Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Also, Wash Your Hands Afterwards

Most people think they have the basics of hygiene down, but odds are some of us don't. That's why you occasionally run into public-health information such as this sign, posted in a community college rest room, to alert us to sound hand-washing technique. This sign was carefully designed to account for people's different learning styles. We don't all take in information in the same way. Some people are visual learners, some are auditory learners, and some need both plus a whack on the head. So this sign, showing how to wash one's hands, included both text and a hand mock-up with helpful arrows pointing to the germane washable portions. It probably does the trick, although a small percentage of people reading the "back of hands " arrow, which flips back on itself, will turn themselves away from the sign and then walk away puzzled, without washing.

This is the sort of thing that gets some people all riled up about government overstepping, but those sorts of people, unlike myself, have yet to suffer the crushing humiliation of being told they have been wiping their butts wrong all their lives. Me, I still figure there's always more to learn. In the case of this sign, I did note that I may be coming up short. For instance, I haven't deliberately washed my wrists since the lambing fiasco.

The bulletin about the shortcomings of my butt-wiping technique came during my early twenties, considered by people in their early twenties to be well into adulthood. And it came courtesy of another adult who was in a position to care, and who I may later have married. It is the sort of news you have to take sitting down. I reacted in the typical fashion: denial, anger, bargaining, and blaming my mother. The bargaining stage did not last long, because the accusing adult was threatening to withhold certain privileges I had grown fond of if I did not refine my protocol.

I refined my protocol. It wasn't easy. If you've spent a lifetime getting your butt going the wrong way, it's like trying to retrain a cowlick. Nothing about it felt right, but I persevered, and soon enough the approved method of tidying up felt quite natural.

It had to be my mother's fault because the entire zone was once her bailiwick; my father didn't give any instruction either, but in the fifties this sort of thing wasn't in his parental portfolio. He was just supposed to disappear every single dadgum (I'm told) day to a job he despised and bring home enough dough to see his kids through college and out the door. So it was definitely Mom's fault. In my only direct recollection, I was at an age I was already taking care of this butt issue myself. One day things got a little unruly and I felt the need for Mommy to come in and bat cleanup. I hollered out the second-floor window to the back yard, where Mommy was putting out the lemonade pitcher and aluminum tumblers and clothes-pinning the plastic tablecloth to the picnic table in preparation for a cookout. Other adults were present. Mommy stared up at my pleading face in the window for a moment, and then directed my sister Bobbie to go take care of me. Bobbie never disobeyed a direct order, but she didn't look too fervent about this one. And my sister was not at all who I had in mind. Somehow I managed to clean myself up before she trudged all the way upstairs, and I was officially on my own from then on.

So I'm thinking that whatever method I'd come up with was just fine with Mom; if it no longer involved her, that was the main thing. Truth be told, our family hygiene standards were not the highest. I think we looked respectable enough, our clothes clean and our hair combed, but we kids were only required to take a bath on Saturday nights, with mid-week touch-ups provided by Mom with a scrubby washcloth--you can dang near take a kid's face off with one of those--and running through the sprinkler. It was probably a legacy of her early years on the farm without indoor plumbing, when immersion baths in a metal washtub were problematic and only undertaken on special occasions and before checking in with the Lord. I was a teenager before I began taking daily showers, long and hot enough to steam the sorrow out of adolescence.

Dave is horrified by this, having come from a much cleaner family. He has always had good and strenuous hygiene habits, although they're wasted on him. Constitutionally, for some reason, he couldn't manufacture a b.o. stink molecule if he was given a vial of flop sweat, a box of pit hair and a manual. He had to develop flatulence skills just so that blind people would be able to tell he was passing by. But if he, or the government, wants to tell me what I'm doing wrong, I'm willing to listen.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Wisdom Of Lice

One thing you can say for lice--well, you pretty much have to say everything for lice, because their vocal cords are very tiny--is they know their place. True, you may have differences with lice about what their proper place is, but as far as they're concerned, they're rock-solid on the subject. They've been around since before the dinosaurs were raptured. They're a roaring success and it would be folly to dismiss their particular wisdom.

Lice are all about real estate. They no sooner set up a development than new territory opens up and in they go, looking for loopholes in the zoning regulations. There are over six thousand different kinds of lice, each in its own cul-de-sac.

They get so splendidly adapted to their new homes that you won't see them anywhere else. Wing-feather lice do not hang out with tail-feather lice. Human beings, with our variable furriness, have been gentrified by three different kinds of lice and those three kinds never even get together for a block party. Head lice stay on heads, body lice stay on clothing--the newest subdivision--and pubic lice set themselves up in what they bill, for sales purposes, as God's country. They each have developed specific improvements on their general design, especially their grabby bits, that allow them to thrive in their precise niches. We should be seeing Spandex lice any time. Fine little acrobats they will be.

Scientists know that some of our lice have descended from gorilla lice because they've studied their DNA and sleuthed it out. Scientists are nit-picky anyway, but not delicate: somebody had to collect the lice from the gorillas. The lice that set up camp on humans are no longer the same as the gorilla lice and wouldn't think of returning to the old neighborhood.

Lice adapt freely to new niches as they become available because they are so good at making new lice. If any of the new lice come up with any good ideas, it's a short piece of work to run it through a few generations and give it a whirl. We, on the other hand, are much more doddering about the whole venture. Our one good idea was our big chewy brain, and we lugged it around and thought it so valuable that we now give birth to premature grubs that we have to take care of for years and years, just so we can get their big heads out into the world. We scrabbled about on a mere sliver of the planet for thousands of years, skulking on the wafer of real estate not under ice and doing our utmost to outwit the predators before they dined on our soft, delicious brains, and then--for whatever reason--the glaciers melted away and things toasted up and we looked around and our own real estate gene kicked into high gear. We quickly infested much of the planet; we bloomed like spring crocuses, swarmed like army ants, spread like spilled paint.

We haven't been here very long, geologically speaking. Even less long, if your religious tradition requires you to subscribe to the best science available to goatherds three thousand years ago. Either way, we're a dot on the timeline.

In some ways our big brain is not as cool as tusks or hummingbird tongues, but it is a pretty sharp tool, which, if fully employed, should give us a pretty decent run, if we consider all the consequences of our actions and take the long view. Unfortunately our brain spends most of its time sprawled out on the Barcolounger and admiring itself. "Look at this marvelous place, full of food and water, not too hot, not too cold! Clearly God made it just for us," our brains tell us. Well, in the words of Galileo, lah-dee-dah, or maybe that was Annie Hall; I get them mixed up. It's exactly backwards: as the old saying goes, it's putting the pubic louse before the pubes. Of course it's just right for us. If it weren't, we wouldn't be here. And while I wouldn't testify that this is evidence of God's love and favor for us--some other blogger will have to attend to that--I would say that if you think that's impressive, wait till you see how much God loves cockroaches and bacteria, or whatever else is going to take over once we've loused it up for ourselves. At some point, inevitably, we will struggle and falter, and then we will fade away. We'll have had ourselves a nice go of it, maybe shorter than it might have been if we'd really taken advantage of our brains, and then we'll make room for the next big thing.

We like to think we're on top. That's just how head lice are, but just between you and me, it's getting kind of pubic around here.

If you've slogged down this far, good news! You already have one of the answers in the Pacific Northwest Bloggers Scavenger Hunt, hosted by my pal Pat Lichen. At 9am (that's Pacific time, naturally), she will be posting links to several blogs. Scavenge answers from these blogs for a chance for a prize (it's good) and maybe an introduction to some great bloggers you haven't met before. Click here to get started.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ambling Along The X-Axis

Once a week the local paper puts out some pages on the theme of Your Health, condensing the latest science news into an easily digestible form that could fit on a cereal box. This makes it simple to judge the state of your own health and your likelihood of dying, possibly in time to take evasive action.

The articles about longevity get people to sit right up and pay attention. There have been two of these recently. In the first, if I may just summarize, they think that older people who walk briskly live longer than the pokey ones. That's it in a nutshell. The article included a graph of how fast people walk and how long they live. If you knew how fast you walked, you could trot over to the x-axis of the graph and find out when you're due to keel over. Now, in order to find out how fast you walk, you need to know how many meters per second you travel. You need to know this because science has not advanced to the point of being able to use yards and feet. So the first thing you need to do is mark out six meters somewhere. Here in America, where we don't have any meters, this means you need to travel to Canada or some other European country, if you have the woolens for it, and get yourself a meter stick. Make it worth your while and come back with some maple sugar and a comedian. Or maybe, being an old person, you could just ask the Canadians to pack in a meter stick when they send you the cheap drugs.

Now. Lay out a six-meter track, and then have someone start a stopwatch when you cross the starting line and mark down how many seconds it takes you to get across the finish line. You take this number and you divide by six to get your meters per second. There are no instructions for if you only have room for a five-meter track. Also, if your partner with the stopwatch is even less zippy and can't beat you to the finish line, your results might not be accurate. Ditto if it's another old person whose hand-eye reaction time isn't what it used to be.

Interestingly enough, the graph showed that people my age who have a nice brisk pace can hope to live to an average age of 115. Nothing about this result caused anyone to re-check their math, and I'm holding them to it. Especially after reading the second article.

Good Leg Standers
The second article claimed that a person's tippability accurately predicts her odds of dying soon. Naturally, as an easily tipped-over woman, this caught my eye. There were a number of tests suggested to determine one's ability to remain vertical. They all started with "stand on one foot" and escalated from there: time how long you can stand on one foot before having to put the other foot down, then do it with your eyes closed, then with your eyes closed dead drunk holding a bowling ball in one hand and a monkey in the other. I do not intend to try this. I already know I can't stand on one foot with my eyes open for longer than a couple seconds, not even long enough to put on a sock, and that comes in way under the numbers you're supposed to have if you expect to live into next week.

But in all these tests, it's important to use your own judgment about the conclusions. I've been tipping over with regularity for 57 years now (I don't count the first year, before someone talked me out of going on all fours) and I still feel very lifelike. I've learned to compensate for my wobbliness with numerous strategies. These include keeping my eyes open, standing on a minimum of two feet, marrying someone with lightning-quick reflexes, not growing too far away from the ground, and developing bounciness.

Anyway, I maintain that people are often walking briskly just before they pitch over. I suspect that if the scientists who worked up this protocol were to factor out the people who died immediately after falling down into a vat of oil or off a cliff, the morbidity numbers would come down quite a bit.

This Saturday, I will be participating in a Blog Scavenger Hunt, headed up by my friend, the splendid Pat Lichen. She will have a list of questions on her blog, the answers to which can be easily scavenged by visiting the Saturday postings of a bevy of Northwest nature bloggers, including mine. There will be a prize. And glory. It's a bit of a stretch to include Murrmurrs among the scienterrific blogs out there; a little like interviewing the governor of Texas to find out what God wants us to do. But I hear people do that, so I guess I'm in. Be sure to tune in Saturday, and good luck!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Body Parts

A woman in Honolulu recently found a human hand floating around. She found it twice. It kept coming back. Dueling ukuleles plinked ominously in the distance. Locals were chilled by the discovery, but in reality, sections of human beings actually turn up rather often. There's a boom market in them in the Salish Sea, off the coats of western Canada and Washington, where ten feet have washed up in the last few years. Authorities do not believe that all ten came from the same person, since such a person would likely have been a superb swimmer. But identities can remain elusive, as well as the cause  of death, and even the approximate time of death. Currents can carry a body part a long way, and, according to Wikipedia, "under optimal conditions, a human body may survive in water for as long as three decades," which is not to say they don't get a little pruney. Still, detective work does sometimes bear results, as it did when a set of legs, arms and a torso were found last year in the Bahamas. Local sleuths were able to deduce much just from where the items were found; in this case, the stomach of a tiger shark.

Police in Juarez, Mexico have likewise concluded that the severed torso found there recently is probably connected to the severed head and genitals that had already been found nearby, although it seems to me the exact opposite case could be made.

The point is, such things are discovered with some frequency. While we were on a trip to a local wildlife refuge recently, Dave discovered a human foot submerged in shallow water. We examined it as closely as possible, but the deterioration was so advanced that we were left with many mysteries, the foremost of which was how a human foot got attached to a dead otter. It may have huge scientific significance: the human-otter link has been missing for years.

And, among our own circle of friends, Linda, who is terrific at noticing things, also once found a foot while she was walking along Revere Beach, north of Boston. Mystery surrounds this discovery also, but we do know it was found just down from the corner of Guido and We're-Going-To-Take-A-Little-Ride, and was still in its original concrete casing.

So speculation tends to run rampant in cases like the Honolulu Hand. The homicide department was all over it; John Boehner suggested it was the natural consequence of over-taxation; Harry Reid countered it belonged to a hangnail victim who couldn't afford medical insurance; and mothers everywhere who had warned that "your hand will fall off if you keep doing that" were vindicated. With all that expertise brought to bear, it's a wonder they ever consulted a scientist, but nevertheless the hand was eventually revealed to be a dried squid. I'm not surprised: human body parts can easily be mistaken for other things. I myself have body parts that used to resemble melons, and are now more like something in the pita-bread family.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Matter Of Some Gravity

I remember the first time I gave blood. I was a teenager, and a little nervous. "I've never done this before," I confided to the needle man. "Cool! I've never done this before, either!" he said, which would have been hilarious if he'd said it to my roommate.

I've been giving A+ blood for forty years since. You get used to the routine, although it does change. The questionnaire got a lot longer in the eighties.

Have you personally eaten brains with a spoon right out of a standing cow?
Did the cow look edgy?
Have you spent time adding up to five months or more, excluding Ramadan, in any of the following 413 countries, colonies, protectorates, and sketchy neighborhoods (see chart)?
Have you ever had Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or any other immediately fatal ailment?
Have you had sex, even once, involving any of the major three orifices (see chart)?
Have you ever been paid for sex involving any of the major three orifices (see chart)?
How much?
Have you had sex, even once, with anyone who has had sex, even once, with anyone who had purple spots?
Really? How cool is that?
In the last twelve months, have you spent more than 72 hours in lockup?
While there, were you admired in any way?
Have you ever taken sipsies, even once, from the martini glass of anyone exhibiting symptoms of any of your more fatal ailments?
Have you ever taken sipsies, even once, from the martini glass of anyone who has taken sipsies, even once, from the martini glass of Charlie Sheen?
Are you feeling well today?
Or do you feel a touch of meningitis coming on?

The donation itself is not noteworthy. It's never given me a spot of trouble. I'm packed off to the cookie room with a set of instructions that has not varied in forty years. "Drink plenty of fluids. Do not take your bandage off or shower for three hours. Moderate exercise only, and no heavy lifting for 24 hours." I'd leave the donation center, peel off my bandage, bicycle home, lift my bike up the stairs, and hit the shower before popping the first of a series of beers, which, if you press them about it, are not the fluids they had in mind. Since nothing untoward has ever happened to me, I haven't changed my protocol.

What they should have said is: "Drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids and don't take a hot shower because even though everything will be just fine for the first forty years, there's no telling what will happen after that." That would have been more accurate. Last week Dave and I came back from our standard blood donation. A purveyor of particularly fine brew near the Red Cross sells cheap pints on Tuesdays, and we always schedule for Tuesdays so we can get an immediate fluid replacement pint. Then we walked home and Dave made dinner. I might have had a nice Muscat to go with. Then I went to take a shower. We're five hours into this thing by now, and everything was going well until I decided to hot up the water, and I remember having the thought that I should turn the water off because something was wrong, and the next thing I knew I was staring up at the glass shower doors from a crumpled position at the bottom and swimming in place trying to get myself upright. I stumbled to the towel and things were still wrong and I thought I should probably go to bed before I fell over again, which would have been a good idea, but instead I found myself on my hands and knees next to the bed, and I finally climbed in. While there I tried to review ordinary items of information to see if they were still there, and some of them weren't. It wasn't until morning that I recognized that the hands-and-knees part had apparently been preceded by a second crash, as evidenced by the noggin-sized hole in the wall and a pretty good headache.

I don't think I'm going to give blood anymore. It's either that or quit drinking, so it's that. I realize this is a little selfish of me, so I'll just say that I'm still on the blood marrow donation program, in case anyone needs any. Act now, because according to the Red Cross my stuff is going to go bad in another two years.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I Got Yer Content Right Here

I'm fresh off the Willamette Writer's Conference here in Portland, where upwards of 800 other brilliant, ignored writers convened to learn the intricacies of subplots, polish their prose, and conspire to make sure no agent enjoyed an unmolested moment. Every attendee harboring a screenplay or a novel was desperate to find that one missing piece: the champion that would recognize the worth of her output and grease her path to acclaim. We are writers, with massive if mythical audiences, and we lack only the final link of representation to stand in the golden sunbeam of glory that is our due.

Well, close. Turns out we are content producers, and we lack only the will to tweet. In workshop after workshop we were implored to become web wranglers, riding the range of publicity and gathering our herds. Today we tweet! Tomorrow we will honk, or gabble, or yawp, or chase whatever tumbleweed will have replaced Twitter after it rolls out of favor. The news left the cohort in my general age group a little deflated. Our brains have changed since the days they were open to learning. They have already undergone a sort of fossilization process wherein the soft young spongy parts are gradually ossified into kernels of rigidity and grumpiness. All right, tweet we shall, if tweet we must. But there's a daunting array of buttons to push to make this happen and we're not at all clear about how this is supposed to work anyway. I did what comes naturally when I'm faced with a lot of stuff I don't understand. I retreated to something I did understand. I went off to take a dump. The toilet has always been the scene of some of my most reliable content production.

The bathrooms at the Sheraton are shiny and clean and freakishly eager. Anything you walk by is liable to go off. Paper towels grope towards you, water shoots out and soap oozes and beckons. I tried waving my hands in front of the mirror but my youth and acuity did not return. I chose a stall and sat down to ponder my literary fate. When I got up again to recombobulate my underwear, the toilet flushed for me. I should be grateful, but I am disturbed. I prefer to be more closely in charge of the flushing decision. There is only a thin line to cross before my appliances begin to judge me, and I get enough of that attitude from my computer. Worse, the toilet made only a half-hearted horking hairball sound. It was a premature evacuation; it didn't quite do the job. So I looked for a handle or button.

No handle or button. Obviously some kind of movement, other than the one I was trying to get rid of, was required. I waved at the back of the toilet. Nothing. I turned around in the stall. Nothing. I tried replicating the original motion of backing into the toilet. Nothing. I waggled my fanny at it as though I meant business. It was unimpressed.

There's something about this situation. Even though I was the producer of the contents of the toilet bowl, and had been in their immediate vicinity not a minute earlier, somehow I was loath to actually sit back down on the seat. Evidently we achieve emotional separation from our effluent very quickly, because I was now looking at it as though someone else were to blame. I did a version of the chicken dance and prepared to give up, timing my exit such that there would be no witnesses. But in the act of opening the stall door, the toilet, which is probably still chuckling with its buddies at its own convention, went ahead and finished the job. "And then I got her to waggle her fanny at me," it says, munching on a toilet cake. "Dude," its buddies say.

The fact is, there are certain things, and one thing in particular, for which you want your home toilet. Your home toilet might not be as good, but you're familiar with it. You have mastered the details of handle-jiggling and the toilet's own digestive limitations. And if something goes wrong, it's just between you and your plunger, and no one else needs to know. One of our toilets is delicate. The handle is more of a nipple and needs to be stroked upwards with a precise degree of care. Strangers using this toilet are more apt to yank on the handle, causing them instant regret and an intense yearning for their own home toilets.

There is no reason to expect the toilets at the Sheraton to stay mired in the past just to soothe my aging sensibilities. Time marches on, in the writing and plumbing worlds. I might think my shit is good, but I'm going to have to learn where all the new buttons are to get it to go anywhere.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Getting Away With It

The official version [wink] is that nobody knows where all the money that regular people used to have went, but hey, they're starting to make some progress in the old D. B. Cooper case, so that's something. "D. B." is not the hijacker's real name, but a journalist's typo for "Dan Cooper," which is also not the hijacker's real name, which might be Tim, or Mitt, or Michele. At any rate, he boarded a plane from Portland to Seattle one night forty years ago, and held the passengers for ransom, eventually exchanging them for $200,000 in cash and four parachutes, and he bailed out of the airplane somewhere over the wilds of Washington during a raging storm. He has not been seen since.

Sasquatch Hypothesis Has Historical Precedent
A few personal effects were retrieved, including his necktie and a number of Raleigh filter cigarette butts left on the plane. Now the FBI has identified a credible person of interest in the case, a person who is currently dead, but only ten years dead, which is less dead than D. B. would have been if he had perished in the jump. Now they would like to retest the cigarettes for DNA and compare that to some relic from the dead suspect or germane corpse particles, but no one can find the butts. The agent in charge of the case believes they might be in Las Vegas.

Nine years after the hijacking, a small portion of the ransom money was found in a river bank. This supports the hypothesis that Mr. Cooper died in the parachute attempt, or, as some have seriously suggested, soon afterwards, possibly after an encounter with Sasquatch.

Whatever his fate, D. B. Cooper has become something of a folk hero to many who cheer his moxie and hope that he might have gotten away with the caper. Many Americans are strangely moved by the thought that it is possible to make off with oodles of someone else's money, and are willing to overlook the fact that each of us is paying for it in one way or another.

So let's review. Someone whose identity remains in the shadows pulled off a heist, stole money he had not earned, flew directly into a storm and engineered a bailout, stashed some of the money in a bank and hid the rest, and planted stories about bogeymen to steer us off his trail. The FBI lost their butts in Las Vegas, and everyone else is so dazzled by the money and the audacity of the crime that they are willing to overlook grand larceny even if it was some of their own money that was stolen. It's just another great American success story, according to representatives at Republican National Committee headquarters, interviewed during the recent dedication of their new D. B. Cooper wing.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Senile In Three Languages

If you live long enough, your language begins to get holes in it. It's like any other fabric you've nearly loved to death. Most of the holes in my home-team language have developed in places formerly occupied by nouns. I'll be traipsing along in a merry conversation and suddenly I'm brought up short at the edge of a pit, looking into it for my noun. They come back eventually. It's like how you shake out a sweater that you'd folded up from the laundry a while back, and out comes a sock that had been missing long enough that the mate had been thrown away. Same thing with nouns. You'll be having a conversation and someone is going on and on about the plutocracy, and then something he says shakes up your brain-closet and a noun you were looking for days ago drops out. "OTTOMAN!" you shout, suddenly and irrelevantly, which does nothing to shine up your reputation for mental acuity. The point is, things turn up.

There's no real point in looking for the word if you can't find it right away. The other day I was looking for (it turned out) "celibacy," when really nothing else would do, and I almost had it cornered (I'm pretty sure it starts with a "v"). It's not an odd word, not one that should turn up missing on your average day; it's the kind of word that probably comes in a twelve-pack at Costco, nothing unusual about it at all; but it's gone for the moment and that's all there is to it. There's a word for this phenomenon, and I don't remember what it is, but we might as well call it "dementia" because that's what everyone else calls it. I got to wondering if dementia manifests itself differently in different languages.

There are fundamental differences in the way languages are set up and they might even affect the way the speaker thinks. For instance, I am told that there is no word for "no" in Gaelic. If you speak Gaelic, you have to indicate a negative by recasting the question. If someone says "do you have new shoes?" and you don't, you have to say "I do not have new shoes." This simple deficit in Gaelic led to some terrible famines in days of old, when the Romans came through bearing platters of pasta and speaking a mile a minute and said "have you eaten?" and the Irish said "we have..." and that was that for the Romans--they kept on going and talking a mile a minute and didn't stick around for the "...not eaten."

My suspicion is that the Germans have the best setup for dealing with dementia. They already concoct their nouns as though demented and have a lot of practice. They would call an ottoman something like the thingonthefloorforputtingthefootsenonen, which is just the way I have started to speak. So nobody's going to notice. By the time they get to where they can't whomp up a noun on command, it works even better. The Germans start out their sentences by laying out all available nouns and then let you know what they want done to them later on in the sentence. They're not going to get caught halfway into their thought and then pull up short, gesticulating wildly, face screwed up, so God and everybody can tell they've just blown a fuse. No, they won't say anything at all; they can't get a purchase; they're thwarted from the get-go. They will remain silent. And be thought wise.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Forbearance Of Brewsters

Great-grandfather Brewster
When Elder William Brewster herded his flock into the bowels of the Mayflower to come to America, he was a man of vision. Nowhere was his vision more in evidence than when he looked into the possibility of a world filled with Brewsters and concluded there was no reason to rush into things.

My ancestors have been deliberate to the point of sludginess when it comes to passing on the family genes. Only ten generations separate me from the Mayflower. Brewsters have been parceled out on an average of once every forty or fifty years, or only as often as necessary. Decades go by, and then someone finally points out that there should be someone to hand down the pewter tea set to; and if that didn't sway, the suggestion is made that without a renewal of Brewster blood, the world will edge into a soul-corrupting sunniness. "All right," the elder says. "Just this once."

Grandfather Brewster
They approached child production with the same gusto with which I respond to the frequent pleading emails from the Democratic Party. I know I must deliver; I give them what I have to and not a dime more, and there's no joy in it.

My forepilgrims were a dour, gloomy and sober bunch, much afflicted with piety. The entire prospect of renewing the family line filled them with humiliation and distaste. One imagines that the Elder William Brewster would have been relieved to hand the job over to a solitary sperm with a winch and a work ethic. As it is, he and his progeny through the years managed to eke out a knob on the skinny family tree two or three times a century. One doesn't sense enthusiasm.

He himself got the whole ball rolling with a starter set of five children of his own, each one representing a single horrifying episode of fleeting desire. Only because he sacrificed his body to produce the five originals do we have Brewsters to this day. Fewer lines and the venture would surely have fizzled out. He named his children Patience, Love, Jonathan, Fear, and Wrestling. I am, of course, a child of Love.

Father Brewster, clearly thrilled
"Wrestling" was, according to my father, short for "Wrestling With God," a losing proposition if I ever heard one. Talk about setting a kid up for failure. I'd like to think that if I had had children, I would have chosen less daunting monikers.

It's a reproductive rate barely adequate to maintain a line in the phone book up till now, and then I slammed the lid on the whole undertaking. It's a shame, too. I would have enjoyed meeting my children, Sloth, Elasticity, Flatulence, Torpor, and Twiddling. Twiddling would have been such a well-adjusted child.