Choose Your Own Adventure

For the past week Atlanta has been covered in a cloud of brown smoke. The fact that it coincided with an election made the dirty haze even more troublesome. Many people were convinced that the two things were linked, that somehow the political shift had set fire to the air. The barbarians were at the gates. We would soon see them rumbling down our roads on their coal-powered iron horses, and soon after that we’d be led away in chains.

The internet is a reliable place for hysteria. It is a funhouse for the bending and refracting of light and information until it comes out all exaggerated, caricatured, a prism of grotesque reflection that bears little resemblance to the light it manipulates.

The cover story was that North Georgia was on fire. This was obvious enough. 5,500 acres of forestry burning out of control, which coincided with one of the longest droughts in recent history. The weather has been beautiful here this fall, but even paradise needs a little rain. Blue skies don’t water the plants. The leaves are falling off the trees, but nobody is sure whether that is due to a mild drop in temperature or the fact that everything is dying from lack of water. The beauty of the internet is that whichever opinion you feel like adopting, you can always find somebody who champions it. The sweeping wildfires are actually an incalculable disaster or a natural and beneficial way to enrich the soil. The drought is a normal part of the weather cycle or a troubling consequence of global warming. Crime is either out of control or statistically average. The Republican party is either going to save the nation or destroy it, at which time the Democrats will swoop in to save it further, or destroy it further, at which time the Republicans will either swoop back in to destroy what has been saved or save what has been destroyed. My barbecue grille either gives me cancer or prevents it. So does the sun. Running either helps my body fight off illness or destroys my bones and joints. California is about to fall into the ocean or serve as a model for all future economies. ISIS is either about to take over the world or they are one drone strike away from obliteration. Immigrants are either the backbone of America or its doom. It’s all so disorienting. Even Schrodinger’s famous cat released a statement saying, “You know what? Just fucking kill me. I’m a dead cat. The cat is no longer both alive and dead in his theoretical box. I’m dead. Finally, some peace.”

I went to my favorite bar the other week. Taverns, bars, public houses, and saloons, by the way, are society’s original echo chambers, long before social media and filtered news streams. A perceptive carouser can immerse in whatever news suits him just by choosing the right venue. If I want to hear people champion Corporate America I can go to Buckhead. If I want to hear people blame the greed-heads I can go to Edgewood. If I want to hear people disparage the mainstream I can go to Little Five Points. And if I want to hear the sound of a beer can being crushed between two saggy titties, I can hop on over to the Clermont lounge. Say what you will about the sound of aluminum being flattened between two sweaty boobs, sometimes it is a melodic relief from some of the more hostile rhetoric.

I was over at the Righteous Room on Ponce. It’s one of the city’s great watering holes. The place openly revolts against the modern business conveniences. Checks are still handwritten by bartenders whose penmanship is so bad that they all must’ve been in medical school at one time. The cash register is a rusty abacus. The jukebox plays wax. The walls are simple and reliable brick. And the bathrooms, well you just have to see them to believe it.

There was a kind of wild jubilation at the bar last week. People were getting as wrecked as possible to celebrate either the end of the world or the new beginning. I was talking to one guy who was wearing an arm brace. He said he had been driving on Jekyll Island and had crashed his car into a flock of seagulls, but nobody could figure out whether he had hit a gaggle of birds or the synth-punk band from the 80s. Another guy had just returned from a scuba trip to Belize where he said he had survived the biggest hurricane he had ever seen, but nobody could tell whether it was an actual storm or the high-proof rum drink. A nearby girl admitted that she had been binging on sex and the city, but nobody was sure whether she was just promiscuous in an urban setting or obsessed with the television series. Feeling sick with ambiguity I ordered a Moscow Mule and the bartender told me he would look for some Russian idiots. I told him to make anything with vodka and he told me there were no more absolutes, which either meant the bottles were empty or modern understanding had devolved into relative pluralism. Someone asked me how my novel “Wet Brain” was selling? The bartender leaned in to announce that he had heard of wet brain and that he was pretty sure it sucked, but I couldn’t tell whether he was referring to my novel or the clinical stages of alcoholism. Like everybody else, I decided to go with the option that best suited my needs.

Cheers to the new dumb.

More Alembics to come.

The Old Man and the Marmite

From March 15th, 2013

The Weird Right In Front Of Me……Bloomberg’s Sadism…Beware the Marmites….What’s a Marmite….”

I was in a bar the other day when a deranged old man commented to me that he was so poor that he had to fart in his pockets to get a “(s)cent.” Everyone in earshot bristled, understandably. When an old man makes that kind of remark, you figure that he’s not so much saying it as doing it, and it isn’t so much of a joke as it is an advanced apology. I tried to tell him about the diaper ad on television I had been plagued with the week before but he wasn’t in the mood for listening. He was on a roll. He wanted gin, he said, because the botanicals kept his “yang loaded” and his eyesight blurry. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen a woman that didn’t look like she had melted. He didn’t care, though. He said he’d screw a rock pile on the off chance some hungry toothless snake was hiding in it. This admission crippled the bar in jittery disbelief. There are a good many people out there who are afraid of snakes,  “ophidiophobes” they call them, so much so that the mere mention of snakes gives them the howling creeps. Further, the mental image of an old man shakily hovering over a pile of stones in some kind of push-up position with his pants around his knees seemed just about the “rock” bottom of behavior. Our flatulent “ophidiophile” wasn’t through yet, though. Apparently he was just getting warmed up.

“An acute vagina…” he began, before being distracted by some invisible movement. He flinched, abruptly cut his comment off and started swatting the air around his head.

“A what?” I said.

“Not again.. these things are everywhere…” he mumbled, still swatting.

“You started to say…”

“Say what?”

“An acute?”

“What?”

“You said something about acute? Like an angle?”

“Let me tell you this,” he said as he ceased trying to rid the air around his head of invisible gargoyles or whatever. “The angle of the dangle is inversely proportional to the heat of the meat and the size of the thighs…stink of the mink…role of the pole…” and he was now off on a terrifically sordid rhyme scheme that lasted a good forty-five seconds and had the relentless bouncing cadence of an entire Doctor Seuss book, of course if Doctor Seuss had penned a book of hardcore pornographic poetry.  His young handler had to race up to him and thrust some pills in his mouth before the whole thing came to a babbling end. We all chipped in what we could and got the old man a double well gin real cold. We spared him the olives, though, lest he fall apart completely and eat the toothpick like Sherwood Anderson, puncture his intestine and die of peritonitis in a feverish explosion of insults and crude jokes. He seemed to even out, after awhile and I wondered if it was all some ornate hoax. A drink scam perpetuated by an octogenarian with nothing left to lose and some indecision as to whether to make new friends in this world or visit his old friends in the one just around the corner. His next outburst was political.

“Give me the biggest fucking coca-cola you’ve got,” he suddenly cried. “I’m going to teach that bastard Mayor of New York a lesson.”

This was his response to the large soda ban that was scheduled to take effect in New York City. He was angry at the restriction of personal freedom. He used the popular term “Nanny State”, a phrase racing through the libertarian ranks faster than herpes along a Panama City stretch of beach during Spring Break.

I must admit I was a little confused by this one myself, particularly since New York City prides itself as the place where you can get just about anything, anywhere at anytime. They have couriers that will deliver an eight ball of cocaine right to your brownstone, with competitive incentives like, “If your snowball doesn’t arrive in time for the Snow Ball, we will snowball your next snowball into a bigger snowball.” Manhattanites get jittery at the thought of not having the whole world within reach, and so it is comforting in a city of eight quadrillion that a forty-ounce of malt liquor is just around the corner, if you need it. But now, if you have a yen for forty ounces of fizzy sugar you better have some toll money for the bridge, sucker. Of course, accessibility and legality can remain mutually exclusive. This is the other lynchpin of New York. It’s more fun to get it if it’s illegal. As easy as it is to procure, technically cocaine is still illegal. Wall Street is technically legitimate. A prostitute down in the village with her penis tucked between her legs is technically a woman. So it goes. I have complete faith in my old hometown. If anything, they are as resilient as they come.

Our gin drinking old man in the  bar was not satisfied with his gin and trough of coca-cola. The pills his young handler had given him were wearing off. He now wanted a pack of unfiltered reds. I turned to the television just in time to see Mayor Bloomberg announcing he was going after the tobacco industry. I considered Bloomberg’s crusades and wondered why he was even bothering? It seemed like a lot of rumpus for nothing. Then it became ever so clear when I saw Sarah Palin at the CPAC convention with that huge soda. Clever, very clever, Mr. Bloomberg. His use of reverse psychology was actually resulting in his adversaries drinking, smoking and eating themselves into oblivion, as evidenced in the old man at the bar trying to get his hands on everything that he was being told he couldn’t have.

Say that a bleached entrails burger with horse meat is gross and you have senators eating them in photo ops. Stymy tobacco and some governor will have ten cigarettes in his mouth, protesting the infringement of the freedom to develop more tar bubbles in his lungs than the bottom of the Gulf Coast. Snub your nose at tyranny and drink the biggest colas you can get your chubby hands on until you have a generation that is too fat to procreate. This is how billionaires amuse themselves, I guess. But Mr. Bloomberg, if we want to point this whole thing in the right direction, we might consider outlawing higher education, fellowship and goodwill.

I heard it on the radio the other morning, half asleep.

“There is a Marmite shortage,” said the broadcast. I shot right up. No. God no. This is bad news. Call the Sierra Club. This time the industrialists and the forest rapers have gone too far. Those cute miniature koala-ish, kangaroo-like marsupials with the prehensile feet and fluffy tails that keep the cicadas from decimating the vegetation are going extinct! Not on my watch! Marmites, as everyone knows, are necessary for sustainable…. It took me a minute to realize I had no idea what I was thinking about. I was creating a fictional animal.  As I searched my mind I realized I wasn’t too clear on what a ‘Marmite’ was. Actually I had no idea.

Marmite.

I had a picture in my head of some form of adorable koala, ewok, “mogwai” style animal. Even though, like the major news channels, I hate the type of facts that usually ruin all my fun, I decided to do a little research.

Marmite. Man, was I off.

Marmite, it turns out, is a processed brown slime that is all the rage in New Zealand. People eat it on bread or off their girlfriend’s nipples or just right out of the bottle. It’s that good, is what I’m saying. I wondered how it was made? Apparently you take a processed brown slime and put it in a bottle. There you have it. Marmite. It is equivalent to Australia’s “Vegemite”, which means I finally understood the line in that Men At Work song. That only took 30 years.  My imagination had to then lay to rest the cuddly, adorable creature I had mentally put together and wanted to adopt immediately. I held a small ceremony for my fictional pet, which consisted of brewing a pot of coffee and putting cream cheese on a bagel. I figured if I was going to do something ceremoniously it might as well be something I was going to do anyway.

Later on that day I was in my favorite bar, a warm little cavern known as the “Righteous Room”, and that was when the old man came in talking about farting in his pockets and screwing big piles of rocks while I considered my “Marmite”, with mental images of Yosemite Sam cursing the creature as he searched, in a rage, a bunch of cartoon holes in the ground of the celluloid. I hold fast to my oft said notion that a bar is the keeper of the last vestiges of modern mythos and legend in these modern times. It is where I can escape to when I want to hear about the Marmites, “Ophidiophiles”, the 500 pound woman, the 300 year-old man and their lovechild, the duck-billed feather Marmite.

In the midst of the chaos I spoke to one of the regulars, a wise old sage sitting at the bar. I wanted to test my theory on him by saying something ridiculous and gauging the reaction.

“Why do you look so glum?” he said.

“I’ve been searching for my marmite,” I said. “I heard Yosemite Sam was back in town and suddenly my marmite is gone. I’m nervous, to say the least.”

“Let’s hope he comes in here,” he said seriously. “The day I’m afraid of a pistol-packing midget with a red beard is the day I surrender my testicles. We’ll shake it out of him. We’ll find your marmite.”

I immediately re-created the scene from Barbet Schroeder’s “Barfly”.

After everything had settled, something occurred to me. It was something the wise old sage had said about surrendering his testicles. It prompted a question.

“Who would you surrender your testicles to, on the off chance you were going to go through with it?”

“Shit, I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I’ll put them on e-bay. Someone will buy them. I’ll say they are Elvis Presley’s, or Justin Bieber’s.”

I left the man to his fraudulent investment schemes. There’s about seven and a half suckers born every minute in the U.S. alone, so he had a good chance to cash in.

At the end of the evening, on my way home, I bought two quarter-pounders of bleached horse meat from the nearest fast food joint. Then I went home and mixed thirty-two ounces of coca-cola with about four fingers of Fernet Branca. I smoked a cigar and I reminded myself to be on the lookout for the man who farts in his pockets. Be on the lookout for “Marmites” and Yosemite Sam. Be on the lookout for e-bay testicles of questionable authenticity. I smoked, drank and read Boethius’s “The Consolation of Philosophy” late into the night, until the merry peal of my neighbor’s house party called me to deeper matters of the soul.

More distillations soon.