Friday, April 25, 2008

Watson and Cricket


I defend my dissertation tomorrow.

I took Friday off to prepare. I re-read my dissertation in the morning, brushed up on the details, and attempted to practice the PowerPoint presentation I'll be delivering to a crowd of students, professors, friends, and family in a mere two days. This turned out to be a fool's errand. I never quite made it through the entire talk without an interruption.

I set my timer and attempted to deliver my talk. Five minutes into my presentation, Watson needed something to drink and his bowl was empty. I filled his water bowl and began again. I made it through the introduction slides when Watson decided it was time to play. I took him for a walk in an effort to tire him out.

Watson did indeed become fatigued, and he crashed at the foot of the bed, so I felt it was safe to try once more.

It wasn't.

"Beep beep beep," the Instant Messenger chimed, announcing incoming messages. Time for a chat break.

Chat chat chat.

Finally, I mustered the willpower to terminate the texting. "gtg," I concluded.

I closed my chat window and recommenced the rehearsal.

"Beep beep beep," repeated the Instant Messenger not many minutes later. A few more lines of chatting were required for closure before I could in good conscience terminate the application.

Time was slipping through my fingers. The wife would be home in three hours and I had not made it through the entire PowerPoint one time. My anxiety intensified. Convinced, though, that I had seen the last of the interruptions, I took it one more time from the top. I would surely be able to complete the 45-minute presentation at least once, if not twice, before the little lady returned home from work. Soon after that, her parents would arrive, and the weekend festivities would begin.

I made it through the first several slides without a hitch. I had been talking for 25 minutes and was on slide 29 of 47 when my cell phone rang. My wife's name flashed on the screen. I was a little surprised, because I thought she was in a meeting and wouldn't be leaving for home for at least another hour. I paused my presentation to answer the phone.

"Hello," I greeted her.

"Um, yajeev, I did something really bad," she replied. I could hear that she was in her car already. I wondered what thing she could have possibly done that she would have categorized as really bad. The wife is practically incapable of doing really bad things. Did she say something to accidentally offend someone at her meeting? Could she have made a parent of one of her students angry? Might she have gotten a traffic violation?

"What is it?" I asked, emoting preemptive supportiveness.

"I'm bringing home a puppy."

I laughed aloud. She was joking. "You're joking."

"I'm not joking." She wasn't joking.

I paused. For a long time. I opened my mouth to speak, but only silence escaped. It was if my vocal cords had been snipped. The pause continued.

"Are you mad?" she asked.

"You're bringing a puppy home?"






"You really are joking."


She really wasn't joking. She arrived at home about thirty minutes later with a 5-week old black lab/beagle mix. Apparently one teacher had given this puppy to another teacher, but the recipient's husband had informed her that he would not allow that puppy in their house. By the time the conversation between the recipient and her husband had transpired, the puppy donor had already left for the weekend. And somewhere in the time between the husband's refusal to welcome the puppy into their home and the phone call I had just received from my wife, the puppy recipient had talked my wife into taking the puppy for the weekend. The coercion, I understand, took the form of the puppy recipient placing the puppy in my wife's lap, where the puppy quickly fell asleep.

That was all it took. And now, we had a five-week-old puppy in our home for the next few days.  A puppy was exactly the last thing I thought we needed at this particular junction in our lives.  I knew that a puppy would mean being awakened every few hours during the nights that we had it (which is what happened).  I knew that a puppy would mean strong emotional attachment and delusional fantasies of keeping the puppy far into the future even though finding a reasonably priced apartment which would accommodate two dogs in the city we were moving to would be next to impossible (which is what happened). I knew a puppy would mean a distraction from preparing for my dissertation defense (which is what happened).

"I'm so sorry. It was really stupid. I should have asked you."

I was truly speechless. Shortly after we hung up the phone, the wife and little canine arrived at our front door.

"See, look how cute she is."

She was really cute. "Huh," I grunted.

"Don't you just love how soft she is."

I pet her head. She was really soft. "Huh," I grunted again.

Watson, on the other hand, could not hide his enthusiasm for the potential of a strange, new, wonderful little playmate. The two were fast friends. Watson led the puppy to our backyard, where he showed her all the cool places to go potty and good spots for eating grass. He was enamored by his new pint-sized pal, and they began to size each other up, jumping on top of each other. Watson, for the most part, and to his credit, was careful not to crush the tiny, tipsy pooch. He stood up on his hind legs, extended his front legs as if to pounce hard on the little girl, but descended ever so gently.

"What's her name?" I asked my wife as the two played.

"She doesn't have one yet."

"What do we call her?"

"I don't know."

Just call her dog. Just call her dog. Just call her dog, I kept telling myself. To give her a name would be to create a point of attachment, and I most certainly did not want to become in any way attached to this thing. "How about Cricket?" I volunteered, involuntarily. "Cricket is a great dog name," I added, not believing the words that were coming out of my mouth. I said their names aloud: "Watson and Cricket."

"That's a great name," my wife replied.

Throughout most of the evening, the dogs alternated between incessant (borderline annoying) playfulness and sudden bouts of sleep. The narcolepticness was almost endearing. Almost. Watching that teeny tiny little puppy curl into a little ball on a velvety blue blanket on the living room floor. The only major scuffle occurred when we attempted to feed Cricket some special gourmet puppy food (provided to us by the original puppy recipient). Watson has never had to share food before, and this wet dog food smelled much, much better than his daily dry doggy kibble. Watson bared his teeth and growled at Cricket, attempting to create a barrier between Cricket and her puppy food. Ultimately, Cricket, with a little help from the wife and me, was victorious: I carted Watson up to the bedroom, where he pouted and sulked, while the wife served Cricket her fancy dinner.

I deliberately made no effort to initiate contact with Cricket. Which apparently made me pretty attractive to her. My wife had picked her up to sleep in her lap, but Cricket would not settle until she had wriggled into my arms. I pushed her away, but she kept returning. Later, as we lay in bed (and as I attempted to blog), my wife pulled Cricket to her chest to snuggle, but Cricket would lift her little head, point it in the direction of mine, and forage her way around pillows, over sheets, until her head was resting on mine. Her head on my head. That was how she wanted it. The cycle repeated several times: I brushed her off of me, she returned with greater resolve, each time more determined to burrow herself into some nook or cranny on or around my body. It seems that the less interested in an animal I am, the more they want to be near me.

(I have a way with animals I have no desire to have anything to do with. When we house sat for a favorite professor (one of edutainment's finest) several years ago, he assured us that we would never even see his cat, Smokey. That was good news to me, because I didn't particularly care for cats. And, I was allergic. As you can probably guess, then, Smokey did not leave my side for the duration of our house sitting.)

Cricket struggled to be close to me, as, the wife looked on in pleased satisfaction. Her eyes sparkled with the ecstasy of having a puppy, if even just for a weekend, even as it clamored to snuggle with me.
"I figured you out," I told the wife.

"What do you mean?"

"You want me to decide to give this puppy to you as a congratulations present for bearing with me until I graduate."

Silence. She began, "I had no ulterior motive-- I just thought having a puppy for a few days would be nice." There was a long pause. "That would be a nice present." Another pause. "but, no, that's not what I'm trying to do." Not consciously, anyway.

Yesterday afternoon, the wife returned Cricket to the teacher who had yesterday given Cricket to the wife.  Parting was such sweet sorrow.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pain and suffrage, or Don't be disenstickered!

Today and today only, if you live in the fine Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, you are entitled to a free sticker that has the words "I voted" with a little American flag.

You know that I am a fan of all things free, and while the sticker is not quite worthy of a Land of Yajeev Best Free Stuff Award, I was motivated enough to drive to my local free sticker outpost (a gymnasium in our local government building) and touch a few rectangles (that had words like "Hillary" and "Barack" printed across them) on a computer touch screen.

I was so invigorated by the whole process that, after I touched a few random boxes on the monitor and a button that said "Vote now", I walked straight out of the gymnasium toward the free coffee and doughnut-for-donation table without claiming my free sticker. Fortunately, I noticed that my wife (whose primary motivation for playing with the touch screens I suspect was not in fact a free sticker) had the oviform decal emblazoned on her sweater. Immediately, (free) coffee in hand, I marched back into the gymnasium and asked for my sticker.

"But you haven't voted yet, sir," the man told me. "If you vote, then I can give you a sticker."

"I did vote."

"Well, then I would have certainly given you a sticker." I wished I had a receipt or a touch-screen print-out to verify that I had already cast my ballot.

"Look, I... I... I touched that screen over there," I stammered, pointing at the voting station I had used.

The man eyed me suspiciously. Meanwhile, a disorganized, murmuring mass of would-be sticker collectors who had finished touching their screens gathered, waiting for their adhesive. Perhaps fearful of the mob turning unruly if they were not given stickers in a timely fashion, the man did what he felt needed to be done to address his problem (me): He reluctantly peeled a sticker from his roll and slowly extended it toward me.

I accepted and proudly pressed the tag to my chest.

Many are those who lived and died bravely so that we could have the right to touch a screen and wear a sticker. If you call the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania home, do your patriotic duty and claim your free sticker today.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mor chikin!

Their unending generosity has earned our local Chick-Fil-A the first ever Land of Yajeev Best Free Stuff Award.

As if I haven't already collected enough from the poultry peddlers without paying for it (click here and here for some awesome chickeny adventures that resulted in literally years of free chicken sandwiches), Ron, Rose, and the other kind folks at CFA Unit#01583 are providing a fine, fowl breakfast spread for the members of my lab this Friday. Gratis.

As we prepare to move, our hearts are most saddened by the fact that not a single Chick-Fil-A cow or smiling "my pleasure" robot can be spotted anywhere in our new home state.

Thank you, Chick-Fil-A.

I am pictured here with close, personal friend, Dan Cathy, Chick-Fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer, son of Chick-Fil-A Founder S. Truett Cathy at one of several Grand Openings of regional Chick-Fil-A free-standing units I've attended in the past four years (each resulting in fifty-two free value meals).

Would you or your company like to be considered for the Land of Yajeev Best Free Stuff Award? It's easy! Simply email your request and the proposed free stuff you'd like to send me to or leave your ideas in the comments section.

Eat Mor Chikin cow image accessed from
Land of Yajeev Best Free Stuff Award image courtesy of Wife of Yajeev.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Land of Yajeev Haiku

For one day (and perhaps one day only), I will hold my prosaicness to a minimum. I found this site via Geeka (at When do you think you'll be done?) that semi-randomly generates haikus based on the content of your webpage or blog.

For your inspiration, I've included a few automated Land of Yajeev-inspired haiku in this post.

go wrong gifting this
bear to the one you may be
a euphemism though

no longer practice
the art of gliding down snow
covered mountainsides

neighbors would have no
idea what i'm talking
about in this case

no joke fair readers
finally you can purchase
the mishaps happen

oven mitt and all
others looking for wit and
wisdom anecdotes

a professor on
whose desk i deposited
my dissertation

appreciate this
one particular patch of
wood paneled wall

hillary clinton
the burgh of putts is honored
you came i'll be sure

such a fiery
outcome the valentine's
day gifts of flowers

in the order that
they might as well not have the
doctoral student

a very gentle
turn rather than fight the good
doctor did not hurt

Feel free to discuss the above arrangements or leave your own poetic contributions in the comments section. Manual or automatic submissions are welcomed.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Just Dissert(ation)s

This post is an expanded version of a comment I left at Unbalanced Reaction’s blog this afternoon. She’s preparing her doctoral dissertation and hoping to turn it in on Monday.

I have just finished writing my dissertation. It’s been five months of dedicated reading, studying, writing, editing, wrestling with EndNote citation software, and coping with Microsoft Word crashes. That’s five months I would have rather been blogging, but, unfortunately, I still have not accumulated enough sponsors to turn the Land of Yajeev into a full-time gig. Until then, I’ll have to keep on keeping on with the science stuff.

So the way this works is essentially as follows. I spent the first two years of my graduate program completing my coursework requirements. For the next two and a half years, I engaged in full-time research in a biochemistry laboratory working on my dissertation project. I came up with a few hypotheses and set out to testing them. Funny, when I write it like that, it sounds so easy. Then came the write-up: my Ph.D. dissertation. Basically a 150-page lab (uber)report to be read and graded by my dissertation committee, a panel of professors with expertise in my field of study.

I have spent the past several weeks editing, revising, tweaking my dissertation. Printing, proofreading, re-printing, re-proofreading, re-re-printing, etc. Printing the final draft, making photocopies, collating, and, finally, preparing for distribution to the members of my committee.

My advisor has told me that there are some professors (perhaps, say, like my advisor?) who, as long as they have a “pretty good feeling” about the doctoral student, won't even read the stinking thing. I'm not sure which would be worse: to have put all this time (and caffeine) into my dissertation only to have the doctoral committee merely flip through the pages (even though some might argue that just turning every page would actually constitute a complete reading)... or having them scrupulously read every page, parsing each sentence, demanding that I re-think, re-edit, or re-write.

Yesterday, I visited the professors on my committee to personally hand each of them their very own copy of my opus. Two professors humored me and greeted me great enthusiasm. The other two were nowhere to be found, so I left their copies on their desks. Which is sort of anticlimactic. I mean, you exhaust so much blood, sweat, and tears on this thing, and you at least want the satisfaction of handing it to the committee members. Maybe a handshake. Or a high five.

I did receive the following email message, though, from a professor on whose desk I deposited my dissertation:

Your dissertation’s here; I just finished it. Couldn't put it down, better than a Grisham. Just kidding; looks impressive and I will read it eventually.

By "impressive", I'm assuming he means "bulky", and I hypothesize that "eventually" just may be a “maybe” euphemism. (though, I do appreciate his humor and recognition of the appearance of impressiveness, if only in heft.)

If my first round of critics (ie, the committee) appreciate it, I think I’ll adapt the dissertation into a screenplay: a science-fiction tragicomedy about an enzyme that finds her purpose in protecting the cell in which she lives from the stressful conditions that threaten its very existence, the proteins which provoke her to action, and the evil villain who would dampen her life-preserving impact on her cellular environs.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Apt comparisons

The wife is currently en route to Atlanta to visit her sister and mother to take part in my sister-in-law's wedding pre-season (ie, shopping for dresses and doing other sorts of wedding planning stuff).

The little lady, bless her heart, selected the most inexpensive flight leaving today from Pittsburgh for Atlanta. It left at 6:45 am. Which meant she had to be at the airport at 4:45 am. Which meant we had to leave the house at 4:00 am. Which mean we had to get up at 3:00 am. THREE O' CLOCK AM. Which is basically the middle of the night.

The cloud's silver lining came, however, when I received the following brief text message from the wife just after she had boarded her plane (I added the punctuation and capitalization--those are tricky to do in text messages). This single sentence made waking up at 3 am worth it.

One guy got on [the plane and] said, "This is like a Greyhound bus on wheels."

Like the one in this picture?

It reminds me of a family friend, who, after arriving in the quaint Midwestern city of Chicago, Illinois (which is little more than a suburb of Indianapolis, really) remarked, "This city is almost as great as Columbus, Ohio!" Soon after making this comment, unfortunately, this friend, apparently unfamiliar with the operating protocols for revolving doors, became trapped in the circular entrance for one of the many stores along the Magnificent Mile. As if Chicago, recognizing and scorning its own inferiority to Columbus, Ohio, felt the need to exact petty revenge on the soul who dared speak such hurtful things.

If it meant reliably getting comments like these, I would gladly wake up at 3am every day (and then I would probably go back to sleep).


Note added in proof: as I'm about to click "publish post", I just received another text message from the little lady. This is what it said (again, punctuation and capitalization contributed by me):

I made it. I love you.

This message is even better than the first.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Birthday Greetings (Courtesy of the Land of Yajeev Megastore)

You know the dilemma. You've been there a hundred times. Walking up and down the aisle at the card store trying to pick out the perfect birthday card. One that is equal parts funny and heartwarming. You've done this so many times that you can't remember which cards you've sent your loved ones and which ones you've just picked up to read only to return to its slot.

I am here to help.

The Land of Yajeev Megastore is introducing the first in a new line of (to-be) acclaimed greeting cards: the official Land of Yajeev Birthday Card. Can't find just the right way to tell your birthday boy or girl Happy Birthday? Let Yajeev do it for you! Check out for yourself the artsy stylings and clever birthday wishings of your humble blogger. Click the images below for a larger view of the front and inside of the Land of Yajeev Birthday Card.

These cards have been in beta testing, and so far the feedback has been phenomenal, so please do not delay. The price is right, and you get a bargain for buying in bulk (you do have a lot of family and friends with birthdays, don't you?) Tell your loved ones happy birthday. From both of us.


On the topic of birthdays, I also want to take this opportunity to wish an early happy 29th b'day to one of this blog's oldest friends. Russ, hope your 30th year's even better than your 29th.

(images of russ accessed from his and his mom's myspace)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Paws for concern

A brief note:

To friends of the blog who took the bait and believed my April 1st email in which I announced my retirement from blogdom, my sincerest apologies for any psychological or medical inconveniences you may have incurred. Also, kind thanks to those of you who wrote me kind notes urging me to continue blogging.

... and now for the post

Watson and I went for a walk this morning in the heavyish rain. Halfway around the block, he started limping like he does when his paws get too cold in the snow. We stopped, and I saw a big splinter in his toe. I tried to take it out on the spot, but it was too wet and he was too squirmy, so we hobbled home, where I managed to extract the bloody splinter from his ailing paw. He released a few bloodcurdling yelps while I tweezed. Initially, he was angry at me; he believed I was causing him this pain. But we're cool now-- it wasn't long before he was engaging in a pain-free spree 'round the house.

Watson said that as a reward for my heroic rescue effort, I should get a Starbucks coffee and a McDonald's sandwich for breakfast. I protested, but he insisted, said it would be his treat. Turned out that by "his treat", he meant the Starbucks lady would give him a treat. What a sneaky dog. I guess he deserved the biscuit, though, after his paw pain. He thought he might never trot again.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Land of Yajeev Announcement, 4/1/08

My subscribers and friends of the blog have just received the following disturbing email. The postscript was not included in the original text, but has been appended below for clarification.

Dear Friends of the Land of Yajeev,

It is with bittersweet sentiment that I announce to you that I have posted the final entry to the Land of Yajeev. I'm throwing in the towel. As I've long feared, I have finally exhausted my life's supply of bloggable material. I want to thank you for visiting the site, for leaving your comments, for providing blogworthy inspiration, and for sharing this experience with me. I am hanging up my blogging boots and will be focusing on other writing ventures: my dissertation and the great American novel.

Please visit the Land of Yajeev to read my final post--I think you'll find it quite meaningful. Even though I'll be retiring yajeev's pen, my posts will remain online for you to enjoy in reruns. Consider the Land of Yajeev to be Nick-at-Nite of the blogosphere. Good times, great oldies.

your humble blogger,

P.S. APRIL FOOLS! You didn't actually think my dissertation would take priority over the blog, now did you? It'll take a lot more than a doctoral dissertation committee to keep this voice down.

Speaking of foolery, this morning, my advisor made me the victim of a horrific April Fools Day prank. We recently published an article in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. The paper was the fruit of two years of hard labor/ indentured servitude and is, thus far, the crowning achievement of my scientific career. This morning I received this email from my advisor:


I just got this intense letter from NIH [our funding source] saying that our last paper had been cited in a fraud investigation and we will have to produce all primary data. Lets talk when I get in.

- Advisor

When I read that, my heart just about stopped beating. My mind, already spread thin across about twelve different things, began to melt. That's it, I thought, my career is over. Even if we were cleared (which we eventually would have been, mind you), I didn't know how long this would take or how far a " fraud investigation" would follow me. I began compiling a mental checklist of where all of our "primary data" could be found. The sweat balls I encountered during last summer's job interview returned, beading at my forehead before gliding down my cheeks.

A few minutes after I read his note, my advisor entered the lab, holding a folded sheet of paper, bearing a grim expression on his face. He handed the paper to me, saying, "Here's the original message."

I unfolded the page. It took several seconds of staring at the words "APRIL FOOLS!!" typed in large print across the middle of the paper before I comprehended the hoax my advisor had perpetrated. Before I could experience a full measure of relief, a wave of anger overcame me, and I heard myself uttering some very unkind, unfiltered words to my advisor-- words of which, once the relief finally set in, I was very much ashamed. Fortunately, my advisor was quite amused with his prank. My response only confirmed to him the greatness of his deception.