I ❤️ My Wife, and Dragons, Not Necessarily In That Order

There are a few advantages to being stuck in Atlanta traffic.  Not many, but there are a couple. Because I like to keep these essays around 1,000 words I will not be listing all the downsides to being stuck in Atlanta traffic. If I did I might wind up with a 4,000 page screed about how traffic drives ordinary folks mad, sometimes ends in violence, shaves cumulative years off an individual’s life, destroys the sperm count of otherwise viable males, puts unwanted wear and tear on brake systems and transmissions, lends itself to obesity, pollutes the air, and causes us to appear foolish as a species to the rest of nature, who ponder us in pity from roadside nests and lairs. 

So one of the very few benefits of traffic is that I get to browse through a library’s worth of bumper stickers; some clever, some tedious, some obvious, some outdated. Every once in a while I get the car whose whole back is covered with far left or far right outrage, driven by motorists who seem to allot all of their money to bumper stickers rather than to personal grooming products. The completely baffling ones are my favorite, and it was just such a rear panel I happened to be trailing the other day, caught in a tedious slog on a stretch of highway for which there is no exit, and thus, no escape. It gave me plenty of time to indulge “The Projector,” which is the big movie screen of my mind, usually showing odd experimental films in the vein of Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais, and Stan Brakhage.  

The car in front of me was a nondescript minivan displaying two almost identical bumper stickers, one on the left side and one on the right side. The one on the passenger (right) side caught my eye first. It proclaimed, “I ❤️ Dragons.” 

Ah yes, I thought. Who doesn’t love enormous, winged, fire-breathing beasts swooping down to terrify, and sometimes devour, entire villages of simple peasants? The fellow in front of me obviously had a big healthy imagination, and I smiled in approval. Then my eyes went over to the driver’s side of the bumper, where another very similar sticker proclaimed, “ I ❤️ My Wife.” 

Hmm, I said. That second one kind of threw me for a loop. It wasn’t the message itself so much as both messages together that had me perplexed. I spent the next few miles weighing each sentiment in turn, as I sped toward, and fell away from, the two statements as the stop-and-go traffic proceeded in true accordion fashion. Luckily I am a philosophy major, and my infallible logic proceeded thusly: 

This fellow in front of me loves dragons

This fellow in front of me is married

Ergo: This fellow in front of me is married to a dragon. 

Quod Erat Demonstrandum, as they say. Really, there was no other possibility. The pockmarked minivan was driving slowly and steadily to some demonic aerie atop a mist shrouded mountain, where his reptilian spouse would be flapping her wings, burping fire, staring at him through vertical pupils above smoky nostrils, demanding to know where he has been all day long while she tends to their children, or incubating eggs, depending on how you look at it. 

“ROAR!” she would say. 

“Traffic,” he would explain. 

Quit talking crazy, I told myself, knowing it was far too late for that. Well then, fire up the projector. Scene: man arriving home from his job in tech support, eager to show his wife his new bumper sticker declaring his ❤️ for dragons, which would’ve made his wife’s heart go 💔, and her head go 🤯, and her mouth go 🤮. 

“I wish you loved me as much as you love your 🤬’ing dragons.” 

“🤔,” he says. 

Back to the bumper sticker store to buy another decal. This one, the “wife” one, placed on the driver’s side bumper in a hasty manner, lopsided and rife with air bubbles, while the “dragon” sticker was applied with the care and detail that went into the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I fully believed that the driver in front of me ❤️ed dragons. I wasn’t quite convinced that he ❤️ed his wife. Even the placement of the bumper stickers was telling. The ‘wife’ sticker was on the left side, which is the side that it is safe to pass on. The ‘dragons’ sticker was on the right side, the side it is dangerous to pass on. The man seemed to be suggesting that a car may not pass on the right side, where you may hit his dragon, but feel free to pass on the left side, where you may run down his wife. 

I wished him the best of luck as I turned off the road. Hopefully wherever he was headed to was a place full of playful dragons, and non-judgmental spouses, a place that offered some mystical peace from whatever the modern world was trying to wring out of us. 

Lethal Balls

I’d like to send a message to all the people of the world who murder their families. Two messages, really. The first message is don’t murder your family. Can’t stress that one enough. If you do though, don’t hold a press conference to plead, through carefully placed crocodile tears, to the public for your family’s safe return. They aren’t coming back. After all, they’ve been murdered. By you. 

It’s bad enough to be a cold-blooded killer. It’s almost as bad to awkwardly emote in front of a bank of microphones, amid periodic flashes of camera bulbs, to the person or persons responsible for the abduction of some or all of your family. Which, after all, is you. I would’ve thought that a man who harbored homicidal thoughts in his head of killing any and all members of the household would’ve taken heed from the likes of Charles Stuart, Scott Peterson, Michael Peterson, Drew Peterson (that is a lot of Petersons!), Josh Powell, Christopher Watts, that guy that went scuba diving with his wife, that other guy who went hiking with his wife, the guy who shot his wife, went to work, came back eight hours later, and discovered his wife shot, that guy who drowned his wife in the bathtub then went jogging, only to return to find his wife drowned, and every other manner of awkward subterfuge employed by the more desperate members of society. 

These days when I watch the occasional forensic mystery I almost treat it as a quiz show, as I listen to the panicked 911 call being replayed from an ostensibly distraught husband. I will frown, shake my head, and declare the frantic caller, “Guilty!” and then it is just a matter of waiting the twenty or so minutes for the show to reveal the murderer, and validate my guess. I am correct more than 90 percent of the time. 

I was watching one episode in which this kid shot his father while the old man was sleeping, then tried to plant the gun like it was a suicide, then phoned the emergency in to 911.  

(Concerned son/Murderer): “I heard a gunshot go off. I think my father shot himself in the head.” 

(Operator): “Where is your father?” 

(Concerned son/Murderer): “In his bedroom.” 

(Operator): “Can you check on him?” 

(Concerned son/Murderer): “The door is locked.” 

(Operator): “How do you know he shot himself in the head?” 

(Concerned son/Murderer): “Uhhh… Can I call back and can we do this whole thing all over again?” 

Bam. Game, set, match. It was unfortunate because my first reaction was to burst out laughing. Whoever the operator was that handled that call should’ve received the highest honor given to emergency operators, a golden rotary phone, or something. In a split second of quick thinking she outshined Perry Mason, Matlock, Vince Bugliosi, Lieutenant Dan Kaffee, Columbo, Sherlock Holmes, and Hercule Poirot, nailing the culprit before the police even showed up. 

And still these guys persist. Our newest set of murders brings us around the world to Hong Kong, bustling city of the Orient, where two professors are charged with murdering their wives. The one professor was also a kind of dorm monitor who killed his wife, secreted her in a suitcase, then kept the students housed in the residence hall informed of the criminal investigation with a series of e-mails, the basic gist of which was: 

“Don’t be alarmed. Police are on premises because I killed my… my wife has gone missing.” 

“Don’t be alarmed. They found my wife stuffed in a suitcase in my office. I have issued a public appeal to the killer or killers to turn themselves in.” 

“Don’t be alarmed. Rest assured they have caught the killer. In unrelated news, I am forwarding my resignation as dorm representative. I’ll be on sabbatical for the next twenty years.” 

The other professor was so good at killing his wife that he ended up killing his daughter, too. In a crafty little move that would shame even the great Professor Moriarty, this other professor filled his wife’s yoga workout ball with carbon monoxide and then effected a slight leak to gas her and anybody else in the car with her as she drove, I suppose, to yoga. I think he was a professor of chemistry, or anesthesiology, and so had unique access to the dangerous gas, which should’ve given him pause. Of course he would be under suspicion for using chemicals to kill his wife. He is a chemist. 

All chemistry professors are heartless cold-blooded killers in my opinion. My chemistry professor was guilty of killing my grade point average with his vicious assessment of my performance in his organic chemistry class. I was not alone. He had been killing grade point averages for like thirty years, and for some time I lamented becoming a statistic. He has yet to be apprehended. Obviously, I hold no grudge. Natural Darwinism. Kill the scientifically weak. That’s alright, I’m doing just fine in my post-chemistry afterlife. 

More Alembics to come. 

World Gone Wild

Little by little I’m getting used to modern harassment. Proud of it, even. It’s an honor to get fifty phone calls from places as distant as Lees Summit Missouri, Bloomington Minnesota, and Chicopee Massachusetts. I had no idea I was that popular. The calls themselves are awkward. They’re characterized by eerie hybrid computer humanoids that introduce themselves as “Scott” and “Becky” before offering me free money, or refunds on purchases that I never made.  They implore me not to hang up and swear it is very important, yet I’m not convinced. I blame the geeks that program these voices. They need to get a little better at mimicking human inflection. I won’t be swayed that something is important if the word ‘important’ takes five seconds to pronounce. 

“This …. is…. im…port…ant.” 

No it ain’t. 

My favorite was an “ur….gent” message about an impending arrest warrant issued for me. No reason was given for my imminent incarceration, much to my disappointment. Even though I was instructed to call back to straighten the whole matter out, I decided to take my chances and ignore the request. My freedom is intact, for now. 

Then things got really weird. I was in the middle of my morning coffee the other day when my phone started ringing. I had been reading an article about the new packaging on Animal Crackers boxes, and did not want to be disturbed. It was a fascinating story. For the last hundred years the artwork on the cracker boxes depicted circus animals in their cages. Now, in a watershed moment, the cartoon creatures are roaming free. They seem happier, the cartoons, and I for one welcome the change. Not only that, the animals themselves have evolved. The striped donkey is now an insouciant zebra. The mastodon is a proud elephant. The fanged peasant hunter is now a smirking lion. The cow with the long neck is a giraffe, and the hairy philistine is now an ape.  They are all pictured strolling along a peaceful landscape.

It’s a victory for PETA and other conservation groups, although I fear the package’s next incarnation of the popular snack item, in which the freed animals have mauled an entire community of helpless women and children. There will be a veritable bloodbath as the liberated beasts take their revenge on a populace that has kept them locked up for the better part of the century. It doesn’t take a genius to note that all of the wildlife portrayed on the new box is heading in the exact same direction, toward us, and they have murder and retribution in their beady little eyes. They are coming to even the score, and don’t think for a moment that animal lovers and vegetarians will be spared. To a hungry lion a vegetarian is simply “grass fed,” “prime-cut,” “no hormones or steroids added,” and a child in a playpen is like milk fed veal, not at all stringy. Mahler’s second symphony was playing on my stereo while I was picturing the massacre, and it was at that one part where all hell breaks loose, symphonically speaking, the perfect soundtrack to a merciless rampage of feral wildlife. 

So my phone started ringing, pulling me away from my giddy tableau of mental carnage. I glanced down to see a random number calling me. At first I ignored it, then something dawned on me. I looked back and realized the phone number calling me was my own phone number. I wondered what I wanted? My first reaction was to pick up the phone and scold myself for interrupting my morning coffee. I could forgive someone else for calling me that early, but there was no excuse for me calling me, knowing full well that my morning cup of coffee is a sacred event, not to be disrupted by anybody, much less me. I had some damn nerve. Then again, I thought, maybe I had something important to tell me, like something really important, and not “im…port…ant.” Which made me wonder if I really wanted to know what I had to say.  I wasn’t quite prepared for bad news, but maybe it was some type of warning. “Paddy the Duke? Hey, it’s Paddy the Duke. Just giving you a heads up, don’t walk out your front door. There’s a huge elephant hiding behind the water oak, and he looks pissed. Yup. It’s probably the one we rode on when we were a kid. Remember when mom took us to the circus, and you tried to grab his tusk? Yeah, well it looks like he’s got a score to settle. You know those things don’t forget. I’d cut through the neighbor’s yard on your way out. Uh-oh, gotta go. Apparently there’s a bench warrant out for our arrest.” 

I picked up the phone and demanded to know what the hell I wanted. Silence. All I could hear was my breathing, although I wasn’t sure whether it was my breathing on my end or on the other end. It was one thing to be interrupted by me, it was another to be prank called by me. Son of a bitch. I vowed revenge. I would wait till later on, get myself good and drunk, and then once I passed out I would call myself nonstop until the sun came up. 

That’ll teach me. 

More Alembics to come…

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.