Week of Work
“Do you realize,” I asked Friend in the same booth we used for our last visit to the same restaurant, waiting to enjoy more caramel pie, “that I will have been in the office every day this week? For the first time since starting this post-doc, I actually made it to campus five days in a row!”
“That’s…actually pretty sad.” She said dryly. I frowned when I considered that she’d had a long and trying day. I decided she deserved some extra help with the explanation.
“I think you’re interpreting this incorrectly.” I said. “I went to work for five days in a row. That’s impressive.”
“But it took you a year an a half to do it.” She said, mimicking my slow, explanatory tone. So I rolled my eyes at her.
“It’s sad that you chose to focus on the negative.” I scolded and she smiled.
“Good for you.” I think she finally offered. “For…going to work.”
“Thank you.” Then I wondered if I’d work from home today and ruin my Week of Work. I didn’t – I made it to work before dawn to attend an early experiment. Then I walked to the bus stop and smiled at the woman waiting.
I don’t know you. Let’s talk!
“Good morning.” I said, making sure my travel cup was open before I sipped my coffee. The woman offered a greeting and we settled into silence.
Then, for no apparent reason but feeling some strange need to do so, I said, “It’s warmer than I expected this morning.”
“There’s a cold front coming in.” She said, friendly and completely willing to talk to me while we waited. “It’s supposed to rain soon, then get really cold. Almost down to the 20s or 30s!”
“Wow.” I said, thinking I’d probably shamefully wear my coat as I did yesterday. I get cold! I don’t know why, but my body has decided it shouldn’t get below freezing and I’ll shiver even in 30 degree weather. Sad.
“I even heard it was supposed to snow on Tuesday.” She confided. “When my son first started driving, it snowed really hard. He was almost in an accident on his way to school, and…” She continued to tell me a story and I listened, making the appropriately sympathetic responses when necessary. Then I followed her up the steps of the bus and she proceeded to one of the back seats while I sat closer to the front.
Don’t worry – I made a new friend at the next stop.
Surprised at my eagerness to indulge in pre-7AM conversation with strangers, I aimed a vague smile at the woman who sat next to me just moments after I boarded the bus.
“There’s terrible weather coming through Oklahoma.” She stated and I raised my eyebrows in inquiry, trying to picture the United States map to decide how close Oklahoma was to my current locale. Not very, I thought. But maybe I’m confused.
“Do you have family there?” I asked, not sure what to say.
“I do, actually! A brother and his 3 kids. But I was worried that we’d start to see some of that terrible weather here.”
“Ah.” I said. “Ice makes driving a challenge.”
“Ice makes driving impossible!” She said, voice rising with her passionate statement. I smiled. For people down here, yes, ice does, in fact, mean they should stay inside their houses. Given that I’ve driven on ice multiple times, I know that you can do it. It’s just a bit difficult in some spots. (MapleMama, by the way, has some excellent tips for winter driving. My own tip? If you live in the south? Stay Home. Abandon all hope, snuggle in for a nap, and hope you’ve stocked up on necessities beforehand as the store shelves will be largely bare in the pre-winter-weather panic.)
I nodded, not eager to insult my neighbors, but agreeing with her assessment of the region’s driving skill. “It’s good to just stay home.” I offered, thinking that would be a safe statement.
“My husband’s father has Alzheimer’s.” She said. And I offered a sympathetic sound before she continued. “He and his sister check on him every day so they’ll have to get out of the house.” I nodded in understanding but remained quiet. “I told my husband that we should stay at his dad’s house though. He has gas heat and ours is electric. If we lose power – and you know we will – then at least we’d be warm over there! So I asked if his dad had food and he said, ‘of course he has food.’ Like it was a stupid question! So I reminded him that if power went out, the microwave wouldn’t work and the refrigerator wouldn’t stay cold either! Though if it’s that cold outside – they’re saying it could get down to the teens! The teens!! – we could just put the food out the back door to keep it cold.”
“Excellent point.” I said, amused and fascinated by her planning.
“I don’t know how people live up north.” She said with a shake of her head at their clear stupidity. “Like…[Upper Midwest state]? That’s just crazy!”
“I went to grad school there!” I said, smiling with fond memories of walking the mile to class in subzero temperatures with strong winds. “You get used to it.” I told her as she looked at me with a mixture of shock and horror. “Plus, you go numb almost immediately when it’s that cold, so it doesn’t hurt until you start to thaw.”
“It snowed every third day for a whole month when I was in college.” She said. “And it wouldn’t melt! There was this snowball that hung around in front of the union for that whole month! It didn’t melt! We didn’t ever leave campus at all – you just couldn’t drive in it!”
“You went to school down here?” I asked, smiling as I remembered wading through waist-high banks of snow that had been present for months, only vaguely remembering how the city looked without a coating of dingy, packed down ick. We lived – walked our dogs, went to work, shopped as normal (no stockpiling!) and just acclimated to our environments. I miss it, I sighed, then wondered how true that statement actually was.
“My car won’t get warm enough when it’s cold.” My new friend complained. “Everything feels dirty from all the salt and sludge. It hurts to go outside. You could fall down if there’s ice!” With that, I remembered lying on my back outside my lab one winter day. In the second before I scrambled to my feet – hoping nobody had seen my spectacular flop – I thought, “This is freaking ridiculous.” I had fallen on my hands and knees that morning – there was ice on the sidewalk between 2 huge banks of snow as I walked Chienne. She got excited and pulled me down. I fell forward and thought about how much falling down hurts. Then I landed on my back later that day, every muscle screaming with indignation, and wondered why in the world we’d live in a place that created this kind of inconvenience.
There are problems with winter. I still find myself missing the Midwest – and the people who populate it – quite a lot. Though these Southern folks can delight me as well.
Wow. You’re worse than I am.
I did my experiment, then went to check some files for Project A. I’d worked there yesterday afternoon, then received a follow up question that required my return. As I was walking back to my office, I saw the man I’d met yesterday as he moved slowly down the hall. Jeremy? I wondered, wishing I’d paid closer attention during the introductions. He was visiting from somewhere? Or starting to work here?
“Good morning.” I smiled at him.
“Hello.” He stated softly in return. “I really enjoyed working with you yesterday.” He stopped and rested against the wall so I did the same, taking a position across the hall.
“Likewise.” I said. “How are things going so far?” I was hoping he’d jog my memory as to his purpose in being here, but he instead described the injury that was so inhibiting his motion.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” I said, filled with sympathy. “I hope you feel better soon.”
He thanked me, then asked about my status here. Direct, I thought. I like direct. “You’re doing your PhD?” He asked gently and I wondered at his manner. Men of his age – likely somewhere in their 40s – tend to be a bit more aggressive and brisk in my experience. He must not be an MD, I decided, then chastised myself for generalizing personality types.
“I have my PhD from [school].” I said, smiling easily.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I apologize.” He said, instantly looking very contrite.
“No problem.” I smiled gently, confused by his response. I'm not important, and even if I were, I'm generally harmless. “I don’t mind at all – I don’t feel much different having it than I did getting it.”
“In what field?” He asked, and I told him.
“Oh,” he said, looking appropriately impressed and pausing for a moment. He just seemed so deferential. So soft-spoken and appreciative of my attention and sweet. He reminded me of me. I wanted to help him down the hall and take care of him – such a dear man. “I should have a question for you about that. I just can’t think of it…”
I found myself wishing I had a card with me. So if he ever needed help, I could rush to offer my assistance. Apparently the routine I use on others is very effective on me as well.
Um…what am I supposed to do?
“Oh, Katie is in her office.” I heard Boss say as he came down the hall. I clicked over to the grant from the MSN article on the Wonders of the World (which reminded me of my Kyoto pictures and hence the new graphics!). Boss must not have realized it was the Week of Work. And, to be fair, I’m not always at my desk even when I am on campus. I run around as much as possible, though I do like my new little home.
“This is Maria.” He introduced the girl standing behind him. She smiled and I returned her grin – she seemed friendly and sweet. I assumed she was a visiting scientist who would give me some technical details I didn’t care to learn. Or an interviewing post-doc who would speak briefly to me. When she didn’t offer this information, I moved my inquisitive stare to Boss.
“Maria is in the [related basic science field] department. She’s taken classes with A and B and done some programming on x and y. She’s looking for a research project for her PhD and I thought she might want to work with you since you’re going to be collecting data soon.”
“Oh.” I said, surprised and confused. “Of course.”
“So she can sit and talk to you and you can decide what to do next!” I smiled and nodded at him, pulling a chair over to my desk and trying to think on my feet as to what the hell I should do with a student. There was a time I was an excellent mentor – I had projects just waiting for someone to come along and help. But now? I’ve only met 2 grad students in my time here! I don’t know what to do with them!
Luckily, she went back to Boss’s office to get her bag and I had time to pull up a presentation I’d made, print out some summaries of this project and think for a minute.
“So…” I started when she sat and introduced herself again. “Give me some background. How long you’ve been here, what your interests are, how I can help you out.”
4 years. She’s not sure. She’s not sure there either. Basic science fields offer teaching assistantships much more than the technical biomedical research fields where funding is plentiful enough to support students who focus on research. Which is how I escaped having to teach at all so far in my career.
“OK.” I said, handing her some papers I printed with my business card stapled on top. “How about I tell you what I want to do and you can let me know if there’s anything interesting?” Then I went into a lengthy explanation on my work – the processing that will have to be done, the data we’ll acquire the ways we’ll analyze overall. She nodded along, likely overwhelmed with all the information. But I’m out of practice! I don’t know what to say!
“Look,” I finally said. “I haven’t worked with anyone in awhile, so I’m sorry – I’m not sure what to offer right now. I’d love to work with you – there’s plenty to do. And if you’re sort of interested so far…” I waited for her to nod. “then we’ll find a place for you to work. I’ll go through my papers and see what’s interesting. Then I'll send you some pdfs and keep you in the loop as we start collecting data.”
“Maybe offer some basic papers too.” She requested. I smiled – I’ve grown used to knowing the least amount of all the people in a room. It’s strange to be more knowledgeable than someone – anyone. But I think it will be good for me – to connect with someone, answer questions, be responsible to anyone other than myself.
Shudder, gag, wince.
I was quietly getting ready this morning when Sprout appeared in the door of the bathroom.
“Sprout, no!” I stated loudly when I turned to greet him and was instantly horrified. “Oh, what the hell was that?!” I said when he picked up the ball of fur and ran away. “Ick. Ick ick ick ick ick.”
I should note that Sprout has started to venture outside. After watching Chienne exercise her freedom by using her dog door, he realized that with a bit of oomph, he could nudge it open as well. He prances in and out with great regularity now.
“You should lock the dog door at night.” Mom advised. “He’s going to bring in some dead animal – or half-live animal – and give it to you.”
“No.” I said. “I don’t think he leaves the yard and there can’t be many animals in the yard!” This is not true, I know, but it makes me feel better. And it hasn’t been a problem thus far. No ick.
I blocked the thought of the fur that was once an animal. But I was reminded when I entered my bedroom after finishing with my new blog graphics. I walked toward the bathroom when I saw something on the floor. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I peered at it while moving quickly closer.
“Oh, no. No, no, no!” I whimpered as I recognized mouse carcass and turned to scamper from the room.
Sprout sprinted toward it – eager to recapture his toy – and I yelled at him to leave the grossness alone!
“OK.” I told myself as I stood in the hall so I couldn’t see it. Then I went to the kitchen, picked up a roll of paper towels, 2 plastic grocery bags and went back down the hall. I didn’t feel sufficiently protected by these items so I laid them in the doorway of the bedroom and cowered outside. “I so don’t want to do this.” I moaned.
Then I went out and got two heavy-duty garbage can liners – the thick black plastic crackling reassuringly. I put one inside the other – there could been a tear or tiny hole! – and realized I cold probably fit my entire body in one and was using 2 to dispose of this mouse.
Taking a deep breath and wishing desperately I was dating someone I could call and beg for help, I entered the room.
“Don’t look at it.” I warned. “Just going to throw these towels over there…and hope to God they land on the ick…” I glanced over. It was safely covered by paper towel.
“OK.” I took a deep breath, paused to gag, then threw the plastic grocery bags on top of it to be safe. Then came the two large garbage bags. It was safely covered, I decided, but I still didn’t know how to remove it. Under all that plastic and paper was still a dead mouse. I thought that I had gotten part of the bag/towel combo under the deceased creature and tried to wrap the outer black bag around the mound of material.
I picked it up gingerly and looked down to see the mouse lying on the floor.
So I screamed and ran from the room.
Peeking in from the hallway, I moaned again in disgust. “Do you want it in your house?” I asked myself. “Then you must go remove it!”
I took one step before retreating again, chanting, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!”
I thought back to Mom’s advice for removing a full mouse trap last year. To be fair, it’s that season. Sprout might have met his prey inside as easily as out. There’s a small gap between my garage door and the wall that allows mice a way in. I had 2 (both killed in traps) last year.
I went to get a dustpan and broom. I once again employed my “don’t look at it” strategy and covered it with a plastic bag. Then I put the broom on top of the bag to hold everything still, and slipped the dustpan underneath. Keeping my eyes closed, I dumped the dustpan in the garbage bag I had waiting and sighed with relief as I moved it outside. Then I waited for my stomach to settle.
I might sleep in the office or on the couch tonight. I’m not sure I’ll get much rest in my bedroom. I will, at least, have nightmares about the creature that I haven’t described to you in detail, though, sadly, I could have. I saw it. Shudder, gag, wince.
I should probably stop here – I tend to write these unconnected posts when there’s nothing big to say. But then setting up my stories takes so darn long, the posts become nearly endless! Sorry – I appreciate your patience in this difficult time (and that mouse made this an undeniably difficult time). Perhaps tomorrow I can tell a more interesting story about coffee with my new pastor.