Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose

Gertrude Stein may have been on to something when she wrote that famous “rose” line in her poem Sacred Emily. Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose. Sure. Why not? I understand the idea behind it. Frustrated by airy speculation she seeks to hammer down the blatant realness of things. She is tired of writers like Marcel Proust loading simple ideas up with tedious and nervous significance. In a fight between Gertrude Stein and Marcel Proust my money would be on Gertie, anyway. Ms. Stein would whip Proust’s fragile ass like a donkey. The French invalid would dive under the blankets of his bed and immediately write ten volumes about the stumpy woman’s notched knuckles arriving on his glass jaw. 

There are limits to the argument, though. Rose is a rose. It is, after all, bull simple in its redundancy. Take Ayn Rand’s famous proclamation that “A is A.” Yes, Ms. Rand, it is, except that the letter ‘A’ can be flat and short or have a schwa sound or a long sound and can show up in a multitude of words that, when acted upon by other letters surrounding it, may take on various meanings and connotations that make the original letter all but unrecognizable in the context of bAking A cAke or rAping A lAdy or fAlling flAt on one’s fAce or rAising A bAby. The letter A is in the crowd alright, but its definition of itself as itself to understand the bigger meaning is about as useless as yesterday’s stale beer. It’s a lazy proof, annoying really, and I had to listen to it, in one form or another, for about two hours last week. 

I digress. The biggest joke in the undergraduate college scene is, “I’m going to change my major to philosophy.” I strongly advise against ever saying this to any college counselor unless it is accompanied by “just kidding, really, I’m joking, honest, there is no  need for the gag, and the taser, and the white jacket with the really long sleeves. Put that down. Hey. I’m…mmmfff….mmmmfff….mmmmfff…”

Even philosophy professors will laugh when they hear this. I remember my senior adviser, who just happened to be a philosophy professor, looking at me in astonishment when I told him that I was going to switch my major in the last year of undergraduate study from biology to philosophy.   

“Are you fucking daft?” The wording here is exact. That’s what he said.

The problem for him was that I had about four credits left for a biology major. Easy finish. I had amassed almost none for a philosophy major. To him it was like a runner stopping twenty feet from the finish line of a major marathon and announcing that he is, instead, going to stand there twenty feet from the finish line and do jumping jacks until he earns enough jumping jacks to make it into whatever paltry and stupid record of jumping-jack holders exists out there and then try to go and land a job that has nothing to do with jumping jacks by showcasing his creditable performance of last minute jack-jumping.  He wanted no part of it. Here I thought the man would be pleased to have another ally on his team, a new recruit in the cadre of Space-Time investigators, the hashers of cause and effect, the appraisers of ethical systems and historical tides. Nope. He wanted to send me for a drug test and intense psychological research and, barring that, a fucking lobotomy.

“If you decide to go through with this madness…” he said, verbatim, as he showed me the tedious schedule that would be required for a last minute major blitzkrieg, flipping through the course listings, shaking his head the entire time, and pulling a bottle of whiskey out from under his desk, and drinking from it, and not even offering me any, lest the massive amount of drugs I had surely ingested caused a lethal interaction and dropped me dead right there on his bare carpet.

When all was said and done I finished. I became a philosophy guy, for better or for worse. I haven’t regretted it a day since.  That being said, we philosophy folk take our epistemic arguments pretty seriously, even when we are making fun of things, as I am wont to do now and again. So it was a painful exercise in restraint when I was forced to endure this fellow’s blabbering last week while I was getting the tires changed on my car. Even the most abstract of us philosophers need a good set of wheels, and we must sit and wait for those wheels in a public waiting room where any rube can come in and say any old thing. 

“Life is life, wouldn’t you agree?” he said to me in a low voice.

“Excuse me, what?” I looked over at him. He was a bearded fellow, sitting five chairs down, champing at the bit to talk to somebody.

“Life is life,” he repeated.

“You said it,” I nodded, intimating acknowledgement and dismissal. The last thing I needed was for some clown to try and appear profound by simply inserting his exact premise into the conclusion.

He kept talking. He went on to explain that he was new in town. He had moved here from Los Angeles. He was the “LA guy.” He had just gotten a job as a bartender around the corner and hoped I could pop in for a few. He wanted to bring a west coast sensibility to little old Decatur Village, hip it up a little, make it as flashy and vibrant as the City of the Angels and pull in a little cash while he was doing it.

“Money is money,” he said. “Right?”

“Um.” 

He went on to give me an unsolicited biography of himself up to that point, filled with impressive accomplishments in business and the arts. But that was all west coast stuff, he said. He was now going to do it all again on the east coast. Even better because he had learned so much in the process and one of the main things he had learned was…

“A spade is a spade.”

He eyed me down, daring me to contradict him.  It’s one thing to have to listen to somebody. Quite another to have them expect not only an answer from you, but one supportive of their rickety logic. From his new perch at the bar around the block he was going to build a core group of super hipsters who would lead the culturally bankrupt to new heights of irony and ennui. Either that or he would try and start a race war, like Charlie Manson. 

“Am I right or am I right?” he said.

“Sir! You are as circular as the wheels being placed on my car right this second! Hopefully as soon as possible. So I can get the hell out of here.”

“Where do you have to go?”

“I’m going to go kill Gertrude Stein and Ayn Rand, for one thing.”

“Maybe I misjudged you,” he said. “Maybe you’ve already been eaten up by the bland normalcy that threatens this entire country.” 

“It is what it is,” I said. Shit, now I was doing it.   

More Alembics to come.

The Worst and The Best

When the time finally arrives for the Great Reckoning, and the spirit takes leave of the body for horizons everlasting, and a person’s life can be measured as a bracketed and finite test of a certain character, behavior and achievement, there are definitely better and worse ways to be remembered. In short when descriptions like “necrophile” “psychopath” “serial killer” “rapist” “knife-wielding maniac” and “evil bag of shit” make their way into a person’s obituary, that person has earned a big fat “F” in the standardized test of Life.

So it goes with old Winston Moseley, the infamous attacker, rapist, and murderer of Kitty Genovese in 1964, who died last week in Dannemora prison. Not only did he destroy an innocent young woman all those years ago, he also engendered the overblown social phenomenon termed “Bystander Effect” that has plagued New Yorkers for half a century. For those who don’t know Kitty Genovese was a bar manager who lived in an apartment in Kew Gardens, Queens. On her way home from work late one night Mr. Moseley stalked her and set upon her with a knife, slashing her numerous times. Because of her screams some confused neighbors awoke and, thinking it a lovers’ quarrel, turned on their lights, came to the windows and told them to shut up, which caused Mr. Moseley to run off, only to return when the coast was clear to finish the job. After details of the assault were uncovered, a story came out in The Times that made it seem like the residents of Kew Gardens had filed out of their rooms and circled around the slaying to shout and place bets like they were at a rooster fight, when in fact it was a late night mix of confusion and fragmented complaints from a somnolent apartment house.

While imprisoned for rape and murder Mr. Moseley earned a sociology degree, which is an ironic area of study. With an advanced degree he could really get to the bottom of just how fucked up and heinous his behavior had been. Winston Moseley with a sociology degree is like Ted Bundy earning a degree in women’s studies, with a focus on the writings of Camille Paglia, underscoring the indignities and imbalances of a patriarchal society on women’s rights and freedoms while trying to lure them into his Volkswagen Bug in order to strangle them. I sure was looking forward to Mr. Moseley’s book, “Bystander Effect: How callous apathy lets freaks like me do whatever the hell they want. What’s wrong with people? An investigative study.”  It will remain unfinished. Mr. Moseley is gone. Good riddance to Mr. Moseley.

Other than Mr. Moseley’s passing there was a shocking news story last week that was really about as shocking as a dead eel.  Apparently rich people hide their money to avoid paying taxes. I know, I know, I’m as surprised as everybody else. Before last week Panama papers were used to roll up and smoke cocaine and marijuana. Now they highlight the fact that people with vast sums of dubiously earned currency are cheats and crooks working in an entirely legal system of their own creation. We can’t claim to be entirely unaware, though. The evidence of this perfidy was right there all along, uncovered by the greatest muckraker since Upton Sinclair. I’m talking about David Lee Roth. I need look no further than the 1984 Van Halen song Panama to know that rich people will do whatever it takes to stay rich. “Model Citizen, Zero Discipline.” You spelled it out, Mr. Roth. We thank you.

From the Shitsville of human behavior all the way across the spectrum to unsung greatness, comes the story of Joe Patten. I was legitimately saddened when I happened upon his obituary last week. Joe was 89 years old. He was a very important person in Atlanta culture for saving one of the city’s greatest historical treasures. The Fox Theatre.

I had met Joe some years back while I was on a tour of The Fox. A friend of mine was the beverage director and she offered, during one of the rare lulls in the place’s busy schedule, to give me a behind-the-scenes look at the grand theatre. The Rolling Stones, Prince, David Copperfield, Tom Waits and Yul Brynner have all graced its stage. The place was built at the turn of the twentieth century as a Shriner’s temple, a congregating place for the ancient Arabic order of the noble mystic shrine. During the film industry boom of the thirties, forties and fifties it offered Atlantans a place to watch Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and Mae West on the silver screen. It is difficult to describe how stunning the interior of the theatre is. It is a somewhat magical Arabesque motif with a star-lit sky on the ceiling, castle turrets around the stage, and a mandala art design along the walls and floors. It transcends time and location. To walk into the Fox Theatre is to leave Atlanta and the modern world and walk into something out of a Persian dreamscape. And the whole place would be gone if it hadn’t been for Joe. 

While I was getting my tour I noticed, up in the back balcony section, past the Egyptian Ballroom, there was an open door that led to what looked like an apartment.

“That’s Joe’s place,” said my friend.

“You mean someone lives here,” I said.

And there emerged Joe. Apple-cheeked and elfin with amusing red shoes on, I had a quick introduction with the man and I got the backstory. The theatre had begun to deteriorate from neglect in the sixties. The theatre’s pipe organ, known as the “Mighty Moe,” had fallen into disrepair. There are seven rooms worth of pipes for the organ, the pipe sizes ranging from a pencil to a telephone pole, which means the whole theatre itself is almost one huge musical instrument. Joe showed up to the theatre to ask whether he might try to get the pipe organ working again. At first he was dismissed, and then when the managers realized he wasn’t some loony but a technical genius they let him do his thing. He put down close to seven miles of wiring to get the pipe organ working, taking him the better part of a year, after which the prodigious instrument was brought back to life. Then, in the mid seventies, when the theatre was sold off to Southern Pacific to be demolished to make way for a parking lot, Joe led the charge, standing in the streets to block the wrecking crew, and won in his efforts to have the building declared an historical landmark. If you are ever in Atlanta and find yourself standing spellbound in the middle of the Fox Theatre, thank Joe. 

They called him the Phantom of the Fox, Joe, as he could get anywhere in the building in about thirty seconds. He knew all the secret passageways. He took us high up above the stage to the castle turrets where I sat soaking in the grandeur from a hundred feet up. At that moment, amid the Byzantine and ornamental gold, the brocaded tapestries and scrolled etchings, I really appreciated the fact that I wasn’t staring at a bunch of pollen-covered cars lumped together on a concrete slab in a crappy parking lot, which, had it not been for Joe, was probably what I would’ve been looking at.

Like a phantom, Joe vanished, and I never ran into him again. I do go to the Fox still, from time to time, and my friend will whisk me out of the lobby through an invisible door in the wall to walk through the little seen recesses where the spirits are alive, and well, and working for the good of the good. A little magic is tonic for the soul, and whenever I am nauseated by the Winston Moseleys of the world, thankfully there are the Joe Pattens, and the possibility of achievement far beyond the expected norm.

More Alembics to come.

Open Letter to Captain Henry “Tony” Wooten from Johnny Americana

Note from the Blog Custodian: Since “paddytheduke” the normal blog contributor is off trying to mediate the fight between Superman and Batman, he has agreed to let Mr. Johnny Americana post this written request for employment to the Dawson County sheriff’s department. Mr. Johnny Americana, a somewhat dumb-headed and misguided old acquaintance of “paddytheduke’s,” has demanded the use of this platform to implore sheriff’s candidate Tony Wooten to hire him on as a deputy in the rural Georgia county after seeing a video clip of Officer Wooten assaulting a journalist during a public political rally. Mr. Americana, while passionate about his beliefs, has always had the somewhat debilitating deficiency of misguided fervor. Mr. Americana’s letter is posted as a courtesy and we wish him the best of luck in his pursuit of gainful employment. Go right ahead, Mr. Americana.

Dear Sheriff’s Captain Henry Wooten,

Henry, can I call you Tony? I hear all your friends call you Tony and I’d like to be your friend. Not only do I want to be your friend, I want to be your subordinate, your employee, your trusted soldier in the fight against crime. I was watching some footage of you recently and I must say I’m very impressed. I saw you take down a terrorist at that farm in North Georgia in just the nick of time. Score one for the good guys! Terrorists are everywhere these days, even in the rural south, which is scary. What’s even scarier is that they’ve developed such intricate disguises that you can hardly recognize them anymore. Take the one you so expertly disarmed. If I didn’t know any better I would’ve thought she was a thin, all-American, white woman instead of a hairy Middle Eastern Arab with a suicide belt. And that gun she was carrying looked an awful lot like a video camera. ISIS is always evolving, trying to stay one step ahead of us and if they can start looking like “us” there is no telling where they will show up next. Hell, this blonde, saggy broad sitting next to me at this bar could be a suicide bomber. (I know it’s a little early in the day but I needed a drink because I’m shaking with enthusiasm for the sheriff’s office and not because I have the DT’s.) Where was I? Oh yeah, terrorists are everywhere, even at the highest levels. I suspect that Clinton woman was trained by the mujahideen. I have a friend that said he got up close to her once during a town hall meeting and saw her filthy beard but the Lefties in the newsrooms are always airbrushing the damn thing away in pictures.

Back to you though Tony, Big T, Woo-Tang Clan, Woo-Woo! Wooten! Your heroism on that gamy pig farm saved lives that day. The “Talking Head” bureaucrats are always saying we need to collect the right “intelligence” about ISIS in order to defeat them, but you were like, fuck that, I don’t need no intelligence to know this woman is a threat. That frail looking woman, Nydia Tisdale (what kind of a name is Nydia, anyway? That ‘y’ in the middle just makes it look all foreign) anyway Nydia was about to kill all of you, but you threw yourself in the line of (video) fire and bent that crazy bitch’s arm behind her, even as some of the bystanders and even the state’s Attorney General looked on like you were nuts. We need less bystanders and more men of action like yourself and Corey Lewandowski, who wrestled that nosy reporter away from President Trump. (He got elected, right?) You and Mr. Lewandowski know that you can’t let these people come around exercising their right to freedom of the press. Today’s video recorder is tomorrow’s assault rifle, and today’s investigative journalist is tomorrow’s organic shrapnel. What’s the difference between a barbed question and an armor-piercing bullet? About three dollars a round. If you hire me on as deputy I can help stop the scourge.

You may be wondering about my credentials. First of all let me say that I take down women all the time, except that when I do it’s usually because I owe them for child support and they come at me like wild animals. Or when they tell my kids to stop smoking in front of their kids and all hell breaks loose… I’m just saying I have a lot of experience taking down women and could be a real valuable asset to your law enforcement team.

My actual work experience? Well, right now, Tony, Atomic T, Tonator, I’m working at a bakery down in the city. We make niche pastries. Our big sellers are “anatomical” cakes in the shapes of titties and ding-dongs. It used to be a real problem selling these specialty desserts to people we didn’t approve of, but now with the new Georgia law we can make sure that when we sell a big pair of cream pie titties we are selling them to a man and when we make a five-pound chocolate schlong we are selling it to a girls’ bachelorette party. God Bless America. See, I’m already kinda enforcing the law, right? It wouldn’t be that much of a jump to patrolling the streets looking for terrorists and sodomites and journalists who think they can just keep government open to the public. Transparency is for windows, Tony. You know what I’m talking about.  Speaking of which I threw an old boat anchor through the front window of that terrorist’s home today. April Fool’s Day, Nydia. You should’ve heard the fuckin shatter. You’ve gotta teach these journalists and terrorists that they can’t just record what politicians say, because on the extremely rare occasion they get caught saying something stupid they don’t need it advertised all over the place. If only we could just keep the internet open to people who love America and freedom. 

Yours belligerently,

Johnny Americana.

P.S.  I just heard President Trump isn’t elected yet, so I have to go put up campaign signs for him around Emory University. He needs the Muslim vote and they’ve got good Muslims over there, like the nerdy, quiet kind, who need to hear his message of hope and change, like he hopes they change what country they live in. Wooten for Sheriff!!

(More Alembics to come)