Another Book I’m Reading

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, by Mary Roach

I just started reading this, and asterisks twinkle sporadically throughout the text. Because the content is so interesting and the style is so quirky, it’s actually quite hard to not look toward the bottom of the page to see what the asterisks mean.

So far, the book is about eating. Later on, I’m sure the book will also be about pooping, because that’s a part of the “adventures” in the title. I’m currently in a chapter about how organs are very, very nutritious and American culture grimaces at the thought of eating narwhal skin, for example.

But, footnotes. Chapter 3–entitled “Liver and Opinions”–describes an experiment where scientists served children 16- to 29-months different things to taste, for “until kids are around two, you can get them to try pretty much anything.” Among the lowest-accepted items was human hair. An asterisk bedazzled the word hair, so I rushed to read the corresponding footnote and now I have to share it with you. If you’re squeamish, I suggest you ignore it, but if you can detach, here you go:

Compulsive hair-eaters wind up with trichobezoars–human hairballs. The biggest ones extend from stomach into intestine and look like otters or big hairy turds and require removal by stunned surgeons who run for their cameras and publish the pictures in medical journal articles about “Rapunzel Syndrome.” Bonus points for reading this footnote on April 27, National Hairball Awareness Day.

I read that last sentence and felt I’d missed out on serious bonus points. Still, I feel that I shouldn’t be giving myself so much credit for reading a book with so much  gross-out potential, because it’s actually a lot of fun to read. If you’re in the mood for some fun science writing and need a break from dense literature (like I do), check out this book.

Back to reading before dinner.

Until We Meat Again

Over the past three days, I have been near three people who smell like meat. I can’t decide if it’s bologna or pepperoni or olive loaf. Yes, it’s that smell. And, while I don’t consider the aforementioned substances “meat,” I will concede they are a subclassification of meat in general. An ilk that most decidedly does not come from elk.

Who are these three people? I do not know them personally, but I will work backward chronologically and introduce them to you.

1. Wednesday, on the subway: some guy who sat by me on the 2/3 line on the way to work. I can’t remember what he was wearing, except that he had on a tan coat, and he was reading the paper. And, since I had already smelled two meat-odor emanators prior to him, I wondered if I attracted people who give off a meaty scent, or if someone invented a new perfume that smells like meat. Quasi-processed meat. The scent wasn’t quite Spam.

2. Tuesday, on the elevator up to my apartment: I looked to make sure the other passengers weren’t holding food. I couldn’t pinpoint who, specifically, was making my nostrils shudder, but the distinctive smell was in my elevator. I even smelled myself, to make sure it wasn’t me. Sometimes I smell like lemons, and sometimes I smell like basil, but even with (because of?) my skin oil, I do not smell like meat. Hmm, oil and basil and lemons. I wonder if people are blogging right now about how they stood near someone who smells like pesto.

3. Monday, in the pool: I couldn’t believe it when I climbed down the ladder into the water. I splashed water on my arms at the shallow end to get used to the temperature, and a woman who was sharing a lane with me came toward the wall from her last length and stood up beside me. She smelled like salami. Or a hot dog. From Nathan’s. It was so bizarre. I do understand that people sweat when they swim, and so I wondered if whatever she ate or drank for the past couple of days seeped through and clung to her skin. It was a strong scent, and I was surprised it overpowered the chlorine. I was so glad I couldn’t breathe like a fish.

The weather will get colder. People will add layers to their bodies and continue to pile themselves into the train. It will get more crowded, just because people are thicker. My nose often comes up to other people’s armpit level. Maybe the meat smell isn’t the worst of my worries. Maybe those people roast themselves, like on a spit in a rotisserie, or in a sauna, or on tanning beds, those being life-size George Foreman grills.

Well, maybe now it’s time to take a survey. What other smells will I encounter? (Goodness knows I’m not going to seek them out.) I’ve had enough of the meat smell. I just hope I get to run into someone who smells like a chocolate souffle. I’d even take Rice Krispie Treats. Or watermelon Bubbalicious.