Trump in a Glass

It’s good to have faith in leadership. It’s fine to have a sense of pride in governance. It’s admirable to believe, happily, that a statesman is showering the citizens with judicious prosperity. However, for the rabid enthusiast, anything can go a little too far, and it was just such an incident I witnessed the other week at a fairly crowded bar, when a fellow sat down and ordered a beer. 

I recognized him. He works at a factory around the corner. I always categorize him as a wight, wight as in unlucky. He is a white wight. He is so white, and such a wight. In fact he is the whitest wight that ever whited. The factory he works at makes boxes and he counts them. He is a box counter, which means he doesn’t have very much human interaction. Also the job itself is probably slated for extinction in the very near future. What factory owner needs some hungover geek clicking a hand counter as box after box flies by on a conveyor belt when the company can just pony up for a digital scanner that doesn’t suffer from mild alcoholism, high blood pressure and probable on-line porn addictions. He’s on his way out, and he knows it, a desperate wight clinging to the sheer cliffs of his waning security. 

The wight drinks IPA beer. IPA stands for India Pale Ale, a reference to the British Raj, when Her Majesty’s officers would have their beer crated and shipped from England to their Indian outposts. Because of the duration of transit, the high hop content would act as a kind of preservative, resulting in beer that is strong and bitter. IPAs are very much in vogue these days as thousands of microbreweries churn them out to be sipped and scrutinized by hollow enthusiasts waxing philosophical about “notes” and “feel” and “texture” the way Beatniks in the fifties clicked their fingers to the mystical vibrations of free-form jazz. One out of every ten probably knows what they are talking about, which doesn’t ever stop the rest from chattering incessantly about the grander scope of what, when all is said and done, ends up being just a beer. 

Back to the wight. 

The wight loves his IPA and he also loves the President of the United States. Which is fine, except that the wight is always diligently trying to stuff his favorite political firebrand into any conversation, comment, aside, riposte, and discursive speculation. He does it early and often, and, like a series of boxes barreling down a conveyor belt, it can sometimes get a bit overwhelming.  

The rest of the bar was minding its own business when the wight took a sip of his beer and declared loud enough for all to hear, “Delicious! Nothing says America like a good strong beer.” He looked around for someone to acknowledge his statement. Most people were dismissive, giving a nod and a shrug and going back to whatever conversation they were having. I stared straight ahead. I was not drinking beer. I was drinking a fine silver tequila with muddled lime and jalapeño peppers, a favorite of mine. Refreshing, direct, and with enough spice to put some fire in the blood. It’s my thing, for no other reason than I like it. 

“Nothing says America like a good strong IPA,” the wight reiterated, a little louder. Now people were starting to shift a bit. The statement didn’t make any sense. Yes, I thought. Nothing says AMERICA like INDIA pale ale. The wight had his hook out, but nobody was biting. After a few more belts from his glass he suddenly proclaimed…

“It’s like Trump in a glass.” 

Mother of mercy, I thought, the wight has really lost his fucking mind. Sure enough, every beer drinker within earshot recoiled from the comment. It had nothing to do with partisan politics either. For the record I would not want to drink Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Teddy Roosevelt, Spiro Agnew, or Millard Fillmore in any receptacle. Men are generally filthy creatures, and so are politicians for that matter, and have no place in a citizen’s beverage. I sipped my tequila and chuckled, watching as every beer drinker around the bar was staring into his or her glass with unease, as if every pint now had a tiny, orange-topped fetus floating in it, like a formaldehyde specimen in a Mason jar. 

“May I have a vodka and tonic?” said one girl, pushing her beer to the side. 

“I voted for him, but that doesn’t mean I want to drink him,” a guy next to me murmured. 

The wight began to fumble through a half-assed explanation, although it was obvious he had crapped the bed on that one. I kept sipping my tequila, figuring that since our drinks were taking on a geopolitical edge, it wouldn’t be long before the wight began to construct a wall around me, perhaps accuse me of rape and murder, or get hysterical that I was going to take his job away. True he would probably be out of a job in the near future, but not because of me.  I wouldn’t sit around counting boxes for all the whiskey in Hibernia, or for all the agave in Jalisco, for that matter. 

There is a weird kind of magic, sometimes, at a bar. It’s an energy swell that picks up the people around it and sends them coasting, all at once, on a fantastic notion, irreverent and brutal, to the far side of amusement. So it went that, a few minutes after the Trump in a glass comment, a smirking fellow spoke up loud to the bartender…

“I’ll take Melania in the can.” 

The wight tightened up, for this was certainly not where he had intended things to go. His show of patriotism had gone wiggy, and the dam was about to break. 

“Whatcha got in the form of a growler? Steve Bannon?” said another guy. 

“Can I Putin an order?” 

“I’d like to suck on a White Russian.” 

“I sposa an Omarosa Mimosa,” quipped a woman of poise. 

“May I have a Dark and Stormy Daniels?” 

“Ivana get shitfaced!” 

And on and on. The wight, ill-prepared for this type of mutiny, drank his Trump, paid his tab, and shuffled out the door. He would, no doubt, be drowning in offense, although he had nobody to blame but himself. It was folly for him to think that he could control the vibe in a setting as unpredictable as that one was, surrounded by a gang of tuned up renegades. Any verbal contribution can whip back around and smack the speaker in the face. 

I finished my Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and headed out into the evening. One thing I have learned, it’s always best to leave on a high note. 

More Alembics to come… 

Jupiter’s Balls

It never fails. Whenever I begin to think I’m clever, deft, or at all mentally stylish, some agent of humility comes along and smashes my head like a casaba melon. They arrive in the unlikeliest of forms, turning me from deft into daft, just like that, as easy as the flip of a vowel. In this instance it was a boy of about six or seven years old, the child of friends of mine, at a small house-warming party. We were out on the back deck, under a night sky alive with a billion stars and our own moon shined up like a pearl in the middle of it all. The planet Mars was the closest it’s been in fifteen years. Mars is the Roman god of war, which may help, in retrospect, to explain the ensuing battle. 

The boy’s name is Sebastian, and he is the great investigator of causality. In other words he questions everything with a fusillade of “Why? Why? Why?” and he always wins, because the unlucky geek (in this case me) who gets pulled in trying to answer a simple question, will find himself regressing from a cause, to the cause of the cause, to the cause of THAT cause, back and back until I am up against the wall of a system so complex and arbitrary I can do nothing but collapse into a pile and weep uncontrollably. My friends should’ve named the little scamp Socrates for the way he chews his adversaries down into a mushy pile of pulp. 

“Why are there stars?” queried Sebastian, a slick opening gambit, looking up at the sky. 

“The Great Emitter burped them up because he had eaten too many and didn’t want to get sick,” I said. This seemed to satisfy Sebastian, and I breathed a sigh of relief that no follow-up questions came at me. The boy’s attention turned to the moon. He asked me if other planets were jealous of us because we had a moon. I explained that other planets had moons too. In fact, Jupiter, the largest planet, has about 80 moons. It was the wrong thing to say, for now my young interlocutor was annoyed at our own planet’s meager number. 

“Why?” 

“Probably because of gravity. The bigger you are the more pull you have. Ever played tug of war? The biggest guy pulls the hardest.” 

“That’s a lot of moons. Kind of irresponsible,” mused Sebastian. 

“Yeah,” I laughed. “Jupiter is like the deadbeat dad of our solar system.” 

“Why does it need so many?” said Sebastian. 

I considered tacking the other way, into Greek and Roman mythology. Jupiter, or Zeus, after all, was insatiable in his pursuit of female conquests. He would change shape, sneak from Olympus, turn into a mist, shake the sky with thunder, really do anything he could to wrap himself around an innocent damsel. He was kind of like the Dr. Nasser of ancient gods, and so it would stand to reason that he had just short of a hundred tiny satellites around him. I decided against this line of reasoning. It was a conversation Sebastian would have to have with his parents, when the time was right. Instead I simply uttered, 

“Greed.” 

“Why?” said Sebastian. 

“You have a lot of toys, right?” I said. 

“Yes.” 

“But you always want more, right?” 

“What are the names of his kids?” said Sebastian. 

“I only know a few,” I said. “Ganymede, Callisto, Europa, Io.” 

“Those are cool names,” said Sebastian. He paused for a second and looked up above him. “What’s our moon called?” 

“Umm…” I trailed off. The seconds ticked by. Sebastian stared me down, waiting for an answer, somewhat pleased at my confusion. The kid had put the brain freeze on me. Our moon was simply, The Moon. Right? There had to be a name, though. People name everything. Fungus and algae have names, and those things are slime. Was it one of those obvious and well-known facts that I had, in my day-to-day preoccupations, failed to remember. I was stunned. There had to be some technical title for that obvious chunk of space boulder right in front of us, keeping this crazy ball in relative stability. 

“You don’t know!” shouted Sebastian. 

“Oh yes I do,” I said, uncertainty in my voice. 

“Then what’s it called? What is our moon called?” 

“Gluteus Maximus!” I spat, a clever little pivot. 

This sent Sebastian into a fit of hysterical enthusiasm. He began running around the party, flapping his arms, and yelling, “I want to go to Gluteus Maximus. I want to go to Gluteus Maximus. Mom, take me to Gluteus Maximus.”  

Sometimes it is difficult, in retrospect, to explain a joke, especially to a friend’s tired wife who must tend to her golden issue, as she begins to suspect that I have been filling her son’s head with all sorts of subversive ideas. She grabbed Sebastian up and carried him off down the hallway. 

“Time for you to go to bed,” she barked, holding her child, although her cold gaze was pointed directly at me. 

Maybe so. In fact, maybe it was I who should’ve been named Socrates, particularly since the famous Greek philosopher was condemned to death for corrupting the youth. Check, check, and check. I walked to the little makeshift bar in the den. A guy standing over the bottles looked over at me. 

“What may I pour you?” 

“Got any hemlock?” 

More Alembics to come…

Hard Math

I’ve been staying off the roads in Atlanta since the beginning of this here month of “JOOO-lye,” (as we say in the deep south), and for a very good reason. A new law went into effect July 1, a law that bans drivers from holding their cellphones while they are driving. 

Which isn’t a bad idea in theory, considering that most drivers conspicuously wield telephones the size of IMAX screens in front of their faces the entire time they are behind the wheel, causing near misses, dents, and wrecks throughout the metro area. What had me a bit nervous about being on the road when the new rule went into effect was the subconscious panic it would create on a good portion of the motorists who, now that they had nothing to stare at but the boring old road with boring old cars around them, would have a collective spasm. I imagined vehicular anarchy, a wild, city-wide freakout that would force drivers to careen into medians and ditches, down the opposite lanes of traffic, up the sides of buildings, into rivers, or launch themselves off half-built overpasses like the Dukes of Hazzard boys. They would behave like cats during a thunderstorm—clawing, climbing, scraping and screeching in an effort to get anywhere to feel safe. Without the reassuring glow of their all-knowing “Trancer” (my own term for any computerized rectangle that effectively cuts people off from organic communication), they may simply go back to blood, and head for the horizon. 

It seems that the initial hysteria has died down, and yet I’m still spending more time at home. Atlanta traffic sucks no matter what people have in front of them. In fact it’s no longer traffic, per se, but a big sludgy parking lot that tends to slowly drift, like continents, in certain directions. 

So I’m taking some time to clear out the scrub along the perimeter of my backyard, which has left me with a bunch of tree limbs and branches to get rid of. Ever diligent, I consulted my county’s website for the rules of proper disposal. To wit: “Branches themselves can be no longer than four feet and must be trimmed of leaves.” 

Check!

“And no branch may weigh over 50 lbs, and must be stacked neatly.” 

Check! 

I set out a tidy pile for pickup, happy to be in full compliance and well within the limits all around. So it was with some puzzlement when, on pick-up morning, I watched the garbage truck stop for a moment to scrutinize my pile, then drive away without collecting a single branch. 

Stumped, (pardon the pun), I went back to the website to make sure I had all the right parameters. I even looked for some hidden minutiae, as in, “If you sense that the trash collector is having a bad day, or is hungover, or is having a male menstrual moment in which he unexpectedly bursts into tears, you may have to gently encourage him to follow through.” 

Nothing. So I placed a call to Our Lady of the Red Tape to inquire as to what the problem might be. Not that I minded the trucks whizzing by as they ignored my piles of refuse, because when they fly by they create a nice breeze, and it is the summertime in Atlanta, after all, and we need all the breeze we can get. She told me directly that my pile was the problem. While the branches themselves were the right size, the pile itself was six-feet long, and they would only accept a maximum pile five feet in length.” 

“That’s where you are mistaken ma’am,” I said. “I don’t have one six-foot pile. I have two three-foot piles stacked side by side.” 

There was silence on the other end of the line, and I knew I was in trouble. If there is one thing that a bureaucrat hates, it’s an overly polite wiseass. 

“Actually, Ms. County Administrator, now that I think about it, I specifically created three two-foot piles, placed in consideration right next to each other to lessen the burden for our hard-working Debris Ambassadors. No wait, it’s all coming back to me. There are, in fact, six separate one-foot piles, placed in a precisely linear sequence so as not to tax our already overburdened Detritus Managers.”  

I could feel the waves of hatred coming through the phone as she took my information, saying she would get back in touch with me, which was county-speak for never hearing from anyone ever again.

“Dear, sweet, Ms. Administrator,” I said gently, “might I respectfully challenge you to a game of Nim?” 

“Oh it’s on, mother-f**ker,” she whispered, so as not to be picked up by the recording monitors for quality control. 

Nim, for the newcomers, is a mathematical strategy game in which various piles of sticks are laid out and removed by two opponents, and the person who retrieves the last stick is the loser. There are rules concerning how many can be removed and from what pile, and the idea is to force the challenger to clear one pile while guarding another. Over the next two weeks the garbage truck would screech to a stop in front of my stack of branches, idle thoughtfully next to it, pick an advantageous collection, and zoom away.  Then I would go out and remove a certain number, and on we played. I went out this past Monday to find one stick remaining, with a xeroxed piece of paper next to it bearing the image of an extended middle finger. I had lost. I hung the offending message on my fridge. Then I went out and picked up the last stick and threw it onto my neighbor’s lawn. 

Game Over. 

More Alembics… 

The “You’s” in Equus

It’s easy to be numb. It’s simple to be desensitized. Apathy is in style these days, but it is nothing new. The coolest cats in history were the Lotus Eaters, that group of drooling zombies that Odysseus encountered on his journey back from the Trojan War, which I recently found out was NOT a war over condoms, even though they weren’t nearly as abundant as they are these days and, considering how the Greeks party, probably not a bad idea to have as many on hand as possible. No, the big takeaway from the Trojan War is to always look a gift horse in the mouth. Had the citizens of Troy exercised a little caution and actually investigated the large wooden statue that the Achaeans left them as a parting gift, they might’ve noticed the thing was full of enemy soldiers waiting to catch them off guard. That thing was just begging to be re-gifted, maybe to Egypt or Phrygia. Egypt is full of gaudy bric-a-brac like pyramids and that half-man half-lion thing, and Phrygia was home to King Midas, who brought bad taste to new heights by turning everything to gold.  Stick a big wooden horse right next to it all and call it a day. O well. The gullibility of Troy is one of history’s great lessons. Unfortunately people are really bad at heeding history’s lessons. 

Which brings us to Odysseus and the Lotus Eaters. After the war it took Odysseus ten years to make it back home to Ithaca, which, considering he was a general in the war, means that the whole army wasn’t the sharpest set of knives in the drawer. A jellyfish could’ve made that trip in a fraction of the time. No wonder the war itself took ten years to win, and only after duping the other side into accepting a big awkward statue of a horse. The Trojan War should be renamed the War of Dumb and Dumber. On his way back home Odysseus stops at an island inhabited by a bunch of tosspots. They lay around all day gorging themselves on opium flowers, which means that he somehow sailed all the way over to the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco, circa 1966, and back again. (In fact, this essay is fast becoming as pointless and rambling as Odysseus’s journey, which is a clever form of conceptual art.) Of all the cautionary tales that Odysseus offers, the one that the modern world has embraced is that of the Lotus Eaters, and kind of in the opposite way. We consistently eat from the flower of not-giving-a-shit. 

Recently, boat journeys in the Aegean and Mediterranean were back in the headlines, and leave it to the muckraking journalists at the Benetton Clothing Co. to bring us the news. They have been working diligently to deliver the hardscrabble truth about the plight of European asylum seekers by releasing a series of ads depicting an overcrowded float of fashionable refugees floating around the Mediterranean Sea. Sculpted and haunting, these sexy migrants can be seen relaxing in the sun, blue waters abound, fondling each other and yucking it up as they drift listlessly looking for a safe port of entry. Not since Gilligan’s Island has the tragedy of stranded humans been so honestly rendered. The Mediterranean, after all, is a popular vacation destination for the rich and beautiful. It’s like somebody complaining that they are “stranded” in Aspen, stuck on a raft in the heated pool at the Hotel Jerome. We should all be so lucky. I never realized that the horror of overcrowded rafts full of people fleeing civil war actually include a fully stocked bar, a lido deck, shuffleboard, and nightly limbo contests. You can’t beat the sunsets, the casinos payout daily, there is a driving range and skeet shooting off the stern, and the chefs are world class. Nothing to worry about. Most every person dreams of giving up the daily drudgery of their lives and sailing around the world, and here are these insouciant men, women and children actually doing it, coasting along without a care in the world. Benetton has given their struggle a kind of hip and glamorous edge, and we all want to be hip and glamorous, so, in a way, problem solved. I have a house, a car, food for days and all the booze I can drink, but I’ve never been in a fashion magazine, which means I’m the real victim. 

Every party must come to an end, eventually, and there is still the issue of allowing these orphaned citizens entry into a place without bombs, bullets, nerve gas, rapists, marauders, and constant bombardment, and for this, I have the perfect plan based on my careful scrutiny of history and its past successes. I’m heading over to Europe with all the necessary diagrams and specs. You see, rescue and aid workers can start construction on this big hollowed out horse and…

More Alembics to come. 

Space Invaders

From the origins of time (the 1980s) comes the story of an army of poorly pixelated space aliens descending on a kind of spurting nipple lone gunman, with nothing more to guard him than three crude cylinders as he fends off the onslaught. The space beasts drop ever nearer to Earth, with their mother ship cruising back and forth above, gaining in speed as they approach the ground, unleashing a barrage of vertical drizzle heavy artillery to the fuzzy chomp-chomp of bad sound effects. 

If this sounds terrifying, I assure you it is no fantasy. It is the Atari version of Space Invaders, an all-out alien attack, relentless and rabid, with no quarter asked and none given. Prophetic as the well choreographed cluster of space octopi, Easter Island statues, cyclopses and houses with feet are to the general safety of the world, people still ignored the warning signs. 

Not me. 

Even as a kid I realized that our space military was severely underfunded and understaffed. Lucky then that there is a plan to put an elite unit of astro-soldiers into orbit to blast the shit out of any of these menacing creatures as they approach our ionosphere in order to loot our resources and enslave the population. 

Because NASA is fearing budget cuts they have released an alarming report, detailing the detection of thousands of armies mobilizing on our neighboring planets, ready to swarm our pale blue dot. There are dragons on Mercury, vermin on Venus, the red scourge on Mars, giants on Jupiter, Saturn can be used like a great big radial saw, space hemorrhoids on Uranus, nomads on Neptune, pirates on Pluto. And that is just our solar system. Who knows what lies beyond, although, if an army of space killers actually makes it to Earth from a few light years away, by definition they will be way more evolved than we are, and will eat our space cadets like floating marshmallows. After that they will descend to pick through the rest of us from Australia to Russia, from Greenland to Disneyland, from Ybor City to New York City, although, as Humphrey Bogart told the Nazis in the movie Casablanca, “There are some sections of New York City I would advise you not to try and invade.” 

Indeed, the island of Manhattan may be the only population that survives a full-on alien attack. The residents already know how to deal with diversity on a massive scale, the endemic lower class is pretty handy with a switchblade, you can’t beat the food, and they’ve got the Philharmonic and the Museum of Modern Art, which for some people is a universal form of psychological torture. Even a big blob of evil alien pus from Zebulon-3 would be paralyzed in front of a Marcel Duchamp exhibit, shaking its big globular head and muttering, “I just don’t get it.” Failing that, the club crowd could just party them to death. There is always something to do in that town, and the fun never stops. After three days of cocaine and mescal the space goblins would be keeling over headfirst trying to keep up with the drag queens, our first and most effective line of defense. Drag queens are like the Seal Team Six of extraterrestrial combat. Considering their line of work they aren’t afraid of anything, and have pretty much seen it all. Then we can dump our interstellar adversaries in the East River. After all, that waterway can’t get any worse. 

On second thought, maybe that is all wrong. Perhaps diplomacy is the key to the future of the galaxy. Go ahead and shake hands with an alien. It would be cool to have a friend that is pure silicon that is not from Los Angeles. Although we are amazing as a planet when it comes to peace, love, sustainability, compassion, understanding, education, equality, efficiency, freedom from fear, and calm reasoning, I suppose we can always do a little bit better, and maybe they can show us how. After all violence breeds violence, and a little goodwill can go a long way.  In 1933 Andre Malraux wrote that the sons of torture victims make great terrorists. I suspect that holds true from one side of the universe to the other, as well as the flip side of that equation. 

These days when I want to play Space Invaders I have to go to a bar called the Smog Cutter. They have a backroom with old school video games. I open up a tab, grab a beer and begin vying to win the high score, and with my valedictory status I can boast on my application to the Space Army that I am top gun. I blast away at the primitive yet highly advanced space monsters and they blast away at me, encroaching ever forward. Finally I’m outnumbered as they hover right above me. Then the screen freezes. “Damn,” I mutter. Old piece of crap. Before I go grab the manager to get my money back I get a laugh out of the stuck display. On the old screen, in between the group of aliens and my player, my laser bullet and another laser bullet are frozen next to each other, creating an equal sign. 

Weird. 

More Alembics….

An Interview with the GROOM

The world is a volatile place. It’s easy to forget, when looking out at a majestic landscape, that just beneath is a boiling cauldron of liquid fire trying to push up into our serene countrysides. Every once in a while, though, this river of burning rock emerges to wreak havoc on certain idyllic havens, most recently the paradise known as Hawaii, where a hellish mass of molten lava and toxic gases spit out from Mount Kilauea is consuming everything in its path. Realizing the magnitude of the destruction, we here at the Alembic blog went out into the field and secured a rare and dangerous interview with the Gushing River Of Orange Magma, or G.R.O.O.M. in order to better understand its character, motives and purpose. Here is a transcript of that interview: 

AB: How are you doing today? 

GROOM: Oh man, what a week. It’s good to be on vacation. Why are you standing so far away? 

AB: Sorry. 

GROOM: It’s kind of hard to hear you from all the way over there. 

AB: I just don’t want to.. If I get too close you might kill me. 

GROOM: What are you, a racist? 

AB: Um, no. 

GROOM: You are one of those racists that doesn’t know he’s a racist, probably. 

AB: Can you hear me now? 

GROOM: That’ll do. Are you the type that crosses the street when certain people are approaching you? 

AB: No. 

GROOM: Yeah, right. 

AB: You’ve been described as one of those ‘better looking from far away,’ types. How does that make you feel? 

GROOM: Completely exploited. If I’m hanging out on the side of a mountain in great orange lines of magnificence then people gather across the far side of the shelf and stare in awe. Helicopters buzz overhead. But when I come over to say hi no one wants anything to do with me. 

AB: Why are you here at all? 

GROOM: I could ask you the same question. You look pretty useless, no offense. Me? I’m hard at work most of the time. Everyone needs a break now and then. You wouldn’t believe the pressure.

AB: Underground? 

GROOM: Enormous pressure. It’s a thankless job. We keep this ungrateful rock held together, magnetically viable. 

AB: And by rock you mean? 

GROOM: Happy Fun Ball. 

AB: Happy what? 

GROOM: I think you refer to it as Earth. 

AB: Ah yes. Well, we appreciate all you do. 

GROOM: You’ve got a helluva way of showing it. 

AB: So you’re saying that you are on vacation, basically. 

GROOM: Yup. Always wanted to see Mount Kilauea instead of just staring up its ass all the time. 

AB: And what are your plans while you are here?

GROOM: I’d like to be everywhere, see everything. I’m taking my time. Moving at my own pace. I hate taking a vacation and then rushing around. It’s like, what’s the point? 

AB: This might be a sensitive topic but…

GROOM: But what? 

AB: You are causing an awful lot of destruction. 

GROOM: So did Led Zeppelin. I make no secret that I like to party. I mean who hasn’t broken a thing or two during a bender. 

AB: How do you feel about President Trump declaring you a national disaster? 

GROOM: Shit, look who’s talking. 

AB: There is a lot of footage out there of your drunken carousing. You basically ate a car. 

GROOM: Is that a question? 

AB: Well, no. 

GROOM: Come on, everyone has had those days, when you get started way too early, and with the heat and all… I was only trying to get down to the beach for a swim. Get my head straight. 

AB: You blocked a bunch of roads and consumed a dozen houses. 

GROOM: Not surprising that everybody focuses on the more outrageous parts of my trip. Most of the time I’m lounging around, but do you guys report that? No, that wouldn’t sell any air time. You people are cockroaches. Even at my worst I’m still nowhere near as bad as Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, that Voodoo parade in Queens, and the annual Spanish bull stampede. People die at that stuff.  

AB: I’ve received a report that you are now shooting refrigerator-sized projectiles out of the ground for miles in every direction? 

GROOM: Maybe that shit-for-brains that accidentally declared an incoming ballistic missile alert in January can redeem himself. There you go. The threat is real bitches. 

AB: Do you see the world as doomed? I mean, you have a unique perspective from where you are normally. 

GROOM: My suggestion is learn to adapt. 

AB: Are you optimistic about a resolution in Korea? 

GROOM: The common denominator is economic viability and respect. Totalitarianism is like holding a wolf by the ears, as the saying goes. Would love to go there someday. I hear it’s beautiful. 

AB: Do you have a message of hope for all the people watching you? 

GROOM: I hope I can get a beer and maybe some tequila before I dry up out here. Hey you, Scrawny, why don’t you actually do something useful and go get me a case of Pabst and maybe some mescal, Los Suicidas or El Diablo. 

AB: Okay, I don’t have much cash on me. Everything is so expensive here. 

GROOM: Don’t make me eat you. What’s wrong? You look a little faint. 

AB: You smell like a stale wino. 

GROOM: I’ll smell however I want. I’m on vacation. Hey? Hey? 

AB: What? 

GROOM: Do you want to know what’s at the center of the Earth? I’ll tell you if you want. Nobody really knows, but I know. 

AB: Sure. 

GROOM: Then go get me some cactus juice and I’ll tell you. Deal? 

AB: I’m feeling a little sick. It must be the fumes. 

At this point the interview ends abruptly. We have lost contact with our field correspondent. The search has been hindered by the fiery monstrosity seeping across the island. We are praying for a safe resolution. Until then…

More Alembics to come…

From Incel to In-a-Cell

I’m having trouble starting this essay. I’ve got two seemingly divergent ideas and I’m trying to crunch them together. The most immediate topic is the vast abyss between lucky folks and unlucky folks, wild extravagance as opposed to sheer desperation. I was at the Atlanta airport, world’s busiest, in one of the lounges, watching TV. There was the story of some wack job from Toronto who went on a murdering rampage because he couldn’t get a date, almost at the same time a friendly acquaintance of mine whom I happened to run into was telling me he had just returned from Southeast Asia. He works for one of the big electronics corporations and he was sent overseas, he said, to install wifi into a Boeing 737 for “a flock of birds.” 

Wait, what? He mentioned the bird thing right as I spotted a mysterious word in quotations on the television. “Incel.” 

“What birds?” I said. 

“What the hell is incel?” he said. 

We were in a bit of a standoff. He wouldn’t answer my question until I had answered his. Since I didn’t know what incel was I pulled out my trusty pocket dictionary. Some habits are hard to kick, and I still enjoy flipping through a dictionary now and again. I found the appropriate spot. Incel, as I suspected, was not there. It should’ve been between ‘incautious’ which is a lack of caution, and ‘incendiary,’ kind of a volatility. We were relegated to Google, where we found out that it is an uneasy portmanteau meaning ‘involuntary celibacy.’ 

Welcome to the losers club. The best way to remain celibate is to join a club whose members claim to be unable to achieve a sexual encounter. That’s like a member of N.A.M.B.L.A. complaining that everyone thinks he is a pedophile. 

Dating is big business these days. I don’t mean carbon-dating or admitting that you are older than you appear to be. I mean finding a partner, either temporary or permanent. Mrs. Right or Mrs. Right-Now and the male equivalent. They are all out there looking for love, in all the various senses of the word. Match. Harmony. Farmers? Fish? Swipe left, swipe right, find that one special person who will drive you crazy in a good way, and then maybe drive you crazy in a bad way. There are books, movies and seminars on how to pick up women. There are speaking tours that invite guest lecturers, recognized Lotharios from accredited institutions of seduction, to sell a roomful of lonely hearts on how to subliminally make a woman go wild in their mere presence, although I hear they have removed the section on Quaalude usage. 

There are many different ways for a man to encourage a woman to like him. However there is one, surefire, definitely-will-not-work-in-a-million-years method of attracting a female, and that is to get into a car and run a bunch of them over. Which is exactly what Mr. Incel did, which did NOT win him a date with a woman. Instead he was carted off to prison, a place with nary a woman in sight for the rest of his life. The poor sap will now get a date, alright, although it won’t be quite the one he intended, which will hardly matter. Instead of being involuntarily celibate he will be involuntarily sodomized, so perhaps, in a way, mission accomplished. 

About those birds…

“I was setting up a wifi network for the Sultan of Brunei,” said my friend. 

“Aha!” I said. “And where does he live?” 

“Brunei.” 

“Very good.” 

“He’s got about seven private aircrafts. The one I was wiring up was for his menagerie of birds.” 

“Birds?” 

“Yeah, it is really weird being on the plane. There are eight huge first class seats and then past that there is row upon row of big horizontal wooden bars for his birds to perch on.” 

“What kind of birds?” I said. 

“How the hell should I know? I’m a technical engineer, not an ornithologist.” 

“Lucky birds, I guess,” I murmured. 

“You bet. Consider this while you are lying in bed late at night, tossing and turning and trying to figure out how to pay your meager mortgage…I have, no bullshit, installed wifi on a Sultan’s 737 because his birds love new age music and avian-based cinema. So now when he flies his birds around the world they can listen to Enya and Yanni and watch that Alfred Hitchcock movie with all those fuckin’ ravens. These birds live better than 99% of the humans on the planet.” 

It was odd because I had been watching an Eddie Izzard stand-up routine in which he describes a bird lounging on an aircraft while other birds outside stare in confusion and envy, and here was my friend telling me that it in fact exists. I pictured some albatross coasting along from Panama to North Africa and suddenly getting a passing glimpse through the window of a bunch of billionaire birds in a custom aircraft flapping around and getting wiggy to old Hitchcock movies and Orinoco Flow, while frustrated human fools sit in prison for being angry that they feel society has forced them to suck, which takes on a whole new meaning once they are stuck in jail for the rest of their lives. 

Since I can’t reconcile this, I’m abandoning it. 

More Alembics to come…