EPS Review #95 - The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer

by Eric Hansen, Pantheon, 2004, 225pp.

Hansen wrote the best travel book on Borneo that I have read: Stranger in the Forest, which is even better than the very funny Into the Heart of Borneo. He also wrote a book on Orchids (which was EPS review #1) -- I see he has a calendar of them for sale. So I asked for "Bird Man" for Christmas. It is a collection of stories -- I wonder how many of them were buried near his shipwreck as described in Motoring with Mohammed. I would not recommend this as his first book for you to read. The non-travel stories are like acceptable New Yorker bits: two about old ladies (one a ballerina, another a cook) in urban apartments, one about some underdog Indonesians who win a Tall Ships race off California despite lacking flashy technology, and the title-story about a biologist who enjoys the women at a strip club (banana slugs enjoy great sex, it seems). The travel stories are livelier: a romance in the Maldives, a raucous hotel off the north of Australia, getting wasted on kava in Vanuatu. And the two most interesting stories are one about working at Mother Teresa's in Calcutta, and one about returning to the depths of Borneo to examine a crash site. A man whose wife died in the crash had read Stranger in the Forest and wanted Hansen along to help reexamine the remote area for clues and mementoes. Both these stories have supernatural aspects. In general you are left with the impression of a man you would like to meet.

Here is some follow-up on some controversy caused by his orchid book.

Mark wrote: banana slugs ? you are making this stuff up !!

I replied: No I am not.

That first night, Oliver told me about banana slug penises. According to Harper, the scientific names of one species and one subspecies refer solely to penis length, nomenclature which might be unique in the field of taxonomy. Ariolimax dolichophallus means the banana slug with the big penis, and the subspecies Ariolimax californicus brachyphallus describes the banana slug with the short penis. But, as Oliver pointed out, this distinction between "big" and "short" was hardly worth thinking about because the penises of all banana slugs are about the same length as their bodies, which are typically six to ten inches long.

"Incredibly sexy critters," Oliver explained. "Fossil record isn't clear, because of the soft-tissue problem, but it is hypothesized that slugs evolved from marine snails that went ashore during the Devonian period, about 400 million years ago. They use their radula, a tongue-like organ with 27,000 tiny teeth, to arouse their potential mates. Their penises are located on their heads. At a certain point they start to wave them in the air as some sort of courtship display. It is quite a sight. Foreplay lasts for hours as they circle each other in a clockwise direction-licking, nibbling and rasping at each other's genital region. They taste and eat each other's slime; maybe to get turned on, or as some sort of exchange of genetic information. When sufficiently aroused, they enter each other and have continuous sex for up to thirty-six hours. If a suitable mate isn't available they can have sex with themselves."

"I would expect nothing less of the official California State Mollusk," I said.

Mark wrote: does this make all banana slugs "dick heads" ?

banana slug Steve wrote:

The banana slug is also the mascot of the University of Californi at Santa Cruz. While hiking in the Santa Cruz mountains ten days ago my good friend Tom Biddick and I came across this (unaroused and single) specimen, attached.

Thanks for the report!

Roger wrote: Erich, I like this one. I too expect nothing less of the mollusk, whether or not Arnold runs the show