Solitary Man

According to Spotify, Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man” is in heavy rotation for me these days. 

I wonder…

I’ve been getting some weird invitations to lunch. They arrive in the form of mail flyers. They are addressed to me, in a way, Current Resident. So nice of them to think of me, I figured I’d give them the courtesy of reading further. One was for a urology seminar. Another was for a survivalist conference. A third was from a funeral home. Although they may think me rude, I passed on all of them. Lunch at a funeral home just makes me nervous. It’s like going for sushi at a bait and tackle shop. Too easy to mix up the inventory with the catering. I would hate to be halfway into my patty melt when a frantic mortician runs into the dining room and shouts, “Where’s Mrs. Burger?” 

Where, indeed. It’s an honest mistake, really, but one I’d rather not be involved in making. When a business ends up cremating a Cobb salad and preparing Mr. Cobb for the buffet, you can bet I’m not buying whatever it was they were trying to sell me in the first place. Likewise I’d have a hard time drinking the lemonade at a urology seminar, and my stomach turns at the thought of seeds and irradiated root vegetables at a doomsday convention. 

“You’ve gotta start eating small amounts of radioactivity so you can be prepared when all the bombs drop!” 

I decided, for the most part, to continue to dine at home, like a solitary man. Which led me to consider that I may be turning into a bit of a recluse. Maybe not as bad as B. Traven, Thomas Pynchon, Buckethead, or that hermit that wrote Beowulf, but certainly a fellow leery of mingling. I thought about it and arrived at two conclusions. 

The first is that the true solitary man is one by design. It’s not for a lack of anything better to do that he affects a certain isolation around himself, and it’s not for a defect in social etiquette that he doesn’t maintain a large circle of casual friends. Chiefly, a man is resigned to a life of lonesome meditation when, through the clarity of solitude, he discovers the secret peculiar to his existence. Every person’s revelation is different, and as such no one else can help him solve his own riddle. Likewise, once he has glimpsed a bit of his own blueprint, he is powerless to communicate it. The mysterious wellspring of his soul’s grand design becomes corrupted the minute he tries to explain it to another person, like a butterfly that loses its iridescence the moment it’s captured.

That, pretty much, is why the true solitary man stands alone. 

The second conclusion I came to was that it’s good to lay low because people are psychotic and will try to fucking kill whatever they can get their hands on. There’s murder everywhere. Sick lunatics are running amok with no other purpose than to maim, torture and destroy. And it’s not even the haters you have to watch out for; it’s the love that’ll kill you. 

One of the recent standouts is a woman named Jacqueline Ades. She is locked up, for the time being, at the Maricopa County jailhouse, but only after sending over 150,000 text messages to a fellow she went out on a date with once. On one level I’m glad I’m not the object of her “affection,” but on another level I’m kind of jealous. Nobody has ever cared that much about me to send an avalanche of messages the size of the Oxford English dictionary. 

The volume of her texts is one thing, the content is quite another. Ms. Ades seemed to come to the conclusion that there’s no better way to show someone you care than to send them a faithful list of gross-outs. Her electronic epistles declared her loving intentions to bathe in this fellow’s blood, wear the top of his cranium like a hat, slice him up for a fondue, and use his bones as chopsticks. She’s a creative sort, I’ll give her that. She’s also the Ed Gein of modern dating app users.  Her love notes were so depraved she could’ve given the Marquis de Sade a run for his money. That was when I hit upon an eerie realization; Ms. Ades’s last name is an anagram for Sade. Well, there it is. She may be the last true libertine, although she strikes me as more of an Elizabeth Báthory type, the Hungarian vampire countess who used to drain her servant girls of their blood for use in her beauty rituals, which never worked, given that she was about as homely as Quasimodo. 

If all that wasn’t bad enough, I then started to get a little jealous of how prolific Ms. Ades is. Anybody who can crank out a hundred thousand text messages in a few months is quite the dedicated writer. Not even Stephen King can write that fast. I sure as hell can’t. 

Which led me to a third conclusion: The solitary man stays that way because he doesn’t like to be reminded that there is always somebody out there doing it a little bit bigger, stronger, faster, or crazier. Then, I guess, I’ll be what I am. 

Sing it, Neil Diamond…

More Alembics…


Cannibal Water

I don’t trust water. It’s the ultimate shape-shifter. It can be an ocean, a raindrop, snow, steam, an ice cube, a form of torture, and since we humans are mostly water, it can be us. That’s when water gets really sneaky. That’s when water tells lies, splashes off with the valuables, drowns your heart, or floods your awards show. 

Which is why I make it a point to drink only MacFuddy pepper elixir. 100% laboratory created. Nothing natural about it. A delicious, manufactured concoction. MacFuddy puts the ART in ARTificial. Crisp. Bubbly. Synthetic as hell. That’s MacFuddy! 

I was enjoying a bottle of this very same, 0% natural, luck-infused MacFuddy pepper elixir the other night while watching the Golden Globes award show. I was tuned in to the only part I ever really care about—the red carpet coverage. Like my pepper elixir, the whole spectacle is completely artificial, which is why I like it. Fake is fashionable these days; whether it’s artificial turf, artificial sweetener, artificial news, artificial limbs, artificial nails, artificial flowers, artificial intelligence, artificial drivers, artificial reefs, or artificial hearts, there’s nothing nature can do that we can’t do better.  

So I was a bit put off when I noticed a coterie of women lingering in the background of the red carpet proceedings, holding trays of water bottles. Some nerve, I thought, flaunting the most natural thing on the planet in an environment of complete superficiality. You can keep your blue planet; I like my globes golden. 

The water is advertised as imported from the islands of Fiji. All-natural. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing. After all, nature is dirty. If a company is harvesting my drinking water out of some volcanic crater in the South Pacific, there’s no telling what may drop into it to contaminate it. No thanks, I’ll stick with my pepper elixir, created in a sterile laboratory by hazmat-suited chemists with icy hearts and no genuine emotion. That’s much safer than an open pool on a deserted island out in the middle of nowhere, or to put it another way, a jungle animal’s big toilet bowl. 

Just because something is all-natural doesn’t necessarily mean I want to go around ingesting it. If some big albatross goes flying by a Fijian ridge, sees the rippling blue waters, spreads its avian butt cheeks and drops a runny, white, all-natural deuce into that pristine crater lake, well, suddenly the whole concept of all-natural isn’t so appealing. 

And it gets worse. Mark Twain wrote about Fiji in his classic travelogue, “Following the Equator.” While interviewing a few of the natives, he learned of some unsettling habits of the indigenous tribes. Specifically, when some of the villagers were out shark-fishing, and their boats overturned, they themselves were eaten by the sharks. Then, when the sharks were caught, they were eaten by the villagers, and then the villagers, in wartime, were caught and eaten by cannibals, who washed it all down with Fiji water, that is, water from Fiji. 

I know, I know, I never realized it was so bad. Once a predator develops a taste for something that same predator will make it a point to go get it. That’s why a bear that eats a person is usually caught and killed. That bear has now added humans to its menu, and we tend to bristle about being anywhere but the top of the food chain. The same stands true for water that has held, for centuries, the microscopic bits of tribal warfare casualties in its springs and rivers. Nothing like a tiny dose of molecular mankind to arouse the bloodlust that causes humans to start feeding on each other. Which, when I think about it, is the perfect water for Hollywood. It’s a sea of carnage out west there. Swim with the strong, devour the weak, and wash it all down with designer water that has been the source of life for generations of cannibals. 

That’s when it hit me, a realization as clear as the bottles of water they were displaying, that the Fiji water models were all cannibals. Their eerie stillness, their predatory patience, that vacant look in their eyes, their disarming smiles, their vulpine ability to get nearer and nearer to their intended movie star prey—beautiful, terrifying vampires! 

It’s classic Baader-Meinhof syndrome, in which something heretofore unrecognized is suddenly identified and then seen everywhere. These blue-clad, cannibal beauties were swarming the awards show, ready to gorge themselves. So obvious, how did I not see it before? 

I tried not to be too hard on myself. After all, it’s difficult to spot a cannibal, unless they are eating. Once a person knows someone is a cannibal, it’s usually too late. The last thing they see is the big open mouth of the person about to consume them, and then everything goes dark. Their ability to blend in with the rest of us is most likely their biggest advantage. Special thanks to the Golden Globes for identifying the menace. I hope they took a head count at the end of the show to make sure no celebrity was fed upon. Actually that wouldn’t work. The heads are largely inedible. 

What have we learned so far: 

They’re camouflaged in blue. 

They hunt in packs. 

They are well hydrated. 

They’re drawn to glamour. 

They have agents. 

They look like us. 

The horror, the horror…

More Alembics…

The Far Side of Here

I’m spending the next few weeks trying to find a place to hide. The city of Atlanta will soon be hosting the Super Bowl, and in honor of the biggest sports event of the year the city has unveiled a public service campaign warning residents about the child sex trade that may be taking place that weekend. 

What the hell? 

So much for an honorable celebration of a great American pastime. I’m no simpleton. I fully understand that a huge party will be descending on the city for the NFL’s grand finale, replete with the usual bustling strip clubs and crowded penthouse shindigs. But to glance at the dizzying array of billboards around town, with their neon warnings about illegal sex trafficking, one would think that we are preparing not for a sports competition, but for a convention of well-heeled pedophiles. Time to lock up the kids, load up the guns, and keep both eyes peeled for anybody acting even remotely suspicious. 

Turning now, toward the cosmos…

One of the absurdities I used to like to flaunt, when people asked what I did for a living, was that I was a consultant for the CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.  It usually started out with a simple remark from a person that I looked a little tired, and instead of admitting that I’d been up late drinking, I would set about weaving the emperor’s new clothes. 

“Yes,” I would say. “I was up all night analyzing data from Europe’s CERN, the giant laboratory that studies particle physics. Because of the time difference in Switzerland, you know, my sleep is sporadic.” 

“You were doing what?”  

I would give a reluctant head shake, like I didn’t want to make a big deal about it. But yes, I was a remote correspondent for the giant CERN laboratory, helping to process the mountain of data from the particle accelerator. There are around 40 million subatomic collisions a second within the 17-mile circular machine, and with that kind of output, the CERN’s physicists must outsource their number-crunching to analysts all over the world. Namely people like me; insomniacs with a mind for theoretical science.  

So I was disappointed to read the other day that the CERN’s giant reactor has been shut down for a couple of years for updates and maintenance, which takes the fun out of saying that I work for the place. It’s also, though, caused my lies to come back to haunt me. Now most of my friends and acquaintances suspect that I broke the damn thing which, had I been affiliated with it, I most certainly would have. CERN is short for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, a fact that is a bit disheartening. How are these people going to unlock the secrets of the universe if they can’t even get a simple acronym right? They spent $5 billion so a bunch of dyslexic mathematical geniuses could race quarks and gluons around a vast racetrack. No wonder the thing shut down. 

The reason I found out about the CERN’s closure in the first place was because a vaguely familiar stranger, gaunt and pale like he had been designed by Edward Gorey, walked up to me at Dupin’s, my local watering hole, and asked what I thought about China landing on the far side of the moon. At first I thought it was just some random ridiculous question because, after all, one of the major rules of quantum physics and barroom chatter is that anything that can happen eventually will happen. It took me a minute to realize I had told this fellow last year that I was some kind of astrophysicist, and suddenly the question made sense, or at least his reason for asking me made sense. 

I shrugged it off, even as I imagined China’s lunar module crash landing in some alien family’s backyard on the far side of the moon. Any life form with the technology to live outside of our planet would at least have the good sense to stay hidden from us, monsters that we are. So I imagined the part of the moon perpetually shielded from us would be full of beings living carefree lives of peace and harmony, yukking it up and relishing the quiet. That is until some cloddish Chinese rocket drops into the deep end of some extraterrestrial’s swimming pool, as the dad stomps around and yells at his wife, “Shit honey, they found us. I knew we should’ve moved to Ganymede. But no, you wanted to be closer to the sun!”  

I often wonder if the reason we fail to discover alien life forms is that they are really good at hiding from us. After all, any species that has to warn its citizens about the underbelly of child sex trafficking during the biggest sports event in the universe should probably be left alone. We’ve got enough problems. It’s kind of embarrassing, really. If some alien explorers actually make it to Earth I’d rather them land in the desolate Sahara desert, convinced there is no intelligent life here, rather than crashing down in the middle of some flea market peddling human sex slaves, and coming to the exact same conclusion.  

If I did work at the CERN I think I’d want to study the part of the collider known as ALICE, which recreates the gooey plasma that resulted just after the Big Bang. In theory, that primordial soup may hold the blueprint for all life as we know it, like a stem cell before it starts to branch out. Then we could get to work editing out all the nasty parts, like fear, bloodshed, terror, famine, oppression, and peddling the young for dirty cash and dirtier motives. 

Alright, all you Swiss eggheads. Fire up that big machine! We’ve got work to do. 

More Alembics…