Covfefe-19

STRANGE TIMES, INDEED. If the world shut-down has taught me anything, it’s that most people are terrified of the writer lifestyle. It’s one thing for an office worker to muse about spending long periods of time exercising the creative impulse in complete solitude, it’s another thing to actually be stuck in the house with no available diversion. This will drive most people bat-shit crazy, and so it’s no surprise that a number of folks out there are considering the alternative, that is, flinging themselves out into the world and licking every surface they come across in an effort to get it all over with, one way or the other.

For me, this is business as usual. There may be Walmart stampedes, toilet paper shortages, the National Guard, phony virus remedies, curfews, runaway trains crashed by conspiratorial engineers, masked drunkards standing in the middle of the street kind of staring off into the distance, but in my house the work continues, for the most part uninterrupted.

The noticeable difference in the neighborhood is all the kids on hiatus from their classes. School’s out for summer! School’s out forever! Very prophetic, Alice Cooper. Not since Prince predicted the end of the world with the song 1999 has there been a more ominous set of lyrics. The other honorable mention is Ventilator Blues, by the Rolling Stones, I guess. 

My neighbor’s kids have been playing nonstop basketball. They have a hoop in their driveway, and so continues their ultra-marathon game of one-on-one. The boy is named Sawyer, around thirteen years old. He has a sister, Phoebe, who is eleven or so. They seem pretty cool, as far as kids go, but even the most precocious and well-behaved of offspring will tax a parent if they are all forced to stew together for too long. That’s why farms were so critical to family development. ‘Children’ was just another term for free labor, and you could send them out in the fields all day, where social distancing was a must because five kids would have to tend five acres of crops, and by the time the old triangle chimed to call them back in at dusk, they couldn’t even lift a finger, much less raise a complaint.

Times have changed, and so I wasn’t too surprised when my neighbor motioned me over to the fence to beg for a small favor, in the interest of community support, and everyone pitching in to do their fair share.

“Hey, I was wondering if you could help me out. You see, my kids are smarter than I am, and I’m running out of stuff to teach them while they’re being home schooled. It’s not my fault. This is somebody else’s job. I wasn’t trained for this, is what I’m saying. You’ve got a ton of books in your house, so you must be halfway intelligent. Why don’t you come over tomorrow as a guest lecturer?”

“What do you want me to talk about?” I said.

“Who gives a shit. Just make it sound academic. I’ll be out back in the jungle gym with a bottle of whiskey and some Colorado tobacco. You can join me afterwards. I’ll even roll you your own joint, for sanitary considerations.”

I agreed. The next morning I grabbed a cup of coffee, put on a tie and a jacket with elbow patches, and arrived to my neighbor’s converted living room to dish out some education. I was impressed with Sawyer and Phoebe. They were alert and engaged. They waited for me to do something.

“Okay,” I said, “today we’re going to combine math with some biology, and throw in a bit of socio-psychology for good measure. Now, there once was a fellow named Econ, who had been having a pretty good run of luck. In fact, for about twelve years, he’d been on an unprecedented roll, just making money hand over fist.”

“How was he making money?” said Sawyer.

“O, just humping the global economy. The world was his playground, and he’d been running rampant for longer than anyone could remember. Then one day, quite recently, Econ got the clap.”

“What’s the clap?” said Phoebe.

“It’s a sexually transmitted disease. It also goes by the name chlamydia. It’s characterized by painful sores and oozing pus.”

“He didn’t wear a condom?” said Sawyer, a particularly apt pupil.

“This was a bull market,” I answered. “Condoms imply risk and caution.” Sawyer nodded.

“Now, a lot of people were relying on Econ to be out there, whooping it up. Entire sectors of the business community were counting on him. The problem, of course, was that he had this nasty, diseased dingus oozing all over the place. But some folks didn’t care. They wanted him to keep humping away as if nothing was really wrong.”

“Wouldn’t it be irresponsible of him to use his dingus in such a way?” questioned Sawyer.

“He could rapidly spread his infection,” added Phoebe.

“You kids are sharp,” I nodded. “The thing is that some high profile leaders in the business community and beyond decided that the infection was exaggerated, and that humping with the clap was better than no humping at all. In fact, they believed that some areas of the market would be happy to get the clap, if only for the greater good.”

“What’s the greater good?” asked Phoebe.

“A concept that rich people peddle, but really don’t believe,” I said.

“Like when dad told us about Santa Claus,” whispered Sawyer to his sister, who nodded.

“Like an acceptable number of people with pus-filled lesions and oozing sores, taking it up the ass for the team,” said Phoebe.

“You get an A plus today, Phoebe.”

“What’s an acceptable number?” asked Sawyer.

“There’s no real answer to that,” I replied. “There are a lot of unknowns in that statistical probability, but there would definitely be a huge outbreak of casualties. Even so, a good portion of the on-line community kept reminding Econ how good all of his orgies had felt, and to pay no attention to the fact that his dick is about to fall off.”

“Maybe he should just keep it in his pants for a while,” said Sawyer. “I mean, read a fucking book.”

I was enjoying myself. I wanted to continue the lesson, but it was pretty obvious my students were experts in today’s subject. Plus, I could see the wispy clouds of smoke wafting out of the jungle gym in the back, and so I decided to join my neighbor in the teachers lounge to relax and gossip.

Class dismissed.

More Alembics to come…

Scherzo!

Troubled by the recent rise in evil, I headed off to Rome the other week to attend the “Exorcism and Liberation” symposium given at the PURA, or the Pontifical University Regina Apostolorum. This year was a very special one, billed as the “thirteenth” annual. Not to be missed. Thirteen is the number of demons, of chaos, of hazard, of the darker forces seeking to undo the very reliable order that humankind has placed upon the world. I was very much hoping to see some unlucky babbler’s head explode in a rain of pea soup. 

The main lecturer was some grizzled old pontiff that, like Noah and Methuselah, had been around for half a millennium, whacking people over the head with a crucifix, grabbing their mouths with both hands and forcing the orifices open to peer down their throats and yell at Satan to come out of his hidey hole. The crowd of canonical scholars seated in the hall furiously scribbled notes. There has never been a more critical time in history than now to address the rampant degeneracy. The modern age has ushered in a whole new host of express lanes and super highways to transport devils, demons, incubi, tormentors, ghouls, goblins, gremlins, and gargoyles to the hearts and minds of Us, the Chosen Species, and it was high time that the Guardians of the Faith pull a Chris Christie and clog those arteries up like it was the bridge from Fort Lee. 

Many important things were discussed at the PURA this year, like how Satan hides in your cellphone and then jumps into your mouth when you aren’t looking. Then he does a little cloven-hoofed dance and backflips off the tongue down the gullet. Behind the lectern was a giant anatomy diagram of an anonymous head and torso, and the old cardinal traced a laser pointer trajectory down the esophagus, showing the tiny spot near the heart where the devil hunkers down like a parasite. The lesson was interrupted, though, by the cardinal’s own I-phone 10 suddenly going off, an abrupt, pealing ringtone that I recognized as the fiddle-fighting scene from “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” by the Charlie Daniels Band. The cardinal pulled the gadget from his robe and paused for a moment as he tried to figure out how to answer it. 

Fire on the mountain, run boys run.

The devil’s in the house of the rising sun.” 

An eerie song to hear at an exorcism convention, particularly since I live in Georgia these days, and didn’t want any undue associations. After the interruption, (it took the old man a minute to figure out how to put his phone on vibrate), he continued about atheism, general witchcraft, and dance music. Nothing was more symptomatic of the Dark Prince of the Underworld inhabiting a body than watching a mud-soaked hippie flail back and forth in front of a stage at Bonnaroo. 

Feeling enlightened, I had many questions. In particular I asked about the sudden emergence of craft beer breweries, particularly the hubris involved in men turning water into a hoppy pale ale. I wondered if Jesus might’ve just been a really good water skier. The hermeneutical theory that the serpent in the garden was actually Eve’s tongue. Gay unicorns on the ark? Alice Cooper’s reprisal of King Herod’s Song? Elmer Gantry, barker or savior? Twitter rants: the devil in 140 characters or less? 

I was able to ask all these questions because I had paid the extra $300 to have my own translator. The Italian cardinal fielded my questions with reluctant decorum, until my translator rushed up to my side and ordered me to shut up. “I already have to modify everything that you ask!” he whispered. “If I translated your questions verbatim we’d both be burned at the stake.”

“They still do that?” 

“When necessary,” he hissed. “Which it may very well become. Some of the other translators are taking notice. I can’t sit around and protect you all day. You can have your money back.” 

Things settled down a bit, and our instructor went on to say that things were so bad these days that machines were also being possessed by Lucifer’s minions. Il Diavolo Ex Machina, so to speak. He flashed a slide on the back wall that showed the recently shattered engine of the Southwest Airlines jet. Indomitable proof of ghostly saboteurs at work. He noted the twisted shards of metal, the splintered casings, the gashes and wreckage. If these devils can do that to a million-dollar turbo prop, imagine the destruction to the human conscience. Luckily God had landed the plane safely, he added. I made the joke that while most pilots think they are a god, it was a relief that one actually is. The cardinal’s face went red. He could stand me no longer. He started to get saltier than Lot’s wife, and my translator ripped his headset off and ran out of the room. 

“Scherzo!” he cried at me, and seconds later I was thrown out of the class by the Swiss Guards, a couple of walking Christmas ornaments in striped pantaloons and plumed casques. Doubly ridiculous. 

***

As I was waiting for my flight back home I stared at my airplane with a tickle of dread. I didn’t know what I would do in the event of an emergency. I pictured myself with my oxygen mask atop my head like the tiny fez on an organ grinder monkey as I choked on the freezing air while trying to rip the tray table out from the seat in front of me in order to beat other passengers away from the emergency exit. I considered sneaking down to the tarmac with some chicken bones and a pint of blood to purge any insidious forces from the aircraft, but decided against it. My modern faith is simply to go with the flow. As long as one person is in control, and as long as it is the right person, all of us passengers can flounder around like happy lunatics. I reminded myself when I got back home to mail a donation to the New Church of Tammy Jo Schultz. 

More Alembics to come.