Some Avalanches Go Up

I GOT CAUGHT in an avalanche the other day. It was unexpected, since I’d been sitting in my writing room trying to get a hold of some inspiration. I wasn’t careening down the side of a snowy mountain, or climbing up one. I was on a flat surface, which is generally regarded as a low risk site for avalanches, so when the wall exploded and a hundred tons of mud and snow swallowed me up in its path, well I was goddamned surprised.

It’s hard to believe, I know, but then again it’s hard to believe that the entire city of Atlanta was brought to its knees by two inches of ice some years back. It’s hard to believe that a six-lane freeway collapsed because of a homeless man’s barrel fire a few summers ago. It’s hard to believe that two men escaped Dannemora prison by watching The Shawshank Redemption. In short, there are all sorts of surprises from the universe’s bag of curiosities, and so when the avalanche came rushing through my office I just went limp and rolled with it, which is rule number one when it comes to avalanche survival.

It wasn’t long before I got used to the slide. I was up, down, and all around, but my computer was still in front of me so my typing was uninterrupted, and the deep rumble of the massive swell was actually soothing to my state of mind. I’d just been reading about a stuntman named “Mad” Mike Hughes whose homemade rocket had crashed out in Barstow, California, killing him on impact. By the end of the article I’d decided I liked him, would’ve enjoyed a beer with him, and was sad about his death. And then, the avalanche.

It’s the era of the avalanche, after all. Things have become brittle, and the foundation has eroded. Technology has wired humanity so tightly that one tremor anywhere in the world can end up in an enormous collapse due to the sheer weight of hysteria, speculation, misinformation, disinformation, cruelty, and general idiocy. The modern system of mass communication that once promised an intellectual liberation has locked the global spectatorship into a handful of emotionally charged issues, destroying the imagination as thoroughly as a mudslide decimating a hillside village during the rainy season. 

So much for that avalanche, which I try to avoid. This new avalanche, though, the one about Mad Mike, I welcomed. I admit, I’m drawn to the weirdos. Here’s a guy out in the southwest United States just launching himself all over the place for no reason at all, which is the best reason there is. Mike had grabbed some headlines years back with the proclamation that the Earth is flat, which is not even close to the weirdest idea that’s come out of California, considering Manson’s Helter Skelter philosophy and bars that charge for oxygen.

I remember reading a section of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, the original scroll, specifically a part that did not make it into the final book. Kerouac is sitting on the corner of Hollywood and Vine waiting for a bus and he writes his observation that, “Somebody had tipped the American continent like a pinball machine and all the goofballs had come rolling into L.A. in the southwest corner.” How that didn’t make the final manuscript I will never know, but if that was my line and my editor cut it out I would’ve stuffed him into a rocket and shot him over the horizon. 

In marketing, it only counts if it’s memorable. Therefore If some California goofball  declares the Earth to be flat and then straps himself into a rocket to go confirm it, he has won, regardless of how it all washes out.  “Mad” Mike even allowed for the possibility that the Earth was round. He just wanted to see it for himself, he said. Which makes him a strict empiricist, in modern parlance, although “Mad” Mike has a lot more punch to it than “Strict Empiricist” Mike. So he decided to build a rocket to head out into space so he could get a good look at the giant thing he’d been clinging to, like an inquisitive flea trying to figure out the breed of dog he’s been gnawing on all this time.

So there he was, in Barstow, California, at the edge of the desert. This line rings familiar to me, as it’s the starting point for Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

…We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold…

Hunter goes on to describe a sky full of imaginary bats swooping down on him. If he’d been on his journey fifty years later he would’ve actually seen a huge rocket come crashing out of the sky, which is much weirder than a flock of bats in a desert.

 I was in Barstow once, taking a pit stop during a drive from Las Vegas to Redondo Beach. It was all part of a weeklong bachelor party for a friend of mine, although in retrospect it may have been more of a preliminary funeral for him, of sorts, since the only thing he succeeded in doing was getting the ball rolling on his first divorce, after which his wife drove a stake through his heart, and his bank accounts. Why did I bring this up? Oh yeah. Due to about twelve beers, the raging desert sun, and my own carsickness, I remember being on my knees in the dirt on the side of the road, retching my guts out while our party bus idled about twenty feet away. From that close a vantage point I’d have to agree with Mad Mike. The Earth looked pretty damn flat. I was so out of my head that I saw the flat world, and a flock of bats, and a talking iguana, and a hundred shiny rockets crashing out of the sky, and a million angels dancing on sunbeams, and Jim fucking Morrison, and the lost tribe of the Clock People, and the rhythmic frenzy of the Tarahumara drum circles, and every other mystery that the desert holds in its vast emptiness, and reveals from time to time as an invitation to a seeker with the proper type of mind. That’s why I salute Mad Mike. In a world of rehash and formula, it’s nice to know some folks are doing their best to shake loose the tedium of predictability, and put a little movement under our feet, and we can go with them on the big slide, and improbably elevate to a place where the air is sweet, and the view is beautiful.

Cheers, Mad Mike. I’m going to drink your beer for you. You would’ve wanted me to, I know.

More Alembics…


Ten Past Ten

Speak with respect and honor
both of the beard and the beard’s owner.
(From the poem, Hudibras)
Tragedy struck in Washington D.C. last week when a suicide caught the nation’s attention. It was one of the first of its kind. A roving robot security guard affectionately known as “Steven,” model Knightscope K-5, threw himself into a fountain of water near an office complex, short-circuiting and thus ending his troubled existence. Not since Marvin from A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey has a computer been so despondent. “Steven,” realizing he was a billion times smarter than the people he was built to protect, yet still unable to reconcile the abyss of stupidity by the very same humans that had programmed him, decided it was best to end it all right then and there. Tech support arrived to run a diagnostic on the mechanical corpse, but all they could come up with was a cryptic final note in his hard drive:


Speculation was rampant. Was “Steven” crying out for help to the humans that had given him life, was he seeking a meaning, or was he struggling with the contradiction of being smarter than the very adversaries that had created him? Either way, Steven was a hero. His life’s work was providing for the safety of others. He will be missed.
Speaking of heroes…
I like to think that my heroes will live for eternity, that they are indomitable and invulnerable, too strong to be forgotten in the vortex of history. Lucky for me, most of my heroes are artists, and so their work usually endures through the ages. Their actual bodies, however, have long since disintegrated. Hunter Thompson was shot out of a cannon in a million pieces. Hart Crane turned himself into fish food. Sarah Orne Jewett fell out of a horse carriage and Emily Dickinson’s kidneys shriveled up in anguish, with the rest of her soon to follow.
So we lovers of great artists, or lovers of the macabre, or both, had cause to celebrate this week when the body of Salvador Dali was exhumed from his crypt in Spain and it was discovered that his mustache was in the exact same upright position as when they had interred him almost thirty years ago. If the tips of his whiskers were hands on a clock they would indicate ten past ten, and in this case time has stood still for almost three decades.
I never realized Salvador Dali was actually a painter. I only knew him as the inventor of the famed lobster telephone and brief spokesman for Alka-Seltzer antacids back in the seventies. Apparently he was also a rather prolific muralist. Always learning, I am. All of that and he can stop the clock too. Incredible.
It is not easy to freeze time. Even if a person clenches real hard and holds their breath and does a little freewheeling backpedal and refuses to entertain even the slightest hint of maturity, we are all older than when we started, no matter what we started and how long it took to finish it. Bob Dylan in his song “My Back Pages” seems to suggest he keeps getting younger, but if that is the case, he is the most worn out looking kid I’ve ever seen in my life.
Leave it to Salvador Dali. He was the ultimate prankster, the ultimate practical joker. Now in death he is still messing with us. In fact I heard that when they opened up his tomb not only did his handlers realize his mustache had kept its shape, but there were three fully finished paintings lying next to him that hadn’t been there when he was buried. They were all of kittens, but hey, we can’t always be on our ‘A’ game.
I myself have a strip of facial hair running vertically down my chin. I don’t remember when I grew it or why. It may have been after I read a few historical texts that insisted that, generations ago, a man had to have a beard if he was to be regarded as intelligent and refined. Since it is impossible for me to grow a full beard I figured I’d get something going if only to not appear completely uncivilized. I can affect a thoughtful figure if I tug on my chin hair and look up at the ceiling, and I use this small gesture to get myself out of tense moments when people are expecting some kind of answer from me.
“Shh,” they say, “he is thinking.” Of course I am not, but nobody needs to know that.
If Dali’s mustache signified ten past ten on a clock, then my facial hair just looks like noon, or midnight. Sometimes if it gets a little too long my facial hair can grow to about 12:30, but for all intents and purposes let’s round to the hour.

I finished off the evening by sitting in my library, in my favorite leather chair, with my ascot and smoking jacket and snifter of brandy and calabash pipe and small tuft of chin hair that I manipulated in just a fashion as to make me look at all contemplative, and I thought about Steven, the robot suicide, and his strange message ALAS ODD RIVAL…
Steven the robot was egg-shaped. It occurred to me that Salvador Dali loved to paint eggs. They are a recurring theme in his artwork. Of course an egg was never just an egg with him. Everything was textured with subtle meanings, and I suspected that Dali’s sudden emergence and the demise of the egg robot were not entirely unrelated. Then it hit me. ALAS ODD RIVAL.
I mixed up the letters and discovered a hidden message.
Very clever, Mr. Dali.
More Alembics to come.

Freaknik II, Electric Boogaloo

For the record every sequel should have the phrase “Electric Boogaloo” in the title. Thus I am following my own rule. 


I was checking the news outlets last week for some nugget of inspiration when I happened on an announcement in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “Freaknik” was back, would be held in the city on Labor Day weekend, was returning for a whole new generation of black collegians. After reading the headline I made it a point to pick up a newspaper the next day to make sure the city fathers hadn’t declared a preemptive state of emergency. No word in the urban dictionary strikes more fear in the hearts of the Atlanta political establishment than “Freaknik.”

I could try to explain Freaknik, but the best and most succinct description of Freaknik can be found in the powerful poetry of the Hypnotize Camp Posse and their insightfully metered composition known as, “Azz and Tittiez.”

The song basically goes, “Azz and Tittiez…Azz and Tittiez…Azz and Tittiez…and big booty bitches.” (repeat).

That about sums it up. Not only does it sum up Freaknik, it sums up every fetishistic and Bacchanalian skin festival from ancient Greece to modern day Mardi Gras. Pan with his flute, Bacchus with his amphora, and Apollo with his lyre were the original party promoters. The pursuits of the flesh have always maintained a striking similarity over the millennia. It’s a pretty big common denominator, and although the aphrodisiacs may vary, and the music may be better or worse depending on whom you ask, and the legality of certain couplings may be more or less questionable, it all boils down to the same transaction.   

Whether it is a butt, a booty, a ba-donk-a-donk, a callipygean haunch or steatopygian wall of gluteal paradise, a person’s rear end can make or break a party. In Burgo Partridge’s A History of Orgies, (A real book, here is a picture…)


Mr. Partridge describes the libertine clubs of the eighteenth century, in which women were invited to showcase their rumps to a roomful of tongue-wagging gentry. One woman, who went by the name Oyster Moll, had a reputation for being particularly insatiable. “Her crinigerous clift was ready to run the gantlope through a regiment of footguards.” I’m not sure what the hell that means, but I can venture a guess. That was two hundred years ago. Yesterday’s “clift” is today’s apple bottom. Whatever. 

My own memories of the original Freaknik date back to 1994. I was a freshman in college. My friend Tim and I had stumbled upon it by accident. It all started when we decided to drive off campus for a slice of pizza. Tim and I, by the way, are both as white as the underside of an albino. It was about four in the afternoon on a springtime Friday. About a mile up the road we hit a wall of traffic. There was no going anywhere. There might as well have been a huge glacier fifty miles long right through the middle of town. Bemused, Tim and I parked and decided to walk to the pizza parlor. We hiked past the endless line of cars, all stuck in place in what was the most fantastic scene of gridlock I had ever witnessed. We trudged along, figuring that around the next corner we would happen upon some major traffic accident. We weren’t a hundred feet up before a woman leaned out of a car and flashed us, flashed everybody in our direction. Four guys were immediately around her with video cameras. Mind you these weren’t camera phones. These were the big clunky recorders that could tear a rotator cuff from hoisting it around all day. VHS cassette tape sold separately. And the bass from the music shook the entire street. Revelers were perched on the roofs of their cars watching as girls were grinding and dancing on each other in the middle of the road. We took note that all the partiers were black.

“They are somewhat festive for a major car pileup,” my friend pointed out, rather philosophically.

“These Atlantans really know how to make the best of a traffic snarl,” I said. “I think we are going to like it here.” 

There was no horrible auto collision. It was Freaknik–a massive, somewhat extemporaneous city-wide party during the spring break for all the African-American colleges. Tim and I arrived at the pizza place and still the line of cars extended into infinity beyond, with no sign of letting up. Luckily our journey on foot was helped out by some students from Morehouse College who gave us a couple of beers as we walked by their car. They also explained what was going on.

“It’s Freaknik. We are getting our freak on.”

Tim and I sat on the patio of the pizza place and watched the festivities. Nobody could believe it, much less the partiers themselves. It was the type of random, wild, magical out-of-control party that happens once or twice in a lifetime. These types of things usually fall short, but sometimes like a riptide or flash flood, all the elements line up in exactly the right ratio, and the barometer drops and the phlogiston kicks in and something inexplicable happens and if you are lucky enough to be there you take part. 

“You can’t hoard fun. It has no shelf life.”

–Hunter S. Thompson.

Yes indeed, Dr. Thompson. I agree. In fact I had to look up a passage from my own novel, a weird little night-life satire called Wet Brain, in which the anti-hero assesses the same mostly fruitless search for a good time.

To wit, “We were all looking for the greatest night of our lives every time we stepped out of the house, even if we didn’t realize it. A location could be located, plans could be planned, but the magic itself was entirely unreliable. Sometimes it happened and sometimes it didn’t. It could occur anywhere and at anytime. The trick was to be prepared so at those odd, unexpected moments when it whipped up the pursuer’s only responsibility was to move with it, to ride it like a pack of wild horses. Sometimes you got trampled. Sometimes you made it to the sunrise.” 

Which brings us to the reason the city of Atlanta’s formal attitude toward Freaknik was one of shock and horror. It brought the whole city to a standstill for an entire weekend. Brides couldn’t get to the church for the weddings they had paid big money for, ambulances couldn’t get to hospitals, fire trucks sat helplessly while buildings burned to the ground. The politicians that didn’t get bounced out of office immediately set about putting into law draconian “no cruising zones” where kids could get busted just for driving past a street corner more than once.

And that was that. Freaknik fizzled. The other rule about sequels is they almost always suck. The book is better than the movie, the movie is better than its sequel, and if big success was a mathematical absolute than everybody would do it.

Post script. I read the other day that the party dubbed “Freaknik” was cancelled. Part of me is disappointed. The other part knows it would’ve been a letdown anyway. Bacchus, Pan, and Apollo are always planning though. They will make it happen somewhere, sometime. I hope I’m on the guest list.

More Alembics to come.

The Ghost of Gonzo

It was already dark when the plane touched down in Denver, Colorado. I emerged from the airport, pulling my jacket up over my ears. It looked like we had just arrived at some outpost on the dark side of the moon. The wind was aggressive, sweeping the snow in drifts across the parking lot. The city of Denver was off in the flat distance, nothing but a thin line of white lights, and beyond that, buried in the invisible expanse of the Rockies, was the final destination.

I make no secret that I am a fan of Hunter S. Thompson. I consider him one of the finest American humorists, right up there with Mark Twain, James Thurber and H. Allen Smith. For those unfamiliar he is the author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Hell’s Angels, as well as The Great Shark Hunt and other collections of letters, articles and stories. Coiner of the term “Gonzo Journalism,” he reported for Rolling Stone magazine in the sixties and seventies. He had to be a reporter in order to cover the only story he ever covered, namely, writing about the exploits of one Hunter S. Thompson, and in this manner he was both subject and recorder of subject. Hunter was a uniquely brave individual to take on being the reporter of himself because, by all accounts, it was a very dangerous job. What with his famed drug use, his constant wielding of guns and other dangerous weapons, his association with criminal and outlaw elements, his penchant for high-speed driving and his mammoth intake of booze, it was definitely a high-risk assignment. He hung in there, though, covering most major events in the latter half of the twentieth century and creating major events of his own when the ones he was looking for failed to materialize. The whole wild circus came to an end in February 2005 when he committed suicide at his longtime home in Woody Creek, Colorado, right outside of Aspen, effectively snuffing out the wild man and taking the eloquent reporter along with him.

I needed something substantive to herald in the new year. All the characters in the novel I had been working on had mutinied, running amok in my carefully crafted fiction, destroying the destinies that I had laid out for them. A friend of mine had a helpful suggestion.

“Take a few days and head on out to Woody Creek,” he said. “We’re coming up on ten years since Hunter died. You might encounter something useful out in the cathedral of the mountains. I bet you can find him.”

“He is pretty much gone,” I said. “They shot his cremated remains out of a hundred foot tower. He is sprinkled on the hills behind his property.”

“On some level, in some form, he is there. It might be a shadow, an inkling, a feeling, an intuition; but in the right light, in the right situation and with the right kind of eyes, you will spot him.”

Convinced, I headed west. The idea was to drop in at the J-Bar in the Hotel Jerome and then end up at the Woody Creek Tavern, both regular drinking haunts for the famed writer. With any luck something crazy would happen. I would be pulled into a seething cauldron of insanity from which I would barely escape, even though the mental trauma would linger for years, the raving bouts of terror would be somewhat unpredictable, and the shock therapy would eventually render me as helpless as a kitten. That was the best case scenario, though, and I promised myself I wouldn’t get my hopes up too much.

I took my time on the drive along I-70 west. The passes were open. It was warm for the season. I remained on the lookout for falling rocks, semi-trucks careening out of control, and escapees from the Denver Correctional Facility posing as hitchhikers (there were frequent road signs warning of each of these dangers). We stopped for the evening in Breckenridge, about halfway between Aspen and Denver, to meet up with some friends. We convened at a bar called “The Blue Stag” to soak up the unfettered mood of the wild west. It was a raucous and lively spittoon filled with people celebrating the “Ullr” festival. Ullr, (pronounced ooler) is the Norse god of winter revelry. Luckily I didn’t have to be an expert in the “Edda” to participate. All that was required of me was to put a pair of plastic viking horns on my head and drink flagon after flagon of “Avalanche” beer, pride of Colorado. There was an Ullr parade of sorts along Main Street that amounted to a series of flatbeds crammed with drunk ski freaks indiscriminately shouting in all directions. The taverns and saloons were teeming with young nomads drinking fireball with dogfish head chasers, whooping it up and praying for snow. These were the next generation of “snowballers,” privileged ski bums making the circuit from Vail to Snowmass, or from Aspen to Arapahoe Basin, or from Denver to Grand Junction, or from Telluride to wherever, believing and hoping that the manacled clutches of corporate slavery could not touch them at this high of an altitude, which was true enough as long as the money didn’t run out. A skier can outrun almost anything if the mountain is steep enough, except necessity and fate, the two powers wise enough to linger at the bottom of the hill, knowing inevitably that all things will come to them.

“The Blue Stag” was overrun with bleary revelers, twenty-somethings just out of college. In between rebel yells they announced lame epiphanies that served as a temporary and false panacea for whatever middling crisis of identity was haunting them. A few of them sensed my quiet wisdom and gravitated my way for some friendly chatter.

“My brother is into derivatives and my sister just got elected to the state assembly. Where does that leave me?” said the drunk girl.

“Go into pornography. At least you’ll be screwing people honestly,” I said.

“My dad said he’d cut off my inheritance if I didn’t join his law firm,” said a square-jawed young buck with a Sigma Chi sweatshirt.

“Warn him that your mother might be interested to know why one of the maids is always pregnant.”

“I’m a skilled beaver trapper and I’m here to trap some beaver,” slurred a guy who looked like a cross between Leif Erikson and Liberace. He was wearing a neon viking helmet and a full-length ermine coat. His beard was dyed green.

“I didn’t travel halfway across the country to be subjected to bad innuendo,” I said. “Fuck off.”

We left for Aspen early the next morning. I was a little let down by the scene the night before. Here I was on the edge of the continental divide searching for the wellspring of light and power and instead I had splashed through a few cold puddles of dim youth. I put on “Mr. Tambourine Man” by Bob Dylan and as I drove into Aspen I felt a vivid connection with whatever magnetic field had brought the righteous counterculture here in the mid sixties. I drove past the field with the open gazebo where Hunter used to play pickup games of football with his buddies. I drove past the Pitkin County courthouse where Hunter went on trial for reckless driving. Then I did a loop and found the bar in the Hotel Jerome.

Hunter Thompson committed suicide in late February. This was not entirely happenstance. It was the end of football season and Hunter, an avid football fan, always felt somewhat empty after the Superbowl wrapped another year of gridiron collisions, triumphs and defeats. So it wasn’t lost on me that when I arrived at the Hotel Jerome, it was for the division championships. I got a seat at the bar early as the Seahawks and Packers took to the field. Before I knew it the place was wall to wall. I made friends with Ryan the bartender early on, and my glass was never empty. It was clear from the beginning that the Packers were dominating the game, but all hell broke loose when some jokester with more money than Fort Knox started giving 4 to 1 against Green Bay. I could hear chairs screeching across the floor and glass shattering behind me as people ran to make book while the waitstaff scrambled to maintain some kind of order. Everyone was concentrating on the game, but I noticed a skinny fellow at the end of the bar crying into his beer.

“What’s his problem?”

“Cosmic dust,” said Ryan the bartender. “He is part of a team of astrophysicists studying radiation at the fringes of the galaxy. Forget football. He gambled big on finding the origin of the universe and he crapped out. What he thought was evidence of the big bang turned out to be interstellar dust.” Ryan poured a few beers and shook his head. “These theoretical scientists are the worst gamblers on earth. When they discovered the Higgs-Boson particle at the Cern a dozen of these guys lost their shirts. I hear it is the ultimate rush. Trapping chaos on a whole other level. He just lost a house in Wyoming and a condo in Telluride.”

I watched the man loosen his tie and sink his head into his hands. Poor guy. No longer concerned about the football game I left the bar and walked around town for the better part of the afternoon. By the time I arrived at the Woody Creek Tavern the Patriots were stomping the Colts. There were only five seats at the small bar. Tim the bartender was a pleasant and wizened fellow. The crowd seemed to be all locals. There were plenty of pictures of Hunter along the back bar and around the small dining room. This was where he would come to hang out every afternoon with his buddies, read from some of his books, or get in on whatever gambling was going around that day. I had a few margaritas and chatted with Tim the bartender about Herman Hesse and Sonny Barger, and although I don’t remember the specifics, we figured out that the Nobel Laureate and the leader of the Hell’s Angels had more in common than one might suspect.

“Buy that man a drink,” I heard shouted from a few seats away. I looked and there was the same scientist I had observed at the J-Bar, except that he looked like a changed man. No longer sunken and defeated, he looked like a man who had just been given the keys to the kingdom.

“Sorry to hear about your cosmic dust,” I said.

He waved it off. “I’m in the telescope business these days,” he said. “And I’ve just got a contract for two more of these monster lenses. We’re ramping up the magnification and then dropping them at the south pole in a year or two, and then I’ll retire.”

“Maybe it’s a good thing you only found dust,” I said.

“Who the hell do you think told them it was only dust,” he shot back. I’ll be damned, I thought. One man’s dust is another man’s gold mine, or in this case, one man’s dust is the same man’s gold mine. I bid goodnight to my new friends and walked outside. It was night as I walked across the street to my car. The sun had dropped behind the majestic towers of rock. It had been a rich day. A car went by me, and as the headlights swung past I turned and in a small ditch, which, as legend goes, is the remnant of a huge blast of lightning that rolled through the Woody Creek parking lot in the summer of 1982, I saw a creeping shadow, for a moment, the slender visage of a man wearing a dealer’s visor, smoking a cigarette through a long french filter, holding the silhouette of a leather briefcase filled with extremely dangerous narcotics and then it was gone, all gone, bathed in darkness before I could figure out what had caused the strange umbra.

Long live Gonzo.

More Alembics to come.

The Jukebox Has Been Drinking, Not Me

Where haven’t I been… Lou Reed, Sister Ray and a Jump into the Fire

First off, I would like to extend a gracious ‘thank you’ to those who have waited patiently for this blog entry to arrive. Of course what I mean by waiting, is, living the cramped modern life of responsibility, toil, amusement, habit, diversion and thin periods of rest until this here blog entry happens to cross the mutable attention of the purposeful and purposeless, alike. I thank you.

Procrastination is a dodgy thing. Particularly because the world continues to spin and strange shit just keeps building up. After awhile the thought of trying to pick through the colossal mess is too daunting to undertake, until the time in which the junk pile becomes such an obscene eyesore that the basic sense of decency compels some type of action. Thus, I emerged from my cocoon and began to sift through the trash heap.

Some initial notes I had made in the depths of a crushed grape extract and charcuterie binge that I had been on during the months of September and October were of little help. I felt like Hunter Thompson coming out of the ether and going through the cocktail napkins of Circus Circus, baffled by his own scrawl.

My scrawl, to wit:

“Tickled by the 5,000 fingers of Doctor Terwilliger…The San Diego Mayor is a hugger and fondler… the Brigade for the Repression of Banditry, actually a real brigade…sign up for ‘Dementia Village’, a Dutch facility for Alzheimer patients that sounds just ducky for a thirty-something-year-old wino….the more useful it is, the more dangerous the fomite…the man who mistook his wife for a hat must’ve at least been concerned about the feet in his pockets.”

Blah. Now I know why no literary agent would touch me with a ten foot disinfected pole. I decided to indulge in more charcuterie, and more crushed grape extract. But what pulled me from my own lethargy was a story about Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, who had admitted to smoking crack. And then it struck me. Instead of trying to explain what I had been doing, just meandering about creatively for the last two months, I could just explain what I wasn’t doing, all the trouble I wasn’t causing.

For starters, over the last two months, I hadn’t been smoking crack with Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto. I hadn’t been with Ted Cruz smoking big cigars as the government shutdown went into effect, kicking up our feet on a job poorly done, which is the point of anti-government government officials. I wasn’t with the Florida man who shot his wife then posted her bullet-riddled, lifeless body on Facebook. I wasn’t one of the two Maine hikers rescued from being lost in a state park only to drive off a boat ramp and into twenty-five feet of water. I wasn’t with the Detroit man who stole his father’s body from a cemetery in order to revive him from the dead, and I wasn’t part of the group of young fellows in France that happened upon a circus llama, untethered him and took him carousing around the city, although I wish I had been there for that last one. I really do. And just like that, I felt much, much better about what I hadn’t been doing.

When any cultural icon passes away, the mood is always sullen. We are reminded of the brilliance, the creativity, the bravery really, of doing something that has never been done before, and the fact that the energy contained in the pioneer is no longer part of earth is sad in and of itself. So it was that I was called to a local bar for a celebration of the life and music of Lou Reed, a few Sunday nights ago. Lord, I thought, expecting to walk into a scene of junkies and transvestites and Warhol Factory-types. So I was relieved when I showed up at the bar and it was just a handful of grungy folks with a few beers, gathered around the jukebox on a sleepy Sunday evening, the place mostly empty. We all ponied up a few bucks until there was about forty or so song-plays available for Lou Reed/The Velvet Underground selection and we began entering in the appropriate numbers for the appropriate songs. It is one of the older type jukeboxes run by the music in the box and not grabbed out of the air by satellite. Plus, all the Lou Reed songs were on one page, so no flipping or browsing was necessary. This becomes important a little later in the story.

While we sat there, drinking our beers, telling Lou Reed stories as if we knew the guy, and as the brooding electric drone that characterized most of The Velvet Underground’s songs sat like a haze all around us, a song came on that was immediately recognized as having no business in the setlist. It seemed that some joker had slipped ‘Jump Into The Fire’ by Harry Nilsson into the sacred mix of Lou Reed songs.

Actually, the trouble had started earlier than that, when one cheap bastard took it upon himself to play the song ‘Sister Ray’ four times in a row to save money while extracting the most amount of song-time from the jukebox. To anyone familiar with the length of that song, it’s almost an hour’s worth of Sister Ray sucking on Lou’s ding-dong, or however the lyrics go to that effect. But most everyone had the decorum to wave that off, even after the song started for the fourth time and most began to fear that the night would just be a teeth-grinding marathon of the song, ‘Sister Ray’, and that would be the song ringing in everyone’s head as they were booted out after last call. But eventually other Lou Reed songs came and went. But then, as the bass line kick-in-the-groin of ‘Jump into the Fire’ started up, the indiscretion couldn’t be ignored.

“Who did that?”

“That’s not cool.”

“We are here for Lou Reed. This is Lou’s night.”

“Wasn’t me.”

“Wasn’t me.” So on.

“It’s impossible.”

“Are the pages flipped?”

“No, it has been on the Lou Reed page the whole time.”

“We are the only ones here.”

“Well then, how the fuck?”

“Maybe the jukebox, I don’t know, is rebelling somehow.”

“That’s crazy talk. What jukebox would rebel against Lou Reed? Maybe if we were paying tribute to Milli Vanilli the jukebox would step in and cause a significant disruption, but no jukebox with the self-respect to call itself such would ever disrupt Lou Reed?”

Now who’s crazy, I thought, since the argument had taken a strange turn. It wasn’t that the jukebox couldn’t have been equipped with human perceptions of taste, it’s just that if it did, it would never try to subvert Lou Reed.

“I’m not saying I did it,” said a calm voice of reason, “but what have you got against Harry Nilsson?”

“It’s a good song, no doubt about that. I’m not saying that. It’s just that I thought there was some understanding that this is a night for Lou Reed, which necessarily would rule any non Lou Reed song ineligible.”

“Well who is the dingbat that played ‘Sister Ray’ four times in a row? The song is twenty minutes long. I thought I was going to go crazy before the hour was through.”

“I was just trying to get as much Lou Reed as possible for my buck. But I was still within the rules of the evening.”

“That’s like plugging the thirty-five minute ‘Mountain Jam’ by the Allman Brothers into a jukebox where the establishment is nice enough to include the second disc of the Fillmore Concerts, and you are the asshole that makes them yank the whole album from the lineup to show a bunch of drunks that if they can’t be more considerate in their jukebox choices they will ruin it for everybody.”

“Nobody is talking about the Allman Brothers here.”

“This is a special occasion.”

“Look, for all we know, Lou Reed and Harry Nilsson could be writing a song together right at this very moment, so let’s not discount this sudden and dare I say miraculous sequence of events. More than likely somebody must’ve just typed in one of the numbers wrong and we get a good song that happens to not be Lou Reed. Live with it.”

Everybody accepted this explanation for the moment, but the big insult was when ‘Jump Into The Fire’ came on again right after its first play. A sudden sense of alarm

descended, everyone eyeing each other suspiciously like in the movie ‘Clue’ where nobody is sure who the murderer is.

“You know,” I said, “if people aren’t going to take this seriously I’m just going to leave.”

I paid my bar bill, jumped into a cab and told the driver to floor it, and to let me know if anyone was following us.

And now for my O’Henry moment. I was the one who had slipped ‘Jump into the Fire’ into the Lou Reed playlist. I had played the song so many times in that jukebox that I just had the numbers memorized and thought Lou would’ve appreciated it, and even if not, meh. I felt I had to leave, though, because I didn’t want to be around for the five more times that ‘Jump into the Fire’ was set to play, and after an eruption of anger and recriminations I didn’t want to be in the middle of the whole group clawing each other to death in a rage over the serious breach of etiquette.

Long live Lou Reed and Harry Nilsson in the music boxes of the world, and if the two artists are listening in some negative space-time of light and abundance, might I suggest a nice little collaboration.

More alembics to come.