Tuesday, Dec. 11, 42 A.B.

What I've Been Down To Lately

I see by the old clock on the wall that some 9 days have slipped by since my last entry.

I am able to see this only because there just happens to be a current calendar on the wall by the old clock.

The calendar is the one that doesn't have a battery in it.

Despite this, my calendar keeps much better time than my clock.  It never loses or gains a day no matter how long I neglect it, while my clock... well, my clock seems to run 24 hours slow no matter how often I sing it that "Monday's child is full of woe" song.

Anyway, I didn't intend to rag on my clock when I sat down to write this entry, so I think I'll stop and save it for the Complete Encyclopedia of Clockwork Disparagement I'm trying to get published.

What I'll post here instead is a brief account of my last 9 days.

In no particular order, here are the two things I've been doing:

-----  Growing a moustache.  As winter approaches and the days grow short, I thought it would be a good idea to sow some new facial hair so I not only have company come January but something to harvest next year when all the farmers are so pridefully busy harvesting their winter wheat.  If I'm lucky, I might collect a few bucks from relatives when I take it off again.  That may not sound like much to Archer Daniels Midland Corp., but the fact remains that on a per acreage basis, moustaches can be very lucrative, especially when they're as ugly as mine.  In fact, I bet I could get millions of dollars from people to shave it off if the alternative for them was to wake up every morning having to look out their windows at my gently waving nose hair - which isn't quite the same thing as my moustache, but how many people can tell the difference first thing in the morning without their glasses and a guide book?  Certainly I can't - which, come to think of it, might explain all those odd nicks I've been finding the last few years in and about my nostrils....

But I digress.  What I really want to record here for posterity is the reawakening of ambition within me - an ambition which has prompted me to rededicate myself to growing a moustache again, 24/7, no matter the squealing protests of loved ones and strangers alike, no matter that I've had to dramatically increase my consumption of Pop Tarts in order to power this burst of physical activity.

And I don't mean to brag, but... what started off as a simple Charlie Chaplin sprig has already become what a sign on my cheek clearly identifies as the Gene Shalit Memorial Jungle.  I suspect allowing my face to lie fallow for a few years has done wonders to rejuvenate it, leaving me to wonder what a marvelous tangle of thoughts my brain might be capable of if only I could manage to let it lie fallow for a few years, too.

The down side, of course, is that my overly-energetic moustache is regularly sending runners out to my chest, back, and other parts of my body even harder to spray with herbicide.  A small price to pay for a furry winter friend, I guess, although I am often tempted just to buy an artificial silver one and shine a brown light on it when I want to appear debonair.

-----  Growing a cyst.  Unlike the moustache I've been cultivating, this cyst is what the anatomical horticulturists technically call a "volunteer."  Although it might have won me a ribbon for its sheer size next August at the state fair, I finally had it removed yesterday after noticing that more and more people were staring at it whenever I went out exactly as if it were a famous local TV weather forecaster.  It clearly was only a matter of time before some of these people started asking it for its autograph (or berating it for the thunderstorm which ruined their daughter's wedding) and, well, who needs that when one is simply trying to enjoy a pleasant evening out with the wife, mistress, or imaginary friend at the local Taco Bell?

I'll spare everyone the gory details (i.e., the needles, the incisions, the pus, the ooze, the blood, the pain, my screams, the stale lollipop which the doctor skillfully used to replace my screams with tears of bitter disappointment) but I will say this: It was a sebaceous cyst, and as cysts go, these are among the least useful.

And that's not merely my opinion.

According to Elaine Morgan in her book, The Scars of Evolution, "Some of the physical left-overs from a previous hairier existence remain with us (like the goose pimples), doing neither good or harm, and in the long run will probably disappear [or be limited to rare appearances on eBay].  A more mysterious phenomenon is that of the [goddamn] sebaceous glands which cause anguish to so many adolescents by being the cause of greasy skin and acne.

"The oiliness comes from a fatty substance called sebum," Morgan graciously elaborates.  "The sebaceous glands which secrete it are an appendage of the hair follicles, and the sebum seeps out onto the hair shaft and helps to keep the fur of mammals sleek and waterproof.  A.M. Kilgman, who made a special study of the subject [much to the delight of his mother, I bet], wrote: ‘The original purpose was not so much to protect the skin as the hair.  In man, however, save for a few specialised regions, hair is a vestigial and rudimentary feature.  With hair rendered obsolete, the sebaceous gland is literally out of work.  It is a living fossil with a past but no future.'

"So it would be reasonable to expect that in man the glands would have dwindled to mere vestiges, just as over most of our bodies the hairs themselves have dwindled," Morgan wanly attempts to apply reason to Mother Nature.  "Instead of that, these oil glands have run riot.  In our nearest relatives, the African apes, some sebaceous glands are found scattered over the body, but they are few and small.  In man they are numerous and relatively enormous, especially on the face and scalp, sometimes extending to the neck and to regions of the upper part of the body.  An American enquiry into ‘What good is human sebum?' reported that the short answer was ‘No good.'  It is not needed to keep the skin moist and supple....  It used to be thought that the sebum probably helped to kill bacteria which landed on the skin, but that proved to be a fallacy.  Yet from adolescence onwards our skin goes on producing sebum, not in response to any environmental stimulus (as is the case with sweat) but at a constant rate.

"Globules of fat emerge from the sebaceous glands onto the surface of the skin, mingled with dead and decaying fragments of cells," Morgan goes on, throwing all sense of decorum to the wind like an ape driven mad by its own mutinous skin.  "The mixture is toxic to living tissue.  At puberty the glands are growing so rapidly in the so-called ‘acne areas' (face, chest and back of the torso) that the well of the hair follicle may become filled with a plug of sebum and cell debris.  Or a cyst may be formed in which trapped bacilli produce irritant fatty acids and cause inflammation.  [Italics added in an attempt to fill the gaping hole in my neck.]  The clinical symptoms - pimples, blackheads and inflamed nodules - are found most often on the face, but may extend to all the acne areas.  On the scalp, where the follicles are less likely to become blocked, the same generous effusion of sebum produces a breeding ground for seborrheic dermatitis, otherwise known as dandruff.  This unmitigated disaster may be visited on young people of either sex, but there are more victims among young males because males have larger [i.e., huge honking] sebaceous glands.  The size of the sebaceous glands is influenced by the sex hormones (castrated males do not suffer from acne), and attempting to tinker with the balance of these hormones can have side-effects more dismaying than the pimples.  The effects may be partly mitigated by the use of antibiotics, but the only permanent cure is to grow older [or die].  William Montagna, leading specialist on primate skin, commented: ‘The human body appears to contain senseless appendages and even to make mistakes, but the sebaceous glands are too numerous and too active to be described as trivial.'"

One suspects Morgan and Montagna have had a few sebaceous cysts themselves, eh?  No matter - I've decided to send them the remnants of mine all the same, having used up all my good ideas for Christmas gifts on others.

To quickly sum up this entry so I can get to the post office before Christmas for once:

-----  Moustaches can make fine, money-producing companions provided you can eat Pop Tarts fast enough to support them.

-----  If you really want to put an end to your pimple problems, go castrate yourself.

I leave it to you to decide which of these two insights ought to be slapped on T-shirts and bumper stickers first....

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(©Now by DJ Birtcher even though miscopyrighting is listed
as a possible side effect of the antibiotics I'm now taking)