Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Pork report and a short story honoring our President

Barking Kitten, Hockeyman, and the blog's namsake are sweltering in their unairconditioned abode. Unlike our neighbors across the country in Queens, we do have power, and are thus able to run two fans continuously. Still, we're soft, accustomed to gentle seventy-degree summers. We feel flattened.

Last night's pork turned out well. Hockeyman thought it was a tiny bit dry, but a few spoonfuls of pan juices remedied that nicely. The one thing I will do differently next time is up the spice ratio. The recipe called for quarter teaspoons of tumeric and cayenne, and while it was pleasantly tangy, it brought no burn to our jaded palates.

We were originally planning to make pesto from the farm basil for tonight's meal. Hockeyman is a pesto-maker extraordinaire. Where I am a toss, pinch, eyeball-it sort of cook, he's quite precise, measuring carefully. His prep is always a still life of neatly chopped carrots, diced onions, microscopically minced garlic. My prep produces decent results but is never as pretty.

But it's so damned hot. I may just roast chicken breasts with some vegetables and be done with it.

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I wrote the following short story last November/December, just as the whole Korean stem cell debacle broke loose. I post it here, in honor of our President's inability to separate his religious views from scientific progress. To quote Brad DeLong, why oh why are we ruled by these morons?

On the advice of Hockeyman, I will spread the story over a few posts.

The Pink Microscope

When the microscope arrives, Professor Allan Nyman insists on opening it himself. His lab manager, Missy, raises one expressive eyebrow, then returns to her office, that lair of oppressively bureaucratic paperwork. Allan pays Missy to wade through it for him; each knows he would be lost without her. It was her adept financial wrangling that allowed him to charge the new microscope to an obscure grant. He was too brusque with her, even for him. Must buy her a bottle of wine, order some flowers.

Allan eyes the enormous box holding his new toy. Wooden, perhaps six feet by four feet. He feels drawn to it, irresistably pulled, as if the box contained especially fine chocolates, or revealing photographs of Sabine Lazarus, Gordon Knaffler's luscious postdoc.

How the box draws him! But it is almost two, he must attend a thesis meeting. After that, a committee meeting on the new admissions policy. The microscope will have to wait.

And wait it does. Students pass the box on the way to class, oblivious, their ears plugged with headsets, jabbering into cellphones. Missy and Sabine stand beside it for ten minutes, Missy nodding sympathetically as Sabine rails about her married boyfriend's inability to leave his wife. Both pretend the boyfriend isn't Gordon Knaffler. Gordon, whose lab is next door to Allan's, also passes the box. And though he prides himself on his keen observational powers (he knew Sabine wanted him even before she did), he fails to notice the box's slats expanding and contracting regularly, as if the box were breathing.

It's six before Allan finally has time for his new toy. Normally he would be departing just about now, looking forward to a scotch rocks and an evening reading in his comfortable study. Betty's face crosses his mind, the carefully prepared meal she will have waiting when he arrives home(he's going to be late tonight, he should call her). Her pleading expression as he eats, forgetting, again, to notice the food and compliment her on it.

But here's the box, still sitting conveniently on carpeted casters, easy to move. He rolls it into the lab, toward his office. Gong leaps up to help. Gong is a postdoc, a Chinese whose brilliance at the bench is nearly overwhelmed by his stultifying shyness. Gong never goes home. The rest of the lab has a bet going: whoever arrives to find Gong absent will get a free round of beers. Allan has begun wondering whether Gong has a place to live.

Must remember to speak with Missy about it. Find out what Gong's salary is. Maybe he isn't being paid enough? Must ask Missy.
Here's Gong now, rocking a little bit, looking alarmed. "I help," He offers, pointing.
"That's okay. I got it. I'm fine."
Gong scurries back to his desk.
"Why don't you take a break?" Allan calls after him. "Get yourself some dinner."

No answer. Allan bends down, places his hands on the crate, feeling a sudden woozy rush. For a while he spent his lunch hours in the gym, gasping on the treadmill, lifting weights. Then his work took over and he stopped. He should start going again, try to get a little wind back. (Not to mention the gut...Gordon is his age, but looks better. No belly.)
In the office now. To get the box through the door Allan must move aside piles of Science, issues of Cell predating the sequencing of the human genome. Fifteen minutes later, sweating and covered in dust, he wrangles in the box in and closes the door, setting off a miniature landslide of student papers.

He's going to need a crowbar, something to pry the top free. Shit! Where in hell does Missy keep crowbars? All this effort and he won't be able to get the box open after all. Disappointed, he runs his hands over the box's top, seeking--what? Latches? A keycode?

To his surprise, the top slides aside easily. Maybe Missy pried it open for him earlier? (Flowers! She deserves them!) The microscope is wrapped in transluscent sheets of pink packing material that glimmer beneath the flourescent lighting. Plunging his hands in, Alan begins tugging.

"Wait!" A female voice says. "Stop pulling!"
Allan jumps. He opens the door a crack, peers out. Not a soul.
Where, then--
"Over here, silly."
A woman is rising from the box.
No, not a woman, really. She's tall, taller than he is, with a shimmery, green-tinged skin. Her narrow face is crowned with long hair that makes Allan think of his daughter Tina's Barbie dolls. The pink material he'd mistook for wrapping paper flows about the woman-thing's body like a protective cape. It glitters and shifts in the light, patterns rising and fading, whirling kaleidescopically.

Allan cannot tear his eyes from that pink stuff.

He hears his dry scientist's voice. "I think there's been a mistake," It says. "I ordered a microscope."

She laughs, a high musical giggle, rather like the gentle tap of an orchestral triangle. "That's me. You're so silly." She laughs some more. One long leg gracefully places itself on the floor. Her bare, prehensile feet are tipped with sparkling silver toenails. She stands before him, seemingly alight, and says: "Let's get to work."

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