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…


A literally figurative tragedy…a warning from Rick Springfield… a figuratively literal ending…

I have been getting a little edgy lately at the flagrant misuse of the word literally. On second thought, I take that back. The haphazard use of the word literally actually engenders a mirth and amusement so pure within my heart that I feel the need to jump to my feet, raise my hands and testify. Well, maybe not that rapturous of a response but something of the sort on an emotional level. I do like the word. Literally. I like it. Good word. When used properly it is a nice little stab of emphasis on a point being made. Let’s face it, it is fun to use. In fact the word is so much fun that it may be suffering from a bit of fashionable overload, basking in the stylish limelight of casual conversation. What with people feeling so strongly about things these days, it is no surprise that the word literally has become a standard part of passionate expression. And what with the kids and their heated opinions and their technology and drinking and pharmaceutical drugs and such, the word is bound to be dropped in a manner not in keeping with its definition now and again. But it all came to a rotten collision a few days ago at a bar when an overly-drunk young woman, garrulous to a fault, and with one of those voices that just finds its way into your bone marrow, exclaimed to the fellow next to her that….

“My boss wouldn’t stop talking. Literally, after twenty minutes, my head exploded.”

Disgusting, I thought. How tragic, too. To be minding one’s own business, at work no less, to be doing the best job one can, and then to be ruthlessly engaged by the boss in such a way that the sheer inexorability of the boss’s rambling causes one’s head to burst apart, leaving blood and brains everywhere. The stump of the neck hemorrhages uncontrollably while the body convulses in a big red gory pool. Poor girl, rushed to the hospital where they tape or glue her head back together or however they do it, the boss kind of being like “my bad I guess no frisbee-golf this weekend.” Months in the I.C.U. in an induced coma. Then the slow emergence, the physical therapy, the relearning of basic motor skills and now right as rainfall, in the middle of a crowded bar, back to tell her story of struggle and survival, amid a roomful of drinkers, over a blaring jukebox playing Rick Springfield.

Things started coming together in a way only random, beautiful artistic moments can. Rick Springfield was singing his song, and in his song he was lamenting the appearance of a “..slick, continental dude.” I appreciate Mr. Springfield, because nothing good ever comes from continental dudes, both slick and otherwise. They are always causing problems, and we, as a music-loving public, can’t say we weren’t warned. Doubly amusing was the fact that the woman whose head had been put back together after it had “literally exploded” had been gabbing to a dude who appeared both slick, and… although I don’t know exactly how to qualify this…continental. He had long sideburns manicured with the detailed attention usually given to country estates.

There she was, railing at him about everything and reverse-everything, and this slick continental dude had a look on his face of such rigid feigned interest that I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. We had all been there, both men and women alike. It was as if his expression was pleading silently to, “please, please, stop talking so I can take you home to do that thing I’ve been wanting so badly to do for months and months and months and months.”

He was in over his sideburns. I knew it. He knew it. Everybody knew it. I don’t  care how slick and continental a dude is, when you’ve got a girl like that with a voice like radioactivity, like it burns from the inside, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Furthermore once the ice had been broken with the use of the word literally, it was on. She literally used it after everything she said. Which, as far as probability goes, meant that sometimes it was used correctly and other times it was just lashed into her barrage of outbursts. Seated where I was I could only catch bits and pieces, like the bits and pieces her head may have represented after it had “literally exploded.” I found myself trying to figure out which was which.

“…Literally, it was like twenty people…” she said.

(Could’ve been, depending on the circumstance)

“…Literally we were stuck on line for a month but we finally scored tickets to Bruno Mars…”

(Seemed like an exaggeration to me. The average individual dies after a week without food or water.)

“Your sideburns are literally longer than my driveway…”


“…She literally came home to find that he had taken the dogs and vamoosed…”

(As opposed to symbolically coming home?)

I didn’t know how much more I could take so I paid my bill and sipped at the bottom half of my beer. The bartender, a friend of mine, sidled up to where I was sitting. He looked at me and shrugged. I shrugged back.

“You should give her a shot of tequila for each use of the word literally,” I said, pointing a few seats down to the woman (standing, gesturing) and the slick, continental dude, (sitting, slumped).

“Are you kidding? They’d slap the handcuffs on me for manslaughter. Anyway the dude is a punk. He is a date stealer. Remember the blind switch?”

“Oh, that was him?” I said. “Don’t you think he’s kind of like the slick, continental dude that Rick Springfield warns us about?”

“I was thinking that same thing!” he said brightly.

The blind switch was a clever bit of chicanery on the part of the slick, continental dude. A woman had shown up for a blind date and had mistaken him for the fellow she was supposed to meet, another fellow slightly less slick and continental. Falling into character and after a hasty explanation the slicker of the two continental dudes spirited her away from the bar to avoid running into the continental dude that was running late.  After a night of fraud and frolic the slick continental dude cut a hasty exit. There was more to it, though. The blind date was also supposed to help the woman line up a job, which she completely missed out on by mistaking one slick continental dude for another. It was just a shame. I no longer felt sorry for the slick continental dude. Things were about to get heated, though, as the guy sitting next to me at the bar hit his breaking point.

“Hey, would you literally shut the fuck up?” he said to the girl, freezing her in mid-sentence.

“Mind your own business,” said the slick, continental dude, aroused from his jelly posture.

“Impossible with that braying,” said the guy next to me.

“Also,” I said, cutting in, “might you give the use of the word literal a bit of a rest. It’s been in the game for awhile now, and been performing well. Might be time to substitute. Might I suggest shit-motherfucking?” I went back through some of the snippets I had heard and was pleased with my suggestion.

“Communist,” the dude said to me. “You don’t care about the first amendment?”

“Dude, what are you getting all slick and continental for?” I said. He looked at me like I had just slapped him.

“Leave her alone. She’s just using it in the literally figurative sense,” he explained.

“Oh no,” said the bartender, stepping in. “He’s got Stockholm Syndrome.”

“It’s a method of usage,” the dude continued. “The literal figurative.”

“Scoundrel, take that back,” I said.

“No!” he said, his sideburns quaking in effect.

“You’re not allowed to invoke an unreasonable paradox to explain the misuse of a word.”

“Well I did. And now it’s done. And there is nothing you can do about it. Oh and by the way, your girlfriend calls me and begs me for sex and I hang up the phone.” He sat back, swelling with his own cleverness.

“Piss on you and your chop logic,” said the guy next to me. It felt like there was a fight brewing, so I stepped in to make peace.

“Everybody settle down,” I said.  “I apologize for my friend’s outburst,” I said to the slick continental dude and his chatty companion. “And for trying to infringe on your right to free speech. Tell you what, I’ll pick up your tab.” The couple settled back. The woman protested slightly, saying don’t worry about it, but the slick continental dude was not one to miss out on such an opportunity.

“It’s the least you can do,” he muttered.

The bartender shook his head, tallied up the total and put the check in front of me. I carefully lifted it off the bar, folded it up, put it in my pocket and left the bar without paying a dime. But before I left I gave the slick continental dude a parting word.


More Alembics to come.