World Gone Wild

Little by little I’m getting used to modern harassment. Proud of it, even. It’s an honor to get fifty phone calls from places as distant as Lees Summit Missouri, Bloomington Minnesota, and Chicopee Massachusetts. I had no idea I was that popular. The calls themselves are awkward. They’re characterized by eerie hybrid computer humanoids that introduce themselves as “Scott” and “Becky” before offering me free money, or refunds on purchases that I never made.  They implore me not to hang up and swear it is very important, yet I’m not convinced. I blame the geeks that program these voices. They need to get a little better at mimicking human inflection. I won’t be swayed that something is important if the word ‘important’ takes five seconds to pronounce. 

“This …. is…. im…port…ant.” 

No it ain’t. 

My favorite was an “ur….gent” message about an impending arrest warrant issued for me. No reason was given for my imminent incarceration, much to my disappointment. Even though I was instructed to call back to straighten the whole matter out, I decided to take my chances and ignore the request. My freedom is intact, for now. 

Then things got really weird. I was in the middle of my morning coffee the other day when my phone started ringing. I had been reading an article about the new packaging on Animal Crackers boxes, and did not want to be disturbed. It was a fascinating story. For the last hundred years the artwork on the cracker boxes depicted circus animals in their cages. Now, in a watershed moment, the cartoon creatures are roaming free. They seem happier, the cartoons, and I for one welcome the change. Not only that, the animals themselves have evolved. The striped donkey is now an insouciant zebra. The mastodon is a proud elephant. The fanged peasant hunter is now a smirking lion. The cow with the long neck is a giraffe, and the hairy philistine is now an ape.  They are all pictured strolling along a peaceful landscape.

It’s a victory for PETA and other conservation groups, although I fear the package’s next incarnation of the popular snack item, in which the freed animals have mauled an entire community of helpless women and children. There will be a veritable bloodbath as the liberated beasts take their revenge on a populace that has kept them locked up for the better part of the century. It doesn’t take a genius to note that all of the wildlife portrayed on the new box is heading in the exact same direction, toward us, and they have murder and retribution in their beady little eyes. They are coming to even the score, and don’t think for a moment that animal lovers and vegetarians will be spared. To a hungry lion a vegetarian is simply “grass fed,” “prime-cut,” “no hormones or steroids added,” and a child in a playpen is like milk fed veal, not at all stringy. Mahler’s second symphony was playing on my stereo while I was picturing the massacre, and it was at that one part where all hell breaks loose, symphonically speaking, the perfect soundtrack to a merciless rampage of feral wildlife. 

So my phone started ringing, pulling me away from my giddy tableau of mental carnage. I glanced down to see a random number calling me. At first I ignored it, then something dawned on me. I looked back and realized the phone number calling me was my own phone number. I wondered what I wanted? My first reaction was to pick up the phone and scold myself for interrupting my morning coffee. I could forgive someone else for calling me that early, but there was no excuse for me calling me, knowing full well that my morning cup of coffee is a sacred event, not to be disrupted by anybody, much less me. I had some damn nerve. Then again, I thought, maybe I had something important to tell me, like something really important, and not “im…port…ant.” Which made me wonder if I really wanted to know what I had to say.  I wasn’t quite prepared for bad news, but maybe it was some type of warning. “Paddy the Duke? Hey, it’s Paddy the Duke. Just giving you a heads up, don’t walk out your front door. There’s a huge elephant hiding behind the water oak, and he looks pissed. Yup. It’s probably the one we rode on when we were a kid. Remember when mom took us to the circus, and you tried to grab his tusk? Yeah, well it looks like he’s got a score to settle. You know those things don’t forget. I’d cut through the neighbor’s yard on your way out. Uh-oh, gotta go. Apparently there’s a bench warrant out for our arrest.” 

I picked up the phone and demanded to know what the hell I wanted. Silence. All I could hear was my breathing, although I wasn’t sure whether it was my breathing on my end or on the other end. It was one thing to be interrupted by me, it was another to be prank called by me. Son of a bitch. I vowed revenge. I would wait till later on, get myself good and drunk, and then once I passed out I would call myself nonstop until the sun came up. 

That’ll teach me. 

More Alembics to come…

No Ifs, Ands, or Bots

Those were the days…
It used to be that bots were parasitic maggots living in fly shit. These days a bot is a parasitic maggot living in the internet. Not a lot of difference, really, although the actual larvae of the botfly is a little more honest. The tiny insects need to eat you to survive, and that is all. It’s nothing personal. The new, space-age bots, the tiny roving bands of wifi marauders, the mechanical champions of hotly held beliefs, on the other hand, arrive as your friend. “Please like me. I like you. Tell you what, I’ll help you stick it to your anonymous internet enemies, those neighbors and shaggy acquaintances who want to destroy your way of life. Just like me. One click. One like. One small victory.”

Basically a bot is a veritable cattle prod that jolts the cattle, in this case the human internet surfers, into a fit of apoplexy. It’s one thing to have an intestinal parasite. It is another to have a mental one. Nothing can provoke a good brain rage like seeing a picture on Facebook of a scaly, muscle-bound Satan in an arm wrestling match with a chiseled, Aryan Jesus. Two workout fiends. One good. One evil. I always suspected that Hell was a large health club facility filled with free weights and mirrors, and that the region around Mount Tabor was where Steroid Jesus and the Apostles congregated for a cross-fit style regimen of wind sprints and squat lunges. Now the internet has proved it. Thank you, internet.

Bots, as I understand them, are used to “meddle.” It’s a fun word. I’m glad it is back in fashion. The only other historical evidence I have of meddling is Scooby Doo and the Mystery Machine gang, who spent their time smoking pot and thwarting a parade of backwater villains, who would’ve gotten away with it, had it not been for those “meddling kids.” Strange these days, though, to pull the mask off the Zombie or Swamp Creature and find a sheepish looking Vladimir Putin. Even the Harlem Globetrotters and Sandy Duncan wouldn’t believe it.

If manipulating weak-minded people is a crime then let us imprison all the lobbying firms, the public relations consultants, all special interest groups, most of the media, all advertising agencies, image consultants, the movie industry, the record industry, all Super Pacs, the fashion industry, every mega-church that has taken money from a cancer victim to buy a private jet, ambulance chasers, weepy politicians, “Lumpy” the clean coal mascot, every mascot for that matter, the science of product placement, billboards, banner ads, and every global effort to commodify goods and services and ideas from the Ross Sea to the Queen Elizabeth Islands. Maybe we’re already imprisoned. It’s called Earth. It’s walls are comprised of digital voyeurism.

I would like to take this opportunity to make friends with the bots out there. It’s nice to have people “like” you, and in the absence of an actual person, a computerized audience of enthusiasts will do just fine. I would love for this blog to be liked and reblogged a million times, either by humans or, failing that, little mechanized acolytes. An algorithm will always support my point of view, and an algorithm will never ask me to drive it to the airport, or make me feel guilty about missing its birthday party, or drunkenly hit on my wife at the Fourth of July barbecue. Actual organic friends are overrated.

Meddling, fiddling, tampering, tinkering. Everybody does it all the time. Modern digital media is filled with a million, tiny Leland Gaunt characters from the Stephen King book Needful Things running through a person’s activity, promising to deliver support in exchange for a harmless prank, a little nudge in the direction of putative righteousness. Which is innocent enough, until you see the two old ladies in the neighborhood actually swinging at each other in the middle of the street with hatchets and carving knives because a bot disrespected their flag, or their pot plant, or their transgender child, or their shotgun, or their fetus, or their president, or their carbon footprint, or their limited understanding of historical forces, or their cable news network, or their favorite sports team, or that reality star that is always making a mess of things, either in the reality of television or in the reality of reality.

It is quiet on my street today. As far as I can tell no neighborhood biddies are trying to kill each other. The sun is out. All machinery is OFF, except for a pre-recorded version of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony that wends through the windows in lofty and playful flight. Nothing is asking anything of me. I am beyond the reach of humankind. My neighbor’s dog trots up to the fence, regarding me in silence. I toss him a treat that I keep on hand for such an occasion, remembering what Mark Twain said. If you can improve upon the fortune of a dog he will not bite you. This is the main difference between a dog and a man.
More Alembics to come