Love at First Bite

I had known of her for a while. We crossed each others path. It was a rocky start. I asked her out. She turned me down. Twice. We saw each other at the coffee stand later that summer.  I was teaching biochemistry for high school students.  She invited me to stop by her office. I stopped by, later, my cart full of molecular models and biochemistry stuff. We talked.  She, sitting down at her desk.  Me, leaning against the filing cabinets by the window. Trying to be cool. As if. She asked me my age, 30? No older, 33? No older. Older than 35? Yes. So, she said, do you want to go have a drink sometime? Sure I said. How about this Wednesday?

I make sure I wear my signature straw fedora, a nice dress shirt, and one of my sport coats that evening. I dressed to impress. Too cool for school.

We went to a bar downtown. Made fun of people. Had some appetizers. Had some drinks. Talked food. Made more fun of people. Talked a lot about food. This girl got my attention. I dug her. She is leaving the following week on vacation. She and two girlfriends. Two weeks on a hot rock. In the middle of the Mediterranean. She promises me dinner when she came back. We walk to her place. One of those perfect summer nights in the city. Almost there, we stop for a quick nightcap. We talked some more. Drinks, a mojito, dirty dirty martinis, proseco. The summer night moves so quickly. I walked her the rest of the way home. She left me by the sidewalk, quickly closing the gate and dashing inside. Over the bridge I went. Back to lab. Intrigued by the evening. By her. I send her an e-mail in Spanish – the geek romantic that I am.

I don’t hear from her till Friday. How about that dinner before I leave, she said. Does Tuesday sound good? Yes, I said. Tuesday is good. What should I bring? Nothing, she said.

Tuesday comes. I am nervous. What is her food going to taste like? What about the flavors?  I am latino.  Cebolla, ajo, comino.  I need flavor, some adobo.  Does she remember discussing likes? Dislikes? We walk over the bridge, stop at the market for some limes. Walking on, casual but nervous chatter. We get there. I give her the bottle of dessert wine I brought. She pulls out a bottle of Havana Club given to a family friend by Castro himself and makes me a mojito. It tasted good.  Damn good. She knows how to make a mean mojito.

She starts dinner. Another mojito.  I feel warm inside.  The aroma wafting from the kitchen starts me drooling. Pavlov’s dog I am. She won’t let me nibble. She sets the table. The plating gorgeous. Colors blending with the scent invading my olfactory ducts. A frontal assault to the senses. I fight impulses, controlling the desire to devour. I take a first bite. Flavors burst in my mouth. Chicken, moist, falling apart under the tug of my fork and knife. Just the right amount of salt. The herbs convey a cool summer evening feel. Pears caramelized to perfection. The arugula crisp and fresh. A nice red helping to wash it all down. Then the coup d`etat. Home made truffles. 70% dark chocolate. Smooth ganash filling the crunchy outer shell.

Dinner over, we talk late into the evening. Another bottle of red, and another. Strong coffee. Steamed milk. She cast a spell over me. Enchanting me with her insightful observations, her long curly hair, her sensual body, but most of all her, snaring me in her gastronomic web.

It was love at first bite.

Thankful for being able to do what it is that I do …

This is what four days in lab looks like.

This is what four days in lab looks like.

It is 7:24 on the day before Thanksgiving. AC/DC is cranked up so loud my ears are starting to bleed and I have at least four more hours to go before I go home tonight.  There are papers and three lab notebooks strewn all over my bench top.  This is my fourth 18-hour day in a row.  A crazy look in my eyes and a five-day growth on my face.  A marathon set of experiments trying to decipher the growth curve of the community of deep earth microbes that I am trying to identify and characterize.

I started this morning over thirteen hours ago by coming in, turning on the gas to exchange the atmosphere in the anaerobic tent loading chamber, and promptly blowing out the seals in the CO2 regulator.  You know that when this happens at 6:30 in the morning, it is not going to be a good day.  I couldn’t find another one in the building (nor in friends labs in a couple of other buildings) so I settled in and waited until AirGas opened later that morning.  Needless to say, it was closer to 1:00 in the afternoon before I got the tent back operational, putting me at least five hours behind schedule for an already jam packed day.  So this is how I find myself with one more hour to wait while my microbial cells sit in the first incubation of many in a long protocol with which I will fix them in paraformaldehyde for later DAPI stain and FISH analysis.

Why do I do this? Why do I put in the long hours crazy hours?  Because I love it.  Plain and simple, that is the only answer I can give.   I delve into the unseen, the unreal, the unknown world of extreme microbes, and try to make it visible, real, solving the mystery of who lives where and how the hell they do what they do in those most inhospitable places in which they thrive.  I have to design an experiment with the full understanding that the equipment does not exist for me to do these experiments.  I cannot go to a shelf and just pick up one of these and three of those and have some technician come over and set it all up for me.  This is truly science driven by your capacity to design, invent, and assemble the equipment that you will need, while doing the experiments at the same time.

Sometimes I forget how incredibly crazy and out of this world what I do is.  I get reminded of this when I try to explain what it is that I do to friends and family.  I get this look of fear and awe when I explain that the things I study grow at 100-200 atmospheres, at temperatures between 50-75 degreed centigrade, and under acidic conditions so extreme it would peel the skin off your bones.  Like I said, this is pretty cool stuff.

Well, I got to go now, the next cell wash and incubation is about to begin.  While all this is extremely exciting, getting to that final answer is laborious, painstaking, and tedious.  Still, I would not trade this life for any other one.  This is what I am thankful for on this week.  I get to do what I love (and sometimes get a little frustrated at) every day.  Take care and have a great Thanksgiving.