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.

Open Letter to the Wealthy Perverts of the World from Johnny Americana

Note from the Blog Custodian: Since “paddytheduke,” the normal blog contributor, is being pressured to post this weird fan letter in an effort to stop the ongoing harassment of his wife and daughters, we at The Alembic are all too eager to see the matter resolved. Mr. Johnny Americana, a somewhat dumb-headed and lonely old acquaintance of “paddytheduke’s,” has demanded the use of this platform to petition leading perverts to advise him on how to exercise said perversions without fear of backlash. Mr. Americana, while purpose driven and blind with ambition, has always had the somewhat debilitating deficiency of being obsessed with the cult of personality at the expense of good sense. We fear he is not alone. Mr. Americana’s letter is posted as part of an agreement to cease and desist the intimidation of Mr. “theduke’s” family as soon as possible and we wish him the best of luck. Go right ahead, Mr. Americana.

Dear Wealthy Perverts of the World,
And you know who you are! There is no need to call you out by name. Suffice it to say that you hold important and powerful titles in the fields of politics, international banking, Hollywood, cable news, billion-dollar tech companies, British broadcasting institutions, and hell, pretty much anyplace you find a lot of money. Let me introduce myself. I am Johnny Americana, your number one fan. I am writing from the heavily guarded, involuntary therapy wing of the Cecil B. Jacobson rehabilitation center buried deep in the woods outside of Opelika, Alabama, a therapeutic stronghold at least a hundred miles in each direction from anything resembling a woman. We’re so desperate that a group of us tried to corner the crack of dawn yesterday morning, and old Zeke got caught with his pecker in a woodpile in the hopes that a toothless snake might be hiding in it.

Where was I?

I am writing on behalf of my fellow inmates to beseech you Captains of Industry for any advice you might have on how to properly offend a sexy slattern, a lusty Lolita, in short a depraved female, without falling victim to some of the harsher penalties put forth by our draconian, ultra-politically correct, no-longer-letting-men-be-men legal system. Note that I am pleading and imploring you, my fellow fellows, my fellow Y chromosome carriers, and not pestering you, harassing you, badgering you or assaulting you, like I would a gal who happened to be in the vicinity of me and my constantly erect dingus. We have been re-educated here to respect the personal space of all women, even the ones that you can tell kinda want it, like when they pretend they don’t but they really do, and they use their bodies to trap you because they are evil and dirty and sexually depraved and then they sue you because they feel guilty about it.

Where was I?

Let’s get right to the turgid point, you wonderful dirty old bastards. These days it is a worldwide Roman orgy, and we all want to be Caligula. You know him, that wild, hedonistic leader of Ancient Italy. He really knew how to have a good time, that guy. He sold all his sisters into sexual slavery, promoted his favorite horse to lead consul, threw entire sections of coliseum spectators into the arena to be eaten by lions, and created huge floating palaces on Lake Nemi, where he chased women, buck naked, up and down the ornate mosaic floors from prow to stern. Once he had them cornered they had the choice of surrendering to his beastly appetite or throwing themselves into the surrounding waters to drown. Never let it be said they weren’t without options. We could all learn a thing or two from him, eh?

Where was I? (It is difficult to concentrate with this “rager” in the crotch section of my state issued hospital jumpsuit. Yet I must stay focused or they will unleash the chemical castration on me.)

Fellow Satyrs, there is really no difference between us, except for the fact that you stay at the nicest hotels, eat at the fanciest restaurants, travel in private planes, and wrap yourselves in the most elegant finery that modern tailors have to offer; while I sit in a quiet, padded room with bare walls, instructional pamphlets on “urge management,” and a bologna sandwich, that if you look at a certain way looks like, looks like, looks like I better behave myself or risk the old shock treatment again. I’ve had more electricity through my forehead than the power grid of lower Manhattan.

Where was I?

Fellow Skirt Chasers, we here at the Cecil B. Jacobson rehabilitation facility need your expertise. Not on how to expose ourselves to unsuspecting women, or how to grab them, or lick them, or corner them, or rip an article of clothing off of them for later enjoyment, or threaten them, or sniff them, or ask them to relieve themselves on my bare chest. Believe me, I have all that stuff down pat. I’m just sick and tired of being hassled by the cops for it, being forced to pay outrageous fees for a host of penalties and fines, to serve time in an isolated environment, and having to sign up for all sorts of registered lists just for doing what these women wanted me to do in the first place by walking within a hundred feet of me in any given public area.
What’s your secret? How do you escape the clutches of this endless legal tidal wave? It’s like for you guys you can jump out naked on an unsuspecting chambermaid, handcuff a junior executive to your desk chair, or check a pageant winner for an intact hymen and then head out to a business meeting an hour later like nothing ever happened. But for us lower class but no less American red-blooded males, it is like we are the women, and the legal system is the relentless, sex-obsessed man who keeps sticking its huge and intrusive proboscis into us until we hemorrhage. We are tired of being victimized. Is there some kind of world pervert slush fund you can set up, like a relief aid package for hurricane victims, so we can simply pay off our accusers and go about our merry way like nothing ever happened, until the next time it happens, at which time we will swear it is the last time it will happen, until the next time it happens. We want nothing more than to be afforded the decency of egregious, open masturbation toward any trollop who demands it by wearing a dress that rises above the knee or falls below the neck line. We look to you for answers. Please respond, the sooner the better, or we’ll simply start raping each other, or worse yet the wildlife out here in the goddamn wilderness.
Onanistically yours,
Johnny Americana.

P.S. We would like to retain decent legal counsel. If any of you bigwigs can get in touch with Cyrus R. Vance we would greatly appreciate it. We’ve all signed a collective IOU to contribute to his political campaign if and when we ever become solvent enough to do it. Until then…

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.