Electoral Fallout

A riddle was posed to me recently. What’s the difference between expanding and exploding? The answer, I gathered, is the rate of change. 

This all started the weekend before Tuesday, November 6th, Election Day. I was at a bar surfing a red wave, of sorts. What I mean is, there was this disgusting, red “Pumpkin-Fest” beer my friend, the bartender, was trying to pawn off on me. He tends to just hand me any beer, and I usually drink it without complaint. This one, however, was revolting. 

“Why did you serve me this?” I said. 

“You’ll drink anything,” he shrugged. “Plus, we need to get rid of it.” 

“Is there a discount?” I asked. 

“Shit, you can have it for free.” 

Ever the fiscal conservative, I pinched my nose and powered through it. As these things go, the second beer wasn’t as bad as the first, and eventually I got used to the smell. The air was thick with political commentary headed for the upcoming election. Everyone had an opinion. There were the fatalists, the idealists, the anarchists, the jingoists, those allergic to the toxic political climate, the undecided, and one Phd candidate, all sitting around me. Or to put it another way: Sleepy, Happy, Grumpy, Dopey, Sneezy, Bashful and Doc. I wanted no part of it. I’m a Mugwump, traditionally, and I was beginning to feel like I was trapped in a cage with unruly parrots. Like my beer, I pinched my nose and powered through it, and eventually I got used to the smell. 

It’s an uphill battle for reasonable people these days. Fostering an informed public with fear-stoking, naked aggression, open hostility, and a calculated exploitation of raw facts is like trying to get someone interested in camping by warning them about the Blair Witch Project. 

“There is no more important election than right now,” said the PhD guy. I sagged and tried to shove my whole head into my beer glass. What a stupid thing to say, considering this election would be the ONLY election we can vote in right now. I sure as shit can’t go into the past and vote for something that has already been decided. Likewise, casting a ballot for a future race would be frustrating at best. I imagined myself walking into my polling place on Tuesday and demanding to vote in the ’68 election between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey.  I would be immediately stripped of my voting rights, as the little lady behind the desk grabs my registration slip and mashes a big, red “Mentally Deranged” stamp across it, (which is only half true). 

The whole scene was getting to me. I realized I was very drunk. 

“What’s in this stuff?” I said, peering into my glass.  

“I think it’s embalming fluid mixed with, like, cinnamon,” said the bartender. 

I walked outside, intent on securing a ride home.  I would grab an Uber and leave my car in the parking lot. I was about to summon a driver when one of the Grumpy crew, a casual acquaintance, walked past me. 

“Need a lift?” 

“Nah, I’ll Uber.” 

“Nonsense. I’ll drive you home. I’m going that way.” 

Since it was close to Election Day, I “elected” to accept the ride. It was, I thought, a reasonable choice. Then I saw his car. The damn thing was the size of an egg, and probably about as delicate. I had made my decision, uninformed, and now I was nervous. I had cast my lot, though, and so I climbed into what was probably a very fuel-efficient death trap.   

When sitting in a tiny car, all other cars seem to take on an enormous and very menacing aspect. I felt like a chihuahua surrounded by a bunch of pit bulls. Grumpy punched the gas pedal and we took off like a rocket. The car was insanely fast, or maybe just so small that, like an electron around an atom, it could kind of defy normal physics. 

Grumpy likes jazz, and so Charlie Parker was wailing out of the radio, a frantic soundtrack that perfectly matched the buses, SUVs, and pickups whizzing and crisscrossing around us. Grumpy, who may have been drunker than I was, began to lecture me on the  corruption of political power. From the origins of ex cathedra and papal infallibility to twentieth-century totalitarianism, puppet democracies, castes and class suppression, Grumpy, or Drunky (the eighth dwarf), railed at my mental lassitude, my passive acceptance, my timid consent to the ruling elite. Terrified at the sight of a large truck bearing down on us, I happily agreed with everything he said. Subtlety is wasted on a drowning man, and I felt like I was swallowing five gallons of water. 

“I’m trying to expand your mind!” he shouted at me. 

“Or explode it!” I said. 

“What’s the difference?” he asked. 

“The rate of change,” I countered as the massive semi-truck missed us by micrometers. 

Eventually I made it home. Blood pressure: 180/150. Heart rate: Same tempo as The Rolling Stones song Paint It Black. Breathing: Labored. Resolve: Shaky. Bladder: In need of release. I lie awake that night, trying to calm down. I considered my seemingly reasonable choice that came very close to getting me killed when all the other factors came into play. 

Elections, after all, are a thrilling and risky business. 

More Alembics…

Street Brawl on Flamingo

I’ve been a little nervous about writing, lately. I was in the middle of an essay a few weeks ago about the Saudi Royals entitled, “You May Have a Beard, But You’re Still Wearing a Dress,” when I chanced upon the story about Jamal Khashoggi’s mysterious disappearance at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. I guessed that he was dead, and apparently I guessed right. Now if I can only guess the lottery numbers for Georgia’s 1.5 billion-dollar jackpot, that would be a pretty impressive two-for-two. 

I decided to suspend my essay about the dissection of the Saudi Arabian fashion sensibility. It was becoming obvious that they were into a more gruesome dissection, and were intent on having the last laugh. Instead I took the dog for a walk and said a little prayer of thanks for the First Amendment of the Constitution, remembering that in many parts of the world the exercise of free speech is as life-threatening as getting cancer, and with a higher mortality rate.  

Absolute rulers have a very poor sense of humor, on average. They would not be good candidates for those Seth MacFarlane roasts. There they would sit, stone-faced, while comedian after comedian ripped them a new asshole, and then the next day each guest comic would be cut up by the royal morticians and fed to the pet tigers. Or their insides would liquefy after being fed a plate of Novichok brownies by gay Russian nutritionists, who, because of their sexual preferences, would be barred from any direct ties to the Kremlin. 

Dictators are also very bad liars because in their own countries it doesn’t matter what they do or say, and they are mostly immune from the greater world-at-large. So to watch Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s team of public relations officials stumble over a handful of contradictory excuses for Khashoggi’s disappearance was like watching a man with no toes try to walk, lurching in every direction except the one in which he actually wants to go. 

“The Saudi Embassy is so big that it is easy to get lost. We think Mr. Khashoggi is somewhere on the third floor, caught within a bland array of poorly marked hallways.” 

“We watched as Mr. Khashoggi walked out of the consulate and immediately floated off into the sky like Remedios the Beauty in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Hundred Years of Solitude. Isn’t that a lovely image?”  

“Because Mr. Khashoggi was at the consulate for a document to secure a marriage license, we wanted to show him, in a kind of conceptual art installment, what actually happens to a man once he is married, so we pulled his arms, legs and genitalia off. He was dead within the hour, relatively quick and painless. In a way, we did him a favor.”  

The final story was that he got into a brawl, which is the lamest excuse of them all. They should’ve just said he fell into a tank of alligators that had been held up in customs, or something. The Crown Prince is known for his taste in exotic animals, and once they get loose it’s every man for himself. One time a plump and dwarfish accountant with an overbite like a rat was consumed by the King’s fifteen-foot python in an unfortunate case of mistaken identity. Shit happens. 

The brawl story had rung a bell in my head. Like I mentioned I had taken my dog for a walk and had chanced to see my neighbor lingering around her mailbox, scanning the road. I asked what was up? 

“Street brawl on Flamingo Drive,” she murmured. 

My neighbor is an avid user of “Next Door,” the website that alerts neighborhood busybodies about everything from lost kittens to code violations. She has encouraged me to join up in the past, and I’ve always demurred, but this time she had me hooked.  

“What?” I said. 

“You heard me,” she muttered. 

My neighborhood is so quiet it was hard to believe she was telling the truth about a street brawl. We exist in this weird pocket of anonymity, like some lost tribe of the Amazon Delta. Every once in a while we will sniff and grunt around a visiting anthropologist, but for the most part we are like a mound of church mice. Flamingo Dr. is two blocks up from my street, and just as quiet. It was almost impossible to fathom a huge street fight breaking out. So when I got home I signed up to “Next Door” and sifted through the more mundane notifications. 

“Man on Lyndon Lane clears throat.” 

“Poodle poops on Parker, ends up with a dangler.” 

“Street brawl on Flamingo.” 

I clicked on the link and sure enough there was an account of four cars that had pulled onto the quiet road, got out, and started kicking the shit out of each other. A real street brawl, and not the fun, musical kind like West Side Story or Michael Jackson’s Beat It, in which the the leather-clad toughs end up in a huge synchronized dance routine. Well hell, I thought, if it could happen on Flamingo Drive then there is a chance it could happen to Mr. Khashoggi in an incredibly secure and highly monitored state building in Turkey. 

Then I laughed, noting the difference. In America there is always the possibility of something unexpected, which is a consequence of a democracy. Under an absolute monarchy, nothing is left to chance. 

More Alembics…

I ❤️ My Wife, and Dragons, Not Necessarily In That Order

There are a few advantages to being stuck in Atlanta traffic.  Not many, but there are a couple. Because I like to keep these essays around 1,000 words I will not be listing all the downsides to being stuck in Atlanta traffic. If I did I might wind up with a 4,000 page screed about how traffic drives ordinary folks mad, sometimes ends in violence, shaves cumulative years off an individual’s life, destroys the sperm count of otherwise viable males, puts unwanted wear and tear on brake systems and transmissions, lends itself to obesity, pollutes the air, and causes us to appear foolish as a species to the rest of nature, who ponder us in pity from roadside nests and lairs. 

So one of the very few benefits of traffic is that I get to browse through a library’s worth of bumper stickers; some clever, some tedious, some obvious, some outdated. Every once in a while I get the car whose whole back is covered with far left or far right outrage, driven by motorists who seem to allot all of their money to bumper stickers rather than to personal grooming products. The completely baffling ones are my favorite, and it was just such a rear panel I happened to be trailing the other day, caught in a tedious slog on a stretch of highway for which there is no exit, and thus, no escape. It gave me plenty of time to indulge “The Projector,” which is the big movie screen of my mind, usually showing odd experimental films in the vein of Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais, and Stan Brakhage.  

The car in front of me was a nondescript minivan displaying two almost identical bumper stickers, one on the left side and one on the right side. The one on the passenger (right) side caught my eye first. It proclaimed, “I ❤️ Dragons.” 

Ah yes, I thought. Who doesn’t love enormous, winged, fire-breathing beasts swooping down to terrify, and sometimes devour, entire villages of simple peasants? The fellow in front of me obviously had a big healthy imagination, and I smiled in approval. Then my eyes went over to the driver’s side of the bumper, where another very similar sticker proclaimed, “ I ❤️ My Wife.” 

Hmm, I said. That second one kind of threw me for a loop. It wasn’t the message itself so much as both messages together that had me perplexed. I spent the next few miles weighing each sentiment in turn, as I sped toward, and fell away from, the two statements as the stop-and-go traffic proceeded in true accordion fashion. Luckily I am a philosophy major, and my infallible logic proceeded thusly: 

This fellow in front of me loves dragons

This fellow in front of me is married

Ergo: This fellow in front of me is married to a dragon. 

Quod Erat Demonstrandum, as they say. Really, there was no other possibility. The pockmarked minivan was driving slowly and steadily to some demonic aerie atop a mist shrouded mountain, where his reptilian spouse would be flapping her wings, burping fire, staring at him through vertical pupils above smoky nostrils, demanding to know where he has been all day long while she tends to their children, or incubating eggs, depending on how you look at it. 

“ROAR!” she would say. 

“Traffic,” he would explain. 

Quit talking crazy, I told myself, knowing it was far too late for that. Well then, fire up the projector. Scene: man arriving home from his job in tech support, eager to show his wife his new bumper sticker declaring his ❤️ for dragons, which would’ve made his wife’s heart go 💔, and her head go 🤯, and her mouth go 🤮. 

“I wish you loved me as much as you love your 🤬’ing dragons.” 

“🤔,” he says. 

Back to the bumper sticker store to buy another decal. This one, the “wife” one, placed on the driver’s side bumper in a hasty manner, lopsided and rife with air bubbles, while the “dragon” sticker was applied with the care and detail that went into the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I fully believed that the driver in front of me ❤️ed dragons. I wasn’t quite convinced that he ❤️ed his wife. Even the placement of the bumper stickers was telling. The ‘wife’ sticker was on the left side, which is the side that it is safe to pass on. The ‘dragons’ sticker was on the right side, the side it is dangerous to pass on. The man seemed to be suggesting that a car may not pass on the right side, where you may hit his dragon, but feel free to pass on the left side, where you may run down his wife. 

I wished him the best of luck as I turned off the road. Hopefully wherever he was headed to was a place full of playful dragons, and non-judgmental spouses, a place that offered some mystical peace from whatever the modern world was trying to wring out of us. 

Lethal Balls

I’d like to send a message to all the people of the world who murder their families. Two messages, really. The first message is don’t murder your family. Can’t stress that one enough. If you do though, don’t hold a press conference to plead, through carefully placed crocodile tears, to the public for your family’s safe return. They aren’t coming back. After all, they’ve been murdered. By you. 

It’s bad enough to be a cold-blooded killer. It’s almost as bad to awkwardly emote in front of a bank of microphones, amid periodic flashes of camera bulbs, to the person or persons responsible for the abduction of some or all of your family. Which, after all, is you. I would’ve thought that a man who harbored homicidal thoughts in his head of killing any and all members of the household would’ve taken heed from the likes of Charles Stuart, Scott Peterson, Michael Peterson, Drew Peterson (that is a lot of Petersons!), Josh Powell, Christopher Watts, that guy that went scuba diving with his wife, that other guy who went hiking with his wife, the guy who shot his wife, went to work, came back eight hours later, and discovered his wife shot, that guy who drowned his wife in the bathtub then went jogging, only to return to find his wife drowned, and every other manner of awkward subterfuge employed by the more desperate members of society. 

These days when I watch the occasional forensic mystery I almost treat it as a quiz show, as I listen to the panicked 911 call being replayed from an ostensibly distraught husband. I will frown, shake my head, and declare the frantic caller, “Guilty!” and then it is just a matter of waiting the twenty or so minutes for the show to reveal the murderer, and validate my guess. I am correct more than 90 percent of the time. 

I was watching one episode in which this kid shot his father while the old man was sleeping, then tried to plant the gun like it was a suicide, then phoned the emergency in to 911.  

(Concerned son/Murderer): “I heard a gunshot go off. I think my father shot himself in the head.” 

(Operator): “Where is your father?” 

(Concerned son/Murderer): “In his bedroom.” 

(Operator): “Can you check on him?” 

(Concerned son/Murderer): “The door is locked.” 

(Operator): “How do you know he shot himself in the head?” 

(Concerned son/Murderer): “Uhhh… Can I call back and can we do this whole thing all over again?” 

Bam. Game, set, match. It was unfortunate because my first reaction was to burst out laughing. Whoever the operator was that handled that call should’ve received the highest honor given to emergency operators, a golden rotary phone, or something. In a split second of quick thinking she outshined Perry Mason, Matlock, Vince Bugliosi, Lieutenant Dan Kaffee, Columbo, Sherlock Holmes, and Hercule Poirot, nailing the culprit before the police even showed up. 

And still these guys persist. Our newest set of murders brings us around the world to Hong Kong, bustling city of the Orient, where two professors are charged with murdering their wives. The one professor was also a kind of dorm monitor who killed his wife, secreted her in a suitcase, then kept the students housed in the residence hall informed of the criminal investigation with a series of e-mails, the basic gist of which was: 

“Don’t be alarmed. Police are on premises because I killed my… my wife has gone missing.” 

“Don’t be alarmed. They found my wife stuffed in a suitcase in my office. I have issued a public appeal to the killer or killers to turn themselves in.” 

“Don’t be alarmed. Rest assured they have caught the killer. In unrelated news, I am forwarding my resignation as dorm representative. I’ll be on sabbatical for the next twenty years.” 

The other professor was so good at killing his wife that he ended up killing his daughter, too. In a crafty little move that would shame even the great Professor Moriarty, this other professor filled his wife’s yoga workout ball with carbon monoxide and then effected a slight leak to gas her and anybody else in the car with her as she drove, I suppose, to yoga. I think he was a professor of chemistry, or anesthesiology, and so had unique access to the dangerous gas, which should’ve given him pause. Of course he would be under suspicion for using chemicals to kill his wife. He is a chemist. 

All chemistry professors are heartless cold-blooded killers in my opinion. My chemistry professor was guilty of killing my grade point average with his vicious assessment of my performance in his organic chemistry class. I was not alone. He had been killing grade point averages for like thirty years, and for some time I lamented becoming a statistic. He has yet to be apprehended. Obviously, I hold no grudge. Natural Darwinism. Kill the scientifically weak. That’s alright, I’m doing just fine in my post-chemistry afterlife. 

More Alembics to come. 

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. 

“Why?” 

“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, 

“Greed.” 

“Why?” said Sebastian. 

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

“Yes.” 

“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…