Sunday, July 31, 2005

De Trop

August is everything all at once -- birth, growth, death. It's superabundant: too green, too hot, too fast, too full, too loud. The air is rich with the smells of ripening and composting. Fruits grow round. Stalks lean, heavy with grain. The cicadas are an appropriate soundtrack: the whine of high anxiety. The year has crested the hill and, brakeless, is plunging down the other side.

I've never been overfond of summer. It calls the body into question: it sweats, grows limblocked and lethargic. There's more gravity, more grease. I remember, one overweight adolescent summer, lying on the cold basement concrete floor and thinking of Hamlet: wishing my too, too solid flesh could do that melt, thaw and dew-resolving thing.

But August is all about eating, about beginning to fatten for winter. Birds, squirrels and rabbits are dashing madly from treat to treat. The fuzzy bees are so covered with pollen they look like fingers that have just engaged a jumbo bag of Cheese Curls. Laden seedheads, rosehips, vetch pods and bramble berries make my mouth water.

The ground, warmer than today's cool air, seems the temperature of an open, hungry mouth. There is an underground internal combustion that needs perpetual stoking. There is constant thermodynamic flux. I'm part of it, part of the tug of war between organization and entropy, between fire and ice, between form and emptiness.

I looked at a pink Queen Anne's lace today and for the briefest moment, no more than a split second, understood what "God" might mean. It looked back, confirming my intuition.

Serial Mom

According to our Governor, Willard "the Mitthead" Romney, I am a serial infanticide. He has recently propounded the theological opinion that contraceptive interventions like the morning after pill that prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg are, in effect, abortions. Which, by common rhetorical extension, is "baby-killing."

If my several IUDs pre-empted one pregnancy a month by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting, the math is easy -- 24 years, 12 months a year, that's 288 "dead babies." That's quite a murderous record.

So if this is his deeply held belief, I would assume he would want to someday outlaw IUDs and close down fertility clinics, generating as they do unused embryos that end up as medical waste. After all, he vetoed widening access to the "morning after pill," citing this same religious tenet, denying the will of the citizens of the Commonwealth, a right-wing activist fiat if there ever was one.

You don't hear many theocratic politicians railing against fertility clinics. I suspect there are too many infertile, voting Republican couples who use their services. That doesn't stop the theocrats, though, from claiming that using those embryos for stem cell research is "the taking of innocent life," and trotting out a few darling little "snowflake children" for a photo op.

I am tired of attempts to legislate narrowly sectarian religious beliefs and practices into the lives of those of us who believe otherwise. I have no problem with someone adopting a metaphysical worldview or language that holds that a fertilized egg with all its wondrous potential is an ensouled "human being." That's rigorous, even admirable. And those who believe in such a manner are welcome to avoid abortions and IUDs. And if someone wants to believe in the Archangel Moroni or a God that lives on the Planet Kolob, I say go for it, man. That's cool. A little strange, but, hey, who am I to talk -- I'm a vegan. But you don't see me rifling through your closet inspecting the tags of your ties and negligees for fiber content, or tossing out your Shetland sweaters, Italian leather shoes, and fur coats. Or stripping your refrigerator of its porterhouse steaks, its fresh salmon, its grade A eggs, its brie and its clover blossom honey.

Then, of course, there's the little matter of mind-boggling hypocrisy. Consider the recent statement by press secretary Scott McClellan on the topic of Preznit W's credo:

The President does not believe we should be using taxpayer dollars for -- or to support the further destruction of human life.

If only he would apply this belief of his to a wider sphere of life than human embryos.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Sounds Of Silence

I noticed it immediately, as if it were a friend wearing a new eyepatch: the faceplate of my car radio/CD player was missing. Instead of the silvery dials and toggles there was a dull, black slotted rectangle. I looked on the seat. I looked in the glove compartment. I looked on the floor. Nothing. I was leaving for work, late, grumpy and disinclined, in high Bartleby mode in fact, and did not relish waking and interrogating The Lad, aka my son, who'd borrowed the car the night before.

Aha ! I thought. There was my audiotape Walkman ! That plugs into the CD player. It has batteries. I could....could what, exactly ? I jabbed the little Walkman jack at a small blue hole in the face plate. It spit out a James Taylor disc, a big silver mocking tongue going neener, neener. That didn't work. Then I examined some adaptor device The Lad had apparantly plugged into the lighter socket. I poked the end of its cable at one of the holes in the Walkman. Wait a minute. That made no sense. I needed headphones. I had no headphones. Wasn't there some radio upstairs with the hurricane candles ?

I was late. I had to leave. I backed out of the driveway heavy with the realization that, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I'd be driving to work without audio input. No NPR. No Air America. No Merton tapes. No James Taylor or Ralph Vaughn Williams CD. Just silence. Me and my thoughts.

I felt a small panic stirring.

I remembered driving and listening to a taped dharma talk by John Daido Loori, once, a discourse on paying attention and doing whatever you're doing fully and exclusively. At one point in the talk he directly addresses folks like me: Turn the tape off ! Just drive ! I'd blushed, but kept on listening. He couldn't see me, could he ?

OK, today I'd show him. I'd just drive. How hard could it be ?

Damned hard, it turns out. The only thing resembling diverting audio output was my chattering monkey-mind, full of the usual dreckabilia and mumbledygook. And it was cranked up full volume. I focused my attention on driving. God, I hadn't remembered how BORING driving is. All those -- other drivers. All that macadam. Trees. Sky. Gas stations. That creepy office park.

I was in a movie without a film score. Was the blue sky merry and carefree, or ironically aloof and poignant ? What, simply blue ? What was up with that ?

I decided to talk to myself. Aloud. I couldn't stand being there alone with the non-committal blue sky and my tape loop of I don't wanna go to work...I don't wanna go to work...I don't wanna go to work. And that silence ! I had to fill it.

So I did. I delivered an oral disquisition on the first topic that came to mind, which was, oddly enough, the nature of self-esteem and self-loathing. I came up with a brilliant theory about humiliation, shame and compensatory aggression the details of which escape me now. Suffice it to say my analysis drew on biology, philosophy, psychiatry, sociology, political science and religion and explained most of human behavior and history completely. It was brilliant. I'm sure of it. I'd out NPR'ed NPR and arrived at work without becoming clinically insane. Mission accomplished.

OK. That was crazy.

I did better on the way home. Depleted by a long day, I let monkey mind do its thing and submitted to the tedium. It was very tedious tedium. No brilliant disquisitions. I just drove.

And where was the face plate ?

I asked The Lad.

Oh, it's in the glove compartment in its case. You know that little rectangular black box ?

In its case. In the glove compartment. Where I'd looked.

What was that the wise man was saying about attention ?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

White Hot

Church Windows

L'Etat C'est Mitt

Campaiging for Governor in this notoriously and proudly blue state of Massachusetts, Willard "the Mitthead" Romney pledged support for Roe v. Wade (despite having declared repeatedly, when home in reddish Utah, that he was staunchly "pro-life") and promised to support widening access to post-coital contraception. Now that the man has virtually abdicated any semblance of Governing for his unspoken presidential-campaign-based attempt to reformulate Massachusetts as a right-wing social experiment, things have changed. Ah, what naked ambition will do to a person !

The Massachusetts legislature just passed a bill allowing some non-prescription access to the morning after pill, and mandating that it be offered to rape victims. The Mitthead has interrupted his vacation to rush back to Massachusetts to veto that bill, bringing to mind other great right-wing vacation interruptions such as Mr Bush rushing back from Texas to legislatively affirm one brain dead woman's right to life even as his policies piled up and continue to pile up the corpses in Iraq and elsewhere. (And bringing to my mind his failure to interrupt his August 2001 Texas Brush-clearing fest to pay mind to a memo entitled "Bin Laden Determined To Attack In United States.")

Mitt's was, of course, was a "deepening" and evolving stance on on these matters, not a "flip-flop" -- an accusation he simply loved to hurl at John Kerry during the last presidential race --

He also criticized what he described as Kerry's policy flip-flops, calling him 'conflicted.' On the war in Iraq, Romney said, 'Kerry is trying to be on both sides . . . and as a result, he ends up sounding like he can't take a position on one side or the other

In fact he went on to claim his veto of this bill was simply his way of cleaving faithfully to his left-wooing campaign "promise" to keep Massachusetts abortion laws intact --

I promised the people of Massachusetts that as governor I would not change the laws of the Commonwealth as they relate to abortion," Romney wrote in a veto letter to lawmakers. ''If taken soon enough, the so-called 'morning after' pill performs as a contraceptive. But in some cases, it can also act to prevent the implantation of the embryo. To those who believe that life begins at conception, the morning-after pill can destroy the human life that was created at the moment of fertilization.

-- attaining heretofore unplumbed depths of pandering disingenuousness in a Republican political landscape in which these depths are repeatedly and prodigiously plumbed on an hourly basis. That's saying a lot.

But there's more to his nuanced stance. He proceeded to lament the very existence of Roe v. Wade as a federal emanation, stating he would prefer the states to have local control over this issue.

But when the people of the state speak, as they did through the elected legislature in the case of the morning after pill, he silences their voice with his veto to further his own narrowly religious/sectarian and blatantly personal political agenda.

L'Etat, I guess, c'est Mitt. At least in his own fevered, ambitious dreams.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


I was driving to work and fretting about my teeth.

Last week the periodontist laid out the long-awaited treatment plan. High level diplomatic consultations had occurred between my dentist, endodontist and herself and a consensus had been reached. Tooth #12 has all the signs of a vertical fracture and had to go. Pronto. Stat, even. It was causing all sorts of occult havoc. She thrust a schematic of a molar across her desk at me. She'd penned in a jagged fault line from crown to root.

But it feels fine ! I protested, meekly, cringing in my chair. Couldn't we wait and see what develops ?

Her eyes grew wide. She evoked mouth bacteria multiplying exponentially even as we spoke. There would be bone loss. There would be infection. She alluded to the overlying maxillary sinus. She hinted darkly at brain abscesses, strokes, heart disease. A shortened life span. I was a doctor. I knew about all that sort of thing. Right ?

I gulped.

She took her cue and went on. She'd yank the thing -- new crown and all -- right out of my head, and pack the hole with some sort of fabulous human-tissue based substance that would promote bone growth. Then, next summer, she'd implant a tooth. Good as, no, better than new. State of the art. It would outlast me ! She thrust a fistful of pamphlets across her desk. There was a website. I should check it out. I nodded, weakly.

Was there an alternative ? After all I'd drawn a line in the dental sand. A secret line, of course. I didn't dare mention it to any of my dentists. Nocturnal bite guards and dental implants were definately on the far side of that line.

Well, yes, of course one could install a permanent bridge or have a removable partial denture made (a look of distaste flickered across her face as if a skunk had wandered past) but, really, those were unsatisfactory alternatives and almost as expensive. She added another couple pamphlets to my pile.

Oh, and then, a few weeks later, she'd do that gum thingy she'd proposed ten years ago. On that little literally long-in-the-tooth patch at the right lower incisors. She tapped the ink-scrawled tooth schematic with her pen.

Could that possibly wait ? I asked. I mean, after all, it had been ten years. What difference would a few more months make ?

She sighed. I had obviously caused her deep pain, disappointment. But she was a patient woman. Indulgent, even. Another pamphlet skidded toward me. I glanced at it.

Women And Gum Disease.

I scooped up the mess of pamphlets and arranged them in a neat little pile. Bacteria were swarming all over my gums. I could feel them. Anaerobic bacteria. Peptostreptococci. Was the little headache blooming behind my right eye from caffeine deficit or the beginnings of my brain abscess ? Did she really say stroke ? There was a high pitched whining sound in my ears. What was it she said she wanted to do to my gums ?

Her assistant materialized with another sheaf of papers and pamphlets, the financial stuff. Yes, I understood I'd exhausted this year's insurance allowance. Did I know that one could even take out loans for these things ? My firstborn as collateral ? Really ?

I stuffed everything into my rucksack and backed toward the door. I had to consult my schedule ! I was a doctor, after all, a very busy woman ! I'd call them ! We'd set up a time ! My people would talk to her people ! Honest !

That day at work it seemed like every patient I saw had bad teeth. Terrible teeth. George Romero zombie teeth. Ugly stumps of festering, blackened enamel ground down to gum level. Huge sedimentary, eruptive growths of plaque in moonrock colors. And then there was the patient who removed her dentures so I could check her palate: the pleasantly attractive face collapsed like a sinkhole around the toothless mouth. I stared at the pink gum ridges. They seemed obscene. Sweat beaded my forehead.

You can put those back in, now.

I was staring into the decay-infested maw of my future. And I hadn't even gotten to the strokes and heart attacks yet.

So, driving to work yesterday, fretting about my teeth, it was little wonder that I suddenly noticed the billboard above the railroad bridge. What caught my eye were enormous mouths, three of them, floating disembodied and Cheshire-like among the ailanthus trees -- three wide smiles revealing blindingly white, gorgeously perfect teeth.

The mouths, on closer inspection, belonged to three faces, the glamorous, young PR avatars of some local institution of higher learning called "Blaine's Beauty Academy." As I passed under the bridge I noted the three words at the bottom of the sign


I shuddered. Now I was really creeped out. Skin and its various appendages. What did that have to do with beauty ? All I could think of was disease and decay. Dehiscence. Dilapidation. Sloughing epidermis. Blistering rashes. Staphylococci and skin mites stewing deep in pores. Furuncles and carbuncles. Job, himself.

I thought of my hair. Gray. Dry. Shaggy. Weedy. Thinning, even. I needed a haircut. I had needed a haircut for weeks. I would probably need a haircut for weeks to come.

Then I thought of fingernails. Hooves. Claws. Talons. Long, red, painted nails. With rhinestones. I thought of the prison doctor who used to cut his fingernails over the bare desktop in the dispensary, and leave the cuttings behind as he went off shift. I thought of the the homeless man in the prison detox whose nails had grown so long they'd coiled into ten little corkscrews.

Skin, hair, nails and, the unspoken fourth member of the ectodermal quartet, teeth. There they all were, midair: could I ask for a more literal sign ?