The Modern Test of a Man

It is an exciting time to be a man, or a woman, or both, or neither. I used to identify simply as being male, because, that’s pretty much what I am. Surprised then, was I, to realize there is a whole new array of options out there these days. I try to be aware of current trends, if only to keep an eye on what is happening and not necessarily to integrate fads or paradigm shifts into my own personal “style,” if it can even be called that. I also tend to just go with the simple things that have always worked for me. I watch old black and white movies. I listen to NPR on the radio. I read books made of pulp. I sit in my backyard and watch fireflies shake their glowing asses at me.

As a culture we’ve never been more flush with invention than we are now. A capitalist society lives by the mantra, “The More Choices, The Better.” And so I may walk into a car dealership and say, “I don’t want any of that newfangled, fancy, space-age stuff. Just a basic, reliable automobile.” But then the savvy car salesman will point out certain creature comforts like seats that warm themselves, hands-free blue-tooth, satellite GPS, holograms, driverless options, rear-camera visual aids, and I may say, “Wow. I had no idea this stuff existed. It’s a whole new world. Thanks oily salesman.”

And so I tried to keep an open mind as I perused the new categories of human that were available to me, now that I was firmly entrenched in the twenty-first century. I could be cis-gender, trans-gender, heterosexual, homosexual, omnisexual, asexual, metrosexual, non-gender, nonbinary, intersex, gender nonconforming, gender fluid, gender hyperbolic, gender lethargic, a tucker, a taper, a candlestick maker, half-in, half-out, all-in, all-out, top, bottom, fem, butch, prissy, hissy, vulgar, misogynistic, androphobic, aloof, lecherous, ethereal, multiple sexuality madman, or madwoman, I suppose.

The possibilities were dizzying, and what’s worse, how do I keep myself from being forced into a category of my own definition, that, once employed, may be limiting to the options I may have for myself. Oscar Wilde once said, “To define is to limit.” Indeed, and considering his tastes and proclivities, he probably would’ve happily flipped for all the new kinds of male or female alternatives, and may even have morphed into something like an Olivia Wilde, which would’ve been something to behold. If a person can write like Oscar Wilde and look like Olivia Wilde, there probably isn’t much they can’t accomplish. Kind of unfairly superhuman.

I was always just a guy who liked girls, but that suddenly seemed lame and boring. And, considering the spectrum of masculinity and femininity, not as clear-cut as I may have assumed. For instance I had been mistakenly referred to as “Ma’am” on one or two impersonal sales calls over the years. I never had any reason to doubt my voice fell into the normal tenor of an adult male, but maybe I had been kidding myself all this time. I had once, while accidentally ingesting two tabs of ecstasy, (long story, I thought they were headache relievers; and in a way, they were), danced with my hands over my head. I had sipped a can of beer through a straw. I’m terrible at fixing things. The fight club I joined turned out to be a slap fest. I don’t go out of my way to watch contact sports. In fact, when I considered it, I never realized my own betrayal to the classical precepts of my gender.

It may have had something to do with a bartender gig I had awhile back. Every Monday night the bar had a drag show. Talk about a crash course in an alternative subculture. It was like being trapped in a Federico Fellini movie one day a week, with opulent dresses, wigs, pasties, fishnets, heels whirling by, and in the middle of it all feminine figures who were technically male-born, lip synching the Pussycat Dolls “Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?”

The place was packed every Monday for years, and I developed a fun and antagonistic friendship with all the performers. On some level I made it okay for straight guys to show up to the place with their girlfriends, too. Paddy the Duke, Ambassador. The guys could sit at the bar and talk to me, feeling comfortable with one of their own, and I would lecture them seriously on metaphysical principles as applied by Marcus Aurelius and Boethius, about how humans should strive for a kind of competitive harmony whose ultimate design is an implacable mystery, all while a Tammy Wynette look-alike crooned “Stand By Your Man.”  A vague philosophical principle takes on a whole new level of curiosity when it is spoken between the knees of a six-foot-five drag queen standing atop the bar, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with “her” rendition of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.”

The performers were courageous, I’ll give them that. One of the drag queens I used to chat with would tell me, “It takes balls to do this. (Pause). You know what I mean!” She was right, too. One time the question was even put to me, “Are you man enough to wear a dress in public?”

The question froze me in a type of brilliant logical paradox, and “she,” the crafty Socrates, awaited my answer. If I said no, then I had to admit I wasn’t man enough. If I said yes, I might have to wear a dress in public, and the thought terrified me, and in a traditional sense, fear is generally associated with the feminine.

“Well, which one is it, sweetie?” My crafty interlocutor dared.

“Um, I’m going to go drink half a bottle of Grand Marnier,” I said. “That is my answer.”

“You’ve got a long way to go.”

“Well then, I might as well be drunk for the trip.”

More Alembics to come.


Yet again I have witnessed an English bulldog trotting down the street, tethered to a human that bore such a striking resemblance to his pet, both in look and in gait, that it makes me fearful there is some sinister genetic experiment going on somewhere close by. Something on the level of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Thickset with identical waddles and underbites, it is a thing to behold. When the Christian Cavalry rode into the new world the savages thought horse and rider were one and the same beast. This is the opposite. Years from now they will say that canine-human dualities used to be considered two separate beings.

I digress…

When I want life, unadulterated; when I choose to sit in an environment not acted upon by artificial air control; when I wish to see garrulous lunatics preaching conspiracy; when I wish my articles of clothing to commingle with the lint of strangers; when I want to run the heady risk of having my clothes removed prematurely from a rinse cycle; when I crave the vertiginous spinning of a wall of throbbing metal cubes; In short, when I want all of this, I head to the laundromat.

I have my own washer and dryer. That isn’t the point. I also have my own bottles of liquor, yet I occasionally head out to the local bar. It is a social exercise, the only way to really get to the heart of the word on the street. Local, national or global, nobody trusts the internet anymore. Search engines filter and predict a user’s pattern of choice. We are fed what we are likely to eat, and told that all else is poison. But at the laundromat, the trolls are unmasked. They sit there, plain as day, and rant. I like the laundromats next to the parks, because there is always a steady supply of vagabonds drifting back and forth. I pulled in the other day, surprised that there was an empty parking spot right next to the door. I unloaded my clothes, got the machines going, and sat down with a book. It wasn’t long before a man sat down next to me. He glared at me shamelessly.

“Good parking spot,” he said.

“Yeah, lucky I guess,” I said.

“I got you that parking spot. A car was about to pull in and I faked an episode.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Don’t mention it.” He paused for a moment, looking around. “You know, a guy who goes out of his way to help a fellow out might deserve something. The reason you coasted in so easily is because of me.” 

I exhaled and reached into my pocket. It is always a tense and awkward exchange to be panhandled at the laundromat, because the customers always have quarters, and the bums always know we have them. Further, they know that we know that they know. I flipped him a shiny one and he watched it bounce down the sidewalk. He shook his head and laughed.

“I was thinking more like a lollipop and some deodorant from the store across the way.”

“You mean, because of the parking space?”

“I mean because I think a lollipop would be a nice way to enjoy the afternoon, and if you lean close enough, we will both agree that a can of anti-perspirant is a fine idea.”

“I’m not so sure,” I said.

“Or else, we can always discuss the incident,” he said, pulling out his I-Phone.

“You can’t afford deodorant yet you have an I-Phone?” I said.

“Technology is an imperative. Stink is a choice,” he said, and queued up a video that showed a masked vandal smashing the window of the very same laundromat we were sitting in front of. “That guy looks a little like you, doesn’t it?”

“It’s not me,” I said.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“But it does.”

“If I tell the owner that it is you, he will confiscate your clothes and call the police. He trusts me.”

“Why would he trust you? It is clear that you are a dishonest opportunist.”

“You weren’t saying that when you parked right next to the entrance.”

He had me there. The seconds ticked by. He kept rewinding the video and playing it.

“It’s looking more and more like you. Or less and less.” 

Taking the path of least resistance, I walked across the street and got him his sundries. I returned and handed them over.

“It’s a fine day,” he said, enjoying his lollipop. He applied a prodigious amount of deodorant, spraying and spraying, but instead of making him smell better he actually made the deodorant smell worse. I looked at him with a fresh perspective. Kind of squat. Sunken face. Short, bowed legs.

“Do you own a bulldog?” I said.

“That’s like me asking you if you own your two feet,” he said.

“I knew it. You are an experiment.” 

“So are you.”

“Run by whom?”

“The autocrats. Welcome to the brave new world,” he barked.

More Alembics to come.

The Ethics of Ethics

Welcome, everyone, to the year 2017, and on a personal note, to my 100th blog entry. I would like it to have rained balloons around every person reading this, but it was not in the budget, and I have a feeling that the new year will be one of fiscal responsibility, prudence in regards to legislation, and getting rid of those crap-sucking ethical review boards. H.L. Mencken once said, “Conscience is that tiny voice that tells a person that… somebody may be watching.” Which of course affords two possibilities. Conduct oneself in a way that would be honorable if someone were paying attention, or get rid of the people watching. A special ‘Thank You’ to the new congress for already making 2017 a year to remember by trying to get rid of the Office of Congressional Ethics. I can’t blame them. Ethical watchdogs take the fun out of everything. Lavish gifts have to be hidden, or at the very least “laundered.” A representative’s mother-in-law will have to be the benefactor of his new Cadillac Escalade instead of a lobbyist. First class air travel can’t be paid for directly by some brutal Middle East monarchy. Instead the congressmen have to be “reimbursed” through some dummy slush fund, which could take months. Added to all that, it’s getting tougher to trust D.C.’s hookers and call girls. They tend to have loose lips. Plus, they talk a lot.

With India changing its entire currency to eliminate corruption, China cracking down on graft, the Filipino president bragging about personally murdering gang members to rid the streets of crime, and South Korea’s president facing impeachment for bribery and pelf, the message is clear. Oversight sucks. The easiest way not to get caught is not to get accused, and the easiest way not to get accused is to dismiss and neutralize the accusers.  The Office of Congressional Ethics is to the government what any Human Resources department is to its major corporation. Nobody likes them. They are always fabricating problems in order to justify their own existence. When some woman complains to H.R. about sexual harassment by one of her superiors, it is very likely that the superior may have to explain himself before settling for an undisclosed sum. Gone are the days when the woman herself might be blamed for her own harassment, chastised for wearing actual women’s clothing in the presence of men, defiantly taunting these helpless schmucks with an exposed ankle or wrist. Who does she think she is, Coco Chanel?

When it comes to ethical systems there are two kinds of people. Friends and enemies. Enemies, naturally, deserve all they get, whether the charges of impropriety are legitimate or not. They have lined up on the wrong side of favoritism, and for that their crimes are unpardonable. Friends, by the nature of their loyalty, never do anything wrong. Their transgressions are momentary lapses of judgement, blown out of proportion by political opportunists in order to slander their reputations. They are closet head cases, friends are, and the last thing anybody wants is for a friend to be revealed as a blatant, out-in-the-open head case. Like Tex Iverson, a prominent Atlanta attorney who recently shot his wife while falling asleep in the rear passenger seat of his SUV with a loaded .38 in his hand as they were driving through the city because he was afraid of the Black Lives Matter movement. I know that sentence doesn’t seem to make any sense, yet apparently that is exactly what happened. Mr. Iverson, about to be on trial for manslaughter, still chairs a committee for the state board of elections and has voted repeatedly to strengthen voter I.D. laws, because he is deeply concerned that some less than honest citizens who haven’t shot their wives still might try to vote twice. 

I was in Aspen recently. I could go on and on about that trip, but I feel brevity is the fashion for the new year. Suffice it to say that I wound up in the heated swimming pool of the Jerome Hotel. It’s a nice little retreat. There is a decent view of the mountain. The bar is just inside the glass doors and the staff is more than happy to provide plastic cups for pool cocktails. There are two hot tubs on either side of the pool, and both tend to be crowded with drunks. I watched from an inconspicuous spot as a certain group of people went haywire. They shrieked like banshees at the moon, both the one in the sky and the one constantly revealed by the drunk guy pulling his swimming trunks down. There was a girl wearing a bikini, cowboy hat, and Ugg boots squealing in mock terror as a hairy man in a thong tried to carry her away to wherever. One guy was off puking into a mound of snow, and another old fogy was throwing wads of twenty-dollar bills in the air as two girls in front of him french kissed each other. The noise they created was unbearable. I could only stand it for so long. I was there, after all, to relax. These animals were going to devour each other. I made a break for it. None too surprised then, was I, when I happened to walk by a chalked marquee sign in the lobby that declared…

“The Jerome Welcomes Members of the Regional Office of Congressional Ethics.”

What? Those swine! Drain the swamp!

More Alembics to come…