HOW'S THIS FOR A REALLY BAD IDEA?

A fertile woman may occupy the following innate cognitive states:

  1. depressed, leading to
  2. adornment;
  3. pursuit of stud service;
  4. pregnancy;
  5. nursing;
  6. or making trouble. Consider Helen of Troy.

A destitute man's wife is a beast of burden eliciting generic well being of all involved. Add money or social status and his spouse, her fevered psyche sizzling with leisure, goes strange between her ears. 1800s upstate New York serving as a gateway to the West basked in mercantile abundance and embryonic farm mechanization. Hen parties rapidly degenerated into seances, automatic writing, ax-wielding riots against hard cider purveyors, and eventually Mormonism when expropriated by one notably detestable, voracious, and perverse Joseph Smith.

Arabia is no stranger to spousal situations, the Koran allowing devout men five wives for starters. Ubiquitous abject material poverty could not overshadow the fundamental proficiency of women to get right up a man's nose. Nomadic Arabia evolved on-the-fly remediation - formidable meaningless intricacies consuming whole distaff lives in the name of beauty. Absent of water for personal hygiene and with a distinct propensity for the ladies to grow coarse, dark, abundant facial hair all over their bodies... motivation burned hot.

The Muslim world simmers with (bitches) the cultural venture of mehndi. Fabulously intricate scroll work and other space-filling decorations, dominant tribal motifs for calligraphy, religious texts, and buildings, are applied to female skin. Henna (macerated leaves of Lawsonia alba, L. inermis, and L. spinosa) contains about 1% lawsone. Applied to hair it spawns an auburn sheen and kills head lice. Applied to skin as a paste near pH 5.5 the lawsone diffuses inward, reacts with pendant protein amino groups (e.g., lysine residues) in a Maillard reaction, and the initial pale yellow stain deepens and tans (as in tanning leather) to an indelible deep red brown. Progressive addition of "reng" (powdered indigo leaves, various species of Indigofera) to the mix yields darker stains to eventual blue-black shades.

Silver nitrate-based laundry markers would do the trick vastly more efficiently, as would aqueous permanganate. The entire armamentarium of basic and reactive (e.g., Procion, Remazol, Cibacron) textile dyes, thousands of colors, is better than folk practice. It would be wrong! That is 180 degrees away from the target. A well-decorated pair of hands as the envy of every bored wife within eyeshot can require a whole day of communal effort and another day of carefully doing nothing, keeping the paste moist, to maximally extract and diffuse lawsone. Six weeks later, with skin and its designs shed, you get to do it again.

Mehndi hands are standard operating procedure for even the lowest economic echelons. Brides can endure a week of whole body depilation followed by decoration. The groom is in for a (putatively pleasant) surprise, and then another one as the decoration wears off and the fur grows in. The cost of being professionally serviced is, of course, exorbitant as little boys are not in fundamental abundance.

Female circumcision, clitoridectomy, labial ablation, infibulation, and other quaint Muslim cultural dockage are decried as barbaric, repressive, and mutilative of women. Multiple piercings enjoy a sustained First World vogue and are thus a feminist good thing expressing the freedom of wymynhood. Max Factor, Mabelline, and Miss Clairol have made just about everything physically and chemically imaginable easily available to the adventurous and sophisticated (bored and with too much money) woman. It is time for a new fetish: cottage industry today, supermarket shelves next month, and K-Mart remainders by the end of the year. It sells magazines to the rubes, from an expected Cosmopolitan "Mehndi Display Arouses Your Man," to Readers Digest "Special Mehndi Designs Saved My Marriage."

The apple-cheeked, corn-fed Mid-Western gal who views an Arab in the same vein as a Jew or a wolverine and whose garden comes up short in the henna or indigo department has alternatives. Macerated madder root gives alizarin (red). Raw walnut husks (tissue enclosing the woody nut) are plush with juglone, positional isomer of lawsone, which gives an indelible walnut stain on skin via the same Maillard browning mechanism.

Expect mehndi beauty salons, mehndi hen parties, fake mehndi appliques, mehndi Sunday supplements in your newspaper, mehndi bikini lines, Masters theses on the sociological and artistic implications of mehndi (more studies needed), feminist university Mehndi chairs (non-negotiable), FDA warnings about mehndi, mehndi lawsuits, and multi-$million mehndi civil awards plus punitive damages. The horror will be complete when gracing toy store shelves across this great nation we encounter $89.99 Mehndi Barbie (with mehndi refills $19.95 each).


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