Saturday, July 11, 2009
Charleston, the first successful settlement in what was to be the state of South Carolina, is the home of many things, including secession (legislators there voted unanimously in 1860 to leave the union), the first battle of the Civil War, shrimp and grits, snobs (according to a successful group of restaurateurs this stands for slightly North of Broad), and yours truly. To be honest, I made my home for years 1 to 17 in the suburb of Mount Pleasant but let's not quibble over little details such as accuracy. As with Fox News, a substantial suspension of disbelief is usually required to accompany this column.
I returned to the homestead recently to pay a visit to my mother and to hang out a bit with my younger brother Colin and some of his graduate school pals. We rendezvoused with Colin's buds downtown at the old slave Market on Meeting Street where Mom suggested a historical tour for those who had not previously had their Charleston cherry popped. Our group assented and we meandered down East Bay towards the Battery.
If you have ever seen a house that was so large that you thought to yourself, man I want that, but I just can't afford it, then you have beheld a building that could fit inside the garage of most of the mansions that line the Battery. Check out the attached picture to get an idea of what the servants quarters looked like. The words behemoth and ginormous were invented by a Charlestonian to give a proper sense of the dimension of these structures. Line your bathroom from floor to ceiling with one hundred dollar bills and you might be able to meet the down payment for one of these homes, were they even available for purchase. One of these homes coming on the market is a rare occurrence in reality, a state you probably haven't visited for a while if you think you can actually afford to live in this luxurious hood.
You may be wondering what the word Battery stands for, which is cool because I was one of the 10% who failed to fall asleep in my history class. I must have had too much caffeine in my system. The Battery is not named after a Walkman powering device (if you are under 20 years of age please take some time to look up what a Walkman is), the pitching and catching duo, or even the best friend of assault, you know, the violent guys that can lead to your arrest and imprisonment. Rather, the area is named for the cannons that lined the nearby sea walls and were used to defend against the evil assaults of the damned Yankees (not the baseball team although they suck too) during the Civil War (which amazingly enough was not even that civil according to the eminent historian Axl Rose).
Afterward, we trudged through the dense humidity down Meeting Street in search of the cold beer that had been screeching my name like a banshee for a good while. Back at the Market, I reminisced about the days when you could get the number one meal, consisting of a steak, a pint of ale, and a slave all for the low, low price of $200. Fortunately (or not depending on your point of view), the damn Yankees won (God they always win - I fucking hate them) and that terrible practice came to an end. You can still purchase just about anything else at the Market, where the endless stalls chock full of beads, trinkets, and hot sauces lead you to the sweet Gullah (an African-American culture confined to the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia) ladies patiently sewing together their sweet-grass baskets and speaking a mostly incomprehensible gibberish to one another (the lovely Gullah tongue).
Whatever you decide to purchase, make sure to stop off at one of the local watering holes to wet your whistle when you are done. If you go to Charleston between the months of April and October you will be dehydrated within approximately one minute of leaving the proximity of an AC unit. As a result, a drink is mandatory and there are a host of places to attain one within short walking distance. I recommend Tommy Condon's, Wild Wing, South End Brewery, and Henry's, but these are just a drop in the bucket. FYI, if you think you have been to a Wild Wing because you went to the one in Greenville you are wrong. Although a delightful place that has generated a great deal of business our WW is not worthy of cleaning out the Market Wild Wing's toe jam. Just a fact, apologies to those sure to be offended.
Our crew visited all of the bars listed above, with the exception of Henry's (hey our guests might have needed a reason to come back to town) as well as the most pretentious bar I have ever had the displeasure of entering. I will not justify this place by calling it by name and fortunately that will be easy since I have forgotten the moniker. This buzzing hive of metrosexuality was inhabited by a breed of people that had very obviously spent over two hours preparing for their night out on the town - and I speak now only of the guys. I am surprised the women were able to even make the place at all before the week ended considering all the intense preparation needed to enter. The only saving grace was a man , obviously a pimp walking around in an all red outfit (down to the shoes and hat) whose appearance gave me a hearty chuckle that I kept to myself for fear of being pimp-slapped.
After ducking into the much more civilized Moe's Tavern to have a drink with Al Coholick and to cleanse the stench of cologne, we made for the house and called it a night.
We woke on the anniversary of our country's birth and headed out to the Isle of Palms, a beach within just a few minutes drive of the momster's crib. Well, it would be that close if every other motherfucker on the planet had not also decided to head to the shore for some fun and sun that day. I was nice enough not to mention what a bad idea it was to go to the beach on July 4th. Except to my long-suffering brother who had to hear it twenty-five times (he would probably tell you it was more). Once we arrived I had to head straight to the restroom, where I took a shit that was more intense than the last twenty minutes of "The Exorcist." You're welcome for sharing.
We joined the crowd and then commenced participating in the normal beach activities, such as figuring out what people look like naked. Since these happenings probably interest you as much as the previous bowel movement play-by-play, I will instead describe the state of Charleston beaches as a whole. Besides the Isle of Palms, there is Sullivan's Island and Folly Beach - the local surfers' Mecca, if you consider someplace with three foot waves as worthy of praying to five times a day. Edisto Beach, Kiawah Island, Pawley's Island, and Seabrook Island are all within relatively easy driving distance as well.
After surviving the late morning and early afternoon with only mild pre-cancerous lesions, we made our way back to the house and prepared for the night's festivities. For others, this time consisted of showering, primping, purchasing food and beverages. For me, this time was better utilized with a three-hour nap. If anything exciting happened during these hours someone else is going to have to write their own fucking article about it because I was occupied in the endeavor of becoming one with my pillow.
That evening, thanks to the intercession of a friend of a friend, we were actually going to be attending a cookout at one of those mansions I previously described. How appropriate that on July 4th a peasant such as myself would be raised up and allowed to trod the sacred halls of the Charlestonian elite. Like Yakov Smirnoff (for those of you not familiar with Yakov he was a 1980s version of Borat who acted like a fool, although in truth he wasn't actually acting) said in his delightful Russian patois, "What a country!"
The fulfillment of my American dream took me to a palace just off of Tradd Street in downtown Charleston. Jaws dropped soon after our admittance to the inner sanctum beyond the iron gates that faced the street. My own mouth remained agape for the entirety of our visit and I do admit there may have been some drooling involved. Food was soon brought off the grill and allowed me to look a little less awkward with my oral orifice constantly open like the main entrances on a five-dollar whore.
The house boasted a yard capable of being used as a practice field by the New York Jets, in the center of which was a tree fort so huge that the wood used to build it is no doubt responsible for the deforestation of Brazil. I was incredibly jealous of the kids who called the place home until I found out they didn't have a television. Maybe the parents didn't want Sponge Bob and the Teletubbies teaching them about homosexuality.
I could go on and on about the colossal mansion, but thankfully this isn't Better Homes and Gardens.
Just after dinner we took the short jaunt over to Waterfront Park to watch the fireworks. Having seen the fancy lights and explosions associated with such an event a time or two, I chose to drift into my own twisted thoughts and reflect upon the place that was once my home. Sitting in the humid darkness, mosquitoes drank my blood like mini-Draculas and a foot-long palmetto bug crawled over my foot. Suddenly, the massive flying roach took off into the night sky, its wingspan blocking out the moon momentarily. Ten simultaneous painful bites on my hand reminded me that I was leaning on a fire ant hill. Don't get me wrong, I do love to visit, but in that instance I remembered the reasons why I live in Greenville instead.