Property Line–Blockhouse

I don’t have a good visual memory.  I know people who can actually see memories from way back propertylinewith considerable accuracy.  I can’t.  So I have been hoping to find more pictures of the property back in South Carolina, the one with the block house on it.  Here’s one of the better ones I have found so far.

We are sitting on the property line between our place and Grandma’s place.  If you squint a little into the sun there you can make out the side of Grandma’s house.  So that’s how close we were to her place.  Not all that far across a field of low lying weeds.  I don’t ever remember anything being grown on purpose in that field, just naturally occurring weeds.

As you can see—a little bit—a line of trees ran along the property line, and not that far on to the left and back from the property line a little was the well.  That’s where we got our water. The earth around that that well was always a bit muddy.  I used to walk in that mud barefoot because I liked the feeling of it.  There must have been a leak somewhere.

The one of us to the left is brother, Steve, and the little guy, seated on the block, is brother, Dave.  He looks at least a year old, maybe 18 months.  So the picture must have been taken in 53 or 54.  We are barefoot per usual.  A pair of shoes is a terrible thing to waste.

I am there but completely blocked out.

Looks as if we are doing some pretend thing, maybe we are pretending to camp out.  Though I don’t know why we would be doing that.  But behind there—it looks as if we have constructed a tent and inside the tent appears to be a broken down palette of the kind used to carry brick and block about.  Seems as if where ever we lived one or more of those things could be found lying about or leaning up against a wall.

Somewhere right along there, more to our right, I think was a good sized persimmon tree.  I ate some of those once that were a little on the green side and got a stomach ache out of it.

The Block House

Here I am again—I was going to say—looking pretty country.  But I don’t see anything here to scporchsignify country.  I do know, though, the picture was taken of the porch of the house in South Carolina, the one the old man built out of block and that had four rooms but no bathroom.  Note the brickwork.  That was his doing, but so were those steps to the porch: four blocks just plopped next to each other.  The old man suffered from a slight attention to detail problem.  I remember those block now that I see them.  They used to wobble when you stepped up to the porch.

The lawn clearly is in need of a mowing.  Ha. Ha.  Nobody had lawns back there and certainly nobody bothered to mow them.  Mostly people had dirt yards; sometimes they would sweep the dirt yards to get the dirt off.  Ha. Ha.  Those weeds are just whatever stuff grew in front of the house.

I am wearing shoes so it probably isn’t summer, but I am wearing shorts though so maybe it is.  I am wearing one of my trusty t-shirts, and I didn’t wear much of anything when it was hot summer.  So maybe it wasn’t summer. But maybe they had been dressed up for the photo session.  So I guess I don’t know what time of year it was, except that it probably wasn’t winter.

I don’t know what that thing is off to my right on the porch.  It looks like a fish, but what’s a fish doing on the porch.  We didn’t eat fish; the old man didn’t like to pick out the bones.  He did say, though, they had fish fries when he was a kid.  Folks would gather by some lake, they would pull a truck up next to the lake and use it to power a live cable they would throw into the lake to electrocute the fish. They would just come bobbing up and all you had to do was collect them.

I could be five or six in that picture.  I don’t know, but if you ask me I look pretty boney.  Back then though I was always boney.  But maybe this was during my sickly period when I was sick all the time with strep throat before I had my tonsils out.


I look sort of pensive.  I wonder what I was thinking about.  Maybe my head was completely empty or maybe I was thinking about eating dinner, or what the hell I was doing sitting there.  I have been told I was a thoughtful child and very curious.  So maybe I am thinking, why am I here, what’s going to happen, what’s the point in all of this, why have I been put on this earth and is there a purpose.

The usual stuff.

Aunt Kitty–Late Edwardian

This here is Aunt Kitty.  I don’t know her last name, but she was the sister of Joan’s, my mother’s, auntkittymother.  So her maiden name must have been Barrett, the same as her sister’s.  But she was married at least twice and I have no idea what her last husband’s name was.

She is like a little time machine back to the era of the Late Edwardians, over there in England.  She had her heyday around the time of WWI.  She was the tutor for the children—or so the story goes—of Count Zeppelin, the guy responsible for the Zeppelin, over in Germany.  He told her a war was coming, so she got out of Germany and went back to England.  From there, she immigrated with her sister to Canada.

She ended up with her second husband in San Diego.  He was an alcoholic.  He had a house, but he didn’t work.  He mostly lay around drunk.  She had to make ends meet.  She sold eggs and kept goats and they sold the goat milk.  Also they were on relief.  She took in Joan and Aunt Betty after their mother died of breast cancer, the so-called father, Kaller, being pretty long out of the picture.

Joan went to Grossmont High School, so this picture was probably taken somewhere out in East County, the boondocks as it was called back then, near El Cajon.

That’s about all I know about Aunt Kitty.  I saw another picture of her somewhere and she has a big wart on her nose, and I thought she looked like a witch.  I don’t know when I saw this picture.

She died a few months before I was born.  So in addition to her normal depression, Joan was depressed by Aunt Kitty’s death about the time I came into the world.  I would say I sucked in depression with my mother’s milk, but Joan’s breasts “caked,” so I wasn’t breast fed much.

And, oh, that dog lying over there in the right side of the picture–that was Joan’s dog, according to Joan, and it’s name was Teddy.  My brothers and I had for years to suffer with another dog named
Teddy.  Joan named it and I don’t think we knew it was an incarnation of the Teddy lying in this picture.

The Marston Clock

This guy is my mother’s father.  His last name was Kaller or at least that’s what he said.  He also said he was an orphan.  One night his brother got angry with him and told him that he wasn’t his kallerbrother but was adopted.  And when he found out that was true, he ran away and joined the circus.  I find that hard to believe.  Ran away and joined the circus?  Give me a break.  Everything about this guy reeks of cheap novels.

I never met him.  By the time, we moved back to San Diego he was dead.  Once we went to a tailor’s shop in downtown San Diego back when that little square in the middle of town was where the prostitutes hung out.  The shop was on a little side street and I remember staring at this poster on the wall that depicted that pyramid on the back of the dollar but with a really huge eye on the top.  The tailor saw me looking and said that had belonged to my grandfather who was first degree mason and that the poster depicted some sort of Masonic symbol.  I guess we had gone there so my mother could ask the tailor about her father’s last days.

I don’t know if it was that time or another but we were down town back when the only shopping around—before the malls came in—was at the downtown department stores, and my mother caught sight on this fancy clock, on the top of a fancy pole, outside the Marston’s Department store and she just started bawling and bawled all the way home, and we had to wait a number of days till we heard the story of the Marston clock.

She was 18 years old and had a job in a department store.  And going home she was standing beneath the Marston clock when this man came up to her and asked her what time it was, and she didn’t say anything, but pointed up to the Marston clock, and the man said thank you and moved on.  I thought maybe the guy had been trying to pick up on the old lady, though I couldn’t see why frankly.  But it turned out that the man who asked the time had been her father, and he hadn’t even recognized her. That’s why she started crying every time she saw the Marston clock or any time she told the Marston clock story.

No reason really he should have recognized her.  He had abandoned her and her sister and her mother back when my mother was 10 or so.  The guy was a real reprobate.  He was married six times.  He married one woman, who was pretty loony, for her money, took all her money, had her committed, and then divorced her.  He was a good cook and a real charmer, life of the party sort.  He would start a restaurant, get it up and going, and then blow all the money on the ponies, and then start another restaurant or marry some woman for her money.

 Once I am in New York City before you could get any book in the world off the web and I hit the book stores pretty hard.  One day I am hanging out in the big Barnes and Noble, and I come upon this history of the Klu Klux Klan.  I find myself thumbing through it and then scanning the index for mention of my grandfather since he had been during the early thirties Grand Dragon of the KKK for the Western States.  That was the story in any case. Who knows, though; the guy was a damn liar and a pathological opportunist.

Little Skipper

Here I am again, looking pretty country, seated on the steps of the porch of my grandma’s house.  The galoot to my right figures in my earliest memory.  I am down on the floor on my belly and I am looking at my little potty chair and I am pissed because somebody else is using it.  The person skipperusing it is was the galoot sitting next to me in that picture.  He was not supposed to be using my potty.  After all it was mine.  Also he upset the height hierarchy.  I was the first born and taller than my little brother who must have been two or three at the time of this picture.  But the galoot, who was less than a year older than yours truly, had a number of inches on me and quite a few pounds.

The big galoot was my Aunt’s son, the son of the sister of my mother.  He was Aunt Betty’s son and for some unknown and ungodly reason she had name him “Skipper.”  That’s how I always knew him and that’s what he was always called.  I don’t think it was a nick name.  I don’t know what my Aunt was thinking about when she named him but I doubt she was thinking too clearly.

She had fallen for this military guy, and just before he headed out during WWII to the South Pacific, they went to Tijuana and got married.  I doubt my Aunt was into premarital sex, so I guess they had the time in between getting married and his heading out to sea to get Aunt Betty pregnant.  Well, she bore the child and decided to go back with him to her husband’s ken in Arkansas, his having not yet returned from the war.  But when she got there, she found they didn’t know who the hell she was because her so-called husband was already married and had not communicated to his family—through he had written otherwise to Aunt Betty—anything about her existence.

Talk about your embarrassing moments.  And they were not welcoming in the least either and sent her packing.

So she went back to California, and when the old man drug me and my mother back South, she stayed there for a number of years.  But I think it was probably pretty hard being a single mother back then or any time for that matter, and she must have gotten lonely—though she and my mother hated each other—so she came back to South Carolina and got a job up in Greensville as a telephone operator.  And while she was looking for work and getting a little money together we took in Skipper.  He was with us a number of months I think, and returned for extended stays on other occasions.

But after a while, Aunt Betty went back to California to San Diego to be with her father who was dying at the time.  I don’t know why she wanted to go back to see that asshole; but maybe she hoped to inherit his trailer, that he was living in at the time, and get her hands on whatever valuables he had stashed away.  After he died, she stayed in San Diego.

After we moved back there ourselves, we were told, after the fact, that one reason we had moved was so that my mother, who hated her sister, could be near her sister in her time of need since Skipper who suffered some sort of hormonal abnormality and grew to over six feet before he was 12 had developed cancer.

Landless Whites

Walker Evans took the pictures for James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families.  Note that word “tenant.”  Interestingly in that regard many of the pictures in the Library of Congress of the rural south during the Great Depression are characterized as depictions of “landless whites.”  I don’t recollect having seen pictures captioned “landless blacks.”  I don’t think one had tograndpaporch characterized blacks as landless; that was assumed.  But “landless whites” were a particular social category, particular enough that the phrase could be used as a tool to sort through the thousands of pictures of the rural poor taken by people like Evans, Marion Post Wilcott, and Dorothea Lange.

My Grandfather, William Berner Tingle, was for a considerable while landless. My father, William Berner Tingle, Jr., remembered having moving from house to house at least half a dozen times in his childhood.  By the 20’s the family fortunes had decayed almost completely.  Land can be divided up only so many times between all those sons, and by the time my Grandfather came along there wasn’t any left.

I don’t know for sure that he was a tenant farmer or sharecropper.  I expect he was.  But as far as I can tell, he was also an odd jobber.  So if he rented, I am not sure that he planted crops for much other than his own consumption and to sell to get some cash money for things like sugar, coffee, and clothes. Some of the Tingles seem to have had an entrepreneurial streak, and somewhere along the line Grandpa Tingle acquired a mobile saw mill.

He would scope out the territory and go up to the landowners who had a good stand of pine and say he would cut them down and sell them for a percentage.  He kept himself and a crew of four to six men busy for years with that saw mill.  That’s how he acquired the money to buy a few acres in Ora, South Carolina.  He was no longer landless, and on that land he built from wood he had cut the house he sits in front of in this picture.

He was a man known in that small community to have a one hell of a temper.  Part of that may be genetic; many members of the line have a tendency to fly off the handle.  But I think too he was in chronic pain.  He had asthma as the result, some believe, of having a tractor buck up on him and crush his chest.  Also he had hemorrhoids of a near Olympian variety.  The story goes that to be able to sit in his car he stretched across the metal frame of the driver’s seat a tractor inner tube with a hole cut in the middle large enough to accommodate the hemorrhoids.

He died pretty young in his early 50’s I think of a heart attack that occurred, according to some reports, in the middle of a raging fit about the price of sugar.  He smoked.  If you look closely at the picture, you can see a cigarette between the fingers of his left hand.  He also drank.  My father reports that he was sent not infrequently to the local store to buy a bottle of Old Crow.  The bottle was then usually secreted in the hollow of tree stump, hidden out of sight but of ready access.

Cats and Goats

My brothers—mostly my brothers—and I had to clean out our mother’s house so we could sell it.  As the family historian, or the one interested in such things, or with the time to do it, I took charge of house1947a couple of boxes of pictures and documents that our mother kept in a cedar chest, and a few days back I pulled out one of the boxes and started going through it.

 That was a mistake.  I am never in a good mood and doing that, looking at pictures of a bunch of dead people from long ago, didn’t help my mood any.  But I found this picture and I think at some level I have been thinking around and about it since I first saw it. But I don’t know what I am thinking about exactly and whatever it is seems pretty confused and full of conflict.

That’s a picture of the first house we lived in when the old man took us back to South Carolina after WWII to grow cotton.  I think the house had electricity but it didn’t have running water or in door bathing and toilet facilities.  I appear to be looking at or for something in the grass.  Off to my right is a cat high tailing it out of the area.  A shovel leans up against the wall, and the screen on the door to the porch is a particularly thick and rusty kind of screen that’s hard to describe but you would know it if you have seen it.  Whenever I have seen it I have wanted to touch it.  It has that effect.

I don’t remember the day of course or the house.  I wish I remembered the cat.  But I do recognize the kid.  That’s me, OK.  I know that.  But I have a difficult time making the connection between me, as I sit here at a computer looking out the window at the California mountains about 58 years later, and that kid.  But I do feel a sort of personal, though generic, attachment.

I say generic because in general I like little kids about that age.  Whenever I bump into a little kids about that age I say hello, or sometimes, if I am wearing it, I take off my hat so they can see part of my head come off.  Usually, they don’t mind.  My conversations with these little kids are pretty brief, and I almost always find them satisfying.  I can’t say much passes between us, but enough I expect. What’s there to say but hello and then goodbye?  That’s probably the most basic and fundamental conversation anyway, hello and then goodbye.  That sort of wraps it up, I think.

I am glad the cat is in the picture.  I must have disturbed it—the way it is high tailing it out of there—just moments before the picture was taken.  When I first saw the picture I thought it was a little weird-assed goat with a long tail sticking up, but that didn’t make any sense; then I saw that what appeared one of the ears of the goat was in fact the right front leg of the cat.

I like animals too and I try to communicate with them whenever possible.  While I am very fond of cats, it would have been cool if the cat had been a goat.  I know we kept goats now and then.  Goats are an under-rated animal, pretty interesting, and even a little intelligent, I think.  Not like sheep or your basic fleshy fat cow.  They have a dull and dead look in their eyes.  But a goat will recognize the person who feeds it.  Cows—they don’t give a damn who you are.  They just want to be fed.

The New Lakers

Given the possibility of injuries, the ineptitude of general managers, drunken violence, rape newlakerscharges, and an utter lack of loyalty to anything but the pursuit of the almighty buck, I am probably way premature in heralding the coming-into-being, as I see it, of the New Lakers.  But I have enjoyed watching these guys lately; the fourth quarter comeback led by the bench in the fourth quarter against Minnesota was something to watch, something inspiring and surprising in the way the Lakers have not been in a long time.

The old Lakers, with Magic and Kareem, were the New Lakers, part 1.  They were interesting and surprising because Magic was always interesting and surprising, and those guys had chemistry, with Kareem playing DC to Magic’s AC.  There’s just something thought provoking about a tormented, introverted, 7’6 guy, who played basketball for his very life, for this one chance at being something other than a genetic freak, along side of wonderfully gifted exhibitionist and flaming extrovert who played for the pure and simple fun of it.

I won’t go now into the misery of the Van Excel years, and, while I do like to watch a team that wins, I never did enjoy Kobe and Shaq.  Sure they won, but they were damned predictable.  Either Kobe would end up dribbling endlessly to get a shot or they would throw into the Big Maw and he would dribble back and forth moving around people with that roadhouse butt of his.  Never, in the entire history of basketball, has any body made such devastating use of his butt than Shaq.  He never learned how to shot the basketball but he could open his own summer camp on the use of the butt in the low post.  Of all the Big Things Shaq called himself, he never did pay adequate tribute to his single greatest physical assist, and that was his butt.

They just weren’t any fun.  But more like the Yankees have become of late; just the best basketball team money could buy, especially in that truly pathetic last year of Shaq’s tenure, what with Gary, the Punk, Payton, and Karl, Joint Grinding, Malone.  What the hell were they thinking?  I mean the guys upstairs.  And, as for the guys down on the floor, they just never did click.  I was glad Shaq left and I am glad he was the one that did.

But back to the present.  I don’t remember a Laker team as deep, except maybe for that year or two they could bring in Bob McAdoo to replace King Kareem.  Now that was something.  But I would have to check the roster to be sure of that.  I think these “New Lakers” are deeper all the way down the bench.  And to Jackson’s credit he seems to be yielding a little on his “I hate rookies” attitude. Or at least, he has the sense to play the rookies so he can see what he has got.  If, as the season goes on, he starts playing a short line up, I think he is making a really big mistake, a much bigger one than any of the multiple of small one those rookies might make out on the court because right now he is sitting on a group of guys that have, if played, the potential to become one heck of a team, for a goodly number of years to come.

Take that Mo Evans—is that his name—as a for instance.  I don’t remember the game but he was hanging out right below the basket, facing back into the court, and the ball clanked off the rim, admittedly right into his hands.  But then—wham—I don’t think I have ever seen a guy go back up for the dunk, with so little flair, but such complete efficiency that had you don’t seen the ball coming down through the net, you would have known how it got there.  That’s a little surprise.  But I think these “New Lakers,” as I prematurely crown them, have more surprises in their bag.

More Treacle

The problem with Pinker—as a representative of the evolutionary psychology movement antiessentialistgenerally—is that there’s something to what he says.  The mind is not a tabula rasa.  That’s as Pinker says, though the British philosopher, Peter Blackburn holds Pinker’s feet to the fire a bit on that one.  He says Locke, for example, did not believe in the kind of utter tabula rasa that Pinker claims he did; instead, according to Blackburn, Locke was  “…perfectly happy with the idea that the nature of the slate or paper may determine what can be written on it.”

I can buy that, but over the last couple of decades, I have felt in my reading around and in my listening to others that in some of the disciplines at least, especially and sadly in the humanities, people have decided that the mind is a “piece of paper” or somewhat more complicatedly now “a computer screen” and the only thing written on either are words.  Language became “fetishized,” it seemed to me, in ways I could not comprehend.  

What is this talk I wondered?  Do these people, though I may interpret them incorrectly, actually believe that, if one can change the way people think about the world, one can change the world.  Too many of my students at one time seemed to me overly familiar with the idea of stereotyping.  Oh, that’s stereotyping they would say or perhaps the more popular word at the graduate level was “essentializing.”  I understood a possible positive motive behind the anti-stereotyping and anti-essentializing movement that made it a bit impolitic to say the whole movement was bogus.

That motive also confused me.  I certainly don’t believe in going around essentializing people or races. Or, in other words, I don’t believe in going around calling people or races bad names or making assumptions about people and races on the basis of their names.  The whole business in my head got screwed up with the political correctness thing.  That’s my problem I guess, but I may be forgiven I hope.  Things do get complicated when an epistemological claim of some sort gets all mixed up with a high falut’en moral imperative of some sort.

I found it hard to say to my anti-essentializing and anti-stereotyping students that they had things all screwed up when the trend seemed to be in part an attempt to be decent people and to treat others decently.  But to get, if I can to the point, I did try to say that they might be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  One can’t think at all I wanted to claim unless one stereotypes or essentializes. Language necessarily abstracts, but that was hard to convey if one is talking with people who honestly believe that there is Nothing But Language and thus no other Reality from which it might be said to “Abstract.”

So a person was pretty much stuck if he or she, as I wanted to do, wanted to argue against the anti-essentialist movement since to do so would automatically put one in the camp of those who believe in a “reality” beyond the language that shapes it.  I suppose I could have said something like “The painful feeling of gas in my stomach is not the same thing as saying ‘I have gas.’”  But I don’t think my having gas would serve all that much to sway anybody’s thinking. So with mixed feelings, though some of relief, I began to read people like Pinkus as saying to the language fetishists:  Look you delusional morons.  You seem to think you can change people just by changing the way you think about them, when in fact what you can think (or say) about people is circumscribed, hemmed in and dictated, by the very tabula rasa that allows you to think at all.

But I put myself poorly.

Imagine all the Treacle

So I pick up Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works and flipping to the chapter called “Family Values” lennonshotfind an introductory paragraph almost entirely of quotations from the Youngblood’s song, “Come on People Now, Smile on Your Brother,” Lennon’s “Imagine,” compacted in with a few passing remarks about the dawning of the age of Aquarius.  The next paragraph begins:  “Incredible as it may seem, many of us used to believe this treacle.”

I think “treacle” a pretty hard word.  I didn’t think Lennon’s song was treacle at the time, and I still don’t.  I thought “Imagine” was a pretty nice song and the Youngblood’s song, while silly, still expressed a nice sentiment and I liked the tune.  Still do.  I have to wonder who those “many of us” were exactly that “believed” this treacle.  Who the hell believes in a song?  Only, I have to think, very literal minded and possibly tone deaf people who desperately need other people to tell them what to feel and think.

So still, who the hell are this “many of us.”  I clearly wasn’t one of the many and I was around at the time.  Personally, I don’t see where one gets the nuts, excepting perhaps from pure grandiosity, to claim that one know what many of us believe about anything.  Pinker does try to back up the “many of us” by talking about the sales of Reich’s “The Greening of America.”  But the introduction really boils down to: let’s kick the 60’s around for a bit.

What we have in Pinker is the psychology of disillusionment.  One wants to say, grow up, buddy.  Nobody ever did say it was going to be pretty.  Too bad you fell for it.  Why don’t you get with it and get over it.  Pinker though wants to claim he is over it.  Now he knows treacle when he sees it.  His whole book is an extension of the “tough guy” ethic.  Just perfect for the nasty nineties and the reactionary Friedmanesque bottom line ethic.  Just more of your herd of wimps in wolf’s clothing.  In short your basic follow the leader academic.

And to top it off, Pinker still buys into the very fantasy of utopian thinking he appears to excoriate as treacle.  A perception placed in my head, no doubt, by Rene Dubos’ The Dreams of Reason.  Dubos, himself a scientist, has the character to see the really scary utopian fantasies have not come from lame artists but out of the “science” camp.  These science guys are constantly coming up with some “facts” or some “truths” that will somehow make the misery of human existence less miserable.  Oh, yes, one day we shall conquer, if only we are tough enough and able to look “reality” in the face.

People ARE selfish; people do kill each other, etc.  As if one didn’t know that and as if it took science to explain to us that getting rid of this nastiness will prove quite difficult.  But this again is the academic’s tough guy privilege: to throw the cold water of reality into the faces of unsuspecting students or a docile public.  But as noted, Pinker takes away with one hand and gives back with the other.  I, the tough guy, know,the idealists of the 60’s were bullshit, but I the realist have the answers or will have them when one day science solves everything.

Talk about your treacle, otherwise known as rampant bullshit.