Wednesday, February 10, 2010

These Institutions Deserve My Gratitude

by George Singleton

              I would like to acknowledge the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities.  I cannot, but I would like to do so.  Evidently  my plan of action regarding The Curious Life and Difficult Times of Transcendental Meditationalist and Kosher Deli-Owning African-American Leroy Pinckney: Conformity and Rebellion, Fresh Meat and Mantras did not sway the voting committee, or whatever they have up there at the NEH.  I completely understand.  I do not bear a grudge, nor do I wish to exact vengeance on any of the highly-qualified members up there in Washington, D.C.  I read recently that somebody received one of the NEH grants in order to work on the Selected Papers of Reggae Icon Bob Marley.  Selected rolling papers, maybe.  But I understand.  Up until my biography of Leroy Pinckney hits the shelves of every college and university library in America (and Jamaica, I suppose), no one will understand how Leroy’s lynching affected our fast-paced modern day society of men and women, the bigoted and the rational. 

              I would like to offer thanks to the support I received from the National Endowment for the Arts, but, again, I didn’t receive one of their grants, so I cannot thank those people, either.  I believe the NEA folks are up in our nation’s capital, also.  Maybe I didn’t make it clear enough in my application that Leroy Pinckney was also a folk artist.  He hung his primitive, naïve paintings—done with latex house paint on asbestos roofing shingles, cedar plank shingles, tin roof scrap, terra cotta shingles, and pieces of slate roofs.  Like other folk artists of his generation, he didn’t paint on plywood, one-by-twelve pine lumber, sheetrock, or refrigerator doors.  Why?  Because he got the shingles back when he was in the army, learning how to cook fine kosher meals from his friend from Brooklyn who may or may not have been a tyrant in the kitchen.  I read somewhere how a supposed scholar received both an NEH and NEA grant to write a biography about the artist Joseph Beuys, who supposedly crashed a German plane in World War II, got rescued by Tartar tribesmen who wrapped him in felt and fat, and then went on to make all these sculptures using felt and fat.  I found the book and read it.  Well, I read parts of it, enough to know that Beuys made up that story about getting rescued by tribesmen.  So one guy gets two big-ass grants to work on a biography of a lying artist, and here I am in Tennessee, dirt poor, living in a fucking campground part of the time, and I can’t get a handshake from the NEA.  Maybe I should’ve called my biography The Curious Life and Difficult Times of Lying Folk Artist, Transcendental Meditationalist and Kosher Deli-Owning African-American Leroy Pinckney: Conformity and Rebellion, Fresh Meat and MantrasBut, again, I suppose those people in Washington, D.C. know a lot more about who deserves grant money as opposed to me.  Or I.  See, I don’t even know grammar, so maybe that should prove to me how come someone who makes a documentary of himself counting the thorns on a rose bush deserves monies, as compared to an independent scholar wishing the world to understand the complex life of a black man in central Tennessee whose mission was to teach the masses about the importance of inspected meats and holding a yoga position for hours at a time.
              I want to thank whoever runs that reality-based television program that involves a tyrant chef.  Without watching that show, I might not have understood how Leroy Pinckney wanted to prove everyone wrong in regards to his mastery of the kitchen.
              The Tennessee Arts Council and Humanities Tennessee offer monetary awards to individuals and non-profit institutions they deem plausible.  Evidently they didn’t see my project as worthwhile, so I’m going to thank them kindly when they ask me to participate in the Southern Festival of the Book, and then not show up.  From what I hear—and this goes with other state arts councils, from what I understand—if I had woven a basket out of kudzu vines and hand printed “Leroy Pinckney Got Lynched By the Plemmons Brothers” on the outside, they would’ve given me the key to Nashville and a speaking engagement at every honky-tonk on Lower Broad.  If I went down to Lower Broad—to Tootsie’s Orchid, Robert’s Western World, and whatever other bars are left down there before the gentrification took place—then I’d more than likely go off on a binge and never return to the Harriman/Oak Ridge area where I belong.  So I want to thank the state arts council and humanities people for saving my liver any more trouble than it’s already in.
              The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts deserves some respect, though it showed me none.  They offer places for people to live, eat, and write for free.  I guess, when it all pans out, that’s what I did anyway, so I want to thank the Fine Arts Work Center for giving other people the opportunity that I had when I lived at the Frozen Head State Park Campground, ate bream, and wrote for free.  Still, I would’ve liked to have rubbed shoulders with some other writers—even if they weren’t biographers—and told them all about Leroy Pinckney’s plight.  And I would’ve absolutely loved to have heard someone from New York City tell me all about his or her novel that concerned an upper middle class couple living in Manhattan, trying to raise a precocious child while enduring the collapse of their finances, two affairs, and a nosy doorman.
              I would like to thank these institutions, also: the Authors League Emergency Fund, the PEN American Center Writers Fund for Indigence, and the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund.  Well, I guess, to be honest, I want to thank Mr. Cotton Sinclair at the library for pointing out how these people might understand how I couldn’t afford a ballpoint pen and legal pad to finish The Curious Life and Difficult Times of Transcendental Meditationalist and Kosher Deli-Owning African-American Leroy Pinckney: Conformity and Rebellion, Fresh Meat and Mantras, and how perhaps it would’ve helped me from having to A.) walk into banks and hotels to steal their pens; and B.) steal from Oak Ridge Office Supply and Greeting Cards.
              I want to thank Mr. Harold Hawkins for not pressing charges.
              The Southern Poverty Law Center, founded by good Morris Dees and Joe Levin in 1971, has done some extraordinary and brave work in regards to civil rights and hatemongers.  I would like to thank them for their moral support.  After I wrote them all about my project concerning Leroy, they informed me that they didn’t tender financial support, outside of their “Teaching Tolerance” grants.  They couldn’t give me money, though, seeing as I no longer taught History 101 at Tennessee Valley Community College after I walked off the job due to Juanita Wilkins’s misdirected allegations.  One day, Southern Poverty Law Center, one day!
              I hate to admit it, but I contacted the neo-confederate group League of the South in hopes that they would pay me not to publish The Curious Life and Difficult Times of Transcendental Meditationalist and Kosher Deli-Owning African-American Leroy Pinckney: Conformity and Rebellion, Fresh Meat and Mantras.  What the hell.  Here’s the letter I got back from one of those people, who say that they’re not racists, et cetera, but still want to secede from the union because of black people: “Dear Mr. Ben D. Strawhorn.  We dont’ [sic] care about no books [sic] ritten [sic] about no niger [sic] juw [sic] boodist [sic].  If you ast [sic] us, a juw [sic] boodist [six] is nothing more than a Judas. “  It went on some more.  Most of it was illegible—evidently supporters of the Confederacy don’t believe in typewriters, much less computers—but I’m pretty sure I made out “die, die, niger-lover [sic]” and “you cain’t [sic] spell ‘triggers’ without  ‘grits.’”  Have you ever noticed how “sic” and “sick” are close together in spelling?  There’s a reason for that.  I can’t claim thinking that up myself, though—I’m pretty sure I read it in Dear Abby one time.  Anyway, they didn’t give me money to not publish the book, which makes me happy that I published it so more people will understand the hateful commitment of League of the South members, and so on. 
              I want to thank the Clash for their song “Police on My Back.” 
              I am indebted to the drug cartels of both Mexico and Colombia.  When no one else would send me money to complete the biography, I had no other choice but to go find the sunken motorboat of Juanita Wilkin’s cousin Willie Wilkins, who once transported marijuana and cocaine up and down the rivers of the Tennessee Cumberland Plateau.  Willie took three years of Spanish in high school, and got tabbed, somehow.  I’m serious.  I figured this out sans the help of his cousin: the Hispanic population had infiltrated all of the entire southeast because no one else had the work ethic to pick peaches, apples, burley tobacco, and so on.  One of Willie’s classmates had a friend, who had a relative, who had a friend, and so on.  Next thing you know, a guy named Guillermo is saying, in Spanish to Willie, “Would you be interested in picking up some drugs and then trafficking them upriver to some people, who will traffic the drugs upriver to some people,” and so on, until the drugs reached Cincinnati, or Detroit, or Woodland Caribou Provincial Park up in Ontario.
              Willie got to taking the drugs, as they say.  He became an addict, something which I can understand, what with my booze problems.  He got to where he took little slivers of the cocaine and ingested them into his nostrils, as cocaine people are wont to do.  He pinched off pieces of bud and smoked it in a pipe, much like the pseudo-Rastafarians who read such books as The Selected Papers of Reggae Icon Bob Marley feel obligated.  That’s what Spanish-speaking Willie did.  Some educators believe that all of us need to know a foreign language, but I’m here to point out that people who concentrate in Spanish might turn to marijuana and cocaine usage, and those who’re inclined to learn whatever they speak in Afghanistan lean toward heroine.  I don’t want to make any vast generalizations, but anyone enamored with southern culture might be prone to scouring pastureland in order to harvest and partake of the psilocybin mushroom.
              And Willie, of course, got paranoid.  He dropped off drugs one day, and took in some money.  He dropped off some drugs, and he took in some money.  He dropped off some drugs, and he took in some money.  I can see him doing all this.  His long mullet hair flew in the wind, and he had no one behind him water-skiing.   I don’t know if DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) officers actually followed him in a go-fast boat, or if he got all paranoid, but the next thing you know he shot a hole in his own hull, jumped out, and swam to shore.  He told me all about it from the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, where he stayed because when he got out of the river he immediately stole a car, and kidnapped a woman, and got caught.
              Listen.  You take a hungry, poor biographer who can’t get any financial support for his project—let’s say one intent on writing The Curious Life and Difficult Times of Transcendental Meditationalist and Kosher Deli-Owning African-American Leroy Pinckney: Conformity and Rebellion, Fresh Meat and Mantras—and tell him where a sunken boat half-filled with drugs and money might be, what you have is a biographer in a scuba suit.  So I thank Willie.  I thank the DEA for scaring people enough to think that they’re being followed even when they’re not. 
              I want to thank that psychologist for teaching me that I can’t be too proud.
George Singleton has published short stories in a variety of magazines and journals including The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Playboy, Zoetrope, The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, Southern Review, Kenyon Review, Glimmer Train, North American Review, Fiction International, Epoch,, New England Review, Carolina Quarterly, Greensboro Review, Arkansas Review, American Literary Review, and so on. He has published four collections of stories: These People Are Us, The Half-Mammals of Dixie, Why Dogs Chase Cars, Drowning in Gruel; and two novels: Novel and Work Shirts for Madmen