What’s a Law School?

The Animal Kingdom is big on defending itself against predators. Survival often depends  on the successful ability to ward off threats.  Whether it’s scales, shells, quills, camouflage, ink, shit-mist, claws, fangs, or venom, the skill to avoid being killed and devoured is one of the most vital advantages in this vicious free-for-all called life.  

Thus, as the world has modernized, so too has the methods of defense. No longer does a person need to rip and gouge, climb and run, or puff up and scream. These days the means of warning can be subtle, appealing to a potential rival’s sense of prolonged entanglements. The spider has its web, the army ant its pheromones, and the legal community its threat of interminable litigation. 

To the point: 

I was walking through the parking lot of my neighborhood supermarket the other day when I chanced to see just such an example of cutting-edge evolutionary defense. It was a bumper sticker that read: 

                                            Attorney’s Car: Do Not Tailgate

Wow, I thought. Not since the milkweed bug’s bright coloring has there been such an overt signal for something to back the fuck off. Impressed as I was, I was also filled with concern for the attorney. While the bumper sticker served as a warning, it might also end up being an invitation to attack. Generally speaking, a lot of people—doctors with sky high malpractice insurance, broke cheaters who lost everything in the divorce, workers with garnished wages—don’t like lawyers. So to openly identify as a practitioner of this morally dubious profession to a mass of edgy motorists could be dangerous. 

The more I thought about it, the more I decided it was a bad idea to openly threaten the driving community with legal action. Lawyers would do better to camouflage themselves rather than stand right out in the open, particularly out on the highway, where anything goes. Maybe the bumper sticker was a joke? If it was, it was a bad one. I could see something like ‘Terrorist’s Car: Do Not Tailgate’ but a lawyer? 

While the owner of the car may have been an attorney, he (or she) was definitely insane. Oh, I forgot to mention that the car itself was a late Nineties Saturn. Nothing against late Nineties Saturns or the owners that own them, but a bumper sticker that seems to refer to how effective an attorney may be at personal injury litigation may not seem intimidating if he (or she) can’t afford anything fancier than a beige flivver covered in city dirt. 

So I started to see, quite clearly, the ENTIRE bumper sticker, kind of rolling off into infinity like the opening sequence of any Star Wars movie. 

                                         Attorney’s Car

                                        Do Not Tailgate…

Not only do not tailgate, but do not honk. Do not rev your engine at me. Do not pass on the right hand side, for I am a passer of the bar exam. Do not extend your middle finger, or tell me to go fuck myself.  Do not shoot a gun at this car. Do not let the air out of the tires, or pour sugar into the gas tank. Do not take a giant, steaming crap on the hood of my car. For I am a seeker of justice, Righter of Wrongs, diligent servant of the arc of moral history. Do not try to run me off the road, for I am not that kind of attorney. I represent the downtrodden and dispossessed against the giant corporate concerns and their insatiable greed. Do not pull that sadistic move in which you run into my back bumper and edge me out into oncoming traffic till I am t-boned and comatose. Do not wait until I pull into a gas station and get out of the junker that is oddly incompatible with my professional status, and then carjack me in order to drive wildly all over the city, giving my ill-considered bumper sticker a whole new level of absurdity by pulling dangerous stunts around terrified motorists, who will call the police to report some deranged lawyer who, while not wanting to be tailgated themselves, is up the ass of every car it can menace. Do not do that thing in which you pass by me, pull into my lane, and then jam on the brakes so I rear-end your car, knowing that I’m a respected barrister with deep pockets and so will pay off big time while you complain that your whiplash has left you with PTSD and sexual impotency. I’m not some big wheel. I’m not a slick fleecer of the sick and the old. I do not chase ambulances. I do not  stalk the funeral homes looking for the wrongful death lawsuit that can win me a seven-figure payoff. I clerked for peanuts, damn you, thus my beat-up Saturn. One day I’ll get a Mercedes or something, but for now I’m a humble public defender who doesn’t want angry faces in my rearview mirror. I represent the indigent. I plea bargain. I’m being stalked by an ex-convict who thinks I suppressed evidence. Stay away from my back bumper, or I’ll kill you all! Oyez, oyez. Res ipso loquitur. Ipse dixit.  In flagrante delicto. Corpus delicti. Actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea. Factio vestri aevum, non vestri calceus amplitudo. That last one means, ‘Act your age, not your shoe size, mother-fucker.’ Really, let’s all be grown-ups. A little civility on the road, a little civility in life. On second thought, I was lying. I bought that bumper sticker as a goof. Ha, ha, got you, didn’t I? I got a zero on the LSAT. No institution of higher education would ever have me. The only institution I’m eligible for is the fuckin’ booby hatch. Help. Help. I’m a big fat liar. In fact, not only have I never been to law school, I’ve never even seen a law school. 

Drive Safe! 

More Alembics to come


I was listening to Art Blakey’s ‘A Night In Tunisia’ the other evening, all eleven minutes of it, and after it was over I felt like I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It was my own fault, of course. I’d endured a rather harrowing afternoon and, needing to calm my anxieties, I put on the jazz record, because everybody knows jazz is supposed to be soothing. 

Well, whoever deemed jazz to be soothing never told Art Blakey. His rendition of ‘A Night In Tunisia’ comes on like a raging hailstorm, relentless in its attack. Even the fellow playing the claves is struggling to keep up.  When Blakey is playing the tune it should be renamed, ‘A Night On Cocaine, In Tunisia.’ Art Blakey is one of the greatest drummers of all time, and it’s recordings like this that prove it. Art Blakey is, in short, holy shit amazeballs. 

I needed something a little calmer, though, so I put on ‘Giant Steps’ by John Coltrane. By the way John Coltrane, too, is holy shit amazeballs, but more on that later.  I’d just returned to my house after being held hostage, for a time, by a seething and rabid bat. Really, the little flying bastard had trapped about fifteen of us at my local bar. Of course if a person is going to be trapped anywhere, a bar is a pretty good place to be trapped, and so I couldn’t complain that much. But still, it was eerie. The little furry bloodsucker had come out of nowhere and pinned itself on the front door, straddling the jamb and the actual glass door itself. 

“Am I just fucked up or is there a bat on the front door?” I’d wondered aloud, trying to adjust my eyesight. We had been sampling cans of a new craft beer made from hemp, and I thought I was having some stoned hallucination. No, it was actually there, pinned against the glass, its little chest rising and falling, either because it was out of breath or infected with Marburg virus or something. A panicked fellow ran to open the door to shoo it off, but he was tackled by the staff. We had all decided that the bat wanted to be inside to eat all of us, and to open the door would give it that very opportunity. For the moment, although we were trapped, we were safe. No need to panic. I drank some more of my pot-laced beer. The bat, with its beady eyes, stared at me through the door like, “Go ahead and fatten yourself up, my little pork chop. I’ve got all the time in the world.” 

“Bats are amazing creatures,” lectured a tidy fellow sitting next to me. “Incredible immune systems, echolocation that’s as precise as an eagle’s vision, and their wings are actually hands; webbed skin over claws that allow them to almost grab the air to fly through it.” 

“That would probably put them in the category of holy shit amazeballs,” I said, to which the man frowned, like I was crapping on his acumen. I wasn’t. I’d only recently discovered this phrase. In fact, I had been reading an on-line critique of the beer I was sampling, and the clever reviewer had caught my attention with it. Not since Lewis Carroll or Samuel Coleridge had a person wielded such an accurate absurdity. The most impressive part about it was that the quick-witted scribe who’d been reviewing the beer had refused to assign it the very prestigious title. I think the actual quote was, “While this beer displays a decent flavor profile, it’s not holy shit amazeballs.”  This caused me to laugh openly, stand up and applaud. I understood immediately that most things are not holy shit amazeballs, which is the problem with the modern world. So few things can live up to the rarified excellence of holy shit amazeballs. Most things fall short of expectation, or are subject to some ratio of disappointment, and somehow, this brilliant writer had reset the bar, reminding us that while many things will never be even close to holy shit amazeballs, we should never stop looking for that rare gem that can join the exclusive pantheon of things that exude the almost mythical quality of holy shit amazeballs. 

The bat was still there. Some of us needed to get going. Other people were standing outside the door wanting to get in, yet paralyzed with fear of the hairy little menace that refused to leave its resting place. 

“Who’s going to be the dingbat that sacrifices himself for the rest of us by ripping the door open and getting devoured?” someone said. 

“Don’t use the word dingbat too loud,” cautioned the bartender. “This fucking flying rat might get offended. It already looks pissed off.” 

We ended up being saved by the fellow who operates the Pac-N-Sac on the other side of the parking lot. For some odd reason he had an eight-foot pool skimmer in his shop, and it was this tool he used to coax the bat away from the door. He also had a Glock in a holster at his hip, as a last resort, I suppose, and I was just glad he didn’t start firing away at the front door, since the bat had cleverly positioned itself in the line of fire of us bar customers. 

Once the critter had taken flight I went home with the rest of my stink beer, lest the winged rodent return with his friends for a real showdown. 

So I ended the evening with Coltrane. I like to think I have a strong spiritual connection with the saxophone icon, if only because the hospital I was born in was the same hospital where Coltrane died. I would love to brag that I’d been born mere seconds after he expired, and as such our energies could’ve exchanged a sort of metaphysical high-five as he was on his way out and I was on my way in, but alas no. He was gone years before I was a consideration. 

‘Giant Steps’ is holy shit amazeballs. A listener can almost hear the piano player grinding his teeth on the recording as he attempts to navigate the outrageous chord sequence that Coltrane has written. He isn’t so much playing the piano as holding onto it for dear life. Then Coltrane steps in like, “Oh, a little tricky is it? Let me show you how it’s done.” 

And show it he does. 

I finished my can of sticky-icky. No, it wasn’t holy shit amazeballs, which made me appreciate all the more those few phenomenons that’ve attained the otherwise impossible level of holy shit amazeballs. 

Art Blakey. 

Alex Honnold’s free solo climb of El Capitan. 

Snow leopards. 

John Coltrane. 

A bat’s innate navigation system. 

Salvador Dali 

My dog. 

You, my friend, You 

Solitary Man

According to Spotify, Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man” is in heavy rotation for me these days. 

I wonder…

I’ve been getting some weird invitations to lunch. They arrive in the form of mail flyers. They are addressed to me, in a way, Current Resident. So nice of them to think of me, I figured I’d give them the courtesy of reading further. One was for a urology seminar. Another was for a survivalist conference. A third was from a funeral home. Although they may think me rude, I passed on all of them. Lunch at a funeral home just makes me nervous. It’s like going for sushi at a bait and tackle shop. Too easy to mix up the inventory with the catering. I would hate to be halfway into my patty melt when a frantic mortician runs into the dining room and shouts, “Where’s Mrs. Burger?” 

Where, indeed. It’s an honest mistake, really, but one I’d rather not be involved in making. When a business ends up cremating a Cobb salad and preparing Mr. Cobb for the buffet, you can bet I’m not buying whatever it was they were trying to sell me in the first place. Likewise I’d have a hard time drinking the lemonade at a urology seminar, and my stomach turns at the thought of seeds and irradiated root vegetables at a doomsday convention. 

“You’ve gotta start eating small amounts of radioactivity so you can be prepared when all the bombs drop!” 

I decided, for the most part, to continue to dine at home, like a solitary man. Which led me to consider that I may be turning into a bit of a recluse. Maybe not as bad as B. Traven, Thomas Pynchon, Buckethead, or that hermit that wrote Beowulf, but certainly a fellow leery of mingling. I thought about it and arrived at two conclusions. 

The first is that the true solitary man is one by design. It’s not for a lack of anything better to do that he affects a certain isolation around himself, and it’s not for a defect in social etiquette that he doesn’t maintain a large circle of casual friends. Chiefly, a man is resigned to a life of lonesome meditation when, through the clarity of solitude, he discovers the secret peculiar to his existence. Every person’s revelation is different, and as such no one else can help him solve his own riddle. Likewise, once he has glimpsed a bit of his own blueprint, he is powerless to communicate it. The mysterious wellspring of his soul’s grand design becomes corrupted the minute he tries to explain it to another person, like a butterfly that loses its iridescence the moment it’s captured.

That, pretty much, is why the true solitary man stands alone. 

The second conclusion I came to was that it’s good to lay low because people are psychotic and will try to fucking kill whatever they can get their hands on. There’s murder everywhere. Sick lunatics are running amok with no other purpose than to maim, torture and destroy. And it’s not even the haters you have to watch out for; it’s the love that’ll kill you. 

One of the recent standouts is a woman named Jacqueline Ades. She is locked up, for the time being, at the Maricopa County jailhouse, but only after sending over 150,000 text messages to a fellow she went out on a date with once. On one level I’m glad I’m not the object of her “affection,” but on another level I’m kind of jealous. Nobody has ever cared that much about me to send an avalanche of messages the size of the Oxford English dictionary. 

The volume of her texts is one thing, the content is quite another. Ms. Ades seemed to come to the conclusion that there’s no better way to show someone you care than to send them a faithful list of gross-outs. Her electronic epistles declared her loving intentions to bathe in this fellow’s blood, wear the top of his cranium like a hat, slice him up for a fondue, and use his bones as chopsticks. She’s a creative sort, I’ll give her that. She’s also the Ed Gein of modern dating app users.  Her love notes were so depraved she could’ve given the Marquis de Sade a run for his money. That was when I hit upon an eerie realization; Ms. Ades’s last name is an anagram for Sade. Well, there it is. She may be the last true libertine, although she strikes me as more of an Elizabeth Báthory type, the Hungarian vampire countess who used to drain her servant girls of their blood for use in her beauty rituals, which never worked, given that she was about as homely as Quasimodo. 

If all that wasn’t bad enough, I then started to get a little jealous of how prolific Ms. Ades is. Anybody who can crank out a hundred thousand text messages in a few months is quite the dedicated writer. Not even Stephen King can write that fast. I sure as hell can’t. 

Which led me to a third conclusion: The solitary man stays that way because he doesn’t like to be reminded that there is always somebody out there doing it a little bit bigger, stronger, faster, or crazier. Then, I guess, I’ll be what I am. 

Sing it, Neil Diamond…

More Alembics…

Cannibal Water

I don’t trust water. It’s the ultimate shape-shifter. It can be an ocean, a raindrop, snow, steam, an ice cube, a form of torture, and since we humans are mostly water, it can be us. That’s when water gets really sneaky. That’s when water tells lies, splashes off with the valuables, drowns your heart, or floods your awards show. 

Which is why I make it a point to drink only MacFuddy pepper elixir. 100% laboratory created. Nothing natural about it. A delicious, manufactured concoction. MacFuddy puts the ART in ARTificial. Crisp. Bubbly. Synthetic as hell. That’s MacFuddy! 

I was enjoying a bottle of this very same, 0% natural, luck-infused MacFuddy pepper elixir the other night while watching the Golden Globes award show. I was tuned in to the only part I ever really care about—the red carpet coverage. Like my pepper elixir, the whole spectacle is completely artificial, which is why I like it. Fake is fashionable these days; whether it’s artificial turf, artificial sweetener, artificial news, artificial limbs, artificial nails, artificial flowers, artificial intelligence, artificial drivers, artificial reefs, or artificial hearts, there’s nothing nature can do that we can’t do better.  

So I was a bit put off when I noticed a coterie of women lingering in the background of the red carpet proceedings, holding trays of water bottles. Some nerve, I thought, flaunting the most natural thing on the planet in an environment of complete superficiality. You can keep your blue planet; I like my globes golden. 

The water is advertised as imported from the islands of Fiji. All-natural. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing. After all, nature is dirty. If a company is harvesting my drinking water out of some volcanic crater in the South Pacific, there’s no telling what may drop into it to contaminate it. No thanks, I’ll stick with my pepper elixir, created in a sterile laboratory by hazmat-suited chemists with icy hearts and no genuine emotion. That’s much safer than an open pool on a deserted island out in the middle of nowhere, or to put it another way, a jungle animal’s big toilet bowl. 

Just because something is all-natural doesn’t necessarily mean I want to go around ingesting it. If some big albatross goes flying by a Fijian ridge, sees the rippling blue waters, spreads its avian butt cheeks and drops a runny, white, all-natural deuce into that pristine crater lake, well, suddenly the whole concept of all-natural isn’t so appealing. 

And it gets worse. Mark Twain wrote about Fiji in his classic travelogue, “Following the Equator.” While interviewing a few of the natives, he learned of some unsettling habits of the indigenous tribes. Specifically, when some of the villagers were out shark-fishing, and their boats overturned, they themselves were eaten by the sharks. Then, when the sharks were caught, they were eaten by the villagers, and then the villagers, in wartime, were caught and eaten by cannibals, who washed it all down with Fiji water, that is, water from Fiji. 

I know, I know, I never realized it was so bad. Once a predator develops a taste for something that same predator will make it a point to go get it. That’s why a bear that eats a person is usually caught and killed. That bear has now added humans to its menu, and we tend to bristle about being anywhere but the top of the food chain. The same stands true for water that has held, for centuries, the microscopic bits of tribal warfare casualties in its springs and rivers. Nothing like a tiny dose of molecular mankind to arouse the bloodlust that causes humans to start feeding on each other. Which, when I think about it, is the perfect water for Hollywood. It’s a sea of carnage out west there. Swim with the strong, devour the weak, and wash it all down with designer water that has been the source of life for generations of cannibals. 

That’s when it hit me, a realization as clear as the bottles of water they were displaying, that the Fiji water models were all cannibals. Their eerie stillness, their predatory patience, that vacant look in their eyes, their disarming smiles, their vulpine ability to get nearer and nearer to their intended movie star prey—beautiful, terrifying vampires! 

It’s classic Baader-Meinhof syndrome, in which something heretofore unrecognized is suddenly identified and then seen everywhere. These blue-clad, cannibal beauties were swarming the awards show, ready to gorge themselves. So obvious, how did I not see it before? 

I tried not to be too hard on myself. After all, it’s difficult to spot a cannibal, unless they are eating. Once a person knows someone is a cannibal, it’s usually too late. The last thing they see is the big open mouth of the person about to consume them, and then everything goes dark. Their ability to blend in with the rest of us is most likely their biggest advantage. Special thanks to the Golden Globes for identifying the menace. I hope they took a head count at the end of the show to make sure no celebrity was fed upon. Actually that wouldn’t work. The heads are largely inedible. 

What have we learned so far: 

They’re camouflaged in blue. 

They hunt in packs. 

They are well hydrated. 

They’re drawn to glamour. 

They have agents. 

They look like us. 

The horror, the horror…

More Alembics…

The Far Side of Here

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

What the hell? 

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

Turning now, toward the cosmos…

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

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

“You were doing what?”  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Alembics…

How To Make 2019 the Longest Year Possible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a safe New Year everybody…

Ring Them Bells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interviewer: “What’s that?” 

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

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

Applicant: “Yes, thank you.” 

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

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

Interviewer: “A lot of what?” 

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

Interviewer: “We’re a charitable organization.” 

Applicant: “Fuck dat.” 

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

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

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

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

Interviewer: “Tell me a bit about yourself.” 

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

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

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

Interviewer: “…” 

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

Interviewer: “Next!” 

Applicant: “What’s my cut?” 

Interviewer: “Your cut?” 

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

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

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

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

For they’re deep and they’re wide,

and the world’s on its side,

And time is running backwards

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

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

Merry Everything, Everyone. 

More Alembics…

Electoral Fallout

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

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

“Why did you serve me this?” I said. 

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

“Is there a discount?” I asked. 

“Shit, you can have it for free.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Need a lift?” 

“Nah, I’ll Uber.” 

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

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

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

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

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

“Or explode it!” I said. 

“What’s the difference?” he asked. 

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

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

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

More Alembics…

Street Brawl on Flamingo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Street brawl on Flamingo Drive,” she murmured. 

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

“What?” I said. 

“You heard me,” she muttered. 

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

“Man on Lyndon Lane clears throat.” 

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

“Street brawl on Flamingo.” 

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

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

More Alembics…