DNA

The Genetics of Race

The Genetics of Race 

Life on earth is a mysterious miracle. Fundamentalist Christian Creationists would like you to believe that God somehow played a hand in it. However, the origins of life are probably quite a bit more complicated possibly only the result of a series of giant accidental organic chemistry experiments that played themselves out on Earth over a period of billions of years.

Some of those more miraculous experiments were the organization of molecules into cells, the appearance of DNA, the ability of cells to grow and reproduce, accompanied by the appearance of aerobic metabolism.

Miraculous: yes. Driven by a supreme being who resembles a snow white haired old Protestant dressed in a flowing white robe: probably not.

Additionally, life itself would be nothing if not for the organized molecules that allow for procreation of a species by conjugal complementary reproduction; the genes.

Whatever the case may be, all living Animals and Plants are categorized by a taxonomy system that logically organizes them into groups and then ultimately labels them by Latin nomenclature.

Life: Domain: Kingdom: Phylum: Class: Order: Family: Genus: Species.

Individual animals as we know them have both Latin names as designated by their genus and species as well as by common names that are given to them by language vernaculars.

For example, the Horse is designated by the Latin: Equus caballus, ergo the Spanish term for cowboy being one who rides one: Caballero.

Although closely related, the far less intelligent Donkey is a separate species that is designated by the Latin Equus asinus, ergo the vernacular terminology designating a person who behaves stupidly as being an ass or as being asinine.

Members of the same species can successfully mate and reproduce, whereas members of different species cannot, with certain rare exceptions.

Bears (Genus: Ursus), which are commonly referred to as polar (white), brown (grizzly) and black are three separate species; respectively martimus, arctos, and americanus; none of which can interbreed one with the other. Nor do they have any desire to do so.

Interestingly, the Horse and the Donkey are closely enough related at both the genetic and the pheromone levels, interbreeding can actually occur, but within certain genetic proscriptions.

A male donkey, attracted by both the sight and smell, can mate with a female horse resulting in a hybrid offspring designated in the Latin as: Equus mulus, otherwise commonly known as the Mule. In fact, the Latin word for hybrid, the scientific designation for the offspring of two different species, is “mulus.”

However, because a Horse has 64 chromosomes and a Donkey has 63 chromosomes, the price to pay for this breeding is the fact a Mule being a sterile male with very little sex drive.

There is an upside to this procreation in that the mule is less distractible or irascible than a horse, which makes for a better pack animal; but with downside being that he cannot successfully mate another mule.

A serial rapist would be just as equanimous and far less dangerous if he too had his balls cut off. Most of them already seem to being lacking a sanity gene anyway.

Chromosomes happen to enjoy traveling in paired numbers and if not, then the result of breeding may either be a nonevent or an aberration.

In the extremely rare case of the above offspring between a male donkey and a Mare being a female, we then do not have a Mule, but rather a Molly.

Breeding between a male Horse and a female Donkey is rarely if ever successful and if so results in a hybrid known as a Hinny. Even rarer yet is the successful breeding between a male Horse and a Molly.

Confused?

In general, different species do not even attempt interbreeding and have no genetic programming that even allows for it to happen. At this level, animals are smart enough to know that if something simply does not smell right, or even if it did, would probably not go right, so they don’t even attempt it.

Maybe a “horse’s ass” then is nothing better than a deserving sobriquet applied to anyone attempting the impossible in a situation in which he should know better than to even try. And although a male dog humping on a human leg would equally apply as being completely asinine; it does support the fact that there is always an exception to most rules. This must discount bestiality; which is categorized as only being a sexual perversion.

As for these humans with far out sexual proclivities, and who rationally ignore both pheromones as well as biology as for example a woman who enjoys having sex with a horse, at least she has no need not worry about conception; although the mythological Satyr may be some ancient Greek’s imaginative rendition of what that genetically impossible offspring might indeed resemble. Unfortunately for me, this oddity then became attached to my sun sign, Sagittarius.

Then again, the human species may be the only one other than a sheep itself; in which a man might try to mount a sheep, while the domesticated male dog is often known to randomly attempt to mate with human legs.

The Latin scientific terminology designates all human beings as: Homo sapiens. Race is a scientific term applied to a finer tuning of species that only means that subspecies exist within a larger context. However, it is at this very level of sub-categorization where all the trouble begins. As a side bar, since Homo sapiens literally means “Wise man,” perhaps the subspecies should be expanded to include Homo stultus or “Stupid man.”

When speaking of genetics, it is useful to review a few technical definitions. Chromosomes carry all our genetic material in the form of DNA. All cells in any given species have identical chromosomes and the identical number of chromosomes; which occur in pairs. For human beings, the number of chromosomes is twenty-three pairs.

When mating occurs, each parent contributes half the complement of chromosomes in the germ cells, meaning each egg and each sperm cell carries only half of the twenty-three chromosomal alleles. Gender is determined by unique sex chromosomes originating in the sperm cells, such that a sperm cell can carry either a female X chromosome or a male Y chromosome.

All eggs are X, such that if an X sperm combines with the X egg the result is a girl XX and if a Y sperm combines with the X egg, the result is a boy XY.

Chromosomes contain DNA, the material that codes for protein production in the cell and that thus directs all genetic development of the individual person.

DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) molecules are long helical double strands of organized molecules that consist of sugars and amino acids.

Each binary pair of necleo-peptides is known as a gene base pair.

dna

Every person’s DNA makeup is unique, which is why criminologists can do a molecular fingerprint on an individual accused of leaving some DNA behind at the scene of the crime, by subsequently matching it to that person.A gene is a hereditary unit of a sequence of DNA base pairs that can be of varying lengths along the DNA strand, although not all DNA sequences are active as genes.

gene

For example, human beings have 3 billion DNA base pairs, but only 30,000 genes, meaning that much of the genetic material does not actually express itself. This also means that individual genes can code for the synthesis of the several hundred thousand protein messengers that make up all our intrinsic biology.

Many hereditary diseases or for example, a predisposition for an individual to develop cancer, is rooted at the level of individual variations or defects in certain genes.

Stem cell research focuses on the ability to manipulate individual genes to eliminate these defects, or to supply an afflicted person with some otherwise missing ingredients.

Familial inbreeding or long term inbreeding of certain small clusters of species can often result in genetic catastrophes, because certain genetic defects tend to become unmasked if two closely related individuals both carry the same defect. Cystic fibrosis and hemophilia might qualify as examples.

This is also why having chromosomes lining up as pairs, with one originating from each parent, minimizes the risk of this happening in general. It is analogous to two genetic heads being better than one and may explain in part the beneficial advantage of the evolution of binary sex in the first place.

It would be a very dull world indeed if we could all reproduce ourselves agamously like budding yeast; although I have met a few individuals who are so egocentrically narcissistic, they would not at all mind being alone on this planet, or with a group of personal identical clones to serve as being their best and closest friends.

This would make for fabulous and stimulating dinner conversations:

  • Don’t you agree?
  • Yes, of course. You know I always agree with us.

Or with that ability to self reproduce we would then have a planet filled with only Adams and only Eves; or worse yet a planet filled only with XXYYs:

Not man. Not woman. But rather something in between, perhaps akin to that transgender entity, otherwise come to be known as: The Chick-With-A-Dick.

Ergo, proscriptions against consanguineous marriage, were not something made up by a bunch of ancient human moralists, but rather came about as the result of generations of empirical observations as to the disastrous outcomes of people breeding with their first-degree relatives. This is also from whence we come by those jokes about Hillbilly mating and the only good reason my Aunt Jean did not want me to become romantically involved with my cousin Beverly.

We already had enough idiots in our family.

Perhaps then Moses should have added a thirteenth Commandment:

  • Thou shalt not marry thy sister’s sister.

If someone had pointed this one out to some of the debauched, consanguineously oriented Roman Emperors,  enough familial dementia may have been prevented to save an entire empire.

However, this principle applies to all species, and provides the rationale explaining why there is rightfully so much concern about shrinking, limited gene pools existing for currently endangered animal species. The result of the contracted gene pool is too much inbreeding and subsequently too many genetically deficient and/or non-viable offspring.

In reference to humans, we are designated Genus: Homo. Species: sapiens

The human species also evolved along three or possibly four racial lines that for purposes of stupidly simplistic clarity can be called by the colors white, red, yellow and brown. For you purists out there Anthropologists designate us as Caucasian, Asian or Mongoloid, Negroid or Black and Australoid.

The essential point of the argument, however is that because we are all in the same species, we can and do successfully interbreed with each other, whatever personal bias one might have against mixed race marriage.

The human gene pool happens to be racially insensitive, is not biased and is thus why we generically tend to refer to all humans on the planet as being part of the “Human Race.”

At the genetic level, all human beings differ from one another by a total of 0.1% of their total DNA make up, meaning by only a total of 30 genes out of 3 billion DNA base pairs and 23,000 coding gene sequences. This variation expresses itself in minor racial differences such as skin color, epicanthic eye folds, hair color and texture, eye color and all the very few other superficial differences that ultimately lead us as racial subgroups to single these things out for targeted hatred.

We are all 99.9% purely the same.

Better than Ivory soap.

But it is that 0.1% which makes us a little different, one from the next, that is sadly, the only thing accounting for 100% of all cultural, religious,  and racial hatreds.

ivory-soap

If you hate a person you hate something in him that is a part of yourself.

What isn’t a part of ourselves does not disturb us.

(Hermann Hesse)

Ivory Soap http://www.pomexport.com
 Gene base pair and DNA gene sequence: Wikipedia
Human genome: Wikipedia
 

 

 

 

Aunt Margaret (1960s)

Aunt Margaret

 

Don’t commit suicide; because you might change your mind two weeks later.

(Art Buchwald)

My pseudo-cousin Skippy’s mother, Margaret, was my mother’s best friend and my sister’s Godmother, although to this day I never found out how Margaret and my mother met. My sister was named Margaret Jean after both her and my Aunt Thelma Jean, making my sister the only sibling in my family with a truly traceable name.

“Aunt” Margaret, on the surface, was a jocular, upbeat, jovial woman whose smile, laugh or giggle made her a pleasure to be around. Whenever we visited her house she had the natural ability to make us all feel welcome, wanted and special while any potential adversity seemed to roll off her back like castigation rolled off her son’s.

Skippy had both an older sister and a younger brother who were perfect children: quiet, obedient and studious whereas Skippy on the other hand was loud, boisterous, uncontrollable, and hated school. I do not believe that Margaret or his father Nick knew how to handle or to control him from the beginning, a fact that over time only made these behavioral issues spiral geometrically out of control.

After beginning to run with a bad crowd, Skippy eventually became a heroin addict. This was the 1960’s when Scarsdale and Bronxville were relatively upscale bedroom communities making many of Skippy’s friends children of the wealthier families. These were kids who had too much money and too much free time on their hands. Skippy, having less cash, sold his coin collection to pay for drugs then got into serious trouble when he enabled or coaxed the daughter of a high profile Corporate Executive to get hooked on heroin.

At one point when it seemed as though he might turn things around, his parents sent him to school in Florida at the Dade County Community College. He was lucky by this time not to be in the Dade County Jail. The only problem was that after several months, when his parents called to see how he was doing, Skippy could not be located because although the tuition had arrived, apparently Skippy had not. He did not register for class but had set off instead for the Haight-Ashbury section in San Francisco to join the flower people.

It was probably a combination of the stress, the disappointment, and the personal embarrassment that made Margaret stop calling my mother or to socialize with her; but this sudden silence from a former best friend was more than a trivial bother. My mother was deeply hurt by what she perceived to be a snub, had no explanation as to why, only to become progressively bitter about it.

After not hearing from Margaret for quite some time however, one afternoon my mother decided to proactively take matters into her own hands by making an unannounced visit. She took me along for the ride because she thought I might like to see Skippy.

We found Margaret in the living room in the middle of the day with the shades pulled down, sitting in a chair vacantly staring off into space. The atmosphere was dreary yet at the same time tense, there was very little personal interaction, the conversation was tersely impersonal, and being unable to reach out to her or to have any meaningful communication, we left.

Skippy was not in the house, Margaret never even mentioned his name or his whereabouts and when I asked her if he might be coming home soon, she said she didn’t know.

The medical community in those days had a shallow understanding of depressive disorders, how to fully recognize them or how to effectively treat them. Aunt Kay, my father’s sister, was a good example of treatment failure by the barbaric intervention of electro-shock therapy, while my mother naively thought that Margaret was simply down in the dumps and would prefer to be left alone.

My father called Nick to see what was going on, but Nick did not have a handle on it either. He said he knew his wife was having a problem but didn’t know what the problem really was.

Then just a few weeks later, Nick called my father to tell him that Margaret went into the garage one morning after he had gone to work, sat in the front seat of the car, rolled up the windows, locked herself in, turned the engine on and killed herself with the exhaust fumes.

Everyone was devastated and more than one person suggested it might have been, at least in part, because Skippy had plain and simply worn her out and simultaneously slowly broke her heart.

In fact, it was too bad that Margaret did not stick around, because when he finally grew up, Skippy got clean, kicked his heroin habit, married, got a job and then had children of his own.

Margaret’s suicide was also an exception to the rule that women usually do not take their own lives, except for the fact that her behavioral change was a real clue to the fact that she was sick, and desperately needed help. Unfortunately, none of the people who cared about her knew how to recognize or to deal with the issue.

The last I heard from Skippy was in the 1990s about a house he lived in somewhere in the woods of New England or Upstate New York that burned to the ground from an electrical fire.

He told me:

  • Gee Ado. I was asleep and I saw all these flashing lights, colors and sparks, so I said to myself, ’Boy what a cool dream.’ I thought for a minute I was flashing back on LSD and rolled over to go back to sleep, but I guess it’s a good thing I smelled the smoke, woke up and got everyone out of the house.

It was typical for Skippy. He had just lost his house, but never even mentioned it as being a devastating experience. The fact that everyone was safe was most important and the entire incident rolled off his back once again like beaded water off smooth tarpaulin.

He added:

  •  Who cares about a house anyway? I can always get another one. In fact maybe now I’ll just build a better one.

Margaret had three children. One of each. A boy, a girl and a Skippy.

Having children is a genetic crapshoot in a game of chance that can never predict how the DNA will twist and combine its braids. But unlike the YMCA day camp, when you create a missed braid and then unravel it to start all over again, these molecular braids are immutably locked together at the moment of conception with genetic crazy glue.

Children are all about genetics and environment.

How they come out of the box is highly unpredictable.

How they actually turn out may or may not be somewhat modifiable.

Que sera, sera.

 

Devil or Angel

Dear, which ever you are.

I miss you, I need you, I love you. 

(Bobby Vee)

 

 

Freedom of Choice

Freedom of Choice

The Catholic Church is very high on the concept of free will as rooted in the Adam and Eve debacle in the Garden of Eden. Man can choose between good and evil, right and wrong, or better and worse. God put us here to experience a lifetime  of mixed joy, happiness, pain and suffering as we run around every day of our lives making numerous moral and ethical decisions, simply because our first father and mother could not keep their hands off a miserable apple.

When I was a child I used to wonder why apples were so plentifully accessible if they were at the same time so forbidden. Perhaps instead God should have dangled a carrot in front of Eve before he subsequently beat her with a stick. Or was eating the apple a parabolic vignette about virginity and innocence, meaning when you have it you guard it with your life, until you give it up to some devil, and then it doesn’t matter anymore, as it becomes anticlimactic hollow pith. The only difference being that once you pick that apple, you can never again put it back on the tree. Innocence becomes automatically tested, and jaded as life progresses; to the point that its loss becomes fairly apparent.

Virginity, however, is something both genders can always lie about; or at least successfully fake to some extent. Men can just deny having had any prior sexual experiences; and if you really want to be a purist, a woman can have a hymen surgically reconstructed; as many times as she might want to have it done.

In catechetical instruction, I asked the priest if we actually choose to be born, and if so, do we also choose our parents. He could not answer that question. In fact he could not answer many questions; except to let me know without doubt that my dead dog could not be admitted to heaven. When I asked him to clarify that he told me I would have to take it as an article of faith. The great thing about religion is that any unexplainable concept simply becomes an “article” or “mystery” of faith. Because the Church requires so many great leaps of faith, for the true believer it should probably supply every Catholic household with a trampoline.

I doubt very much that I chose my parents or that they even chose me. I believe rather that DNA combinations are random events with random outcomes; but at the same time retain a repository of automatic front loaded programming. Dropping that blob of DNA into a maelstrom of legacies makes for even more in the way of unpredictable outcomes. This is similar to starting a steam locomotive engine in a cornfield; then letting it run amok without tracks. You still end up with a maze but not the neatly furrowed acreage you had on your drawing board.

How many people procreate while honestly believing they are going to have that perfect child? More likely, most people procreate without giving thought to anything at all.

Personal choice for me was highly unlikely for another reason. With the inherent difficulties of having only one mother, it would be extremely doubtful I would have been crazy enough to choose the collective persona of the Four Sisters of the Apocalypse to be my multi-mega-mother.

What I definitely know for certain is that I did not choose the date, the time nor the season to emerge from the womb. Yet it was against this backdrop of pseudo stability, genetically diverse legacies, and probably not by my freedom of choice that I came into this cold, cruel world. If I had to do it over again, I would have stayed put, remaining only a solitary sub-atomic twinkle in the eye of the great universe at large, instead of becoming binary seminal twinkles in the eyes of both my parents.

 Cooper Sisters 2

And it’s up against the wall

Redneck mothers.

Mothers who have raised a son so well.

He’s thirty-four

And drinkin’ in a honky-tonk.

Just kickin’ hippy’s asses and raisin’ hell

(Redneck Mothers: Jerry Jeff Walker)

Gene Pool 1

Gene Pool 1

My father is a first generation American-Italian. However in a ridiculously biased way and forgetting the America factor; he somehow thinks he is 100% Italian. But his DNA revels that he is a J clade Homo sapien; originating in Sudan or Ethiopia more than 10,000 years ago; with subsequent migrations to the Middle East, then to Crete, then to Greece and finally ending in Italy. Additionally he might be a small percent Jewish; possibly originating with Y Chromosomal Aaron, the brother of Moses. Nonetheless, far from being ”out of Africa,” as far as he is concerned, the sun only rises and sets on good old Italia.

Now at 99 years old, Salvatore was the youngest of three other siblings, Rose, Michael, and Katherine.

His father, Erberto, (Albert) booked passage to America from Italy in the early 1900’s to escape the hardship of old world poverty.

The family says that he came from the small town of Calitri, near Naples, and then settled in the New York City suburban area. As romantic as any embellished version of this odyssey sounds to my father, it is likely that Erberto simply escaped from some Italian slum, and in leaving no traces behind, nothing was ever known nor recorded of Erberto’s forbears after he left this little village. This leaves his ancestry so convoluted that the only sense to be made of it is that everyone in his home town was related to each other by consanguineous marriage.

Erberto was an enterprising man, who first made a living by pushing a hot dog wagon up and down Mamaroneck Avenue, in White Plains New York, then working as a bartender. Eventually he saved enough money to buy a diner. At least, that’s what they say. Apparently, during the hard times of the 1930’s, he was relatively well to do, owning a three-story house, and driving a fancy car. I have a photograph of him with some of his cronies, and despite the fact that to this day, my father insists that there is no Mafia; I sometimes wonder from whence derived the seminal money or the real leg-up that came in Erberto’s life. Underworld connections are probably validated by the fact that when he lost the diner, he still made out fairly well “selling cigars” at a speakeasy. He never did have that chance to fulfill his American dream because in the 1950s he died of a stroke at the age of 57.

I hardly had a chance to know him, yet vividly remember him dying naturally in bed at home, in a dignified manner with his family around him. Unfortunately, our modern society no longer condones this style of personalized death or dying, as though the corpse might somehow immediately contaminate or later perpetually haunt the household; or worse perhaps even deprive the dying person of that last desperate yet tortured shot at some medical miracle in the barbaric confines of some sterile Intensive Care Unit. Much later in life, I found his death certificate.

He apparently had atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder notorious for forming clots inside the heart, which then break off and embolize to the brain. This catastrophic complication of the arrhythmia is now preventable and only one of many medical advances, which since 1900 has prolonged the longevity of the average American male by over 30 years. On the negative side these same advances can also unnaturally prolong death, as well as sometimes contributing to extremely undignified and very expensive ones. Grandpa was lucky.

I sometimes muse about how different his life may have been and subsequently my own, had he lived long enough to fulfill his dream. For example I might now be heaving pizza dough in the family diner, sporting a crisp white chef’s tunic instead of the black rubber stethoscope I now wear for a necktie. Or better yet, might perhaps be living the high-rolling, high-risk lifestyle of some hard-nosed local Mafia Capo, which as a result might have ended in my own premature un-natural death; with a Mafia style garrote; a piano-wire necktie.

In any event, my grandmother, Grace, wore black clothes from the day of Grandpa’s death: never dating, remarrying, or even entertaining the company of another man in her house. She became overly sedentary; then very obese and eventually developed weight related Type 2 Diabetes. In essence, she had literally died on the same day that my grandfather did.

My mother used to say that after the death of a spouse, Italians either mourned forever, making sure to passive-aggressively rub it in everyone else’s nose at every opportunity, or they alternatively shed crocodile tears at the funeral with one split fingered hand splayed across their faces. The slits would be just wide enough to get a better glimpse of their next potential partner standing alone in the group of mourners.

  • Peek-a-Boo, I see you. Who’s next?

My grandmother was one of the former and with the exception of her kitchen; she always had the rest of the shades pulled down in a dark pall, which gave her house an aura of perpetual funereal mourning.

When I was young, we lived downstairs from her in that same large three-story house that after Grandpa’s untimely death she owned without lien, because he had paid for it in cash. She rented the bottom floor to my father, and the third floor apartment to anyone who would take it. My father set up a dental office in the front; while we lived in the several rooms behind the clinic that housed the chair with the drill, while grandma lived in the middle level.

The upper level boarders always seemed to be itinerant societal misfits, leaving me to wonder why Grandma constantly told me to leave them alone. After all, she owned the place, while all I wanted was to see inside their apartment; something I furtively attempted to do each time she knocked on the door to collect the rent. I would try to crawl under her while she blocked my inquisitiveness with her pasta plumped body, and then kicked me with a black pointy-toed leather shoe. It might have been about personal privacy or perhaps she just didn’t want me to witness any potential fuss about the monthly rent collection. That was the first time I noticed that she always wore her nylon stockings rolled down to the ankles, a habit that seems to creep up on aging Italian women as they slowly lose their past-prime virginal shapes to an ever-expanding derriere. Paradoxically, when the stocking rolls hit the ankles; this is a secret cultural code symbolizing that the woman is “no longer available for sex.”

My father required me to regularly go upstairs for a visit with Grandma, who did nothing but sit in a kitchen that always seemed to reek of green Kale being boiled in garlic water; and although she was really an excellent cook, I truly believed that, except on holidays, this was all she ate. To a little boy, she also always smelled peculiarly odd in a musky-stale sort of way, and although she tried marginally hard enough to get by with it she never really mastered the English language. My mother said that Grandma was just too lazy to learn the language because after being in America for over forty years she was in reality a living legacy to an astoundingly apathetic lack of ambition.

My father, always pushing hard with Old World guilt trip filial obligations, forced me to visit her more than I ever really wanted to.

  • Go up and see your grandmother. She’s lonely. And you’re her favorite.
  • But dad. She’s fat, she’s smelly and she doesn’t talk. And when she does, I don’t understand her.
  • Don’t speak about your grandmother like that. If it weren’t for her we’d be out on the street.

So after the usual insufferable twisting pinches on the cheek as she would predictably say: “Que face bella, de chi chi dinella,” with me holding my breath as long as I possibly could or always keeping a safe distance in order to avoid having to smell her, she would then reach into her smock and give me a nickel to “go buy a bicycle.” What she was trying to say was; “Here’s a nickel. Go buy a Popsicle.” Even though I explained to her that bicycles cost substantially more than five cents, and despite my beautifully angelic seductive little child’s face, I could never get the extra cash out of her.

Going out to buy the Popsicle, was the only blessed reprieve I ever had from having to sit across from her at her tiny two chaired side-table, bored to tears and trying to manufacture palaver. So as I gleefully escaped the ennui by scampering down the winding back staircase; she always bellowed her cautionary warning to slow down:

  • Hey. Take it eedz, eedz, eedz. You falla down…you gonna breaka you head.

With that, I would run to the candy store, the entire time wishing that I had that speedy bicycle for the long potentially dangerous trip through neighborhood backyards or alleyways; instead of having to go on foot through the domains of the local bullies, or worse: the yards guarded by snarling unchained dogs. Sometimes my routes were therefore circuitous enough to cause great parental consternation when I did not arrive home until sundown; but which also due to my clever evasiveness ensured that I made it in one piece, always unscathed and always too late to have to go back upstairs to visit Grandma again.

But most of the time Grandma was frigidly quiet like a cold marble Greco-Roman statue, sitting alone for innumerable hours doing nothing but staring into space. It was pure torture to have to make those obligatory visits, as usually no conversation took place. How could it? She did not speak or understand the nuances of my native language and her I.Q. operated at the purely primitive level of an uneducated widowed immigrant housewife who had little or nothing left to do after her husband’s diner was sold and she lost her job in his kitchen: Cook. Eat. Pine away. Cook. Eat again. Then pine away some more; like a desiccated old Pinole nut.

Her only entertainment was to watch evening TV variety shows, only really perking up when Perry Como, Tony Bennett or “Frankie Sa-not” appeared on the tube to sing the old maudlin Italian songs. Thankfully, at least, and not like a number of the self-proclaimed Italian opera stars lurking around the neighborhood, she never tried to sing along. Once in a while, however, in a fit of rage, when she had her fill of little kids running underfoot, she would chase us out of the house with a broom screaming “ah pesce-a-stoke-a-baccala.” When hearing these dreaded words, we knew she meant business, as a rough translation would be:

  • I’m going to whip your butts black and blue with a baccala.

I did not even know until I was a grown man that a baccala was a hard, dried, brine-cured codfish, which is reconstituted in water, then cooked in many Italian households on Christmas Eve. I thank God to this day that we must have been reformed Italians and were never subjected to that particular culinary calamity; the problem with baccala being that no matter how you make it or what you make it with, it still tastes like a hard, dried, brine-cured, reconstituted thousand year old fish. Baccala then must be the Italian version of Jewish Gefelta, and I can only assume that the excited hysteria surrounding atavistically reverts to cave man days, when our Neanderthal ancestors put aside the everyday nuts and berries then brought out the dried Dinosaur Spam for the national holiday.

Whatever the case, my Italian Grandmother never smelled as bad as my “cousin” Skippy’s Grandmother, “Gommie,” another old widower who required obligatory guilt trip visits from the grandchildren, and who also sat alone for uncountable hours in a shade drawn darkened living room. I hated when we had to pile in the car to go all the way to Torrington, Connecticut to see her, as nothing ever transpired during the visits and only wasting a young boy’s chance to get into some kind of trouble with his friends on an otherwise beautiful Saturday off from school. But the worst part of the ordeal was the fact of her getting prepped by dousing herself with her favorite perfume.

To this day, I do not understand why old ladies simply do not comprehend the fact that perfume as it exists in the bottle at Bloomingdale’s, does not at all smell the same when they apply it to themselves. After application, a sudden drastically obscene chemical reaction occurs between the petroleum-based perfume and the over-septuagenarian post-menopausal skin resulting in a phenomenon that defies scientific explanation. If another person then touches her or breathes near these women, this toxic mixture is immediately absorbed through the skin, which then causes the deadly combination to dissolve into and to poison the unintended victim’s bloodstream. Usually after making its rounds through the circulatory system, it finally gets exhaled through the lungs were it then sticks to the victim’s lips for hours or even for days. Deodorant I can understand, but the general feminine concept of perfuming is one that will always elude me. Or even more elusively why the noxious nature of the habit of using it seems to increase linearly in both the frequency and the amount applied as the woman gets older but at the same time becomes progressively less sexually appealing.

When I personally performed cardiac echo studies on older women, I was often choked or gagged by the worst chemical scents imaginable; the great paradox being that these women thought they had to get “gussied up” because they were going to see the doctor. The scents would stick to me for days like a thin film of aromatic crazy glue. It was even the case that as a result of this, I would purposefully schedule some of these women at the end of the day to prevent the entire office environment from being gassed up in the morning…followed by a slow radioactive-like scent decay curve that lasted for the remainder of the day.

These exuding aromatics were also difficult to easily explain away when later meeting a girlfriend or when married, having to face my dour faced immediately suspicious and irrationally jealous finger-rapping first wife, as she then launches into her interrogation about the possibility of furtive sexual liaisons.

  • Honey. I can explain it. On my last case I had to use an echo probe on an old lady who overdosed on her perfume.
  • Oh really. So just how old? And exactly where were you probing her and what else were you probing her with beside that silly little machine of yours?
  • 85 years: On the chest wall under the left breast: With an RN chaperone.
  • Oh, so you probably fucked that little nurse whore too, right?

I am convinced that these chronic proximate chemical exposures are responsible for many women’s seemingly sudden onset of adult asthma or the premature deaths of some of their husbands; and have always thought there should a perfume specifically designed for post-menopausal septuagenarian women named:

Old Gommie

A requirement for its use would be that it could only be a water based semi-placebo, or if not, that it could only be sold if there was definitive proof of the woman having no living relatives. Revlon would make a fortune. On the opposite side, Old Spice could probably make a fortune as well if it could discover the molecule in the sweat of paranoid schizophrenic men that seems to make women magnetically flock to them. As far as I can tell this scientific study would be the only justifiable reason to continue keeping Charlie Manson alive.

However more to the immediate point, the most tragic thing about my Italian Grandmother, was the fact that she never received flowers or perfume from anyone at all until the day she died, at which time her hearse was filled to the brim with bouquets; an ironic twist that finally made her smell like a fresh breath of Spring.

It has always been a mysterious curiosity to me that most people, men and women alike, get the bulk of their flower bouquets all at once, heaped one on top of the other like a small floral mountain, but only after they are dead.

 Grandma and Grandpa

Grandma and Grandpa DeCarlo

And you can, send me dead flowers in the morning

Send me dead flowers by the mail

Send me dead flowers to my wedding

And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave

(Dead Flowers: The Rolling Stones)