The Electric Monk

With every little technical advantage, the human mind loses a bit of its resourcefulness. With every task automatically taken care of, a brain is a little less proficient. Every time a computer makes a decision for you, you become a little more useless.

Say what you will about spiders, they are terrific artists. I’ve got this one outside of my house that can build a web faster than the average person can skip an ad during a youtube video. He is out dangling over my shrubs every autumn. We respect each others’ work environment. As long as he doesn’t infringe on my space I leave him to his art. His web is a nice little addition to the house around Halloween, even better that it’s a decoration that I don’t have to put up or take down.

The other day I walked out of my front door and into a mouthful of spiderweb. The little arachnid had violated our agreement. Angered, I caught sight of him at the top of his maze of filament, batted him to the ground and stomped on him. Judge, jury, executioner. None too surprised then, was I, when I looked under my foot and realized it wasn’t a real spider. I had pulverized a little pile of silicon dust, microchips and plastic pincers. Moments later the real spider debouched from a tree limb, visibly annoyed, with a look on his face like, “You idiot! Do you know how much that thing costs? It’s the newest model. I swapped it for like five pounds of moths. Now I might as well have flushed them all down the toilet.”

I got up close and scrutinized the little fella. That was the spider I remembered. I hadn’t seen him in a while. I could tell he was out of shape. He had gotten heavy. He had tiny little wrinkles on his teeny spider forehead. The waxy thread that used to glisten at his fingertips was now dull and coarse with no tensile strength. He seemed to indicate that he couldn’t build a web if his life depended on it. He motioned to the eaves of my house, where I noticed five or six webs currently under construction, all by A.I., or artificial insect.

He further indicated, (I’m sensitive to these types of communications), that life had gotten a little too plush for him. He had been married and divorced like four times, had lost on some big investments, and now most of his bug harvest went to alimony and child support. He had to keep up this enormous collection of prey just to break even every month. What’s worse is that he had forgotten how to build a web. It was as alien to him as particle physics. He weeped a tiny teardrop and shuffled back to wherever he had come from. 

A drunk girl at a bar once tried to explain to me, with a robust and somewhat reckless barrage of the word ‘literally’ to drive the point home, the finer features of her new phone app that, “Literally shows all the stars in the sky. Literally! All the planets, stars, constellations. It’s literally amazing.” She held up her phone for me to see.

“It seems strange,” I said, “to be absorbed in a computer replica of arguably the most accessible landscape on the planet. Unless you are trapped in a cave, the actual sky overhead is readily available for entertainment, uses no battery power whatsoever, and simply requires that the observer look up.”

“But this has everything labeled,” she said. 

“With a tiny bit of research you can do that very same thing with your brain.”

“Who needs a brain when you’ve got cloud storage?”

It reminded me of a character from the Douglas Adams book, “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency,” copyright 1987. In it there is a machine called the Electric Monk. It is an invention that absorbs and practices the tougher points of any belief system so the actual person doesn’t have to. The satirical machine becomes more and more prophetic as the technology develops. You can set your Electric Monk to atonement and it will go on a hunger strike while you stuff yourself with donuts, it will flagellate itself while you go to the spa, it will make the pilgrimage while you take a nap, and it will wear the hair shirt while you attend the all-night rave.

And so there is much in the news about driverless cars. On one hand it would be nice to have a mechanical chauffeur to boss around. On the other, it will reduce the art of driving to a civil, precise exercise in efficient transportation. Egads, what a nightmare. Who will I give the middle finger to? Who will I accuse of having their head up their ass? How do I instruct an algorithm to catch up to the pretty girl in the convertible and will the car comply with my request when it is otherwise inadvisable to do so? How do I race another computerized car, and how do I deal with the shame of being outrun by that computer? What’s worse, how do I try to drive in an emergency after years of being carried here and there? I’ll be too old for horseback and my feet will have long since shriveled up. I’ll be as helpless as a baby. I’ll scream and whine and cry until the robot that changes my diaper gives me my pacifier, complete with a microchip that will register when I’ve been properly pacified.

More Alembics to come.

The Universe Is Left-Handed!

We left-handers take pride in our left-handedness. It is what separates us from that other cruel and goofy category of people that, out of a left-handed dignity and civility, I will not stoop to mention. On second thought, I’ll stoop. Shady right-handers!

The modern world does not manufacture for us. It is a right-handed culture. Ergonomic tools and appliances are shaped and structured for the right-hander. Psychologists and behavioralists, (right-handed ones, no doubt) have labeled us lefties mercurial, unpredictable, emotional, artistic daydreamers. Righties are the cool-headed analytical types. They laugh at us while they watch us try to use a pair of scissors, or open a can, or play a guitar, or write something out on paper, all curled up and drooling over our spastic hand. Even the left-to-right method of English composition is highly biased. The right-handed scribe gets to read exactly what he is writing as he is writing it, in real time. It is revelatory. Their right-hand is always at the end of the sentence. Lefties, on the other hand (holy crap, I can’t even believe I just did that, let’s try it again). Lefties, in contrast, because their wonky left hand is moving toward the right side of the page, have to run their hand over what they have just written, smearing the ink before it has time to dry, making it run all over the edge of their palm like they’ve just given a happy ending to a smurf, and making the paper itself, all smeared and illegible, look like it has been left in the rain. There is that word again. Left. The word is also defined, by right-handed lexicographers, as the past tense of abandonment. “My wife left me. I’m crushed. I have nothing left. Nothing ever goes right. Boo! Dear Lord, please just let something go right for once.”

Embedded discrimination!  When the word for a dextral-handed person (right) is also the word for “moral integrity, correctness, and accuracy” it’s obvious who is making the rules.

It doesn’t escape me or my left-handed brothers and sisters that, while the latin word for right is “dexter,” the latin word for left is “sinister.” What the fuck is that all about? Talk about being born under a bad sign. I guess I should be glad that I’m not carried out of my house some nights by a torch-wielding, right-handed mob and burned at the stake for my favored arm, surely a sign of serious moral degradation, evil deeds, dirty thoughts. 

It’s a wonder, growing up, that I was allowed to use my sinister arm at all. Years ago kids were forced to write with their right, and were beaten with a ruler if they wrote with their wrong hand. Yes, again, what is the opposite of right? Wrong and left. Coincidence? Hardly. 

I would be punished though. Things that my right-handed peers would get away with, minor offenses, were pinned on me, the wicked one. I was always the southpaw on the rack. My teacher would keep me after class to write, one hundred times on the blackboard, “I will not use the hand of Satan for his wicked plans in my compositions.”

In a vile twist, because I was writing with my left hand, I would erase exactly what I had written as my hand slid toward the right side of the chalkboard. Like Sisyphus rolling his boulder up the hill, it was a futile task. After interminable hours writing and erasing my script, I would end up passing out underneath the blackboard from fatigue and dehydration, at which time my teacher would come up to me, plant a kick into my gut with her strong right foot and say, “What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate!”

Ask a right-hander about famous right-handers throughout history and you’ll get a list like:

Ben Franklin, All the popes except the rotten Borgias, Mother Teresa, Audie Murphy the war hero, Einstein, Aristotle, Cervantes and the Statue of Liberty.

Ask a right-hander about famous lefties throughout history and you’ll get a list like:

Charles Manson, The Devil, all white slavers, that nutty German pilot that crashed his airplane on purpose, Benedict Arnold, all the rotten Borgias, Tommy Wiseau–producer, director and star of “The Room,” commonly regarded as the worst movie of all time, and Cujo, the rabid dog.

Fear not, left-handers. We are vindicated. It has come to my attention that all of the amino acids, which are the building blocks of life, all the amino acids on Earth are “left-handed molecules.” Take that, oppressive right-handers. There are twenty amino acids that go into making life on this here planet. These molecules are “chiral,” which means they are distinctly left or right, unable to be superimposed on their mirror images. It so happens that nature has selected the left-handed chiral structures with which to build all flora and fauna. So no matter how hard right-handed biochemists try to twist and turn these tiny proteins, they will always be left-handed. Scientists are still trying to determine why this is the case, but it seems clear to an irrational, impetuous left-hander like myself that the right-handed amino acids couldn’t get their shit together and were naturally selected out of existence. And because I am an illogical, reckless left-hander I can see that this tiny left-handed victory goes all the way up the chain from the micro to the macro, so that the Galaxy herself, in all her spinning glory, tends to hurl the planets through space with her left hand, and catch comets with her left hand, and hang the moon with her left hand, and use her fork to eat with her left hand, which causes her to jam her elbow into the other galaxies on her left side as she dines.

I’m going to have to end this sinister rant! I can hear the mob approaching. They will show me the meaning of the word dexterity. They will break down the door with their right shoulders. They will swing right-handed bats and clubs, set upon me with prudent and rational arguments about why my alternate limb is doomed. There is a right-handed banging on the door. I answer it.

“Yes?”

“Paddy the Duke?”

“He just left.”

“Is that a joke?”

“Right.”

More Alembics to come.   

The War On Women

These females drive us crazy. They are constantly in our ear. They hover around us. They irritate us. Sometimes we have to slap them in order to cool them out. I’ve chased them down. I’ve killed them with my bare hands. I’ve killed dozens, maybe hundreds in an effort to have some peace and quiet. And still they come at me. They are insatiable. They will not be stopped until they bleed me dry. I just murdered another one. Good riddance you little bitch.

I’m speaking, of course, about female mosquitos, Aedes aegypti in particular. I’ve been learning a lot about the tiny insects over the last few months, what with all the hysteria about the Zika virus as well as a host of other deadly pathogens that these little vampires carry, like Dengue fever and Yellow fever. What I never realized, because I’m a dumb male, is that only female mosquitos bite. The male mosquitos sit around and eat leaves all day like new age hippies. They are a peaceful gender, all about the love. It’s the bloodthirsty females that plague us humans, drinking our veins with impunity, spreading disease faster than a nineteenth century California whorehouse during a gold strike.

The World Health Organization ranks mosquitos as the deadliest non-human species on the planet, which is kind of funny and kind of not that they have to use the non-human qualifier, because we homo sapiens kill the hell out of everything. Ask the cows on their way to the slaughterhouse what the most dangerous animal is, and you’ll get a resounding “moo,” which translated means, “that two legged bastard in the overalls with the vicious snarl on his face and the big pointy hook in his hand. Mosquitos? Who cares about the mosquitos.”

And not mosquitos, but female mosquitos at that. They are worse than the Nazis. Even with our notorious and terrifying female lineup of A-list killers–Medea (the Greek one, not the Tyler Perry one), Aileen Wuornos, Mary Cotton, Lizzy Borden, Elizabeth Bathory the Hungarian blood countess, Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, actually all the women in Kill Bill, Typhoid Mary, Helen Keller (who edits this stuff? Helen Keller? What the shit?) Jodie Arias, Casey Anthony (Oops, not guilty) Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, Those two teenage girls from Wisconsin who pledged their allegiance to the Slender Man, all the Manson women, and the strumpet in the red dress who got John Dillinger killed outside that movie theater–our women pale in comparison to the pain and suffering unleashed around the world by tiny skeeters. They’ve killed millions of people. It has gotten so bad that even a coalition of male mosquitos recently released a statement…

“It has come to our attention that you are currently researching methods to wipe us off the planet. This is distressing for obvious reasons. What have we men ever done to you? Don’t get angry at us. It’s our wives that cause all the problems. We try to talk to them but they don’t listen. They are stubborn. Women, right? Tell you what. You don’t genetically program us for extinction, and we promise we’ll only swarm on Al Qaeda and bad reality TV stars. Deal?”

So I learned something about mosquitos. The other misconception I’ve been operating under is that mummies, animated corpses wrapped in bandages, don’t have any rhythm. They know nothing about funk music. Again, I’ve been proven wrong. I was invited to a concert last weekend at the Dragon Con convention at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta. The band’s name is “Here Come the Mummies.” True to the title, they arrived dressed as mummies. I agreed to go simply because I had been reading about the Aedes aegypti mosquito, and saw the connection with rocking Egyptian mummies, even if they are from Nashville. I expected a thrash metal band or something like it, and was none too surprised when they took off like George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. I could write a whole other blog about Dragon Con itself, but suffice it to say that when the sci-fi convention is in town it makes Atlanta look like the Death Star crash-landed into Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. When Chewbacca, a bunch of X-men, and Harry Potter are all dancing as a group of mummies rock the house, it is hard to know who is entertaining whom. In fact the weirdest person there was me, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt I got at the Woody Creek Tavern in Aspen. When I thought about it I should’ve known that mummies could groove. I was suddenly reminded of that other funky smash, “King Tut” by Steve Martin. Always one of my favorites. The mummies come through the crowd like a drum line in a marching band, and they are as tight as Amenhotep’s tomb.

I had filled up on a couple of growlers of Flying Dog’s Gonzo Imperial Porter, ABV 9% and, good and drunk, was feeling the music. The mummies rock. Go see them if you have the chance.

After the show I went outside to get some air, the high gravity beer coursing through my veins. That’s when I noticed a girlie mosquito had alighted on my arm and was feeding. Fighting the urge to smash the little insect, I did my best to remain calm. This is a mother we’re talking about here. She is doing all the work. Taking all the risk. She has got kids to think about. Momentary discomfort for me, sustenance for an entire little insect family. Never let it be said that Paddy the Duke lacks compassion.

I smacked her to death only because it is highly irresponsible for pregnant women to drink alcohol.

More Alembics to come.

Freaknik II, Electric Boogaloo

For the record every sequel should have the phrase “Electric Boogaloo” in the title. Thus I am following my own rule. 

Anyway…

I was checking the news outlets last week for some nugget of inspiration when I happened on an announcement in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “Freaknik” was back, would be held in the city on Labor Day weekend, was returning for a whole new generation of black collegians. After reading the headline I made it a point to pick up a newspaper the next day to make sure the city fathers hadn’t declared a preemptive state of emergency. No word in the urban dictionary strikes more fear in the hearts of the Atlanta political establishment than “Freaknik.”

I could try to explain Freaknik, but the best and most succinct description of Freaknik can be found in the powerful poetry of the Hypnotize Camp Posse and their insightfully metered composition known as, “Azz and Tittiez.”

The song basically goes, “Azz and Tittiez…Azz and Tittiez…Azz and Tittiez…and big booty bitches.” (repeat).

That about sums it up. Not only does it sum up Freaknik, it sums up every fetishistic and Bacchanalian skin festival from ancient Greece to modern day Mardi Gras. Pan with his flute, Bacchus with his amphora, and Apollo with his lyre were the original party promoters. The pursuits of the flesh have always maintained a striking similarity over the millennia. It’s a pretty big common denominator, and although the aphrodisiacs may vary, and the music may be better or worse depending on whom you ask, and the legality of certain couplings may be more or less questionable, it all boils down to the same transaction.   

Whether it is a butt, a booty, a ba-donk-a-donk, a callipygean haunch or steatopygian wall of gluteal paradise, a person’s rear end can make or break a party. In Burgo Partridge’s A History of Orgies, (A real book, here is a picture…)

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Mr. Partridge describes the libertine clubs of the eighteenth century, in which women were invited to showcase their rumps to a roomful of tongue-wagging gentry. One woman, who went by the name Oyster Moll, had a reputation for being particularly insatiable. “Her crinigerous clift was ready to run the gantlope through a regiment of footguards.” I’m not sure what the hell that means, but I can venture a guess. That was two hundred years ago. Yesterday’s “clift” is today’s apple bottom. Whatever. 

My own memories of the original Freaknik date back to 1994. I was a freshman in college. My friend Tim and I had stumbled upon it by accident. It all started when we decided to drive off campus for a slice of pizza. Tim and I, by the way, are both as white as the underside of an albino. It was about four in the afternoon on a springtime Friday. About a mile up the road we hit a wall of traffic. There was no going anywhere. There might as well have been a huge glacier fifty miles long right through the middle of town. Bemused, Tim and I parked and decided to walk to the pizza parlor. We hiked past the endless line of cars, all stuck in place in what was the most fantastic scene of gridlock I had ever witnessed. We trudged along, figuring that around the next corner we would happen upon some major traffic accident. We weren’t a hundred feet up before a woman leaned out of a car and flashed us, flashed everybody in our direction. Four guys were immediately around her with video cameras. Mind you these weren’t camera phones. These were the big clunky recorders that could tear a rotator cuff from hoisting it around all day. VHS cassette tape sold separately. And the bass from the music shook the entire street. Revelers were perched on the roofs of their cars watching as girls were grinding and dancing on each other in the middle of the road. We took note that all the partiers were black.

“They are somewhat festive for a major car pileup,” my friend pointed out, rather philosophically.

“These Atlantans really know how to make the best of a traffic snarl,” I said. “I think we are going to like it here.” 

There was no horrible auto collision. It was Freaknik–a massive, somewhat extemporaneous city-wide party during the spring break for all the African-American colleges. Tim and I arrived at the pizza place and still the line of cars extended into infinity beyond, with no sign of letting up. Luckily our journey on foot was helped out by some students from Morehouse College who gave us a couple of beers as we walked by their car. They also explained what was going on.

“It’s Freaknik. We are getting our freak on.”

Tim and I sat on the patio of the pizza place and watched the festivities. Nobody could believe it, much less the partiers themselves. It was the type of random, wild, magical out-of-control party that happens once or twice in a lifetime. These types of things usually fall short, but sometimes like a riptide or flash flood, all the elements line up in exactly the right ratio, and the barometer drops and the phlogiston kicks in and something inexplicable happens and if you are lucky enough to be there you take part. 

“You can’t hoard fun. It has no shelf life.”

–Hunter S. Thompson.

Yes indeed, Dr. Thompson. I agree. In fact I had to look up a passage from my own novel, a weird little night-life satire called Wet Brain, in which the anti-hero assesses the same mostly fruitless search for a good time.

To wit, “We were all looking for the greatest night of our lives every time we stepped out of the house, even if we didn’t realize it. A location could be located, plans could be planned, but the magic itself was entirely unreliable. Sometimes it happened and sometimes it didn’t. It could occur anywhere and at anytime. The trick was to be prepared so at those odd, unexpected moments when it whipped up the pursuer’s only responsibility was to move with it, to ride it like a pack of wild horses. Sometimes you got trampled. Sometimes you made it to the sunrise.” 

Which brings us to the reason the city of Atlanta’s formal attitude toward Freaknik was one of shock and horror. It brought the whole city to a standstill for an entire weekend. Brides couldn’t get to the church for the weddings they had paid big money for, ambulances couldn’t get to hospitals, fire trucks sat helplessly while buildings burned to the ground. The politicians that didn’t get bounced out of office immediately set about putting into law draconian “no cruising zones” where kids could get busted just for driving past a street corner more than once.

And that was that. Freaknik fizzled. The other rule about sequels is they almost always suck. The book is better than the movie, the movie is better than its sequel, and if big success was a mathematical absolute than everybody would do it.

Post script. I read the other day that the party dubbed “Freaknik” was cancelled. Part of me is disappointed. The other part knows it would’ve been a letdown anyway. Bacchus, Pan, and Apollo are always planning though. They will make it happen somewhere, sometime. I hope I’m on the guest list.

More Alembics to come.