My thanks to Marisa Sandlin, for recently introducing me to Stars, a wonderful, wonderful band from Toronto (now based in Montreal), fronted by Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan. Yesterday, we drove down to Warwick, to Newbury Comics, and I got two of their more recent albums, The Five Ghosts and Set Yourself on Fire, and I've been listening to nothing else since. Anyway, before I proceed, watch this video. Note that it's not fucking "work safe." It contains female nudity. Very splendid female nudity. Though, if your employer has a problem with that, you need to tell them to fuck off, then find a saner job. Anyway, this is a prologue to my very short little tail...um, tale. Just watch that video. It'll all make sense soon (but isn't that what They always say?). Oh, my thanks to kiaduran for finding this uncensored version of the video for me yesterday:
Yeah, a fucking beautiful, brilliant video. Be sure to have watched it before proceeding to the next section (though, assholes will, here, do as they please, which is their loss).
This won't be the first time I've told the world I was born with a tail. I sort of wish it were the first time, but it's not. Also, I may have said – can't recall – that my vignette "Pas-en-arrière," was, in large part, about my lost tail. Yes, lost, because it was routinely amputated when I was born, which is a matter of course in "civilised" nations when a baby is born with so unsightly a thing as a tail. I was also born with a caul and a layer of black skin on my face, but those are others tails...er, tales.
I had no idea that I'd been born with a tail. I did know, as a small child, that I had a tiny spur of cartilage just above the cleft of my buttocks. I had no inkling what it was. Sometimes, it itched. Sometimes, it even got sore. But I didn't give it much thought. I never spoke to anyone about it (I already knew about the caul and the black facial skin things, by the way).
It wasn't until 1989, when I was in college, that I learned I'd been born with a tail. I had a physical (my most recent full physical exam, by the way). I'd hurt my lower back lifting something or another at the museum, and an x-ray was taken to see if I'd done any genuine damage. I hadn't. But the doctor discovered the internal remains of a cartilaginous "soft tail" branching off my coccyx. No extra caudal vertebrae (the human coccyx is composed of four fused tail vertebrae; birds have an analogous feature, called the pygostyle), just a sort of cartilaginous shaft tucked into the musculature, rising from the base of my spine. The tiny spur, I was told, was all that remained of what would have been the external portion of the "soft tail," which, I was told, was robust enough it would have been snipped at birth. The doctor told me that, based on what he could see, it would likely have been about two or three inches long, maybe a quarter of an inch in circumference.
And that's how I lost my tail. And then discovered I'd lost my tail. My atavism. Oh, atavism. You may, or may not, have read Stephen Jay Gould's essay on atavistic characters, "Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes." Anyway, to quote Wikipedia:
Evolutionarily, traits that have disappeared phenotypically do not necessarily disappear from an orgcnism's DNA. The gene sequence often remains, but is inactive. Mathematically, such an unused gene has a reasonable probability of remaining in the genome in a functional state for around 6 million years, but after 10 million years it is almost certain that the gene will no longer function. As long as the gene remains intact, a fault in the genetic control suppressing the gene can lead to it being expressed again. Sometimes, dormant genes can be induced to be expressed by supplying the stimuli artificially.
So, on rare occasions horses are born with "extra" toes, evidence of the ancestral five-toed amniote/tetrapod pes (hindfoot). Or a human may be born with a bit of a tail, harkening back to earlier primate ancestors.
Anyway, since that day, I have mourned the loss of my tail. And when I saw the video for Stars' "Changes," the mourning became as poignant as it has ever been (oh, and great opening Sam Harris quote). That sense of having been robbed of a part of me by doctors seeking the perfect infant. One of the many things that caused me to fall so hard for Karen Dunn's Geek Love was Miranda's tail. But, anyway (again, and, so, redundant). Below, behind the cut, is a photograph that Spooky took last night, which I present here as proof of my amputated atavism, the translucent stub of my tail. Complete with tiny white/black butt hairs and aging flesh, Spooky's fingerprint and the proximal terminus of my ass crack. Not entirely pretty, and maybe not "work safe" (that phrase almost always gives me the giggles).
So, there you go. One of my several anatomical sob stories. I would have kept my tail, had I been given the chance. It was a part of me.