World Gone Wild

Little by little I’m getting used to modern harassment. Proud of it, even. It’s an honor to get fifty phone calls from places as distant as Lees Summit Missouri, Bloomington Minnesota, and Chicopee Massachusetts. I had no idea I was that popular. The calls themselves are awkward. They’re characterized by eerie hybrid computer humanoids that introduce themselves as “Scott” and “Becky” before offering me free money, or refunds on purchases that I never made.  They implore me not to hang up and swear it is very important, yet I’m not convinced. I blame the geeks that program these voices. They need to get a little better at mimicking human inflection. I won’t be swayed that something is important if the word ‘important’ takes five seconds to pronounce. 

“This …. is…. im…port…ant.” 

No it ain’t. 

My favorite was an “ur….gent” message about an impending arrest warrant issued for me. No reason was given for my imminent incarceration, much to my disappointment. Even though I was instructed to call back to straighten the whole matter out, I decided to take my chances and ignore the request. My freedom is intact, for now. 

Then things got really weird. I was in the middle of my morning coffee the other day when my phone started ringing. I had been reading an article about the new packaging on Animal Crackers boxes, and did not want to be disturbed. It was a fascinating story. For the last hundred years the artwork on the cracker boxes depicted circus animals in their cages. Now, in a watershed moment, the cartoon creatures are roaming free. They seem happier, the cartoons, and I for one welcome the change. Not only that, the animals themselves have evolved. The striped donkey is now an insouciant zebra. The mastodon is a proud elephant. The fanged peasant hunter is now a smirking lion. The cow with the long neck is a giraffe, and the hairy philistine is now an ape.  They are all pictured strolling along a peaceful landscape.

It’s a victory for PETA and other conservation groups, although I fear the package’s next incarnation of the popular snack item, in which the freed animals have mauled an entire community of helpless women and children. There will be a veritable bloodbath as the liberated beasts take their revenge on a populace that has kept them locked up for the better part of the century. It doesn’t take a genius to note that all of the wildlife portrayed on the new box is heading in the exact same direction, toward us, and they have murder and retribution in their beady little eyes. They are coming to even the score, and don’t think for a moment that animal lovers and vegetarians will be spared. To a hungry lion a vegetarian is simply “grass fed,” “prime-cut,” “no hormones or steroids added,” and a child in a playpen is like milk fed veal, not at all stringy. Mahler’s second symphony was playing on my stereo while I was picturing the massacre, and it was at that one part where all hell breaks loose, symphonically speaking, the perfect soundtrack to a merciless rampage of feral wildlife. 

So my phone started ringing, pulling me away from my giddy tableau of mental carnage. I glanced down to see a random number calling me. At first I ignored it, then something dawned on me. I looked back and realized the phone number calling me was my own phone number. I wondered what I wanted? My first reaction was to pick up the phone and scold myself for interrupting my morning coffee. I could forgive someone else for calling me that early, but there was no excuse for me calling me, knowing full well that my morning cup of coffee is a sacred event, not to be disrupted by anybody, much less me. I had some damn nerve. Then again, I thought, maybe I had something important to tell me, like something really important, and not “im…port…ant.” Which made me wonder if I really wanted to know what I had to say.  I wasn’t quite prepared for bad news, but maybe it was some type of warning. “Paddy the Duke? Hey, it’s Paddy the Duke. Just giving you a heads up, don’t walk out your front door. There’s a huge elephant hiding behind the water oak, and he looks pissed. Yup. It’s probably the one we rode on when we were a kid. Remember when mom took us to the circus, and you tried to grab his tusk? Yeah, well it looks like he’s got a score to settle. You know those things don’t forget. I’d cut through the neighbor’s yard on your way out. Uh-oh, gotta go. Apparently there’s a bench warrant out for our arrest.” 

I picked up the phone and demanded to know what the hell I wanted. Silence. All I could hear was my breathing, although I wasn’t sure whether it was my breathing on my end or on the other end. It was one thing to be interrupted by me, it was another to be prank called by me. Son of a bitch. I vowed revenge. I would wait till later on, get myself good and drunk, and then once I passed out I would call myself nonstop until the sun came up. 

That’ll teach me. 

More Alembics to come…


Trump in a Glass

It’s good to have faith in leadership. It’s fine to have a sense of pride in governance. It’s admirable to believe, happily, that a statesman is showering the citizens with judicious prosperity. However, for the rabid enthusiast, anything can go a little too far, and it was just such an incident I witnessed the other week at a fairly crowded bar, when a fellow sat down and ordered a beer. 

I recognized him. He works at a factory around the corner. I always categorize him as a wight, wight as in unlucky. He is a white wight. He is so white, and such a wight. In fact he is the whitest wight that ever whited. The factory he works at makes boxes and he counts them. He is a box counter, which means he doesn’t have very much human interaction. Also the job itself is probably slated for extinction in the very near future. What factory owner needs some hungover geek clicking a hand counter as box after box flies by on a conveyor belt when the company can just pony up for a digital scanner that doesn’t suffer from mild alcoholism, high blood pressure and probable on-line porn addictions. He’s on his way out, and he knows it, a desperate wight clinging to the sheer cliffs of his waning security. 

The wight drinks IPA beer. IPA stands for India Pale Ale, a reference to the British Raj, when Her Majesty’s officers would have their beer crated and shipped from England to their Indian outposts. Because of the duration of transit, the high hop content would act as a kind of preservative, resulting in beer that is strong and bitter. IPAs are very much in vogue these days as thousands of microbreweries churn them out to be sipped and scrutinized by hollow enthusiasts waxing philosophical about “notes” and “feel” and “texture” the way Beatniks in the fifties clicked their fingers to the mystical vibrations of free-form jazz. One out of every ten probably knows what they are talking about, which doesn’t ever stop the rest from chattering incessantly about the grander scope of what, when all is said and done, ends up being just a beer. 

Back to the wight. 

The wight loves his IPA and he also loves the President of the United States. Which is fine, except that the wight is always diligently trying to stuff his favorite political firebrand into any conversation, comment, aside, riposte, and discursive speculation. He does it early and often, and, like a series of boxes barreling down a conveyor belt, it can sometimes get a bit overwhelming.  

The rest of the bar was minding its own business when the wight took a sip of his beer and declared loud enough for all to hear, “Delicious! Nothing says America like a good strong beer.” He looked around for someone to acknowledge his statement. Most people were dismissive, giving a nod and a shrug and going back to whatever conversation they were having. I stared straight ahead. I was not drinking beer. I was drinking a fine silver tequila with muddled lime and jalapeño peppers, a favorite of mine. Refreshing, direct, and with enough spice to put some fire in the blood. It’s my thing, for no other reason than I like it. 

“Nothing says America like a good strong IPA,” the wight reiterated, a little louder. Now people were starting to shift a bit. The statement didn’t make any sense. Yes, I thought. Nothing says AMERICA like INDIA pale ale. The wight had his hook out, but nobody was biting. After a few more belts from his glass he suddenly proclaimed…

“It’s like Trump in a glass.” 

Mother of mercy, I thought, the wight has really lost his fucking mind. Sure enough, every beer drinker within earshot recoiled from the comment. It had nothing to do with partisan politics either. For the record I would not want to drink Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Teddy Roosevelt, Spiro Agnew, or Millard Fillmore in any receptacle. Men are generally filthy creatures, and so are politicians for that matter, and have no place in a citizen’s beverage. I sipped my tequila and chuckled, watching as every beer drinker around the bar was staring into his or her glass with unease, as if every pint now had a tiny, orange-topped fetus floating in it, like a formaldehyde specimen in a Mason jar. 

“May I have a vodka and tonic?” said one girl, pushing her beer to the side. 

“I voted for him, but that doesn’t mean I want to drink him,” a guy next to me murmured. 

The wight began to fumble through a half-assed explanation, although it was obvious he had crapped the bed on that one. I kept sipping my tequila, figuring that since our drinks were taking on a geopolitical edge, it wouldn’t be long before the wight began to construct a wall around me, perhaps accuse me of rape and murder, or get hysterical that I was going to take his job away. True he would probably be out of a job in the near future, but not because of me.  I wouldn’t sit around counting boxes for all the whiskey in Hibernia, or for all the agave in Jalisco, for that matter. 

There is a weird kind of magic, sometimes, at a bar. It’s an energy swell that picks up the people around it and sends them coasting, all at once, on a fantastic notion, irreverent and brutal, to the far side of amusement. So it went that, a few minutes after the Trump in a glass comment, a smirking fellow spoke up loud to the bartender…

“I’ll take Melania in the can.” 

The wight tightened up, for this was certainly not where he had intended things to go. His show of patriotism had gone wiggy, and the dam was about to break. 

“Whatcha got in the form of a growler? Steve Bannon?” said another guy. 

“Can I Putin an order?” 

“I’d like to suck on a White Russian.” 

“I sposa an Omarosa Mimosa,” quipped a woman of poise. 

“May I have a Dark and Stormy Daniels?” 

“Ivana get shitfaced!” 

And on and on. The wight, ill-prepared for this type of mutiny, drank his Trump, paid his tab, and shuffled out the door. He would, no doubt, be drowning in offense, although he had nobody to blame but himself. It was folly for him to think that he could control the vibe in a setting as unpredictable as that one was, surrounded by a gang of tuned up renegades. Any verbal contribution can whip back around and smack the speaker in the face. 

I finished my Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and headed out into the evening. One thing I have learned, it’s always best to leave on a high note. 

More Alembics to come… 

Jupiter’s Balls

It never fails. Whenever I begin to think I’m clever, deft, or at all mentally stylish, some agent of humility comes along and smashes my head like a casaba melon. They arrive in the unlikeliest of forms, turning me from deft into daft, just like that, as easy as the flip of a vowel. In this instance it was a boy of about six or seven years old, the child of friends of mine, at a small house-warming party. We were out on the back deck, under a night sky alive with a billion stars and our own moon shined up like a pearl in the middle of it all. The planet Mars was the closest it’s been in fifteen years. Mars is the Roman god of war, which may help, in retrospect, to explain the ensuing battle. 

The boy’s name is Sebastian, and he is the great investigator of causality. In other words he questions everything with a fusillade of “Why? Why? Why?” and he always wins, because the unlucky geek (in this case me) who gets pulled in trying to answer a simple question, will find himself regressing from a cause, to the cause of the cause, to the cause of THAT cause, back and back until I am up against the wall of a system so complex and arbitrary I can do nothing but collapse into a pile and weep uncontrollably. My friends should’ve named the little scamp Socrates for the way he chews his adversaries down into a mushy pile of pulp. 

“Why are there stars?” queried Sebastian, a slick opening gambit, looking up at the sky. 

“The Great Emitter burped them up because he had eaten too many and didn’t want to get sick,” I said. This seemed to satisfy Sebastian, and I breathed a sigh of relief that no follow-up questions came at me. The boy’s attention turned to the moon. He asked me if other planets were jealous of us because we had a moon. I explained that other planets had moons too. In fact, Jupiter, the largest planet, has about 80 moons. It was the wrong thing to say, for now my young interlocutor was annoyed at our own planet’s meager number. 


“Probably because of gravity. The bigger you are the more pull you have. Ever played tug of war? The biggest guy pulls the hardest.” 

“That’s a lot of moons. Kind of irresponsible,” mused Sebastian. 

“Yeah,” I laughed. “Jupiter is like the deadbeat dad of our solar system.” 

“Why does it need so many?” said Sebastian. 

I considered tacking the other way, into Greek and Roman mythology. Jupiter, or Zeus, after all, was insatiable in his pursuit of female conquests. He would change shape, sneak from Olympus, turn into a mist, shake the sky with thunder, really do anything he could to wrap himself around an innocent damsel. He was kind of like the Dr. Nasser of ancient gods, and so it would stand to reason that he had just short of a hundred tiny satellites around him. I decided against this line of reasoning. It was a conversation Sebastian would have to have with his parents, when the time was right. Instead I simply uttered, 


“Why?” said Sebastian. 

“You have a lot of toys, right?” I said. 


“But you always want more, right?” 

“What are the names of his kids?” said Sebastian. 

“I only know a few,” I said. “Ganymede, Callisto, Europa, Io.” 

“Those are cool names,” said Sebastian. He paused for a second and looked up above him. “What’s our moon called?” 

“Umm…” I trailed off. The seconds ticked by. Sebastian stared me down, waiting for an answer, somewhat pleased at my confusion. The kid had put the brain freeze on me. Our moon was simply, The Moon. Right? There had to be a name, though. People name everything. Fungus and algae have names, and those things are slime. Was it one of those obvious and well-known facts that I had, in my day-to-day preoccupations, failed to remember. I was stunned. There had to be some technical title for that obvious chunk of space boulder right in front of us, keeping this crazy ball in relative stability. 

“You don’t know!” shouted Sebastian. 

“Oh yes I do,” I said, uncertainty in my voice. 

“Then what’s it called? What is our moon called?” 

“Gluteus Maximus!” I spat, a clever little pivot. 

This sent Sebastian into a fit of hysterical enthusiasm. He began running around the party, flapping his arms, and yelling, “I want to go to Gluteus Maximus. I want to go to Gluteus Maximus. Mom, take me to Gluteus Maximus.”  

Sometimes it is difficult, in retrospect, to explain a joke, especially to a friend’s tired wife who must tend to her golden issue, as she begins to suspect that I have been filling her son’s head with all sorts of subversive ideas. She grabbed Sebastian up and carried him off down the hallway. 

“Time for you to go to bed,” she barked, holding her child, although her cold gaze was pointed directly at me. 

Maybe so. In fact, maybe it was I who should’ve been named Socrates, particularly since the famous Greek philosopher was condemned to death for corrupting the youth. Check, check, and check. I walked to the little makeshift bar in the den. A guy standing over the bottles looked over at me. 

“What may I pour you?” 

“Got any hemlock?” 

More Alembics to come…