Gallows Humor

The history of ECU I’ve been working on is a little dry. For example, one chapter was a line-by-line description of the university’s five-year plans since 1975. Imagine my delight at finding this story buried deep in the chapter on the history of the medical school. It’s told by the first dean of the school, remembering the days the twenty-student program shared space with the Department of Biology.

We once received a cadaver we badly needed for Gross Anatomy. The cadaver arrived unannounced in the late morning at the peak of campus activity at the loading dock of the biology building. The cadaver was a tall, large man, and we were unable to get his carrying case into the small elevator. It was necessary to remove the cadaver and stand him up in the elevator to get to the fourth floor. Unfortunately, this elevator serviced the entire biology tower. On our way to the cadaver storage area on the fourth floor, we were lucky that it stopped only on the third floor. But before we could get the doors closed, two chatting and totally unaware young coeds entered. When they looked up, one fainted into the arms of the other (fortunately), and the other was screaming. We felt bad that we had to leave them there, but we thought we would only cause more confusion and disruption by staying. By the time we returned to check on the two students, they were gone. Long gone, we were told. We never heard from the two unfortunate and scared young women, but we did hear from the elderly: the president, the provost, assorted deans, and an irate chairman of the Department of Biology.

ACC Cartoons

Click here to see a great satirical clip about the man we love to hate, Rat Face himself. Go, Heels!

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em

My two-and-a-half-year-old found my stash.

She was halfway through a two-inch-by-two-inch square of Valrhona when I discovered it. Since it was already covered with slobber, we sat together on the stairs and put it away. Might as well join ’em. The picture—derivative of Bear’s, I know—and the smears around her mouth show her triumph.

And I thought I had expensive tastes.

The Price of a Good Night’s Sleep

With my cold entering week 4, it’s been a while since I got a good night’s sleep. First it was congestion, then a weird shoulder complaint, then the stress of Guava’s demise. While visiting Banjo and Bear last weekend, I slept pretty well on their guest-room pillow, so yesterday I got one of my own.

Usually I’m drawn to the fanciest version of anything: give me two items to choose from, don’t tell me the cost, and I’ll always choose the pricer one. This works with everything from wine to clothes to UV-blocking window film. But last night, I slept straight through the night—no potty breaks, no twingy shoulders—on a $12.99 pillow from Steinmart.

Guava Francine Roundhead, 1992–2006

We ran over our cat last night, and she died.

She was fourteen (or so). Lately she’d lost a step and was having problems jumping to chair level. I noticed her limping a little. And she had begun cutting her run into the garage as we pulled in closer and closer. We’ve been commenting about it over the past few weeks. Then last night, there she was, running in, as the whole family returned from a trip. We saw her. I said, “It’s almost like she has a death wish.” Wes pulled in very, very slowly. And she cut back in front of the car.

Don’t worry, there’s no graphic story to tell, no blood, not much drama. She ran and hid, but we lifted her out gently and got her into her carrier. We thought we’d clipped a foot or her tail, but when Wes got her to the emergency vet, only 20 minutes after the run-in, it turned out she was bleeding internally: the end.

We’ve spent all night wondering why she did it. She knew to stay away from cars. She regularly got out of the way as we slowly pulled in. Now we feel complicit in a kitty assisted suicide.

John in the Times

My brother, who works for the independent news program Democracy Now, has just become a New York Times photographer of sorts! He shared footage that he caught wearing his in-line skates at a Critical Mass rally. You can see the credit (John Hamilton) in the pictures, but if you click the “multimedia” button, you’ll hear him working to keep up with the cyclists.

Three Things

1. En dash redux. My publishing friends say go with it; others aren’t sure. (And Joan, it’d be “phone-number-length,” with hyphens; the en dash comes when you can’t wedge a hyphen in a word, say when it’s a proper noun, such as “USA Triathlon” or “Team Polar.” The en dash offers deference to open compounds.) I think it comes down to this: is it better to be right in your own mind, or to go with something that seems on the surface more conventional? Having given in to my mother’s insistence that “honour” was the right spelling for my (and Wes’s!) wedding invitations, I think this time I’m choosing personal integrity, even at the risk of looking funny. Maybe I’ll pick up some clients who work in publishing!

2. Thank you, PowerBar. On a whim, I applied for a PowerBar sponsorship last fall. (There’s a new model whereby not-so-great athletes with high visibility can get corporate sponsorship. They act as living billboards and product reps.) The extensive application had questions like, “What are your long-range sport goals?” My answer was something I hadn’t yet formulated to myself: “I’d like to write a book on yoga for endurance athletes, and I’d like to get certified as a triathlon coach.” Putting that down on (virtual) paper, I started to wonder, “Why not?” I didn’t make the team—they had 4,500 applicants—but my life has changed. And I will get one free box of PowerBars, which is great news, since that’s what my kids eat for breakfast. (Yes, seriously. I ran it by a pediatrician, who conceded, “It’s better than Froot Loops.”) Meanwhile, I’ve just applied for sponsorship by Polar. I use a Polar watch every day and preach the benefits of heart-rate training in my Spinning classes. My hopes are high. And unless Protocolo vineyards or the Weaver Street Market bakery starts to sponsor folks, it’s my last chance at corporate sponsorship affiliated with a product I use daily.

3. Could Joey Cheek be any more wonderful? He’s cute, he’s modest, he’s concerned about world peace. He likes four-hour bike rides. I have a soft spot for guys from Greensboro who work to help prevent HIV infection in Africa.


I got kicked out of the YMCA today.

I’d met my graphic designer’s wife there to help her with her weight routine, as part of our logo trade. Once we hit the machines, we were promptly instructed to stop. No outside trainers, they said; there’s too much liability involved.

I’m completely embarrassed, because I should have thought to ask whether it was OK. As Wes says, you live and learn. I just hate getting “yelled at,” though there was no yelling involved. At least Kristin was gracious about it!

The Mystery of the En Dash

Before I worked in publishing, I didn’t know what the en dash was. It’s a dash the width of a capital letter N, and it’s used in place of a hyphen in open compounds. For example, we’d use one instead of a hyphen in the compound adjective “Pulitzer Prize–winning.” (I don’t think that’s visible here, but it’d be a slightly longer dash.) If you keep your eyes open, you’ll start to notice them in books and magazines.

And in the mock-up business card above. See how the line in “USA Triathlon–certified coach” is longer than the hyphens in my phone number?

What I’m wondering is this: does it make sense at first glance, or is it annoying? That is, does your eye think it’s an em dash (a full dash, the width of a capital letter M), which renders the meaning murky?

More generally, does this look good for a card? I welcome proposals of alternate layouts.

Anyone But Hummer

Today the front page of the Raleigh News and Observer ran this story about bands refusing to sell their songs to GM for use in Hummer ads. It’s not an issue of selling out—they just don’t want to be associated with consumption that conspicuous. Kudos!

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