Outclassed by a Maniac

Fearful of the dangerous state of fatigue known as “karoshi,” in which people actually die from overwork, I decided to procrastinate. To tarry about. To idle.
It is the one way I refuse to depart from this world. Overwork. Luckily I am an American male, which means I have about as much chance of dying from overwork as I do from ovarian cancer. The word “karoshi” is itself Japanese. There is no English translation. It doesn’t exist here. Just like there is probably no word in Japanese for the phrase “sedentary obesity.” We own it. The closest Asians come to the translation is, “Big rock made of cholesterol. Never move.”
Anyway I was procrastinating. I decided to grab my theoretical surfboard and jump into the ocean of filth known as the “inter-web.”

It is a general rule that serial killers make terrible spokespersons. Nobody wants to buy a product whose testimonial is given by a psychotic butcher who indiscriminately takes the lives of countless innocents. To wit:
“I’m Dennis Rader, the famous “BTK” killer, for Scotch brand x-treme hold duct tape. When you are binding and torturing a victim, the last thing you need is a second rate adhesive that comes apart, rips easily, or loses its stickiness, allowing your target to flee the basement, or the abandoned shed to safety or even worse, a police station. Don’t let inferior duct tape land you in prison for the rest of your life. Use what the pros use. Scotch brand x-treme.”

Or how about…
“I’m Richard Ramirez, the “Night Stalker,” for Avia running shoes. Stalking around a city as big as Los Angeles all night is tough on my feet. Climbing through windows, sneaking through backyards, kicking in doors, and tormenting random citizens can be murder on my corns and bunions. Avia sneakers kept me one step ahead of the police for thirty or so killings. You’d have to be as sick and demented as me to wear any other sneakers. Don’t take chances. Use Avia.”

And finally,
“I’m Jeffrey Dahlmer for Poli-grip.”
You get the idea.

So I was disappointed with myself the other day when I chanced to read an article about a series of notorious murders that took place in Manchester, England in the 1960s. Dubbed the “Moors Murders,” a fiendish man and his fiendish moll set out to murder local children and dump their bodies along the British countryside. Caught and sentenced to a life in prison, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley languished and, lucky for everyone, finally died.

The posthumous fuss that Mr. Brady had created was that he had expressed his wish to have the “Witches Sabbath” portion of a Berlioz symphony played during his cremation. I wasn’t familiar with that particular piece of orchestration, and so thirty seconds after I read the article I was listening to the symphony on YouTube. Five minutes later I had purchased it, which made me pause for a moment. Had a serial killer just sold me some music?

To be fair it is an incredibly dynamic and lively piece. Berlioz himself was rumored to have been in a strong daze of opium during the composition, which would’ve been enough of a reason for me to buy it without the more grisly associations. I listened, entranced, sensitive within myself to any imminent urges of bloodlust. This is how they do it. The spirit of the killer moves through the music, infecting a kind of metempsychosis to an unsuspecting listener, like me, at which time I have the overwhelming urge to go out and slaughter the citizenry. The last thing I’ll remember is my computer asking me, “Are you sure you want to purchase Symphonie Fantastique from iTunes? (Do not ask me this again).” Then in a series of psychotic episodes my computer will keep asking me, “Are you sure you want to purchase this huge carving knife from Bass pro shops? (Do not ask me this again.)” “Are you sure you want to purchase five bags of lime from Pikes Nursery? (Do not ask me this again.)” “Are you sure you want to purchase shovels, rope and a hacksaw from Home Depot? (Do not ask me this again.)”

Later on, as I return to my senses in the holding cell of the Dekalb County jail, my blood-soaked excuse that the symphony made me do it will be mocked and derided. I would request that it be played after my limp corpse is taken down from the gallows pole. (This essay is turning out to be a little more morbid than I had anticipated. Luckily it is getting close to Halloween.)

I listened to the symphony a few times and felt no urge to do harm to my fellow man. Actually I was inspired creatively. I think what really had me annoyed was that a psychotic killer named Ian Brady was more cultured than I was. He has got time to kidnap and murder children yet somehow he still maintains a rather sophisticated attitude toward ethereal pieces of musical composition? He can allude to the great composers, actually suggesting to me pieces I may be drawn to. It is like a professor of classical literature waking up to find a burglar in his house who, after beating him, tying him up and stealing his valuables, tells him he should concentrate more on Chateaubriand’s dissonance between his romantic ideals and stop fussing over Swedenborg’s didactic categorizations.
“Motherfucker!” the professor would mutter through the gag in his mouth.

Perhaps this was the redemption. Like U2 performing “Helter Skelter” at the beginning of the movie Rattle and Hum, and Bono declaring, “This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles, we’re stealing it back!” The Berlioz symphony had to be taken back by the righteous so it could not be bastardized by the more sordid elements around the world. I listened and listened proudly. No more would the killer be a spokesman for the highest of the musical arts. We’d have the right people for the right product. I went back to browsing the internet just in time to see another commercial pop up.
“I’m Harvey Weinstein for match.com.”
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More Alembics 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.