The Truth, Mainly - 06/24/2002

Unmaned lions, balding males, and testosterone
by Leon Satterfield

"Hah!" I say to my wife. I'm re-reading the May 16 issue of the Journal-Star to make sure I haven't missed anything before I throw it away. "Hah! Hah! And eureka!"

"A plethora of exclamations," she says, yawning as she finishes one crossword puzzle and picks up another. "I suppose you're going to explain."

"It's what I always thought!" I say, looking up from the five-week-old "Science Briefs" column. "And once again, science has finally verified it."

"What's it say?" she says. "That unwashed dishes are easier to clean if they sit on the kitchen counter for three days? That cars don't run really well until there's only a half gallon of gas left in the tank? That there's nothing goofy about reading five-week-old newspapers?"

"Read this," I say, holding the "Science Briefs" column between her nose and her crossword puzzle. "The one called 'Lions lack mane, have pride.'"

"Scientists have discovered," she reads aloud, "that a type of male lion not only lacks the distinctive mane associated with a lion's masculinity, but also is the only known male that has large groups of females all to itself."

"What'd I tell you, huh?" I say. "Huh? Huh? What'd I tell you?"

She gives me a look that tells me to settle down. I settle down.

She keeps reading—about a study of five prides of lions in Kenya, each pride led by a single male lion which "had no mane or just little tufts of hair on the head or neck." And each pride had an average of 7.4 adult females.

"The last sentence of the third paragraph!" I say. "Read that one!"

She reads that typical lion prides are led by "two to four males."

"OK," I say, trying to keep my voice calm. "Let's do the math. Typical lion pride has two to four males—with manes—and 7.4 females. That's a ratio of between 1.8 and 3.7 females for each maned male. But these prides led by lions without manes have 7.4 females to one male. Now what does that tell us?"

"That unmaned males are messier than maned males?" she says. "Because it takes at least twice as many females to pick up after them? You know—stinky socks, used dental floss, toenail clippings."

"You missed the point," I say. "Has have nothing to do with stinky socks, used dental floss, toenail clippings. Read the next paragraph."

"The researcher," she reads, "speculated the lions may have unusually high levels of testosterone."

"Yes!" I say. "And that would explain why they can keep 7.4 females happy. Get it? Huh? Get it?"

"This is a boy thing, isn't it?" she says. "You're excited because this is a boy thing."

"Well, it's about testosterone," I say, "and that's a boy thing. I can't help that, can I? But here's the point: What correlates with high testosterone here?"

"Forgetfulness?" she says. "You know—like your forgetting to put out the garbage on the only morning the garbage gets picked up. They need 7.4 females instead of just 1.8 to 3.7 following them around reminding them to take the garbage out. Of course, they'd be easier to follow because they'd leave a trail of stinky socks, used dental floss, and toenail clippings."

"What garbage?" I say. "You still don't get it. Read the last paragraph."

"Testosterone," she reads, "is thought to cause inhibition in hair growth and balding on the scalp in genetically disposed human males and stump-tailed macaques."

"See?" I say. "See? See?"

"What's a stump-tailed macaque?" she says, opening her dictionary.

"Doesn't matter," I say. "Let me spell it out for you. We're talking about those magnificent lions without manes, who have just little tufts of hair on the head or neck. The absence of hair correlates with their vast virility. And, by logical extension, it's about the vast virility of balding human males—and the nobility of their choosing to be monogamists."

She rolls her eyes, snorts, and points to her open dictionary.

"Balding human males and stump-tailed macaques," she says. "Says here they're short-tailed Old World monkeys with tufted eyebrows."

"But this isn't about monkeys," I say, playing my trump card in a crescendo of irrefutable logic. "This is about me and that long-haired, muscle-bound geek you always stare at. You know—Whatsisname."

"Fabio?" she says. "This is about you and Fabio?"

"It's what I've always thought," I say, seductively grooming the big bald spot between my two little tufts of hair. "He's got a mane, so he's about half full of testosterone. I don't have a mane, so, my spicy little enchilada, I'm full of it clear up to my tufted eyebrows."

"Another line, Sugar Lump," she says, "that I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole."

"Hah?" I say. "Hah?"


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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