Deep State

I’ve been underwater for the better part of a month. At first I submerged, on a lark, in a Florida river for what was supposed to be an hour-long dive. I went under to get away from the constant surveillance, the ceaseless wiretaps, the enormous broad net that catches all my secrets, ensnares all my communication, traps all my intentions. Whether it is Russia, Iran, or our own highly technical American spy tactics, apparently everyone is listening all the time to everyone else in order to uncover the true malice in the hearts of men. They are fleshing out the guilty, identifying the dangerous, cornering the evil. They are seeking out and destroying that subversive citizenry who plot and scheme, and rebel against freedom, and plan the collapse of the entire sovereign way of life. And if they don’t find them, it just means they aren’t looking hard enough. Even the president is a victim.

I wanted no part of it. 

I was tired of being anonymously preyed upon by satellites, hackers, nosy neighbors, encryption experts and that Julian Assange fellow, living in some musty closet in an embassy mansion in London and yet somehow controlling every country’s sensitive secrets right there in plain sight. The whole setup seemed like something out of a Monty Python sketch.

“Come out of there at once!” yells John Cleese, dressed as an English bobby.

“No!” screams Eric Idle, dressed as Julian Assange.

“Damn. What do we do now?” mutters John Cleese.

“We wait,” says Michael Palin, also dressed as an English bobby. 

“Quite right,” says Cleese. “Um, for how long?”

“He’ll get bored and surrender. Give it about five years or so. Maybe ten.”

“That sounds like a bloody long time.”

“It is.”

“Can’t we just go get him? I mean he is standing right there!”

“Actually,” says Palin, “it’s the Ecuadorian embassy. Right there is technically Ecuador. And we can’t just go to Ecuador because if my wife finds out I went to Ecuador without her she might bloody well divorce me! I mean she has been bugging me for a vacation for months, and then to find out I just went to Ecuador without her, and didn’t even bring her back a bloody seashell would be grounds for a ruddy divorce.”

“Well then,” says Cleese, “blast it all. Call your wife down here and we can bring her along on the raid.”

“No can do,” says Palin. “She hates the tropics.”

*

So I went underwater. I started out in the shallows. Here is a picture:

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I’m the cluster of bubbles on the right. Life becomes very simplistic underwater. You feel like you are trapped in Darth Vader’s helmet. The only sound you hear is your own breathing. You move in slow motion weightlessness, like a dream. The fish and other denizen of the deep treat you like the geek at a party of cool kids. Even so, there is a certain freedom to the practice. This is the life for me, I thought. I waved off the rest of my scuba team, found a decent looking school of fish and followed along. Thirty feet. Fifty feet. A hundred feet. Two hundred feet. I kept checking my dive computer, waiting for the alarm that warns I am running out of air. Mysteriously, my cylinder remained at 2,000 psi. What the hell, I figured, I might as well keep going. The pressure above me was fantastic. I felt myself getting light-headed. A little gas narcosis is a fun and easy way to get high. Best of all, the land side news could not reach me. For weeks on end I remained in blissful animation, coasting along like a dolphin. I ate fish, I guess, and drank water, I guess. When I was tired I huddled at the ocean floor like a sea cow. There is no argument underwater. No bombast. No bragging. No emotionally potent outrage. No mendacity. Inhale. Exhale. Eat or get eaten. The bubbles escaped from my regulator. I imagined intelligence operatives somewhere above at the surface of the water, trying to capture these tiny air pockets, looking for subversive molecules. Freedom through scrutiny is a funny concept. The idea is that when everyone knows what everyone else is doing we will all be more free. Which is a complete fuck-around. We don’t really need to know what everybody thinks and does. Most people are as boring as a stale doughnut, and about as predictable as the shape of that doughnut. The fish around me, going out of their way to ignore me, were all too aware of this fact. I was a big, dopey tag-along. I created too many bubbles. Which, in the end, is probably the only real legacy. Fugacious pockets of nothing. Better examine them, just in case.

More Alembics to come.

The Wall

Recently struck with a monster case of writer’s block, which is in and of itself a wall, I panicked, which never helps. It’s like trying to stop drowning by inhaling more water, figuring that if I drink enough of it, it will no longer be there to suffocate me. It’s times like these when I begin to suspect that I may have caught some artistic viral infection. Writer’s block, like the flu, can be picked up from a handshake, a sneeze, a dirty doorknob, some kind of cross-contamination in any number of public areas. People with no imagination or sense of humor sneezing and coughing in my personal space. I could feel it coming on. The mind goes gray, mental constipation sets in, thoughts are desiccated, impacted, stuck and banjaxed. (Been dying to use that word.)

I did what any desperate writer would do. I called upon a muse, a shaman, a guide to lead me through this scorched wasteland of creative impasse. As Homer invites Mnemosyne to help him sing the rage of Achilles, or Dante uses Virgil to guide him through Hell, or Emerson calls upon Swedenborg, or Thoreau awaits the magic of Aurora, I figured why not?

I decided to seek out Orbaneja of Ubeda, the great Spanish artist who, when people stopped to ask what he was painting, would shrug and reply, “Whatever emerges.”

That is the guy for me. Unfortunately it is a bad time for foreigners in these parts, even great artists that have been dead some four hundred years. Getting him into the country turned out to be an enormous hassle. Immigration and customs officials are on the alert, and I was reprimanded for even trying to get a temporary visa for my artistic lodestar.

“He sounds like a filthy foreigner,” one official told me.

“No,” I said. “He is okay. I can’t vouch for his bathing schedule, but he understands the value of creative impulse and discipline. Plus, a little human stink is good for the sinuses.”

“He is from Spain?” said the customs official.

“Yes.”

“Isn’t that the country with all the terrorism?”

“You might be thinking of Syria,” I said.

“Five letters, starts with ‘S’ is enough for me,” said the official.

I went home, dejected. It’s a tough state of affairs when the ghost of a Spanish painter is tied up in jingoistic bureaucracy. (Actually when I just typed the word ‘bureaucracy’ I accidentally hit the ‘z’ key at the end. What resulted was ‘bureaucrazy.’ Egads I thought. Orbaneja you beautiful bastard. You are already lifting me!)

At least I could walk out of my house and breathe some fresh air, for now. Physically I am white and nondescript and non-Mexican, for that matter, which probably won’t put me in the crosshairs of anti-Mexican sentiment anytime soon, but when the order comes down to detain and scrutinize all those who look like serial killers (the vast majority are white and nondescript and non-Mexican) then I might find myself in some serious trouble. I retreated back behind the walls of my house.

I don’t fear walls. Of course walls are everywhere, and serve an array of purposes. Walls are used for security, punishment, shelter, support, to hang art from, to delineate, to define, and ultimately, metaphorically, to overcome. I tried to rely on a little proximal magic since my pal Orbaneja was stuck in limbo. That is, I blasted Pink Floyd’s The Wall over and over again for the better part of the afternoon.

It was only a fantasy.

The wall was too high, as you can see.

No matter he tried he could not break free.

And the worms ate into his brain.

Yeesh, that is bleak. I skipped to another song.

I am just a new boy…

A stranger in this town.

Where are all the good times?

Who’s gonna show this stranger around?”

Indeed. Much better. I walked out to my backyard and noticed, to my consternation, that my neighbor, a gruff old codger whose attitude and worldview is cut from a sheet of pig iron, was slowly and methodically piling stone slabs between our houses. He was, it seemed, building a wall. I just wasn’t sure whether he was keeping me out or him in.

“Hey Lee, whatcha doing?” I said.

“Bah,” said Lee. “I’m fed up with you. You are a bad influence.”

“Don’t worry Lee, I’ve been having some writer’s block.”

“My son tells me you’ve been drinking whiskey with him and filling his head with crazy ideas.”

“Walls aren’t very good at keeping out ideas, Lee.”

“This one will,” said Lee. “This is a good wall.”

I went back inside. I considered one-upping my neighbor by digging a moat between our houses next week. I’ve always wanted a moat. Fill it with carnivorous fish and dare people to cross it. Maybe that is the solution to the Mexican border issue. Forget the wall. Build a moat. Dredge a huge canal from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.

We have the technology to raise creatures from extinction. Let’s make some dragons. Fill the thing with saurian beasts of yore. Failing that, we could just build a wall with unused bottles of Trump vodka, the bricks of bankrupt casinos and brochures for real estate seminars. Most reasonable people wouldn’t come within a hundred miles of the thing.

Problem solved.

More Alembics to come.

Henry David Thoreau: Bitch Slappin’ Pimp

When I want a serious simulation of violence I head to the game room. There is no better way to go on a blind, murderous rampage than to plug in any number of first-person shooter games. Grand Theft Auto. Thrill Kill. Bullet to the Head. Me Pull Trigger, You Burst Open Sticky…stuff like that. There are a ton of options. The meaning of real life may be elusive, but when the meaning of a game is to carjack as many old ladies as you can, knock them over the head and use their meager social security money to get lap dances at the virtual strip club, a man is finally free from the lingering existential ambiguities of actual life. Nothing makes me happier at the end of a long day of computerized blood-letting on scorched city streets than to have a stripper twerking above me and my champagne bottle.

While I enjoy a good virtual spree killing, I am also a fan of classical literature.

So happy was I to see an advertisement for a game based on Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.” Finally, I thought. The one thing I had been missing from my indiscriminate gunning down of random citizens was the meticulous philosophy of a nineteenth century transcendentalist who sought to “live deliberately.”

I was in a hurry that day and didn’t have time to actually read the particulars of the new game, and in a sense I didn’t need to. I have long considered myself somewhat of a Thoreau expert. My alternative interpretations of his ideas on solitude, economy and frugality are all the rage in America’s prison system. Felons write to me all the time, telling me that my explanations of solitude (or, don’t fuck with me), economy (or don’t touch my shit), and frugality (or don’t use all this shit at once) has really helped them do their hard time with a healthy perspective. I heard they were going to have a prison riot out in Corcoran in honor of me, but the guards got wise and the bloods were pelted with rubber bullets. They will try again, they assure me, as I also counsel about the importance of perseverance.

In the Walden game the character sets about implementing a life of solitude and quiet meditation at Walden pond, outside of Concord, Massachusetts. The character learns to relax and find harmony in the rural surroundings. In the first stage the character spends his time hoeing his garden, his beans and potatoes, all while quotes and suggestions by Thoreau himself are displayed across the bucolic setting. Then what happens, though, in the second stage, is that the character gets fed up with all this sitting around. He decides that there are two ways to enjoy solitude. One is to travel away from the public. The other is to singlehandedly gun down huge swaths of people with automatic weapons. As the game gets more violent, sinister and intense, Thoreau promises, in a voice that gets deeper and deeper, to build his serenity on a road of bones. When a first-person shooter executes an entire community, they will have all the solitude they need. Instead of hoeing a row of beans in the first part, the second part of the game is dedicated to beaning “a row of ho,” slapping them upside the head for talking back and withholding their earnings. Little known fact was that Thoreau had a vast stable of hookers to subsidize his scholarship. As Thoreau was fond of saying, “A man is rich in the number of things he can afford to let alone.” Which, loosely translated, means that sometimes a guy has to slap a bitch to cool her out. When Thoreau warns that men have become, “the tools of their tools,” what he means of course is that a gun doesn’t fire itself, and a bullet saved is a bullet wasted.

What the Walden game inevitably teaches is that a bloody-thirsty mania and a desire for the exercise of arts and humanities need not be mutually exclusive. Mankind is a complex species, rich in apparent contradiction, and the highest and lowest of human potential needs a stage to be acted out upon. Eventually the game player is given the option of dropping the gun, employing the service of a high-powered defense attorney, and watching his own insanity trial from a cage in the courtroom, like raving Russian cannibal Andrei Chikatilo. After the guilty verdict, the player is led down a dank hallway and given a bullet to the back of the head. The player then has the option of starting the game anew.

There is much to be learned from this video game, and I for one applaud its invention. Finally, Thoreau is given his true street cred for being an ass-kicking vigilante who just happened to go off to live among the majesty of the mountaintops, the clear mirror of the lake, the firmament of the stars. When Thoreau poses the rhetorical question, “Why should a man begin digging his grave as soon as he is born?” His answer, predictably, is because he, Thoreau, is coming to town to loot the place and burn it to the ground.

More Alembics to come, bitches.

Lost in the Algorithm

I have known terror. I have been bounced through a monsoon at 3,000 feet in a Cessna four-seater. I have been hurled through the choppiest waters known to man or fish off the coast of Montauk Point. I have been pursued through a junkyard by bullies. I have skidded through the intersection of a major thoroughfare, narrowly missing five oncoming cars. And, when I was six years old or so, I got lost in the mall. Happy to say I survived all these episodes, emerging with an appreciation of safety and good fortune and feeling, as I got older, that these somewhat reckless experiences were behind me. Shocked then, was I, to get lost in the mall again last weekend, thirty-five years after my initial toddler mall maze experience, only to realize it is just as terrifying as ever.

It all started when my “Eye-Phone” stopped charging. Blasted thing. I had only had it for nine months. Before that I had relied on more primitive modes of communication like carrier pigeons and smoke signals. But even the most stubborn techno-cynic will eventually have to place an exploratory toe in the cool waters of the twenty-first century, and so I got my “I-Phone,” my “Me-Phone,” my “Me-Me-Me-Me-Phone.” I will admit, it is convenient. It is a delivery system, after all, nothing more. If you want access to the great literary works of western civilization, there they are. However if you want to fling shit around the world, you can do that too. Just remember, even though huge piles of shit can be delivered instantaneously with the touch of a button, it’s still shit.

I digress! What was puzzling was that my phone stopped charging. It no longer accepted electricity. I called up the computer company to ask about a solution, and they made an appointment for me to go to the nearest Apple Computer Store, located smack in the middle of Lenox Mall, the busiest mall in Atlanta. The appointment was for Saturday afternoon, the busiest time at the busiest mall. I cringed at the thought, but my phone was slowly dying, losing valuable percentage points of energy. I had to act fast. I walked into the place after dealing with the smack-up derby gridlock of the parking lot. The dull roar of a million shoppers engulfed me, and the Apple store itself looked like that old photo of the British phone booth with something like fifteen grown men stuffed into it. People were everywhere, either in wild exhilaration or preemptive disgust at the finale of Superbowl LI, of which no more will be written by this blogger concerning that particularly fiendish goat rodeo.

I found a rather pleasant millennial who confirmed my appointment in her “Eye-Pad.” She told me to have a seat in the corner, at a table. She then started punching in my description. Jacket-blue. Pants-denim. Skin-pasty. Eyes-bloodshot. I offered a DNA swab of my inner cheek. She said it wasn’t necessary. I sat in the corner and looked out at the mayhem. People slithered over each other like worms in a mud ditch. The walls were blank slats of stainless steel. I was trapped in a metal box with a thousand other lab rats. 

Not to worry. I pulled the “Science Times” section of the Tuesday New York Times out of my pocket, an actual dirty print copy, and began reading about cannibalism. More common in the animal kingdom than previously thought. Tiger sharks, spiders, lions, humans, we are all made of meat, as it turns out. I peered out from behind my newspaper, realizing I was the only person in a room of five hundred or so that was NOT staring into some form of computer. For this reason alone I figured the tech geeks would try to usher me along. 

“Get this guy out of here,” they would whisper. “He’s no good for our image.” 

I read and re-read the whole article. The place was so crowded I couldn’t even see out the glass doors. The people on either side of me, arriving after I did, were helped and ushered along, and there I sat. And sat. And sat. After a while I felt like an opium freak who doesn’t inquire “What time is it?” but rather, “What day is it?” My phone had long since gone dead. My head was spinning from the crowd and my belly was empty. It wouldn’t be long, I thought, before I engaged, as a matter of brute survival, in the practice known as “adelphophagy” or “brother-eat-brother.”

I looked around the room, trying to decide which person, if it came down to it, that I would eat. Some people were way too thin. Skin and bones. Bad muscle tone. That wouldn’t do. Overweight people, at first, seemed like premium slabs, except I suspected there might be a little too much “marbling” in them. The bulky weightlifters would probably be too tough or stringy. All of this humanity in the room and nothing good to eat. Like a refrigerator full of nothing. It would probably be best to consume a baby, or a caged human, someone recently released from prison maybe, nice and tender.

I snapped out of it, realizing I was losing my goddamn mind. I stopped one of the cheery millennials and asked her to locate me in the computer. She did some typing and realized, to our horror, that I wasn’t in there. I had gotten lost in the system. My heart beat wildly. I began to perspire. I asked her where I was and she told me to stay in one place. That is the best thing to do if you are lost.

“You are a real Nowhere Man,” she said finally, with a look like there was nothing more she could do. “Sitting in your Nowhere Land.”

“One more question,” I said, surveying her abdomen and wondering about her liver. “Would you happen to have some fava beans and maybe a nice Chianti?”

More Alembics to come.

The Modern Test of a Man

It is an exciting time to be a man, or a woman, or both, or neither. I used to identify simply as being male, because, that’s pretty much what I am. Surprised then, was I, to realize there is a whole new array of options out there these days. I try to be aware of current trends, if only to keep an eye on what is happening and not necessarily to integrate fads or paradigm shifts into my own personal “style,” if it can even be called that. I also tend to just go with the simple things that have always worked for me. I watch old black and white movies. I listen to NPR on the radio. I read books made of pulp. I sit in my backyard and watch fireflies shake their glowing asses at me.

As a culture we’ve never been more flush with invention than we are now. A capitalist society lives by the mantra, “The More Choices, The Better.” And so I may walk into a car dealership and say, “I don’t want any of that newfangled, fancy, space-age stuff. Just a basic, reliable automobile.” But then the savvy car salesman will point out certain creature comforts like seats that warm themselves, hands-free blue-tooth, satellite GPS, holograms, driverless options, rear-camera visual aids, and I may say, “Wow. I had no idea this stuff existed. It’s a whole new world. Thanks oily salesman.”

And so I tried to keep an open mind as I perused the new categories of human that were available to me, now that I was firmly entrenched in the twenty-first century. I could be cis-gender, trans-gender, heterosexual, homosexual, omnisexual, asexual, metrosexual, non-gender, nonbinary, intersex, gender nonconforming, gender fluid, gender hyperbolic, gender lethargic, a tucker, a taper, a candlestick maker, half-in, half-out, all-in, all-out, top, bottom, fem, butch, prissy, hissy, vulgar, misogynistic, androphobic, aloof, lecherous, ethereal, multiple sexuality madman, or madwoman, I suppose.

The possibilities were dizzying, and what’s worse, how do I keep myself from being forced into a category of my own definition, that, once employed, may be limiting to the options I may have for myself. Oscar Wilde once said, “To define is to limit.” Indeed, and considering his tastes and proclivities, he probably would’ve happily flipped for all the new kinds of male or female alternatives, and may even have morphed into something like an Olivia Wilde, which would’ve been something to behold. If a person can write like Oscar Wilde and look like Olivia Wilde, there probably isn’t much they can’t accomplish. Kind of unfairly superhuman.

I was always just a guy who liked girls, but that suddenly seemed lame and boring. And, considering the spectrum of masculinity and femininity, not as clear-cut as I may have assumed. For instance I had been mistakenly referred to as “Ma’am” on one or two impersonal sales calls over the years. I never had any reason to doubt my voice fell into the normal tenor of an adult male, but maybe I had been kidding myself all this time. I had once, while accidentally ingesting two tabs of ecstasy, (long story, I thought they were headache relievers; and in a way, they were), danced with my hands over my head. I had sipped a can of beer through a straw. I’m terrible at fixing things. The fight club I joined turned out to be a slap fest. I don’t go out of my way to watch contact sports. In fact, when I considered it, I never realized my own betrayal to the classical precepts of my gender.

It may have had something to do with a bartender gig I had awhile back. Every Monday night the bar had a drag show. Talk about a crash course in an alternative subculture. It was like being trapped in a Federico Fellini movie one day a week, with opulent dresses, wigs, pasties, fishnets, heels whirling by, and in the middle of it all feminine figures who were technically male-born, lip synching the Pussycat Dolls “Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?”

The place was packed every Monday for years, and I developed a fun and antagonistic friendship with all the performers. On some level I made it okay for straight guys to show up to the place with their girlfriends, too. Paddy the Duke, Ambassador. The guys could sit at the bar and talk to me, feeling comfortable with one of their own, and I would lecture them seriously on metaphysical principles as applied by Marcus Aurelius and Boethius, about how humans should strive for a kind of competitive harmony whose ultimate design is an implacable mystery, all while a Tammy Wynette look-alike crooned “Stand By Your Man.”  A vague philosophical principle takes on a whole new level of curiosity when it is spoken between the knees of a six-foot-five drag queen standing atop the bar, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with “her” rendition of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.”

The performers were courageous, I’ll give them that. One of the drag queens I used to chat with would tell me, “It takes balls to do this. (Pause). You know what I mean!” She was right, too. One time the question was even put to me, “Are you man enough to wear a dress in public?”

The question froze me in a type of brilliant logical paradox, and “she,” the crafty Socrates, awaited my answer. If I said no, then I had to admit I wasn’t man enough. If I said yes, I might have to wear a dress in public, and the thought terrified me, and in a traditional sense, fear is generally associated with the feminine.

“Well, which one is it, sweetie?” My crafty interlocutor dared.

“Um, I’m going to go drink half a bottle of Grand Marnier,” I said. “That is my answer.”

“You’ve got a long way to go.”

“Well then, I might as well be drunk for the trip.”

More Alembics to come.

Kompromat!

Yet again I have witnessed an English bulldog trotting down the street, tethered to a human that bore such a striking resemblance to his pet, both in look and in gait, that it makes me fearful there is some sinister genetic experiment going on somewhere close by. Something on the level of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Thickset with identical waddles and underbites, it is a thing to behold. When the Christian Cavalry rode into the new world the savages thought horse and rider were one and the same beast. This is the opposite. Years from now they will say that canine-human dualities used to be considered two separate beings.

I digress…

When I want life, unadulterated; when I choose to sit in an environment not acted upon by artificial air control; when I wish to see garrulous lunatics preaching conspiracy; when I wish my articles of clothing to commingle with the lint of strangers; when I want to run the heady risk of having my clothes removed prematurely from a rinse cycle; when I crave the vertiginous spinning of a wall of throbbing metal cubes; In short, when I want all of this, I head to the laundromat.

I have my own washer and dryer. That isn’t the point. I also have my own bottles of liquor, yet I occasionally head out to the local bar. It is a social exercise, the only way to really get to the heart of the word on the street. Local, national or global, nobody trusts the internet anymore. Search engines filter and predict a user’s pattern of choice. We are fed what we are likely to eat, and told that all else is poison. But at the laundromat, the trolls are unmasked. They sit there, plain as day, and rant. I like the laundromats next to the parks, because there is always a steady supply of vagabonds drifting back and forth. I pulled in the other day, surprised that there was an empty parking spot right next to the door. I unloaded my clothes, got the machines going, and sat down with a book. It wasn’t long before a man sat down next to me. He glared at me shamelessly.

“Good parking spot,” he said.

“Yeah, lucky I guess,” I said.

“I got you that parking spot. A car was about to pull in and I faked an episode.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Don’t mention it.” He paused for a moment, looking around. “You know, a guy who goes out of his way to help a fellow out might deserve something. The reason you coasted in so easily is because of me.” 

I exhaled and reached into my pocket. It is always a tense and awkward exchange to be panhandled at the laundromat, because the customers always have quarters, and the bums always know we have them. Further, they know that we know that they know. I flipped him a shiny one and he watched it bounce down the sidewalk. He shook his head and laughed.

“I was thinking more like a lollipop and some deodorant from the store across the way.”

“You mean, because of the parking space?”

“I mean because I think a lollipop would be a nice way to enjoy the afternoon, and if you lean close enough, we will both agree that a can of anti-perspirant is a fine idea.”

“I’m not so sure,” I said.

“Or else, we can always discuss the incident,” he said, pulling out his I-Phone.

“You can’t afford deodorant yet you have an I-Phone?” I said.

“Technology is an imperative. Stink is a choice,” he said, and queued up a video that showed a masked vandal smashing the window of the very same laundromat we were sitting in front of. “That guy looks a little like you, doesn’t it?”

“It’s not me,” I said.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“But it does.”

“If I tell the owner that it is you, he will confiscate your clothes and call the police. He trusts me.”

“Why would he trust you? It is clear that you are a dishonest opportunist.”

“You weren’t saying that when you parked right next to the entrance.”

He had me there. The seconds ticked by. He kept rewinding the video and playing it.

“It’s looking more and more like you. Or less and less.” 

Taking the path of least resistance, I walked across the street and got him his sundries. I returned and handed them over.

“It’s a fine day,” he said, enjoying his lollipop. He applied a prodigious amount of deodorant, spraying and spraying, but instead of making him smell better he actually made the deodorant smell worse. I looked at him with a fresh perspective. Kind of squat. Sunken face. Short, bowed legs.

“Do you own a bulldog?” I said.

“That’s like me asking you if you own your two feet,” he said.

“I knew it. You are an experiment.” 

“So are you.”

“Run by whom?”

“The autocrats. Welcome to the brave new world,” he barked.

More Alembics to come.

The Ethics of Ethics

Welcome, everyone, to the year 2017, and on a personal note, to my 100th blog entry. I would like it to have rained balloons around every person reading this, but it was not in the budget, and I have a feeling that the new year will be one of fiscal responsibility, prudence in regards to legislation, and getting rid of those crap-sucking ethical review boards. H.L. Mencken once said, “Conscience is that tiny voice that tells a person that… somebody may be watching.” Which of course affords two possibilities. Conduct oneself in a way that would be honorable if someone were paying attention, or get rid of the people watching. A special ‘Thank You’ to the new congress for already making 2017 a year to remember by trying to get rid of the Office of Congressional Ethics. I can’t blame them. Ethical watchdogs take the fun out of everything. Lavish gifts have to be hidden, or at the very least “laundered.” A representative’s mother-in-law will have to be the benefactor of his new Cadillac Escalade instead of a lobbyist. First class air travel can’t be paid for directly by some brutal Middle East monarchy. Instead the congressmen have to be “reimbursed” through some dummy slush fund, which could take months. Added to all that, it’s getting tougher to trust D.C.’s hookers and call girls. They tend to have loose lips. Plus, they talk a lot.

With India changing its entire currency to eliminate corruption, China cracking down on graft, the Filipino president bragging about personally murdering gang members to rid the streets of crime, and South Korea’s president facing impeachment for bribery and pelf, the message is clear. Oversight sucks. The easiest way not to get caught is not to get accused, and the easiest way not to get accused is to dismiss and neutralize the accusers.  The Office of Congressional Ethics is to the government what any Human Resources department is to its major corporation. Nobody likes them. They are always fabricating problems in order to justify their own existence. When some woman complains to H.R. about sexual harassment by one of her superiors, it is very likely that the superior may have to explain himself before settling for an undisclosed sum. Gone are the days when the woman herself might be blamed for her own harassment, chastised for wearing actual women’s clothing in the presence of men, defiantly taunting these helpless schmucks with an exposed ankle or wrist. Who does she think she is, Coco Chanel?

When it comes to ethical systems there are two kinds of people. Friends and enemies. Enemies, naturally, deserve all they get, whether the charges of impropriety are legitimate or not. They have lined up on the wrong side of favoritism, and for that their crimes are unpardonable. Friends, by the nature of their loyalty, never do anything wrong. Their transgressions are momentary lapses of judgement, blown out of proportion by political opportunists in order to slander their reputations. They are closet head cases, friends are, and the last thing anybody wants is for a friend to be revealed as a blatant, out-in-the-open head case. Like Tex Iverson, a prominent Atlanta attorney who recently shot his wife while falling asleep in the rear passenger seat of his SUV with a loaded .38 in his hand as they were driving through the city because he was afraid of the Black Lives Matter movement. I know that sentence doesn’t seem to make any sense, yet apparently that is exactly what happened. Mr. Iverson, about to be on trial for manslaughter, still chairs a committee for the state board of elections and has voted repeatedly to strengthen voter I.D. laws, because he is deeply concerned that some less than honest citizens who haven’t shot their wives still might try to vote twice. 

I was in Aspen recently. I could go on and on about that trip, but I feel brevity is the fashion for the new year. Suffice it to say that I wound up in the heated swimming pool of the Jerome Hotel. It’s a nice little retreat. There is a decent view of the mountain. The bar is just inside the glass doors and the staff is more than happy to provide plastic cups for pool cocktails. There are two hot tubs on either side of the pool, and both tend to be crowded with drunks. I watched from an inconspicuous spot as a certain group of people went haywire. They shrieked like banshees at the moon, both the one in the sky and the one constantly revealed by the drunk guy pulling his swimming trunks down. There was a girl wearing a bikini, cowboy hat, and Ugg boots squealing in mock terror as a hairy man in a thong tried to carry her away to wherever. One guy was off puking into a mound of snow, and another old fogy was throwing wads of twenty-dollar bills in the air as two girls in front of him french kissed each other. The noise they created was unbearable. I could only stand it for so long. I was there, after all, to relax. These animals were going to devour each other. I made a break for it. None too surprised then, was I, when I happened to walk by a chalked marquee sign in the lobby that declared…

“The Jerome Welcomes Members of the Regional Office of Congressional Ethics.”

What? Those swine! Drain the swamp!

More Alembics to come…