Monday, October 17, 2016

Who says you can't count on sleeping?

Everyone I speak to lately is learning how I’ve resolved my long-time sleep problems. I relate in detail about my CPAP machine—short for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. I explain how sleep apnea closes the airway in the back of one’s throat. And I hold forth about how often the apnea was waking me up before I began to strap a snorkel-like mask to my face at bedtime, and how it hardly does now. The best part of these conversations: My CPAP’s benefits seem to be contagious. By the time I’m done, I’ve solved my listeners’ sleep problems, too.

You don’t need sleep issues, though, to agree that some nights you can just forget about getting some rest. Apnea sufferers keep score by the Apnea/Hypopnea Index, or AHI, which averages out how many times per hour they stop breathing and briefly awaken. Knowing your AHI is dandy if you’ve got apnea. But the many people who have trouble sleeping without any apnea should be allowed to keep score, too. After some careful thought, I’ve apparently caught the sleep-medicine community snoozing, for I’ve come up with sleep scores for everyone else.

DBI. If you have a dog, chances are you were a sucker for those doleful eyes from the first and only time they pleaded with you to say, “Come on up, boy.” And having allowed it once while the dog was 12 pounds, you now have an 80-pound anchor with bad breath and gas sandwiched between you and your spouse. The DBI, for Dog Breath Index, is how often per hour you come face-to-face with Rex and wake up from a royal blast of halitosis.

HCI. You don’t need a pet to keep track of your HCI: You just need to live with someone. Family members talk about all sorts of things in the course of the day, and if they’re all equally committed to good sleep, late-night conversation stays light. But if you think family life is that easy, you’re dreaming. The Heavy Conversation Index (HCI) measures how many of the first hours of bedtime you’re staring at the ceiling because one of you brought up something that couldn’t wait till morning, such as life, the universe and everything.

SDI. Most common in October’s run-up to Halloween, the Scary Dream Index (SDI) tracks how many times during the night you wake up in a cold sweat because you’re being chased by vampires, zombies, or something original plumbed from the depths of your very soul. If something’s after you, you’re not asleep and it’s not tax season, never mind trying to keep score…you won’t be sleeping anyway.

FIFI. Some adults, we hear, toss and turn in their nightlong quest to find that perfect sleep position. Unfortunately, that prime spot could mean the other person in the bed is out of luck. The Foot in Face Index (FIFI) counts how many times per night one sleep partner’s rotation in the bed means the other wakes up with toes up her nostrils.

PDII. Occurring for a few months every four years, the PDI might be the most pervasive. (It’s like MLBI, a score related to watching too much late-night baseball, but on steroids.) Whatever else you plan to do the night of a political debate, chances are that you’ll still end up in front of the TV and stay there till it’s over. Just try to fall asleep then. The PDII, for Post-Debate Incredulity Index, measures how many times you wake up from sleep, fists clenched, over something this one or that one said. Or should have said. Either way, just remember that you elected to watch the thing.

With only one score to keep, which the CPAP machine calculates for me, I’m sleeping just fine these days. Or at least I was sleeping. After years of needing to fall asleep using the traditional SCI (Sheep Counted Index), I now have myriad sheep grazing on the property with nothing to do. Some friends of ours wouldn’t sleep till they’d contacted the nearest government agency. They’d ensure that every member of the herd was counted—and would feel proud that it still mattered in the world.

Me? I lie awake, wondering where on earth we could ever find enough mint jelly.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Taking best practices to the next level

Thank you all for making time for this mandatory training session. Though many of you have served the company for many years, you can appreciate our imperative to optimize staffing, set success metrics and empower us all to build a culture of excellence and accountability. That much is abundantly clear, and I’m pleased to have your buy-in.

Now that you’ve settled down at your group tables, you’ll notice we’ve come up with a series of exercises designed to move the needle on aligning our core competencies. Table A, to my left, has coloring books, some blank paper, crayons and black markers. Table B has several sets of Colorforms. Table C, unattended for now, will be explained later. We’ve done our best to create capacity and mind space in the context of our corporate core values. Oh, a question? Yes, you there—thanks for reaching out. ‘What are those values,’ you ask? Let me take down your name…uh huh…we’ll deal with this offline. Begin, please…we expect 110 percent from everyone.

Well, now that you’ve had several minutes, I see that all of you at Table A are leveraging all available resources to accelerate innovation. Alas, we’re not sure that coloring within the lines demonstrates a sufficiently nimble reaction to the cultural zeitgeist. You, there, the one who has used a marker and a blank sheet to create a picture of your own. Why didn’t you color in the book? ‘There weren’t enough coloring books,’ you say? Well, you’ve clearly worked fluidly, efficiently, and agilely and are meant for something better—take your seat at Table C. But hmmm, this horned head you’ve drawn looks vaguely familiar.

Table B, Table B…yes, very nice Colorforms farmhouse scenes. You’ve achieved cross-functional alignment without getting into the weeds. But you—yes, you with the smirk—dispensed with the playboard altogether. I’m not sure I know what those animals are up to, but you’ve done even better than think outside the box. You also, take a seat at Table C.

A general word to all for a further measure of transparency: As a transformational company, we are committed to aligning and developing talent in a synergistic yet scalable way that maximizes social performance (you there, kindly put down that phone) and impacts the market beyond merely the low-hanging fruit of legacy strategies. But we can’t do this ourselves. Our doors are always open, and we encourage you to submit your idea for tomorrow’s robust application. We’ll talk that, run it up the flagpole and drill down.

That said, we have a hard stop at lunchtime, so I’ll make this short. You two at Table C, congratulations! Your training is complete: We’re creating two new management positions. For the rest of you, the next training session will complete your preparation for upcoming annual appraisals that we’ve updated for our aligned and data-driven organization. In other words, you’ll be evaluated based on the learnings we’re providing in this two-part program.

You’ve heard of the game “Chutes and Ladders”? Yes, we all played it as children. But business is what it is, so greater minds than ours have adapted the game for today. It’s a Corporate Edition we now call “Chutes and Dumpsters.” Yes, it gave me a chuckle, too. Innovation, advancement, progress—they’re what make America great. Now for refreshments…Kool-Aid, anyone?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Sorry, I’ve never riesled

He is always in black, which matches his long, flowing hair, goatee and baritone voice. In a ’70s horror flick, he would have played the coven’s high priest—one who does not understand the director’s order of Cuuuut! Or that he is acting in a movie. “But the sacrifice is not yet complete! It is Walpurgis Night!”

Today, he sells wine at my neighborhood liquor store.

His gaze is penetrating as he describes the personality of any wine, and he probably knows all the spirits, too. (They’re the tenured faculty of the Wiccan seminary.) And he is coldly serious as he holds forth about each wine’s complexity, acidity, aromas and other characteristics. I learned this after my wife, Elena, stopped in to ask him to recommend a wine we could serve with a given dish to company. For some reason I cannot fathom, she added this challenge: “My husband won’t be happy if I come home with the wrong wine.” She later reported that he began to stare. Very intently.

All of which meant that when she brought me to him, a few days later, his spigot was open all the way. “I find this one très elegante, a full-bodied bouquet of blackberry, cherry and currant, with an intense yet delicate aroma of oak.” As he spoke, one hand was gesturing; in the other, he seemed to be holding and staring wistfully into a glass of the stuff.

“Uh huh,” I said with a nod, trying to play along. Elena wasn’t doing much better, but she wasn’t the one granted the imprimatur of expertise.

“Or perhaps this Chianti, medium-bodied yet full-flavored,” he added as if recalling the company of a long-ago friend. “The delicate nose speaks of berry jam with floral hints and country nuances.”

I thought to ask how that worked anatomically but decided to take instead what, for me, was the high road. “Which one costs less?”

To the country-club set living all around us, he must seem a high priest of wine. The trouble is that such pretensions are wasted on the likes of me. I enjoy a good glass of wine, but if I wanted to pretend I knew the difference between Chablis and Riesling I’d have applied to work at Wine Enthusiast magazine, which is walking distance from the house. Mostly I make fun of the seriousness of it all and, now and then, pick some random wine myself just to see his expression.

And though I’d never act on it, I’ve been plotting to ask him, with all seriousness, whether a Merlot or a Pinot noir would go better with Dinty Moore Beef Stew. Or in what proportions I should mix red and white wine to make rosé. If I ever indulge this fantasy, I’d better have someone hold the door open: He’s certain to be a good shot with a dagger.

On days I truly feel too intimidated to meet his withering gaze, I remind myself I have an alternative. Even closer to home is another liquor store where I can pick up a wine of some vague hue without feeling I’ll say the wrong thing and end up manacled to a wall in the basement. So I haven’t exactly been worrying about the guy.

To tell the truth—for once—something came over me one day that I passed the store, on the way to the supermarket. I hadn’t realized I was habitually looking in to see if he was there, as if I believed I would one day spot him doing something completely out of character, such as laughing or doing anything whatsoever with a cellphone. He would invariably be there, whatever the day or time, as long as the liquor store was open. But this time I saw someone else. The next time, too. Was the high priest gone?

Whatever his name was, I realized I had misjudged this fellow and decided the world needed more people like him. If everyone felt such pride on the job and strove for excellence, the world would be a better place.

I was still wishing him a job as a sommelier at some exclusive Manhattan restaurant when I learned that he didn’t need a new job at all. My revelation came when we decided to drive to a local restaurant for dinner, and neither car would start—and not just because they’re old. Their distributor wires were missing.

Strung to the front door were a lifeless bird and a sprig of woodbine.

And under the door was an invitation. A limousine would soon arrive to take me, alone, to an unspecified event at our local cemetery. Since I would be guest of honor, I suspect I know who sent the invitation.

I daresay he’s taught me a bit about wine, but I guess I’ve taught him something, too. I’m no virginal, nubile female, the usual candidate for human sacrifice. But as with wine, sometimes anyone will do.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Check out my spare tire while you’re at it

Enjoying those long wait times in doctors’ waiting rooms? It’s looking like we’ll be some 90,000 doctors short by the time the last baby boomers skid toward retirement. But no worries: Soon we won’t need any doctors. Thanks to an uptick in laparoscopic surgery guided by people looking at computer screens, yet actually performed using robots, soon you won’t need a physician to operate or even do routine checkups. Nevertheless, you can’t have just anybody. So my vote goes to people with similar qualifications. Like Joe.

Joe is our mechanic, the guy who has kept two Toyotas running through the rough equivalent of 16 times around the earth. With such cred, he’s clearly meant for better things, which start with keeping two separate rag bins. What’s a physical but an inspection? Like any capable doctor, he’ll check that you start and idle properly, that you accelerate and cruise smoothly and work well in the clutch. By the time Joe is done, you’ll even run without jerkiness; he’s apparently a management consultant, too.

Take those creaky bones and sore muscles. To an orthopedist, they mean pain meds, cortisone shots, weeks of physical therapy and maybe surgery. Instead, we can call Joe the afternoon before and tell him the problem, which to him are a few hours and maybe new struts and shocks—suspension without the suspense. Spinal issues? It’s just another drive axle. “Come in by eight,” he says.

Digestive issues are no problem, either. Colon surgery, once a lengthy procedure requiring weeks of recovery, takes an afternoon—as long as he has the parts. The colon, of course, is mainly there to process the body’s waste products. “That’s a catalytic converter,” Joe tells me with a shrug. You’ll be happy to know he puts his rubber mallet to some good use before he fires up the welding torch. Hopefully, when you wake up you won’t roll over; you’ll be face-up on the lift.

And when the situation gets truly critical, such as heart surgery, Joe breaks out the lanolin hand cleaner. What’s a heart, after all, but a more elaborate internal-combustion engine? He’s done lots of valve jobs, and he’ll have your blood oxygen’s intake and exhaust as rhythmic as a Mazda Miata’s.

Unlike a doctor, Joe will charge nothing if we take in one of the cars for a perceived problem that turns out to need no attention. But when it comes to fixing people, it won’t long before insurance policies catch up—along with all those medical examiners. Repairs of all kinds, human or automotive, will require high-premium policies, thousand-dollar deductibles, and exclusions. And we’ll need weeks before an appointment, enough to blow your mind.

Not to worry, though. Joe replaces head gaskets, too.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Their just desserts

Today, I settle all family business. I steel my expression as I lace up my boots, the pair I wear only for certain work. I draw a long breath and close my home’s door behind me. The sun has risen; I’d better hurry. One last thought runs through my head: to cancel my plans and go back to bed. But I shake my head. I’ve a job. It’s what any red-blooded American would do.

My little Toyota wouldn’t do for my plans today, so I’ve rented a van. I needed one with a brand-new suspension and special racks in the rear, so I couldn’t get it from the likes of U-Haul. You can’t shake this kind of ammunition around much, you see. And maybe I’m overdoing it, but I specified a temperature-controlled vehicle. One wrong turn, after all, and someone would have a lot of cleanup.

Part of why I need to start off at dawn is to encounter certain people before they set out for the day—yes, it’s justice for the cheaters. My first stop is a roofer, right in town, whom we’d almost hired to clean algae off our roof with a spray cleaner that, it turned out, we could buy at Home Depot ourselves. To demonstrate, he’d sprayed some on a shingle and said we’d see the difference by morning. We didn’t. I get him as he’s loading his truck for the day, and the look on his face says he remembers me. He won’t forget this day.

Two others come next. One is a tile man we needed for a relatively mundane regrout and caulk job in the bathroom. The other, a chimney guy we needed for a cleaning and a chimney cap. Both had looked at their respective jobs at hand and said the same thing: “Ohhhhhhh, boooooyyyyy”—contractor-speak for “My kid is in college.” But I time my stops well and take both unawares, five miles apart, before their crews show up. There’s no mistaking what I have for them today, and next time they’ll know better. If there is a next time.

My next stop, naturally is the office. None of the security guards would ever suspect why I’m here today, on what’s supposed to be my day off. One even holds the door for me; I’m carrying a lot of weight, after all. Out of their sight, I don the full-face ski mask. I’m in luck, for my targets are all together in their usual conference room. The element of surprise, a few well-aimed shots and I’m done. One almost reaches the phone but doesn't make it. The stains might never come out.

A half-hour later I’m in Manhattan, where the first of the few remaining Presidential candidates is speaking. I can’t possibly get close; besides the crowd, there are Secret Service agents everywhere. Which is why I brought along my, um, “absentee ballot,” one you can’t get just anywhere. It’s a modern form of a medieval catapult, spring-loaded the same way but with a variable scope—and an effective half-mile range. I position the weapon slowly, precisely, and hit home on the first shot; I’ve seen American Sniper, after all. The crowd goes wild.

Ah, you’ve guessed that I’m merely indulging in one of my little fantasies, and I appreciate your patience. Have no fear, my feet are firmly planted in reality. After all, how could I possibly make, carry and deliver so many cream pies?

Monday, March 14, 2016

To sleep, perchance to scream

The very notion of a sleep clinic suggests a peaceful sanctuary, a sound-proofed facility with temperature and humidity control, a comfy bed, and absolutely no distractions—not even from the various professionals who would somehow, from behind the scenes, monitor my sleep. You might think of it as a hotel with the additional amenity of a sleep spa.

In your dreams.

As I recalled in my second visit to the sleep clinic, the only way to tell that I’m not sleeping properly is for someone to hook various electrical wires up to me. The attached machine records how I breathe, how often I wake up, roll over, play dead—oh sorry, that’s doggie obedience school—and collects other data.

Anyone who read about my previous overnight at the local sleep clinic would know I expected the worst. The same sleep center, last time around, seemed infested with Asian beetles. More orange than red, they’re as cute as the ladybugs they resemble but with a couple of minor differences: They’re larger, swarm by the thousands and prefer to raise their offspring indoors. Oh, and they bite—which did wonders for my anticipation of blissful sleep. At my last sleep study, I could hear their little feet on the lampshades and the acoustical tile of the ceiling. I didn’t see a single one this time. But just in case they planned to show up after lights out, I brought earplugs.

But of course, the noise wasn’t the greatest distraction. Neither were the two wide straps wrapped tightly around my torso. No, it was those wires, about twenty in all. Two pairs, attached to each leg, were barely noticeable. The rest? They led to my head, face and the vicinity, with electrical leads covered with a gob of conductive paste, which solidifies when pressed. Little pieces of bandage covered every gob so that I looked like I had been wearing an oversized deep-sea-diver helmet…with a ferret trapped inside.

All in all, there were enough wires tangled around my head that I resembled a male Medusa. I knew that if I had to use the bathroom, all I needed was to call out the technician’s name; hearing me on the intercom, he’d come to temporarily unplug the device to which the wires were connected. What I didn’t know was whether glancing at the mirror even once, in the bathroom, would turn me to stone.

Among other updates to the sleep center since my last visit was the mode of observation. My room last time had a window with two technicians behind, staring at me all night for my comfort. How times change. Now there’s an infrared camera that watches my every move—as if I could move given the attached imbroglio of wires. Since today’s remote cameras typically relay high-definition video to a smartphone or computer, I fully expect the video to emerge amid my 2024 run for President. “He uplinks to his Alpha Centurian masters at night!” my opponent will charge.

I was plainly too wired to sleep, so I thought I’d pretend I really were at a hotel. Three other patients—er, guests—were here tonight also, and the technician asked if I wanted water or fruit juice. (What, no cabernet?) So there was sort of room service. But the next morning, I found no complimentary breakfast. And while the bathroom had a towel or two, I found no little shampoos, soaps or moisturizers. Just wait till I hit TripAdvisor.

No matter what results I get, I already know my prognosis will be good. With two sleep-clinic visits under my belt, I know just how to go to sleep—and stay asleep till the morning. I merely have to remind myself how comfortable I feel when I’m not bound tightly in straps and wires, barely able to turn over, like at the sleep clinic. I’ll be afraid to open my eyes till dawn.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

So where was I?

I was still five, on my first day of school, when one of the St. Michael’s nuns inadvertently gave my sense of self-worth, or whatever it was called in the ’60s, a good, hearty spin. Nervous as I was, I could at least take comfort that my new classmates hadn’t been here before either, since the school had no kindergarten. Then Sister spoke to a boy standing among us in the schoolyard. “Tom, show the others how to line up in the auditorium…like you did last year.”

Like he did last year?

My parents, I was distraught to conclude, should not have sent me last year to kindergarten at the nearby public school. I was supposed to have been here at St. Michael’s, lining up again and again in the auditorium like Tom. On Day One of eight years at this school, I was already in the dark.

It’s because of this early memory—that feeling of being denied prior knowledge—that today I feel unsettled to hear a certain word at the beginning of a sentence. The word is “So.”

Of course, starting a sentence with “So” could make perfect sense, such as when two friends meet after some time apart: “So what’s up with you these days?”

I also find it useful in my shrugging response to a co-worker’s question of why I have mounted someone onto a meat hook I just happened to find in the copier room: “So he can’t get down.”

Otherwise, it has grown into the 21st century’s de rigueur verbal tic, what many of us innocently say instead of “Ummmm” or “Wellll….”

As with those fillers, hearing an occasional “so” at the beginning of a sentence is no big deal. But in rabid use, when nothing prior has occurred to justify the use of the word, it can be exasperating. Take when I first noticed its practice, during a brief interview with a young guy at the iRobot booth of one recent Consumer Electronics Show. He was demonstrating a robotic vacuum that could be used as a hands-free wet mop for bare floors.

“Is the product available now?” I asked.

“So you can buy it starting today.”

“Is $600 its price in stores?”

“So it will cost $600.”

“Does that price include any of the cleaning solution?”

“So you get a bottle with the product.”

My first impulse, always my most genuine, was to grab him by the lapel and smack his face back and forth a few times. “What’s the word?” I’d demand.


Smack smack smack. “What’s the word?” Watching gangster movies, you see, costs far less than journalism-school tuition—and is much more rewarding.


For some reason, they didn’t send me back to CES this year.

By this point, I’m convinced that many people inappropriately start sentences that way for the sheer pleasure of it, a way of throwing others off and giving the false impression that they, too, were lining up in the St. Michael’s auditorium while the rest of us were wetting their pants in kindergarten. And for those people, it’s time for a little quid pro quo, to quote a movie character who would never unjustifiably start a sentence with “So,” making him okay in my book.

I propose, in fact, that everyone who’s incensed by this practice join with me in throwing these villains similarly off guard. Let’s say your waiter, postal clerk or returns-counter staffer greets you with words preceded by an incongruous “so”—something along the lines of “So I’m Quincy, and I’m your server.”

• “Consequently, I’ll have the tripe parmegian.”

• “Therefore, I would like to mail this anthrax Priority Mail with Return Receipt.”

• “On the other hand, I have to return this cobra.”

I myself have resolved this moment never to begin a sentence in an unsettling way, and there’s one way to break this habit. Are you with me? I’ll tell you how…um, as soon as I ask Tom.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

As conspiracies go, it’s a stinker

Any one of us could count off a handful of conspiracy theories we’ve heard over past years, and it can be hard to keep them all straight. You know, like the myriad accusations of who put the Baab in the Al Shabaab Shabaab. With, of course, the related query of who put the Ram in the Ramadan-a-ding-dong.

I try not to give people who conjure up such fanciful notions very much encouragement. Other suspicions make much more sense—take, for example, the one about how the NSA won’t listen to your phone conversations if you imitate an accent sounding vaguely Mideastern. That’s why Elena and I have been careful about what we say aloud in our own home. It’s from the occasional visit of something resembling halyomorpha halys, a critter better known as the brown marmorated stink bug.

The real ones come from the vicinity of China, and they’re said to be a menace out in the garden. Their ugly little faces are outfitted with a natural straw they stick into fruits, vegetables and ornamentals to slurp up everything they’ve got. Indoors, though, they have no real purpose. They don’t bite, eat or reproduce. We don’t find many in the house, but when we do, they’re nearby— for instance, on the wall or curtain as we sit in the living room. Now and then one will take flight, buzzing around my head like a baby June bug, which is when it really gets annoying.

When we get one too many on a given day, I reassure Elena with the prospect that back in the Cretaceous Period, stink bugs were probably about six feet long and perhaps stood on their hind legs. Strangely, she doesn’t find this comforting.

That they have no reason whatsoever to be indoors, yet they occasionally come in, is all the evidence I need to attribute their entry to some entity with nefarious purposes, a.k.a. the government. Suppose the stink bugs that mysteriously make it inside the house only resemble those outside but are actually mobile listening devices? That deep buzz when one is flying could be its little motor, and the smell when you crush one is…need I say more?

I could have been convinced that I’ve been letting my imagination run away with me. That is, until I read about the Ehang 184 drone, which the Chinese (see?) manufacturer was showing at this month’s Consumer Electronic Show. Ehang calls it the world’s first autonomous flying taxi, large enough to carry one passenger, but I know better. It’s actually the Queen Stink Bug, which wirelessly issues orders to every presumptive halyomorpha halys that lands on your shoulder.

The company says the Ehang 184 runs on batteries. Still, I want a closer look, for every conspiracy requires the sniff test. Electric power or not, this giant drone has an exhaust somewhere.

You already know how it smells.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A germ of grievance

Read the news, and you can’t help but learn about the unrest at many college campuses over myriad offenses…some perfectly justified, some contrived. I can sympathize. There’s much to complain, after all, about an insular institution where the cost of room, board, and other essentials is borne by others, and most activities are set according to a schedule—oh wait, that’s jail.

But because protests at Yale, Princeton, and other top colleges seem trivial compared with, oh, ISIS chopping off Christians’ heads, the collective term for students’ beefs has come to be known as “microaggressions.” Oops! Even my use of the word “beefs” in the previous sentence could classify as microaggression to a vegetarian. Ah, for my salad days. (Better?) You should know you’re overdoing things when even the President says to grow up.

All this thought about everything I could never again say in once-casual conversation made me seek out one place I’d be safe: the living-room sofa. I would just lie down for a few minutes and clear my head. Soon after I did, though, I heard high-pitched, staccato sounds from the kitchen. Elena was working in the other room, so it wasn’t anything she was doing. Nobody else was home.

I couldn’t see anything, but the sound was coming from the trashcan. I opened it and saw nothing inside the liner but a sponge we’d tossed out. Picking up the sponge—from which the sound was coming—I put it close to my ear. Yep, that was it. I dropped the sponge back into the can, deciding that what I’d heard was the sound of air escaping from the sponge. Then I decided to wash my hands.

Once in the bathroom, I opened the vanity door to get another bar of soap. And heard the sound again, only louder. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it sounded like the tiniest of people chanting something over and over. The sound came from near the can of scouring powder, the one with bleach. I grabbed a bar of soap, closed the little cabinet and washed my hands. But behind me, once I shut off the water, I heard the sound again. I opened the shower curtain and leaned in. This time, it was coming from a little shelf on which was a bottle of body wash. Anti-bacterial body wash. I could almost see what I was hearing.

It took a few minutes to find the old microscope from my elementary-school days, but before long I’d rubbed off some sort of specimen from around the base of the bottle. I prepped a slide, clipped it down, and look a good look:

You’d never guess that bacteria had language skills, but there they were on display. I still couldn’t make out what they were saying, let alone how they spoke at all. But their little signs—apparently ultra-nanofine markers exist—decried our various offenses, such as tossing a sponge, cleaning with bleach and committing the ultimate sin: murder by triclosan. By further adjusting the focus, I could read the largest signs. The spelling wasn’t perfect (whattaya want from one-celled organisms?), but the messages were clear:


In other words, we multicellular imperialists needed to apologize, remove the hateful cleaning products from the premises and preserve their ancestry (formerly known as “icky kitchen sponges”) in the utensil drawer.

I had met the microaggressors, and they were us.

With a shake of my head, I realized that I’d fallen asleep, and all those little protests were but a dream. Still, I thought as I sat up, there was no point in taking chances. “Hey, Hon,” I called out to Elena. “Let’s eat out tonight. I’ve just the place! Chipotle’s….”