No Name Maddox

I was quite outraged the other week to hear that Charles Manson has been released from prison. Even though he is in his eighties the guy, last I checked, is absolutely unrepentant. It’s only a matter of time, I fear, before he sets about putting his infamous cult back together, happy that there is still no shortage of outcasts and losers to continue his campaign to bring about Helter Skelter, his apocalyptic race war.

“They released him because he died,” someone clarified to me.
“Oh. Very good then. Carry on.”

And there you have it. Old Charlie was the world’s most infamous serial killer who never actually killed anybody, depending on how you look at it. He got young acid-heads to do his work for him, which is pejoratively impressive, yet impressive just the same. Most people can’t even get somebody stoned on acid to move over on the couch so they can sit down. Forget about ordering them to pile into a van, drive to the Hollywood Hills, scale a fence, murder a bunch of people, scrawl words on the walls in blood, get back into the van, avoid the Jefferson Airplane concert at the Whiskey A Go-Go, and find their way back to Spahn Ranch. Charlie was eloquent and charismatic and ultimately dumb. To bring about a race war there was no need to go murdering wealthy white people. He could’ve just instructed his followers to secretly, in the dead of night, remove all the Confederate statues from Virginia to Louisiana, leaving a note at each site saying, “You white motherfuckers have held us down long enough.” Done and done.

America back then would’ve looked like Syria today.

His failure is our gain, and yesterday’s pig is today’s sausage patty. We can be grateful that the internet wasn’t invented back in the late sixties, or Manson’s story could’ve ended quite differently. Instead of a few dirty wanderers laying around the California desert Manson could’ve had a worldwide legion of acolytes, like ISIS, appearing in digital form in every corner of the globe to tell people to hack everything to pieces. Disaster averted, for the time being.

Speaking of disasters, I was watching a video the other day of a robot doing a backwards somersault. Some jokers from Boston Dynamics created a cyborg that can do a standing backflip. When asked why, they released a statement saying, “We just wanted to create a computer that can do what humans do.” Hilarious.

Fair enough, although I know very few humans who can actually pull off a standing backflip and land on anything else but their head. If they really wanted to create a robot that does what humans do they could’ve created a robot that sits in a recliner and then they could’ve created another robot to fetch beers for the first robot while answering questions about what the weather is going to be later on and what time the game starts and who is that hot actress that is on that show that I like?

My fear of the backflipping robot was quickly overshadowed by a video of another robot. Her name is “Poppy” and she isn’t a robot but might as well be one. She is a teenage girl who, like Charles Manson, tries to get people to fall under her spell, except she does it through a series of YouTube videos. This is the next iteration of the Manson family. Poppy will probably be killing people in a few years, either directly with a knife or indirectly with bad art. Her leader is a fellow named Titanic Sinclair. Like the rocker Marilyn Manson, whose criteria for nomenclature in his band is to have the first name of a glamour icon and the last name of a serial killer, Titanic Sinclair seems to have arrived at his name by adopting the first name of a historic shipwreck and the last name of a muckraking writer.

Titanic Sinclair’s “Poppy” campaign is to sell ironic jailbait, cute girl, vapid sugar pop music, which is the same thing as normal jailbait, cute girl, sugar pop music, except that
old guys who watch “Poppy” videos can masturbate to it without all the guilt, because the videos are made with a hip self-awareness of how ridiculous the genre is, which makes all the difference.

Charles Manson was born “No Name Maddox.” His notorious identity came about some years later, cobbled together from this and that. So in a way he himself was an invention. Then again most famous people we recognize are invented. Who doesn’t love Issur Demsky. Allan Konigsberg. Robert Zimmerman. Farrokh Bulsara. Frances Gumm, and Marion Morrison. (Kirk Douglas. Woody Allen. Bob Dylan. Freddie Mercury. Judy Garland. John Wayne.)

Fuck it, I’m sold. I’m joining Titanic Sinclair’s cult. No more Paddy the Duke. I’m going to have to figure this out…okay, boat wreck. muckraker.
My name is now Lusitania Algren. Please to meet everybody!
More Alembics to come.

What the Hell Are You So Happy About?

I was reading, the other day, about the happiest countries on earth. The article had highlighted three in particular. Costa Rica, Denmark and Singapore. My first thought was, “Stay away from those places. God, can you imagine how sickeningly happy everyone is.” I immediately pictured a hellish environment where everybody is oppressively enthusiastic about every little thing, so much so that the totality of a person’s life just flatlines into a tedious cheerful eagerness that becomes meaningless without the normal rise and fall of favorable and unfavorable conditions.

Like being on some crazy long line in those countries for a vehicle registration, or a picture with Santa Claus at the mall, or the bag check at the airport, and having the guy in front of you all smiles, bragging about how much fun he is having while standing in line, because he is just always happy, and that is just how he is.

“Gee whiz this is such an awesome line,” he would say, “and I am glad to be standing in it. Isn’t it great to be standing here, with all of you, all together like this for a common purpose? We get to make friends with the people in front of us and the people behind us, and we have plenty of time to do it too, considering how interminably long this queue of humans is, its length only overshadowed by how incredibly slow it is moving, which means it will certainly get longer and will probably get slower. I wish I could be on a line like this every single day. Just standing around waiting. Isn’t this great?”

In America a saccharin attitude like that could get a guy’s teeth knocked out or worse. I guess for most of us Westerners the problem with a gleeful fellow like the one I described is that most people would think he was just being sarcastic. Either that or he was insane. Either that or he will eventually try to sell us something. Most of us here in the continental U.S. wouldn’t recognize authentic bliss if it came up to us and gave us a great big bear hug.

My cynicism festers. I remember years ago I had a bar gig at the airport. Every time somebody was too friendly too fast it always meant that they were about to produce a religious pamphlet from their pocket and hand it over to me. A lot of these fellows were into compulsory enlistment. Heaven to them is like a good nightclub. If you don’t have an entourage, you aren’t getting into the VIP section. One of the tracts had the heading WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG? I wondered why the guy who had given it to me thought anything had gone wrong with me, much less ALL of it, considering that I was diligently working at a job and not sitting around jail or rehab. Later on I read through the tiny pamphlet, ignoring the grammatical errors. It was some lame testimonial from an ex-ball player about how Jesus had taught him to throw a pass. The ex-baller then used his passing skills to earn a lot of money before squandering it on women and cars and stuff. Then Jesus returned to him when he was broken and penniless and clarified that he was supposed to throw passes in honor of Jesus and not women and cars, which would’ve been a good thing for Jesus to mention before the guy destroyed himself on women and cars with his ability to throw passes.

If these people were the ones populating the happy places I wanted no part of it. I considered packing it up and moving to Zimbabwe. I needn’t look any further than the ninety-three-year-old dictator Robert Mugabe facing down a military junta to know that the African country produces some long-lasting badasses. Most ninety-three-year-olds around my town can’t even make it to the bathroom without crapping themselves.

Happiness is pretty arbitrary, and somewhat hard to define. In fact I took an informal survey last week from a random sampling of the population and found the answers somewhat amusing. The top factors in happiness were wealth, anonymous sex with beautiful strangers, delicious delicacies from around the world, huge amounts of free time, the respect and admiration of strangers, the freedom to just “fucking go off now and again,” and the ability to take what they want, when they want it. Or in other words, greed, lust, gluttony, sloth, pride, wrath, and envy.
Wait a second. Where is that pamphlet I was given. I may need to make some copies and start doling it out.
Happy Thanksgiving.
More Alembics to come.

The Same Old Scum Sucker

I often vow to myself that if I ever become sickeningly rich, my life won’t change one bit. I will still pocket handfuls of complimentary mints from Gus’s Diner up the block from me near the highway, open twenty-four hours, truckers welcome. I will take every mint available, leaving nothing for the rotten, sour breath of commercial drivers or the prostitutes that may be employed to deal with it.

I will still pee out the window of my gilded mobile home to avoid those ridiculous water and sewage fees.

I will still hoard ketchup packets and napkins from stingy fast food chains reluctant to give them away without the threat of bodily harm to the listless cashier.

I will still clog up checkout lines of all shapes and sizes with my aggressive haggling over every scanned item. “I could’ve sworn that was on sale. I wouldn’t have bought it otherwise! Check it again!”

I will still panhandle every Sunday, weather permitting, in front of my local MARTA train station. I will still appear ragged, sunken and shame-faced, avoiding eye contact, sock covered hand extended, thanking the people for their generosity. (The public’s munificence always seems to be a bit more munificent on Sunday, go figure.) I will still drag myself away with about $150 in loose change, tax free, at the end of the work day, to spend the money ironically, like instead of getting a really nice bottle of whiskey with my loot I will just buy a case of old Monkey Shoulder. I would much rather reek of a lot of cheap booze than a moderate amount of fancy booze, and that is one thing that will never change about me, no matter how rich I become.

Most of all, like G.E.’s Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt, every time I fly someplace in my private plane, I will take along at least one other plane.

Even without being rich I know that there is nothing more embarrassing than showing up to a private airport with the same airplane as another smug billionaire. It’s like showing up to an 80s Jazzercise class in the same leg warmers as Olivia Newton-John. It’s like showing up to the BET Music Awards with the same golden chalice as Lil’ Jon. It’s like showing up to a pizza party with the same meat-topped Sicilian extravaganza as Papa John. It’s like showing up to a jazz concert with the same smooth New Orleans piano licks as Dr. John. It’s like showing up to a charity ball with the same gap in the teeth as Elton John. It’s like showing up to the filming of “Diamonds are Forever” with the same hot red hair and go-go boots as Jill St. John. (In keeping with the extravagant miser-hoarder aspect of this essay, I shall milk every joke until it is bone dry and dead. Mission accomplished on that last part.)

In fact, the lid is off. My backup private airplane will have its own backup airplane, and that backup airplane will have its own backup airplane and just to be on the safe side, the reserve of the backup of the backup of the backup will probably need to have a backup. It’s the only way to travel. Because a rich guy has to be prepared for anything and everything. I may need the jet with the DJ booth and neon dance floor, or I may require the aircraft with the king water bed and jacuzzi. Or, in mid-air, I may decide to make an emergency landing to switch from the jet with the Art Deco, ultra-modern interior, to the rustic, moose lodge jet with the rotating fireplace and stuffed animal trophies. I may, at a capricious change of whim, decide I no longer want to splash around in my aqua jet, barreling down my fuselage-encased water slide at 30,000 feet. Instead I may prefer to be whipped like a pauper in my sadomasochistic, dungeon-themed private jet, fully equipped with live-aboard dominatrix and 1,000 fully charged, shame-inducing electrical prods. And I must always be able to utilize my jet designed in the shape of a pterodactyl. It is always a giddy thrill to instruct the pilots of that monster metal bird to make aggressive swoops down toward large crowds of people to scare the shit out of them.

As expected, I would be globe trotting with a hefty entourage of European supermodels, and of course some of them, due to ego clashes, superiority complexes and general human disdain, will not want to travel on the same plane with each other, and so my five, six, or seven plane escort will have enough space for every self-absorbed, walking human crisis, myself included.

It is an all too common refrain that money tends to change people. Penny wise and pound foolish, as they say. So I am proud to announce that I would never change. I would still be the harrowing, damaged, venal, petty, short-changing, rip-off artist I’ve been my whole life. Penny foolish and pound foolish, traveling the globe in my line of private airplanes with the type of money that tends to insulate from all consequence.

Who wants to come with me?

I suggest you make friends with me now because I promise to forget you as soon as the money comes pouring in. Unlike most people, I will owe my friends the respect of telling them how expendable they are before I am immersed in untold riches.

It’s just the kind of guy I am.

How refreshing.

Thanks for showing me the way, Jeff. In the words of Modern English, the 1982 power pop one hit wonders, “I’ll Stop the World, Immelt with You.”

More Alembics to come.