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Dear John

The moon in June. And little eels of moonlight in the Hudson River. On the left bank, my mother and father are in bed, cuddling, turning the lamp with the crewel-worked cotton shade off, the radio with the yellow celluloid dial on. To the music of

Whispering, while you cuddle near me,
Whispering, so no one will hear me,

a crooner on the Blue Network of NBC.

"I don't know where it is," my father whispers.

"Oh, this has to happen to me," my nice mother doesn't whisper. But thinks it.

"I don't know how," my father whispers.

Far below, the newlyweds hear the horns of the river tugboats. Shh, let us tiptoe out to look in six hours later, when, in the motionless bed, in the right (or is it the left? my source doesn't know)--in a murky fallopian tube in Manhattan my autobiography begins. A tenth of a millimeter long and a microgram in weight--hello, my self at sunrise was a wet white caviar egg in whose yolk were forty-four chromosomes (a mouse has forty, a skunk has fifty, and I had forty-four chromosomes) and an x sex chromosome and a y sex chromosome: the algebra for a snip, a snail, and a puppy's tail or the raw material that a little boy's made of. And nothing else--no, there wasn't even an umbilical cord to connect me to Mommy. At this young age, I was perhaps hasty to try to do God's own miracle: to create a baby boy of this unpromising goo. Consider: I was without instructions in that lonely abdomen in Manhattan. I bad none of the leaflets like in erector sets to illustrate where to put all the wing nuts, and I couldn't read one if I had one. I didn't have a headphone set on which pediatricians at mission control could tell me, "Sack, at 0600 hours commence mitosis."

"Holoblastically, sir?"


A babe in the ever-loving woods, that was me. An innocent in that broad forest of fimbriae--a zygote, though, who understood that a trip of ten thousand miles commences with a single step. So squeezing myself like a toothpaste tube, I got those chromosomes to my mitotic equator and I put their centromeres along it. A helix inside of a helix, my deoxyribonucleic acid was a spool of wool which kittens had gotten into, but I used polymerase to unwind it at--would you believe it? ten thousand r.p.m. A yo heave ho, to the centrosomes went the chromatids of the chromosomes, and zap: I succeeded and I was two little cells. Yet even today what can I say when someone says, "You little bugger! How did you know how to do it?" Is it honest to answer, "It was beginner's luck," or "I had this system, see?" No, I simply knew it, a birdie told me--and twelve hours more and I was four little cells, and twelve more and I was eight: sixteen: a month later and I was taller, fatter, heavier by eight thousand fold. A quarter inch high, I had already made me four little thumblike limbs--a pair of arms with hands and a pair of legs with feet, which (yes, I knew intuitively that my feet were for walking on) had extra layers of skin on their soles like the calluses on an embryo camel's knees and the ones on an embryo warthog's wrists to kneel upon in their extrauterine life. I had already made me a nose which could, in time, smell vanilla in ten million parts of air, two ears whose range from the softest to the loudest sound would be one trillion times, and two eyes whose range would be one hundred trillion times: to look at the sun and to see a lit match at fifty miles. I had made myself gills in the loving memory of my ancestry: ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny and I knew it at minus nine months old. Hooray for me, I tell you! I had made me a heart that beat.

Is it presumptuous to compare myself to Coleridge, the English poet? In his sleep he wrote two to three hundred lines of marvelous poetry, though when he awoke he remembered only,

Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man,

and fifty more. Asleep, Voltaire wrote much of La Henriade, Stevenson The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dorothy Parker

Hoggimous, higgimous,
Men are polygamous,
Higgimous, hoggimous,
Women monogamous.

Tartini was fast asleep when he dreamt that the Devil was playing a violin sonata that he--Tartini, on waking up--scribbled down as The Devil's Sonata. Shall we go on? While catching some z's, Howe was attacked by a cannibal with a spear shaped like a, eureka, sewing-machine needle, and Kekule was approached by a snake shaped like a ("Suddenly, what was this?" Kekule tells us. "The snake took hold of its tail") a benzene molecule. A golfer, Nicklaus, was sound asleep when he dreamt that his thumb should go so and thereupon won the U.S. Open. All very well, I say, but I wasn't simply asleep, I was totally zonko when I created a blessed human being. A miracle--why, to make one little fingernail is a job requiring a thousand words in Patten's Human Embryology ("The nail develops from the undertucked epithelium and the proximal part of--")

In my ninth month, I decided (I did, though except for Hippocrates the doctors had not yet acknowledged it)--I decided to become born. Accordingly, my adrenals created a millionth of one microgram of estrogen or, perhaps, cortisol--I forget, "I regret that I was not as wise as the day I was born," Thoreau. As it passed into my mother's womb, the white estrogen--as I had intended--or the cortisol labilized her decidual lysosomes, which, in their astonishment, released some of their prostaglandin synthase, which, is everyone with me? converted her arachidonic acid to prostaglandin f-two-alpha, and her contractions began. "Jack, I'm beginning to feel it," she reported to Daddy, who, putting the radio with the yellow celluloid dial in his 1922 sedan, was soon driving us to Fifth Avenue Hospital in Manhattan. But the hospital room was on DC and the radio was on AC or else vice versa: my source remembereth not, and as the doctor came up the hospital elevator my father was running to and fro, looking saucer-eyed. My mother's sister accosted him.

"What's wrong, Jack?"

"I'm looking for the electrician!"

"She doesn't need the electrician!"

"But the radio doesn't--"

"She doesn't need the radio!"

The doctor, Leon Loizeaux, had now taken off his black frock coat, his red-piped vest, his red bow tie, his wing collar, his shirt, his pants, and, having put on a gown, already was in his seventh minute of washing up. His very efficiency is what recommended him to my Mommy. A nurse at this very hospital, my mother used to assist at the doctors' deliveries--or tried to but fainted at the first blessed event. "Help her," the obstetrician cried, and the other nurses carried her to the nearest room: the labor room. My mother lay in the bed there thinking, Oh, goodness gracious, out of that little hole--a baby boy, and tears rolled down my mother's cheeks. And then the doctor hurried in, "You thought that the stork would bring it?"

"Oh no," she sobbed, embarrassed at not conversing with him as she had been taught to: arms behind her, thumbs interlocked. "It was just so emotional!"

At any rate, my mother knew that no other obstetrician was as intently efficient as Loizeaux, from scrubbing himself three times to thanking each of the nurses afterwards, patting each on the shoulder once. No nonsense for Leon Loizeaux! He didn't goose anyone or, like some other doctors, accompany a mother's moans with a popular song like

Horses, horses, horses,
Crazy about horses, horses, horses,

no: there wouldn't be horseplay in the delivery room for Mommy, who paid three hundred dollars for Doctor L.

Now, Loizeaux, who had delivered babies in Iowa in the nineteenth century, driving by horse and buggy to the farmhouses there, and who had delivered ten thousand since then (and who, God bless him, is still alive: to your good health, doctor)--can be forgiven for thinking that he, rather than I, was creating me. In his misapprehension, he laid my mother out on a flat contraption that the docteur devised for Louis XIV--for Louis, a seventeenth century peeping tom, had wanted to watch through a curtain crack, that is the honest truth. To see better too, my mother's doctor used one of these delivery tables--to lie underneath a birthing stool as I came plopping like out of a gumball machine might seem to Loizeaux inefficient as well as infra dig. And though, unlike in some other cultures, be didn't do apache dances around the delivery room or gallop in on an appaloosa to frighten the dumb little embryo out, he followed the SOP and strapped down my mother's legs, set an anesthesia mask on her face, administered ether and, as she slept unawares, cried, "Scissors!" "Sponge!" "Her blood pressure, nurse!" In the absence of air conditioning, the lights sent the temperature to one hundred degrees, and the sweat stood out on Loizeaux's brow. A nurse with a washcloth wiped it, but the sweat trickled down his legs right into his shoes until the unprecedented moment when--waaa, the author of this very paragraph appeared.

Oh reader! If you were only there! To see this fruit of my nine months' work--of my single-handed labor in my mother's womb! Oh, you would see me, and tossing your hat to the heavens would say, "Glory be! Two eyes! Two ears! A nose with nostrils, a mouth with lips! Ten fingers! Ten toes! He did it! He did it! He did it!"

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