Stare.
 
2000 Notebook: Transition XVII
 
   
16 May 2000
Deoxyribonucleic Acid Trip
I always thought of myself as a rather simple person, an appraisal shared by almost everyone I know. I just read an article, however, explaining that I’m made of a hundred trillion cells. That’s equal to 100,000,000,000,000 cells!

Aha! So that’s why I’ve been able to kill cells by the score with apparent impunity. (Note to self: drink more tasty Rainier Ale.)

But wait, there’s more.

It turns our that each cell contains two meters of deoxyribonucleic acid. I don’t know if that’s a one- or two-meter strand of double-helix DNA, but in any case that’s a lot of adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine.

But how much?

I asked my computer how much distance my DNA might cover if unraveled, and I was surprised to discover that my genetic material could stretch from the Sun to Pluto and back again seventeen times. I was excited by the [artistic possibilities of such an endeavor until I realized that it would be a fatally creative exercise.

I’m not going to die for my art. I’ve always followed George Patton’s advice: “Don’t die for your country. Let the other son of a bitch die for his.”

17 May 2000
Javed Iqbal is a Dead Man
Javed Iqbal is, for all intents and purposes, a dead man. A Pakistani judge sentenced him to death by strangulation. The judge also ordered that his body should be cut up into a hundred pieces and dissolved in acid. And, on top of that, Iqbal also received a six hundred and eighty-six year prison sentence.

Iqbal’s punishment sounds like something out of Olde England, where enemies of the state like William Wallace of Scotland were hanged, then cut down just before they lost consciousness. The executioners then disemboweled their victims before finally butchering them into four pieces, a death sentence colloquially known as being “drawn and quartered.” William Wallace was drawn and quartered in 1305; such public punishments continued for centuries. (In 1660, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary, “I went out to Charing Cross to see Major-General Harrison hanged, drawn and quartered—which was done there—he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition.”)

I suppose it could be argued that the punishment meted out by the Pakistani judiciary was cruel and outdated. It could also be argued that the punishment fit the crime, for Javed Iqbal killed one hundred children by strangling them then dissolving their bodies in acid. Barbarism is relative, I suppose.

18 May 2000
Fortified Beers
I was enjoying a glass of beer on the balcony when Gail brought up the unpleasant subject of “fortified” beer. She explained that such beer is more or less normal beer with added alcohol, more alcohol than could be produced through natural fermentation. She added that such beer is frequently fortified with more than alcohol.

Gail said that the “brewers” of some brands of unnatural beer also added a chemical to give the drinker a headache. Apparently, getting a headache from drinking such beverages is a sign of the tipple’s efficacy.

I find it difficult to imagine why someone would drink anything guaranteed to result in a headache. And why anyone would pay to drink beer-flavored lighter fluid is completely beyond me.

19 May 2000
Inside Coffee
There’s a man on the radio proselytizing the wonders of coffee. In my case, he’s preaching to the choir, for coffee is my favorite drug, after work.

As part of his pitch, he’s rattling off incredible statistics faster than I can write them down. For example, coffee is the second biggest legal commodity in the world. He may have said “most valuable” instead of “biggest,” but it doesn’t matter. Never let the details obscure a good statistic. (I wonder, though, how the coffee trade compares to the dealing in lesser drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, and narcotics. I suppose I could check, but I won’t.)

It turns out that the coffee industry employs some twenty million people. Most of them receive obscenely low remuneration for their work, a fact that makes my new bag of shiny, black, seven-dollars-a-kilo beans look a bit tainted.

Unless I’m sipping one of Naomi’s concoctions, though, coffee is more often than not an excipient, a caffeine delivery vehicle. I’ve always thought of caffeine as a fairly simple and dependable drug: it goes into your blood, hits your brain, then you wake up. Simple, no?

Well, actually, no.

Mr. Coffee Expert says there are over five hundred different chemicals in caffeine. That’s a lot of chemistry! It’s such a pleasure to consume a substance that’s much more complex than I am.

20 May 2000
Ethical Meat
Today’s mail brought an invitation to join the Ethical Carnivores Society. The proposal promised that I, as a “discerning consumer,” would enjoy delicious steaks, gourmet sausages, exquisite sweetbreads, et cetera, “secure in the knowledge that the animal you’re enjoying gave its informed consent” to be on my plate.

Of course, there’s probably only one species that could understand the consequences of entering into such an agreement: us. And so it is that the “Ethical Carnivores Society” is just a polite name for “Cannibal Club.”

Here’s how it works. Every July, members of the Ethical Carnivores Society convene at the society’s annual banquet. Upon arrival, the society’s directors randomly select one of every twenty members to be the main course. The chosen few are then humanely killed, butchered, then served up for dinner, breakfast, and as takeaway packages of frozen meat. The next day, ninety-five percent of the members leave with the other five percent in their bellies.

I’ve never eaten human flesh before. I wonder what I—or anyone else, for that matter—would taste like cooked with shallots, garlic, and red wine?

I was tempted to join the Ethical Carnivores Society, even though I’d prefer to wait a number of decades before I’m anyone’s dinner. After all, nineteen-to-one odds make for a good bet. I figure that even if I was among the five percent destined for meathood, no one would eat me after my tissue samples revealed I was full of toxins so lovingly accumulated over the years. But by then of course, it would be too late to save my miserable hide, so to speak.

In the end, however, I decided to discard the invitation. I’m sure I’ll have another opportunity sooner or later.

21 May 2000
Barbara Cartland’s Massive Oeuvre
Barbara Cartland died today; she was ninety-eight years old. Her passing is worth noting, if only because she was the best-selling author since god. She wrote some seven hundred and twenty-three books, which were published in thirty-six languages. People who know these things estimate she sold over a billion books.

Any way you slice it, that’s a lot of trees.

How did she do it? Again, god comes into the picture. “I say a prayer and I get a plot,” she explained, “just like that.” She could crank out a book in a fortnight by dictating to a secretary. I used to think that was pretty fast, until I read a few paragraphs of one of her novels. Based on what I read, I can’t believe it took all of two weeks to fill up a few hundred small pages.

It would be foolish, of course, to discuss her literary merits. Selling a billion of anything is a work of art in itself. And anyway, Barbara didn’t need validation from anyone else; she was her biggest fan. After all, Ms. Cartland was not shy about admitting, “I never read any books except my own.”

22 May 2000
Meeting the Fat Lady
Today I had lunch at the restaurant The Fat Lady manages. Before I describe my dining experience, it’s imperative to mention—at least for someone as defensive as myself—that “The Fat Lady” is not a pejorative or sexist phrase. That’s her name, honest.

The Fat Lady is one half of the celebrity television cooking team, Two Fat Ladies. Or, rather, was. Sadly, the other Fat Lady is no more, leaving The (Surviving) Fat Lady to carry on.

The Fat Lady came to my table to ask the obligatory question, “Is everything all right?”

“Thoroughly lovely,” I replied.

“Thoroughly lovely,” she repeated thoughtfully, as if she’d never heard anyone say that before. “Thoroughly lovely ...”

“I was going to say ‘It was as if an angel shat on my tongue,’ but thought you might think I was rude,” I confided.

The Fat Lady smiled.

“I shall repeat the first remark and treasure the second,” she said before she waltzed over to the next table.

23 May 2000
Bela Lugosi’s Appropriately Dead
I just learned that Bela Lugosi was buried in his Dracula cloak. I don’t know why I find that fact so comforting, but I do.

Waiter, more garlic! On the double!

24 May 2000
Famous Last Words
According to Frank McDermott, who runs the company that makes the “black box” cockpit voice recorders, the most frequent last words heard on those devices is, “Oh, shit!” (Curiously, it turns out that the black boxes are actually bright orange, but that’s another story for another day.)

“Oh, shit,” may in fact be the most common last words, but I’ve heard that’s not what the good pilots say en route to death. I read an interview with an author and pilot whose name I’ve forgotten; he talked at length about his investigations of a number of fatal plane crashes. He maintained that the best pilots kept trying to fly the plane out of danger until the moment of impact; he claimed only inferior pilots swore and gave up.

I have no empirical evidence to judge the truth of any of these statements; I’ve never been in a plane crash. (I hope I’ll be able to honestly repeat that phrase tomorrow when I’m nine thousand kilometers away in San Francisco.)

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©2000 David Glenn Rinehart