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Navel Intelligence

For a long time, I thought I was the only person on earth who was born without a belly button.

My parents wouldn’t talk about it. I figured maybe I was hatched from a seven-pound egg.

I avoided the showers after high school gym class, and during Army basic training. I knew that if my lack of a navel was discovered, the other guys would taunt me.

A lot of people want everyone else to be just like them, and they’re usually the people I don’t want to be like. Still, it would have been nice to have a belly button like other people. Lord, how I envied navel oranges.

Then I met my friend Manzy, who also had no belly button. We no longer felt like freaks, alone in the world.

You’ve probably heard of Manzy: Dr.Manzanita Serena Southwing, who may make a run for governor of Arizona next year.

Her parents, who loved the Arizona desert before it became fashionable, named Manzy for the manzanita tree. The Manzanita produces a tough, beautiful wood. Manzy is both tough and beautiful. When you’re born without a navel, you get tough.

I met her when I was a young reporter covering the Miss Love Bug pageant. It was sponsored by the Yuma County Wing of The Brotherhood of Aerial Pest Control Applicators (crop dusters), and conducted in a bar at Mohawk.

Manzy won, even though she was the only contestant wearing a one-piece bathing suit. Her suit was snug and clingy, and I had one of those hunches, as I do sometimes when I draw to an inside straight.

I asked her, as kindly as I could, “Do you have a belly button?” Reporters have to ask the hard questions.

She looked stricken and replied in a very small voice: “No.”

I took Manzy aside and pulled out my shirttail to show her my unadorned abdomen; it was much flatter than the hemispheric pot I now wear.

In that moment, each of us was liberated. It’s a hard thing to explain, but knowing you’re not the only freak in the world gives you confidence.

Manzy and I developed a special kinship. Our friendship was purely platonic, because I was a family man, and ten years older than Manzy.

My new friend was about to take off like a rocket. The women’s movement of the 1960s was igniting, and Manzy caught the wave.

Journalists spent a lot of time in those days reporting on “First Woman”: the first woman to drive a bulldozer, fly an airliner, be a cop. The first woman mayor, the first female sperm donor. These stories quickly became cliches, then sexist affronts, even as feminist females became editors-in-chief.

Manzy was First Woman Of The Year several times–first woman crop duster, first woman bell captain. I don’t know how she found time to be all those things and earn a law degree, which in turn allowed her to work her way through medical school.

She fixed her own automobiles, and even built a race car. She ran on dirt tracks around the state for six weekends, until she got bored with racing.

She dabbled in politics, and was perpetual chairperson of our Global Coalition For Navel Liberation. She called the coalition “Bellies Without Borders,” and God help the belly-button bigot who tangled with Manzy.

Manzy also had a strong domestic side. She was a gourmet cook. As soon as she got bored with how her apartment was decorated, she’d redo it completely, at a cost of about $35.

She would have liked to have a family, but she figured she didn’t have time for a husband and kids. So she took up with Earl, a political hack who worked for one government agency, then another. He was dumber than a box of slogans.

No one could figure that relationship, but as you get older, you realize you never really see the trade-offs in someone else’s relationship; you’re darned lucky if you can figure out your own. Or maybe not.

Manzy and Earl made international headlines last year when they crashed their airplane during a moose-hunting trip in the wilds of northern British Columbia. Manzy had built the plane herself from a mail-order kit.

She made one of her rare miscalculations. She underestimated the combined weight of herself, Earl and two bull meese, and how it would affect her take-off from a landing strip that was almost as wide as it was long.

Earl tried to tell her the runway ran the other direction. He was still talking when the plane sagged into the trees. Two tall fir trees sheared off the wings, and Earl was knocked unconscious.

Manzy dragged Earl from the wreckage, and found that his right femur was shattered. Fortunately, she had her medical bag with her. She replaced Earl’s femur with a section of moose femur.

As Earl regained consciousness, Manzy told him what she had done. She jokingly added that while he was out, she had transplanted some of the moose’s organs to him. Earl almost passed out again as he jerked upright to examine himself.

Manzy rummaged around in the wreckage of her airplane, and had eggs Benedict and waffles ready to feed the crew of the medical helicopter that came to rescue her and Earl.

That incident gave Manzy name recognition around the world, and this did not escape the notice of political professionals.

The name Dr. Manzanita Serena Southwing began to be floated around as a candidate for governor of Arizona, maybe grooming her for the U.S. Senate. I thought Manzy was too busy to want the governor’s job, but the idea seemed to intrigue her.

Just the other day, I ran into Manzy at Mayo Clinic Hospital. She seemed abashed when she saw me–or when she saw that I saw her.

“What are you doing here?” I asked. “Don’t tell me…You’ve been to see Dr. Grubbles, the navel surgeon. You had a belly button installed so you can run for governor!”

“It has nothing to do with politics,” she snapped. “I just want to be able to wear a thong bikini when Earl and I go to Cannes to accept my award.”

Then she countered: “And what are you doing here? And how come you know about Dr.Grubbles? You didn’t…”

I said, “Well, I have to run for re-election as state liar in 2006, and I figured a navel couldn’t hurt.”

Manzy asked, “Did you get a pop-inner, or a pop-outer?”

“Mine’s convertible,” I lied.

• • •

The Wickenburg Institute for Factual Diversity is planning its 18th annual deviled egg stuffing contest. Last year’s competition overflowed the Wickenburg rodeo grounds, so we’re looking for a larger venue. We’re negotiating to rent La Paz County. Watch this space for details.

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