Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Music to work by

We had a postdoc from Eastern Europe in our lab for a year. She had a lot of idiosyncracies. For example, our electronic pipettor had a two pipetting speeds, and the “fast” mode was indicated by a small sillhouette of a rabbit. The Eccentric Postdoc did not immediately understand what rabbit display meant, but when I explained it to her, she found it hilarious. From that day forward, if anyone did anything speedily, he or she was “like rabbit.” You can split cells in twenty minutes? You are like rabbit. Set up an experiment quickly? Like rabbit. Put together a group meeting presentation in only five minutes? Like rabbit.

In addition to “like rabbit,” there were a couple of other phrases that The Eccentric Postdoc repeated endlessly. Our lab had some temperature control issues (see “Construction woes”), so it was either “like freezer” or “like oven.” We’d hear these three sayings fifty times a day, at least. As was bound to happen, we began to do imitations, and eventually had to institute a three-imitations-a-day rule.

But the catch phrases were not nearly as annoying as the humming. Whenever she sat working by herself, either at the microscope or at the computer, The Eccentric Postdoc would hum. Not a song or anything. Just a tuneless, rhythmless, droning, hum. With variable volume. “MMMmmmmmmMMmMMMMMMmmmmMMMMMmmmmmm” (breath) “mmmMMMMMmmmmmmmmmmmmMMMmMMmmmmMMmMMMM...”
Because she changed the pitch and volume at random intervals, it was nearly impossible to tune out the humming sound. Her hum was the audio version of Chinese water torture.

But The Eccentric Postdoc wasn’t the only hummer in the lab. One day, The Doktah and I were having lunch in the cave (a long, dark stretch of lab adjacent to the cell culture room where we had a loveseat, coffee table, and fridge for food) and we heard a burst of song coming from the cell culture room. It was Baseball Cap Guy. He was splitting cells, and had suddenly starting humming “When You Wish Upon a Star” at the top of his lungs. (Can you hum at the top of your lungs?) The Doktah ran to the door of the cell culture room, threw it open and sang, “Anything your heart desires will cooome toooo yooouuu!” but Baseball Cap Guy was unappreciative. He seemed a bit embarrassed to be caught humming that particular song, and did not find it amusing when we started calling him Jiminy Cricket. We were sensitive and mature young ladies, and we understood his embarrassment. So we only called him Jiminy behind his back.

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