Strange Day: Walking, Running, and Mitochondria


On a walk this evening with the fam, I noticed the streetlights along the road in my neighborhood alternate from sodium to halogen, making some trees lining the sidewalk appear yellow, others green. I remarked to my wife, “Hey, Rae, check out the way those streetlights make those trees – ”
” Y’ever notice there’s no streetlights?!” An elderly woman hollered at me from the porch of a darkened, large mid-18th century brick and stone house.” The voice instantly reminded me of Mama from Throw Mama From the Train.


By day, you would notice the house completely covered by ivy, the thick curtains wedged into the corners of the window bays, the crazy, listless collie that sometimes sits out front, the hulk of a wrecked Winnebago receding into a bush-choked yard. Crazy house. But by night, it’s a black square behind a large sycamore, with an angry voice, to which I reply by way of pointing up and down the street. “There’s lots of streetlights.”

“I pay $650 a month in taxes for this little space. You think they’d have streetlights!” She sounded disgusted.

I notice a telephone pole next to her sycamore. “Looks like you could use a streetlight next to that tree,” I offered.

She harumphed. We keep walking a moment, stunned into an awkward silence. Rae farted, rather comically loud, and I tell her my pants feel weird and, you know, wondered if hers did, too.

The woman shrieked at us again. ” Maybe if you’d shut up, the streetlight would be on!”

My wife tells me to post this on Facebook. We hear the woman enter a car, slam the door, rev the engine. Headlights illuminate our backs and cast long shadows before us. I grab my older son’s hand tightly and tell Rae to keep her head on a swivel just in case things get Deathrace 2000 up in here. She’s pushing the jogging stroller, gives me an aye, aye. We just want to make it to Mother’s Day.

The angry old mother tears out of her driveway in other direction, into the lot of a nearby beer distributor’s drive-through a block away (you drive into the structure through a garage bay door, like you’re getting an oil change, and point at the beer you want that’s stacked on pallets and they put it in your shaky hands). Bats are darting through the air. The wind kicks up, and the smell of fresh rain is carrying towards us. We double it up and get indoors.

I was a little stiff from a nine-mile run. This afternoon I’d actually run to the store to buy toothpaste and coffee, and had been running alongside a busy state route when a car started frantically honking as it approached me from behind. I looked over my shoulder and see an arm extended up through the sunroof of the late model sports coupe, the hand clenched defiantly. shooting the bird at me. “Hey, buddy, FUCK YOU!” The hand remained utterly motionless. I focused on it, kept running. I was just making sure he wasn’t holding up two fingers and was giving me the peace sign, the “V for victory”. That would have been a lot more interesting.

To the young man whose ire I raised, I humbly beg your apology for whatever transgression I may have made against your sensibilities. This is a general PSA for anyone else out there, a preemptive apology for my running. At least once a week someone yells at me and tells me to go fuck myself. Rest assured, I am fucking myself as much as I am able.

Growing up, I retreated into books, into poetry, myths, travel, exploration. I was, as I am now, insatiably curious and catty about my pursuits. I can’t say I ever wanted to “be” anything. I didn’t want to assume the presence of a noun, an object. I wanted to be a verb, an expression of other forces as observed by whatever metric or sensate system was available to apply to the dynamic change I lent to a situation. I wanted to express my spirit, my longing. I wanted to shine like the light the old lady needed to walk to her car to go buy angry beers. I wanted to be the ridiculous incongruity of a person running alongside swiftly moving, efficient modern automobiles, leaning into the wind. I find a certain amount of joy in doing things within my power, be it running, painting, playing, daydreaming.

I often wonder. That is my primary occupation, my modus operandi. Wonderment, wanderlove. I was hoping to get in about five hours reading today about mitochondria, a current obsession. Who has that kind of time? What a luxury to have five hours to read about the origin, function, nature of and attacks upon mitochondria. So, I farmed a question out on Reddit and sparked a fairly erudite discussion on the purpose of the somewhat unnecessary   DNA of mitochondrial organelles. “Why does mitochondria need its own DNA?” was my question.

Hijacking mitochondrial function is a popular weapon of RNA viruses. Mitochondria are the power-plants of eukaryotic cells, found in an abundance of plants, fungi  and animals. At some point in our ancient, distant past, protobacteria entered into a symbiotic relationship with out cells, serving to process out then-toxic oxygen, producing water and chemicals that could be used to generate energy. They’re shaped like kidney beans. So, maybe Rae was expressing her mitochondrial powers to ward off the virulent crazy of the shadow witch earlier this evening.

RNA viruses are what modern medicine is up against. Hepatitis C, HIV, MERS, Lyme Disease, herpes, measles, all mess around with mitochondria. Basically all viruses use mitochondria’s ability to produce or inhibit chemical reactions in order to survive and replicate. If you want a peek into the labyrinth, this highly cited abstract is a good start. Why do I find this research so fascinating? I figure if I’m unemployed, I might as well try to stay sharp. I sometimes wish, innocent as a baby, that I could cure diseases, that I could capture the theory in an image, spark the eureka moment in a scientist’s brain that leads to a cure of something horrible like HIV or Hantavirus. It’s a well known fact that inventions happen everywhere, are sometimes happening in multiplicity, can even fade away. Look at Tesla’s research. Some of it was crazy good, and some of it was crazy bad. He had to get through Edison to light this world, but that’s about as far as he got.  The problem with the business of science is that a discovery doesn’t mean change will come. Pushing for change is expensive and exhausting. If you’re going to cause rich people to lose money, you might as well go fuck yourself running alongside a busy road on the way to the store to buy toothpaste and coffee. Fuck yourself as hard as possible.

During the period of history following The Black Death, when superstition and insanity gripped Europe, scientists and apothecaries, wizards and alchemists were driven out. It’s no different today. In order to thrive, share, and develop the canons of scientific enquiry among different monarchies and empires, scientists wrote in code, employing authors to use poetry, common tropes and phrasings to communicate ideas. English was commonly adopted as a de rigueur vehicle for communicating ideas about biology, astronomy and political dissent precisely because it was not univeral. Where did Shakespeare go when he disappeared? It makes one wonder. If you wanted to bury a coup in a police state, you encrypt it in childrens’ verse, in popular poetry, in the banal and ribald arts, the lowest brows you could register.

I once wrote a paper showing Wollstonecraft’s Frankenstein used a typographical progression that mimicked Dante’s descent into Hell in The Inferno, with the Monster confronting its creator in the frozen hell of contemplation, and shit like that.

When I watched the complex life cycle of the alien creature in the movie Prometheus, I was reminded of the complex life cycle of RNA viruses, using different bodies, analogous to proteins, to complete it’s reproduction. Even its mimicry of the structures of the ships and industrial environments it infiltrated reminded me of the use of extracellular membranes and microtubulin, the cytoskeleton and hollows of cytoskeletal structure to hide, to rest, to regroup and ambush.

The War of the Worlds is here, and we are the aliens and the invaded. We succumb to tiny invaders we do not understand.  We live in a symbiotic relationship with things that mimic us and our functions. That’s rad.

Whenever something beyond the power of the state is let loose with big boots, bringing death and confusion, the state will use the inflamed ignorance of the population in order to deflect its headless rage and violent tendencies to handy targets, be they real or abstracted. In Kenya in the 1980s, AIDS was seen as a curse put on other people by witches. So, kill the witches, and sleep with virgins. Also, if you’re sad because your spouse got AIDS and died, there would be a professional grief prostitute to sleep with you to help you get over it. Cultural superstition and traditions helped the efficiency of the virus. Not only was the virus thriving on the cellular functions of the eukaryote human cells, but it was praying upon the inflamed memetics of a cultural entity. Memes sort of act upon the “hive mind” of a culture, little units of cognitive perturbation and paraprodoskian dissonance that mark our day-to-day with its peppering of our language and imagery. Memes are to thought what spice is to food, a variation that not only is instantly internalizing, but also builds upon the shared cultural consciousness, evoking a metastasis seemingly as though it were alive. It’s as if memes are not innocuous, are not benign, but are, like RNA viruses, able and capable of hijacking contemporary cultural qubits, jokes, shared images and evocative events, peeling away sections of our collective RNA, replacing it with ribald silliness and invective, irony and outrage.

Maybe RNA viruses are using the entire organism to broadcast certain frequencies that could be a form of “language” that could be translated between different oceanic bodies of cells. It’s known that Rickettsia, for example, can evolve its DNA faster than the simple, pseudoprotobacterial mtRNA can keep up, and, like HIV, hijack and use mitochondria for its own benefit, hacking into a symbiot to pose as a symbiot, and benefiting from the guise.

I’m just interested in how photonic therapy could be used to help eradicate this new battle in the post-antibiotic era. We’re evolving together, virus and host. We seek light, we want reliable access to transportation of bodies, of ideas and resources. We wish to communicate, to gather, to thrive, to begin again.

I’m going to go drink some wine, maybe fuck myself in some streetlight, get herpes and die. Or live.







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