Another view of you
Ping the pug trotted into the kitchen before dawn this morning, skidding two or three feet beyond the refrigerator, which was his target. His tiny toenails scratched a feathery design in the floorboards. He scrambled to get back front and center before the one piece of furniture in our house that he regards as a shrine, and as he did, he left a sort of avant-garde criss-cross effect on the woodwork.
Ping had responded, from the bedroom, several rooms away, to the noise of me taking a sip of juice from a container I'd taken out of the fridge. As he whooshed by my feet, I jumped and quickly put the container away. I thought it might be Moll catching me in the act of drinking from an open juice carton, something I never, or rarely, do, really, since learning that the practice is unsanitary or, in Moll's term, gross.
I stared at Ping, more or less lovingly, until I was unexpectedly struck by the weird anatomical assembly that is this eager, panting creature. Curled tail, short legs, deep chest, ample waist, neckless head-torso attachment, round head, bug eyes, jammed nose, he's a wonder. I found myself imagining what Ping would look like with his skin off.
Then, Diesel the mastiff lumbered by, hurling me aside. Diesel lagged in the contest with Ping to see who could get to the fridge first. He was delayed by the need to disentangle himself from the several dining room chairs he had violently displaced on his way. As I contemplated Diesel, I thought, what would he look like absent his extensive, furry outer self. (Moll had raised the question earlier.) But my musings were abbreviated, because Moll did appear, and I thought what... oh, well, never mind what I thought. I've said too much already.
What had me in this anatomically inquisitive frame of mind was a visit we made this weekend to the Boston Museum of Science to see BodyWorlds2, the inspirational exhibit of humans and human parts (plus a few animals) on extremely naked display, not merely undressed but skinless and plastinated. Several of my Times colleagues, not manacled to the Vineyard each weekend by children and pets, had seen it and were powerfully struck by the experience. I tantrum-ed relentlessly until I got everyone to agree to spend a couple of hours improving ourselves.
Plastination is a method of preserving the dead by first dehydrating the remains, then replacing the moisture with resins and polymers. The subjects of these processes have, while capable of doing so, donated their departed selves, in the hope of contributing to the advancement of science. The www.bodyworlds.com web site explains it this way: "Though generations before us wished to be enlightened about the mysteries of the human body, the lack of effective preservation methods prevented them from viewing the post mortal body in a state that evoked awe and splendor. Anatomists soon learned to preserve the deceased body by drying it, but the resulting dehydrated specimen showed only the sorrow of death. Until 1977, specimens for anatomical studies were embedded deep within polymer blocks or preserved in formaldehyde, and placed behind glass barriers. Dr. Gunther von Hagens - the leading anatomist of our time - invented plastination in 1977, the method of halting decomposition of the body and preserving it for all time. The Body Worlds exhibitions are the result of Dr. Gunther von Hagens' 32 years in the fields of medicine and science, anatomy and chemistry, dissection and polymer chemistry."
This all sounds more abstract than it may actually seem to the viewer who is innocent of his or her inner workings. Indeed, the experience is unsettling, astonishing, fascinating, haunting, marvelous, but definitely unsettling. Without the water, the hair, the skin, and the fatty layer beneath the skin, we're all apparently tiny. (For the porkers among us, so imposing in our animated incarnations, the skinless, fat-less, plastinated basics are astoundingly reduced.) There are tiny skulls, tiny arms, tiny legs, tiny nether parts. The smoker's lungs are black, set in the display case beside the healthy white lungs of the non-smoker. There is the stained brain of the stroke victim, for whom there is no longer a mystery over which hemisphere suffered the hemorrhage. There is the alcohol-drenched liver, the kidney dotted with metastases, the prosthetic knee, hip, and elbow, the enlarged heart. There is the arterial blood clot and the failed heart valve. But there is also the skinless batter, the skinless dancer, each straining muscle in harmonic opposition to every other as the torso twists 180 degrees or arches impossibly. (Oh, and for no reason I could discover, there is a partially skinless camel.)
Then there are the translucent slices of human after-life, as if the body had been laid on a bread slicing machine and pushed through. Then each slice, from the foot to the top of the head, is separated by a few inches from the next and set on edge and in order in a display case, for visitors to the exhibit to look down upon. Or the body that has been sliced vertically, with each slice suspended from a wire, in order back to front, like the digital result of a MRI actualized.
This is you as you have not seen yourself, and will not. It is your loved one, skinless. It is how Ted Williams swung, how Michael Jordan soared, how Tiger Woods puts, what made Grace Kelly stunning, how Ping scrambles, and how Diesel lumbers. It is substance, not fashion. It is unmistakably the evolutionary result of eons of refinement, though one yearns to see the preliminary drawings that became the designer's prototype. It is not to be missed.