Grow a Pair!bythrillerauthor©
BERKELEY: Atrazine, one of the world's most widely used pesticides, wreaks havoc with the sex lives of adult male frogs, emasculating three-quarters of them and turning one in 10 into females, according to a new study by University of California, Berkeley biologist Hung Lo.
The 75 percent that are chemically castrated are missing testosterone and all the things that testosterone controls, including sperm. The 10 percent or more that turn from males into females can successfully mate with male frogs. "We have animals that are females, in the sense that they behave like females: They have estrogen, lay eggs, they mate with other males," Dr. Lo reported. "Atrazine has caused a hormonal imbalance that has made them develop into the wrong sex, in terms of their genetic constitution.
"You have studies all over the world showing problems with atrazine in every vertebrate that has been looked at: fish, frogs, reptiles, birds, even mammals. Not every frog or every human will be affected by atrazine, but do you want to take that chance?"
I tossed the Chronicle into the trash, ignoring my unused recycling bin, and fumbled for the cigarettes in the pocket of my Armani jacket. After filling my lungs with a long drag, I strode onto my terrace overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and tried to calculate how many millions of dollars Dr. Lo had cost me this morning.
What an unmitigated disaster! Only last week, my hedge fund had acquired a controlling interest in BelchFahrt AG, the German company which manufactured atrazine. Until this morning, atrazine was the miracle pesticide which accounted for 80% of BelchFahrt's profits. Not any more, I thought morosely as I flicked my lit cigarette over the terrace rail, watching it spin towards the worker bees hurrying to their dead-end jobs on the street far below.
No way was I going back to that rat race, not after all I'd been through...cutting corners without a moral compass had landed me in a Russian Hill penthouse with an eight figure income at the age of twenty-nine, and I wasn't about to let some pinko professor screw it up now. I grabbed the keys to my Ferrari and took the elevator down to the garage. In a few minutes, I was jumping red lights and swerving in and out of the lane reserved for busses and taxis on Market Street.
After sneaking into the carpool onramp to the Bay Bridge, I hung on the bumper in front of me while I scrolled through messages on my BlackBerry. As I feared, the rout was on, judging from the dozens of panicked emails from investors about the collapse of BelchFahrt's share value. It was only a matter of time before they started bailing out of my fund like lemmings, and who could blame them? Unless I took swift, decisive action, I'd be just another blood-sucking vulture with a bulls-eye on my back, in court for the rest of my life, hounded by ruined investors, financial reporters and government snoops.
If I'd been thinking clearly, perhaps I'd have taken the time to devise a plan, something that would enable me to get to Dr. Lo without leaving any fingerprints. Unfortunately, I'd always been a rash risk-taker, and "grow a pair" was my favorite response when one of my underlings came to me with a problem. Sadly, the pair which I was about to grow was not what I had in mind....I looked up just in time to see the driver ahead of me flashing his brakelights, and only blind instinct saved me from causing a chain-reaction collision that would have tied up the bridge for hours. Looking back now, how I wish that had happened!
I shot through a gap between lanes, ignoring the blaring horns and obscene gestures, and sped my way to The People's Republic of Berkeley. Parking near the campus was impossible, so I pulled into a handicapped spot, activated the alarm system and joined the bizarre throng of jocks, coeds, geeks and freaks on the sprawling campus. A quick search on my BlackBerry confirmed the location of Dr. Lo's laboratory, which I plugged into my GPS application without breaking stride. When I got to the biology building, classes were just letting out, and a hot Asian student helpfully pointed out Dr. Lo as he scurried by.
I stalked him down the crowded hall, sizing him up: short and scruffy, your typical absent-minded professor, oblivious to the real-world impact of his harebrained theories...I waited until he opened the door to his lab, then before he could close it behind him, I pushed my way in and slammed the door shut behind me. He turned around, startled. "Who are you?"
"That's not important. Calm down, we have some business to discuss."
"What kind of business? Do you have an appointment? Let me check with my secretary," he said, reaching for the phone on his cluttered desk. Without hesitation I beat him to it and tore the wire out of the wall. "You must be insane!" he screamed. "Help!"
"Shut up, you lousy commie! You've ruined me! You're going to retract your findings about atrazine," I snarled, wrapping the telephone cord around his neck.
For a little man he was surprisingly strong, and he must have studied judo, because before I knew it he'd spun out of my grasp. I grabbed him from behind and we started wrestling next to the table beside his desk, which was covered with glass beakers full of fluid. Just when I thought I had him pinned, I lost my balance and fell with a crash onto the table, shattering glass and spilling chemicals all over myself. God, they smelled like...pesticide! Dr. Lo was out the door by now and I started after him, slipping on a puddle on the floor and knocking another beaker full of pesticide all over myself. I was drenched with the awful stuff by the time I got back on my feet and staggered into the hall, where a crowd had gathered outside the lab.
In a panic, I raced out of the building and ran across the campus, back to my Ferrari, just in time to watch it being towed away from the handicapped parking space, the alarm blaring forlornly. My desperate attempt to bribe the tow truck driver was to no avail, and I cursed him as it disappeared, taunted by the hippies who had undoubtedly blown the whistle on my car. I left before they could turn their wrath on me, and it took forever to find a BART station and figure out how to make my way back to the City. You'd think I had leprosy the way people avoided me in the stations and on the train, reeking as I was from the noxious chemicals which had soaked my skin and corroded my BlackBerry, totally cutting me off from the outside world.
Hours later, when I finally staggered back to my condo and logged onto my computer, my worst fears were realized: a tidal wave of share redemptions had reduced my hedge fund to a child's piggy bank, there were too many emails to count, and my voice mailbox was overloaded. Not to mention the lead news story about some madman who had attacked a Berkeley professor...I had a splitting headache from the fumes still permeating my clothes and skin, so I took too many vicodin and collapsed into bed.
The next morning, when I finally came to, I took a long shower and tossed my ruined clothes into the trash. I still reeked of pesticide, and I felt sick to my stomach. With trepidation, I fetched the Chronicle and paged through it, not the business section but the local news. At least the cops hadn't connected me with the Berkeley incident:
BERKELEY: Campus police were baffled by an unprovoked attack on Berkeley biologist Hung Lo in his laboratory yesterday. Dr. Lo, who recently made headlines with his research into the dangerous side-effects of the pesticide atrazine, had just finished a lecture to undergraduates when he was assaulted. Lo described the man as well-dressed, in his late twenties, short and slim with brown hair.
The description fit me to a tee, and I decided to wait until things cooled down before retrieving my Ferrari. Not that I'd be able to afford the payments on it: a quick check on my computer confirmed that BelchFahrt stock was in freefall, thanks to atrazine, and I spend the rest of the morning sifting through the wreckage of my hedge fund, fielding calls and emails from outraged investors.
My net worth was down to zero, on the books that was...fortunately I'd refinanced my penthouse just before the real estate bubble collapsed, and stashed the proceeds in an offshore bank account, free from the grasping hands of plaintiffs' lawyers and the IRS. They'd be after me soon enough! It was time to disappear.
Three months later, I arose as usual before dawn for a long run. I missed San Francisco, which had been a playground for a rich, straight bachelor: so many of the guys in that town were gay, a single guy could get all the women he wanted, like shooting fish in a barrel. Not that I had any complaints about my place of refuge: Maui was paradise, and I'd settled in comfortably to my life in exile, using a fake identity I'd scored over the Internet. I'd changed my appearance too, losing a lot of weight and growing my hair down to my shoulders. I tied it back in a ponytail before I pounded out the miles, savoring the scent of plumaria and hibiscus in the sweet morning air.
Only one thing troubled me in paradise, and it was becoming a growing concern. At first I'd had my way with the beautiful women trolling Kaanapali beach, but lately my prowess with the ladies had taken an alarming turn. I was finding it harder and harder to become aroused, and when I did it was taking me longer and longer...in fact, the last several times had been a total failure, something which had never happened to me before. I began shunning the clubs and bars, for fear of being humiliated, and I spent my lonely evenings searching the Internet for some clue as to what might be happening to me.
And it wasn't just performance anxiety...my body was changing in subtle ways, so slowly that at first I dismissed them, until they became too obvious to ignore. In some respects, my health actually improved: my skin took on a soft, healthy glow, my long auburn hair had a newfound luster, and the raging intensity which had driven me in business had been replaced by a strange serenity which suited my life of leisure. It was the flipside that terrified me: my muscle tone seemed to be weakening, my package felt funny and my chest was very tender. Still, I probably would have ignored my symptoms and remained in denial were it not for the events of that morning.
I was jogging east towards Lahaina, dressed only in a singlet and shorts, my ponytail bouncing in the breeze, when I sensed a car slowing behind me. I turned around to see if the driver needed directions, only to find a guy a foot taller than I was making a menacing move in my direction. "Dude, what's your problem?" I shouted.
I could see the shock on his face before he backed off. "Uh, sorry, I thought you were a chick." I stood rooted to the ground as he jumped into his car and roared off, in search of some other helpless female! He'd mistaken me for a woman!
Shaken, I hightailed it back to my apartment. Should I call the police, and give them a description of the car and driver before he could prey on an innocent woman? I quickly dismissed the thought: I was on the lam, and the last thing I needed was to draw attention to myself. Sadly, I took a long, hard look at myself in the mirror: my God, no wonder that creep thought I was a girl from behind, I looked like one!
It wasn't just my long hair and slim limbs...with trepidation, I stripped naked and studied my bronzed body in the full-length mirror on my closet door. My butt was definitely plumper, almost like a girl's, but far more devastating was my chest. I'd been in denial about it, but now I faced the truth: I had manboobs. I cupped them in my hands and felt them jiggle and bounce...I was growing a pair all right, a pair of tits! I stared at them for a long time, then I lowered my glance: my other pair seemed to be shrinking, and worst of all, my dick wasn't hanging like it used to...it stayed soft all the time now, and I couldn't remember the last time I'd had an erection.
With that, I reached for the phone and scheduled an appointment with the first doctor I found in the yellow pages.
"Extraordinary!" Dr. Banzai exclaimed as he scrutinized my X-ray. Hunched over his battered rattan desk in an aloha shirt, flip flops and board shorts, he hardly inspired confidence. "I've never seen anything like it."
The last words I needed to hear. "Can you tell me what's wrong with me, doc?"
"Let me ask you a few questions. Are you on any medication?"
"Are you sure you haven't taken any hormones, or steroids?"
"Like I said, no!"
"Extraordinary...I don't know how to phrase this, but it seems like you are changing..."
"Changing? Into what?"
He fixed me with an idiotic smile. "Into a wahini."
"I know, it's completely bizarre, but chemically your body is already female, and your genitals are rapidly adapting to their new environment."
"I know...I think I should refer you to a specialist on the mainland, perhaps there's some precedent for your condition."
The last thing I needed! Any serious physician would insist on seeing my medical history..."No thanks, doc, I'll stick with you. What can you do for me?"
"The question is, what can you do for yourself?"
He spoke the words I will never forget: "Technically, you are no longer a man. Your testicles have atrophied beyond the point of no return, and your penis seems to be receding. Your breasts are well on their way, in another month you'll need to start wearing a bra. Are you sure you're not holding something back? Are you on some kind of therapy?"
I turned on him in a blind fury. "You're crazy if you think I wanted this! Can't you do anything to help me? There's got to be a way," I shouted.
"I wish I could. It's almost like you've been chemically castrated. That's why I asked if you were taking any medication."
My rage turned to tears, and I started to sob uncontrollably. "Please...tell me this isn't really happening."
The doctor put his arm around my shoulder and tried to console me. "I know how hard this must be for you," he said with a sigh. "But the sooner you accept your fate, the sooner you'll be able to adapt to your new...condition."
"Are you sure there's no cure? Can't you do something?"
"Well, of course we could initiate sex reassignment therapy in reverse, treating you with massive dosages of testosterone and surgically removing your breasts. But I'm afraid it's too late to save your male genetalia...at best, you'd be...."
"I'd be what?"
"A eunuch with a menehune penis."
At the sound of that, I became violently sick.
I refused to accept Dr. Banzai's diagnosis. No way was I turning into a woman! I spent hours on the Internet, trying to determine if such a thing had ever happened in human history, and there was no precedent for it. I had to find a real doctor, one who wore shoes! This was all some kind of cruel joke, a cosmic payback for my years of philandering, as if all the women I'd ever wronged were conspiring to emasculate me. Could it be that some bitch I'd burned slipped something to me in a drink? Even if that had happened, surely it was impossible for one shot of any drug or hormone to cause such catastrophic changes.
It wasn't until I stumbled upon a link during one of my marathon web searches that I began to grasp what was really happening to my manhood. Periodically, I'd been Googling Dr. Lo to see whether there were any leads connecting me with the Berkeley beat-down. Dr. Lo seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth. Two days after my examination by Dr. Banzai, I was astonished to read this article:
STOCKHOLM: The Nobel Prize Committee announced today that Dr. Nomo Hung of the United States has been awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for her pioneering work linking the pesticide atrazine to the emasculation of frogs and other species. Dr. Hung, formerly Hung Lo, stunned colleagues at the University of California earlier this year when she began presenting herself as a woman.
The revelation it hit me like a ton of bricks. Atrazine! All the while, I'd been totally focused on the financial implications of Dr. Lo's research, but now I feared the devastating truth: he'd been right all along, and somehow his prolonged exposure to atrazine during his research must have turned him into a woman too...but why me? Maybe he always wanted to become a woman? If there was one person on earth who might know a cure for my condition, it was him, her, whatever!
Of course, I'd be arrested the moment I set foot in Berkeley, unless I could come up with the perfect disguise. Surveying myself forlornly in the mirror, I knew what that disguise would have to be. Back to the computer to score another phony ID, and to research what I'd have to do to myself to pull it off....
A few days later, I took the redeye back to San Francisco in guy mode, and presented myself the next morning at The House of Fabulous, which billed itself as a transformation studio for "Boys Who Should Have Been Girls." No doubt most of their customers were flaming gays who got their kicks out of channeling their inner RuPauls, and I wondered if I was making a huge mistake when a matronly woman greeted me at the gingerbread door of a Victorian house on Castro Street. "You must be Cissy," she said, reciting the phony name I'd used to make an appointment. "I'm Madame Fabulous."
"Yes," I stammered. "I lost a bet, and I need to make myself look like a woman."
"Of course," she said, appraising me with a critical eye. "Frankly, I'm almost embarrassed to take your money, considering how feminine you are."
Her words were a dagger to my heart. "I have a medical condition," I said defensively. "Is it really that obvious?"
"Sweetheart, in a few hours I'll have you walking out of here looking like you've been a woman all your life. Is that what you want?"
"Not really," I answered honestly. "It's a long story."
"I have nothing but time for my customers. Tell me about yourself."
Later that day, I emerged from The House of Fabulous in a simple cotton dress, leggings and ballet flats, a backpack slung over my shoulders. I was still in a state of shock over my transformation: my hair had been styled into a girlish ponytail, my face made up and my body squeezed into an evil undergarment called an all-in-one...in my dress, I looked totally like a girl, and as I made my way towards my Metro stop I searched the eyes of passers-by in vain for any sign of recognition or disapproval. I didn't know whether to be glad or sad, but nobody mistook me for anything but a girl.
Madame Fabulous had grilled me about my intentions, but all she got out of me was that I needed to pass as a woman on a college campus. After she forced me to recite some stupid pledge about discovering my inner woman, she handed me off to one of her "mistresses" who proceeded to humiliate me. My body was stripped, measured and waxed (sheer torture) then my hair was pruned, my eyebrows plucked, and my nails polished. The wardrobe department, which catered to crossdressers getting dolled up for hot nights on the town, featured miniskirts, fishnets and stilettos, so one of the mistresses had to make a run to Old Navy to put together my co-ed outfit. Unlike the other customers who were eagerly enjoying their transformations, I was obviously miserable, and the mistresses seemed happy to see me go.
Although I felt ridiculous, I had to admit that my dress was comfortable enough, and my leggings underneath were almost like wearing pants. I'd tried to talk the mistresses into letting me wear jeans, but they convinced me that I'd be more convincing in a dress, since it would force me to walk and sit like a woman. I don't think my ego could have taken it if they'd made me put on anything really girly! My flats pinched my bare toes a bit but they made my feet look dainty, and I was grateful I wasn't trying to walk in heels.