In the year that we have been training our eyes on the outside world—on the ephemera, media, culture, and general goings-on of those whose very being is our U.S. zeitgeist at large—we have surely made out the prima facie case for becoming a hermit. At any given time, the reigning American consciousness is so creepily disquieting that it’s all we can do to keep from spending all daylight hours in the john with little more than a copy of The New Yorker1and our ankle-binding skivvies to defend us.
Yes, friends, we are scared and we are weak and we would very much like to succumb to simply hiding from it all.
But we do not. Why?
The idealistic answer is that facing up to the world’s most disturbing tendencies is, well—it’s what we do. By facing them and writing about them and exposing their inner absurdity, we perform a public service of Murrowesque2 stature.
But the honest answer is simply this: we face outward at the world because it is even more utterly disquieting for us to stare at ourselves. Our own bodies—ourselves3— are monoliths of disquietude. As ever at our back we hear time’s wingèd Hooptie drawing near, things change physiognomically; things appear and change color and drift and buckle such that we are in a state of near-constant fear and fascination. Are these things normal? Are they signs of decrepitude caused by youthful indiscretions or our poor moral standing? Should we call a doctor or, more likely, begin performing Asian rituals of self-mutilation that might bring us both spiritual enlightenment and a smoother overall appearance? Is there a Yu-Gi-Oh! card of Dorian Gray we might play to rack up some serious damage points?4
Rather than truly ponder these questions, we stare outward, considering the career of Jennifer Aniston or mulling the failure of American industry to create a decent battery. But this week, we face our own hard realities: the disquieting modern trends on our very own bodies. Look on, ye mortals … and despair.
Little Skin “Tags” that Grow for No Apparent Reason
One day, there they are: little flappies of skin that appear out of nowhere, barely a sixteenth-of-an-inch long and normally colored, that neither itch nor hurt nor disturb in any true way. Except that they are there. We point them out to doctors in some distress. “What are these things, Doc?” And he calls them “skin tags” and assures us that they are nothing to worry about. Leave them alone. (Right.) More appear, then some vanish, then more appear but flappier and somewhere else. We find this bodily trend so disquieting not because we suspect they are cancerous or evil but—quiet the opposite—because we suspect they are not. We suspect, quite simply, that they have no purpose. They just ARE—like an appendix or like Regis Philbin. They are capillary-filled syllogisms proving that nature is random and weird and wants for any True Order. We stare at them each morning coming out of the shower (one of us has a festering community of “tags” beneath one underarm and wonders if they are somehow “fed” by Old Spice or Mennon products) and feel their sophomoric chill.
It ain’t rocket science. Gulp, and you got it. Then, suddenly, one day: Acid reflux! Spastic colons! What the … ? A digestive system that has hauled us through wasted youths of Fool’s Gold Loaves5 and Checker’s drive-thrus begins to act just a leetle beet tetchy—and then the whole damn thing is off-kilter. Can’t talk. Throat hurts. Voice gets weird. What the hell? Is the warranty run out on our G.I. tracts? Are they voided by the aftermarket rims we put on our duodenums the second we drove ’em off the lot? Maybe we swallowed two many Pop Rocks and Dr. Peppers when we were kids, but—hooo-eeee—we suck us down some Pepto up in here some nights. And if you whine about this to your personal primary-care physician, all he’s got for you are those little purple pills at about $4.99 a day.6 In any case, what once was unconsidered and automatic now tends to unpredictability and truculence. Fie on you, gastrointestinal tract! Fie on your unfulfilled promise, your casual dereliction of duty!
Unpredictable Nostril Traffic
We both find ourselves increasingly afflicted by the sensation of having something in our noses that keeps us from breathing freely—but it’s not enough of a booger to blow or pick out, so we are just kind of vaguely uncomfortable. There’s all manner of knuckle massaging and shirtsleeve scraping as we realize that, to do something about it would mean the kind of serious (and time-consuming and mirror-requiring) excavation which we are just not comfortable letting you witness. We have heard it advanced that this is actually the result of the same hair loss that afflicts our glowing pates—in other words, that long ago tiny hairs within our nostrils once performed the thankless job of moderating and regulating the disposition and motility of our noses’ inhabitants, but now, with them gone like so many bouncers abandoning their doors to moosh on hot chicks in the back by the bar, their absence has led to a true free-for-all, nose-traffic-wise. Let’s just say no one is minding the velvet rope. And we are just not of an age to carry Kleenex, or, God forbid, a handkerchief7.
Folks, you knew this was going to be an unflinching examination of issues lesser columnists fear to evoke, and if you’re still with us after the wattles and boogers then we’re not going to hold back just because of your mounting queasy disquietude. So here it is straight up: our no-longer-youthful ears are creepily coated in some kind of hardened schmutz. Are you thinking, “The rest of this crap I could imagine happening to me some day, but not the ear schmutz!”? Well, think again. Our dermatologists say O.E.C. is some sort of normal sebaceous thing, something pretty likely coming your way, like sagging jowls and liking Dixie Carter’s body of work—only sooner. We understand your feelings, folks—it just GROSSES us OUT. And there’s no point scrubbing (heaven knows we are ear scrubbers—thanks, Mom) because it just comes back tomorrow. Perhaps this is tangentially related the nose-hair thing, but it feels like mounting evidence of creeping inability to stem the effluvia of metabolism which heretofore had been pretty easy to keep on the other side of the dike.
Oh no, we’ve said too much? We haven’t said enough.8
This one is subtle but, for exactly that reason, perhaps the most disquieting of all. We are, say, in the bathroom of the Cat’s Cradle after the Gang of Four show, still vibrating with punk energy and a renewed sense that—fuck yeah!—we still have it. Then, say, we half-look at ourselves in the Cat’s bathroom mirror—as in we look just peripherally, the way you might look at a woman in restaurant during an anniversary dinner with your wife—to confirm that we still scan as youthful and edgy and punk and committed to the overthrow of the whole bourgeois shitstem (which, if you have any doubts about your commitment to said revolution, go get you a G.O.4 album: they still wail, at least for a bunch of old codgers). And, at this moment, we find our eyes aren’t facing the exactly the same direction but are just a millimeter off true, making us look kind of like Krazy Kat. We attribute this, as we would any alignment problem, to insufficiently addressed potholes in the byways of our fair cities, but damned if we know to whom we should haul ass to straighten this shit out and lock it down but for good.
Perhaps this is only the most visible of our alignment issues9, and perhaps the whole of these disquieting personal trends can be attributed to things shaking loose—the inevitable result of many years of hard riding and probably insufficient preventative maintenance. Perhaps all we can really do is continue to add fuel additives and put off changing the timing belt in hopes that we do not, in the evocative industry term, “throw a rod”10 anytime soon. Trading in these heaps, alas, is not yet possible.
Anyway, that’s our personal story, noble readers. Stay tuned—and take your Flintstones, they’re good for you.
Wallace, D.F. (2006). Consider the Lobster and Other Essays. New York: Little, Brown. 11
Next Edition: A Very Special Guest sits in for Ed and Will!