In Greek legend, the Sphinx devoured all travelers who could not answer the riddle it posed: “What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?” The hero Oedipus gave the answer, “Man,” causing the Sphinx’s death.
For as long as I can remember, it has been the noontime of my life… I’ve walked on two legs. Over the past few years I have been diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy and tend to teeter and, sometimes, topple. Now, as I contemplate the use of a cane, all of my high school classmates’ long-held suspicions as to Jim Powell being “seriously unbalanced” have been confirmed.
But there is a bright side in the turn my daily routine has taken. As my body begins to fail me my mind, or at least my perception of it, is reaching new heights. Almost on a daily bases I have an experience that triggers a recollection, that triggers a comparison that, in turn, triggers a conclusion. If, in retrospect, I can go back and tie a few of these happenings and concepts together in a logical and cognitive narrative–I might be able to put something in writing that, although proving painfully unreadable, could baffle psychiatrists for years to come.
Let’s start with last week when I stumbled on a National Geographic TV documentary … Wild Scotland. While being entertained, I learned that Reindeer are a polygynous specie. This means that male reproductive success is directly correlated with the dominance status of individual males (in school-yard parlance, this equates to: “the class bully gets dibs on screwing all the chicks”). I also learned that Reindeer are unique in that both males and females grow horns. Males, as could be expected, use theirs to fight each other to compete for mating rights but no explanation was offered to explain why the ladies were so endowed. It was also very interesting that, almost as an afterthought, we were told that the bulls would shed their huge racks in a molting process each year after mating but that females never lose theirs.
In the late 1960’s I read a book entitled The Naked Ape authored by a zoologist named Desmond Morris. It was from this book that I extracted an evolutionary proposition and embraced it as a life-long fundamental truth. I did so by accepting the fact that man, like most animals, has evolved … and simultaneously agreeing with the author in concluding that this human evolution has not achieved the same results in both men and women. With this as my justification–I openly opine:
When even the most dominate and testosterone laden of pre-historic men realized that the dangerous task of tracking and killing large mammals for food required the banding together with other men, all armed with spears and clubs … he would soon come to the realization that it probably would not be a good idea to have regularly shared his bed with one of their women, much less–all of their women. This practice of unspoken reliance and loyalty in primitive bands of hunters is evident today in the way men feel about the guy next to them on the football line of scrimmage, in a hazardous workplace, or in a foxhole. With a few unfortunate exceptions … if you count on him, if you respect him, or if for any reason he is charged with having your back–you don’t mess around with her!
Meanwhile, back in the cave: to quote an old acquaintance … “women can be treacherous”. Realizing that the father of her children and the man she is counting on to bring home food and animal skins might not return from hunting the woolly mammoth and saber-toothed tiger, the female of the specie was evolving with a different mind-set and priorities. Female humans, as with most primate species, need many resources to support their maternal fulfillment. Primate offspring are altricial rather than precocial. They are born helpless and are dependent on their mothers for several years. This being the case, the pre-historic woman lived in constant fear of the possibility of the death of her man. The hardship that would follow could lead to neglect, exile, and even starvation for her and her young ones.
Even if her provider did return from the hunt, she would have realized that any death in the hunting party and the resulting creation, back in the cave, of a de facto widow would pose a threat to her and her offspring. What if the girl in the next cavern cubical were to lose her man? Worse yet, what if that other woman was younger, had prettier hair, no children, a dynamite figure, and her breasts didn’t sag? How long would it be before that, now unattached, gal started wiggling her barely covered rear end as she sought solace in her grief around the communal camp fire?
Need I say that abandonment, promiscuity, and adultery were concepts that had not been fully recognized or subscribed to by the fur and loincloth clad men that would have been stoking the flames of that fire. Everyone knew what the situation was–if this widowed woman was to survive, she needed to find another man and she didn’t have much time. Without a provider of food and shelter she would, in time, surely weaken and die but a much more sinister and immediate danger was at hand … the other ladies in the cave.
As man was evolving to put his trust in other men, woman came to the realization that other women in the cave potentially posed the greatest danger she and, more importantly, her children would ever face.
No, man is not a fallen angel, but a risen ape, remarkable in his resilience, energy, and imagination–yet an animal nonetheless and as I get older, I’m both more religious in my aspirations and more observant of my surroundings. I spend time looking up at the clouds and wondering what it will be like to be reunited with my mother and father while my Creator looks on. That same day might find me praying that the Good Lord will take me first because I don’t want to be left on this earth alone. I feel this way for a most selfish reason … I would make a terrible bachelor and I’m deathly afraid of becoming a target for “the Casserole Ladies”.
Nick Coppola, one of my best friends in life, lived for quite a few years after his wife Marcy passed away. Within days of him becoming a widower, half the ladies in the condo where he lived started showing up with casseroles and offers to stay and show him how to warm them up (the food dish–I presume). Naturally, invitations to come to their abode for dinner were soon to follow. Nick came to the realization very quickly that he, and the female population around him, had come full circle in the naked ape’s evolutionary progression. There were no large mammals to hunt and there was no band of armed hunters in the condo cave that he and his female suiters had created but, innocent and unknowingly, he had become a virtually unchallenged dominate male. At his age his horns had long since fallen away and would never return, but those of his suddenly attentive neighbors were very evident in the casseroles that began to stack up in his refrigerator.
Nick was lonely but also wise enough to recognize that he was surrounded by beings that had not evolved the same as he, or any other man for that matter. The female humans around him, like the reindeer doe, had never molted. Their children had left the nest years ago, but they were still firmly in the grasp of evolutionary need. They were in a post-menopausal state of horniness and were engaged with the other condo ladies in fierce culinary combat for his affections.
As the years went by, Nick was successful in avoiding the matrimonial overtures of his suiters. Adhering to the Sphinx, he eventually began walking on three legs, took more pees and afternoon naps, and in general was very content with the latter-years lifestyle he had chosen. Yes, he had escaped the evolutionary trap that had threatened his solitude. The only remorse he ever expressed came in a moment of poignant reflection when he admitted to me that he did “sorta miss the casseroles.”