The Letters

What started out as a lark the other day became a terrifically onerous undertaking as I searched my book room for my copy of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Little things subconsciously inspire me to dig through my personal pile of literature. In this case it was a recent reactionary protest to a production of Julius Caesar in which the Roman emperor is cast as a Trump look-alike. Bah, I said, the producers got it all wrong. King Lear is the play that most resembles our Presidential Leader. Forget Julius Caesar. I could see a King Lear with bright orange hair pardoning the flies for copulating in front of him as he descends into madness. “The small, gilded fly does lecher in my sight!” He’s got daughters, King Lear does, and he favors some more than others, and they eventually fuck him over. I’m sure it will be staged next summer.
I couldn’t find my copy of Shakespeare’s plays, though, and in frustration I pulled all my books off the shelves, deciding right then and there to alphabetize them according to author surname, so I would not have this problem again. And like King Lear, I looked upon the mess I had created and shook my head. There are approximately six hundred books on my shelves, which is probably only matched by the poundage of dust that was kicked up when I so foolishly cleared them all to the ground.
Well begun is half done, as they say, and so I made space for twenty-five piles to coincide with the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet. (I had no books by Malcolm X.) Almost immediately I noticed that I owned an inordinate amount of books whose authors had a last name that started with ‘B.’ Burroughs, Bolano, Bukowski, Buck, Byron, Blake, Bugliosi, Bellow, Butler, Beerbohm, Barth, Boethius, Berryman, Barthelme, Baldwin, Bly and Baraka, before he became LeRoi Jones. This caused me to have a strange realization. The letter ‘B’ is the only letter in the alphabet that has cleavage. I mean, it does. I was suddenly ashamed of myself. Had I been lured to these great writers by nothing more than an abstract association of Bosomy (starts with B!) plenitude? What else was lurking in these characters that were so common to my sight and to my understanding. What was really going on?
I started with ‘A’ and realized I loved the letter because it reminded me of the design of a Swiss Chalet, the A-frame, which reminded me of a ski trip, which made me long for a snowy mountain. ‘B’ I had already covered, and quite Bawdy at that. ‘C’ and ‘D’ are obese letters, especially D. That is a fat little man, right there. ‘E’ is pronged, it can stab or comb. ‘F’ is like a broken ‘E’ and ‘G’ is a fat man that is sort of well-endowed. ‘H’ is the letter that begins my last name. Looks like a field goal post. I always liked the shape but was somewhat vexed at how breathy the letter is when spoken. Exhale and there is the H right there. Probably the most often used letter when perverts prank-call women. Kind of creepy, actually. ‘I’ is simple, tall, proud. ‘J’ is the hook, and every good story needs one. ‘K’ is like a disco dance move. Throw the left leg and left arm out, and you have your K. For fans of right angles we have the letter L. M is fun for the vertical symmetry. You can fold it neatly. N is askew. It is also the Roman numeral IV with the V fallen over. O is a portal, a ball, a letter on the move. If the greatest invention is the wheel the most brilliant letter is the O. The top-heavy P is maybe my least favorite of the crew, although it does separate the O from its almost identical neighbor Q, which is an O chained to the ground. ‘R’ I guess kind of has cleavage too, but it doesn’t offer the same promise as its sister B. ’S’ is sneaky, like a con-man. A snake. It is the most useful pattern to run in if you are being chased by an alligator. “Serpentine!”
T is like a tree. It is the letter that can provide shade on a hot day. U is a magnet. I like U, I hope U like me. V is the best design for a rock guitar and W is M reflected in a lake of water. X is a kiss, Z is sleepy, and Y? Just for the hell of it.
More Alembics to come.

Time Savers

The definition of what passes for entertainment has become very cloudy. For instance I found myself watching a video last week of a dead flamingo standing on one leg. At first I didn’t realize it was dead, even though there was a warning at the beginning of the video that said “CAUTION: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS DEAD FLAMINGOES.” Fair enough, I decided, mentally preparing myself for what was about to appear onscreen. The camera focused on a flamingo standing on one leg. I watched and watched, waiting for it to die. I didn’t know whether the bird was going to expire naturally, just fall over from old age, or whether a gun would appear and blow the bird’s head off, or a bigger, predatory creature would come along and eat it. Maybe I would die first, from boredom, or some kind of deterioration. After all to watch a bird stand on one leg for fifteen seconds feels like watching it for fifteen hours. Now that would be a funny little trick. Some anonymous hacker could be filming ME through my computer, watching a bird stand still and do nothing, until I died, at which time there would be another video released of a dead man watching a dead bird, saying, “CAUTION: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS A DEAD MAN WATCHING DEAD FLAMINGOES.” So on and so on.

It wasn’t until some scientist appeared onscreen (he had a white coat and rubber gloves so I guess he was a scientist) to pick the bird up, invert it and fold its legs under its body that I realized the bird had been dead the whole time. The video was meant to demonstrate that even when a flamingo is dead it will stand on one leg, which is pretty impressive. According to a certain police dash-cam video I can’t even stand on one leg for twenty seconds, or walk a straight line, or touch my nose with my arms outstretched. That’s another story, though, and I feel that time is of the essence.

Speaking of time, modern conveniences ensure that we can free up as much time as possible in order to live life to the fullest. There is instant coffee, instant abs, instant messaging, and for some Muslim households in India, instant divorce. The magic word is Talaq! If a husband shouts this at his wife three times (strangely it doesn’t work the other way around) then he is free to pursue other relationships. A thrice repeated utterance renders him single, a man on the move, ready to hit the discos and nightclubs to find that one ghostly apparition veiled head to toe that will replace the former ghostly apparition, veiled head to toe.

A Muslim must be careful, though, because this method of separation is strict and final. There was a story about one poor fellow who was out to dinner with his wife. The man began choking on his chicken vindaloo, making a sound that was similar to “talaq” and by the time he had cleared his airway his wife had been packed up and shipped back to her family. The other tricky problem is that, in Arabic, talaq means divorce but “tabaq” means Beetlejuice, and so a man frustrated with his marriage, if he is not enunciating carefully, may invoke a rotten zombie creature looking eerily like Michael Keaton, who will arrive to haunt his house and steal his daughter.

If only everything in life was this easy. A Texas oil billionaire facing a lengthy court battle for his third wife’s alimony may have to rethink his vocal animosity to Shariah Law when he finds out how simple it is to get rid of her.
“Say it three times and she’s outta here? These Muslims ain’t all bad.”

I tried the technique at the grocery store the other day. The checkout line was crowded, and so I invoked the word “checkout” three times fast. Nothing happened except that an elderly woman glared at me from the front of the line as she picked through an accordion folder the size of War and Peace, plucking out coupons with a shaky hand and laying them carefully in front of the cashier. My lone purchase, a sandwich from the deli counter, was consumed easily before I even made it to the register.

We all like efficiency, but some modern contrivances may be better served with a more lengthy process to ensure that careless errors are avoided. In fact, things like Instant Airline Pilot, Instant Surgeon, and Instant Skyscraper may seem like good ideas at first, but may result in some serious disasters down the line. Quality takes time for a reason. There is no such thing as instant excellence. Every great invention we rely on has a million man-hours buried in the electrical boards and gearshifts.

Still, if it is possible to affect that drastic of a change with three simple words, might there be some other beneficial applications? For instance, is there a word that keeps the brainwashed and militant from committing indiscriminate murder? If so, that is a word worth repeating.
More Alembics to come.

“You’re Fyred!”

Given the option of being fired or being fyred, I would much prefer to be fired. For to be fired means the loss of a job, a minor setback in the flux of modernity, a switch in the name and address of a company paycheck. To be “fyred,” on the other hand, means to be robbed of thousands of dollars, marooned on a craggy Caribbean island, starved, without shelter, exposed to the elements, attacked by sand fleas and buried in paperwork to reclaim the luggage that the Bahamian government is holding as collateral for all the unpaid customs fees. This is the regrettable result of the Fyre Festival, a sensational debacle that took place, or didn’t take place, on Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas. I’ve had my own experiences being stranded on a deserted island and it is no laughing matter. When I was a boy some prep school chums and I were beached after a plane wreck on an unforgiving atoll, and in an attempt to govern ourselves we went mad as march hares, savagely killing each other in a relentless attempt to maintain control over our environment. William Golding wrote a book about it, changing just enough to protect our young anonymity. Happy to say we learned nothing from the experience, and are just as power-crazed and savage as ever.

The Fyre Festival was supposed to take place on Fyre Cay, an island once owned by the drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, which would’ve been a far more preferable location. Odds are there is still a smuggler’s ransom of narcotics stashed somewhere on that lump of pitched sand in the sea, a drug cache that wouldn’t have stood a chance once a thousand desperate partiers got a hold of it. After consuming hundreds of kilos of cocaine and marijuana the crowd wouldn’t have even realized or cared that nobody had bothered to perform. Billy McFarland, the hollow man party promoter could’ve told the whole audience that Jimmy Hendrix, Jerry Garcia and Jim Morrison had rocked a four-hour set list of all their greatest hits and the doped up revelers would’ve agreed it was an amazing performance, a rare collaboration, a once-in-a-lifetime show.

As it wound up the marooned festival guests were stuck on a bald patch of cement next to one of those swingers’ resorts like Hedonism, battered by a rainstorm. A young festival-goer was forced, out of sheer hunger and desperation, to trade his girlfriend to a gang of middle-aged sex fiends for a cold plate of eggs benedict and some dry pieces of toast. The girl was drenched in pineapple glaze and forced to preside like a goddess over a hundred anonymous couplings. She now lives deep in the jungle, like Kurtz, the figurehead of a nascent group of new age pleasure seekers.

The only music to result from the disaster, as far as I can tell, is a pleading ballad from Ja Rule called, “That’s not fraud.” It goes…
That’s not fraud, that’s not fraud.
That’s not fraud, that’s not fraud.
Maybe false advertising,
But definitely that’s not fraud.
It’s catchy. I like it. With any luck it will make enough money to pay off the mountain of lawsuits that have ensued.

Speaking of the savage control of the environment, I was surprised to see one of my old Lord of the Flies peers, Montana representative Greg Gianforte, elected to Congress. I had lost touch with him since the days of our barbaric, adolescent power struggle on that tiny island. Old Greg, (not that one), has lost none of his aggression, beating the snot out of Ben Jacobs, a reporter from The Guardian, for the unspeakable offense of asking a question of a political candidate. That is dangerous territory for a reporter in America these days. Ben should’ve taken the safer assignment and traveled to Syria to spend a week with ISIS rebels. Congressman Gianforte underscored, or uppercutted, a nasty reality in journalism today. Report at your own risk. It is open season on the press pool, especially out in the rugged western frontier. A seasoned reporter may ask a confrontational question, but don’t be surprised if the answer is to be hog-tied and thrown into the desert. Extra points if the writer is from The Guardian, Der Spiegel, or Mother Jones. A hog-tied reporter may not get the answer he is looking for, yet being tied up like a rodeo swine is, after all, an answer in and of itself. There is only one solution. Judo lessons for the Fourth Estate. Fight back. Cage matches in the East Wing. Battle Royale on Capitol Hill. It is the Lord of the Flies in Washington D.C., and somebody has misplaced the conch shell.
More Alembics to come.
(This entry is dedicated to Denis Johnson, a righteous poet who could hammer the lines down good and clean. May you live on in the embrace of future generations of readers.)