ZUMBA!

From June 15th, 2013

The fallacy of Zumba in frigid, rural latitudes…The reality of Zumba in hot, sweaty latitudes… Zumba in the hips…Zumba in the mind…Zumba in the heart of darkness…Zumba, Zumba, Zumba and more Zumba. 

“There are two kinds of people in the world…”

Caution! When encountering this setup, the listener may very well brace for the self-satisfied laziness of the speaker’s grand, ill-conceived, binary categorization. The speaker’s tone may suggest that they are about to lay some crazy truth down, and you, listener, would do well to pay heed to this sweeping distillation of all the monstrous complexities of life before a lack of understanding it destroyed you. This bright beam of duality will sunshine through the fog of chaos for your own sake. You may say, please, tell me, please, wise one, I can’t wait a moment longer. Then you hear something like, “The world is divided into people who put ketchup directly on their french fries and people who put it on the side.” “People who drive on the highway and people who take the back roads.” “Men and women.”

Disappointment is only possible with expectation, and so some would say it is your own fault. There is something appealing about binary classification, though. The antithetical tug that makes life understandable, makes life easy, makes life expeditious, even if it is a fat pile of oversimplified shit.  That being said, here I go.

“There are two kinds of people in the world. There are people who Zumba and people who don’t.”

Upon further consideration of this statement, I’m finding it actually stands up to its putative absurdity. What I’m saying is, you can’t half-Zumba. You’re either in or you’re out, brothers and sisters.

Then again, maybe not.

It pains me to read about the woman from the state of Maine, Alexis Wright, who has pleaded guilty to running a brothel out of her Zumba studio. I am pained, not because she was running a one-woman house of prostitution, (she’s obviously ambitious and apparently a very meticulous bookkeeper), but she has committed that most atrocious of crimes… Zumba-fraud. Okay, so there are three kinds of people; people who Zumba, people who don’t, and people who use the guise of Zumba to get down to that more primitive of workouts, the Zumba precursor, the naked, prelapsarian Zumba. (I’ve been trying to use the word ‘prelapsarian’ for weeks now. I am relieved.)

Also, Zumba and Maine. Those two words just don’t go together. I’m a bit of a word addict, and somewhat sensitive to the chemical combination different words tend to result in. Maine. Zumba. It falls apart. Now, if Ms. Wright was fraudulently running a camp for survivalist exercises, a gun range, hunting expeditions, tutorials on backpacking or fly fishing, she’d probably still be humping half the town with impunity, and making a comfortable living in the process. She could have ostensibly taught lessons in the “Theremin,” which is that strange, radio-frequency based instrument that you wave your hands over to make that eerie warbling noise found in every old science-fiction movie. But Zumba? Zumba is reserved for hotter climates, practiced among the tanned and toned. They have spiced blood coursing through their elastic arteries, more hair than they know what to do with on top of their head, they are finely waxed everywhere else, and have the ability to do that roll-of-the-tongue catcall thing while dancing. You need timbales, conga drums, brassy horn sections, castanets, maybe a fucking guiro or something, but what you don’t need is a snowy expansive wilderness, a log cabin and a dog-eared copy of White Fang.

(Rant continued…) And, If you’re a stark white, paunchy, balding district attorney from Maine, a frail professor from Maine, or a rhythmless farmer from Maine and you tell your wife you are going to a Zumba class that is nothing more than a front for a prostitute, you should expect your checker-aproned spouse to call you an out-of-shape liar as your poorly crafted fiction comes apart like fresh baked apple pie before it has a chance to cool on the windowsill. Furthermore, if, over the course of these ‘classes’ the husband has insisted on taking there is little to no weight loss, little to no toning or firming, he still drags ass all the time, smoking and beering it up at will and still exhibits gross displays of sloth like falling asleep while eating, he’s going to get caught and he shouldn’t be surprised when he does.

Take this British fellow right here.

Five fingers of beer, please?

Although I’ve never met him I feel very confident that this man, this wonder of modern evolution, (he’s got six fingers) ,does NOT Zumba. So his wife would do well to be suspicious if one day she hears….

“Awwwright, mum, just poppin’ off to me Zooomba class.”

She may respond with…

“For fook’s sake, ya old bugger, yar in noo shep fer that.”

He may have to come clean with…

“Awwright, mum, ye got me. I’ve just been savin’ me coppers fer some ow’s-yer-jumblies.”

By the way, for those who don’t know, this is a still shot from the movie, “Get Carter” with Michael Caine, 1971. Shot on location in Newcastle, England, this guy has five fingers, not including the thumb. I plan on traveling to Newcastle soon. I’m sure that, although this footage was taken in 1971, that the man in the picture is still as young and healthy as he appears the day it was taken, and I plan on buying him a beer and having “a chat” about the evolution of the modern drinker. Someday I too may have an extra finger, and watch out world, because when that happens, I will have arrived.

Back to Zumba.

I’ve been obsessed with Zumba for a few months now. I should clarify that I’ve been obsessed with the word. I have no idea what Zumba is or how it’s done. Actually I have some idea. It’s a dance routine that helps lose weight. This is not a revolutionary breakthrough. Common sense, really.

“You mean if I dance, to music, instead of just sitting around on my big fat cushiony rump, I will burn calories and therefore lose weight?”

“Yes, good skeptic. Yes.”

For whatever cryptic reason I had been suffering from terrible, Zumba-based dreams as of late. They are hard to describe on paper, but I think I have found a way. If you can imagine being caught in this matrix for hours of restless sleep… up, down, across and sideways… you may get some idea.

ZUMBAZUMBAZUMBAZUMBAZUMBAZUMBA

UMBAZUMBAZUMBAZUMBAZUMBAZUMBAZ

MBAZUMBAZUMBAZUMBAZUMBAZUMBAZU

BAZUMBAZUMBAZUMBAZUMBAZUMBAZUM

AZUMBAZUMBAZUMBAZUMBAZUMBAZUMB

I had to do something, but I feared going to seek out the very thing causing my nightmares. Mostly I feared the disorientation of the word, like traveling to the Smurf Village and trying to disentangle the constant use of the word smurf–noun, adjective, transitive and intransitive verb, interjection and the all but impossible preposition. I assumed Zumba acolytes used the word Zumba for just about everything, and I believed this may have been the source of my terror.

I took things one step at a time. First I stole a Zumba video from Valerie, my neighbor, who had ordered it and promptly tossed it in the closet to be contended with when she finally got motivated to sell it at her next yard sale. I removed the plastic packaging, threw a disc in the old video player and quickly realized the simplicity of it all. I did not have to search out Zumba. If I was pure of heart, and eager to accept the tenets of this fascinating aerobics dance craze, Zumba would find me.

So it happened, one morning, as I was walking briskly down the street to the local bodega to get a sodey pop, that a shiny, vintage Cadillac convertible pulled up alongside of me. It was filled with about six young, nubile women, a handsome, olive-skinned male driver, and a clownish little man with a head the size of a medicine ball. They were all dressed like they had just driven out of the movie “Breakin”, or “Breakin 2, Electric Boogaloo,” for that matter.

“Hi,” said the driver. “My name is Ormlaw. Are you ready to encounter a hot new dance workout that will rock you to your core?” The rest of the crowd in the car cheered.

I said nothing, although when I glanced down at my own clothes I was surprised to be dressed exactly as my new Zumba pals. I was wrapped in blinding pastels, my neon cap was pulled sideways, my gloves had no fingers and my cut-off tank-top revealed a washboard stomach that seemed a little too long for my torso. I counted. I had fourteen abdominal muscles, which were more than was genetically possible. How did that happen?

Before I knew it a flash mob of Zumba practitioners descended; they ran out of store fronts, hopped over fences, popped out of garbage pails. A few came out of the manhole cover in the road. One woman, who had come prepared, wrenched the knob off a fire hydrant, producing a frothy cascade that soaked the midriff of every Zumba-ist, goose-pimpling our 1,000 plus abdominal muscles. The music kicked up, we fell into rank and file and started to Zumba in unison like we had been practicing together every day for the last six months. It was the most exciting thing to happen in my neighborhood in quite awhile, I had to admit. My favorite move is the one in which the hands are placed over the head, palm-to-palm so your arms make the silhouette of a hershey’s chocolate kiss and your head just bounces in the middle like Salome, Scheherazade or I Dream of Jeannie before she’s about to piss off her stiff, military husband.

Just as I was getting the hang of it, though, the cops showed up and showered us with teargas and rubber bullets. Our festive workout had completely disrupted traffic in all directions, and the coppers responded in force. The hundred or so dancers fled, as did I, figuring what the hell, fleeing from the police was kinda like a workout in itself, so I just followed Ormlaw, the fellow who had addressed me initially, and his wee man friend as they ran through an abandoned building, down into a grassy marshland and to a little dock on a quiet river, where a small boat with a thatched roof and an outboard motor on the back sat waiting.

“I don’t remember any of this being here,” I said.

“We must go,” said Ormlaw. His little friend, his first mate, untethered the ropes, fired up the engine and we three set off up the river on the small boat. Ormlaw pulled out a bottle of oil, which I thought he was going to somehow apply to the boat motor. Instead he applied it to his taut biceps.

“Where are we going?” I said.

“There is no time to lose,” said Ormlaw, oiling himself as he spoke.

“We will journey to see HIM,” said the wee man.

“Who?”

“The Original Zumba Instructor. The Zumba God.”

“That sounds good,” I said. “I’d like to talk to the Zumba God.”

“You don’t talk to him,” said the wee man, “you listen. The man has enlarged my mind. He’s a poet-warrior in the classic sense. I should’ve been a set of claws scuttling across the bottom of silent seas…”

“I think we’re dangerously close to ripping off Apocalypse Now,” I said, cutting him off.

Ormlaw greased himself to a fine sheen with no signs of slowing down. He studied the sky, the murky water, the untouched jungle on either side of us and asked me if I knew where Zumba is most important? I said in the hips, probably. He shook his head with that smirking audacity given to those who know they are naturally wiser than everyone else, and pointed to the top of my head. Zumba was most important in the mind. He told me I had to train my brain before I trained my feet, hips and shoulders. At that point his little skipper, the wee man, pulled out a pair of calipers and asked if he could measure the dimensions of my head. He recorded all the numbers into a little book, speaking them aloud to Ormlaw, the Capitan-Zumba instructor, who nodded as if he had known them all along.

I grew sun-drenched and weary after awhile. There was something ominous to the surrounding desolation, a creeping dread sifting through the trees, the merciless savagery of the dawn of first ages ready to swallow us whole. Ormlaw took advantage of my compromised state and began to indoctrinate me with a series of Zumba riddles.

“If Zumba’s power is absolute, why does Zumba feel the need to Zumba?”

“When Zumba-ing at the speed of light, is it possible to finish a Zumba before you begin it?”

“How many cores must a man rock down, before he can call himself a man?”

“If a man rocks himself to his core and there’s no one there to see it, can you consider the core properly rocked?”

Ormlaw oiled himself as he lectured.

“He Zumba like thirsty men drink,” said the little man, nudging me at my side, half-quoting Joseph Conrad.

I would like to say that we made it safely to our destination, but quite suddenly we were besieged. The forest all around us came alive. Cannon fire, slingshot projectiles, arrows, savage language, rose up all around us. We tried to take cover, but the small boat proved of little help. Ormlaw, after his slick body had succeeded in skidding most of the projectiles from his skin, was impaled by a dead-on arrow. The little man took a cannonball to the chest and promptly exploded. The world turned gray and I felt myself fall back into the water, pulling me down into the calm void, and I resigned myself to my watery fate.

I awoke some time later in an attitude of confused non-being, albeit with the clownish thump of my frantic heart, as if the sadistic organ was keeping me alive only to show me the magnitude of my dismal situation. I was laying in a mud pile, at the river’s edge. The was a tribal thump somewhere in the distance. I got up and walked in no particular direction, stopping only when I reached the yellow light of a double-wide house that had been converted to a shoddy bar. Beyond it was a full parking lot.  There was an illuminated, outdoor reader-board that said:

“The Original Zumba Guru. One Night Only. Shama-Lama-Ding-Dong.” I walked inside and was struck with a wild familiarity, catching sight of the banner over the bandstand that proclaimed, “Otis Day and the Knights.” I had arrived. All had become clear. It was all so simple. There wasn’t even a need for split definitions. Everything had merged into a single, unifying oneness. I ordered a beer and took to the dance floor. Long Live Zumba.

Open Letter to Edward J. Snowden from Johnny Americana

From June 25th, 2013

Note from the Blog Custodian: Since “paddytheduke”, the normal blog contributor, is away on some type of liver-torturing bender, he has given his full blessing for the ensuing post. Mr. Johnny Americana, an ambitious old friend of “paddytheduke’s,” has requested the use of this platform to solicit advice from a bona fide international spy about a career change he is seeking. Mr. Americana, while pure of purpose and honorable of motive has always had the somewhat debilitating deficiency of being obsessed with image while paying no real attention to context. Mr. Americana’s letter is posted as a courtesy and we wish him the best of luck. Take it away, Mr. Americana. 

Open letter to Edward J. Snowden, International Spy, from Johnny Americana.

Dear Mr. Snowden,

I have recently seen you on the television and was wondering how I could become an international spy like you? Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated. It’s always good to get advice from someone in the field. I work in a cubicle, myself, cold-calling on behalf of a company that sells used and slightly damaged medical equipment. It’s boring as hell and the pay sucks unless you can get one of the senior citizens you call at random to give up their social security number. I also compile what we call “sucker lists” and sell them to anybody willing to pay for them. Point is, I’m tired of number crunching and data processing. I want to travel to exotic lands, pursue villains using the newest sports cars, the fastest boats. I have no problem knocking some unsuspecting motorcyclist off his bike, jumping onto it and pursuing some henchman. I’m versatile. I can run through open-air markets and through sewer systems. One time I jumped through the smashed window of a moving car, but that was more of a domestic dispute, well, that’s a long story and if you don’t want me to come bounding into the open window of your Camaro then just don’t steal my shit. I’m just saying. I can run on the tops of train cars. Seriously I can. Once I tried it. I had to flee a couple of hobos who told me that when riding the rails it’s always the cutest looking man who becomes the woman.

I’d like to learn how to drink martinis while I collect information about men intent on world domination. I don’t really drink martinis like you do but I could definitely learn to drink them. Shit, I’ll drink anything. I look good in a tuxedo and once in Atlantic City I won a hundred bucks playing blackjack and got a free breakfast, alcohol not included. I wasn’t wearing a tuxedo but a tuxedo tee-shirt. I think it still counts.

The best thing about your job is that they build you gadgets that you can use for the exact appropriate situations that call for them. I don’t like all this new fancy computerized hacker stuff. Give me something that explodes and I’ll escape. I love stuff that explodes. We used to mix water softener and gasoline in bottles of Colt 45, wick them and throw them off the old water tower. Fucking ka-boom, spy man.

I see they call you “The Leaker.” I want my own spy name too. We call our roommate “The Leaker” as well but that’s just because he gets drunk and pisses himself on the couch after he passes out. We don’t care that he pisses himself but we wish he would do it in his bedroom because after he pisses himself on the couch you can only flip the couch cushions once before you’re at the original stain. We keep flipping them though, and it seems to work.

I’ve only seen one picture of you, and I’m a little disappointed. You must be undercover, because you aren’t wearing a tuxedo, you aren’t playing Baccarat, and there aren’t any sexy female spies around you. Actually, you look kind of plain and worried. You certainly don’t seem to be seducing some curvy, leggy, beautiful double agent, some tall drink of water with a name like “Glory Hole” who is smart enough to outwit everyone around her until she falls through a trap door under which sits a pool of hungry piranha fish. But not before you banged her, so who cares, right? I hear you Mr. Snowden. You might be lacking in suaveness and style and don’t take this the wrong way but whatever department in the N.S.A. deals with tailoring and make-overs, you might want to drop in on them. They have to have a tanning bed or a gym or something in there. Where do my tax dollars go?

Mr. Leaker Snowden, I must say I am enjoying your current ruse, your massive ploy about how your government has turned on you because you stole some high level secrets, but that’s just because you want the evil genius that you are battling to think you are a rogue element, a wanted man, and so then they take you into the confidences of their evil empire and you choke the bastards off at the neck. I get it. I’m not saying it’s absolutely original but I’ve studied up on spying and it is effective. Who is the evil genius you are pursuing, or are you not allowed to say? It’s probably Rupert Murdoch because he’s a pock-marked Australian, or T. Boone Pickens with his fucking socialist wind energy or that one guy with the real creepy title, something like the “Wizard of Omaha.” I think his real name is Warren Buffett but with a nickname like that you can bet he’s building a space laser. If you can tell me what else a wizard does, I’d like to know.

My uncle says that it takes at least three months to process a “License To Kill” so once he just made one up and had it laminated. Everyone down at Rudy’s thought it was funny until he tried to bash this guy’s head in with a pool stick. I guess I can just use his until I get the real one.

Anyway, the microwave has signaled that my convenience store burrito is ready to be “eliminated” and so I will sign off. I just want you to know that I’m really good at keeping secrets. Honest. I hate people that buckle under pressure and just give up whatever confidential information they are privileged to have, and I can tell you feel the same way I do.

That being said, I will be waiting patiently for you to come crashing through my bedroom wall in the early hours of the morning with a team of expert killers to blindfold me, bundle me up, throw me into the back of a van and whisk me to a six-month boot camp of intense and excruciating training, both physical and psychological. You can water-board me, keep me up for days on end, run me for miles and shoot me full of whatever spy chemicals I need to inoculate me against enemy brutality and protect my precious bodily fluids. I await your spectacular invasion of my house and if you have to kill any of my roommates in the process I don’t think anyone would miss them and it might be good practice for you guys. Go United States of America!

Johnny Americana.

P.S. If you happen to review any of my records or files and find that I have spent some time in a mental facility, just know that I was operating undercover that time. I had been dispatched by a shadow group to gather information about stuff that’s classified. I can prove I wasn’t crazy, though. See, until they started restraining me at bedtime I used to break into the cafeteria and cover myself in tapioca pudding. What crazy person would be smart enough to act that crazy? How about that, fucker?

The Semi-Legitimate Fear of Parasitic Drool

From April 25th, 2013

Beer, billiards and neighbors…Arboreal mentals…Whole lotta framin’ goin’ on…Frank Sinatra as Tony Rome as Frank Sinatra…Arboreal mentals, revisited” 

It is a fine thing and some might say an art form to obtain things through leisure, luck and laziness. Thus I own a pool table. It was cleverly grifted by a college friend of mine, from a fraternity house, years and years and years ago. The fraternity had decided because the felt was ripped and the bumpers were coming off and the wood was peeling that the whole table was no good so they moved it out to their front lawn to rot, and what with the rain and the exposure it was turned into a muddy, water-logged monstrosity. My buddy, clever fiend that he is, successfully appraised that the slate itself was perfect and so he went to the fraternity president and brokered a deal. He offered to take the pool table off of their hands (it was an eyesore, after all, and the president was forced to admit there were no contingency plans for its ultimate removal off the property). My friend cast himself as the thoughtful altruist who would give it a good home. He only insisted that the house pay for the moving expenses (no small fee), to which the fraternity readily agreed. Two weeks later, in our rented house a few miles off campus, after a pretty standard restoration of sanding, staining and re-felting, the thing looked brand new. More importantly, we had something to congregate and drink around, a cynosure of spirited competition, a centerpiece for socializing, a perfect implement of procrastination.

Word gets around a neighborhood fast when such a diversion arrives, and as such we had many neighbors who frequently dropped by to offer to shoot a few games and chew the fat, gossip and pontificate, whatever. We, as the splendid dawdlers that we were and continued to be, could hardly ever refuse. So long as we were home there was an open door policy and billiard play would continue for as long as needed, often late into the night. It was considered common courtesy for the neighbors to drop by with an intoxicant of some kind and as long as the beer was there, the games were afoot.  As the years went by and my roommates moved on to bigger cities in which living spaces were somewhat restricted, I was left with the table, like the last man standing in a tontine. I maintained a kind of squatter’s rights over it just by living in houses that could fit it. Much time has passed and although I am a little more picky about who comes over and at what hour, I still welcome the occasional neighbor, with the requisite six-pack and we rack em up and shoot em down, all conversation topics welcome.

The night was a murky one. The air was thick with the humidity of some recent rain and the mist crept by the front window like a procession of wispy phantoms. Alone, I decided to brush up on my nine-ball. I put on some Warren Zevon, lined up the cue ball and cracked the diamond-shaped cluster apart. I was in no mood for the television, as usual. It was a particularly grueling couple of weeks as two inbred bums from Chechnya tried to blow up the whole Boston Marathon, succeeding in killing two women and a child and someone in Texas packed 1,000 times the normal amount of ammonium nitrate into a fertilizer plant and blew it to kingdom come.

The week was an explosive one, to say the least. I’ve always loved Boston. It’s a great town. There is a saying in Boston, very succinct, and that is don’t fuck with Boston. Which proved to be right on the money as three days after the sabotage the FBI and Boston authorities had the two dismal derelicts responsible (allegedly, that most warped of words) and on the run. Two brothers from Chechnya, having been identified, almost immediately had some supporters advocating their innocence, insisting they were framed, which is further evidence you can convince anybody anywhere at anytime of anything. I’m not saying that in the history of law enforcement an anonymous revolver hasn’t been dropped near the body of a bullet-riddled fugitive, but this one is a stretch. Not only did the police have to frame them by walking them through the Boston marathon crowd with the identical bomb-laden back packs, but they also had to frame them for a convenience store robbery, gunning down an officer, carjacking a man, and then, and this one’s tricky, frame them for fleeing in a high speed chase in which they were framed for throwing bombs at the police while trying to escape. That’s a lotta framin’.

I had made it through two simulated pool games when there was a knock on my door. It was Valerie, a single mother who lives up the block. She had just put her son to bed and was feeling a bit restless. Realizing she had some beer in the fridge and seeing my car in the driveway, she dropped by to play a few rounds of pool. A pleasant woman, haunted by conspiracy theories, Valerie had been upset about the recent upheaval across the country. But there was something else that was troubling her. It was something she had heard, recently, a story not-unlike the kind of urban legend of murderous gang members who drive around with the headlights off, and who target the cars that flash their beams at them. This was one about a spate of free-roaming mentals, recently escaped from some hospital that climb into trees and, when they sense the opportunity, will  jump out on an unsuspecting pedestrian, wet their index fingers in their lunatic saliva (that is always abundantly present in their mouths) and stick the wet finger into the ear of the person they have just landed on. It happened to a friend’s friend of hers whose eardrum was permanently damaged because, Valerie insisted, the parasites in a mental’s drool are carnivorous and eat away at the brain, which is one of the reasons those two brothers in Boston went crazy. Although, she said, “that’s the type of thing you won’t hear about in the news.”

We shot five games. I took the first two and Valerie cleaned up in the last three, hitting her stride and taking advantage of my fatigue. She left while still ahead. I watched her mosey up the road to her house and I fell back on the couch and went through my library of classic movies, if only to have something to focus on while I finished my beer.

I ended up watching an old Frank Sinatra movie in which he plays “Tony Rome, Private Eye.” He drinks gin, slaps people around, screws Jill St. John (Bond girl from “Diamonds Are Forever”) and then takes off on his boat, which basically means Frank is just playing Frank in a film, using another name. I think once in the movie there is some character that actually messes up, addressing the Tony Rome character as Frank. He says, “Hey Frank,” and Frank just says, “Yeah whattaya want? We ain’t doin a second take. The folks know it’s me. Print it, baby. We gotta be at Cirro’s by midnight.”

I drank another beer and kept watching. The piece seemed slapped together, a bit far-fetched in its silliness, but I’ve always been a sucker for a detective movie and Frank has never let me down in a film, not even Cannonball Run II. Suddenly, my phone rang. It was Valerie, my neighbor.

“I just got back to my house and I swear I saw some guy climb into my tree, the big magnolia at the edge of the front yard, next to the hedgerow.”

“Come on, Valerie, you’ve got yourself worked up. It’s foggy and your mind is playing tricks on you.”

“He had something huge strapped to his back. Like a machine gun. I have a son who is sleeping. I’m terrified.”

“Jesus, I’ll be right there.”

I grabbed my big flashlight and walked up the block, skeptical, curious, brash, a little drunk, all packed in a warped little ball of taut expectation. It occurred to me I hadn’t brought a weapon. But what weapon would be useful in such a unique situation, when someone is coming at you from directly overhead? I realized that I was very much in need of a Kaiser helmet, the kind with that big metal spike coming out of the top, and wondered where I could get one at this time of night. That helmet had always seemed ridiculous to me, but now it made sense. Not only did the German army want to take over the world they also knew the danger of mentals jumping out of trees and had taken steps to protect themselves. That would be a shakeup for an emergency room staff. A guy comes walking in with another man impaled on his head, draped over his shoulders and arms.

“Yes, I’ve got a serious crick in my neck, and this poor retard above me ain’t doing so well either.”

I got to Valerie’s front yard and walked across to the tree in question. I could see Valerie’s big eyes through her front window. I waved. The tree itself was a beautiful, sturdy, striated mass of thick twisted branches, cloaked in crisp, glossy leaves and budding magnolia flowers. I decided it would be difficult to scale the first six feet. The branches were too thick. I shined the flashlight up toward the top, but the thickness of the branches, the haze of the night, and the shroud of the leaves prevented me from seeing anything over the first ten feet. Valerie crept out of her house and sidled up next to me.

“He must be way up top.”

“I don’t care how crazy you are,” I said. “Nobody is going to jump out at somebody from the top of that tree. That’s suicide for them. They’d hit twenty branches on the way down.”

Then another neighbor arrived, Gordon, with his dog, Laddie. Gordon preferred nocturnal strolls with his dog. Everybody in the neighborhood knew this and felt safer because of it, since Gordon was a retired police officer and Laddie a mastiff and as such I don’t think Gordon was ever concerned about brooking any riffraff at any hour. Laddie ran up to the tree, sniffed around it, sat and looked straight up and gave a bit of a growl.

“Someone’s in the tree,” said Gordon.

“They climb to the top to meditate then they slowly descend when they’ve harnessed all their craziness,” said Valerie.

I called up to ask if anybody was in the tree. After a few seconds of hesitation, a voice, anonymous high above said “yes”, and not to mind him, he’d be out of there in no time. I told Valerie as much, feeling the need to mediate even though she was standing right next to me and could hear him just as well as I could.

“What are you doing up there?” Valerie called.

“Do you hear a guitar?” I whispered to Gordon, Valerie, and Laddie, for that matter.

“Is this the owner of yonder house I’m addressing?” said the voice.

“Yes,” said Valerie.

“Your shingles seem to be a little warped on the far end of your roof. I’d be careful about water damage.”

I shrugged. Not only did he not sound deranged, he was actually quite helpful. Again the sound of guitar strings being plucked rang through the air, tentatively, like the instrument was being tuned. Then there was a woman’s voice.

“Sorry to bother you guys,” said a woman’s voice. “He’ll be done in a second.”

“Do you think they are… you know…?” said Gordon, puzzled.

“Hold the phone,” I said.

I crawled through the hedge and popped out to the other side, and from this vantage point the whole situation became very clear. A woman was leaning against the railing of her second story porch, giggling, while about fifteen feet away a man, barely visible in the tree (I could see the neck of the guitar) started to pick through a song. The song was familiar but the playing was a bit shaky. I cut him some slack, though. He was balancing himself in a tree. I pulled myself back through the hedge and clicked my flashlight off. I asked Valerie if the huge weapon she had seen could’ve been a guitar.

“I recognize the song,” said Valerie.

“It’s that song from that guy that used to screw Bowie,” said Gordon.

“Mick Jagger?”

“No, the one from New York.”

“Lou Reed.”

“That’s him.”

The song was “Perfect Day”, and although the intricacies of the song were lost in the altitude, it sounded like he had modified the verses to fit his relationship with the woman being serenaded. When the song was over we applauded. Overhead, we were thanked.  I asked if he took requests.

“What do you got?” the voice said from above.

“What’s that smells like fish? by Blind Boy Fuller.”

“Mark!” Valerie snapped. “Behave.”

“I’m here to help,” I said. “I defy anyone to tell me otherwise.”

Eventually the man came down from the tree, pausing before he jumped down because of Laddie. Gordon pulled the huge dog back.  The man’s acoustic guitar was strapped to his back, and we got the whole story. He had gotten back from a business trip early and had decided to surprise his girlfriend for their one-year anniversary. He said the tree was perfect for a serenade, and he wasn’t even sure it was on Valerie’s property. He apologized for trespassing. Valerie, overwhelmed with the romantic sensibilities, waved him off.

“You didn’t happen to see any mental patients up there, on your way up or down,” I said.

“No,” said the man. “Although there was an owl with a fancy necklace that grumbled at me before taking off into the distance.”

I nodded. Valerie had tears in her eyes with notions of the man’s chivalry, his romantic ambition, his ability to scale trees and play guitar. He thanked us for understanding and disappeared into the night. Gordon and Laddie continued their midnight stroll. Valerie went inside her house to sit by the window, I supposed, to wait for the man, the anonymous dreamer, to come to her window and play her a song. I fancied myself a bit of a Tony Rome, case closed. I swaggered back to my house, thinking that if life imitated art, Jill St. John would be draped across my couch and she would’ve been, had I named my dog Jill St. John.

More alembics to come.

The Apathy of Squirrels, The Wisdom of Owls, The Power Of The JuJu Fetish

From April 14th, 2013

“The puzzling behavior of squirrels…The coffee and the unknown world of Los Angeles…The old woman, the juju fetish and the owl…” 

My neighborhood is overrun with squirrels. They are everywhere. There are also a lot of cars. Not a lot, but enough. There are enough cars to pose a direct threat to a reckless squirrel. It’s not the cars so much as the tires. There are four times the amount of tires than there are cars, which, if I were a squirrel, is a statistic that would give me cause for alarm. Inevitably then, as I go for my morning dog walk around the neighborhood, I will pass some poor smashed squirrel on the tree-lined street, crushed to aspic right in the middle of the road. From the position of the body and various states of compression it is easy to see that some had almost made it while others look like they had accidentally ingested a lit M-80 bomb. I find myself affected, sympathetic, overcome with feelings of powerlessness in a brutal universe. I’m surrounded by the reality of senseless demise. Then one day I noticed something really disturbing in the face of such holocaust. A squirrel was lying in the street, gone from the world of the living, and another squirrel running across the street just jumped right over him and continued on without a second glance. It was a little spooky. Heartless little buggers. Not even a concerned gesture. No regard for a fellow critter. No enlightened, self-interest-based curiosity that maybe something extremely dangerous is rolling around the vicinity and should be considered in order to prevent this from ever happening again, whatever it was? I continued walking, absorbed with the flutter of my dog’s ears as she trotted along, and found myself beginning to construct a self-absorbed monologue for apathetic squirrel number two.

“Hey look, there’s Jim. He looks a little down today. Not his usual playful self. Usually he’s insatiable, chasing the girlie squirrels, stealing acorns, running along the electrical wires like he owns the world. None of that today. Kind of quiet. Kind of still. Flat head and such. Wonder what that’s all about? Limbs stiffly pointing in the air and his new head-style and some nasty stuff spilling out of old Jim’s anus. Maybe I should ask but I don’t want to create an awkward situation between me and Jim. Jim’s obviously doing Jim’s thing. Oh I get it, he’s too good for us squirrels, now he just hangs out with flies and bugs, I guess. Seems a bit rude, is all. I thought we were friends. Fuck him, really. I’ve got plenty of other stuff going on. Not like I’m waiting on him to show me a good time. I’ve been ignored by bigger, better and smarter.  I’ll just ignore the son of a bitch back and see how he likes it. I can be friends with flies and bugs too but I choose not to. It’s a choice. It’s a life choice. Now, where’s that goddamn bird feeder again?”

“Take counsel when appropriate,” my mother never used to say, but probably would’ve if she had thought of it. There is the possibility of a grander cross-reference to the squirrel’s ignorance that I would do well to heed. I sat around the house for a little while trying to piece it together, the thing that would be so obvious to a higher life form that I’m scampering right by. Then it dawned on me. I knew just what to do. I had to go get a cup of coffee from the local coffee shop, part of this huge shopping plaza about five minutes from my house. I drove cautiously, beeping to the few squirrels that looked ready to break for the other side of the road as I approached. I got to the shopping plaza without a hitch, parked and walked around the bend to the coffee shop. A few tables are scattered outside of the place, most filled with people reading, tinkering on the computer or engaged in serious “steeple-fingered” conversations, as David Foster Wallace used to say. All had one thing in common. Nobody even bothered to look at me. In general I am easily ignored. I am fairly nondescript, my energy is tucked and I walk fast. As I zoomed by one table, though, I felt a weighty gaze upon me. An old, or at least extremely wrinkled woman from somewhere south where the sun burns bright in the sky all year round hooked me with her eyes and gave me a smile that sent my stomach into a free fall. I walked into the safety of the coffee shop wondering what the hell that was all about? Mentally I went over the split second interaction I had with her. She was going to say something to me, but had stopped. Her eyes suggested she knew more about me than I knew about myself. She had a bunch of necklaces and tchochkes on the table in front of her. She was the car and I was the squirrel, or she was me, I was the squirrel, and she had clarity of the “car” I needed to avoid. That I was sure of.

The line was long, thus I had time for the harsh exposure of a 24-hour news channel from a television mounted above my head. I’ve expressed my displeasure for constant television news in prior “Alembics” and the experience of watching it while waiting for my coffee did nothing to lessen my irritation. A representative of the Stepford Wives was suggesting I “enjoy more and stress less” while the chyron, the heading underneath, boldly declared, “Breaking News: Police Still Unable To Find Vital Clues.” The chyron ran three times in about a minute and a half, which supported my theory that these shows are meant for people in the process of walking away from them. The warm, deep coffee aroma kept me in line, however. Commercial time. There was an advertisement for a show called “Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain, Chef and World Traveller.” Apparently Mr. Bourdain was going to… Los Angeles. Parts unknown? What the fuck? Parts unknown except to five million people, give or take. The show may be a fine one, I don’t know. I don’t watch television and I definitely tend to avoid watching other people eat. I’m not what you call a ‘foodie’. But I’m sure it’s a fine show. It just seemed like a strange title, though, particularly since the episode was descending on one of the largest cities in the U.S.. With a title like that I expected a narrator to overdub his mischievous, whispering voice like in those Folgers’ Crystals commercials from years ago.

“We’ve taken Mr. Bourdain to Mauna Loa and thrown him into the expectorating volcano. He’s got a parachute, a helmet with a camera on it, a two-way radio and a three day food ration. The Gods are pleased.

“We’ve shrunk  Mr. Bourdain to the size of a raisin and placed him in a small capsule and washed him down the gullet of a silverback gorilla to investigate the chronic “borborygmi” or growling stomach that seems to be constantly distressing the beast. By the time he gets done with this he’ll be pooped.

“We’ve catapulted Mr. Bourdain into the Hang Ken cave in Vietnam during the Monsoon season. Guano, and see-o, what you can find-o.”

The news channel, as it always does, left me feeling a little fatigued and somewhat beaten, so I got my coffee and headed out the door. This time the woman sitting at the small table outside was not about to let me by. I had forgotten all about her in the whipsaw of coffee and sensationalism. She said something about a handsome man in trouble, ostensibly me. Flattery and mystery, the woman was a born salesperson. She held up one of her necklaces and said I needed a juju fetish.

“No, I don’t… what?”

I was vaguely familiar with both terms, when used separately. Fetish as related to an inanimate object with magical powers and not deviant sexual stuff like trying to eat someone’s rubber boot. A juju has a similar meaning. I had never heard them used in conjunction, but I liked the sound of it. The woman seemed to know I would.  She held up the necklace. I asked if it had tannis root in it? Having recently sat through another screening of Rosemary’s Baby for lack of anything better to do it was still fresh on my mind.  She waved off my stupid question. She used the word energumen, as in someone possessed by an evil spirit. I asked her if she had ever seen Tom Jones dance. She said nothing, but I could tell she understood. Suddenly, with the clarity of a drunk sorority girl who pops full blast out of her haze to realize she’s in dangerous surroundings, I stepped back from the woman’s mesmerism.

“I’ll buy your juju fetish,” I said. “But I’ve only got a credit card on me. I do have some money in my car, though. I’m just going to go get it and I’ll be right back.”

She nodded. I walked briskly to give off the appearance of my zeal to retrieve my money and get back to her to purchase the necklace before she sold it to another individual. Really I was just going to get in my car, drive off fast and find a new place to get coffee from then on. I got to my car and that sinking feeling took hold, that feeling when you’re stuck in a glue trap of your own creation and the only way out is to gnaw your legs off.

I had left my car keys on the counter of the coffee shop. I considered for a moment that maybe the counter girl might see them and run out and try to give them back to me but this was all folly. The counter girl was filled with such a precision strain of ill temper that I would be lucky that she hadn’t just tossed them in the garbage or given them to a homeless fellow so he could clean the cottage cheese out of his toenails. Could I go around the other way? A quick calculation proved that this would be the circuitous equivalent of walking to Alabama. It meant scaling fences and avoiding delivery trucks. Maybe I could just walk home and walk back in the dead of night, throw a garbage can through the front window of the coffee shop, climb in and get my keys then. Buck up, I said to myself. You’re now the proud owner of a juju fetish.

I walked back around. The woman looked like she had not only known what had happened but had read everything in my mind since I had last departed. Fumbling an explanation that in retrospect made no sense, I got my keys out of the shop, came out and paid her for the necklace, brought the damn thing home and hung it on my back porch, feeling a little uneasy about taking it into my house.

I’ve yet to mention I have an owl that lives somewhere in the vicinity of my backyard. I’ve seen him perched on my fence, on a naked branch, and on my roof, at the top of the pitch. He’s a magical thing. He only comes out on nights with a bright moon, or I guess he’s only visible on nights when the moon is like a slightly softer reflection of the sun. He paces, and the way his feathers run down his back it looks like his hands are clasped behind him (if he had them, of course) and his profile looks exactly like Alfred Hitchcock’s. It’s a marvelous thing to see at four in the morning, half-asleep, the effects of the alcohol slowly wearing off, and this enormous fat-feathered bird with a big round head and all the wisdom afforded to his species walking out to survey what the night has to offer. Rodents, a dog barking somewhere in the distance, featherless human gawker. He likes me. We’ve exchanged communication. I slur. He answers. He doesn’t coo or whistle. He warbles low like he’s got a smoking habit.

The next morning I came out to the porch and the juju fetish was gone. So be it. It made me a little nervous anyway. But the following night, as I happened to be up late enjoying the inspirational effects of a fine cab franc, I walked out into the cool air and heard my friend warble from above. I grabbed my magnum flashlight and put him in the spotlight. The owl stood there at the tip of my roof with his big eyes and something flashing beneath his chin. The little son of a bitch was wearing the juju fetish. Not only that he seemed to have had the chain fitted to a comfortable, fashionable length for his little neck and cambered chest. He took off, big and beautiful against the indigo sky. I felt like I had been used, nothing but a pawn, a messenger between two forces beyond my comprehension. But feeling I had succeeded in the small part of the ineffable task, I sensed for the moment that the hazards were at bay and I felt the satisfaction of a job well done.

Cannibal Fetishists, Spiritual Recruitment and Innovative Consequences of Immorality

From March 5th, 2013

“To serve (on a platter) and protect (with freshness dating)… The devil is a sinkhole… Religious Trites: Or the completely unimaginative literary culture of zealots.” 

One cop’s idea of not letting good people go bad is to eat them before they sour. Gilberto Valle, a New York Cop (Queens, Staten Island, thereabouts) is on the spit for some type of conspiracy to consume. In e-mails obtained police found extensive correspondence between Mr. Valle and other fetishists (who exist, apparently) who discussed roasting a woman alive and eating her. The case against him seems stringy, like veal, although the District Attorney probably felt compelled to prosecute based alone on Valle’s insistence of an exact internal temperature for the woman, because eating undercooked food is dangerous and irresponsible and can lead to intestinal parasites and other health dangers. 160 degrees Fahrenheit, said Mr. Valle. You’re going to jail, said the District Attorney.  “It’s America pal, you can be as weird as you want, but obsessing over the ideal temperature for a baked human is crossing the line.” Or is it? In a society of capitalism and free enterprise there is a market for just about everything. In the day trade of subversive fantasy the only real sin is lack of imagination and the ability to not turn a buck. Self-made millionaires tend to be forgiven most things and cannibal fantasy is probably no exception, had somebody been resourceful enough to make money off it. I was reading in a fairly recent National Geographic about a well-respected cannibal from some isolated Amazonian tribe who had commented stoically that he had eaten a man and a woman and with an indolent shrug said, “tastes about the same.” Some could say this naked sage had gone some way to neutralizing the gender war but there is something more profound rumbling through the innards of this seemingly basic statement. “Some rituals are too old to change and don’t mess with me about minor details,” the cannibal may insist. To interpret that in civilized terms it may mean some fantasies are too nebulous for prosecution, especially when based on minor details. If Mr. Valle is held accountable for imaginary cannibalism what is next? If a man asks a woman to play dead during sex can he be jailed as a necrophile? If he flips her onto all fours and gets behind her are they now guilty of bestiality? Years ago, at a trendy bar in midtown Atlanta, I had the odd pleasure of chatting with some ‘Furries’, a subsection of the whole comic book/science fiction convention whose adherents dress as standard woodland mammals (cat, rabbit, tiger, marmot) and end up enjoying each others’ passions while costumed. One bunny in particular (no chauvinism here, she was dressed like a bunny) held my attention at the bar for a good long while. Our conversation never steered into the steamy crock pot of marmot on marmot love, but I felt an odd respect for such brave role-playing. Instead we spoke in turn about the self-indulgent shift of filmmaking between Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” but the undercurrent of our differences was always there. After all, I was dressed in a shirt and pants and my interlocutor was dressed as a bunny, complete with puffy tail. And she was right. Kubrick’s eccentricity may have disenfranchised the mainstream moviegoer but it also gave rise to the seventies boom of independent and adventurous filmmaking. And, if it feels good do it, was her main point. It was a strange interaction. After awhile I began to see Kubrick as an obstinate bear, and the bar waitress as a siamese cat, and the young man dressed as a fox, well, as a fox, and the overweight woman with vitiligo at the table across from me as a sleepy cow out to pasture.

Imagination is probably one of the main things that separates us from the lower animals, and the use of it is why more people don’t go completely insane given how bland the typical contemporary landscape is. We can put ourselves anywhere mentally, and if mentally feasting on Homo Sapien is the thing that makes everything else in life dovetail, well that might have to be the way things go. Weird as he is, Gilberto Valle, will probably end up a free man until they find a ‘Furry’ in his basement cauldron being made into “Hasenpfeffer!” or rabbit stew, which, given how knowledgeable they are about art and cinema, hopefully never happens.

Speaking of imagination, I was forced to consider my moral and ethical thermometer the other day when, lounging as I was at the train station waiting for a friend to arrive, I was given not one but two religious tracts within ten minutes of each other by two separate zealots of different religious affiliation. At first I checked the top of my head to see if I had covered my horns, knowing that on occasion I have suffered the embarrassment of accidentally exposing them, usually when drinking. Tucked away as they were I could see no other reason why I was singled out, other than I was alone and looked quiet and harmless. The first one was the more standard issue type religious tract. It started out with John 3:16 from the bible. Mercy, I said to myself, already annoyed, here we go again. Starting a religious pamphlet with John 3:16 is like starting a fable with “Once upon a time…” or a mystery thriller with “The night was dark and stormy.”

Yeah, i got it.  The whole missive was about three pages long in all and it never really took off. With anything you’ve got to have a strong opening and while it’s a nice sentiment, you can’t start out with the most trite aphorism in all of Christianity and expect to be taken seriously. It’s like walking up to somebody of Italian descent and greeting him with “Yo, Adrienne” and expecting him to warm up to you immediately. “It’s like you really know me, friend,” you think he would reply. You’d be wrong, though, for this is not the way of things. In a culture bombarded with recycled story lines the margin for originality is becoming ever slimmer.

Which brings me to the second religious pamphlet given to me by an entirely different pedestrian not ten minutes later. Actually, it wasn’t really a pamphlet but a single sheet of letter paper describing the man’s ordeal with his bad heart, clogged arteries, triple bypass and belief in the Lord. I immediately gravitated to this man’s plight. Although of poorer published quality, I was more amenable to his method of recruitment. But in my usual attitude of thorn-in-argument I was quick to point out that if a being is all powerful and thus responsible for all things, the overseer of the universe had actually given him the junk food, the clogged arteries, the ischemia, and most likely the six-figure medical bill that three successive generations of his family would have no way of paying even if they wanted to. Praise be unto Him, provider of saturated fats and stents, cholesterol and angioplasty. At that point the man wasn’t listening to me. There was a new Krystal Burger (White Castle of the South) across the street and they were giving away free fried sticks of formerly-living-things while supplies lasted. The man with the heart condition dashed toward the line that was out the door and queued up immediately, leaving me to my thoughts.

And my thoughts were this. An acquaintance of an acquaintance had gone to a tent revival recently. I was surprised, having no idea that these things still went on, but not too surprised because, well, all you need is a tent. It’s not like we lack the technology. The acquaintance said that he had gone for the barbecue and fruit punch, and that he had run into some unscrupulous Fire and Brimstoners. I told him I thought the word “Brimstoner” had a lot of potential. He said they were trying to capitalize on a mystifying and dreadful sinkhole in Seffner, Florida that was so localized that, in a houseful of people it singled out one poor man, swallowing him whole in his bedroom, sucking him down and burying him in fifty feet of brittle silt and limestone. The “Brimstoners” insisted that if this didn’t prove the existence of the devil and how close he can get, then the average fellow is a lost cause.

I was impressed. In a perfectly ancient world, before science ruined the heaven above/hell below dichotomy, this would’ve been by far the most effective recruitment tool for serious snake-handler types, and there are some less than honest ones out there, believe it or not. “The devil has built an expressway to hell and it sits right under your bedroom where you fornicate and listen to rock and roll music, and it will pull you down, down, down,” they would say. Most morally ambiguous sinkhole victims have probably been fornicators at one time or another, like most of us, and so you can bet that membership in soul-saving organizations would soar. Maybe that’s why central Florida is so devout? All the sinkholes. What better example of the devil’s pull than to have a whole house suddenly disappear into the ground where an eternity of abuse awaits. I think I’m convinced. The sinkhole argument has gone far and away past the two feeble religious pamphlets I received in changing my behavior. For now, when faced with the decision of quietly turning into bed or going out to a bar and getting good and liquored up, It’s the second choice for me all the way. Who knows what could happen in the quiet solace of one’s own living space?

More distillations to come.

A Definite Mystery, A Possible Murder, A Unique Torture

From February 23rd, 2013

“Don’t drink the water at the Cecil Hotel… Don’t wear your balaclava mask to the bathroom at midnight…Ever wonder how circumcision has affected you?” 

Poor, bad and foul. In Los Angeles these adjectives are normally reserved for the latest Vin Diesel sequel and not a hotel’s water supply. The movie industry was happy to lend these descriptions out, though, for a short while to the Cecil Hotel, a notorious lodging near the old Skid Row district (you can see it in the background of U2‘s video “Where The Streets Have No Name”) whose water supply had taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks. Tragically, a young Canadian tourist was found, after a saturated seventeen days, disposed of in one of the rooftop water tanks, and it was this deteriorating corpse that was causing the water to run black and the shower pressure to disappear. In these days of endless true crime entertainment everyone considers themselves somewhat of a detective, and I’m no different. It’s a juicy mystery, (turbid description of the water notwithstanding). If I were going to find the criminal, assuming it’s a ‘he’ (the vast majority of these crimes are done by men) I’d isolate the one soiled hotel guest who has curiously refused, for the whole month of February, to bathe, brush his teeth, drink water, use ice, shave, or take part in ‘high tea’. The guy who seems obsessed with dismantling his room sprinkler for fear that one toxic drop of water may hit him while putting out a deadly fire–add him to the list. It may not be a coincidence that Richard Ramirez, the infamous 80’s serial killer, was a resident of the hotel during his spree, as was the Viennese literary sensation Jack Unterweger, who took his research so seriously that he tasked to murdering hookers for that plucky suspension of disbelief so lacking in modern pulp fiction. The Cecil Hotel, at the time of Unterweger’s stay, was right in the middle of hooker central, which to Unterweger was probably like visiting that room in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory where everything is made of candy.

It’s no wonder that hotels have been involved in health scares over the years. Take a random sampling of strangers, put them all together in a place where they don’t own anything and so are free to act as depraved as they choose toward all the amenities and bam, something disgusting is bound to happen. I once heard a story from a flight attendant who told me about a co-worker of hers who used to soak her uniform-issue pantyhose in the hotel room coffee pot after running hot water into it. (She would just pocket the complimentary coffee grounds pouch for a later date, I suppose). A reason why was not forthcoming. That story still makes me churn a bit, and I’m happy to say that since I was apprised of this strange habit I’ve naturally avoided coffee from hotel room pots, and I don’t feel like I’ve suffered for my abstinence. Now, after the Cecil Hotel’s grisly discovery, it’s nice to know the shower and sink are off limits. When the rats start coming up through the toilets, I suppose it will be a life of seclusion for me.

Speaking of toilets. It is a doomed and inept burglar who searches out the lavatory first. As a rule the valuables are rarely kept in that part of the house. Even the people who consider themselves clever enough to hide their grandmother’s pearls in the  shaving canister with the false bottom will usually grow fidgety about accidentally tossing out the ol Burma Shave and so will just lazily stick the whole Barbasol can into the underwear drawer and hope for the best. I refer now to Oscar Pistorius, the Olympic athlete who manically fired multiple rounds through the door of his bathroom for fear that a burglar was hidden there; a burglar who not only meant to do him harm but also had an eerie knack for voice impressions of female South African models. I talked to a business traveler the other day who said he had been sleeping next to his wife for twenty-some-odd years and had yet to shoot her dead, even though they were both gun owners and restless sleepers. There had been many groggy nights, he said, in which one or the other may have gotten out of bed in the dead of night. I now took him to be an expert on the subject and so let him go while he explained that typically there are two reasons a sleeping person may get out of bed. First is usually to use the bathroom. It is a considerate spouse who will remove themselves from the bed instead of just pissing where they lay in the hopes that whatever mess they’ve made will just work itself out before the morning comes, and obviously one of the main reasons this man’s marriage had lasted for as long as it had.  The other is usually a kitchen visit. Drink of something. Leftover snack. Caution should be exercised when firing upon a supposed intruder, particularly shuffling around in pajamas or a bathrobe in the kitchen or the bathroom, was his main point. Most expert burglars will know to relieve themselves before they enter a house. As a matter of practicality, who wants to be woken up by a cascade of toilet water from the very thief who has swiped the jewelry box along with the flat screen television and any electronics they can get their hands on. It’s just not good business sense.

Speaking of business, I happened upon a strange business card sitting on a washbasin in the airport bathroom the other day, so strange that it seemed like a joke. But upon reading it I realized there never was a more serious issue and that I had done well to discover it. On the left side of the card was an abstract rendering of a penis and a bold caption in the middle that posed the rhetorical question of how circumcision had affected me? For reasons of extreme youth or just because I had mentally walled off such a traumatic event, I couldn’t remember having one. The back of the card had the voluble didacticism of a Tolstoy novel in which it listed the reasons foreskin was useful and how the lack of it went a significant way to ruining a man’s pursuit of pleasure and ergo health, both physical and mental, in general. I know in some cultures it is a time honored tradition to eat the foreskin, and so in those cases it is really not a loss but more of a reassignment. The  card was advertising foreskin restoration. After 30+ years of being separated I thought it a slim chance that they would be able to locate my foreskin. For all I knew it had made its own life for itself, doing quite well down in the islands, mixing daquiries for well-heeled tourists and lazing about. Then it occurred to me that they may use someone else’s foreskin, like an organ donor situation. “Poor bastard died in a car crash, but at least his eyes, liver, heart and foreskin weren’t damaged. Rest assured, newly departed, some tugging fiend is going to have a proper ecstatic rush, in his chat room tonight, because of you.” It was such an uncomfortable conjecture that I didn’t even do any more research into it. Some pieces of skin vellum are better left hidden. (But I still have the card.)

More distillations from the alembic soon.