Friday, July 17, 2015

When Bad Brains Happen to Good People

Recently, I received a catalog from “The Vermont Country Store.”  Its products are an excursion in nostalgia, and include everything from Old Spice soap-on-a-rope to Midnight In Paris perfume.  Ah, the memories of the olfactory. 

Coincidentally, I had just been watching a rerun of the original “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die,” and was craving a Kress hot dog with relish. 

It was then that I noticed the headlines of the Tribune proclaiming the news:  Dracula was dead!  Christopher Lee, the actor who portrayed the iconic figure of fear, was 93 at the time of his passing.  (I thought he was much older.)   Oh, that face, that fiend, those fangs…gone!

Lee had been knighted by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace, and became “Sir” Christopher Lee.  But titles be danged.  He will always be “Count” Dracula to me.

As the intricate iconic creature conjured from the stuff of nightmares by Bram Stoker, the guy transformed coagulating blood clots into full course meals, extracted from the jugulars of willowy but stupid blond women.  (He liked stupid brunettes, too.) 

This vampire would materialize from the misty woods all spooky, incandescent, aerodynamic, and morph from biped to bat in the twinkling of an eye, catapulting me into oxygen debt.  His was a strange and palpable menace that unnerved me to the core.  After seeing “Horror of Dracula,” I kept telling myself that this was preposterous , fictional nonsense, but I could never quite shake the feeling I was being watched.  (I, too, am blond, stupid and endowed with fully-engorged corpuscles.)  I draped my windows with garlic left over from dinner to push down my unease, and I filled my emergency first-aid kit with sharpened steak knives.  (It was the closest thing to actual stakes I could find.)

And there was never any comic relief in these Hammer movies.  Dracula was no Uncle Fester.  He was a graduate emeritus from the School of the Disembodied. He was impulse without conscience.  
His eyes were hollow with shadows underneath.  He’d pull back his Mick Jagger lips and unsheathe incisors searching for high volume capillaries for his nocturnal banquet.  (He was on a totally liquid diet.) His pointy fangs were self-correcting devices concealed behind a pasty mouth, capable of puncturing a carotid artery with the surgical skill of Nurse Ratchet.  The singular incriminating evidence of his presence were two puncture wounds on the victim’s neck that only Dr. Van Helsing knew were not mosquito bites, but the sinister ravages of a fiend bent on binge sucking from the jugulars of the vacuously dull-witted.

This is all prelude to the ultimate question. With Dracula down for the count comes this simple dilemma:  Now, what have I to fear?  It’s certainly not fear itself.  Maybe I should go for delusional paranoia. That covers a multitude of possibilities for dread and is also vocabularily impressive. Of course, the up-coming presidential elections are enough to strike fear even in the stout-hearted.  What a conundrum.  Surely we’re not  expected to live life undaunted, without a single daunt.  We must have something to be afraid of.

 I suppose we all have moments when hiding under the covers is the only solution to a bad case of “The Creeps.”  I have times when I wish I had a purely ornamental African war mask to hide behind.  Then I get a glimpse of myself first thing in the morning and realize…I do. 

I no longer fret about alien abduction.  That’s sooo last year.  That phobia has since been replaced by something more sinister, more ominous:  my personal suspicion that our brains have become weakened by too much intellectual inbreeding from today’s technology.  Like The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. Now there’s a reason for trepidation.  It has turned us into a nation of feeble minds, spongey cortexes, where we only communicate in abbrs. and smiley faces.  :)

In fact, I read recently that goldfish have a longer attention span than most people:  Goldfish – 9 seconds;  Humans – 8. Wow! Bested by a set of gills and a pucker.   I had rather hoped mankind was a little higher up on the evolutionary scale.  I stand corrected.

Species evolve according to what they’re good at.  I have always wanted to evolve into a powerful mind, one with an attention span that might expand to 10 seconds…and even beyond.  I don’t need the intellectual huskiness to break cinder blocks.  But I would like to bend spoons with my mind.  And I don’t want to rely on technology to do it.

I want to generate wildly complicated concepts like abstract reasoning, humor, logic, deduction and imagination, concentration, and mental engineering.  I want to be the anti-Donald Trump. 
I’d like to deliver a sermon like the Gettysburg Address or Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.  Sadly, the closest I can get to Dr. King’s address is “I.  HAVE.  INSOMNIA.”    Doesn’t have the same ring.

It seems the brain actually needs to have sleep to have a dream.  Hmmmm.  I always considered sleep an expendable commodity.  Whenever  I had too much to do, I would simply go to bed later and get up earlier.  I would out-run the sun.  What could possibly go wrong?

Apparently everything.

Insufficient sleep has side effects.  I can bear witness.  I suffer from wheezing levers and my steam engine is out of steam.  I pant before I exert.  Not good.

I just learned that bodies NEED sleep.  When we sleep, our brain goes into housekeeping mode, and cerebrospinal fluid mops away metabolic wastes that have accumulated during the day. 
It appears  I have been hoarding  metabolic wastes over the years.  My head is full of mental clutter; dust bunnies of the brain.  I have a slovenly cranium.

Lack of sleep causes us to be unable to concentrate, grumpy (oh, yeah!) accident prone, clumsy, forgetful…and I can’t remember what else. 

Toxic waste products collect in the brain (aka “brain poop”) and this results in brain shrinkage.  Seriously, brain shrinkage???  (Although I must admit I often get lost in small thoughts…teeny, weeny microscopic thoughts.)

The brain areas where cells are lost are the ones that regulate decision-making, emotions, alertness, learning, attention, recall, memory, and…I lost my train of thought. 

This condition is known as BAD BRAINS IN GOOD PEOPLE.

I suffer from this affliction.  I waddle through my day with the heavy inertia of the sleep deprived, like I’ve been non-surgically lobotomized.  I can’t seem to decide if I should stage my own intervention and commit myself to an institution for the criminally geriatric, or write a book of memoirs based on the decomposition of brain cells called “50 Shades of Gray…Matter.”

Insomnia cannibalizes the brain. So does technology.  Therefore, after 8 seconds of monumental concentration, I’ve come up with a plan.  I have decided to get more sleep. And then I’m going to buy a goldfish to gauge any improvement in mental acuity, and try to elevate my intellect to a level of inspired befuddlement.  I’ll become a GEYSER OF JOYFUL ERUDITION!

I will up my torque ratio, whatever that is, and smother my brain in muscle.  I’m tired of midgety synapses.  No more brain flab.  I’ll immerse myself in sleep, until I’m neurologically ripped.  I will wither the world’s phrenologists with awe, and live out my life in tranquil cognition.

I will reverse the ravages of Bad Brains In Good People Syndrome, and when I’m done, I will bend not just spoons, but all the steak knives I’ve been hoarding in my storage supply for emergency vampire invasions.

But I must admit I would like to return to a simpler time, to the days of yore when Kress, not Costco, supplied all our nutritional needs, real men smelled like Old Spice and women like Midnight in Paris, “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” was playing at the Bijou, there were no computers, and the only thing we had to fear was…Dracula himself.