The Thoughts of a Frumpy Professor

............................................ ............................................ A blog devoted to the ramblings of a small town, middle aged college professor as he experiences life and all its strange variances.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Flash Fiction Effort

You know the drill. If not, scroll down to a previous Monday or Tuesday and follow the link.

* * * * *

Homage to Ernest

"Well, how did I get here?" I thought, looking at the sideways view of the wall ahead of me.

I rolled over, and looked at her sleeping form. Or at least I thought she was sleeping. For all I can remember, she might be dead.

"Damn." I groaned, pressing my palm against my forehead.

The pain in my head was heavy, but comforting. I had felt it many times before. A hangover. Too much bourbon.

I swung my legs over the side of the bed to stand. It roused her, and she rolled over looking towards me and murmured, "Where you going, Sport?"

Calling me "Sport" meant she didn't know my name. I didn't know hers either.

"Babe, I gotta run." was all I said, as I reached down to the mealy looking shag carpet for my boxers.

She started to cry. I pulled on my trousers, shirt, and tie.

I was dressed, but disheveled, as I bid her adieu and walked out the tenement apartment, down 9 flights to the street below.

A low wail of a saxophone was heard down the block from the building. It suited the grey, damp mood of the day.

Gaining my bearings as I gazed around, I realized I was only 20 or so blocks from my own rental room. As I walked on, I saw Joe's Pub and Eatery down the street.

Joe's was owned and operated by Mike. Mike didn't want to pay for a new sign, so he kept the old one instead.

"The usual." I said as I tossed a ten spot on the counter as I walked to the rear to use the head. He had the food on the counter before I got back.

Mike euphemistically called my "usual" the "Hair of the Dog" plate, and I ate it anytime of the day or night. A burger with fried onions, a couple scrambled eggs, hash browns with horseradish on the side, and a double bourbon over crushed ice.

Up on the wall was a mounted head of a whitetail deer I had shot several seasons ago. A very natural pose in the neck and head of the beast. Except for the cockeyed left eye. I saw him looking at me, thinking. Thinking what he should do.

So I shot him through the eye socket and scrambled his brains. The taxidermist did a good job with what he had to work with.

I raised my glass in mock salute towards the buck, and drained it in seconds. Pulling out my handgun, I took aim right between the eyes of the beast. But he would not reveal any more thoughts.

"Well, how did I get here?" I thought again. "Damn."

It pays NOT to think. I ordered another drink for the road before the thought took up root.

* * * * *

Well, pseudo-existentialism is a helluva lot easier, and in my estimation, a lot better read (at least within my own limited ability to write). But, I decided to keep it brief, in case I should wander back into that verboten vocabulary rich forest.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Festive Greetings to You

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all...

And a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2010, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make Canada great (not to imply that Canada is necessarily greater than any other country in the so-called Western hemisphere), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, or sexual orientation of the wishee.

This wish is limited to the customary and usual good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first. "Holiday" is not intended to, nor shall it be considered, limited to the usual Judeo-Christian celebrations or observances, or to such activities of any organized or ad hoc religious community, group, individual or belief (or lack thereof).

Note: By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher at any time, for any reason or for no reason at all. This greeting is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. This greeting implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for the wishe her/himself or others, or responsibility for the consequences which may arise from the implementation or non-implementation of same. This greeting is void where prohibited by law.

* * * * *

I found the above while perusing the Internet the other day and thought today might be an entertaining time to borrow it for your enjoyment here.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Day 450

Today marks the 450th day of consecutive walking 4-5 miles I have done. Last week, during the week of December 8th, I came closer than I have my whole time of missing days of walking. The reason is that I had a backache of enormous proportions. I am not sure why or how it happened. But beginning on Saturday morning, I started to experience the old knotted back, one side of my hips higher-than-the other, and enormous pain and discomfort. There are four possible contributors to the condition that I have identified:

1. Enormous stress at the U currently.

2. A *very* brief slip on some icy (perhaps an inch of sliding)

3. Enormous saddness of late due to thoughts about my mother and probably also to the very limited amounts of sunlight (I arrive to work in the dark and leave at night in the dark this time of year.).

4. A very small stumble while walking in which I caught the toe of my shoe briefly small patch of sidewalk that had heaved up slightly.

But, for whatever reason, my back hurt like hell on Saturday. I stretched and tried to unknot the muscles. Then on Sunday, I foolishly went bowling instead of canceling. On Monday and Tuesday, I could barely stand, and when I walked I looked like Groucho Marx. I actually SAT during my lectures on both Monday and Tuesday as well.

But, out of shear orneriness and the strong desperation to keep my walking number growing, I hobbled down the road bent over for the regular daily walk. It was torture and each trip took roughly 3 times the normal length of time. Interestingly, while most every step for the first 3 miles or so would be agony, by the time I was on the last mile, muscles in my back loosened enough that I would walk upright without pain. But when I arrived home, immediately upon sitting or laying, the back muscles would clench again.

So, this 450 milestone is especially important for me, for it was the closest I have come to failing at this task thus far.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Meme Contribution

What follows is a meme of a kind I have yet to participate in. Awarded to me by MrMaCrum, I am expected to continue the following story for a time and then pass on to five other individuals. This meme was started by I, Splotchy.

Story Title: There Always Has To Be a Start

I, Splotchy's Contribution:

The mall was crowded. There were happy people, angry people, people in a hurry, even a few people sleeping on benches. To the security guard, they were a blur of coats, hats and scarves. He was just beginning his second eight hour shift. He yawned, leaning against a pillar in the food court, the aftertaste of terrible mall cookies lingering on his tongue. His eyes abruptly snapped open with the loud sound of glass shattering behind him.


Cormac's Contribution:

The glass landed on the main concourse floor and the strung Christmas lights around the mall made the floor glitter like a field of glittering gems. Out of Hot Topic came a huge tasseled-shod foot and the glass cracked like ice under the foot's immense weight. Above that antiquated shoe was a massive muscular leg, clad in green tights.

The elder Mrs. Hajba knows what this creature is and she screams out its name, yet no one understands her. Mostly because everyone else is too busy screaming, but also because the only person would understand, her daughter Anastasia, is across the mall at T.G. McFunster's...trying to find husband number four, lest her, and her mother be deported.

This being that apparently is unknown to America, stands some sixteen feet tall in bright green and red clothing that would be more suitable to the Renaissance. The brute is muscular and misshapen, with veins that bulge and throb at a preternaturally speed. Its skin is bright white, and its teeth silver and black like tinsel. The eyes of the beast have no pupils or irises to speak of. They could best be described as giant red, opaque Christmas ball ornaments.

Mrs. Hajba summons every brain cell that American TV soaps haven't manged to destroy yet and she yells at the security guard, "It's Ghost of Kreestmass Disappoint-ted!"


MrMaCrum's Contribution:

Christmas was especially hectic here at the largest Mall in the Universe. Jenkins had been temporarily transferred over from his normal eight hours of checking doors at the local high school to double shifts here at the mall. On any given day starting in November, as many as 1,ooo,ooo shoppers a day flocked here to drop their credits in one or more of the 3000 shop til you drop stores found inside it's ten story 5000 acre complex. Increased traffic meant more shoplifting, assaults, and an uptick in the usual run of the mill bag thefts and purse snatchings. Jenkins definitely did not consider the quarter an hour raise to be enough compensation for what he had to put up with here. Nodding off sitting on a hard chair at the high school seemed like heaven about now.

"Base. Come in Base."

"Jenkins, that you? What's the problem? Jeezus guy, hold the mic away from your mouth some. I thought we went over that. The feed back is terrible."

"Uh, well okay, gotcha Base. Seems one of those new Tron androids got loose. Looks like the big one in the window display as a matter of fact. He's headed for food court 23."

"Jenkins, that display cannot move. They promised us that it was completely non-functional. Get your shit together and check it out."

"Base, that display maybe is supposed to be inoperative, but I tell you something big has just made a helluva mess from Hot Topic to the big tree display here on floor five. I see some woman up ahead waving at me. Maybe she has a clue. Jenkins out."

"Lady, lady." Jenkins shook the woman on the floor. She turned her head in Jenkins' direction. Panicked shoppers continued streaming by them in the opposite direction of the commotion closing in on food court 23.

"It's Ghost of Kreestmass Disappoint-ted!" That's all she said.

"What's that mean lady? Tell me."

Her eyes suddenly fixed on something over Jenkins shoulder. Jenkins turned........


My (PipeTobacco's) Contribution:

.... and saw the ferocious claws of the mechanical Tron Android reaching towards his neck, and looked briefly into its "face" before he dropped to the floor and attempted to role away in a manner akin to Jackie Chan.

Unfortunately, Jenkins was no Chan, and his roll had more egg in it than those at the mall's Panda Express. A bit battered, he got back on his feet to see the Tron Android grasping and squeezing fervently a Mild Sauce packet he found to the side of Jenkin's burrito combo meal from Taco Bell.

"What the hell?" muttered Jenkins, as he grappled for his mike to call back to base again.

But as he pulled on the cord across his chest to reach the mike, he found the cord was severed. Where the mike was to be, attached to the epaulets of his uniform, was only a ripped piece of his shirt, drenched in blood.

* * * * *

And that is it for me.

I am not sure who to tag, but I will give it to:

4th Avenue Blues

Spirits Doings

Austere Seeker

Scattered Chatter

Tossing Pebbles


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Flash Fiction Post

Here is my contribution this week... and as promised... it is a little EARLY THIS TIME!

* * * * *

As the rumble receded westward, a fine layer of dust settled on the tall stack of vintage condom boxes.
Rodger looked out the side window of his room and could see the tail-end of the pick-up grow smaller and smaller as it raced further away. A tear slowly rolled down his cheek into the corner of his white beard.

Awareness never came willingly or easily to Rodger, but instead only breached his skull when forced, almost always resulting in pain... usually physical, but in this even rarer case, emotional. Instead of any awareness, instead of conscience, Rodger had lived his life viscerally, sensually, only for the textures of the moment. Sensations were the house of cards upon which he constructed his life, for that is what the magazine had informed him he could do, what the magazine had guided him to become and be. He religiously obeyed the tenets of that magazine and allowed it to shape him and mold him into who he was.

He first found the magazine back when he was just a young pup of 23, still wet behind the ears, but not recognizing that fact. At that time, he had been married only a few months to his high school sweetheart, Mary, and all was fine with the world back in those glory days of 1955. He had a decent job as a postman, was considering going back to school now that he had completed a brief stint in the reserves, and was ready to live the American Dream.

The magazine first showed up in his postal sack to deliver, the first month he started delivering mail. It was simply wrapped, in plain brown paper, and had no identifying marks on it other than the label to the person for whom it was to be delivered. Because of the wrapping, being so utterly non-descript, he remembered the magazine and noticed it every month when it found its way into his sack to be delivered. Even though he new it was none of his business, he wondered what the magazine was contained within the brown paper.

The fateful day happened in late April of that year, for in Rodger's sack this day was again the wrapped magazine. However, on this particular day, the wrapping around the issue was torn slightly. Curiosity may not have really killed the cat, but it sure as hell did a number on Rodger, for in his acting on his curiosity at that instant, he shaped his life forevermore. He slid his finger carefully through and under the small tear in the wrapping, peering into the crevasse created to see what the magazine was called.


"Damn." he muttered quietly under his breath. He had heard of the magazine, of course, but even during his stint in the reserves, he had never actually seen a copy. A tingle ran down his spine.

Instead of delivering the magazine to its rightful owner that day, Roger instead stealthily took the magazine with him at the end of the day, stopping on his walk back home to carefully look at the magazine. Sneaking into the basement before his wife arrived home that evening, Rodger took off the brown paper and began to peer at the contents.

The May 1955 issue featured articles, and advice, and all sorts of ads. Of course, there was a pinup as well. This month's feature was of Bettie Page. And gawking at her image resulted in the requisite sensations deep in his loins. But, it was an article that captured his imagination more fervently. In it was a question and answer interview on how anyone (by God, even Rodger) could become a playboy.

It did not happen immediately, but within the manner of about a month and a half, Rodger's fascination with the lifestyle of the playboy grew to an obsession. He began to be on the prowl, so to speak, every waking moment, and just like the article suggested, he always kept a condom with him at all times, in case a willing (or convincable) woman would succumb to his "charms". A true Playboy was in it for the moment, and didn't want to plant any seeds.

To cover his growing hobby, Rodger even began to use a condom when with Mary, suggesting to her that it added to his "stamina". However, Mary was not gullible for long. A bit of lipstick, in an errant shade from her own that she found on one of the shirt tails of his postman's uniform made her fully realize the infidelity of the phrase, "The Postman Always Rings Twice."

When Mary confronted Rodger, it didn't even phase him, for his heart and mind (if not his body) had already left for another manner of life, one in keeping with the mantra of the magazine. Only a few days after the confrontation between the couple, did Rodger leave, never to harken her door ever again.

He did lead the life the magazine instructed him, through the caffeinated/beatnik 50s, and the hazy hypnotic 60s and 70s, through the 80s and 90's up through the near present. Every step along the way, his perpetual subscription to the magazine shaped the choices he made, not only in his sexual proclivity, but in every manner of how he lived and viewed life.

It was in 1998 that he first began to show some symptoms. For better than two decades, Rodger had been mildly diabetic. Left untreated (hell, it did not fit into the Playboy lifestyle at all) the condition progressed slowly at first. The neuropathy was relatively mild, but the circulatory issues grew more and more problematic.

While these circulation issues he faced were systemic, occurring throughout his body, his only concern was the softening and difficulty he had with his erection. Again, it was his bible that was his guide, for he learned about a pill that would help him continue his journey, his quest to be a playboy. It was called Viagra, and it continued to allow him to blithely continue the pure hedonism he had constructed for his life for a few more years.

But, there eventually were consequences to pay, and Rodger was no exception. The years left a heavy toll on him in many ways. Circulatory problems were the the major culprit still and two years ago, his circulation had gotten so poor to his legs, that first one and then the other were amputated above the knee. The loss of mobility forced Rodger to be placed in a convalescent center, where he had very few options. The two primary pastimes he engaged in were watching daytime television and masturbation... both more akin to each other than dissimilar.

It was July 15th of this very year when Rodger had the surprise of a visitor stoping by. This caught him off guard for he really had no one at all who cared for or new him anymore, other than the nurses, who were paid to bathe him, feed him, and medicate him. One night stands, the hallmark of the playboy, did not lend themselves to long-term relationships. And to top it off, the visitor was a burly man, who appeared in his mid 50s. He was carrying a packing box.

"Are you Rodger Dobzyanski, originally from Toledo?" said the man with a hollow, gruff voice.

"Yes." stated Rodger as he lay in his hospital bed, covered with sheets and a blanket up to his shoulders.

Feeling nervous, he slowly, but reflexively slid his hand toward his member and held himself, which calmed him somewhat.

"I brought this for you." stated the man as he heavily placed the box on the bed, where Rodger's legs would have been. "My mother died a month ago."

Rodger took the lid off the box, and a rare look of awareness grew over him. He looked up toward the fellow, but it was too late, he had already turned and walked out of the room. Moments later, Rodger could see him open the door to a large pick-up, and traveled west on the road leading toward the Interstate.

He peered inside the box again. The old condoms were on top, but as he rummaged deeper, he found his and Mary's wedding photo, and a photograph he had taken on their honeymoon. Also tucked into the folder containing the photographs was a worn copy of a birth certificate as well, it listed the baby's birth date as October 5th, 1955. The baby's name, Rodger Dobzyanski, Jr.

The lone tear of emotion that ran down his cheek was something that was not comfortable for him. Quickly, he closed the box and called a nurse to come take it away. Looking up at the ceiling after she came and left with the box, he again reached under the blankets to grasp himself, desperately yanking on himself so he could forget and return to his unaware state of playboy "bliss".

* * * * *

Well, that is for this week's effort. I am not sure if I like this particular story or not. I am not sure this is as strong as the others, but I hope that you enjoy it and leave many, many comments. As always, thank you.... and *I have posted the story ahead of time to boot*!


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Flash Fiction Essay

She was always threatening to punch someone in the face, but this time she meant it. I really don't know why. She displayed the rancor and the demeanor of a tyrant that would make Kate Gosselin look saintly.

"What the hell are you all worked up about this time?" slurred Mack, as he reached across the table for the bottle of whiskey to refill his glass.

"Shut up! Don't you dare talk to me!" wailed Maureen.

The rage in her face was blinding, and the temples on the sides of her face were visibly pulsing. She grabbed Mack's keys and started toward the door.

"Hey, wait a minute, honey, don't leave me all alone." said Mack, his face looking forlorn, yet hazy at the same time. "I love you."

"No! Don't tell me what to do! You don't have the right to tell me to do or feel anything!" Maureen's voice was screechy and harsh.

She looked around the room, seeing it for what it was. A dumpy kitchen, in a dumpy two bedroom tennemant, in the seedier side of town. Peeling paint gave the room its only appreciable decor... well except for the dirt, and the general squalor scattered about.

"I hate her! I despise her! I want to scratch her eyes out!" she said as tears started to brim over her eyelinds down her cheeks, smearing her pancake makeup in rather garish ways.

"Here, have a drink with me." said Mack, as he poured his glass full again of the amber fluid. He reached across the table and pulled toward him a second glass, this one from earlier in the day, that Maureen had poured Mack a glass of milk.

The milk had not been touched since it was originally poured early that morning. Having sat at the table for 6 hours, it had warmed to room temperature and had a bit of a skim across it. Floating in the center of the glass was an ash that had accidently fallen from one of Mack's cigarettes he had smoked since the morning.

Mack was too wobbly to want to stand to get another glass, and he was too drunk to really care a whole helluva lot about what was in the glass anyhow. He brought the glass to his mouth and drank the milk down in a few gulps, then poured it full to the brim with whiskey. The thickness of the milk that had clung to the inside of the glass clouded the whiskey and gave it a murky appearance with slightly opaque swirls in it.

Eyeing both glasses before him, he looked gingerly toward Marueen, and back to the glasses. Drinking about a finger's worth from the top of his original glass, which looked cleaner, he then slid it towards Maureen, keeping the less appealing milky whiskey for himself. To him that showed her how much he cared.

"No! I don't want a damn drink! Just shut up! Leave me alone!" she wailed hysterically.

Mack looked hurt.

"Then hit me! Go ahead, give me a f*ck*n good pop in the face!" he said gruffly. "You can't hit her, so you might as well go ahead and hit me instead, so you can get it out of you!"

"F*ck you!" she screamed! "I'm not going to hit you! You didn't do it!" she raged with the vehemence that hurt her voice.

With that, she ran back towards Mack and started to hit him, quietly at first, but quickly with blows as hard as she could muster. First she hit him in in the chest, the shoulders, and even his face. He sat there and did not react, did not respond.

Every few blows caused Marueen to sit down in the chair at the table and begin to sob. Mack would take a drink or two while she gathered more energy. Within a minute or so, her rage would reassert itself and she would begin throwing more blows at him. Mack did not care about himself, he only knew he loved her, and she needed to get this out of her system.

After about thirty minutes of this, Marueen had no more energy left to hit him anymore. In fact she had no energy left at all, and she slowly slid from the chair to the floor in exhaustion. With soft whimpers she eventually drifted off, the shear effort of pummeling Mack having taken her beyond her emotion, and simply resulted in her collapsing into deep sleep.

Mack looked at her laying on the floor. Reaching with his hand, he pulled on the collar of the old flannel shirt he had hanging on the chair next to him. He gently attempted to lay the shirt over Maureen's torso to keep her warm as she slept.

Still seated, he reached over and brought back the glass he had filled for Maureen and brought it back to drink himself, the milky glass having been drained.

"Sh*t." he muttered quietly, bringing the glass to his lips and looking down at the letter on the table in front of him. It was a letter from Maureen's sister. She had scrawlled on a piece of notebook paper the words, "I did it.... on purpose!"

Mack sat the glass down after draining it, and reached again for the mostly empty fifth in front of him.

* * * * *

This is a very spur of the moment piece of writing, as I was already late. I hope it is at least somewhat interesting.


Thursday, December 03, 2009


Irate Students

I had another faculty member proctor an exam for me the other day because I was asked to speak at a state meeting on education reform. This happens occasionally as I have been asked on several occasions to speak at different state functions like this. The meeting was about 2.5 hours from here, so it really was an all day affair and I could not be present for the student's exam.

Unfortunately, one student became irate at the proctor because of some past issue the two of them had in another class the student had taken from him. A loud, argument ensued, which involved many others in the Department and upper Administration.

Fortunately, I am not *actually* involved in any of the problem... but because it was my student in my class, I am going to work today to try to smooth over the issue with the respective parties. Wish me luck.


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Nothing Much to Write

Today's post is brief because I am heading home for the day and I found out we have lost phone and Internet service at home. It apparently will be a few days before the repair people are able to fix the situation. So, my posts will only come from work.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Interesting Hormone Study

The following story from Science News is quite thought provoking due to the widespread change in the role of plastics in the food service industry over the last 35 years. Think of the difference.... in 1975... almost all food was held in metal or glass containers. NOW, virtually everything is in plastic. These plastics ALL leech out compounds that can mimic steroid hormones like estrogens and androgens. What have we done to ourselves?

Plastics Ingredients Could Make a Boy's Play Less Masculine: Study Links Boys' Fetal Phthalate Exposure to Tendency Toward Gender-Neutral Play Later On

By Janet Raloff

Even monkeys show gender-linked preferences in toys. In children, the brain's hard-wiring tends to explain why boys like fighting and adventure toys and girls will nurture dolls and animals.

Exposures in the womb to a ubiquitous family of industrial chemicals can subtly perturb preferences of boys for certain types of child’s play thought to be hardwired in the brain, a new study suggests. Phthalates are widely used solvents and plastics softeners. In this study, the greater a boy’s fetal exposure to certain phthalates, the less often he tended to engage in typically masculine play.

Girls’ play was unaffected, according to the study, set to be published in an upcoming International Journal of Andrology.

The reason boys like trucks and girls like dolls relates to fetal differences in brain development, explains Heather Patisaul, a neuroendocrinologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Males develop differently from females — physically and behaviorally — only through programming by androgens, male sex hormones such as testosterone, she says In animals, anything that dampens the testosterone signal during fetal development, such as a chemical or genetic defect, can trigger a subtle demasculinization in males.

Because phthalates can exhibit anti-androgenic activity (SN: 9/2/2000, p. 152), Shanna Swan of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, N.Y., and her colleagues investigated whether testosterone-programmed behaviors in young children might be undermined by fetal exposure to the pollutants.

Researchers measured phthalates during the last trimester of pregnancy in women participating in a four-state project in the United States called the Study for Future Families. Three to six years later, Swan’s group asked these women to answer questions about play by their children — 74 boys and 71 girls.

On a one-to-five scale, with one being “never” and five being “very often,” each mom rated how frequently in the past month her child had done such things as play house, play at fighting, climb, play with dolls, dress up in girls’ clothes or show interest in wheeled cars.

Boys with the highest fetal exposures to phthalates — particularly to diethylhexyl phthalate, or DEHP, and dibutyl phthalate, or DBP — tended to exhibit lower scores on typical male play (such as playing with toy guns or pretending to play with guns) and higher on gender-neutral play (such as puzzles or sports). DEHP is in plastic tubing, including types used widely in food processing, Swan notes. DBP is a solvent in many cosmetics, including nail polish and hair sprays.

The results stood out even after accounting for potentially confounding factors, including parents’ age and education as well as parents’ attitudes about gender-typical play.

Play in the most highly phthalate-exposed boys wasn’t “feminized,” Swan explains, since these kids didn’t preferentially play with dolls or don dresses. Rather, she says, “we’d describe their play as less masculine.”

The new study is not the first to link pollutants with alterations in gender-typical play, but it does appear to be the strongest, says David Carpenter of the University of Albany in Rensselaer N.Y. Bolstering confidence that the new findings are not a fluke, he adds, is earlier research by Swan’s group: It showed fetal exposure to phthalates could alter the genital tracts of infants — again, only in boys.

Kimberly Yolton of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital considers the new findings “a potentially big deal — primarily because we all have exposure to phthalates.” The Pre-School Activities Inventory test used to assess these children “is not super sophisticated,” the developmental psychologist says. Then again, for this age group, she says, “it really is the only means out there.”

Even if socialization or other factors cause affected children to later assume gender-typical play, “their brains will still be a little different,” Patisaul says. “And it’s not clear how that will play out when they get a little older.”

Indeed, Yolton says, “There’s a significant difference here [in gender-typical play] but we don’t know yet that this is bad. Who knows,” she adds, affected boys “might be less violent.” Clearly, more research is needed, she says, in part because this study was so small.

Swan agrees. She’s just beginning a bigger follow-up study, with 800 children whose mothers will be recruited during pregnancy from four regions of the country. These children, like those in the current study, will be followed into school age. “We’ll be looking at lots of physiological factors that are shaped by testosterone,” she says — from size and body build to sexually dimorphic differences in mental processing.

Please do not get me wrong... the issue is not the gender neutral play.... the issue of concern is the physiological changes to the brain that occured and what this may affect in terms of reproductive system health, emotional health, and identity. The impact could be enormous.