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Finding My Way In.

When I moved all my stuff out of my cubicle the one thing I was most worried about, most protective of, the one thing that made me beg my boss–who’d offered to clear out everything and box it up and leave it in the hall to save me the trouble–to let me do all the packing myself was a simple small glass bowl. It doesn’t look like much but I painted it myself during my second round of chemotherapy, at the Nashville Gilda’s Club, which offered, among other things, a weekly art therapy class. I was really lucky to meet people there who’d had cancer, in some cases decades earlier, and who were doing fine. It was nice to get together and make stuff.

So the bowl has a lot of personal significance for me, and it also became significant at work a couple of years later. A new person had just been hired and she came to my cubicle for some training. She saw the bowl on the shelf next to my monitor and asked what it was.

“It’s a goldfish bowl,” I said.

“You’re really into dad jokes, aren’t you?”

I’m not sure if that was a compliment but it helped break some of the tension that’s always present when work brings strangers together.

So this week I was involved in training another new person. We all went around introducing ourselves and talking about what we do. I’ve held a lot of different jobs in the library but I explained that what we’d be focusing on was something that I’d been doing almost from the beginning and that I kept coming back to in spite of my efforts to move on to something else. And then it hit me that I had a perfect opportunity, so I did my best to deliver a classic line.

Source: giphy

It was a great way to break some of the tension, although I worry that I might have sounded more like George Costanza than Al Pacino, which could be a little too much insight into my personality.  

Source: Yarn

Bad Chemistry.

Whenever I see an ad for a beauty product with hyaluronic acid in it I think, who wants to put acid on their face? I also wonder what hyaluron is, but, seriously, there have been far too many times when acid has been used as a weapon that leaves the victim permanently disfigured.

Well, that took a bit of a turn and I don’t want to treat such incidents lightly but what mainly comes to mind when I hear about beauty products that contain acid, aside from how horrifying the history of beauty products is, which could be another turn in itself, is my school science classes and learning about acids for the first time. They seemed like magical potions since they were usually described as “eating” through metal and other substances. I think we all learned that silly little rhyme that also gets written on cardboard tombstones at Halloween every year: “Peter was a happy boy/But now he is no more./What he thought was H2O/Was H2SO4.” Which is a pretty horrifying short story of a potent potable. Fortunately none of us were given access to sulfuric acid, at least not at my school where, thanks to budget cuts, pretty much everything we learned about chemistry we learned by reading about it. Most practical work was limited to all of us gathering around the table while the teacher placed a piece of sodium the size of a pinhead in a beaker of water and it fizzed for about ten seconds before fizzling out.

One day a kid in my class named David tried to convince me he’d mixed all the chemicals in his chemistry set together and created an ultra-dangerous acid. “It eats through everything,” he told me. “It eats through metal, it eats through glass, it eats through wood.” I thought about asking, “What do you keep it in, then?” but he was a big kid and I was afraid he might hit me. I also liked the mental image of this stuff getting away from him and leaving a hole in his parents’ basement that went all the way through the core of the Earth.

“What do you think it is?” he asked me.

Trying to keep a straight face at the thought of Australians climbing out of the hole and stealing his dad’s car I just said, “I have no idea, I’ve never heard of anything like it.”

He must have thought of me as something of an expert because I’d done a science class presentation on acids and their effects on different metals. It sounded very serious and scientific, and it looked very impressive with a set of test tubes—two with hydrochloric acid I’d gotten from the hardware store, and two with sulfuric acid I’d gotten from an old car battery, and I put pieces of zinc and iron in each. I also had three big presentation boards illustrating each of the reactions. Everybody thought it was really cool but, in the back of my mind, I knew it was a ripoff of something I’d seen on Mr. Wizard’s World where he put sulfuric acid in a test tube then added a strip of zinc then capped the tube with a balloon. It swelled up with hydrogen released by the reaction. He then took the balloon and held it over a Bunsen burner so it exploded in a shower of water as the hydrogen combined with oxygen. And also a bunch of little pieces of burned rubber, but Mr. Wizard had stagehands to clean up after him. Since I didn’t have those I couldn’t blow up a balloon, and also none of my teachers thought causing a small explosion in the classroom was a good idea.

Even after that I kept doing some home experiments with acid which were mostly harmless. My father, who studied chemistry in college, told me not to mix any acid with the sodium cyanide crystals that came with my chemistry set because it could be lethal, so I mostly stuck to things like testing the effects of hydrochloric acid on our concrete driveway, and sometimes I wonder if any of the people who moved in after we left have ever found my initials palely etched into a corner.

I never could get my hands on nitric acid, powerful stuff, more reactive than Aunt Gerda after three glasses of sherry, which fascinated and terrified me—combined with hydrochloric acid it could be used to make “aqua regia”, a liquid that would dissolve gold. Not that I had any gold, but I knew that two German scientists, Max von Laue and James Franck hid their Nobel prizes from the Nazis with the help of a third scientist, George de Hevesy, who dissolved the gold medals then left the liquid on a shelf in his laboratory in Denmark when he fled to Sweden. After the war was over he went back and found the innocuous-looking orange liquid still there, so he was able to extract the gold and the medals were recast and returned to the scientists who won them.

So that was an interesting bit of history. Also the guy who told me about nitric acid, an older friend of the family who’d also studied chemistry, told me it could be combined with glycerin, which was easy to find at the drugstore, to make nitroglycerin. In tablet form it can be great to have around if you’re suffering from angina but brewed up in the basement could cause a large explosion, which would not have been a good idea.

All this leaves me thinking that hyaluronic acid might be beneficial—so is vinegar, also acidic, and orange juice, and various acids our bodies produce naturally, including hydrochloric acid which swirls around on our stomachs—but I wouldn’t want to go mixing it with the wrong thing.

A Place For My Stuff.

A few weeks ago a coworker asked me if we could trade work cubicles. The coworker who asked if we could trade spaces is in a small, cramped cubicle and because she does a lot of printing she’s in there with at least three different printers. But I have, or rather had, a pretty large cubicle that, in spite of being away for almost all of the last three years, I’m still pretty attached to. It has, or rather had, more than two decades of accumulated stuff, including pictures, frisbees, a Dalek, a Mark Twain statue, books, fun quotes I’d printed and stuck to the walls, the obligatory Far Side cartoons also stuck to the walls, and various other bits of detritus.

So I had to stop and think very carefully for about thirty seconds before I said, “Sure, of course!” As long as I have a place for my stuff, since I’m gradually reintegrating back into office life, I’m fine with downsizing. Or rather I was fine with downsizing.

While doing some preparing to move my boss sent me a message that said, in essence, “Everything you have in the office needs to go.”

That was a shock. I felt a little relief that it wasn’t just me. Downsizing is happening all over the office as some people have settled in to working exclusively from home. Another coworker permanently telecommutes from Cleveland. And it’s not even Cleveland, Tennessee. She’s in Ohio, on the edge of Lake Erie.

Even before the pandemic my job had become more about pushing electrons than papers but there were still advantages to having my own space in the office. When people dropped by, especially new people, they got an idea of who I am. We might connect over some shared interests outside of work.

Some people are comfortable doing all their work from home. They should absolutely be allowed to keep doing that. I’m not one of them, though. I miss face-to-face interactions, even if they’re still conducted with masks and social distancing. Someone might see the King Kong poster in my office and say, “Hey, that’s my favorite movie,” and, for me, that helped make our work-related interactions a little easier.

So did feeling like my work cubicle was a little bit of home-away-from-home. I have a home workspace but it’s also where I like to do non-work stuff—writing and reading and other creating. I never realized before that having some of home at work made it easier to keep work life and home life separate. Now it feels like there’s too much overlap.

For three years people I work with and I talked about what it would be like when we came back. Now I feel like there is no going back. There’s home, there’s work, and there’s the extra effort of keeping them apart.

What Dreams May Come.

Stilton cheese. Source: Wikipedia

So the other night I had a really weird, really vivid dream. Among other things I dreamed I was lying in a hospital bed waiting for some treatment and watching a movie. I remember a scene in the movie where a guy goes to see a play, so I was dreaming I was watching something in which someone is watching something and if the Alice In Wonderland reference weren’t so obvious I’d be tempted to say it was almost like going down a rabbit hole. I told a friend of mine the next morning and the first thing he asked was, “Are you being paid to eat Stilton?”

This was a reference to something we talked about a couple of months ago. I don’t remember which one of us heard about it first but the website sleepjunkie had a study and was looking for “a team of five ‘dairy dreamers’ to experiment on the impact that eating cheese really has on our sleep quality, energy levels and whether it increases the likelihood of nightmares”. And they offered to pay each volunteer $1000 which, seriously, sounds like a dream job to me.

My friend thought of Stilton cheese because there’s a long anecdotal history of that cheese causing especially weird dreams and that’s what we both thought of when we heard about the study. I wonder if any blue cheese could cause weird dreams, though–maybe the mold that makes the cheese blue stirs up something in our guts that intensifies our nighttime experiences. The fact that food can have an effect on dreams is something people have known about and talked about probably as long as we’ve been having dreams.

The funny thing is I didn’t have any cheese that night. A couple of hours before I went to bed I had a piece of banana bread and a small glass of skim milk. Is that what did it? Who knows? That’s the problem with the sleep study. One of the problems, anyway. Dreams are very subjective and most get forgotten by the time we wake up, or soon after.

Another problem is there are so many things that can influence dreams. I used to have night terrors which are as fun as they sound. It’s been about fifteen years since I last had one. Why’d they stop? Why did I have them in the first place?

No one’s even sure why we dream. One idea is that they’re our brain’s way of processing memories, shifting them to long-term storage. For Freud and Jung they were wish fulfillment and a way of dealing with anxieties, or causing anxiety.

Maybe dreams are just something that happens. We give them whatever purpose we need them to have. And I told my friend the cheese-and-dreams study should have stuck with brie or camembert because there couldn’t be any hard conclusions.

Get Lucky.

Source: Wikipedia. I’ve found a lot of four-leaf clovers but never thought to take a picture.

I never had any luck with four-leaf clovers. At least not that I know of, although I have found four-leaf clovers. One early spring, as fifth grade was winding down and I think our teachers were tired of trying to keep us occupied, when it was finally sunny, when the mornings were cold but the afternoons were warm enough that we could go out without our winter coats as long as we did a lot of running around, we were released to the playground. I’d heard somewhere that when wild onions pop up that means the last frost has passed. That’s not really true, I’ve noticed, but it’s still a sign that spring is springing. The clumps of wild onions on the playground also meant the grass hadn’t gotten high enough for the lawnmowers to start running yet so it was easy to find whole clusters of clover spreading across the ground. Maybe that’s why a group of us stopped running around and settled down to hunt for four-leaf clovers. And we each found some. They’re supposed to be rare, which is one of the reasons they’re considered lucky, but they weren’t that hard to find. A couple of my friends each found a five-leaf clover, which I guess is supposed to be twenty-percent luckier although I’m not entirely sure of the math when it comes to clovers, and someone else found a six-leaf clover, and then someone found a seven-leaf clover and an eight-leaf clover.

There was nothing else special about the day, though, and nothing exceptional followed. I think I did all right on a math test the next day in spite of getting tripped up on what one hundred divided by five was. I kept some of the four-leaf clovers I found and pressed them in books, but the only result was that a few months, or, in some cases, a few years later, I’d pick up those same books again and find a dried four-leaf clover I’d forgotten about somewhere in the pages.

Four-leaf clovers are a symbol of Ireland, although they seem to get confused with shamrocks, which get further confused by the fact that no one seems to agree on what exactly a shamrock is, except that it’s more of a sham than a rock. One kid told me the clovers I’d picked weren’t really clover but pigweed, but when I looked it up “pigweed” referred to an entirely different plant that doesn’t look anything like a clover. That’s common names for you.

I’ve also found that four-leaf clovers, and clover in general, have some folklore attached that goes well beyond just luck. In northern Italy there’s a belief that if a traveler falls asleep on his back by a certain stream a white dove will drop a four-leaf clover on his chest and if the traveler wakes before the clover fades he’ll gain the power of invisibility. It’s much more likely that a dove flying over is going to drop something else on you and you’ll be lucky if you’ve got a spare shirt. There’s also a belief that if you eat a four-leaf clover and slip another one in someone else’s food so they eat it you’ll fall in love with each other, which seems like a terrible way to win someone over. And there’s a belief that a single clover—it doesn’t even have to have four leaves—in a walking stick will make the traveler lucky. Maybe the weirdest one is a belief that a four-leaf clover can prevent, or cure, a condition called “the purples”, spotting caused by bleeding under the skin. A few years later I’d wish four-leaf clovers could cure the pimples, but that’s another story.

Clover was just one of the grasses that popped up on the playground. I already mentioned wild onions, but there were also dandelions and henbit and that weird weed that sends up tall stalks topped with a seed head. My friends and I would twist the stalk around on itself then pull it so the seed head would pop off, hopefully in the direction of a teacher who wasn’t looking.

They were all just common weeds but they were a sign that winter was finally over, spring was happening, and summer was just ahead. They were all lucky in their own way.

Strangers On This Road We Are On.

The vending machine in the building where I work hasn’t been restocked, perhaps not even touched, in three years. It’s on the second floor, just off the parking garage–the first six floors, half the building, are devoted to parking–next to the maintenance office. The room it’s in is dark most of the time. I’m not sure anyone goes in there anymore. Anyone but me. I went in to see if anything had changed. The vending machine used to be a place where I’d run into strangers who also worked in the building. Even if we didn’t say anything to each other at least we had the need for a cheap snack, and an excuse to step away from our desks, in common.

Then there was the time I made an even deeper connection with some of the strangers in the building. One day there was a note on the vending machine:

“Please stock some brownies. Thank you!”

For some reason this seemed like an opportunity. I grabbed a post-it note and added a message of my own.


The next day there was a new note.

“Don’t eat the brownies then Tarzan.”

Oh, it was on now. I added a response.

“Tarzan have poor impulse control. Too many brownies make vine break.”

Different handwriting and a different color of ink told me a new voice had entered.

“Jane agrees. Tarzan doesn’t need the love handles.”

More voices–or rather different handwriting–joined the conversation.

“Cheetah suggest counseling for Tarzan. Worked for elephant.”

“Elephant fall off wagon. Crash heard throughout jungle.”

In the middle of the week was a test of the building fire alarm. Everyone who worked there gathered in the parking garage next door. And as we all stood around in our little groups I looked around. This was an office building. People from at least half a dozen companies, and at least three more departments within the place I worked for, were there. And among them were Jane, Cheetah, Elephant.

They were complete strangers but, without getting overly dramatic about it, I felt connected to them. I thought about yelling out, “Hey, I’m Tarzan!” but I was afraid of ruining the magic.

Back at my desk I wrote another note.

“Tarzan thank Cheetah. Will look into therapy. Perhaps have deeper unresolved issues.”

That afternoon a co-worker asked me, “Are you Tarzan?”

“Yes,” I said, a little sheepishly.

“Well I’d stay out of the break room. The delivery guy is pissed.”

From down the hall I could hear boxes being slammed around and someone muttering.

After he left all our notes were gone. There were no brownies but I still had the memories of our conversation.


Please Tip Your Waiter.

The Month of March As A Restaurant Menu


Shrimp cocktail

Simple, classic elegance, half a dozen chilled shrimp served with cocktail sauce and lemon.

Fried green tomatoes

A historic Southern classic since 1991, cornbread fried and served with our house remoulade.

A kick in the nuts

Customers have expressed confusion about this so we want to be clear there are no nuts—no pecans, no walnuts, no hazelnuts–or nut-adjacent items like peanuts, cashews, sesame seeds, or anything else you find in fancy nut mix. This is an actual kick in the family jewels delivered by one of our chefs who, if you’re lucky, will be wearing Crocs.

Spring rolls

Rice-paper wrapped spring rolls, your choice of shrimp of vegetarian, with cucumber, bean sprouts, and cilantro. With plum sauce for dipping.

Roast chicken

An entire chicken stuffed with mushrooms, croutons, capers, and gorgonzola with a wine-reduction sauce. For some people this is an appetizer. Don’t judge.


House salad

Iceberg lettuce with cucumber, radishes, chopped tomato, and our house vinaigrette.

Big bowl of broken glass

Served with our house dressing which in this case is literally pieces of the building we knocked off with a hammer and threw in there.


Prime rib

Either eight or twelve ounces, grilled to your specifications, served with two sides and you may or may not be stabbed in the hand by your waiter.

Linguini with clams in either red or white—oh, wait, we just became one of those sushi places where the sushi goes by on a little conveyor belt. We hope you enjoy our new direction.

Burgers and Sandwiches because we’ve turned back into the place we were when you came in.

House burger

Your choice of ground beef, turkey, or black bean. Served with fries and your server will scream non-stop for five minutes.

Box of crayons between two slices of bread

The crayons are all orange so if you want the chef will melt them and you can pretend it’s the world’s worst grilled cheese.



We stole a bunch of these from a construction site. Served on an elegant dish.

Chocolate cake

Our own special recipe made with swirled dark and white chocolate, available with or without macadamia nuts, raspberry sauce, and whipped cream.

Raw oysters

The chef may stick a few of these in the chocolate cake if you’re wondering why it’s in the desserts.


We have a wide variety of craft beers on tap, bottled, and in cans, as well as a range of specialty cocktails.

Iced tea is available sweet or unsweet.

Still and sparkling water is available, as are soft drinks.

Someone dressed as the Kool-Aid Man may pour a pitcher of Mountain Dew Code Red over you as he runs through the restaurant singing Roger Miller’s “You Can’t Rollerskate In A Buffalo Herd”.

Thank you for visiting the month of March—where anything can happen!

He’s Got My Number.

The line of storms that crossed the country this weekend mostly missed us. We had some heavy rain, a lot of wind, and a lot of branches down in the yard but I just assumed the worst of it had passed by all of Nashville. Then, in the afternoon, with the sun already coming out, I went on an errand and realized how lucky we’d been. Just a few blocks from the house I had to back up and take a different route because a road was completely blocked by a fallen tree. It was the only one I saw across a road but there were a lot of trees and large branches down everywhere else.

Then in the evening I called a local restaurant. The guy who answered sounded really cheerful but when I told him I wanted to place a takeout order he said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, our power has been out most of the day. It just came back on but we’re still getting things up and going.”

“I’m just glad you’re okay!” I said.

We ended up having about a five minute conversation, longer than I think I’ve ever been on the phone with anyone at a restaurant, and I got reassured that all the staff were okay too and they hoped to be back to normal the next day. He seemed grateful to talk to someone, or maybe he was just glad I wasn’t a jerk about it. Why would I be? Well, I remembered something that happened when I worked in customer service. All of us sat at phones and computers in a single large room on the first floor of an office building. One day there was a bomb threat and we had to evacuate.

I was one of the lucky few taken to a remote location where our phones were redirected and I got to answer them with, “I’m sorry, our system is currently down. Could you please call back in a couple of hours?” I’m not sure why we had to use a cover story since I think “WE HAD TO LEAVE BECAUSE OF A BOMB THREAT” would have gotten a lot more sympathy but I didn’t make management decisions.

One guy called and before I could finish saying “Hello” he started telling me all his information. I stopped him and gave him the cover story. There was a pause. Then he said, “Well, I guess we’re going to have to cancel all our business with you!” and he hung up.

I was quick enough to get down his information and a sales team was dispatched to placate him, which he didn’t deserve, but that was another management decision.

It only occurs to me now that the restaurant I called has caller ID, since everybody has that now, and if I’d been rude they could easily block my number. But it had been a difficult day. I didn’t need to be a jerk about it.

The Calm After The Storm.

For the past year or so I’ve noticed Radnor Lake seems to be getting lower. It’s an artificial lake, dug in the first decade of the 20th century to provide water for the railyards. There are approximately ten miles of underground pipe between it and downtown Nashville. Or were. It’s been a long time since it was needed and I don’t think anyone really knows how much of it is still intact. The lake and the wilderness around it used to be just for the railroad company owners. Then it was threatened with commercial development and a bunch of people got together and turned into a park for everyone. That could change at any time, though. I know there are a lot of developers who’d love some lakefront property and the only thing holding them back is knowing there’d be enough pushback that it wouldn’t be profitable.

The spillway is a big concrete wall at the southern end of the lake. At its northern end it’s fed by Otter Creek and at its southern end it feeds back into Otter Creek. Or does when it’s full. Sometimes the spillway is a waterfall and the creek runs like rapids, which must be great for the few otters that are still around. They were mostly wiped out when the lake was dug. Most of the times I’ve been to Radnor over the past year, though, the spillway is dry and the creek is only a trickle, if that. Up at the northern end I’ve also noticed that there are places where the shoreline has extended, land rising up from what used to be underwater.

The bridge over the spillway is metal and wood. It’s solid but if a lot of people are on it at the same time, or if you stomp hard enough, it wobbles slightly. Someday it will fall. Or it’ll have to be removed. Maybe it will be replaced. Maybe it won’t. That all depends on what people decide. All this seems very sad but I was still happy to see that someone carved NAMASTE into the handrail at the center of the bridge. It’s rusting and allowing rust to seep in under the paint, accelerating the decay of the bridge. The decay would happen anyway.

I used to take yoga classes and the instructor would say “Namaste”, which is a greeting, at the beginning of each class and also at the end. Every hello is only a prelude to a good-bye. Everything, even a lake, has its time, and nothing lasts forever.

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