From the looks of the local billboards and the ads on the sides of transit buses it seems that there are two really big problems in my part of town. Bad pipes and car wrecks. I’ve reached this conclusion because every available advertising space has been taken by plumbers and personal injury lawyers. The puns are out of control. Particularly for the plumbing concerns. These shit-heads have taken scatology to a whole new level. They don’t give a crap. They’ve made a mess with their big, splashy adverts. They’ve strained to drop every disgusting metaphor they can digest. Egads. They’ve got me doing it.

It’s a good thing that the plumbers advertise so aggressively because without it hell knows who I might call when my toilet is stopped up. I may be tempted to phone a roofer. Then an electrician. The carpenter I call for a quote will probably just hang up on me. The landscaper will be confused. My car mechanic will think I’m daft. The cleaning lady will shrug. The Yoruban high priest of Santeria will cast some chicken bones.  As a last resort and with nothing to lose I may call a plumber, who through some mixed miracle will actually be able to fix what was ere an absolutely insoluble dilemma. 

It makes me wonder if the plumbing competition is so clogged up (lawdy!) that there is a need to grab every available billboard within a ten-mile radius of my house. Do they have one of those powerful, predictive computer models that suggest my neighborhood is backing up, sewage-wise? That as a group we’re headed for disaster? Thus the personal injury folks are everywhere too.  When the enormous fecal monster rises up out of the ground and begins trampling through houses like Godzilla, we’ll have the right legal counsel. The sharp lawyer with the horse teeth and dyed hair will sue the shit out of everybody. (Getting ridiculous, I know.) 

I have nothing against advertising. It’s good to know that there are people out there with the knowledge and experience to fix problems, provide advice, get you what you need. We’ve come a long way since the days of Burma Shave, the exciting new brushless shaving cream from the fifties. The Burma Shavers developed the ingenious idea of peppering the highways with quartets of billboards that could advertise to a whole new demographic, the highway traveler, who has nothing to do but drive and await each sign for the next line in their clever jingles. Whiskers in the way… Your face is a’bristle… so cut it away… make the women whistle… Burma Shave. I made that one up, but you get the idea. Passengers would eagerly await each billboard for the full stanza. 

But now the landscape is crowded. “Plumber on doody.” “Turn your wreck into a check.” “Get yourself a full head of hair and turn yourself into a casanova,” declares the billboard for the $2-a-graft hair transplant system, complete with bald man looking glum alongside his twin self, now with thick mane, big smile and new wife, hugging him. I’m not sure how many “grafts” it takes to achieve follicle fulfillment, but it won’t be long before his new wife castigates him for his $20,000 debt-ridden head. A loser with hair is still a loser, really, and no amount of grafting will fix that. I once saw a cheapskate who decided to cut some corners and “graft” a lower hairline, while leaving the rest of his dome to the natural receding process so that eventually he had a kind of sparse fence of hair plugs and behind that a vast and shiny pate of nothing. His head looked like a glass lake with some dying reeds at the edge of it. It was the most unnatural looking cosmetic enhancement in creation. Even the poop monster that stalks through my neighborhood was like, “Man, you look stupid.”   

I often wonder why the ambulance chasers don’t just advertise directly on the ambulances. It could be a way to subsidize the rising cost of healthcare. “Turn your smash into cash. Today he’s riding in an ambulance, tomorrow it’s a limousine.”

The social fabric is becoming frayed. The toilets don’t work and people are being run down by callous motorists with deep pockets. When my friends from other parts of the country call me and say “What’s up?” I now tell them, “Turds and civil liability.” That type of answer, unexpected as it is, will usually take any conversation in an entirely new and uncharted direction. I must say, though, there is one billboard I really like, because the guy on it has to be the craziest bastard in the city. He advertises himself as THE diamond merchant of Atlanta and he even puts his picture on the billboard, big as the sun. What better way to alert the cat burglars and jewel thieves than to take out a full billboard along a major highway advertising yourself as the proprietor of millions of dollars of precious gems. I keep driving by it, waiting for the same billboard to advertise a new diamond merchant guy, after the untimely kidnapping and murder of the old guy by wild bandits. 


Aroma-rama and smell-o-vision were experimental ideas that were toyed with in 1950’s cinema. Various odors would be wafted through the theater at particular times to coincide with points in a movie like a villain smoking a cigar, or a woman walking through a rose garden, or a house on fire. It never really took off, which is a bit of a relief. I don’t know why I was thinking of these two concepts the other day while driving. Maybe I was a little put off by all the plumbing ads and then somewhat relieved that I only had to see them and not hear them or smell them. It’s a catchy title. Aroma-rama, except it is a Pandora’s box of downright awful possibilities. Imagine what would happen in a packed theater if the air fans began blowing the smell of carrion through the vents as people watched Leo Dicaprio in The Revenant climb into that dead horse. Rambo in that pig slop. Those Nazis burning to death at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Horrendous. 

I am off to my neighborhood pool. I am going to drop in and sink to the bottom. I’m going to let the pressure of the water make strange percussive sounds in my head. I will not be bothered by smells or sights. It’s a place where the advertisers can’t get to me. For a brief time, I will be free.

Happy Memorial Day. Thank a veteran.

More Alembics to come. 


Give Us Back Our Dominatrix

Spring is here! The magnolias and Jehovah’s Witnesses are in bloom throughout the neighborhood. I’m a friend to all, waving as I run my morning jogging route. I wave to the masked leaf blower who pauses in his futility to let me by. I wave to the other joggers in their neon shirts. I wave to the woman with the unruly dog. I wave to the old man absently driving his Cadillac as it drifts from one side of the street to the other. I wave to the kids playing ball on the front lawn. I wave to the mail lady as she guns it from one mailbox to the next. I wave to the old harridan standing in the middle of her lawn, who eyes me suspiciously, and who never returns the gesture. I wave at the well-dressed parishioners of Jehovah who, after leaving their bomb-shelter style house of worship, shuffle up and down driveways with their copies of The Watchtower to knock on deserted houses that come to life about thirty seconds after they leave.

Beyond that there is a fairly busy highway that I cut down. It has a nice big sidewalk. I pass a few medical facilities, a technical school, a car repair shop, and a local State Farm insurance office. State Farm has a funny way of advertising. They put a big sign out in front of the nondescript office with the name of the State Farm representative selling policies inside. For a good while now our local State Farm agent has been, as advertised, Betty Leathers.

I have no idea what Miss Leathers looks like, who she is, how she is, or what she is. I’m sure she is an extremely pleasant southern lady who knows her underwriting and actuarial risk assessment.  As I go sailing past, though, the name, the name alone, prompts within my warped psyche the same witty tableau. I see it, clear as day, clear as the sign that says, Betty Leathers. A mild-mannered gentleman walks into the little office to secure some common sense insurance plan and ends up chained to a pommel horse in a rutilant sex dungeon filled with devices of pain, torture and humiliation while Mistress Leathers, let’s say, in tall stilettos and a full-body suit of rubber whips the ever-loving shit out of him, all the while screaming insults and threats.

The office is a one-story converted house. The window shades are always drawn. It is so quiet and unassuming that it is easy to miss among the taller office buildings on either side. In fact, it is this veneer of normalcy that permits my imagination to run wild. My fantastic scenario was somewhat helped along, once, when I espied a fellow walking out the front door with a slight limp. There you go, fella. You’ll have to keep fully dressed around your wife for the next two weeks so she doesn’t notice the welts, weals and whip marks all over your body. Heaven forbid she gets wise. That would be a hefty explanation.

“But sweetie, I just went in because I wanted to make sure you and the kids were taken care of in the event of my death,” he would say. “I didn’t expect things to get so out of hand. She offered me brandy and a quaalude. She asked if I was a non-smoker. She asked if there was any family history of medical issues.  Before I knew it I was shackled to the wall. Beaten with a paddle board. She peed on me and laughed. Then she offered me a 30-year term life insurance policy for the no-hassle premium of $29.99 a month.”

In the playground of my imagination Betty Leathers is my jungle gym. I owe her a debt of gratitude.

On my morning run last week. Beautiful Georgia day. Big yellow sun in crisp blue sky. The trees, the breeze and the bees. I wave like Rocky Balboa running through Philly’s Italian district. A salutary wave to the roofers, the plumbers, the heating and air-conditioning folks, the landscapers, the moms packing up the minivans. The junk salvager loading up bits of metal detritus into the back of his pick-up gives me a nod. I’m on the highway, approaching the State Farm office where Master Leathers is using rum, sodomy and the lash on some repressed middle manager. But wait! The sign is changed. Our new State Farm representative goes by the name of Dan Upchurch. Up? Church? I didn’t need a Spanish Inquisitor dunking my head under water to know what had happened. Our beloved Madame Leathers had been run out of town by moral crusaders. The disparity of the two surnames had, somehow, brought our quiet community from a bawdy den of sadomasochism to an austere piety. And I for one wasn’t going to stand for it. It was time to pay the folks at State Farm a visit.


“Hello,” he said with a friendly handshake, “Dan Upchurch. What can I do for you today?”

“Just browsing,” I said, scanning the office for any sign of hidden perversion. 

“Let me know if you have any questions.”

“What happened to Betty?”


“Good for her.”

It was obvious I made Mr. Upchurch nervous. He watched as I walked around the waiting area, pressing on the walls, looking underneath chairs, stamping my foot on the floor to percuss for any hollow chambers, bending back the rug for signs of distress. I noticed the walls had been repainted.

“I think you better leave, sir!” he erupted. That’s when I saw it, a thin strip of suede fabric  with a tiny metal stud in it wedged under the leg of a chair. I picked it up and held it high in accusation. He flinched, began to perspire. He said I had planted it there myself. This was a respectable place of business. There was nothing sordid about it. None of that funny business anymore. I’d have to go elsewhere for my deviant sexual kicks.

“Give us back our dominatrix!” I demanded.

“Get thee to a confessional, heathen!” he yelled.

He pulled out a wand soaked in holy water and doused me with it, then threw me bodily into the parking lot. As I struggled to my feet a young woman came to my aid, helped me up. She was another State Farm representative, just arriving for her first day.

“Dan’s probably having a bad morning,” she said. “Maybe there’s something I can do for you?”

“Thank you Miss…”

“Name’s Gloryhole. Melissa Gloryhole.”

More Alembics to come.