Palmolive Dish Soap May Cause Clogs

There is a Murphy’s Law that applies to me every time I go to the grocery store. I will always queue up in what turns out to be the longest checkout line. 

Which doesn’t really bother me anymore. I accept my fate, for better or for worse. It’s not a matter of picking the line with the fewest number of people, either. That’s where it gets tricky. There could be ten people in one line and two in another, and I will be duped into getting on the shorter one; only to find that the person in front of me is the immovable oak tree, hellbent on winning the great price debate. “That’s not on sale? It’s advertised as on sale. I wouldn’t have gotten it if it wasn’t on sale. $1.29 for stewed tomatoes? What are they made of, fucking gold? Check it again!” Or the dissatisfied shopper who drones on at great length about the state of decay in the vegetable section. “They got more bruises than a battered housewives shelter.” Or the unlucky customer whose every item is somehow missing its bar code, resulting in the aloof bag boy being sent to retrieve a scannable version, only to return hours later, haggard, with a shadow of stubble on his face, and the wrong box of toaster strudels. 

There I stood, ready to checkout, pausing to survey my options. There were two checkout lanes available to me. All the other registers were closed, maybe because ex-New Jersey governor Chris Christie was now the general manager of our local supermarket, or something. I could get behind a withered old grandmother with a mountain of purchases towering high above her in her cart, or a well-dressed, refined fellow, a noble Castilian perhaps, with a cart that held twenty bottles of Palmolive dish soap. Nothing else. Just the soap. 

Basic math dictated I maneuver myself in line behind the Castilian, even though every instinct in my head cried out, “It’s a trap! Don’t do it! Roll the dice with the blue-haired lady that has somehow put one of every store item in her packed cart.” 

Too late, as a few people lined up behind me. We’re all in this together now, I thought. The Castilian fellow seemed like a man on the move, a man with places to go, places where they took the cleanliness of their dishes VERY seriously. 

I counted the beeps as the bottles of dish soap swept across the scanner. Exactly twenty. I was expecting the cashier to remark on the peculiarity of the purchase, but she kept her cool, kinda like the cashier who’s seen it all. I was filling in my own storyline, anyway. I imagined this fellow had already been to the store, picking up all the normal items for the week, and when he returned to his house and unloaded his bags, his overbearing wife had ripped into him about forgetting the dish soap. 

“You can’t do anything right!” I heard her shout, in my mind. 

And so here he was, ready to drop twenty bottles of the degreaser on the kitchen table when he returned to his house, in a blue ribbon example of the most passive-aggressive response in the history of marital discord. I almost wanted to follow him home to see how the whole thing played out. 

After the twenty bottles were rung up the cashier announced the price. Not so fast, indicated the man with a drop of his head, as he fished around in his jacket to produce a pack of coupons. Damn, I thought. Here we go. 

There were twenty coupons offering a fifty-cent rebate for each bottle of dish soap. The cashier set about scanning each coupon, one by one. Everybody in line shifted their weight and exhaled, trying to ignore the fact that, due to the coupons being old, or creased, or smudged, it took the cashier between ten and twenty waves of the small bits of paper for the computer to actually read the bar code. The Castilian’s face was a mask of unaffected resolve. The rest of us began to wither. The woman who was at the back of the line rushed off to either try her luck at the customer service counter or simply make a break for the front door. 

The cashier, with beads of perspiration across her forehead, made it to the last coupon. She waved it across the code-reader about a dozen times before it beeped, scanning successfully…for a five-cent discount. This sent the Castilian into a fit of apoplexy. It was supposed to be fifty cents off, not five. The cashier was stumped. She switched the coupon to her other hand to scrutinize it, as her scanning arm was exhausted and useless from all the waving. I watched as the little grandmother with her hundred bags of groceries walked out of the store, all done with her shopping for the week. 

The cashier excused herself to consult the manager about the last coupon. I could feel the silent rage building up behind me as customers began muttering underneath their breath and collapsing on themselves. I leaned on my cart and browsed the tabloids. Jennifer Aniston was pregnant with three different babies from three different fathers, and addicted to cocaine and diet pills, and suicidal and bankrupt. At least she didn’t have to stand on this line. 

By the time the cashier returned to tell the man he had hit some kind of weird limit contained in the small print of the tiny coupon, everybody was ready for blood. The Castilian, unfazed, insisted the coupon be honored, not even blinking an eye as a quarter, two nickels and a dime went bouncing across the conveyor belt, a donation from the guy behind me to subsidize the price difference. 

With the account squared up, the Castilian exited the store, while the rest of us stretched to work some of the blood back into our legs, quickly guiding ourselves through our own reasonable purchases. 

I walked outside, happy to breathe in the fresh air. I had to stop short, though, as I was almost struck down by a glossy Porsche Carrera driven by the same Castilian who had been in front of me at the checkout line. 

I’ll never understand finance. 

More Alembics to come…

9-9-6

 Sometimes less is more. Sometimes more is more. Sometimes more is less, and sometimes most is worst. 

***

The reason for that seemingly ridiculous statement is that I was recently reading about an American work trend known as 9-9-6. The idea is simple: the workday starts at 9 a.m., ends at 9 p.m., and lasts six days a week. 

 Which isn’t as bad as India’s version of 9-9-6; in which a 9-year-old worker makes 9 cents an hour stitching garments to help feed a family of 6. 

Or China’s version of 9-9-6; in which a worker clocks in at 9:00 a.m., clocks out twenty-four hours later at 9:00 a.m., only to clock back in because their workday is starting again, and they are expected to do the work of 6 people.  

Or North Korea, in which the workweek is simply ∞, which means you clock out after infinity is over, or you die, whichever comes first. 

Then there is the other side of the spectrum. France’s version of 9-9-6 has a person working nine days a month, nine months a year, with an average weekly intake of 6 bottles of Bordeaux. 

Or Venezuela’s version of 9-9-6; in which 9 windows smashed gets a person 9 loaves of bread, and 6 rolls of toilet paper.  

Or Russia’s version; in which 9 bribes to 9 different government officials buys a worker 6  days of reduced surveillance. Food and shelter not included. 

****

All of this leads to one very dismal conclusion: work sucks. Too much of it will kill you, and too little of it will make life so miserable you’ll wish you were dead. It’s one thing for a grown man to sit around his parents’ basement all day with his thumb up his ass, or more accurately, both thumbs on the controller of a video game, and it’s another for him to visibly deflate over an exhausting work schedule that leaves him little time for relaxation. If my math serves me correctly, a 9-9-6 workweek racks up a hefty seventy-two hours on the time clock. That leaves a person with little time to screw his head back on straight after twelve hours of spreadsheets, meetings, and Jim, the geek from marketing, who can’t stop talking about how HE would’ve ended Game of Thrones. 

For most workers, the free market comes with its own set of shackles. The proponents of 9-9-6 don’t want to unlock the manacles so much as convince their employees that they are, in fact, quite comfortable in them. Their campaigns are helped along by empty aphorisms like this one: 

“Don’t work till you’re tired, work till you’re done.” 

Tough shit then for most workers, whose work is never finished. For every task completed there are four more waiting. Although maybe I’m reading that line wrong. Maybe that last part doesn’t mean work till you’re done with a task, but work till you drop dead. Only then will an employer be convinced that an underling went as far as he could go. It’s the same screwy logic that governed the Salem Witch Trials, when a suspected sorceress would be submerged in water. If she rose to the surface then she was evil, and executed, and if she sank like a stone, she was innocent…and dead. 

The ‘work till you’re done’ slogan isn’t exactly a new one. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius declared it 2,000 years ago, or was it 3,000 years ago? 4,000? When did Marcus Aurelius declare things? 

Anyway, in the past, he penned this maxim: 

“It’s absurdly wrong that, in this life where your body does not give in, your spirit should be the first to surrender.” 

Which is funny, considering he was Emperor of Rome. What’s probably more accurate is Marcus Aurelius writing: “It’s absurdly wrong that, in this life, where your slaves’ bodies do not give in, their spirits should be the first to surrender.” 

Some things are easier said than done. I’m pretty sure no Roman emperor ever had to dig a canal. 

Which, I guess, leads to the big question: What’s the point? Is life a slog? Is it a seemingly endless arrival of toil, in which the individual sense of happiness collapses beneath a mountain of petty tasks. Or is it an Epicurean orgy of over-indulgence, in which every passing whim is satisfied with no broader appreciation of noble accomplishment? 

Maybe it’s some sustainable point between the two? 

You tell me… I’m going drinking, and I’m not going to drink till I’m tired, I’m going to drink till I’m done. 

More Alembics to come… 

Santa’s Dossier

Christmas-lovers everywhere were shocked to see Santa Claus finally arrested a few weeks ago.  About time, I said to myself. Here’s a guy who has been traveling the world for years, breaking into people’s homes, monitoring their children, demanding gifts from the family cookie jar, and, in a few demented cases, stealing all of the underpants from the women of the household. So it was with some relief to watch him get hauled out of his mansion by six police officers. Not since Jimmy Savile has there been a more notorious creeper. 

“Serves him right,” spat my neighbor, Valerie, as we sat at Dupin’s watching the arrest footage.  “He stole my entire drawer of panties. You know how expensive those things are?” 

I nodded. Unlike most people, I always knew Santa Claus was real, although I never actually believed the workshop at the North Pole hoax. It’s almost completely uninhabitable up there at the top of the world. It’s either dark all the time or light all the time, the nearest grocery store is probably like a hundred miles away, and the potential for isolation sickness is very high. If Santa Claus had lived atop the polar ice cap he would’ve most definitely, like in the movie The Shining, pulled a Jack Torrance and murdered Mrs. Claus and all the elves and reindeer with an ax before turning his double-barrel shotgun on himself. 

No, as it turns out, Santa Claus had been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in Britain.  He’d farmed out his labor long ago to places like China and India, where he could pay underage workers a few cents an hour to build toys for privileged kids without having to worry about providing room and board to thousands of tiny dwarf laborers. It takes a lot of money to heat a dormitory all year round in an arctic region, after all, and because of climate change all the wildlife is drowning, which means food is scarce. 

There’s no Mrs. Claus either, by the way. Which would explain his obsession with the underpants of strangers—my neighbor’s in particular. “If you really pay attention,” Valerie told me, “you’ll notice that in every picture of Santa Claus riding around in his sleigh, his sack of presents never gets any thinner, even though he’s dropping off gifts at a frantic pace the world over. Why? Because every cubic foot of presents removed is replaced by bras, thong underwear, and all manner of nylons.” She spat at the ground. “Very convenient. Santa gets pulled over by the cops on Christmas Eve. Whatcha got in the satchel, Santa? Ho, ho, ho, nothing but presents for good little boys and girls everywhere. Well, okay then, drive safe. Meanwhile that big burlap sack is teeming with pilfered negligee.” 

I’d always assumed that our neighborhood’s rash of panty thefts was due to crazy Mitch, the muttering maniac who, for a time, lived with his mother at the end of the block, and who would walk everywhere, all the time, aimlessly. Valerie was unconvinced. Since her underwear drawer had been raided December 24th, she needed no further proof of the identity of the perpetrator. I kept quiet, even though the thefts seem to end when Mitch was sent off to a treatment facility in Alabama for electric shock therapy and chemical castration. 

Where was I? Oh yeah, so no elves and no Mrs. Claus and no North Pole. Only a mansion owned by the Ecuadorian government and a pet cat, who apparently pissed and clawed his way through the embassy’s living quarters until the Ecuadorian diplomats had gotten quite fed up. “We don’t care if you’re Ol’ St. Nick, beloved holiday icon. You’re outta here.” 

So there he was being hauled out, looking as dirty as could be, which made sense considering he’d spent his life climbing up and down chimneys. I figured we could rest easy this holiday season, until I realized that the man being arrested wasn’t Santa Claus at all. It was Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks. 

When I thought about it, though, I realized there wasn’t much difference between the two men. Both had evolved into mythical personalities. Both had beards. Both were reclusive. Both were white, at least according to Megyn Kelly, and both had spent their entire lives collecting sensitive information. In Santa’s case, he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, (Ewww.) He knows if you’ve been bad or good, and if you’ve been bad he can easily release the evidence and destroy a kid’s chance at a decent, dignified life. All a parent has to do, on Christmas morning, is walk downstairs to discover a big lump of coal underneath the tree, along with directions to a few internet links. There the parent can watch, in the name of transparency, his or her impish kid breaking a lamp, putting dog shit into the neighbors’ mailboxes, and sneaking a beer out of the fridge when the coast is clear.  His cover blown, the kid is now forced into a routine of punishment and restriction. With his self-worth reduced to zero, he embarks on a crime-riddled life of rebellion against the raw authoritarianism of the surveillance state. Ragged and homeless, he bumps into Santa one snowy evening as he searches the trash bins for any scrap of leftover food. Pressed for an explanation as to why the fat jolly man sold him out, Santa replies: 

“Ho, ho, ho, I believe in accountability, and the public’s right to know. Now I’ve gotta get going. There’s a naughty girl in that apartment building who’s about to go to sleep. Ho, ho, ho, indeed.” 

Some people can get away with anything. 

More Alembics…

Fancy as Hell

I was staring at my box of Quaker oats the other day, lost in idle thought, which is a habit of mine. I was suddenly a bit weirded out, and here’s why. There is a fellow on the box who, I presume, is a Quaker, perhaps one of the original founders of the Society of Friends, as they’re called. He’s a familiar face. As an oatmeal-eater I’ve seen him in my peripheral vision for years, but I’ve never actually scrutinized him. For the first time I found myself studying him intently, and was taken aback with the certainty that the Quaker pictured was jerking off. 

To be clear, he is only visible from the shoulders up, kind of like he is standing behind a fence of mid-chest height. He wears an ascot, and his foppish curls of stark white hair are over-styled, cascading beneath the brim of a hat that looks like it was stolen from a Seventies-era pimp. There’s something to the expression on his face, though; a kind of ruddy, glazed-over, sleepy satisfaction that is unnerving. I found myself peering into the inside of the box to see if some crazy designer had actually put a back picture of the deviant, his full dorsal side exposed, and, predictably, his plus-four knickers in a wad around his ankles. 

It wasn’t long before I removed the packets of oatmeal and discarded the box in the trash. Not in my house, no sir. I’m not even recycling you. 

I had been staring at the box, initially, because my oatmeal was advertised as “steel cut.” It sounded so fancy. But then when I thought about it, “steel cut” basically means “cut with a cutting device.” Most things that are used for cutting are made of metal, so why bother mentioning it. My grapefruit is Vitamin C infused, my milk is udder-squeezed, my bagels are “artisan,” whatever the hell that means, and my coffee is gravitationally-percolated, using Newton’s natural laws to deliver a fresh cup of joe into an ergonomically handled ceramic chalice. I never knew I was such a lavish snob. 

When I have these realizations I head over to a dive bar known as Dupin’s, located in what the neighborhood refers to as Booble Alley. It’s kind of a cynical artists’ hangout, the type of brooding, dimly lit environment patronized by tosspots too worn out from pop culture to express any genuine enthusiasm. 

I arrived, and took up my usual spot in the back. There was one man seated at the bar who didn’t quite fit in. The first thing I noticed was that he was wearing an ascot, which reminded me of the perverted Quaker. Although I don’t regard myself as superstitious, I tend to believe that seeing two ascots in one day is no coincidence, and a bad omen at that. The man’s hair was gelled up; rigidly styled like the keel of a ship, so much so that a person could’ve turned him upside down, stuck a sail on him, and piloted him across the Atlantic. 

He was bragging that he had just bought his wife a Maserati, and had had it custom painted to match the color of his wife’s eyes. The interior, he said, was upholstered in the soft skin of reindeer balls, and a Rohingya woman he had purchased off the deep web lived in a cage next to it and was responsible for cleaning it twelve hours a day, every day, with a toothbrush.  

“And,” he boasted, “my oatmeal is laser-cut.” 

Strange bastard. No wonder the rest of the animal kingdom hates us so much. It’s bad enough to be encroaching on most of the natural world, but when a reindeer galloping through the woods is caught and forced to undergo castration so some opulent lunatic can wrap his wife in its thin skin, it would seem that a certain line of decency has been crossed. He was the type of guy hellbent on accumulation and consumption, the modern ideal. 

He left shortly thereafter, which was a relief, except that it wasn’t long before he returned, looking quite different. It always amazes me how an uncontrollable rage can actually change a person’s physicality. Indeed he had morphed into something almost unrecognizable. Instead of the hyper-civilized Dr. Jekyll, here was the monstrous Mr. Hyde. It seemed that his new Maserati had been scratched while parked out front, and he was furious, and wanted blood. The bar emptied out. We reconvened in front of the stylish roadster, painted a pale blue. Yes, his wife’s eyes were a pretty color, although I wouldn’t put it past this guy to pull a Josef Mengele and inject his wife’s eyes with a suitable color for their privileged place in society. 

He raged and fumed, pointing to a tiny nick in the auto’s otherwise spotless body. That’s when I realized this man owned nothing. Every one of his possessions owned him, and tortured him with their vulnerability, and destroyed his serenity with the possibility of their own damage and decay, or even worse, inferiority when something came along that was slightly fancier. 

We never did figure out who or what caused the ding in the Maserati. I myself like to imagine that an aggrieved reindeer snuck out of the woods to drag one of his antlers across the custom paint job like, “Take that, lousy ball-snatcher!” 

More Alembics…

Interview with the Island-Eater

There has been quite a stir in the art world recently.  It concerns a statue of a Hawaiian war god named ku ka ’ili moku, which translated means the Island-Eater.  Here is a picture of the little fellow. 

ku ka

The two-feet-tall bugger sold at Christie’s Auction House for something like $7.5 million, which, as it turns out, is roughly the cost of getting seven of your dip-shit children into an Ivy League college of their choice, or 37,500 trips to the Orchids of Asia massage parlor in Jupiter, Florida.  The wealthy will spend as it suits them, be it as cheaply or extravagantly as possible, and when all is said and done a seven-million-dollar price tag for a muscle-bound statue of a cool Hawaiian war god shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Except now there is speculation that the piece may be a fraud, and not as old or authentic as was previously thought. Even the New York Times ran an article about it entitled, “Masterpiece or Mistake?” in order to expose the issue. 

We here at The Alembic, in our inexhaustible pursuit of the truth, reached out to the diminutive statue to get his side of the story, and although he expressed skepticism over  what he deemed “shit-sucking, liberal media parasites,” he eventually agreed to sit down with us for a candid discussion about his own artistic merit. What follows is an edited transcript of the interview. 

Alembic: “Welcome, Mr. Island-Eater.” 

Island-Eater: “I’M JUST HERE TO SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT, MAN.”   

Alembic: “Must you shout?”   

Island-Eater: “THIS IS MY REGULAR SPEAKING VOICE. A MOUTH LIKE MINE THAT CAN EAT ISLANDS IS GONNA BE LOUD.” 

Alembic: “So, Mr. Island-Eater…” 

Island-Eater: “CALL ME KU KA.” 

Alembic: “Alright, ku ka, maybe we should start off by asking how old you really are?” 

Ku ka: “MAN, THIS IS THE TYPE OF STUFF THAT DRIVES ME CRAZY. HOW OLD ARE YOU?” 

Alembic: “That’s not really relevant.” 

Ku ka: “EXACTLY! WHY AM I BEING JUDGED BY MY AGE? THIS IS STRAIGHT UP AGE-ISM. I MEAN, I CAN CONSUME AN ENTIRE ISLAND. WHY DON’T PEOPLE APPRECIATE THAT? BUT NO, IT’S ALL HOW OLD ARE YOU AND WHERE WERE YOU BORN? YOU KNOW, FAMOUS PEOPLE ARE JUDGED ON A VERY SUPERFICIAL LEVEL. IF THIS IS FAME I WANT NO PART OF IT. JUST LET ME GO BACK TO MY VOLCANO.” 

Alembic: “You live in a volcano? That’s pretty cool.” 

Ku ka: “I USED TO LIVE IN A VOLCANO. NOW I LIVE IN A FUCKING MUSEUM. 

Alembic: “At least it’s a museum in Hawaii.” 

Ku ka: “YEAH, PRISON IN HAWAII IS STILL PRISON. I WANT TO GO BACK HOME. THAT WAS THE LIFE. PEOPLE WOULD STAND AT THE LIP OF MY CRATER AND THROW ALL SORTS OF OFFERINGS DOWN ON ME: FLOWERS, VIRGINS, THE STILL-BEATING HEART OF SOME SACRIFICIAL GOAT. NOW IT’S ALL SELFIES WITH SILLY TOURISTS IN AN AIR-CONDITIONED EXHIBITION HALL. I’M AN ILL-TEMPERED GOD OF WAR, AND HERE I AM IN THE MIDDLE OF SOME OBESE FAMILY’S VACATION PICTURE. NOW TO MAKE IT WORSE, I’M GETTING STORIES WRITTEN ABOUT ME THAT I’M WORTHLESS. TO REITERATE, I CAN EAT AN ISLAND!” 

Alembic: “I guess that’s the entertainment business for you. You’re the most valuable thing in the world one minute, and the next you’re a trinket in a gift shop. It’s notoriously volatile.” 

Ku ka: “I’LL TELL YOU WHAT’S VOLATILE. WHEN I DECIDE TO EAT AN ENTIRE ISLAND. YOU SHOULD SEE THAT.” 

Alembic: “When’s the last time you’ve eaten one?” 

Ku ka: “WHEN YOU’VE EATEN AS MANY AS I HAVE, IT’S HARD TO REMEMBER. I TELL YOU THIS MUCH, THOUGH. HAWAII USED TO BE LIKE FIFTEEN ISLANDS, AND THE BIG ISLAND WAS THE MUCH BIGGER ISLAND.”  

Alembic: “So you just eat islands, then?” 

Ku ka: “I STARTED OUT WITH SMALL ATOLLS, AND THEN MOVED TO STRINGS OF ISLETS. NOW I’VE GOTTEN TO THE POINT WHERE, IF I REALLY WANTED TO, I COULD EAT GUATEMALA, ALTHOUGH I’D BE UP FOR DAYS WHAT WITH ALL THAT COFFEE.” 

Alembic: “Guatemala isn’t really an island.” 

Ku ka: “ANYTHING IS AN ISLAND IF YOU EAT AROUND IT.” 

Alembic: “Well then, how do you feel about conservation? What’s your views on sustainability? If you ate all the land then there’d be no place for life on Earth.” 

Ku ka: “WELL THEN DON’T PISS ME OFF, OR ELSE I’LL BE FILLING MY BELLY WITH TURTLE SOUP IN THE GALAPAGOS.” 

Alembic: “Have you considered eating any toxic areas or Superfund sites? Maybe you can eat Fukushima or Alameda, California?” 

Ku ka: “WHAT, AND GIVE MYSELF CANCER? I’D RATHER EAT ANTARCTICA. THAT’S LIKE YOU EATING AN ICE CREAM BEFORE IT MELTS.” 

Alembic: “What’s your thoughts on cultural appropriation?” 

Ku ka: “IT’S ALL ABOUT RESPECT. WE WANT TO BE ABLE TO SHARE OUR CUSTOMS WITHOUT FEELING LIKE WE’RE BEING EXPLOITED. WE VALUE OUR TRADITIONS, EVEN THOUGH SOME ELEMENTS MAY BE ODD TO THE OUTSIDER. EVERYBODY’S GOT SOME WEIRDNESS. SO LET’S ALL BE WEIRD TOGETHER.” 

Alembic: “I hear what you’re saying. In fact, I was reading an article about the markhor goat of Pakistan, which urinates into its own mouth and then spits it all over its very fur to attract a female during mating season.”    

Ku ka: “AND YOU’RE TELLING ME THIS WHY?” 

Alembic: “Just illustrating the relativism of…, or the peculiarity of…”

Ku ka: “FOR THE RECORD, I’M NOT INTO THAT!” 

Alembic: “Sorry, I wasn’t trying to imply anything.” 

Ku ka: “WELL, YOU LOOK LIKE A FREAK. NO ONE WOULD APPROPRIATE YOUR FAT ASS. IN FACT, YOUR ASS IS SO FAT, IT COULD BE AN ISLAND. YOU KNOW WHAT I DO TO ISLANDS, DON’T YOU?” 

Alembic: “Actually, it looks like we’re almost out of time.” 

Ku ka: “HEY MAN, HELP ME BREAK OUT OF THIS PLACE. I’LL INTRODUCE YOU TO SOME OF THE WAHINE. WE’LL PARTY.” 

Alembic: “I have a deadline.” 

Ku ka: “YOU ARE A DEADLINE.” 

Alembic: “What does that even mean?” 

Ku ka: “GITCHIE GITCHIE YA-YA DA-DA. GITCHIE GITCHIE YA-YA HERE. MOCHA CHOCOLATA YA-YA! THAT’S AN ANCIENT POLYNESIAN CURSE I JUST PUT ON YOU!” 

Alembic: “It’s actually just the lyrics to the song Lady Marmalade.” 

Ku ka: “KISS MY WOODEN ASS! I’M GOING BACK TO MY PEDESTAL.”  

A typical celebrity reaction.  

More Alembics to come…

What’s a Law School?

The Animal Kingdom is big on defending itself against predators. Survival often depends  on the successful ability to ward off threats.  Whether it’s scales, shells, quills, camouflage, ink, shit-mist, claws, fangs, or venom, the skill to avoid being killed and devoured is one of the most vital advantages in this vicious free-for-all called life.  

Thus, as the world has modernized, so too has the methods of defense. No longer does a person need to rip and gouge, climb and run, or puff up and scream. These days the means of warning can be subtle, appealing to a potential rival’s sense of prolonged entanglements. The spider has its web, the army ant its pheromones, and the legal community its threat of interminable litigation. 

To the point: 

I was walking through the parking lot of my neighborhood supermarket the other day when I chanced to see just such an example of cutting-edge evolutionary defense. It was a bumper sticker that read: 

                                            Attorney’s Car: Do Not Tailgate

Wow, I thought. Not since the milkweed bug’s bright coloring has there been such an overt signal for something to back the fuck off. Impressed as I was, I was also filled with concern for the attorney. While the bumper sticker served as a warning, it might also end up being an invitation to attack. Generally speaking, a lot of people—doctors with sky high malpractice insurance, broke cheaters who lost everything in the divorce, workers with garnished wages—don’t like lawyers. So to openly identify as a practitioner of this morally dubious profession to a mass of edgy motorists could be dangerous. 

The more I thought about it, the more I decided it was a bad idea to openly threaten the driving community with legal action. Lawyers would do better to camouflage themselves rather than stand right out in the open, particularly out on the highway, where anything goes. Maybe the bumper sticker was a joke? If it was, it was a bad one. I could see something like ‘Terrorist’s Car: Do Not Tailgate’ but a lawyer? 

While the owner of the car may have been an attorney, he (or she) was definitely insane. Oh, I forgot to mention that the car itself was a late Nineties Saturn. Nothing against late Nineties Saturns or the owners that own them, but a bumper sticker that seems to refer to how effective an attorney may be at personal injury litigation may not seem intimidating if he (or she) can’t afford anything fancier than a beige flivver covered in city dirt. 

So I started to see, quite clearly, the ENTIRE bumper sticker, kind of rolling off into infinity like the opening sequence of any Star Wars movie. 

                                         Attorney’s Car

                                        Do Not Tailgate…

Not only do not tailgate, but do not honk. Do not rev your engine at me. Do not pass on the right hand side, for I am a passer of the bar exam. Do not extend your middle finger, or tell me to go fuck myself.  Do not shoot a gun at this car. Do not let the air out of the tires, or pour sugar into the gas tank. Do not take a giant, steaming crap on the hood of my car. For I am a seeker of justice, Righter of Wrongs, diligent servant of the arc of moral history. Do not try to run me off the road, for I am not that kind of attorney. I represent the downtrodden and dispossessed against the giant corporate concerns and their insatiable greed. Do not pull that sadistic move in which you run into my back bumper and edge me out into oncoming traffic till I am t-boned and comatose. Do not wait until I pull into a gas station and get out of the junker that is oddly incompatible with my professional status, and then carjack me in order to drive wildly all over the city, giving my ill-considered bumper sticker a whole new level of absurdity by pulling dangerous stunts around terrified motorists, who will call the police to report some deranged lawyer who, while not wanting to be tailgated themselves, is up the ass of every car it can menace. Do not do that thing in which you pass by me, pull into my lane, and then jam on the brakes so I rear-end your car, knowing that I’m a respected barrister with deep pockets and so will pay off big time while you complain that your whiplash has left you with PTSD and sexual impotency. I’m not some big wheel. I’m not a slick fleecer of the sick and the old. I do not chase ambulances. I do not  stalk the funeral homes looking for the wrongful death lawsuit that can win me a seven-figure payoff. I clerked for peanuts, damn you, thus my beat-up Saturn. One day I’ll get a Mercedes or something, but for now I’m a humble public defender who doesn’t want angry faces in my rearview mirror. I represent the indigent. I plea bargain. I’m being stalked by an ex-convict who thinks I suppressed evidence. Stay away from my back bumper, or I’ll kill you all! Oyez, oyez. Res ipso loquitur. Ipse dixit.  In flagrante delicto. Corpus delicti. Actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea. Factio vestri aevum, non vestri calceus amplitudo. That last one means, ‘Act your age, not your shoe size, mother-fucker.’ Really, let’s all be grown-ups. A little civility on the road, a little civility in life. On second thought, I was lying. I bought that bumper sticker as a goof. Ha, ha, got you, didn’t I? I got a zero on the LSAT. No institution of higher education would ever have me. The only institution I’m eligible for is the fuckin’ booby hatch. Help. Help. I’m a big fat liar. In fact, not only have I never been to law school, I’ve never even seen a law school. 

Drive Safe! 

More Alembics to come

Amazeballs

I was listening to Art Blakey’s ‘A Night In Tunisia’ the other evening, all eleven minutes of it, and after it was over I felt like I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It was my own fault, of course. I’d endured a rather harrowing afternoon and, needing to calm my anxieties, I put on the jazz record, because everybody knows jazz is supposed to be soothing. 

Well, whoever deemed jazz to be soothing never told Art Blakey. His rendition of ‘A Night In Tunisia’ comes on like a raging hailstorm, relentless in its attack. Even the fellow playing the claves is struggling to keep up.  When Blakey is playing the tune it should be renamed, ‘A Night On Cocaine, In Tunisia.’ Art Blakey is one of the greatest drummers of all time, and it’s recordings like this that prove it. Art Blakey is, in short, holy shit amazeballs. 

I needed something a little calmer, though, so I put on ‘Giant Steps’ by John Coltrane. By the way John Coltrane, too, is holy shit amazeballs, but more on that later.  I’d just returned to my house after being held hostage, for a time, by a seething and rabid bat. Really, the little flying bastard had trapped about fifteen of us at my local bar. Of course if a person is going to be trapped anywhere, a bar is a pretty good place to be trapped, and so I couldn’t complain that much. But still, it was eerie. The little furry bloodsucker had come out of nowhere and pinned itself on the front door, straddling the jamb and the actual glass door itself. 

“Am I just fucked up or is there a bat on the front door?” I’d wondered aloud, trying to adjust my eyesight. We had been sampling cans of a new craft beer made from hemp, and I thought I was having some stoned hallucination. No, it was actually there, pinned against the glass, its little chest rising and falling, either because it was out of breath or infected with Marburg virus or something. A panicked fellow ran to open the door to shoo it off, but he was tackled by the staff. We had all decided that the bat wanted to be inside to eat all of us, and to open the door would give it that very opportunity. For the moment, although we were trapped, we were safe. No need to panic. I drank some more of my pot-laced beer. The bat, with its beady eyes, stared at me through the door like, “Go ahead and fatten yourself up, my little pork chop. I’ve got all the time in the world.” 

“Bats are amazing creatures,” lectured a tidy fellow sitting next to me. “Incredible immune systems, echolocation that’s as precise as an eagle’s vision, and their wings are actually hands; webbed skin over claws that allow them to almost grab the air to fly through it.” 

“That would probably put them in the category of holy shit amazeballs,” I said, to which the man frowned, like I was crapping on his acumen. I wasn’t. I’d only recently discovered this phrase. In fact, I had been reading an on-line critique of the beer I was sampling, and the clever reviewer had caught my attention with it. Not since Lewis Carroll or Samuel Coleridge had a person wielded such an accurate absurdity. The most impressive part about it was that the quick-witted scribe who’d been reviewing the beer had refused to assign it the very prestigious title. I think the actual quote was, “While this beer displays a decent flavor profile, it’s not holy shit amazeballs.”  This caused me to laugh openly, stand up and applaud. I understood immediately that most things are not holy shit amazeballs, which is the problem with the modern world. So few things can live up to the rarified excellence of holy shit amazeballs. Most things fall short of expectation, or are subject to some ratio of disappointment, and somehow, this brilliant writer had reset the bar, reminding us that while many things will never be even close to holy shit amazeballs, we should never stop looking for that rare gem that can join the exclusive pantheon of things that exude the almost mythical quality of holy shit amazeballs. 

The bat was still there. Some of us needed to get going. Other people were standing outside the door wanting to get in, yet paralyzed with fear of the hairy little menace that refused to leave its resting place. 

“Who’s going to be the dingbat that sacrifices himself for the rest of us by ripping the door open and getting devoured?” someone said. 

“Don’t use the word dingbat too loud,” cautioned the bartender. “This fucking flying rat might get offended. It already looks pissed off.” 

We ended up being saved by the fellow who operates the Pac-N-Sac on the other side of the parking lot. For some odd reason he had an eight-foot pool skimmer in his shop, and it was this tool he used to coax the bat away from the door. He also had a Glock in a holster at his hip, as a last resort, I suppose, and I was just glad he didn’t start firing away at the front door, since the bat had cleverly positioned itself in the line of fire of us bar customers. 

Once the critter had taken flight I went home with the rest of my stink beer, lest the winged rodent return with his friends for a real showdown. 

So I ended the evening with Coltrane. I like to think I have a strong spiritual connection with the saxophone icon, if only because the hospital I was born in was the same hospital where Coltrane died. I would love to brag that I’d been born mere seconds after he expired, and as such our energies could’ve exchanged a sort of metaphysical high-five as he was on his way out and I was on my way in, but alas no. He was gone years before I was a consideration. 

‘Giant Steps’ is holy shit amazeballs. A listener can almost hear the piano player grinding his teeth on the recording as he attempts to navigate the outrageous chord sequence that Coltrane has written. He isn’t so much playing the piano as holding onto it for dear life. Then Coltrane steps in like, “Oh, a little tricky is it? Let me show you how it’s done.” 

And show it he does. 

I finished my can of sticky-icky. No, it wasn’t holy shit amazeballs, which made me appreciate all the more those few phenomenons that’ve attained the otherwise impossible level of holy shit amazeballs. 

Art Blakey. 

Alex Honnold’s free solo climb of El Capitan. 

Snow leopards. 

John Coltrane. 

A bat’s innate navigation system. 

Salvador Dali 

My dog. 

You, my friend, You