The Letters

What started out as a lark the other day became a terrifically onerous undertaking as I searched my book room for my copy of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Little things subconsciously inspire me to dig through my personal pile of literature. In this case it was a recent reactionary protest to a production of Julius Caesar in which the Roman emperor is cast as a Trump look-alike. Bah, I said, the producers got it all wrong. King Lear is the play that most resembles our Presidential Leader. Forget Julius Caesar. I could see a King Lear with bright orange hair pardoning the flies for copulating in front of him as he descends into madness. “The small, gilded fly does lecher in my sight!” He’s got daughters, King Lear does, and he favors some more than others, and they eventually fuck him over. I’m sure it will be staged next summer.
I couldn’t find my copy of Shakespeare’s plays, though, and in frustration I pulled all my books off the shelves, deciding right then and there to alphabetize them according to author surname, so I would not have this problem again. And like King Lear, I looked upon the mess I had created and shook my head. There are approximately six hundred books on my shelves, which is probably only matched by the poundage of dust that was kicked up when I so foolishly cleared them all to the ground.
Well begun is half done, as they say, and so I made space for twenty-five piles to coincide with the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet. (I had no books by Malcolm X.) Almost immediately I noticed that I owned an inordinate amount of books whose authors had a last name that started with ‘B.’ Burroughs, Bolano, Bukowski, Buck, Byron, Blake, Bugliosi, Bellow, Butler, Beerbohm, Barth, Boethius, Berryman, Barthelme, Baldwin, Bly and Baraka, before he became LeRoi Jones. This caused me to have a strange realization. The letter ‘B’ is the only letter in the alphabet that has cleavage. I mean, it does. I was suddenly ashamed of myself. Had I been lured to these great writers by nothing more than an abstract association of Bosomy (starts with B!) plenitude? What else was lurking in these characters that were so common to my sight and to my understanding. What was really going on?
I started with ‘A’ and realized I loved the letter because it reminded me of the design of a Swiss Chalet, the A-frame, which reminded me of a ski trip, which made me long for a snowy mountain. ‘B’ I had already covered, and quite Bawdy at that. ‘C’ and ‘D’ are obese letters, especially D. That is a fat little man, right there. ‘E’ is pronged, it can stab or comb. ‘F’ is like a broken ‘E’ and ‘G’ is a fat man that is sort of well-endowed. ‘H’ is the letter that begins my last name. Looks like a field goal post. I always liked the shape but was somewhat vexed at how breathy the letter is when spoken. Exhale and there is the H right there. Probably the most often used letter when perverts prank-call women. Kind of creepy, actually. ‘I’ is simple, tall, proud. ‘J’ is the hook, and every good story needs one. ‘K’ is like a disco dance move. Throw the left leg and left arm out, and you have your K. For fans of right angles we have the letter L. M is fun for the vertical symmetry. You can fold it neatly. N is askew. It is also the Roman numeral IV with the V fallen over. O is a portal, a ball, a letter on the move. If the greatest invention is the wheel the most brilliant letter is the O. The top-heavy P is maybe my least favorite of the crew, although it does separate the O from its almost identical neighbor Q, which is an O chained to the ground. ‘R’ I guess kind of has cleavage too, but it doesn’t offer the same promise as its sister B. ’S’ is sneaky, like a con-man. A snake. It is the most useful pattern to run in if you are being chased by an alligator. “Serpentine!”
T is like a tree. It is the letter that can provide shade on a hot day. U is a magnet. I like U, I hope U like me. V is the best design for a rock guitar and W is M reflected in a lake of water. X is a kiss, Z is sleepy, and Y? Just for the hell of it.
More Alembics to come.

Time Savers

The definition of what passes for entertainment has become very cloudy. For instance I found myself watching a video last week of a dead flamingo standing on one leg. At first I didn’t realize it was dead, even though there was a warning at the beginning of the video that said “CAUTION: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS DEAD FLAMINGOES.” Fair enough, I decided, mentally preparing myself for what was about to appear onscreen. The camera focused on a flamingo standing on one leg. I watched and watched, waiting for it to die. I didn’t know whether the bird was going to expire naturally, just fall over from old age, or whether a gun would appear and blow the bird’s head off, or a bigger, predatory creature would come along and eat it. Maybe I would die first, from boredom, or some kind of deterioration. After all to watch a bird stand on one leg for fifteen seconds feels like watching it for fifteen hours. Now that would be a funny little trick. Some anonymous hacker could be filming ME through my computer, watching a bird stand still and do nothing, until I died, at which time there would be another video released of a dead man watching a dead bird, saying, “CAUTION: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS A DEAD MAN WATCHING DEAD FLAMINGOES.” So on and so on.

It wasn’t until some scientist appeared onscreen (he had a white coat and rubber gloves so I guess he was a scientist) to pick the bird up, invert it and fold its legs under its body that I realized the bird had been dead the whole time. The video was meant to demonstrate that even when a flamingo is dead it will stand on one leg, which is pretty impressive. According to a certain police dash-cam video I can’t even stand on one leg for twenty seconds, or walk a straight line, or touch my nose with my arms outstretched. That’s another story, though, and I feel that time is of the essence.

Speaking of time, modern conveniences ensure that we can free up as much time as possible in order to live life to the fullest. There is instant coffee, instant abs, instant messaging, and for some Muslim households in India, instant divorce. The magic word is Talaq! If a husband shouts this at his wife three times (strangely it doesn’t work the other way around) then he is free to pursue other relationships. A thrice repeated utterance renders him single, a man on the move, ready to hit the discos and nightclubs to find that one ghostly apparition veiled head to toe that will replace the former ghostly apparition, veiled head to toe.

A Muslim must be careful, though, because this method of separation is strict and final. There was a story about one poor fellow who was out to dinner with his wife. The man began choking on his chicken vindaloo, making a sound that was similar to “talaq” and by the time he had cleared his airway his wife had been packed up and shipped back to her family. The other tricky problem is that, in Arabic, talaq means divorce but “tabaq” means Beetlejuice, and so a man frustrated with his marriage, if he is not enunciating carefully, may invoke a rotten zombie creature looking eerily like Michael Keaton, who will arrive to haunt his house and steal his daughter.

If only everything in life was this easy. A Texas oil billionaire facing a lengthy court battle for his third wife’s alimony may have to rethink his vocal animosity to Shariah Law when he finds out how simple it is to get rid of her.
“Say it three times and she’s outta here? These Muslims ain’t all bad.”

I tried the technique at the grocery store the other day. The checkout line was crowded, and so I invoked the word “checkout” three times fast. Nothing happened except that an elderly woman glared at me from the front of the line as she picked through an accordion folder the size of War and Peace, plucking out coupons with a shaky hand and laying them carefully in front of the cashier. My lone purchase, a sandwich from the deli counter, was consumed easily before I even made it to the register.

We all like efficiency, but some modern contrivances may be better served with a more lengthy process to ensure that careless errors are avoided. In fact, things like Instant Airline Pilot, Instant Surgeon, and Instant Skyscraper may seem like good ideas at first, but may result in some serious disasters down the line. Quality takes time for a reason. There is no such thing as instant excellence. Every great invention we rely on has a million man-hours buried in the electrical boards and gearshifts.

Still, if it is possible to affect that drastic of a change with three simple words, might there be some other beneficial applications? For instance, is there a word that keeps the brainwashed and militant from committing indiscriminate murder? If so, that is a word worth repeating.
More Alembics to come.

“You’re Fyred!”

Given the option of being fired or being fyred, I would much prefer to be fired. For to be fired means the loss of a job, a minor setback in the flux of modernity, a switch in the name and address of a company paycheck. To be “fyred,” on the other hand, means to be robbed of thousands of dollars, marooned on a craggy Caribbean island, starved, without shelter, exposed to the elements, attacked by sand fleas and buried in paperwork to reclaim the luggage that the Bahamian government is holding as collateral for all the unpaid customs fees. This is the regrettable result of the Fyre Festival, a sensational debacle that took place, or didn’t take place, on Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas. I’ve had my own experiences being stranded on a deserted island and it is no laughing matter. When I was a boy some prep school chums and I were beached after a plane wreck on an unforgiving atoll, and in an attempt to govern ourselves we went mad as march hares, savagely killing each other in a relentless attempt to maintain control over our environment. William Golding wrote a book about it, changing just enough to protect our young anonymity. Happy to say we learned nothing from the experience, and are just as power-crazed and savage as ever.

The Fyre Festival was supposed to take place on Fyre Cay, an island once owned by the drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, which would’ve been a far more preferable location. Odds are there is still a smuggler’s ransom of narcotics stashed somewhere on that lump of pitched sand in the sea, a drug cache that wouldn’t have stood a chance once a thousand desperate partiers got a hold of it. After consuming hundreds of kilos of cocaine and marijuana the crowd wouldn’t have even realized or cared that nobody had bothered to perform. Billy McFarland, the hollow man party promoter could’ve told the whole audience that Jimmy Hendrix, Jerry Garcia and Jim Morrison had rocked a four-hour set list of all their greatest hits and the doped up revelers would’ve agreed it was an amazing performance, a rare collaboration, a once-in-a-lifetime show.

As it wound up the marooned festival guests were stuck on a bald patch of cement next to one of those swingers’ resorts like Hedonism, battered by a rainstorm. A young festival-goer was forced, out of sheer hunger and desperation, to trade his girlfriend to a gang of middle-aged sex fiends for a cold plate of eggs benedict and some dry pieces of toast. The girl was drenched in pineapple glaze and forced to preside like a goddess over a hundred anonymous couplings. She now lives deep in the jungle, like Kurtz, the figurehead of a nascent group of new age pleasure seekers.

The only music to result from the disaster, as far as I can tell, is a pleading ballad from Ja Rule called, “That’s not fraud.” It goes…
That’s not fraud, that’s not fraud.
That’s not fraud, that’s not fraud.
Maybe false advertising,
But definitely that’s not fraud.
It’s catchy. I like it. With any luck it will make enough money to pay off the mountain of lawsuits that have ensued.

Speaking of the savage control of the environment, I was surprised to see one of my old Lord of the Flies peers, Montana representative Greg Gianforte, elected to Congress. I had lost touch with him since the days of our barbaric, adolescent power struggle on that tiny island. Old Greg, (not that one), has lost none of his aggression, beating the snot out of Ben Jacobs, a reporter from The Guardian, for the unspeakable offense of asking a question of a political candidate. That is dangerous territory for a reporter in America these days. Ben should’ve taken the safer assignment and traveled to Syria to spend a week with ISIS rebels. Congressman Gianforte underscored, or uppercutted, a nasty reality in journalism today. Report at your own risk. It is open season on the press pool, especially out in the rugged western frontier. A seasoned reporter may ask a confrontational question, but don’t be surprised if the answer is to be hog-tied and thrown into the desert. Extra points if the writer is from The Guardian, Der Spiegel, or Mother Jones. A hog-tied reporter may not get the answer he is looking for, yet being tied up like a rodeo swine is, after all, an answer in and of itself. There is only one solution. Judo lessons for the Fourth Estate. Fight back. Cage matches in the East Wing. Battle Royale on Capitol Hill. It is the Lord of the Flies in Washington D.C., and somebody has misplaced the conch shell.
More Alembics to come.
(This entry is dedicated to Denis Johnson, a righteous poet who could hammer the lines down good and clean. May you live on in the embrace of future generations of readers.)

Curiosity Killed the Caveman

I breathed a sigh of relief the other day. My mailbox had been approved by the Postmaster General. It was stamped into the metal on the door. I had never noticed the issuance before that moment. It made me wonder whether it had always been there, or whether the Postmaster General himself had come by recently with an engraving stamp to grant his formal blessing that the tiny metal box at the foot of my driveway was indeed fit to contain, for a short while, United States parcels and postage. It is human nature to seek approval, and for those of us who are most desperate, the approval of the Postmaster General will have to do when none other is available.

I was forced then to consider the Postmaster General. Who was he and what qualifications did he have? Was he an elected official? A military adjunct? Could it be a woman? Was there a Postmaster Sergeant and a Postmaster Lieutenant? How had he become an expert on what type of mail receptacle was appropriate to hold letters and flyers? Was he an expert on Quonset huts, covered bridges, and other forms of arched containers both large and small? Had he performed a thorough diagnostic on my mailbox’s front door hinge, the only part of the letter holder that, as far as I could tell, might be subject to a gradual corrosion from usage? I pictured him dressed as a Third World military dictator. A Hailie Selassie look-a-like, with gold epaulets and a bright sash and a sword, riding through the neighborhood in a stripped down jeep with a mounted M-60 in the back.

Later on in the day, during my afternoon walk, I made it a point to stop and check all the mailboxes to see if they too had been granted legitimacy by the Postmaster General. All of them were approved. Except for one. And I wasn’t surprised.

She lives at the end of the block and she is an artist. Her medium is metal. She is to sculpture what the maverick filmmaker Stan Brakhage was to experimental film. I can appreciate the creativity but too much of it would surely drive me insane. Her front lawn looks like something out of a Tim Burton movie. It was obvious that she had made her mailbox herself, and that it didn’t need approval from a Postmaster General, or anybody else. It was an ornate piece of polished copper buried in a shrub that I realized looked a bit like, well, either like an orchid or female genitalia. I suspected her intent was the latter, since etched in careful calligraphy along the side was the caption, “Fe-mail Box.” I crept up to it, sensing that I was being watched from somewhere within the dark recesses of her artist’s dwelling. Carefully I opened the lid and almost jumped out of my skin as I peered in and realized somebody was looking back at me. There was a human head in there.
*
Forget cats. Curiosity has killed a whole bunch of stuff over the course of history. Let us go back to the beginning. Consider two Neanderthals living in the same crude shelter. Cave mates, as it were. The original odd couple. Both of them hear a lion roar outside. The first caveman, the curious adventurer type, fastens the uni-strap of his loincloth over his shoulder, grabs his puny spear and trots out to confront the bestial howl. The second fellow, cautious as he is, decides it would be better not to run out and investigate the cat’s cries. Something about the screeching just seems like bad news. So while the first caveman is outside satisfying his curiosity, the second caveman tucks himself beside his little fire and points his ear toward the mouth of the cave. For a few minutes there is human shrieking and the animal’s own caterwauling, both of which eventually subside. The little man ensconced in his rock dwelling wonders who won the battle and is given the answer by way of his former cave mate’s head rolling back at him, coming to rest at the edge of the fire with a look of supreme idiocy across his lacerated face. The lion outside devours the rest of Mr. Curious and then enters the cave and starts poking around. The survivor, contemplative and fearful proto-man, knows that if he plays his cards right he can have the whole rest of the cave to himself from now on. So he invents the shrug-and-go-limp method of conflict resolution, or what is known as tonic immobility. He plays dead, watching through an apertured eyelid as the enormous cat nudges him a bit, sniffs and then pisses on him before skulking away to sleep off the rather substantial meal he has just gorged himself on. The surviving Neanderthal, covered in animal urine, jumps up in victory. It is his genetic code of abject cowardice that will be passed down through his lineage. He keeps his old roommate’s head nearby to remind him that some mysteries are better left unsolved. Make no mistake. Curiosity is as ruthless as cancer.
*
I offer the above allegory because the head in the mailbox scared the shit out of me, and I almost felt that there could’ve been a loaded gun in it, rigged to the door, ready to blow my snooping head off. After a minute I peeked back in. There was a mirror in the far end of the mailbox. I was looking at myself. No sane Postmaster General would go near that thing.
Artists are creepy.
More Alembics to come.

A Day at the Races

“Wealthy People Benefit; The Poor Much Less So” declared a banner headline in the newspaper the other day, which caused me to erupt in an unexpected fit of laughter. I laughed, not because I am one of these heartless idolaters who believes that the wealthy are beyond good and evil, that the poor are guilty of their own circumstance, and that the pursuit of the filthy lucre is the one and only noble goal. I laughed because, while the article was referring to the new health care law, it could’ve been used for any article, written about any society, in the history of everything. It could’ve been written about global warming, tax laws, life expectancy, zoning, market volatility, technology, war, fine dining, vacation destinations, crime, hell even the weather. I decided to keep an eye out for the headline, “Poor People Get the Upper Hand; Wealthy People are Screwed” in any news source other than The Onion.

I had been having some trouble squeezing any amusement out of the news, as of late. Whether my attitude has shifted or the news itself has gotten weird and standoffish, I can’t say. This new administration is a scrappy one, and they have left the Fourth Estate licking its wounds. It’s like when two alley cats go at it for reasons of turf and table scraps. The noise is horrendous and can be heard blocks away and when it is all over there is little to joke about. The screeching lingers in the brain. Even the thought of Kim Jong-Un and Rodrigo Duterte snickering from the White House lawn was doing little to brighten my day.

Luckily I had to go to the liquor store. Sometimes all a person needs is a fragment of a phrase to get that spark of inspiration. And there is was. On a placard. Plain as day. I had pulled my car in front of the big metal refrigerator where the bagged ice is kept. There was a sign atop the container that said, “Our Ice is Lab Tested.” I sat for a good long while reading it over and over. Like that lab tested ice, my frozen mind began to drip from the sudden heat. I saw it with such clarity, serious men and women standing around in lab coats with clipboards, writing furiously, as an array of ice cubes slowly turned into water. At the end of the day they could turn in their reports to the director of the study, Dr. Kool-Aid.
“Sir we’ve noticed that there is a direct correlation between heat and deliquescence.”
“Oh Yeah!”
“Sir, we’ve made a breakthrough. More ice in a glass will keep a drink colder, longer.”
“Oh Yeah!”
“Sir, the more ice that melts in a beverage, the more watery the beverage will taste.”
“Oh Yeah!”
“Sir, our test subjects report that the ice turns the tongue numb and causes a headache between the eyes.”
“Oh Yeah!”
“Sir, repeated exposure of the ice cubes to the song, ‘Ice, Ice, Baby’ by Vanilla Ice does little to slow the rate of liquefaction.”
“Oh Yeah!”
“Sir, if we rub the cubes on our nipples it seems to both hasten the melting process and our sense of arousal.”
“Oh Yeah!”

I sat for so long I forgot what it was I had gone there for. The thought of a big, red anthropomorphic pitcher of Kool-Aid in a giant lab coat heartily agreeing with a team of eggheads had completely turned my day around. I ended up buying a bag of ice (their marketing scheme worked) and bringing it home. I plucked one cube out of the bag, got my own ice cube from the tray in my freezer, set them both out and hovered over them, officiating to see which one could hold its shape longest. It was no small coincidence that it was Kentucky Derby day. In fact, I could hear the derby announcer’s voice superimposed over my little ice competition.

“And…THEY’RE OFF! It’s Home Froze off to a fast start, and Lab Tested not showing any signs of drip. Home Froze is shrinking fast. Lab Tested holding steady. Like a glacier. Now it is Lab Tested with an emerging bead. Home Froze is sweating like a whore in church. Visible shrinkage from Home Froze. Lab Tested a great and mighty pillar of ice. Now in the home stretch, Home Froze more liquid than solid, no chance for Home Froze, and it’s Lab Tested by a landslide!”

Son of a bitch, I thought, what are they putting in this stuff? My mind went to the book Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, a satire in which a scientist develops an ice derivative called Ice-9 that freezes at room temperature, which hastens the end of the world. Of course that was a joke, of sorts, right? That could never happen in real life. I stared at the laboratory cube. It stared back, in a way. I was sweating more than the ice cube was. At the very least I’m sure anybody who invented Ice-9 would also develop a neutralizing agent that counteracts the solid molecular structure, turning it back into precious water. They could sell it to Ice-9 victims for $19.99. I could see the headline:
“Wealthy People Benefit; The Poor Much Less So.”
More Alembics to come

May Day

Don’t get me wrong, I dig technology. The ability of tiny digital chips to hold massive amounts of data is boggling. Every nugget of information in the known universe is at one’s fingertips. It is an exciting and fun time to be alive and fucking lazy. And yet while a person can take comfort in technology’s seeming omnipotence, it can also offer a false sense of security in the event that a computer freezes up and drops dead like an inept mountain climber whose beginner’s hubris has trapped him on the stormy side of a Himalayan peak.

So it went the other day, as I was typing away on my computer, that in the wink of an eye all my folders got locked up in a tiny tomb of a dead hard drive and zapped out of existence. I immediately fought the urge to kill myself right along with it! Inhale. Exhale. Take it easy.

Until that point I had considered the machine indestructible. I had trusted its massive memory capacity to store over one hundred blog essays, three and a half books, a patchwork of go-nowhere short stories, not to mention extensive drafts of my Nobel acceptance speech in the event that I was finally recognized by the committee fifty years from now. I stared at the inert computer for some time, at the nothingness of the blank screen that had, moments before, been brightly reflecting my prose back at me. I could see nothing now but a vague, dark silhouette of myself in the coal-black sheen of the monitor. It seemed fitting. In fact, the line that Robert Oppenheimer lifted from the Bhagavad-Gita blazed through my incredulous mind. “I am become death, destroyer of worlds.”
I tend to relish my hyper-dramatic flair. No problem, I thought. I can fix this. I will simply turn the computer back on, and the machine will fix itself, and maybe even be better than it was before. Except it didn’t come back on, and no amount of digital CPR was going to fix the corpse. I thought back to the last thing I had seen on the computer screen. Then I remembered the spinning rainbow wheel.

I had learned, over the years, to accept the spinning rainbow wheel with equanimity. It reminded me to be patient. Let’s not be too hasty, it seemed to suggest. Let’s let everything catch up. Let’s enjoy this small moment of downtime to reflect on how lucky we are, how beautiful life is. Little did I know it was also a silent little whirling death rattle. My ancestors used to describe a white light at the end of a tunnel when recounting a near death experience. The new generation will insist that they see a technicolor vertigo beckoning.

With Plan A, ritual suicide and Plan B, machine fixing itself all off the table I tried Plan C. I popped on over to my nearest computer store and was visited by a friendly technician named Billy. He ran some preliminary tests then sat me down, and with all the measured compassion of a funeral director, suggested I be ready to say goodbye to my beloved machine.

“Let me try one more thing,” he said, proceeding to work out some intricate voodoo on the keypad. I offered to run down to the food court for some chicken bones and maybe the blood of an infant to help with the ritual. Billy ignored me. A few more diagnostic runs and he murmured, more to himself than to me, “It’s fucked.”

“Yes of course,” I nodded, understanding the word as some kind of high-tech acronym. F.U.C.K.E.D. File, Upload, Capture, Keep, Export, Deliver.

Billy shook his head. Not this time. He asked if I had everything backed up in the cloud? I looked at my feet and shuffled a bit. It was my understanding, I told him, that my computer was the one who took care of all that stuff. It was all part of the deal. I was the creative impulse. The computer was the logistics manager. I couldn’t even remember a phone number anymore, much less a system of fool-proof redundancy to mitigate unforeseen disasters exactly like the one I was currently embroiled in. Billy laughed, said he understood. He began searching on my behalf for any evidence of my years of artistic struggle. As I looked over his shoulder, as useless as a eunuch in a brothel, I suggested that the spinning rainbow wheel be replaced by a tiny icon of an old man coughing, wheezing and gagging, bent over, one hand on his knee, the other hand raised up with his index finger extended, hacking violently in a tussive symphony of phlegm and stridor. Billy applauded my idea. He promised me he’d speak to some of the higher ups.

I went home.

The writer Friedrich Nietzsche had it rough, by any standard. He had violent headaches that would lay him up for twelve hour stretches, allowing only for an hour or two of writing a day. The medicine he took for the headaches caused debilitating cramps in his stomach, followed by intense vomiting. He allegedly caught syphilis from his one and only sexual encounter, with a prostitute. Then he finally went mad as Edgar Poe after watching a horse get whipped in Turin, Italy. Even so, he produced some of the most influential writings of the last hundred and fifty years. Thank you Freddie for putting my small amount of misfortune into perspective. Little by little it all came back, a sprinkle from the cloud, an indefatigable thumb drive, a piece here and a piece there. My stuff was alive. There was some kind of benevolence afforded me. Nobody prefers adversity, yet it is easily the most powerful creator of appreciation. Consider me grateful.
More Alembics to come.

Our Neighbor, The Sun

Every community gets that sense of hope and dread when the new neighbors move in up the block. Nearby homeowners scrutinize the recent arrivals for certain clues to their probable level of annoyance. They seek out, within the crammed rental vans of household flotsam, indications they will be relatively normal, relatively tolerable. Usually these transitions are smooth, but every once in a while it happens. The newly arrived family is a nightmare. Their driveway and garage are suddenly an around-the-clock auto body shop. Audible arguments take place regularly from inside the house. The dancing blue lights of police cars provide their bi-monthly strobe effect at the edge of the property. Drugs are openly sold from the porch. Junk accumulates on the front lawn like lint in a cavernous belly button. Weird flags are hung from the gables, all fraught with mysterious significance. No member of the family is permitted to make eye contact with anybody else in the neighborhood. They are that family.

Almost as dreadful is when a nuclear fusion power plant is constructed nearby, a plant whose generator has a gooey plasma center that can be heated up to a balmy 150 million degrees Celsius, which, in this writer’s opinion, is basically the same thing as the family from hell. The combustible energy of the crazy clan up the block may never directly affect me, but just knowing it is there can be unnerving.   

Forget horror films. When I want the crap scared out of me I read the Science Times. Nothing fills me with more helpless fear than stories about my dangerous lifestyle choices that I ignore everyday, or tiny protozoa that want to eat my brain, or boiling seas, or trendy mutations, or the next big extinction.

Last week I was reading about “The Eater” (that is how it is pronounced anyway, somewhat appropriately), a new energy producing capsule that relies on the same fusion reactions that take place in the sun. I couldn’t get over the reported temperature level inside the core. 150 million degrees Celsius! I was so shocked I actually went out of my way to convert the gargantuan number to Fahrenheit, as if this new number would be somewhat more reasonable to my limited, American sensibility of weights and measures. The result… 270 million degrees Fahrenheit. Just as ungraspable. The other day it was 95 degrees in Atlanta, which seemed pretty hot. Now multiply that by 1.5 million. Exposed to that type of heat I would be nothing more than a few freckles of dust in my Hoka running shoes. (My love for my running shoes is such that I firmly believe they could survive a nine-digit temperature flare up.)

“The Eater” is different from normal nuclear power plants in that it relies on fusion instead of fission. Instead of splitting things apart it joins them together. Which is a nice idea, in theory. Bringing things together. This huge generator is constructive, not divisive. It builds instead of tears down. It could double as a therapist. Marriages could be saved. Friendships repaired. Amity instead of enmity. Unite. Let everybody get in on a great big hug.

I had to remind myself that what was being united was deuterium and tritium. These molecules don’t like unity. They are crazed little anarchists. They say “Fuck You” to the slightest suggestion of solidarity. That is why scientists must heat the little bastards up to a billion degrees whatever scale to force them to fuse. Even the worst of enemies would melt together. Nothing can withstand that type of blast. 

The designer of the Universe knew a thing or two about functional aesthetics, Feng Shui, spatial considerations. That is why she put the sun far enough from the earth to prevent immediate incineration. The sun is where molecules behave like drunken Irish poets at a pub on Saint Patrick’s Day. It is a wild riot filled with extreme behavior that, under normal conditions, would be unthinkable. To bring it to a neighborhood near you is to piss into the wind, except if your urine was 270 million degrees Fahrenheit.

P.S.

I’ve been rethinking this whole thing. It dawned on me that artists need energy. Lots of it. I need more energy as an artist than I do as a regular human being. It’s not enough to have a campfire. We freaky creative types need an inferno. I saw it all in a different way. That is, I wanted a Topomak fusion reactor planted into my chest. Don’t fear The Eater!

The fusion reaction vessel is what every artist needs to rage appropriately. It reminded me of Picasso’s famous “The sun in my belly” line when asked why he painted. I always figured he was talking about the yellow pimple in our otherwise blue sky. Picasso knew full well, the sun is a raging ball of explosive radiation, heat and energy that consumes crushes and destroys. Anything less is a dead battery. So bring it, and the artists of tomorrow will be able to say, “I create because of the poloidal magnetic plasma neutrino releaser in the core of my chest.”

More Alembics to come.