Sunday, December 25, 2011

Moldy Christmas

I asked my brother-in-law and PolackPappy to pull an old trunk of mine out of the barn so I could go through it, finally, and maybe bring to my apartment to keep. But it turned out to be covered in mold, inside and out, and mold had permeated Babcia's party dresses from the '30s, and the exquisitely tailored handmade fripperies from the late 19th century that had belonged to an old wealthy woman whose lawn PolackPappy used to mow.

I had to throw them all away. Along with my class yearbooks, my high school literary magazine, a bunch of photographs, and Blue, my mother's stuffed dog.

Mold had gotten to the real treasures, too: handwritten letters from dead relations and dead relationships. A tiny note from Babcia began "Dear McP, I do not like to see the word 'fuck' in print." Despite her disappointment at my word choice, she'd enclosed twenty-eight dollars, enough for a year's subscription to the weekly newspaper that was my first "real" job out of college. A letter she wrote when PolackPappy was undergoing chemo started out asking "How's my girl?" and then briefly mentioned how tired PP looked.

I get the sense that I'm the memory-keeper in my immediate family, though I wonder sometimes who I'm keeping the memories for. Anyways, I'm confident I held on to the important stuff.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


PolackPappy brought home some Mexican jumping beans once. He kept them in his desk, and I used to pull them out and look at them. I don't remember anything hatching. But that's what happened with one of the beans in a jar on my desk at the lab. I came in after a long weekend of life and death to find a small moth had pushed open the trap door it had made when it chewed its way in as a larva.

The beans were given to me by a post-doc who's studying m on the sly - though her secret came out one afternoon when a couple of her officemates starting wondering why the envelope on her desk was rattling. I emailed her and asked her what to do; she said I could see if there were any moths in the jar of beans on her desk - there weren't - and so I went to the magical interwebs for advice.

Of course there wasn't much to be done for the moth. From what I gathered, it didn't need to eat - it would live for a few days searching for a mate, followed by mating, egg-laying, and death. Since I'm nowhere near Mexico the moth was going to fly around in the jar until its number was up. This depressed me. Surprisingly, some of my fellow lab members also felt sad about the moth. At one point we had a decent estrogen-fueled circle of maudlin going, with the moth at the center, but I was able to be the voice of reason.

This was thanks in part to experience and in part to the woman from the ornithology department I ran into by the elevator while getting the mail. She, too, felt depressed that the moth wasn't going to fulfill its life's purpose and suggested I bring it to the departmental holiday party. A fine idea if ever there was one.

And so, late that afternoon, I tucked the bottle with bean and moth into the pocket of the Lily Pulitzer pants I found at the thrift store and headed over to the natural history museum, where the party was being held. One of the finance guy's girlfriend is a professional photographer and she had a white sheet, a stool, and props. I had my photo taken with the moth and a sign that said Feliz Navidad.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Drove myself out to NH for Mr. T's wake on Sunday afternoon and somehow managed to peel some of the hubcap off one of my tires while trying to park my car. I'd been planning on meeting McMumsy there and staying for the whole wake, but that was not to be. Mr. T was an insurance salesman, an active churchgoer, and came from a ginormous family, so though I was in line 10 minutes before the wake was due to start, it took a solid hour to get through the line and out the door.

It was interesting to listen to the chatter around me - there wasn't anyone I knew in my immediate vicinity - but there were a lot of what I want to call elderly men, only elderly to me implies feebleness, and they weren't feeble - they were just old. Two of the old guys directly in front of me looked at their watches, looked at the line, and decided they would attend the funeral instead. After about 10 minutes, an old guy behind me recognized the I-will-listen-to-your-stories bat signal that I emit without even trying, and he started chatting me up. He'd been in the insurance business for 62 years, with his son working alongside him for the last 25. I think that puts him squarely in Don Draper territory. He also poked the top of my right buttcheek a couple of times to get my attention, but there was no way to tell if that was on purpose.

Anyways, I was able to answer questions about Mr. T's family for him - which daughter was it that lived in  town X, as he'd helped her find an apartment, and what was the name of his wife. It was good to have someone to talk to, because as we entered the room Mr. T was in I saw that Mr. T was on display, and I saw his family in a row beside him, and I realized how small I was in the face of all that grief.

The insurance guy kept chatting until we were right next to the casket, at which point I said goodbye to him and ducked behind the row of mourners to say goodbye to Mr. T.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Holy inappropriateness

McMumsy called me Tuesday night with sad news: a close family friend had been killed that afternoon in a car accident. Mr. T was a member of the small group of people my parents have been meeting with one Saturday night a month for prayer, followed by snacks and dirty jokes, for thirty years. They call it "grouping."  The farther I've gotten out in the world, the more I've realized what a unique and incredible bond they have.

And now, in honor of Mr. T, a fond memory: When I was a kid I had an awesome yellow Schwinn. It had a banana seat covered in pink flowers. I don't remember exactly the reason why, but it was probably after a slumber party, I was at the T household with my Schwinn but couldn't ride it home. So Mr. T did. With Mrs. T driving next to him in the Volvo with the fold-down seats in the wayback. Mr. T kept trying to convince her to let him grab onto the passenger side door so he didn't have to keep pedaling.

Everyone got home safe.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Frickin' Laser Beams

Walnut came for a tour of the lab on Saturday. We visited the rooftop greenhouse and learned about the life cycle of an African acacia-dwelling lepidopteran. Then we looked at the fishes and the worms and the rays and the lasers. I still hadn't seen the lasers in action and all I knew about them was that I needed to be really careful not to jostle anything. Walnut thought the lasers were really neat. I, to be honest, was a bit meh about them as they're just a big black box covered in a black shroud.

Yesterday I finally saw what they can do, and all I can say is WOW. It's like watching a science fiction movie, only you're in the movie, and it's not fiction. It was gobsmacking.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Passing the Pierogi Test

There's Eastern European man who hits on me in the gym every day. In front of his Cuban wife. They're both in their seventies. The husband is the same fellow who showed me his Polish passport, which he got in exchange for providing some sort of information when his home country, Czechoslovakia, fell under Communist rule. Anyways, when he heard I was making pierogi, he made sad puppy eyes at me and said he hadn't had any since his mother was alive. "Just bring me one, McPolack. Just one pierogi."

Yesterday I brought him four pierogi: two for him and two for his wife. Today I asked him if he liked the pierogis. "Well, McPolack," he said, "you're ready to get married."