Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Uncle Joey

Tue, Mar 28, 2006, #7:

Carving by spinthariscope
A monument on the head
Of a pin to my great uncle
Joey --b. 1864, small and bald.
Got smaller, balder til last
Detected a century later.
A good likeness: Little,
Down to brittle bones
In blue-veined wax between
Enormous ears. When
Ninety years old he began
Visiting my childhood and
Always had a big happy
Whore with him.
Under the lens a scintilla
Drifts from pinpoint
To fluoresce in time.
Oh! Laughter? Joey?

I should mention you can read the introduction, what Willie calls "the genesis of this blog", by clicking on the date over this poem and the one just before it. My current project here is to illustrate some of the original pieces with doodles and tabletop installations.

I guess I should also clarify that when I was a little boy and got to know Great Uncle Joey --the oldest man I'd ever seen-- my grandparents and parents simply said he was "in the hotel business". When I grew up I learned Joey's hotel was a whorehouse in Clarksburg. I also learned that, in 1915 through 1917, a flu hit the delta and killed many many people. Joey addressed his staff and said if they wanted to help do for the sick, cook for children of sick mothers, bring in crops, care for livestock and generally keep the riverfront economy going until people got well, he would keep them on the hotel payroll. The community was so glad to get this staff of nurses and it helped so much, that law enforcement looked the other way. Other whorehouses followed suit and, despite devastating mortality rates in those years, farms did not fail and families clung to their dreams. So when I'd ask who one nice lady or another was when Joey visited, I'd be told, "She's a nurse, Geo."


  1. Thank you, Geo., for following up on this personal history! Your insights and Norma's photos are so suggestive--is 'redolent' the formal term?--as to start cascades of memories about what I learned of my family in San Francisco (one side) and Santa Rosa (the other) at that time....

    1. Indeed, the wild west had its mores and measures, and much of our current society could learn from what it left. But I should thank you too. If I get no comments, all I see on my dashboard is hits multiple hits from Vampirestat, Secretsearch, Adsensewatchdog and other robots that don't like me. So I appreciate verifiable humans all the more.

  2. Hands that serve humanity are better than lips that talk of divinity

    Uncle Joey surely epitomized this thought.

  3. I love the context that you provided in this post.

  4. Just took a deep breath after reading the poem and your words below it. Life is such a complex thing.

    Am a bit mad in love with:

    Under the lens a scintilla
    Drifts from pinpoint
    To fluoresce in time.

  5. What a remarkable man, your Uncle Joey. Not everyone would agree with his line of work, but they can't argue that he kept a community alive and well through difficult times. It's too bad that your uncle's contribution to the community will never be recognized publicly.


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