Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Gladys and Muriel (along with their partner in crime, LaVerne) have been gone for eight days now, and things are remarkably quiet without them. Surprisingly, my thermoregulatory capabilities have been only mildly altered, although, presuming they do go straight to hell soon, I have to tolerate the situation only until early June. By the time the weather gets hot, I'll be permitted to sign up for a two-to-five-year flight on the (chemical) Gladys and Muriel simulator. In the meantime, perhaps this will keep our heating bills down. Tip to investors: Buy stock in black-cohosh farms.

Gladys, Muriel, and LaVerne led a relatively pampered life. For one thing, I never put them to work making babies, an activity for which I was temperamentally unsuited from the very beginning. Gladys and Muriel were also so stroppy in their youth -- exploding alternately and painfully every few weeks -- that I acquiesced and acquired a prescription that excused them from most duties for fourteen years. They always knew how to put the Schmerz in Mittelschmerz.

I suppose I should also acknowledge that one of them may have saved my life once. It was during the summer of 1977, when I was a student living in an MIT dorm and working on campus. I had planned to spend a weekend with my parents in Connecticut, but one of the evil twins -- whether it was Gladys or Muriel, I don't recall -- chose that time to let fly with unprecedented force, causing me six or seven days of unremitting pain. The temperature in southern New England had oozed into triple digits. The dorm had no air conditioning (a situation only marginally better at my parents' home at the time). The folks at the MIT Medical Department gave me Darvon. It didn't work.

I called home and postponed my trip, explaining the situation (I think the words "sledgehammer blow to the hipbone" were used in the conversation -- only figuratively, of course). The folks expressed concern, but were reassured when I told them I'd been to the health center. I spent the weekend collapsed on the lounge sofa, swallowing pain meds and cursing sporadically. And, that Saturday afternoon, while running an errand near their home, Mom and Dad were rear-ended at a stop light by a distracted driver. My parents' injuries were minor, but the only-child seat -- my usual perch right behind Mom -- was left resembling a piece of crumpled toilet paper. A few weeks later, when I saw the totaled remains of their forest-green AMC Hornet Sportabout in the junkyard, I was suitably impressed. Thanks, Gladys or Muriel, whichever one of you it was that kept me in Massachusetts that weekend!

They did not age gracefully. Gladys, like me, remained noisy and situated firmly to the left. Muriel, though by all appearances just as far to the right, was no longer the firebrand type; perhaps she'd decided to retire early and live off her investments. By the time she turned forty-five, we heard barely a peep out of Muriel. Gladys, on the other hand, gave up on peaceful protest and, sadly, began to agitate with violence. After Gladys set off a series of explosions and then called a general strike last summer, Muriel surprised us all by refusing to be co-opted as scab labor. After six weeks of very difficult negotiations, Gladys returned to work, and Muriel agreed to act as an occasional temp. But, the damage was done. When Gladys began chaining herself to various other structures, I had to decide on drastic action. I mean, I wholly support the efforts of labor to improve working conditions. But, Gladys and Muriel never did let me know what their demands were.

I feel somewhat guilty about downsizing an entire department, as well as planning to outsource its main function of hormone production. Maybe this is what's so seductive about doing business as usual. Then again, maybe the analogy is faulty. Whatever strange things may have been going on in my body, I don't think it has autonomous departments of personnel, marketing, and public relations.


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