The Far Side of Here

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

What the hell? 

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

Turning now, toward the cosmos…

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

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

“You were doing what?”  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Alembics…

How To Make 2019 the Longest Year Possible

The month of December tends to carry with it a popular refrain, and it’s not “Jingle Bells,” “Let It Snow,” or “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” The line that I’m referring to is, “I can’t believe how fast the year went.” 

For a lot of people the year 2018 seems to be over before it even got started. I have one friend who casually remarked that the year had gone by so fast she couldn’t really remember anything that had happened. After a moment of deliberate silence I was compelled to remind her that she had actually gotten married over the summer. She gave me a look I still haven’t been able to interpret. 

It makes sense, really. Workloads are increasing, and opportunities for diversion are everywhere. All it takes is a friendly request to Alexa to drum up something amusing and before you know it, you’ve watched five seasons worth of Homeland in three days and smoked a pound of newly legal marijuana. That type of collapsible time-frame will hyperdrive anyone into the future, and yes, many will wonder where the time actually went. 

To be fair, the alternative is not very appealing for most people. I’m reminded of the character Dunbar in Catch-22, who spent all his time doing stuff he hated because it took forever and so his life seemed a lot longer than if he was engaged in activities he enjoyed, during which the time just flew by. It’s an offshoot of the old Oscar Wilde witticism, that if you live a clean and sober lifestyle you don’t live longer, it just feels like it. 

That’s why I make it a yearly tradition, every December 31st, to listen to the song, “The End” by The Doors for twenty-four hours straight while I sit on my couch in the dark. I got the idea from TBS’s lazy-ass scheduling ritual of showing A Christmas Story for a full day, starting on Christmas Eve and ending at infinity. It’s an exercise in madness to listen to one song on repeat for a full day, but I definitely feel better when it’s all over. There’s nothing so cathartic as being locked into twenty-four hours-worth of that nightmarish eleven minutes and forty-three seconds in which Jim Morrison snakes through his bleak musical landscape before acting out his nasty Oedipus scene for the big finale. It’s almost as bad as seeing Ralphie in that pink bunny costume twelve times in a row. 

That being said, here are some tips to make 2019 exhaustingly long, so as not to feel gypped at the end:

Throw out all technology: This is a big one. Get rid of all TVs, iPads, laptops, and phones. The first twelve hours without it all will feel like the whole month of January. Hide all knives and razors, as the potential for suicide during the first few days will be high. 

Stay sober: Save money! Avoid hangovers! Embrace clarity! And, feel every saturated second of every minute of every hour crash down upon you like a remorseless droplet from a Chinese water torture. 

Get a job at TSA as the security agent that monitors the exit to baggage claim: Yes, nothing defines twenty-five hours a day and eight days a week like sitting in the same spot in a hallway making sure nobody tries to sneak back into the secure area, which pretty much nobody ever does. Unintelligible bursts from your walkie-talkie will ensure you aren’t able to fall asleep or completely zone out. 

Watch every M. Night Shyamalan movie. When finished, repeat: There’s nothing more abyssal, time-wise, then the promise of a decent mystery slowly revealing itself as a convoluted traffic jam of a narrative. 

Go on a fishing trip: Groan under the weighty presence of life while staring at the glassy surface of a still lake. Since you aren’t drinking, either, this should feel like quite the marathon of nothingness.  

Go on a fishing trip with the most annoying guy in your office: Creative way to make something interminable that much more interminable. Encourage the geek to get specific about all his frustrations. 

Make 2019 the year of Bread: I don’t mean bread as in food, I mean Bread as in the 70s soft rock group. Listen to them on vinyl, with special attention to Everything I Own, If and Make It With You, and feel those minutes just slam on the brakes. 

Join up with the Amish: Hang out with the real experts of time stretching by doing chores for days, and sometimes weeks on end that could be knocked out in a few hours with even a rudimentary set of tools and machinery. Men, you may measure the cycle of the calendar by the length of beard whiskers, and women, the length of armpit hair. While churning butter try not to think about Facebook posts of who ate what at which restaurant. 

Find a cave, wall yourself up: Go the way of the true anchorite and completely cut yourself off from even basic time monitors like the rising and setting of the sun. Meditate deep into the murky recesses of the psyche. Consider that now you’re part of the Earth, an ancient stone spire quietly biding eternity until the sun breaks down. Eat your toe nails and dead skin for meager sustenance. 

There we go. Nice way to start off the new year. I’ve got to go dig out my Doors album now. January 1st can’t come soon enough. Until then…. This is THE END! 

Have a safe New Year everybody…

Ring Them Bells

Although I love the city of Atlanta, the holiday season is not its finest display of the year. The weather is usually more dreary than festive. It’s too warm to snow, the rain muddies the streets, and the skies are a dismal gray. There is a vicious surge in holiday traffic, so the pollution increases, and the potential for violence is only a horn-honk away. It’s Christmas time, after all, and nobody is in any mood to fuck around. 

Atlanta is a far cry from the sleepy towns of the woodsy Northeast, where the untrodden snow lies dreamlike through the hills. The roads are winding and unobtrusive, almost designed for sightseeing. The houses are tucked away like hermits. The air is heavy with the smell of woodsmoke wafting out of their ancient stone chimneys, and there’s a candle in every window and a wreath on every door. And if a weary traveler is patient enough to stop by a snowy field, they may thrill at the sight of an elusive reindeer bounding through the forest, or at least some horned beast that looks like a reindeer bounding through the forest. 

Down here in the city it’s nothing but famished coyotes and tomcats in heat, which all have their place in the urban food chain, I suppose, and it was one of these mangy animals I had to swerve to avoid hitting while I finished a few last-minute errands before heading north for the holidays. The rain was relentless, the traffic was as clogged as the storm drains, and this wet creature darted into the road, forcing me to veer onto an industrial side street, where I chanced to pass a nondescript Salvation Army building. There was a sign out front that read, “WANTED: SEASONAL BELL-RINGER.” 

What a lucky accident, I thought. Intrigued, I jammed on my brakes and hydroplaned into a parking spot right up front. I walked into the processing facility, straight into a crowded waiting room with every manner of aspiring bell ringer hunched over the application forms. A sordid bunch, they were; a collection of nervous tics, neck tattoos, scars, blood-shot eyes, and piercings. 

“May I help you?” said a woman to me from behind the front desk. 

“I’d like to apply for the bell ringer job,” I said. 

“Any qualifications?” she sighed, turning to look at the collection of misfits already seated in the waiting area and not wanting to add to it.  

“I played percussion in high school,” I said. She frowned, handed me an application, and told me to fill it out. I took a seat. The others eyed me warily. I was the competition, and not to be treated with any type of courtesy. 

A tense, perspiring man in a button-down shirt two sizes too small for him was bringing the applicants, one-by-one, behind a screen to be interviewed. It was about fifteen feet away from the waiting area, which meant the exchanges were clearly audible. What follows is a cobbled together transcript from the pool of applicants. 

Interviewer: “Understand this isn’t a year-round position.”  

Applicant: “That’s fine. I’m actually an aircraft marshaller in the off-season.” 

Interviewer: “What’s that?” 

Applicant: “I’m part of the airport ground crew that waves the planes to the gates with those lighted batons.” 

Interviewer: “Impressive. I mean, you have experience with gesturing.” 

Applicant: “Yes, thank you.” 

Interviewer: “You need to understand, though, you can’t get all wild with the bell. You can’t go all this-a-way and that-a-way with it. A simple up and down technique—gentle, friendly, festive.” 

Applicant: “Can you put me in front of a store that gets a lot of big juicy?” 

Interviewer: “A lot of what?” 

Applicant: “You know. Lenox. Phipps. Lotta big juicy mamas around there. Ba-donk-a-donk and whatnot.”  

Interviewer: “We’re a charitable organization.” 

Applicant: “Fuck dat.” 

Interviewer: “Can you perform, for extended periods of time, a simple up and down motion with one arm while the rest of your body stays relatively still, and do it with a smile on your face?” 

Applicant: “Yes, in fact I’ve got a serious porn addiction.” 

Interviewer: “In one way that increases your eligibility, and in another way it destroys it. We’ll be in touch.” 

Applicant: “So will I. Right when I get home!” 

Interviewer: “Tell me a bit about yourself.” 

Applicant: “I’m a big Anita Ward fan.” 

Interviewer: “Good. You take your bell-ringing seriously. Fine. Like a comprehensive embrace of the bell-ringing concept. Can you keep a steady bell rhythm?” 

Applicant: “Yeah, but if I see an attractive woman I may slowly and steadily increase the frequency of my ringing until it builds to an unendurable clanging, after which I might kind of collapse in satisfied exhaustion.” 

Interviewer: “…” 

Applicant: “What if I put the bell in my pants, and with a hip-thrusting motion, ring the bell in that fashion?” 

Interviewer: “Next!” 

Applicant: “What’s my cut?” 

Interviewer: “Your cut?” 

Applicant: “Yeah. I’m collectin’ money for you. I want my cut, or when you come to pick up the collection bowl you won’t find nothin’ but an empty chain danglin’ from a tripod stand and a broke-up fuckin’ bell layin’ on the sidewalk.” 

I heard the interviewer let out a quaking sigh of despair, and I understood. The spirit of the holidays seemed to be collapsing amid the weight of every debased notion, instead of the other way around. Just when all seemed hopeless, the door to the Salvation Army blasted open, and a figure shuffled in, some kind of radiant nimbus surrounding him. Everybody stopped and stared, and nobody said a word. He seemed to float on by us, straight up to the interviewer, and in a calm, dusky delivery he declared: 

“Ring them bells ye heathen from the city that dreams, 

Ring them bells from the sanctuaries cross the valleys and streams,

For they’re deep and they’re wide,

and the world’s on its side,

And time is running backwards

And so is the bride. Ring them bells… Ring them bells…” 

“You’re hired!” shouted the interviewer, and with that, the rest of us shuffled out into the afternoon, that was suddenly not so gray. 

Merry Everything, Everyone. 

More Alembics…

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.