Of Anise

The other day when I took that picture back along Elwood Beach framed slight by anise, I reached out, crumbled some of the buds between my fingers, and—what do you know—but my finger tips smelled of anise, no less. 

Anise is one of those non-indigenous species that came from the Old World, Greece probably,  and spread weed-like in the New World.  I call it anise weed and put it in the same category as eucalyptus, another non-indigenous import, this time from Australia.  I feel about anise much as I do about eucalyptus, which I have previously excoriated in these pages as a lethal weed that kills all around it and which in its natural state is a complete fire hazard being dry as hell and filled with oily material.  A eucalyptus goes up like a damn match.

I came to dislike anise and to call it a weed when we arrived in California and  the folks bought that three quarters of an acre at 10194 Ramona Drive.  The first third of that three quarters of an acre was more or less civilized, but the lower two thirds were another matter.  When we first arrived the fields around us were mostly open and full of weeds.  Occasionally a tumble weed would roll right on through.  And anise weed would spring up.

Somehow I had the yearly chore of cutting back the anise weed.  I did this with a hoe and I say cut back because that’s what I did.  The stuff was damn tenacious; you could cut it back to the root easily enough with a hoe, during which I always got blisters because I wouldn’t wear glove or maybe we didn’t have any.  But to really get the crap out, you had to get a shovel and pull up the root and it had, I may say, a very sturdy root system.  So even if you dug a bit, and didn’t get it all, it was sure to come back up again.

I never did defeat it.  But the environment changed.  Houses were built all around us; the fields disappeared and over time so did the anise weed.

Come to think of it a friend who had gone to Greece came back and gave me a bottle of Ouzo.  This is clear stuff; officially a product of the nation of Greece.  It’s called a liquor and it is flavored with anise.  I did not like the stuff much.  But I would take a hit of it now and then.  It was clear in the bottle, and sometimes I would just smell it to clear my nostrils.  I don’t know how long I had that bottle—years and years—and I swear the stuff never went bad.  If that bottle is still out there, you could probably take a hit and suffer no major damage aside from that produced by the Ouzo itself.

And finally anise is used as a flavoring in absinte, a notorious French liquor that was for a time outlawed in the 20th century for its destructive effects.  But now is back in style. For a long time in my most depressed period, in the hole under WB and Joan’s house, I had on my wall this picture by Degas called the “Absinte Drinker”:




Also on my wall over my bed was Bosch’s Hell:




This may suggest my mood at the time.

That is the history of my association with anise, or more exactly, anise weed.

Warrior Creek

I was irritated recently to learn that I did not nearly die in the Enoree River as I previously claimed in one of the entries here.  I regret not only the historical inaccuracy but the time I spent trying to re-enact my near death experience in the wrong river.  First my brother #2, attempting to assist mewrong river in the historical re-enactment, took considerable time, riding here and there, with his son to locate the spot on the wrong river that resembled what I had spoken of.

He called to say he believed he had located the spot at MusGrove Mill.  The following absolutely sweltering day, my wife and I drove hither and thither through the countryside, through Enoree, the town proper, over hill and dale till we hit the interstate and driving back towards the historic town of Clinton, since every town there is now historic, saw a turn off to Musgrove Mill.  Victory, I thought.

The turnoff took us to my surprise to a parking lot and located near it a new building created by the National Forest Service—or some government organization like that—intent upon preserving the area in its natural state since it too was historic, an important or perhaps relatively insignificant, Revolutionary war battle having been fought there at Musgrove ford.  A helpful sign told us that fords were places of tactical importance since they allowed horses and people to ford the river relatively easily (that being by definition the nature of a ford) and thus holding this or that ford meant control over the movement of the Red Coats.

So we plodded in the sweltering heat through trees and brush down to the river proper so that I might find the precise location of my near death experience.  I was certain I had found it near some concrete pilings.  The wide expanse of the low river swept before me, and when I stepped into the water onto the stones beneath, my toes told me this was the place or very near it.  Slipping and sliding on my creaky knees I waded out as far as I dared, for the water became dark, deep and swift towards the center. 

For the purposes of the re-enactment I wanted to submerge myself and then pop my head out of the water as a symbolic manifestation of my having been saved.  But I dared not do it, and so contented myself by standing knee deep and waving my arms about in a panic stricken manner as my wife snapped a photo.  The photo did not turn out particular well since a still camera does not of course capture motion, and rather than looking panic stricken one might have surmised that, with both arms up in the air like that, I was being held up by bandits in mid-stream.

But all this was for naught because according to my mother I did not nearly die on the Enoree but on Warrior Creek, not far from the Enoree, but not the Enoree.  I don’t know why you make such a big deal of that, she said.  Why not, I said, a near death experience is a near death experience and not without significance, and besides, to set the record straight, the big deal really was that with her boo-hooings and goings on one might have felt she was the one who had nearly died.  To which she had nothing to say.

Odds and Evens

oil embargo

Probably the best car I have ever owned was a 1953 Buick Roadmaster.  By “best” I mean it was the best used car I have ever owned at the date when it was first sold, back in 1953.  Howard Hughes owned one so it had to have been expensive.  Mine had a straight 8—eight cylinders in a row.  It had a radio that didn’t work, and a bunch of buttons across the dash that were supposed to adjust the suspension hydraulically for the kind of surface you were driving on: rough, smooth, bumpy road.  Those didn’t work either.

 I got the car from Roland. He had been busted for pot and was going to the county work farm for six months.  I asked him was there no way he could get out of it, and he laughed and said he was caught red handed and dead to rights having sold directly to an undercover cop.  He was parting with his earthly possessions and he had some debts he said to pay off before going in and ask did I want the Buick, owned he said by an old lady.  I drove it around, no black smoke came out the pipe, and the oil was pretty clean.  So I offered him 100 dollars—which I thought was low—and he said, I’ll take it.

 One day I was out front working on something on that car and the next door neighbor, Mr. Hunter, came over and said mighty nice car and started talking about the cars he and his buddies had back in Hattisburg, Mississippi.  Yep, he knew that car because it had a special suspension.  He and his buddies would get on the ends of that car and get it to bouncing clean off the ground, and one night he had his buddies bounced one of those cars into an alley sideways.  You should have seen the owner’s face he said.

 And he had a car like that too, not that one exactly, but one like it, and to save on gas he had figured out how to turn the engine off more than a mile away from home.  He would get up speed and top this hill, and shut off the engine and it would fly down the hill passed the Miller place, and passed the old abandoned gas station where as a child he bought Nihi Grape Soda, and down a gulley and up the other side, which was always a bit touch and go, and the car would roll right up the drive and stop right in front of the house without him even putting his foot to the brake.  Damn amazing, I said.

Mr. Hunter worked down at the zoo taking care of the gorillas maybe because he was about the size of one.  He was 6 feet six and maybe 330.  He still had the thick southern accent.  And I was sitting around maybe two hours later when it came to me like a bolt out of the blue that he had been jerking my chain with that car story.  What cued me was that last bit about not even having to touch the brake.  Mr. Hunter liked to spin a yarn.  I doubt the backbone of the story was original, but he filled it up with so much local color as he went along that you pretty much suspended disbelief without knowing it and maybe his being six six and 330 helped too, because I wasn’t about to call him a liar had I any suspicion he was pulling my chain.

I drove that car for a year during the time I worked as an assistant manager in training at a Newberry’s Department Store.  But then towards the end of 1973, the Arab Oil Embargo hit and the price of gas went from 25 cents a gallon or so to a dollar or a dollar and a quarter.  I hadn’t paid any attention till then but that Roadmaster got 11 miles to a gallon.  And it wasn’t easy to get gas either.  Cars stretched around the block to get gas and then they went to the odd number, even number license plate system where people with odd numbered license plates went on odd number days and people with even numbered license plates went on even number days.

So I had to park my luxury vehicle down back with the other wrecks, and I went back to driving the 59 Plymouth Station Wagon.  Eventually, one of my brothers sold the Roadmaster to a car collector for 400 dollars.


We are not free.  Just because our minds run around like rats in a cage—doesn’t make us free.  As much as I might wish to expunge or expel the old man, he is stuck to me every where.  It’s as if I have little pieces of Velcro all over me and the old man just sticks to them.  I pull off little pieces of him and I turn around and they are stuck to me all over again.  Like those little thistles that used to get in my socks and I would pull them out, take two steps, and they would be right back.  As if I had my own particular species of flea that lives only on me and won’t go away till I cease to exist as an environment.

I think of those baby ducks that imprint on the first thing that walks by after they come out of their eggs.  If a cat walks by, they will imprint on it and the cat will have a host of little ducks following it around.  The same with a boy baby and his father; I just imprinted.

I wear a hat and have for years.  Hardly anybody wears a hat where I work and when people ask why I wear a hat I say my dermatologist told me to.  But really I wear a hat because my father wore one, as he was out in the sun all day.  I also for years have carried a thermos with my coffee in it; I always have a Stanley thermos because that was the kind of thermos my old man preferred with his coffee in it.  People ask me to do lunch, but I bring my lunch to work with me in a paper bag.  I don’t understand doing lunch.

Also I am a workaholic.  That’s all I know how to do.  If I am not working or producing in some way, I pretty much am not.  That’s all he did all his life.  Work. What do they say—work, it was his raison d’être. He started at 8; his father found him messing around when his mother had told him to do something, and the father said, if you are old enough to disobey your mother you are old enough to work, and gave him a bucket to carry water to workers in the field.  He did not graduate from high school till he was 21 because if you missed more than a month of school you had to repeat the class.  They had that rule to keep parents from keeping their kids at home on the farm so they could work them.  He studied by gas lamp till they got some electricity from the TVA.

I smoke and have smoked for 40 years.  I expect it will kill me.  My father smoked.  For some reason, I was his son, and my brother was my mother’s son.  So when we drove anywhere, I had to sit in the seat behind him and my brother sat in the seat behind my mother.  The smoke would blow back in my face.  I remember disliking it.  But when I bought my first pack, it was like I knew exactly what I was doing just like those damn ducks following a cat around.