Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Doktah is actually quite smart

The Doktah and I were in the cave having lunch, and the conversation turned, as it so often does, to the insertion of foreign objects into one’s nose. I told her that I had heard that pediatricians have a special tool for removing things like beans and marbles from kids’ noses. The Doktah said that she didn’t see how these things could get stuck. “You could probably just blow it out again,” she said as she picked an olive pit from her Greek salad. Then she put it in her nose. Where it got stuck.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Sometimes The Doktah is loud

The Doktah was going away for a week. I looked around the lab, picturing what it was going to be like while she was away. “Man, it’s going to be really quiet here next week,” I said to her.

“Really?" she said. "Who else is going.... oh."

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

How is everything?

The Doktah once came up with me on a visit to my parents’ house, and while we were in town, we went out to dinner with Sister #4 and Brother-in-law #4. The waitress took our drink orders, and everyone ordered a beer. But when she got to me, I ordered a 7&7. This is Seagram’s 7 Whiskey and 7-Up. Brother-in-law #4 was fairly startled, and still talks about it to this day. People are often surprised to learn that I like whiskey, I think for the same reason that people used to apologize for swearing around me. No one apologizes anymore, though. I blame The Doktah’s bad influence on my vocabulary.

After the waitress brought our food over, she came back for the requisite check-in to see if everything was all right. But I think this particular waitress was insecure, because instead of the standard, “How is everything?” we got, “How is everything – really good?” There was no real pause between the question and the answer she provided, so it was hard to do anything but agree.

Microscopy is not for the faint of heart

One last Eccentric Postdoc story before I switch gears. Eccentric Postdoc was really a nice lady, despite her eccentricities, many of which were due to cultural and language barriers. I’m sure we seemed equally weird to her. Especially those of us who appeared to be witches. And Eccentric Postdoc also helped me learn the best way to do immunofluorescent staining of my cell cultures, so I can forgive a lot of eccentricities for that.

Immunofluorescent staining of cells is a fairly exhausting time-intensive experiment. When I first learned the procedure, I was taught a protocol for single-day experiments. This turned out to be a bad way to do it. The staining involved about five hours of washing and incubation, followed by microscopy work. The first time I did the experiment, I, like many before me and many after me, thought that the hard work was done by the time I got to the microscope, and all that was left was snapping a few pictures. Oh, the naivete. Experienced grad students know that microscopy work is actually very difficult. There’s a lot of scanning, adjusting, focusing, and switching of filters that takes much longer than a novice might expect. And our lab had the added challenge of combating the microscope gremlins who came in every night to misalign the lamp and loosen all the screws. Eventually, I learned to allot at least thirty minutes on the microscope per sample, even though I was only trying to get five images from each one. I also learned to make sure I signed up for the scope an hour or two early so that I could realign the lamp and tighten all the screws.

But when Eccentric Postdoc started working in our lab, I had not yet learned how to streamline my microscope experience. So with the single-day staining protocols, I faced hours of microscopy work at the end of a very long day of staining cells. One night, I was in the process of trying to mount my samples to a glass slide for the first time. Up to that point, I had been doing the microscopy on wet samples still in the dishes. With wet samples, after taking the micrographs, there was nothing to do but throw the samples away. Mounted samples, on the other hand, could be saved in the refrigerator for future observation, a much safer scenario. Unfortunately, I was having some difficulty with the mounting gel. I had followed the directions, but in the microscope, the cells looked smushed. I know now that I didn’t let the gel dry for long enough, but at the time I didn’t understand why I couldn’t see anything. Enter Eccentric Postdoc.

Eccentric Postdoc wanted to help. She helped me readjust the lab’s microscope. She helped me re-mount my samples. She brought me over to another lab where she sometimes worked to try their microscope. At first, I was grateful for the assistance, but after about an hour of fruitless searching for decent cells, I was ready to call it a day. Eccentric Postdoc would have none of it.

“Oh, well,” I kept saying. “I guess it didn’t work this time. I’ll try again tomorrow.”

“Nooo,” Eccentric Postdoc intoned. “We will try again.” And then she’d reset the microscope stage with another sample, and I would cry a little inside.

This was a difficult problem to deal with, because she was acting solely on my behalf. It really was in my best interest to acquire usable data from the experiment I had already invested so much time into. But I was also facing what The Doktah and I called, in calculus terms, “a globally bad, locally good” situation. Yes, in the long term, I would be happy to have data. But in the short term, I would have been thrilled to stop working, go home and sleep. I had already been at the lab for ten or so hours, and I really needed a break. But Eccentric Postdoc just would not quit. Those cells were going to be observed, dammit.

Finally, after a lot of wasted time – time in which I appeared to be trying to solve the problem, but was actually thinking, “please let me stop please let me stop please let me stop” – we determined that my samples were not salvageable. I had, as previously noted, not let the gel mount dry, so the cells got smeared across the coverslip when I tried to use the oil objective to observe them. The experiment was a wash, but I did learn a few things. First, I learned give the gel mount at least two hours to set before observing the cells. Second, I learned not to ask Eccentric Postdoc for help if I secretly wanted to quit. And third, Eccentric Postdoc showed me a better way to do the staining that spread the experiment over two days, which gave me one 4-hour followed by one 8-hour day instead of one 10-hour-without-a-break day. A vast improvement.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Buses, taxis, and witches

Speaking of Eccentric Postdoc, she spent the better part of two years believing that The Doktah and I were witches. Let me explain.

The three of us and The P.I. were attending a conference in San Francisco. Because we flew out the day the conference began, we went straight from the airport to the conference center. At the end of the day, The P.I. headed off to his parents’ house where he was staying for the duration of the conference. Eccentric Postdoc, The Doktah and I, however, had reservations at a local hotel.

I had made these reservations, and, in the interest of saving money, I had tried to find a cheaper hotel than the ones right in the conference center area. Because I didn’t want to be too far away, I called the hotels I was considering to ask them how close they were to the Moscone Center. One place was pretty inexpensive, and the person on the phone told me they were only a ten-minute walk from the conference center. “Great!” I said, and booked a room.

So the three of us picked up our bags from the coat check at the conference and went outside into the dark San Francisco night to try to figure out how to get to the hotel. None of us had ever been to San Francisco before; this combined with our jet lag and fatigue from attending lectures all day made for three rather groggy, confused people. Three groggy, confused people longing to take showers, actually. So The Doktah and I were all for hailing a cab to get us to the hotel. We could figure out a cheaper way to and from in the morning, but at that moment, we just wanted to get there.

Have you ever tried to hail a cab on a Saturday night in front of the Moscone Center just as a conference is ending? It’s not so easy. But we had no idea where the hotel was in relation to the center, and we had no idea what buses might go by the hotel, so we were pretty much stuck trying to hail a cab. The Eccentric Postdoc, however, did not agree.

“We should walk, I think,” she said, in her usual slow style of speech. “There is no taxi.”

“But we don’t know how to get there,” I told her patiently. I knew that English was her second language, and I tried to be patient. “We can’t walk, because we don’t know where the hotel is.”

She nodded, apparently satisfied with this explanation. But thirty seconds later she said, “I think we should just walk.”

I swallowed a sigh of aggravation, and said, “We can’t walk. We don’t know where the hotel is. We have no map.”

“But I think we will not get a taxi,” she persisted. “So I think it is better if we just walk.”

Bear in mind that this was the end of a very long day of plane travel followed by hours of seminars. So it is not unreasonable that I got annoyed pretty quickly. “We cannot walk there,” I explained, very testily. “We have no idea where it is. We don’t even know what direction to walk in. We can’t walk.”


“But I think we should walk,” she began again.

I lost all semblance of patience. “We don’t know where it is!” I shouted. “If you want to walk, fine! We’ll meet you there!”

Fortunately, at this point The Doktah succeeded in finally hailing a cab, and we climbed in gratefully. The cab then took us on a confusing circuitous route through the city, and I began to have suspicions about the “ten minute walk” from the hotel to the Moscone Center. When we got to the hotel, we asked at the front desk if there was a bus, and they gave us a schedule. It turned out that the Moscone Center was not so much a ten-minute walk from the hotel as it was a 45-minute bus ride. But, you know, same difference.

The hotel room was basically fine, although it smelled a bit wonky. But there was a shower and beds, so we were pretty happy with it, all in all. There was also a TV, so The Doktah and I were able to indulge our Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel habits while at the conference. Poor Eccentric Postdoc just had to deal with it. She must have been hugely relieved the one night we stayed out sort of late and she got to shut out the lights and go to slep early.

The Doktah also happened to be reading a book about vampires or something on that particular trip. I think that after seeing us watch Buffy and Angel, which made no sense to her at all because of her struggling English, the book tipped the balance for Eccentric Postdoc. It seems that when we got back home, Eccentric Postdoc told The P.I. that The Doktah and I were witches. I think he just let her continue to think so.

Man, that trip must have been really bad for her.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Fire? What fire?

One time I left the lab and noticed a horrible, loud, pulsing, buzzing noise. Terrible sound. I was willing to do anything necessary in order to stop hearing the sound. This, as it turned out, was a good thing, because the horrible sound was the fire alarm. The fire alarm which I did not hear while in the lab.

Being the thoughtful person that I am, I went back into the lab to tell people that the fire alarm was going off, and that we should leave. Eccentric Postdoc said, “No, it is a drill, I think.”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “I think they always tell us when it is a drill, and they didn’t this time.”

“No, there is no fire. It is a drill, I think. No fire,” she said. Because she was Eccentric Postdoc, she just kept repeating herself, very slowly. “Nooo, no fire. Just drill.”

“It might be a fire!” I said. “We don’t know. I don’t think it’s a drill. We should probably leave.”

“Nooo. It is a drill, I think. I do not want to leave. There is nooo fiiiire,” she kept saying.

“There might be!” I said again, and then gave up. I had done what I could to save her from a fiery doom. “Well, I’m leaving. I just thought you should know that the alarm is going off. You do what you want.” I left through The P.I.’s office, and told him on the way that the alarm was ringing, and that we should leave. He grunted at me and kept typing. I threw up my hands in exasperation and headed outside to avoid the possible raging fire.

Do you remember the horse in Animal Farm? The one who just kept repeating, “I will work harder!” until he dropped dead? Well, The P.I. and Eccentric Postdoc got off lucky that time, because there was no fire. But unless they adjust their “Must! Work!” attitudes, I don’t know. It’s a short trip to the glue factory. Me, I feel that the best plan of action when a fire alarm is ringing is to leave the building, even if you’re in the middle of a sentence in your grant proposal.

The story has a happy ending, though. I mean other than the happy news that there was no fire and no one died. I went down to see my old friends in Operations, and told them that we couldn’t hear the fire alarm while inside our lab. They were horrified and installed an alarm inside the lab that was so loud, there was no way we could ignore it and stay inside, even if there was noooo fiiiire.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Oh, the irony

Baseball Cap Guy used to make fun of me and The Doktah for Instant Messaging each other. This is fair, because our desks were next to each other. Granted, in order to speak, we had to actually turn our chairs slightly so that we could look at each other, which was clearly too much effort. Also, we could IM things that we couldn’t say out loud. Sometimes I would try to send her a message, but she wouldn’t be logged on, so I would say, “Why aren’t you on IM? Log on! I need to IM you!”

Now that we live 300 miles apart we never IM each other at all.

I speet on zee detergents

While in grad school, I discovered The French Hairdresser, a hair stylist worth splurging on. Although his rates were high, his haircuts were magical. I had been searching for a hairdresser like him all my life. At my first appointment, he allowed for an in-depth consultation, which started with his saying, “Tell me about you.” So I told him a bit about myself, about how I desperately needed help with my hairstyle and how I am lazy as all get out when it comes to actually styling it. “Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Yes. And you dress how, like thees? You are casual, no? You do not wear a lot of the makeup?”

“Yes!” I said. “Exactly! I don’t spend hours on my hair and makeup, but I need to look better than this. But I don’t know how to tell you to cut my hair, I need you to tell me how you think my hair should be cut. Because I’m always wrong.”

“Oui. I understand. I tell you what I will do,” he said. And he described my upcoming cut. I gave my approval. While he was cutting my hair, he asked me what shampoos I use. I was a little embarrassed, but I admitted that I had lately been using Suave.

He choked. On his own bile, I think. It seemed that Suave shampoo was his anathema. “Suave! Ptuh! Suave, it ees not zee shampoo. In France, Suave would not be allowed to be labeled as zee shampoo. Suave, it is zee detergent. Suave, it dries out zee hair, but it makes zee head oily, so your hair, it is oily at zee top and dry at zee ends.” But the thing is, my hair actually was oily at the roots but dry at the ends. And my hair never use to be oily and dry like that. So this was the first convincing evidence I had ever had that cheap shampoo is no good, and the expensive kind may be worth it.

“Do not use zee Suave anymore,” French Hairdresser told me. “Try this shampoo. Eet ees expenseeve, oui, but if you do not like eet after two weeks, I will take it back at no charge.” Well, you can’t turn down an offer like that. And of course, I didn’t bring it back, because it was totally worth the money.

As time passed, I learned that The French Hairdresser took his job very seriously. His haircuts took at least an hour, because he cut with such care and precision. Someone once came over to ask him a question while he was cutting my hair, and he very nearly bit her head off with a curt, “I am working.” When The Doktah, who of course started to go to The French Hairdresser as soon as I told her of his amazing magical haircutting powers, wanted to get a short haircut to look more professional for her post-doc, The French Hairdresser refused to do it because her hair was too beautiful. She had to go to someone else in the salon.

The salon was located a few doors down from the physics building, and the alternative hairdresser was stunned to learn that The Doktah and her beautiful hair worked right on the corner. He told her that they called the intersection containing the physics building (and, let’s face it, the engineering building) “The Corner of Ugly.” So imagine what torture this parade of sloppy people was for The French Hairdresser. He seemed to take it as a personal insult when people failed to groom according to his high standards. He would gesture at the people walking by on the street and say, “Look at them. Why do zey not dress better and use zee hair products. I do not understand eet.” They really made him angry. I tried to defend them, saying that some people don’t think that their appearance is so important, but he would have none of it. “Don’t be reedeeculous. It ees a simple matter to style your hair and wear nice clothes. These peoples, I do not know what zey theenk. Bah.”

That first haircut by The French Hairdresser was a turning point in my life. That expensive haircut marked the beginning of my journey to becoming a vain, vain girl. Next stop? Red boots. The Doktah was my enabler along the way. But it really started with The French Hairdresser, who gave me the best haircut I had ever received. Yes, it was more money than I had ever spent on a haircut, but, oh, what a haircut. It was easy. It was manageable. It looked respectable even if I didn’t have time to blow dry it. When I did have time to blow dry it, I could actually repeat what he did in the salon. Do you understand? I could style it myself! For the first time ever! And he guaranteed his haircuts for eight, instead of the usual six weeks. “Eef you need zee haircut again before zee eight weeks, I do it for free,” he told me.

I didn’t change completely overnight, though. I couldn’t bring myself to throw out the Suave; too much of a waste. So I left it at the gym and only used it there. But the next time I went to see The French Hairdresser, he could totally tell. I lied when he asked me what shampoo I was using, because I couldn’t bear the shame, but he knew. Oh, he knew.

How I miss The French Hairdresser. I have been searching for someone to cut my hair properly ever since I graduated, but I am so spoiled now that no one can satisfy my needs. Haircuts should take at least an hour. The first place I went to after moving back to Massachusetts, the entire haircut, from wash to cut to blow dry, only took 25 minutes! How can that be any good? I have finally found a stylist I am pretty happy with, but I still long for my French Hairdresser. My new stylist didn’t even scold me for waiting so long between cuts. Where’s the love?

Pitch black

The power went out in the lab one time. Baseball Cap Guy was sitting at his bench, pipetting something, and there was sudden darkness. I’m talking, complete, utter, no-light-at-all, windowless basement darkness. The kind of darkness where you begin to believe that light doesn't even exist, that it was merely a figment of your imagination. Now, recall that the lab was cramped, overcrowded, and spilling over with chairs. The lab was also full of very expensive machines, sharp needles and razor blades, biohazardous and toxic substances, and many corners jutting out at odd angles. And the lab was lacking a clear path to the door. Because of the chairs. So Baseball Cap Guy had no choice but to remain still, holding the pipettor, and hope that the lights would come back on or that someone would at least open the door and maybe let a little light in so that he could leave. He couldn’t even put down the pipettor because he might put it on an errant razor blade, or more likely, accidentally spill his petri dishes all over the place.

The Doktah and I came in about fifteen minutes later, after the lights came back on. When the power went out, we hadn't even really noticed for the first ten minutes or so because it was daytime and we weren’t using a computer at that moment. So when we saw Baseball Cap Guy sitting at the bench we said, “Hey, did you know the power went out?”

“Yeah. I noticed.”

Monday, April 11, 2005

Circular logic

So The Doktah was getting ready to graduate. Her schedule resembled mine, except with less moving and more traveling. She was writing a grant for her upcoming post-doc which was supposed to start in October. She was also writing her thesis for her defense in August. From mid-August to October, she was going to be in Europe for something like three or four conferences. And I think also to work in someone’s lab in Prague? Maybe? The point is that she was very, very busy with highly stressful, life-changing things.

But her trip to Europe, combined with conflicting schedules of her thesis committee, caused her to miss the deadline for defending her thesis in time for the August graduation date, pushing her official date up to December. This was a problem, because the university where she was going to do her post-doc wouldn’t let her officially begin working there until she had deposited her thesis.

“Depositing a thesis” involves printing it out on very expensive paper at least three times, more if your mom wants a copy, and bringing it over to the woman who accepts theses. (Aside: One woman in our department had seven copies of her thesis bound to distribute to her friends and family. And another guy had eleven copies made. Eleven. Was he using them as buisness cards? “Hi, nice to meet you, here’s a copy of my thesis.”) Then she measures the margins and checks the figures; you sign a copyright form and she signs a form and you’re done. It’s very much a technicality.

But our grad school wouldn’t let her deposit her thesis without completing a health insurance waiver form. The health insurance waiver form could not be completed without proof of alternative health insurance. She couldn’t get health insurance at her new university until she officially started her post-doc. And she couldn’t officially start her post-doc until she deposited her thesis.

I’ll let you read that again so it can sink in.

So in addition to finishing her thesis, writing her grant, packing up her life – remembering to set aside supplies month and a half in Europe – and finding a place to live, she had to start calling bureaucrats and ask them to use some common sense. This is tricky, as bureaucrats are not known for their common sense. There was a lot of, “Yeah, hmmm. You’re in a bit of a pickle there. Wish I could help,” going on.

I had graduated by this point, so The Doktah finally called me in near hysterics to see if I had any insights to offer. I suggested she try to buy temporary insurance, but because of the enrollment periods for the insurance at the new university, she’d have to have it for months, and she couldn’t afford it. I told her there must be someone higher up the chain who could allow her to deposit her thesis, as the whole situation was completely insane. There had to be someone with the power to cut through the red tape.

Then I thought of Awesome Secretary. Awesome Secretary was the reason I chose this grad school over my second choice. She was the graduate assistant for our department, and she was the kind of secretary who rules the world. You did not want to get on her bad side, because simply by not going out of her way to help you, she could make your life a living hell. She made everything easier. She was awesome. And fortunately, she liked The Doktah.

I told The Doktah to ask Awesome Secretary to make a few phone calls and get someone higher up the chain to see some sense, and she did. The Doktah was eventually allowed to deposit her thesis, even though it meant risking several hours without health insurance, and The Doktah is now happily ensconced in her post-doc. Awesome Secretary is still smoothing the way for grad students at our school.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Notice anything?

Last year I got new glasses. After six years of the same round wire frames, which were preceded by four years of slightly different round wire frames, I got rectangular blue plastic frames. The new glasses completely changed the way I looked. They were a totally different style. So that night when The Husband got home, I went into the bedroom and put on my new glasses for the big reveal. I came out and said, “Ta da!”

The Husband looked at me blankly. “What?” he said. Panic started to set in. He could tell I was trying to show him something, but what? “Did you change your hair?”

“What? No!” I shouted indignantly.

“Uh… new shoes? New outfit? You put makeup on!” He was shouting anything that popped into his head.

Now, to fully appreciate the situation, you should know that I had previously discussed the upcoming purchase of my new glasses at length with The Husband. Choosing new glasses is a very important decision, particularly if, like me, you wear your glasses all the time. It’s your face. You need to pick the right ones. I didn’t have anyone to shop with, so I had talked to him about the ones I found in this or that eyeglasses store, and about how I like that one pair, but I wasn’t sure, and blah blah blah. Now, maybe I can understand his attention drifting during some of those conversations.

But here’s the thing. I had also picked him up from work the day I bought the glasses, and on the way home I told him that I bought new glasses that day. The big reveal and the “ta da” were about five minutes after that.

Much to the chagrin of The Husband, every single other person in my life noticed my new glasses immediately. “Wow, Mo! I love your new glasses!” I heard it over and over again. My mom. My sisters. My friends. The Doktah. Leah Lar. Minneapolis Friend. The P.I. OK, maybe not The P.I. But the rest of the lab. And I hadn’t told anybody but The Husband that I was going to get new glasses. Strangers on the street stopped to tell me that they like my new glasses, even though they didn’t know that they were new.

But not The Husband. The Husband, who knew ahead of time that I was going to get new glasses, who was told moments before seeing them that they had been purchased, didn’t notice them. No. Instead I got, “Uh… I know, jewelry! New jewelry!”

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Well, it didn’t just spring out fully formed from the earth

Bitter Guy found a sort of not-sold-in-stores kind of bendy wrench thing in the tool chest in the lab. He got all excited, held it up and said, “Someone invented this!”

He had left out the critical phrase “someone that The P.I. knows.”

Who needs brown flats?

On my aforementioned trip to Minneapolis, Minneapolis Friend, Leah Lar and I went shoe shopping. Because women like shoes. That may be a sweeping generalization, so let me rephrase and say we three women like shoes. And most women that I know. Also purses. I’m finding that I’m suddenly coveting all of these expensive bags and purses. What’s up with that? Not two years ago, I was talking to Leah Lar about how we both completely understand the appeal of expensive clothes and shoes, because we can see the difference in quality, but that neither of us could understand the appeal of an expensive purse. Or any purse, really. We were just not that into purses. Now? I love them. And this is happening to my other friends as well. They say that the are suddenly quite interested in fancy purse stores. I don’t know if it’s a side effect of having to carry a purse now when I used to get by with just pockets, or what, but it’s actually kind of inconvenient to have this accessory long for. Nevertheless, I still don’t understand why anyone would be willing to spend thousands of dollars on one purse.

But I digress. So we were shoe shopping, but I was really just hanging out, because I didn’t need shoes. I would only allow myself to buy brown dress flats, because I had no nice brown shoes at all. And only if I happened to find them. But that’s it; I had everything else I needed by way of shoes. Minneapolis Friend and Leah Lar, on the other hand, were all about buying themselves extraneous, unnecessary pairs of shoes. Minneapolis Friend found a pair of Pumas in Urban Outfitters, and fell in love with them. But they were overpriced, as are many things in Urban Outfitters, so I told her she should ask the people to hold them for her, and she could think about. “Really,” I said, “you should be practical. You don’t need these, and they’re so overpriced. If you still want them tomorrow, we can come back.” Minneapolis Friend agreed, and she put them on hold.

In the next store, Leah Lar found an adorable pair of black Mary Janes, but they didn’t have her size. She desperately wanted them, but was torn because they were pretty expensive for shoes that were too big. Once again, I stepped in as the voice of reason. “Just ask them to hold them for you and you can think about it. Because they don’t fit, so you might never wear them, and it’s a lot of money for shoes you’ll never wear. If you still want them tomorrow, we’ll come back,” I told her. Somewhat reluctantly, Leah Lar did as I suggested.

We finished up our excursion with a trip to DSW. I scanned all of the aisles for my brown dress flats, but didn’t find anything. Remember, I was willing to spend money only on the perfect brown dress flats that met my exact shoe requirements. I was the Voice of Reason, after all. I couldn’t buy any old shoes that simply caught my fancy. So I went over to help Minneapolis Friend decide on a pair of boots to replace her worn-out ones. Five minutes before the store closed, I tried on a pair of red ankle boots on a whim. Minneapolis Friend and Leah Lar gasped in awe. “Those boots look like they were made for your foot,” Leah Lar said.

Minneapolis Friend agreed. “They really are fabulous,” she said reverently.

“Yes. They are,” I said. And then I bought them.

One shoe, two shoes, red shoe, blue shoe

The Doktah moves a lot. A lot, people. Once a year at a minimum, but often two or even three times a year. Although she is currently meeting with realtors, so it looks like her next move will be relatively permanent. But in addition her penchant for moving, The Doktah likes shoes. She really likes shoes. These two facts are related because during one of her moves, I helped The Doktah pack up her shoes.

Now, I am a woman, and as such, I can understand that women need lots of shoes. It’s a simple fact that a woman can own five pairs of, for example, black flats, and each pair of shoes uniquely fulfills its own sartorial function in the daily wardrobe. One pair may have be fun and chunky with a buckle; another may be sleek and professional with no accoutrements. Different shoes, different looks entirely. So when The Doktah, embarrassed, apologized to me for the sheer number of her shoes, I scoffed. “Bah,” I said. I went over to the box she had started to fill with shoes. “There’s no need to be embarrassed. I’m a woman.” I reached into the box and pulled out a black strappy heel. “I know that this shoe, for example, is completely different from –” I reached into the box again “this shoe.” I had pulled out another black strappy heel.

I looked at the shoes in my hands. They were not a matched pair, and yet… “Well, OK, these are sort of the same. But I’m sure that’s a fluke. I’m sure if we look at, say, this brown flat and this brown flat…” I said as I pulled out two more shoes. Although they were not from the same pair, they were once again equivalent. I started pulling more and more shoes out of the box, and found that The Doktah had two versions of essentially every pair of shoes she owned.

The Doktah claimed that this is because she would first buy a cheap pair of shoes, and if she still liked them a month or so later, she would find an expensive version. But she would keep the cheap ones too, because they were never worn out. Probably because, despite her massive shoe collection, The Doktah wore the same exact Steve Madden slides every day. Every single day.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


In September of my last year in grad school, I finally went to Minneapolis to visit my friend from college. It was my last chance to go before I got married and graduated, and before she graduated (and, as it turns out, gets married), but it caused a bit of a snafu for my sisters and mother who were attempting to plan a surprise bridal shower for me. I remember discussing my weekend schedule with The Husband, and when I mentioned my upcoming travel plans, he looked at me, paused, and said, “Oh, then the weekend after that is your shower?”

This was the first I had heard of the shower. “What shower?” I said. “Are my sisters throwing me a surprise shower?” The Husband blanched. “Well you better call my mom tomorrow, because I already bought my plane ticket, and it’s non-refundable.”

My sisters were a bit exasperated with me for planning a trip so close to my wedding. It was sorted out before any invitations were sent, but they ended up having to tell me about it, because it was just too difficult to plan a surprise bridal shower when the bride lived seven hours away from the shower.

The day of the shower, I ran into Sister #3 and my nephew in the grocery store after church. She was picking up cheese and crackers and the cake, but because her hands were so full, what with the cheese, the crackers, and the child, that I offered to carry the cake. We arrived at my mom’s house, and when my sister-in-law opened the door she saw me bringing my own cake into my bridal shower. She got that expression on her face that has become familiar in her dealings with my family. There is a brief expression of shock and horror, followed by amused resignation at our “relaxed” attitude toward normal niceties.

I didn’t tell you about the actual trip to Minneapolis, though. The Doktah very kindly offered to drive me to and from the airport. Once you get old enough to be responsible for getting yourself to and from the airport, you really appreciate a ride. Nothing beats the airport pickup. Anyway, I called The Doktah when I landed, as we arranged. I said I’d meet her at Arrivals.

I went out and waited for her, but she didn’t show up. She called me, asking, “Where are you? Are you at Arrivals?”

“Yeah!” I said. “I’m standing outside! Where are you? Flash your lights.” She flashed them, but I didn’t see her.

“Describe to me what you see,” she said.

“I told you, I'm at Arrivals! I’m standing right under the US Airways sign where you dropped me off on Saturday, when we arrived at the airport.”

The Doktah sighed. “That’s not Arrivals,” she said. “That’s Departures.”

Monday, April 04, 2005

I swear, this really happened

Sometimes the various graduate student organizations at my university would sponsor a happy hour with free food and alcohol. By “sometimes” I of course mean once a week at a bare minimum. Grad school does have its perks. And these events could get pretty crowded, especially the ones in bars. It was at a particularly crowded happy hour in a bar, that the following events transpired.

I went to the bar with The Doktah and another friend and we were early, so we were lucky enough to get a table. It was really hot in there, though, so I hung my coat on the back of the chair and I laid my red scarf down on top of it. Then some more friends came in, and we moved around, mingling and chatting. And amid all the mingling and chatting, I lost track of my scarf.

So when it was time to leave, I looked around for my scarf. I retraced my steps, and found it still hanging on the back on my original chair, but there was a guy sitting on it. I caught his attention and shouted, “That’s my scarf! Can you hand it to me?” He just looked at me, confused. It was pretty loud in there, so I assumed he just couldn’t hear me. I gestured again towards the scarf, shouting, “My scarf! That’s my scarf!”

The guy was just not understanding me at all, so I gave up, leaned across the table, and started to take the scarf. But then the guy wouldn’t let me! He held onto my scarf so that I couldn’t take it! I wasn’t quite sure how to react to this. This sort of thing doesn’t often come up in everyday social interactions, and there was nothing in my mental etiquette handbook to explain what to do when someone is stealing your scarf in a crowded bar. So we just had a gentle tug of war.

Until I saw my scarf. Hanging over the back of another chair.

More at 11:00

A couple of years back, I saw one of those local news promo spots. You know, the ones that go something like, “Your kitchen could kill you! Tune in at 11:00 to find out how.” So you are supposed to spend the rest of the day in fear, avoiding your kitchen altogether until you know what to look out for. Then when the news comes on, you discover that your kitchen is deadly, but only if you keep butcher knives precariously balanced on top of the refrigerator.

Well, that day I saw promos about coffee all day long. I think it must have been during my appendicitis convalescence, which would explain why I saw so many of them. Or maybe it was the night Buffy was on. Either way, there were ads during every commercial break saying, “Is your coffee making you fat? Find out at eleven.”

Turns out that yes, your daily coffee is making you fat. But only if your daily “coffee” is a large double chocolate mochaccino with whipped cream. And chocolate shavings. And sprinkles. The “investigative reporter” interviewed a nutritionist, and was shocked, shocked, to discover that a coffee drink made with cream and chocolate, and topped with whipped cream and chocolate, contains as many calories as an ice cream sundae. The nutritionist was all, “What did you think, moron? It’s huge, chocolate, and drenched in whipped cream!” Well, that’s what she was saying with her eyes, anyway.

So, yeah. Don’t have one of those every day.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Appendix to the appendectomy

Don't you just love the title? I kill me.

So as a follow-up to my appendectomy story, I wanted to mention that I had a standard appendectomy, and not a laproscopic one. (Pause for gasps of shock and angry demands for answers.) Look, I don’t know why. Before the operation, my mom said on the phone that I would probably have a laproscopy, so my scar would be really small. So I was surprised to find a two inch long scar upon awakening from the anesthesia. But I assumed there was a reason for it. I was a little to groggy to think of reasonable questions right away, and then I just never asked. Possibly I was too preoccupied with finishing my thesis, planning my wedding, getting kicked out of my house, and subsequently moving three times. In three months. (Did I mention that I got kicked out of my house? Oh yeah. Two weeks after surgery, eight weeks before my wedding. Good times, good times. But it’s OK. I love a challenge.)

Had I realized that so many people would become outraged about my non-laproscopic surgery, I would have tracked down the head surgeon and demanded he explain, if only to appease them. Based on the reactions of my medical-type friends and relatives, I may as well have let the appendix burst rather than have a non-laproscopic operation. Perhaps I am exaggerating a bit, but honestly, my mom didn’t even believe me at first when I told her I had a two inch scar. And a few months ago, my new doctor saw the scar and could not believe her eyes! Why? Why didn’t they do a laproscopy? WHY?

Oh, and one other thing. If you have abdominal surgery, you probably should not carry an air conditioner downstairs three weeks later. Even a small one. Just a tip.