I was looking for my passport the other day. True, I was only heading to New York for the weekend, but it’s always good to have a way out, lest the opportunity or the need arise. I have a vague reverie of stopping in at one of the Sky Clubs at the Atlanta airport and stumbling upon some hapless international fashion model, sulking in the corner, arms wrapped around her fur knee-highs, distressed that she has nobody to take with her to Milan for an extremely important Oscar de la Renta runway show, and that her tiny toy poodle “Kimchee,” a perpetually quivering canine mouse, “really needs a solid male role model. Kimchee hasn’t been the same since Hans ran away with that Argentinian houseboy. Sob. Sob. Can you help me?”

It would be a quick phone call to the family up on Long Island to apologize for my sudden change of holiday plans, and then off to Italy, first class, to hobnob with waifs, transgenders, and high-profile heroin addicts.

The Russians have a saying that goes something like, “Don’t worry about doing the dishes when the house is on fire.” I go a little further with it. “Don’t worry about doing the dishes.” Who cares what is going on in the rest of the house. That is to say, I can procrastinate with the best of them. Wading through a sea of receipts, documents and old news articles, and still not finding my elusive passport, I came across my New Year’s Resolutions list for 2016.

“I forgot all about this,” I said to myself, which is what I intended to do from the get-go. I always make the list at the beginning of the year and then stash it. The real benefit lies in making the list, not following through on it. Making the list is like aiming a shot at an intended target. Once the trigger is pulled, and effect is committed from cause, then it is time to sit back and let the complex forces of global activity guide the trajectory wherever it may. I cursed myself for not burning the list. That would be a better ritual. Make the list and burn it. Cast it off to the four winds. Then there would be no way to accidentally discover it. I suspect, at my core, I am an honest being. Fate had succeeded in placing my plans for my own betterment back into my grasp right before the end of the year. Foiled by my own ambition, I decided, what the hell, there are still about a hundred or so hours left to get this thing done. I figured I’d shoot down the list and knock it all out real quick. First off:

-Get precisely one year older–no more and no less. Check.

-Elect new president. Check.

-Survive hottest summer on record. Check.

-Avoid all loan sharks, taxmen, debt collectors and repo thugs. Check.

-Abandon decent, healthy, romantic relationship for one of dysfunction, anger, loathing and fear. Check.

-Get open water dive certification and get bitten in the ear by small bastard of a fish. Check. (This was turning out to be much easier than I thought it would.)

-Kidnap Don Delillo and force him to teach me how to write award-winning literature. I looked at my watch and decided to skip that one.

-Write five award-winning novels after wringing them out of Mr. Delillo and win the Nobel Peace Prize. I admitted to myself I would have to skip that one as well, although I think I could’ve won the coveted literary medal had it not been for crafty-ass Bob Dylan.

-Reintroduce the word “ravishment” into modern jargon. (It’s a crazy word. It means to either seize a person against their will, rape them, or fill them with a kind of wondrous enchantment and delight. It has to be the sickest word out there. If anybody knows of an odder one, please drop a line.)

-Record rhapsodic duet with the one and only George Michael. Er, skip.

-Follow the instructions of the eighties band Squeeze in their song Hourglass and, “Take it to the bridge, throw it overboard, see if it can swim, back up to the shore. No one’s in the house. Everyone is out. All the lights are on and the blinds are down.” I shrugged and checked that one off. All done. Just in time.

A mid-twentieth century philosopher was quoted saying, “Humans are the only beings for whom being is a problem.” It’s a terribly hilarious statement, and as I continue this journey, it seems the only resolution that should ever really be considered is to never let that statement apply to yourself.

My therapist has a name. Ralph Waldo Emerson. for $18, paperback, I’ve received what people have paid thousands for, and still with no return on their investment. Actually, you don’t receive Emerson. His wisdom is buried in countless essays, and you must “dig,” which makes it all the more valuable when you find it. I happened upon this passage a few weeks ago.

“I accuse myself of sloth and unprofitableness day by day; but when these waves of the Divine flow into me I no longer reckon lost time. I no longer poorly compute my possible achievements by what remains to me of the month or the year; for these moments confer a sort of omnipresence and omnipotence which asks nothing of duration, but sees that the energy of the mind is commensurate with the work to be done, without time.”

Since I can’t compete with Mr. Emerson, I will have to go low to finish this essay.

“Right on, my main motherf**ker.” 

Happy New Year.

More Alembics to come.


The Corpse Flower!

Cultural relativism aside, it would be hard to stomach eggs that have been cooked in children’s urine. Yet that is the cornerstone of a spring festival in Dongyang, China, a name that begs to be ridiculed, given the cuisine. 

“Let no waste go to waste,” say the citizens of Dongyang, who take the urine-egg festival so seriously that they put out pots and collection bottles in elementary schools so that little boys can donate their golden excretions to the process. “Micturate before you matriculate,” is the popular phrase over there, and they mean it. School is challenging enough. Math, science and language have never been more competitive in the far east, and on top of all that a student must prove his “yang” by using his “dong.” The township is relying on it. The pee-pee eggs are supposed to bring wellness, vibrancy and good luck to those who consume them, and when a whole region of China, (Dongyang by the way), when a whole region of China is counting on a teeming flow through the collective urethra of the pre-teen male population, they better deliver, or great shame may fall upon them.

“Your father, grandfather, great-grandfather pee-pee like Niagara Falls! You pee-pee like constipated mosquito!”

Tough words for a kid to hear. His grades may slip. His esteem may plummet. His enthusiasm for the power of knowledge may dry up like his tiny bladder, and then it’s a life in the salt mines.

Come on, Dongyang. As if the smell of boiled eggs wasn’t bad enough by itself. That retching miasma of sulfur that can doom the appetite of anyone within ten feet of them now has the putrid aroma of bodily waste, for the added benefit of something that has been scientifically proven to contain no nutritional value whatsoever. That’s why people get rid of it in the first place. Good luck Dongyangers, may your showers of fortune be golden.

Uninterested in the political party conventions the other week, I decided instead to watch a live streaming video from the New York Botanical Gardens of the great carrion flower known as the “Titan Arum” or “Corpse Flower” standing perfectly still in the middle of a giant greenhouse. After about five minutes I grew restless. Watching the corpse flower was about as exciting as watching an actual corpse. Named for the horrendous odor it gives off, that of decaying flesh, it tricks flies and insects, the kind that usually descend on dead animals, into pollinating for it.  Not sure why someone would pay to go smell a flower that reeks like any alley in Manhattan on trash day. It is an impressive sight, though. Ten feet high and something like two hundred pounds. Now that is a flower. The New York Times magazine supplement even went down to do an exclusive interview with the big beanstalk. It was surprisingly humble and articulate for a Corpse Flower.

NYT: “So what are your plans while you are in New York?”

C.F.: “I love this city. Always have. I try to see the sights when I’m in town. I hear Chumley’s is opening back up. That is exciting. I’m just so busy right now. Plus I’m a stationary flower.”

NYT: “Are you trying to make a statement with your terrible smell of rotting flesh? Like it is a reflection of the current pop culture.”

C.F.: “I’m a giant flower trying to get by in a very busy world. I wouldn’t look too deep into it. Like Hemingway said, ‘The Old Man and the Sea is a story about a guy and a fish. Nothing more. Quit pissing on it. If you are going to piss on something piss in a cup and send it to Dongyang for their urine soaked egg festival.’ (Hemingway said that, by the way).”

NYT: “Who are you dating?”

C.F.: “Miley Cyrus. We have a lot in common. Of course there is the smell. But I’ll get used to it.”

Over the next few days I kept going back to the Titan Arum. I started to become mesmerized by the thing. It got me thinking that life, the non-reflexive resourcefulness of survival, is pretty darned amazing. A giant Indonesian flower actually figured out a way to trick insects into doing its labor. The regal horned lizard can shoot blood out of its eyes to freak the bejeezus out of predators. The tardigrade “water bear” can live in molten lava or an iceberg. Young sunflowers track the sun through the sky, turning their bloom toward the west as the sun travels, and reset themselves at night toward the east in anticipation for the next day to follow the great erumpent helios again on its daily journey.  I can’t ever not be amazed.

Compared to the mental lassitude of most people, the grizzly bear is Einstein. Compared to the complaining masses, the hawk is Charlemagne. Compared to the perfidy of humans, the corpse flower smells like a rose.

I will leave this week with a quote from the lodestar of American letters, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“The civilized man has built a coach but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches but lacks so much support of muscle. He has a fine watch but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun. An almanac he has, and so being sure of the information when he wants it, the man in the street does not know a star in the sky. The solstice he does not observe; the equinox he knows as little; and the whole bright calendar of the year is without a dial in his mind. His notebooks impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit; the insurance office increases the number of accidents; and it may be a question whether machinery does not encumber; whether we have not lost by refinement some energy, entrenched in establishments and forms, some vigor of wild virtue.”

That was written in the mid-nineteenth century. Emerson would chew his fingers off if he were alive today.

I’m going to find a corpse flower and plant it in the middle of my front lawn. I’ll get used to the smell and so will he.

More Alembics to come.