Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The sun came out today

I miss baseball. Really, I do. I am ready to go back. Yes, baseball, you wore me down. I'm still a bit pissed at you about the strike, but I'm ready to forgive. Today the weather was perfect and just screaming for a game. I want to be in the stands, program in hand, keeping official score. I want to get a sunburn.

I am mad at myself for missing out on The Phils this year. It's not all my fault; you just can't predict those damn Phils. But how could I not see them play once? What an idiot I am! I miss the grumbling Phils fans, eating dinner in South Philly, bad pretzels afterwards. I miss getting lost trying to get around traffic. However, I do not miss getting so lost that I somehow end up in New Jersey. (again.)

This year: baseball. Seriously, I promise. I don't know what team, I don't know when, but, yes, baseball. "We're born again, there's new grass on the field."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

My dinner with Steve(n)

This week I went out to dinner with a friend from high school. He was Steve in high school but now goes by Steven, which is off for me, so he gets Steve(n) from me. I'm sure he's thrilled with that. Steve was one of my best friends in high school. We started drifting away from each other in college, then he moved to California. 

Even though we've had a period of 20 years or so that we hadn't been in touch, we're back touch now. And the thing that amazes me is that it's so easy to just hang out with him. It's like that 20-year gap doesn't exist. We have stupid jokes, we can talk for hours, we wear the gossip shoes. It's fantastic. But it's not just Steve. Thanks to the power of Facebook and time on my hands, I've been able to reconnect with a lot of old friends. Sure, some of these reconnections are "hey, how's it going?" "Fine." "Me too." But some of these, we're friends again. We have a relationship again.

My sister has always been great at keeping up the friendships over the years. She sends the Christmas cards, remembers the birthdays, drives 100 miles out of the way to meet for lunch. I'm not as good at these things. I lose touch. I meant to send you that card. Oh, was that last week? Facebook is great for us lazy types. Oh, look, it's Bill's birthday tomorrow. I'll throw a cake at him. And, you know, most of my friends are lazy that way. But I don't mind. Because I just want to hear from them again. 

So, this has rambled quite a bit. Let's sum up: friends are good. Old friends are great. Gossip shoes rule.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

So very lazy

For a number of reasons that will come out soon, I am not much for posting. So, I will post one of my favorite quotes about science. It's The Laws of Physics:

"Truth decays into beauty, while beauty becomes merely charm. Charm ends up as strangeness, and even that does last. But up and down are forever."

Monday, March 23, 2009

I'm sure it's fine

I have had some interesting friend requests on Facebook lately. Specifically, aunts and uncles. And it's just a bit, well, weird. Not that my profile has anything embarrassing, but, I don't know, it just throws me off a bit. 

I know you can set up one than one profile, but I'm frankly too lazy. And I'm not even sure what I should hide from them (the snarky quotes from "Pushing Daisies" and "The Woman in White"? my girl crush on Sarah Vowell? my PJ Harvey flair that says "lick my legs"? my love for Vince from ShamWow and that I am an officer in his fan club?) (Well, there you go; apparently my profile is embarrassing. How about that!)

And I can't not accept these requests, right? I can't reject family (can I?) That seems wrong as well. Besides I've already accepted some of them. And, of course, this means it's just a matter of time before Mom's on Facebook. And then the cussing will have to stop. It'll be a sad, sad day for us all.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thinking about science

I would guess that when non-scientists think about scientists, they think that scientists love to explain the world (which we do) in order to take the wonder out of the world. And I say that it is just the opposite. Every day I am amazed at the beauty and wonder of science.

When I think, really think about everything, it is like unbelievably fantastic. Let's start with the basics: everything we do, all of our thoughts, actions are chemical reactions. Simple shifting of electrons. This phosphate group moves from here to there, and we are happy or sad or asleep. This kind of blows my mind. 

Think about yourself. You started as one cell. One single cell. You brush your teeth, you spit out hundred of cells, and, yet, you started as one. How does one little cell make all of this?! Doesn't that kind of amaze you? The bones, the eyes, that brain, at one point, all one single cell. Let's take it even further: it's all because of that DNA you've got. "I wouldn't want to write a novel with 4 letters -- I think I'll write a human being instead." How does a series of 4 letters do all of this? How is that not magical?

Even evolution, isn't it actually more of a wonder thinking about the idea of 4 billion years to get to this point? That slowly, slowly, we went from ooze that organized itself to this. Now, think further, we carry that DNA from all those generations ago. Oh, is that too much? Just think about your great-grandparents. You have the DNA. You literally have bits of all of them in every single one of your cells. 

I'm sure there are scientists who look at the world through cold, calculating eyes, but I am awed.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A small tribute to Sally

Earlier today, Mom told me that Sally has taken a turn for the worse. I wrote about Sally a little bit ago, although I didn't talk much about her specifically. After talking to Mom today, suddenly I realize that I'm amazed at how she lived her life.

Technically, Sally is my first cousin, twice removed, but I always called her Aunt Sally. She was always a bit more glamourous, classier than my other relatives. Her house just seemed a bit fancier, a bit nicer than the rest of ours. She had gardens and served interesting food. She would go dancing with Mel and regularly dress up. 

As I got older, I realized that she wasn't really that different. Her daughter got pregnant young, too young, and Sally and Mel basically raised their granddaughter. That there were bad choices around her life and with her immediate family. But, you know, it was always okay. I don't remember any judgment, ever, from her. This was the way it was and wasn't that wonderful! Please come to dinner soon. It wasn't denial; it was just complete, unquestioning acceptance. 

I am looking at her life and how she handled everything that came her way, and I am just full of admiration. She and Mel, they would just handle it all. When I would come to Toledo, of course, I had a place to stay. After Nana's funeral, Mel says softly to me, "It's been a rough day; come over to the house and we'll hoist a few." Another memory: I don't even remember the visit (a wedding? a reunion?) but we sat their living room, talking until 2 in the morning, eating oranges.

Even the past few months, when she was obviously getting very sick, no complaining, so fussing. She was grateful for the 57 years that she and Mel had. She just hopes the girls handle everything okay and that someone takes good care of her dog. Oh, she feels fine, just been losing her balance a bit now and again. 

Today Mom told me that Sally slipped into a coma and it probably won't be long. I looked out on this sunny day thinking that even on a beautiful day like today, right on the edge of spring, someone is losing a mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother. And I realized that, although I am really sad about this, I can't imagine someone facing life and death better than Sally faced it all. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The whoo seats

I freakin' love the Penn Relays (or should I say, the Penn Relay Carnival, which, just the fact that it has that dopey name is another reason to love the Relays). Love 'em. I love the history behind the Relays, I love watching the endless parade of relays, I love the way it's run. It is just about perfect. And, yet, like the idiot I am, I just have not taken advantage of them enough.

So, you have not heard about the Penn Relays? I am shaking my head. As Nana would say, well, you don't know what's good. First of all, it's a track meet (okay, a tiny bit of "field" but, mostly just track), which is the truest and best sport. It's just such a pure sport. No judges, no questions: that person is the fastest. Period. And the best event: the 4 x 400 relay. Long enough for some strategy, short enough that it goes quick. 4 minutes of awesome. I could watch 100 4 x 400 relays and not get sick of it. And, guess what, if you go to the Relays, you might get to do just that.

Now, if you've been to a few track competitions, there's a lot of waiting around, setting up for the next race. The Penn Relays, they don't play that game. It is boom, boom, boom, a race, a race, a race. The kids are lined up, the gun goes off, cheers to the end, begin again. No breaks, no pauses, just the offical (or Bill Cosby; no, seriously, Bill Cosby loves the Relays!) hussling kids off the track when the race is over and getting the next bunch ready.

You can go on Saturday, which is the glory day. Yeah, that's the guy you saw run at the Olympics. No kidding, those are some blazing-fast times. Yeah, I didn't know high school kids could run that fast either. But I've always favored Thursday: the qualifying day. This is when the hard-core track nerds are hanging out. The stands are full of kids from other track teams, cheering each other on. It's not as crowded and the seats aren't assigned, so, if you get there early, you can sit in the whoo seats. The whoo seats? Those are the ones just after the turn in the track before the finish line. Where you can see where the race changes, when the last leg gives that final kick. And everyone around you goes, "whoo!"

One year in grad school, Krista and I took the day off to go to the Penn Relays. It was one of those perfect April days, the sky was bright blue, spring was here. We grabbed lunch at a great truck and walked over to Franklin Field and parked it in the whoo seats. And we just spent the entire day, watching race after race, hanging out, enjoying the weather, the history, the cheering. It was perfection.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My last visit with Nana

The last time I saw Nana was the week of my wedding. At the time, my parents were down in Atlanta, so Nana had to fly out. She was using Dad's frequent flier miles which meant she could fly out on Wednesday or Saturday. I was getting married on a Sunday, so my mom said that Saturday should be fine, but I wanted her out early. I wanted to give her time to relax and visit. This was actually a bit of a fight between Mom and me ("What is she going to do with all that time before we arrive?") but I won.

Nana didn't really like flying, but they always took care of her. When I went to her gate (this was pre-9/11), she had about three flight attendants waiting on her. We spent the next couple of days together, mostly just hanging out, doing those last minute things one needs to do before a wedding. I remember going to the local diner, which she loved because they let her smoke and linger over her coffee. (One of the many things Nana taught me was how to linger over coffee.) I don't remember a lot of the specifics of the visit, but I just remember her being there, enjoying being with us. We had dinner at Andrea's one night, the rehearsal dinner, more errands, but it was just nice. I was so glad that I had asked for the extra time, that she was relaxed and happy. 

She, of course, enjoyed the wedding. Lots of booze, people she knew, dancing, what's not to love. We played "I'm Down to my Last Cigarette" for her. I remember saying good-bye to her the next morning. I remember hugging her and thinking that this might be the last time I saw her. (This wasn't some gut feeling or fantastic prediction. For years before she died, I always reminded myself that this could be the case and was grateful when I did see her again.)

Of course,  I did talk to her plenty of times before she died. But, here's the weird one. For years, when she'd struggle with her lighter, I'd offer to light her cigarettes. And she'd tell me, "When I can't light my own cigarettes, it's time for me to go." I talked to her on the Christmas after our wedding. And towards the end of our conversation, she said, "It's the weirdest thing. My thumb is so numb today, I can't even light my cigarettes." She died the next day.

Nana, I miss you every single day.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


I am too tired to blog. Fighting a cold, whatever excuse I can come up with, tonight I just don't feel like writing more today. 

So, is it a cheat to write about not wanting to write? Sure it is. And, yet, here I am. Putting a check in the column.

I'll behave tomorrow.

But, pretty picture.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Oh no.

"Buffy" Season 3 is now on hulu. I may never leave the house. I could watch "Doppelgangland" alone on an endless loop. 

Yes, I am 12. Grrr, argh, indeed.

Pads, paws, and claws

About a year ago, our cat was very, very sick. It's an extremely long story, and if you knew me a year ago, you probably at least heard parts of the story. The story: we found out he was allergic to about everything (chicken, turkey, fish, corn, pollen, wool, and, I am not making this up, cat). Of course, we tried different foods, but that became quite the issue. We tried about three different types, which, once we went through the labels, still had something he was allergic to (salmon oil, duck, etc.) Plus, he just wouldn't eat the stuff. What sort of animal just won't eat? Apparently our animal. He starting losing a lot of weight.

I decided to make him a homemade diet. I read a few things on the internet that said to be sure to have some carbs in the diet, so I made him up a mix of beef, rice (with beef broth), and a bit of carrots. He seemed to like it, although he was still losing weight and spent the all day sleeping. When he started sleeping in the litter box, I started to really freak out. I said, I don't care; we're going back to his old food, which he actually ate. We also switched vets. The new vet noticed that his gums were pale and took a blood draw. A day later, we get a call: he's severely anemic and needs a blood transfusion. Now.

We spent an awful Saturday in the animal hospital. We had this awful vet who, well, has probably watched a few too many episodes of "House". His diagnoses were all extremely rare diseases, in even rarer circumstances, that all ended in the cat dying in 6 months. When this guy hears hoofbeats, he thinks "transvestite and priest dressed in a zebra outfit." We had to leave the cat, so I went home (crying, crying) and did some research.

After some trolling around (and lots more crying), I figured something out. I was poisoning my cat. The beef broth, which I added to make the rice nice and yummy, contains onions, which, um, are fatal to cats. By causing anemia. But there were still a lot of test results, possibilities, treatments. We bring the cat home the next day; he's completely traumatized, miserable. The next couple of weeks were pills, test results, me being afraid of coming home to a dead or near-dead cat. Eventually, he seemed to get better, more like his old self. Kind of. His number were still low, but going in the right direction.

Through the past year, his numbers have been near normal, but never quite there. If we stop giving him the steroids, his numbers drop, which means it wasn't just the onions (I still feel guilty). The vet and I agree that he has something chronic but finding out exactly what it is wouldn't be easy and, most likely, would be something that we couldn't do anything about. For now, we can treat with the steroids. The steroids are cheap and the chronic treatment will most likely shorten his life, but not as short as it would be without the steroids.

Now I constantly worry about him. Is he acting weird? Are his gums pink enough? Should he sleep that long? Did he eat enough? Is he eating too much? I'm afraid I'll miss some sign, some symptom. I know he won't be one of those cats who lives long; I'll be surprised if he hits double digits. So, for now, I'll enjoy having him here. And I'll keep a close eye on him. A very close eye.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My little yellow book

When I was working at Rohm & Haas, I started writing in my little yellow book. (I'm aware of the timing as the book was a lab notebook I took from there. Let's not tell anyone.) All that I have in the book are quotes I like. I haven't written down who said them or in what setting; these have to be stand-alone quotes.

The first quote is basic: "Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself." Yes, sort of sappy, but, still I stand behind it. Some of the earlier entries, well, I was still young. But I love going back and reading them, getting a sense of where I was at. I have song lyrics, silly quotes, bits from movies and books, things friends have said. Some of them were clearly written when I was going through a tough time, and some of them are Beavis and Butthead.

I obviously have various quotes about life and love. I am a girl. I have a lot of quotes about science, because, well, I am also a big nerd. I'm always surprised at how easily I remember where these bits are from. And when in doubt: Repo Man.

I do love my little yellow book. It's better than a diary: better written, deeper thoughts, no secrets, and, yet, it still reflects my life at those various moments.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fun with Nobellists

I've met one person who won the Nobel Prize. Those of you who know me would not be surprised that, well, I kind of fought with him. I met Harold Varmus when I was in graduate school. He was giving a talk on campus and there was a roundtable for graduate students scheduled later in the day. I had no intention on going, but Binns was chair of the department and wanted a representative from his lab there. I told him, "I'm going to fight with him." Andy said, fine, just go.

It turned out that there was less than 10 of us there (I'm sure that Andy was counting on me getting lost in the crowd). At the time, Varmus was running the NIH, so, kind of a big deal. Well, kind of a big deal for the folks who wanted to be there and (maybe) cared about their careers. That was not me. I don't remember how we got on the topic, but I asked him how the NIH could justify the underpayment of post-docs. I could understand underpaying graduate students; we are, after all, getting educations and getting paid to do so. That's fine. But a post-doc has a PhD and is doing their own independent lab work in the name of their PI. And by keeping the wages low, a PI can have a large number of workers, keeping his/her work going at a very cheap rate.

Varmus tried to give me the excuse of, well, they're training for their future position, blah, blah, blah, but I wasn't having any of that. I pointed out, even in a fairly small lab, throughout his/her career, a PI will have at least 10-15 post-docs, and there are plenty of labs that have a lot more. If you just do the math, once that PI retires, there are going to be way too many folks to fill that slot. Varmus pointed out that there's no rule stating that a post-doc has to go into academia, to which I said that that's all that's all a post-doc is trained for. That there are no other options presented or, frankly, encouraged.

It was around then that Warren kicked me under the table and gave me a "What in the hell do you think you're doing?" look, so I decided that it was time to shut up. The good news is that (a) Binns never sent me to another one of these things, (b) It never affected my career (that I know), and (c) post-docs started getting paid a lot more over the years. I'm sure it was my suggestion to Varmus that got that ball rolling.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

That's not what I meant at all

When I was in high school and college, I had one of those guys who came in and out of my life. I'd say were were dating, but that's probably too strong of a word. We always enjoyed being together, but we never seemed to reach a point where we would concentrate on each other. Other things, other people, they were always there. And, in the end, it was fine. But if you had asked me, I would've said that he set the tone, that he was in control of the relationship.

But last week, I found an old letter, the only letter he had ever sent me. I'm not sure of the timing of the letter except that he was away at college when he sent it. And this letter had the following passage: "I would really appreciate a letter from you. You're never at a loss for something interesting to say. Please give me some indication as to what's going on in that active mind of yours. It's been a rather unsettling silence on this end. I may not be deserving, but I'll let you decide."

I was really shocked, reading this after all these years. I must have read this, all those years ago, but I still felt that he was in charge of the relationship. A letter like this, rediscovered after all this time, makes me question a lot of things. What else do I misremember? What else is different in my mind? What, exactly, happened between us? I am wondering about my memories. 

Monday, March 9, 2009

The deal with seventh grade

I started school a year early: long story involving a November birthday and kindergarden in Michigan. I also developed late, a biological detail I won't go into. But because of these two thing (not having older siblings didn't help either), I was not the most mature seventh grader. I also had braces and glasses and dressed in whatever my mom told me looked cute on a girl my age. Disaster.

One way to deal with this is to try to become invisible, which to me was the obvious and best choice. It basically worked through the early part of grade school, so I thought I'd stick with the plan. And we all know about the best-laid plans.

In the sixth grade, Mr. French had a nervous breakdown. The kids figured out that they had the numbers in their favor and it became a free-for-all. I just remember a lot of things being thrown around. Paper wads, spit balls, books. For months, it was chaos, then he was gone, and we got a long-term substitute teacher. My seventh grade teacher was not going to let that happen.

Mrs. Steves was one of those awful, bitter, old teachers who was marking time until retirement. She  didn't know what was wrong with the kids today, but she sure as hell wasn't haven't any of it. Oh, and she had the worst breath in America. I am not just saying this to be mean. It was nasty.

Mrs. Steves got her share of the bad boys (we only had tow classes for my grade) and sat them all right in front of her. But she needed someone to break up that group. I was the obvious choice. A "good" kid. Quiet. I wasn't cute or pretty enough for distraction. So, while the kids I could tolerate were in the back, minding their own business, I got to be in front with the kids who genuinely weren't interested in any education beyond the sixth grade level.

They picked on me constantly. Every day. If Mrs. Steves hadn't put me there, they would've gone all "3 Stooges" on each other, but this was so much easier. And all I did was sit there and wait for it to be over. I kept waiting for Mrs. Steves to notice and get them to stop or move me away but it never happened. (I'm sure she knew what was happening. It kills me that she did nothing.)

No, it wasn't "I'll bet they thought you were cute" teasing. It was mean. It was "let's make the quiet girl cry" type of teasing. It was hurtful and constant. And not one of those bastards has ever apologized.

Seventh grade was a prison sentence. It taught me that life is not fair, playing by the rules doesn't help you, people are mean. You have to rescue yourself.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

It just galls me

In graduate school, I studied agrobacterium and that bacterium had its own conference every year: The Crown Gall Conference. It wasn't that big of a conference, usually less than 200 of us each year, held at some university (usually in the midwest somewhere) in mid-November. It was not glamorous, but we all went every year. It was like the nerdiest class reunion ever.

Since it was a small-ish conference, we were all expected to present our research. And since we all worked on the same organism, no need for background, straight to the meat. It intense and kind of fantastic. And at the end of the day would be the big dinner/party, then more of the same the next day.

One year, our lab had a few really strong talks. It was a good year for the research and a lot of data pulled together just in time for the meeting. There were some surprising results and we did a few clever things. After the talks, someone from another lab told Binns (my PI), "You know, your lab, they're scientists!" Andy couldn't stop grinning. He told us that story for about a month.

I should point out that there was one cool kid: David. David was our collaborator, and all the women in the lab swooned over him. ("Ooh! David is in town!") Everyone wanted to be at his table, which was fine, as he would gather extra chairs and steal bottles of wine. He needed about an hour of sleep, so he was the last one out drinking and the first to breakfast. When he asked you about your research, it was clearly the most fascinating thing he had heard in ages. 

But, basically, we were all there to completely nerd out on agro. We would all come together, swap information, make plans to send DNA and bacterium strains. It's one of the few things I miss about grad school, although it was stressful and tiring. But it was always inspiring as well. It always seemed that the research started to work, shortly after returning from these meetings. And that's really what it was all about.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Order up!

My mom taught me how to cook eggs when I was about six. She was a mom who taught her kids independence, which means you made your own damn lunch. Peanut butter and jelly gets old after a while, and Mom liked the idea of a hot lunch now and again, so she taught me cook eggs. Obviously, scrabbled is the easiest, but eventually we worked our way up to once-over-lightly, and her work was done. I could cook my own eggs and was expected to do so. 

When I make scrabbled eggs, I always mix them up in a mug with a little bit of milk before dumping them in the pan. When I was dating Chuckie, he accused me of over-mixing the eggs. He didn't like it when they were all one color. "You should see some white, some of the darker yellow." To this day, I don't mix them up as much, and I kind of think of them as Chuckie's eggs.

I'm not sure why or when I was cooking eggs for Chuckie, but I also ended up cooking eggs for Derek. We had gone to the Big Boy earlier, but we had this horrible waitress who just was not bringing the orders out. Derek got mad and we left, but then, well, hungry. No one was at my house as my family was on vacation but due back that night or the next day. We went back to the house and I cooked him up a breakfast at around 1 a.m. Of course, just as he was starting to eat, my family showed up. "What in the hell is going on here?" I think my dad was more upset at this guy eating breakfast than if he would've found us in a more, well, intimate position. 

Egg stories, we're digging deep here. Maybe I need my carbs.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The little things

Here's the kind of thing that makes me crazy, living in two different places. This past weekend, I got my nails done. They're now polished (Material Girl, if you're wondering) and, as it's been a few days, starting to look a tad rough. Time to take off the polish. Except, no nail polish remover down here.

Now, I know that I have at least two bottles back in Pennsylvania, as well as cotton balls. Here, nothing. Not that these things are expensive, but I hate having to make a special trip to get them. Plus, I don't do my nails enough to justify yet another bottle of remover.

Oh, my life. It is tough.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The best gas station in the world

When I left Nemacolin, I needed to get gas for the ride home. Of course, I had to stop here! Tanning bed at a gas station -- what could be better? When I went inside to buy my Diet Coke, I made small talk about the weather with the woman behind the counter. And as she pushed aside the stacks of cans of Skoal, she said, "Well, I think we're getting the hang of winter." 


It's over

Well, the streak was broken yesterday -- a day without a posting. The sun still came up this morning, so I guess it wasn't the end of the world (yet.) I know that if I didn't write this post, no one would've probably noticed, as I'm planning to post twice today. The second post is sort of a lame attempt to fix the miss, kind of like when you accidentally scratch something, then rub it with your finger, as if that'll fix it. But I know it's there, that missing post.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

If the first two letters are ever the same

When I was about 6, I met Angela Campbell. No, this wasn't some journey of self-actualization I took as a child; I met another girl named Angela Campbell. She wasn't a relative, just a girl my age who lived next door to the Nottages (now, they are relatives). And that was when I realized that a name was not unique, that I didn't own it. 

Angela and I, we had to strike some deals. We had  the same  middle initial (M), which added to the issues. When we went to get library cards, I got the M; she was just "Angela Campbell." (To this day, I'm very attached to my "M.") In CCD class, she went by Angela, while I was Angie. Luckily, we went to different grade schools, so those were the major compromises we had to make.

I actually preferred Angie when I was younger. Angela, well, that just seemed a bit stuck up (not that the other Angela Campbell was stuck up; she was very nice.) But Angela didn't seemed to fit me. No one called me Angela until my senior year in high school, when my chemistry teacher started calling me Angela. Since he called everyone else by their last name, I kind of felt this was a bit of an honor and never corrected him. And then I actually got to like it a bit. When I was at Saint Joe's, no one ever asked me if I had a nickname, and they just called me Angela. Now I honestly don't care what people call me, which makes people a little crazy. ("You've got to prefer one!") And, actually, most people just call me "Ang" anyway.

When I was younger, I figured that one day I would get married, and then I'd have a more interesting name. So, I married a Davis. Thanks, karma. When I graduated, I had both names put on my diploma. Or, rather, that was the intention. Name on the diploma: "Angela M. Capbell Davis." 

Monday, March 2, 2009


Most people who work in a lab put up cartoons or other such nonsense. It was a chance to show off how clever we all were, add some variety to your lab, make the place more user-friendly. I loved checking out what other people would hang up. It gave me a little peek into what they were like. Far Sides were always good, but a bit predictable. Lou always had great ones: articles from the Weekly World News ("Your Coworkers May be Aliens!"), weird exercise programs, altered letters from our CEO ("See you at the club!")

I favored one-panel cartoons. I had a series of Toledo-themed cartoons that were surprisingly easy to find. I had two joke recommendation letters from co-workers posted (the one from Jim had statements followed by what he actually meant: "She would be a tremendous asset to any laboratory [she has one of the largest cd collections I have ever seen]; Chol's just got right to the point: "I am confident she will destroy all of your research objectives.")

My favorite of all time was from my former roommate Krista. She was looking for the perfect cartoon when we were living together: "I need the 'Little LuLu' or maybe 'Nancy.'" Excuse me? "I'm looking for the least funny cartoon ever. One that is just stupid." Uh, why? "Well, people always come by, expecting really great cartoons. They'll read mine and they'll feel like they have to laugh, but it won't be funny at all. And then I can laugh at them." She wanted to make everyone really uncomfortable. And that is why she is my hero!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Unexpected things

Some of you know this story, but Geoff does not, and this is for him.

After my first year of graduate school, I moved out to the suburbs. It was safer, quieter, but did require a drive in every day, going through the heart of West Philly. One day, snow came in early, and by the time the morning commute was on-going, it was good and slippery. I saw a car hit the bumper of another and thought, "This is not good." But grad school waits for no one, so I pressed on. The next turn was a double left, and, as always, I took the left-most line. Which would have given me plenty of time to stop, if the driver in the car in the right left-turn lane hadn't opened his door. And although I threw on the brakes and slowed down, unfortunately, I s-l-o-w-l-y pulled next to him, then bent back that car door. 

He accepted that it was totally his fault, but he was a minister in the area and, if his insurance went up, well, it would cost his entire congregation. Was there any way that we could not involve the insurance companies and he could just have one of his members fix my car? He handed me his card and I looked at the damage, which was all body work on a 7-year-old car. I thought, oh, sure, fine. What's the worse that could happen? So an old Honda doesn't get fixed. Life will go on.

Although my dad thought I was some sort of sucker, when I got home, I made some phone calls, and everything got set up for fixing the car. I brought the car in to a part of West Philly I was completely unfamiliar with. Very, very deep city stuff. But it all went well, I picked up the car a week later, and everything looked fine, except they didn't have that side rubber strip stuff in -- I'd have to come back in a week or two, when they got it in. It would take about 10 minutes to put on, I could just wait for them to do it there.

A few weeks later, I got the call. This time I went out by myself, because it was just a ten minute wait. It was one of those glorious spring days, everything was in bloom, the sky was clear. My faith in humanity was restored; it had all worked out nicely. They started to work on my car, and the owner of the garage came over. "Hey, I want to show you something." Uh, me? No, you do not mean me. "Yeah, come over here." Now, this was a very large man. I'm thinking, does anyone even know I'm here? Where is my cell phone? "Come here, I want to show you something," he said again, walking towards the alley on the side of the garage. My mind was racing: is there anyway to not do this? Is this where they'll find my body, two weeks later? I let him lead, thinking, well, if this looks too (more?) sketchy, I'll try to run away (I'm sure that would work.) 

And as I walked into this alley, I saw one of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen. He was like a little kid: "Isn't it beautiful? I saw you and knew you would like this." It was fantastic. It was the perfect time of year, everything was in bloom, clearly a labor of love. "I've won a few awards, city garden things and such." I was just taking it in. The stone path, the climbing vines, it was simply wonderful. Never would I have through that a minor car accident would then lead to this little jewel in the middle of the city. 

And my little Grinch heart grew three sizes that day.