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Wednesday, November 30, 2011


 "Jam!" Hank Jakubowski had said. "Jam!" he said, pounding his fist, which was the size of a ham, butt and shank, upon the table.
We looked up from our lentil soup. We were sitting in Hanaan's Diner on the day after Thanksgiving and eating lunch under the inexorable ticking of the clock and the intimidating chop-chop-chop of Hanaan's cutting knife.
Ever since the demise of Colonel Qaddafi she had seemed to have lost focus for her bad moods; she no longer attacked "ugly onions of Libya" with her cutlery; they were just unpersonified onions now and she minced them without political comment in her strokes.
We were on our best behavior, therefore, assuming that she was stalking a new object for her malevolence; a "black widow", as it were, on the make for a new mate to eviscerate. That is why the outburst from the Bialystok Buffalo took us by unhappy surprise.
We looked at him with question marks upon our brows.
He looked around. The chop-chop-chop from the back of the diner had stopped, and there was no earthly reason to assume that that was a beneficent coincidence, so to speak; the silence spoke volumes.
"Jam," he said in a normal conversational tone. "J.A.M." he spelled out. "Where is John Allen Muhammad when ya need him?"

Needless to say, this did not immediately clear things up. Most of us were a bit hazy on the identity of the Mr. Muhammad referred to. I turned and caught the raised and inquiring supercilia of Hanaan herself come into view from the kitchen like two twin rain squalls roiling over a perturbed sea.

That was all; Hank did not seem to want to clarify. This spoken intermezzo between the soup and the sandwich seemed to be taking place solely in his universe of discourse. Everyone decided to let it be.

After lunch, I walked home with Levine.
"That Muhammad character, that was the D.C. sniper, you know." said Levine.
"Ah," I said. I had quite forgotten. I suddenly recalled my daughter - who was living in D.C. at the time - telling me that the D.C. police had cautioned the population to walk in a zig-zag fashion in order to spoil the aim of the sniper, a bit of bureaucracy which was Life imitating Art, à la Monty Python and their Ministry of Funny Walks.
"What do you think Hank meant?" Levine asked.
"Ah," I said, then hastily "Dunno," having gotten my unisyllabic and bisyllabic responses mixed up. I did not know if Hank were advocating violence and mayhem, or were in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. It was just after Thanksgiving and the Budget Super Committee Super Fiasco and nobody was feeling too great. It seemed to me that this was what the end of the Roman Republic must have been like: leaders made weak by a life of wealth and their imaginary greatness, people made witless by no responsibility other than as consumers of breads and circuses; when the soppresata hits the fan, it's like the proverbial chickens with their heads cut off.

"I'm going to have some XLIS." Levine said, as if this were an everyday occurrence.
"Hmmmm...?" I was more providing a sound track rather than responding.
"It's a drug."
No shit. Levine had been a chemist before retirement. He was pretty sharp. He probably had a stash of many, many things stored in a club bag... or a valise... or a steamer trunk, if there had been a goodly amount of personal effects when he retired and cleaned out his office at Pfizer... or a Jenny Lynd... or a Saratoga trunk... or a Wardrode type - a garde-robes... or a Dome-top or Camel-back trunk... or Hump-back or Barrel-top... perhaps a Footlocker...
I had been surprised, and the mind was wandering like a dervish dancing in circles. I asked, "You don't mean X, like Ecstasy, do you?"
He shook his head no. "XLIS is a endocannabinoid - like the marijuana produced inside the body. It's involved with retrograde signaling between brain synapses: instead of presynaptic neuron to postsynaptic neuron - the normal way - XLIS and others seem to encourage transmission from postsynaptic to presynaptic."
"Really," I said, trying to make it sound impressively impressed.
"Yes. I think it is the basis of the monstrous feedback loop of intelligence we call life, a continual flow in and  back of data being processed... all due to THC... or its brothers."
"Und sein Brüder," I muttered, remembering not a German film from 2004, Agnes und seine Brüder, but an ancient thing, a story by Arthur Schnitzler, a writer from the dim past, a writer on palimpsests - his story, Der blinde Geronimo und sein Brüder.
We walked into the sunset.
"It's a 'drug lite'. So, you want a bissel?" Levine said.
For a moment, I felt like Rick in Casablanca walking off with Captain Renault.

XLIS came in transdermal patches, which I felt was a civilized way of delivery compared to smoking or suppositories. It was a long after... meaning afternoon... we were busy defining new ways to speak about things. I had not had a possibly illegal drug in 40 years, not since the government monopoly on the mind and mind-benders. I am not frivolous: I had merely had my fill of the non-drug world of 2011.
XLIS seems to promote interaction rather than putting people into their own little world; we continually spoke to each other, and it was as if dramas were unfolding. These were not some faded diorama of reality, but were - or seemed to be -- truly historic dramas, dramas and actions from ancient Delphi where the ivy and vines of Dionysos grew in the citadel of Apollo, and Apollo was like a johnny-come-lately...
"Why?" I asked Levine.
"I went to Hebrew school," he said. "Ask me about the Maccabees, not the Greeks."
After that, we slipped...

We slipped into the communal guise of the Budget Super Committee...

Washington D.C. resembled Dicken's London, and we felt like the ghosts of Christmases Past, and felt a Scrooge-like urgency to amend our ways...

... It was a recent and tense discussion about European debt, about Greece and about Italy, we stood inside a vast bay window looking out upon the country. There was a group of us, a somber and sober committee. I looked around and saw Levine; he smiled and waved. The group contemplated the scene outside; the landscape went on for miles. At one moment we were within a marble building, very Lincoln Memorial-ish, untouched by the threatening winds and weather about us; merely looking at the vast panorama before us with rapt attention; at another moment we were in the middle of autumn cornfields and wheatfields, or standing near grain elevators where a distant steam locomotive whistle was heard; then we were standing in the slurry of bright sun and dark old architecture of an urban school...
We looked about us at the pain, the loss, and the fear felt by ourselves and by friends in Europe. Looking at each other, we spoke suddenly with our eyes: we swore that we would forge a meaningful agreement so that the country could heal and live without fear.

It was the day before Thanksgiving. We had prepared the ground for a brief season of winter and had made plans for the spring planting. We had done our work, and we had succeeded, knowing that no matter how long the winter, spring will follow with its riot of growth, the time of the robins' call.

Outside, the snow began to fall.



Unknown said...

Hmmm. Didn't see any anti-drug screeds. Did I misunderstand you before?

Unknown said...

Nice little story. Sounds rewarding, a little experience of civilized discourse with a kicker.

Montag said...

Thanks for reading.

No one sent a comment, but someone said that usually the only time we write about drug use is:
(1) we are using and we are writing the new "Train Spotting", or
(2) we are using and we have to pour ashes on our heads, or
(3) we condemn the use of all drugs and pray God to remove the cannabinoids from our bodies.

I thought someone would go ballistic about making jokes about what goes on in D.C. and John Allen Muhammad, but I guess we are far beyond anger and surprise in those matters.

Montag said...

And it sure is a kicker...
Of course, when they agreed to do it, I asked my banker if he wanted to bet the committee might actually do something, but he laughed: everyone knew it was a smokescreen and it was a perfect Ship of Fools sailing about for a couple months, ready to sink at Thanksgiving.

That's what is so iconic to me: they knew what was at stake and they stood there and watched the deluge start...

It was like instead of Noah, we had a Super Committee decided whether to build an ark...