Wednesday, April 14, 2010

With every beat of my heart...

I read in last week's issue of Science that an average man makes upwards of 1500 sperm per heartbeat. That came as something of a revelation. When my heart beats faster, does the production line speed up too? Thump. Thump. Thump. In the time it took me to type this sentence I produced nearly half-a-million tiny wrigglers. And I didn't give it a moment's thought.

In four days I make as many sperm as there are people on the planet. Well, maybe at my age four weeks is more like it. Still, every one of those little guys carries my DNA, an emissary from planet Chet. That's its mission, potentially at least. To make more of me -- or part of me. Lord knows how many trillions of sperm I've made in my lifetime, only four of which fulfilled their cosmic destiny.

Remember that scene in Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex*But Were Afraid to Ask, where white-suited, wiggle-tailed Woody lined up with the other spermatozoa, waiting like paratroopers to jump behind enemy lines, his confused and terrified eyes peering out through horn-rimmed specs, then, in the moments before ejection, nervously playing Red River Valley on his harmonica?

A hundred million paratroopers per ejaculation. Competing in the race for one egg. Even at the level of the basic machinery of reproduction men and women are different. That regal egg, reclining in her bower, on fluffy pillows, a plump Penelope. A hundred million suitors racing, tumbling, pell-mell, scatterbrained, not bothering to stop to ask for directions, not even sure where they are going or why, but knowing they want to get there.

With every beat of my heart. Fifteen-hundred sperm per heartbeat. Thump. Thump. Thump.