Potent Stuff

“You artists gabble on about things I don’t have a clue about. For instance, just what does chiaroscura mean?” Dorothy asked, just a bit petulantly, then added, “If I turn up to one of your artists’ salon things, I won’t be able to talk to anybody.”

“That’s the beauty of our relationship,” Kay replied. ” Tell me what a lipid is and I’ll tell you what chiaroscura is?  That time when I was down visiting Earl and he showed me your doctoral thesis, I read the first page and realized I didn’t even know what language it was written in. I could understand the connecting words  and the articles – to, from, about, above, in and out, the, this, that and and – but all the rest might as well have been twenty-third century Hungarian as far as I could tell.”

Had I known she could write and talk in this completely esoteric language and be revered for it, I probably would have to kiss the hem of her skirt (if she ever wore one). That wasn’t a good omen for a friendship on an equal footing.  Our mutual friend Earl was drooling and exclaiming as he showed me his treasure “Do you have any idea how important this woman is?”

I didn’t. He set me straight enumerating her various accomplishments and her world-wide connections in her esoteric field of DNA research and their application to lipid research. I felt very fortunate to have met this good-hearted woman before I knew all that. There was no hope I’d be kissing any hem by  now. I’d met her at they gym, both of us eagerly pumping away at the various weight-resistant  machines trying without much hope to become svelte and healthy.

Since then, we’d established a great friendship over our love of food, theater, and art.  She was different (from me) in that she loved exercise and could cycle for two hundred kilometers on a weekend and could do beautiful woodwork. She installed her own hardwood floors, start to finish, and had built a beautiful pine blanket chest with utmost artisan skill. But then, I was different too, or so she said. I paint, draw and write amusing stories – something she found quite incomprehensible.

We were sitting in her kitchen having brunch, crisp bacon with a heavenly odor, eggs and toast. Nothing exotic, as brunches go, but it’s the company that makes dining exciting.

As I was waiting for Dorothy to get her coffee and join me at the table, I was flipping through one of her pharmaceutical science trade journals.

In the way of women’s circular conversations, I ventured “Chiaroscura simply means light and dark. It’s the art of dramatizing an image with light. To enhance the light, you underscore it with shadow. That’s all. Light. Dark. It’s a concept that had it’s defining moments in the Italian Renaissance. I guess that’s why it has kept its Italian name. ”

“Cool!” she said. “That’s not difficult.”

“Not like lipids. It means fat, doesn’t it?” I continued.

“There – you already know, don’t you? I don’t need to explain it. But there are lots of different kinds – monosaturates, polyunsaturates, polysaturates, et cetera, et cetera, …”

“Yes, but what are you doing with them? Why are they important? We’re all dieting here.  We keep on trying to get rid of them off our portly frames. We’re not trying to conserve them, for Pete’s sake.”

Dorothy laughed, and leaned a bit forward, pen at hand and a paper, ready to draw me the reticulo-endothelial system.

“Lipids are synthetic molecules. We take lipid molecules out of cell membranes and then manufacture synthetic packages with them which can carry drugs to wherever you want them to go,  like to cancer cells, to kill them.”

“We can insert stem cells wherever they are needed in the body and they will grow to be whatever is needed. If you need to regenerate the liver, you stick stem cells in the liver. If you need to regenerate blood cells, you insert them into the bone. It’s rather neat, actually.”

“There are two kinds totipotent and pluripotent.  Pluri- means that it can do several things. Like the word “plural” meaning more than one.  Toti- is like the word “total”.  It’s almost the same and I can’t remember exactly what the difference is now. Potent, of course, means powerful.”

“Iif you use the stem cells in a liver, it grows liver, and if you use it in a kidney, it grows kidney, if you use it in bone, it grows bone – but you are starting out with exactly the same stem cell. When it is inserted, it can understand where it is and it will grow what is needed.”

“Wow!” I said. “Talk about cool! But they sound like twins. Or a couple.

“Here, let me introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. Potent – Toti and Pluri.

Or, those impish twins “Toti and Pluri! It’s time for dinner – wash your hands and get right in here!”

More laughter.

“Trust you!’  she said, still chortling,” to make some fool connection and turn them into something entirely unrelated.”

“It would make a good story,” I rejoined. “Or can you imagine a painting of Toti and Pluri? I’d have to think about what that would look like, a bit.”

We continued our banter, then she went off to work and I went home. I’ve been thinking about it off and on for a week or so.

Dorothy phone up last night wailing about her awful Strata Council and how they were a bunch of idiots. She was seeking my esoteric property management advice (‘Really, Dorothy, it’s not DNA science…”)  and I was happy to give it, for what it was worth.

“Have you written anything about our conversation last week? ” she asked as we were signing off. She’s one of my faithful readers and she just loves sending them off to her mom who gets a chuckle about our lopsided friendship, so she eggs me on to do my literary anecdotes.

“Which conversation?” I say, regretting my legendary sieve-brain.

“The one about the lipids and stem cells,” she says, a bit of chiding in her voice. Perhaps there was a hint of slight that I hadn’t remembered all about the explanations.

“Oh, yeah! No. I’m thinking about it. You mean about Omnipotent and Plenipotent? ” I say.

“What’s that?” she sputters and then dissolves into a bright, continuous laughter, and I think she’s laughing still, even if the sound has been turned off.

What can you do? I had to be reminded that the new twins I should write about are Toti and Pluri.


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