Wednesday, March 1, 2006

The Mysteries of Koala Bilirubin

Dear Friends,

  The Hard Taco song for March is called, "Not Really a Bear," and I'm delighted to announce that it is based on actual events.

  And now, on with the actual events. When I was in elementary school, there was a kid in my neighborhood named Jared Ziegler. Jared was a couple years younger than me, and he was very apprehensive about starting first grade. As the summer drew to a close, I decided that it would be in his best interest for me to tutor him on the subject of everything that popped into my head while I was talking.
  For some reason, the first lesson consisted of forcing him to memorize a comprehensive list of bears. As it happens, the only bears I could think of were the panda bear, the grizzly bear, and the koala bear.
  That afternoon, in his living room, Jared proudly recited his lesson for his mother. I watched eagerly, expecting Mrs. Ziegler to shower me with praises for my devotion to her child's education. Instead, she completely chewed me out, informing me that "pandas and koalas are not really bears" and that I was teaching her son lies.

  My first-grade prep course had ended before it began.

  The story could end there, but it doesn't. You see, more than twenty years later, I have been vindicated, at least partially. In the early 1980's, the scientific consensus was that the giant panda was not really a bear. After all, pandas are vegetarians and they don't hibernate. This hypothesis was supposedly supported by a study of panda hemoglobin, which erroneously concluded that pandas were more closely related to the raccoon family (Tagel 1986). Since that time, studies of panda hair (Dziurdzik et al 1998), and panda chromosomes (Hashimoto et al 1993) have confirmed that the giant panda is, in fact, a true member of the bear family.

  In your damn face, Jared Ziegler's mom.

  Now I must bide my time. I must be patient and wait for someone to perform more definitive koala studies. You see, koalas are still classified as marsupials in most one-volume encyclopedias, but it might just be that the right scientists haven't done enough rigorous testing. My contention is that zoologists have been focusing on the big picture and not paying enough attention to the actual molecules (koala molecules), which might turn out to be convincingly bear-like. For example, they may have looked at koala hemoglobin, but have they studied koala bilirubin? I'm no zoologist, but it seems to me that bilirubin studies would provide more compelling evidence than hemoglobin studies (in all cases.)
  Years from now, I would like to have this whole anecdote published in one of those "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books. As you see, the current incarnation of the Jared Ziegler Story doesn't really have an emotional catharsis or any valuable life lessons, but that will all change as soon as koalas are reclassified as bears. I will then rewrite the ending of the story as follows:

"My first-grade prep course had ended before it began.
Or had it?
Nearly fifty years passed, and then one day everyone suddenly knew that pandas and koalas had been bears all along, and Jared flunked out of the first grade because his mother was mean/dumb. Retroactively, she is really sorry to both of us, but regretably, it's too late. NOW THAT'S CHICKEN SOUP, BABY!."

  I'm hoping that last line will sway the publishers into accepting my submission if they're on the fence.

With warmest regards,

Important Addendum: In the course of my research, I learned that the most common cause of death among koalas is a chlamydia infection called "wet bottom" or "dirty tail." Just thought I'd mention that for those of you who are trying to think of baby names...