The Gnarled and Gnarly Cult King of Cool

Kooky myself, sometimes I attract the kooks. In a way, I attract my own kind. Anyhow, I was minding my own business the other day at the local coffee shop, gearing up to write an essay about “Fatberg,” the enormous pile of garbage that is clogging up the London sewer system, when I felt a woman staring at me for an uncomfortable amount of time. I am not an overtly handsome man. I am somewhat nondescript, and because of that there is no reason for a stranger to regard me for any longer than they would a chair, or a countertop. True, she could’ve been mistaking me for somebody else, a desperate criminal on the run from the law, with a hefty reward for a tip leading to the apprehension of, and she the good samaritan who IDs the perp. Going back to my essay, I awaited the arrival of the federal marshals.

Eventually she approached my table and asked me if I liked pears.
“Sure,” I said, without thinking. I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten a pear. When she had posed the question, though, my first thought was that I wasn’t openly against pears for any particular reason. We coexisted in harmony, pears and I, and so I hesitated to express an outright dislike for pears. I had sampled them from time to time. I wasn’t allergic as far as I knew. They didn’t taste like much either way, and in general terms I was trying to avoid use of the word ‘hate.’ We hate too hastily and recklessly these days, and I felt that serenity started with mindfulness of eloquence. Plus I would’ve been very offended if, theoretically, someone had asked a pear what it thought of Mark “Paddy the Duke” Hull and it had said, “You know what, fuck that guy!”

The woman went back to her table and returned moments later, with what looked like a misshapen potato wrapped in a napkin. I stared, not wanting to touch it.
“Here,” she said. “This is a pear from my garden.”
“Oh,” I said. “I thought you meant do I like pairs. Like things that come in twos. It is my favorite method of travel. Um. In pairs.”
An odd silence ensued. Neither one of us believed me. Now she was hurt, saddened, offended, the rejection of her pear being a rejection, on some level, of her. I took the piece of fruit from her and placed it on the table, hoping that would satisfy her. She explained that they were special pears, totally organic, ten times as juicy, what a real pear should taste like.

I nodded, deciding, at that moment, that the pear was poisonous. The woman was trying to kill me. I was certain of it. She went back to her table. I got up and got a knife from the counter, returned to my seat and began slicing up the pear, in order to show some interest in the thing. Like a child who moves his food around on his plate in order to make it look like he has eaten some of it, I thought if I cut it up enough it would be the same as eating it. Moreover, now I was armed with a weapon. I put the knife down next to the sliced up pear and started writing my essay, trying to forget about the interaction. Of course, I couldn’t. Now I was writing about this strange woman trying to kill me with a pear. At least I was writing something. Lost in the “event horizon” of my own creative process, where gravity stretches me in strange ways, I was bounced back to reality by the woman, standing in front of me, asking me how I liked the pear?

This is a trick question! If I lie and say that I thought the pear was delicious, she would know that I was lying because the pear was highly poisonous. The only true answer would be my limp corpse stretched out on the table. Instead, I stood up and announced to the coffee shop, “Ladies and Gentlemen, for the record, and bearing witness, I want you all to know that I am about to eat a slice of a pear given to me, UNSOLICITED, by this mysterious woman standing in front of me!”
I took a wafer slice of the fruit and popped it into my mouth. I sat back down. It was very tasty. It warranted another slice.

“Excellent,” I nodded to the woman, “that is quite a juicy pear you’ve got.” I replayed that statement in my head and blushed a little, considering that, taken another way, it could’ve been construed as sexual harassment.
“I thought maybe we could swap,” she said.
“Swap what?”
“My husband is a huge fan of Harry Dean Stanton, the actor,” she said. “I thought maybe there was some way I could convince you to bargain for the tee shirt. The pear was my opening gambit.”

I looked down. I forgot I was wearing it. It was an old concert tee-shirt from a club tour that Harry Dean Stanton had done in the late 80’s with the group The Call. Here is a picture:

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Here is the back:

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“I’m sorry,” I said. “It is not for sale. This shirt has extreme sentimental value.”
“He died the other day,” she said.
I hadn’t heard. Crushed, I shuffled back to my house. Eventually I found out it was true. He was ninety-one years old. Not bad for a tequila drinking doper, and one of the best actors of his generation. I put in the old film “Repo Man” and watched Mr. Stanton explain the life of the repo man to a young Emilio Estevez.
“An ordinary person spends his life avoiding tense situations. Repo man spends his life getting INTO tense situations!”
Ad Astra Via Ingenium, my friend.
More Alembics to come.

Give Em an Inch, They Take a Foot

I had been kidnapped, I thought, as the old truck bounced along the deserted road. My captors, or my newfound friends (depending on how you looked at it), gave furtive smiles at each other, communicating in some kind of Dutch-Creole, of which I understood nothing. It wasn’t the foreign language that made me uneasy, it was the bursts of laughter in between their bantering gibberish combined with their sidelong glances down at my lower legs. The joke, it seemed, was at my expense. How do I get myself into these things?

Thirty minutes before I had been sitting in the Mona Lisa bar on the main promenade of a tiny Dutch island called Bonaire, situated about fifty miles off the coast of Venezuela. It is a desolate jewel of a sleepy South Caribbean seaport ringed with coral reef in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by electric blue waters. I had stepped out that afternoon after about a week of non-stop scuba diving in order to sample some of the local culture, which, because I am only interested in a certain, very specific type of culture, namely the kind that gets me drunk, consisted of Amstel beer and a harsh Venezuelan rum called Cacique (pronounced ka-CEE-kay). The only other people sitting around me were Dutch natives, as was the barkeep, a thin, ruddy-faced chainsmoker named Hans who probably had to flee the Netherlands after his underground slave chamber was discovered in his otherwise unassuming cottage outside of Rotterdam. I don’t know for sure. Something about Hans suggested he had plenty of secrets. That’s okay. As Herman Melville wrote in Moby Dick, “We are all killers on land and on sea, man and shark alike.”

And anyway I appreciated the fresh air. I had been underwater for twenty hours, and, contrary to what most people might think, it is very boring underwater. Not much happens. The sea creatures have developed complex camouflaging techniques because, like most humans, they don’t particularly care for humans. On top of that a marine predator can eat a foolish diver in under forty-five seconds, which means you really have to be paying attention to see some carnage. By the time the blood clears, and you are wondering what happened to your dive buddy as a tooth-marked snorkel and a half-eaten mask float by, the engorged Makos and White Tips will be miles away. Being a hundred feet underwater is a lot like war. Long stretches of nothing punctuated by moments of sheer, fascinating terror.

At the Mona Lisa bar the Dutch folks warmed up to me, dumb American, and told me they were on their way to the greatest bar ever, the bar at the edge of the world, they called it. They suggested I tag along. I said, “Sure.”

But then things got weird. The driver was careening like a torpedo down a street about as wide as a sidewalk and there was nothing to see except for a gaggle of pink flamingoes and a range of fifty-foot piles of salt next to an old processing pier. As we hooked around to the windward side of the island, I noticed some rather primitive rock piles at the edge of the shore, man-made, and beyond that a vast and unforgiving blue sea, and not a person or building in sight. Certainly no saloon. Then it dawned on me. This part of the world was the same murderous stomping ground of Joran Van Der Sloot for many years, and although he was rotting in some South American prison, it didn’t mean there weren’t others from his crew carrying on his tradition of killing tourists. Like Natalee Holloway I believed in the inherent decency of people, and this could’ve been both our undoing. As we cruised along my fellow passengers had been telling me, in broken English, about the legend of Captain Don Stewart, a feisty swashbuckler who had come to the island of Bonaire and had risen to prominence as a reef expert and diamond-eyed Lothario. He was highly revered, Captain Don was, even after losing his foot after it had become pinned under an old wooden boat wreck. They had amputated his dead foot and buried it in the Kralendijk Cemetery with all the pomp and circumstance of a National Hero. Old Don himself went to his glory a few years later, and my new Dutch friends insisted, while eyeing my own two feet, that his ghost still haunted these coral landscapes in search of his missing foot. Beware of praising famous men, I cautioned, as my right foot started to tingle. It would be entirely customary for these ruddy Europeans to drag me out of the truck, weak as I was from a bellyful of Cacique, to a stone altar where these wild acolytes would cut my foot off in deference to Captain Don, their messiah, and then toss my body into the boundless blue ocean for the moray eels and whatever else. Resistance was out of the question. I awaited my fate.
Out of nowhere a little oasis materialized. Our driver parked the truck and we went walking (I suddenly appreciated my feet more than I had in a while) into a little row of cabanas shrouded by palm trees. At the end of the path we stepped through a tiny garden and emerged at a wooden bar called Sorobon at the edge of an immaculate, baby blue beach shelf that ran five hundred feet out to the darker cobalt of the first reef drop.
The bartender was Edwin, a gray-haired and bronzed sage who spent most of his time staring out at the horizon, cracking a knowing smile.
“This is always this,” he said, motioning toward the sun and the sky and the sea. “It never grows up.”
I knew what he meant. Most of us who are cramped on the continent feel the years passing because of all the change. Days, weeks, months, lines in the face. Hot, hotter, cold, colder, rain, snow, clouds, bad news, traffic, other people’s business, the same succession of holidays, tragedies both minor and major, the struggle for whatever it is we are fighting for—no grand epic battles but trivial, almost meaningless ones. Existential malaise piled up high, the failure of the system to deliver what it has promised, and all of that everything so far away and here is Edwin, surrounded by his old wooden bar, with the sun overhead and 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round and the simple understanding that this was it, and it was no secret. If you couldn’t figure it out you didn’t belong there and if you did there wasn’t any reason to explain it. I told Edwin and my Dutch friends I’d be back. They shrugged. If they saw me when I returned they’d know that I had. And that was it.
More Alembics to come.

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Total Eclipse of the Heart, or Earth (Depending on where the ‘H’ is)

Some mysteries are tough to decipher. Like why does a ticket seller at a movie theater have to be behind three inches of bullet-proof glass? My bank teller, who has a few thousand dollars in her midst, can be grabbed with a simple lunge forward but the cashier sliding a worthless movie stub in my direction has to have more security than the pope?
Secondly, what happened to “Meatball,” my neighbor’s gregarious cat and frequent visitor to my yard whom we fear may have been devoured by coyotes. The trail, thus far, has gone cold.
Lastly, why does the moon sometimes consume, and then belch out in binger’s remorse, the entire sun?

It is this third enigma that has engulfed the city of Atlanta today as mobs of eager “Celestials” drive hellfire up to the North Georgia mountains for a brief glimpse of what is referred to as Totality, which is either the unifying oneness that connects all separate phenomena into one grand understanding, or a span of about five minutes in which it gets kinda dark, then not so much. I’m hoping that people achieve the former, yet I suspect it will end up being the latter. Instead of a total comprehension of the universal truth of things, I fear most spectators will be pissed off about all the traffic, a few people will fry their eyes out staring at the intense nimbus overhead, some suckers will pay $25 for an eclipse beer, which is a beer marked up 500% for an eclipse, and Pink Floyd will make another $20 million from their Dark Side of the Moon royalties.

Even in this age of regnant science it is nice to see people freak out over planetary rotation. Since the eclipse’s announcement I’ve talked to all manner of Neo-Mystics, who are digging into the phenomenon for the deeper meaning, or the Totality within the Totality. There is one couple who frequent the coffee shop up the block from me who plan on trying to conceive a child during Totality. It is obvious from their somewhat awkward public groping that they probably try to conceive a child when the sun rises, the sun sets, when the sun is out, when the moon is out, when the stars are out, when there are no stars, cloudy, thunderstorm, chance of showers, hot or cold. Anyhow, that is what they will be doing during Totality.
“Are you trying to birth Rosemary’s Baby?” I said.
“Who is Rosemary?” they said.
“Forget it. Good luck.”

There were a few doomsday types out in Little Five Points wearing sandwich boards encouraging me to repent for the Totality, because they had consulted some astrological charts and discovered that the Totality would last a thousand years instead of five minutes.
“Is it time for the end of the world again?” I said. “You guys get more mileage out of those sandwich boards than Trump gets from his Twitter account.”

And of course there were a few white supremacists that were boycotting the Totality because of the general blackness involved. It was all part of the grand conspiracy. The moon was in on it. They were sure of that. Lucky for them they still had their tiki torches and book burning and lack of melanin to justify their lazy form of superiority.

Yes, the birds, the bees, the lunatics and the street freaks get edgy during “syzygy,” (what a fun word! look at all those ‘y’s) but I wanted no part of it. Instead, I went to the movies. As I got into my car I noticed that “Meatball” the cat had returned, stretched out stoically in my front yard. We were worried for nothing.
*
There is a classic theater in the rundown and hip part of town that I drop in on from time to time. They show new releases and classic cult films. There is a filigreed series of gold lights descending systematically into the vector of an arrow pointed down toward the entrance. “This is Movie-Land!” it seems to suggest. Step into the magic and leave the world outside.

I got a ticket from the pale ghost of a woman posted in her Fort Knox-style glass booth and bought a bucket of popcorn from the man at the candy counter. He is roughly a million years old, pumping melted butter onto my popcorn with the measured concentration of Jackson Pollack creating one of his dripping masterpieces.
The usher led me to my seat. He is a militant fellow with a pencil thin mustache, a wilting bow tie, and a somewhat unsettling array of different sized flashlights attached to his utility belt. The smaller light sources, he explained to me, are for unobtrusive escorts. The larger, more blinding magnum beams are for raincoat masturbators, teenagers “necking,” and general belligerence. If everyone took their jobs this seriously the world would hum with the efficiency of a Rolls Royce engine.

I sat down in the otherwise empty theater to watch a showing of Orson Welles’s The Third Man. Two minutes into it, a fellow with a head like a prize watermelon sat down in front of me, completely obscuring 99% of the theater screen. The only part of the projection that I could see was a thin corona around the perimeter of his prodigious skull. How about that? I had witnessed the Totality after all. The man sat there for about a minute. Then, for reasons as mysterious as the universe itself, he got up slowly and chose another seat. Pleased with the eclipse, I sat back and watched Joseph Cotten search for the elusive Harry Lime.
More Alembics to come.

Blanking My Own Blank

(Warning: This essay contains what used to be strong language.)
I’m quite the fan of absurdist drama. Whether it is Jean Genet’s The Balcony, Francois Rabelais’s Pantagruel, Tom Robbins’s Jitterbug Perfume, Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose, or Anthony Scaramucci’s Leakers, Paranoiacs, and Oral-Onanism, I am impressed with the creative stretching and bending of raw reality. Western civilization needs artists like these to offer us a glimpse of our own potential, and in this fashion, the impossible becomes possible.

I believe it was the ancient philosopher Pliny the Elder who lectured, “Quam multi fire non posse, priusquam sent fact, judicantur?” Well said, Pliny. I heartily agree with the sentiment. How many things are considered impossible until they are actually done? Pliny’s words inspire my own imagination, or in other words, blank my own blank.

We pedestrians, rooted in reality, need certain “human telescopes” to help us peer past the horizon of our own limitations. Whether it is space exploration, gene-therapy treatment, or the improbable ability to bury our own heads into our crotches, the modern surrealist demonstrates that nothing is beyond reach. I can become my own masterpiece, or in other words, blank my own blank.

We admire the runner of a marathon, yet we look on in astonishment at the acrobat who seems to defy the very laws of gravity that everyone else must humbly obey. There is a difference between an artist that can paint down to the finest detail the exact likeness of a warty old king, and the artist that paints an enormous tongue rising like a tsunami to taste the tips of a sprawling metropolis. The former is the slave to reality, the latter its master. Each, however, follows its own muse, or in other words, blanks its own blank.

Not all hedge fund managers can be great artists, and they are rarely contortionists. The only things they are usually good at bending are the rules for risky investment. So it was doubly impressive to witness one of the modern surrealists questioning the limits of human gratification. In what will become known as quintessential Scaramuccian, I watched a brash Long Islander (hometown boy) put his foot in his mouth, his dick in his mouth, his asshole and everything else in his mouth and then spray it across the national consciousness. Not since Petr Pavlensky nailed his balls to Red Square has an act been so shamelessly grotesque. The Mooch was right, though. He wasn’t “trying” to touch his foreskin to his uvula. He was “effortlessly succeeding.” Job well done, Patrick Bateman. Now go murder a hooker.

Many artists have very volatile, short life spans. Dylan Thomas lasted thirty-nine years. Thomas Wolfe, thirty-eight. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, all twenty-seven, and Anthony Scaramucci, for all intents and purposes, lasted eleven days. It took him a little less than a fortnight to dig his own grave, or in other words, blank his own blank.

He suffered for his art. Join the club, Bubba.

Out of the moldy bread comes the penicillin, though. I’m more inspired than ever to blank my own blank. In blanking my own blank I can create my own bliss, and I invite everyone to do the same.
Blank your own blank. Build your own castle in the sky.
Blank your own blank. Resist your own demons.
Blank your own blank. Listen to your own sense of decency. Fill in the empty spaces with something that will lift others to a higher sense of social obligation. It will be a nice change of pace.
More blanks to blank.

Ten Past Ten

Speak with respect and honor
both of the beard and the beard’s owner.
(From the poem, Hudibras)
Tragedy struck in Washington D.C. last week when a suicide caught the nation’s attention. It was one of the first of its kind. A roving robot security guard affectionately known as “Steven,” model Knightscope K-5, threw himself into a fountain of water near an office complex, short-circuiting and thus ending his troubled existence. Not since Marvin from A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey has a computer been so despondent. “Steven,” realizing he was a billion times smarter than the people he was built to protect, yet still unable to reconcile the abyss of stupidity by the very same humans that had programmed him, decided it was best to end it all right then and there. Tech support arrived to run a diagnostic on the mechanical corpse, but all they could come up with was a cryptic final note in his hard drive:
ALAS, ODD RIVAL…

DE9Y1vtU0AAAjHx

Speculation was rampant. Was “Steven” crying out for help to the humans that had given him life, was he seeking a meaning, or was he struggling with the contradiction of being smarter than the very adversaries that had created him? Either way, Steven was a hero. His life’s work was providing for the safety of others. He will be missed.
Speaking of heroes…
I like to think that my heroes will live for eternity, that they are indomitable and invulnerable, too strong to be forgotten in the vortex of history. Lucky for me, most of my heroes are artists, and so their work usually endures through the ages. Their actual bodies, however, have long since disintegrated. Hunter Thompson was shot out of a cannon in a million pieces. Hart Crane turned himself into fish food. Sarah Orne Jewett fell out of a horse carriage and Emily Dickinson’s kidneys shriveled up in anguish, with the rest of her soon to follow.
So we lovers of great artists, or lovers of the macabre, or both, had cause to celebrate this week when the body of Salvador Dali was exhumed from his crypt in Spain and it was discovered that his mustache was in the exact same upright position as when they had interred him almost thirty years ago. If the tips of his whiskers were hands on a clock they would indicate ten past ten, and in this case time has stood still for almost three decades.
I never realized Salvador Dali was actually a painter. I only knew him as the inventor of the famed lobster telephone and brief spokesman for Alka-Seltzer antacids back in the seventies. Apparently he was also a rather prolific muralist. Always learning, I am. All of that and he can stop the clock too. Incredible.
It is not easy to freeze time. Even if a person clenches real hard and holds their breath and does a little freewheeling backpedal and refuses to entertain even the slightest hint of maturity, we are all older than when we started, no matter what we started and how long it took to finish it. Bob Dylan in his song “My Back Pages” seems to suggest he keeps getting younger, but if that is the case, he is the most worn out looking kid I’ve ever seen in my life.
Leave it to Salvador Dali. He was the ultimate prankster, the ultimate practical joker. Now in death he is still messing with us. In fact I heard that when they opened up his tomb not only did his handlers realize his mustache had kept its shape, but there were three fully finished paintings lying next to him that hadn’t been there when he was buried. They were all of kittens, but hey, we can’t always be on our ‘A’ game.
I myself have a strip of facial hair running vertically down my chin. I don’t remember when I grew it or why. It may have been after I read a few historical texts that insisted that, generations ago, a man had to have a beard if he was to be regarded as intelligent and refined. Since it is impossible for me to grow a full beard I figured I’d get something going if only to not appear completely uncivilized. I can affect a thoughtful figure if I tug on my chin hair and look up at the ceiling, and I use this small gesture to get myself out of tense moments when people are expecting some kind of answer from me.
“Shh,” they say, “he is thinking.” Of course I am not, but nobody needs to know that.
If Dali’s mustache signified ten past ten on a clock, then my facial hair just looks like noon, or midnight. Sometimes if it gets a little too long my facial hair can grow to about 12:30, but for all intents and purposes let’s round to the hour.

Unknown
I finished off the evening by sitting in my library, in my favorite leather chair, with my ascot and smoking jacket and snifter of brandy and calabash pipe and small tuft of chin hair that I manipulated in just a fashion as to make me look at all contemplative, and I thought about Steven, the robot suicide, and his strange message ALAS ODD RIVAL…
Steven the robot was egg-shaped. It occurred to me that Salvador Dali loved to paint eggs. They are a recurring theme in his artwork. Of course an egg was never just an egg with him. Everything was textured with subtle meanings, and I suspected that Dali’s sudden emergence and the demise of the egg robot were not entirely unrelated. Then it hit me. ALAS ODD RIVAL.
I mixed up the letters and discovered a hidden message.
SALVADOR DALI.
Very clever, Mr. Dali.
More Alembics to come.

My Unknown, Yet Apparently No Less Real, Life

Ordinary folks are starting to catch on to what scientists and mobsters have known for decades: the best way to solve a problem is to make it disappear. Hummingbirds fly by
making their wings disappear. Buddy Rich performed drum solos by making his drumsticks disappear. The problem of Antarctica melting will be over when all the ice disappears. Frankie “The Greaseball” Costello avoided a prison sentence by making Jackie “The Nose” disappear, and the problem of sobriety was solved when I made a bottle of Four Roses disappear.
I like to think of myself as a reasonable fellow. No overt homicidal inclinations based on chronic paranoia. No unnerving, vague suspicions of being watched. No subtle twinges of feeling scrutinized. No voices in my head to argue with or shout at. But I have realized it is best if I am not startled. I will lash out to defend life and property. So it went that I had to confront an intruder the other day.
I’m still getting used to my new computer. It is a slick machine that seems to have all the answers. It anticipates my confusion. It is ready for my errors. When it spots a mistake it suggests I take steps to correct it. “Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story.”

The control bar at the top of my keyboard is a touch-screen. I treat this control pad like I do my own brain, only using like ten percent of its probable potential. If that. Most of the time I ignore it. So I was a little disturbed when I chanced to see a message, from my computer, written to me, in the constantly shifting iconography it displays. I mean, who else would it be for? The computer has to know that nobody else uses it since it only recognizes my fingerprint. It knew what it was doing. I’m convinced of that. The message was both vague and menacing. It said:

I Am The Body

I knew exactly what had happened. An evil spirit had infected my computer and was offering an opening gambit in the fight for my mind and soul. It was already laying claim to my body. It was no coincidence that I had just read a news article about a technician in Corpus Christi (latin for Christ’s body!) who had gotten swallowed up inside an ATM machine. The gadgets are advancing to dominate humans. The war had begun.
I started tapping the touch screen in order to antagonize the demonic creature, when suddenly my computer beeped and a voice asked, “What can I help you with?”
It was Siri, the moll, and she had startled me. I screamed an expletive and was reprimanded for my use of foul language by her calm voice.

“Mark, please, your language,” she said.

“That’s it, bitch, you don’t come into my house and tell me my business!” I shouted, with the idiosyncratic finger-wag and head-bob of an enraged Jerry Springer guest who has just learned her man is two-timing her. Siri was ready for me. She dropped an avalanche of questions at me, figuring it best to confuse me into submission.
“Some things you can ask me? Text Brian I’m on my way. Find the best nail salon. When is the sunrise in Paris? Go to my photos from last night. When is my wife’s birthday? Should I bring an umbrella.”
First of all, I thought, who the fuck is Brian? Second, I get all my nails from Ace Hardware. I don’t need a fancy salon. I already know when the sun rises in Paris. Just like everywhere else it rises in the morning. I didn’t take any photos last night. I’m not married so how can my wife have a birthday. I don’t even know what she looks like or who she is. I don’t own an umbrella, only a collection of ornate parasols that I use on my walks during afternoons under the hot Georgia sun.

I was gobsmacked. I dared not utter a word for fear Siri would show me all of the elements of my life that were a mystery to me; the possibilities, the fantastical alternatives I was missing, my best friend Brian, my beautiful wife “Whomeva,” the pictures from my forgotten party, the rainy seascape that I stand out in front of to contemplate with my umbrella.
Instead I threw my computer out the window. It disappeared into some bushes.
Problem solved.
More Alembics to come.
(Author’s note: The author is fully aware that he has pilfered a line from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart” in the above essay, and would kindly share any profits from said essay with the E.A. Poe literary estate or Viking Penguin LLC, the profits of which are $0.00, of which any copyright holder or subsidiary thereof is more than welcome to 15%-100% of listed value. Thank you.)

Nazi Blues

A home is not only a dwelling but an outward manifestation of the owner’s personality. Thus some are simple and some are complex. Some are overwrought. Some are tidy. Some are messy. Some are open-planned and some are like beehives. Some are a gigantic assault on the meager parcel of land they occupy. Some exist in harmony with nature and some are an affront to it. Some are hidden from view and some are right out there in the middle of it all, like my neighbor, who tends his conspicuous front yard in a wide-brimmed seeding hat and bright red bikini underwear. At least I think that is what he is wearing. Us neighbors won’t get too close for fear his microscopic gardening uniform is nothing more than rubescent body paint, and his exposed dingus a kind of warning to predators, like the granular poison frog, of its extreme toxicity.
Where was I? I forgot why I started this thing. Oh yes. A home as metaphor. Last week Argentinian authorities found a Fuehrer’s ransom of Nazi artifacts behind a wall in a secret room in some fancy house in Buenos Aires. The owner of the house, a 95-year-old German man who immigrated in 1946 and who had never even heard of the Third Reich was as surprised as anybody when informed of the discovery. At first he blamed the secret collection on his manservant, a Chilean named Manolo, whom the elderly Aryan always suspected of harboring secret Nazi sympathies. It was the way the poorly educated major-domo judiciously rid the garden of inferior weeds, his obsession with white bread, white eggs, whole milk, and vanilla ice cream, and his cheerful willingness to undergo forced sterilization.
After the police hauled the pernicious treasure trove away, the old German breathed a sigh of relief. At least they hadn’t found his secret room of bizarre German pornography. Now THAT would’ve been difficult to explain.
Apparently the authorities grew suspicious after someone noticed that the welcome mat at the front door declared, “Home Is Where The Heart, And Assorted Nazi Artifacts, Is.”
The inventory list was nothing too surprising. Bust of mascot with curiously narrow mustache. Oversized steak knives. That symbol with all the right angles in it. Egg timer.
Bad, fascist, un-American eagle. Playbill for smash Broadway show “Springtime for Hitler.” The only thing that struck me as really out of place was a box of Nazi harmonicas. What do those guys know about playing the blues? It doesn’t count that they were really good at creating the conditions necessary for the singing of them. They won’t get by on a technicality.
Of all the news clips concerning the 70-year-old breaking story, Fox had the best montage. They really know how to put a soundtrack together. Tense, racing, violin-strummed quarter notes as the photos of the secreted objects were displayed. I half-expected the razzle of a harmonica when the instruments appeared onscreen.
Everyone seemed more surprised than I was. After all, this area of the world was the last known residence of Herr Doktor Josef Mengele, the sadistic Nazi experimenter and loose constructionist of the Hippocratic Oath. Finding hidden Nazi antiquities in Argentina is like finding mouse turds in the basement. Of course that is where they are. It is where they feel safe.

Argentinian construction workers and architects should’ve gotten suspicious in the late forties when blue-eyed, German expatriates began showing up all over the city enquiring about real estate, particularly houses with fake walls and hidden rooms.

“Vee like to play zee hide und seek,” would be their weak explanation.

The problem with fascism, other than the obvious, is that a group will realize they can never be quite fascist enough. After clearing out whatever category of undesirable they have decided to focus on, they will realize that within their own remaining group of putative elites, there are members who are now impure, subordinate, imperfect, and damaged. The scale has slid. It is time to eliminate the new inferior. So they approach good old faithful Hans, who has nice skin, hair and teeth, but he is a little pigeon-toed and he stutters when he is nervous. They pat him on the back and show him to his new apartment, which doesn’t have cable TV or air conditioning and is surrounded by razor wire for his own protection.
“But I’m part of the team, right?” says Hans.
“Sure. The team of oxen. Be in the field tomorrow at sunrise.”
“What do I do until then?”
“Learn to sing the blues. Here is a harmonica. You’ll need it.”
More Alembics to come