The Penguin Emperor

“April Showers Bring May Flowers.”
I haven’t thought about that little piece of homespun gibberish in years. When I was a kid it was a way to cheer up in April amid all the drizzle and gray. It was a type of investment, the rain in April, and the payoff was a few weeks away, when the world would turn vibrant and crisp. But nowadays, when five feet of snow falls in Kansas during the month of August, or it’s a balmy 90 degrees for one day in December in Fargo, or a school of fish are swimming down the street in Miami amid a torrential downpour that has palm trees falling like clumsy dominoes, who really cares about the rain in April?

This whole thought process took root when I was strolling through my neighborhood the other week. At the edge of my community, next to a creek and below the flood plane, sits an abandoned house in a yard of mud. As I walked around the corner I happened upon a news van. The camera guy was filming the vacant house. “Wow,” I thought, “they must be desperate for stories this week.” I could see the headline…

ABANDONED HOUSE. FILM AT ELEVEN

The field reporter stuck her head out of the van and asked me if I knew why they were there.
“Nope.”
“So you haven’t seen the giant boar?” she said. I told her the only giant bore I was aware of was the tall fellow who lives up the block. You get stuck in a conversation with him and there goes your afternoon. He has got dull opinions about all sorts of stuff, and he isn’t afraid to share them all.
“No, no, boar,” she said. “Like a feral pig.”

Shit, I thought, they are moving in. I feared this type of animal migration as a result of weather fluctuations. Then again I shouldn’t be surprised. If an elderly couple ping pongs from Lowell, Massachusetts to Boca Raton, Florida, then why not a family of pigs arriving to our unassuming hamlet. (Ham-let! Ridiculous. I know, right, ridiculous, let us continue.)

I pictured them living in the muddy, vacant house. Papa Boar, sitting in his favorite chair, tie loosened around his shirt collar, complaining about taxes and millennials. Momma Boar in modest dress fixing him a whiskey, telling him not to be so grumpy. Baby Boar watching cartoons. Boar art on the walls.
And then it hit me.
A freshly unearthed memory dug from the tenebrous bog of my subconscious. It was about four years ago during the arrival of a massive glacial mountain of ice, massive I tell you, around two inches or so, that covered the city of Atlanta in what is now referred to as the “Snow-pocalypse,” which is a misnomer, because it was definitely more of an “Ice-pocalypse.”
I was home that day, and as the city fell apart around me, I heard a strange knock on my front door. I opened it and standing there was an emperor penguin. He had a small satchel over his shoulder, and in a kind of impressive and sophisticated avian drawl, he introduced himself. His name escapes me now (Waddle? Dewlap? Ned?) but I do remember him announcing that he was taking over my house.
“Impossible,” I said. “You are an animal.”
“Given how messy this house is, I could say the same about you,” he challenged.
“…,” was my answer.
“I have a formal order from the Emperor Penguin,” he said. “A writ, if you will, guaranteeing me ownership of this property and everything on it.” He dug through his satchel for the proper documents.
“I thought all of you were emperors,” I said.
“That’s ridiculous. Are all humans presidents?”
He had me there. So I invited him in, figuring we could work out some kind of deal. He said they were all moving up from the South Pole because of the shifting ecosystem. He was particularly fascinated with my refrigerator. Immediately he began clearing out one of the shelves to store some of his eggs. He said he was tired of standing around with these fucking things between his feet for months at a time. He adjusted the temperature. I told him to be careful about my beer.
“What is beer?” he said.
That was it. Two hours later we were stone drunk, the penguin and I, splayed out on my couch. We had a lot in common, as it turned out. I called him a flightless bird and he called me a flightless bird, a freaky bald one without any feathers. I told him he had a beak and he told me I had one too, above my mouth, a useless soft one that couldn’t even crack ice. I told him us humans have an airtight ethical system with the threat of eternal damnation and he told me that we were the only species rotten enough to need one. Other than that we both liked sushi. We both liked to swim. We both liked the films of Samuel L. Jackson, oddly enough. I figured this was the new normal, a kind of environmental adjustment with species smart enough to evolve. Our definitions were different, but our cares were the same. He told me he had learned English from lurking around one of the weather stations near Dumont d’Urville, and I was dutifully impressed. I told him that, in my book, he was an emperor, and I didn’t care what anybody else said. He told me that I was a bad mother f**cker, like Samuel L. Jackson. He promised to teach me that trick in which he could jump eight feet into the air from the surface of the water.
“Hey,” he slurred, “does that guy Michael Bloomberg live close by?”
“Um, relatively, yes,” I said.
My new friend said he needed to have a chat with the ex New York mayor. He staggered off into the icy cold and with a hiccup, told me he’d be back to check on his incubating kids in a few days.
*
The next morning I was pretty hungover so I fried up his eggs, or what he might call his children, and scarfed them down with some toast and hash. I tried to think of a decent excuse when he finally returned to claim them, except he never did, and things eventually went back to whatever passes for normal in my twisted little world.

More Alembics to come.

My Unknown, Yet Apparently No Less Real, Life

Ordinary folks are starting to catch on to what scientists and mobsters have known for decades: the best way to solve a problem is to make it disappear. Hummingbirds fly by
making their wings disappear. Buddy Rich performed drum solos by making his drumsticks disappear. The problem of Antarctica melting will be over when all the ice disappears. Frankie “The Greaseball” Costello avoided a prison sentence by making Jackie “The Nose” disappear, and the problem of sobriety was solved when I made a bottle of Four Roses disappear.
I like to think of myself as a reasonable fellow. No overt homicidal inclinations based on chronic paranoia. No unnerving, vague suspicions of being watched. No subtle twinges of feeling scrutinized. No voices in my head to argue with or shout at. But I have realized it is best if I am not startled. I will lash out to defend life and property. So it went that I had to confront an intruder the other day.
I’m still getting used to my new computer. It is a slick machine that seems to have all the answers. It anticipates my confusion. It is ready for my errors. When it spots a mistake it suggests I take steps to correct it. “Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story.”

The control bar at the top of my keyboard is a touch-screen. I treat this control pad like I do my own brain, only using like ten percent of its probable potential. If that. Most of the time I ignore it. So I was a little disturbed when I chanced to see a message, from my computer, written to me, in the constantly shifting iconography it displays. I mean, who else would it be for? The computer has to know that nobody else uses it since it only recognizes my fingerprint. It knew what it was doing. I’m convinced of that. The message was both vague and menacing. It said:

I Am The Body

I knew exactly what had happened. An evil spirit had infected my computer and was offering an opening gambit in the fight for my mind and soul. It was already laying claim to my body. It was no coincidence that I had just read a news article about a technician in Corpus Christi (latin for Christ’s body!) who had gotten swallowed up inside an ATM machine. The gadgets are advancing to dominate humans. The war had begun.
I started tapping the touch screen in order to antagonize the demonic creature, when suddenly my computer beeped and a voice asked, “What can I help you with?”
It was Siri, the moll, and she had startled me. I screamed an expletive and was reprimanded for my use of foul language by her calm voice.

“Mark, please, your language,” she said.

“That’s it, bitch, you don’t come into my house and tell me my business!” I shouted, with the idiosyncratic finger-wag and head-bob of an enraged Jerry Springer guest who has just learned her man is two-timing her. Siri was ready for me. She dropped an avalanche of questions at me, figuring it best to confuse me into submission.
“Some things you can ask me? Text Brian I’m on my way. Find the best nail salon. When is the sunrise in Paris? Go to my photos from last night. When is my wife’s birthday? Should I bring an umbrella.”
First of all, I thought, who the fuck is Brian? Second, I get all my nails from Ace Hardware. I don’t need a fancy salon. I already know when the sun rises in Paris. Just like everywhere else it rises in the morning. I didn’t take any photos last night. I’m not married so how can my wife have a birthday. I don’t even know what she looks like or who she is. I don’t own an umbrella, only a collection of ornate parasols that I use on my walks during afternoons under the hot Georgia sun.

I was gobsmacked. I dared not utter a word for fear Siri would show me all of the elements of my life that were a mystery to me; the possibilities, the fantastical alternatives I was missing, my best friend Brian, my beautiful wife “Whomeva,” the pictures from my forgotten party, the rainy seascape that I stand out in front of to contemplate with my umbrella.
Instead I threw my computer out the window. It disappeared into some bushes.
Problem solved.
More Alembics to come.
(Author’s note: The author is fully aware that he has pilfered a line from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart” in the above essay, and would kindly share any profits from said essay with the E.A. Poe literary estate or Viking Penguin LLC, the profits of which are $0.00, of which any copyright holder or subsidiary thereof is more than welcome to 15%-100% of listed value. Thank you.)