Walking back from lunch the other day -- one of those REAL HOT days where the sky is the color of fish, and it feels as if somebody shoved the wrong end of a vacuum cleaner down your sleeve and turned it to the turbo setting -- I wound up on M Street behind a woman who had her arms at her sides and an aluminum bowl balanced on top of her head.
From the contents of the bowl -- some grapes, a whole cantaloupe, a container of yogurt, napkins -- she appeared to be on her way to a picnic. I was amazed she could balance the curved bowl at all, let alone hike across town with it.
"You see this a lot these days," my companion remarked.
"Oh yeah?" I said. "Where, in the Tegucigalpa Safeway?"
It got me thinking about the weird things you see in the streets and read in the paper during the summer. The steam and the sweat make people do crazy things. (Animals too. My smart friend Martha's cat, Teddy, started sleeping on Martha's head this week. She'll wake up and find him there. "It's like I'm wearing a cat hat," Martha said, perplexed at the current state of the relationship. "I think he may have strong, unresolved Oedipal feelings about his mother, but meanwhile, it's like I've stuck my head into a barbecue.") The other night I saw a man standing on the corner of North Capitol and Massachusetts, a block from Union Station, wearing black dress shoes, black socks, Day-Glo orange bikini briefs and a winter fur hat -- that's it, a stunning cross-seasonal fashion statement. He's trying to hail a cab. I don't know about you, but if I'm a cabdriver, I never need a fare that badly.
I was down on the Mall for the Fourth. Have you seen the size of the coolers people are carrying around these days? They're as big as coffins. Exactly how long are these people planning on being gone?
Speaking of oversize things people are hefting, how about the fanny packs people wear around their waists? At first I thought they were money belts, but not even Patricia Kluge has this much money. They stuff these things so huge, it's like they're inflated. I asked my friend Laura what she keeps in there, and she said, "Wallet, comb, keys and essentials." Unless she's got keys to every door in St. Louis, my guess is it's the essentials that are piling up. "Things that reflect and moisturize," Laura explained, smiling at me in that dismissive way adults have around small children. (This is just another difference between men and women: Men don't know from things that reflect or moisturize; the only thing men want to know about any bag or pouch or container is whether it's big enough for two six-packs of beer. A wallet, comb and keys you can put in your pockets. "What about your appointment book?" Laura asked. I looked about, lost, thinking, "My WHAT?" Luckily my editor, a doctoral candidate in gender-related distinctions, said, "Men don't need appointment books -- they simply marry.")
Need I mention how distraught I am with the latest UNBELIEVABLY STUPID move with the Hubble Space Telescope, NOT CHECKING TO SEE IF THE MIRRORS WORKED! You spend $1.5 BILLION DOLLARS, and you don't check the parts? I'm counting on this telescope to allow me to see naked Amazon women on Mars (which is the one thing most of my friends care about also) and you're telling us we have to wait THREE YEARS before it can be repaired. We're only talking about fixing a mirror -- not redoing a kitchen. You find a mirror guy, you fit him for the tether suit, you blast off. Three years? Come on. District Cablevision could do it in less than that. Heads better roll in the parts department is all I've got to say.
A typical example of a weird summer story was Thursday's front- page piece on how injections of human growth hormone can cut 20 years off your body. I'm more or less 40 -- okay, more -- so I could have the body of a 20-year-old. I'd like that, as long as it's not the body I had at 20. I'd like Mel Gibson's body; he seems to do all right with the women. I know Gibson's nearly 40. But I'll take what he's working with now because even if I had 20 years to work at it, I still couldn't look like that. Oh, and give me the hair too, please.
On the continuation of that story was a quote from an endocrinologist who said, "Growth hormone makes almost everything grow." (Which reminds me, there was a companion medical piece on the same page devoted to research on how men have lower sperm counts in summer than winter -- which might explain why I've had an odd craving to can Bosc pears lately. The study looked at the semen of 131 Texas men who worked outdoors at least four hours per day during summer. Their semen was videotaped under a microscope. Sort of a Sci-Fi Candid Camera. I wonder how you recruit people for this? Hey, hunk, great pecs. I hope you're not too tired from all that outdoor work to step up to this petri dish.)
Of course, the growth hormone story carried the obligatory caveat that the results were highly preliminary, and the long-term side effects remain unknown. And that's the scary part, isn't it? I mean, you start taking this stuff, and your fat peels off, and your tone comes back, and things are swell, but then 15 years down the road a new arm starts growing out of your ear, and you're walking down M Street with that new third arm holding an aluminum bowl full of fruit, and from behind you hear a guy say, "You see this a lot these days."