Open Letter to Jodi Arias from Johnny Americana


From March 20th, 2013

Note from the Blog Custodian: Since “paddytheduke”, the normal blog contributor, is away on some type of domestic intervention, he has given his full blessing for the ensuing post. Mr. Johnny Americana, a heartsick old friend of “paddytheduke’s,” has requested the use of this platform to state his intentions to a woman he has recently become enamored with. Mr. Americana, while pure of purpose and honorable of motive has always had the somewhat debilitating deficiency of being obsessed with image while paying no real attention to context. We fear further, that he is not alone, that it may be a common problem, somewhat generational. Mr. Americana’s letter is posted as a courtesy and we wish him the best of luck. Take it away, Mr. Americana. 

An open letter to Jodi Arias from Johnny Americana.

Dear Ms. Arias,

May I call you Jodi? I’ve been watching you…

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Open Letter to Edward J. Snowden from Johnny Americana

From June 25th, 2013

Note from the Blog Custodian: Since “paddytheduke”, the normal blog contributor, is away on some type of liver-torturing bender, he has given his full blessing for the ensuing post. Mr. Johnny Americana, an ambitious old friend of “paddytheduke’s,” has requested the use of this platform to solicit advice from a bona fide international spy about a career change he is seeking. Mr. Americana, while pure of purpose and honorable of motive has always had the somewhat debilitating deficiency of being obsessed with image while paying no real attention to context. Mr. Americana’s letter is posted as a courtesy and we wish him the best of luck. Take it away, Mr. Americana. 

Open letter to Edward J. Snowden, International Spy, from Johnny Americana.

Dear Mr. Snowden,

I have recently seen you on the television and was wondering how I could become an international spy like you? Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated. It’s always good to get advice from someone in the field. I work in a cubicle, myself, cold-calling on behalf of a company that sells used and slightly damaged medical equipment. It’s boring as hell and the pay sucks unless you can get one of the senior citizens you call at random to give up their social security number. I also compile what we call “sucker lists” and sell them to anybody willing to pay for them. Point is, I’m tired of number crunching and data processing. I want to travel to exotic lands, pursue villains using the newest sports cars, the fastest boats. I have no problem knocking some unsuspecting motorcyclist off his bike, jumping onto it and pursuing some henchman. I’m versatile. I can run through open-air markets and through sewer systems. One time I jumped through the smashed window of a moving car, but that was more of a domestic dispute, well, that’s a long story and if you don’t want me to come bounding into the open window of your Camaro then just don’t steal my shit. I’m just saying. I can run on the tops of train cars. Seriously I can. Once I tried it. I had to flee a couple of hobos who told me that when riding the rails it’s always the cutest looking man who becomes the woman.

I’d like to learn how to drink martinis while I collect information about men intent on world domination. I don’t really drink martinis like you do but I could definitely learn to drink them. Shit, I’ll drink anything. I look good in a tuxedo and once in Atlantic City I won a hundred bucks playing blackjack and got a free breakfast, alcohol not included. I wasn’t wearing a tuxedo but a tuxedo tee-shirt. I think it still counts.

The best thing about your job is that they build you gadgets that you can use for the exact appropriate situations that call for them. I don’t like all this new fancy computerized hacker stuff. Give me something that explodes and I’ll escape. I love stuff that explodes. We used to mix water softener and gasoline in bottles of Colt 45, wick them and throw them off the old water tower. Fucking ka-boom, spy man.

I see they call you “The Leaker.” I want my own spy name too. We call our roommate “The Leaker” as well but that’s just because he gets drunk and pisses himself on the couch after he passes out. We don’t care that he pisses himself but we wish he would do it in his bedroom because after he pisses himself on the couch you can only flip the couch cushions once before you’re at the original stain. We keep flipping them though, and it seems to work.

I’ve only seen one picture of you, and I’m a little disappointed. You must be undercover, because you aren’t wearing a tuxedo, you aren’t playing Baccarat, and there aren’t any sexy female spies around you. Actually, you look kind of plain and worried. You certainly don’t seem to be seducing some curvy, leggy, beautiful double agent, some tall drink of water with a name like “Glory Hole” who is smart enough to outwit everyone around her until she falls through a trap door under which sits a pool of hungry piranha fish. But not before you banged her, so who cares, right? I hear you Mr. Snowden. You might be lacking in suaveness and style and don’t take this the wrong way but whatever department in the N.S.A. deals with tailoring and make-overs, you might want to drop in on them. They have to have a tanning bed or a gym or something in there. Where do my tax dollars go?

Mr. Leaker Snowden, I must say I am enjoying your current ruse, your massive ploy about how your government has turned on you because you stole some high level secrets, but that’s just because you want the evil genius that you are battling to think you are a rogue element, a wanted man, and so then they take you into the confidences of their evil empire and you choke the bastards off at the neck. I get it. I’m not saying it’s absolutely original but I’ve studied up on spying and it is effective. Who is the evil genius you are pursuing, or are you not allowed to say? It’s probably Rupert Murdoch because he’s a pock-marked Australian, or T. Boone Pickens with his fucking socialist wind energy or that one guy with the real creepy title, something like the “Wizard of Omaha.” I think his real name is Warren Buffett but with a nickname like that you can bet he’s building a space laser. If you can tell me what else a wizard does, I’d like to know.

My uncle says that it takes at least three months to process a “License To Kill” so once he just made one up and had it laminated. Everyone down at Rudy’s thought it was funny until he tried to bash this guy’s head in with a pool stick. I guess I can just use his until I get the real one.

Anyway, the microwave has signaled that my convenience store burrito is ready to be “eliminated” and so I will sign off. I just want you to know that I’m really good at keeping secrets. Honest. I hate people that buckle under pressure and just give up whatever confidential information they are privileged to have, and I can tell you feel the same way I do.

That being said, I will be waiting patiently for you to come crashing through my bedroom wall in the early hours of the morning with a team of expert killers to blindfold me, bundle me up, throw me into the back of a van and whisk me to a six-month boot camp of intense and excruciating training, both physical and psychological. You can water-board me, keep me up for days on end, run me for miles and shoot me full of whatever spy chemicals I need to inoculate me against enemy brutality and protect my precious bodily fluids. I await your spectacular invasion of my house and if you have to kill any of my roommates in the process I don’t think anyone would miss them and it might be good practice for you guys. Go United States of America!

Johnny Americana.

P.S. If you happen to review any of my records or files and find that I have spent some time in a mental facility, just know that I was operating undercover that time. I had been dispatched by a shadow group to gather information about stuff that’s classified. I can prove I wasn’t crazy, though. See, until they started restraining me at bedtime I used to break into the cafeteria and cover myself in tapioca pudding. What crazy person would be smart enough to act that crazy? How about that, fucker?

‘Kai’, The Badger, The Widower, and the Polymer

From May 20th, 2013

You can’t put your faith in anybody anymore…The haunted hat…Dummy love…

You may remember Caleb McGillvary, a.k.a ‘Kai’, the peripatetic drifter of significant internet fame (the link to his heroics inserted above). He gained attention as the homeless or “home-free” man of the road, the hatchet-wielding good samaritan who neutralized a lunatic with a few smashes to the head out in California some months back. Well, he has now become the hatchet-wielding murderer, which makes more sense, really. ‘Hatchet-wielding good samaritan’ is a confusing title, somewhat paradoxical, downright strange. It calls to mind clashing images of man with bulging eyes and tongue hanging out of his mouth swinging an axe at anything that moves, coupled with well-dressed, chiseled man throwing his briefcase down and rescuing a baby carriage as it rolls toward a busy intersection. Hard to superimpose those two individuals. The natural world seems to reject it, and the proof is that now ‘Kai’ has gone back to the normal, understandable, hatchet-wielding murderer by killing an innocent lawyer (Hmm, I’m on a roll with all these ripe contradictions) with a few whacks to the head in New Jersey.

“We love our hatchet-wielding babysitter,” said Dolores Carlton of East Lansing. “We know our child is safe and there’s always plenty of firewood for those cold winter days.”

“Our hatchet-wielding pastor is a real boon to the community,” said Delmont Sims of Appleton, Wisconsin. “His sermons are both intimate and accessible and he can break up that Eucharist like nobody’s business. Chop, chop, cha-op.”

“I was able to put a new roof on my lakeside house thanks to my hatchet-wielding accountant,” said Kyle Carson of Blairsville, Georgia. “He splits up those tax codes like they were made for kindling.”

It is rare to hear these types of things in normal conversation. In fact I was forced to make them up after failing to find legitimate examples. Likewise, hatchet-wielding good samaritan. It is very disappointing for ‘Kai’ to bludgeon the triumph of his earlier heroics in which he smashed a deranged fellow in the head who was trying to kill a few pedestrians with his car. There are very few heroes out there, these days. Mostly just dim spectators. But ‘Kai’ seemed like a young man of quick thinking and resolute action for a time. Now it’s clear he’s just a bit of a psycho that likes to strike people with a hatchet, and damn the particulars.  But ‘Kai’ the hatchet-wielder forgot the golden rule of hatchet wielding. If you are going to swing a hatchet at a guy, make sure that guy is in the process of trying to kill another guy.

‘Kai’ has taken to the internet to raise funds for an attorney. I’m wondering if anybody has pointed out the screaming irony in the fact that he killed a perfectly good attorney, who probably had the means, the training and the connections to put together a skillful defense for the killing of an attorney. It reminds me of the zen story in which the young monk experiences the bliss of silence and immediately loses it when he tries to relate his joy to the elder yogis–except, of course, substituting tragic and senseless murder with the practice of enlightenment.

My clothes are haunted. At least, certain articles seem to be possessed, and as such when I wear them I tend to take on whatever rogue spirit may be inhabiting the cloth. I don’t even think I’m recklessly wielding a simile like a hatchet. Quite literally, at face value, I state my case. My clothes are haunted. The belief has gained some strength after my Alembic entry about Tom Jones, the Welsh singing icon, being possessed. It is a bold devil indeed that jumps into your skin. The sneakier ones just sit in your clothes and strike casually, making you say stupid things to impossibly attractive women, around midnight, reeking of bourbon. The worst is my wool skull cap. I put that thing on and strange thoughts begin to accumulate. I bring this up only because I recently made a trip to my hometown, Long Island, New York, for my cousin’s wedding. One night, after the wedding reception, I found myself at a bar overlooking the Long Island Sound, which is the big bay separating Long Island from Connecticut. Because it was a formal occasion I was wearing a modest suit and because it was thirty degrees outside, I was wearing my wool hat. The bartender did not like me for some reason. She was a feral little thing, unwilling to extend even the most cursory of pleasantries. Furthermore she had no idea what strega, or chartreuse, or fernet was and had trouble finding the grand marnier bottle. But I knew how to thaw her out. I decided to use the greatest compliment ever invented on her. It goes like this:

After saying it I realized I had messed up big time. Not only is it not the best compliment ever invented, it actually is one of the worst insults. It doesn’t even make any sense. If a woman has a figure that makes the number ‘8’ look like the number ‘1’, it could be (and in this case was) rightly interpreted as having a figure so rotund and corpulent that she makes that roundest of numbers look skinny. Either that or it’s some strange reference to bulimia. Furthermore, in post 9/11 culture, it is never a good idea to yell “Dy-no-mite” anywhere in a public place. I knew I was in trouble. I immediately pulled my wool cap off and set it on the edge of the bar, but not after giving it a stern rebuke.

“Now you’ve cooked us both,” I said to my hat.

The bartender was incensed, and this manifested in her stomping around for a good ten minutes and then finally, having no other reason to chew me out, she ended up chastising me for leaving my “awful, stinking hat” on the bar next to my drink. I had pondered what to do with it after taking it off my head and had settled for the edge of the bar in front of me. After all I was in a suit. The pockets were too small for the bulky wool hat. Plus It was thirty degrees outside and one hundred degrees inside, so I knew eventually I would need it and like I said, the cap is haunted and makes me say dumb stuff so it was best to have it off my head.

“It’s an etiquette thing,” she sneered, like I had left my shoes and socks on the rack of clean glasses sitting in front of me.

I apologized, explaining that the stable I was born in was right drafty due to the warped boards and rat holes.

“Of course it didn’t bother the mules none,” I added. “But they’s born with coats and hairy knickers.”

Thankfully, at that moment, a glass shattered somewhere on the other end of the bar and I was no longer in the crosshairs of her hatred. I moved my hat from the bar to my lap, and considered telling her in no uncertain terms where I really wanted to store my hat, but that probably would’ve resulted in being ejected from the bar and even if she had somehow taken me up on my offer it would’ve soiled my wool hat considerably, and I wasn’t about to destroy a perfectly good cap on principle.

Enter Harold.

He sat down next to me and everything got strange again. I didn’t know Harold, that is, he was unknown to me (but just the same somehow slightly familiar), and I suspected he may have been some fringe element from the wedding party, the offbeat brother-in-law who reads “Catcher In The Rye,” hates phonies and hopes to really get his D.J.‘ing career up  and running by the end of the year.

Harold, as it turned out, was not part of the wedding party, but Harold was miserable, and it wasn’t long before I found out why.

“It’s been three years since my wife died,” said Harold with the turgid melancholy usually reserved for soap opera plot twists. “Sometimes I come down here, to the edge of the water, when the stars pattern themselves just so, and I have a drink and look at the water and try to decide whether to just jump in and end it all. Then we’d be together, my darling and I.”

“Wow, that’s pretty heavy,” I said. “So you weren’t at the wedding?”

Again, that was the wrong thing to say. It was clear that any reference to a wedding was to reference his wife, which was to reference her death, which was to reference his misery and contemplation of suicide.

“The only wedding that matters,” he said distantly. “Is the marriage of my soul to my wife’s in the next world, since the merriment of this world is forever lost on me.”

“Let me buy you a drink,” I offered, not knowing what else to do at that point.

“Yes,” he said. “That would be slightly less than completely painful, for the moment.”

He nursed his drink quietly while I considered trying to talk him out of suicide. Yet with every tepid and empty reason I thought of, I anticipated his response and realized, like a chess player, that every move I could’ve made had me stuck two moves down the line. I had another idea. I decided if I asked about her it might bring him to tears, and after he had cried them, he would be overcome with that mystery relief of lachrymal release that is a miracle to the aggrieved.

“She was sick?” I offered, guessing.

“Yes,” he said.

“Terminal illness?” I guessed again.

“Yes,” he said.

“Cancer?” I guessed again.

“Yes,” he said.

“Cervical… breast…ovarian.. cancer?”

“Yes,” he said.

Now I started to get a little restless. Either I was an incredibly good guesser or Harold was just agreeing with everything I said.

“Cervical cancer originating from the papilloma virus that spread through the lymph, metastasizing, particularly in areas prone to the spread of infection like the ovaries, pancreas, kidney and liver? Surgery, remission, relapse, chemo, radiation, alternative therapy blitz?”

“Yes,” he said.

I drummed my fingers on the bar and frowned. Harold thanked me for the drink and disappeared into another room. The bartender descended on me.

“Another shot of that sewage in a bottle you call liquor?” she said.

“What’s up with Harold?” I said.

“Not from around here, are you?”

“It’s been awhile.”

“Harold, Harold, Harold. He kills himself every Saturday night.”

“He looks good, considering.”

Where the hell was I? When did this place turn into an insane asylum? I put my wool hat on to go outside for a cigar. It is rare that I smoke them but I had been given one at the wedding reception and since it was freezing outside I figured a small fire in front of my face might be just what I needed. I thought of Ignatius Reilly from “Confederacy of Dunces” for some reason as I pulled my cap down around my ears, went outside and smoked the cigar, standing at the edge of the vacant and dark patio with the dirty smoke of the cigar stinging my eyes. That was when I got hit with the kind of crystal clear memory that shakes the whole limbic system, a slice of life committed to celluloid and replayed on a screen right in front of my eyes, a kind of electricity of the optic nerve.

Some years ago, in Atlanta, while getting my car fixed and watching the television in the mechanic’s shop, I was subject to some horrible daytime talk show in which a fellow beamed as he was willingly exploited over his “girlfriend” a blow-up sex doll named something weirdly comprehensive like “Jennifer Mindy McMannister.” The fellow was in love with this life-sized plastic doll, taking “her” to the movies and white-water rafting with “her” (she floats, safety wasn’t a concern). Sexual role-playing wasn’t a problem, he admitted, in between jeers from the audience. He never needed a “safe word” and if he accidentally punctured her to “death” then he could just mosey on down to the local “Belle Du Jour Plastique” shoppe, and obtain her twin sister. You can date people that aren’t very smart, but they are bound to call you when they get lonely, they need food and water at regular intervals, boredom is a condition that they may possess and they often develop thoughts and inclinations of their own. This was why he had found his perfect love in Jennifer-Mindy, the blow-up doll.  The thing was, and this was what struck me, standing on the patio of that cold moonlit night overlooking the shimmering water, the man with the blow-up doll girlfriend was from Long Island and his name was Harold. I would’ve sworn to it in a court of law.

Tossing the cigar into the water I went back into the bar, paid my share of the bill and found Harold on the way out. I wished him well and told him I was sure that his wife, Jennifer-Mindy was a great girl and in a better place. He immediately stiffened up. The friendly contours in his face dropped into serious vexation.

“I didn’t tell you her name,” he said, gritting his teeth. “How did you know her name?”

He looked at me for a few seconds longer in silent rage and I knew it was time to go far, far away. But not before I told him about the time I worked in that sex-doll manufacturing sweatshop in China for a year or so, and for the briefest of moments I fell in love with one of my creations, Jennifer-Mindy McMannister. Our love was pure, I said, but I knew the rundown Chinese “Donzoko” slum I lived in was no place for her, and so I let her go to be processed, packaged and shipped to America, into the arms of another with the means to a better life. By the time I had confided all of this, Harold was quivering with rage, and his thoughts of suicide had obviously gone to homicide, and so I ended our encounter with the famous quotation from “A Tale of Two Cities”, the last line in the novel, and fled while I still had the chance.

The Semi-Legitimate Fear of Parasitic Drool

From April 25th, 2013

Beer, billiards and neighbors…Arboreal mentals…Whole lotta framin’ goin’ on…Frank Sinatra as Tony Rome as Frank Sinatra…Arboreal mentals, revisited” 

It is a fine thing and some might say an art form to obtain things through leisure, luck and laziness. Thus I own a pool table. It was cleverly grifted by a college friend of mine, from a fraternity house, years and years and years ago. The fraternity had decided because the felt was ripped and the bumpers were coming off and the wood was peeling that the whole table was no good so they moved it out to their front lawn to rot, and what with the rain and the exposure it was turned into a muddy, water-logged monstrosity. My buddy, clever fiend that he is, successfully appraised that the slate itself was perfect and so he went to the fraternity president and brokered a deal. He offered to take the pool table off of their hands (it was an eyesore, after all, and the president was forced to admit there were no contingency plans for its ultimate removal off the property). My friend cast himself as the thoughtful altruist who would give it a good home. He only insisted that the house pay for the moving expenses (no small fee), to which the fraternity readily agreed. Two weeks later, in our rented house a few miles off campus, after a pretty standard restoration of sanding, staining and re-felting, the thing looked brand new. More importantly, we had something to congregate and drink around, a cynosure of spirited competition, a centerpiece for socializing, a perfect implement of procrastination.

Word gets around a neighborhood fast when such a diversion arrives, and as such we had many neighbors who frequently dropped by to offer to shoot a few games and chew the fat, gossip and pontificate, whatever. We, as the splendid dawdlers that we were and continued to be, could hardly ever refuse. So long as we were home there was an open door policy and billiard play would continue for as long as needed, often late into the night. It was considered common courtesy for the neighbors to drop by with an intoxicant of some kind and as long as the beer was there, the games were afoot.  As the years went by and my roommates moved on to bigger cities in which living spaces were somewhat restricted, I was left with the table, like the last man standing in a tontine. I maintained a kind of squatter’s rights over it just by living in houses that could fit it. Much time has passed and although I am a little more picky about who comes over and at what hour, I still welcome the occasional neighbor, with the requisite six-pack and we rack em up and shoot em down, all conversation topics welcome.

The night was a murky one. The air was thick with the humidity of some recent rain and the mist crept by the front window like a procession of wispy phantoms. Alone, I decided to brush up on my nine-ball. I put on some Warren Zevon, lined up the cue ball and cracked the diamond-shaped cluster apart. I was in no mood for the television, as usual. It was a particularly grueling couple of weeks as two inbred bums from Chechnya tried to blow up the whole Boston Marathon, succeeding in killing two women and a child and someone in Texas packed 1,000 times the normal amount of ammonium nitrate into a fertilizer plant and blew it to kingdom come.

The week was an explosive one, to say the least. I’ve always loved Boston. It’s a great town. There is a saying in Boston, very succinct, and that is don’t fuck with Boston. Which proved to be right on the money as three days after the sabotage the FBI and Boston authorities had the two dismal derelicts responsible (allegedly, that most warped of words) and on the run. Two brothers from Chechnya, having been identified, almost immediately had some supporters advocating their innocence, insisting they were framed, which is further evidence you can convince anybody anywhere at anytime of anything. I’m not saying that in the history of law enforcement an anonymous revolver hasn’t been dropped near the body of a bullet-riddled fugitive, but this one is a stretch. Not only did the police have to frame them by walking them through the Boston marathon crowd with the identical bomb-laden back packs, but they also had to frame them for a convenience store robbery, gunning down an officer, carjacking a man, and then, and this one’s tricky, frame them for fleeing in a high speed chase in which they were framed for throwing bombs at the police while trying to escape. That’s a lotta framin’.

I had made it through two simulated pool games when there was a knock on my door. It was Valerie, a single mother who lives up the block. She had just put her son to bed and was feeling a bit restless. Realizing she had some beer in the fridge and seeing my car in the driveway, she dropped by to play a few rounds of pool. A pleasant woman, haunted by conspiracy theories, Valerie had been upset about the recent upheaval across the country. But there was something else that was troubling her. It was something she had heard, recently, a story not-unlike the kind of urban legend of murderous gang members who drive around with the headlights off, and who target the cars that flash their beams at them. This was one about a spate of free-roaming mentals, recently escaped from some hospital that climb into trees and, when they sense the opportunity, will  jump out on an unsuspecting pedestrian, wet their index fingers in their lunatic saliva (that is always abundantly present in their mouths) and stick the wet finger into the ear of the person they have just landed on. It happened to a friend’s friend of hers whose eardrum was permanently damaged because, Valerie insisted, the parasites in a mental’s drool are carnivorous and eat away at the brain, which is one of the reasons those two brothers in Boston went crazy. Although, she said, “that’s the type of thing you won’t hear about in the news.”

We shot five games. I took the first two and Valerie cleaned up in the last three, hitting her stride and taking advantage of my fatigue. She left while still ahead. I watched her mosey up the road to her house and I fell back on the couch and went through my library of classic movies, if only to have something to focus on while I finished my beer.

I ended up watching an old Frank Sinatra movie in which he plays “Tony Rome, Private Eye.” He drinks gin, slaps people around, screws Jill St. John (Bond girl from “Diamonds Are Forever”) and then takes off on his boat, which basically means Frank is just playing Frank in a film, using another name. I think once in the movie there is some character that actually messes up, addressing the Tony Rome character as Frank. He says, “Hey Frank,” and Frank just says, “Yeah whattaya want? We ain’t doin a second take. The folks know it’s me. Print it, baby. We gotta be at Cirro’s by midnight.”

I drank another beer and kept watching. The piece seemed slapped together, a bit far-fetched in its silliness, but I’ve always been a sucker for a detective movie and Frank has never let me down in a film, not even Cannonball Run II. Suddenly, my phone rang. It was Valerie, my neighbor.

“I just got back to my house and I swear I saw some guy climb into my tree, the big magnolia at the edge of the front yard, next to the hedgerow.”

“Come on, Valerie, you’ve got yourself worked up. It’s foggy and your mind is playing tricks on you.”

“He had something huge strapped to his back. Like a machine gun. I have a son who is sleeping. I’m terrified.”

“Jesus, I’ll be right there.”

I grabbed my big flashlight and walked up the block, skeptical, curious, brash, a little drunk, all packed in a warped little ball of taut expectation. It occurred to me I hadn’t brought a weapon. But what weapon would be useful in such a unique situation, when someone is coming at you from directly overhead? I realized that I was very much in need of a Kaiser helmet, the kind with that big metal spike coming out of the top, and wondered where I could get one at this time of night. That helmet had always seemed ridiculous to me, but now it made sense. Not only did the German army want to take over the world they also knew the danger of mentals jumping out of trees and had taken steps to protect themselves. That would be a shakeup for an emergency room staff. A guy comes walking in with another man impaled on his head, draped over his shoulders and arms.

“Yes, I’ve got a serious crick in my neck, and this poor retard above me ain’t doing so well either.”

I got to Valerie’s front yard and walked across to the tree in question. I could see Valerie’s big eyes through her front window. I waved. The tree itself was a beautiful, sturdy, striated mass of thick twisted branches, cloaked in crisp, glossy leaves and budding magnolia flowers. I decided it would be difficult to scale the first six feet. The branches were too thick. I shined the flashlight up toward the top, but the thickness of the branches, the haze of the night, and the shroud of the leaves prevented me from seeing anything over the first ten feet. Valerie crept out of her house and sidled up next to me.

“He must be way up top.”

“I don’t care how crazy you are,” I said. “Nobody is going to jump out at somebody from the top of that tree. That’s suicide for them. They’d hit twenty branches on the way down.”

Then another neighbor arrived, Gordon, with his dog, Laddie. Gordon preferred nocturnal strolls with his dog. Everybody in the neighborhood knew this and felt safer because of it, since Gordon was a retired police officer and Laddie a mastiff and as such I don’t think Gordon was ever concerned about brooking any riffraff at any hour. Laddie ran up to the tree, sniffed around it, sat and looked straight up and gave a bit of a growl.

“Someone’s in the tree,” said Gordon.

“They climb to the top to meditate then they slowly descend when they’ve harnessed all their craziness,” said Valerie.

I called up to ask if anybody was in the tree. After a few seconds of hesitation, a voice, anonymous high above said “yes”, and not to mind him, he’d be out of there in no time. I told Valerie as much, feeling the need to mediate even though she was standing right next to me and could hear him just as well as I could.

“What are you doing up there?” Valerie called.

“Do you hear a guitar?” I whispered to Gordon, Valerie, and Laddie, for that matter.

“Is this the owner of yonder house I’m addressing?” said the voice.

“Yes,” said Valerie.

“Your shingles seem to be a little warped on the far end of your roof. I’d be careful about water damage.”

I shrugged. Not only did he not sound deranged, he was actually quite helpful. Again the sound of guitar strings being plucked rang through the air, tentatively, like the instrument was being tuned. Then there was a woman’s voice.

“Sorry to bother you guys,” said a woman’s voice. “He’ll be done in a second.”

“Do you think they are… you know…?” said Gordon, puzzled.

“Hold the phone,” I said.

I crawled through the hedge and popped out to the other side, and from this vantage point the whole situation became very clear. A woman was leaning against the railing of her second story porch, giggling, while about fifteen feet away a man, barely visible in the tree (I could see the neck of the guitar) started to pick through a song. The song was familiar but the playing was a bit shaky. I cut him some slack, though. He was balancing himself in a tree. I pulled myself back through the hedge and clicked my flashlight off. I asked Valerie if the huge weapon she had seen could’ve been a guitar.

“I recognize the song,” said Valerie.

“It’s that song from that guy that used to screw Bowie,” said Gordon.

“Mick Jagger?”

“No, the one from New York.”

“Lou Reed.”

“That’s him.”

The song was “Perfect Day”, and although the intricacies of the song were lost in the altitude, it sounded like he had modified the verses to fit his relationship with the woman being serenaded. When the song was over we applauded. Overhead, we were thanked.  I asked if he took requests.

“What do you got?” the voice said from above.

“What’s that smells like fish? by Blind Boy Fuller.”

“Mark!” Valerie snapped. “Behave.”

“I’m here to help,” I said. “I defy anyone to tell me otherwise.”

Eventually the man came down from the tree, pausing before he jumped down because of Laddie. Gordon pulled the huge dog back.  The man’s acoustic guitar was strapped to his back, and we got the whole story. He had gotten back from a business trip early and had decided to surprise his girlfriend for their one-year anniversary. He said the tree was perfect for a serenade, and he wasn’t even sure it was on Valerie’s property. He apologized for trespassing. Valerie, overwhelmed with the romantic sensibilities, waved him off.

“You didn’t happen to see any mental patients up there, on your way up or down,” I said.

“No,” said the man. “Although there was an owl with a fancy necklace that grumbled at me before taking off into the distance.”

I nodded. Valerie had tears in her eyes with notions of the man’s chivalry, his romantic ambition, his ability to scale trees and play guitar. He thanked us for understanding and disappeared into the night. Gordon and Laddie continued their midnight stroll. Valerie went inside her house to sit by the window, I supposed, to wait for the man, the anonymous dreamer, to come to her window and play her a song. I fancied myself a bit of a Tony Rome, case closed. I swaggered back to my house, thinking that if life imitated art, Jill St. John would be draped across my couch and she would’ve been, had I named my dog Jill St. John.

More alembics to come.

The Apathy of Squirrels, The Wisdom of Owls, The Power Of The JuJu Fetish

From April 14th, 2013

“The puzzling behavior of squirrels…The coffee and the unknown world of Los Angeles…The old woman, the juju fetish and the owl…” 

My neighborhood is overrun with squirrels. They are everywhere. There are also a lot of cars. Not a lot, but enough. There are enough cars to pose a direct threat to a reckless squirrel. It’s not the cars so much as the tires. There are four times the amount of tires than there are cars, which, if I were a squirrel, is a statistic that would give me cause for alarm. Inevitably then, as I go for my morning dog walk around the neighborhood, I will pass some poor smashed squirrel on the tree-lined street, crushed to aspic right in the middle of the road. From the position of the body and various states of compression it is easy to see that some had almost made it while others look like they had accidentally ingested a lit M-80 bomb. I find myself affected, sympathetic, overcome with feelings of powerlessness in a brutal universe. I’m surrounded by the reality of senseless demise. Then one day I noticed something really disturbing in the face of such holocaust. A squirrel was lying in the street, gone from the world of the living, and another squirrel running across the street just jumped right over him and continued on without a second glance. It was a little spooky. Heartless little buggers. Not even a concerned gesture. No regard for a fellow critter. No enlightened, self-interest-based curiosity that maybe something extremely dangerous is rolling around the vicinity and should be considered in order to prevent this from ever happening again, whatever it was? I continued walking, absorbed with the flutter of my dog’s ears as she trotted along, and found myself beginning to construct a self-absorbed monologue for apathetic squirrel number two.

“Hey look, there’s Jim. He looks a little down today. Not his usual playful self. Usually he’s insatiable, chasing the girlie squirrels, stealing acorns, running along the electrical wires like he owns the world. None of that today. Kind of quiet. Kind of still. Flat head and such. Wonder what that’s all about? Limbs stiffly pointing in the air and his new head-style and some nasty stuff spilling out of old Jim’s anus. Maybe I should ask but I don’t want to create an awkward situation between me and Jim. Jim’s obviously doing Jim’s thing. Oh I get it, he’s too good for us squirrels, now he just hangs out with flies and bugs, I guess. Seems a bit rude, is all. I thought we were friends. Fuck him, really. I’ve got plenty of other stuff going on. Not like I’m waiting on him to show me a good time. I’ve been ignored by bigger, better and smarter.  I’ll just ignore the son of a bitch back and see how he likes it. I can be friends with flies and bugs too but I choose not to. It’s a choice. It’s a life choice. Now, where’s that goddamn bird feeder again?”

“Take counsel when appropriate,” my mother never used to say, but probably would’ve if she had thought of it. There is the possibility of a grander cross-reference to the squirrel’s ignorance that I would do well to heed. I sat around the house for a little while trying to piece it together, the thing that would be so obvious to a higher life form that I’m scampering right by. Then it dawned on me. I knew just what to do. I had to go get a cup of coffee from the local coffee shop, part of this huge shopping plaza about five minutes from my house. I drove cautiously, beeping to the few squirrels that looked ready to break for the other side of the road as I approached. I got to the shopping plaza without a hitch, parked and walked around the bend to the coffee shop. A few tables are scattered outside of the place, most filled with people reading, tinkering on the computer or engaged in serious “steeple-fingered” conversations, as David Foster Wallace used to say. All had one thing in common. Nobody even bothered to look at me. In general I am easily ignored. I am fairly nondescript, my energy is tucked and I walk fast. As I zoomed by one table, though, I felt a weighty gaze upon me. An old, or at least extremely wrinkled woman from somewhere south where the sun burns bright in the sky all year round hooked me with her eyes and gave me a smile that sent my stomach into a free fall. I walked into the safety of the coffee shop wondering what the hell that was all about? Mentally I went over the split second interaction I had with her. She was going to say something to me, but had stopped. Her eyes suggested she knew more about me than I knew about myself. She had a bunch of necklaces and tchochkes on the table in front of her. She was the car and I was the squirrel, or she was me, I was the squirrel, and she had clarity of the “car” I needed to avoid. That I was sure of.

The line was long, thus I had time for the harsh exposure of a 24-hour news channel from a television mounted above my head. I’ve expressed my displeasure for constant television news in prior “Alembics” and the experience of watching it while waiting for my coffee did nothing to lessen my irritation. A representative of the Stepford Wives was suggesting I “enjoy more and stress less” while the chyron, the heading underneath, boldly declared, “Breaking News: Police Still Unable To Find Vital Clues.” The chyron ran three times in about a minute and a half, which supported my theory that these shows are meant for people in the process of walking away from them. The warm, deep coffee aroma kept me in line, however. Commercial time. There was an advertisement for a show called “Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain, Chef and World Traveller.” Apparently Mr. Bourdain was going to… Los Angeles. Parts unknown? What the fuck? Parts unknown except to five million people, give or take. The show may be a fine one, I don’t know. I don’t watch television and I definitely tend to avoid watching other people eat. I’m not what you call a ‘foodie’. But I’m sure it’s a fine show. It just seemed like a strange title, though, particularly since the episode was descending on one of the largest cities in the U.S.. With a title like that I expected a narrator to overdub his mischievous, whispering voice like in those Folgers’ Crystals commercials from years ago.

“We’ve taken Mr. Bourdain to Mauna Loa and thrown him into the expectorating volcano. He’s got a parachute, a helmet with a camera on it, a two-way radio and a three day food ration. The Gods are pleased.

“We’ve shrunk  Mr. Bourdain to the size of a raisin and placed him in a small capsule and washed him down the gullet of a silverback gorilla to investigate the chronic “borborygmi” or growling stomach that seems to be constantly distressing the beast. By the time he gets done with this he’ll be pooped.

“We’ve catapulted Mr. Bourdain into the Hang Ken cave in Vietnam during the Monsoon season. Guano, and see-o, what you can find-o.”

The news channel, as it always does, left me feeling a little fatigued and somewhat beaten, so I got my coffee and headed out the door. This time the woman sitting at the small table outside was not about to let me by. I had forgotten all about her in the whipsaw of coffee and sensationalism. She said something about a handsome man in trouble, ostensibly me. Flattery and mystery, the woman was a born salesperson. She held up one of her necklaces and said I needed a juju fetish.

“No, I don’t… what?”

I was vaguely familiar with both terms, when used separately. Fetish as related to an inanimate object with magical powers and not deviant sexual stuff like trying to eat someone’s rubber boot. A juju has a similar meaning. I had never heard them used in conjunction, but I liked the sound of it. The woman seemed to know I would.  She held up the necklace. I asked if it had tannis root in it? Having recently sat through another screening of Rosemary’s Baby for lack of anything better to do it was still fresh on my mind.  She waved off my stupid question. She used the word energumen, as in someone possessed by an evil spirit. I asked her if she had ever seen Tom Jones dance. She said nothing, but I could tell she understood. Suddenly, with the clarity of a drunk sorority girl who pops full blast out of her haze to realize she’s in dangerous surroundings, I stepped back from the woman’s mesmerism.

“I’ll buy your juju fetish,” I said. “But I’ve only got a credit card on me. I do have some money in my car, though. I’m just going to go get it and I’ll be right back.”

She nodded. I walked briskly to give off the appearance of my zeal to retrieve my money and get back to her to purchase the necklace before she sold it to another individual. Really I was just going to get in my car, drive off fast and find a new place to get coffee from then on. I got to my car and that sinking feeling took hold, that feeling when you’re stuck in a glue trap of your own creation and the only way out is to gnaw your legs off.

I had left my car keys on the counter of the coffee shop. I considered for a moment that maybe the counter girl might see them and run out and try to give them back to me but this was all folly. The counter girl was filled with such a precision strain of ill temper that I would be lucky that she hadn’t just tossed them in the garbage or given them to a homeless fellow so he could clean the cottage cheese out of his toenails. Could I go around the other way? A quick calculation proved that this would be the circuitous equivalent of walking to Alabama. It meant scaling fences and avoiding delivery trucks. Maybe I could just walk home and walk back in the dead of night, throw a garbage can through the front window of the coffee shop, climb in and get my keys then. Buck up, I said to myself. You’re now the proud owner of a juju fetish.

I walked back around. The woman looked like she had not only known what had happened but had read everything in my mind since I had last departed. Fumbling an explanation that in retrospect made no sense, I got my keys out of the shop, came out and paid her for the necklace, brought the damn thing home and hung it on my back porch, feeling a little uneasy about taking it into my house.

I’ve yet to mention I have an owl that lives somewhere in the vicinity of my backyard. I’ve seen him perched on my fence, on a naked branch, and on my roof, at the top of the pitch. He’s a magical thing. He only comes out on nights with a bright moon, or I guess he’s only visible on nights when the moon is like a slightly softer reflection of the sun. He paces, and the way his feathers run down his back it looks like his hands are clasped behind him (if he had them, of course) and his profile looks exactly like Alfred Hitchcock’s. It’s a marvelous thing to see at four in the morning, half-asleep, the effects of the alcohol slowly wearing off, and this enormous fat-feathered bird with a big round head and all the wisdom afforded to his species walking out to survey what the night has to offer. Rodents, a dog barking somewhere in the distance, featherless human gawker. He likes me. We’ve exchanged communication. I slur. He answers. He doesn’t coo or whistle. He warbles low like he’s got a smoking habit.

The next morning I came out to the porch and the juju fetish was gone. So be it. It made me a little nervous anyway. But the following night, as I happened to be up late enjoying the inspirational effects of a fine cab franc, I walked out into the cool air and heard my friend warble from above. I grabbed my magnum flashlight and put him in the spotlight. The owl stood there at the tip of my roof with his big eyes and something flashing beneath his chin. The little son of a bitch was wearing the juju fetish. Not only that he seemed to have had the chain fitted to a comfortable, fashionable length for his little neck and cambered chest. He took off, big and beautiful against the indigo sky. I felt like I had been used, nothing but a pawn, a messenger between two forces beyond my comprehension. But feeling I had succeeded in the small part of the ineffable task, I sensed for the moment that the hazards were at bay and I felt the satisfaction of a job well done.

The Mulligan, The Prime Minister, and The Incubus

From March 26th, 2013

“The ultimate mulligan… Berlusconi and the surprisingly edgy humor of the Ford Motor Company…Harry Reems BD/SM, DP, GB and ultimately, R.I.P… Strange names and stranger behavior…The exorcism of Tom Jones” 

Some things are so crazy that even crazy says, “Damn that’s fucking crazy.” For this our latest installment we travel to Argentina, where a man named Victor Cingolani, who is serving prison time for killing his wife, has married his wife’s twin sister. Let’s go over that again, step by step. Man meets woman. Man courts woman. Man and woman fall in love. Man marries woman. They are husband and wife. Husband gets angry at wife for her insatiable coupon obsession, or some such rift. Husband kills wife. Husband goes to jail. Deceased wife has twin sister. Twin sister marries the murdering husband, the erstwhile widower, who is now a husband again with an exact replica of murdered wife. Simple.

Most of your hardball thinkers and theologians are skeptical when it comes to the reality of second chances in the strictest sense, or more to the point, the promise of doing the exact same thing a second time and expecting a different result, which I think was how Albert Einstein or Isaac Asimov, or some fellow with vowels for initials, defined insanity. Sure, with failure and disappointment other opportunities of similar promise may arise, and these other opportunities may even eclipse the original failed circumstance, but a do-over is a rare thing, indeed. And a do-over that succeeds, well forget it. Even the doomed couple that marries, divorces and then for reasons both hilarious and heartbreaking decide to give it another shot may enjoy some ephemeral happiness before all of the issues that broke them up in the first place start bubbling to the surface. But now we have a man, quite a man, who has gone straight for the exact genetic copy of his former wife. Gone for the exact genetic copy, mind you, while in jail for the murder of the first, which is no small stunt. Twins are nature’s mulligan, as it turns out, a mulligan on which Mr. Cingolani was wont to capitalize. Mr. Cingolani recognized a rather unique opportunity, since cloning is still a ways down the road and robots, well, as creepy as it is, it will be some time before they can move well enough to please and are still dumb enough not to kill you in your sleep. (As I’m considering this, the robot thing might be a subject for another alembic somewhere down the road. My mind is coursing through permutations at a rate too rapid for my quickly digressing subject.)

Back to Mr. Cingolani and his dead wife’s sister….wife. The only thing that would make this whole situation slightly less strange is if, instead of twins, the sisters were triplets and Mr. Cingolani, after murdering both the first and second sister, married the third sister and killed her too. But that’s still a little weird. What might pull it closer to a sensible state of affairs is if, instead of triplets, the birth of identical quadruplets resulted in all four sisters being brutally murdered by Mr. Cingolani, each one in turn marrying him after the other’s frenzied homicide. Normalcy is restored.

The Ford Motor Company apparently has a new car coming out that offers a luxurious “hot seat” option. It seems some of the marketing folk and Illustrators (in India, maybe) had sketched an in-office joke ad campaign in which buxom women are bound and gagged in the spacious trunks of their new line of automobiles to underscore the expansiveness of the compartment. This would be highly unsettling, to say the least, if it weren’t for the fact that a smirking Silvio Berlusconi can be seen sitting in the front of the car, peering over the seat, with a victory sign raised high in the air, and with a simple sketch of the Italian prime minister, it becomes high comedy. After all, Mr. Berlusconi is responsible for something called a “Bunga Bunga” party, which according to even the most polite and restrained descriptions, is a scat-filled hump fest that is a cross between Caligula and Satyricon, starring Pan the Goat, who gags and whips the young girls in attendance while anally injecting them with a bolus of crushed ecstasy and viagra suppositories every few hours until they beg for mercy or fall into a temporary coma, whichever comes first.

Now of course we don’t want to give anybody ideas, lest all the cars be bought by vicious psychopaths like the cannibal cop from Queens, or Josef Fritzl, or any roving mob that decides a gang rape would be a good way to pass the time between gang rapes.  In my novel “Wet Brain”, a kind of conceptual art story based on serial killers, the main bad guy, who drives a Fleetwood Brougham, brags that he can fit five bodies in his trunk. When asked why he would want to be able to do that, he says, “it’s nice to know a man has options.”


But with Mr. Berlusconi at the wheel, in light of his notorious activities, it seems at least like an appropriate point of humor. “I guess while we’re at it, let’s emphasize the fact that our trunks are spacious,” the illustrators reasoned. Imagine if the illustrators at Ford said, “okay, let’s be fair about this. Instead of just putting buxom cartoon women bound and gagged in the roomy trunks of a car piloted by Mr. Berlusconi, let’s just describe through limned illustration exactly what it would look like, in our commodious trunk space, based on actual accounts of Mr. Berlusconi’s “Bunga Bunga” parties.” It would probably make the graphic advertisement that was leaked to the public look like a Norman Rockwell scene of rosy-cheeked kids building a snowman with their grandparents. The real illustration based on real activities would be more like Rodin’s “The Gates of Hell”, combined with an illustrated version of “The Story of O”, added to a collage of movie stills from the filmography of porn legend Harry Reems, who has just died at the age of 65, which is four years before the age of irony. The hirsute porn legend, scourge of bathtub drains and Decency Activists everywhere, had a heart attack.  Fun fact, Reems was slated to play Coach Carlton in “Grease” until he found out that the title wasn’t referring to what he thought it was referring to, maybe.

What’s in a name? Does it dictate behavior? Is nominative determinism legitimate or is it like phrenology, kind of clever and bunko all at the same time? Of course Mr. Reems was not christened thusly, but take someone like Anthony Wiener, who is considering a New York mayoral run. You know what, forget it. I’ve lost interest in jabbing at the wrinkled undercarriage of this joke. I did once, honestly, while driving, see an election lawn sign for some minor council seat that made me swerve from laughter at the surname. The sign said, “Elect Tom Swindle.” Really? Swindle? I think it might’ve even been for treasurer, or something, but I may just be adding that because it seemed appropriate. “Sorry Tom, it was a close race, but you lost out to the incumbent, Fred Fuck-Us-Over-And-Steal-Our-Money-And-Use-It-For-His-Gambling-Habit-Richardson.”

Being possessed spiritually by an evil demon, incubus, succubus, lamia, banshee, or “soul-squatter” is no laughing matter and no person should ever try to make light of it. Ever. There are the skeptics that chalk these things up to psychotic breakdowns, prions or virinos, but I believe it is an actual metaphysical phenomenon and luckily I have found the video proof.  It is rare to get actual filmed evidence of so terrifying a spectacle, so if you decide to watch it do so at your own risk and brace yourself.  I shall post it here. Be patient. At one minute eighteen seconds, all hell will break loose.

Clearly a restless spirit from the underworld decides to hop into Mr. Jones’s body and fight for control. Luckily, Tom is from Wales. Now I’m not quite sure exactly what I mean by that, I just happen to believe that the mystic forces of Celtic lands can strengthen one against the merciless jacking of one’s own body from a spirit intent on doing harm. Tom puts up a fight. The man does not submit easily. The band, to their credit, just keep playing and hope for the best. It’s a stunning struggle, a pure fight between righteous and wicked and happily, by the end Tom Jones has cast out the demon. Which means that there is at least one, (probably more), out there lurking so be on guard. They like to live in the bottom bulbous portion of Cambridge yard glasses, I’ve found, and so consider yourself warned.

But back to Mr. Cingolani. The only thing that would make Victor Cingolani’s situation a little less strange is if he married the quadruplet sisters all at once, in a daring Argentinian polygamist ceremony and then on the dance floor during the wedding reception, in the middle of the hokey pokey, he begins to flail like Tom Jones in the “Treat Her Right” video, wielding a machete he had received as a gift from his cousin, and butchers all four brides at once. And that’s what it’s all about.

Open Letter to Jodi Arias from Johnny Americana

From March 20th, 2013

Note from the Blog Custodian: Since “paddytheduke”, the normal blog contributor, is away on some type of domestic intervention, he has given his full blessing for the ensuing post. Mr. Johnny Americana, a heartsick old friend of “paddytheduke’s,” has requested the use of this platform to state his intentions to a woman he has recently become enamored with. Mr. Americana, while pure of purpose and honorable of motive has always had the somewhat debilitating deficiency of being obsessed with image while paying no real attention to context. We fear further, that he is not alone, that it may be a common problem, somewhat generational. Mr. Americana’s letter is posted as a courtesy and we wish him the best of luck. Take it away, Mr. Americana. 

An open letter to Jodi Arias from Johnny Americana.

Dear Ms. Arias,

May I call you Jodi? I’ve been watching you on television these past few weeks and I have to say that you are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. I mean, ever. Usually when I see you it’s in a courtroom but I think I’ve also seen you at the Palisade Mall. Aren’t you the bartender at that place where all the women dress as bagpipers? I thought so. I see you’ve had some trouble recently. Usually when you aren’t at the bagpiper bar you’re in a courtroom. I got a drunk and disorderly once but I didn’t do it either. Is that what you are dealing with too? I can’t decide whether I like you better as a blonde, or a brunette, Jodi, Ms. Arias, or Jodi. I’m sorry I feel like I know you so well already. Some people tell me I put my heart on the line too easily and that when I do it’s easy for women to chop it to pieces. You wouldn’t do that, would you Jodi? I can tell a beautiful, honest, good soul when I see one. I have to admit I’m feeling a little jealous when I see you on television all the time because you are getting all this attention. There are probably tons of guys sending you letters and flowers and other gifts but I just wanted to confess what I’m feeling. A lot of people think it isn’t good to confess. They think you should just keep playing games and try to hide your true self so you don’t get hurt but I don’t believe in that and I can tell that you don’t either. I think we have a special connection. Our initials are the same, for starters. I see that you like photography, too. I love photography. I think my pictures are good but I’m always second-guessing myself. Have you ever taken a picture of something and wished you hadn’t? I guess we are our own worst critics. I hear you are a Mormon. I’m not at the moment but once I met this guy Warren and he told me all these great things about getting married when you are a Mormon. At least it was great if you are the man, he said, but to me it sounded like it would be great if you are the woman because you have some other women to talk to while your husband is off doing stuff you aren’t allowed to know about. I think his name was Warren. Maybe it was Jeff. It was either Warren or Jeff but he was a right hard baller with a stable of Amish women. At least I think they were Amish. He said that the cops were trying to fuck with him too but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

It just dawned on me that you might have boyfriend? Do you? Oh God please say you don’t. I would just die if you did. That would be embarrassing. Well, even if you do we could get to know each other on a friend level first. Then, eventually, I think you could love me the way you loved him, maybe even more. I see that you are in court again. Everyday I watch you on television while I’m working on my car. We have a television in the garage. The sound doesn’t work but we have a radio that plays classic rock so we don’t need the sound. My uncle likes you too. He says that good girls go to heaven and bad girls go everywhere. He says it’s his favorite bumper sticker, although he doesn’t have it on his truck, oddly enough. He’s got a pair of chrome bull testicles hanging from below the license plate, though. He collects antique daggers from World War II. I could show you them sometime when you get done with this whole court thing.  Do you have a favorite bumper sticker, Jodi? Jodi Girl? Jodi Baby? Do you like Bob Seger? Jodi Girl is my favorite Bob Seger song and when I hear it I think of you. I like you with glasses. But maybe blonde and glasses would be really sexy. I was watching you in court the other day and the caption on the television screen said something about An*l sex. I just couldn’t help but wonder what the star in between the ‘n’ and the ‘l’ stood for? I started substituting letters and most of them didn’t make any sense. One did, though, and if it is the right letter then I think we’ll get along re*lly, re*lly well. My uncle’s collection of antique knives is worth a lot of money. Do you like knives? I watched this black and white movie the other day but I got bored because it wasn’t in color. I only started watching it because the woman in the movie looked like you. It was called “The Parradine Case” or something and she was beautiful like you and she was in a courtroom. She had a boyfriend in the movie that looked a lot like me and I thought that was funny too. Do you believe in omens? How about fate? I’m going to pray tonight to Joseph Smith that you get done with this court thing soon. I don’t know anything about Joseph Smith but someone told me he freed the Mormons with a pair of x-ray glasses.

I saw something yesterday about your boyfriend. I guess he passed away. I’m sorry to hear that. Did he have cancer? My grandmother had cancer and she suffered for a year before she passed away. Hopefully your boyfriend didn’t suffer. Honest when I prayed for you I didn’t ask anything bad to happen to your boyfriend, so I hope you don’t think I’m somehow responsible. Are you working at the bagpiper bar this week? I’ve been thinking about stopping by but I’m too nervous. That’s why I figured I’d write you this letter. It’s easier to be honest about my feelings and honestly this is what I feel. Life is short and anything can happen. We could meet, fall in love, get married and then we could be sleeping in bed, nestled in each other’s arms and thugs could break in and kill us for no reason at all. What I’m saying is, the world is strange and unpredictable and people are jealous when they see people happy together. You don’t seem like the jealous type. I would do anything to protect you. If somebody broke into our house and tried to harm you I’d shoot them dead for you. Would you do the same for me? I know you probably don’t like guns but I’ve got a Makarov that’s real easy to use. My uncle gave it to me along with a Luftwaffe sword that could really turn somebody’s lights out if they were threatening you.

I feel like I’m babbling. This is what I’m reduced to. I hope you get done with your court stuff soon so maybe we can go out on a date. I know a real nice place that has all you can eat. I know you are probably meeting a lot of really important people right now, big time lawyers and doctors and stuff, but I’m waiting for this guy to call me about this job. I feel really good about it. It’s not so much a job as a business opportunity. I can work from anywhere. I’m going to be my own boss so we can live wherever you want. I’ll be watching and hoping that everything works out for you. Until then I remain ever faithful.

Johnny Americana.

P.S.  You are way better looking than Casey Anthony and she was released in no time. If you happen to run into her and she mentions that I wrote her a letter professing my love for her, she’s lying. Not that it would come up but if it does, don’t believe her. She’s lying. You know how I can prove she’s lying? Because she was found guilty of perjury. That means the bitch is lying.

The Old Man and the Marmite

From March 15th, 2013

The Weird Right In Front Of Me……Bloomberg’s Sadism…Beware the Marmites….What’s a Marmite….”

I was in a bar the other day when a deranged old man commented to me that he was so poor that he had to fart in his pockets to get a “(s)cent.” Everyone in earshot bristled, understandably. When an old man makes that kind of remark, you figure that he’s not so much saying it as doing it, and it isn’t so much of a joke as it is an advanced apology. I tried to tell him about the diaper ad on television I had been plagued with the week before but he wasn’t in the mood for listening. He was on a roll. He wanted gin, he said, because the botanicals kept his “yang loaded” and his eyesight blurry. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen a woman that didn’t look like she had melted. He didn’t care, though. He said he’d screw a rock pile on the off chance some hungry toothless snake was hiding in it. This admission crippled the bar in jittery disbelief. There are a good many people out there who are afraid of snakes,  “ophidiophobes” they call them, so much so that the mere mention of snakes gives them the howling creeps. Further, the mental image of an old man shakily hovering over a pile of stones in some kind of push-up position with his pants around his knees seemed just about the “rock” bottom of behavior. Our flatulent “ophidiophile” wasn’t through yet, though. Apparently he was just getting warmed up.

“An acute vagina…” he began, before being distracted by some invisible movement. He flinched, abruptly cut his comment off and started swatting the air around his head.

“A what?” I said.

“Not again.. these things are everywhere…” he mumbled, still swatting.

“You started to say…”

“Say what?”

“An acute?”


“You said something about acute? Like an angle?”

“Let me tell you this,” he said as he ceased trying to rid the air around his head of invisible gargoyles or whatever. “The angle of the dangle is inversely proportional to the heat of the meat and the size of the thighs…stink of the mink…role of the pole…” and he was now off on a terrifically sordid rhyme scheme that lasted a good forty-five seconds and had the relentless bouncing cadence of an entire Doctor Seuss book, of course if Doctor Seuss had penned a book of hardcore pornographic poetry.  His young handler had to race up to him and thrust some pills in his mouth before the whole thing came to a babbling end. We all chipped in what we could and got the old man a double well gin real cold. We spared him the olives, though, lest he fall apart completely and eat the toothpick like Sherwood Anderson, puncture his intestine and die of peritonitis in a feverish explosion of insults and crude jokes. He seemed to even out, after awhile and I wondered if it was all some ornate hoax. A drink scam perpetuated by an octogenarian with nothing left to lose and some indecision as to whether to make new friends in this world or visit his old friends in the one just around the corner. His next outburst was political.

“Give me the biggest fucking coca-cola you’ve got,” he suddenly cried. “I’m going to teach that bastard Mayor of New York a lesson.”

This was his response to the large soda ban that was scheduled to take effect in New York City. He was angry at the restriction of personal freedom. He used the popular term “Nanny State”, a phrase racing through the libertarian ranks faster than herpes along a Panama City stretch of beach during Spring Break.

I must admit I was a little confused by this one myself, particularly since New York City prides itself as the place where you can get just about anything, anywhere at anytime. They have couriers that will deliver an eight ball of cocaine right to your brownstone, with competitive incentives like, “If your snowball doesn’t arrive in time for the Snow Ball, we will snowball your next snowball into a bigger snowball.” Manhattanites get jittery at the thought of not having the whole world within reach, and so it is comforting in a city of eight quadrillion that a forty-ounce of malt liquor is just around the corner, if you need it. But now, if you have a yen for forty ounces of fizzy sugar you better have some toll money for the bridge, sucker. Of course, accessibility and legality can remain mutually exclusive. This is the other lynchpin of New York. It’s more fun to get it if it’s illegal. As easy as it is to procure, technically cocaine is still illegal. Wall Street is technically legitimate. A prostitute down in the village with her penis tucked between her legs is technically a woman. So it goes. I have complete faith in my old hometown. If anything, they are as resilient as they come.

Our gin drinking old man in the  bar was not satisfied with his gin and trough of coca-cola. The pills his young handler had given him were wearing off. He now wanted a pack of unfiltered reds. I turned to the television just in time to see Mayor Bloomberg announcing he was going after the tobacco industry. I considered Bloomberg’s crusades and wondered why he was even bothering? It seemed like a lot of rumpus for nothing. Then it became ever so clear when I saw Sarah Palin at the CPAC convention with that huge soda. Clever, very clever, Mr. Bloomberg. His use of reverse psychology was actually resulting in his adversaries drinking, smoking and eating themselves into oblivion, as evidenced in the old man at the bar trying to get his hands on everything that he was being told he couldn’t have.

Say that a bleached entrails burger with horse meat is gross and you have senators eating them in photo ops. Stymy tobacco and some governor will have ten cigarettes in his mouth, protesting the infringement of the freedom to develop more tar bubbles in his lungs than the bottom of the Gulf Coast. Snub your nose at tyranny and drink the biggest colas you can get your chubby hands on until you have a generation that is too fat to procreate. This is how billionaires amuse themselves, I guess. But Mr. Bloomberg, if we want to point this whole thing in the right direction, we might consider outlawing higher education, fellowship and goodwill.

I heard it on the radio the other morning, half asleep.

“There is a Marmite shortage,” said the broadcast. I shot right up. No. God no. This is bad news. Call the Sierra Club. This time the industrialists and the forest rapers have gone too far. Those cute miniature koala-ish, kangaroo-like marsupials with the prehensile feet and fluffy tails that keep the cicadas from decimating the vegetation are going extinct! Not on my watch! Marmites, as everyone knows, are necessary for sustainable…. It took me a minute to realize I had no idea what I was thinking about. I was creating a fictional animal.  As I searched my mind I realized I wasn’t too clear on what a ‘Marmite’ was. Actually I had no idea.


I had a picture in my head of some form of adorable koala, ewok, “mogwai” style animal. Even though, like the major news channels, I hate the type of facts that usually ruin all my fun, I decided to do a little research.

Marmite. Man, was I off.

Marmite, it turns out, is a processed brown slime that is all the rage in New Zealand. People eat it on bread or off their girlfriend’s nipples or just right out of the bottle. It’s that good, is what I’m saying. I wondered how it was made? Apparently you take a processed brown slime and put it in a bottle. There you have it. Marmite. It is equivalent to Australia’s “Vegemite”, which means I finally understood the line in that Men At Work song. That only took 30 years.  My imagination had to then lay to rest the cuddly, adorable creature I had mentally put together and wanted to adopt immediately. I held a small ceremony for my fictional pet, which consisted of brewing a pot of coffee and putting cream cheese on a bagel. I figured if I was going to do something ceremoniously it might as well be something I was going to do anyway.

Later on that day I was in my favorite bar, a warm little cavern known as the “Righteous Room”, and that was when the old man came in talking about farting in his pockets and screwing big piles of rocks while I considered my “Marmite”, with mental images of Yosemite Sam cursing the creature as he searched, in a rage, a bunch of cartoon holes in the ground of the celluloid. I hold fast to my oft said notion that a bar is the keeper of the last vestiges of modern mythos and legend in these modern times. It is where I can escape to when I want to hear about the Marmites, “Ophidiophiles”, the 500 pound woman, the 300 year-old man and their lovechild, the duck-billed feather Marmite.

In the midst of the chaos I spoke to one of the regulars, a wise old sage sitting at the bar. I wanted to test my theory on him by saying something ridiculous and gauging the reaction.

“Why do you look so glum?” he said.

“I’ve been searching for my marmite,” I said. “I heard Yosemite Sam was back in town and suddenly my marmite is gone. I’m nervous, to say the least.”

“Let’s hope he comes in here,” he said seriously. “The day I’m afraid of a pistol-packing midget with a red beard is the day I surrender my testicles. We’ll shake it out of him. We’ll find your marmite.”

I immediately re-created the scene from Barbet Schroeder’s “Barfly”.

After everything had settled, something occurred to me. It was something the wise old sage had said about surrendering his testicles. It prompted a question.

“Who would you surrender your testicles to, on the off chance you were going to go through with it?”

“Shit, I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I’ll put them on e-bay. Someone will buy them. I’ll say they are Elvis Presley’s, or Justin Bieber’s.”

I left the man to his fraudulent investment schemes. There’s about seven and a half suckers born every minute in the U.S. alone, so he had a good chance to cash in.

At the end of the evening, on my way home, I bought two quarter-pounders of bleached horse meat from the nearest fast food joint. Then I went home and mixed thirty-two ounces of coca-cola with about four fingers of Fernet Branca. I smoked a cigar and I reminded myself to be on the lookout for the man who farts in his pockets. Be on the lookout for “Marmites” and Yosemite Sam. Be on the lookout for e-bay testicles of questionable authenticity. I smoked, drank and read Boethius’s “The Consolation of Philosophy” late into the night, until the merry peal of my neighbor’s house party called me to deeper matters of the soul.

More distillations soon.

Putting The Dead On Trial. (Not the Grateful Dead. The Really Dead.)

From March 11th, 2013

Will the defendant please rise (from the dead)…My friend, the psychic…Repetition and Incontinence….Repetition and Incontinence….”

If you think you can escape the Russian justice system once you are dead, well you may want to reconsider your assumptions. This week Sergei Magnitsky, a former Russian lawyer, a formerly living former Russian lawyer and auditor went on trial to face charges of corruption in Moscow. Tricky thing about it is poor Sergei has been dead since 2009, which may explain the sizable delivery of pine tree air fresheners to the Moscow courthouse. When it comes down to it, nobody wants to be exhumed. It is, after all, undignified. But to be pulled out of the eternal slumber for a court appearance must be just about as low as it goes, although at least you’re already dressed for the occasion. There is no doubt the defendant may go down in history as one of the most well-behaved in Russia’s justice system, but even so, something is rotten a few hundred miles east of Denmark. What seems to amount to a serious smear tactic to the Magnitsky name by the Russian government has actually posthumously made the man a symbol of heroism in a system of corruption so severe that factory workers apparently have to bribe their punch clock to record the correct time.

As much as I can piece together Mr. Magnitsky was hired by a corporation to disentangle a tax issue and found that the reason the corporation’s taxes couldn’t be found was because some low level government types had simply kept the payments for themselves. To be fair it had been cold that year, in Russia, and what with the heating bills and the new Marussia B-2 sports car that had recently premiered, well, it’s almost understandable. A combination of sleek engineering, speed, luxury and top of the line suspension, it is the elite Russian roadster. Power, Style, Sophistication. Marussia!

Magnitsky reported the theft to the authorities, or in other words, the thieves’ friends and coincidentally wound up in jail. That, apparently, is a pretty big no-no. Big no-no. Actually we’ll tack an extra ‘no’ to that. No-no-no. Magnitsky died in jail of…the official government report is…he died of “guilt and shame,” and, three years later, now that he finally has his day in court, maybe the truth will come out. But then again, probably not.

Life’s too valuable and short to wind up in some gulag shoveling the warden’s driveway with a soup spoon simply because you were doing what you were supposed to be doing. (I don’t know the Russian word for warden. It’s probably something like ‘Drago’. That sounds good. Drago it is.)  If you are smart enough to figure out a complicated tax fraud scheme but fall short when it comes to realizing that the criminals are in charge of the law, well, that’s when a non-violent tax attorney gets hit with a variety of vindictive charges and ends up being run down in the snow by a Drago’s 200 pound Caucasian Mountain Shepherd.

I guess when a government is openly referred to as a ‘kleptocracy’ you know there are some thieving bastards in charge. (Not my word, if any Russian government officials happen to be reading this.) Even western ‘plutocrats’ stateside breathe a sigh of relief at not being labeled ‘a system of government by which people just grab the shit that isn’t nailed down’. At least  plutocrats have the decency to bribe the lawmakers to legalize the theft before they start filling their pockets.  Let’s hope Mr. Magnitsky is found not guilty. I’m not superstitious but if any restless ghost was going to return from the dead to lay waste to everything in its wake, Mr. Magnitsky would be the leading candidate.  Requiescat In Pace.

I value my seclusion. But every once in awhile staring at walls and reading abstruse Viennese postmodernism gets a little boring. So I was happy when an old friend of mine stopped by unannounced. He told me that he had recently got a new job.

“I’m a psychic,” he said.

“Whoa, how many people have you killed?”

“Not a psychotic. A psychic.”


I asked him about my immediate future and he commented that it seemed a bit murky, so I pulled out a bottle of Tullamore Dew and poured up two glasses. He apologized, saying he was still new at the gig but the murk he had seen in my future did look a little like Irish whiskey, now that he thought about it. He’s got a bit of a “lonely wanderer” style to him, my friend, and while he would be a fine character straight out of Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road”, I suppose hanging out and answering the phone to predict people’s futures is just as reasonable. Particularly, as he explained, that he just lets the calls come to him. No travel necessary. I wondered whether he had been given this psychic gift through some mishap, like getting struck by lightning or drinking water near a fracking well. He elaborated that it was more like being a therapist that every once in awhile throws in something about star alignment or mentions a particular card in a tarot deck and voila, you’ve got your prescience.

“Most of the stuff is pretty standard,” he said. “Like if someone says they found an apple that day, and then found two more the following day and were promised three more by the  end of the week…”

“You just tell him or her that they’ll probably have six apples soon, but to be mindful of the six apples because Regulus is in retrograde?” I said.

I’m a natural.

I was in a bar the other day waiting for Godot to show up (he never did) but it didn’t matter because there were upwards of fifty televisions mounted everywhere and so who cares if some God-like providential figure fails to arrive. Screw him. Instead I was bombarded by news. Lots of news. The same news. Over and over and over. With that type of repetition either the media outlets are trying to capture the valuable goldfish demographic or just cater to people who watch television as they are strolling past one.

My goldfish theory began to gain credibility as there was suddenly a commercial for the Georgia Aquarium, but this was overshadowed by the next commercial. Some semi-old woman was dancing because she had a diaper that didn’t leak. Except they didn’t call it a diaper. It was called something else. Maybe it wasn’t a dance. The movements were hard to describe. Capering? A gambol, of sorts. A lively jump-about? Whatever it was, she was moving, shaking her rump back and forth, showing off her old woman pee-pee catchers. Although they weren’t called that. They were called something else. Incontinence is an onerous thing. I’m glad there are products to effectively combat it. I may need some myself someday. But the commercial ran twenty or so times in an hour. After awhile I felt that the main event was a woman tempting her bladder to unleash, interspersed by three bits of news. It was the repetition that was shocking, and then the shock was my own acceptance of this woman dancing across the television screen every five minutes or so, with a look of elation either because she was dancing or filling her draws with urine in a consequence-free situation because of these hermetic, super-absorbent wee-wee pads. Although they weren’t called wee-wee pads. They were called something else.

Back to the actual news channels. The 24-hour kind. These people are exhausting. Repetition is a necessary condition for any indoctrination, and to have the same story on every fifteen minutes is no longer news, it’s a form of manipulation. Ask anyone from Jim Jones’s PeoplesTown about repetition. Well, you probably can’t because they all drank cyanide and died. That alone proves the point. Jim Jones put the fear of God in his followers through his 24/7 pre-taped public address broadcasts and the result is 900 people laying in a big pile with blue lips and glazed eyes. Too much spinning in place causes the brain to shut off, the mouth to drool, the tongue to cluck and people to start scratching the ground in a rasorial fashion, like chickens looking for food. I may have to start an on-line petition for these news channels to go squid-ink black for a week, just to see if anyone is the worse for it. Of course, normal program interruption for a serious issue may still occur, but the constant chirp of unruly human parrots would be, albeit temporarily, silenced. I fear my request for no 24-hour televised media will go unheeded, though. Too much money to be made. So for now, the next time I am stuck at a bar with some polished puppet ranting at me I will just pretend the ‘newsperson’ is speaking in the same gross dialect as that talking stain from that Tide Stain Remover Superbowl ad from about five years ago. I have included the link, because it is that funny.

Cannibal Fetishists, Spiritual Recruitment and Innovative Consequences of Immorality

From March 5th, 2013

“To serve (on a platter) and protect (with freshness dating)… The devil is a sinkhole… Religious Trites: Or the completely unimaginative literary culture of zealots.” 

One cop’s idea of not letting good people go bad is to eat them before they sour. Gilberto Valle, a New York Cop (Queens, Staten Island, thereabouts) is on the spit for some type of conspiracy to consume. In e-mails obtained police found extensive correspondence between Mr. Valle and other fetishists (who exist, apparently) who discussed roasting a woman alive and eating her. The case against him seems stringy, like veal, although the District Attorney probably felt compelled to prosecute based alone on Valle’s insistence of an exact internal temperature for the woman, because eating undercooked food is dangerous and irresponsible and can lead to intestinal parasites and other health dangers. 160 degrees Fahrenheit, said Mr. Valle. You’re going to jail, said the District Attorney.  “It’s America pal, you can be as weird as you want, but obsessing over the ideal temperature for a baked human is crossing the line.” Or is it? In a society of capitalism and free enterprise there is a market for just about everything. In the day trade of subversive fantasy the only real sin is lack of imagination and the ability to not turn a buck. Self-made millionaires tend to be forgiven most things and cannibal fantasy is probably no exception, had somebody been resourceful enough to make money off it. I was reading in a fairly recent National Geographic about a well-respected cannibal from some isolated Amazonian tribe who had commented stoically that he had eaten a man and a woman and with an indolent shrug said, “tastes about the same.” Some could say this naked sage had gone some way to neutralizing the gender war but there is something more profound rumbling through the innards of this seemingly basic statement. “Some rituals are too old to change and don’t mess with me about minor details,” the cannibal may insist. To interpret that in civilized terms it may mean some fantasies are too nebulous for prosecution, especially when based on minor details. If Mr. Valle is held accountable for imaginary cannibalism what is next? If a man asks a woman to play dead during sex can he be jailed as a necrophile? If he flips her onto all fours and gets behind her are they now guilty of bestiality? Years ago, at a trendy bar in midtown Atlanta, I had the odd pleasure of chatting with some ‘Furries’, a subsection of the whole comic book/science fiction convention whose adherents dress as standard woodland mammals (cat, rabbit, tiger, marmot) and end up enjoying each others’ passions while costumed. One bunny in particular (no chauvinism here, she was dressed like a bunny) held my attention at the bar for a good long while. Our conversation never steered into the steamy crock pot of marmot on marmot love, but I felt an odd respect for such brave role-playing. Instead we spoke in turn about the self-indulgent shift of filmmaking between Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” but the undercurrent of our differences was always there. After all, I was dressed in a shirt and pants and my interlocutor was dressed as a bunny, complete with puffy tail. And she was right. Kubrick’s eccentricity may have disenfranchised the mainstream moviegoer but it also gave rise to the seventies boom of independent and adventurous filmmaking. And, if it feels good do it, was her main point. It was a strange interaction. After awhile I began to see Kubrick as an obstinate bear, and the bar waitress as a siamese cat, and the young man dressed as a fox, well, as a fox, and the overweight woman with vitiligo at the table across from me as a sleepy cow out to pasture.

Imagination is probably one of the main things that separates us from the lower animals, and the use of it is why more people don’t go completely insane given how bland the typical contemporary landscape is. We can put ourselves anywhere mentally, and if mentally feasting on Homo Sapien is the thing that makes everything else in life dovetail, well that might have to be the way things go. Weird as he is, Gilberto Valle, will probably end up a free man until they find a ‘Furry’ in his basement cauldron being made into “Hasenpfeffer!” or rabbit stew, which, given how knowledgeable they are about art and cinema, hopefully never happens.

Speaking of imagination, I was forced to consider my moral and ethical thermometer the other day when, lounging as I was at the train station waiting for a friend to arrive, I was given not one but two religious tracts within ten minutes of each other by two separate zealots of different religious affiliation. At first I checked the top of my head to see if I had covered my horns, knowing that on occasion I have suffered the embarrassment of accidentally exposing them, usually when drinking. Tucked away as they were I could see no other reason why I was singled out, other than I was alone and looked quiet and harmless. The first one was the more standard issue type religious tract. It started out with John 3:16 from the bible. Mercy, I said to myself, already annoyed, here we go again. Starting a religious pamphlet with John 3:16 is like starting a fable with “Once upon a time…” or a mystery thriller with “The night was dark and stormy.”

Yeah, i got it.  The whole missive was about three pages long in all and it never really took off. With anything you’ve got to have a strong opening and while it’s a nice sentiment, you can’t start out with the most trite aphorism in all of Christianity and expect to be taken seriously. It’s like walking up to somebody of Italian descent and greeting him with “Yo, Adrienne” and expecting him to warm up to you immediately. “It’s like you really know me, friend,” you think he would reply. You’d be wrong, though, for this is not the way of things. In a culture bombarded with recycled story lines the margin for originality is becoming ever slimmer.

Which brings me to the second religious pamphlet given to me by an entirely different pedestrian not ten minutes later. Actually, it wasn’t really a pamphlet but a single sheet of letter paper describing the man’s ordeal with his bad heart, clogged arteries, triple bypass and belief in the Lord. I immediately gravitated to this man’s plight. Although of poorer published quality, I was more amenable to his method of recruitment. But in my usual attitude of thorn-in-argument I was quick to point out that if a being is all powerful and thus responsible for all things, the overseer of the universe had actually given him the junk food, the clogged arteries, the ischemia, and most likely the six-figure medical bill that three successive generations of his family would have no way of paying even if they wanted to. Praise be unto Him, provider of saturated fats and stents, cholesterol and angioplasty. At that point the man wasn’t listening to me. There was a new Krystal Burger (White Castle of the South) across the street and they were giving away free fried sticks of formerly-living-things while supplies lasted. The man with the heart condition dashed toward the line that was out the door and queued up immediately, leaving me to my thoughts.

And my thoughts were this. An acquaintance of an acquaintance had gone to a tent revival recently. I was surprised, having no idea that these things still went on, but not too surprised because, well, all you need is a tent. It’s not like we lack the technology. The acquaintance said that he had gone for the barbecue and fruit punch, and that he had run into some unscrupulous Fire and Brimstoners. I told him I thought the word “Brimstoner” had a lot of potential. He said they were trying to capitalize on a mystifying and dreadful sinkhole in Seffner, Florida that was so localized that, in a houseful of people it singled out one poor man, swallowing him whole in his bedroom, sucking him down and burying him in fifty feet of brittle silt and limestone. The “Brimstoners” insisted that if this didn’t prove the existence of the devil and how close he can get, then the average fellow is a lost cause.

I was impressed. In a perfectly ancient world, before science ruined the heaven above/hell below dichotomy, this would’ve been by far the most effective recruitment tool for serious snake-handler types, and there are some less than honest ones out there, believe it or not. “The devil has built an expressway to hell and it sits right under your bedroom where you fornicate and listen to rock and roll music, and it will pull you down, down, down,” they would say. Most morally ambiguous sinkhole victims have probably been fornicators at one time or another, like most of us, and so you can bet that membership in soul-saving organizations would soar. Maybe that’s why central Florida is so devout? All the sinkholes. What better example of the devil’s pull than to have a whole house suddenly disappear into the ground where an eternity of abuse awaits. I think I’m convinced. The sinkhole argument has gone far and away past the two feeble religious pamphlets I received in changing my behavior. For now, when faced with the decision of quietly turning into bed or going out to a bar and getting good and liquored up, It’s the second choice for me all the way. Who knows what could happen in the quiet solace of one’s own living space?

More distillations to come.