The Hitler Kettle, The Mussolini Microwave, The Pol Pot, et al…

I’m a little despot short und stout…”


Foregoing the obvious jokes about being in hot water or brewing up controversy or steaming the public, (I just made them all, didn’t I?) J.C. Penney’s new advertisement for a designer teapot that some say bears a striking resemblance to Adolph Hitler has really shamed the store into a lesson about cultural sensitivity by selling out every single kettle in stock. They’re sold out. All of them. Moral of the story boys and girls… success lies in creating a product that offends one subsection of the populace while appealing to another, if only by offending the original subsection. That’s how you sell a lot of stuff and make a lot of money, so get cracking. As you unwind in your infinity pool and drink Veuve Cliquot directly from the bottle as the floating waiter bobs past you, you’ll be glad you did it.

Even on E-Bay “Mein Kettle” is running for at least a hundred bucks. One seller was advertising it with a bonus copy of Mein Kampf, a corncob pipe once owned by George Lincoln Rockwell and a beer coaster with the teeth marks of Fritz Kuhn embedded in it from when the German-American Bund Leader would get shit-faced and try to eat everything in sight.

Beware fascism, in all its guises and manifestations. One day you are harmlessly making a cup of tea for your ladies’ garden club during a stimulating talk about hydrangeas, and the next day you’re stuffed in some ramshackle church of National Socialism deep in the Sawtooth Mountains listening to tapes of The Turner Diaries after a day of paramilitary exercises. You’ll be replacing The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook with The Anarchist Cookbook, and instead of Berry Gordy’s son Rockwell singing his sweet 80’s R&B hit “Somebody’s Watching Me,” you’ll be crooning to the likes of the George Lincoln Rockwell production of Odis Cochran and the 3 Bigots. Propriety prevents me from listing Mr. Odis Cochran’s two meager song titles in The Alembic, but there is a common word in both, you can be sure, and it rhymes with rigor.

Some may claim that the Hitler-inspired teapot is a subtle, insidious, subconscious attack on our neat and tidy democracy, a way to sneakily embed totalitarianism into the thoughtless undercurrent of shapeable behavior. Except I’ve been interacting with people for decades now and they don’t seem to be quite aware of what’s plainly in front of their faces, by and large, much less a vague and ambiguous, stainless steel kitchen appliance subject to arbitrary and frivolous image associations. I have a hard time with conspiracy theories, or the rich idea that we only respond to vague shapes and shadows of the unconscious truths heaped upon us by whatever secret organization rules the world, and as such, I wasn’t sure what all the hullabaloo was about.

I myself have been studying the notorious tea kettle carefully for a few weeks now, in pictures, and the only discernible consequence is that I’ve been drinking way too much tea. I don’t think the kettle is a subconscious call to tyranny. In fact, I’m more convinced the tea kettle looks like the wholesome boy scout taking the oath for God and Country, to “help other people at all times, and to keep physically strong, mentally awake and morally un-gay, I mean straight. Straight. I said straight.”

Michael Graves kettleboy_scout_with_oath

Hmm. In light of the recent controversy, the Boy Scout oath may have to be modified a tiny bit, now that I’m reading into everything for buried significance. Morally upright? Morally scrupulous? Morally moral?

Man, I don’t know why but I’m craving a cup of tea.

If the soi-disant Hitler kettle, apart from its indeterminate posture of a Nazi salute (most kettles hold this position) actually had strange behavioral quirks, like only accepting Fachingen wasser, rejecting fluoridated water, refusing to relinquish its contents when my Jewish friends stop by for tea, somehow being able to enunciate a falsetto “Zeeeiiigggg Heeeiiiiiiiilllllll” when it arrived at a boil, or shooting itself in the head when my Russian friends are knocking at the door, then I may be forced to reevaluate my notions, but for now, I’m thinking it’s just a harmless tea kettle. I’m really craving some tea.

I tend to obsess. It’s not one of my finer qualities, but as a person who practices the absurdity known as writing more often than not, well, it helps get the job done. I felt a burgeoning annoyance with myself for thinking that I needed a face-to-face meeting with the Hitler/Boy Scout tea kettle. I might get a different, more inherent sense of the thing by being in its presence, by experiencing it as a matter of bracketed intentionality, to quote that maniac, Edmund Husserl, who, fifty years after his death, had almost caused me to fail my History of Western Thought course in college. The man was so hard to comprehend that I could only read him on the first floor of a building because when I finally got fed up and threw myself out the window in frustration and disgust I only fell about three feet.

Old Man Husserl, as I liked to call him, had some crazy idea about suspending inference in order to “reduce” the experience of something until you had reached its natural essence. I figured, screw it, what better time than to try this out right about now, in the new century, with a tea kettle.

Knowing that J.C. Penney was sold out of them, I ended up moseying down to the local Crap-O-Rama Mart (Buy, Sell, Trade) to see if by chance, one of these things happened to be floating around the back storeroom. I had a man on the inside, a man I had done some work with years before, let’s call him “Javy”, and I knew he was a man who could get his hands on things of relative value. He was like a mexican Leland Gaunt from the “Needful Things” novel.

I immediately got on line at one of the cashier stations to have “Javy” paged. My time was too valuable to wander aimlessly through the wasteland of domestic machinery scattered throughout the place. This required a little patience, though, as a strident sap-head standing in front of me was trying to wear the cashier down into giving him some kind of strange discount, based on the fact that he was a “stand-up guy” with money to spend.

(Sap-head, to wit:) 

“I am a customer, Nadia (reading off her name tag), out in the world, ready to spend money on a worthy enterprise. I’m ready to buy, you see. I’m prepared to trade my valuable, very valuable currency for the goods and services you provide, in particular this machine in a box I have here, ready for purchase. I must tell you that I have seen this machine in a box, though, in other places for less money, and so I’m giving you, Nadia, approximately thirty seconds to convince me that I should buy this machine in a box from your store. You must assure me that your business is worthy of my cash, which, after all is just a paper representation of all my labor, industry and hard work. In short, Nadia, is that Spanish?, Nadia?, you must discount the price of this machine in a box to equal the price listed on this generic coupon I have here in my wallet–pay no attention to the ringed indentation of the prophylactic, it’s an antique–or I will be taking my hard earned, valuable currency– we’re in a recession, after all–to another store and I will be handing this money to someone else and not you, Nadia, unless you give me a thorough argument about why I should be spending said money here. I’ll begin timing your thirty second plea for my patronage upon your first word…”

“Next,” said Nadia as she rolled her eyes. The man scrutinized his watch for a few seconds before realizing that she was done.

“This is the problem with today’s society,” huffed the man as he stormed out, leaving his machine in a box on the conveyor.

I had witnessed the whole spectacle with the enthused satisfaction a middle school teacher gets upon reading his morning newspaper and seeing that one of his problem students from years before has recently been arrested for vagrancy and public sodomy while carrying hundreds of loose pills of unprescribed medication in the pockets of his dirty jeans. I asked Nadia to find “Javy” for me. Three and a half minutes later I was standing out in the back alley holding the notorious tea kettle in my hands.

“I’d be careful if I were you, boss,” said Javy, with a worried frown. “That thing there has been doing strange stuff to people. Most customers return it within three days. The ones that don’t, well, we never hear from again.”

“Don’t worry about it, Javy,” I said. “Everybody’s wrong about this thing. It’s actually the young, strapping, Boy Scout Freedom kettle. I’ll show you the picture next time around. By the way, can you throw in some tea? I’ve got a craving.”

With my new Hitler/Boy Scout kettle and about twenty boxes of random teas from all the ends of the earth I drove home to run a full diagnostic. I would find out if this kettle represented fascism or liberty. Once inside the house I filled the kettle with water and turned the stove to scald. Then I put on “The Changeling,” by The Doors and waited for the boil. I sat on the counter, studying the kettle for any signs of evil. After about ten minutes I remembered the old saying about a watched pot refusing to boil and so I busied myself with some leftover crumb cake I had been guilted into buying from a bake sale up the block. The little old lady who had been peddling the dessert reminded me of one of the sisters from “Arsenic and Old Lace” and so I expected to eat a bit and die, blue-faced right then and there. Much to my surprise I survived the ordeal and the crumb cake was quite good and so I decided to microwave the last chunk and enjoy it with my tea. I don’t clean the microwave as often as I should. It is definitely a little more smudgy than it needs to be.


So after nuking the crumb cake for about thirty seconds I went to retrieve it and saw something in the corner of the glass. Can’t be. I looked closer. What I took for some type of greasy neglect was looking eerily like… nah…Mussolini?


Criminy! I exclaimed. I opened the door and glanced inside the microwave. Nothing but cake. I shut the door and took a good look at the glass.


I’m just seeing things. Too much stress, at work, or something. I stood there in contemplation of my own senses when the kettle started to whistle. I set about steeping some gunpowder green tea then took out another mug and steeped some silver needle, undecided as to which I would prefer. So taken was I with the process of pouring the water from the kettle that it took me a minute to realize my stereo had gone to playing, inexplicably, “The Ride of the Valkyries.” I went and put The Doors back on then went back into the kitchen, where I immediately began steeping a cup of coconut rooibos tea. I now had three cups going and it still wasn’t enough. I put a forth cup out, threw in some loose yerba mate and filled the mug with water. Then my eyes went to the stove and that is when I saw…the pot.


I put Der Fuehrer kettle down and approached slowly, something telling me to back away, to flee, to run for my life. I leaned in and carefully peered over the rim.


A loud rapping at the front door sent my nerves into a swivet. It was Valerie, my neighbor. She wanted to shoot pool. I grabbed her and marched her into the kitchen and forced her to look into the pot on the stove.

“What?” she said.

“You don’t see that?”

“It’s just the remnants of some soup.”

“There is a genocidal maniac in my pot.”

“You’re seeing things.”

“You don’t see the mad leader of the Khmer Rouge in the bottom of this pot?”

“Mark,” she said, “you need to get some fresh air. Go call one of your shiny, happy women and find a nature trail, hike up into the friggin mountains, do something. All this solitude is no good.”

“There’s a crazed Cambodian in my pot!”

“I’ll come back later,” she said. “Take my advice.”

She left quickly. I paced around the house, gnawing at my lip. “The Ride of the Valkyries” was playing again. I let it play on. All I could think about was tea. I put out another ceramic mug and threw in some oolong. The Nazi kettle seemed to have an endless supply of water, seemed grossly satisfied with my tea obsession, seemed to be orchestrating some grand scheme. My counter was littered with tea cups. This wouldn’t do. I went to the bathroom and splashed some water on my face.


Although it may be difficult to make out, the print on this my most favorite of tee-shirts is just one of a harmless, rabid, easy-going, frantic with the full expanse of hell, skull and crossbones with a savage mohawk and it is the most comfortable shirt ever invented and he is my friend. At least I thought he was. I pulled the fabric up to my face…


… My eyes locked on the gaze of the anti-American, pro-communist revolutionary Ernesto Guevara, hiding in the recesses of my shirt. I ran through the house in a panic. I went through the living room, the den, the hallway, the kitchen (steeped a cup of earl gray) and raced into the dining room.  That’s when I noticed my favorite hat on my dining room table. The thing was, I didn’t remember leaving it there.


I moved slowly toward it, picked it up, ran my hand through the inner lining. Something bit my hand.

“Not you too, favorite hat,” I cried, seeing General Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator staring back at me from the hat’s interior lining.


“You teenk you safe but I get you soon-Ah. I get you lay-Tah. But don’t teenk I don’t get you,” he seemed to be saying.

My investigation of Husserl’s practice of reduction was sending me into madness.  I began to understand that Rockwell song, “Somebody’s Watching Me.” He may very well have been on to something. I went back into the kitchen, began steeping a mug of English breakfast tea that I had to put on the washer because there was no more room on the counter. Then, just for the shit of it I grabbed a bag of green sencha tea, put it in my mouth and started chewing on it. “The Ride of the Valkyries” was on full blast. Leni Riefenstahl appeared on my television. Rudolf Hess parachuted into my backyard. I grabbed the tea kettle and ran outside with it just as the local scrap metal collector was bouncing his caged jalopy along the block like the Joad family on their way to California. I waved him down and handed him the tea kettle.

“Just take it,” I said. He surveyed it, pulled out a heavy mallet and began pounding it down into a flat disc. When he had successfully crushed it he assured me it was finally worth something. He threw it into the cab of his truck and drove off. I went back inside my house. There was a peacefulness in the air, and I knew I was going to be alright.

I threw out all the tea I had made. Then I put on “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” by Herbie Mann and drank an Iron City. Then I went and got my statue of Kim Jong Un.

Lucky Cat

“At least you understand me, Un,” I said. “Let’s just hang out together and watch basketball. I’ve got some Dennis Rodman highlights.”

The lesson of the day was not to be so cavalier. There were dark forces at work, parasitic energies that ate away at the benevolent indifference of the universe. Even though I had gotten rid of the kettle I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being monitored, watched, judged, like Winston Smith in Oceania. Something or someone was taking an interest. Play us out, Rockwell.



From June 15th, 2013

The fallacy of Zumba in frigid, rural latitudes…The reality of Zumba in hot, sweaty latitudes… Zumba in the hips…Zumba in the mind…Zumba in the heart of darkness…Zumba, Zumba, Zumba and more Zumba. 

“There are two kinds of people in the world…”

Caution! When encountering this setup, the listener may very well brace for the self-satisfied laziness of the speaker’s grand, ill-conceived, binary categorization. The speaker’s tone may suggest that they are about to lay some crazy truth down, and you, listener, would do well to pay heed to this sweeping distillation of all the monstrous complexities of life before a lack of understanding it destroyed you. This bright beam of duality will sunshine through the fog of chaos for your own sake. You may say, please, tell me, please, wise one, I can’t wait a moment longer. Then you hear something like, “The world is divided into people who put ketchup directly on their french fries and people who put it on the side.” “People who drive on the highway and people who take the back roads.” “Men and women.”

Disappointment is only possible with expectation, and so some would say it is your own fault. There is something appealing about binary classification, though. The antithetical tug that makes life understandable, makes life easy, makes life expeditious, even if it is a fat pile of oversimplified shit.  That being said, here I go.

“There are two kinds of people in the world. There are people who Zumba and people who don’t.”

Upon further consideration of this statement, I’m finding it actually stands up to its putative absurdity. What I’m saying is, you can’t half-Zumba. You’re either in or you’re out, brothers and sisters.

Then again, maybe not.

It pains me to read about the woman from the state of Maine, Alexis Wright, who has pleaded guilty to running a brothel out of her Zumba studio. I am pained, not because she was running a one-woman house of prostitution, (she’s obviously ambitious and apparently a very meticulous bookkeeper), but she has committed that most atrocious of crimes… Zumba-fraud. Okay, so there are three kinds of people; people who Zumba, people who don’t, and people who use the guise of Zumba to get down to that more primitive of workouts, the Zumba precursor, the naked, prelapsarian Zumba. (I’ve been trying to use the word ‘prelapsarian’ for weeks now. I am relieved.)

Also, Zumba and Maine. Those two words just don’t go together. I’m a bit of a word addict, and somewhat sensitive to the chemical combination different words tend to result in. Maine. Zumba. It falls apart. Now, if Ms. Wright was fraudulently running a camp for survivalist exercises, a gun range, hunting expeditions, tutorials on backpacking or fly fishing, she’d probably still be humping half the town with impunity, and making a comfortable living in the process. She could have ostensibly taught lessons in the “Theremin,” which is that strange, radio-frequency based instrument that you wave your hands over to make that eerie warbling noise found in every old science-fiction movie. But Zumba? Zumba is reserved for hotter climates, practiced among the tanned and toned. They have spiced blood coursing through their elastic arteries, more hair than they know what to do with on top of their head, they are finely waxed everywhere else, and have the ability to do that roll-of-the-tongue catcall thing while dancing. You need timbales, conga drums, brassy horn sections, castanets, maybe a fucking guiro or something, but what you don’t need is a snowy expansive wilderness, a log cabin and a dog-eared copy of White Fang.

(Rant continued…) And, If you’re a stark white, paunchy, balding district attorney from Maine, a frail professor from Maine, or a rhythmless farmer from Maine and you tell your wife you are going to a Zumba class that is nothing more than a front for a prostitute, you should expect your checker-aproned spouse to call you an out-of-shape liar as your poorly crafted fiction comes apart like fresh baked apple pie before it has a chance to cool on the windowsill. Furthermore, if, over the course of these ‘classes’ the husband has insisted on taking there is little to no weight loss, little to no toning or firming, he still drags ass all the time, smoking and beering it up at will and still exhibits gross displays of sloth like falling asleep while eating, he’s going to get caught and he shouldn’t be surprised when he does.

Take this British fellow right here.

Five fingers of beer, please?

Although I’ve never met him I feel very confident that this man, this wonder of modern evolution, (he’s got six fingers) ,does NOT Zumba. So his wife would do well to be suspicious if one day she hears….

“Awwwright, mum, just poppin’ off to me Zooomba class.”

She may respond with…

“For fook’s sake, ya old bugger, yar in noo shep fer that.”

He may have to come clean with…

“Awwright, mum, ye got me. I’ve just been savin’ me coppers fer some ow’s-yer-jumblies.”

By the way, for those who don’t know, this is a still shot from the movie, “Get Carter” with Michael Caine, 1971. Shot on location in Newcastle, England, this guy has five fingers, not including the thumb. I plan on traveling to Newcastle soon. I’m sure that, although this footage was taken in 1971, that the man in the picture is still as young and healthy as he appears the day it was taken, and I plan on buying him a beer and having “a chat” about the evolution of the modern drinker. Someday I too may have an extra finger, and watch out world, because when that happens, I will have arrived.

Back to Zumba.

I’ve been obsessed with Zumba for a few months now. I should clarify that I’ve been obsessed with the word. I have no idea what Zumba is or how it’s done. Actually I have some idea. It’s a dance routine that helps lose weight. This is not a revolutionary breakthrough. Common sense, really.

“You mean if I dance, to music, instead of just sitting around on my big fat cushiony rump, I will burn calories and therefore lose weight?”

“Yes, good skeptic. Yes.”

For whatever cryptic reason I had been suffering from terrible, Zumba-based dreams as of late. They are hard to describe on paper, but I think I have found a way. If you can imagine being caught in this matrix for hours of restless sleep… up, down, across and sideways… you may get some idea.






I had to do something, but I feared going to seek out the very thing causing my nightmares. Mostly I feared the disorientation of the word, like traveling to the Smurf Village and trying to disentangle the constant use of the word smurf–noun, adjective, transitive and intransitive verb, interjection and the all but impossible preposition. I assumed Zumba acolytes used the word Zumba for just about everything, and I believed this may have been the source of my terror.

I took things one step at a time. First I stole a Zumba video from Valerie, my neighbor, who had ordered it and promptly tossed it in the closet to be contended with when she finally got motivated to sell it at her next yard sale. I removed the plastic packaging, threw a disc in the old video player and quickly realized the simplicity of it all. I did not have to search out Zumba. If I was pure of heart, and eager to accept the tenets of this fascinating aerobics dance craze, Zumba would find me.

So it happened, one morning, as I was walking briskly down the street to the local bodega to get a sodey pop, that a shiny, vintage Cadillac convertible pulled up alongside of me. It was filled with about six young, nubile women, a handsome, olive-skinned male driver, and a clownish little man with a head the size of a medicine ball. They were all dressed like they had just driven out of the movie “Breakin”, or “Breakin 2, Electric Boogaloo,” for that matter.

“Hi,” said the driver. “My name is Ormlaw. Are you ready to encounter a hot new dance workout that will rock you to your core?” The rest of the crowd in the car cheered.

I said nothing, although when I glanced down at my own clothes I was surprised to be dressed exactly as my new Zumba pals. I was wrapped in blinding pastels, my neon cap was pulled sideways, my gloves had no fingers and my cut-off tank-top revealed a washboard stomach that seemed a little too long for my torso. I counted. I had fourteen abdominal muscles, which were more than was genetically possible. How did that happen?

Before I knew it a flash mob of Zumba practitioners descended; they ran out of store fronts, hopped over fences, popped out of garbage pails. A few came out of the manhole cover in the road. One woman, who had come prepared, wrenched the knob off a fire hydrant, producing a frothy cascade that soaked the midriff of every Zumba-ist, goose-pimpling our 1,000 plus abdominal muscles. The music kicked up, we fell into rank and file and started to Zumba in unison like we had been practicing together every day for the last six months. It was the most exciting thing to happen in my neighborhood in quite awhile, I had to admit. My favorite move is the one in which the hands are placed over the head, palm-to-palm so your arms make the silhouette of a hershey’s chocolate kiss and your head just bounces in the middle like Salome, Scheherazade or I Dream of Jeannie before she’s about to piss off her stiff, military husband.

Just as I was getting the hang of it, though, the cops showed up and showered us with teargas and rubber bullets. Our festive workout had completely disrupted traffic in all directions, and the coppers responded in force. The hundred or so dancers fled, as did I, figuring what the hell, fleeing from the police was kinda like a workout in itself, so I just followed Ormlaw, the fellow who had addressed me initially, and his wee man friend as they ran through an abandoned building, down into a grassy marshland and to a little dock on a quiet river, where a small boat with a thatched roof and an outboard motor on the back sat waiting.

“I don’t remember any of this being here,” I said.

“We must go,” said Ormlaw. His little friend, his first mate, untethered the ropes, fired up the engine and we three set off up the river on the small boat. Ormlaw pulled out a bottle of oil, which I thought he was going to somehow apply to the boat motor. Instead he applied it to his taut biceps.

“Where are we going?” I said.

“There is no time to lose,” said Ormlaw, oiling himself as he spoke.

“We will journey to see HIM,” said the wee man.


“The Original Zumba Instructor. The Zumba God.”

“That sounds good,” I said. “I’d like to talk to the Zumba God.”

“You don’t talk to him,” said the wee man, “you listen. The man has enlarged my mind. He’s a poet-warrior in the classic sense. I should’ve been a set of claws scuttling across the bottom of silent seas…”

“I think we’re dangerously close to ripping off Apocalypse Now,” I said, cutting him off.

Ormlaw greased himself to a fine sheen with no signs of slowing down. He studied the sky, the murky water, the untouched jungle on either side of us and asked me if I knew where Zumba is most important? I said in the hips, probably. He shook his head with that smirking audacity given to those who know they are naturally wiser than everyone else, and pointed to the top of my head. Zumba was most important in the mind. He told me I had to train my brain before I trained my feet, hips and shoulders. At that point his little skipper, the wee man, pulled out a pair of calipers and asked if he could measure the dimensions of my head. He recorded all the numbers into a little book, speaking them aloud to Ormlaw, the Capitan-Zumba instructor, who nodded as if he had known them all along.

I grew sun-drenched and weary after awhile. There was something ominous to the surrounding desolation, a creeping dread sifting through the trees, the merciless savagery of the dawn of first ages ready to swallow us whole. Ormlaw took advantage of my compromised state and began to indoctrinate me with a series of Zumba riddles.

“If Zumba’s power is absolute, why does Zumba feel the need to Zumba?”

“When Zumba-ing at the speed of light, is it possible to finish a Zumba before you begin it?”

“How many cores must a man rock down, before he can call himself a man?”

“If a man rocks himself to his core and there’s no one there to see it, can you consider the core properly rocked?”

Ormlaw oiled himself as he lectured.

“He Zumba like thirsty men drink,” said the little man, nudging me at my side, half-quoting Joseph Conrad.

I would like to say that we made it safely to our destination, but quite suddenly we were besieged. The forest all around us came alive. Cannon fire, slingshot projectiles, arrows, savage language, rose up all around us. We tried to take cover, but the small boat proved of little help. Ormlaw, after his slick body had succeeded in skidding most of the projectiles from his skin, was impaled by a dead-on arrow. The little man took a cannonball to the chest and promptly exploded. The world turned gray and I felt myself fall back into the water, pulling me down into the calm void, and I resigned myself to my watery fate.

I awoke some time later in an attitude of confused non-being, albeit with the clownish thump of my frantic heart, as if the sadistic organ was keeping me alive only to show me the magnitude of my dismal situation. I was laying in a mud pile, at the river’s edge. The was a tribal thump somewhere in the distance. I got up and walked in no particular direction, stopping only when I reached the yellow light of a double-wide house that had been converted to a shoddy bar. Beyond it was a full parking lot.  There was an illuminated, outdoor reader-board that said:

“The Original Zumba Guru. One Night Only. Shama-Lama-Ding-Dong.” I walked inside and was struck with a wild familiarity, catching sight of the banner over the bandstand that proclaimed, “Otis Day and the Knights.” I had arrived. All had become clear. It was all so simple. There wasn’t even a need for split definitions. Everything had merged into a single, unifying oneness. I ordered a beer and took to the dance floor. Long Live Zumba.