The Ice Palace
That Melted Away
How Good Design
Enhances Our Lives
Bill Stumpf likes London taxis because they are big and non-aerodynamic and comfortable --- and when you take them, you know you are going for a ride. He has even designed a taxi that could serve as more people-
friendly transportation in the United States, rather than
a lurching, rattletrap affair painted school bus yellow, with dirty upholstery, road-
grime- splattered windows, permeated with noxious odors from assorted air fresheners, and driven by indifferent driver-rogues, blissfully ignorant of destinations beyond convention centers, airports, and hotels.
He dislikes being shoved into a jet and sitting with too many people and too little to look at except stupid movies or the head of the guy in front of you. He suggests that the Boeings Corporation, when they put together the next edition of their 747, offer pods out there on the wings [See Fig. 1, above] --- or up in the nose of the plane, or on top, or back at the back --- so that when we are flying we can look at the stars or the ground or where we are going or where we've been.
He also likes lace curtains. He said he found some in the police stations in Switzerland, along with a fine carved doors. He says that he waved at a prisoner looking out the window at the street life, and wondered why, in the United States, we stuff people away in prisons set out in the desert or on some bare hunk of nowhere land. Let the prisoners see what they are missing, he says, and for God's sakes let them have some contact with the world they've left behind, so that when they come out they don't go into shock and (as usual) back into crime. He even, wild man that he is, says that arrested juveniles should be incarcerated in a wing of nearby schools --- preferably their own --- so they can keep in touch with their friends, and be acutely aware of the freedom they are missing.
When he is not designing furniture (or redesigning jets and jails), Stumpf tries to get people to give their neighborhoods something in the way of humanity. He admits to his own personal weaknesses:
I am disposed to reëxplore our relationship with fresh sweet corn, down pillows, open convertibles, real grass ball-parks, trains, and the idea of making the environment a child's garden to play and work within.
He describes growing up in the St. Louis of more than a half-a-century ago, a world where kids could go all over the city, alone, on their bicycles, where the soul and heart of it could be found in the farmers' market called Soulard:
I can't believe that the great presence and personality of these markets aren't worth reviving. Gone in most of America and in these European cities is another facet of civil life --- a vibrant celebration of quantity, freshness, and variety housed in significant architecture; a design theatre for food and its essential connection to everyday folks and the fecundity of nature... What we have are thrice-removed, efficient, clean, modularized, systematic, overly decorated, smell- and taste-free supermarkets.
Stumpf wants, most of all, that we return to the days of civility. He says that he visits Scotland so he can learn to converse, to be civil again. He remembers a visit to an older couple on the Isle of Skye who knitted and sold wool socks. They invited him in --- he, a total stranger --- and gave him tea and talked with him for two hours. And he left with socks which, after three years, he still wears. He also wears the warm memory of their generosity, the welcoming they gave him and, most of all, the fact that they were retired but very very lively. He points out the vast difference between their active world and our own colonies for the aged:
America now has its ghettos of silver hairs and worse, its ghettos of the elderly devoid of any mixed-age daily activity. Living in what amounts to planned stages of death hardly supports the idea of sustainability. It smacks of planned obsolescence.
§ § §
Stumpf is a gracious writer. He is also an optimist. He includes a chapter on how the McDonald's corporation could have restaurants where rolls are baked on the premises, where we could see the beef being ground, where the preparation "machines making ketchup, mashing tomatoes, and spouting steam" all would be a feast for the eyes. Our appetites would be whetted by the smell of baking bread, our eyes fed on the activities all around us.
This convinces us that this guy is not only a designer, he's a lunatic optimist. You and I know that McDonald's would not, for one instant, do anything that would screw up their bottom line --- especially something as original and interesting as this. The word for Stumpf is "eccentric," which he readily admits to.
Just before midnight while delayed in Denver, Colorado, on a cross-country Amtrak train a few years ago, she [his wife] was shocked to see me in my pajamas in the dead of winter washing our compartment's filthy window from the station platform. I was determined to see the glory of the Rocky Mountains the next morning through clean windows.
And that wasn't all:
Even worse, I proceeded to clean the entire compartment with bar soap and tissue, for it was equally dirty.
This is a man, God love him, who believes not only in civility, but in direct action. He reminds us of Johnson's definition of the "genteel man:"
A man, indeed, is not genteel when he gets drunk; but most vices may be committed very genteelly: a man may debauch his friend's wife genteelly: he may cheat at cards genteelly.
Stumpf is no cheater, nor drunk; he believes only in the stark truth. Lord knows, we need more --- thousands more --- Stumpf's in the world. The Ice Palace that Melted is a genteel and generous piece of writing --- and it deserves your attention and your affection.
For instance: If you have the flu, it's not the flu that gives you pain, it's the immune response. Or: Those who originally sought out anesthetics were not surgeons; the great 19th century experiments with nitrous oxide and ether were done under the aegis of dentists.
Another: Why is birth so painful to women when it doesn't necessarily serve a Darwinian purpose? (The pain of childbirth is right up there at the top of the scale, along with tic douloureux.) His answer: Because we have evolved so quickly that women's bodies haven't had time to catch up. The head of a modern child is huge compared to our distant ancestors, which he calls "pinheads." To get the babe out --- as those of us who have gone through it well know --- is a major undertaking, one that hurts like hell.
Other fascinating facts: When you go into surgery, you get two anesthetics, "a paralytic agent to keep patients from yelling and wriggling about during the operation and an amnesic agent administered afterward to make them forget what terrible thing we just did to them." Indeed, in some operations, anesthesiologists use only the drug-induced paralysis. Why?
Because in critically ill adults and very tiny infants, anesthetic drugs may carry more risk than amnesic drugs. Ironically, the anesthesiologist often wants the patient to be in some degree of discomfort during the case.
Vertosick doesn't beat about the bush. In order to make the point that childbirth is painful and violent, he tells about the first delivery that he attended as an intern, in which the baby came out with such force that it bopped him in the stomach and knocked the wind out of him. He also tells of the time as an intern when he pulled the drainage tubes from a bypass patient, whose "lips turned dark,"
He began clutching his chest, clawing at the white gauze that still covered his fresh chest wound
Turns out that one of the stitches in his heart had come unraveled, and he had to be opened up again to reconnect it.
Sometimes he tells us just too much. To prove that pain is necessary, he tells of children with Hansen's Disease, in which there is no pain anywhere in the body:
Since they feel no pain, victims bite their lips, rub their noses, and chew their nails with such abandon that bodily tissue slowly erodes. By the age of three, little Jimmy had already lost part of his fingers and would certainly suffer more unintentional self-
He goes on to describe other diseases that leave one without a sense of pain:
The hands and feet of longtime diabetics and paralytics likewise become deformed and covered with pressure sores. Patients with trigeminal neuralgia who have their corneas rendered numb by alcohol nerve blocks will ultimately go blind from unchecked corneal scarring.
Vertosick has an appropriate style necessary to take these complex medical concepts and jargon and make them understandable to the rest of us. The only time he loses us is when he sounds almost too much like a doctor. "Our technology has given us better tools to deal with cancer pain, but this technology also works against the greatest of all natural painkillers: a swift death."
And his insistence on evolution as an answer to everything that we have right and wrong with our bodies can and does lead him astray. He explains all painful ailments as existing for evolutionary reasons. When we break a bone, we tend to favor that part of the body until the bone can heal. This makes good sense, especially if you are a primitive man who doesn't know any better.
But there are some things that stump him. He can't figure out why he has migraines. What possible purpose can such a devastating headache have in the evolutionary scheme of things? Obviously migraines would not have made our Stone Age ancestors any more efficient, careful, or better as sexual partners --- unless the ladies of that era found grimacing men bent over in agony to be unbearably attractive.
The only answer he can come up with is fairly lame: he usually has migraines after some serious challenge; therefore the massive pain makes sure that he stops doing whatever he is doing until he is fully rested. Obviously, Vertosick hasn't studied much modern psychology. Migraines, we know, often have a heavy emotional element. Sufferers fall into excruciating pain because we are often in deep conflict with, for example, what we have been taught is the truth, and what the most honest part of us knows is the truth. A migraine can thus represent a battle deep within the psyche.
Vertosick might do well to take some time off and read the works of Milton Erickson --- especially one interesting case given in Uncommon Therapy. One of his patients was a woman who lived for years with migraines. He put her in a trance and with the cooperation of her subconscious, figured out a way of helping her to be rid of those times when she was subjected to complete disablement --- in bed for twenty-four or forty-eight hours, in complete silence, with the curtains closed.
He set it up so she would have her migraines once a month, on a specific day, for a specific time --- say Tuesday afternoon at 2:45 PM, when she was usually free of other responsibilities. When the migraine came on, she would go to her room, close the curtains, and rest for fifteen minutes or an half-an-hour, and then be free of them for the other days of the month.
The message: migraines serve a specific purpose for the psyche (Erickson and the woman didn't know exactly what) so, in order to honor this necessary intra-psychic pain, he put her in a trance and instructed her subconscious to limit these occurrences so that she could go on with her life, with a minimum of interference.
One might describe her poetry as run-on, or maybe stream- where an archaeologist will cradle that girl-child's skull She runs through this list and somehow it somehow all hangs together --- O. J., and the moon, and the wrinkled old women, and Poor Nicole, we have that too you know/the battering of wives, in our country. But Duhamel never gets so lost in her meanderings that she disappears entirely. She's like one of those people who you'll be sitting and talking to and suddenly she's off there in hyperspace with ideas that after awhile, in their own strange sequence, start to connect, taking us, more or less, back to where we think we might have begun with her. For example, "The Difference between Pepsi and Pope" tells about a flaw that Duhamel has in the right side of her vision, so that often I get whole words at the end of sentences wrong She then goes on to reflect on a poet who "dressed up as a cookie," then she admits that she prefers Coke, mostly because of the "wavy hyphen" that separates "Coca" from "Cola," and then she tells how she had trouble finding the ~ on the computer keyboard, I only noticed it today in the upper left hand corner, above the tab, In four lines Duhamel has led us from the tilde on the keyboard (above the tab) back to her original blind spot (and that poet dressed as a cookie), then, full circle, around ultimately to the drink called Tab. What makes it so beguiling is that along with this rambling off- Finally the poem branches off to a near-accident on the road, then to Bette Midler saying Enough about me, what do you think of me? --- then back to the difference between a Pepsi and the Pope: Pepsi is bubbly and brown while the Pope If you like knee-slapping, quasi-
in his arms for a minute before he dusts her off
and measures her eye sockets, as if he's truly sorry about what happened
all those decades and centuries and cruelties ago...
like when I first saw the title of David Lehman's poem
"The Difference Between Pepsi and Coke" and I misread
"Coke" for "Pope." This blind spot makes me a terrible driver.
the alternate of ', if you hit the shift key. I wonder if I also have a blind spot in my left eye. I wonder if the poet who dressed as a cookie
is happy in his new marriage. I wonder if you can still get a bottle of Tab...
is flat and white. Pepsi doesn't have a big white hat. The Pope
can't get rid of fender rust. Pepsi is all for premarital sex.
The Pope won't stain your teeth.
where an archaeologist will cradle that girl-child's skull
She runs through this list and somehow it somehow all hangs together --- O. J., and the moon, and the wrinkled old women, and Poor Nicole, we have that too you know/the battering of wives, in our country. But Duhamel never gets so lost in her meanderings that she disappears entirely. She's like one of those people who you'll be sitting and talking to and suddenly she's off there in hyperspace with ideas that after awhile, in their own strange sequence, start to connect, taking us, more or less, back to where we think we might have begun with her.
For example, "The Difference between Pepsi and Pope" tells about a flaw that Duhamel has in the right side of her vision,
so that often I get whole words at the end of sentences wrong
She then goes on to reflect on a poet who "dressed up as a cookie," then she admits that she prefers Coke, mostly because of the "wavy hyphen" that separates "Coca" from "Cola," and then she tells how she had trouble finding the ~ on the computer keyboard,
I only noticed it today in the upper left hand corner, above the tab,
In four lines Duhamel has led us from the tilde on the keyboard (above the tab) back to her original blind spot (and that poet dressed as a cookie), then, full circle, around ultimately to the drink called Tab.
What makes it so beguiling is that along with this rambling off- Finally the poem branches off to a near-accident on the road, then to Bette Midler saying Enough about me, what do you think of me? --- then back to the difference between a Pepsi and the Pope: Pepsi is bubbly and brown while the Pope If you like knee-slapping, quasi-
Finally the poem branches off to a near-accident on the road, then to Bette Midler saying Enough about me, what do you think of me? --- then back to the difference between a Pepsi and the Pope:
Pepsi is bubbly and brown while the Pope
If you like knee-slapping, quasi-