Saturday, July 26, 2008

To the Lab, Schizohedron!

OUR OFFICE IS SUBDIVIDING, and with this move comes a great tide of disposal. I managed to rescue two items from the purge that brought me great and geeky joy at the end of a shitty week.

Before he got the sack with the rest of my company's art department, we had an in-house photographer. At the various offices through which this wing of the company has moved, he's had photo studios, where he shot numerous pieces of cover and interior art. These shoots were for healthcare titles, so when needed, he and the art director of the publication in question would order props and costumes to suit the shoot. I myself helped out with one of them, for which I was dressed in a hospital gown from a closet full of medical uniforms.

I found out on Friday that this was only part of the stash the art department had accumulated over several years. I chanced upon the remaining art staffer while she was filling a garbage can with items she was taking from the prop closet. Never having seen the inside of this particular closet, I peeked inside . . .

. . . and immediately emitted a squeeeeeee of delight. Amid boxed, bagged, and bubblewrapped props sat a stash of lab glassware, including several Erlenmeyer flasks. I don't know why, but I have a massive geek-crush on labware, and the king of this peculiar jones is the wide-bottomed glass flask that has sort of become shorthand for chemistry. Want to tell your readers that a chart, or a region of a country, or whatever USA Today–style display element is about the chemical industry? Whip up a little cartoony Erlenmeyer flask icon, maybe half full of some green, bubbly liquid. It's like using an atom with three electrons around it for expressing the nuclear industry or physics.

"An Erlenmeyer flaaaaask," I cooed in a tone of voice usually reserved for greeting a friend's new puppy. I took down from the shelf a hefty 2000-ml flask, and unbidden, the delirious giggle of a child seizing a coveted Christmas gift filled the air. My coworker edged away as I began digging through the collection of labware, locating a clean 500-ml Erlenmeyer to pair with my 2-liter one (for I had already decided that only the cops were going to make me relinquish that Dumpster-destined flask). She pointed me to a box full of bubblewrapped items, which had survived at least one office move and evidently hadn't been tapped as a prop resource since. Inside were even more pieces, including a Florence flask and two HUGE graduated cylinders. A scientist's ransom in glass geekery.

As for the other gear going into the trash, there was clearly a story behind each piece, maybe even a confusing one. For some reason we had eight gavels (and we don't even have any legal journals) and two massive wooden gag gavels large enough to drive stakes for a circus tent. There was a doll pierced with multiple knitting needles. More pertinent to our pubs' topics, there were boxes of rubber gloves, scales, a seemingly functional sphygmomanometer, and a box of syringes. (And me without my heroin.) Some of the medical gear could certainly have helped a local clinic, and maybe the remaning glassware could go to a school science lab, but as for the two flasks in my grip, they were coming home with me. I asked the art person if she was otherwise going to throw them away with anything else. "Take 'em," she said, "it's worth it for that laugh you laughed when you saw them."

I would not be able to dispute an eyewitness report that I skipped back to my desk.

I washed out my treasures and concealed them in my briefcase and the Whole Foods bag I use to haul in my daily ration of health mulch. The last thing I needed was for the anal fistula that is our HR person to spot me toting the 2000-ml flask out the door and start asking questions. As it was, I made it to the car without interception.

The 500-ml. guy sits by my computer, awaiting sunlight to illumine its curves, or perhaps a cut flower. Its bigger cousin is still in the bag, about to be brought over to my friends' house so I can share my squeeeeeee moment with them. (It also spares one of them, a non-lab-based worker at one of New Jersey's fine drug companies, my weekly requests to sneak into one of the labs and jack the biggest Erlenmeyer flash she can find. Or a monkey.) Aside from that, it too will find a place of honor among my knick-knacks.

Now all I need is a single female scientist to come into my pad, lay eyes on these babies, and emit a squeeeeeee of her own. "Yes, Doctor [whoever], they're real, and they're spectacular."

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