspired to be writers grew into writing idolizing the best of the southern writers--and you read southern writers--Faulkner the top dog, but also for me there was Little Truman Capote; or there was Robert Penn Warren (and All the King's Men is a great southern novel--a journalistic crime novel long before Little Truman wrote In Cold Blood--about the life and death of "Huey Long"--the King in the book). And I, instead of reading Basso, discovered big Thomas Wolfe (not the little white-suit-wearing fop from Richmond), who knew damn good and well nobody could ever go home again...and if they did they were going to be disappointed and probably depressed and god knows into what kind of trouble, especially after back home found out they'd been living in New York City for many years...and to then go home to North Carolina (Catawba to Thomas Wolfe)...it didn't work for his protagonist in Look Homeward Angel and then again in his huge long boxcar-length novel that Maxwell Perkins tried to trim down to a readable tome, The Web and the Rock, there was big-time trouble for the revisiting Gant brother from the get go. And there was Carson McCullars and Eudora Welty and Faulkner's brother John (Dollar Cotton), and now I'm drifting around remembering southern writers I read and liked--I tried to read Walker Percy one time but couldn't finish him...that was when I lived in New Orleans.
When I think of New Orleans now it's like standing in an ancient corridor that is echoing with a long way-back past being whispered to me like an old Movietone News soundtrack sputtering away in that almost-forgotten past--memories bouncing off the tiled-tunneled walls--so many years ago now--all the players on that stage with me down there mostly lost or probably gone--my ex-wife (gone); Henry the Voodoo Man Lewis, Nap Bonaparte, and Miss Aggie (surely gone), the feisty and Scarlett O'Hara-type, Lovely Ava (certainly lost); or the asshole Paul Longeret (lost), who I called Paul Lingerie, an appellation he didn't mind--which was made perfectly clear to me later when I saw him half naked wearing women's panties and marching in a Mardi Gras parade--though my old and most dearest New Orleans pal, Frankie L, who at the time I worked with him was just out of the military police with a social worker degree and without a sou in his pocket--living in the Y over by Robert E. Lee Circle, is still alive and doing well in California--and here I started rolling out barrels of memories of my New Orleans good times: on the Lake eating boiled crabs; on Bourbon at Lafitte's Blacksmith Bar; on Bourbon in the Bourbon House sitting writing at a table behind which was a plaque stating that Faulkner had sat at that very table writing in long hand on his first novel, Mosquitos--and there I sat and wrote in my notebook on my novel (lost) at that very table under that huge oil painting that I really can't remember the subject matter of--though I think it was of the discovery of the Crescent City by the Frenchman LaSalle.
Today all day I've been trying to escape by reading and rereading Freud on the devil-possessed German artist who sold his soul to the Devil--then trying to write a new song--and then I decided to take a coffee break and I turned on the Gary Null show on WBAI-FM, the Pacifica radio station here in Manhattan and the next thing I know I'M DOOMED.
Gary first played an excerpt from a Bill O'Reilly teevee show where Shanty Irish Bill was interviewing Superrightwing Babe, Ann Coulter. Now I know who Bill O'Reilly is--he's a sex maniac who had to pay off a chick to keep her from filing rape charges on his slimy ass a few years back--I think he was high on cocaine at the time--and this truly backward-thinking Irish Catholic boy who lucked out and found his fame through being asshole-like controversial...and Ann Coulter, I've never heard her talk before (she talks like a truck driver in drag), though again, through the "progressive" on-line press I know to progressives she's a true nutjob--and to rightwingers she's a hot-to-trot blonde talk-show whore who claims to be a journalist.
Let me tell you the truth, folks, old Gary Null played an excerpt from Bill and Ann--and Ann was saying, really loud and sure of herself, that she'd been researching the government's figures on what were safe levels of low-level radiation the human body could take without reaping any negative health effects from it were way too low. She said she had during her investigation of this matter come across scientists and scientific studies that showed low levels of high radiation were actually good for us. She cited studies that showed women in a high tuberculosis area of the US after multiple X-rays checking to see if they had tuberculosis found these same women had low rates of breast cancer after such X-ray exposure. Lusty Ann even found one doctor (scientist) who believed it was good to live around nuclear sites--even those leaking low rates of radiation--and this "doctor" had studies that showed women who lived around nuclear plants had low rates of cancer. I stood amazed listening to this total BULLSHIT!
And this Coulter woman, a total fool, a mush-brained fool, this insane woman, kept on with this shit--going on making insane-woman statements like she stated it was insane that some of US believed that our nuclear plants should be shut down because of their being a danger to our health. She ended by saying nuclear power was vital to the recovery of our economy.
I was thinking...don't We the People own the airwaves over which these insane people are spewing out this dangerously false information? Truth is, absorbing low-levels of radiation over a several-day period will fucking kill you--look how many people die of cancer in spite of intensive chemo and cobalt radiation treatments.
Sorry, this ignorance is so depressing to me. To hear totally insane radio personalities spouting totally unscientific illogic in such matters to me is criminal--though they do have a First Amendment right to free speech. The trouble here is, these birds are not screaming fire in a crowded theater, they're screaming "Stay where you are, though the theater's is on fire, you are in no danger."
Ann Coulter's and Bill O'Reilly's truly deadly advice wasn't the part of Gary Null's show that doomed me. Oh no. What triggered the doom was an excerpt from a nuclear physicist's analysis of the state of radiation things back after the Three-Mile Island meltdown in which he prefaced his talk by talking about the history of nuclear testing here in the USA, a testing that began back in the dawning of our atomic bomb program out on the Trinity Flats in southern New Mexico. This scientist was talking about how the fall-out from those early tests were still blowing in the winds and living in the soil from New Mexico east across West Texas, the ground on which they were exploded totally soaked in radon or hot plutonium waste...and, whoaaaa, that stopped me in my tracks. I was born in West Texas. I was born as the head of World War II was pushing out of its war mother's womb. As a wee child I recall (I've been remembering since I was two years old) listening to radio broadcasts of the first Trinity Flats atomic bomb explosions. I also remember the two Fat Boy A-bombs when they were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima--bombs that flattened the centers of those cities--burning 300,000 Japanese civilians into photo negatives, some imaged against the sides of buildings, filmed as they were cooked by the fire storm created at the epicenter of these blasts. Harry Truman said the killing of 300,000 Japs (that's what we called them then: Japs, Nips, Tojos) in this horrendous way was necessary in order to save the lives of 2 million of our brave stupid fool young men who We the People conscripted as soon as they were 18 to go fight our continuous wars for us.
After the Japs surrendered, I remember the further testing of an Atomic bomb on Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific--a huge explosion that left the Bikini Atoll totally contaminated and almost blown out of existence.
And later I lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, when out on the Yucca Flats in Nevada they began frequent above-ground and underground atomic and hydrogen bomb testing--and this scientist on Gary Null's radio program was talking about how the fall-out from these tests had totally blown over the Vegas area--had contaminated huge acres of Nevada soil--particles blown high up into the wind currents, carried off across Arizona and New Mexico and then the Rockies to be windswept over the flat plains of West Texas.
The DOOM; I've been subject to nuclear contamination all of my life--from growing up in West Texas, to later living on the slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above Santa Fe, facing that Las Vegas west; later I lived near the Livermore Labs in San Jose and Los Gatos, California. Plus, yes, I visited Las Vegas one summer--a summer I now remember my wife's uncle who owned the Vegas Holiday Inn talking about how these nuclear tests rocked Vegas when they went off and the dust storms that blew over Vegas then. [My wife's uncle's Holiday Inn was built like a stack of 45 rpm records on a turntable--Holiday Inn was founded by Sam Phillips with the money he made selling Elvis Presley to RCA Victor records.]
Lord Chaos loves nuclear fission. Lord Chaos, who is a neuter, loves the fact that contamination is the result of human life--human monkeys are shitmakers deluxe; human monkeys are contaminated by a deep-seated death wish. So get ready to face that big red glow that one day will signal the end of MANKIND--with the planet shouting "HOOORAY" as all humans disappear--melted into the contaminated soil--a cremated race.
for The Daily Growler