Go Hemp!

I awoke with a hangover on Wednesday. It took me a few minutes to realize I hadn’t been drinking the night before. Not a drop. Outside the morning was gray and the streets were quiet. I saw none of my neighbors on their usual dog walks. Eerily deserted. I chalked it up to one of those strange, collective rises and falls that happens in the popular consciousness from time to time. There are some mornings when everyone is hungover, regardless of what happened the previous night. Like the barometric pressure, it just drops and everybody feels it. It’s physics, after all.   

Nobody in my neighborhood advertises the fact that they watch pornography. There are no lawn signs for Ron Jeremy, John Holmes, Jenna Jameson, whoever the popular “actors” and “actresses” are nowadays. There are no bumper stickers that say, “This house is pro-penetration.” There are no signs supporting fetish, bondage, girl-on-girl, guy-on-girl-on-guy, black-on-white, white-on-black, take-my-wife, take-my-husband, dwarf-on-giant, humiliation, punishment, sadomasochism, group orgy and whatever else. However, if a tech company were to descend on the neighborhood and sift through the ISP addresses and blind search histories, the results would most likely be shocking. It would be a vast trove of voyeuristic filth somewhere on the level of the discovery of the lost city of El Dorado, part of the running current of activity that goes on just below everything else that is going on. This is the basic math of the 2016 election.

In a presidential cycle that was big on sensationalism, bombast and weirdly devoid of strict policy discussions, most people are probably wondering what happens now. Even president-elect Donald J. Trump is scratching his head. He lost the popular vote and won the election. At least he was right. It is rigged. He just happened to benefit from it. Good luck to him.

The big winner is marijuana. It won the ballot in six states, on its way to national legitimacy. After a political campaign that seemed more like an amphetamine bender, it might be a wise idea for the nation to smoke a joint and calm down. Where no individual has the ability to do so, hemp may be able to unite America, or at least chill it out, which is almost as valuable.

I am somewhat of an anomaly. I was a philosophy major who never smoked a lot of pot. My lungs have always been sensitive. I had asthma as a kid. They work hard enough as it is without dumping a bunch of dirty air into them. But, one of the unspoken requirements of studying in any philosophy program is that you have to go to class high at least once, in order to assess the value of any possible shifts in perspective that may result from the tricks that substance can play on the mind. So I picked my class. Second semester Western Thought. We were studying Edmund Husserl and his ideas of reductive phenomenology. I figured what the hell. I didn’t understand any of what he said when I was sober so it couldn’t hurt to show up drooling and stoned for a lecture. It might even help.

It was a disaster. I didn’t hear one word of what the professor said. I was fascinated and transfixed, however, with a girl across the room who periodically withdrew a packaged snack from her sweatshirt pocket, peeled a bit of it from its wrapper, lashed it into her mouth, chewed carefully, then swallowed it. Five minutes later she repeated the process. I was too far away to see what the food was. It looked like a Twizzler but it was the color of an udon noodle. It was like a soggy little rope. The girl had this technique of pinching the bottom end of it and whipping it up to her mouth where she would snap at it, sometimes catching it, sometimes missing it, like a moray eel debouched from a coral pocket, lazily trying to grab some kelp. Often it would take two or three lunges for her to secure it between her teeth, after which she would absently suck it through her pursed lips, chew thoughtfully then swallow. On and on it went. In fact I decided all us students were like coral algae, just sitting there in the tranquil blue, while our one moray eel fed on ocean sprouts. The professor didn’t seem to notice or care. Most everyone else was assiduously taking notes. I hadn’t written a word. My entire being was only concerned with the next stringy snack. Would she eat another one? How many times would she snap at it before grabbing it with her mouth? Would that be enough, or would she need another floppy dose? 

“80 percent of success is just showing up,” said Woody Allen. He was probably right, maybe even a little conservative with his numbers. I ended up getting a B in my Western Thought class. Ask me today about Edmund Husserl. I won’t be able to explain a thing.

And that, maybe, is the big lesson. Collectively and individually we are like fastball pitches. We are the baseball itself, who, after leaving the grip of a powerful, professional pitching ace, believes that somehow we are free to travel wherever we want now that we have been released. We have the sky above and the seats and the field all around to explore, check out, and discover, but in all likelihood we will probably end up in the catcher’s mitt behind home plate.   

The Democrats were beaten on Tuesday night, as were the Republicans in the nine months leading up to the election. It’s like we have all been given honorary degrees from Trump University, with the promise of the vast secrets of wealth and success, but just as likely grappling with the collection agency when the tuition bill comes due. And maybe it never will. Perpetual deferment is fashionable these days. This is the lesson the rest of us can take from the rich. Send it down to the last stop. We’ll be getting off before that.

The cultural paradox, which is alway reassuring regardless of a person’s political views, is that victories always galvanize the opposition. For the defeated left this means gun sales will decrease, subscriptions to their causes will increase, the militias will be vacationing in the Everglades, the A.C.L.U. will be hiring, and donations to Planned Parenthood will fill the coffers. After all, to be great one must have a formidable adversary. Let the games begin. Since we’re heading for the catcher’s mitt we might as well smoke a legal, recreational joint. It might soften the landing.

God save the green.

More Alembics to come.

Atlas Loitered

Birthdays…Mortality…Illusion…Ron Jeremy and the Nymphaea thermarum…

When people ask me what I’m writing these days (besides this here blog) I lie and tell them I’m working on a sequel to Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s weighty jeremiad attacking all things regulatory. In the original, the heroic captains of industry John Galt, Francisco d’Anconia, Dagney Taggart, and Hank Reardon are engaged in an epic struggle for individual achievement against collectivist government bloodsuckers. In my supposed sequel, these same captains of industry all go to Capitol Hill to beg for government bailouts to cover their shitty investments. I call it, “Atlas Fondled.” Of course the people that are fans of Ms. Rand are displeased that I’d soil the legacy, the people that think Ms. Rand a peddler of dramatic oversimplification are displeased that I’m engaged in such a ludicrous waste of time, and the people that don’t care to read anything by me just tell me it sounds interesting and that they can’t wait to read it.

The beginning of the year usually finds me in a contemplative mood. My birthday is in January, which may have something to do with it. It is generally a quiet affair, my birthday. For starters I detest presents as a low form of bribery. Even as a child when I would receive a birthday gift, I would snatch it out of the giver’s hands and quote the line that the sentry guard gives the traveler in Franz Kafka’s “The Trial,” to wit:

“I take this only to keep you from feeling that you have left something undone.”

It is a strange thing to hear from an eight-year-old. Consequently my parties were sparsely attended. I’ve put all that behind me, though. These days the occasional present, properly conceived, is a welcome addition to the gimcracks lying around the house. This year one of my more philosophical friends sent me a watch known as ‘Tikker’ in which you plug in a few actuarial factors about yourself and the watch calculates, give or take, how much time you have left to live on this here earth and counts down from there. My friend was curious whether I’d go mad with thoughts of mortality each time I glanced down at my wrist, or whether I’d buck up and start living with the constant reminder of the precious seconds falling away. He also sent me a revolver with one bullet in the chamber, and an open-ended plane ticket. It’s nice to have friends that put careful consideration into the presents they buy for you. He’s waiting for the news of my death.

Instead I decided to max out my credit cards and take to the open road. Debt is just a word, after all, and the ‘b’ is pretty much silent (and what’s that all about?), and on that shaky logic I decided to spend a lot of money that I didn’t actually have. Some call it spree living. Others call it investing in hangovers. Still others dream the big dream. Convertible by Cadillac. Music by The Cramps. Blue sky and warm breeze by God. Fuel by Exxon. Whiskey by Jim Beam. Big fat knock on the door by Big Brother Debt Collector.

Debt Collection Agencies are where a mobster goes to find decent employment when he wants to land legit. The tactics are pretty much the same, the law is mostly on your side, you can threaten without having to follow through, and you get to use your imagination, as is the case of a debt collection agency in Pittsburgh called UniCredit America that allegedly sends fake deputies to ‘arrest’ people who owe money, take them to ‘court’, and ‘fine’ them into paying off what they owe. Rather illegal, but clever just the same. Somebody got suspicious after realizing the ‘judge’ presiding over their case was none other than Ron Jeremy, the ‘bailiff’ was an opium-smacked Lindsay Lohan, and the ‘stenographer’ was a Nigerian transsexual on the run from a new law in his home country that makes it illegal to ever have met, seen, talked to or walked in the path of someone who is gay. The law was recently signed by the country’s president, a fellow by the name of Goodluck Jonathan. From now on though, it will be Goodluck ‘finding a decent interior decorator’ Jonathan.

Things are tough in the world these days. Between ruthless collection agencies, wristwatches that remind the wearer of their own death and whole countries of intolerant  officials, one must delve deep for solace. I was considering a trip to London’s Royal Botanical Gardens to spend time with my favorite flower, a rare miniature waterlily known as Nymphaea thermarum, knowing that every once in a while one must reduce one’s pleasures to a small focused treasure rather than trying to gain traction on grand, sweeping episodes. Distraught then, was I, to learn that my favorite miniature waterlily, again the Nymphaea thermarum, (which I’m guessing is some type of Latin for hot, little nymph? and maybe there is something within all that to bring up during a therapy session), again the Nymphaea thermarum, my favorite miniature waterlily, had been stolen from the Royal Botanical Gardens. Between the threat of fake jail for reckless spending and the sickening knowledge that nothing beautiful in this savage world is safe for very long I decided to look at my ‘Tikker’ wristwatch and see what time it was. Hmm. I had about thirty-five more years to live. Curious, I took my friend’s other birthday present out from its little hiding spot, the glinting revolver, and pointed it at my head. I looked down at the watch.

“Recalculating,” it said, then told me I had about ten seconds to live. I put the gun back down.  “Recalculating,” it said. It went back to the thirty-five years. I went into the kitchen and took a multi-vitamin and ate some oatmeal. “Recalculating,” it said. The screen went blank for a moment, then returned with an added five years.

“Remarkable little gadget,” I said.

The Nymphaea thermarum, the world’s smallest waterlily, was “discovered” by a German botanist in Rwanda. Yet it was “stolen” from the Royal Botanical Gardens last week. I considered this and decided that somewhere in a Rwandan newspaper last week there was a joyous story about the “retrieval” of the world’s smallest waterlily after being “stolen” by a German botanist thirty years before. I sat back, satisfied that the riches of experience lie in perspective. My ‘Tikker’ gave me an extra six months. The banks extended my credit. I am here.

More Alembics to come.