Parasitic Conversations and Schizophrenic Friendships

Two of my friends from Chicago came up to the peninsula to visit recently. Those of you who have been reading this column will remember Caslon Bold and Franklin Gothic from previous exploits recorded in this column, particularly my battles with dogs at Sister Bay’s Fall Fest.

The purpose of their visit was some simple rest and relaxation, so I suggested a quiet hike along the Hotz Trail in Newport State Park. After we had ambled a ways and caught up on the recent events in each of our lives I turned the conversation in a different direction.

“Did either of you see the article in The Atlantic Monthly entitled ‘How Your Cat is Making You Crazy?’” I asked.

When neither of fellow hikers acknowledged familiarity with the article, I launched into a brief summation.

“Well, the short version of the story is this,” I began. “There’s a parasite called toxoplasma gondii that lives in the intestines of cats. Consequently, the parasite ends up in litter boxes throughout the world. As you have probably heard, this is the reason pregnant women are cautioned against changing cat litter, since the parasite can be extremely harmful to a fetus. In most healthy adults, the parasite simply causes flu-like symptoms that dissipate within a few days.

“But this becomes interesting,” I continued, “because researchers have determined that the parasite takes up residency in the human brain. According to The Atlantic article, as much as 30 percent of the American population may be infected with the parasite and not even know it.”

“Other than trying to revolt us, what is your point?” Caslon asked.

“That’s where this becomes really interesting,” I replied. “According to the research, the parasite may actually alter human behavior. They believe that the parasite makes humans more reckless in their behavior, that it may lead infected individuals to have a greater disregard for their personal appearance, and that it may – potentially – lead to or augment schizophrenia.”

Franklin and Caslon have stopped walking at this point and are just staring at me.

“And there’s one other effect that the researchers have noted,” I continue in the face of their incredulity. “Infected individuals tend to like cats – a lot!”

“Why do you share this crap with us?” Franklin asks as we begin walking again.

“Because it’s interesting,” I respond as I take my electronic cigarette from my pocket to enjoy a few puffs.”

“And what is that thing?” Caslon asks, pointing to my electronic cigarette.

So I explain that my electronic cigarette provides nicotine through a water vapor mist as I inhale, without any of the associated carcinogens in a standard cigarette.

“Another interesting study,” I add, “is that researchers have found that schizophrenics – who are more than three times more likely to be cigarette smokers than the general population – may actually be self-medicating. The theory is that the nicotine helps to calm their anxieties and may help to temporarily normalize sensory disruptions.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Caslon asks, once again stopped in the middle of the trail. “First it’s cat litter brain parasites and now it’s chain smoking schizophrenics! Is this what you do up here in your free time? Sit around and scan the Internet and who knows what publications to find ridiculous stuff to spout off about at random times to whoever will listen. Or are you infected with some parasite that makes you this way?”

Chagrinned, I remained silent as we continued our walk. After a time, as we were nearing the end of the trail, Franklin broke the silence.

“I saw your piece in the Peninsula Pulse about Bob Pohl and your alcoholism,” he said. “You did a pretty nice job with that.”

My friends are tough critics of my writing so I expressed my appreciation of his comment.

“Yeah,” Caslon added, “but we could really tell your readers some stories about your drinking days.”

“I’m sure you could,” I replied. “And I might even remember a few of the stories.”

“By the way,” I continued, “since we’re speaking of drinking, did you guys see the reports of the study that showed a single dose of LSD reduced alcohol abuse among alcoholics by almost 60 percent? Researchers say that it may well be the most significant treatment option available for alcohol abusers.”

As you may have guessed, both my friends stopped walking once again. This time, however, rather than addressing any comments my direction Caslon turned to Franklin and asked, “You ready to go home?”

“All my stuff is still in the car,” Franklin responded.

And so, within a short period of time, I was deposited back at my residence in Sister Bay and my two friends were on their way back to Chicago.

Later that same night, I received an email from Caslon’s fiancé, Ultima Aiera, a former exotic dancer who now works as a nurse at Ravenswood Hospital. The important portion of her email was the following:

So, what exactly happened up there? All I was able to gather from Caslon is that you are a schizophrenic, parasite infected basket case that quit drinking by taking LSD. Please explain! I’m very, very confused.

So I sent a very long email reply, where I explained my conversation with Franklin and Caslon, their reactions, and all the research in much greater detail than I had offered during the hike.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I have not heard anything back.