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…

Scherzo!

Troubled by the recent rise in evil, I headed off to Rome the other week to attend the “Exorcism and Liberation” symposium given at the PURA, or the Pontifical University Regina Apostolorum. This year was a very special one, billed as the “thirteenth” annual. Not to be missed. Thirteen is the number of demons, of chaos, of hazard, of the darker forces seeking to undo the very reliable order that humankind has placed upon the world. I was very much hoping to see some unlucky babbler’s head explode in a rain of pea soup. 

The main lecturer was some grizzled old pontiff that, like Noah and Methuselah, had been around for half a millennium, whacking people over the head with a crucifix, grabbing their mouths with both hands and forcing the orifices open to peer down their throats and yell at Satan to come out of his hidey hole. The crowd of canonical scholars seated in the hall furiously scribbled notes. There has never been a more critical time in history than now to address the rampant degeneracy. The modern age has ushered in a whole new host of express lanes and super highways to transport devils, demons, incubi, tormentors, ghouls, goblins, gremlins, and gargoyles to the hearts and minds of Us, the Chosen Species, and it was high time that the Guardians of the Faith pull a Chris Christie and clog those arteries up like it was the bridge from Fort Lee. 

Many important things were discussed at the PURA this year, like how Satan hides in your cellphone and then jumps into your mouth when you aren’t looking. Then he does a little cloven-hoofed dance and backflips off the tongue down the gullet. Behind the lectern was a giant anatomy diagram of an anonymous head and torso, and the old cardinal traced a laser pointer trajectory down the esophagus, showing the tiny spot near the heart where the devil hunkers down like a parasite. The lesson was interrupted, though, by the cardinal’s own I-phone 10 suddenly going off, an abrupt, pealing ringtone that I recognized as the fiddle-fighting scene from “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” by the Charlie Daniels Band. The cardinal pulled the gadget from his robe and paused for a moment as he tried to figure out how to answer it. 

Fire on the mountain, run boys run.

The devil’s in the house of the rising sun.” 

An eerie song to hear at an exorcism convention, particularly since I live in Georgia these days, and didn’t want any undue associations. After the interruption, (it took the old man a minute to figure out how to put his phone on vibrate), he continued about atheism, general witchcraft, and dance music. Nothing was more symptomatic of the Dark Prince of the Underworld inhabiting a body than watching a mud-soaked hippie flail back and forth in front of a stage at Bonnaroo. 

Feeling enlightened, I had many questions. In particular I asked about the sudden emergence of craft beer breweries, particularly the hubris involved in men turning water into a hoppy pale ale. I wondered if Jesus might’ve just been a really good water skier. The hermeneutical theory that the serpent in the garden was actually Eve’s tongue. Gay unicorns on the ark? Alice Cooper’s reprisal of King Herod’s Song? Elmer Gantry, barker or savior? Twitter rants: the devil in 140 characters or less? 

I was able to ask all these questions because I had paid the extra $300 to have my own translator. The Italian cardinal fielded my questions with reluctant decorum, until my translator rushed up to my side and ordered me to shut up. “I already have to modify everything that you ask!” he whispered. “If I translated your questions verbatim we’d both be burned at the stake.”

“They still do that?” 

“When necessary,” he hissed. “Which it may very well become. Some of the other translators are taking notice. I can’t sit around and protect you all day. You can have your money back.” 

Things settled down a bit, and our instructor went on to say that things were so bad these days that machines were also being possessed by Lucifer’s minions. Il Diavolo Ex Machina, so to speak. He flashed a slide on the back wall that showed the recently shattered engine of the Southwest Airlines jet. Indomitable proof of ghostly saboteurs at work. He noted the twisted shards of metal, the splintered casings, the gashes and wreckage. If these devils can do that to a million-dollar turbo prop, imagine the destruction to the human conscience. Luckily God had landed the plane safely, he added. I made the joke that while most pilots think they are a god, it was a relief that one actually is. The cardinal’s face went red. He could stand me no longer. He started to get saltier than Lot’s wife, and my translator ripped his headset off and ran out of the room. 

“Scherzo!” he cried at me, and seconds later I was thrown out of the class by the Swiss Guards, a couple of walking Christmas ornaments in striped pantaloons and plumed casques. Doubly ridiculous. 

***

As I was waiting for my flight back home I stared at my airplane with a tickle of dread. I didn’t know what I would do in the event of an emergency. I pictured myself with my oxygen mask atop my head like the tiny fez on an organ grinder monkey as I choked on the freezing air while trying to rip the tray table out from the seat in front of me in order to beat other passengers away from the emergency exit. I considered sneaking down to the tarmac with some chicken bones and a pint of blood to purge any insidious forces from the aircraft, but decided against it. My modern faith is simply to go with the flow. As long as one person is in control, and as long as it is the right person, all of us passengers can flounder around like happy lunatics. I reminded myself when I got back home to mail a donation to the New Church of Tammy Jo Schultz. 

More Alembics to come. 

Back to the Future, Ahead to the Past

I was mowing my lawn a few weeks ago, at the edge of my property, when I spied a car coming down the block. It was a sunny day, and as I looked up at the approaching vehicle I was momentarily blinded by it. At first I wasn’t sure what had happened, other than a silver flash from the windshield had left me sightless for about two seconds. As the car got closer I realized what it was. There was a most glorious and impressive array of CDs spread across the driver’s sun visor. There had to be about forty of them, extended in perfect circular symmetry, reflecting the sun’s magnificence and frying the eyes of every driver who happened to be going in the opposite direction. 

This was the height of convenience for the modern music lover, if by modern I was speaking about the year 1992. It meant there was a CD player in the dashboard, which played them one by one, and not a six-disc changer in the trunk, even. It seemed like such a weird throwback. Had the driver not heard about digital and streaming music? I couldn’t have been more surprised if the car was towing an old Wurlitzer jukebox with a gramophone horn extended from the speaker, blasting the hottest hits of the forties and seventies, everything from Glenn Miller to more recent acts like England Dan and John Ford Coley. I suddenly wanted to climb into the car to see what other odd relics I could dig up, like a glove compartment full of badly folded maps from Triple A. Maybe there was a boxy television plugged into a potato battery in the back with a groaning video cassette recorder so the kids could watch the pile of VHS tapes scattered about the floor of the backseat. 

As luck would have it the guy slowed up his ’88 Pontiac LeMans and stopped in front of me. His window was already rolled down and he was shirtless, which meant no air conditioning. He asked me for directions to the tobacco shop. He had heard there was a shortcut through the neighborhood, which there was, which also meant he had no GPS. What really got me thanking the universe for this odd encounter was that he was wearing a pair of old Ferrari brown-tint sunglasses, the collapsible kind with the classy leather case. The glasses were situated right above a broad, blond, porno mustache. 

I approached the smooth eighties time traveler and pointed him around the corner to the cigar shop. He had just moved into the neighborhood, he said, and was still getting a feel for the place. Awesome. 

“My name is Chad. They call me Hanging Chad.” 

“Of course they do.” 

“Because my name is Chad and I hang.” 

“Got it!” 

“I was the bass roadie for the Atlanta Rhythm Section years ago.” 

“Even better.” 

I told him I’d see him around, and as these things go, I began to see Chad everywhere. I was a victim of what is known as the Baader-Meinhof syndrome, in which something that you never notice becomes something you constantly notice once you notice it.

Hanging Chad at the coffee shop. Hanging Chad at the burger place. Hanging Chad in line at the bank. Hanging Chad driving backwards down the block to the mechanic because his car was stuck in reverse. 

Chad was providing a refreshing counterpoint to the news about Mark Zuckerberg and Cambridge Analytica and the whole defense of data trading and exploitation. Chad did not have an on-line profile. Indeed he thought Facebook was another name for a criminal’s mugshot. And concerning the need for privacy Chad remonstrated, “If you don’t want somebody to know something, you don’t fucking tell them.”  

Hanging Chad was getting along in the neighborhood quite nicely. That is until the day I ran into him at our neighborhood tobacco shop up on Lawrenceville Highway. I had gone in to buy a tin of Arturo Fuente cigarillos and found him castigating the girl at the register. 

“Can you believe this woman?” Chad said to me. “Here I am paying by credit and she didn’t even check to see if the signature I provided on the receipt is the same as the signature on the back of my card.” 

“There’s a chip in the card, sir,” said the salesgirl. “Nobody checks signatures anymore.” 

Chad started to panic. “But how will you successfully detect a fraudulent purchase? Here, here. Look at this signature. It is a work of art. Notice the initial flourish. The loop and whorl. The way the ‘d’ leans to the right, real cool, like it doesn’t have a care in the world!” 

“Haven’t you heard? They are doing away with all that signature stuff.” 

Chad was outraged. He took his credit card back and stuffed it into his wallet right above, I noticed, a sleek white card with a gold border that said, “Playboy Club and Casino. Member since 1978.” 

“Playboy Club, eh?” I said. 

“I was a big wheel in Vernon, New Jersey. That was one of my hangouts back in the day.” Chad’s eyebrows bounced up and down on his forehead in an effort to convince me how impressive it all was. 

I hesitated to tell him that his beloved club had closed around 1982. Chad looked defeated enough, knowing that the world was going into technological overdrive right before his Ferrari, brown-tinted, sunglass-covered eyes. 

“Care to join me in a glass of cheap scotch and a badly rolled cigarette?” he offered. I agreed and we adjourned to the outside of the cigar shop where there was a little sampling area set up. 

We spoke of the nature of things. How no longer, as in days gone, could the intrepid explorer go digging into unknown tracts of land looking for oil, or bauxite, or precious metals. The landscape of opportunity in this day and age is microscopic. It is the collapsing inward of the great ranges and plateaus of the world. It is the data miner. It is the nanotechnologist. It is the microbiologist working to unlock the protein codes of genetic recognition.  Not a very sexy lifestyle. 

After the cigarettes had burned down Chad got up to go. I suspected that I may have seen the Pontiac LeMans roar off for the last time. He was heading in a different direction than we were. That place in the past when everything made sense. 

More Alembics to come. 

I Fought The Law and The Purple People Eater Won

It is a strange and unnerving thing to be a law abiding citizen, a man of the outside natural world, a bohemian of coffee shops, booze halls and art studios and did I mention booze halls, who suddenly finds himself sitting in a courtroom for one of the most bizarre charges ever to land in the lap of jurisprudence. The Fulton County court was packed that day, the honorable Judge Bufo presiding. Guilty or innocent, we were all treated with sarcastic disdain by the bailiffs as we filed in, collectively threatened with contempt because a few puddle heads couldn’t figure out how to remove their hats and turn off their cellphones. Never has there been a more scrupulous polarization of authority and delinquency than in a courtroom, particularly this kind of strange cattle call. And when the cops, the judge and the solicitors start admonishing the crowd for petty infractions like whispering to the person sitting next to them, then we all kind of reflexively adopt the “fuck you” attitude of the outlaw. I was amused at how naturally the setup breeds its own dynamic.

I was answering a rather strange citation. I had been given a ticket for speeding, except here is the thing… I was sitting in the passenger seat at the time.

My first brush with “The Law” happened when I was about four years old. Recently instructed on the finer points of spelling, I had innocently picked up a permanent marker and went into my parents’ bedroom. It was laundry day, and the mattress had been stripped of all the sheets. I had a king-sized canvas, and I went to work, spelling the two new words I had learned, in this case, “SHIT” and “ASS” in a fine and careful lettering. Proud of my recent publication, I showed it off to my mother, who had returned from the laundry room with a gasp of shock and horror. Even then my writing was controversial, and I was thrashed accordingly. Seething from the injustice of it all, I hired an appeals lawyer, in this case my mom’s sister, who pointed out that while the text was a bit licentious, “At least he spelled it right.”

And now here I am, a lifetime later, answering a charge of “Failure to Convince the Operator of a Speeding Vehicle to Slow Down.” It all started when my truck spluttered to a miserable death on the highway a few months back. Something had gone wonky under the hood. The demon that controls my engine was angry. So I took a 1950’s Uber, or in other words, I stuck my thumb out at the flow of traffic and hitched a ride to the next exit. A twitchy, high-strung woman pulled over and agreed to give me a lift. She stabbed that gas pedal down and we rocketed off into oblivion. A mile up the road we were pulled over by a cop. Immediately she complained to the police officer that I had exerted an unnecessary and undue pressure on her to go as fast as possible. She was only a waif of a woman and I was a big crazy man with big crazy male ways. The officer agreed and handed me the ticket. I was about to protest, when my chauffeur whispered to me to shut up unless I wanted to be cited for the trunkful of methamphetamine too.

The court has the ultimate advantage over the accused. It’s their home turf. I watched as a parade of misfits and non compos mentis types were led up to the podium. Every once in a while a handcuffed individual would appear from a side door and be made to sit in their own little penalty box. We in the normal gallery could at least take some consolation in the fact that we weren’t in the shackled category. My favorite guy was some wild and broken genius who had somehow got caught after dumping 5,000 used tires on a desolate stretch of road in South Fulton. The cops finally noticed when the stack got taller than the surrounding trees.

“One-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater…”

Shit, where did that come from? Oh yes, my stupid brain. Every once in a while, in times of extreme stress, my mental jukebox will play dumb songs to torment me, and something in my head had hit the ‘play’ button on the old Sheb Wooley song. Then I realized what was happening. Follow me, please. Theoretically a people-eating monster would indeed be a cold-blooded murderer, and since I was sitting in court, I was now seeing a one-eyed, one-horned, handcuffed and despondent purple people eater being led into the little penalty box on the far side of the room. I knew I never should’ve taken that hit of acid in college that one time. In fact I blamed Sheb Wooley, whose name alone sounds a bit monster-ish, as well as a string of god-awful pop music that had plagued us for decades. These were the real criminals, robbing us of good taste: “One-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater,” “You’re a pink toothbrush I’m a blue toothbrush,” “Up and away my beautiful balloon,” “Yummy yummy yummy I’ve got love in my tummy,” and a host of other wrenching pop tunes. Like any psychedelic court scene, I was now watching lollipops, toothbrushes, balloons, zombies, Katy Perry’s left shark, puppies, a rhinestone cowboy, dandelions and everything else get led into the dock.

“From the laboratory in the castle east,
to the master bedroom where the vampires feast,
the ghouls all came from their humble abodes,
to get a jolt from my electrodes. They did the mash. They did the monster mash.”

As if this wasn’t bad enough, things really got out of hand when the purple people eater chewed through his chains and, as is natural to his species, ate the bailiff, the stenographer and the judge. I figured that was tantamount to an adjournment of the court, until the big monster banged the gavel and burped my name out. He was in charge now and he wasn’t going to let the rest of us get away with anything. I approached the bench. He found me guilty and told me that I could either feed him my money or my body, which was exactly what Judge Bufo would’ve said, and I dutifully chose the former. He gobbled it down right then and there, and before he nodded off for a midday nap rife with drooling and snoring he told me to have a nice day. I walked outside into the cool, free air, and never felt better. Freedom is most thoroughly enjoyed after a few hours in a courtroom. I decided, because I have a reputation to uphold, to never tell anybody about the crazy monster tableau I had just imagined.
It will be our secret.
More Alembics to come.

The Penguin Emperor

“April Showers Bring May Flowers.”
I haven’t thought about that little piece of homespun gibberish in years. When I was a kid it was a way to cheer up in April amid all the drizzle and gray. It was a type of investment, the rain in April, and the payoff was a few weeks away, when the world would turn vibrant and crisp. But nowadays, when five feet of snow falls in Kansas during the month of August, or it’s a balmy 90 degrees for one day in December in Fargo, or a school of fish are swimming down the street in Miami amid a torrential downpour that has palm trees falling like clumsy dominoes, who really cares about the rain in April?

This whole thought process took root when I was strolling through my neighborhood the other week. At the edge of my community, next to a creek and below the flood plane, sits an abandoned house in a yard of mud. As I walked around the corner I happened upon a news van. The camera guy was filming the vacant house. “Wow,” I thought, “they must be desperate for stories this week.” I could see the headline…

ABANDONED HOUSE. FILM AT ELEVEN

The field reporter stuck her head out of the van and asked me if I knew why they were there.
“Nope.”
“So you haven’t seen the giant boar?” she said. I told her the only giant bore I was aware of was the tall fellow who lives up the block. You get stuck in a conversation with him and there goes your afternoon. He has got dull opinions about all sorts of stuff, and he isn’t afraid to share them all.
“No, no, boar,” she said. “Like a feral pig.”

Shit, I thought, they are moving in. I feared this type of animal migration as a result of weather fluctuations. Then again I shouldn’t be surprised. If an elderly couple ping pongs from Lowell, Massachusetts to Boca Raton, Florida, then why not a family of pigs arriving to our unassuming hamlet. (Ham-let! Ridiculous. I know, right, ridiculous, let us continue.)

I pictured them living in the muddy, vacant house. Papa Boar, sitting in his favorite chair, tie loosened around his shirt collar, complaining about taxes and millennials. Momma Boar in modest dress fixing him a whiskey, telling him not to be so grumpy. Baby Boar watching cartoons. Boar art on the walls.
And then it hit me.
A freshly unearthed memory dug from the tenebrous bog of my subconscious. It was about four years ago during the arrival of a massive glacial mountain of ice, massive I tell you, around two inches or so, that covered the city of Atlanta in what is now referred to as the “Snow-pocalypse,” which is a misnomer, because it was definitely more of an “Ice-pocalypse.”
I was home that day, and as the city fell apart around me, I heard a strange knock on my front door. I opened it and standing there was an emperor penguin. He had a small satchel over his shoulder, and in a kind of impressive and sophisticated avian drawl, he introduced himself. His name escapes me now (Waddle? Dewlap? Ned?) but I do remember him announcing that he was taking over my house.
“Impossible,” I said. “You are an animal.”
“Given how messy this house is, I could say the same about you,” he challenged.
“…,” was my answer.
“I have a formal order from the Emperor Penguin,” he said. “A writ, if you will, guaranteeing me ownership of this property and everything on it.” He dug through his satchel for the proper documents.
“I thought all of you were emperors,” I said.
“That’s ridiculous. Are all humans presidents?”
He had me there. So I invited him in, figuring we could work out some kind of deal. He said they were all moving up from the South Pole because of the shifting ecosystem. He was particularly fascinated with my refrigerator. Immediately he began clearing out one of the shelves to store some of his eggs. He said he was tired of standing around with these fucking things between his feet for months at a time. He adjusted the temperature. I told him to be careful about my beer.
“What is beer?” he said.
That was it. Two hours later we were stone drunk, the penguin and I, splayed out on my couch. We had a lot in common, as it turned out. I called him a flightless bird and he called me a flightless bird, a freaky bald one without any feathers. I told him he had a beak and he told me I had one too, above my mouth, a useless soft one that couldn’t even crack ice. I told him us humans have an airtight ethical system with the threat of eternal damnation and he told me that we were the only species rotten enough to need one. Other than that we both liked sushi. We both liked to swim. We both liked the films of Samuel L. Jackson, oddly enough. I figured this was the new normal, a kind of environmental adjustment with species smart enough to evolve. Our definitions were different, but our cares were the same. He told me he had learned English from lurking around one of the weather stations near Dumont d’Urville, and I was dutifully impressed. I told him that, in my book, he was an emperor, and I didn’t care what anybody else said. He told me that I was a bad mother f**cker, like Samuel L. Jackson. He promised to teach me that trick in which he could jump eight feet into the air from the surface of the water.
“Hey,” he slurred, “does that guy Michael Bloomberg live close by?”
“Um, relatively, yes,” I said.
My new friend said he needed to have a chat with the ex New York mayor. He staggered off into the icy cold and with a hiccup, told me he’d be back to check on his incubating kids in a few days.
*
The next morning I was pretty hungover so I fried up his eggs, or what he might call his children, and scarfed them down with some toast and hash. I tried to think of a decent excuse when he finally returned to claim them, except he never did, and things eventually went back to whatever passes for normal in my twisted little world.

More Alembics to come.

No Ifs, Ands, or Bots

Those were the days…
It used to be that bots were parasitic maggots living in fly shit. These days a bot is a parasitic maggot living in the internet. Not a lot of difference, really, although the actual larvae of the botfly is a little more honest. The tiny insects need to eat you to survive, and that is all. It’s nothing personal. The new, space-age bots, the tiny roving bands of wifi marauders, the mechanical champions of hotly held beliefs, on the other hand, arrive as your friend. “Please like me. I like you. Tell you what, I’ll help you stick it to your anonymous internet enemies, those neighbors and shaggy acquaintances who want to destroy your way of life. Just like me. One click. One like. One small victory.”

Basically a bot is a veritable cattle prod that jolts the cattle, in this case the human internet surfers, into a fit of apoplexy. It’s one thing to have an intestinal parasite. It is another to have a mental one. Nothing can provoke a good brain rage like seeing a picture on Facebook of a scaly, muscle-bound Satan in an arm wrestling match with a chiseled, Aryan Jesus. Two workout fiends. One good. One evil. I always suspected that Hell was a large health club facility filled with free weights and mirrors, and that the region around Mount Tabor was where Steroid Jesus and the Apostles congregated for a cross-fit style regimen of wind sprints and squat lunges. Now the internet has proved it. Thank you, internet.

Bots, as I understand them, are used to “meddle.” It’s a fun word. I’m glad it is back in fashion. The only other historical evidence I have of meddling is Scooby Doo and the Mystery Machine gang, who spent their time smoking pot and thwarting a parade of backwater villains, who would’ve gotten away with it, had it not been for those “meddling kids.” Strange these days, though, to pull the mask off the Zombie or Swamp Creature and find a sheepish looking Vladimir Putin. Even the Harlem Globetrotters and Sandy Duncan wouldn’t believe it.

If manipulating weak-minded people is a crime then let us imprison all the lobbying firms, the public relations consultants, all special interest groups, most of the media, all advertising agencies, image consultants, the movie industry, the record industry, all Super Pacs, the fashion industry, every mega-church that has taken money from a cancer victim to buy a private jet, ambulance chasers, weepy politicians, “Lumpy” the clean coal mascot, every mascot for that matter, the science of product placement, billboards, banner ads, and every global effort to commodify goods and services and ideas from the Ross Sea to the Queen Elizabeth Islands. Maybe we’re already imprisoned. It’s called Earth. It’s walls are comprised of digital voyeurism.

I would like to take this opportunity to make friends with the bots out there. It’s nice to have people “like” you, and in the absence of an actual person, a computerized audience of enthusiasts will do just fine. I would love for this blog to be liked and reblogged a million times, either by humans or, failing that, little mechanized acolytes. An algorithm will always support my point of view, and an algorithm will never ask me to drive it to the airport, or make me feel guilty about missing its birthday party, or drunkenly hit on my wife at the Fourth of July barbecue. Actual organic friends are overrated.

Meddling, fiddling, tampering, tinkering. Everybody does it all the time. Modern digital media is filled with a million, tiny Leland Gaunt characters from the Stephen King book Needful Things running through a person’s activity, promising to deliver support in exchange for a harmless prank, a little nudge in the direction of putative righteousness. Which is innocent enough, until you see the two old ladies in the neighborhood actually swinging at each other in the middle of the street with hatchets and carving knives because a bot disrespected their flag, or their pot plant, or their transgender child, or their shotgun, or their fetus, or their president, or their carbon footprint, or their limited understanding of historical forces, or their cable news network, or their favorite sports team, or that reality star that is always making a mess of things, either in the reality of television or in the reality of reality.

It is quiet on my street today. As far as I can tell no neighborhood biddies are trying to kill each other. The sun is out. All machinery is OFF, except for a pre-recorded version of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony that wends through the windows in lofty and playful flight. Nothing is asking anything of me. I am beyond the reach of humankind. My neighbor’s dog trots up to the fence, regarding me in silence. I toss him a treat that I keep on hand for such an occasion, remembering what Mark Twain said. If you can improve upon the fortune of a dog he will not bite you. This is the main difference between a dog and a man.
More Alembics to come