Thursday, September 29, 2005


I've had a further communication from Burping Squid. He/she asks that I correct my earlier post, in which I (understandably, to my mind) called him/her a "Squid." Burping Squid takes the position that his/her username is a two-word participial phrase, with "Squid" serving as the object of the verbal "Burping." That is, the name describes a person who has eaten a plate of calamari, with the consequence that his/her gas emissions are redolent of squid.

When I referred to my correspondent as "Squid" for short, I mistakenly assumed that "Burping" was a participial adjective modifying "Squid," so that the Squid does the Burping.

So it goes. I apologize for the error, but you can see why I might have come down on the wrong side of the grammatical ambiguity here.

I should note, as a further matter, that I make this retraction not because I have any interest in giving any more airtime than necessary to this molluscaphage heckler, but rather out of a desire that my record of the events in this weblog be mistake-free — and therefore unimpeachable.

A Sort of Update . . .

Well, I've checked my voice mail messages a number of times today. Nothing yet from Peru Guy. Just a couple angry messages from lawyers (sigh!) and a crank-call from this Burping Squid character, who seems emboldened by the fact that I called him out by name in my last post.

Squid, yours is quite possibly the worst fake Andean-Spanish accent I've ever heard, and I've heard at least three.

As ever, though, I promise to keep you all posted.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Jimmy Atahualpa

I've received a fair amount of email on this subject over the past couple days, quite a bit of it supportive. But as usual, there is an undercurrent of taunting from the skeptics out there. These are, no doubt, the same people who told me I'd never get that mail-order propane grill assembled without a contractor's help, the same faithless detractors who bet against me in the 100-meter crab-walk sprint at the '98 Goodwill Games. The overall tone and content of these messages is, I think, best captured in the following one-liner from "":

Well, Phutatorius — it's [time of email] on [day of email], and your army hasn't yet stormed Washington. What gives?

To this message and to all others like it, I answer: Patience, Brother/Sister. This sort of thing takes time, and what's more, it is accomplished in incremental steps. A march on the White House is not the only marker of progress worthy of an update.

And I do, as a matter of fact, have something to report.

Earlier today I was walking back to the office from a favored lunch spot when Jimmy Atahualpa (stage name), a friendly acquaintance, flagged me down on the sidewalk. Jimmy is a Quechua Indian from the Peruvian Andes and formerly a Harvard Square street musician. Jimmy used to play the pan flute in a drum-and-pipe ensemble with his brother, Chico. Andean folk interpretations of rock 'n' roll classics — Sympathy for the Devil, Waiting for the Man by the Velvets. Stuff like that. Jimmy was a seasonal performer, playing to the usual audiences of tourists and teenage runaways in the spring and summer months, then taking up a day job at a dry-cleaning company from November to April. He did this for six, seven years before the perchloroeethylene and other cleaning chemicals gave him lung cancer.

Jimmy's all right now. Doctors took out most of his left lung, along with the lower lobe of his right. In another couple months he'll have his five-year clean bill of health (knock on wood), but it taxes his lungs too much to play the pipes anymore. So now he just parks himself down in his customary spot on the brick sidewalk outside the Harvard Square train entrance (in fact, you can see him on the Google satellite map, if you really lean in and squint), where he sells alpaca blankets and CD-Rs of the Atahualpa Brothers' greatest hits. It helps his sales efforts that he keeps the excised portions of his lungs in a specimen jar on the sidewalk beside him. It's a good ice-breaker with potential buyers.

Anyway, I had just finished lunch this afternoon, and I was hustling back to the office for a meeting, when Jimmy called out to me from his seat on the sidewalk:


I waved hello.

"What happened to you?"

That stopped me in my tracks. Jimmy's a pretty discerning fellow, I thought, if he can look at me and see that, since the last time I saw him, I have had a Moment.

"Why do you ask?" was my question back to him.

"Well, you're limping, kind of dragging that left ankle," Jimmy said. "There's a butterfly bandage on your neck. It looks like somebody pulled a patch of hair off your scalp —"

"Oh," I said. "That. All of that. You're talking about the Incident." Not the Moment.

"— your right eye is blackened, you have gauze stuffed in your left nostril —" Jimmy paused to catch his breath, then continued — "you seem to be missing one of your incisors —"

"Yes, yes, yes," I interrupted, not anxious to hear Jimmy out as he catalogued every bump and bruise on my facies. "I had an Incident."

"What happened?"

I told him.

"Man, that sucks," Jimmy said. "Groomsmen."

Jimmy's a good person. Kind, thoughtful, generous, concerned. It shamed me that a man with 75% of his lung capacity sitting in a jar on the ground beside him would be offering me his sympathy, when my wounds were largely superficial. So I thought it best to try to put a good face on things, to say something upbeat. After all, I hadn't come complaining to him. He had simply asked me what happened.

"The upside to all of it, though, Jimmy, is that while I was on the ground and they were working me over, I had a Moment."

"A Moment, huh?" Jimmy picked up his jar and climbed up on his feet. He always wanted at least one hand on his jar. "Did you achieve Clarity?"

"I did."


"Insight, too," I said, proudly. "Destiny-shaping Insight."

"Tell me more," Jimmy Atahualpa said to me, bringing his hand to my shoulder.

I looked at my watch. Screw my one o'clock, I decided. Some things are more important. And over the next ten minutes I told Jimmy Atahualpa all about my Moment, what I had learned about myself, the plans I had for my future. All of it. Jimmy listened, rapt, as I told him these things. When I had finished, Jimmy looked me square in the eye, and he said:

"I beat cancer."

"I know," I said.

"Let me talk," Jimmy said, lifting a finger off his jam jar lid and pointing it at my sternum. "The power is in you, Phutatorius, to do all these things you're talking about. Just like the power was in me to beat cancer. You see? You just have to believe in yourself, brother. You got me?"

Touched, at a loss for words, I nodded.

"I know you got me, brother," Jimmy said, smiling, "'cause I can see it in your eyes. And because your eyes tell me you're serious, and you're a committed person, I think I can help you."

I raised an eyebrow.

"A guy I know back in Peru sends me these blankets, right? My supplier. His brother is a —" Jimmy looked over his shoulder, shifted his eyes left, then right, took a breath. "Well, my guy in Peru can put you in touch with his brother. Are you willing to do that?"

I didn't have the first clue who Jimmy's friend's brother was, or what he did. "What, is the guy a diplomat or something?"

"Let me have your mobile phone number," Jimmy said.

I rattled it off. Jimmy pulled a Rollerball pen from his pocket and took it down on the back of his hand.

"I can't make any promises, Phutatorius, but if this works out, and you get my guy's brother to call you, remember that I helped get you started. Okay?"

"Okay," I said. We shook on it.

"The power is in you, Phutatorius."

And that's how we left it. My telephone is charged and in my pocket. More importantly, I have this to say to all of you burping squids out there who can do nothing but criticize: Jimmy Atahualpa knows I'm serious.

And he beat fucking cancer. What have you ever done?

Monday, September 26, 2005

This First Day of the Rest of My Life

Why now? is your quite reasonable question.

Well, I'm glad I made sure you asked.

This is happening now because I had a life-changing Moment on Saturday. Although I've had such Moments before — and I reserve the right to have a subsequent Moment that sends my life careening toward some other, lesser destiny — this is the one I'm running with today. Because right now, brothers and sisters, I feel something. The Winds of Change are blowing between my ears, and I feel I have no choice but to listen to their music.

And not just to listen, but to dance.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, and ahead of my Moment. I attended a wedding this weekend, you see —

What ho, Phutatorius! You ARE a Romantic, aren't you?

Sir, I'm not terribly glad I allowed you to interrupt just now. But I'll answer your question: yes, I suppose I am a Romantic, in that broader sense of the term. Not the wine and cheese, hire-the-violinist Romantic, but an old-timey, Robert Louis Stevenson Romantic. In that sense, then, no — it wasn't the union of souls that moved me, not the day's celebration of matrimony that set my heart afire. No — the details, as they say, are in the particulars.

It was about 9:36 EDT. The vows had been exchanged, toasts delivered, casks of wine uncorked and spilled into lustful gullets. The deejay had supplied a suitably rakish voice-over to the bouquet-and-garter proceedings, and the Village People's YMCA had put more than one embarrassing uncle's sweat-soaked dress shirt on awkward display.

And so it was time, many guests supposed, to call for the Electric Slide. And call they did, in menacing, persistent, unison. The deejay knew what to do when confronted by the chanted commands of a drunken mob: you cue up the damned Electric Slide already. So he did.

On the periphery of the proceedings (where many of my brothers and sisters have known me to live), I took dainty sips at my fifteenth Diet Pepsi of the evening, and I watched wide-eyed as the Electric Slide came on, and the initial beats of this well-worn wedding-party classic snapped the scattered and ragtag assembly of guests suddenly to attention, pulled them smartly together into a square formation, and stirred them to move together in precision-timed, uniform, prefabricated steps.

Fascism! I cried. Fascism on the dance floor! This regimented block formation dancing, this soulless display of the most politically and aesthetically disturbing sort of social conformity, this Electric Slide! I could not allow it to continue. Before my judgment could get the better of me, I tossed Diet Pepsi #15 to the ground and heaved my body into the center of this military exercise they call a "dance." Screeching and cursing and flailing my arms, I shoved grandmothers to the ground. I hurled obscenities at the bride. I kicked the five-year old ringbearer and called his mother a Nazi.

And this — THIS was your Moment, Phutatorius? Another one of these Incidents of yours?

Ah, but you're jumping the gun, Brother/Sister. And you're confusing Incidents of high drama and a reasonable amount of bloodshed (of which I admit I have had many in my life) with Moments of clarity and insight (of which I am ashamed to say I have had comparably few). My initial frontal assault on the Electric Sliders was, as you say, another Incident — but only a precursor of and necessary precondition to my Moment. It was, you see, five minutes later, as I lay on the floor under a pile of groomsmen who were beating the living shit out of me, spitting teeth, that I had my Moment.

What of that Moment, Phutatorius? What clarity, what insight was given you during your Moment?

Two things, Brother/Sister. I learned two things at that Moment:

I realized, first, that to that point I was a failure as a leader of men.

And second, I understood that this world of "individuals," however many billion of them there may be, is just screaming for one man to impose a singular and dominating Order upon it. This world's civilians, wayward and dispersed, wait with bated breath for someone to play the song that will bring their lives into a strict focus. And its soldiers — God bless them! — they're just looking for someone, some Supreme Commander, who might give them an excuse to pile on an enemy and make off with his cuff-links.

And so, on Saturday night, as I pressed a Ziploc bag full of ice to my jaw and awaited treatment in the Mount Auburn Hospital Emergency Room, I took stock of my life. I understood that my ambitions were understated, and my regular suggestions of satisfaction (I'm just fine. How are you?) were outright lies. Lies I told to friends and acquaintances, and — far worse — lies I told to myself.

So now I find myself poised on the verge of a new Life's Adventure. I know not where this new path will lead, in the short-term. I can't possibly predict every twist or turn, every uphill climb, every misstep, tumble, or fruitless double-back. I only know that I will move down my new path with a steely determination, and that at the end of this path lies World Domination . . . or not. That's the game I'm playing now: all or nothing.

Keep your eyes open, Brother/Sister. Don't dare to blink. You won't want to miss a trick.