Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Discovery of Alcohol

12,051 BC
Happy Hour

The smallish man has been out under the sun since it rose, tending his herd of scraggly goats. It’s about a gazillion degrees out, give or take a digit or two, and the water in his goat-bladder pouch tastes like…well…a hot wet goat. Flicking some sweat from his forehead with his fingers, he meanders over to a patch of grass in the shade of a fig tree and plops down with a sigh. He nibbles a bit of flat bread and has a sip or two of the hateful goat-water. Both activities prove to be unsatisfactory.

His attention is drawn to the cheeping antics of several tiny birds hopping and fluttering among the wide dark leaves of a grape vine, squabbling over the plumpest of the season’s last few remaining grapes.

Mmmm…he thinks, licking his dry lips. Grapes.

He rises to his feet, one hand on the trunk of the fig tree, and shuffles over, stomach rumbling, to collect his juicy bounty. The little birds peep and gabble shrilly, letting the man know he is not welcome. He grins at their protests until, quite surprisingly, one takes flight, describes an erratic flapping course through the air and, like a feathery bolt of electricity, careens solidly into the man’s nose.

Stupid bird! He bats at the little beast with one hand, squinting away a tear. The bird, by all appearances unfazed by the collision, darts skyward, reaches a sort of sloppy apogee, and dives at an alarming angle back into the shadowy recesses of the grape vine. The man eyes the spot where it disappeared in anticipation of further mayhem, slowly shaking his head at the inexplicable actions of Nature. But after a time it becomes obvious the bird has no more silliness up its wing, so the man plucks a grape from its cluster and pops it into his mouth.

The fruit is beyond ripe. Its thick cloying juice slides unpleasantly down his throat. Feh. He grimaces. This late in the season, he should have known better. He hoists his water pouch to his lips, but stops short of squeezing it. His eyes dart from bladder to grape cluster and back again, as he weighs his options. Neither one strikes him as especially appealing. He—

Well, whatever he was about to do immediately becomes moot when another bird (or perhaps the first, it’s hard to tell the little fuckers apart) bursts from the grape vine and explodes against the man’s forehead in a cloud of dust and downy feathers.

Gah! The man squawks, as the bird plummets to the earth between his feet and lays there, concussed.

Gah! What is up with these birds!?

Massaging his various abrasions, and with his weather-eye open for yet another avian menace, the man walks around the grape vine, checking it out from all angles. On the back side of its thick central stalk is an arrangement of sun-bleached rocks. They form a natural bowl about the size of a water jug, in which lay the soggy remains of hundreds of grapes, fallen there as they ripened off the vine. At least three of the little birds splash about in the shallow puddle, their movements awkward and off-center. The man studies them for a few minutes as they repeatedly lurch free of the gunk, wings beating madly, trying to get air-born. Their efforts come up lacking, though, and one by one, they plunk back into the sticky liquid.

Realization slowly comes upon the man. Brows knitted, he kneels and dips a cupped palm into the stone basin, lifting out pulpy bits of decomposing grape and oozing juice. He sniffs the stuff, and finds it not altogether unappealing. Closing his eyes he brings his hand to his lips and slurps up the contents. Still a bit too sweet and way to chunky, but better, ultimately, than the goat-water. He helps himself to another handful. And another. And again, and again until the basin is empty.

Sometime later the man returns to the shade of the fig tree. He is smiling, a pleasant feeling of warmth and good cheer alive in his stomach. He sings a few notes of a song from his village. It has never sounded so good. He sings to his scraggly goats. They keep their opinions to themselves. But that’s okay. Who in his right mind would trust the opinion of a goat?

Tomorrow. Yes. Tomorrow will be a big day. Tomorrow the man will bring the village elders here and show them his discovery. And when he does, they will lift him high and make up songs in his honor. Glorious.

He goes to sleep in the shade, still smiling lopsidedly, and dreams of grape juice and dancing girls.

He does not wake up when wolves come along and eat his goats.


Humans have been drinking, and getting drunk, for many thousands of years. Archeological evidence points to a fully formed viniculture in existence by 7,000 BC. Just to put it in perspective, that predates written language. Alcoholic intoxication is as important to human history as art, philosophy, even religion. It’s also a gonzo whopper of a good time.

The ancient Egyptians understood intoxication (didn’t even have a word for alcoholism), as did the Medieval Scottish Highlanders, Pre-Colombian Cliff Dwellers, Japanese Ronin, Romantic English poets, nineteenth-century Crowlyite mystics, Al Capone and his merry rum runners, and today’s post-millennial ginhounds as glimpsed in sports bars, dark lounges, spilling from the beds of pick-up trucks, and, bottle in hand, gamely trying to redirect a world that has lost its way. Sensible groups of men and women, and even the odd culture, have tirelessly worked to counteract the Dictatorial Army of Quotidian Belief—they’ve kept their eyes on the prize, their feet on the floor, and their breath Binaca-fresh, ready at the drop of a shot glass for fisticuffs or a bacchanal, whichever. They have, to paraphrase Shakespeare, screwed their courage to the sipping place.

How did our ancient ancestors first discover (or, more likely, stumble upon) the intoxicating properties of various fermented fruits and grains? It’s doubtful we will ever know exactly how it happened. The story I’ve just told is but one of many possibilities.

All that matters is that some long-ago individual was the first human being to ever get loaded, setting the stage for the centuries of tippling and good times that followed.

We owe that brave, clever man or woman a heartfelt thank-you.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Open Letter to Two Truckers

I’ve been sitting here listening to you guys for close to half an hour, while you go on and on about how President Obama hates America but loves the Muslim Brotherhood, about how he is turning the country into a socialist dictatorship (those two words don’t play well in the same sentence, by the by), and how he is going to use the murders in Connecticut to justify sending his stormtroopers into your homes to take away your guns. I have listened politely while you explained how he has it all wrong, that the surest way to keep what happened at that school from happening again is to arm the teachers. I’ve listened to everything you’ve said, and now I wanna talk for a little while, because I have a few questions for you, and a few observations.

First of all, let’s talk about the Second Amendment. The one you’re all twitterpated about. It says you have the right to bear arms period, right? Actually, not so much. Here’s the Amendment as it reads—the entire Amendment:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Now, since you are so very familiar with these cherished words, perhaps you could answer a few questions for me?

Great. Here goes…

Can I see your Militia ID cards, please? Also, which federal, state or local entity is sponsoring your Militia activities? Is it that same entity that provides your funding? And if so, I’d like to see your tax and payroll files (unless you are doing your “patriotic” duty gratis), as well as a copy of your leadership structure. Oh, and what are your mission parameters? Do you have the necessary permissions to cross state boundaries in pursuit of your…um…duties? And could I please get the names and contact information for your liaisons with local law enforcement, the US military, the White House, Homeland Security, the CIA the FBI and—dare I say it—the BATF?

While you’re getting all that material together, I’ll just press on if that’s all right.

Let’s chat a little bit about your central thesis—arming teachers. According to you two (and Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Wayne LaPierre, and other thoughtful, reasoned—and don’t forget frightened and paranoid—members of your tribe) issuing sidearms to America’s teachers will bring a halt to atrocities like the one that happened in Connecticut, because the minute some whack-job opens fire on the students, Nice Teacher Lady will whip out her trusty Glock 19 and wax the perp before he can fire so much as one round from his high-capacity magazine. Does that about sum up your position?

I’m wondering if you’ve considered a few things.

For instance, you do realize that you’re talking about one of those dreaded Federal Programs you hate so much, right? If the government issues a weapon to every teacher in the country (there are about 3.3 million teachers in public schools alone) someone is going to have to oversee it—budgets, certifications, re-certifications, ongoing monitoring, etc. Estimating conservatively (boy, ya gotta love that word, right?) we’re talking about tens of millions of dollars every year. And that, boy howdy, is simply a huge fucking burden on the national ledgers. Or the States ledgers, if the Feds pass the, so to speak, buck. Or maybe you intend to have the teachers foot the bill for their own weapons? Bet’cha a dollar the National Education Association will have a few choice words for you about that idea, and I bet you can’t say most of those words on prime-time TV. In fact, I bet those words rhyme with Yuck and Poo.

Moving along, are you going to force these teachers to carry sidearms? What if they don’t want to? And wouldn’t it worry you, just a tiny little bit, about a teacher who really, really wanted to go in amongst a bunch of first graders armed?

Which brings me to another couple of things. What happens when one of your armed teachers loses his sidearm? This happened in Lapeer, MI, just last month, except it was the school’s rent-a-cop who left his weapon in a bathroom. And furthermore, what is your response going to be when one of your armed educators loses his shit and turns his pistol on little Jimmy? Maybe even your little Jimmy? Because such a terrifying happenstance isn’t a might, it’s an ugly certainty.

Oh, but wait. If that happens, one of the other armed teachers will leap in, just like John McClane, and save the day, right? Sure. Sure. I mean, that’s what always happens in the movies, right?

And, hey: have you ever been a teacher? No, I thought not. I have, however, and I’m here to tell ya this. It’s fucking hard—kids with over-developed senses of entitlement, ungrateful parents, grateful parents who think of you first as day-care, and second as an educator, the bafflingly ridiculous menace of standardized testing etc., etc., etc. And now you want to add crisis management to their list of responsibilties? On top of everything, you want them trained in the same manner as police officers? I haven’t seen that movie yet, but I bet Mel Gibson is in it.

To sum it all up, you are in favor of massive governmental programs that won’t work (there was an armed guard at Columbine, remember, and that sure worked out exactly according to your plan), and at the same time you are in favor of letting criminals enjoy the same armed freedoms they enjoy today? Wow. You must also be in favor of cognitive dissonance, boys, cuz you got it in spades.

The only sensible solution is to get rid of assault-style weapons. Nobody needs them. You don’t need them for home protection, unless there has been a sudden uptick in paramilitary gangs commando-raiding suburban homes to steal Blu-Ray players and Keurig coffee makers. Which there hasn’t been. Nor will there ever be. And you don’t need assault-style weapons to hunt with. I get along just fine with a regular ol’single-shot Ruger. If you need 30 rounds to bring down Bambi’s mom, find a different fucking hobby, before you hurt somebody—because you obviously can’t shoot. I recommend continuing with what is apparently your other favorite pastime: cranial self-colonoscopy.

See, since your head is already up your ass, you might as well learn a few things about yourself while it’s in there.

I gotta go. It’s been a pleasure meeting you both.


Friday, February 1, 2013


On January 10th, I was in Kansas City on business and got knocked around pretty good in a car wreck. I don’t remember much of the accident itself, mostly because I was unconscious for most of it, but I do recall—pristinely, actually—the words of the cops and the EMTs, when they informed me, in that calm jaded way they have, that had the other car hit mine on the driver’s side I would not be sitting here writing this, or in the “best case scenario,” would now be walking around without any legs.

Long story short, the whole thing got me thinking—largely about the various other times, over the course of my life, that the world has attempted to do me grievous harm, or to force my acquaintance upon the Black Rabbit of InlĂ©.

Let’s see…

I once half-rolled, half-fell, about 30 feet, through a cottonwood tree and into a dry river bed when the embankment I was standing on collapsed out from under me. I’ve wrecked twice on motorcycles and once on a freaking scooter, and the scooter mishap messed me up worse than the other two combined. When I was in college I fell off the extension of an A-frame ladder and sliced the back of my head open. Also in college, I fell through a plate-glass window. Not counting this most recent journey into la-la land, I’ve knocked myself unconscious, or been knocked unconscious by other means, on four other occasions. I’ve been bitten twice by rattlesnakes (once on a boot, but once on my hand), once by a black widow spider, and three times by scorpions. I’ve been nose to nose with a black bear, about as far from a zoo as you can get. In junior high I got hit in the face with a baseball bat, breaking my nose and cracking the orbit around my left eye. I got through a cancer scare unscathed a couple of years back. At a theater in New York an inexperienced stagehand dropped a 30-pound cable bundle on my head from the loading bridge. When I was a cook at a Japanese restaurant, I got bit by a 220v plug with a short in it. I dislocated my shoulder and broke both collar bones while mud diving one night in a rain storm. I’ve been in three other car wrecks, killing two other cars. Four Hells Angels backed me into a corner in a bar, but I talked my way out of it. One very stupid night I tried to break up a dog fight and got half my right thumb bitten off. Over the years I’ve ingested enough drugs and alcohol to open my own clinic. I’ve been held up at knife-point once. I’ve been robbed at gun-point three times—on the last occasion the robbers had a very casual conversation about whether they should just take off or tie me up in the cooler and cut my throat. I’ve been shot at once, by an angry farmer with a shotgun who didn’t like trespassers. (I was eight years old.) And I’ve had my heart broken three times.

I thought all about all these things, but I thought about something else, too.

When I was 13 I went on a sort of fieldtrip to the Soviet Union (long story). One of the first things I did upon arrival was buy one of those pill-boxy beaver-fur caps with the ear flaps that tie over the top. It was February, and Russia in February is witch-tit cold, so I wore the flaps down a lot, tying them under my chin. Kept tying them in knots, though, and couldn’t get the damn hat off half the time.

All of us students were walking around Gorky Park late one afternoon. I was waiting on line for a merry-go-round, and was worrying about my hat flying off during the ride. Once again, though, the strings were knotted. I let lots of people go ahead of me while I fumbled, and the ride guy was getting impatient.

Then there was a girl standing in front of me. She was on the trip with the rest of us, but I hadn’t talked with her much because she was an older kid—a ninth grader. She asked if I needed help, and I said that I did. She started picking at the knot with her little cold-pink fingers, but couldn’t get it to loosen. So she leaned into me and went after the thing with her teeth. A couple of nibbles and the knot came undone. When she pulled back she looked me in the eyes and giggled.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if people thought we were kissing?”

“Uh-huh,” I said.

And then she just did it. Her soft lips touched mine. She smelled like bubble gum.

It was my first kiss. The whole thing lasted about five seconds.

But for those five seconds I saw infinity.

So, I’ve been thinking about that.