The digestive action of a healthy adult male obliterated everything but 28 bones (out of 131) belonging to a segmented shrew swallowed without chewing.
~ Mary Roach, in a footnote to Gulp
Like the digestive tract, the human mind produces an almost universal solvent. Loss, disappointment, and heartbreak are swallowed whole and assimilated every day the world over. And yet in each man’s life will be found, here and there, the twenty-eight indigestible bones of a shrew.
Now Jove, in his next commodity of hair, send thee a beard!
~ Shakespeare, Twelfth Night III,i
You wouldn’t think it to behold my rugged, bearded visage today, but once upon a time I presented to the world something less than a vision of omnipotent masculinity. Age sixteen, I recall, someone told me there was a loose thread dangling from the sleeve of my T-shirt. “Oh, sorry,” he corrected himself, “I guess that’s just your arm.”
A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste. The wife accused me of tossing out the leftovers when I’d cleaned the kitchen the other night. They’re in the fridge, I said, you just haven’t looked hard enough. But no, they were not in the fridge. Impossible, I said, I remember very clearly taking the glass container from the cupboard, putting the rest of the curried chicken inside, sealing it closed …and putting it right back into the cupboard again, where, thank God, it’s still safe.
What Dreams May Come, Barefoot and in a Bathrobe. It was a chilly morning. On the platform below, just as my commuter train was pulling away, I saw a man in a plaid bathrobe. He was maybe fifty years old, graying, barefoot, but otherwise well-groomed. He didn’t appear to be homeless. He walked ten quick paces, stopped, and lifted up the hem of his robe. He reached down toward his wiggling toes in slow-motion disbelief. Only then did he realize it wasn’t a dream.
Vengeance is Mine, Saith the Squid. I was eating lunch at the local Japanese ramen shop, lifting a spoonful of precious broth to my lips. Just then, from the next room, came a colossal crash. Someone had dropped a bank safe, a quarter-ton barbell, or the frozen corpse of a rhino, and the whole room shook. The broth, in which drops of squid ink were suspended, splattered across my shirt. From beyond the grave, the bitter cephalopod had taken its revenge.
The abnormal expression of mirth is shown in clownishness, levity, and caricaturing of persons… When excessive it can be restrained by devoting more time to serious and practical principles of science. If deficient it can be cultivated through the study of wit and humor.
~ John T. Miller, Applied Character Analysis
The arch-phrenologist Johann Spurzheim located mirthfulness in a particular corner of the forehead where, he said, Voltaire, Rabelais and Sterne each showed a considerable bulge. It’s a little known fact that all three were solemn and severe children who only developed a sense of humor after years of study.
By reflecting a little on this subject I am almost convinced that those numberless small Circuses we see on the Moon are the works of Lunarians and may be called their Towns.
~ William Herschel [qtd. in Richard Holmes’s The Age of Wonder]
A little reflection is sometimes too much. As a boy I was puzzled by those signs on the side of the highway that read “$1,000 Fine for Littering.” I finally decided the message was a strange sort of permission: If you want to throw thousand dollar bills out the window of your car, well, that’s just fine.
Life is the sum of the functions by which death is resisted.
~ Xavier Bichat, Physiological Researches on Life and Death
The most succinct explanations are sometimes the most inadequate. Bichat himself died at age thirty after falling down the stairs. I’m tempted to say that he was asking for it. But what is any man’s death except the sum of the functions by which he eventually succumbs to gravity?