The Same Old Scum Sucker

I often vow to myself that if I ever become sickeningly rich, my life won’t change one bit. I will still pocket handfuls of complimentary mints from Gus’s Diner up the block from me near the highway, open twenty-four hours, truckers welcome. I will take every mint available, leaving nothing for the rotten, sour breath of commercial drivers or the prostitutes that may be employed to deal with it.

I will still pee out the window of my gilded mobile home to avoid those ridiculous water and sewage fees.

I will still hoard ketchup packets and napkins from stingy fast food chains reluctant to give them away without the threat of bodily harm to the listless cashier.

I will still clog up checkout lines of all shapes and sizes with my aggressive haggling over every scanned item. “I could’ve sworn that was on sale. I wouldn’t have bought it otherwise! Check it again!”

I will still panhandle every Sunday, weather permitting, in front of my local MARTA train station. I will still appear ragged, sunken and shame-faced, avoiding eye contact, sock covered hand extended, thanking the people for their generosity. (The public’s munificence always seems to be a bit more munificent on Sunday, go figure.) I will still drag myself away with about $150 in loose change, tax free, at the end of the work day, to spend the money ironically, like instead of getting a really nice bottle of whiskey with my loot I will just buy a case of old Monkey Shoulder. I would much rather reek of a lot of cheap booze than a moderate amount of fancy booze, and that is one thing that will never change about me, no matter how rich I become.

Most of all, like G.E.’s Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt, every time I fly someplace in my private plane, I will take along at least one other plane.

Even without being rich I know that there is nothing more embarrassing than showing up to a private airport with the same airplane as another smug billionaire. It’s like showing up to an 80s Jazzercise class in the same leg warmers as Olivia Newton-John. It’s like showing up to the BET Music Awards with the same golden chalice as Lil’ Jon. It’s like showing up to a pizza party with the same meat-topped Sicilian extravaganza as Papa John. It’s like showing up to a jazz concert with the same smooth New Orleans piano licks as Dr. John. It’s like showing up to a charity ball with the same gap in the teeth as Elton John. It’s like showing up to the filming of “Diamonds are Forever” with the same hot red hair and go-go boots as Jill St. John. (In keeping with the extravagant miser-hoarder aspect of this essay, I shall milk every joke until it is bone dry and dead. Mission accomplished on that last part.)

In fact, the lid is off. My backup private airplane will have its own backup airplane, and that backup airplane will have its own backup airplane and just to be on the safe side, the reserve of the backup of the backup of the backup will probably need to have a backup. It’s the only way to travel. Because a rich guy has to be prepared for anything and everything. I may need the jet with the DJ booth and neon dance floor, or I may require the aircraft with the king water bed and jacuzzi. Or, in mid-air, I may decide to make an emergency landing to switch from the jet with the Art Deco, ultra-modern interior, to the rustic, moose lodge jet with the rotating fireplace and stuffed animal trophies. I may, at a capricious change of whim, decide I no longer want to splash around in my aqua jet, barreling down my fuselage-encased water slide at 30,000 feet. Instead I may prefer to be whipped like a pauper in my sadomasochistic, dungeon-themed private jet, fully equipped with live-aboard dominatrix and 1,000 fully charged, shame-inducing electrical prods. And I must always be able to utilize my jet designed in the shape of a pterodactyl. It is always a giddy thrill to instruct the pilots of that monster metal bird to make aggressive swoops down toward large crowds of people to scare the shit out of them.

As expected, I would be globe trotting with a hefty entourage of European supermodels, and of course some of them, due to ego clashes, superiority complexes and general human disdain, will not want to travel on the same plane with each other, and so my five, six, or seven plane escort will have enough space for every self-absorbed, walking human crisis, myself included.

It is an all too common refrain that money tends to change people. Penny wise and pound foolish, as they say. So I am proud to announce that I would never change. I would still be the harrowing, damaged, venal, petty, short-changing, rip-off artist I’ve been my whole life. Penny foolish and pound foolish, traveling the globe in my line of private airplanes with the type of money that tends to insulate from all consequence.

Who wants to come with me?

I suggest you make friends with me now because I promise to forget you as soon as the money comes pouring in. Unlike most people, I will owe my friends the respect of telling them how expendable they are before I am immersed in untold riches.

It’s just the kind of guy I am.

How refreshing.

Thanks for showing me the way, Jeff. In the words of Modern English, the 1982 power pop one hit wonders, “I’ll Stop the World, Immelt with You.”

More Alembics to come.

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

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

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

Where was I?

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

Where was I?

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

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

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

Where was I?

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

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

Ten Past Ten

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

DE9Y1vtU0AAAjHx

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

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

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.

Go Hemp!

I awoke with a hangover on Wednesday. It took me a few minutes to realize I hadn’t been drinking the night before. Not a drop. Outside the morning was gray and the streets were quiet. I saw none of my neighbors on their usual dog walks. Eerily deserted. I chalked it up to one of those strange, collective rises and falls that happens in the popular consciousness from time to time. There are some mornings when everyone is hungover, regardless of what happened the previous night. Like the barometric pressure, it just drops and everybody feels it. It’s physics, after all.   

Nobody in my neighborhood advertises the fact that they watch pornography. There are no lawn signs for Ron Jeremy, John Holmes, Jenna Jameson, whoever the popular “actors” and “actresses” are nowadays. There are no bumper stickers that say, “This house is pro-penetration.” There are no signs supporting fetish, bondage, girl-on-girl, guy-on-girl-on-guy, black-on-white, white-on-black, take-my-wife, take-my-husband, dwarf-on-giant, humiliation, punishment, sadomasochism, group orgy and whatever else. However, if a tech company were to descend on the neighborhood and sift through the ISP addresses and blind search histories, the results would most likely be shocking. It would be a vast trove of voyeuristic filth somewhere on the level of the discovery of the lost city of El Dorado, part of the running current of activity that goes on just below everything else that is going on. This is the basic math of the 2016 election.

In a presidential cycle that was big on sensationalism, bombast and weirdly devoid of strict policy discussions, most people are probably wondering what happens now. Even president-elect Donald J. Trump is scratching his head. He lost the popular vote and won the election. At least he was right. It is rigged. He just happened to benefit from it. Good luck to him.

The big winner is marijuana. It won the ballot in six states, on its way to national legitimacy. After a political campaign that seemed more like an amphetamine bender, it might be a wise idea for the nation to smoke a joint and calm down. Where no individual has the ability to do so, hemp may be able to unite America, or at least chill it out, which is almost as valuable.

I am somewhat of an anomaly. I was a philosophy major who never smoked a lot of pot. My lungs have always been sensitive. I had asthma as a kid. They work hard enough as it is without dumping a bunch of dirty air into them. But, one of the unspoken requirements of studying in any philosophy program is that you have to go to class high at least once, in order to assess the value of any possible shifts in perspective that may result from the tricks that substance can play on the mind. So I picked my class. Second semester Western Thought. We were studying Edmund Husserl and his ideas of reductive phenomenology. I figured what the hell. I didn’t understand any of what he said when I was sober so it couldn’t hurt to show up drooling and stoned for a lecture. It might even help.

It was a disaster. I didn’t hear one word of what the professor said. I was fascinated and transfixed, however, with a girl across the room who periodically withdrew a packaged snack from her sweatshirt pocket, peeled a bit of it from its wrapper, lashed it into her mouth, chewed carefully, then swallowed it. Five minutes later she repeated the process. I was too far away to see what the food was. It looked like a Twizzler but it was the color of an udon noodle. It was like a soggy little rope. The girl had this technique of pinching the bottom end of it and whipping it up to her mouth where she would snap at it, sometimes catching it, sometimes missing it, like a moray eel debouched from a coral pocket, lazily trying to grab some kelp. Often it would take two or three lunges for her to secure it between her teeth, after which she would absently suck it through her pursed lips, chew thoughtfully then swallow. On and on it went. In fact I decided all us students were like coral algae, just sitting there in the tranquil blue, while our one moray eel fed on ocean sprouts. The professor didn’t seem to notice or care. Most everyone else was assiduously taking notes. I hadn’t written a word. My entire being was only concerned with the next stringy snack. Would she eat another one? How many times would she snap at it before grabbing it with her mouth? Would that be enough, or would she need another floppy dose? 

“80 percent of success is just showing up,” said Woody Allen. He was probably right, maybe even a little conservative with his numbers. I ended up getting a B in my Western Thought class. Ask me today about Edmund Husserl. I won’t be able to explain a thing.

And that, maybe, is the big lesson. Collectively and individually we are like fastball pitches. We are the baseball itself, who, after leaving the grip of a powerful, professional pitching ace, believes that somehow we are free to travel wherever we want now that we have been released. We have the sky above and the seats and the field all around to explore, check out, and discover, but in all likelihood we will probably end up in the catcher’s mitt behind home plate.   

The Democrats were beaten on Tuesday night, as were the Republicans in the nine months leading up to the election. It’s like we have all been given honorary degrees from Trump University, with the promise of the vast secrets of wealth and success, but just as likely grappling with the collection agency when the tuition bill comes due. And maybe it never will. Perpetual deferment is fashionable these days. This is the lesson the rest of us can take from the rich. Send it down to the last stop. We’ll be getting off before that.

The cultural paradox, which is alway reassuring regardless of a person’s political views, is that victories always galvanize the opposition. For the defeated left this means gun sales will decrease, subscriptions to their causes will increase, the militias will be vacationing in the Everglades, the A.C.L.U. will be hiring, and donations to Planned Parenthood will fill the coffers. After all, to be great one must have a formidable adversary. Let the games begin. Since we’re heading for the catcher’s mitt we might as well smoke a legal, recreational joint. It might soften the landing.

God save the green.

More Alembics to come.

Free Pizza

My most attention-grabbing banner headline to date! Who doesn’t like pizza? That delicious and simple combination of mozzarella cheese, marinara and dough. We celebrate with it. It comforts us in low times. It is a quick and convenient dinner option. Fold it up, New Yorkers. Cut it up, Chicagoans. Load it up, America. Wedge or rectangle, florentine or Hawaiian, meat-lover, veggie-lover, plain or packed, pizza is the great Epicurean contribution of western civilization. Even better when it is free.

Here is where the reader may feel a bit tricked. This is not about the Italian gourmet staple. It is, in fact, about the plight of a polar bear in China named “Pizza”  who lives in a tiny glass box in the middle of a shopping mall in Guangzhou Province. There he sits day in and day out while kids bang on the glass all around him and take pictures. Pizza is a big draw for shoppers who stop to admire the huge animal as he sits inside a painted replica of ice floes and snow, because there is no better way to acclimate a living creature to an artificial habitat than to remind it of the natural expanse of freedom that it has been robbed of. That is why the happiest inmates in any penitentiary system are the ones with landscapes of beaches painted on the walls. It is the quickest way to joy and rehabilitation.

I can hardly stand being in a mall for ten minutes, much less all day every day. That is a fate worse than death. The music and the rabble alone are enough to drive anything crazy, be it animal, vegetable or mineral. Usually when I emerge from a mall, after a brief and determined swoop for an item I desperately need, I stand outside gulping in the fresh air, thankful that I made it out alive. I tend to “shop” in malls like Seal Team Six assassinates Osama Bin Laden. Careful planning for the quickest possible route in and out. A fast and furtive entry and exit. Get done what needs to be done and get the fuck out of there.

These days I rely on mail delivery. There is no better way to acquire goods than to have it sitting in front of the door when I get home. I save on gas. I avoid crowds. There is no awkward banter with an eagerly inept sales associate. The lighting in my house is more flattering to my physique than the deadening fluorescence of a department store and I can’t beat the prices of the bar in my living room, open all day and all night, no such thing as being over-served. It is all a seamless transaction.

My habits, though, may be partly to blame for what is dooming poor Pizza in his little glass igloo over on the other side of the world. Because internet shopping is on the rise, marketing officials feel they need something as exotic as a giant polar bear in the middle of all that commerce to encourage people to get out of their houses and shop the old-fashioned way. Animal rights groups condemn the practice. When a person is put in a tiny enclosure it is called prison. When an animal is thusly held captive, it is called an educational exhibit. The difference is semantic and minimal.  A creature that is conditioned to have the whole top end of the earth to roam around on might feel a bit cramped in a box, with hundreds of gawking teenagers staring in, all dopey and fascinated. I’m not sure what a polar bear eats, probably fish, but let’s say it eats humans too, why not, we’re made of meat, what torture it would be to have this human feast just out of reach on the other side of the glass. It would be an interesting experiment to take a person, put them in a glass cage and parade hamburgers, french fries, and ice cream back and forth all day, just beyond their grasp. See how adjusted and happy they are after two weeks sitting in the same spot, watching food they can’t eat circle them for hours on end. Sounds fun.

The owners of the mall have defended Pizza’s incarceration. They say he is well taken care of and has a bigger house than most Chinese factory workers have. In fact, they released a statement saying, “Pizza is the happiest bear in the world. He feels a sense of pride at knowing that Rolex watches and Swarovski figurines are ten percent off, and designer footwear from the fashion houses of Milan are strutting their stuff, so to speak, on the third-floor mezzanine. It is two-for-one at the fragrance counter, which always makes Pizza frolic in delight. The only time Pizza shows signs of distress is when he sees shoppers ignoring the fire sale in the “everything must go” closing at the Shack of Radios. He knows that the holidays are right around the corner, and nothing pleases him more than to hear the incessant announcements that the Amazon Firestick is now available for streaming all your, and Pizza’s, favorite shows.”

People of Guangzhou, listen up! You want to see a polar bear? Get your lazy ass onto a boat heading for the North Pole. Too much travel? Buy a stuffed animal or open a picture book. Turn on the National Geographic channel. Artificial living is a killer for people and bears alike. If malls in China need rare and interesting exhibits the United States can help. They can stage the “American Felon” exhibit. We can farm out psychotic killers to Chinese malls where people can ponder some of the world’s most notorious murderers. We’ve got Charlie Manson. We’ve got Paul Runge. We’ve got Dennis Rader. We’ve got Gary Ridgway. Take a selfie with a strangler. Leave the animals to the wild. They are aware. They are self-interested. They are the perfect work of a creator upon a fitting habitat.

It would be poetic justice for Pizza to escape his interminable confinement and turn the mall into a “maul.” Then he can flee to the Arctic waters where extradition is tricky and he holds the supreme advantage.

Free Pizza!

More Alembics to come.

Wonder-ing Woman

One thing I’ve noticed in my trivial research of subatomic particles is that they are very hard to find. Gluons, quarks, the omega minus, Higgs-Boson. All very difficult to pin down. They are tiny. They move fast. Some aren’t even particles at all. Some are more like an electrical mesh that other particles fit in, allowing bits of energy to acquire mass. What I’m saying is a person would be hard-pressed to recognize one when they are out and about, running errands, doing yard work, or playing video games. They belong in a different dimension, and there they stay. They are all around us, yet absent.

Almost as difficult, apparently, is finding a woman who holds a top position at the United Nations. Even in the twenty-first century it is still an old boys club, steeped in a patriarchal heritage, slow to adapt to a modernized world. I was reading about some of the challenges facing female security council members, how there seemed to be an embedded disdain among the old guard toward the opposite gender, and how the glass ceiling at the organization had been reinforced with concrete and wood. “A shame,” I thought, as I flipped the page and read the next headline.

“Wonder Woman named U.N. Ambassador.”

I flipped the page back to the previous article. “Women finding it difficult to integrate into male-dominated U.N. culture.”

I flipped the page forward.

“Wonder Woman named U.N. Ambassador.”

I flipped the page back. “Women finding it difficult…”

I flipped the page forward. “Wonder Woman named U.N. Ambassador.”

Back and forth I went like a ping-pong ball. It caused me to be late to everything that day, as I was stuck in a loop of confusion at the two stories. At first I thought it was a playful way to inform the public that Lynda Carter, the actress who played Wonder Woman on the seventies sitcom, had been appointed. No, in fact it was the comic book character.

A canny and shrewd move on the part of Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, I thought, or whoever made the decision. What better way to ignore a female security council member than to appoint a fictional one. While they were at it, they could’ve thrown in Betty Boop, Jessica Rabbit, Wilma Flintstone, Jane Jetson and Minnie Mouse. Why not? There would be no awkward confrontations on the floor. They wouldn’t have to shell out the extra money for translators, and it would not be an undue burden on the U.N. commissary. These women would not create any diplomatic crises. They don’t exist, after all.

My own experience with the United Nations goes back some years, when a good friend of mine from college lived over on the east side of Manhattan about two blocks up from the Dag Hammarskjold plaza. I drank heavily back then, and it was no small accomplishment for me to avoid being smashed by careening limos with little flags perched over the headlights as I tried to negotiate the two blocks between my favorite Irish pub and the safety of my friend’s apartment building. Anytime I saw a set of tiny flags on the hood of a car closing in on me I knew it was time to get my ass in gear. These drivers don’t mess around. They are terrified of an ambush. The last thing you get to see as you fall under the wheels of a speeding diplomatic Mercedes is the flag of the country that is about to run you over. They do not get parking tickets, or moving violations, and they probably would emerge unscathed from running down a pedestrian. I’d come out of this Irish bar good and tuned up at about three in the afternoon and have to make it past two city streets like I was the doomed amphibian in a game of “Frogger.”

I knew from then on that the place was vicious. If the traffic around the building was that bad, I couldn’t imagine what actually went on inside the joint. I was relieved when my friend moved up to Scarsdale.

“I have kids now,” he said. “And you can’t trust those U.N. chauffeurs. They drive like they are in the crosshairs of a sniper.” Which may have been true. Another reason to leave the neighborhood. Political assassins. Now the local residents may have to endure the constant arrival and departure of Wonder Woman’s invisible jet.

Apparently some groups are not happy with the appointment of a sexy comic book character to the U.N. roster. They were particularly outraged when Ban Ki-Moon made an announcement that all female staff members, “Would now have to wear a golden tiara, matching gold cuffs, form-fitting bodice, fishnets and knee-high boots. Just so, you know, Wonder Woman doesn’t feel too self-conscious or anything. We all know what it’s like to be the new kid on the block. You women must show some solidarity. By the way any of you sweet biscuits want to tie me up with a golden lasso, I’ll be in my office.”

Maybe it’s not a total wash. Maybe some good can come from all this. Consider that Wonder Woman could turn into, not so much Wonder Woman, superhero icon, but “Wondering” Woman, as in female who wonders about why the hell the whole world can’t stop the incredible unrest stretching across Europe, the Middle East, and Central America, say.

“I’m wondering why Aleppo has been wiped off the map.”

“I’m wondering how the U.N. introduced cholera to Haiti.”

“I’m wondering how the use of aggression is justified to an accepting populace.”

Like quarks, gluons and other micro-particles, wholesale slaughter seems almost impossible to isolate, even though officials are aware of its presence. It’s everywhere and out of reach. It’s there, yet it’s not.

Strange.

More Alembics to come.