"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands,
hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats."
-- H. L. Mencken
I'm a recluse.
Not obsessively. But I'm not very social. I don't like to go out. I'd much rather spend my time one-on-one with people I have genuine affection for than to have to give an anonymous group the benefit of the doubt. Or, if given the choice, I prefer being sequestered in my studio painting, creating comix or writing.
This is not strictly misanthropic behavior. It has more to do with lessons learned than compulsive aversion towards humans. Lessons that have made me compulsively aversive towards humans.
I was eight years old in 1952. My Father was an intellectual populist, a political liberal molded by egalitarianism and the presidency of FDR. It was a Presidential election year. The Republican Party had nominated General Dwight David Eisenhower, a war hero. The Democrats had nominated Adali Stevenson, a cerebral lefty, as their standard-bearer.
I was beaten-up in the schoolyard that year for wearing a Stevenson for President button, and forced to wear an "I Like Ike" button. It was my first visceral lesson regarding the unhealthy potential of unpopular ideas.
So when I find myself in a room of strangers a philosophical dilemma can present itself. Is it better to keep silent and be thought a fool? Or should I join the fray, speak my mind and provide evidence to the fact?
When I'm cheek to jowl in an unfamiliar crowd it's probably better to keep a low profile. But mix that exposure with alcohol or other intoxicants trouble can materialize expeditiously.
And I do enjoy self-medicating. But let me explain my position.
I have a created cartoon character -- Necropolis Keester -- who represents my palliative side. Necropolis Keester walks into a bar and says to the bartender "A dram of your most hazardous libation. The world at large is beginning to slip into focus and I don't like what I see." There you have it, my raison d'être.
And part of the problem is my appearance. I'm a shaggy motherfucker, bearded as always. But my hair has grown out into a gray mane, wild and a few inches south of my shoulders. If I wear it tied back I can pass as a sensitive pony-tail guy. But when it's down one could say I favor Geronimo, off the reservation. Or Rasputin, mad and full of malevolent mesmer. I project renegade by just showing up.
Recently I went drinking with a friend of mine at an Irish bar in Decatur, GA, a hotbed of liberal delusion. As opposed to the suburban ring that surrounds Atlanta, a hotbed of right-wing delusion. My perspective is that worshipful confidence in any political system is delusion. Unfortunately that conviction paints me as a clear target for both the left and the right. I'm one of the few things they can agree on.
I was sitting at the bar with my friend, Shawn Vinson, at Mac Magee's whiskey bar.
"You look rather like a ruffian tonight," he said.
"Doin' my best," I answered.
I'd gotten to know Shawn in 2008 when he hosted a show of my art in the Vinson Gallery on the Decatur Square. The show -- "The Irreverent Art of Skip Williamson"-- was in conjunction with the Decatur Book Festival, the third largest event of its kind in the Nation. I was promoted in the Book Festival's literature as an outlaw, an artistic heretic. It was a selling point. I was also asked by the Festival to give a talk, a few words about what I do, where I came from and where I figure into the scheme of things. I'm always happy to bullshit the bullshitable.
Shawn and I hung the show. On the wall that faced out the doorway we hung "Last Call", my painting of Jesus forlorn and in despair slumped over a bar surrounded by empty Rolling Rocks. It was the perfect image for for "The Irreverent Art of...". The door of the gallery faced down a hallway that opened onto the street. The painting was well-lit and could be seen from the sidewalk, especially after dark.
When I was in the third grade my teacher wailed on me with a yardstick for drawing cartoons in my workbook. Even though at the time it was just another thumping, in the long run it was a harbinger that foreshadowed my art's unsteady relationship with Authority over the years.
It was a couple of days before the opening of the Book Festival. I showed up at the gallery early in the afternoon. Shawn was behind his desk and the director of the Festival was sitting across from him. The director's countenance was grim. The ambient climate was austere.
"What's up?" I asked optimistically.
The Decatur Book Festival was concerned that my Jesus painting would alienate visiting authors and damage the Festival. They wanted it removed. It could hang around the corner but not in the doorway.
My response was fuck you. You promote me as a firebrand in your brochure, but when I freak existential with paint on canvas you bring down the hammer. Besides, it's antithetical for an event that celebrates literature and letters to embrace censorship. It is, in fact, outrageous duplicitous flimflam.
Over the next couple of days I stood my ground, but pressure was being applied to Shawn from all sides. He never asked me to capitulate, but in the end -- after much vociferous bitching -- I acquiesced and moved the offending painting deeper into the gallery. I made it clear that I was bending not because of the demands from the Decatur Book Farcical, but because my friend was suffering a shitstorm.
In the ensuing time since my lamentable encounter with the literary butt weasels of Gwinnett County, Shawn and I have become good friends. Enough so that he's managed to pry me from my cloistered room into saloons and and gin mills. We drink with men, as apparently, is the custom. Personally I prefer the company of women and tend to avoid testosterone driven gatherings. Women are way more interesting and complex, whereas with men it's all about simple-minded bluster and comparing dicks. If someone's going to measure my dick, I'd prefer it to be a winsome and scented vixen.
But it seems like I'm always pulled back into the schoolyard. There are lessons to be learned.
I was with Shawn at Mac Magee's tossing back pints of Boddingtons. We were with a group of men, some I knew, others I didn't. Shawn was on the stool to my left and he introduced me to the guy on my right. The guy on my right was talking politics to the guy on his immediate right. It was the usual lefty garble with pokes and verbal incendiaries toward the right. Unfortunately I found it necessary -- my tongue loosened by English ale and Irish whiskey -- to suggest that politics is the problem. That government exists to murder our children and steal our money.
The guy on my right glowered indisposition.
Stoking the fire I said "There's not a bit of difference between the left wing and the right wing. They're both attached to the same ugly bird." The American electoral process is smoke and mirrors. The house always wins. The people always lose."
"You don't vote?!" he snarled.
"Vote for them? That would only encourage them. Anarchy is Democracy in action," I said quoting Edward Abbey.
I thought about getting into a discussion about how the only important politics are on the local level, but unfortunately local politics are the most corrupt. Then I thought better of it. Too macro.
Instead I said "There's no difference between Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Obama. They all serve the same masters."
"Obama is nothing more than a slogan in a suit. Yet another snake-oil salesman," I added.
Now enraged, the guy abandoned civil discourse and went peripheral, became vituperative, took the game to disrespect and derision and made a snide and pejorative comment about the length of my hair.
I hadn't had that one thrown at me since the 60s, and then by drooling right-wing thugs. I was caught off guard.
"Kiss my ass," I responded. My antenna was up. I was sizing the guy up and calculating my chances. It seemed likely that this would end up in a bar brawl and that I would land bloodied and in the cooler, a guest of the state that I had so vehemently disparaged. The irony!
"Pull back that ugly mane of your and I will" he spit.
I cinched my hair back, puckered up and said "Go for it, you fat douche!"
I wouldn't say cooler heads prevailed. We were both red-faced with steam surging out of our ears. But we settled into simmering acrimony, murmuring small hostilities back and forth until he hauled off his barstool and, with his friend in tow, left the tavern for another down the block, staring daggers in my direction as he exited.
There would be no pounding in the schoolyard this night.
The road to oblivion is riddled with potholes and unexpected curves, and I'm driving like a bat out of hell, full-throttle and under the influence. This can not end well.