Hank Thomas On Bermuda Shorts

True Story: last night I propped up my reading pillow with the idea of making it through a few chapters of “Bermuda Shorts,” a new anthology of short stories, some fiction but mostly of the memoir variety, from James J. Patterson, or Jimmy to his many friends. I didn’t have a lot of time for this, with a ballgame coming up, eBay trolling to do, I figured I would put in an hour or so to see what it was like. You know how busy I am…

About an hour later, I realized I had to pee something awful, but really wanted to read another chapter before interrupting the experience. A while later I developed a parching thirst, but figured I’d catch another few pages before getting up to take care of the accumulating business. Well, after several hours, tired, poor, yearning to be free (where was Lady Liberty when I needed her?), I had finished the last story, by now in some physical distress but also sad that there was no more. You know that feeling, when something you really enjoyed is over?

I can’t recommend “Bermuda Shorts” any more highly. Patterson is a terrific writer, and has some great stories to tell. Here he is, on his impression of artists he has known:

“There is something tragic, fleeting, self-destructive about these men of poetry and song. Relishing in the their mortality, they seem to convey a sense of satisfaction in their slow degeneration, as if the example of their passing lends legitimacy to their expressions of it. All as beautiful as David when they started out, now, as men, they know true things. These can be read in the lines of their faces, seen in the humor hidden behind their eyes, felt in the coarseness of their once-soft hands, heard in the gravel in their voices, driven by hearts almost weary.”

Although I worked in music clubs for years, I never really felt what it was like for the bands passing through until I read this account of Jimmy’s years with the Pheromones, a satirical music duo with four albums to their credit:

“Often it takes until four in the morning to pack up our gear and return to the motel. You don’t get 24 hours when you rent a hotel room, no matter what the class of the joint. Work all night and check in at four in the morning and they still want you out as soon as possible. Tell the poor slob behind the bulletproof glass, or the stodgy-faced uniformed person behind the marble countertop that you demand a “late checkout” and no matter what his or her response, the maids will be making loud noises in the hallways at seven a.m., and start banging on the door at eight. At eight-thirty they use their key and enter and reenter the room every 20 minutes. You can bark at them, you can call downstairs, you can lay there buns-up naked. Some get the message, some don’t. Either way, your ass is out by eleven. On our current trip, we will do sixteen gigs in thirteen days, then leave the van in Minneapolis and fly to Seattle , rent a car, and do another dozen shows in the Pacific Northwest . We will nearly get killed by a deer. We will travel through deforested mountains and visit volcanoes and nuclear waste dumps. We will then fly back to Minneapolis, reacquire the van, and gig our way through upstate New York, where we will nearly get killed by another deer, and then down through Pennsylvania working our way home. Al chatters quietly to himself during his shifts behind the wheel. By now, our wives are barely speaking to us. The kids won’t come to the phone. In the van, I wrap my woolen overcoat about me like a baby blanket. I wear the darkest sunglasses I can find.”

Hank Thomas Filming BS Trailer
Author Henry (Hank) W. Thomas

Whether it’s about art, religion, politics, sports, or just life as he has seen it, Patterson’s writing is alive, smart, and funny. From his 36 years as a Redskins season ticket holder, on the RFK experience:

“I remember that the air in the stadium smelled sweet with a mixture of hot chocolate, pipes, cigars, hot dogs, and beer, the perfect aroma for a football stadium. The team had a rowdy marching band dressed like Indian chiefs, and an equally rowdy group of barrel-chested male choral singers who wore burgundy blazers. Both inhabited one corner of the stadium and played their marches and sang their songs while swaying back and forth like a battalion of drunken Muppets. We listened through a tinny public address system and drowned them out as we sang along. Autumn twilight would dim the field and big lights atop the stadium would come on in stages, reflecting off the burgundy helmets, the sights and smells and sounds creating a sensual ambiance that lingers through time.”

But there’s also a subversive undertone to much of “Bermuda Shorts,” especially when it comes to what Jimmy has coined “Beauticide,” the periodic need for the worst elements in human nature to arise and destroy the best. And he knows all too well that this isn’t just an historical tendency, but is right now laying just below the razor-thin veneer of human civilization, waiting for the opportunity and excuse to come out once again and lay waste to everything and everybody that won’t join in the madness. When they read this, they’ll be coming for Jimmy for sure:

“If intellectuals don’t see the danger they’ve courted by allowing themselves to be herded into smaller and smaller communities, they will fall victim to the repetition of the very histories they teach in their classrooms: the book burnings, executions, censorship, and destruction many have seen with their own eyes. But although I rant and rave that these people need to train their considerable mental might at the hounds of idiocy who would defame and ridicule their work, I have to remind myself that these people aren’t warriors, they are thinkers; they aren’t killers, they’re poets.” I can’t wait to start in with “Bermuda Shorts” again. Look, here’s the highest recommendation I can give to a book: it’s going straight to the bathroom. I figure a leisurely visit taking care of some real business should cover about a story each. Plop, flush, and read: that’s my plan.
 Hank Thomas

“Bermuda Shorts” available at http://www.james-j-patterson.local/