Monday, April 4, 2011

Life On Man

I'm not much of a germophobe. If food falls on the floor - or the ground - I'll brush it off and eat it. No five second rule for me.

I've always had only a mild version of aversion to getting dirty. Being raised in the country helped some (with "healthy" dirt). My 9th grade biology teacher gave me a book to read which helped. It was called "Life on Man" by  Theodore Rosebury.

So I realize that we are surrounded and suffused by a halo of poop and poop related germs. Literally. If the aliens come, they will either wrinkle their noses (if they have them) in disgust, or bury them in our crotches and armpits in a complete and orgiastic scent symphony...

"How do you do? Welcome to Earth! We- oh! Oh! Ah-ha-ha! Hello there!"

I suspect the latter. I've a feeling that part of Life making it through the Great Filter to expand and explode out into the greater universe is a very high gross-out factor. It's of good survival value. I also believe that any life we meet out there will have solved the problem of survival the way life did on Earth: through consortia. By cooperating, by living together, by living on, within, among, amidst, entangled, embraced, entwined, enamored, encircled, encysted. Swapping and sharing bodily fluids of every type and description. Eww. Icky. Icky. Eww. Eww-eww-ick.

But Get Fucking Over It. It's almost an inevitable result of the known laws of physics.

Of course, we Americans have this pathological tendency to rid ourselves of our little passengers. Which is why we stink so badly when we do not bathe. We exude natural substances. Not sweat. Not eccrine sweat.  Eccrine sweat is mostly water,  with some edible elements for bacteria, for the mild locker room smell. Skin flakes are good, and grease, and sebum. Apocrine sweat, though, that's the good stuff. The apocrine glands, located in the armpits, crotch, and feet, exude a cloudy protein secretion which is bacterial manna from heaven. The bacterial breakdown products are the thing that provides that powerful Body Order Blast.  (3-methyl-2-hexanoic acid and androstenone being the major players).

Not to mention that stinky cheese smell from the feet. L brevis, a foot bacteria, is also used as an inocculant to make strong cheeses. Parmesan, anyone?

Makes you wonder, doesn't it? Why our bodies would produce substances that basically attract stinky bacteria like flowers do bees? Could it be to set up a relatively benign ecosystem, a robust biome that prevents really nasty bacteria from getting a toehold? Yeah, I thought so too. Cooperation going on there.

But we Americans, programmed to be afraid of offending anyone with a smell, take personal hygiene to insane proportions. Fucking pathological, as in Almost German. As a result, I suspect that we wipe out the relatively benign (smelling) bacteria, and leave lots of room for those really virulently stinky motherfuckers. The ones who can digest the smallest crumb, the tiniest scrap of skin flake or seat protein. And as a result, we Americans, when we don't get an opportunity to bathe, really fucking stink up the place something awful.

My personal anecdotal experience suggests this. When I was in "primitive" conditions among people who had a chance to bathe perhaps once a week, I found that, though they smelled a little, I stunk a lot. But after about a week, I stunk less. A healthy balance seemed to be occurring on my epidermis. It helps to be able to change your clothes. Clothing really sucks up a lot of skin oil, grease, sweat, dander, and filth. This probably explains why people in the Renaissance, who rarely if ever bathed, could stand each other.

Regardless, the reason this came up was one of the little old ladies in the ceramics class here at the college just got back from a Sahara safari tour. Or should that be Sahel? Anyway, she started out from the west coast of Africa on a journey to Timbuktu.

When she mentioned she was going through places like Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali, my response - before I could catch myself - was "Oh my god those places are all shitholes!"

Fortunately she took along lots of toilet paper and wet wipes. She mentioned that it was pretty rough. But the worst part of the trip was on one segment through the Sahara where no one on the bus could bathe for a few days. The bus started to smell pretty ripe. The natives manning the hotel recoiled at the stench of the tourists, but maintained a stoic courtesy.

The little old lady brought me back a gift. A Dogon bronze. It looks like a guy pulling his pants up. I guess he's dancing. She mentioned that she got to see it cast. "How'd they do it?" I asked.

(The old style method, going back to Ghana, perhaps, oh, before my ancestors learned about shit-free buttholes, was to mix up a slurry of clay and horsedung, cover the wax figure, dry it, and melt the wax out, pour the metal in).

"They used charcoal, clay, and camel dung. And they melted lots of bullet casings".

Ah. Probably for a hundredth the cost of what I do. And the technical virtuosity involved in the little Dogon figure is first rate. No defects.

I got to find me some horse dung.

1 comment:

  1. Oh man, you make me laugh!

    No anti-bacterials for me. I prefer my immune system strong, thank you very much.