Friday, April 25, 2014

BOTOX, pantyhose and the Fountain of Youth

I’m not saying I want to be irradiated, but I’m just thinking.  Maybe it’s not such a bad thing.  At the very least, I foresee a call for human volunteers in the near future. 

See, the journal “Oecologia” is reporting that the forests around Chernobyl remain heavily contaminated with radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster; and the unexpected benefit is that they still look good.


In the journal, Tim Mousseau, co-director of the Chernobyl and Fukushima Research Initiatives at the University of South Carolina, states that 28 years after that explosion in the Ukraine, the tree trunks there have not decomposed at a normal rate.

I’m not sure I can say the same thing about myself after a quarter century with Mr. Plath.  I don’t mean to suggest he’s radioactive.  I’m just saying that I have to utilize mirrors and smoke; practice selective perception and reverse anorexia for the sake of my own self-esteem.  Happy thoughts.  La la la la la!  Myopia is my friend.

Mousseau goes on to say that "apart from a few ants, the dead tree trunks were largely unscathed…[they] seem unchanged” even decades after the catastrophe.

Hmmm…so radiated tree trunks were, in effect, preserved.  Unaffected by what we often call the ravages of time…  Typically, a fallen tree disintegrates in about 10 years…but these trees were protected from normal deterioration.

Um hmmm…

And I love nature!  It appears I could have been hanging out in the Ukrainian woods to retain my youthful self.

And there’s this:  How do you suppose those researchers came to verify their observations?  A double-blind survey using pantyhose, of course.

To find out what was happening — or, more accurately, what wasn't happening — the research team collected hundreds of samples of leaf litter from forest floors that were not contaminated by radiation.  And they stuffed those leaves into bags lined with panty hose!

Why jam the uncontaminated leaves into pantyhose, you ask?  To keep out the insects!  Duh!  Everyone knows pantyhose keep the bugs away!  

Of course, that’s not why we originally crammed ourselves into pantyhose.  We sucked it up and forced ourselves, like so much Jimmy Dean sausage, into that run-resistant, reinforced toe, active support, control top torturous “legwear” to, to…why did we wear pantyhose? 

Like Trappist Monks we punished ourselves Monday through Friday with those heat-producing, skin-pattern-inducing implements of self-flagellation.  Was it vanity?  Peer pressure?  Selfless devotion to scientific research?

Anyway, back in the Ukraine, the researchers distributed those nylon-lined bags of leaves around the Chernobyl area and waited nine months.  Just because. 

And according to the study, samples of leaf litter that were placed in the highly contaminated areas showed 40 percent less decomposition than samples that were placed in uncontaminated sites. 

That’s right; it’s an unexpected outcome of radiation poisoning.  The degree of decay was inversely proportional to the degree of radioactive contamination!  Or, as we might put it in Oklahoma, the more things get toxified, the better they look!

Kind of makes you want to sleep with your microwave, doesn’t it?

If I had known all those years, that by squeezing pine needles and deciduous debris into my Hanes Silk Reflections I could have preserved my formerly youthful and svelte self…  Oh, nostalgia!
Since I have slid past the threshold of youth, skittered right through middle age like a hockey puck on ice and now find myself clinging to the doorjamb of naturally decomposing organic material, I am ever on the lookout for anything, anything that will put me in league with a Ukrainian tree. 

Don’t click your tongue, Dear Reader.  I’m not so far out of the norm.  It wasn’t that long ago we were all feigning disbelief at the idea of sticking ourselves in the forehead with a syringe full of the botulinum toxin – AKA botulism, a lethal poison – AKA Botox.  Now a bunch of us Baby Boomers have “migraine headaches” and “need” the stuff for “medicinal purposes.”

So it’s not that far-fetched, this nuclear meltdown advantage.  You won’t laugh so loud when you wake up one day looking like the Portrait of Dorian Gray and I remain fixed in time at my current state of disintegration.  Ha!

At the very least, I’m going back to my L’eggs.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

A black Lab's golden years

When I’m 91 I’ll probably lie on my side and bark at the sky.  Or the human equivalent of that – I’ll sit on the porch and sing, “We’re off to see the Wizard!”

Our dog Beauregard is 91.  He looks it.  He has lumps and bumps where he should be smooth.  He’s grizzled – white-face on black Lab.  He passed the distinguished gray stage and slid into geezer sometime in the last couple of years.  His lips are saggy and his eyes look a little milky.

He has a hitch in his get-along.  The elbow on his left front leg is out-of-whack.  It swings wide causing him to walk like Grampappie Amos.  He takes medication for his arthritis. 

And he has begun barking at the sky.  And the north side of the house.  And his reflection in the sliding doors.  In the middle of the day.  For no discernable reason.

It’s not the bark of his days as the family guardian.  Not the throaty ‘Who goes there?’ that warned any approaching shadow to steer clear of his people.  He had a good bluff. 

He always let us know if a Styrofoam cup was rolling down the alley, or if an arrogant cat sat atop the fence and stared.

Now we’re unsure why he barks. 

I remember a scene from “The Lady and the Tramp,” that old Disney movie about a sheltered uptown Cocker Spaniel who falls for a streetwise downtown Mutt. 

In that movie, when something goes wrong in their neighborhood, the dogs call out using their own social network, barking and howling, sharing the news, spreading the alarm or sometimes just gossiping.  Their pronouncements ring out over the fences and the clothes lines and echo across town into the night air.

That’s all true for Beau except he doesn’t have any real news.  Maybe he’s reliving the pheasant hunt of 2009.  That was a good year for those wily birds.  He could flush ‘em!  Oh!  No one could rout a ring neck like Beau in his day!

He still wants us to throw the thing for him, but he’s only good for three or four rounds before he declares the game over and heads for the feed bag. 

Not so long ago he had more enthusiasm and vigor than we could plumb.  Now, we throw the thing half the distance and he just creeps up on it.  He seems to prefer the appearance of the game to the game itself.  Or maybe, in his mind, he’s sprinting.

I think sometimes he forgets that I’m home.  Maybe that’s when his mind starts to wander and his lips and paws begin to twitch.  Like Walter Mitty, he enters an imaginary world full of duck hunts and wrestling matches with our son.

He seems to know when I’m thinking of having a nap, because whenever I get situated across the bed with the pillow tucked just right, that’s when he tunes up and begins his baleful song:  “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen!”

When I get up to see what he’s talking about, there he is, on his side in the middle of the back yard, head stretched skyward, his doggy mouth forming a big ‘O,’ singin’ the blues.

Sometimes I go to the window and bark back at him.  “Beau!”  He’s startled and jumps to his feet.  “Wha?  What was that?  Woof!”

I feel a little ashamed for scaring him, but when I leave the window, he starts barking again.  There’s almost a pattern to it, a canine Morse Code:  Woof!  Woof woof woof!  Woof woof!  And then repeat.  Woof!  Woof woof woof…

I go out to remind him he’s not alone and to commune with him a little.  While I’m out, he makes his rounds like a building superintendent, sniffing each corner of the yard with authority, making note of every mutt that passed this way.

I’ve taken to giving him a snack during our check-in visit.   He wolfs it down and forgets he ate it.  Just like when he was a pup.

It’s not such a bad life.

When I go back inside, he finds his spot and restarts the quiz.  Can you name that tune in five notes?

I should be so lucky.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Turnabout's fair play

I had an inkling.  That tiny voice in my head said something like, “This guy is a ringer!  Watch your step!  Look out!  Steer clear!” 

But I reined myself in – the guy looked like a Boy Scout!  A 30-year-old Boy Scout.

Really.  He wore a khaki uniform.  Khaki shirt and khaki pants.  Creased.  A black canvas belt and black shoes. 

“Leave It to Beaver” on his way to a Den meeting.

But in retrospect, I should have known.

We made a transfer of carts there in front of the grocery store.  He was just coming out with his granola and organic bananas.  Probably some quinoa.  Chia seeds.  Coconut milk.

I was just walking up.  On my way for a rotisserie chicken and a tub of scalloped potatoes. 

I was innocent, I tell you!  And healthy!

He smiled at me.  Oh!  I should have known.

He gestured as he pulled his bags from the cart:  “Here!” he seemed to be saying.  “Want this one?  It’ll save you all that effort of pulling a different cart from the jammed up stack of carts where the common people go. 

“I’m a gentleman and you’re a lady.  Don’t we all get along so well?  Aren’t we civilized?  Gentile?!” 

I should have known right then.  What a sucker I was!

Honestly, I almost stopped at that station inside the door, the one with the sanitizing wipes.  I’ve done it on lesser provocation.

Say it’s rainy outside, or someone in the general vicinity coughed one of those Dracula coughs into her elbow.  Oh yeah.  I’d go to the sanitation station like any nut who is obsessed with defeating bacteria and give everything a frantic wipe down. 

And I was healthy, did I mention? 

But he hesitated right there as I took the cart.  Maybe he was watching me.  I didn’t want to offend him after all.  A Boy Scout!

So I took the radioactive cart and steered it into the store, ignoring my instincts and the wiggy wheel.  I wrestled it around the cold cuts and the dairy section while his bacteria marched up my sleeve.

And now look at me!  A sudden flush.  A wave of goose bumps.  Then a temperature of 101!  All night and all day!  No one in the house wants to talk to me or bring me some soup!

OK.  No one’s home right now, but still. 

Some might say how do you know it was that guy?  How can you be sure he is the offender?

Oh he was the guy, all right.  Typhoid Larry.  With his hair combed over just so.  He was the guy.

He was too well-groomed for one thing.  He went around the store with his ambience, touching the bleu cheese and the tortillas.  I’ll bet he took someone’s arm ever so gently in the produce aisle, ostensibly steering her away from a fender-bender with the avocado end-cap.  In reality, guiding her toward malaise. 

But that’s OK.  No worries. 

Once bitten.  I won't be fooled again. 

It will take some planning.  I wouldn’t want him to see me coming. 

But I’ll be on the lookout for him.  I’m not saying I’ve saved one of my germ-laden tissues for him or anything like that.  But I won’t be traveling unarmed. 

I’ll run right smack into him if I have to.  I don’t care.  You don’t knock me off my feet and then glide away scot free!  

It will be subtle.  Misdirection is the ticket.  I’ll set up the collision course and then just turn my head and plow into him.  I’ll grip his hand and apologize to him until he apologizes to me while I make strategic deposits of microbes on his cuff, on his sleeve, on the handle of his cart.

Don’t think I won’t do it. 

If I could only be there to witness the onset!  He’ll get home and sit down with his wife.  Halfway through dinner he might think the thermostat is up too high and tug at his collar.  Then he’ll feel confused when a chill washes over him.  He’ll turn in early and wake up at midnight with the sheets drenched.

Oh yes.

Turnabout’s fair play.  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Enlightenment and the Whisker

I have a recurring whisker.

As God is my witness, I’ve plucked it out a hundred times with follicle enough to satisfy any forensic scientist on a mission to peg the most heinous of criminals.  And yet…it grows!

Stiff and proud.  Persistent.  Like General MacArthur to my chin, it returns.

And that’s why I couldn’t meditate.

The struggle started simply enough:  Let me just add to my already impressive repertoire of life-affirming practices, I said.  I cannot be satisfied with what some might call remarkable.  No!  Let me transcend the remarkable and rise into the stratosphere of the extraordinary. 

Let me meditate!

Yes!  Let me sit quietly and draw my breath from the ancient oxygen that permeates my soul.  I will inhale with the cosmos.  I will tap the wisdom of the universe!  I will…OK, you get the idea:  I thought I’d try to meditate. 

Following the time-honored rituals of, I settled into a straight-backed chair.  I let my hands rest naturally and comfortably in my lap.  Or on top of each other.  Or side by side.  Or on the armrests making that little ‘OK’ sign the truly serene make.

I closed my eyes.

I began breathing deeply and fully.  I focused on my breath and nothing else.

And just as the internet gurus directed me, when a thought came, I acknowledged that thought.  “Hello Thought,” I would say. 

Then, just as the masters do, I let that thought pass.  “Good-bye Sweet Thought!”  And back to concentrating on my breath.

I’m on my way!  I’m meditating!  I feel my third eye opening and enlightenment gathering around me! 

But then…inexplicably…my thumb was drawn to the whisker.  The whisker wanted recognition. 

No worries.  Just acknowledge the thing:  Hello Whisker.

And Good-bye Sweet Whisker…right?

But the Whisker would not go.  It would not be denied.  Like the White Whale, the Whisker tasked me. 

The Whisker sang a siren song.  I couldn’t leave it alone.  Each time I bid it adieu, it returned, calling to my thumb with irresistible determination.  Like Glenn Close in that creepy movie where she stalked Michael Douglas after their escapades in the elevator and he tried to blow her off after their one night stand when his wife was out of town:  My Whisker declared it would not be ignored!

OK.  Mellow!  Mellow!  We’ll just breathe our way through this.  What does say about cases like this?  Here we go:  Use an alternate meditation technique: “Being with Sound.” 

Designed for dealing with just such distractions to the process, the novice meditator is directed first to find “really calming music.”  Then, simply focus on the sound of the music and nothing else.  Put all your attention on the sound.

OK, Pandora here we go.  Classical!  That’s it.  No wait!  Nature music!  What could be more soothing or easier to disregard than the tweeting of sparrows and the rustle of leaves?  A piccolo.  Perfect!  Noodling faintly.  Oh yes!  So tranquil.

But the Whisker would not rest.  It would not be displaced by Pan and his flute. 

For a moment, I despaired.

But no!  I will not surrender to a hair!  No errant weed will rule my world!  I am master of my composure!

I dashed to the tweezers, leaned close to the magnifying mirror and snagged the offender.  I uprooted him without ceremony or remorse.  Ha!  Contentment is mine!

Returning to my sacred spot, I settled again.  I closed my eyes and found the dulcet piccolo and the gurgling brook.  Inhale.  Yes.

But wait.  What’s this?  Oh no.  My thumb has returned to the smooth spot where the Whisker once was and where it again will be.

Like the phantom leg of an amputee, the Whisker calls.  It bids my surrender.  Resistance is futile.

Then at last I understood; The Whisker would be my talisman, my only point of focus, my mantra.  Whisker, Whisker, Whisker! 

Oh Great and Powerful Whisker, take me to the empty core of my being so that I can plumb the depths of universal wisdom.

I stroke that place with my thumb knowing the Whisker’s resurrection mirrors the eternal cycle of life, death and re-sprouting-over-night that we all are bound to experience.

At last I am at peace.  Om.