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. 


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