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.


“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.

The Universe Is Left-Handed!

We left-handers take pride in our left-handedness. It is what separates us from that other cruel and goofy category of people that, out of a left-handed dignity and civility, I will not stoop to mention. On second thought, I’ll stoop. Shady right-handers!

The modern world does not manufacture for us. It is a right-handed culture. Ergonomic tools and appliances are shaped and structured for the right-hander. Psychologists and behavioralists, (right-handed ones, no doubt) have labeled us lefties mercurial, unpredictable, emotional, artistic daydreamers. Righties are the cool-headed analytical types. They laugh at us while they watch us try to use a pair of scissors, or open a can, or play a guitar, or write something out on paper, all curled up and drooling over our spastic hand. Even the left-to-right method of English composition is highly biased. The right-handed scribe gets to read exactly what he is writing as he is writing it, in real time. It is revelatory. Their right-hand is always at the end of the sentence. Lefties, on the other hand (holy crap, I can’t even believe I just did that, let’s try it again). Lefties, in contrast, because their wonky left hand is moving toward the right side of the page, have to run their hand over what they have just written, smearing the ink before it has time to dry, making it run all over the edge of their palm like they’ve just given a happy ending to a smurf, and making the paper itself, all smeared and illegible, look like it has been left in the rain. There is that word again. Left. The word is also defined, by right-handed lexicographers, as the past tense of abandonment. “My wife left me. I’m crushed. I have nothing left. Nothing ever goes right. Boo! Dear Lord, please just let something go right for once.”

Embedded discrimination!  When the word for a dextral-handed person (right) is also the word for “moral integrity, correctness, and accuracy” it’s obvious who is making the rules.

It doesn’t escape me or my left-handed brothers and sisters that, while the latin word for right is “dexter,” the latin word for left is “sinister.” What the fuck is that all about? Talk about being born under a bad sign. I guess I should be glad that I’m not carried out of my house some nights by a torch-wielding, right-handed mob and burned at the stake for my favored arm, surely a sign of serious moral degradation, evil deeds, dirty thoughts. 

It’s a wonder, growing up, that I was allowed to use my sinister arm at all. Years ago kids were forced to write with their right, and were beaten with a ruler if they wrote with their wrong hand. Yes, again, what is the opposite of right? Wrong and left. Coincidence? Hardly. 

I would be punished though. Things that my right-handed peers would get away with, minor offenses, were pinned on me, the wicked one. I was always the southpaw on the rack. My teacher would keep me after class to write, one hundred times on the blackboard, “I will not use the hand of Satan for his wicked plans in my compositions.”

In a vile twist, because I was writing with my left hand, I would erase exactly what I had written as my hand slid toward the right side of the chalkboard. Like Sisyphus rolling his boulder up the hill, it was a futile task. After interminable hours writing and erasing my script, I would end up passing out underneath the blackboard from fatigue and dehydration, at which time my teacher would come up to me, plant a kick into my gut with her strong right foot and say, “What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate!”

Ask a right-hander about famous right-handers throughout history and you’ll get a list like:

Ben Franklin, All the popes except the rotten Borgias, Mother Teresa, Audie Murphy the war hero, Einstein, Aristotle, Cervantes and the Statue of Liberty.

Ask a right-hander about famous lefties throughout history and you’ll get a list like:

Charles Manson, The Devil, all white slavers, that nutty German pilot that crashed his airplane on purpose, Benedict Arnold, all the rotten Borgias, Tommy Wiseau–producer, director and star of “The Room,” commonly regarded as the worst movie of all time, and Cujo, the rabid dog.

Fear not, left-handers. We are vindicated. It has come to my attention that all of the amino acids, which are the building blocks of life, all the amino acids on Earth are “left-handed molecules.” Take that, oppressive right-handers. There are twenty amino acids that go into making life on this here planet. These molecules are “chiral,” which means they are distinctly left or right, unable to be superimposed on their mirror images. It so happens that nature has selected the left-handed chiral structures with which to build all flora and fauna. So no matter how hard right-handed biochemists try to twist and turn these tiny proteins, they will always be left-handed. Scientists are still trying to determine why this is the case, but it seems clear to an irrational, impetuous left-hander like myself that the right-handed amino acids couldn’t get their shit together and were naturally selected out of existence. And because I am an illogical, reckless left-hander I can see that this tiny left-handed victory goes all the way up the chain from the micro to the macro, so that the Galaxy herself, in all her spinning glory, tends to hurl the planets through space with her left hand, and catch comets with her left hand, and hang the moon with her left hand, and use her fork to eat with her left hand, which causes her to jam her elbow into the other galaxies on her left side as she dines.

I’m going to have to end this sinister rant! I can hear the mob approaching. They will show me the meaning of the word dexterity. They will break down the door with their right shoulders. They will swing right-handed bats and clubs, set upon me with prudent and rational arguments about why my alternate limb is doomed. There is a right-handed banging on the door. I answer it.


“Paddy the Duke?”

“He just left.”

“Is that a joke?”


More Alembics to come.