The Weekly Essay

It’s Another Story.

Remedy < Disease.

coughThe average cold lasts five days. That’s according to something I read somewhere so it must be true even though whenever I have a cold it feels like it goes on for five years. Even from an objective viewpoint that seems ridiculously short and it also occurred to me that’s probably the average time with cold medicine. I have a theory about cold medicine. I don’t think it makes you well and in most cases it doesn’t. It just treats the symptoms which is the problem. I think cold medicine drags out the cold making it last longer than it would if you just did the natural thing and curled up in bed for five days. People seem to have a problem with that, mainly, I think, because the second or third day you’re going to run out of fresh sheets to blow your nose on. But like I said cold medicines treat the symptoms: the runny nose, the coughing, the aching head and body. These symptoms are not directly caused by the disease itself. They’re caused by the body’s response to the disease. Our bodies are smart enough to know when unruly neighbors have moved in and need to be evicted. Let’s put it even more forcefully: our bodies know when an enemy has slipped in and it becomes necessary to go into attack mode. All that excess phlegm is the body’s way of clearing out the intruders. Coughing and sneezing are the body’s way of expelling what doesn’t belong and those wads of mucus are the graveyards of germs and the brave antibodies and the white blood cells that bravely fought in our defense. That’s why it’s so important to keep drinking and taking vitamin C when you have a cold. You’ve got to keep your precious bodily fluids topped up so the expulsion and continue and vitamin C does, well, it does something. That’s why whenever I get a cold I take about two billion milligrams of vitamin C a day. I don’t just pop vitamin pills like they’re candy. I take it like they’re candy and it’s the day after Halloween only I don’t need my parents to check any of my stash because my throat already feels like I’ve swallowed razor blades, but that’s another story. Every cold is a battle and hot tea and orange juice are the only things standing between you and your lungs turning into the Somme. Whenever I come through a cold I like to think there’s a tiny monument placed somewhere along a major artery: “This plaque commemorates the brave leuokocytes who gave their nuclei against the viral threat. Lest we forget.”

And that’s the problem I have with cold medicines. They stop the coughing, they dry up the runny nose, they even remove the aches. I feel like cold medicines aim for the wrong target—and even then they miss. Cold medicines don’t just put me to sleep. They put me into a coma and I wake up the next morning feeling even worse than before. I get those dry, hacking coughs that sound like a goose being goosed. At least with a wet, phlegmy cough I feel like things are moving, being cleared out. And that’s true of blowing my nose too. At least when my nose is running all it takes is a good blow to clear out the junk. There’s a feeling of intense relief that comes when I blow out a two or three pound mass, the kind that leaves me feeling like I’ve blown my brains out but in a good way because now my head is empty, for about ten seconds anyway and then the sinuses start to seize up again. Cold medicines deprive us of that. They make us just carry around the cold that much longer. Those cold medicines that are designed to get you through the day are really the worst because they encourage you to take your disease-addled body out into the world. Hey co-workers, the holidays come early this year and I’m giving you all influenza! At least the night-time cold medicines provide some relief and in that respite it’s possible to sleep. And if there’s one thing the body needs while your antibodies are charging across Pleural Fields it’s rest. Rest provides strength and speeds recovery. Without it you might get one of those colds that lasts five years.

A Werewolf Problem In Southern Indiana.

wolfanddogThe following story was written by journalist Allen Walker and appeared in the October 2015 issue of Catchall, an alt-weekly for which he is a feature writer. It’s reprinted here with the author’s permission. His articles have also appeared in Matrix, Road Hogs, Elsewhere, and other publications.His essay Patagonia Dreamin’ is included in the anthology The Journey Of A Thousand Miles. Other stories by Allen Walker that have appeared here are Living Or Dead Is Purely Coincidental (Part 1, Part, 2, Part 3, Part 4), That Was The Year That Was, and Submerged.

George Bathory reported during the night that he’d shot a large animal near his campsite. The next morning park rangers found a naked man with a bullet wound in his shoulder. The man, later identified as Sam Gould, refused to press charges. Neither of the men knew each other, nor did they have any connection that investigators could find.

Those are the facts and they are strange enough in themselves but to make it stranger Bathory maintains he did not shoot a man. The whole matter could have been easily dismissed as a hunting accident if he hadn’t insisted on going to court to protest his innocence. When I arrive at his home on a small suburban cul-de-sac he tells me almost immediately that he’s decided that an appeal would be too costly, but he insists, in spite of the court’s decision, that he is not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

“It wasn’t a man,” he says. “I know what I saw. I might have shot to kill if I hadn’t been so scared.”

What exactly did he see, or think he saw? A clue to that is in the list of witnesses he wanted to call: mostly biologists, at least five of whom are in Canada or Alaska, but also folklorists and anthropologists. It’s hard to see how any of them could offer anything that would bolster his case.

“They have to know,” he says. “They have to know these aren’t just stories.”

While he goes to the bathroom I examine his bookshelves. He has a whole series of books titled Roughing It Easy and several more on camping and hunting. At the end of the shelf is a cluster of books about mushrooms. I flip through one that’s full of colorful photographs and diagrams clearly marking every species as delicious, inedible, or dangerous. He finds me looking at this book when I return and launches into a talk about mushroom hunting, how there are five types easily identifiable by anyone that are not only edible but very good.

“Were you collecting mushrooms when you were camping?” I ask. I hope the question doesn’t sound too obvious. Mr. Bathory, with his short hair and straightforward demeanor also doesn’t seem like the type to engage in recreational drugs of any sort, but I’ve learned you never can tell.

He shakes his head, waving the question away. “With the drought you’re not going to find any mushrooms out in the woods.”

His wife, a tall, slender woman with a halo of red hair and pale blue eyes, comes in to tell us lunch is ready.

Once we start eating I try to bring the conversation back to his conviction.

“You do understand why it sounds pretty ridiculous,” I say. “A large creature like that roaming around the woods here just seems too incredible to be true.”

“I know what I saw!” He slams his fist down on the table.

After a few minutes of silence I tell his wife the paprikash is delicious. The chicken floats in a sauce that looks like blood.


Even though I felt obligated to talk to Mr.Bathory he’s not the real reason I’m in Glasgow, a small town in southwestern Indiana. The real reason is a woman I’ll only call Alpha. A month earlier, after I’d written up a brief filler about the shooting, she emailed me to tell me she wanted to confirm his story. She also added that there was more to it.

We stroll along an easy path through a state park. As we get deeper into the woods she inhales deeply.

“I work in an office but this is where I really belong,” she says.

“How often do you come out here?”

“Every chance I get.”

An unseasonably cool breeze passes through us. I’m at a loss for what to ask next when I remember the moon was only a sliver in the sky over my hotel this morning. I ask if I should have come closer to a full moon. She looks at me, frowning.

“It’s not a lunar thing. It doesn’t work like that. Do you know where that comes from?”

“Tell me.”

“There’s all kinds of myths and stories about lunacy and the effects full moons have on people but the idea that we’re bound to the moon comes from Hollywood and Hollywood got it from Petronius. Except Petronius doesn’t say it’s a full moon. He just tells the story of two slaves who spend the night in a field. One of them sees the other strip down and transform. He can only see it because of the moonlight. The change really can happen anytime. It’s not something we become. It’s who we are.”


“All the time.”

We stop. Alpha looks around. “There are people here.” There were a few other cars in the parking lot when we arrived but I haven’t seen anyone. “They’re about fifteen, maybe twenty minutes ahead of us on the trail,” she says. “I shouldn’t be telling you about us.”

“Why did you contact me then?”

She sighs. “Because you seem open-minded. Because you were asking about the shooting and it has all of us on edge. These things have happened before but we’ve never had anyone make so much noise about it. It’s never been this public. It got some of us thinking maybe it’s time to come out. We have so much to lose but so much to gain too.”

“Like what?”

“For one thing we don’t know how it happens. My mother wasn’t like me. She would have told me. And I never knew my father. We don’t know if it’s genetic, but if it is we could make the world safer for our children.”

We continue walking. I ask if there’s any evidence that it’s passed on by a bite, like in some folklore.

“You’re thinking rabies. And porphyria. We think it’s more complicated than that, like it just crops up in people at random.

“But if you come out there might also be efforts to try and cure you,” I say. “There are stories about that too. Wolfsbane, silver bullets.”

Alpha turns and glares at me. “You think Sam got shot by some camper who just happened to be carrying a rifle with silver bullets? Don’t be a dumbass.”

When we reach the end of the trail Alpha shakes my hand.

“I need to get back to work. It has been nice talking to you. We’ll pick you up tonight at seven.”

I thank her politely but inside I’m elated. I’ve passed the test and will get to meet the pack.


The van pulls up at the front of my hotel a little after seven. The late summer sun is still high in the sky. It’s humid and I’ve been dousing myself with bug spray to keep the mosquitoes at bay. I open the back to toss in my gear. Then, as  I’m climbing into the side, I come face to face with a man with a thick, long beard. He looks at me suspiciously then turns to the front where Alpha sits in the passenger seat.

“Is this a good idea?” he asks.

Alpha’s reply is blunt. “Yes.”

The other three passengers—two women and an African American man—are friendlier. They introduce themselves to me as Kathy, Linda, and Larry. Larry invites me to sit next to him. The bearded man will only tell me his name is Beta, and he spends the trip staring out the window. Once we get underway I ask if anyone minds answering a few questions. I try to address this to everyone in the group, but I’m intrigued by Larry. He grins widely and says, “What do you want to know?”

A hundred different things, but I start with the obvious.

“How did all of you meet?”

Kathy turns around. “It started with me and Alpha. We met when we were Girl Scouts. We were in different troops but using the same campsite. That’s how we met each other one night. Out roaming the woods alone. We’ve been friends ever since.”

“So you were…”

“Different,” she says. “But we both knew we needed each other. And we needed others.”

Linda interrupts. “The internet has been what’s brought us together but you have to be careful. Most people think we’re crazy. Some people want to join us and it turns out they’re crazy.”

“How can you tell?”

Linda’s nostrils flare. “You smell like a skeptic.”

“And bug spray!” yells Alpha from the front seat. “God, let’s crack some windows.”

Linda’s right, I am skeptical, but while I’ve tried to keep my questions neutral it’s not exactly a revelation. Even though stories of lycanthropes extend across the northern hemisphere and almost every culture has its stories of humans that turn into animals—including dolphins—the idea of meeting the real thing still seems incredible. Yet this group’s insistence that they are a “pack” seems strangely believable. As Alpha said there are many things they don’t know. If this were a hoax, I assume, they’d have built up an elaborate story. Taking a single reporter on a camping trip also seems like a poor way to stage a hoax. They’re too careful, too secretive. Kathy tells me they have to be.

“Sam got sloppy. He forgot that we don’t just go out with each other for fun. We also do it to protect each other. He forgot that some people will try to hurt us.”

I ask if she thinks I might.

“It’s hard to tell through the bug spray and deodorant and hotel soap but I don’t think so.”

The others, aside from Beta, agree.

I continue asking questions and learn that they do these camping trips at least twice a month from March through October, tapering off to just once a month in the winter months. There are a few other members who aren’t attending, apparently put off by me. The van’s driver is Karl whom I learn is not really a member of the pack but a trusted outsider who only serves as chauffeur and won’t be staying with us.

When we get to the parking lot of the place where we’ll be camping I offer to help carry gear which makes everyone laugh. This group travels light. I’m the only one with a pup tent and a sleeping bag. I also brought two thermoses of coffee, anticipating a late night, an early morning, or both. Everyone else has rolled blankets and small bags for carrying food, water, and cooking gear. We set out for the campsite. Larry brings up the rear and I walk with him. We chat and I learn during the day he’s a librarian, “mostly behind the scenes stuff.” Everyone else is quiet. Alpha and Beta lead the group and talk a little as we go. Kathy and Linda walk single file in the middle.

At the campsite everyone puts their bags down in a circle but Alpha advises me to set up my tent on a ridge about a hundred feet away “to be safe”. Safe for whom? I decide not to ask.

Once my tent is set up I rejoin the group. Everyone’s eating field rations, MREs, in self-heating packages.

“We used to build fires but it was too distracting,” says Alpha.

“From what?” I ask. Everyone looks at each other.

“They could attract others. Someone also had to stay up and make sure the fire was put out so nobody’d step in it or get scared away. This way we all get to relax and just be ourselves.”

Larry hands me an MRE. “And with you here,” he says, “I don’t get stuck with the vegetable lasagna.”

I’m not sure what the joke is but I laugh along with everyone else.

The sun sets. Someone places a small portable lamp in the middle of the group and soon the others are just five faces bobbing in the darkness. From their conversation they could be almost any group of hobbyists. Alpha complains about a difficult co-worker. The others’ advice is generic. Then they start to talk about previous camping trips, about the time in late March there was a light overnight snow. During a lull Linda pulls pulls out a flask. She hands it to Alpha who drinks then reaches across the circle to me. The others all watch.

“What is it?” I ask. I wonder if I’m being drawn into some ritual, if this is a plan to make me one of them. There are stories of potions and moonlight ceremonies. Some werewolves are born, others are made.

“Drink,” says Alpha.

I tip up the flask and take a mouthful. Warmth fills my mouth and then spreads through my chest and body.

“Whiskey?” I ask.

Scotch, Linda tells me. “It’s tradition but for you I brought the good stuff, the twelve-year old single malt.”

I feel honored. I pass the flask to Larry who shakes his head and motions to Beta who takes it and has a long pull. Cathy and Linda receive it next and then it goes back to Alpha who then hands it to me. This time after I drink I hand it to Beta, and it makes the same round again two more times before Cathy turns it over.

“Time for bed,” says Alpha.

I climb up to my tent. Behind me the lamp is turned off. As I crawl into my sleeping bag I hear murmurs. I feel like a kid who’s been sent to his room so the grownups can talk. I keep the tent flap open but they’re all in darkness now. The waxing moon is just visible through the trees on the horizon but doesn’t cast enough light. And then, somehow, I sleep.

For a moment I’m not sure where I am. The moon is directly overhead now. I hear rustling and can make out shadows moving. I flick on my flashlight and aim it at the clearing below. There are blankets spread out but I see no one. As I raise the light bright green eyes shine back at me. Against the stars I see the silhouettes of hunched figures. There’s a crackle of leaves then the scream of a rabbit.

I can’t move. I am unarmed and alone.

A long howl echoes from the hills around me.


Not All Facts Are True.

Source: Goodreads

Source: Goodreads

True Stories Behind Common Urban Legends

The Legend: The Vanishing Hitchhiker

A driver picks up a young woman hitchhiking. The driver takes her to the address she’s given but finds on arrival that she’s disappeared. The driver goes to the house, knocks on the door, and is informed that a young woman of that name and description died. There are many variations with the time of the young woman’s death ranging from one year to twenty years earlier.

The Truth

Magician’s assistant Beatrice Weir (September 5, 1897-June 30th, 1987) was an accomplished escape artist and magician in her own right. Frustrated in her efforts to gain recognition in a the male-dominated field she attempted to generate publicity for her performances by playing “The Vanishing Hitchhiker” trick on unsuspecting motorists, leaving her card behind. Her efforts were unsuccessful and caused more confusion and concern than positive publicity. She would eventually quit magic to pursue a career as a corporate accountant. In her later years she retired to Uruguay after embezzling more than three quarters of a million dollars from several companies. Described in her will as her “best disappearing act” the money has never been recovered.

The Legend: The Killer In The Backseat

A young woman pulls into a gas station. After she’s fueled her car the attendant calls her into the station, claiming a problem with her credit card or other concern. In earlier versions he claims to have noticed something wrong with her car or that she’s handed him a counterfeit twenty. In many variants she finds something about the attendant disturbing and is afraid to be alone with him. Once inside the station he informs her he’s called the police because there’s a stranger in her backseat. The attendant either noticed the stranger slip into the vehicle or saw him while filling the gas tank. Either way tragedy is averted.

The Truth

Journalist Eunice Phelan dropped her car at a service station for an oil change. She picked it up later in the same day and noticed one of the technicians asleep in the backseat. She would turn the incident into her first crime novel, Trunk Show, published in 1977. The novel follows police efforts to find a killer who selects victims by hiding in the back seats of cars. Although fiction in second and third hand retellings people began claiming the event had actually happened to an acquaintance.

The Legend: Alligators In The Sewers

New Yorkers returning from Florida vacations with baby alligators find the pets too much to handle and flush them down the toilet. The alligators then grow to adulthood and infest the sewers.

The Truth

In late March 1957 a handful of New York City Sanitation Department employees “borrowed” three adult alligators from the Bronx Zoo for a planned April Fools’ joke. The reptiles escaped and spread quickly, feeding on rats, stray cats and dogs, and, in a tragic incident, several Rotary Club members. The alligators proved difficult to eradicate. Animal control employees conducted semi-annual sweeps over several decades. Officials are currently happy to report that an alligator has not been seen in New York City sewers since 2013.

The Legend: The Babysitter Cooks The Baby

Frustrated or intoxicated a babysitter puts the baby in the oven and cooks it. In later versions the baby is cooked in a microwave. When the parents come home the babysitter presents them with “a special dish”.

The Truth

Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” was intended as satire but taken seriously by some English landholders. Chester Easham, Seventh Earl of Wessex, reportedly ate more than twenty children alone. Some were mere newborns but Easham is said to have preferred them “on puberty’s eve”. Fearing a backlash King George II had a story planted in The Times of Dublin that placed the blame on incompetent maids and greedy scullery maids.

The Legend: Black Market Organ Harvest

A young man traveling alone joins a group of strangers at a club. They drink and party late into the night. At some point he is drugged and has no memory of anything until the next morning when he awakes in a bathtub filled with ice. A note informs him both his kidneys have been removed. In some versions a phone is placed within his reach so he can call the police. The thieves are never caught and his kidneys presumably go to wealthy individuals in need of a donor.

The Truth

In 1986 Heaverton University student David Kimson wanted to donate one of his kidneys to his girlfriend. Concerned about the cost he convinced friend and pre-med student Kevin Jenkins to put together a rudimentary operating room in a hotel bathroom and perform the surgery there. In spite of flunking his classes and planning to drop out Jenkins agreed to perform the surgery. Unfortunately instead of a kidney Jenkins removed his friend’s prostate. Kimson refused to press charges when police, alerted by a hotel maid, found him attempting to relieve his agony by squatting in the ice-filled bathtub in his room. Why he wanted to donate a kidney to his girlfriend remains unclear since she only had a yeast infection.

Kevin Jenkins has since kept a low profile. He resides in Titusville, Florida, where in 2004 was named Best Substitute Chemistry Teacher.


Let’s Brew Up A Little Something.

Source: The Ghost Diaries

Source: The Ghost Diaries

Kate: Hello, and welcome back to Cauldron Cooking, the show that puts the magic back in your kitchen. I’m your host Kate. Earlier in the show we talked about new uses for poison ivy, and I also want to tell listeners who are just tuning in that our recipe for cream of vulture soup is on the show’s website. Check it out.

All right, now it’s time to take some calls. We have Diane from Salem on line seven. Hi, Diane, what’s your question?

Diane: Hi Kate, thank you so much for taking my call. This isn’t exactly a cooking question but I have an issue with my stepdaughter and I wondered if you could suggest anything.

Kate: Oh, yes, kids. They’re always hard to deal with, aren’t they? Especially when they grow up.

Diane: Right. That’s my problem. She’s getting older and she’s starting to really get in my way.

Kate: But you don’t want to kill her.

Diane: Well, I did, but  not anymore. I’d just like something that’ll, you know, take her out of the picture.

Kate: Let me think. Okay, I have just the thing for you. We have a great recipe for a poison apple.

Diane: That won’t kill her?

Kate: No, this is perfect. It will just put her in a coma. Have you got a crypt or something where you can put her while she sleeps?

Diane: I’ve got a crystal case that rests on a plinth out in the woods.

Kate: Fabulous. She’ll be perfectly preserved there for as long as you want, and here’s the good part: she can only be revived with a kiss from a charming prince. And it’s not like there are a lot of those wandering around the forests, am I right?

Diane: Yes. That sounds absolutely perfect. Thank you so much Kate!

Kate: No problem, and good luck. Email us some pictures so we can see how it’s worked out. We’ll put them on the website. Thanks for your call, Diane.

Well, it looks like the witching hour is almost up, so I’ll just leave you with this: When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Of course you know it’ll be the same time next week. I’ll see you then.

It’s A Good Thing I Was Paying Attention.

There was a new bus driver. Apparently he was very new because he didn’t exactly know the route and took us on an unbelievable detour. One of my fellow passengers even questioned the driver about it but was quietly told something something construction and that if she wanted to get off right in the middle of nowhere that was fine.

When we got close to my stop I pulled the cord. There was no “ding!” The indicator light didn’t come on. The friendly bass baritone voice that says, “Stop requested. Please remain seated until the bus comes to a complete stop” didn’t come on. I walked up to the front.

“That’s my stop at the corner,” I told the driver.

He looked up from a pile of papers in his lap that may or may not have been the bus route.

“Good thing I was paying attention!” he said.

Yeah, good thing.

That in itself might make an interesting story but what was really interesting–and what might have made me miss my stop is that someone decided that on this particular day the riders in my route should get a double bus instead of one of the usual singles.

To those in the UK and other aliens: we don’t have double-decker buses here. Well, we didn’t. We have them now for tour groups, but that’s another story. Instead of double-decker buses someone had the harebrained idea to smash two buses together end-to-end. And like most harebrained ideas the result is actually kind of cool.


It’s Nashville, Jake, so of course the seats have a musical theme. Can anyone out there recognize the tune?



First World Problems Require First World Solutions.

Silence isn’t golden. Silence is the deep, velvety blackness of the early morning. At no time are you more aware of the depth of that silence and how easily broken it is than when you’re going through your usual morning routine without waking up the person in the next room. You become intensely aware of just how much noise you make.

The door hinges creak. The latch snapping into place sounds like a gunshot.

The toilet flush is a cannonade.

The shower isn’t merely running water; it’s a thundering cataract, a waterfall of immense proportions. Adjusting the temperature, moving it from scalding to lukewarm to a final reasonable medium only  intensifies the crash.

Even the steam seems to make noise as clouds of it pound the walls.

The soap squeaks in your hands like a rabbit in a poacher’s trap.

The shampoo and conditioner bottles burp out their liquid allotments.

Halfway through you realize you’re singing Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” at the top of your lungs.

Old habits are hard to break.

The faucet creaks as you turn off the shower. Water floods from the now open tap with the sound of an angry river.

After the rush even the stillness seems loud.

The activity of drying off brings the noise level down, a quiet dance with a thick terrycloth veil.

The toothpaste cap twists off with only a gentle sigh.

As the loud ratchet sound of you brushing your teeth fills the room you realize those post-shower moments of silence were just long enough that a person might be able to go back to sleep.

More silence follows. It’s blissful. You feel peace spread through the house you’ve disturbed.

Then the electric razor snaps into action, a chainsaw felling the hairy seedlings that have sprouted from your face over the past day. In the harsh glare of the bathroom bulb you wipe away the five a.m. shadow and you’re racked with guilt for breaking everyone else’s hibernation.

Sound familiar? If so I’m giving you a chance to get in on the ground floor of my latest invention: the sound-proof bathroom!


Mixed Nuts.

nuts-Hey Phil. Phil, you here?

-Yeah, a little shaken, but I’m here. What’s up Wally?

-Just checking. Everything got crazy there and now it’s gone quiet. Really quiet.

-Yeah, I know. I’m okay with the quiet. Better than dealing with—


-Whoop. Let’s party like it’s 2006.


-I’m Wally.




-Ich hasse dich so sehr.


-You two want to be alone?


-I’m Wally.


-Over here, next to your Teutonic twin.

-Ich verachte Euch alle.

-Some of us can understand you, Brazzy.

-Mein Name ist Bertholletia.


-I’m Wally. And [sigh] the most common language there is Portuguese, and anyway he’s speaking…forget it. Yes, Al. Yes I do.

-Dies ändert nichts


-That you’re his best friend in the world, Al.


-Wenn es einen Gott ist, werden Sie das erste zu sterben sein .


-I’m Wally.


-He’s trying to butter you up.


-Ich würde Sie mich zerquetschen, wenn ich könnte.

-He says he’s sorry.


-Y’all keep it down.


-Der einzige von euch, die erträglich für mich ist.

-Y’all make more ruckus than a mess of hounds done got a possum.

-Who is that?


It’s All Plasma.

physiologyScientists have announced that our tongues can detect another taste: starchiness. For millennia there were only four tastes: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Then umami was added in 1985 although technically it had been accidentally discovered decades earlier by the Japanese who were doing research on giant fire breathing reptiles. If you’re keeping count that’s six now, although if you’re keeping count it’s because you’re a primary school teacher frustrated at having to update your lesson plan and the colorful cartoon tongue hanging in your classroom again. And this discovery raises serious questions about what scientists will discover next. It’s bad enough that in middle school science class we learned that there are three
states of matter-solid, liquid, and gas-and then halfway through the year had to add plasma, which was very strange because the year before we’d learned that plasma is part of our blood but now we had to remember that there’s a different kind of plasma which is a state created by high energy atomic nuclei, and it’s important to keep one separate from the other and remember which one is in the human heart and which one is in the heart of the sun. And then it turned out nature might have at least fourteen other states of matter, not including my Aunt Lena’s Jell-o salad which everyone, including scientists, agrees is unnatural and should not exist. And we have absolutely no idea what other categories of matter, taste, or even color will be uncovered by scientists. We already know that while the human eye can detect three color wavelengths the mantis shrimp eye can detect twelve which must make mantis shrimp primary school classrooms very interesting. When I was a kid all primary school classrooms had a series of colorful pictures around the wall with all the colors of the rainbow from red to purple, but in mantis shrimp classrooms they must go all the way to, I don’t know, hyper puce maybe.
The discovery of new layers to our senses reminds me of synesthesia, a neurological condition that allows the senses of some people to intersect, allowing them to “see” sounds or “taste” colors even without the assistance of that bearded guy who passed out the sugar cubes while Pink Floyd played “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”. Synesthesia enjoyed a brief surge of popularity in literary circles, or at least in creative writing classes when I was in college where we were encouraged to mix up the senses in our descriptions, coming up with images like “the mahogany smell of coffee”. After years of being told not to mix our metaphors it was as hard as wrapping our tongues around the idea of more than four states of matter, especially with my roommate who always went off and left the coffee pot on so that my best description of the smell of coffee was “wet ferret plasma”.
The important thing is it was an intersection of art and science, two things too often assumed to be separate, even though by the time synesthesia trickled down to creative writing classes it was a cliché, an important lesson for science too: most discoveries eventually get superseded by something else.


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