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

Fatberg

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.
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

The Gnarled and Gnarly Cult King of Cool

Kooky myself, sometimes I attract the kooks. In a way, I attract my own kind. Anyhow, I was minding my own business the other day at the local coffee shop, gearing up to write an essay about “Fatberg,” the enormous pile of garbage that is clogging up the London sewer system, when I felt a woman staring at me for an uncomfortable amount of time. I am not an overtly handsome man. I am somewhat nondescript, and because of that there is no reason for a stranger to regard me for any longer than they would a chair, or a countertop. True, she could’ve been mistaking me for somebody else, a desperate criminal on the run from the law, with a hefty reward for a tip leading to the apprehension of, and she the good samaritan who IDs the perp. Going back to my essay, I awaited the arrival of the federal marshals.

Eventually she approached my table and asked me if I liked pears.
“Sure,” I said, without thinking. I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten a pear. When she had posed the question, though, my first thought was that I wasn’t openly against pears for any particular reason. We coexisted in harmony, pears and I, and so I hesitated to express an outright dislike for pears. I had sampled them from time to time. I wasn’t allergic as far as I knew. They didn’t taste like much either way, and in general terms I was trying to avoid use of the word ‘hate.’ We hate too hastily and recklessly these days, and I felt that serenity started with mindfulness of eloquence. Plus I would’ve been very offended if, theoretically, someone had asked a pear what it thought of Mark “Paddy the Duke” Hull and it had said, “You know what, fuck that guy!”

The woman went back to her table and returned moments later, with what looked like a misshapen potato wrapped in a napkin. I stared, not wanting to touch it.
“Here,” she said. “This is a pear from my garden.”
“Oh,” I said. “I thought you meant do I like pairs. Like things that come in twos. It is my favorite method of travel. Um. In pairs.”
An odd silence ensued. Neither one of us believed me. Now she was hurt, saddened, offended, the rejection of her pear being a rejection, on some level, of her. I took the piece of fruit from her and placed it on the table, hoping that would satisfy her. She explained that they were special pears, totally organic, ten times as juicy, what a real pear should taste like.

I nodded, deciding, at that moment, that the pear was poisonous. The woman was trying to kill me. I was certain of it. She went back to her table. I got up and got a knife from the counter, returned to my seat and began slicing up the pear, in order to show some interest in the thing. Like a child who moves his food around on his plate in order to make it look like he has eaten some of it, I thought if I cut it up enough it would be the same as eating it. Moreover, now I was armed with a weapon. I put the knife down next to the sliced up pear and started writing my essay, trying to forget about the interaction. Of course, I couldn’t. Now I was writing about this strange woman trying to kill me with a pear. At least I was writing something. Lost in the “event horizon” of my own creative process, where gravity stretches me in strange ways, I was bounced back to reality by the woman, standing in front of me, asking me how I liked the pear?

This is a trick question! If I lie and say that I thought the pear was delicious, she would know that I was lying because the pear was highly poisonous. The only true answer would be my limp corpse stretched out on the table. Instead, I stood up and announced to the coffee shop, “Ladies and Gentlemen, for the record, and bearing witness, I want you all to know that I am about to eat a slice of a pear given to me, UNSOLICITED, by this mysterious woman standing in front of me!”
I took a wafer slice of the fruit and popped it into my mouth. I sat back down. It was very tasty. It warranted another slice.

“Excellent,” I nodded to the woman, “that is quite a juicy pear you’ve got.” I replayed that statement in my head and blushed a little, considering that, taken another way, it could’ve been construed as sexual harassment.
“I thought maybe we could swap,” she said.
“Swap what?”
“My husband is a huge fan of Harry Dean Stanton, the actor,” she said. “I thought maybe there was some way I could convince you to bargain for the tee shirt. The pear was my opening gambit.”

I looked down. I forgot I was wearing it. It was an old concert tee-shirt from a club tour that Harry Dean Stanton had done in the late 80’s with the group The Call. Here is a picture:

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Here is the back:

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“I’m sorry,” I said. “It is not for sale. This shirt has extreme sentimental value.”
“He died the other day,” she said.
I hadn’t heard. Crushed, I shuffled back to my house. Eventually I found out it was true. He was ninety-one years old. Not bad for a tequila drinking doper, and one of the best actors of his generation. I put in the old film “Repo Man” and watched Mr. Stanton explain the life of the repo man to a young Emilio Estevez.
“An ordinary person spends his life avoiding tense situations. Repo man spends his life getting INTO tense situations!”
Ad Astra Via Ingenium, my friend.
More Alembics to come.

Give Em an Inch, They Take a Foot

I had been kidnapped, I thought, as the old truck bounced along the deserted road. My captors, or my newfound friends (depending on how you looked at it), gave furtive smiles at each other, communicating in some kind of Dutch-Creole, of which I understood nothing. It wasn’t the foreign language that made me uneasy, it was the bursts of laughter in between their bantering gibberish combined with their sidelong glances down at my lower legs. The joke, it seemed, was at my expense. How do I get myself into these things?

Thirty minutes before I had been sitting in the Mona Lisa bar on the main promenade of a tiny Dutch island called Bonaire, situated about fifty miles off the coast of Venezuela. It is a desolate jewel of a sleepy South Caribbean seaport ringed with coral reef in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by electric blue waters. I had stepped out that afternoon after about a week of non-stop scuba diving in order to sample some of the local culture, which, because I am only interested in a certain, very specific type of culture, namely the kind that gets me drunk, consisted of Amstel beer and a harsh Venezuelan rum called Cacique (pronounced ka-CEE-kay). The only other people sitting around me were Dutch natives, as was the barkeep, a thin, ruddy-faced chainsmoker named Hans who probably had to flee the Netherlands after his underground slave chamber was discovered in his otherwise unassuming cottage outside of Rotterdam. I don’t know for sure. Something about Hans suggested he had plenty of secrets. That’s okay. As Herman Melville wrote in Moby Dick, “We are all killers on land and on sea, man and shark alike.”

And anyway I appreciated the fresh air. I had been underwater for twenty hours, and, contrary to what most people might think, it is very boring underwater. Not much happens. The sea creatures have developed complex camouflaging techniques because, like most humans, they don’t particularly care for humans. On top of that a marine predator can eat a foolish diver in under forty-five seconds, which means you really have to be paying attention to see some carnage. By the time the blood clears, and you are wondering what happened to your dive buddy as a tooth-marked snorkel and a half-eaten mask float by, the engorged Makos and White Tips will be miles away. Being a hundred feet underwater is a lot like war. Long stretches of nothing punctuated by moments of sheer, fascinating terror.

At the Mona Lisa bar the Dutch folks warmed up to me, dumb American, and told me they were on their way to the greatest bar ever, the bar at the edge of the world, they called it. They suggested I tag along. I said, “Sure.”

But then things got weird. The driver was careening like a torpedo down a street about as wide as a sidewalk and there was nothing to see except for a gaggle of pink flamingoes and a range of fifty-foot piles of salt next to an old processing pier. As we hooked around to the windward side of the island, I noticed some rather primitive rock piles at the edge of the shore, man-made, and beyond that a vast and unforgiving blue sea, and not a person or building in sight. Certainly no saloon. Then it dawned on me. This part of the world was the same murderous stomping ground of Joran Van Der Sloot for many years, and although he was rotting in some South American prison, it didn’t mean there weren’t others from his crew carrying on his tradition of killing tourists. Like Natalee Holloway I believed in the inherent decency of people, and this could’ve been both our undoing. As we cruised along my fellow passengers had been telling me, in broken English, about the legend of Captain Don Stewart, a feisty swashbuckler who had come to the island of Bonaire and had risen to prominence as a reef expert and diamond-eyed Lothario. He was highly revered, Captain Don was, even after losing his foot after it had become pinned under an old wooden boat wreck. They had amputated his dead foot and buried it in the Kralendijk Cemetery with all the pomp and circumstance of a National Hero. Old Don himself went to his glory a few years later, and my new Dutch friends insisted, while eyeing my own two feet, that his ghost still haunted these coral landscapes in search of his missing foot. Beware of praising famous men, I cautioned, as my right foot started to tingle. It would be entirely customary for these ruddy Europeans to drag me out of the truck, weak as I was from a bellyful of Cacique, to a stone altar where these wild acolytes would cut my foot off in deference to Captain Don, their messiah, and then toss my body into the boundless blue ocean for the moray eels and whatever else. Resistance was out of the question. I awaited my fate.
Out of nowhere a little oasis materialized. Our driver parked the truck and we went walking (I suddenly appreciated my feet more than I had in a while) into a little row of cabanas shrouded by palm trees. At the end of the path we stepped through a tiny garden and emerged at a wooden bar called Sorobon at the edge of an immaculate, baby blue beach shelf that ran five hundred feet out to the darker cobalt of the first reef drop.
The bartender was Edwin, a gray-haired and bronzed sage who spent most of his time staring out at the horizon, cracking a knowing smile.
“This is always this,” he said, motioning toward the sun and the sky and the sea. “It never grows up.”
I knew what he meant. Most of us who are cramped on the continent feel the years passing because of all the change. Days, weeks, months, lines in the face. Hot, hotter, cold, colder, rain, snow, clouds, bad news, traffic, other people’s business, the same succession of holidays, tragedies both minor and major, the struggle for whatever it is we are fighting for—no grand epic battles but trivial, almost meaningless ones. Existential malaise piled up high, the failure of the system to deliver what it has promised, and all of that everything so far away and here is Edwin, surrounded by his old wooden bar, with the sun overhead and 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round and the simple understanding that this was it, and it was no secret. If you couldn’t figure it out you didn’t belong there and if you did there wasn’t any reason to explain it. I told Edwin and my Dutch friends I’d be back. They shrugged. If they saw me when I returned they’d know that I had. And that was it.
More Alembics to come.

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Total Eclipse of the Heart, or Earth (Depending on where the ‘H’ is)

Some mysteries are tough to decipher. Like why does a ticket seller at a movie theater have to be behind three inches of bullet-proof glass? My bank teller, who has a few thousand dollars in her midst, can be grabbed with a simple lunge forward but the cashier sliding a worthless movie stub in my direction has to have more security than the pope?
Secondly, what happened to “Meatball,” my neighbor’s gregarious cat and frequent visitor to my yard whom we fear may have been devoured by coyotes. The trail, thus far, has gone cold.
Lastly, why does the moon sometimes consume, and then belch out in binger’s remorse, the entire sun?

It is this third enigma that has engulfed the city of Atlanta today as mobs of eager “Celestials” drive hellfire up to the North Georgia mountains for a brief glimpse of what is referred to as Totality, which is either the unifying oneness that connects all separate phenomena into one grand understanding, or a span of about five minutes in which it gets kinda dark, then not so much. I’m hoping that people achieve the former, yet I suspect it will end up being the latter. Instead of a total comprehension of the universal truth of things, I fear most spectators will be pissed off about all the traffic, a few people will fry their eyes out staring at the intense nimbus overhead, some suckers will pay $25 for an eclipse beer, which is a beer marked up 500% for an eclipse, and Pink Floyd will make another $20 million from their Dark Side of the Moon royalties.

Even in this age of regnant science it is nice to see people freak out over planetary rotation. Since the eclipse’s announcement I’ve talked to all manner of Neo-Mystics, who are digging into the phenomenon for the deeper meaning, or the Totality within the Totality. There is one couple who frequent the coffee shop up the block from me who plan on trying to conceive a child during Totality. It is obvious from their somewhat awkward public groping that they probably try to conceive a child when the sun rises, the sun sets, when the sun is out, when the moon is out, when the stars are out, when there are no stars, cloudy, thunderstorm, chance of showers, hot or cold. Anyhow, that is what they will be doing during Totality.
“Are you trying to birth Rosemary’s Baby?” I said.
“Who is Rosemary?” they said.
“Forget it. Good luck.”

There were a few doomsday types out in Little Five Points wearing sandwich boards encouraging me to repent for the Totality, because they had consulted some astrological charts and discovered that the Totality would last a thousand years instead of five minutes.
“Is it time for the end of the world again?” I said. “You guys get more mileage out of those sandwich boards than Trump gets from his Twitter account.”

And of course there were a few white supremacists that were boycotting the Totality because of the general blackness involved. It was all part of the grand conspiracy. The moon was in on it. They were sure of that. Lucky for them they still had their tiki torches and book burning and lack of melanin to justify their lazy form of superiority.

Yes, the birds, the bees, the lunatics and the street freaks get edgy during “syzygy,” (what a fun word! look at all those ‘y’s) but I wanted no part of it. Instead, I went to the movies. As I got into my car I noticed that “Meatball” the cat had returned, stretched out stoically in my front yard. We were worried for nothing.
*
There is a classic theater in the rundown and hip part of town that I drop in on from time to time. They show new releases and classic cult films. There is a filigreed series of gold lights descending systematically into the vector of an arrow pointed down toward the entrance. “This is Movie-Land!” it seems to suggest. Step into the magic and leave the world outside.

I got a ticket from the pale ghost of a woman posted in her Fort Knox-style glass booth and bought a bucket of popcorn from the man at the candy counter. He is roughly a million years old, pumping melted butter onto my popcorn with the measured concentration of Jackson Pollack creating one of his dripping masterpieces.
The usher led me to my seat. He is a militant fellow with a pencil thin mustache, a wilting bow tie, and a somewhat unsettling array of different sized flashlights attached to his utility belt. The smaller light sources, he explained to me, are for unobtrusive escorts. The larger, more blinding magnum beams are for raincoat masturbators, teenagers “necking,” and general belligerence. If everyone took their jobs this seriously the world would hum with the efficiency of a Rolls Royce engine.

I sat down in the otherwise empty theater to watch a showing of Orson Welles’s The Third Man. Two minutes into it, a fellow with a head like a prize watermelon sat down in front of me, completely obscuring 99% of the theater screen. The only part of the projection that I could see was a thin corona around the perimeter of his prodigious skull. How about that? I had witnessed the Totality after all. The man sat there for about a minute. Then, for reasons as mysterious as the universe itself, he got up slowly and chose another seat. Pleased with the eclipse, I sat back and watched Joseph Cotten search for the elusive Harry Lime.
More Alembics to come.

Blanking My Own Blank

(Warning: This essay contains what used to be strong language.)
I’m quite the fan of absurdist drama. Whether it is Jean Genet’s The Balcony, Francois Rabelais’s Pantagruel, Tom Robbins’s Jitterbug Perfume, Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose, or Anthony Scaramucci’s Leakers, Paranoiacs, and Oral-Onanism, I am impressed with the creative stretching and bending of raw reality. Western civilization needs artists like these to offer us a glimpse of our own potential, and in this fashion, the impossible becomes possible.

I believe it was the ancient philosopher Pliny the Elder who lectured, “Quam multi fire non posse, priusquam sent fact, judicantur?” Well said, Pliny. I heartily agree with the sentiment. How many things are considered impossible until they are actually done? Pliny’s words inspire my own imagination, or in other words, blank my own blank.

We pedestrians, rooted in reality, need certain “human telescopes” to help us peer past the horizon of our own limitations. Whether it is space exploration, gene-therapy treatment, or the improbable ability to bury our own heads into our crotches, the modern surrealist demonstrates that nothing is beyond reach. I can become my own masterpiece, or in other words, blank my own blank.

We admire the runner of a marathon, yet we look on in astonishment at the acrobat who seems to defy the very laws of gravity that everyone else must humbly obey. There is a difference between an artist that can paint down to the finest detail the exact likeness of a warty old king, and the artist that paints an enormous tongue rising like a tsunami to taste the tips of a sprawling metropolis. The former is the slave to reality, the latter its master. Each, however, follows its own muse, or in other words, blanks its own blank.

Not all hedge fund managers can be great artists, and they are rarely contortionists. The only things they are usually good at bending are the rules for risky investment. So it was doubly impressive to witness one of the modern surrealists questioning the limits of human gratification. In what will become known as quintessential Scaramuccian, I watched a brash Long Islander (hometown boy) put his foot in his mouth, his dick in his mouth, his asshole and everything else in his mouth and then spray it across the national consciousness. Not since Petr Pavlensky nailed his balls to Red Square has an act been so shamelessly grotesque. The Mooch was right, though. He wasn’t “trying” to touch his foreskin to his uvula. He was “effortlessly succeeding.” Job well done, Patrick Bateman. Now go murder a hooker.

Many artists have very volatile, short life spans. Dylan Thomas lasted thirty-nine years. Thomas Wolfe, thirty-eight. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, all twenty-seven, and Anthony Scaramucci, for all intents and purposes, lasted eleven days. It took him a little less than a fortnight to dig his own grave, or in other words, blank his own blank.

He suffered for his art. Join the club, Bubba.

Out of the moldy bread comes the penicillin, though. I’m more inspired than ever to blank my own blank. In blanking my own blank I can create my own bliss, and I invite everyone to do the same.
Blank your own blank. Build your own castle in the sky.
Blank your own blank. Resist your own demons.
Blank your own blank. Listen to your own sense of decency. Fill in the empty spaces with something that will lift others to a higher sense of social obligation. It will be a nice change of pace.
More blanks to blank.

Ten Past Ten

Speak with respect and honor
both of the beard and the beard’s owner.
(From the poem, Hudibras)
Tragedy struck in Washington D.C. last week when a suicide caught the nation’s attention. It was one of the first of its kind. A roving robot security guard affectionately known as “Steven,” model Knightscope K-5, threw himself into a fountain of water near an office complex, short-circuiting and thus ending his troubled existence. Not since Marvin from A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey has a computer been so despondent. “Steven,” realizing he was a billion times smarter than the people he was built to protect, yet still unable to reconcile the abyss of stupidity by the very same humans that had programmed him, decided it was best to end it all right then and there. Tech support arrived to run a diagnostic on the mechanical corpse, but all they could come up with was a cryptic final note in his hard drive:
ALAS, ODD RIVAL…

DE9Y1vtU0AAAjHx

Speculation was rampant. Was “Steven” crying out for help to the humans that had given him life, was he seeking a meaning, or was he struggling with the contradiction of being smarter than the very adversaries that had created him? Either way, Steven was a hero. His life’s work was providing for the safety of others. He will be missed.
Speaking of heroes…
I like to think that my heroes will live for eternity, that they are indomitable and invulnerable, too strong to be forgotten in the vortex of history. Lucky for me, most of my heroes are artists, and so their work usually endures through the ages. Their actual bodies, however, have long since disintegrated. Hunter Thompson was shot out of a cannon in a million pieces. Hart Crane turned himself into fish food. Sarah Orne Jewett fell out of a horse carriage and Emily Dickinson’s kidneys shriveled up in anguish, with the rest of her soon to follow.
So we lovers of great artists, or lovers of the macabre, or both, had cause to celebrate this week when the body of Salvador Dali was exhumed from his crypt in Spain and it was discovered that his mustache was in the exact same upright position as when they had interred him almost thirty years ago. If the tips of his whiskers were hands on a clock they would indicate ten past ten, and in this case time has stood still for almost three decades.
I never realized Salvador Dali was actually a painter. I only knew him as the inventor of the famed lobster telephone and brief spokesman for Alka-Seltzer antacids back in the seventies. Apparently he was also a rather prolific muralist. Always learning, I am. All of that and he can stop the clock too. Incredible.
It is not easy to freeze time. Even if a person clenches real hard and holds their breath and does a little freewheeling backpedal and refuses to entertain even the slightest hint of maturity, we are all older than when we started, no matter what we started and how long it took to finish it. Bob Dylan in his song “My Back Pages” seems to suggest he keeps getting younger, but if that is the case, he is the most worn out looking kid I’ve ever seen in my life.
Leave it to Salvador Dali. He was the ultimate prankster, the ultimate practical joker. Now in death he is still messing with us. In fact I heard that when they opened up his tomb not only did his handlers realize his mustache had kept its shape, but there were three fully finished paintings lying next to him that hadn’t been there when he was buried. They were all of kittens, but hey, we can’t always be on our ‘A’ game.
I myself have a strip of facial hair running vertically down my chin. I don’t remember when I grew it or why. It may have been after I read a few historical texts that insisted that, generations ago, a man had to have a beard if he was to be regarded as intelligent and refined. Since it is impossible for me to grow a full beard I figured I’d get something going if only to not appear completely uncivilized. I can affect a thoughtful figure if I tug on my chin hair and look up at the ceiling, and I use this small gesture to get myself out of tense moments when people are expecting some kind of answer from me.
“Shh,” they say, “he is thinking.” Of course I am not, but nobody needs to know that.
If Dali’s mustache signified ten past ten on a clock, then my facial hair just looks like noon, or midnight. Sometimes if it gets a little too long my facial hair can grow to about 12:30, but for all intents and purposes let’s round to the hour.

Unknown
I finished off the evening by sitting in my library, in my favorite leather chair, with my ascot and smoking jacket and snifter of brandy and calabash pipe and small tuft of chin hair that I manipulated in just a fashion as to make me look at all contemplative, and I thought about Steven, the robot suicide, and his strange message ALAS ODD RIVAL…
Steven the robot was egg-shaped. It occurred to me that Salvador Dali loved to paint eggs. They are a recurring theme in his artwork. Of course an egg was never just an egg with him. Everything was textured with subtle meanings, and I suspected that Dali’s sudden emergence and the demise of the egg robot were not entirely unrelated. Then it hit me. ALAS ODD RIVAL.
I mixed up the letters and discovered a hidden message.
SALVADOR DALI.
Very clever, Mr. Dali.
More Alembics to come.