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Alaskan Range: I Write To Be Happy

Greg Hill says that writing columns enables him to wallow in the fount of knoweldge stored in the public library in Fairbanks, Alasaka.

My dad was the crooner and only male member of the Hardin-Simmons University Cowgirl Band in the late 1940s. Consequently, I grew up hearing lots of olden, sometimes esoteric songs. I’m usually able to trace their original versions, but one eludes me. It begins like the intro to “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm?”: “Reuben, Reuben, I’ve been thinking.” My dad’s version continues with “How to keep your feet from stinking?/ Wash them once or twice a week./ That’ll keep them very sweet.” The closest I’ve come version to Dad’s version was on an oral history website, http://www.folkstreams.net except it began “Daddy, Daddy, I’ve been thinking.

Dad’s feet really did smell. A veteran of the Guadalcanal jungles, he’d acquired some unusual fungi, and his feet were notably redolent. Howstuffworks.com tells us that sweat, being water and salt, is virtually scent-free, and most foot odor “is actually caused by bacteria on our skin that eats the sweat and excretes waste that has a strong odor.” Moreover, “every square inch of skin on the human body has about 32 million bacteria on it,” and each foot contains 250,000 sweat glands, enough to crank out a pint of sweat per foot per day.

Some of the natural remedies listed on Howstuffworks.com are intriguing, like soaking feet in salty water or black tea and not rinsing them which helps reduce sweat flow. Try spraying them with a solution of two dozen radishes’ juice mixed with glycerin, or rubbing them with fresh ginger juice. You can also mitigate stinky feet by washing them regularly with antibacterial soap and allowing shoes to air out for 24 hours after being worn. Changing socks several times a day also helps, something a certain fox apparently never considered.

This was Dr. Seuss’ Fox in Socks, the title character of the 1965 book. It closely resembles its more popular predecessor, the immortal “Green Eggs and Ham,” in which a obsessive-compulsive character named Sam fixates on convincing another, unnamed, character to eat the title breakfast. The Fox is equally driven to inflict his personal mania on others, but his forte is the tongue twister. “Fox in Socks” is one of Dr. Seuss’ Beginning Reader books that’s described as "an amusing exercise for beginning readers.” But tongue twisters can be traumatic for children with speaking difficulties.

Humans are physiological marvels. For instance, we shed 600,000 skin particles every hour, or 1.5 pounds a year. We make new stomach linings every three or four days, since our stomach acids would eat through it otherwise. We could fill two standard swimming pools by saving up a lifetime of our spit, some 25,000 quarts. And eighty percent of stutters are male.

Stuttering is caused by abnormal contractions of speech muscles and by “negative psychological reactions resulting from muscle ‘misbehavior.’ ” According to some researchers, the condition can be alleviated by using the Valsalva Control method. Antonio Maria Valsalva was a 17th century Italian anatomist who specialized in ears. He found that holding one’s breath, as in lifting heavy loads, affects the ears, and it’s been found to affect many other medical concerns. The website http://www.valsalva.org says holding the breath like a weightlifter can help stutters by breaking stuttering cycles so they can speak the words they desire.

Verbal repetition isn’t always bad. The advisors at http://grammar.about.com say “needless repetition that only clutters our writing should be avoided, but the careful repetition of key words and phrases can be an effective strategy for fashioning coherent paragraphs.” For example, the Nobel Prize acceptance speech by Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk asks, “Why do I write? I write because I have an innate need to write. I write because I can’t do normal work.” He then names nineteen other reasons he writes, concluding with, “I write to be happy.”

I agree with his last reason. Writing this column allows me to wallow in the fount of knowledge that is our public library, frame my thoughts in words, and share them. But personal tastes vary, and as Mr. Krabs of SpongeBob SquarePants once asked, “Do you smell it? That smell. A kind of smelly smell. The smelly smell that smells.”


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