Insomnia Files: Salad Days

Sleepless nights morph into hours of cycling thoughts, an endless refrain. The best thing to do is, firstly, get a grip on yourself, man! Next: write down your machine-gun fire of thoughts in a supine stream of semi-cognizance until the absurdity of it all lulls you into a slumber, or at least into a fit of intoxication. Warning: this might be worse than having to hear about someone else’s dreams.


October second, dos double-oh dos

I woke up in the pre-dawn morning to a choir of garbage men yelling “Motherfucker!” My sensory deprivation techniques only partially blocked them out … just enough to be able to sleep, although the voices mingled with the dreams. My respite was rich, if not long enough. Still. However.

I check the box and the long lost mail has finally arrived. The pith-jockey really cracked the whip on the ol’ beast of burden and two full weeks later … huzzah! The structure of civilization has not yet completely crumbled.


Now I’m lounging on the swami bed, opium swirls pumping around me, searching for an open lung. Pretending to be busy, persuading myself to be sleepy. Peanut butter. A bad pilsner (Dutch, see?) left a bad taste. Or perhaps a good one created a bad memory.

I had a good and strange day. My antennae are reaching and twitching, finding more each day. Self-imposed discomforts feel fantastic in the face of adventure. Something new is at least something. I’ll pick the best looking cashier, because he’s smiling, and the attractive ones always move the line faster, male or female. I need conversation like insect larvae need fruit. Asking the thrift store guy if he gets sick of listening to ’80s music all day was the highlight of my human verbal interaction today. We jived a bit, but my Ben Franklin shut him up and that was that.


Fully stocked fridge.

One thing I love about my current situation in life, and others may disagree according to taste, opinion, and upbringing, is that I’m not married and I don’t have kids. I don’t have to provide for any other person or thing right now. And as far as right now right now, that’s a very good thing. With a few extra dollars to spend on food today, I bought a bag of frozen blackberries *[see marginalized notes]. In my fridge, all I have are a bottle of vodka and flavored “aroma” condoms. It feels good to strip away unneeded responsibility, the clutter and worry of a certain lifestyle. It’s so freeing. Freedom in almost every way. Identity renewal.


*FDA’s unacceptable contamination levels: Berries, canned and frozen: average mold count is 60 percent or more, average of 4 or more larvae per 500 grams, average of 10 or more whole insects or equivalent per 500 grams.

I often ask questions that I can’t answer myself, almost like people who give advice they can’t follow. If I ever ask you for your favorite word, it’s because the question tortures me every day. I was sure that your answer would not feature sound or meaning alone, but a happy wedding of the two. There are beautiful words that have repellant meanings, like melanoma, catheter, or diarrhea. Great syllabic beauty, but … I like knucklehead and  galore quite a bit. Lascivious used to be my least favorite word when I was 17, but now it might be climbing the charts.

I think, for this moment in time, which is subject to change at any moment, I would choose salad. My reasons: 1) The property: the greenness and coolness, in allusion to youth, metaphorically, that the blood is still cool and judgment unripe.

2) Etymology: The word salad, I find, is related to salt, sausage, and silt. Fifteenth century old and modern French. In Vulgar Latin it means “salted” — short for herba salata “salted vegetables.” Now my attraction to the word is making all kinds of sense! Sausage, salt, and salad are my three main food groups (after blackberries and vodka, apparently). 3) The subject: a cool, raw, vegetable-laden delight. And those vegetables should be heavily salted if you know what’s good for you. 4) The sound: the pronunciation of the word is inherently familiar–you’ve heard it and used it your whole life. But what should happen if all of a sudden you speak the word and you are corrected, that it’s actually “samad” and you’ve been saying it wrong your whole life? Psychological freakout, bordering on existential disaster. 5) The slang definitions: Urban Dictionary has dozens of random meanings attached to the word, the best one being simply “a polite way of saying sex.” Tossed salad, anyone? And finally, 6) The spelling: I love S’s, to write and speak in sibilance, and the rest of the word is almost a palindrome, yet has a firm close to the end. There it is.

I think I’ll try to surrender all conscious functions to the gods of slumber now … we’ll see.




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The Greek Body

The Ancient Greeks are thought to have had rather short lifespans, often ending in their 20s and 30s due to the chaos that was Ancient Greece. Yet, we know that many Greek philosophers lived into their 90s. Whether reaching their final days or the third-way mark, like us they suffered the multitude of physiological ailments that become upsettingly apparent by our 30s.

The Great Hippocrates of Kos, crackerjack of Western medicine. (Image by Wellcome Library)

The Great Hippocrates of Kos, crackerjack of Western medicine. (Image by Wellcome Library)

The Greeks focused their medicine on balance of hot, cold, wet, and dry, and of the four humors: phlegm, blood, yellow bile, and black bile. Hippocrates of Kos (460-377 BCE), the Grand Poobah of Modern Medicine, introduced some illuminative concepts to the world, such as the idea that diseases were caused by natural origins, not spiritual. How could he believe such heresy? A pox on him!

Hygieia, as daisy-fresh as the day she was born. (Image by  Alexander Handyside Ritchie)

Hygieia, as daisy-fresh as the day she was born. Image by Alexander Handyside Ritchie.

Hygiene comes from the Greek term hygieine techne, meaning ‘healthful art.’ The art is based on the discovery that keeping your parts clean is vital for health. Hygieia was the Greek goddess of health and cleanliness, but I’m sure even she had her moments where she let things ride in the same underwear for a few days. As we get older we ponder more about whether or not we should be licking doorknobs and subway poles, and whether to eat something off the floor (in front of someone). Hand sanitizer becomes something we purchase instead of just using a pump-full for free at the doctor’s reception desk.

Greek physician cutting to the chase. (Image by Marie-Lan Nguyen)

Greek physician cutting to the chase. (Image by Marie-Lan Nguyen)

Cholesterol comes from the ancient Greek terms chole, meaning ‘bile,’ and stereos, meaning ‘solid,’ describing the state of cholesterol first discovered in gallstones. The lipid cell is fundamental for biosynthesis in all animals. It builds membranes and maintains their fluidity. The issue that causes concerns is hyper- or hypocholesterolemia, an imbalance of cholesterol levels. In our 30s we begin to pay attention to conditions that affect cardiovascular health because we know our tickers’ days are numbered. Good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, HDL and LDL—which is which? Elevated LDL basically jams your arteries with fat and hardens them into pink strips of rebar. The Greeks used flaxseed to lower the bad cholesterol, and the guys in the Whole Foods HABA aisle will tell you to do the same thing.

Just let your blood flow like a mountain stream. (From England or Netherlands, 12th century.)

Just let your blood flow like a mountain stream. (From England or Netherlands, 12th century.)

Hemorrhoids, from the Greek haimorrhoides, meaning ‘flowing blood’ (also known as piles, which is actually from the Latin pila, meaning ‘balls’), are a delightful condition your aging body will get to know eventually. ‘Rhoids are the most common anal pathology and they love to make jokes about you—their favorite being, “Rectum? Damn near killed him!” Dear readers, I know it feels like the hemorrhoids are trying to kill you, but rest easy. They are now with you for the long haul. If they really bother you, you can traipse down to the druggist and have him do a loud-speaker stock check for Preparation-H, Tucks pads, or Anusol. Or you could opt for the Hippocratic method of treatment, burning, cutting, and drying with a hot iron.

Ring it proud! (Leper with a bell circa 1400.)

Ring it proud! (Leper with a bell circa 1400.)

Psoriasis, Greek for ‘itching condition,’ is an itchy, scaly rash that will drive you mad for the rest of your days, and may be one of mankind’s oldest skin diseases. However, this chronic, non-contagious, and usually genetic condition remains difficult to treat. Most people who are going to have it show signs by their 30s. Hippocrates introduced the usage of pine tar and topical arsenic to treat the unbearable itching. Prominent Greek physician Galen (133-200 CE) opted for a broth of boiled vipers—and I say, to each his own. Historically psoriasis was often confused for many other conditions. We now know that most biblical accounts of leprosy were actually psoriasis, but treated with the further stigma of shame. Patients believed to be lepers were forced to ring a bell or clapper to announce their unclean arrival, speak in only a whisper, and avoid touching anyone else. The good Ol’ Testament, spreading truth once again! It actually took hundreds of years to sort out the distinctions between the signs and symptoms of psoriasis and leprosy. If you are stricken with this malady, get yourself a good bell anyway. It’s your way of taking back the ailment and saying, “I’m here, I’m itchy, get used to it!” Cousin to our friend psoriasis is the illustrious Eczema, Greek for ‘something thrown out by heat’ or ‘to boil over’ referring to the boiling bubbling blisters. Eczema is another chronic, noncontagious skin condition characterized by itching, oozing vesicular lesions. Oh, the weeping!

Hippocrates also believed that sex cured diseases. Orgy for the cure!

Hippocrates also believed that sex cured diseases. Orgy for the cure!

Gonorrhea is a condition that may be more likely to strike you in your 20s when all caution and clothing are tossed to the wind, but still a formidable disease for 30-some-odds. The word comes from the Greek terms gonos (seed) and rhein (to flow), back when the copious flow of mucus was believed to be excess semen. So the next time you or your mate excretes a copious flow, you can exclaim, “Gonorrhea!” As one of the two ‘rrhea’ ailments we will discuss today, gonorrhea, (or ‘the Clap’ from the Old French clapoire, meaning ‘brothel’) can be treated with an antibiotic offensive. You may choose to do as the Greeks did and treat with liquid alum, dried figs, and wine, but please, research the ancient texts for dosage before self-medicating. Also worth a mention are Herpes and Chlamydia, the two Greek characters in the theatrical production of your genital tragedy. Herpes, a Greek word meaning ‘to creep,’ is an inflammatory viral condition that skulks through your body until a weakened immune response allows it to erupt. What a creep! Chlamydia, Greek for ‘mantle,’ cloaks all kinds of beasts with all kinds of infections.

It's just a shame, that's all. (John Arderne, circa 1425)

It’s just a shame, that’s all. (John Arderne, circa 1425)

Last, but certainly not least, we have diarrhea, the most common ‘rrhea’ of them all. Hippocrates is credited for coining the term diarrhoia, meaning ‘flowing through.’ Gastrointestinal conditions are just the tip of the malady iceberg that will give you grief in your 30s. You may find yourself pondering, what is “being regular” and how do I achieve it? If you have diarrhea, it could be the result of a number of health factors, as it is a symptom of numerous diseases and a byproduct of the guilty pleasure diet. Hippocrates recommended spontaneous vomiting to cease the fecal flow. Imodium is another route, albeit less dramatic. Either way, please wait a couple weeks before entering a public pool.

What about all the other oozing bodily fluids? (Image by Suzanne Alexander)

What about all the other oozing bodily fluids? (Image by Suzanne Alexander)

What else can we do but embrace our bodies’ imperfections and deterioration. As we breach the period of ‘middle age’ we learn that some of these horrid Greek disorders are here to stay. Proudly purchase your salves and creams and know in your hearts that Hippocrates would have wanted it that way. And whatever you do, do not image search any of the aforementioned conditions.



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