Tag Archives: human body

102. Story of a cell

At one point I was just a single cell, one little Cheerio in this vast and lonely bowl of milk. Floating about. Doing nothing of much significance until an act of reproduction cast me out of that bowl and into this warm, dark place where one Cheerio became two, became ten, became thousands, became an infant.

For a while there, I had no idea how lucky I was, this body of cooperating cells. I was a magic trick walking. A miracle of nature. We all start out as snowflakes at the center of our own universe. Gradually, conformity settles in. Society has its way with you. At some point you realize we’re all just variations of the same human. We move from a life of fantasy to facts as people start offering you explanations for things, scientific or religious. People tell you that all of this was written long before we came along. Or maybe it’s pure chaos. Either way, we all end up in debt.

I liked being a kid. It was rewarding. It was me, me, me. And toys. People made the big decisions for me. My religion was Saturday morning cartoons; the answer to life was found wrapped in plastic in the bottom of a cereal box. My biggest responsibility was school, which I endured begrudgingly. There was always a mental disconnect from public school, like a loveless relationship endured for the sake of a good lay.

English was the only subject that I found comfort in. Words made sense. Words made magic. I began writing at a young age and even though it was total nonsense and grammatically atrocious, it felt right. All those stories in my head suddenly found somewhere to land. It would be writing that kept me grounded during the mindfuck that is the process of growing up.

Growing up…

I never had conflicts with my family. Adults always seemed to know best, so I listened. I was quiet, observant, private, polite. I listened to advice. I followed most of the rules. Looked both ways, all that. Should’ve brushed better. Steered clear of peer pressure by deftly navigating the tributaries of the social stream, never quite allied with any one group. Neutral, passive, calm.

I view the world with a pair of big blue eyes that can’t quite fathom the depth of the universe, but I take comfort in the unknown. I still feel like a wide-eyed infant blindly grasping at fuzzy, colorful things.

I like myself this way but it comes at the consequence of feeling inconsequential. I prefer to stand ringside with a notepad and a camera, which means I rarely feel or want to feel like the center of attention. I shy away from compliments. I’m no good at giving them, either.

What blows my mind is how different and identical our lives are. Even if I feel different, I know that I’m not. The tiny infinite moments that make our experiences unique and the grand motions that make us all the same. You can only be so special, you can only be so human.

I didn’t feel like a real person until I passed the age that my father was when I was born, which was six years ago. I didn’t feel like myself until the winter of 2009, when I sat in a windowsill, drank a lot of wine, and listened to a lot of Modest Mouse.

College went by fast and I’m not exactly sure what happened there or what the point was. It was a blur of coffeeshops, all-nighters, sexual tension, and invincibility. I learned a valuable lesson or two, but hell if I know what they were.

Then there was a musician, a dog, and two cats. And then there was none.

I like (midtown) Sacramento. It’s always been a “starter city,” a sort of stepping stone between graduation and The Big City, wherever in the world The Big City may be. Most Californians look to San Francisco for a fulfilling urban experience, as do I, but after a semester in Istanbul I’ve realized that The Big City could be anywhere. Except Paris. Paris is too cliche for a writer.

There have been women but I’m no closer to reaching or understanding the pinnacle that is true love. Sadly, your faith in such a thing begins to wane far too early. There have been many fulfilling friendships along the way. I miss people more than I admit.

Now I’m here, 26 years old. What was once a little Cheerio has now passed the quarter-life mark. Who woulda thought? Some little particle of stardust turned into a living, breathing human being. Me. And there’s you, reading this, an equally valuable evolution of microscopic magic.

I guess the point of this thought is to pay attention to your growth. To be happy that you’re here. To think back on influences and decisions, to wonder where it will all lead, to find meaning in the messiness. Life is a chance for you to turn a single cell into a story. Otherwise, we might as well have stayed in the milk.

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97. Common cold

The worst part about most sicknesses, besides the suffering, is the fact that you can get other people sick, too. It’s bad enough having to sniffle and cough yourself half-to-death, but now you’ve also got to worry that you’ll spread this discomfort to another. I mean, it’s not my fault that I caught the bug in the first place, and now I’ve got to worry about keeping it to myself. I didn’t ask for that responsibility. I don’t want it, either!

Not only that, but it’s way too easy to get others sick. I so much as sneeze and I picture a million little bacteria heading out like prospectors going west for gold. They’ll latch onto anything and all of a sudden everyone in the house is a virus factory. Who gets the blame? Not the microscopic bugs, but me, Patient Zero.

But I got sick the same way you did.

Which makes me wonder if our immune systems need updating. We ought to be able to go to the pharmacy and pick out immune system enhancements. I don’t want cures, I want more preventative medicine!

What to do when you’re already sick, though… It seems the only options are drugs and isolation. No one wants to be around you. No one knows how to act around you. They’ll avoid eye contact as if your illness were transferable through sight.

So far the best remedy for sickness I’ve found is a loved one. Wife, girlfriend, family member… Someone who can stand you when you’ve turned into a drugged-out sniffling zombie with tissues stuffed in your nostrils. Someone who knows which herbal tea you need. Someone who knows where the medicine is and where the last can of chicken soup is hiding.

The point is, we’re fragile creatures. Even our best defense, the flu shot, goes obsolete about as regularly as the iPhone. We have few methods of preventing illnesses but a million ideas on how to get rid of them once we’ve caught them. Seems a bit backward, doesn’t it? For a cold so common as the Common Cold, it’s a bit strange that we’re still dealing with it. Anyway, here’s to hoping we’ll have it figured out by next winter.

71. Headaches

When I first got a headache and lived to tell the tale, I was about eleven or so. I’m assuming I’d had a few before this, too, but this is my first conscious memory of a headache, at least. I’m sure teething as a baby was a hoot.

Anyway, I’m eleven years old and here comes this gnarly wasp sting of an ache in my head, like someone spilled a bucket of xenomorph acid over my brain and smeared it around with sandpaper.

Ouch.

The thing is, headaches have nothing to do with the brain. Your brain has no pain receptors. It’s like a duck in the rain. The pain just slides right off. Your brain is the Chuck Norris of internal organs.

Sure, the brain is the one that registers the pain as happening, but it’s only doing its job. In all fairness, the brain is not to blame.

So what made my eleven-year-old self cry to his momma about an outbreak of black plague in his frontal lobe? Why did it feel like a million snakes just mistook the back of my left eye for the rear-end of a feeder mouse?

I’ll tell you why.

Muscle contractions.

Muscles tighten around the skull like skinny-jeans on a wet hipster. This is usually caused by stress, though the causes can range from bad luck in the gene pool to overdosing on pain medication. This is how headaches are born. You’re basically tightening a vice over your own skull and the pain receptors–not on the brain, but blood vessels and the such beneath the flesh and skull–don’t appreciate the intrusion. Hence, the headache.

At eleven years old, I thought my brain was about to Mount. St. Helens all over the ceiling.

Rubbing the scalp lends temporary support, but the war wages on. Despite all the pressing and the kneeding and the praying, the pain resumes like a bad sitcom past its prime. You just want to find out it was all the dream of a mental patient already and move on.

I mean, seriously, headaches must’ve been an idea concocted by some madman in a straight jacket. Someone who wanted to shut down cognitive abilities to mute the voices in his head. A headache is bested only by a toothache in my list of the human body’s most idiotic design choices.

Why make the brain so susceptible to such vulnerable pain receptors? Stress headaches? Are you serious? We get migraines from thinking too much?

What’s the point?

That’s like punishing students for getting too many good grades. Talk about negative reinforcement. How about instead of giving us a cap on how much bullshit we can handle at once, evolve and make some room for the multitasking, technology-based, fast-paced lifestyles of the modern human. Maybe if we weren’t stalled by migraines, we’d reach the mental capacity to actually solve a global issue or two.

This is what I think about whenever I have a headache.

It’s my body saying, “The brain and I agree that you’re asking a little much of us recently and we’d rather you just settle downIn a heap of terrible pain.”

I have a formula:

1 Ibuprofen = The headache has found me. I can feel it vaguely, more like a whisper, like Sauron seeking Frodo in his dreams. Usually I take one to quiet the Dark Lord and no big fuss is made of it. Headache evaded.

2 Ibuprofen = Hell hath arrived. Cancel all your plans. Hate all your friends. Speak only in broody grunts. This is not nearly as painful as childbirth, though being a man, you’ve got nothing else to compare this to.

3 Ibuprofen = If I could physically pull open my skull and remove the headache with a pair of child’s safety scissors, I would do it, but since I’m all out of safety scissors, a trio of Ibuprofen will be the next best thing.

4 Ibuprofen = Honestly, I’ve never gotten a headache this bad.

I can’t say I’ve ever had a migraine, which is where 10 or 20 Ibuprofen may make a dent. Even that, by the sound of it, is comprable to shooting a t-rex with Nerf darts. From what I hear, migraines are like supernovas made of broken glass erupting repeatedly inside your every synapse. It does to your brain what Y2K was supposed to do to our computers.

I’ve only had to deal with the 7-pointers on the headache Richter Scale.

I’m lucky.

Which leads me to another point.

Why punish some more than others? Why crank the dial up to 11 when 2 or 3 would suffice? Even a minor headache reminds us of our weaknesses. Even paper-cuts make me dwell on my morality. A minor headache is like a 3.2 earthquake in a town made of playing cards. Nothing falls down, but its unsettling how the Powers That Be like to remind you who’s in charge. It’s just not fair. Why make things harder than they already are?

We get it. We’re vulnerable.

What good does a 9.5 Richter Scale migraine do? What’s the human body trying to prove? That’s like whacking a dog on the nose for chewing up a couch cushion. Don’t punish us for stressing out. Don’t kick us when we’re down. A headache is the worst form of torture I can imagine and our own bodies use it against us. Pain isn’t a good mentor. There’s got to be a better way to tell ourselves to take it easy.

I have a friend who once told me he’d never had a headache before.

The lucky bastard.

I’ve met people who take medication to keep headaches away. Can you imagine? Your whole life, behind this shield of prescription pills, knowing the migraines are waiting in the shadow of your medula oblongata, waiting to spring, fangs out.

I didn’t like them when I was eleven. Not one bit. And I certainly don’t like them any better now. Headaches are as outdated as toothaches.

Most pains make sense to me. The scraped knee. The stomachache. The muscle soreness. If I break my leg, I expect a lot of searing pain. I expect to feel like a zombie is gnawing the meat off my shin.

But the headache? No. It doesn’t make sense. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The pain receptors in the head are like car insurance. You never need it when you have it. Odds are, most of your headaches will be from self-afflicted causes like stress or allergies. Therefore, when you’re “protected” from outside trauma, you end up hurting yourself more.

I say, get rid of the pain receptors.

I don’t need an alarm to go off if I accidentally staple my forehead. I know that hurts. I’ll take care of it.

I don’t need a headache whenever things get busy at work and I’m swamped with grad school homework. I need a back massage.

This year, I’m voting for any candidate that promises to abolish headaches. Any Kickstarter fund aiming to remove pain receptors from the human head, I’m in. Please, join me in the fight against unwarranted suffering. End headaches. End them today.

55. Allergies

This is a thought about allergies, but let me start at the beginning.

I loathe sneezing, and I don’t use the word loathe for nothing. This is true hatred. If this were one of those situations where I could go back in time and kill the one who invented sneezing, I’d do it, and I’d make it hurt. “How could you do this to me?” I’d ask them, before ending them once and for all.

“I’m sorry,” they’d say. “I thought you’d enjoy expelling saliva from your mouth at forty miles-per-hour. I thought you’d like losing all your basic motor skills. Who wouldn’t enjoy watery eyes, a runny nose, and a sore throat? I mean, honestly, I thought sneezing was fun.”

No! No! No!

The trouble with sneezing, for me, is its connection to allergies. I’m one of the many unlucky folks who endure regular battles with allergies every year. Regardless of any positive healthy habits or changes in diet, the allergens find a way in, and even though these allergens are basically harmless everyday substances, my body freaks out like a New Orleans planning committee that forgot to order Mardis Gras beads.

Allergies make no sense to me. What troubles me the most about them is the fact that everyone has different allergies. So it’s really the luck of the genetic draw to see what random substances or foods will leave you with hives, swelling, and possible gruesome death.

Thanks evolution!

Our body absorbs plenty of crappy things every day. We’ve got pollution in the air that sneaks into our lungs. We eat chemically enhanced food that clogs up our stomachs. We watch mindless celebrity gossip on television that clutters up our minds. Yet, for the most part, none of that evokes an allergic reaction. It’s as if our bodies are better suited to breath smog than get a sniff of dandelion fluff.

People are allergic to peanuts, latex, insect stings, milk, sunlight, and water. Yeah, that’s right. Water. It just doesn’t seem fair, does it? The human body does many amazing things, buts its flaws and weaknesses astound. We may be Goliaths in the realm of evolution, but we’ve got plenty of Davids to worry about.

My mom, despite her love for them, became allergic to clams. Note the phrasing: became allergic. What was once perfectly enjoyable and delicious became a death sentence. Why does this happen? One day your body may decide to reject any number of things. You’ll be going on with your business as usual, eating strawberries, let’s say, only to end up with a swollen throat and rashes all over your body. Doesn’t matter how much you liked strawberries before because now they’re at the top of your immune system’s most wanted list.

We are such strange creatures.

I’m a dust and pollen guy, myself. Set me outside in a park and I’ll be chained to a box of tissue. I’m also a heavy sneezer, meaning I’ll go through at least a dozen obnoxious sneezes before I can get ahold of myself. God forbid I’m ever driving when allergies strike, because when they do, I don’t just need Claritin, I need to be quarantined.

Maybe this is part of the plan. Maybe we’re meant to have these weaknesses. I’ve shared my two cents about the deficiencies of our teeth, coming to the conclusion that there are simply some parts of the human body that have yet to evolve.

In the case of allergies, it almost feels like our bodies have some unspoken agreement with Mother Nature. For every billion people we populate the earth with, we must accept a million new allergens to even the odds. For every ten births, we lose someone to a peanut allergy. For every thirty, we get a fatal anaphylactic reaction to penicillin.

I’m not sure what to conclude about allergies, other than they suck.

I appreciate that the body has an immune system that reacts quickly to invasions from malicious bacteria and the like. When it works, it works. That’s awesome. Keep it up. But am I really going to have sneezing fits every time I walk outside to enjoy the spring? Will my mom never again taste a good clam chowder?

Probably not. David always wins in any rendition of the Goliath tale.

49. The gym

Guest Thought from Ben Weinberg

:::

Hate it or love it, the gym has become tuned to the pulse of our society. With the increasing number and size of gyms, it seems like everyone and their mother has a membership these days. I think this is a positive trend. There are gyms for all folks, from the muscle-mass addicts to the casual weight lifter.

As I get older, going to the gym is becoming more and more a part of my weekly routine as my daily opportunities for exercise and fitness are starting to decline due to sheer laziness or the business of my schedule. Finding the motivation and perseverance needed to go work out after a long day at the office or school is a constant struggle. It makes me miss those days before college where I would participate in mandatory gym class during school and then do varsity sports after classes ended.

I think despite the crowded treadmills, overworked weight-lifting machines and the occasional interaction with the obnoxious guys who live for the gym experience 24/7, it’s not such a bad routine to get into for those who don’t really partake in it yet. It relieves stress, clears your mind and makes you stronger. People do a lot of things to make themselves feel good, why not add going to the gym to that list? Even if all we did at the gym was run a few laps or do a few good stretches, the results would be positive. If we all gave it a shot, it could lead to a fitter and happier world.

Who knows? You might just like it so much that you make a habit of it. Don’t over do it, of course, especially if you’re new to the scene. My body usually gets sore and aches if I go more than three times a week, but a little soreness is to be expected. The hard work of running, lifting, jumping, and stretching usually pays off if you put enough effort into it.

Unfortunately, most people in this world do not have the chance to go to the gym, and even more worrisome is how few people take the time to exercise and take care of their bodies. The gym is a luxury we often take for granted, but exercising should never be overlooked. We should never be too busy to be healthy.

It seems counter intuitive that the more developed a nation becomes, the higher the risk of obesity becomes. It seems we slip into unhealthy patterns when we should be taking more advantage of the opportunities we have. If not a gym, then something else: yoga, kick-boxing, rock climbing…

While the gym is not as accessible or as affordable as it should be, it’s a step in the right direction in terms of giving society the means to improve themselves physically and mentally if they so choose to. We should always be encouraging citizens to pursue healthy lives.

44. Water

Did anyone else actually hate drinking water when they were a kid? I don’t remember this being an especially long phase, but I certainly recall a period of my life when drinking water was about as fun as eating vegetables. Didn’t matter if I’d spent all day running around sweating, or if I was deathly thirsty—water was the last thing on my mind. Water had no taste, no color, no fizz, no sweet odor, no life.

Water was boring.

Of course now, grown up, I recognize the value of good, clean water. I’m lucky that such a substance spews regularly from the tap in the kitchen. I drink water much more often now, and the taste, while indescribable, is refreshing in the way that a good breath of air is refreshing. The body wants it (being, as it is, composed of 60% water) and the body’s happy when it gets it, so that’s all that matters.

I’ve come to appreciate water even more now that I’ve travelled the world a bit and been places where drinking tap water was a health risk and paying for bottled was the only access you had. Good luck getting ice in your drink.

It still boggles my mind that we live on a planet that’s 75% water and we still have a problem with getting people clean water to drink. Yes, that 75% is basically all salt water, but don’t we have the technology to desalinize it? We can put a robot on Mars but we’re still letting people die of thirst?

Shipping out bottled water to the billion people without drinkable water won’t exactly benefit the planet, since that much plastic would just settle into the environment about as nicely as a tumor. Plus it’s not like that’s a long-term solution. We’d have to send out another billion bottles the next day. All we’d be doing is keeping Aquafina in business and diverting money from water sanitation and distribution.

So what do we do?

Conserve water. Guarantee water rights. Prioritize human health.

Most of all: make sure everyone everywhere grows up knowing that water is crucial to your health, that it is not to be overlooked simply because it is tasteless and clear, and that you will die of thirst before you die of hunger. And Gatorade is not a substitute.

So if you’re an athlete, or if you’re a busy mother, or you’re often found hiking up mountains, or you’re planning a night of drinking on the town, or you’re taking the dog for a walk, or you’re any living human being, then get some water in your body. It might not be the most exciting drink in the world, but it’s the most useful.

Someday I hope everyone has easy access to good water.

In the meantime, if you’ve got a kid that thinks water is dull and prefers juice or cola, remind them how lucky they are that they get any water at all. Now, about getting them to eat their vegetables… That’s another battle entirely.

43. Breaking the seal

I’m not drunk, but I was like ten minutes ago before I went pee. Too much information? Well that’s what I’ve been thinking about. Why does drinking alcohol make you hafta pee so much? The logic in me says, “Well any liquid you input will have to output eventually.” Yeah, sure, but how come it feels like we pee way more than we drink?

Well, this is because alcohol is a diuretic.

Other diuretics include: coffee, cranberry juice, green tea, and water.

A diuretic tells your kidneys to clear out your bladder a lot more often. Your kidney says, “I just went pee like five minutes ago,” but your brain doesn’t care. Your brain thinks you’re doing this on purpose. It’s only doing what it was designed to do. The heavy intake of alcohol is literally telling the kidney to stop absorbing liquid and to flush it out as soon as possible. This is done, says research, by reducing the production of the vasopressin hormone.

This is why we try so hard not to break the seal.

There’s nothing worse than having to pee every five minutes. It sucks. On top of that, you risk the chance of dehydration, which doesn’t bode well with anyone’s plans for the evening.

Anyway, the point of this thought is to encourage everyone to drink more water. Drunk or not, water doesn’t encourage your kidneys to flush your bladder every ten minutes. Drink enough water and yes, you’ll hafta pee soon enough, but it keeps your vasopressin hormones alone. And when you are drunk, it helps balance out your kidneys and keep you away from the bathroom and more involved with whatever party, concert, or solitary moment you’d rather pay attention to.

I’ve had my fair share of drunk nights. I know the curse of the broken seal.

It’s our body’s way of telling us that we’re on track to have a wild night we’ll never remember. Drinking water might not help you steer clear of repeated visits to the toilet, but it’ll at least keep you hydrated and prevent a hangover.

Drink safe, friends.

38. Sleep varieties

Ever have one of those sleeps where you close your eyes at night and the next instant it’s morning and you’re wide awake? Feels like no time passed at all. Feels like a trick. Did any time actually pass? Sure, the sun’s out, but you start to think there’s been a mistake. It couldn’t have gone by that fast. You didn’t even have a chance to dream.

Or what about the sleep that yanks you back at the last second? There you are, slowly falling asleep, sinking down into dreamland, and just before you’ve settled in for the night, sleep conjures up a falling sensation to startle you, or makes you feel like you’re tripping, and in the real world you bolt upright trying to catch yourself. Welcome back to the waking world, sucker.

Maybe nothing is worse than the reluctant sleep cycle. You’ve probably got something you need to wake up early for. Too bad. You’ll be waking up every half hour for no reason at all. Hope you like watching informercials.

Then there’s the sensitive sleep, which lets you rest but only in total darkness and complete silence. If so much as a flicker of light or whisper breaks the charm, you’ll be wide awake in an instant. It’s like you’ve suddenly acquired Spidey-Sense, but not for fighting crime, just for fighting against REM.

There’s the heavy sleep, which is basically when a two-ton elephant sits on your brain and puts you into an overnight coma. Literally nothing will wake you up. You could sink with the Titanic. You’ll wake up with drool all over your pillow and still, somehow, feel tired.

Of course sometimes you get those sleeps full of really weird, miserable, dysfunctional, twisted dreams. It’s like you went to bed watching A Clockwork Orange through a kaleidoscope while listening to the audio book of Stephen King’s greatest hits after eating lots of shellfish for dinner.

Sometimes you’re too cold when you sleep, sometimes you’re too hot. Sometimes no position is comfortable. Sometimes you fall asleep in  your clothes. Some people sleep walk. Some people snore. Some people talk in their sleep, and some people sleep with their eyes open. We’re certainly odd creatures when we’re unconscious.

It’s a strange thing, sleep. We need it, but sometimes it feels like sleep is working against us.

And what’s the deal with this formula?

  • 0 – 2 hours: fully rested.
  • 2 – 5 hours: kill me now.
  • 5 – 8 hours: rested enough.
  • 8 + hours: exhausted.

I’ll never understand that…

35. Tickling

Let’s build a human. Let’s give them a complex nervous system, a powerful brain, and upright mobility. Let’s encourage estensive communicative abilities, give them the opportunity to increase their muscle strength, and throw in some opposable thumbs. Alright, so we’ve got a human.

No, wait, let’s make them ticklish.

Um, what?

I can see it now: the powers-that-be, organizing a meeting to discuss the development of the humans, and everyone’s throwing out good ideas, and the creativity is flowing and people are getting excited, sketching out this masterpiece. A four-chambered heart! Eyelids! Let’s use cartilage to save some money on bone! How about we use a ribcage to protect the vital organs? Genius!

Just before finalizing the layout, some fool in the back who hasn’t said anything all day blurts out passionately, “I wanna make them ticklish!”

And everyone looks at him, confused, for they’ve never heard of this adjective before.

“It means I want them to have parts of their body that, when touched, will render them useless, overwhelming them with laughter and watery eyes, and it will sometimes be so severe they’ll have trouble breathing!”

And the others, they must’ve felt bad for this guy, since everyone else had contributed something. “But why?” asked the one who came up with eardrums. “Why give them a weakness?”

“It’s not a weakness,” said tickle guy. “Everyone loves to laugh.”

This they could not argue. The one who developed laughter shrugged and said, “Maybe he has a point.”

“Which parts of the body should be ticklish?” they asked.

Tickle guy said, “Definitely the neck, and under the arms, and behind the knees. I guess the whole knee, actually. Maybe the belly, too. I guess the bottoms of the feet would work. And maybe anywhere that’s touched with the slightest graze. In fact, how about we make the whole body ticklish, but have the intensity of the areas vary from person to person?”

“Seems like the humans might get annoyed with this vulnerability,” said the one who thought of the brain. “It could render them incapable of critical thinking.”

“No way. They’ll love it. They’ll be laughing all the time.”

So it was. Humans were made ticklish, and this is the best explanation I could come up with. Because seriously, why we have parts of our body that evoke oftentimes painful spasms of unwarranted laughter, I have no idea. Oh well. At least we laugh when we’re tickled, and I’ll never argue against a good laugh, although I question said laughter if it feels like torture.

32. Dentists

Last time I thought about teeth and how much I hate them. No offense, teeth, but you suck.

There are people who do like teeth, though. They make a living off of them. They are the dentists, the masked people in white coats with armies of assistants and pointy, metal tools. They’ll claw the plaque right off your canines. They’ll suck the saliva out of your mouth with a hose and shoot you full of Novocain like it’s liquid candy. This is what they do. Every day. They drill and extract and root canal the teeth of society.

Honestly, I like dentists.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, because I used to be terrified of the dentist. I remember being a kid waiting for a dentist appointment, reading Highlights Magazine to block out the rising panic in my chest. I hated that stupid lamp they pulled over your head to blind you with. And the smell of fluoride. What if I had a cavity? What if they told me I wasn’t brushing enough? What if they had to surgically remove all my teeth and replace them with metal robot teeth? Noooooo!

Maybe that’s the point of this thought: as you grow up, you come to realize something valuable, that the fears we harbored as children were often a misguided distrust of the unknown. As kids, we spooked ourselves with imaginary monsters. As adults, we became less afraid of the dark and, hopefully, more willing to embrace the foreign.

I could go on and on about how dentistry is way too expensive for the working class man, how insurance is too pricey and difficult to come by, and how for any appointment you make, you’ll spend most of that time just sitting by yourself in a reclined chair like a corpse waiting for an autopsy.

But this isn’t a rant about dentistry (they’re just doing their job, after all). This is an observation about our ever-changing understanding of the world. We’re scared of things because we avoid them, not because they’re scary. Be scared, yes, but be brave enough to eventually defeat that fear.

Oh, and brush your teeth.

31. Teeth

I’m a fan of evolution. I think it’s a super neato idea and it makes sense to me. You have Creature A who survives in Environment A with Requirement A, then Environment B comes along and Creature A needs to adapt to Requirement B and the next generation becomes Creature B. This pattern continues. Life goes on. Things change. Cool. Got it. I’m all for that.

And then we get to the modern day human.

For the most part, we’re pretty remarkable creatures. We’re pretty fast on our feet, we have the eyesight of a hunter, we have crazy wicked brains, we can multi-task, and we invented the internet. We’re pretty much solid, even if we totally would’ve become dinosaur food if we hadn’t come around 65 million years afterward. But, overall, not bad for a bunch of apes.

I think there are just two things left that need to evolve:

  1. Our compassion for each other
  2. Our teeth

The first one, I don’t feel like getting into right now, but the second one…

Boy have I got a thing or two to say about teeth. To put it bluntly, I hate the design of human teeth. Depending on your diet, genetic disposition, hygiene, and insurance overage, your teeth will either be perfect little angels in your mouth, or turn into tantrum-throwing toddlers every chance they get. I’m stuck with the latter. I’ve got the kind of teeth that prefer to sprout crooked along the bottom row, squeeze in uninvited wisdom, and plague me with hard-to-reach corners that fester and decay like teenagers without adult supervision. I’ve got the teeth that fart in elevators and push old ladies to cut in line at the supermarket. My teeth are jerks.

Evolutionarily speaking, human teeth seem confused between adjusting to our meat-eating tendencies and sustaining their vegetative diets of yore. We’re not helping our evolution by having such a split between carnivores and vegetarians. Our future generations’ teeth won’t know if they need to tear through a steak or gnaw on some arugula. My opinion is that our teeth are too weak. We need thicker enamel and sturdier jaws. We should not need braces. Nowhere in our evolutionary timeline should we require pieces of metal to keep us aligned.

I’m not saying we should all be carnivores. Yes I am. But don’t listen to me. I just have weak teeth and I don’t want to take responsibility for my bad cleaning habits. But there, again, lies my ultimate problem with our current state of teeth evolution: they’re doomed from the start. If we don’t constantly upgrade our toothbrushes, pastes, and washes, our teeth will fall right out of our heads. Our teeth are worse with planned obsolescence than the automobile and tech industry combined. They’re made to fail. While a good diet can keep the rest of your bones healthy, a good diet can also leave food stuck between your teeth, and even a piece of rogue broccoli can spell disaster for a molar.

It’s just not fair. I don’t have to floss my ribs or brush my spinal cord with Colgate. Those bones do just fine on their own. Can we please, in a couple generations, come up with something more stable and resilient than what we’ve currently been using to chomp our foot with?

19. Belly buttons

Sometimes I forget that I have a belly button. But I do. There it is, just this little bump half-hidden in this crater a few inches south of the bottom ridge of my ribcage, with a couple hairs keeping it company. What a strange wound, long-healed and long-forgotten, a little scabbed-over reminder that I was once attached by tube to another mammal who nourished me in a uterus for nine months. Now the belly button (the umbilicus) hitches a ride on my anatomy, knowing its job is done, collecting unemployment lint for as long as I live.

You have one too. Go on, take a look.

There are three kinds, so far as I know:

  1. The Dweller, like mine, a small knot at the bottom of a crater, as if a round piece of my abdomen was scooped out by a spoon and my umbilicus thought it a nice pit in which to settle.
  2. The Boaster, protruding outward, proudly, a little monument erected on the smooth plateau of your abdomen as if to say, “Yes, goddamnit, I was birthed!” They are of various designs: sometimes simple and predictably button-like, sometimes ornate as the petals of a rose.
  3. The Baby Turtle, withdrawn into sealed crevices, the skin closing around them. I do not understand these belly buttons. I imagine them like masochistic poets in darkened basements smoking long cigarettes and listening to vinyl records of whale songs while lamenting their departure from their creator. If you ever pry into their private world, they resent you for it.

More generally, you’ve got your innies and your outties. Some belly buttons are flat, some are round, some have the capacity to hold body-shots of tequila. Others look like knots on an old tree, or a tongue stuck out in jest. I’ve seen buttons resembling bottomless pits, buttons that look like the wrinkled neck of a turkey, but regardless of its curb appeal, that button is a reminder of your original womb address and you will always have a fond memory of your first home.

Do yourself a favor and try to appreciate your belly button more. Tonight I looked down at mine and thought, “You’re sort of a big deal around here and I never pay attention to you.” It’s your first scar. Through that portal you were fed your first meal. I’m not sure how exactly you can show your appreciation for your umbilicus, but maybe just a brief hello in the shower, or when you change your shirt, enough to let it know it’s at least more important than your appendix.