We Whirl and Twirl Upon the Beach at the Mermaid Cottage with Aristophanes, a Talking Cheese Grater, Litigious Dogs and Dancing CrabsBy Jim Simpson
August 17, 2008
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.