Go Hemp!

I awoke with a hangover on Wednesday. It took me a few minutes to realize I hadn’t been drinking the night before. Not a drop. Outside the morning was gray and the streets were quiet. I saw none of my neighbors on their usual dog walks. Eerily deserted. I chalked it up to one of those strange, collective rises and falls that happens in the popular consciousness from time to time. There are some mornings when everyone is hungover, regardless of what happened the previous night. Like the barometric pressure, it just drops and everybody feels it. It’s physics, after all.   

Nobody in my neighborhood advertises the fact that they watch pornography. There are no lawn signs for Ron Jeremy, John Holmes, Jenna Jameson, whoever the popular “actors” and “actresses” are nowadays. There are no bumper stickers that say, “This house is pro-penetration.” There are no signs supporting fetish, bondage, girl-on-girl, guy-on-girl-on-guy, black-on-white, white-on-black, take-my-wife, take-my-husband, dwarf-on-giant, humiliation, punishment, sadomasochism, group orgy and whatever else. However, if a tech company were to descend on the neighborhood and sift through the ISP addresses and blind search histories, the results would most likely be shocking. It would be a vast trove of voyeuristic filth somewhere on the level of the discovery of the lost city of El Dorado, part of the running current of activity that goes on just below everything else that is going on. This is the basic math of the 2016 election.

In a presidential cycle that was big on sensationalism, bombast and weirdly devoid of strict policy discussions, most people are probably wondering what happens now. Even president-elect Donald J. Trump is scratching his head. He lost the popular vote and won the election. At least he was right. It is rigged. He just happened to benefit from it. Good luck to him.

The big winner is marijuana. It won the ballot in six states, on its way to national legitimacy. After a political campaign that seemed more like an amphetamine bender, it might be a wise idea for the nation to smoke a joint and calm down. Where no individual has the ability to do so, hemp may be able to unite America, or at least chill it out, which is almost as valuable.

I am somewhat of an anomaly. I was a philosophy major who never smoked a lot of pot. My lungs have always been sensitive. I had asthma as a kid. They work hard enough as it is without dumping a bunch of dirty air into them. But, one of the unspoken requirements of studying in any philosophy program is that you have to go to class high at least once, in order to assess the value of any possible shifts in perspective that may result from the tricks that substance can play on the mind. So I picked my class. Second semester Western Thought. We were studying Edmund Husserl and his ideas of reductive phenomenology. I figured what the hell. I didn’t understand any of what he said when I was sober so it couldn’t hurt to show up drooling and stoned for a lecture. It might even help.

It was a disaster. I didn’t hear one word of what the professor said. I was fascinated and transfixed, however, with a girl across the room who periodically withdrew a packaged snack from her sweatshirt pocket, peeled a bit of it from its wrapper, lashed it into her mouth, chewed carefully, then swallowed it. Five minutes later she repeated the process. I was too far away to see what the food was. It looked like a Twizzler but it was the color of an udon noodle. It was like a soggy little rope. The girl had this technique of pinching the bottom end of it and whipping it up to her mouth where she would snap at it, sometimes catching it, sometimes missing it, like a moray eel debouched from a coral pocket, lazily trying to grab some kelp. Often it would take two or three lunges for her to secure it between her teeth, after which she would absently suck it through her pursed lips, chew thoughtfully then swallow. On and on it went. In fact I decided all us students were like coral algae, just sitting there in the tranquil blue, while our one moray eel fed on ocean sprouts. The professor didn’t seem to notice or care. Most everyone else was assiduously taking notes. I hadn’t written a word. My entire being was only concerned with the next stringy snack. Would she eat another one? How many times would she snap at it before grabbing it with her mouth? Would that be enough, or would she need another floppy dose? 

“80 percent of success is just showing up,” said Woody Allen. He was probably right, maybe even a little conservative with his numbers. I ended up getting a B in my Western Thought class. Ask me today about Edmund Husserl. I won’t be able to explain a thing.

And that, maybe, is the big lesson. Collectively and individually we are like fastball pitches. We are the baseball itself, who, after leaving the grip of a powerful, professional pitching ace, believes that somehow we are free to travel wherever we want now that we have been released. We have the sky above and the seats and the field all around to explore, check out, and discover, but in all likelihood we will probably end up in the catcher’s mitt behind home plate.   

The Democrats were beaten on Tuesday night, as were the Republicans in the nine months leading up to the election. It’s like we have all been given honorary degrees from Trump University, with the promise of the vast secrets of wealth and success, but just as likely grappling with the collection agency when the tuition bill comes due. And maybe it never will. Perpetual deferment is fashionable these days. This is the lesson the rest of us can take from the rich. Send it down to the last stop. We’ll be getting off before that.

The cultural paradox, which is alway reassuring regardless of a person’s political views, is that victories always galvanize the opposition. For the defeated left this means gun sales will decrease, subscriptions to their causes will increase, the militias will be vacationing in the Everglades, the A.C.L.U. will be hiring, and donations to Planned Parenthood will fill the coffers. After all, to be great one must have a formidable adversary. Let the games begin. Since we’re heading for the catcher’s mitt we might as well smoke a legal, recreational joint. It might soften the landing.

God save the green.

More Alembics to come.

The Hitler Kettle, The Mussolini Microwave, The Pol Pot, et al…

I’m a little despot short und stout…”

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Foregoing the obvious jokes about being in hot water or brewing up controversy or steaming the public, (I just made them all, didn’t I?) J.C. Penney’s new advertisement for a designer teapot that some say bears a striking resemblance to Adolph Hitler has really shamed the store into a lesson about cultural sensitivity by selling out every single kettle in stock. They’re sold out. All of them. Moral of the story boys and girls… success lies in creating a product that offends one subsection of the populace while appealing to another, if only by offending the original subsection. That’s how you sell a lot of stuff and make a lot of money, so get cracking. As you unwind in your infinity pool and drink Veuve Cliquot directly from the bottle as the floating waiter bobs past you, you’ll be glad you did it.

Even on E-Bay “Mein Kettle” is running for at least a hundred bucks. One seller was advertising it with a bonus copy of Mein Kampf, a corncob pipe once owned by George Lincoln Rockwell and a beer coaster with the teeth marks of Fritz Kuhn embedded in it from when the German-American Bund Leader would get shit-faced and try to eat everything in sight.

Beware fascism, in all its guises and manifestations. One day you are harmlessly making a cup of tea for your ladies’ garden club during a stimulating talk about hydrangeas, and the next day you’re stuffed in some ramshackle church of National Socialism deep in the Sawtooth Mountains listening to tapes of The Turner Diaries after a day of paramilitary exercises. You’ll be replacing The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook with The Anarchist Cookbook, and instead of Berry Gordy’s son Rockwell singing his sweet 80’s R&B hit “Somebody’s Watching Me,” you’ll be crooning to the likes of the George Lincoln Rockwell production of Odis Cochran and the 3 Bigots. Propriety prevents me from listing Mr. Odis Cochran’s two meager song titles in The Alembic, but there is a common word in both, you can be sure, and it rhymes with rigor.

Some may claim that the Hitler-inspired teapot is a subtle, insidious, subconscious attack on our neat and tidy democracy, a way to sneakily embed totalitarianism into the thoughtless undercurrent of shapeable behavior. Except I’ve been interacting with people for decades now and they don’t seem to be quite aware of what’s plainly in front of their faces, by and large, much less a vague and ambiguous, stainless steel kitchen appliance subject to arbitrary and frivolous image associations. I have a hard time with conspiracy theories, or the rich idea that we only respond to vague shapes and shadows of the unconscious truths heaped upon us by whatever secret organization rules the world, and as such, I wasn’t sure what all the hullabaloo was about.

I myself have been studying the notorious tea kettle carefully for a few weeks now, in pictures, and the only discernible consequence is that I’ve been drinking way too much tea. I don’t think the kettle is a subconscious call to tyranny. In fact, I’m more convinced the tea kettle looks like the wholesome boy scout taking the oath for God and Country, to “help other people at all times, and to keep physically strong, mentally awake and morally un-gay, I mean straight. Straight. I said straight.”

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Hmm. In light of the recent controversy, the Boy Scout oath may have to be modified a tiny bit, now that I’m reading into everything for buried significance. Morally upright? Morally scrupulous? Morally moral?

Man, I don’t know why but I’m craving a cup of tea.

If the soi-disant Hitler kettle, apart from its indeterminate posture of a Nazi salute (most kettles hold this position) actually had strange behavioral quirks, like only accepting Fachingen wasser, rejecting fluoridated water, refusing to relinquish its contents when my Jewish friends stop by for tea, somehow being able to enunciate a falsetto “Zeeeiiigggg Heeeiiiiiiiilllllll” when it arrived at a boil, or shooting itself in the head when my Russian friends are knocking at the door, then I may be forced to reevaluate my notions, but for now, I’m thinking it’s just a harmless tea kettle. I’m really craving some tea.

I tend to obsess. It’s not one of my finer qualities, but as a person who practices the absurdity known as writing more often than not, well, it helps get the job done. I felt a burgeoning annoyance with myself for thinking that I needed a face-to-face meeting with the Hitler/Boy Scout tea kettle. I might get a different, more inherent sense of the thing by being in its presence, by experiencing it as a matter of bracketed intentionality, to quote that maniac, Edmund Husserl, who, fifty years after his death, had almost caused me to fail my History of Western Thought course in college. The man was so hard to comprehend that I could only read him on the first floor of a building because when I finally got fed up and threw myself out the window in frustration and disgust I only fell about three feet.

Old Man Husserl, as I liked to call him, had some crazy idea about suspending inference in order to “reduce” the experience of something until you had reached its natural essence. I figured, screw it, what better time than to try this out right about now, in the new century, with a tea kettle.

Knowing that J.C. Penney was sold out of them, I ended up moseying down to the local Crap-O-Rama Mart (Buy, Sell, Trade) to see if by chance, one of these things happened to be floating around the back storeroom. I had a man on the inside, a man I had done some work with years before, let’s call him “Javy”, and I knew he was a man who could get his hands on things of relative value. He was like a mexican Leland Gaunt from the “Needful Things” novel.

I immediately got on line at one of the cashier stations to have “Javy” paged. My time was too valuable to wander aimlessly through the wasteland of domestic machinery scattered throughout the place. This required a little patience, though, as a strident sap-head standing in front of me was trying to wear the cashier down into giving him some kind of strange discount, based on the fact that he was a “stand-up guy” with money to spend.

(Sap-head, to wit:) 

“I am a customer, Nadia (reading off her name tag), out in the world, ready to spend money on a worthy enterprise. I’m ready to buy, you see. I’m prepared to trade my valuable, very valuable currency for the goods and services you provide, in particular this machine in a box I have here, ready for purchase. I must tell you that I have seen this machine in a box, though, in other places for less money, and so I’m giving you, Nadia, approximately thirty seconds to convince me that I should buy this machine in a box from your store. You must assure me that your business is worthy of my cash, which, after all is just a paper representation of all my labor, industry and hard work. In short, Nadia, is that Spanish?, Nadia?, you must discount the price of this machine in a box to equal the price listed on this generic coupon I have here in my wallet–pay no attention to the ringed indentation of the prophylactic, it’s an antique–or I will be taking my hard earned, valuable currency– we’re in a recession, after all–to another store and I will be handing this money to someone else and not you, Nadia, unless you give me a thorough argument about why I should be spending said money here. I’ll begin timing your thirty second plea for my patronage upon your first word…”

“Next,” said Nadia as she rolled her eyes. The man scrutinized his watch for a few seconds before realizing that she was done.

“This is the problem with today’s society,” huffed the man as he stormed out, leaving his machine in a box on the conveyor.

I had witnessed the whole spectacle with the enthused satisfaction a middle school teacher gets upon reading his morning newspaper and seeing that one of his problem students from years before has recently been arrested for vagrancy and public sodomy while carrying hundreds of loose pills of unprescribed medication in the pockets of his dirty jeans. I asked Nadia to find “Javy” for me. Three and a half minutes later I was standing out in the back alley holding the notorious tea kettle in my hands.

“I’d be careful if I were you, boss,” said Javy, with a worried frown. “That thing there has been doing strange stuff to people. Most customers return it within three days. The ones that don’t, well, we never hear from again.”

“Don’t worry about it, Javy,” I said. “Everybody’s wrong about this thing. It’s actually the young, strapping, Boy Scout Freedom kettle. I’ll show you the picture next time around. By the way, can you throw in some tea? I’ve got a craving.”

With my new Hitler/Boy Scout kettle and about twenty boxes of random teas from all the ends of the earth I drove home to run a full diagnostic. I would find out if this kettle represented fascism or liberty. Once inside the house I filled the kettle with water and turned the stove to scald. Then I put on “The Changeling,” by The Doors and waited for the boil. I sat on the counter, studying the kettle for any signs of evil. After about ten minutes I remembered the old saying about a watched pot refusing to boil and so I busied myself with some leftover crumb cake I had been guilted into buying from a bake sale up the block. The little old lady who had been peddling the dessert reminded me of one of the sisters from “Arsenic and Old Lace” and so I expected to eat a bit and die, blue-faced right then and there. Much to my surprise I survived the ordeal and the crumb cake was quite good and so I decided to microwave the last chunk and enjoy it with my tea. I don’t clean the microwave as often as I should. It is definitely a little more smudgy than it needs to be.

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So after nuking the crumb cake for about thirty seconds I went to retrieve it and saw something in the corner of the glass. Can’t be. I looked closer. What I took for some type of greasy neglect was looking eerily like… nah…Mussolini?

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Criminy! I exclaimed. I opened the door and glanced inside the microwave. Nothing but cake. I shut the door and took a good look at the glass.

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I’m just seeing things. Too much stress, at work, or something. I stood there in contemplation of my own senses when the kettle started to whistle. I set about steeping some gunpowder green tea then took out another mug and steeped some silver needle, undecided as to which I would prefer. So taken was I with the process of pouring the water from the kettle that it took me a minute to realize my stereo had gone to playing, inexplicably, “The Ride of the Valkyries.” I went and put The Doors back on then went back into the kitchen, where I immediately began steeping a cup of coconut rooibos tea. I now had three cups going and it still wasn’t enough. I put a forth cup out, threw in some loose yerba mate and filled the mug with water. Then my eyes went to the stove and that is when I saw…the pot.

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I put Der Fuehrer kettle down and approached slowly, something telling me to back away, to flee, to run for my life. I leaned in and carefully peered over the rim.

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A loud rapping at the front door sent my nerves into a swivet. It was Valerie, my neighbor. She wanted to shoot pool. I grabbed her and marched her into the kitchen and forced her to look into the pot on the stove.

“What?” she said.

“You don’t see that?”

“It’s just the remnants of some soup.”

“There is a genocidal maniac in my pot.”

“You’re seeing things.”

“You don’t see the mad leader of the Khmer Rouge in the bottom of this pot?”

“Mark,” she said, “you need to get some fresh air. Go call one of your shiny, happy women and find a nature trail, hike up into the friggin mountains, do something. All this solitude is no good.”

“There’s a crazed Cambodian in my pot!”

“I’ll come back later,” she said. “Take my advice.”

She left quickly. I paced around the house, gnawing at my lip. “The Ride of the Valkyries” was playing again. I let it play on. All I could think about was tea. I put out another ceramic mug and threw in some oolong. The Nazi kettle seemed to have an endless supply of water, seemed grossly satisfied with my tea obsession, seemed to be orchestrating some grand scheme. My counter was littered with tea cups. This wouldn’t do. I went to the bathroom and splashed some water on my face.

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Although it may be difficult to make out, the print on this my most favorite of tee-shirts is just one of a harmless, rabid, easy-going, frantic with the full expanse of hell, skull and crossbones with a savage mohawk and it is the most comfortable shirt ever invented and he is my friend. At least I thought he was. I pulled the fabric up to my face…

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… My eyes locked on the gaze of the anti-American, pro-communist revolutionary Ernesto Guevara, hiding in the recesses of my shirt. I ran through the house in a panic. I went through the living room, the den, the hallway, the kitchen (steeped a cup of earl gray) and raced into the dining room.  That’s when I noticed my favorite hat on my dining room table. The thing was, I didn’t remember leaving it there.

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I moved slowly toward it, picked it up, ran my hand through the inner lining. Something bit my hand.

“Not you too, favorite hat,” I cried, seeing General Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator staring back at me from the hat’s interior lining.

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“You teenk you safe but I get you soon-Ah. I get you lay-Tah. But don’t teenk I don’t get you,” he seemed to be saying.

My investigation of Husserl’s practice of reduction was sending me into madness.  I began to understand that Rockwell song, “Somebody’s Watching Me.” He may very well have been on to something. I went back into the kitchen, began steeping a mug of English breakfast tea that I had to put on the washer because there was no more room on the counter. Then, just for the shit of it I grabbed a bag of green sencha tea, put it in my mouth and started chewing on it. “The Ride of the Valkyries” was on full blast. Leni Riefenstahl appeared on my television. Rudolf Hess parachuted into my backyard. I grabbed the tea kettle and ran outside with it just as the local scrap metal collector was bouncing his caged jalopy along the block like the Joad family on their way to California. I waved him down and handed him the tea kettle.

“Just take it,” I said. He surveyed it, pulled out a heavy mallet and began pounding it down into a flat disc. When he had successfully crushed it he assured me it was finally worth something. He threw it into the cab of his truck and drove off. I went back inside my house. There was a peacefulness in the air, and I knew I was going to be alright.

I threw out all the tea I had made. Then I put on “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” by Herbie Mann and drank an Iron City. Then I went and got my statue of Kim Jong Un.

Lucky Cat

“At least you understand me, Un,” I said. “Let’s just hang out together and watch basketball. I’ve got some Dennis Rodman highlights.”

The lesson of the day was not to be so cavalier. There were dark forces at work, parasitic energies that ate away at the benevolent indifference of the universe. Even though I had gotten rid of the kettle I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being monitored, watched, judged, like Winston Smith in Oceania. Something or someone was taking an interest. Play us out, Rockwell.