Still in Remedial Bayoneting

WE NOW KNOW, of course, that it is poppycock to assume that anything so simplistic and sexistically conceived as the H-Y antigen accounts for both the formation of testes and the tendency in inbred mice for females to reject skin grafts from otherwise genetically identical males. Dr. Veva LabonneSchaum, of the Einander Institute, discovered the fallacy of the H-Y hypothesis-hype when a colleague (myself) brought her, flippantly, two male mice that had given birth to tiny capsules of L’eggs hosiery.

Flippantly, because in those days I was in league with Dr. Chucky McArdle, whom I now see through.

“There are two subjects that should never be discussed in mixed company,” McArdle would say. “‘Men,’ and ‘Women.’” That’s the way he and I used to talk. We’d click our choppers at the giggly, halter-topped pipette girls (“lablollies,”we called them), and cut our eyes over at our women colleagues and make cracks.

“No, three subjects,” McArdle would go on. “Add ‘Men and Women.’” In the first place, he would say, he could “argue till the . . . cattle come home” that he had put “Men” first for purely counterchivalric or alphabetical reasons, “and I would just be digging myself a deeper hole.”

What he was saying implicitly, of course, was that men dig holes. I did dig a series of holes when I was nine, out in the side yard, for no reason except cultural compulsion. It was my father who fell into one of them and sent me away to military school, where I was forced to wear a shako and stand rigid for hours on end, but it was societal expectations that made me hack fruitlessly into the earth rather than aspire to the caring personhood of a John Derek, whose nowex-wife Linda Evans has recalled: “It was the most wonderful life I can imagine any woman having. He would spend months handcrafting a vest or boots for me. Then he would wait for me to come home and have champagne and grapes individually dusted with sugar next to a fur bed he had laid by the fireplace.”

McArdle and I never asked ourselves how a Derek managed to escape the traps this society lays for male children. McArdle maintained that Derek had been reared by Persian cats.

My father was a machinist. After grimly machining all one late-spring day and male-bonding into the night, he had slipped under cover of darkness into our side yaid to plant a rhododendron— something green, something alive . . . One of my senseless excavations brought him down headlong on top of the flowering shrub in his arms. Its crushed white blossoms flushed with mauve clung to his Valvoline-ingrained skin. He screamed.

He had won the rhododendron in a poker game. But he had been touched by its beauty, and it tortured him to admit that, even to himself. For years afterward he clawed at those petals in his sleep, my mother later told me in (yes, a woman’s) tears. When I was twelve— still in remedial bayoneting—my father left for Alaska and a life of oiling and rigging oil rigs and baiting Kodiak bears. We never again saw, as he would have put it, hide nor hair of him.

My father’s and my emotions at the time of his accident went deep, but we didn’t share them. My father screeched, for all the neighborhood to hear, when his role (as he must have seen it) was to bellow. That, I believe, was what caused him to pack me off. To Colonel Cobb’s Weapons Pool and School: drill and ceremonies, drill and ceremonies, and grenade-lobbing. It was not enough that we cadets be required to lob grenades. We had also, since they were duds brought back by Colonel Cobb from Tarawa, to make (our only aesthetic exercise) the sounds: “FOOOM-KA!” “H’WUMPF!” “BAROOOMP!” We loved it. So we told ourselves.

I stopped telling myself those things the day I, in totally the wrong spirit, brought Dr. Labonne-Schaum the Freimause.

It was McArdle who discovered the L’eggs capsules. It was I who brought them and the mice to her, on the assumption that she would be flustered, might even weep. It was she who, after fixing me with her litmus-blue eyes, perceived that the mice were not “male” but just, triumphantly, Freimause, or free mice.

I don’t know whether it was the discovery or the look she gave me (in my mind, the two are inseparable), but at that moment my nature began to demand different things. McArdle had been wrong to call the Freimause “mice who’ve learned they can do any goddamn thing around this place and get attention.” These were new mice. Mice who were ahead, in a real sense, of McArdle and me. Mice whose X and Y chromosomes had reoriented into the less binding W and Z.

AND SO: HUMANITY will be able to start again from scratch. From a new scratch.

We have been feeling just as faded (in the sense of pallor, and in the sense that someone is betting against us) as our genes. We need fresh—clean—genes, and we can have them. The new genetics has already made major strides. (It was Major Matt Strides who shared Colonel Cobb’s kampong. At night we could hear them bellowing.) We will be able by the end of the decade to be fitted in the womb or a barber’s chair with the neutral W and Z, produced synthetically in pursuance of Dr. Labonne-Schaum’s vision. The essential chromosomal material is a jelly (Gluck), neither butch nor nellie, but simply rife. The rifeness is all.

I wish my father could be here to see what is coming. He lies in the ice, a mastodon. And Colonel Cobb died in the infamous Recoilless Rifle disco fire. History may forgive them. It will not forgive us, if we fail to grasp the new genetic moment.

Should there be two sexes? Should there be only two? The recombinance Dr. Labonne-Schaum projects would retain duality, but a duality reconceived. The two kinds of person would be “is” (wasist) and “err” (istlos). An err would embody the atom’s flux, an is its essentiality. An is would be into being, an err into wandering.

Would an err’s sole domestic contribution then be “Honey, I’m home”? No. An is would depend for is (the possessive form, significantly, would be the same as the nominative) sense of being somewhere upon an err. An err would derive err sense of having been somewhere from an is. Either without the other would be nowhere, hollow (waslos).

An is would have the mellower voice, an err reach more octaves. But either, on is or err own, could openly cherish a rhododendron. Either could be bushy-faced. If anyone felt like feeling like a frond, anyone could feel like one: a frond rooted (is) or a frond on the wind (err).

Would there be romance? How about periodic mutual dissolving dips into not just a pool but a gene lagoon? From which almost anything might emerge. Dripping. Sound kind of . . . mushy? Ah.

All of this opens up ahead of us nowthanks to a person the fine tracery of whose exhaustive research, the almost sensuous turn of whose thought, the permeating property of whose birdsong voice . . .

“That Chucky McArdle is a child. He put a rubber lipid in my retort.”

. . . the fine beads of literal browsweat, the lips full. . . chewy (she chews them) . . .

“Yesterday, he brought me coffee in one of those cups with the frog on the bottom.”

. . . the kind of person, I tell her, who opens a person up, who causes a person s thinking to dip and dart . . .

“Of course you didn’t notice. I wonder if you notice anything.”

. . . who can make a person feel for a flash like a naked infant, feel for a flash like a naked woman must, feel like a bucket brigade.

“For a flash?”

She is so sharp, though, it sometimes seems a person can’t say anything . . . Especially, it seems, when I am most open. Dr. Labonne-Schaum! Ich bin keine Maus!