Outclassed by a Maniac

Fearful of the dangerous state of fatigue known as “karoshi,” in which people actually die from overwork, I decided to procrastinate. To tarry about. To idle.
It is the one way I refuse to depart from this world. Overwork. Luckily I am an American male, which means I have about as much chance of dying from overwork as I do from ovarian cancer. The word “karoshi” is itself Japanese. There is no English translation. It doesn’t exist here. Just like there is probably no word in Japanese for the phrase “sedentary obesity.” We own it. The closest Asians come to the translation is, “Big rock made of cholesterol. Never move.”
Anyway I was procrastinating. I decided to grab my theoretical surfboard and jump into the ocean of filth known as the “inter-web.”

It is a general rule that serial killers make terrible spokespersons. Nobody wants to buy a product whose testimonial is given by a psychotic butcher who indiscriminately takes the lives of countless innocents. To wit:
“I’m Dennis Rader, the famous “BTK” killer, for Scotch brand x-treme hold duct tape. When you are binding and torturing a victim, the last thing you need is a second rate adhesive that comes apart, rips easily, or loses its stickiness, allowing your target to flee the basement, or the abandoned shed to safety or even worse, a police station. Don’t let inferior duct tape land you in prison for the rest of your life. Use what the pros use. Scotch brand x-treme.”

Or how about…
“I’m Richard Ramirez, the “Night Stalker,” for Avia running shoes. Stalking around a city as big as Los Angeles all night is tough on my feet. Climbing through windows, sneaking through backyards, kicking in doors, and tormenting random citizens can be murder on my corns and bunions. Avia sneakers kept me one step ahead of the police for thirty or so killings. You’d have to be as sick and demented as me to wear any other sneakers. Don’t take chances. Use Avia.”

And finally,
“I’m Jeffrey Dahlmer for Poli-grip.”
You get the idea.

So I was disappointed with myself the other day when I chanced to read an article about a series of notorious murders that took place in Manchester, England in the 1960s. Dubbed the “Moors Murders,” a fiendish man and his fiendish moll set out to murder local children and dump their bodies along the British countryside. Caught and sentenced to a life in prison, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley languished and, lucky for everyone, finally died.

The posthumous fuss that Mr. Brady had created was that he had expressed his wish to have the “Witches Sabbath” portion of a Berlioz symphony played during his cremation. I wasn’t familiar with that particular piece of orchestration, and so thirty seconds after I read the article I was listening to the symphony on YouTube. Five minutes later I had purchased it, which made me pause for a moment. Had a serial killer just sold me some music?

To be fair it is an incredibly dynamic and lively piece. Berlioz himself was rumored to have been in a strong daze of opium during the composition, which would’ve been enough of a reason for me to buy it without the more grisly associations. I listened, entranced, sensitive within myself to any imminent urges of bloodlust. This is how they do it. The spirit of the killer moves through the music, infecting a kind of metempsychosis to an unsuspecting listener, like me, at which time I have the overwhelming urge to go out and slaughter the citizenry. The last thing I’ll remember is my computer asking me, “Are you sure you want to purchase Symphonie Fantastique from iTunes? (Do not ask me this again).” Then in a series of psychotic episodes my computer will keep asking me, “Are you sure you want to purchase this huge carving knife from Bass pro shops? (Do not ask me this again.)” “Are you sure you want to purchase five bags of lime from Pikes Nursery? (Do not ask me this again.)” “Are you sure you want to purchase shovels, rope and a hacksaw from Home Depot? (Do not ask me this again.)”

Later on, as I return to my senses in the holding cell of the Dekalb County jail, my blood-soaked excuse that the symphony made me do it will be mocked and derided. I would request that it be played after my limp corpse is taken down from the gallows pole. (This essay is turning out to be a little more morbid than I had anticipated. Luckily it is getting close to Halloween.)

I listened to the symphony a few times and felt no urge to do harm to my fellow man. Actually I was inspired creatively. I think what really had me annoyed was that a psychotic killer named Ian Brady was more cultured than I was. He has got time to kidnap and murder children yet somehow he still maintains a rather sophisticated attitude toward ethereal pieces of musical composition? He can allude to the great composers, actually suggesting to me pieces I may be drawn to. It is like a professor of classical literature waking up to find a burglar in his house who, after beating him, tying him up and stealing his valuables, tells him he should concentrate more on Chateaubriand’s dissonance between his romantic ideals and stop fussing over Swedenborg’s didactic categorizations.
“Motherfucker!” the professor would mutter through the gag in his mouth.

Perhaps this was the redemption. Like U2 performing “Helter Skelter” at the beginning of the movie Rattle and Hum, and Bono declaring, “This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles, we’re stealing it back!” The Berlioz symphony had to be taken back by the righteous so it could not be bastardized by the more sordid elements around the world. I listened and listened proudly. No more would the killer be a spokesman for the highest of the musical arts. We’d have the right people for the right product. I went back to browsing the internet just in time to see another commercial pop up.
“I’m Harvey Weinstein for match.com.”
[Skip Ad]
More Alembics to come


Most of us embrace nostalgia. We long for times past, for the warm pockets of memories with relatives and friends that time and distance separate us from, for the high points of our history that seem to make us at all worthwhile. Sometimes, though, the past has not gone away, but rather sits in rotten accumulation underneath our feet, and sooner or later, may remind us that the past isn’t as rosy as we like to think it was.

It is somewhat academic that the past is more reliable than the future. The past has already happened, and so is not subject to the same uncertain hypothetical predictions that plague the future. It is hard to take seriously the fearful proclamation that, “I’m worried that the world will end in the year 1960. It’s just a feeling I have. What with Khrushchev, and the Cubans and such.”
It’s an easy fix for the backwards worrier. You can tell them, “It won’t end in 1960 because it didn’t.” At which time they would say, “Thanks, that is a relief.”

There is one way the future is more reassuring than the past. There is potentially a lot less garbage in the future. The past is loaded with garbage, but we can clean it up for the generations to come. It’s a good way to think about it, and the best time to start cleaning up is right now. Never has there been a more solid (solid?) example of this than in the British sewer system underneath the Whitechapel district where a huge blob of grease and trash has formed to such a prodigious and filthy mass of discarded objects that it has been given a name.
Fatberg. It’s a terrific title. Much better than the Boris Johnson-berg, which my sources tell me was an early consideration. Even though it bears a bit of a resemblance to the ex-Mayor, and is slightly less smug, critics were wary of any direct association. Even British piles of garbage are somewhat quick to take offense.

Whoever came up with the name Fatberg should be knighted. Bestow on him or her the Order of the British Empire. In fact, I would invite that person over the pond to Decatur, Georgia to rename all the streets in my neighborhood. It’s an opportune time for it, because I live in the American South, and already there is talk of, not so much changing, but modifying all the streets named after the fathers of the Confederacy to satisfy the diverse public. Instead of Lee Street we now have Bruce Lee Street. Jefferson Davis Boulevard is now George and Weezie Jefferson Davis Boulevard, and Stonewall Jackson Road is now Stonewall Michael Jackson Road. I’m ready for the Fatberg Freeway.

Nostalgia is fun when it is a wispy memory. It is not so much fun when it is a huge, seething pile of ossified waste. The British sewer agency (or whoever) has deemed that the rotten mass is not “fit and proper,” a term that defines the acceptance or rejection of certain entities from British life. For the record, the ride-share service Uber has been deemed not fit and proper, as well as Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News empire. Fatberg is in fine company.

In a mission straight from a movie by Jerry Bruckheimer, a team of fat-busters have been dispatched to go underground and break up the huge pile of filth. The main problem is that London’s sewer grid is a narrow, outdated system. It was built hundreds of years ago to handle cholera, typhus and unwanted children from the gaslight era. Even Jack the Ripper avoided using it, declaring that some things were just too horrible to tolerate. The underground workers have been complaining about the horrendous stench. They feel as if they were tricked, blaming the job posting, which was a bit vague. “Experience history. Tour classical London. Must love antiques.”

Disposable diapers and sanitary wipes seem to be the main clumpy culprits. They were designed to break down, not build up. But as it happens, Britain is getting a whiff of the unintended consequences of innovation and population. Either that or the artist Banksy has put together his finest urban installation. Fatberg will eventually sell for $50 million.

It’s not all bad news. In fact, when some of the workers were cutting up pieces of the blob for display in the British Museum they happened upon a rare sonnet, never published, from the one and only William Shakespeare. It has been categorized as Sonnet 18.5.

“Shall I compare Fatberg to a summer’s day? Thou art more sickening and gross. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, as do they carry the stink of poop and decay. Often, too hot the eye of heaven shines, and often its gold complexion dimmed, but who cares, really, when the heat from that sun just makes everything worse, from that pile of Nature’s stink, untrimmed. But Fatberg’s eternal summer shall not fade, most likely because it is a solid block of shit. This stuff just doesn’t go away, so there is no need to write a poem about it. As sure as men have putrid air to breathe and have watery eyes to see. So surely, lives you, Fatberg, for you are the creation of our debris.”
Not bad.
More Alembics to come.
Dedicated to J.P. Donleavy