Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas Canoedling

Not since the jelly-candle-artificial-floral-arrangement fire of 1997 (which deserves its own entry) has a Christmas come so close to being ruined (or generated such indelible memories)…

We had just finished opening presents and eating Christmas rolls when my father-in-law remarked that if it were just a few degrees warmer (it was 40°F), we’d be canoeing. I knew exactly what this meant: in a few hours, we’d be canoeing.

It is speculated that Father-in-Law emerged from his mother’s womb in a canoe and has been paddling ever since: it’s in his blood. While canoeing is not exactly how yajeev’s family of origin would celebrate Christmas (we’d be more likely to go to a movie theater/theatre for a double feature than canoe down an ice-cold river on December 25), I’m a modern traditional pluralist: my way is not the only (or best) way—it is just one way. I’m open to all varieties of yuletide observances—even canoeing.

We (by we, I mean Father-in-Law, Sister-in-Law, Sister-in-Law’s [or is it Sister’s-in-Law] Boyfriend) loaded the boats into the truck. Mother-in-Law recommended that we pack life preservers. As there were only two life vests and four boaters, Father-in-Law decided that none should wear them (a good non(anti?)utilitarian ethic: if not the safety of everyone, then let the safety of none be ensured—if it were me, I might’ve drawn straws for the vests or cut them in half and split them evenly among the four of us).

We (here, by we, I mean Father-in-Law, Mother-in-Law, Sister-in-Law, Sister-in-Law’s Boyfriend, my wife, and myself) then piled into the truck and drove to a good launching spot. Sister-in-Law and Sister-in-Law’s Boyfriend carried their boat to water’s edge (theirs was a small, boxy boat with about eight inches of freeboard (height of boat wall not submerged by water). They boarded their watercraft and headed downstream. Father-in-Law and I got into our canoe and followed the others down the river. After their loved ones had safely (or so it seemed) embarked upon their aquatic Christmas pilgrimage, Mother-in-Law and Wife returned to the truck and drove downstream to meet us at the projected endpoint of our voyage.

Given that our canoe had a point at the tip and not a flat edge, it wasn’t long before our boat passed the other vessel. The typical routine quickly became as follows. Father-in-Law and I would naturally drift ahead of Sister-in-Law and her boyfriend, so we’d be the first to encounter each of a small litany of raging rapids. Father-in-law and I would investigate the trouble spots, determine a plan of attack, and navigate the frothy rapids. We’d then veer to the bank and wait just downstream of the turbulence for Sister-in-Law and Sister-in-Law’s Boyfriend to approach the given rapid to advise the duo with respect to the optimal strategy for each rocky, bubbly obstacle.

For the first three rapids, this worked just fine. The same cannot be said for the fourth rapid.

When Father-in-Law and I arrived at this particular juncture along the river, we appreciated that this would be the most challenging paddle in our journey so far. We paddled hard and headed straight into the mighty rushing mini-waterfall. Our canoe took a hard bounce against a crag protruding above the water level, sending Father-in-Law to the bottom of the boat (which, the astute reader will note, is far better than being sent out of the boat into water freshly cooled by melted snow). Our canoe turned and got caught on a rock hidden just below the surface. Ice-cold water ran over the edge of the boat and chilled our hands and feet. Vigorous bouncing and paddle maneuverations finally resulted in our liberation from the stony entrapment. Our canoe popped off of the rock, and we hurtled downstream. We flung ourselves toward the shore to wait patiently for Sister-in-Law and Sister-in-Law’s Boyfriend, whose blunt-fronted boat finally appeared as a pinpoint on the distant horizon. They gradually approached the hazard.

“What should we do!?” Sister-in-Law yelled down to us.

Our canoe was turned around and situated against the bank such that I in the front of our canoe and Father-in-Law behind me in the rear were both facing Sister-in-Law and Sister-in-Law’s-Boyfriend’s boat.

“What should we do!? she repeated.

At first I shrugged my shoulders, hoping that Father-in-Law would offer instruction. He did not, and Sister-in-Law once again reiterated her question: “What should we do!?”

Finally, I pointed with my paddle toward the portion of the waterfall down which we had just previously careered. What I hadn’t considered was perhaps (definitely) the most sensible option: advising them to steer their boat to a stretch of riverbank at which point the twosome could have disembarked, carried their boat on land beyond the treacherous rapids, and then re-embarked. This would have been a wise solution. I did not think of it (I’m no rocket scientist), Father-in-Law (judging by his non-response) also did not think of it, and Sister-in-Law and her boyfriend (who found themselves in the eye of the storm and at the worst vantage point to make such a determination) certainly did not think of it (or else this story would have had a much different, less bloggable ending).

Thus, their rectangular boat tentatively approached the recommended section of torrent and promptly found itself pinned by the rocks.

“Now what?!” Sister-in-Law yelled down to us.

I shrugged my shoulders exaggeratedly; I was out of answers. It was a cruel turn of events for Sister-in-Law and Sister-in-Law’s Boyfriend. They had been led into a tight spot by their trusted co-travelers. The bouncing and paddle maneuverations that had liberated Father-in-Law and me from the same tight spot did not prove similarly effectual for the occupants of the less hydrodyamic tub.

At first, I thought I heard laughter emerging from the square boat as it rattled and twisted, stuck among the rocks. The perceived laughter gradually gave way to screams. I initially believed these screams to be of the variety emitted from the mouths of pleasantly terrified roller-coaster riders. The more I listened and watched (I could barely make out facial expressions from our distance), I began to realize that these were not in fact shrieks of joy, but rather shrieks of dissatisfaction with one’s present situation (a present situation to which my poor guidance had significantly contributed).

After a terribly long period of screaming and failed bouncing, bumping, and grinding, the boat tipped forward and took on a lot of water. Sister-in-Law gracefully slipped out of the boat and found herself in freezing cold water at greater than waist-high depth. She, not sporting any life preservation device, slowly crept through the waterfall, first towards Father-in-Law and me, then turning toward the bank. She looked up at Father-in-Law and me, mostly dry in our canoe; her innocent facial expression revealed a sense of betrayal (how could we have led them into such calamity?). She inched toward the water’s edge, yelling, “Cold! Cold! Cold!”

Terrible visions of holiday tragedy flashed before my eyes as my sister-in-law fought the current. Sister-in-Law's Boyfriend struggled to right the ship, but his efforts were futile, and he too eventually opted to leave the boat to follow the ice-cold water trail blazed by his girlfriend moments earlier. Thanks to a heroic second effort by Sister-in-Law and her boyfriend, the abandoned boat, newly unencumbered by passengers, now easily wiggled free of the rocks that trapped it. The pair waded through the icy stream and clambered safely up the side of the riverbank toward higher ground.

As I watched this entire scene unfold, I fought a most inappropriate impulse: the urge to laugh. The prospect of Sister-in-Law or Sister-in-Law’s Boyfriend suffering hypothermia or lost toes or worse was not then and is not now the remotest bit funny, but in much the same way one might laugh impulsively and inappropriately as an ice-skating friend (or mother-in-law) crashes concussively to the ice, I could not help but laugh aloud. I vainly fought to suppress the chortles, but hysterics could not be contained.

Sister-in-Law shouted (between shivers): “What do we do now?!”

Father-in-Law advised her to walk the “short” distance to where my wife and mother-in-law would be waiting to retrieve us. The “short” distance ended up being about a half-mile of soaking wet misery. “Take off you pants,” Sister-in-Law’s Boyfriend advised her (he had already removed his soaking wet jeans and was marching along the riverside in his long-johns). She did not comply.

Father-in-Law and I paddled upstream to retrieve the vacant boat. Father-in-Law tied a rope to the empty boat, and we dragged it downstream, anticipating the horror of my wife and mother-in-law as only two of four un-life-vested paddlers would have completed the charted voyage. We ultimately reached the predetermined pick-up location, where Wife was waiting patiently for us. Mother-in-Law had already become (correctly) suspicious of our late arrival and commenced a search for her presumed missing family members. The sight of an empty boat was not a welcomed one.

Soaking wet, freezing cold, exhausted, and rightfully unhappy, Sister-in-Law and her boyfriend finally reached the planned reunion spot. We secured the canoes in the truck bed and packed ourselves into the truck. On the ride back to the house, I became acutely aware of the fact that my hands had gotten wet and were extremely cold. I bit my tongue, however, as I was able to appreciate how fortunate I was to have avoided total immersion.

My kinfolk spend holidays doing things like eating food, watching movies, opening presents, and eating food. My in-laws, on the other hand, spend holidays in an active attempt to “create memories.” My experience has been that many (if not most) of these memories created involve (extreme) canoe adventures.

So, thank you, in-laws for introducing new neural folds to my gray matter: this particular Christmas will never fade into the oblivion of merged memories of Christmases past. Like the Christmas influenza pandemic of 2003, Christmas 2007 will forever hold a special place in my heart. It will be perpetually remembered as the holiday that, due to my own failure to communicate effective advice, I nearly lost a sister-in-law and her boyfriend to the raging Indiana rapids and/or associated hypothermia.

(To Sister-in-Law and Sister-in-Law’s Boyfriend, my sincerest apologies for poor advice and for my most inopportune and inappropriate eruption of laughter.)

Monday, December 24, 2007

The pizzelles that almost were not

Saturday, I completed my quasi-annual holiday tradition: pizzelle making.

One of the very few items I personally selected on our wedding gift registry five and a half years ago (feels like it was just yesterday we were marching through the department store aiming the laser gun at items on our wish list) was a three-in-one sandwich/waffle/pizzelle maker. When I saw it, I knew that we had to have it. I couldn’t imagine married life without it.

How prescient I was. We’ve used each of the three functionalities, I’d say, on average 0.5 – 0.75 times per year. We’ve made waffles probably twice or thrice since we exchanged our vows… I’ve eaten maybe four sandwiches (toasted to perfection) grilled between the two hot metal bread-shaped molds (two were on Saturday) in the time spanning June 1, 2002 till now. But, most critically, during our first December of wedded bliss I decided that I would initiate an annual regimen of pizzelle making (the annualness not being strictly defined—prior to 2007, I have made pizzelles three of five Yuletide seasons).

You can imagine the horror, then, when in the course of refacing our kitchen cabinets, I heard my wife utter an “oops” (“oops”s in our relationship traditionally have emanated from my mouth, not hers) and I looked down to see the two halves of my pizzelle/ sandwich/ waffle/ book report maker resting on the floor in cracked outer casings and connected by a thin, exposed wire in the midst of the scattered contents formerly occupying our cabinet just beside our front window.

My disappointment was palpable. I mustered the most pitiful Eeyore response I could: “I guess I won’t be making my special Christmas pizzelles this year.”

My wife wanted to rectify her accident and buy me a new three-in-oner, but I told her it wasn’t worth the expense. Huddled masses of yearning family members would just have to make do with (my wife’s delicious) sugar cookies this year.

And then came my birthday, and what a happy one it was, for among the many lovely presents was one conspicuously large wrapped cuboid box which I eagerly unpackaged. The innards of said birthday present was none other than a replacement pizzelle/ waffle/ sandwich maker (thanks to the in-laws for that one—this blog post mightn’t have happened without them): crisis averted. Pizzelles a la yajeev would indeed come to pass to mark the birth of Christ Jesus.

This past Saturday was Christmas cookie day in the household of yajeev. The lovely wife prepared a multitude of sugar cookies of myriad shapes, colors, and sprinkle patterns and flavors, and I set about to prepare the pseudo-traditional pizzelles.

When I cook or bake or prepare food of any variety in the kitchen (which admittedly, happens, only slightly more frequently than my pizzelle making extravaganzas), the scientist in me requires a clear and detailed protocol. To be honest, the recipe I use from year-to-year varies; I will use whichever instructions are first listed after a google search for “pizzelle recipes”. So “yajeev’s pizzelles” do not necessarily match a particular protocol endorsed by yajeev, but rather are simply the pizzelles prepared by yajeev in strict accordance to a not entirely randomly procured internet pizzelle recipe protocol (I have to assume that the first listed recipe is so positioned for some good reason).

Saturday afternoon, I prepared my benchtop, er countertop, carefully placing each ingredient in the order it would be needed: three eggs, sugar, vanilla, lemon extract, flour, and baking powder (or was it soda?). Next, I turned on the holiday tunes (carefully avoiding Dominic the Donkey or Merry Christmas from the Chipmunks—these don’t go over so well with the little lady). Next, I arranged all the tools I’d be using: mixing bowl, measuring cups, measuring spoons… As I carefully lined each item up along the back wall, I asked my wife, “Honey, where’s the ¼-cup measuring cup?”

She, icing cookies, replied: “I don’t know.”

I: “What do you mean you don’t know? And where's the tablespoon measuring spoon?”

She: “I mean I don’t know where they are.”

I: “Well, they’ve got to be somewhere around here, right? Maybe in the dishwasher?”

They were not.

Improvise? Was she kidding? I have been trained to proceed with scientific accuracy, not senseless estimation. I mean, I don’t perform alkaline lysis bacterial plasmid mini preps with just any old pipette. I weighed my options. There was no time to go to the store: we were on a tight schedule. After cookie making, we had planned to wrap presents, eat dinner, and pack for our Christmas vacation: no time for frivolous measuring cup purchases. Make pizzelles with no regard for accuracy or no pizzelles at all. I chose the former, and with great trepidation, I christened the new pizzelle maker.

So how is this year’s batch? So far, they’re getting rave reviews from the dog (of course, he like poopsicles). The rest of the jury is still out.

(Eeyore picture accessed at wikipedia)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Album recommendation: Short Films on Self-Control

I just downloaded Short Films on Self-Control, the most recent release by Good Night, States (formerly Like Summer, and a few of them are formerly of the esteemed college rock band Throne Room Heroes). It’s a great listen.

I’m still waiting for them to cover Dominic the Donkey. I can't be totally satisfied with their collection until this happens. I know these guys are reading my blog (probably checking like fifty times a day), so I know it can't be long before my dream comes to fruition.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Who let the dog out?

Dear Land of Yajeev readers,

I found dad’s password under his pillow while I was waiting for him to come home. When I was just a puppy, mom and dad would turn the television on for me when they would leave for the day. I would listen to the happy voices of QVC and Home Shopping Network salespeople all day long. Mom and dad would often come home to find dog-friendly luxury items mysteriously left at our front door and the associated charges on the next month’s credit card bill: diamond-studded collars, gourmet milkbones, sterling silver food bowls with my name inscribed, and the like.

Now in an apparent effort to save energy and prevent my doggy brain from rotting, they no longer let me watch television all day long. Instead I’m supposed to amuse myself with squeaky toys (which are really only fun when shared), rawhide, and multiplication tables (mom says I’m gifted). But no matter what I set myself to doing, I always end up in the same condition: curled up asleep on dad’s pillow. I’ll start in on my rawhide bone, chewing and gnawing, but my eyes get heavy, and I know it’s futile to try to keep on keeping on, and before I know it, I’ve drifted off to doggy dreamland.

Then, every afternoon, I’m awakened by the most wonderful sound in the world: a key in the front door. It means my mom is home. I’m not sure where they go all day and why I can’t go with them, but when mom comes home, I know once again that all is right with the world. The front door opens, and I hear steps moving closer and closer to the bedroom in which I have been a (willing) captive. I crouch at the door, like a tightly compressed spring. The door opens, and I pounce with the energy I’ve stored all day long. Then I transition into what mom and dad call my daily spree, where I show off my special skills like speed, agility, waggingness, and personality, running up and down the stairs, circling the kitchen table at least five times, and jumping to mom’s nose level to give her special kisses (once I kissed her so hard, she grabbed her mouth and started crying—she muttered something about a chipped tooth, which I think was just a euphemism for the indescribable joy I provided her with my canine kiss).

Finally, I sprint to the door and muster all the self-control I have and sit like a good boy (though I can’t keep my tail from quivering) so she’ll put my leash on me and take me for a walk. Walks are awesome. If you’ve never been on one, you should really get your mom or dad to take you. First, you get to go to the bathroom. Like twenty times. Then, you get to see all of your friends. My best neighborhood friends are Sadie, Phoebe, Huckleberry, and Nick (Nick’s really cool—he has Christmas lights on his doghouse). After Sadie, Phoebe, Huckleberry, and Nick come Beau, Sandy (she barks at me, but I know it’s just cuz she likes me), and Leena. This time of the year is the best for walks (even though mom and dad complain about how messy it is outside). Why? you ask. One word: poopsicles. Little crunchy nuggets of frozen brown goodness the other dogs leave for me to enjoy. I try to leave my own (you know, to pay it forward), but mom and dad insist of picking mine up in little blue bags.

Well, blogosphere, that’s all for now, but if dad isn’t too mad after he finds this letter, I might be back soon. I think I hear a key in the door.


Watson Steve

Sunday, December 16, 2007

When Mice Go Caroling

Please click here to read a delightful holiday story written and illustrated by the elder offspring of Janet at Adventures in Ethics and Science.

I promise it's worth the click.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

One more holiday gift idea...

... for the wi-fi poacher in your life.

Give the gift of early detection. This wearable sixth sense will enable your loved one to instantly detect and quantify wireless internet signals.

As the official website advertises:

The glowing bars on the front of the shirt dynamically change as the surrounding wi-fi signal strength fluctuates. Finally you can get the attention you deserve as others bow to you as their reverential wi-fi god, while geeky chicks swoon at your presence.
Look how happy this guy is. He has a strong signal and knows it. At any moment, he can whip out his computer and begin surfing, emailing, and chatting without fear of disconnection.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Last minute gift ideas

I realize this is coming a tad late for those who are of the Jewish persuasion, as this is the seventh night of Chanukah, but I wanted to provide my readership with some creative holiday gift ideas for the special ones in your lives.

One Christmas, an in-law (who shall remain nameless) gave the gift of influenza to her husband and daughter, who then opted to spread the joy to her other daughter. I was the sole family member who wasn't a beneficiary of the contagion. I felt left out; I was relegated to watching The Matrix, Zoolander, and Christmas Vacation while the others laid in bed, moaning feebly, occasionally ingesting small amounts of Jello. I determined that I was excluded from sharing in the blight due to my lack of blood status. I don't hold it against them. I had only been a family member for a few short months. I'm sure if it happened again, they'd share the virus with me.

If you've always wanted to give your loved one influenza (or HIV or gonorrhea or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever) without the associated symptoms or stigma, today is your lucky day, for at your very fingertips, you have the opportunity to confer said maladies to your kith and kin without the icky rash. Consider bestowing BioBoxers gilded with the microorganisms closest to your heart to those on your holiday shopping list. Here's a staph infection to drape 'round their waists (keep away from open wounds).

If disease-laden underwear doesn't suit the personalities of those on your list, you can give some of these very same ailments in necktie form. For the Purdue alum in your life, why not give a Boilermaker black-and-gold West Nile Virus necktie (pictured at left)? Also available for the scruffs of those special someones are anthrax in black and red, chlamydia in burgundy and gray, and mad cow disease in a lovely burnt orange.

One final option for sharing diseases this winter are plush Giant Microbes. These lovely stuffed bugs provide a rare and cuddly glimpse of the friendly microorganisms at 1,000,000x magnification that afflict millions around the globe. I already own the non-pathogenic Saccharomyces cerevisiae (budding yeast), and you (or Santa Claus or Chanukah Harry) can transmit ebola virus, flesh-eating bacteria, or the black death (known in some circles as the plague) to family and friends. If you're giving a holiday present to that special someone this season, consider giving "Mono", the kissing disease (also known as the Epstein-Barr virus), shown here.

If diseases aren't your thing (or the things of your giftees), maybe gray matter is. What do you get for that thinker in your life who's always on the go? Give that walking brain a walking brain. Finally, a tangle of neurons to keep up with your favorite genius. For a video of the wind-up walking brain in action, click here. And the best part is that this mobile encephalon can be yours for less than the price of a triple Venti non-fat no-whip white chocolate peppermint mocha.

Finally, for the emasculated dogs in your lives, there are Neuticles (not pictured here). Nothing says "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Chanukah" to man's best neutered friend like implants, starting at a mere $73 a pair. The official website advertises a range of sizes; this is not a one-size-fits-all sort of product. The Neuticles website also sells a variety of merchandise that will please the whole family, including Neuticles t-shirts and hoodies, ball caps, aprons, bathrobes, beach towels, key chains, and necklaces... certainly enough paraphernalia for a themed holiday gift exchange. You can even buy an autographed copy of Going... Going... Nuts! The Story Had to Be Told... by Gregg Miller, the inventor and developer of Neuticles. (Under no circumstances should Neuticles be used in humans; the website makes this clear in the very fine print).

For the record, this is not a personal holiday wish-list. I am not trying to suggest (even subliminally) that my readers purchase these items for me (except for the walking brain).

To give credit where credit is due, I first learned about the microbe apparel here, walking brain here, and neuticles here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

There's no place like...

Our counselor has advised us to close our eyes and "go to our safe place" when we feel overwhelmed or stressed. She offered several suggestions for safe places we could visit, including sitting on the beach and working in the garden.

Mine is a Taco Bell. With an ample supply of quesadillas, crunchy tacos, chicken crunch wrap supremes, and taco sauce (the ones with the fun messages printed on them).

(image accessed at

Monday, December 3, 2007

Cashew later

I’ve been spilling a lot of beans on the family over the past several weeks. Tonight, I spill the nuts.

We were all so young. Little Bro was just 5. I was merely 9. Dad was only 45. A friend of Dad’s invited us to his Christmas party. Dad insisted that we be gracious guests and bring a present for the host. We had, in classic family-of-Yajeev fashion, been running severely late, so the present had to be a re-gifting. Dad frantically surveyed the house for a suitable token of appreciation for the kind invitation. Most of the hunt took place in the kitchen, enabling him to multitask; he could snack while searching. Finally, he spied an object that would satisfy both of his needs: a festive tin of mixed nuts already topped with a red Christmas bow. It had arrived in that day’s mail as a holiday present for our family.

“But, Daddy, that present is for us,” my brother pleaded, troubled by our father’s diversion of a gift meant to be consumed by our family.

“It’s okay,” Dad reasoned with Little Bro, removing the handwritten Christmas note from the original sender. “The person who gave it to us would want us to make someone else happy with these nuts,” he rationalized. I nodded, knowingly.

“No, Daddy, he wanted us to eat them.” Lil Bro felt a sharp pang of conscience, despite being allergic to nuts.

I don’t think it was to appease Little Bro’s pleading, but Dad decided that it would be appropriate if we ate just a few of the nuts. Dad hurriedly ushered us into the car. I sat in the front with Dad. Little Bro sat in the back holding the tin of cashews, walnuts, peanuts, and almonds. We had barely turned out of the driveway when Dad reached his arm behind his own seat, fumbling for the tub of nuts on Little Bro’s lap. “Honey, open the nuts.”

“But, Daddy…”

“It’s okay,” Dad repeated. “I just want two cashews.” Little Bro reluctantly snapped open the tin-o-nuts, and Dad groped air behind him with his right hand, erratically swerving the steering wheel with his left. Finally, his paw found the reservoir of protein-rich nutmeat. His hand swished through the nutty amalgam until he could retrieve the desired handful-sized quantity of cashews et al.

We had almost arrived at our friend’s house. “Just a few more nuts,” Dad said having finished his first fistful. He thrust his arm back into Little Bro’s personal space. Instead of finding his hand in an oasis of salty, dry proteinaceious goodness, his anatomical snuff box collided with the tin can, sending the mixture flying into the air. Nuts landed on the floor, on the seats, on Little Bro’s lap. Dad scooped a walnut off of Little Bro’s knee and popped it through his oral orifice.

Dad turned onto the street of the party and pulled the car to the side of the road. He jumped out of the car, and beckoned for me to do the same. “Quick, put the nuts back in the tub,” Dad instructed. The three of us engaged in a mad nut-scramble, picking almonds from the cracks between the seats and wiping hairs off of peanuts recovered from the floor before depositing them back into the decorative holiday tin. When all was said and done, with nuts lost to the hidden recesses of the car and of my father, we had filled the container to about two-thirds original capacity.

We piled back into the car, and Dad drove the rest of the way to the party. We were clearly the final guests to arrive. “I’m so glad you could make it,” the host greeted us, glancing at his watch. “Oh, you didn’t have to buy me a present,” he added, reaching for the tinseled tin.

“Actually, we didn’t buy—” Little Bro started before Dad put him in a playful faux headlock, effectively muffling the remainder of Little Bro’s sentence.

“Thanks for the nuts,” the host said, cracking the tin open and retrieving a few for a quick bite. “Delicious,” he uttered.

Little Bro couldn’t contain himself: “Those were the nuts we picked up off the floor of our car.”

Dad gently stepped on Little Bro’s foot. “No, those were the other nuts that we picked up off the floor. We threw those nuts—”*

“No, Daddy, those were the nuts that we got as a gift and that you spilled in the car when you were eating them. We picked them up off the floor and put them back into the container, Daddy. That container,” he concluded, pointing at the tin held by the host.

There was silence. Dad and the host stood in frozen smiles. I looked from face-to-face-to-face. I turned to Little Bro and warned him: “You are in so much trouble.”

* Please see footnote from previous post.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Tribute to Evel

I can't wait to meet God, and ask why he didn't make me go faster on some of those jumps, why he put me through all this pain. He knows I'm not evil.

EVEL KNIEVEL,, May 19, 2006

My older brother was a small child when Evel Knievel was performing daredevil stunts for stadium-sized crowds. Big Bro was a huge fan of Evel Knievel and was thrilled when our father brought him to see the swashbuckler in action. Dad thought it would be great if to get a picture of Evel with Big Bro, so Dad tracked down EK’s public relations folks at the event and asked if it would be possible to arrange for Big Bro to meet Evel. Evel’s people said that this would not in fact be possible, and that my father was not the first person to make such a request. It was simply not a tenable policy to arrange for photo ops with every child whose parents requested.

Pop was not used to taking no for an answer and has always been quick on his feet. He put his hand on the shoulder of the man who seemed to be in charge, looked him straight in the eyes, and said, in a tone hushed so that Big Bro, standing longingly at his side, could not hear, “You don’t understand. My son may never have the opportunity to meet Evel Knievel ever again.” My father was not lying. Big Bro might actually never have had the chance to meet him ever again… not because Big Bro was terminally ill as one might have reasonably assumed based on the hushed tones and careful word choice, but simply because the odds of Big Bro ever having the chance to shake EK’s hand were slim-to-none—especially with the army of men employed to prevent such meetings.

“You mean—?” Evel’s PR man asked, assuming the worst.

“Yes,” my father quickly responded, pulling Big Bro tightly to his side, before the PR man could verbalize the words “he’s sick”. Thus, Dad never actually lied*; he failed to clarify.

“Let me see what I can do,” the man in Knievel’s employ said, sincerely, and hurried off.

The man never came back, so Dad and Big Bro assumed he had been unable to arrange to introduce Evel Knievel to Big Bro. Dad and Big Bro joined the gathering crowd to watch Evel perform this night’s feat of derring-do: jumping his motorcycle over some obscene quantity of cars and trucks parked side-by-side.

Before his big jump, Knievel removed his helmet and announced to the crowd, “Tonight we have a special guest with us. He’s the real hero.” And, he said Big Bro’s name. After the show, Dad found the PR agent again who whisked Big Bro and Dad away to have a private audience with Evel Knievel.

Evel Knievel died today. Dad was right: Big Bro never again had the chance to meet Robert Craig “Evel” Knievel, Jr.

* When Dad retells this story today, he is careful to assure the listener that he no longer abides by the same brand of situational ethics to which he adhered in the olden days. He admits that while he did not actually lie in this case, he was in fact dishonest. It is only fair to Dad and the reader that they receive the same disclaimer: This was the Old Dad.

Image accessed from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I can't help (prat)falling in love with you

Mike at I Am Prepared to Give Up at Any Time wrote in a comment to one of his own recent posts about his inability to attain perpendicularity with a surfboard, “Lack of coordination is just universally endearing.”

For me, this is a good thing.

Mike’s failure to stand on a surfboard parallels the collective outdoorsy (and indoorsy) athletic failure of my life: I have at one time or another failed to thrive (by “thrive” I mean “maintain uprightness”) at snow skiing, water skiing, skateboarding, roller skating, ice skating, walking down stairs, walking up stairs, walking on flat surfaces, sitting on four-legged chairs… I have fallen face first and shaken my fists in frustration at snow, ice, concrete, and whatever it is roller rinks are made of.

But, if what Mike says is true and klutziness is in fact somehow attractive, my falling on skis, skates, blades, and shoes may have been the linchpin vital to the procurement of lifelong love and affection. Indeed, I have fallen in front of my wife more often than I care to admit. When we were in college, I tumbled to the ground at least three times in the first month of our dating relationship.

The first fall was the most spectacular. My now-wife (then-girlfriend) had been volunteering as a youth group leader at a local church, and she brought me to meet the high schoolers one Sunday morning. The church was a split-level structure. After passing through the stately doors, one could go upstairs or downstairs. When I walked in for the first time, the wife whispered to me, “Shhh. They’re praying.” Indeed, I looked down the stairs and saw a group of adolescents holding hands in a circle, eyes closed in fervent devotion to their Maker. I had barely whispered, “Ok, I’ll be quiet,” when I stepped forward to find empty space where I had expected there to be more floor. In the blink of an eye, I was hurtling down the steps, somersaulting twice before reaching the bottom of the stairs, landing on my back, head half protruding into the prayer circle. Youthful eyes popped open and jaws dropped. I stared back up. “Hi, I’m Yajeev,” I quipped, trying to be funny. They laughed, but not in a “What a funny quip” kind of way.

The second fall was the most heroic. The now-wife (then-girlfriend) and I had spent a lovely evening “studying” at Eat N’ Park. We elected to check our mail when we returned to campus. We walked into the building which housed the mail hall, and I gallantly offered to carry the wife’s laptop computer. It had been raining, so our shoes were wet, squeaking with every step. A large stairway led to the mail hall. I descended a few steps when the moisture between my shoe and the step compromised the frictional forces that typically (ok, sometimes) prevent me from slipping. My feet slipped out from under me, and I plunged straight down, rear first, to the step which should at that moment have been supporting my feet. The bruises on my buttocks might have been prevented if only I had attempted to grab the railing on my way down, but I could do no such thing: I held my wife’s computer in my hands. Instinctually, I thrust her computer high above my head, and my tush collided with one step, then another, then another, and so on. My ego may have been severely damaged, but her computer survived without a scratch.

The third fall was the most pathetic. It was freezing. The then-girlfriend (now-wife) had brought me to meet her mother (my now-mother-in-law) and grandmother (my now-grandmother-in-law). We arrived at Grandma’s house, exchanged pleasantries for a brief time in her living room, and decided to leave for dinner. My wife, followed by her mother and grandmother, walked out the front door onto the icy porch. I brought up the rear. Now-wife gingerly descended the ice-covered steps leading to the driveway. Then, Now-mother-in-law carefully walked down the steps. Next, Now-grandmother-in-law, chatting feverishly about her kitty cats, made her way down each frozen step: foot, foot, cane, foot, foot, cane, etc. After three generations of future female relatives had reached the car without incident, it was my turn. I stepped onto the first stair. That was it: my feet never found the other three stairs. I’m not sure how it happened, but one moment I was walking down the porch stairs, the next I was face-down in the snow.

Perhaps it was these moments and not my brains, charm, or good looks that endeared me to my wife. If Mike is right, it may have been my literally kissing the ground that Now-wife then walked on that inexplicably drew her to me. All those times I thought she was trying to kill me by snapping two elongated flat boards onto my feet and shoving two sticks into my hands before sending me careening down a snow-covered mountain or by affixing razor thin pieces of metal to the bottoms of my boots and asking me to travel in aimless circles on an indoor puddle of ice with throngs of other people with razor thin pieces of metal affixed to the bottoms of their boots, she might actually have been turned on by my pratfalls and encores of pratfalls.

The moment I truly won her heart must have been when I collapsed in front of a gaggle of preschool skiers and their ski instructor. I slid gracefully from the ski lift, glided a few yards, and delicately crumpled to the cold, cold ground. As I struggled unsuccessfully to return to my skis, the class of three- and four-year-olds (all infinitely more proficient on skis than me) gathered around me, staring at the floundering mess of a wannabe skier. The instructor helped me to my feet. The little ones giggled mercilessly, as did the wife. Much of the rest of my day was spent recovering from similar pratfalls.

All my life, I’ve labored to overcome my proneness to accidents of all varieties, when perhaps I should have been embracing it. It may be the bomp in the bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp that made my baby fall in love with me.

I am a paragon of gracelessness; this just might be my saving grace.

Monday, November 19, 2007

With (imaginary) friends like these...

...who needs real ones?

My previous post about imaginary friends has ignited an unanticipated firestorm of impassioned responses from Co-worker’s (imaginary) bus friends. Several of them have emailed me. I’ve obtained their permission and here present what they have sent. Names have been changed to protect the invented. For full context, please read the original post. It’s getting rave reviews, primarily from imaginary friends (mine and otherwise). These notes were so amusing (and so sad) that they require little comment on my part, but I thought Co-worker's (imaginary) friends ought to have the chance to defend their constitution before my readership. I report; you decide. You be the judge.

This is the first one I received:

Hi folks - here's my response to Co-worker's "imaginary" co-worker!! :)

Hi Yajeev:

I just wanted you to know that Co-worker is not (at this time) living in a fantasy land. I am actually one of her bus buddies (actually, I am the Martini Lady on the bus). Co-worker is absolutely correct about the noise we make and how much fun we have. This is really a great bunch of people and we've made a lot of good friends over our treks into town and Oakland. If it wasn't for our bus buddies, our trips would be boring. You should come and ride with us sometime. I'm sure you'd consider moving out to the Moon area just to ride the bus with us!!!

By the way, I have a 5 year old grandson who has two imaginary friends called "Meat" and "Grape". He will sit and talk to them just like they're in the same room with him. At one point, we weren't sure if this was normal, but someone told my daughter that it is very natural and is a sign of intelligence. So, I have therefore accepted Meat and Grape and hope someday my intelligent grandson will be paying for my old age home!!!

Thanks for sharing your concerns about Co-worker, but let me reassure you that she is very sane at this stage of her life. I can't speak for the past or the future, but her present is bright!!


The Martini Lady

Shortly thereafter, I received this email:

Hi Yajeev,

I'm "Belly Dancer" and I assure you I am not in her imagination. She is totally "sane" as far as that word can be described and as the Martini Lady said, we have a lot of fun at what would otherwise be totally boring. Hope we can meet you some day - or are you a figment of her indagation too?

Belly Dancer

Also Tastefully Simple lady (I have many personalities - oops, maybe I'm insane)

Next, one of the imaginary friends emailed the group of faux friends.

Hi all,

I think we should let Yajeev and Sudoku Woman write a book about our bus buddy escapades; then we can publish it, make a mint, and retire to our never, never land of imagination. Come to think of it, I remember having an imaginary playmate named Cindy who became real.......We'd better watch out.


That was nice. Thanks, "Minty".

Finally, "Sudoku Woman", clearly the voice of reason in Co-worker's mind, chimed in.

Co-worker's a whacko - she created all of these fake email addresses and has been responding to them herself. Belly dancers? Martinis? On the bus??? I think not!

I'm surprised she hasn't gone on about hooch parties and food fests. I even heard once (and this is truly sad) that she MET her bus buddies after work FOR DINNER - dragging her poor husband along (he had no idea things had gotten this bad). Imagine when she requested "Table for 8 please" and assured the host that "they're coming".

A good idea would be to move her from the 28K to the Western Psych Express (the good part being that this is ACTUALLY an express bus and doesn't stop anyplace else on the way).

Sudoku Woman
(I exist - but sit quietly keeping to myself because she got me hooked on these stupid SUDOKU puzzles. I'm also 5'11", 135lbs, with perky boobs and excellent skin.)

Receiving these notes made my job as a bloggist easy: change the names, copy and paste. Many thanks to Co-worker and her alter egos for their whimsical contributions.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

They're coming to take me away, ha ha!

My co-worker takes public transportation to work and tells wonderful stories about the friends she’s made on the bus over the years. “You’ll never guess what Barbara said this morning…” or “Mary Ann told me the funniest joke.” Apparently, Co-worker and crew sit in the back of the bus and rabble rouse, disturbing the other passengers. On more than one occasion, reportedly, Co-worker and her friends have been asked to “keep it down” by other riders trying to catch a few winks before heading in to work.

Despite all of the sordid, sundry tales I’ve heard about Co-worker’s bus friends, I have never met a single one of said cadre of compadres. Sometimes, I’ll walk into work and Co-worker will tell me that her bus friends had just come and gone. It’s happened on more than one occasion that her buddies had left mere moments before my arrival. With each additional occurrence of near-miss bus-friend sightings, I’ve become more skeptical that these fine folks actually exist. I have nearly become convinced that Co-worker’s bus friends are of the imaginary variety.

It’s a sad thought… Co-worker sitting on the bus chatting up a storm with what must appear to other riders to be empty seats… laughing and carrying on despite the pleas of annoyed (and perhaps even sympathetic) passengers to keep her enthusiasm down. I have delicately made mention of this possibility to Co-worker, but she has, quite naturally, I daresay, denied vigorously any such proposition. “They’re not imaginary. I’ll bring them here to meet you someday,” she promises, but that someday never seems to come.

To my knowledge, I’ve never had my own imaginary friends, but I can remember interacting with my brother's. Sometime in his early childhood, Little Bro had developed his own gang of make-believe friends. Little Bro’s imaginary friends were named: Blue Boy, Brown Boy, Yellow Boy, Green Boy, and Lily Car-Jacket.

Lily Car-Jacket was his girlfriend. Nothing made Little Bro angrier than mixing up his girlfriend’s name. “How’s Lily Car-Coat?” I’d ask, taunting.

“It’s Lily Car-JACKET,” he’d fume.

“Oh, right. Sorry. Lily Truck-Jacket.” And so on.

Each differently colored Boy had a distinct personality. Yellow Boy was the most dependable, friendliest member of the bunch. Green Boy was the worst. He was always causing problems, spilling Little Bro’s milk or leaving messes in the bedroom or tying Little Bro’s shoelaces together. Little Bro was the leader of his fantasy pack and a strong disciplinarian at that. Little Bro was always sending Green Boy to the time out chair. Once, while we were in vacation in the mountains of West Virginia, Green Boy was misbehaving so severely that Little Bro actually threw Green Boy in a state park trashcan. Unfortunately, devious Green Boy’s hitchhiking skills were top notch, and Little Bro found him waiting for us at home when we returned from our vacation.

At some point in the progress of Little Bro’s relationship with Lily Car-Jacket and the Green and Blue and Brown and Yellow Boys, it occurred to me that I could have some big brotherly fun at the expense of Little Bro’s imagination. To this end, I invented Zorton, my alter-ego alien twin. I managed to convince Little Bro that whenever I walked into a closet alone and shut the door, I would mysteriously switch places with Zorton, my outer-space doppleganger. We laughed alike; we walked alike. At times we even talked alike. And Little Bro bought it hook, line, and sinker.

Whenever I was bored, I would enter the closet and emerge as Zorton. I would spin the most intricate yarns about my interstellar adventures and wax eloquent about the wonders of the universe as Little Bro would sit in rapt wonder. When I tired of playing the part, I would enter the closet and re-emerge as Yajeev, too exhausted from the galactic exchange to spend any more time engaging Little Bro. Little Bro was about 10 when he began to suspect Zorton was a fraud. Zorton and I would go to great lengths to reassure Little Bro that we would never play such a cruel joke on him. As demonstration of Zorton’s authenticity, I (Zorton) would utter some garbled outer-space phrase that I (Yajeev) would later feign difficulty articulating. Much to Little Bro’s embarrassment, it wasn’t until he finished the sixth grade (long after the gradual fade of Lily Car-Jacket and company into the sunset) that he finally became convinced of Zorton’s unreality.

The imagination is a terrible, wonderful thing. I laugh to recall Little Bro’s Technicolor Boys. I feel a mixture of pride and regret as I retell the Zorton delusion. And, I feel pity for Co-worker and her imaginary boisterous bunch of bus friends.

Of course, I do sometimes wonder how much I myself might be imagining. What portions of my reality may be the artificial constructs of my id or super ego? Am I the pitiable soul carrying on with imaginary co-workers? Do I have imaginary friends with imaginary friends? Is Watson Steve my Yellow Boy and the wife my Lily Car-Jacket? Is the friend I instant message my Green Boy; would my chat transcripts reveal pathetic monologues rather than witty dialogues? As I question my my own reality, I feel my sanity slipping, slipping, slipping… I am crawling deeper and deeper into a cave… are the shadows on the walls real readers commenting on my blog or are they figments of my own imagination providing the validation my soul craves…

Thursday, November 8, 2007

In the middle of the night

A wise person once counseled my wife and me that important conversations should not occur after 10:00 pm. We have done our best to abide by this general rule, knowing that the later in the evening a discussion is commenced, the more likely it is to be emotionally rather than intellectually driven.

That being said, some of our most interesting communication has undoubtedly happened after the bewitching hour of midnight.

In our marriage, it has often been the case that my wife has fallen asleep before me, sometimes by a matter of hours. When I worked as a college dormitory supervisor, it was my duty to patrol the halls and campus grounds well into the night; when I would return home from a hard day's night, she'd be fast asleep, snug as a bug in a rug. And now, as a graduate student, I often sit in bed late at night reading papers, working on assignments, or blogging; exciting as these tasks are, she is rarely able to maintain consciousness whilst I hammer away at the backlit keyboard. Indeed, basking in the warm dim glow of my laptop screen listening to my restfully deep-breathing sleeping wife is a favorite scenario of mine.

It is within this context that the aforementioned most interesting exchanges often occur. My wife typically claims to have no recollection of these conversations the mornings after, which leads me to conclude that she was likely in an altered state of consciousness when they occurred (i.e. talking in her sleep).

Recently, for instance, I had gotten up to use the restroom in the middle of the night. As I slipped back into bed as gingerly as my 260-pound five-foot eleven-and-a-half inch frame would allow, my wife turned toward me just a little and blurted, "Hey fifth grader!"

I replied, "Who, me?"

And she returned with a resounding "Yes, you!" She then proceeded to serenade me with the theme song to the Fox reality show, "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?"

When these nuggets of late-night conversational gold appear, I have the urge to find a pen and paper and jot down what she has said (or, in some cases, sung) to me. But, just as I do when I awake from a dream I'd like to record the contents of, I convince myself I'll remember her words in the morning. I rarely do. Today, I remembered the "fifth grader" bit, so I thought I'd make a permanent record of it here.

And, while I'm at it, I thought I'd share a few other interesting comments I can remember from the past five-and-a-half blissful years of sleepy time shenanigans before the memories fade into oblivion.

I can recall having worked outside at the college on one particularly cold evening. I returned home chilled to the bone and tucked myself into bed, snuggling next to my snoozing wife for body warmth. "Brrrrr!" she shouted. "You're an ice cube. I'm a heat cube." She rolled away from me, pulling all of the covers with her, muttering something about how ice cubes and heat cubes shouldn't touch.

It is clear, however, that in her sleep, she betrays her deepest thoughts about me. I've been called both a "maztoh ball head" and "a real fideller", which based on the preceding Cuban themed sleep talk conversation, I assume was a reference to Castro, but I can't be sure.

I have of course shared the joy and inanity of her late-night verbal outpourings with a few (hundred) friends and family. My brother wished to experience my wife’s nocturnal loquacity for himself, so he would visit our apartment to watch late-night movies, hoping my lovely bride would fall asleep on the couch. One evening, after watching the exhilarating French-subtitled film Manon des Sources, the little lady conked right out on the couch, and my brother wasted no time in attempting to egg her on to spoken absurdity. It didn’t take much for her to spout off something about being Big Bird in Sesame Street on Ice or some such incoherent gibberish. Little Brother laughed hysterically, asking her one question after the next, leading her further and further down the rabbit trail of nonsensical gobbledygook. Finally, his laughter was too much, and my wife was aroused from her slumber, a small bit perturbed that she had been so exploited for the amusement of others beside myself.

On more than one occasion, she has 'written' and sung lyrics to entire songs that did not exist before her head hit the pillow. These usually send me into riotous fits of merriment that wake her up after a stanza or two. The only song that I can remember and report the lyrics to was quite an ingenious little ditty about Singer Sewing Machines. What made this song quite amazing is that she had never really talked, much less thought, in great depth about this particular apparatus. The song was quite simple with the following verse repeated maybe twenty-ought times:

Sing ‘er a song about a Singer Sewing Machine… a singer sewing machine
Sing ‘er a song about a Singer Sewing Machine… a singer sewing machine

The first couple times she sang the verse she had been lying on her back, barely moving, but, as she repeated it a few more times, she started to feel the rhythm and began to move her shoulders to the beat. Finally, she became so emotionally moved by these lyrics, she bolted upright in bed and sang the song, eyes still closed but face contorted with emotion, in a loudish inside voice, such that I’m pretty sure our apartment neighbors were the recipients of a free chronically crescendoing midnight concert. It was amazing. She just kept singing and singing this verse over and over again. Finally, I felt it the merciful decision to wake her up so that she would not lose her voice as a result of her extended unconscious choral performance.

“Honey,” I said, gently shaking her shoulder. She did not flinch but continued to sing, with feeling.

Sing ‘er a song….

I gently shook her shoulder. “Dear, you’re sleepsinging.” No response.

…about a Singer Sewing Machine…

“You’re going to wake the neighbors, sweetheart.”

… a Singer Sewing Machine…

Finally, I grabbed both shoulders and shook firmly (but non-violently). She continued singing, but her eyes popped open. She continued repeating her verse, looking around the room, trying to figure out who and where she was. The words slowed down to a trickle.

Sing… her… a... song…

“Sweetheart, you’ve been singing in your sleep.

about… a... Singer… Sewing… Machine…

She stopped singing, looked at me as if I were crazy and said, “No I haven’t.”

“Dear,” I replied, defending my position, “you have been singing a song about a classic sewing contraption…” It was pointless to continue. She had already lied down again and closed her eyes. She mumbled something, but her murmurs faded into the nighttime silence.

The song had such a catchy tune that I still find myself humming it on occasion.

I leave you with perhaps my all-time favorite nighttime sleeping wife antic:

Attention all shoppers, attention all shoppers. Supermarket Sweep is about to begin!

Following this exclamation, my wife then described in the first person her dreamland experiences of running through the game show grocery store Bonus Sweep.

Now I’m running up and down the aisles… and now I’m looking for graham crackers… and now I found the graham crackers and I’m throwing it in my cart… and now I’m looking for a giant banana… and I found the giant banana… yippee!!! And now I’m looking for a turkey… and I found the turkey… oooh, the turkey’s heavy… and now I’m running back to the start… and… and… and… I win!!! I win!!! I win!!!

She’s so beautiful and peaceful when she sleeps.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Yajeev got run over by a donkey.

I met my wife in the organic chemistry lab.

I proposed to my wife in the organic chemistry lab.

And, somewhere in between, I nearly lost my wife forever in the organic chemistry lab.

She was a chemistry student, I the charming and mature chemistry lab assistant. At the time we both were molecular biology majors and held as possible career plans practicing medicine in the third world. I remember our first conversation very clearly. She had described to me her desires to be a medical missionary and concluded, with a twinkle in her eye, "Now, I just need to find a husband who has the same vision." * Huh, I thought, she totally digs me.

There was chemistry from the very beginning, and our relationship progressed from week-to-week, as I, the older and wiser student, would impress her with my deep and wide knowledge of all things organically chemical as well as my ability to open really tightly closed chemical containers (some of which I may have pretightened for just such demonstrative feats of strength). Occasionally, I would surprise her with flowers or mix tapes in her lab drawer.

There were two lab assistants for this class: I mostly assisted the cute girl at the front bench; my partner assisted the other 15 students.

Our relationship progressed quite nicely until the last lab session of the semester. This session was dedicated to checking out-- students ensured their drawers were still appropriately stocked with lab materials, that their bench areas were clean, that they'd turned in all of the required assignments, etc.

My co-lab assistant (or lab co-assistant) and I had a brilliant idea. Since the check-out lab was less than two weeks before Christmas, we played our then-favorite Christmas carol: Dominic the (Italian Christmas) Donkey blared through the lab in a continuous loop. And we added one more required task to the mandatory end-of-term to-do list. In addition to cleaning bench tops and handing in lab reports, each student had to make the sound of a donkey before exiting the lab. It didn't have to be theatrical-- a spoken "heehaw" would suffice.

To the other lab assistant and myself, this made total sense. To most of the males in the class, this made total sense: they complied enthusiastically, some voluntarily getting on all fours** to more realistically emulate the donkey. To the professor in the class, this made partial sense: he appeared to be amused by the inanity. To most of the females in the class, this made little sense: they merely spoke or, in some cases, whispered "heehaw".

To my then-girlfriend, this made absolutely no sense whatsoever: the donkey noise requirement was downright assinine (sic).

My partner and I stood at the door, preventing anyone from leaving without meeting all of the requirements. My now-wife glared at me as she approached with her materials. I asked her as she neared, "What's the magic word?" She was not amused. She did not open her mouth, nor did she stop moving. In fact, she began walking more quickly towards me. I braced myself firmly in the doorway, arms extended. She ran straight into my arm (think: "Red Rover, Red Rover, send Yajeev's girlfriend right over"). Despite her best efforts to escape, my arms were rigid. "What's the magic word?" I repeated, Dominic blasting in the background for the 12th straight time. She did not respond. Instead, she struggled against me. She ducked to go beneath my arm, but I lowered it to block her.

Finally, as we engaged in a battle of wills, the angel on my shoulder asked me, "Yajeev, why are you doing this? What are you trying to prove? Wouldn't it be better to admit defeat and save your relationship?"

The demon on the other shoulder was quick to retort: "No, Yajeev. You must win! Relenting is tantamount to weakness." I can't be sure whether I listened to the angel or if she overpowered me, but before I had to time to rationally weigh the pros and cons of enforcing lab law, she had wriggled free and had escaped.

Instantly, I realized the complete extent of my foolishness (idiocy, my wife now corrects me as I write) of our game. As she walked down the hall away from the lab, I shouted, "Hey, I'll call you when everyone's checked out!" She did not reply or acknowledge me.

I returned to lab, turned down the stereo, and finished the check-out procedures, markedly subdued from when we had begun.

After the last student had turned in his assignments and enthusiastically heehawed, I rushed to my dorm room to call my girlfriend. She did not answer the phone. I hung up and called again. She still did not answer. I repeated again and again, until finally, she picked up. "Hey there," I said, as if I hadn't just embarrassed her in front of her classmates and been calling her room obsessively until she begrudgingly answered the phone. "Hey," she replied as if I had in fact just embarrassed her in front of her classmates and been calling her room obsessively until she begrudgingly answered the phone.

I had to make things right. Christmas break was around the corner, and I did not want to part ways on bad terms. "Wanna get some coffee?" I asked. There was silence. "C'mon. It'll be romantic." More silence. "Whaddya say?"

After a pause, "Okay. Pick me up?"

"No," I replied, "Let's walk. It'll be romantic." (I was big on romance.)

After another pause, "Okay."

A few minutes later, I met her at her dorm entrance. It was cold and wet. There was about six inches of snow on the ground, and the streets were filled with black, dirty, icy slush. The coffee shop was a half-mile away. I put her hand in mine. She did not resist, though she did not squeeze back. We began walking. No. We began trudging. Very quickly, I realized that the notion of walking being more romantic than driving may have been a gross miscalculation, but I had passed the point of no return. The wet snow covered our shoes and ice cold water seeped in through our socks. I tried to carry the conversation as we marched down the cold, wet romantic street, but I could tell I had not yet won her back.

Finally, we arrived at the coffee shop. I opened the door for her (because that's the kind of guy I am when I'm not barricading doors waiting for donkey sounds). We walked to the counter and placed our orders. We carried our hot beverages to a cozy little table against on the side of the shop, dimly lit by a small lamp affixed to the wall.

"My feet are freezing," she said matter-of-factly. "And soaking wet," she added.

"I'm really sorry about that," I replied, cognizant of the fact that I had not yet improved the situation or my standing within it. I tried to look into her eyes, but hers were diverted toward her hot cocoa. I turned my head and gazed blankly at the wall. Staring at the lamp burned my eyes, though this pain was no worse than the heartburn I was experiencing over my most recent relationship faux pas.

Suddenly, I had a brilliant idea, an idea that would surely impress my girlfriend and bring me back into her good graces. "Take off your shoes," I told her.

"What?" she asked, startled.

"And your socks. Give me your socks."

She looked at me like I was a lunatic (which, by now, reader, you too might believe to be true). "Just give me your socks. I have an idea." As an aside, and perhaps as a bit of foreshadowing, I must say that it is striking how often the words "I have an idea" are followed by really crummy results. At least when I say them. The same goes for "Hey, watch this!"

"Do it. You won't regret it," I importuned. After having been humiliated in front of her peers, having listened to her phone ring unceasingly for ten minutes, and having been coerced into tromping through the snow and slush, she had lost the will to fight. Inexplicably to those sitting around us and even to herself, she complied, removing her shoes and socks. She handed her socks to me across the table and rested her bare feet on a chair on the opposite side of the table (as the only viable alternative to placing them on the dirty floor).

I took her socks and draped them across the metal rods which suspended the light bulb in the middle of the lamp under the lampshade. "This'll warm them up and dry them out," I explained, pride brimming. She did not resist, but made no indication that she supported this effort.

We continued drinking and maintained a decent level of conversation. Things began to improve slightly. Every few minutes, I'd reach up under the lampshade to feel the socks. After several minutes, they remained cold and wet. We had nearly finished our drinks, and it seemed my brilliant sock-drying plan was not working. Accordingly, I made a minor adjustment: I moved the socks from the metal rods and laid them carefully across the bulb. The bulb was very hot, and I knew that this would speed the process dramatically; these socks would be toasty warm and dry in no time at all.

We refilled our drinks and resumed our conversation. I was feeling cautiously optimistic about my chances. I had at least managed to engage her in a meaningful verbal exchange, and I think she was genuinely touched by my efforts to provide warm, dry socks. Maybe it was the sugar and caffeine perfusing our neurons, but for a few moments, I felt like I could fix this situation and extricate myself from the bind in which I found myself.

I was reveling in the hero status I would have when her piggy toes were hot and snug when... something smelled funny... "Do you smell that?" I asked.

She sniffed. "Yeah, it smells like... like... like something is burning."

"I think you're right. I wonder what they've burnt," I replied.

I turned to look at the coffee bar when thin wisps of gray smoke floating above the wall lamp caught my eye. "Oh, shoot!" I let slip as I thrust my hands to the light bulb, oblivious to the heat it emitted, and pulled the socks to my lap.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Nothing," I lied. My heart sank. I had gone from hero to zero in a matter of moments. All hopes of saving this strained relationship by the ingenious laundry drying-by-light-bulb approach had been dashed.

I slowly lifted her socks above the table for her to see. Where the heels had once been were now baseball-sized holes surrounded by a fringe of charred, black cotton. Her eyes were wide. I was sure this would be the end of me. As I mentally framed an apology for the atrocity I had committed to her socks, the unexpected occurred: the biggest smile I had seen all day appeared on her face as she broke into hysterical laughter. She grabbed the socks from my hand and examined them, still laughing. She slipped her socks onto her feet, heels protruding, then her shoes.

We plodded back to campus, hand-in-hand (this time, she squeezed back). By some miraculous twist of fate, my utter ineptitude had saved the day and endeared me to my now-wife. The same cannot be said of poor Dominic. She still hates the Italian Christmas Donkey. I still love him... and, against better judgment, am unable to refrain from turning up the radio volume when the song comes on. It's a miracle she's still with me.


* My wife remembers this conversation a little differently (i.e. incorrectly): She had described her desires to be a medical missionary. I interjected, she contends, with a twinkle in my eye, "Now you just need to find a husband who has the same vision." Huh, she thought, that's a funny thing to say.

** Under ordinary circumstances, it is not recommended to get on all fours in a chemistry lab, as there may be chemicals, shards of broken glass, or other hazardous material it would be unwise to crawl through. However, the compulsion to act out as a donkey is no ordinary circumstance.

Friday, November 2, 2007

If you'd like a second extra hour this time change...

You can purchase an hour from the life of ebay user lazyjoecox.

He has made the following sales pitch:
Ready for an amazing deal!!!! I am putting an hour of my life up for sale. As you know, this weekend time changes and an hour is gained. Instead of using my extra hour for fun and festivities, I am willing to sell it to you. Once I receive payment, I will mail you a certificate which certifies that YOU now own my hour. As you can tell from my picture, my time is very valuable. Don't worry if purchase is made after the time change, because I will not be using my hour. I am saving it for you!!!! Good luck bidding!!! Use wisely.

There is something of a bidding war raging over the rights to lazyjoecox's 60 precious minutes (my highest offer thus far has been significantly surpassed). At the time of this posting, the leading bid is $1.00, having skyrocketed 100-fold from earlier this morning: the opening bid was a paltry penny.

Back-of-the-envelope calculations can place an approximate value on the life of lazyjoecox. As an American male, lazyjoecox can be expected to live to the ripe old age of 77.6 years. Given 24 hours in a day, 365 days in a year, and 77.6 years of life (adding 20 leap year days), that's 680,256 hours. At $1 per hour (the going rate as of 11:35 pm), his life is worth nearly $700,000. If the bid increases to $1.47, lazyjoecox should feel like a million bucks.

Reassuringly, lazyjoecox has an extraordinary 100% positive feedback rating... so you know you'll get that hour expeditiously and in pristine quality.

With six days remaining, there is still time to place a bid (if you're interested, click here).

NOTE: After completing this post, I placed a new bid and am currently the highest bidder at $1.25 (bringing the value of Mr. lazyjoecox's life to $850,320.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Falling back once again...

If you've been reading my blog for over a year, you will find this post to be a reiteration of a staunchly held policy opinion.

When it came time to moving the clocks back one hour last year (the so-called "Fall Back"), I presented a rather wordy exposition of my firmly held beliefs on Daylight Savings Time practices.

I was recently perusing another fine blog, A Blogger Around the Clock, and came across an entry highlighting recent studies which indicated that the seemingly innocuous one-hour time change may have longer-term effects than previously believed.

I, of course, used the comments section of this entry as an opportunity to share the time-changing truths I hold to be self-evident.

Then, a week later, I performed a routine vanity Google search for "yajeev" (no, Google, I did not mean rajeev, thank you very much) and found that my quote had been picked up by anthropologist and professor John Hawks and featured in his excellent blog. He tagged my comments as "humor", but I will forgive him for this small oversight.

I am honored, and I direct you here to my stump speech (much abridged from last year's version).

And, remember to turn your clocks back Saturday night. You'll have an extra hour for sleep (or keeping up with my blog).

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Tonight, we participated in the annual ghoulish ritual of distributing glucose, sucrose, and fructose to a disguised cohort of munchkins and preadolescents (and a few candy-grubbing high schoolers and one parent with a bag of his own!). As the evening progressed, the wife and I made multiple observations, each of which I considered transforming into a standalone blog entry. Instead, I have pooled them together for one uber-Halloween post. Enjoy.

Bwa ha ha ha!


Our neighbor’s grandchild was clearly new to this whole trick-or-treating business. At the tender age of four, she was costumed as a pretty, pretty princess: dress, tiara, pumpkin-shaped candy receiving container. When she arrived, her grandparents started her off with some seed candy from their stash. After some cautious hesitation on her part, her parents finally convinced her that it was time to branch out to other houses in the neighborhood. Ours was a natural first hit.

She took a few steps toward our house and froze in her tracks. My wife stood poised at the end of our sidewalk, smiling and Kit Kat bar in hand. Princess would not move. Her parents grabbed her hand and pulled her toward my wife. Her eyes filled with tears. “No,” she cried, resisting her urging parents.

“Walk up to her and say, ‘Trick or treat,’” her mother coaxed.

“No, she can’t have my candy,” the girl replied.

My wife, a little confused, replied, “I don’t want to take candy from you. I want to give candy to you.”

These words had a miraculous shyness-curing effect. Without further ado, Princess rushed to my wife and said the magic words, and my wife dropped the Kit Kat bar into her pumpkin basket.

The girl (newly enthused about her evening’s prospects) bounded ahead of her parents to the next doorstep. “Trick or treat!!!” she shouted.

As she sprinted down the street from one house to the next, the wife and I had a good chuckle at her na├»ve misunderstanding of the night’s proceedings. She had thought that the costume-clad kids were supposed to give their candy to the adults lining the streets...

...which, come to think of it, wouldn’t be such a bad idea. I would be supportive of a pilot trial of Reverse Halloween (call it Treat-or-Trick), whereby children march up and down the streets handing out candy (or cheeseburgers or money or McDonald’s Monopoly game pieces) to the adults in the neighborhood.


Watson, our pride and joy, suffers from an irrational fear of large men and small children. Nonetheless, we tortured him this evening by keeping him outside with us as parades of small children, sometimes accompanied by large men, passed by our front door, occasionally pausing for us to drop treats into their treat receptacles.

We’ve learned that Watson experiences an irrational and overriding affinity for terrifying masks, even when mounted on the heads of large men and small children. Turns out that if you are a large man or small child evoking great fear in the loins of our humble non-hypoallergenic faux labradoodle, all you need to do to win his affection is don a Frankenstein or blood-stained hockey mask.


One young man arrived at our doorstep, appearing uncostumed to my untrained eye. As a matter of principle, I feel it is incumbent upon me as a perpetuator of the Halloween tradition, to, at the very least, challenge those who presume to take my candy without going to the effort to amuse or horrify me with their get-up.

Me to kid: Where’s your costume?

Kid to me (pointing to his gold chain): Can’t you see my bling?

Me to kid: Of course. Have some candy.


Most of the kids who stopped by tonight were reasonably polite, initiating the exchange with a cordial “Trick or treat”. My wife or I would continue the pleasantries by commenting on their costumes or the weather or the rising price of crude. We'd then proceed to drop one or two (if I was the distributor) or three or four (if my wife was the distributor) pieces of candy in the child’s bag or basket or pillowcase or hollow leg. This would be followed by a (sometimes parent-induced) whiny “thank you” (the apparent whininess of the departing youngster may in fact be an artifact of the Doppler effect).

We encountered the occasional youth with an oversized sense of entitlement. One such charming and mature prepubescent Halloweener arrived at our doorstep and demanded that my wife “Put it in! Put it in!” My wife, taken aback by his demeanor, paused, and engaged the boy in a stare down. He, of course, had no times for such silly games. “Hurry!” he shouted. After some thought, my wife reluctantly complied (we didn’t want wake up tomorrow to find our cars decorated with toilet paper or worse), but she only gave him one piece of candy.


Finally, as the soon-to-be-sugar-comatose came and went, we saw some truly fun and impressive costumes. I considered taking pictures of my favorite costumes and posting them to this blog, when I realized that that the taking and online distribution of pictures of other people’s children would in fact be illegal and downright creepy.

Thus, what follows is a description of three of my four favorite costumes from tonight.

The biohazard scientist costume, of course, resonated quite profoundly with my own tragically clumsy scientific leanings. The child sported green hair and a lab coat mottled with bright, fluorescent green biohazardous waste stains. Just another day on the job for an average Joe such as myself.

Next, the seven (or so)-year-old dressed as a birthday party table—a clever variation on the birthday gift box costume. The waddling boy was encumbered by a giant cardboard box that was shorter than him by about a head-and-a-half. The box was decorated with birthday plates and napkins and a birthday cake, and the boy expended considerable energy traipsing from one house to the next (let alone around the block). He earned his candy.

I also appreciated the angel who had lost her wings. Her father walked immediately behind her, holding the detached wings to her back, flapping them occasionally.

As for my favorite costume… this one I can post online. I paid for it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Trick-or-Treat. Fall. Repeat.

The year was 1986; the date was October 31. The event: the annual door-to-door candy-grubbing festivities commonly known as trick-or-treating.

I had mentally prepared for this day for weeks, strategically mapping out the shortest possible routes from each house to the next (forget sidewalks—it would be much faster to dash through front lawns). This was not my first time out. Indeed, at the ripe old age of six (going on seven), I knew what Halloween was all about; it was a microcosm for epicurean western materialism: grab all you can, ‘cuz you just live once.

This particular year I was charged with inducting a new member into the cult: my three-year-old brother. I was sporting an Ohio State University football uniform and helmet. Little Bro wore a brand new full-body Big Bird costume.

In the days leading up to Halloween, I had been enthusiastic about showing Little Bro the ropes. “Listen,” I would explain, “the most important thing is that we get to as many houses as we can. If Dad wants to take a picture of us, we have to pose as fast as we can so we get back to trick-or-treating.” Unfortunately, my teachings were received about as well as the involuntary math tutoring I had repeatedly subjected him to throughout his early childhood.

When the big night arrived, I was juiced, like the men whose uniform I donned before a big game. If someone had been there to lead me, I would have gladly done the run-in-place-as-fast-as-you-can-then-fall-to-your-face-then-jump-back-up football player drills to improve my chances of rapid treat acquisition. I was to be a chocolate hoarding juggernaut sprinting through the neighborhood; tragically, Little Bro was to be my Achilles heel. Despite all I had taught him about maximizing our candy potential, he seemed to completely miss the point of the evening. He was the quintessential lollygagger.

This was the routine repeated over and over throughout the evening: I would ring the doorbell. The door would open and, in unison, my brother and I would chant, “Trick or treat.” We would then extend our arms (I would take extra care to hold my candy receptacle in its most open, accessible conformation). The attending sweets distributor would make an obligatory comment: “My, my, what do we have here? A football player and Big Bird.” Edible items (usually cavity-causing, but occasionally, and less desirably, fruit or small amounts of coinage—popcorn balls were of intermediate desirability) were dropped into our bags. As soon as I heard the new treat hit the bottom of my container, I was running to the next house. “Little Bro, come on!” I would importune to the straggler struggling to keep up behind me. My parents (walking alongside us on the sidewalk) would command us thank the candy giver, and I would shout my gratitude over my shoulder as I sped to the next doorstep.

On this Halloween, stress hormones coursing through my veins, I grew increasingly impatient with Little Bro. Not only could he not keep up with me when he was on his feet, but he fell en route to each and every house throughout the entire evening. “Little Bro, come on. HURRY UP!” I knew that our time was limited, that this was a once-a-year two-hour free-for-all. I just wanted Little Bro to understand this and get his head into the game. The first few times he fell face-first to the ground, I’d stop dead in my tracks, race back to him, semi-cheerfully help him up, and recommence my dash to the next stop. My enthusiasm for helping him get up off the ground waned as the evening progressed. “Uggggghhhh,” I shouted once, watching the sands (or Skittles) of time slip through my fingers.

The promise of exceeding previously held candy accumulation records was not to be fulfilled this Allhallows Eve. Indeed, the dream of having enough candy to maintain a sugar high that lasted till next year’s neighborhood foray was transformed into the nightmare of having to sacrifice caloric volume for brotherly love and assistance. More time was spent waiting for Big Bird to catch up with me (I wasn’t allowed to ring a doorbell until he was by my side) or helping him off the grass. He probably fell 50 times, and this may well be an underestimation.

At the end of the night, as I was counting and sorting my less than satisfying stash of sweets, my parents made a startling discovery. The pant legs of the Big Bird costume they had purchased for Little Bro had been linked at the ankles by the plastic connector string (the kind used to attach tags to clothing items). They had never snipped it. Three-year-old Little Bro had effectively been ankle-cuffed through the whole ordeal: he had never been able to step farther than half a foot-length. His shrunken stride explained the unimaginable quantity of spills he had suffered in our (my) quest for untold confectionary accretion.

This finding made our unsatisfactory returns no more acceptable in my eyes, but it did elicit hope that next year would be better.

(image accessed from

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Practice makes perfect

Two anecdotes about two beginners in two different fields.

1. A medical doctor recently joined our laboratory. He is a skilled physician but is still cutting his teeth at the lab bench. He recently learned how to perform a western blot, a basic biochemical technique used to detect specific proteins within a cellular extract.

This is an artist's rendition of what a good western blot looks like.

This is what the good doctor's first western blot looked like.

We had gotten off-topic during our most recent lab meeting, somehow discussing the myriad complications and maladies that can arise with human health and during childbirth. My ever-wise advisor (click here or here) commented, "It's a miracle a baby ever comes out normal."

The young doctor replied, "That's how I feel about western blotting. Childbirth is nothing."

2. We had lunch today at CiCi's pizza buffet where a new pizza chef was being trained.

I watched as the novice removed a pizza from the conveyor oven and attempted to divide it into eight proportional slices. He failed at this task, and this is roughly what his pie looked like.

The manager, displeased with his protege's poor sense of symmetry, took a deep breath and explained (as though this wasn't the first time he'd said it), "You need to visualize the center of the pizza." He paused to demonstrate, carefully cutting eight pieces in a sample pizza. Proud of his perfectly divided circle, the manager added, "This is an art form."

The neophyte retorted, under his breath, "Mine is an abstract pizza."