The Muslin Menace

My community was understandably on edge. The news had come through the neighborhood pipeline of yentas and gossips that Mr. Gorney, the mild-mannered sales associate who lived at the end of the block, was dead.

We congregated at the edge of his property, curious, afraid for ourselves, steeped in speculation as the medics and police went in and out of the house. We wanted to know how he died so we could figure out if the rest of us were in danger. The possibilities were endless. A burglary gone bad. Random killing by ruthless maniac. Family fight gone out of control. A disease, possibly transmittable. Was it just an accident? Who was Mr. Gorney? Did he lead a high-risk lifestyle? Was it just bad luck? Did he have it coming? What was the appropriate level of dread and terror that the rest of us should harbor, and how long should we harbor it?

The word came around that he had hanged himself. Suicide. We relaxed, collectively, our postures going all loose and casual. Some people cracked a few jokes. We were safe, or so we thought. Then Mrs. Drago, the most feared busybody in the pit of our quiet residential swath demanded to know what the poor fellow had used to hang himself with. We all paused.

“Some type of fabric, I guess,” said our retired cop neighbor who had friends on the inside. 

“What type of fabric, specifically?” 

“I can’t say.”

“Can’t, or won’t?” she demanded. The force of Mrs. Drago’s question, almost an accusation, quieted us down. We wondered why it mattered.

“Probably just some bungee, or a hemp rope?” someone offered.

“A piece of silk or velveteen? A leather belt?” said someone else.

“A rubber tube? A canvas strap? An extension cord? The possibilities are endless.”

“I always knew this guy was no good,” said Mrs. Drago. “With a name like Gorney.” 

I wondered what was wrong with the name Gorney. I supposed it sounded too much like horny, or thorny, or porny, even though I didn’t think porny was actually a word but it sounded close enough to something lewd. He was an affable neighbor, friendly from a distance. We all came to the conclusion that nobody had ever really spoken to him. Even so I could feel people turning on him, Mr. Gorney, this familiar yet unknown man of secrets, waving amiably from his driveway while harboring inner demons, exposing our quiet suburb as a shiny patina of desperation and death.   

“When a man is hanged it almost always produces an erection,” said one of my neighbors for lack of anything better to add, or maybe to lighten the mood. “Something to do with the stanched blood flow.”

“What type of fabric did he use?” demanded Mrs. Drago. “To hang himself.”

“I think it was some type of sheer fabric,” said the ex-cop.

“Kind of embarrassing, a dead man and a live erection,” someone offered.

“He is avoiding the question,” said Mrs. Drago.

“A lightweight cotton cloth of sorts.”

“Why won’t you say it?”

“What’s it called again,” he said, fingers snapping to jog the memory.

“We have every right to know.”

“Muslin!” said the ex-cop. “He strangulated himself with muslin.”

Everyone began to panic. People retreated to their houses. A few couples went out to buy guns. The ones who already owned them loaded them. Over the next few days the streets were strangely vacant. The curtains were drawn on all the windows. Abandoned bicycles and children’s toys littered the empty lawns. Cars sped through without stopping. Traffic signs and signals were ignored.

A week later, at the neighborhood association meeting, the air was tense. Mrs. Drago seized on the palpable fear and stood to rally the crowd. 

“We cannot let this go on,” she yelled. “Look what muslin is doing to our community!”

Some of the other association members called for calm. “Most muslin is harmless,” a woman pointed out. “We have it hanging in our sunroom. It adds a nice flourish.” 

“We use it to accentuate our pergola next to the patio,” added another man. “And it is nice in our gazebo during those hot summer months.” 

“About 7,000 suicides each year die by suffocation,” added the retired cop. “Only a small portion actually use muslin fabric to strangulate themselves. Maybe we should try to gain some perspective.”

Mrs. Drago wasn’t having any of it. She insisted that she would not tolerate a population that just rolled over and allowed the thin cotton fabric to infiltrate the sanctity of our homes. She made mention of our front windows, the light sundresses our girlfriends and wives wore, our decorative bath curtains, our parquet tablecloths. “You, Paddy the Duke,” she said to me, “that comfortable button-down shirt you wear during those sweltering summer afternoons. Did you ever realize? Do you understand the danger? In short, the threat of muslin is everywhere. Wake up you bastards.” 

I shrugged and insisted I always had a fine relationship with all of my clothing and that I wasn’t really concerned with the material so much as maybe an outdated style, or whether the shirt or pants in question no longer fit the way they used to.   

“You’re missing the point!” thundered Mrs. Drago. “Today it is a pleasant, billowy fabric highlighting our homes and wardrobes and tomorrow the muslin is wrapped around your neck, cutting off your oxygen, killing you, giving you an absurd erection, which is ridiculous under the circumstances. You can’t control it, your body goes limp and your pee-pee goes hard and your dead and the muslin is all the whole time around your throat, constricting and laughing. The muslin doesn’t have to play by the same rules and so it is going to win if we don’t wake up and do something. You ask that dead old Mr. Gorney what he thinks about muslin. Oh wait, you can’t, because he’s fucking dead!”

On the way home I had to drive around the reams of fabric that had been thrown out in the middle of the street in protest. Some people burned their curtains in effigy. Once home I sat out in the backyard, surrounded by the darkness, with a beer and the dogs at my feet, sniffing the air in curiosity. The big fella whined, clearly put off by the smell. I wondered what the bigger offense for him was, the aroma of scorched cotton or the aroma of fear.

More Alembics to come. 


Hurricane Khloe

Sometimes the news is just too shocking to absorb in a calm manner. One must get hysterical when a story grabs the nation’s attention and forces it to drop everything and consider not only the current crisis, but previously held attitudes and beliefs. Some news may remind us that the landscape of history is always shifting and nothing, when it comes down to it, is ever for certain.

I was stuck at the Fort Lauderdale airport on Sunday after the Thanksgiving festivities. I had spent the holiday in Spanish Wells, a tiny island in the Caribbean Sea. Specifically I had sought treatment in a cave that was rumored to be one of the first sanctuaries for a group of settlers in the sixteenth century seeking religious freedom. In later years it was discovered that the inner recesses of the cave contained miraculous pools of irradiated water guaranteed to cure even the most unruly of illnesses. Stricken with a case of what I like to call “corporeal turpitude,” I had sought out these healing pools of water in the hopes that my health would be restored, my energy replenished, and my maladies whipped into a hasty submission. All that is another story, though. Suffice it to say I was cured of all my woes and, after thumbing a ride in a flatbed pickup, jockeying for a seat in an old dinghy that was scuttled upon reaching the shore, and securing a milk crate seat on an old rickety cargo plane holding a year’s supply of Willie Nelson’s marijuana, I made it to civilization.

Little did I know, civilization was in crisis! The calm breeze and bright blue backdrop of the Fort Lauderdale skyline belied the threat of a global meltdown. There I was, on concourse B, standing in line for a cup of coffee when my eyes settled on an US Magazine, which is like the Walter Cronkite of crap gossip publications. The headline proclaimed, without the slightest hint of equivocation or hyperbole, “Khloe Slams Haters.”

I began to panic, as I had no idea that this had happened, was happening, would continue to happen. Clearly the use of the present-tense verb “slams” suggested that it was ongoing. I phoned my family to make sure that everyone was okay, which they were, thankfully. Then I checked the airport monitors to see which, if any, flights had been cancelled on account of “Khloe slamming haters.” There were a few delays, which was to be expected given the calamitous situation, but for the most part air travel had not been affected. Not yet, at least. Given the severity of the crisis, that could change at any moment.

When something as critical and severe as “Khloe Slamming Haters” erupts, it is crucial that some type of order be maintained. Utilities and basic services must be kept on-line. Already it was obvious that Fort Lauderdale was experiencing a massive power outage, since none of the lights in any of the buildings were on. It was possible that I just couldn’t see any because it was two p.m. on a magnificently bright day or it was just as possible that “Khloe Slamming Haters” had knocked out every single power grid from Florida to Maine. I was actually quite relieved that I was at the airport, where security is high and generators would most likely keep the electricity pumping during the impending massive shutdown.

I looked out the window at the skyscrapers across the bay. How long would they remain standing? Who would rebuild them once they toppled? When would the fires across the blackened landscape start, and, once they started, when would they stop?

No doubt the doomsday culture was right and were laughing at the rest of us in their underground bunkers across the heartland of America. While most of us choked over the fallout of “Khloe Slamming Haters,” they would be safe, underground, for decades if need be, at which time they would emerge to rebuild society and carry the torch of this fragile human species. It would be their responsibility to ensure that “Khloe Hater Slamming” would never happen again. 

In times of social breakdown, people rush for the nearest haven. In this case it was the sky lounge. There was a massive group of people hammering on the front door, which had been locked to prevent a vigilante mob scene. Lucky for me a good samaritan motioned me into a side entrance, and I made it through, ignoring the woman who tried to hand me her baby.

A group of us stood around the television waiting for any word from the president about “Khloe and her Hater Slamming” but the president was oddly tight-lipped. “Figures,” one man said derisively, standing next to me. “We all know Obama is weak in times of crisis.”

I found a seat in the corner and sat down next to a real piece of work. He was wearing gold-plated aviator sunglasses, a pink neon muscle shirt and green neon shorts. It was the type of outfit that lingered in my peripheral vision long after I looked away. He had weird tattoos up and down his arm, mostly text; inked random words like “renegade” and pseudo-Nietzschean ideals like “Stronger than IT.” Clearly a survivor in the new climate of post- “Khloe Slams Haters” social awareness. He was visibly shaken. I asked him where he was going. He said to Colorado, where it was safe. I told him I understood. I had just heard the news.

“Where have you been? A cave?”

“How did you know?” I said.

“First Khloe slammed the haters, and I was silent. Then she slammed the punks, and I was silent. Then Khloe slammed the party kids, and I was silent. Then she slammed the sports figures and the people who cherish them, and I was silent. Then she slammed the poor, the freaks, the middle class and the elites, and I was silent. Then Khloe slammed Hollywood and the music industry, and I was silent. Then Khloe slammed the politicians, activists, the servicemen and guardians of the flag, and I was silent. Then,” he murmured, his eyes welling up with tears, “then she slammed me. And there was no one left to speak for me.” With that, he burst into uncontrollable sobbing. I wanted to console him, but the world was coming to an end, and there is not much you can say in that situation. There was nothing left to do but drink whiskey out of an Elvis decanter, eat Flintstones vitamins and quote George Jones.

“Yabba Dabba Doo. The King is gone, and so are you!”

More Alembics to come.