19 December 2008

Witch's Milk

"Dr. Solomon has been studying orgasms longer than most of us have been alive" he joked nervously, "that is to say the, uh... conclusion of the plateau phase of sexual response cycle".

I was backstage in my office listening through a closed door, "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, Dr. Richard Solomon..." I heard muffled applause fill the gymnasium as the microphone quickly squeaked as it was handed over to the good doctor who was no doubt fumbling with the cord.

I looked up towards the sound of the crowd and then down in one motion and kept on typing. At that moment I felt like Dick Dreyfuss at the end of Stand By Me. Like I'd hit the pause button on the story until I resumed typing. It was a moment that felt like it lasted forever...

I'd met Dr. Solomon whilst (pretending to be) studying the cerebral cortex at Dartmouth. I was actually down there to meet a girl named Holly Hanover - but we'll get to her and her heather gray hooded sweatshirts later on in the story.

Doc Solomon had been teaching biology at Slippery Rock for a number of years and had just taken on a new position at Dartmouth after his wife had accepted a job offer a few miles away at a place called Sands, Taylor & Wood.

Sands, Taylor & Wood was an American miller. Among the last of 'em. They sold fancy flours, cookbooks, and baked goods. They had the best slogan ever, I'll never forget it: "Never Bleached—Never Bromated". Catchy, no? They'd changed their name to the more grandiose "King Arthur Flour Co." but we always referred to them as Sands, Taylor & Wood. Kinda like Simon and Garfunkel or, better yet, Crosby, Stills and Nash. Never Young. Ever. It was the mid 70's. Doc had an old refrigerator yellow diesel Mercedes station wagon with a bumper sticker that read: "Phylogenetically Speaking..."

Doc was cool. Desmond Morris had thanked him inside "The Naked Ape". Me and Doc would get high and listen to Weather Report in his little apartment outside Norwich. It was around then we decided to study, like really scientifically study, the human orgasm.

Sure, there'd been volumes upon volumes written on the muscle contraction in the lower pelvic region and all that 500,000 foot aerial view type shit but we wanted to really get into it. It probably didn't help that we were smoking more pot and doing more dope than the entire state of Vermont that we felt like we were on a mission from God. Like we needed to deliver this answer to Moses himself - or maybe it was Abraham. Who was the one who had to kill one of his sons? Oh, never mind.

I do vividly remember "Planet Waves" had just come out. Doc played that thing every day. I can still see his shaky rogue scientist hands loading in that beige cassette. He'd played it so many times the song titles had started to wear off. "On a Night Like This" was my favorite. Doc was all about Side B. Naturally. He made fun of me endlessly for liking "the first song", "the single"... but anyway, where were we? Oh, so we were smoking more dope than all the bikers in New Hampshire at this point. We'd sit every night on his rugs and listen to "For Everyman" on vinyl and discuss our mission from God to unlock the mysteries of the orgasm. Truth be told, we just wanted to make a drug that made you feel like you were having one... we were trying to prolong that synaptic cleft and activate the dopamine receptors for a longer period of time but I'll explain that part later because, quite frankly, that's where it starts getting hairy and people start turning up dead.

"Pituitary prolactin secretion is regulated by neuroendocrine neurons in the hypothalamus, the most important ones being the neurosecretory tuberoinfundibulum (TIDA) neurons of the arcuate nucleus, which secrete dopamine to act on the dopamine-2 receptors (D2-R) of lactotrophs, causing inhibition of prolactin secretion. Thyrotropin-releasing factor has a stimulatory effect on prolactin release."
Translation: Late one night Doc and I were all white lab coats and cold pizza with our microscopes looking at slides of prolactin. Doc was on a tangent to somehow link the euphoric post-orgasm vibes with breast feeding and of course he'd found it.

The PET scan wasn't around just yet so we were doing all this shit the hard way. We knew male and female brains demonstrated similar changes during orgasm, but we were out to prove that there was a temporary reduction in the activity of large parts of the cerebral cortex during sexual climax. You know, those few heavenly seconds. So much for those heavenly few seconds.

I had a hunch about oxytocin. So while Doc was over at his Royal clicking and clacking up a psychobabble storm on thyrotropins and tuberoinfundibulums for his students - and the damn board that was floating his rent - I was on a high speed to chase to prove that oxytocin might be to thank for the orgasm euphoria as it is deployed in large amounts for women after giving birth and the like. I thought if we could set up a few studies we could find increases in plasma oxytocin during climax. And that's where she came in. Her and her heather gray and hunter green Dartmouth hooded sweatshirt. And those eyes. Little hands tucked in her pockets and those eyes.

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