The ass end of summer.

The time of year when I’m slogging through the drudgery of everyday life: the commuting, the second-only-to-L.A. traffic of Atlanta, the smog, the latest Mexican drug-trafficking hub that is Gwinnett County, the belligerent assholes in their giant SUVs with the faded “We’re Proud of You” and “Support Our Troops” magnetic ribbons, the tragic irony of which is no longer worth criticizing or satirizing.

I’ve always preferred the muted light of an overcast day; everything looks calm and friendly in the filtered light, which is strange since I lived in Florida for the first 28 years of my life. You’d think I’d be accustomed to sunshine. But in Florida we had afternoon thunderstorms that scuttled in from the gulf every day like clockwork. I adored those gray cumulonimbi.

Here in the city, the harsh, retina-burning full sun of a summer day makes me ill. I get fidgety in the landlocked hell of the Atlanta Metropolitan Area, UV rays bouncing off the endless ribbons of asphalt.

So maybe it’s asphalt I’m allergic to; we certainly have a surplus in this City Too Busy To . . . aww who cares. It’s too hot. The only place where I can stomach full sun is on a breezy hillside at a music festival. Or at the Botanical Garden where the lovely Susannah and I caught Lucinda Williams and her awesome band. But that was at night. And there was a small breeze.

Then there’s the beach.

When it all seems too much, I head for the ocean.

Four hours away we have Savannah and Tybee Island and the pet-friendly Mermaid Cottage that accommodates our Best-Dog-in-the-Universe, Zoe.

My reading habits have always favored the odd or inappropriate, and my beach reading choices are no different. I don’t know why, but for this beach trip I chose a volume of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes, a veritable Greatest Hits of the Greeks. I remembered Sophocles and Aeschylus from college and as far back as Miss Stratman’s seventh grade English class. She looked like a female Albert Schweitzer, but with a smaller mustache. A highly literate Bea Arthur.

I’d never read Aristophanes, but the titles were intriguing: The Wasps, Clouds, Peace, The Frogs.

Doors songs came to mind: “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” and “Peace Frog”.

I was intrigued.

The Wasps was hilarious and bawdy. I imagine Aristophanes as the Greek equivalent of George Carlin and Benny Hill rolled into one. The very British translation probably influenced the latter — the Spartans speak with a thick Scottish brogue.

The main characters are a father and son, Procleon and Anticleon, and the former is obsessed with serving on juries. The son tries to keep him at home, setting up a mock jury trial with one dog suing another for wrongful cheese eating. A cheese grater is called to the stand, as are various bowls and eating utensils.

The legend is that Aristophanes and a demagogue politician named Cleon had a few run-ins: Aristohpanes publicly disagreed with Cleon’s foreign policy, so Cleon sued him for falsely claiming Athenian citizenship (or some such nonsense), but Aristophanes was ultimately acquitted.

This is all speculation, of course. No one knows for sure. Maybe Aristophanes just enjoyed mocking politicians and philosophers in general. In another play, Clouds, he has Socrates descend from the sky in the gondola of a balloon, and refers to him as “My sweet little Socrakins.”

I now add Aristophanes to the list of dead people I’d like to meet, just behind John Lennon and Margaret Wise Brown.

Anticleon offers to buy his father new clothes and take him to a “drinking party”, but Procleon ends up shitfaced and offends EVERYone at the party, kidnapping a servant girl. She escapes unharmed, if a bit fondled (the Benny Hill side of Aristophanes).

Oddly enough the play ends with a bunch of crabs (Sons of Carcinus) doing the Dance of the Crabs while Procleon performs a burlesque solo and the chorus sings. It is entirely appropriate.

“Oh whirl and twirl upon the beach, rotate with supple ease; then stand upright and try to reach your stomach with your knees. Till crawling from the barren deep the proud Crustacean comes to watch his offspring frisk and leap and spin like teetotums.”

We watched our kids — our offspring — frisk and leap and spin. I read the play in one sitting on the beach while the lovely Susannah read Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson — talking crabs of a different nature altogether.

Thanks to my wife and kids, the ocean, and a long-dead Greek poet, I am a man renewed.

Oh, and the crab legs at The Crab Shack were delicious. And Zoe chased lizards and slept on the couch.


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JIM SIMPSON is an award-winning fiction writer and freelance music critic. A native of the wilds of Florida's Gulf Coast, he now resides on the scruffy fringes of Atlanta, Georgia.

He frequently writes about music, with his taste spanning all genres: Bluegrass, Americana, Classic Country, Alternative Country, Western Swing, Blues, Classical, Rock 'n' Roll, Punk, Reggae, Klezmer, and British Isles Folk (to name but a few).

He once sang Happy Birthday (with about 10,000 other people) to Joni Mitchell, and has seen such legends as Miles Davis, The Incredible Jimmy Smith, Rockpile, Blue Rodeo, King Sunny Ade, David Bowie, Joan Jett, Robyn Hitchcock, R.E.M., Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan live in concert. He has interviewed such musical luminaries as Those Darlins, John Linnell of They Might Be Giants, Marshall Chapman, Charlie Louvin, Derek Hoke, Jim Avett, the Secret Sisters, and Meghan McCormick.

Jim has been at work on his first novel for longer than he originally planned, and if all goes well it should be in bookstores sometime before his death.

One response to “We Whirl and Twirl Upon the Beach at the Mermaid Cottage with Aristophanes, a Talking Cheese Grater, Litigious Dogs and Dancing Crabs”

  1. Jim Simpson says:

    Original comments follow:

    Comment by Rachel Pollon
    2008-08-18 09:23:49

    Wow — really? Dogs suing each other over cheese? I’ve got to read that. 🙂

    Also, my boyfriend is originally from Atlanta so we spend a bit of time there each year but mostly in spring and fall. So I haven’t really experienced the unbearableness of the summer. But I have absolutely noticed how horrible the traffic has become. Maddening. Glad you found your way out of the city and on to the beach.

    It’s always nice to hear people mention in their writing how much they enjoy their spouse or family. A few of you all do that. Tis sweet and heartening.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Jim
    2008-08-18 13:33:04

    Yeah, spring and fall here are my favorite times of year, but then again there are all those leaves to rake in the fall and the pollen in spring — man, I can’t be satisfied!

    Next time you’re in town we should hoist a few in honor of our mutual TNB contributorship. Oh, and welcome aboard! (I’m always late to the party, it seems.)
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by James Simpson
    2008-08-18 14:45:08

    Oh, and Pollon is better than pollen!
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Kimberly M. Wetherell
    2008-08-18 09:52:50

    Aw man… I haven’t read the Greeks’ Greatest Hits since college. You’ve inspired me to regress.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Jim
    2008-08-18 13:35:22

    I try to regress whenever I can, even when it’s unintentional. Huh?

    I really need to use your bathroom … can I make myself at home? (I know, shut up shut up shut up!)

    Thanks for enjoying, Kimberly.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Lenore
    2008-08-18 12:21:12

    I also haven’t read those since college….

    I do like how you scatter mention of crabs throughout. Your ocean experience is way more thought-heavy than mine ever are. I usually just pass out and get a sunburn and then complain about all the sand.

    I’m glad you’re renewed.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Jim
    2008-08-18 13:38:24

    You’re the psychologist, so why do I always end up writing about food? Toast, doughnuts, eggs, scallops, crepes, and now crabs! What’s up? And I’m always thirsty, too.

    Martini with extra olives sounds good about now….
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Lenore Zion
    2008-08-18 18:06:53

    i think you’re just hungry. but i’m a really shitty therapist.
    (Comments wont nest below this level)
    Reply here

    Comment by Dawn Corrigan
    2008-08-18 12:47:03

    Renew! Renew!

    Sorry, I just had a Logan’s Run flashback.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed this. Your descriptions of Aristophanes were wonderful.

    The hubs and I went and had a drink in Pensacola Beach this weekend and watched the porpoises playing and looked at the clouds, which were exceptionally gorgeous. But that’s probably mainly because we’re about to get hit with a hurricane.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by James Simpson
    2008-08-18 14:08:48

    Man, I love that movie! The female lead in the skimpy outfit…and Farrah Fawcett , too.

    We also saw schools of dolphins surfacing in a canal behind the seafood place, and a three-legged cat begging food. I have a photo somewhere. Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by N.L. Belardes
    2008-08-18 15:21:12

    Logan’s Run. There’s a movie I haven’t heard in a while.

    Summer here ends in early October.

    I really enjoyed your beach thoughts and imagery. One of my boys got the nickname Croc Hunter because he was always after lizards and other reptiles. He’d catch a snake while my other boy played little league. Go figure. Adventurer. Curiosity. Isn’t that the Greeks for you?
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Erika Rae
    2008-08-19 20:51:31

    I just wanted to thank you for hyperlinking “teetotums.” Think how much easier all classic literature would have been to read with hyperlinkable text.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Jim Simpson
    2008-08-19 21:56:37

    Hyperlinking is my new pastime.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Irene
    2008-08-20 06:44:39

    My reading list is markedly less esoteric than yours. But you reminded me of a book when you mentioned Wasp as one of yours. There is a book entitled “The Wasp Factory” by Iaian Banks which will knock your socks off.
    Does Zoe EAT the lizards? I have two goldens. My three year old can’t catch anything that isn’t already dead, but my 5 month old is quick as the wind and I hope she grows out of it. She catches and consumes a minimum of ten lizards a day back home in Miami Beach. I’m afraid for the lizard population.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Emma Ashwood
    2008-08-21 08:22:17

    The genius of reading Aristophanes is he’s about 99% butthole jokes and yet people are always wildly impressed, assuming that ancient Greek humour is incredibly subtle and sophisticated.

    Great choice of summer reading!
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by James Simpson
    2008-08-21 16:15:16

    He made me see Greek comedy in a “hole” new light. Hah! He was completely irreverent, poking fun at nearly everyone.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Cheesegrater 2008
    2008-11-24 15:01:39

    I once starred as the cheesegrater in this play. It was traumatic.

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