A literally figurative tragedy…a warning from Rick Springfield… a figuratively literal ending…

I have been getting a little edgy lately at the flagrant misuse of the word literally. On second thought, I take that back. The haphazard use of the word literally actually engenders a mirth and amusement so pure within my heart that I feel the need to jump to my feet, raise my hands and testify. Well, maybe not that rapturous of a response but something of the sort on an emotional level. I do like the word. Literally. I like it. Good word. When used properly it is a nice little stab of emphasis on a point being made. Let’s face it, it is fun to use. In fact the word is so much fun that it may be suffering from a bit of fashionable overload, basking in the stylish limelight of casual conversation. What with people feeling so strongly about things these days, it is no surprise that the word literally has become a standard part of passionate expression. And what with the kids and their heated opinions and their technology and drinking and pharmaceutical drugs and such, the word is bound to be dropped in a manner not in keeping with its definition now and again. But it all came to a rotten collision a few days ago at a bar when an overly-drunk young woman, garrulous to a fault, and with one of those voices that just finds its way into your bone marrow, exclaimed to the fellow next to her that….

“My boss wouldn’t stop talking. Literally, after twenty minutes, my head exploded.”

Disgusting, I thought. How tragic, too. To be minding one’s own business, at work no less, to be doing the best job one can, and then to be ruthlessly engaged by the boss in such a way that the sheer inexorability of the boss’s rambling causes one’s head to burst apart, leaving blood and brains everywhere. The stump of the neck hemorrhages uncontrollably while the body convulses in a big red gory pool. Poor girl, rushed to the hospital where they tape or glue her head back together or however they do it, the boss kind of being like “my bad I guess no frisbee-golf this weekend.” Months in the I.C.U. in an induced coma. Then the slow emergence, the physical therapy, the relearning of basic motor skills and now right as rainfall, in the middle of a crowded bar, back to tell her story of struggle and survival, amid a roomful of drinkers, over a blaring jukebox playing Rick Springfield.

Things started coming together in a way only random, beautiful artistic moments can. Rick Springfield was singing his song, and in his song he was lamenting the appearance of a “..slick, continental dude.” I appreciate Mr. Springfield, because nothing good ever comes from continental dudes, both slick and otherwise. They are always causing problems, and we, as a music-loving public, can’t say we weren’t warned. Doubly amusing was the fact that the woman whose head had been put back together after it had “literally exploded” had been gabbing to a dude who appeared both slick, and… although I don’t know exactly how to qualify this…continental. He had long sideburns manicured with the detailed attention usually given to country estates.

There she was, railing at him about everything and reverse-everything, and this slick continental dude had a look on his face of such rigid feigned interest that I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. We had all been there, both men and women alike. It was as if his expression was pleading silently to, “please, please, stop talking so I can take you home to do that thing I’ve been wanting so badly to do for months and months and months and months.”

He was in over his sideburns. I knew it. He knew it. Everybody knew it. I don’t  care how slick and continental a dude is, when you’ve got a girl like that with a voice like radioactivity, like it burns from the inside, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Furthermore once the ice had been broken with the use of the word literally, it was on. She literally used it after everything she said. Which, as far as probability goes, meant that sometimes it was used correctly and other times it was just lashed into her barrage of outbursts. Seated where I was I could only catch bits and pieces, like the bits and pieces her head may have represented after it had “literally exploded.” I found myself trying to figure out which was which.

“…Literally, it was like twenty people…” she said.

(Could’ve been, depending on the circumstance)

“…Literally we were stuck on line for a month but we finally scored tickets to Bruno Mars…”

(Seemed like an exaggeration to me. The average individual dies after a week without food or water.)

“Your sideburns are literally longer than my driveway…”


“…She literally came home to find that he had taken the dogs and vamoosed…”

(As opposed to symbolically coming home?)

I didn’t know how much more I could take so I paid my bill and sipped at the bottom half of my beer. The bartender, a friend of mine, sidled up to where I was sitting. He looked at me and shrugged. I shrugged back.

“You should give her a shot of tequila for each use of the word literally,” I said, pointing a few seats down to the woman (standing, gesturing) and the slick, continental dude, (sitting, slumped).

“Are you kidding? They’d slap the handcuffs on me for manslaughter. Anyway the dude is a punk. He is a date stealer. Remember the blind switch?”

“Oh, that was him?” I said. “Don’t you think he’s kind of like the slick, continental dude that Rick Springfield warns us about?”

“I was thinking that same thing!” he said brightly.

The blind switch was a clever bit of chicanery on the part of the slick, continental dude. A woman had shown up for a blind date and had mistaken him for the fellow she was supposed to meet, another fellow slightly less slick and continental. Falling into character and after a hasty explanation the slicker of the two continental dudes spirited her away from the bar to avoid running into the continental dude that was running late.  After a night of fraud and frolic the slick continental dude cut a hasty exit. There was more to it, though. The blind date was also supposed to help the woman line up a job, which she completely missed out on by mistaking one slick continental dude for another. It was just a shame. I no longer felt sorry for the slick continental dude. Things were about to get heated, though, as the guy sitting next to me at the bar hit his breaking point.

“Hey, would you literally shut the fuck up?” he said to the girl, freezing her in mid-sentence.

“Mind your own business,” said the slick, continental dude, aroused from his jelly posture.

“Impossible with that braying,” said the guy next to me.

“Also,” I said, cutting in, “might you give the use of the word literal a bit of a rest. It’s been in the game for awhile now, and been performing well. Might be time to substitute. Might I suggest shit-motherfucking?” I went back through some of the snippets I had heard and was pleased with my suggestion.

“Communist,” the dude said to me. “You don’t care about the first amendment?”

“Dude, what are you getting all slick and continental for?” I said. He looked at me like I had just slapped him.

“Leave her alone. She’s just using it in the literally figurative sense,” he explained.

“Oh no,” said the bartender, stepping in. “He’s got Stockholm Syndrome.”

“It’s a method of usage,” the dude continued. “The literal figurative.”

“Scoundrel, take that back,” I said.

“No!” he said, his sideburns quaking in effect.

“You’re not allowed to invoke an unreasonable paradox to explain the misuse of a word.”

“Well I did. And now it’s done. And there is nothing you can do about it. Oh and by the way, your girlfriend calls me and begs me for sex and I hang up the phone.” He sat back, swelling with his own cleverness.

“Piss on you and your chop logic,” said the guy next to me. It felt like there was a fight brewing, so I stepped in to make peace.

“Everybody settle down,” I said.  “I apologize for my friend’s outburst,” I said to the slick continental dude and his chatty companion. “And for trying to infringe on your right to free speech. Tell you what, I’ll pick up your tab.” The couple settled back. The woman protested slightly, saying don’t worry about it, but the slick continental dude was not one to miss out on such an opportunity.

“It’s the least you can do,” he muttered.

The bartender shook his head, tallied up the total and put the check in front of me. I carefully lifted it off the bar, folded it up, put it in my pocket and left the bar without paying a dime. But before I left I gave the slick continental dude a parting word.


More Alembics to come.

Atlas Loitered

Birthdays…Mortality…Illusion…Ron Jeremy and the Nymphaea thermarum…

When people ask me what I’m writing these days (besides this here blog) I lie and tell them I’m working on a sequel to Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s weighty jeremiad attacking all things regulatory. In the original, the heroic captains of industry John Galt, Francisco d’Anconia, Dagney Taggart, and Hank Reardon are engaged in an epic struggle for individual achievement against collectivist government bloodsuckers. In my supposed sequel, these same captains of industry all go to Capitol Hill to beg for government bailouts to cover their shitty investments. I call it, “Atlas Fondled.” Of course the people that are fans of Ms. Rand are displeased that I’d soil the legacy, the people that think Ms. Rand a peddler of dramatic oversimplification are displeased that I’m engaged in such a ludicrous waste of time, and the people that don’t care to read anything by me just tell me it sounds interesting and that they can’t wait to read it.

The beginning of the year usually finds me in a contemplative mood. My birthday is in January, which may have something to do with it. It is generally a quiet affair, my birthday. For starters I detest presents as a low form of bribery. Even as a child when I would receive a birthday gift, I would snatch it out of the giver’s hands and quote the line that the sentry guard gives the traveler in Franz Kafka’s “The Trial,” to wit:

“I take this only to keep you from feeling that you have left something undone.”

It is a strange thing to hear from an eight-year-old. Consequently my parties were sparsely attended. I’ve put all that behind me, though. These days the occasional present, properly conceived, is a welcome addition to the gimcracks lying around the house. This year one of my more philosophical friends sent me a watch known as ‘Tikker’ in which you plug in a few actuarial factors about yourself and the watch calculates, give or take, how much time you have left to live on this here earth and counts down from there. My friend was curious whether I’d go mad with thoughts of mortality each time I glanced down at my wrist, or whether I’d buck up and start living with the constant reminder of the precious seconds falling away. He also sent me a revolver with one bullet in the chamber, and an open-ended plane ticket. It’s nice to have friends that put careful consideration into the presents they buy for you. He’s waiting for the news of my death.

Instead I decided to max out my credit cards and take to the open road. Debt is just a word, after all, and the ‘b’ is pretty much silent (and what’s that all about?), and on that shaky logic I decided to spend a lot of money that I didn’t actually have. Some call it spree living. Others call it investing in hangovers. Still others dream the big dream. Convertible by Cadillac. Music by The Cramps. Blue sky and warm breeze by God. Fuel by Exxon. Whiskey by Jim Beam. Big fat knock on the door by Big Brother Debt Collector.

Debt Collection Agencies are where a mobster goes to find decent employment when he wants to land legit. The tactics are pretty much the same, the law is mostly on your side, you can threaten without having to follow through, and you get to use your imagination, as is the case of a debt collection agency in Pittsburgh called UniCredit America that allegedly sends fake deputies to ‘arrest’ people who owe money, take them to ‘court’, and ‘fine’ them into paying off what they owe. Rather illegal, but clever just the same. Somebody got suspicious after realizing the ‘judge’ presiding over their case was none other than Ron Jeremy, the ‘bailiff’ was an opium-smacked Lindsay Lohan, and the ‘stenographer’ was a Nigerian transsexual on the run from a new law in his home country that makes it illegal to ever have met, seen, talked to or walked in the path of someone who is gay. The law was recently signed by the country’s president, a fellow by the name of Goodluck Jonathan. From now on though, it will be Goodluck ‘finding a decent interior decorator’ Jonathan.

Things are tough in the world these days. Between ruthless collection agencies, wristwatches that remind the wearer of their own death and whole countries of intolerant  officials, one must delve deep for solace. I was considering a trip to London’s Royal Botanical Gardens to spend time with my favorite flower, a rare miniature waterlily known as Nymphaea thermarum, knowing that every once in a while one must reduce one’s pleasures to a small focused treasure rather than trying to gain traction on grand, sweeping episodes. Distraught then, was I, to learn that my favorite miniature waterlily, again the Nymphaea thermarum, (which I’m guessing is some type of Latin for hot, little nymph? and maybe there is something within all that to bring up during a therapy session), again the Nymphaea thermarum, my favorite miniature waterlily, had been stolen from the Royal Botanical Gardens. Between the threat of fake jail for reckless spending and the sickening knowledge that nothing beautiful in this savage world is safe for very long I decided to look at my ‘Tikker’ wristwatch and see what time it was. Hmm. I had about thirty-five more years to live. Curious, I took my friend’s other birthday present out from its little hiding spot, the glinting revolver, and pointed it at my head. I looked down at the watch.

“Recalculating,” it said, then told me I had about ten seconds to live. I put the gun back down.  “Recalculating,” it said. It went back to the thirty-five years. I went into the kitchen and took a multi-vitamin and ate some oatmeal. “Recalculating,” it said. The screen went blank for a moment, then returned with an added five years.

“Remarkable little gadget,” I said.

The Nymphaea thermarum, the world’s smallest waterlily, was “discovered” by a German botanist in Rwanda. Yet it was “stolen” from the Royal Botanical Gardens last week. I considered this and decided that somewhere in a Rwandan newspaper last week there was a joyous story about the “retrieval” of the world’s smallest waterlily after being “stolen” by a German botanist thirty years before. I sat back, satisfied that the riches of experience lie in perspective. My ‘Tikker’ gave me an extra six months. The banks extended my credit. I am here.

More Alembics to come.


When good dental floss goes bad…Garbage, the rotten kind…A legitimate successor…

I was a little nonplussed to realize, the other morning, that my dental floss has an expiration date on it. It appeared that it would be no good after January, which meant it was almost expired when I bought it. I wondered whether the artificial mint flavor on the string went bad after awhile or the string itself becomes compromised, breaking apart easily with the ravages of time and leaving little bits of minty thread lodged in the recesses of the mouth causing irritation, then an abscess, then an infection, which leads to the removal of the whole jaw and a life of mashed foods.  

I threw it out just to be on the safe side. 

These are the days of frivolous lawsuits. These are the days of liability. These are the days of dangerous pieces of old thread. Better to put an expiration date on everything, I suppose. The company that produces the floss is sending a very clear message: 

“If you can’t use a small spool of dental floss within a reasonable amount of time then you are beyond help as a modern human. Your gums will bleed. Your teeth will rot and fall out. Pyorrhea will set in and you will be shunned. Your breath will kill plant life. Of course dental floss doesn’t go bad, we at Simple String Technologies realize that. But if you can’t get your shit together for forty-five seconds a day to run some thread between your teeth then you deserve that rotten sewer behind your lips. There are more germs in that food-hole than the bedspread at a pay-by-the-hour motel. We wish you a scurvy Christmas and a halitosis New Year.”

There were some other interesting facts on the plastic casing of the dental floss besides the expiration date. I had three yards of it at the get-go, or 2.7 meters, which meant that I would’ve had less if I had been in Europe. Good to be an American in America using American standards of measurement. I pondered that fact for a moment and realized I am ripe for a job in the field of climate science or to be precise, climate science denial. My first order of business would be to blame global warming on the Celsius scale. 

“Feel how warm it is at 43 degrees Celsius? I’m melting here. In America, under our proper Fahrenheit system, 43 degrees is properly cold! Take that you proper British bastards.”  

Consider, really, that we are the only species that produces garbage. And not the good, Shirley Manson kind of Garbage, or even the corrupt, brainless, reality-television kind of garbage, but the real toxic kind that stinks and putrefies and blights. We can make radioactive waste. Either one of those words is bad enough, but we’ve found a way to unite them. Even rats are shocked by it. This fact alone should be enough of a reason for the legitimacy of the Environmental Protection Agency, Richard Nixon’s contribution to the environment other than funny masks with big noses.  We pollute. Let’s keep it in check. Seems reasonable, right? 

Well, come on down, John Beale, or as he’s known around Washington, the E.P.A.’s chief climate expert, or as he’s known around the world now, the jerk who defrauded the agency out of a million dollars in pay for doing absolutely nothing. Well, not nothing. According to Mr. Beale, he spent most of his time riding his bike and reading books, which leaves a very tiny carbon footprint. Pay scale high. Carbon output low. A fine model for future living.   

When Texas Governor Rick Perry finally settles on that third government agency he would eliminate, and if it happens to be the E.P.A., because by now he has had enough time to really weigh his decision, then in light of Mr. Beale’s mendacity, most will say, “By gum, it’s about time we closed that waste of time and money,” and nobody will care, and big industry will have a big carbon party and wake up with a big, polluted hangover.  

Even though one of the major concerns of the E.P.A. is clean air, somehow they didn’t bother testing the bullshit mist surrounding Mr. Beale for something like ten years, allowing the scientist to claim that he was undercover for the C.I.A. on clandestine missions in faraway places, instead of somewhere in Virginia tooling around on his ten-speed and finding out what Harry Potter has been up to. Clever, really, because the C.I.A. is never supposed to confirm or deny the employment of any spy. I’ve decided to start working for the C.I.A. myself. Now just have to get a job where the bosses are dumb enough to believe it and satisfied to fork over a paycheck for zero output. 

As to the problem of Mr. Beale’s successor, I believe I can suggest a fitting candidate.  Might we nominate Thamsanqa Jantjie, the sign-language fraudster from the Nelson Mandela tribute ceremony. He will be named the head of the E.P.A. He will keep a straight face. He will grip himself with both hands and shudder when the temperature, due to carbon emissions, drops dangerously low. He will dump water on his head and fan his brow when, again due to carbon emissions, it becomes unbearably hot. When the temperature reaches the 120’s, he will simulate cracking an egg on the sidewalk, then simulate eating that egg to indicate that it is so hot that one can fry an egg on the sidewalk. He will grip his throat when there is too much lead in the drinking water. He will hold his nose when radioactive waste washes up along the coasts. 

Happy New Year!