Gauthier: Nightmares and dreamscapes

Deborah E. Gauthier

I had a terrible dream Monday night. My septic system was clogged with billions and billions of microbeads - so many microbeads the covers were pushed from the big cement tanks and they overflowed, turning the backyard into one of those amusements kids find so ... well ... amusing.

You've certainly seen those large bins filled with plastic spheres just a bit smaller than candlepin bowling balls. They've got them at some McDonald's. They've got them at Chuck E. Cheese. You can even buy smaller versions for your home at Toys 'R Us and other stores catering to children.

I bought a blow-up fire truck filled with plastic balls to keep on the deck for the amusement of the grandchildren. It kept them occupied for about 30 minutes, and then they lost interest. A wasted $70. It was too small. To be effective, a container of balls has to be big, Huge, GIGANTIC.

Kids don't want to just wade through balls. They want to jump in and sink into a sea of balls - but watch out for hard, round little heads! Once safely surrounded by balls, the kids push, swim and skim their way, inch by inch, from one side of the bin to the other.

I don't get it. But then, I'm not a kid.

It's been a while since I've been to an amusement area with the ball-filled containers, so why the nightmare? Do I have an up-until-now repressed fear of drowning in a sea of tiny balls - so small a million enter the lungs with every breath, another million slide into eardrums, and...

Well, you get the picture. I woke up short of breath and terrified.

Then it dawned on me - the nightmare was my subconscious reacting to a news brief I'd heard a week or so ago - one in which it was reported that fish were dying because microbeads polluting our waterways were getting into the fish.

Despite hours of googling for that story or something similar, however, I found nothing. Were dying fish just part of a vivid dream?

Darned if I know, but it's made me think twice about the face cleanser I use. The creamy cleanser includes microbeads which gently exfoliate the dead skin from the face so that a fresh, new layer of skin appears. I start each day looking youthful and vibrant. Ya, right... but that's the advertised claim and I do like fairy tales.

Many facial cleansers now include miniscule beads. They're so small one barely feels them gently scrubbing off that old layer of skin. They're so gentle, in fact, one wonders if they do anything at all. Are the beads good for our skin, or are they just the newest rage in cosmetics, a brag that convinces people like me to spend an extra dollar or two out of hope and vanity?

I'd thought the beads were made of something natural, like oil encapsulated with something that dissolves when exposed to water. And some are. Others are made of wax which I suppose are meant to melt in the heat of bath or shower. Are they bad for the environment? Is my subconscious trying to tell me something?

Darned if I know that, either.

What I do know is that I often find little microbeads hiding in the folds behind my ears and occasionally at the hair line of my forehead. I roll the tiny balls between my fingers - they look and feel like plastic. I examine them like I once examined the innards of a dead frog in a biology class.

I don't know what they are, but I do know they're everywhere, even in pantyhose. "All natural time-release moisturizing microbeads treat your legs to an all-day spa treatment," touts one pantyhose maker.

Tiny microbeads are being used to decorate clothing and crafts. More importantly, they're being used to filter out pollutants in air and water and to deliver precise amounts of medicine to areas of the body once impossible to reach.

Mind to self: Microbeads most likely are nothing to fear. Still, I'm going back to a facial cleanser without them. Just in case.

Deb Gauthier of The MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News can be reached by e-mail at dgauthie@cnc.com.