On One Hand

November 28, 2005


Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 1:30 am

November’s National Geographic says that 90% of the cells in a human’s body are not human cells, but rather, single-celled organisms. That is to say that there are ten times as many bacteria, fungi and protozoans living in your digestive system, on your skin, in your mouth, under your eyelids, in your hair follicles and in other bodily crevasses than there are cells that came from the original embryo that contained your characteristic DNA. The bacterial cells are usually much smaller than your own cells, so by weight and appearance you are mostly human. But the dominance of these foreign creatures in your body is clear – don’t think that somehow you are special and don’t have them. These organisms are so important that you would quickly become ill if they were gone: they help digest your food, stimulate your immune system, ward off pathogens, and provide each person with his or her own characteristic smell. You need them as much as they need you to live.

I remember when I started dating Matt. When we first kissed he tasted like toothpaste and chapstick, but the morning after his mouth was as awful as anyone’s mouth would be after sixteen hours of oral sex and licking tonsils and spending a drunken night at a friend’s place without a toothbrush or listerine. I assume he found my own mouth to be similarly foul. Yet after we dated for a few weeks, all of his odors became my own odors, and even when we both had morning breath we could kiss and taste nothing but a resemblance of our own mouths. Our bodies smelled the same, too. Through weeks of extreme intimacy, Matt and I essentially (and I acknowledge that this is gross) had come to share all each others’ bacteria, so it is not only a figure of speech when I now say that, months after our relationship has ended, I still carry a part of him with me.

(It also explains why I have more flashback thoughts of him when I haven’t showered in a while.)

I have been a nomad this semester. There have been weeks when I slept at home two or three nights out of seven, spending all other evenings with friends. I’ve explained before that I wasn’t necessarily having sex: I just enjoy being in bed with people. Physical affection stabilizes my highly variable moods. It helps me feel connected to others. It stimulates my creativity. It gives me life experience. In a lot of good ways, avoiding solitude makes me more of who I am.

As a nomad I learned that it’s good to bring a toothbrush wherever you go, because nomads never know if they’ll make it home that night and because going a long time without brushing your teeth can be awful. This is especially true when things like 1) oral sex and 2) kissing occur. It’s the case more often now that I’m actually dating someone again rather than spending less-intimate nights with many people.

But I still never remember to pack socks. And since for a long time I didn’t do laundry, I began recycling dirty socks regularly, though (and I acknowledge that this is gross) the millions of bacteria and fungi that inevitably live there were thus given an excellent opportunity to reproduce to numbers that would throw off the delicate balance between them and me.

So I just noticed that I have this patch of really raw, peeling skin between two toes on my left foot. I think it’s athlete’s foot. Thankfully the spot is small, and the ridiculousness of my lifestyle means that the pathogens probably won’t be as successful anymore if I just resolve to change it. But it still sort of sucks, because it’s gross, and I’m looking through WebMD to find any sort of home-remedy I can. The Internet recommends vinegar and tea tree oil, and fortunately (the odds!) I have both.

Note to Self: put 2 pairs of clean socks in backpack.

Anyway, I’m dead serious about the National Geographic article. You can pick it up if you want: leaf through the mini pre-articles before the longer pieces start, and you’ll find out what I’m talking about.



  1. This reminds me of something. I’ve always wanted to write a story where the main character leaves his apartment for a night of clubbing and on his way out the door he sticks his toothbrush in his pocket. Just thought that would be kinda funny.

    Comment by randomcha — November 28, 2005 @ 4:10 pm | Reply

    • Hey, I do it all the time. You could name your character after me.

      Comment by ononehand — November 28, 2005 @ 6:26 pm | Reply

  2. Smells have always been something that has bothered me a little. But, I find it intereting that even when you both have bad breath, if you’ve been together for a while it disappears! I still feel uncomfortable kissing without a breath mint or gum, though.

    Comment by matthewtroxel — November 29, 2005 @ 5:12 am | Reply

  3. About three years ago I figured out that you should always have in your trunk a bag with four changes of clothes and a bathroom kit. You never know when a friend that lives four hours away will call and desperately need you to drop everything and go.

    Or it could be that you’re over at a buddy’s house and don’t want to go home.

    Or (this happened to me recently) you could split the seat of your brand new jeans in the middle of the work day.

    Comment by bradfordneal — November 30, 2005 @ 4:12 am | Reply

  4. The most interesting aspect of that article for me was the idea that the micrboes in our gut may in fact be modifying humans themselves to better suit their needs. That part of our evolution is in the hands of microbes. Although viruses are known to induce mutation and contribute to our evolution as well- so it really isn’t all that shocking I suppose. Of course the viral mutations would essentially be random while the microbes would be applying evolutionary pressure on us to better suit them.

    Well anyways- it’s fascinating no matter what.

    Comment by montgomery_zatt — December 20, 2005 @ 10:53 pm | Reply

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