I was listening to Art Blakey’s ‘A Night In Tunisia’ the other evening, all eleven minutes of it, and after it was over I felt like I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It was my own fault, of course. I’d endured a rather harrowing afternoon and, needing to calm my anxieties, I put on the jazz record, because everybody knows jazz is supposed to be soothing. 

Well, whoever deemed jazz to be soothing never told Art Blakey. His rendition of ‘A Night In Tunisia’ comes on like a raging hailstorm, relentless in its attack. Even the fellow playing the claves is struggling to keep up.  When Blakey is playing the tune it should be renamed, ‘A Night On Cocaine, In Tunisia.’ Art Blakey is one of the greatest drummers of all time, and it’s recordings like this that prove it. Art Blakey is, in short, holy shit amazeballs. 

I needed something a little calmer, though, so I put on ‘Giant Steps’ by John Coltrane. By the way John Coltrane, too, is holy shit amazeballs, but more on that later.  I’d just returned to my house after being held hostage, for a time, by a seething and rabid bat. Really, the little flying bastard had trapped about fifteen of us at my local bar. Of course if a person is going to be trapped anywhere, a bar is a pretty good place to be trapped, and so I couldn’t complain that much. But still, it was eerie. The little furry bloodsucker had come out of nowhere and pinned itself on the front door, straddling the jamb and the actual glass door itself. 

“Am I just fucked up or is there a bat on the front door?” I’d wondered aloud, trying to adjust my eyesight. We had been sampling cans of a new craft beer made from hemp, and I thought I was having some stoned hallucination. No, it was actually there, pinned against the glass, its little chest rising and falling, either because it was out of breath or infected with Marburg virus or something. A panicked fellow ran to open the door to shoo it off, but he was tackled by the staff. We had all decided that the bat wanted to be inside to eat all of us, and to open the door would give it that very opportunity. For the moment, although we were trapped, we were safe. No need to panic. I drank some more of my pot-laced beer. The bat, with its beady eyes, stared at me through the door like, “Go ahead and fatten yourself up, my little pork chop. I’ve got all the time in the world.” 

“Bats are amazing creatures,” lectured a tidy fellow sitting next to me. “Incredible immune systems, echolocation that’s as precise as an eagle’s vision, and their wings are actually hands; webbed skin over claws that allow them to almost grab the air to fly through it.” 

“That would probably put them in the category of holy shit amazeballs,” I said, to which the man frowned, like I was crapping on his acumen. I wasn’t. I’d only recently discovered this phrase. In fact, I had been reading an on-line critique of the beer I was sampling, and the clever reviewer had caught my attention with it. Not since Lewis Carroll or Samuel Coleridge had a person wielded such an accurate absurdity. The most impressive part about it was that the quick-witted scribe who’d been reviewing the beer had refused to assign it the very prestigious title. I think the actual quote was, “While this beer displays a decent flavor profile, it’s not holy shit amazeballs.”  This caused me to laugh openly, stand up and applaud. I understood immediately that most things are not holy shit amazeballs, which is the problem with the modern world. So few things can live up to the rarified excellence of holy shit amazeballs. Most things fall short of expectation, or are subject to some ratio of disappointment, and somehow, this brilliant writer had reset the bar, reminding us that while many things will never be even close to holy shit amazeballs, we should never stop looking for that rare gem that can join the exclusive pantheon of things that exude the almost mythical quality of holy shit amazeballs. 

The bat was still there. Some of us needed to get going. Other people were standing outside the door wanting to get in, yet paralyzed with fear of the hairy little menace that refused to leave its resting place. 

“Who’s going to be the dingbat that sacrifices himself for the rest of us by ripping the door open and getting devoured?” someone said. 

“Don’t use the word dingbat too loud,” cautioned the bartender. “This fucking flying rat might get offended. It already looks pissed off.” 

We ended up being saved by the fellow who operates the Pac-N-Sac on the other side of the parking lot. For some odd reason he had an eight-foot pool skimmer in his shop, and it was this tool he used to coax the bat away from the door. He also had a Glock in a holster at his hip, as a last resort, I suppose, and I was just glad he didn’t start firing away at the front door, since the bat had cleverly positioned itself in the line of fire of us bar customers. 

Once the critter had taken flight I went home with the rest of my stink beer, lest the winged rodent return with his friends for a real showdown. 

So I ended the evening with Coltrane. I like to think I have a strong spiritual connection with the saxophone icon, if only because the hospital I was born in was the same hospital where Coltrane died. I would love to brag that I’d been born mere seconds after he expired, and as such our energies could’ve exchanged a sort of metaphysical high-five as he was on his way out and I was on my way in, but alas no. He was gone years before I was a consideration. 

‘Giant Steps’ is holy shit amazeballs. A listener can almost hear the piano player grinding his teeth on the recording as he attempts to navigate the outrageous chord sequence that Coltrane has written. He isn’t so much playing the piano as holding onto it for dear life. Then Coltrane steps in like, “Oh, a little tricky is it? Let me show you how it’s done.” 

And show it he does. 

I finished my can of sticky-icky. No, it wasn’t holy shit amazeballs, which made me appreciate all the more those few phenomenons that’ve attained the otherwise impossible level of holy shit amazeballs. 

Art Blakey. 

Alex Honnold’s free solo climb of El Capitan. 

Snow leopards. 

John Coltrane. 

A bat’s innate navigation system. 

Salvador Dali 

My dog. 

You, my friend, You 

Ten Past Ten

Speak with respect and honor
both of the beard and the beard’s owner.
(From the poem, Hudibras)
Tragedy struck in Washington D.C. last week when a suicide caught the nation’s attention. It was one of the first of its kind. A roving robot security guard affectionately known as “Steven,” model Knightscope K-5, threw himself into a fountain of water near an office complex, short-circuiting and thus ending his troubled existence. Not since Marvin from A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey has a computer been so despondent. “Steven,” realizing he was a billion times smarter than the people he was built to protect, yet still unable to reconcile the abyss of stupidity by the very same humans that had programmed him, decided it was best to end it all right then and there. Tech support arrived to run a diagnostic on the mechanical corpse, but all they could come up with was a cryptic final note in his hard drive:


Speculation was rampant. Was “Steven” crying out for help to the humans that had given him life, was he seeking a meaning, or was he struggling with the contradiction of being smarter than the very adversaries that had created him? Either way, Steven was a hero. His life’s work was providing for the safety of others. He will be missed.
Speaking of heroes…
I like to think that my heroes will live for eternity, that they are indomitable and invulnerable, too strong to be forgotten in the vortex of history. Lucky for me, most of my heroes are artists, and so their work usually endures through the ages. Their actual bodies, however, have long since disintegrated. Hunter Thompson was shot out of a cannon in a million pieces. Hart Crane turned himself into fish food. Sarah Orne Jewett fell out of a horse carriage and Emily Dickinson’s kidneys shriveled up in anguish, with the rest of her soon to follow.
So we lovers of great artists, or lovers of the macabre, or both, had cause to celebrate this week when the body of Salvador Dali was exhumed from his crypt in Spain and it was discovered that his mustache was in the exact same upright position as when they had interred him almost thirty years ago. If the tips of his whiskers were hands on a clock they would indicate ten past ten, and in this case time has stood still for almost three decades.
I never realized Salvador Dali was actually a painter. I only knew him as the inventor of the famed lobster telephone and brief spokesman for Alka-Seltzer antacids back in the seventies. Apparently he was also a rather prolific muralist. Always learning, I am. All of that and he can stop the clock too. Incredible.
It is not easy to freeze time. Even if a person clenches real hard and holds their breath and does a little freewheeling backpedal and refuses to entertain even the slightest hint of maturity, we are all older than when we started, no matter what we started and how long it took to finish it. Bob Dylan in his song “My Back Pages” seems to suggest he keeps getting younger, but if that is the case, he is the most worn out looking kid I’ve ever seen in my life.
Leave it to Salvador Dali. He was the ultimate prankster, the ultimate practical joker. Now in death he is still messing with us. In fact I heard that when they opened up his tomb not only did his handlers realize his mustache had kept its shape, but there were three fully finished paintings lying next to him that hadn’t been there when he was buried. They were all of kittens, but hey, we can’t always be on our ‘A’ game.
I myself have a strip of facial hair running vertically down my chin. I don’t remember when I grew it or why. It may have been after I read a few historical texts that insisted that, generations ago, a man had to have a beard if he was to be regarded as intelligent and refined. Since it is impossible for me to grow a full beard I figured I’d get something going if only to not appear completely uncivilized. I can affect a thoughtful figure if I tug on my chin hair and look up at the ceiling, and I use this small gesture to get myself out of tense moments when people are expecting some kind of answer from me.
“Shh,” they say, “he is thinking.” Of course I am not, but nobody needs to know that.
If Dali’s mustache signified ten past ten on a clock, then my facial hair just looks like noon, or midnight. Sometimes if it gets a little too long my facial hair can grow to about 12:30, but for all intents and purposes let’s round to the hour.

I finished off the evening by sitting in my library, in my favorite leather chair, with my ascot and smoking jacket and snifter of brandy and calabash pipe and small tuft of chin hair that I manipulated in just a fashion as to make me look at all contemplative, and I thought about Steven, the robot suicide, and his strange message ALAS ODD RIVAL…
Steven the robot was egg-shaped. It occurred to me that Salvador Dali loved to paint eggs. They are a recurring theme in his artwork. Of course an egg was never just an egg with him. Everything was textured with subtle meanings, and I suspected that Dali’s sudden emergence and the demise of the egg robot were not entirely unrelated. Then it hit me. ALAS ODD RIVAL.
I mixed up the letters and discovered a hidden message.
Very clever, Mr. Dali.
More Alembics to come.