All photos © Jon Randolph
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As the science correspondent for The Third City, I’m now going to write about the latest scientific discovery regarding mice.
I’m not sure why I, of all people, would be covering science. Probably cause I can’t force anyone else around here to do it — you try getting people to write about science at the wages we pay.
For the record, I’m probably not the best guy to write about science, as my science career came to a screeching halt over 40 years ago when I nearly flunked high school chemistry. A psychological trauma I still haven’t recovered from.
In any event, I learned about the mice research from an article in today’s New York Times, headlined: “Using Light Technique, Scientists Find Dimmer Switch for Memories in Mice.”
I would have never read the story, if my wife hadn’t noticed the headline and said: “A ha! I told you we should dim the lights.”
Something you should know about me and my wife…
For the last several months, we’ve been bickering about how bright to keep the kitchen lights during supper.
My wife likes to dim them, on the grounds that it’s more romantic.
I, on the other hand, like to see what I’m eating. Plus, I occasionally like to sneak read magazines that are on the kitchen table.
But that’s off the record — don’t tell my wife.
You can learn a lot about science from these guys…
Anyway, I read the NYT article only to discover that it has nothing — absolutely nothing — to do with dimming the kitchen lights at dinner.
Instead, what these scientists did is — they zapped the shit out of some male mice they had trapped in a cage.
Then they allowed some female mice to enter the cage. I can only guess what the male and female mouse did in that cage cause the article doesn’t say.
But my guess is that they did a little dance, made a little love and got down tonight. To quote the eminent neurologist, K.C. Casey, of the Sunshine Band.
The scientists then concluded that the good memories of frolicking with female mice eradicated the bad memory of getting shocked.
In other words, sex is good.
Dang, man, I could have told you that — without the mice!
The scientists wrote up their report and published it in Nature, under the headline: “Bidirectional switch of the valence associated with a hippocampal contextual memory engram.”
This is just a suggestion, but, hey, Nature – you might want to find yourself some snappier headline writers.
Now that I think about it — there’s always the possibility that I got all of this wrong.
After all, I am the guy who nearly flunked high school chemistry.
The past few days have been dog-centric, terrifying, and emotional.
Saturday, I adopt the most perfect dog on the planet. Shes two years old, doesn’t bark, loves everyone and is just generally adorable. My roommates and I spent the rest of the weekend falling/being in love with her all over our neighborhood.
Meet Belle, my new baby girl.
Her and I had quite the interaction with a drunk man who I should not have let pet her. It was Saturday night around 8, I myself am a little drunk and decide to take Belle out to do her business before more people start arriving at our place. A block into it the drunk man I mentioned before stops to pet her and then asks me what her name is. When I tell him it’s Belle he aggressively responds, “One syllable? Really?” to which I respond, “Yeah” while really want to respond, “Yes fuck you, you’re alone and drunk at 8pm please go away right now because you have probably killed a living organism in your life.” After this little exchange Belle and I go to make our exit and as the drunk man stumbles to wherever he’s off to terrorize next, he shouts from 1 foot away, “Get your dog a new fucking name!”
Run, Belle, Run!
Monday night, Belle and I get back from a walk and I see that Jennifer, the dog sitter who is watching Luna, my parents dog who is somewhere in the range of 100-200 years old, had a seizure. My parents are in northern Michigan, hence the dog sitter, and are therefore totally unreachable at 10pm. So, Jennifer and I take off to the doggie ER with an extremely limited knowledge of the specifics of Luna’s medical history. Pretty much every question I’m asked gets a response of, “Uhm, I’m not sure. But I know some stuff has happened to her, you know she’s old, so probably everything has? I don’t know I’m sorry where’s my mommy.” I decided to check Luna into the hospital overnight so that 1) They could run necessary blood work and then talk to my parents directly about what was going on and 2) I could go home and go to sleep without worrying about her. I say goodnight to my grandma dog and then as I take a right onto the street one block from my home the police pull me over.
OH OK SO THAT’S HOW TONIGHT IS GONNA END
Turns out my parents car that I am driving for the first time in months don’t have working headlights. Luckily I react so pathetically to being pulled over the policeman take pity on my cause and let me off with a warning.
What a nice little cherry on top of a horrifying 4 hours.
Thankfully Luna was able to return home the next day and according to Jennifer has been seeming better than ever, eating properly and begging for treats. She basically pulled the dog equivalent of “Got your ass.”
Though Belle has had some bathroom accidents in the house, she is overall remaining an incredible dog. That is until this morning when she decided to give Anika, Ana and I a heart attack and run full speed out the door and into oncoming traffic on Chicago Ave. Thankfully she can’t pass up a good dog hang and stopped to greet a yorkie whose owner held onto her until we could frantically run over and grab her.
It’s all uphill from here.
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It’s Sunday morning, which means I’m reading Rolando — only in The Third City!
Rolando’s our Saturday blogger, and his stuff about working in an emergency room and growing up Puerto Rican in Chicago is some of the darkest, funniest shit around. If you don’t know about him — you should!
Anyway, I’m reading his post — Narcs Bowling Forty Ounces – about the time two asshole narcs were hassling him and his friends. And I come to the following line…
“`You mother fuckers are out here drinking in the middle of the night, looking to get shot by some other assholes,’ the tall narc said.”
Immediately, I get on the horn.
“Hey, Milo,” I say.
That would be Milo – as in my intrepid partner in this blogging enterprise.
Something you should know about us. I’m a terrible speller and he’s a great one. I’m not sure why that is — it just is.
And if there’s one thing that Milo’s taught me about spelling it is this — motherfucker is one word!
Now, back to our conversation…
Me `n Milo discussing linguistics…
“Did you read Rolando yesterday?” I ask.
“You mean, the one about the narcs? Yeah, that’s some funny shit.”
“I know, but did you catch the spelling error?”
“What spelling error?”
“The one where he spelled motherfucker as two words.”
“Damn, Benny. How many times do I gotta tell you — motherfucker is one word.”
You know, like I made the mistake. Instead of pointing it out to him.
I switch topics.
“Milo, why is motherfucker spelled as one word?”
“Ah, Benny — that’s one of the great linguistic questions of our time.”
“And the answer?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, what the fuck good are you?”
“The thing is – most obscenities are one word.”
“Think about it. Dipshit, fuckface, numbnuts, shithead, dumbass — all one word.”
I pause to consider the enormity of what I don’t know.
“Is an obscenity ever two words?” I ask.
“Not that I know of. Oh, occasionally, they’ll hyphenate some bullshit. Like son-of-a-bitch. But other than that — one word.”
I pause to consider the enormity of Milo’s brilliance.
“Hey, Milo, while we’re at it — what does numbnuts even mean?”
“How the fuck should I know. For that matter, what does dipshit mean?”
“Milo, if you don’t know, who does?”
“Benny, if you’re looking for linguistic guidance, I can’t help you. I’m just a barely literate motherfucker from Gary, Indiana.”
“Can I quote you?”
“Yeah, but if you do, make sure you spell it as one word.”
I’ve suffered the torments of Hell ever since Otis, a flea-ridden, rotten bastard of an alley cat, weaseled his way into my household. The mangy fucker may have conned my wife and daughters into believing he would be some sort of respectable house pet, but I knew better. I’m an old hand. I’ve been around the block more often than the postman.
From the moment I saw him, I knew Otis was up to no good. And it didn’t take long for him to reveal his true nature.
Otis is a vicious, cold-blooded killer, a merciless bully who preys on smaller and weaker creatures. Shortly after he moved in, I started finding the mangled carcasses of mice, bunny rabbits and songbirds in my back yard. Otis slaughtered the local fauna efficiently and indiscriminately.
The lovely Mrs. Milo ignored me when I complained about the cat. “That fucking cat is disgusting. I just found another dead bunny rabbit in the back yard.”
“If you would stop letting the cat out in the morning, these things wouldn’t happen.”
“I don’t let him out. He sneaks out.”
My wife looked me squarely in the eye and, in a menacing tone of voice, said, “Your daughters and I adore Otis. There’ll be hell to pay if anything happens to the cat. Do we understand each other?”
Despite my wife’s dire threat, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out a way to get rid of the cat without suspicion falling on me. I’ve come close to settling the cat’s hash a few times, but something always went wrong. Then, a couple of weeks ago, fate intervened, in the form of Fifi, an angora cat that was recently acquired by Mrs. Shimkus, who lives across the street.
Now, I’m no expert on feline beauty, but I have to admit that Fifi looked pretty good. Mrs. Shimkus had tarted her up quite nicely, plaiting ribbons in her long, silky fur and putting a glittery collar around her neck. Fifi spent her days sitting in Mrs. Shimkus’ bay window, preening and stretching provocatively. And when she occasionally licked herself, all of the neighborhood tomcats went wild.
Otis was no exception. He became obsessed with Fifi. He ignored his food and rarely slept. He even lost interest in torturing and killing helpless little creatures. All he did was stare longingly out of the window at Mrs. Shimkus’ house, where the alluring Fifi waited, so close, yet impossibly far away.
You see, there was an insurmountable problem. Otis had a rival for Fifi’s affections, a big brute of a tomcat named Barney, who outweighed Otis by 10 pounds. Barney had been terrorizing the neighborhood for years and was widely regarded as the toughest, meanest alley cat on the North Side. He, too, was infatuated by Fifi and staked out a spot on Mrs. Shimkus’ front lawn, chasing away any other cat that came sniffing around.
When Otis went over to call on the lovely Fifi, I figured there was a good chance that Barney would kill him. But, to my disappointment, Barney just gave Otis a good beating and sent him slinking home to lick his wounds.
Otis began behaving strangely after that incident. One morning I noticed that he seemed unduly interested in my gun cabinet, where I keep my collection of pistols and automatic assault rifles. The next day I saw him in the garage, gazing intently at my car. When I let him out of the house, he just stayed on the front porch for hours, staring malevolently at Barney who was still encamped in Mrs. Shimkus’ front yard.
Otis was up to something but I couldn’t figure out what he had in mind. He was a stubborn, vengeful cat and I knew that the mauling he had taken from Barney was eating away at him. I hoped he was planning on doing something stupid, and possibly suicidal, like confronting Barney again.
But I had underestimated Otis. He is old school shrewd, calculating and ruthless. He had been raised on the mean streets of this town and he would settle things the Chicago way.
A couple of days later when I went out to my front porch to enjoy a cigarette with my morning whiskey, I noticed that Barney was nowhere in sight. He had disappeared.
Later that afternoon I saw that Otis had taken up Barney’s spot on Mrs. Shimkus’ front lawn. He had brought along a dead mouse and some catnip as presents for Fifi. Apparently he and Fifi hit it off, because I didn’t see Otis again for several days.
About a week later I read a short article in the Tribune about a dead cat that had been found in the trunk of a car that was parked out by Midway Airport. The article said the cat had been executed “gangland style.” I was pretty sure it was Barney.
The police said they had no suspects but were interviewing several “felines of interest.”
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