Tuesday, May 28, 2013


     Tina says focus on everyday life, on the next year, a couple of years.  Repeat “you’ll feel better in a few hours.”  All passes.  You wish you could carry her in your pocket, your suitcase.  You wish she were always available to remind you of the best way to proceed, to act, the best answer to give, the better replies.  You wish she were inside your ear like those tiny earphones police detectives wear on tv shows to listen to their superiors when they’re undercover or on a sting.  An earphone/microphone that allowed you to ask her what to do next would surely bring calm to your mind, not to mention your breathing, your heart, your legs. 


     Yes, legs. They get jell-oy when you’re anxious.

     An earphone plus microphone can be an asset for anyone who suffers through the small (and not so small) indignities of modern life.  Lose the anxiety tell yourself.  Talk while you walk and scold yourself for the uneasiness, the panic, the worry.  Stop it!  say out loud when there is no one around.  Stop it and live every day joyfully and fearlessly.  Stop the fretting, the heart racing, the headache.  Live every day.  Live the moment.

     You can’t do anything about most of your worries.  Smile when you walk. Turn your eyes to the shining sun and be grateful for its warmth.  I know: life sucks sometimes.  But you have to get past the suckiness. Get past the immeasurable loss, the sorrow it brings.  Pass the threshold of sadness and walk into the air, the sun, freedom, beauty, the house of joy and creativity.  Walk out and breathe deeply, grateful that you’re still here.  Get past the pain and its helplessness.  Smile. Look up.  Kiss the sky like Jimmy Hendrix sang.

Friday, May 17, 2013


    I'm a curious person.  Some would say nosy but I think my curiosity is healthy.  It leads me to looking things up, learning stuff others might find pointless.  My brain seems to store a plethora of useless facts.  But I like them there, sitting or standing inside my head, ready to deploy when they are needed: lots of tiny bits of information (and some not so tiny) keeping me company.

    Today I want to share a few with you.  Let me know what you think or feel or whatever.

VESTIGIAL ORGANS (A partial list)


In plant-eating vertebrates, the appendix is much larger than in humans.  Its main function is to help digest a largely herbivorous diet. The human appendix is a small pouch attached to the large intestine where it joins the small intestine and does not directly assist digestion. Interestingly, it has been noted by paleontologist Alfred Sherwood Romer in his text “The Vertebrate Body (1949)” that the major importance of the appendix “would appear to be financial support of the surgical profession,” referring to, of course, the large number of appendectomies performed annually. In 2000, in fact, there were nearly 300,000 appendectomies performed in the United States, and 371 deaths from appendicitis. Any secondary function that the appendix might perform certainly is not missed in those who had it removed before it might have ruptured. 


The subject of male nipples is a sensitive, and maybe confusing, topic to many. Those who wish to invalidate evolutionary theory might pose the question, “Was man descended from woman?”  Both men and women have nipples because in early stages of fetal development, an unborn child is effectively sexless. Nipples are present in both males and females; it is only in a later stage of fetal development that testosterone causes sex differentiation in a fetus. All mammals, male and female, have mammary glands. Male nipples are vestigial; they may perform a small role in sexual stimulation and a small number of men have been able to lactate.


With all of the pain, time, and money that are put into dealing with wisdom teeth, humans have become just a little more than tired of these remnants from their large jawed ancestors. But regardless of how much they are despised, the wisdom teeth remain, and force their way into mouths regardless of the pain inflicted. There are two possible reasons why the wisdom teeth have become vestigial. The first is that the human jaw has become smaller than its ancestors – and the wisdom teeth are trying to grow into a jaw that is much too small. The second reason may have to do with dental hygiene. A few thousand years ago, it might be common for an 18 year old man to have lost several, probably most, of his teeth, and the incoming wisdom teeth would prove useful. Now that humans brush their teeth twice a day, it’s possible to keep one’s teeth for a lifetime. The drawback is that the wisdom teeth still want to come in, and when they do, they usually need to be extracted to prevent serious pain.


The fused vertebrae are the only vestiges that are left of the tail that other mammals still use for balance, communication, and in some primates, as a prehensile limb. As our ancestors were learning to walk upright, their tail became useless, and it slowly disappeared. It has been suggested that the coccyx helps to anchor minor muscles and may support pelvic organs. There have been documented cases of infants born with tails, an extended version of the tailbone that is composed of extra vertebrae.  In those cases, the tailbone has been surgically removed with little or no adverse effects.  Nevertheless, there are no adverse health effects of such a tail, unless perhaps the child was born in the Dark Ages. In that case, the child and the mother, would’ve been considered witches and killed instantly.


The erector pili are smooth muscle fibers that give humans “goose bumps”. If the erector pili are activated, the hairs that come out of the nearby follicles stand up and give an animal a larger appearance that might scare off potential enemies and a coat that is thicker and warmer. Humans, though, don’t have thick furs like their ancestors did, and our strategy for several thousand years has been to take the fur off other warm looking animals to stay warm. It’s ironic actually that an animal, sensing danger is near, would puff up its coat to look scarier, but the human hunter would see the puffier coat as a warm prize, leaving the thinner haired weaker looking animals alone. Of course, some body hair is helpful to humans; eyebrows can keep sweat out of the eyes and facial hair might influence a woman’s choice of sexual partner. All the rest of that hair, though, is essentially useless. 


Your sinuses are basically pockets of air that reside inside your face. The biological role of sinuses is often a topic of heated debate, but there is little-to-no-consensus on their actual purpose. One thing everyone can agree on is that one of the only things worse than a sinus headache is when your sinuses get infected.


The human ear has all kinds of strange things going on with it. For one thing, there’s an entire group of muscles attached to our ears that, for most monkeys, are used to move the ears like satellite dishes trying to pick up a signal. For us, however, they just sit there – not moving anything – suggesting that they’ve lost their biological function. Except, of course, for those of us who can wiggle our ears, in which case, they serve the purpose of making you look like a fool. It’s worth pointing out that chimps, like us, also have these underdeveloped muscles and therefore lack the capacity for ear-movement, as well.  Furthermore, in about 10% of the population, the outer rim of the ear called the helix has been known to show signs of vestigial features. In the ear a thickening of the helix called “Darwin’s tubercle” occurs at the juncture of the upper and middle thirds of the ear – a feature common to many mammals.


Your plica semilunaris – what many believe to be a vestigial remnant of your third freaking eyelid – is the small fold of tissue located on the inside corner of your eye (not the little bump in the very innermost corner but the small flap next to it). Your plica semilunaris are the vestigial remnants of what are referred to as “nictitating membranes”, which are most commonly found in birds, reptiles, and amphibians. In a masked lapwing the membrane is typically translucent, and serves to moisten the eye, clear debris, and help stare down weeping angels. Humans, sadly, are not equipped with these functioning third eyelids, but don’t let that stop you from standing in front of a mirror and willing yourself to make them move.

Monday, May 13, 2013

POLIO: A poem


On the hospital bed I sit,
my four-year old hands folded
on my lap.  I wait.  We all wait
alone in our pain: four, five,
eight year olds. My gaze glued
to the door of the vast children’s
ward – tall beige walls, dark grey
tiled floors, windows fogged with
years of dust and grime, and sorrow. 

On the white sheets I sit,
in the Hospital de NiƱos, frail
and dark.  I wait for my mother,
for my father.  We all wait. 
A nun washes my face, combs
my hair.  Makes me pray.  No
breakfast for you today  she says
and moves on to the black-haired
girl next to me, still asleep.

But, before mom and dad arrive,
two burly orderlies wheel me
down the hallway.  Where are
we going?  I ask in my small, brave voice.
In the O.R. the nurse
covers my face with a mask.
What is this?  I ask again.
I don’t hear the answer.

Friday, May 10, 2013


    How many times have you dined alone in your life?  Thousands probably.  You don't mind at all. Sometimes you prefer it.  Don't have to make small talk.  Or big talk for that matter.  A good book, a newspaper can offer you enough company.  Just enough and not too much.  You dread inane conversations.  Dread them.  After the Picasso lecture you are hungry and don't feel like going home.  Plus you like the egg-lemon soup they serve at Miller's.  A glass of pinot grigio, some ribs and baked potato and you're in heaven.  

    The restaurant is buzzing.  Busy this Thursday evening.  Lots of people to watch and try to decipher: who are they?  why are they here?  You can tell some of them are from out of town.  You wonder: what are they doing in Chicago?  a conference?  a shopping spree?  an illicit liaison?

    Your friend left, preferring to take the train and go back to the suburbs.  You want a good meal. Your husband chose to go home too after work instead of joining you at the lecture.  Something about stressful day and germs.  But you rather have supper first than go home and try to figure out what to eat.  

    How many times have you dined (or lunched or breakfasted) alone in your life?  So many you can't count them.  Miller's Pub offers you enough company and entertainment.  A middle-aged man sits alone at the other end of the long bench.  Eats ribs.  You want'em too.  A young woman in a blue dress takes a seat by the window.  Alone.  And then there are the big groups: loudly talking and laughing, clinking glasses, celebrating.  You sip your soup slowly; then handle the ribs one by one, the meat soft and loose, messy with barbecue sauce not too sweet.  The potato opened in half receives the pat of butter, the spoonfuls of sour cream; they melt into the white flesh.  A sip of wine in between bites to cleanse the palate before the next mouthful.  

    The waitress brings you a warm, moist towel for your hands.  You are done.  And happy.  Check please!  Always you leave a generous tip.  Always a supporter of the working class.  The evening is done.  The elevated train awaits you high up Wabash Avenue.  You'll sit by the window and watch the buildings go by, watch inside closed offices and lighted apartments.  You'll daydream about paintings and white wine and sweet ribs.  A good evening all in all.