Thursday, June 29, 2006


So a bit of pop culture here at Petri Dish today.

Sir Paul McCartney of the Beatles is 64 years old and breaking up with Heather Mills McCartney (I know, old news)

But I can't help but think of his song "When I am 64", his life is laughing in the face of his playful plea so many years ago.

The lyrics go like this:

"Will you still need me
Will you still feed me
When I'm sixty four"

I hope he is okay, what an ironic twist.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Low Aspirations

When I walk up the stairs in my narrow, old pre-war apartment building to the 4th floor where I live, I often think that it would be nice to live just one more floor lower.

This feeling is amplified when I have laundry or packages to carry. If I were just one floor lower, then I am absolutely positive that things would be worlds easier. Think of the milliseconds I would gain if I didnt have to climb that last flight, I could sleep longer, stay in the shower longer, drink a few more sips of coffee or check my email one last time.

Then I was having a conversation with someone about the floor that they live on, the 3rd, and they told me that they often wish they lived just one floor lower also.

So then I realized that it may not matter what floor you live on, if you have to climb the stairs, you have probably at some point imagined that it is just that last floor that is the killer.

The Mouth of Youth

The bus driver this evening stopped the bus, let people off and on and then stood at the bus stop with the doors open flirting with the women who were still waiting at the stop for a different bus. It was sort of quaint the first time, but then after a few more stops and flirts, it wasnt really cute any more.

The bus driver asked one woman her age, she replied 68! He went on and on about how good she looked as we sat there on the bus wanting to get going and in mometary disbelief of the situation that was taking our $2 and burning it to bits. But it really was amazing that this woman was 68, she looked much younger.

Then the woman sitting in front of me turned around to look at a sign out the window, she commented on it to me and we laughed. She was old and wrinkly, but she had eyes that shined and then I noticed her teeth. They were absolutely perfect, straight and white.

It occurred to me that the 68 year old woman at the previous bus stop had perfect teeth too. Then I thought of my former boss and how his capped teeth in front made him look about 10 years younger. All of these people had capped front teeth!

Then I thought maybe one day when I am old and gray and still riding the bus no doubt, I can have capped teeth too that will make me look younger and survive me by 100 years in the ground and throw off the archaeologists.

Musical Accompaniment

When you want to play your own music at work, but dont want to disturb your coworkers, you may find yourself asking those around you if anyone minds if you play your songs.

If no one says they mind, you eagerly fire up the iTunes like you have been wanting to for a few silent fidgety hours.

But then when the room begins to fill up with the beats of your own drum, you may find yourself feeling strange.

Your favorite lyric loses it’s potency and since you can’t comfortably dance or even sway or bop, it just does not sound as good as it does in your relaxing home or exhilarating car.

Because it is not enough to be with people who will tolerate your enduring love of The Talking Heads or The Kinks without reporting you to HR, you have to be with people who you can ENJOY it with.

I guess that is one of the reasons why it is work.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Cadence of Seasons

I stumbled upon this man’s charming website and portfolio. His Name is Dave Werner. His voice has this enthusiastic, idealistic spark that reminds me of the shangri-la that was Art School, or more like what I thought it would be I suppose.

Cadence of Seasons is my favorite project of his, I have always loved the concept of choose your own adventure books.

I sincerely hope he goes far.

Click on the title above for link. There is music on this website, so turn the volume down if you are at work.

Petri Dish Discovery

I just read an amazing article in Nature about stem cells from the same source being able to successfully differentiate into both sperm and eggs. This would enable infertile couples to have their own biological children. It also means that, in a sense, the cells from a man could produce eggs and from a woman sperm. I am both fascinated and astonished.

click on title above for link to article.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

One Big Table

Today marks one of the loveliest Sunday’s on record. We walked all over the upper west side in the occasional rain. At 66th street we decided to stop in “Le Pain Quotidien”. I have always had a vague feeling of liking this coffee and dessert place, but if you asked me exactly why I don't think I could tell you, until today.

There is one big communal table that sits among the smaller lonely tables. This large table is made of a sturdy welcoming blonde wood and could seat about 16 people. We sat down. My latte was petite but tasty and we shared a rich brownie.

As we sat we were joined by two Mexican men who had guitars over their shoulders, large stately stetson hats and tassles on their clothes. They gently sat the guitars beside us. They had deeply tanned faces, and wispy lines around their happy dark eyes. Beside them sat a boy, with longish blonde hair, a black T-shirt on, a crispy new backpack and a bag from Barnes & Noble. I whispered to Joe that I thought he looked like a tourist from New Hampshire and joked that maybe we should go over and talk to him. He looked like he had come in in the hope of relaxing, but being alone in New York, he was too self conscious to really do so. Across from the two men sat three older ladies, mostly dressed in loose black clothing and large silver and turquoise jewelry.

The boy in the black T-shirt slowly drank his beverage, peering over the top of his mug at the two men. The older ladies were having a lively conversation and the volume was increasing rapidly. They began to fight about something. It was not clear what, but the temperature was rising and they acted like they were the only people in the place. After a few solid minutes of high tension squawking one woman started to leave. She moved her long umbrella from under the table and accidentally knocked one of the guitars on to the ground. The cacophonic vibration echoed throughout the place.

The man who owned the guitar picked it up like it was an injured bird, and to check its condition after the fall, he began to play. First just a few chords, then an organized song emerged. We could not hold back our smiles. His hands were thick, small and rough but able to delicately pluck the strings to bring forth a magical genie of effervescent song.

The man began to sing and his partner picked up his guitar also. People gathered around the table like animals in the forest of a Disney film, flying and hopping over, a picture of diversity. We sat for moments in disbelief of the impromptu serenade that was taking place.

It ended almost as unexpectedly as it had started. The boy from maybe New Hampshire had stars in his eyes and all the employees in the place put their trays under their arms to free up their hands to clap.

And now I know why I like this place, it’s because of the One Big Table.

(This is my first crack at a fictional post. We did see these people today, and we saw the table too, but not all in the same place and I wanted to unite them in a story. Also, it was in fact lovely.)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Heart of a Shoe Hunter

Yesterday, I was walking up and down the aisles of the shoe heaven and hell that is DSW in Union Square.

It is organized like a shoe orchard, long rows of ripe inexpensive yet stylish shoes practically drop off the trees into your basket, and into your heart.

As I completed one aisle, realizing that they dont carry my size in the styles that I like- I glanced over to the next aisle, the one I had yet to peruse and each time I did this I felt such optimistic promise in the uncharted territory that lie ahead.

“Oh once I get just beyond the aisle that I am in, which is proving to be fruitless, and go over to that next one that looks so bountiful I will definitely be successful ”, I told myself over and over again.

But once I actually got into the aisle that I imagined would hold the shoe of life, I searched and searched and plucked, squeezed and sniffed... and...nothing.

Foolish unsubstantiated hope propelled me forward in this garden of earthly delights and it also propelled me backward into ground I had already covered. This could go on all night I thought.

But it didn’t, I finally found a pair of shoes, that were nice looking and fit me and I bought them.

hope springs eternal in the heart of the shoe hunter.

Blot Summary

We have been working on a new process in the lab called Southern Blotting. I am just learning it and it is extremely interesting and fun. There have been some difficulties with the process though, ones that I cannot yet solve at my stage of experience.

For advice, my boss has been calling the tech person from the company that makes the products for this process. The tech person’s name is Gary.

Good old Gary.

The process takes about four days to complete. This entire week seemed like a cornucopia of difficulties, fits and starts and misunderstandings. By Friday we were almost at the stage where we could laugh about it...almost but not totally.

The results on Friday showed that something is still going wrong in the process, but we dont know what.

At about 3 o’clock on Friday my boss gets on the phone and I hear, “Hello, is Gary available please?” I stood at the sink in the lab laughing to myself because all I could think of was that this week had been a sort of sitcom of ridiculousness and when I heard “Hello, is Gary available please?” I was picturing the credits starting to roll, the audience clapping and the theme music beginning.

Friday, June 23, 2006

let’s go to the videotape

Last night a friend and I were at a sidewalk cafe. The tables were small and round and the chairs were of the woven French Brasserie style. We were having a lively conversation and I was attempting to drink a martini. (But it was just too strong and harsh so I couldnt, and the olives were small and anemic)

My friend got up to go to the bathroom and an old man sitting alone two tables down started to talk to me. At first I mistakenly identified his tone as friendly and experienced a quick snapshot of a romantic notion about New York in the summertime and how we really are all part of a community, and people really ARE friendly-but then once I realized what he was saying, I had to reach the uncomfortable conclusion that he was being totally rude. Like stopping to smell the flowers and then realizing that they are crawling with bugs.

He said "I wish you two could have a videotape of your conversation". Then I responded with, "I am sure if you had a videotape of a lot of things that you did in life, you would look at it and have a good laugh". Then he repeated his first statement staring blankly at me, not soaking up my response, and I realized that he had small teeth that were spaced in a sinister way and slightly brown.

My friend returned and then he began complaining about the volume of our conversation and our choice of words. How dare he, we thought! This was now getting weird. My friend graciously apologized and we tried to continue on, even though he had now grown into an acing sore in my peripheral vision and even if I tried to look away, his presence was radiating evil.

He didnt accept her apology and continued croaking about why she used the words she did. We had to end it and my friend whipped back at him, at an appropriate point, "well, you are in NO company" highlighting the fact that he was alone.

He deserved worse really.

Why do people act the way that they do?

The image of his teeth are haunting me today and I keep replaying the exchange in my head like its a videotape.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

the art of the hyperbole

To tell a captivating story, one that draws the listener in and dips their toes into the puddles of your thoughts, it is imperitive to exaggerate.

And it is exactly the same level of embellishment that a good figure drawing requires. If you draw exactly what you see, your drawing may be stiff. But if you let the line swoop out the slightest bit more to capture the gesture or mood, then you will have nailed it.

I realized this parallel the other day because I have been trying to catch both of these nebulous creatures for some time, now I know that I can use the same net.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

moveable feast

Dim Sum may be too frenetic for my taste, and too salty for 11:00 A.M.

It was not my first time eating Dim Sum. But the first time I rolled my opinion up in dough, dropped it in the fryer and served it on a small dish.

It was fathers day and I was spending it with a beaming proud new father, who is also a Dim Sum connoisseur, so that made the whole experience worth it, even though there was no coffee and by the end I was a limp and boring zombie.

The rolling carts pass by laden with fried, steamed or boiled bite-sized baubles, this swiftly extinguishes any illusion that there is a dish prepared specially for you.

We sampled and munched and like the life span of a precious and friendly pet was over much too soon.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

a party within

I realized that I like when restaurants or stores have a speaker outside the door playing music, it makes me feel like there is a party that wrong of me?

Friday, June 16, 2006

sunshine state

We are off to sunny Florida, even though it is also sunny here it seems...

So, I may or may not take a blog break too.

a lift

Yesterday while walking around the upper east side around lunch time...I noticed a very formally dressed probably middle-aged business woman riding on the pegs of a bicycle, the man riding the bike had a bright yellow shirt on and a mop of messy dark hair. He was giving her a lift somewhere and I am almost positive that they did not know each other.

She was wearing a white suit and her hair was pulled back in a sort of serious twist. She was laughing and talking while grasping his shoulders and as they swiftly rode by I caught a perfect snapshot of what looked like the highlight of her day, and maybe even her week...brilliant.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

kindred spirit illusion

You know when their are two people who you know separately and you are sure they will hit it off as soon as they meet each other.

But when they actually meet you want them to cut through all of the small talk because it will just slow everything down.

You want them to get right to the talk about the things you have already figured out that they have in common. Like how they are both vaguely dissatisfied with life and searching for something better, but dont know where to find it, and how they both secretly eat the watermelon right down to the white part before the green rind and how they both wrap gifts in newspaper.

But knowing both of them, you know they will never talk about these kinds of things with anyone they just meet.

Or sometimes maybe when they actually do meet-you realize that you were all wrong. Like an optical illusion when two lines are separated by enough space so you estimate that they are the same length, but when you actually bring them together they are very different.

and sometimes the only connection they really have is you making connections between them.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

exposed network

Imagine that directly over everyone’s head you could see a brain activity monitor.

It would be brightly colored and look graphically like a branching network that represented the complexity of thoughts that were at work. Some lines would be growing, shifting and crossing and nodes would glow different colors depending on the part of the brain that was activated.

Some people would have a certifiable masterpiece of woven lacelike interaction, while others a few hopeless tangled strings.

I thought of this all day when I looked at people.


There are those times when you can almost hear yourself molting as you leave a crusty impression of your former self on the fence behind you. Proud and a little surprised of your new skin, you eagerly take a stride forward and it feels good in the grand scheme of things, but at that very almost always hurts.

Monday, June 12, 2006

yesterday’s word of the day


“to go please”

This morning I went to one of those coffee trucks outside of work, in sheer desperation for a fast cup of something, anything, to rid me of my monday morning sluggishness.

Those coffee trucks are like temporary silver beacons offering sub-par alms to a New York that needs a good swift wake-up slap. Its an excellent way to face the raw urban morning with some burnt coffee and a bloated tasteless bagel. And like the gauzy memory of a dream the night before, they dissapear by 11 o'clock.

The man prepared my coffee with milk but no sugar, as requested.

Then he said to me, "to stay or to go?" and I said, "to go please" as I fished around in my cavernous, unorganized bag for exact change not getting his clever joke because of the sleepiness delay.

Then I got it, looked up and smiled and said "Thank You"

I wonder how often he uses that one?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

my Socratic method

Sometimes when I am in a big group of people and the conversation is at a lul I find myself posing a question to the group to encourage conversation. Sometimes I know the answer, or I have an opinion about it, but I act like I dont.

This almost always works.

It is virtually impossible to plop a question into a still pool of small talk and not have someone jump in after it and attempt to drudge up the answer. It is so much fun to see what people come up with.

People dont like uncertainty, so it is uncomfortable for everyone to admit they dont know something. Also talking eases tension, so we find the constellation of unsupported facts mildy soothing.

How long does it take to fly to Australia? When will they finish construction on that new building? Who wrote that book?

Most times I just nod in agreement and act like they are enlightening me.

lighten the load

Lifting heavy things to move them from one place to another can be hilarious I have found.

There have been so many times when I am helping a friend move the unwieldy mattress down the stairs and it sways and flops and jams up on the landing and we let go and dissolve, doubled-over into gales of riotous laughter.

It is a tired laugh that is centered in my overtaxed stomach, it is a laugh that tries to catch its breath, it is a laugh of weakness and frustration, but it is also a laugh of relief.

I have found that these moments are imperative to puncture the somber, stressful day of moving.

Friday, June 9, 2006

friendly reminder

Isn't it great when a friend says something that is in perfect tandem with your beliefs or sense of humor and at that are reminded again why you like them.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

the man who saw a million pizzas

The quest is over. We have finally found a good pizza place near the apartment. A cab driver told us that the best pizza in the neighborhood is called "Sal and Carmines" and is on 102nd and Broadway.

The person behind the counter was definitely Sal or Carmine himself, this man had seen a million pizzas. His hands were clearly arthritic and he used them more like spatulas on the ends of his arms than individual dexterous phalanges.

As the pizza warmed in the oven we noticed that the cash register was an old-fashioned one, tall and graciously awkward with large mechanical keys, I was anxious to see it function. It was enclosed in a plexi glass box on three sides which we guessed was to prevent flour from accumulating on this antiques roadshow piece. Below the register was a wooden cabinet and inside it thin flat file-like drawers that held rows and rows of hopeful rising dough.

Our pizza was ready, we were slowly but steadily served. Math was done in his head to calculate the price, the register didnt blink.

We ate at a small thin stand up counter because the three tables in the back were taken.

Crust was on the thin side, but crunchy, sauce was tasty but not overwhelming and cheese was good.

As we walked out I gave Sal or Carmine a hearty thank you and a smile, he was not moved. The look on his face said "the 8.5 minutes that it takes one person to eat one slice of pizza is enough time for me to see the world... and I have seen it all."

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

i want someone to eat cheese with

last night i walked by Rockefeller center and noticed that they were showing free independent films. i noticed that they were showing a film called "i want someone to eat cheese with" at 9, so i called my cheese eating partner promptly and he met me. I had never heard of this film before, but the title was so alluring.

the film began and i realized that the producer and writer was Jeff Garlin from Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry's best friend. He got up to say a few words and no one really laughed, i suspected the crowd was full of tourists who didnt really "get" his humor.

the film was really very good, starring Jeff Garlin and about a man who is lonely and wants to find a woman and who still lives with his mother and eats too much. There were a lot of great actors in it and the soundtrack was also great.

after it was over, i got this overwhelming urge to go and meet Jeff. I was starstruck. We marched up to him, he is a big big man. I had this strange feeling of being instantly comfortable with this guy because his movie was obviously him bearing his soul. He was in jeans and new balance sneakers and was alone, there was no wife there, no Larry. So I imagined that he was the character in the film and felt sorry for him, but also felt a strange sort of sad kinship with him, not that I am a single, overweight 39 year old man, but somehow I could relate.

I shook his hand and told him that the film was wonderful and that I liked the title and that it drew me in because I liked cheese! He said "yes the title is good, but it ends in a preposition"

Then we took a picture together, I was so nervous I was shaking.

On the bus trip home I was thinking how I should have said "yes it ends in a preposition, but its not a sentence, its a title, so its okay"

Then we googled him when we got home and found out he has a wife and kids so I didnt feel as bad anymore. I hope they eat a lot of rice pudding together (reference from the movie) and by the looks of him they do.

Sunday, June 4, 2006

food flutter

It is always nice to see people's faces exactly as their food is arriving at their table at a restaurant. Before they notice that the sauce is not on the side, or that the meat is undercooked. That moment when they see the waiter heading directly towards their table with arms full of bountiful gifts, a flutter of simple joy emerges. The wait has ended.

Saturday, June 3, 2006

occupational hazard

Now that I dont have an art or design related job, I have been feeling more like an artist. I realized today that when I am officially a part of an environment I get suffocated by it and dont sufficiently flourish.

I am wondering if I leave my lab job, will I feel more like a scientist?

I have an obsession of pining for something different. So I will probably keep turning around in circles and eventually drill myself into the ground like a screw if I continue this.

I am always getting so desperate and frustrated with my current situation that I feel as if there are ants crawling all over me and are slowly wrapping each limb of mine with fishing line and bolting it firmly to the floor. The only solution is to work aggressively and persistently to cut the fishing line with my teeth, violently brush the ants off and march to a completely different place so far away that it would take an ants lifetime before they could reach me again.

But the ants are in my head and so is the fishing line. So they will always find me.

Friday, June 2, 2006

What's in a name?

Can you imagine how your life would be different if you had a different name? Can you imagine what opportunities you may have lost, or gained if your name was different? What if all the Johns became Sylvesters, or all the Elizabeths, Gertrudes?

Imagine if you go into an interview and the interviewer knows someone else who has the same name as you, but he hates them. do you think you can truly reverse the negative association he has with your name?

I guess I am referring to first names primarily, that is where the association could be less overt and more unique to the individual's taste.

Because throughout history it is obvious what certain last names could do for you. It is probably still true today: Trump, Hilton, Hitler all still carry a pretty heavy load of cash or genocide with them.

Also, on a slightly different note about names- when you see an attribution for a quote, do you hold it in higher regard if you already like the person who said it?

Here is an experiment, take this quote and see how it transforms when the attribution changes:

"All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure."-George W. Bush

"All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure."-Mark Twain

"All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure."-Rodney Dangerfield

"All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure."-Sir Winston Churchill

"All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure."-Oprah Winfrey

"All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure."-Woody Allen

"All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure."-Pablo Picasso

But I guess Shakespeare already covered this ground: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other word would smell as sweet."

Thursday, June 1, 2006

life dunk

I was thinking about language immersion methods today and how it must be a great way to learn a new language. some people would even say that it is the best way to do it. i never learned any French in my highschool class, we were too busy with Sister Mary Alice focused hijinks and pranks.

In a language immersion program there is an element of being trapped, you have no way out unless you learn.

But then I thought that maybe I need an immersion method into life. I tend to crawl into comfortable spaces and stay there too long. I have things I should be doing and places to go, Grad school etc. and I just need to get moving. I need to be trapped somewhere difficult for me and then I will be forced to grow... because its probably the best way.