The Odds Against Having Been Born
The Orders of Infinity
Love Among the Angels
The Planet of Three Sexes
Primeval North America in the 21st Century
The Grand Set - A Tour of Multiverse 031100000sb280018b
The Hole in the Sky
Orgasm Jokes (co-author: Diana Miale)
What to Name the Baby
Confessions of a Meat Addict
Free at Last (Act One, Scene One)
Insecticide (Chapter Four)
Love Among the Germs or Lust in the Slush
The Planet of Eleven Sexes
The Voyage of don Juan
Memories of Earth
How Much Love Does a Man Need?
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THE ODDS AGAINST HAVING BEEN BORN
Chapter One (Excerpt)
This is how my grandmother met my grandfather: She missed the train to Lodz; walking distractedly around the station, she was befriended and picked up by my grandfather, who had never laid eyes on her before. You know the rest. They got married and lived happily ever after, other things (Hitler, neuralgia, etc.) being equal. But here's the question: suppose they hadn't met?
Or suppose they hadn't got out of Europe alive. Or suppose they had, but instead of coming to America, where the daughter they had here, my mother, met my father, they settled in Argentina, as in fact they nearly did. In either case, you know they rest: where am I?
OK, my grandparents met, and my parents met. That's the first letter of the first word. Suppose my parents, (Mia and Bernie), met and got married, exactly as they did, but that instead of practicing contraception for, let's see, say two and a half years, they had waited another month before setting up a more momentous fuck.
Or suppose they had went and got reckless a month earlier. Or suppose they had never bothered to prevent conception. We're talking about totally different eggs, and different galaxies of sperm. You want the same egg? OK. But suppose they connected a day earlier. Still no me, probably.
Suppose this: same egg, same night of passion. Let's go back to the big O. . . . Six million (according to my grade nine science teacher) well trained sperm break out of the starting gate. . . Alternative: six million sperms, each with a lottery ticket. One of them wins. Prize: one egg. Yay! I get born.
Any other zygotic union and--where am I?
Do you get the picture? Do you? Look at it this way: What about my father's parents? What about your father's parents? Suppose Grandpa had stayed down on the farm for another year and never got to meet Grandma. Where are you?
And such impossibly improbable happenings as were necessary to set up the birth of each one of our countless ancestors had to be repeated every generation. Regressing geometrically. That is, the number of miracles required doubles, going back every generation: two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents. . . going back to Australopithecus, and in fact to the fish (who are among my more revered ancestors) and (isn't it so?) practically to the amoeba.
And in every single case, each ancestor started as the union of two out of millions upon millions of gametes.
The odds against getting born are vastly worse than the odds against winning a Tri-State Megabucks lottery. Getting born is like winning consecutively two. . . four. . . eight. . . sixteen. . . etc. lotteries. In other words, forget it. It was fixed.
I have been reminded that everything in the world is a long shot. What is the likelihood that the molecules that clutter up this room would dispose themselves exactly as they do? Infinitesmal. But the disposition of molecules is contingent, whereas the subjectivity of every cogitating being underlies, for him, her, or It, the existence of the cosmos. One's own existence is necessary--and all but impossible. . . .
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Chapter Four (Complete)
As soon as I got to the cell, I lay down on the cot and dozed off. I was awakened at intervals by the cockroach guard making his rounds, but I slept OK. Breakfast was some revolting glop, and I couldn't eat. At about nine o'clock --I knew 'cause I still had my watch-- my court appointed lawyer comes by. Of course he was a cockroach. He asked me to tell him what happened from the beginning.
"Look," I asked him, "do I have a goddamn chance in Hell? Because if I don't, I don't want to go through the motions of preparing a defense."
"Well," he says, "we'll see. It says here that over a period of six weeks you planned and carried out the murder of more than 300 individuals, men, women and children, including entire families. Said individuals died from acute toxic reactions including various forms of nerve and respiratory toxicity, and from metabolic disruption after confinement in 'Roach Motels.' And you even stomped a couple underfoot. Is this true?"
"Look, are you really my lawyer?"
"I am your lawyer, and I'll defend you to the best of my ability, but. . . " His voice trailed off.
"But what? Are they going to give me a fair trial, or is this going to be a farce?"
"Look, Mr. Hammer, you're charged with mass insecticide. That's a serious offense. If you didn't do it, we'll have a chance to prove it." He looked at me and wagged his antennas. "If you did do it, we'll see if we can find extenuating circumstances. "I know I probably look the same to you as all other cockroaches, but you're going to have to level with me if we're going to make a case."
"Is this jail bugged?"
"I beg your pardon? Oh. You have to assume everything you say is overheard."
"Then how can we prepare a case?"
"We'll just have to do our best. . . . It's no good carrying on like that." (I was starting to schiz out.) "You really don't have any alternative. We'll do the best we can and we'll see that you get justice.
"Now why don't you start from the beginning and tell me everything. Don't leave anything out, no matter how unimportant it seems."
So I told him the story. He asked a million questions. Did I own the apartment or rent? Rent. How long had I lived there? A month. He made a funny cockroach noise. I asked him what it meant.
"That's bad. It means they were there first. If you had been living there before the victims, we could have argued that they invaded your premises."
"Would that have worked?"
"Not an excuse for mass insecticide, but it would have been something. As it is, it's academic. You invaded their premises. What kind of poison did you use?"
"I don't know. Raid."
"What kind of Raid?"
"What do you mean, what kind of Raid?"
"Regular Raid? Extra Strength Raid? Raid Bomb for House and Garden? Raid Roach Begone? Long Lasting Raid? Institutional Strength Raid."
"I think it was Regular Raid. Does it matter?"
"Try to let me ask the questions please. We don't have all day. Do you know what's in Regular Raid?"
"What's in it? You mean the ingredients?"
"Yes. The ingredients."
"How should I know? Some bug killer."
"Don't say that. Say toxic substance. You better get out of the habit of saying bug. You might forget and say it in front of the jury. I once had a client who said vermin. Now where were we? Oh yes. You are not aware of the specific contents of Regular Strength Raid. You never read the label? Let me read it to you. Bear with me for a moment. Here we are. Cyfluthrin or cyano (d-fluoro-3 phenoxyphenyl), methyl 3(2.2 dichloro-ethenyl), 2-2 dimethyl-cyclopropane-carboxylate) and uh, 2-(1-methylethoxy) phenol methyl-carbamate. Now, are you aware of the action of these substances? That is, do you know what they do to people? Presumably you know that the effects in sufficient doses are fatal, but do you know what they do exactly?"
"You mean to people or to bugs?--I mean roaches."
"It's the same thing. It goes by body weight. For a man of your size I would say a roach-equivalent dose would be about a highball glass. Now do you know what the effects are?"
"How would I know?"
"Well, you knew it would be fatal, didn't you?"
"But you don't know how it kills, is that right?"
"Yeah, except I heard you say something about respiratory effects."
"Nerve effects. The pyrethroids in today's Raid work on the nervous system. It's the same with the organo-phosphate based products, such as Raid Nook 'n' Cranny Spray. There you have Chlorpyrifos, which is a relative of Zyklon B, the nerve agent developed by the Nazi's for use in the gas chambers--but I digress. Do you know how 'Roach Motels' work?"
"How they work?"
"Yes sir, how they work."
"No, not really."
"Do you think we check in and find a room with a private bath and a massage bed?"
"You never looked inside one?"
"Well yeah, I did once."
"What did you see?"
"Some roaches stuck to the bottom."
"Were they alive or dead?"
"Some were alive."
"Did you observe what the ones who were still living were doing?"
"Trying to get free?"
"OK, do you know how long those individuals you saw had been in there, trying to get free? Did you know that it normally takes them up to a couple of days to die? The ingredient we're talking about here is, let's see, hydramethylnon, or tetra-hydro-5,5-dimethyl-2(1H)-pyrimidinone (3-4-(trifluoro-methyl) phenyl]-1-2-[4-trifluoromethyl) phenyl] ethenyl)-2-propenylidene hydrazone. In this case, the death agony is, as I say, prolonged, and the physiological action obscure--it acts on the cellular level; it suffocates the cells, but it's not known exactly how. But the effect on insects and on mammals is the same. If there's one thing a jury hates, it's 'Roach Motels.'"
"What are you getting at?"
"Look pal, I've defended hundreds of killers in my day. Ninety percent of the cases are open and shut. What jury is going to have any sympathy for a mass killer? With 'Roach Motels' yet. Let me tell you what you're up against. Surviving relatives will fill the courtroom. They're going to read the doggone biographies of every one of your victims to the jury. They're going to call in character witnesses, their friends and neighbors and teachers and classmates and business associates.
"Then they'll call in eyewitnesses to the crime. Typically these will be individuals who are permanently disabled themselves as a result of exposure to toxic fumes.Then they'll bring in the first officers to arrive on the scene. They'll describe the massacre. That never fails to shock a jury. They'll bring in pharmacologists who will describe the effects of the pyrethroids and synergizers and oral toxicants and so on in excruciating detail. They'll bring in a model of a 'Roach Motel,' and have an expert describe how they work. You might have a juror faint. Now you didn't know how these devices work. That's in your favor. If we can find another six or eight points like that, we'll have the beginning of a case. Were you ever nice to a roach?"
"Nice to a roach?"
"Yeah. I had a defendant once she claimed she left out a cupcake. Just so the folks could eat. Whether she actually did or not I don't know. But the jury liked it. I got her a life sentence. Of course she was up against a less serious charge. She hadn't declared war on us. She had only washed an occasional scout down the drain. Now did you ever do a good deed for a roach?"
"Well sometimes I didn't kill them."
"What do you mean?"
"I didn't always spray every one I saw."
"That's not good enough."
"Once I found one drowning in a saucer, and I flushed it down the drain to put it out of its misery."
"You said it. Don't say it. Look, are you crazy? Do you think that's going to impress a jury, that you once flushed somebody down a drain? I'm asking you did you ever do anything NICE for a cockroach? Did you ever leave out a treat? Did you ever feed a mother and her children? Did you ever get to know any? Did you ever talk to one? Did you ever make friends with one or have one for a 'pet'?"
"Let me see, let me see.... Yeah! One time I saw this roach just sitting on the tablecloth and I looked at uh, her --her?-- I looked at her? -- and uh, she, she looked at me, and I could swear, uh that she could tell what I was thinking. And the next thing I knew she scurried off."
"What were you thinking?"
"I'd rather not say."
"I'm afraid that doesn't get us very far."
"Hey man, where I come from killing cockroaches isn't a crime. It's not even considered wrong. Think what you like about it, but that's a fact."
"Laws which don't recognize the rights of insects are not recognized by insect courts. And the courts have explicitly rejected any defense based on cultural norms."
"What do you mean?"
"Just because everyone around you was committing insecticide doesn't mean you shouldn't have known better."
"Do they ever acquit anyone charged with insecticide?"
"Sure. I win about five percent of my cases. Sometimes the client is innocent. Her husband did it. Maybe she is just an accessory. We'll get a reduced charge. Maybe she didn't do it at all. The jury will listen. They're very fair."
"My God, isn't there anything I can do?"
"Can you demonstrate repentence?"
"Once we had a lady she was sincerely sorry about what she did, she wrote letters to one thousand of the victims' surviving relatives, she bought food for them and set up a trust fund to provide veterinary care for them."
"You know, you're not going to help yourself out with the jury with an attitude like that. If it seems laughable to you that you might help us for a change instead of inflicting mayhem, you're not going to get very far with the repentence angle. Anyway, it rarely works anymore; at best your sentence would only be commuted."
"Commuted to what?"
"Usually to being transformed into a roach yourself."
"Oh my God."
"I can see repentence is probably not going to work in your case, but I would counsel you to do your best to sincerely repent anyway."
"So what does that leave me for a defense?"
"Throw yourself on the mercy of the court."
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FREE AT LAST
A Play in Three Acts
Act One Scene One
The setting is an elegant, modern house in southern California. The glass walls of the living room and an open door look out onto a swimming pool in the back yard. The three characters onstage have just burst through the door. All three are of African descent and are dark complexioned. They are in stylish swim suits and "caba–a" outfits.
Charlene: WHAT did you say???
They stop in their tracks and the women become quite motionless as Calvin turns toward them and continues to spin the outlandish account he had begun a few moments earlier. He is perfectly sincere.
Calvin: Ah was jes' workin' in de fields. Pickin' cotton. Oh Lawd, on a factory plantation. Dey wuz 200 niggas. Ah thought Ah was gone die many times. One time dey beat me so bad Ah was spittin' blood, and Ah thought oh Jesus Ah be gone, but de next day Ah be back in de fields. When Ah was a little boy the dogs chewed on me so bad Ah couldn't never walk right after that. Ah got a hundred whippin's an' dat's a fact. Massa Hass he turned me out the house when Ah wouldn't do him like he want. My pappy was a white man, dey said. Dey beat up on me, dey beat up on my mammy. Oh Jesus! One time dey got me, dey got me like this and dey pulled my arm so bad it pulled my shoulder out. Dey clanged me on the head to git me to shut up. When I run away de las' time, dey broke me. When Ah died, my leg was broke, my back was broke and my ribs was broke. They dumped me in de cabin. I wuz jes' layin' there. And I mus' have been layin' there--oh lawd! It seemed like forever! An' den de pain stopped.
The women are speechless. Calvin looks around and seems to partially come back to himself, and to speak more normally.
Calvin: When I opened my eyes I was in the back yard. Charlene (is that your name you said?) you come down to the pool, and I was just laying here with this, what did you call it?--gin and tonic. I'm afraid I don't know either one of you kind ladies
Charlene: Calvin, you're impossible. Vince Rose is going to be here any minute. You've wanted his account for two years.
Calvin: Who is Vince Rose?
There is a long pause.
Calvin: Is he a colored gentleman?
Charlene: Calvin, Vincent is your number one prospect!
Calvin: Prospect? What is a prospect? Look, I'm overJOYED to be here, but I cain't remember a thing since I be layin' near dead in de cabin. Whut I be doing here?
Doris: Oh God! I don't think this is funny!
Charlene: Doris, let me handle this. Just humor him. Look Calvin. Your name is Calvin. Calvin Hawkins. You're an account executive. That means you sell things in magazines and on tv.
Doris: Does he do this often?
Charlene: No. [They exchange glances.] I have no idea how long it will take to reprogram him. But you just handle your end and take up any slack with Mr. R.
Look Calvin, a tv is one of those things, remember? [To Doris] Hand me the wand, will you? Here. [Aims remote switch and turns on tv. A deoderant commercial is in progress.] See, that's a commercial. That's your business. You make commercials.
You've been setting up this meeting since April. Vince is just stopping by for a little social visit before flying to New York on Monday. That means you don't talk business unless he does.
Vincent Rose is the advertising manager for Amalgamated Distillers. You want him to let you sell his whiskey. The market is over a hundred million dollars.
Calvin: A hundred million dollahs?. . . Whiskey?. . .
Charlene: You think the time may be ripe for bringing back soft whiskey, don't you remember? In other words, you want to sell the whiskey by telling people it's soft.
Calvin: [Incredulous] Soft??
Doris: I think I'm going to scream.
Charlene: Doris, will you make some instant coffee? [Doris hesitates for a second, then hurries offstage. Charlene continues, to Calvin.] Listen, do you have all that?
Calvin: Lawd, I has it, but I doesn't believe it. I is supposed to sell a hundred million dollars of whiskey by telling the people it's soft.
Charlene: You're not supposed to sell it. You're hoping Vince will give you the account. If he does, THEN you'll have a chance to sell it--and make a nice little something for yourself, you understand. And you better drop that accent and mind your grammar, or he'll think you're drunk.
Calvin: Oh Lawd. Is this gentleman a friend of Master Hass?
Charlene: Calvin, forget Master Hass. This is the 21st century. Slavery has been abolished. You're the most successful "nigger" ad man in California.
Calvin: Oh me oh my.
Charlene: Oh don't worry about a thing. Just be yourself. Follow his lead, and remember, don't talk business unless he does. And no matter what, you're not ready to talk numbers.
Calvin: Not ready to talk numbers.
Charlene: That's right.
Calvin: What do I do if he asks me something?
Charlene: Just make up something wild. That shouldn't be hard for you. [Doorbell] There's the bell. [She heads for the front door, and remembers one last thing, and calls back.] Oh, you should know--we're getting married in September. . . .
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LOVE AMONG THE GERMS
LUST IN THE SLUSH
For several weeks the weather in the petri dish had been exceptionally muggy. It had gotten to the point where the residents were all talking about it.
"Damn smog!" snorted A. Germ, as his neighbor Mrs. Meebles smiled at him over the back yard fence. "This is as brown as I've ever seen it."
"Beg pardon?" was the response, "I didn't hear you." Mrs. Meebles was a petite organism with a nervous habit of darting this way and that. She had her hair up in a bun.
Augustus Germ and Amanda Meebles were elderly bacteria, who lived on pensions in tract houses on the edge of town. Mrs. Meebles was a childless widow; Mrs. Germ was alive but crazy. She pretty much stayed in the same spot on the patio all day and shook. The Germs had four thousand children and 20 million grandchildren.
One of them was blowing into the driveway right now. That'll be Mike, thought Augustus. He was seized with a fit of coughing. It wasn't only the smog. Something was going around. A car door slammed. A moment later, his handsome, successful grandson, Mike Roe, breezed into the back yard with his girl friend, Kimberly. They exchanged greetings, and Kimberly gave Augustus a peck on the cheek.
"What would you like to drink?"
They settled on some V-8. It had been standing all day, but it tasted delicious, lukewarm and high.
"Yes, Dr. Freed?"
"Why are you never about?"
"Oh, I was about, Dr. Freed," Jerry replied in his customary puerile whine. "I was about. I was just washing the test tubes."
Jerry Schmueller was secretly in love with Wilma Freed. But Dr. Freed was the director of research, and he was just a lab assistant, a dropout actually. Also, Dr. Freed was assertive and extremely competent --and gorgeous and engaged-- while Jerry was kind of permanently unglued.
Dr. Freed smiled stiffly. "Where are the 0-3's?"
"The 0-3's, Dr. Freed?"
"Yes, the 0-3's. They're not in the fridge."
The highly intelligent brunette microbiologist was referring to a cookie sheet full of petri dishes, one of thirty-two such sheets being used in her current experiment. Dr. Freed was an up and coming researcher for the Rolaids Company. Her job was to monitor the effects of various buffering agents on the reproductive rates of alimentary bacteria, and to compare these with the rates of germs who had been dosed with the plain antacid.
"Didn't you hear me?"
"Uh, yes. Yes, I heard you, Dr. Freed. I'm thinking. Not in the fridge? That's unusual. Most unusual."
"You didn't decide to 'feed' them again, did you?"
"Feed them? Feed them again? Oh no, Dr. Freed. Oh, I would never do that again. I learned my lesson." A few months earlier, kind-hearted Jerry had added sugar to the cultures, to "feed the germs." "Don't they have to eat too?" he said when it came to light. Since then, his job was hanging on a thread.
Jerry went out to "look for" the missing batch of cultures. Actually he did know where they were. Jerry was conducting a little experiment of his own concerning the reproductive rates of microbes; an experiment which, if it went as Jerry hoped, would make both him and Dr. Freed famous.
Augustus eyeballed Kimberly. She was one helluva good-looking germ....
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Copyright © 1999 Walter Miale