Along with the oil industry, the communications industry and the elevator ‘Close Door’ button industry, the pharmaceutical industry is one of the least trusted clubhouses in the great corporate tree. “They want to keep us sick.” “They’d rather treat us than cure us.” “I don’t speak English.” These are all impassioned criticisms I heard whilst skulking around my local pharmacy, asking strangers how they felt.
The problem with the pharmaceutical industry is that its sheer size has led to corruption and sophisticated flim-flammery, all in search of a quick profit off the desperation and ignorance of the common folk. Also, the industry has pretty much always been corrupt and full of flim-flammery. Only now the bullshit fits neatly into a pill instead of a good ol’ fashioned Wonder-Balm.
We have regulation now – oversight from way on high, which insists that someone actually prove that goat-scrotum extract cures eczema before they can advertise it on a product label. This is why the really fun claims of outlandish hooey can be found in the ‘supplement’ aisle these days. But even our modern snake oil derivatives can’t compare to the creative mangling of truth from the patent medicine days.
Back in the 1600’s, if you could make friends with someone in the royal camp you might be lucky enough to be issued ‘letters patent’. These were legal papers which allowed you to use the official royal endorsement in any of your advertising. For purveyors of bottled cures, this was a huge deal; it added a legitimacy to whatever freakish claims they might be making for their product. This led to the term ‘patent medicine’, which is misleading in that it’s not likely that any of these products were actually patented. Read more…
For those of us who actively seek out ladders under which to stroll, or who have completely forsaken blessing those who sneeze, superstition is a delightfully goofy window into the obsessive-compulsive static residue of the mind. What racist hoodoo has condemned genetically black-furred kitties to the bad-luck pile? Why does connecting one’s knuckles to a slab of dead tree ensure misfortune will be avoided? Does crossing my fingers in my Edmonton living room whenever Peyton Manning drops back into the pocket ensure a likely touchdown catch? Judging by my aching digits after last February’s Super Bowl, I’d say that’s a hearty no.
But as strange and inexplicably arbitrary as our goofy good-luck rituals may appear upon introspection, they would no doubt appear even more bizarre to an outsider. To demonstrate, I’m going to take the outsider’s approach and have a look at some of the traditional placations of imagined magic within the borders of our neighbor to the west (just past Alaska, of course), Russia.
Many of these superstitions are documented on paganism.msk.ru, which appears to my untrained eyes to be a legitimate source. Others have been splashed onto a Wikipedia page with no reliable citation. So, any or all of these might be fictitious, but for the purposes of fuelling our xenophobic need to giggle at other cultures, we’ll just assume them all to be accurate and practiced by every living Russian citizen. That way we won’t feel so dumb for French-kissing the underside of our Molson Canadian cans to ensure our hockey team scores on a powerplay. Or whatever we do.
Russians get to work early on children’s self-esteem. It is considered an invitation to rotten luck if a stranger looks directly at a baby before that baby has reached a certain age (somewhere between two months and one year). If the stranger does make eye contact, complimenting the baby is an even greater transgression. One should instead say, “What an ugly baby!” And if you want to buy that ugly baby a gift, you’d best wait until after he or she is born, otherwise it’s bad luck. For someone. Maybe for the mother, maybe for you, maybe for the ugly baby. Read more…
One might assume upon skimming this month’s selection of articles that the author has developed an unnatural preoccupation with death. The author would courteously disagree, and would remind you that no preoccupation with death is unnatural, unless it escalates to unreasonably eccentric behavior, like keeping makeup instructions for the undertaker in one’s pocket, just in case.
But it’s true, I have been seasoning this project with a salty array of morbid subject matter lately, and today will be no exception. But fear not – these are still quirky and jaw-slacking narratives of death-related weirdness, not ghoulish kilographs of doom and misery. I’m saving those for my next project, beginning in January: 1000 Words, 1000 Reasons Life Is Meaningless And We Should All Give Up And Embrace our Inevitable Demise. It’ll be a riot.
Our two protagonists today are the guy who wouldn’t die, and the other guy who didn’t actually live his entire documented life. For the former, we find a conspiracy to condemn a man to an early grave. The latter tale tells of a man kept alive on paper for decades after his innards stopped doing their thing. The common threads? Those two nefarious nasties: death and money. It’s always about death and money.
Michael Malloy was a man who knew how to drink. Sure, he was Irish, and that can certainly explain a smidgen of Michael’s alcoholic fortitude, but by the amber ruler of whiskey, this dude was Super-Irish. The year was 1933; Malloy was living in New York City, homeless, jobless and perpetually so deep inside a bottle one could probably have gotten drunk by simply sniffing his hair. Naturally, he was the perfect guy to murder and make it look like an accident. And that’s precisely what five of his “buddies” tried to do. Read more…
Every so often I like to illuminate the pages of this online repository of phact and phantasy with a story so luminous I can practically hear the creak of my readers’ perfunctory grins as their hearts glow from toasty delight.
This is not one of those days.
Today’s kilograph is a meandering stroll through the most dank and squalid corridors of mental illness and human tragedy. The story herein is so polluted with sadness and horror it could make the Coen Brothers squeamish. The only disclaimer I can offer is that the details of this tale will likely pummel your stomach like pizza dough and send you scrounging for a pick-me-up, be it literary, broadcast or pharmaceutical. This is an ugly one.
This is a story of unchecked insanity, of a man who squirmed through the cracks of a system that never clued in to the demons playing table tennis inside his cranium. This is paranoid schizophrenia, cranked up to ten then breaking off the knob. This is how the world utterly and completely failed Richard Chase and those who were to become his grizzly victims.
At age ten, Richard wholly embodied a phenomenon known as the MacDonald Triad – a trio of symptoms that all but closed the book on a person’s sociopathic bent and/or likelihood of homicidal leanings: he was cruel to animals, he lit stuff on fire and he wet the bed far beyond when a kid should stop. As a teenager, Richard discovered drugs, alcohol and a terrifyingly vivid stew of hypochondria.
Sometimes he felt his heart stop beating. Other times he was convinced someone had stolen his pulmonary artery. Vitamin C might fix him, or so he believed, leading him to hold oranges against his head in order to allow the vitamin to ooze past his skull via diffusion. I’m just guessing, but I doubt Richard scored a lot of high marks in biology class. At one point he became convinced that his cranial bones were shuffling around like drunken salsa dancers, so he shaved his head to keep track of them. Read more…
They’re out there.
Brazenly cutting through the city’s shadows with a cocksure strut, hocking Mountain Dew-flavored loogies onto public sidewalks already stained with the scuffed memory of generations of overpriced footwear. Their pants sag lower than their wilted ambition, their ball caps are aimed in all directions except those most appropriate for playing ball, while dubstep rhythms reel and bounce off their plastic-coated eardrums, fuelling their demonic scowls and shiv-happy instincts.
They’re out there, and they’re coming for us. Teenagers. Youths. Hooligans in training.
So sayeth the paranoid rumblings of the ephebiphobics, scrawled almost illegibly into notebooks, their furrowed frowns crinkling into permanent facial lines. To these skittish grownups, society is but a scraggly blond dreadlock away from Lord of the Flies meeting The Outsiders meeting The Wire. Their fears are not racial, they are not economic, and they have but a tenuous foothold in reality. After all, isn’t the typical teen an ethical off-shoot of Kiefer Sutherland’s sociopathic ‘Ace’ from Stand By Me?
Some outgrow the violence. Others grow up to become sadistic torturing super-agents.
It is perhaps a testament to my unwavering commitment to immaturity that I carry not a scrap of ephebiphobia in my pocket. From the Greek ephebos, meaning ‘youth’ or ‘adolescent’ and phobos, meaning ‘something that piles the heebies upon your jeebies’, ephebiphobia is an astonishingly common fear. Excuses can be made: “Kids today have no respect”; “Remember what those kids did in Columbine?”; “It’s all that YOLO and swag talk, and I don’t trust that Marky Mark or his Funky Bunch.” But the truth runs deeper. Read more…
When I was asked to serve on a jury back in 2006, my innards were polarized in their response. On the one hand, it would mean experiencing the justice system from the inside out, hearing evidence, steering the waves of someone’s fate, and perhaps getting to reenact the dramatic speech made by Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men. On the flip-side, I’d heard too many stories of people desperately seeking an escape from jury duty not to be suspicious of the supposed visceral experience of it all. What the hell, I figured. I had a dull job (though my current job makes computer tech support look like Indiana Jones-level archaeology by comparison), why not serve the system?
It was a three-day trial, resulting in me being sequestered in a hotel for three days, cut off from family, phone, newspapers, internet and television, lest I stumble across an episode of Law & Order that might taint my objectivity. I remember almost nothing else about the trial, except that Henry Fonda’s words failed to fall from my lips, and I missed three nights of The Daily Show. But I did my duty.
Little did I know the potential power of a jury to scrote-kick the law and even change it. Jury nullification is a quirky little corner of legal lore that has quietly but profoundly been a factor in how the judicial system works. Or fails to work, as the case may be.
The Magna Carta, one of those ancient leafs of yellowing paper that you’ll find behind glass so that generations of school kids can wander by and nod disinterestedly at it, established juries as a staple ingredient in the silty justice stew England was trying to put together in the 13th century. Back then, juries tended to side with the crown. This wasn’t a case of not wanting to piss off the king (though on occasion it might have been), but more a question of jury manipulation. Read more…
Hey kids. Your mom normally takes care of story-time, but there’s an engrossing marathon of The Real Housewives of some damn city on TV, and she’s asked me to fill in. I’m more of a freestyler than a page-reader, so I’m going to unfold this tale fresh from my mind’s back pocket.
Because I love you, and because my brain is bobbing lazily upon a lilting brume of a particularly precocious rum tonight, I think I’ll unwrap the story of one of daddy’s heroes, a man whose singular vision of an urban oasis has not only helped daddy get through your mother’s tearful re-telling of the salient plot-points of every goddamn Nicholas Sparks novel, but also through your ballet recitals, your soccer games and your school concerts. That man’s name was Don the Beachcomber.
No Trixie, daddy isn’t going to tell you a story about a pony. Why not? Because Don the Beachcomber was a man, man of prescience. Hey, stop your whining! What would you rather hear about? Trixie, I don’t know any stories about goddamn unicorns. Lucy, so help me, if you ask me to read that Berenstain Bears book again, I will spend your college fund on cocaine. What did you say, Tommy? You want a story about zombies? That’s my boy. The story of Don the Beachcomber is full of zombies.
Delicious, Delightful zombies.
When Don was nineteen years old, he left his home in Limestone County, Texas – that’s near Dallas, where the Cowboys play football… you remember last Thanksgiving when daddy was throwing candied yams at the TV set and cursing a man named Tony Romo for almost blowing a game against the Oakland Raiders? Well, he plays for the Cowboys. Anyway, Don went on an adventure, sailing around the Caribbean and the islands of the South Pacific. Read more…
If I was asked, “Where in the world would you least like to live?”, I might reply with an active war zone, or one of those places along the infamous Axis of Evil (Iran, North Korea, and Foxboro, Massachusetts). But let’s narrow it down – where in the United States of America would I least like to hang my frayed douchey hipster fedora?
The crumbling ruins of Detroit? Nah, I’m one of those insipidly optimistic types who believes that Motor City will crawl from the wreckage and rise like a Phoenix (note – not like Phoenix, which has never had to demonstrate such resilience). Somewhere in the remote backwoods of the deep south? While my pinko-commie-homo-lovin’-Jesusless ways would make it uncomfortable, I’m such a fan of warm weather and delicious barbecue that I could still make that work.
But what about Diomede, Alaska? You will never find a more wretched hive of cold and tedium. Located so close to Russian turf even I’d be willing to make the walk (were the terrain not so watery), this is a village that by all logic shouldn’t exist. And while I’d never plant my permanent return address upon its infertile soil, the place still fascinates me.
On the left is Big Diomede, an island that was not included in the 1867 sale of Alaska from Russia to the United States. On the right, only 2.4 miles across the frigid Bering Sea, is Little Diomede. This miniscule slab of rock appears to have been specifically designed to deter humans from bothering it, surrounded on all sides by steep, unmanageable cliffs. All sides except for the one corner that houses the incomprehensible village of Diomede, population: about 110. Read more…
Any responsible parent already knows that their children are but a wayward blink away from an eternity of fiery evil. It seems that every fad, trend or popular pastime of the past half-century has fallen beneath the dusty scrutiny of some religious group or another, damning the activity as Satanic, amoral or corrupting (or all three for the really fun stuff). Your kid’s into Pokemon? Those monsters are an affront to God. He likes reading about Harry Potter? Just a bunch of liberal brainwashing with a firm footprint in the occult. Really into chess? Only God can steer horses along an L-shaped path.
But Dungeons & Dragons was an easy target. You’ve got a cast of creatures from Tolkien’s nightmares dotting the landscape, and children who immerse themselves into a godless world of fantasy and imagination. Since the game rose toward the mainstream of geekdom in the 1970’s – back when geekdom was a truly excluded sub-clique and not the faux-aspiration of every duck-faced twit looking for chic value because they’ve seen a Marvel movie or two – it has been under attack by the ever-threatened right.
I’m not certain why there appears to be a significant link between the devout adherence to religion and the desire to protest and/or ban things, but it’s there. Gary Gygax and the creative team behind Dungeons & Dragons had to see this coming when they first hammered out the game’s rules. But they probably didn’t expect a response like this.
Any game with Super Punchy Lion-Dude must be an insult to God.
When young Irving Pulling shot himself in the chest one day in 1982, it was nothing short of a tragedy. Teen suicide leaves a wake of anguish and confusion, and often a heap of unanswerable questions that will plague his or her surviving friends and families for decades. Patricia Pulling – the grieving mother – felt she had the answers she needed. Irving was an avid player of D&D, and Patricia believed his suicide had something to do with the game. I’ll point out here that Patricia was also a fundamentalist Christian, though I think that will become evident as I tell the story. Read more…