Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Marvelous creatures

There's a popular saying in French: "Tell me what you read, and I'll tell you who you are." In fact, it's an entire family of sayings, generated by replacing "read" by any other verb that enters your imagination. For example, a widespread variant: "Tell me what you eat, and I'll tell you who you are." The general idea is that such-and-such an aspect of your behavior is immensely revealing in a global sense.

I would be happy if the following subtle variation on this saying were to be applied, by friends, to me: "William, tell me what you admire in such-and-such a creature, and I'll tell you who you are." If friends were to address me in this manner, and they were to listen to what I had to say, their analyses of my trivial statements would have the sanctity of a prayer. They would be spot on. Take this splendid American goat, for example:

This female animal—whom I shall name Jeanie (with a single "n", please; see my PS), evoking genes—was created by means of genetic engineering. In other words, she's a kind of visitor from outer space. She looks like a goat, and she probably behaves like a goat. Humans who are so hungry that they're prepared to eat goat meat might even decide to kill this animal, cut up her carcass, cook the fragments and eat them... and they would surely conclude that the dear departed creature actually tasted like a goat. But Jeanie is no ordinary goat, for her DNA incorporates a human gene! And it wouldn't be wise to serve Jeanie up on a plate and eat her. Because your delicately-engineered asshole (not to mention more distinguished elements of your anatomy) might suddenly start to glow in a phosphorescent green, or send out Technicolor sparks, or anything whatsoever... because we simply do not know how genetically-engineered creatures such as Jeanie might fit into our archaic world. Consequently, it would be wise, at least for the moment, to prevent Jeanie from going out on the town of a Saturday evening, and screwing around with any old billy-goat at all.

Meanwhile, Jeanie provides us with huge quantities of a precious protein called antithrombin, capable of preventing fatal blood clots in certain sick humans. Jeanie might be obliged to remain forever cloistered in a convent, like a saint with genetic stigmata, but the benefits of her existence impinge upon countless humans.

So, there you are. I've told you what I admire about the marvelous goat Jeanie. But frankly, even though you might have certain ideas on the subject, I don't think it's all that important to talk, now, about who I might be. Because everybody knows...

POST SCRIPTUM: Why have I christened this fine goat Jeanie? In 1952, a Hollywood musical incorporated a catching soft song with the refrain: "I dream of Jeanie with her light brown hair."

The tender female in question was a pale-skinned romantic Old World lass, initially portrayed by an ethereal Andrea Leeds in Swanee. Well, by chance, at that time (when I was starting high school in Grafton), my paternal grandparents, Pop and Ma, happened to employ an Aboriginal girl named Jeanie in their house at 12 Robinson Avenue. Now, lovely Jeanie (whom I remember so well) was uniformly ebony from top to bottom, including her thick black hair. In a dimly-lit bedroom, you would catch no more than the glimmer in her eyes and a flash of her pearl-white teeth. The refined sense of humor of my grandfather (whose manners remained forever strictly Victorian) extended often to mentioning with a grin, but ever so politely, their dear "Jeanie with her light brown hair".

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