Back Off, Man!

This is one of my long-time friends back in Wyoming. We worked at the Wyoming Game and Fish Laboratory together, along with David. She’s still there and I’m betting she’ll be Director someday.

That era formed a big chunk of my life. Physiology, wildlife, the community of academic and applied scientists. Like all groups formed around a field of study, we had our jargon, our in-jokes. We once went around a party of Zoology & Physiology types and asked each person there this question: if you saw a dead animal by the side of the road, what would you do with it?

Yeah, see – a lot of you out there are kind of squinting at the screen now and saying, “um, do with it?”

The only people at the party who did not say “take it home and put it in the freezer” were spouses. For years I had any number of dead animals in my freezers, both at home and in various lab spaces. People sometimes asked me if they could put frozen dead animals in the Physiology lab chest freezers, because we always had extra space.

What? They might come in useful.

I still have a bobcat skull that I spent months cleaning.

At any rate, I thought of this the other day when the HVAC guy came. Don’t ask – just cross your fingers that our heat-exchanger isn’t cracked. He looked at the tag from the gas service showing the very high CO values they’d picked up when we called them and asked me if the gas company had explained what those high values meant. I scrambled for a way to respond and fell back on “We’re both scientists, so…” HVAC guy nodded.

It’s something I want to say sometimes, like when the dental hygienist is explaining in painstaking detail about gum health – and sometimes getting it wrong – that I’m a physiologist and I already understand about epidermal layers. It makes me wish for a t-shirt like my friend’s bumper sticker, back in Wyoming:

BACK OFF, MAN! I’M A SCIENTIST

This classic line, of course, brought to you by Dr. Peter Venkman of the Ghostbusters. Which should tell you right there that it was being used to justify somewhat un-scientific activities.

Still, it’s a great line and an even better attitude.

Maybe I’ll get a tattoo…

A River of Garbage

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

I recall this one particularly annoyed one of my classmates, long ago back in AP English at Overland High, lo these many years ago.

I wanted to ask him how many wedding ceremonies he hadn’t sat through, not to hear this kind of claptrap before. Leave the parents and cleave unto each other. Like the joint candle and blow out your own. I’ve always imagined Wallace Stevens sticking his tongue in his cheek for this one. If a man and a woman can be one, no reason you can’t throw a blackbird into the mix as well. Not unlike Steve Martin’s classic scene in The Jerk, leaving and taking the only thing he needs, gradually adding more and more useless items. After the initial assumption, it doesn’t really matter what else you add in.

Don’t change what all you’re piling on top; change the initial assumption.

There’s an idea out there that things don’t and can’t change. When people talk about efforts to address environmental issues and global climate change, there’s a thread running through the arguments that this is how things have always been. That change is impossible. What we don’t always have a good perspective on is how much things have already changed.

David sent me the letters below. The Game & Fish crew found these letters from 1932 when they cleaned out some old files. Hopefully you can read them — I made them as big as I could. You might have to use your screen zoom.


It’s shocking, isn’t it, that they’re arguing about dumping garbage in the Columbia? After all, they’re very careful to dump it from the bridge in the best spot, with the swiftest current. You laugh to read it.

And that’s a mark of change.

It’s something to think about, amidst the shouting, wailing and gnashing of teeth that things can’t change. Someday, someone like yourself might look back on the debates of today and be amused that there was ever a question.