A Lesser Known Parable

This morning, I was having trouble leaving the house  because of this situation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPHLQNyKFZ8&feature=youtu.be

So just to ensure I was late to work, I video taped my cat and sent his stunningly cute image to all my friends and family.

This, in response, from my father:


On Tue, Mar 18, 2014 at 1:32 PM, Dad wrote:

Well, Meta is awesomely cute!

However, I’m a little jaded right now about animals in general. My coworker has an adorable little dog that he brings to the office and it runs around and everyone the office loves it including me. An hour ago I had a meeting in my office about a funeral this Saturday. We had just sat down when the dog came in to say hello. Then he walked over between our chairs and took what a friend of mine used to refer to as “a righteous crap.” He is a small dog, but you wouldn’t know it by what he left on the floor. Besides the embarrassing clean up, I had to pull the storm windows off and open the office windows because the room had become uninhabitable!

What would Jesus Do?

Love, Dad


Apparently he’s never heard the Poo Parable. I guess that didn’t make it into the synoptic gospels. I’ll reproduce it here for your reference.

From the Gospel according to Herman:

One of the multitude came up to him and asked, “Lord, tell me how to spread your word and speak as you have spoken and I will go and tell it to my family, that they may learn as I have learned.”

And Jesus said to him, “Behold this little dog. He has no power of speech. All he says he says in barks and yips. He cowers close to the ground and accepts the pat of your palm, yet he is closer to the kingdom of heaven than you. For who among you can spread joy as he spreads joy with one pant of the breath? And who among you can give forth a mound of raw earth from his rear end greater in size than even himself? With one movement of the bowels this creature fills the whole room with absolute knowledge of his presence. So, too, does your Lord, my Father. So, too, is the kingdom of heaven apparent to those who know how to smell. Who will now ask to speak as I have spoken or spread words and not the mute aroma of his love?”

And the man came forth with bowed head and knelt at Jesus’ feet and said, “Teacher,” and took the pooper-scooper which the disciples then presented to him.

– Herman, 14:17-28

And that’s your scripture lesson for today.



Dear TAs who keep emailing us because your labs/discussions have been cancelled and who therefore are getting snowed in by emails from your students asking what they’re supposed to do…

Well. It’s never a dull day in the arctic.

As you’ve no doubt heard, classes are cancelled tomorrow morning. We thought about defying the institution and attempting to lure students into class anyway by throwing a luau in Lab 223 complete with hula dancing (it’s like you’re dancing the double helix!), tropical beverages (made with 100% distilled water!), and a roast pig (can you say Bunsen burners?)… but then we succumb to exhaustion and cynicism and settled on a worksheet instead. Frigid Tundra: 1, Coordinators: 0. Maybe next round.

PS – YouTube is *shockingly* bereft of in-lab hula dancing videos, but I did find this gem on the science of hula dancing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgWtjcP492w

Accidental Satan Soup

I think I maybe added too much salt and pepper to my soup tonight in an effort to make it taste better. I say this because my mouth currently feels like the innermost circle of hell.

To be fair, my interior monologue upon taking it out of the fridge went something like this:

Inner Me With No Filter: Oh! We’re having the vomit soup for dinner!
Me-Voice Me: Julie! You MADE this soup, and you like it, it will be fine.
IMWNF: Yeah, I liked it the FIRST time we made it. You know, that time we made it well. That time we made it… edible?
MVM: You’ll eat it. And you’ll like it.
IMWNF: Incorrect. YOU will eat. I will hate it.
MVM: Fine. I’ll add salt and pepper. Now it will be delicious!
IMWNF: …maybe you better put in a little more.

And so I did. Seriously, I need to stop listening to that voice. The soup tastes FINE underneath the searing pain of salty dehydration and pepper-flames…


The Meta Journals, Late November

Like any respectable (read: obsessed) cat owner, I make frequent notes on my cat Meta’s behavior and its implications for life on earth. Here are several collected from the past few days.

Nov 23, 1:46 PM, A Series of Evidence-Based Hypotheses 

When I hold up a toy, my cat runs away in anticipation of my throwing it. Then when I actually throw it, he merely watches it fall. He may be a Time Lord. Or a Buddhist Monk. I suspect his chances of making it into major league baseball are slimmer than previously understood.

Nov 23, 11:45 PM, General Observation

Cats are cray-cray. And I’ve just been informed that cray-cray is dead. I am several years late to this party. The metaphorical champagne is flat.

Nov 24, 3:57 PM, Delusions of Grandeur

My cat’s contribution to my thesis: “74444444444444444444444444”. Surely this has some sort of epic, 42-esque significance to him and provides a cryptic answer to one of life’s unanswered questions. Or, possibly, one of my research questions. Surely. I had better leave it in.

Nov 25, 2:01 AM, An Open Letter Not Initially About My Cat. But then, all open letters are about my cat.

Dear Abyss,

Your lessons are not comforting.

Still, I’m still grateful you are there for me to stare at and occasionally talk to.

In this way, you are much like my cat.


Nov 25, 2:28 AM, Paranoia Sets In, A Solution In the Form of SCIENCE Presents Itself

My cat may be digging a hole through the floor beneath my bed. I can hear determined scratching and he does not respond to my calls. Clearly, he is too far gone in his task to be roused from the flow state now. If I’m dead tomorrow, it will be because the bed and I both fell through this feline-engineered orifice, right into my rather strange neighbor’s room below. If the fall doesn’t kill me, I suspect one of her curiously jagged “decorations” will.

I’m betting Meta survives, but I doubt he’ll tell the world my story. I’m not sure how he manages to be both useless and lovable at the same time, but I should make an empirical study of it. What an impeccable combination of qualities.

More observations if I survive the night. 

One Day More

It needed to be done. Sing with me, friends!

One day more…

Another day another calendar
That is a page I cannot wait to turn
This demon month that plagues the year
is almost over, have no fear!

One day more…

I will not live until that day!
How can I live with April looming?

One day more…

Tomorrow she’ll  be far away!
And then May flowers will be blooming!

One more day of April’s wrath
— Next year we will meet again
One more day of April’s evil!
— If the almanac is true
What a life we all shall have
— And again we’ll muddle through!
When the demon month is done!

One more day left of the storm!
— What to do to pass the time?
At the barricades of FREEDOM!
— Do I cower low in fear?
As our ranks once more must form
— Do I sit and drink a beer?
Come and stand once more with me!

The time is now!
The day is here!


One more day to liberation
As spring flowers come to bud
We’ve survived another Hell Month
With our sweat and tears and blood


Wow this month has sucked
Insomnia and all!
Computer broke – well, fuck,
this month has got some gall!

First there was the rain
Then of course the work
Add miscommunications
and we’re all berzerk!

One day to a new beginning!
— Raise the Maypole ribbons high!
Every one can have a fling!
— Every one can have a fling!
There’s a new month for the winning
— There’s a new month to be won!
Do you hear the people sing?

It’s almost here!
it’s almost MAY!


<repeat, overlapping>

Tomorrow April’s far away,
Tomorrow’s celebration day,
Tomorrow we’ll discover
What the next month has in store!

One more dawn,
One more day,



Suck it, Insomnia

A few of us have been succumbing to insomnia lately.  Clearly, this is just one of April’s many nasty antics.  I’ve tried everything: exercising before bed, not exercising before bed, warm milk, warm herbal tea, cold water, benadrylmeditation, TV, reading really boring literature. No dice.

So, here we are in the home stretch of The Demon Month, and I’m still having trouble feeling rested.  And let me tell you in no uncertain terms: it SUCKS.

Until you’ve had the experience of trying to complete some task – washing the dishes, doing homework, folding laundry, standing up – and then realizing that you’ve just been staring into thin air for a solid 30 seconds, you haven’t known the bitter confusion of sleep deprivation. Oh, how I enjoy that precious experience.   <– Sarcasm

BUT, there may be hope. My astounding friend Liz has given me a *wonderful* idea for combating the insomnia horrors and it is called: The Hot Toddy. But with a little update, and therefore I entitle it: The Sleep Potion.

I will share this sacred ritual with you now.

First, you must obtain some whiskey. This step is crucial.  I had not previously purchased hard liquor in my life (whatever), so I had some fun looking at all the pretty shiny bottles at the store (shiny!).  Evan Williams is what Liz suggested, since it’s inexpensive but drinkable.  Any of the higher-quality varieties would certainly serve you well. Or better.

Did you obtain some whiskey?  The whiskey is important. The internets tell me that rum and brandy are also excellent options.

Okay.  Now.  Once you have the delectable nectar, here’s what you add to it.

Traditional Hot Toddies run something like this:

Make hot water happen in a mug.

Add to this mug a squeeze of lemon (maybe a quarter of a whole lemon) and some honey.

At this point, different recipes tell you to add different things: cinnamon and cloves, black tea, etc.

However, if you want to make The Sleep Potion, chamomile tea is the way to go.

Once a mug with hot water, chamomile, honey, and lemon has occurred and rests pleasingly on your counter, retrieve the liquor!  One shot… two shots… a third of the bottle… you decide.

Final step: IMBIBE.

It didn’t put me right to sleep but WOW was I zero restless when I laid down. Highly recommended. Snooze well.

Go Team!

A retrospective: as the winter slooowly winds to a close here in Madison, here’s a tale I just resurrected from the Draft box.  It hails from the steamy days of last summer….
I had my yearly physical the other day.  It went well, considering I was pretty shy on sleep.  I really liked my original doctor, but she went and got herself pregnant and is out on maternity leave, so I got switched to a new PCP.  She’s very thorough and great about giving you the justification for all the odd tests she has to run.  She does have an unsettling verbal tick, though, wherein she adds “type thing” to the end of every other sentence.  “It looks to be a mole type thing… You want to make sure you wear your helmet type thing… I just want to listen to your heart type thing….”  No, you want to listen to my HEART!  Not some uncertain organ in its vicinity!  I’m a gal who likes a healthy dose of ambiguity – but not when its about literal doses or my literal health.   Anyway, once you get past that, she’s lovely and it was a good visit.
Well, we’re wrapping things up, and she decides that since I haven’t had my blood drawn in a while, we should run a standard test (type thing) to keep my records up to date.  And thus she writes up my after-visit summary, thanks me for coming in, and sends me downstairs to the professional vampires.
Here’s where things took a turn for the dangerously perky.  Now, when MOST people are sleep deprived, they experience a sharp downturn in the sunniness of their disposition.  Me, on the other hand, before I slip into zombification, I ride a wave of excessive cheer.  And as I sat in the lobby, waiting to be called in to see the nurse who would draw my blood, I felt the peppy coming on – Ooo, look at the fish in the aquarium! Aren’t those big orange theft-deterrent stickers on the magazines just charmingly awkward! Aaawe, cute baby!!  So it begins.
Then a friendly looking woman in a lab coat called my name and I bounced out of my seat and started making chit chat.  Kind woman, she was very amenable to my exuberantly congenial demeanor and merrily gabbed with me all the way to the examining room and on and on while she was finding my vein.  We talked about the heat, the generally perpetual state of being busy – I noted that her earrings matched a painting on the wall (the coordination in some of these new fangled medical institutions, I tell ya!).  It was very friendly.  She took my blood without incident, handed me a cotton swab to stop the bleeding, and while I was applying pressure asked me what kind of band-aid I wanted.  We agreed that the blue Snoopy ones were far superior to either the red or the plain old skin-tone band-aids, so she fetched one of those and popped it on my puncture wound.
And then she said, “Good job! All done!” and held out her hand.
So naturally, I high-fived her.
It was just instinct.  She’d just praised our mutual effort, and seemed to be offering her palm in camaraderie – “Heck YEAH, we just took your blood!”
Of course, in reality she was just asking for my cotton swab, which I was still holding, so she could dispose of it for me.
Luckily, she was heartily amused and laughed along with me.  We parted friends, and I am happy to say that I probably made her day – or at least gave her a miniature story to tell over coffee break later on.
And heck YEAH, we totally took my blood!!


This is a public service announcement: the Demon Month is living up to its name this year.

For those unaware, April is the great Satan of my personal mythology for iterated miseries stretching back to undergrad.  Each year brings new horrors as the winter ice melts away and Spring takes its time waking up. And just for the record, T.S.Eliot totally backs me up on this one.

Well, this year has been no exception. Here’s the current tally.

Strike One: Insomnia. For a week. It’s great, because I’m so SUPER functional on no sleep. Not to mention cheery as the birds in springtime!  Of course, the birds in Madison ain’t so cheery, considering we’re not even HAVING flippin’ springtime. Which brings me to…

Strike Two: Thunder and lightning one day, then the threat of snow for a week. Cute. How much did you slip the weather god’s secretary to schedule THAT little meteorological miracle? Relatedly,

Strike Three: Combining One and Two yielded a tardy and discombobulated Julie who decided it was a good idea to ride her bike out into the middle of said thunder storm. “Oh, tis but a spot of rain!” she thought, donning her boots and pedaling out into the street. Yeah, five minutes later, when it was too late to turn back for the bus, and the heavens opened up and the aerial light show got under way, I was singing a different tune. It sounded like this: “AAAAAH! Shitshitshitshit-please-don’t-lightning-on-me-shitshitshit!”  That little ditty got me all the way to campus where I rammed poor Simon into an empty (surprise!) bike rack and hustled to shelter under the awning of the zoology building. I caught my breath, then literally wrung about a quart of water out of my skirt (yeah, I was wearing a skirt through this ordeal).

And then I went and taught a 75 minute discussion on all the Botany my undergraduates have learned in the last five weeks. Nice touch, Hell Month.

Strike 4: The computer on which I am obstinately typing has had a little make-over. Possibly an after effect of the thunderstorm two days ago, or perhaps just a spiteful caprice of this godforsaken 31 day massacre.  Instead of an evenly toned display screen, I’m not looking through some rather artfully arranged pink and pale green vertical stripes.  Fitting as this color pallet would have been a couple weeks ago for Easter, I’m not really in the mood for a candy egg hunt every time I flip open my Lenovo.  So, it’s off to the repair folks tomorrow to see if there’s any hope.

Bravo, April, well played. Good to know you haven’t lost your stamina or ingenuity over these many years.  I applaud your technique, and grant you a worthy opponent.

But hear this, Hell Month. You can hit me, and you can hit me hard. I expect nothing less. Just know this: It. Is. On.

Talking to Strangers, Boston – 3

We’ll call this interlude…

Vingnette 3 – The Informant

I’ve been living in the Midwest for about 3 years now, so I’m fairly used to people striking up random conversations with strangers in a shockingly congenial manner.  Naturally, when this happened in Chicago and on the train leaving Chicago, I was not in the least surprised.  I’ve had conversations with strangers on the bike path, in countless elevators, in the security line at the airport, even in a bathroom. Talk, talk, talk, friendly, friendly, friendly. Truth be told, I like it.  It’s lovely.  I find it charming.  And startling as it was at first, I’m used to it.  But part of getting used to it was reassuring myself that this sort of thing didn’t happen back home in the good old cold shoulder East Coast.  I thought I could rely on my birth region to back me up when it came to expressing my inner introvert in public.  I mean, I mastered the fine art of eye contact avoidance and faux cell phone absorption on the streets of Boston!

But no. Some things never last. So much to my surprise, I spent a very chatty few days in Boston once my train pulled in.  But the first and perhaps most memorable was the day I walked into the Quincy T station, ready to hop on the red line and head through downtown to Harvard.  I was meeting a friend and running a tad late, so I wasn’t in the market for distractions or hold ups – but it turns out demand doesn’t drive supply when it comes to random conversations with strangers. Thanks a lot, economics.

So there she was.  Out of the blue.  And in uniform!  A bustling, middle age, broad shouldered MBTA official, swooping down on me.  For a second I thought she’d zeroed in on the vestiges of midwest friendly that still miraculously clung to my person after a day and a half of cramped travel sans showers.  Surely she would take the disheveled look and amiable stance as the sure signs of criminal activity – she was a savvy mass transit official, not to be trifled with, not to be fooled!  She would walk up to me and demand to search my bag, with a gruff gesture and a dour frown. I almost smiled at the prospect – home again!

But NO. Foiled again, Collins!

“That’s a very nice skirt!” she exclaimed, locking eyes with me before I knew what was happening.

“Uhm – ” the old-school CT girl in me fought to stand strong, I could hear her hissing in my ear, Just give a nervous flicker of a smile, avert your eyes and make a B line for the ticket machine. But the Wisconsonite that has always lived somewhere in my soul just pushed right on past. “Awe, thanks! I like it too – it’s got elephants!” (Yes, at this point I pointed to the elephants) “Actually, it’s not really mine, it’s a hand-me down from a friend.”

Her eyes grew wide.

Wrong response?

“OH,” she said.

She looked me up and down.

What on God’s green earth – ? Did people who pointed to elephants on their skirts constitute a whole other level of friendly that even this bombastic swooping skirt-admirer couldn’t stomach?  Friendly, yes – quirky, get the hell outta my T station? Is that how it works?  What did I do wrong!?

“WELL. I’m going to let you in on a little secret.”

The CT Julie was back. Run, she whispered.

“But I’m only telling you this because you’re smaller than me.”

RUN, you fool!

“There is a PHENOMENAL thrift shop over in Wollaston.”

At which point the Wisconsin Julie bounded back to center stage, immediately threw Mackelmore on my mental turntable, and, with a cheery grin on her face, shoved CT Julie back into her Corner of Petulance.

Once I’d stopped listening to the counter-culture rap piping away in my skull, I tuned back in to the soliloquy pouring forth from the impromptu dramaturge who stood before me, gesticulating in her rapture over this diamond in the Wollaston rough. Apparently this thrift shop was QUITE the find – and she was only telling people about it who weren’t her size, so that she wasn’t alerting the competition.  Oh, the things she’s discovered there!  I could probably list them here for you, but this blog only has so much room.  Leather coats, something pink with buttons?, the blouses! the almost-designer-like-something-or-other-can-you-believe???

She went on.

And I couldn’t stop the words of enthusiastic encouragement from dancing their way through my defeated New England lips.

It was like a previously unstaged brainstorming session in Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, before the motley crew of actors gathers their props and costumes for the wedding charade.

But Quince, we’ll be in need of finery!

Why, Bottom, I know JUST the place – to Wollaston!

Do tell me more, you thrifty knave!

I really did half expect one of us to turn into a donkey by the end of the conversation.

“Do you like shopping at thrift shops?”

“Oh sure, I love seeing what’s in there! I’m from Madison, Wisconsin and we have a couple really good ones in the center of town.”

Stop talking! Stop, you crazy woman! Then maybe SHE’LL stop and we can catch our TRAIN! Remember our TRAIN that’s taking you to see your FRIEND who is not this wacky woman with little better to do in her day than regale you with some yarn about a thirft shop?


“Thanks for telling me, I really appreciate it! I’ll have to check it out.”

No,  you won’t! You will NEVER be in Wollaston! Probably in your life!

Won’t I?

You won’t!

Don’t you mean, You Hella Won’t!?

“Oh, sure, sure, I’m telling anyone who isn’t my size!”

“Well no worries, your secret is safe with me!” I gave her a conspiratorial grin. It’s possible I even winked.

At which point an appropriately mousy and timid looking tax payer of the state of Massachusetts mercifully interrupted us, and diverted the attention of my loquacious civil servant.

Still smiling to myself, highly entertained by the whole encounter, I finally purchased my ticket and headed off to wait for the T.

That was ridiculous. 

Correct. But I’d say it was also fucking awesome

Talking to Strangers, Boston – 2

When last we left off, I had successfully recharged my computer and my appreciation of anonymous post-modern life in Chicago’s fair Union Station.  After departing that invigorating scene, it was not long before I was settled in coach on my Amtrak train headed east on a 23 hour trek to Boston, Mass.

Which brings us to…

Vingnette 2 – I snooze, You lose

Let’s be clear about one thing up front: sleeping sitting up is basically an oxymoron.  I mean, sure, it can be done, but really?  Would we honestly characterize that as “sleep?”  I feel not.  A nice, proper trip into the depths of your unconscious requires a horizontal posture, plain and simple.  Which is why, presented with the opportunity, any self-respecting human would choose to snooze laying down.

If we’re all in agreement here, then it’s obvious that I would be disappointed to discover, upon boarding the Amtrak, that each pair of seats already had at least one occupant in it.  No chance of claiming two together and crafting them into a make-shift cot for me. I would have to choose a partner, and short of requesting to rest my head on that person’s lap (and even my excessive friendliness has its limits), I’d be “sleeping” upright.  Well, I wasn’t about to let a little vertical repose ruin the prospects of an otherwise delightful train excursion, so I zeroed in on an unsketchy-looking fellow, smiled, and asked if anyone was seated next to him.  He said no, so I plopped my things down and began to nest in my humble aisle seat.

As the train pulled out of the station, we exchanged a few pleasantries which mainly consisted in his multitudinous tales of all the festivals he’d worked recently.  I was never clear on what his role in said festivals was, exactly – he didn’t sport the exuberant personality one associates with performers (this was no Dextre Tripp), nor was he toting enough gear to be plausible as a roving techie or amateur videographer – perhaps “worked” had more than the usual meaning here?  Regardless, he sure had made the rounds.  Polish festivals, Irish festivals, festivals celebrating the abundance of any kind of food crop imaginable: cranberry, potatoes, clams, you name it, he’s been there.  In fact, it seemed that in some instances, he was not even “working” these festivals at all, just looking to indulge in the experience.  On the cheap, no less – he became quite animated when explaining to me that he had once found a festival that would let you in day-of without a ticket if you brought two cans of soup to donate to the local food pantry!

By the end of the conversation, two things had happened.  First, I was beginning to wonder how all these festivals had been happening around me since my birth and I’d never been aware of their prominence in the potential job market.  Second, the word “festival” had completely lost all manner of sense or historical context in my brain.  It’s really a strange thing to hear said over and over – in my mind, a festival was a sort of mystical, exuberant, infrequent event.  Hearing about festival after festival after festival, I started to lose track of reality and wondered if I hadn’t boarded at platform 9 and 3/4 after all.

Luckily, my seat mate did eventually tire of regaling me with stories set in this repetitive context, and went back to examining his iPod.  Gratefully, I opened up my computer and began a proper TV marathon (fortunately, I’d uploaded a season’s worth of shows to my hard drive; festivals might be in abundance, but internet was not).  And so we passed several hours in silence together. Occasionally one or the other of us would get up to explore the oh-so-hygenic-feeling bathroom or pop down to the dining car.  Eventually it grew dark outside our little train windows, and we approached the sleeping hour.

Now, I’d been staying up rather late in the last few days, so I was content to keep watching my show or read or just take in the passing scenery for a few more hours. But other passengers began to drift off.  Probably my favorite was the burly man to my right, who HAD managed to secure a full two seats for himself and was now sprawled out across both, his legs contorted across the aisle seat, a foot dangling into the aisle, his head tilted back against the window and his mouth wide open. And from this gaping fissure emerged what were without doubt the single loudest snoring sounds I have ever heard in my entire life. Hands. Down. It sounded like someone was dragging heavy chains over metal grating.  Repeatedly. Then recording it, amping up the volume and layering the various audio files on top of each other. This was a truly masterful orchestration of nasal cacophony.

What made it art, however, was the passenger behind our sleeping Maestro.  This peevish little man wanted his Zzzs and he wanted them now – and the background music wasn’t to his liking.  So bless his heart, he started giving the seat in front of him a pert little kick every few minutes, causing the Maestro to jostle awake and resettle himself.  This only bought our glowering insomniac a few moments of silence, but it gave me a delightful pass time.  When I didn’t feel like watching TV or window gazing, I’d check in on the pair of them – the snorer slumped over, doing his thing; the disgruntled chap behind him getting progressively more fed up, his glares growing progressively more fanatical, his kicks getting quite insistent one moment, only to become futile jabs the next.  Ah, the human condition – always trying to control the great mystery that keeps us awake at night, always looking so charmingly ridiculous in the process.

But even with these distractions, I was starting to feel a little sleepy myself.  I was just getting ready to negotiate some sort of posture conducive to napping in my seat when The Man of Many Festivals began to stir.  I watched him for a moment as he stretched and collected his things.  Huh, I thought, I wonder…. and sure enough, he finally made eye contact and said “I’m heading up there” and gestured toward the front of the train. GREAT, I thought, collecting enough of my own items to permit him to walk over me to the aisle. In a matter of moment, he had taken all his belongings with him and left a perfectly vacant seat. HaHA!

Well, let me tell you how fast my coat became a blanket, my sweater got spread out to soften the uneven surface between the two seats, and my pillow realized its destiny as a true pillow and not just some glorified head-rest.  Boom. Sleep is ON.  I even had ear plugs, so I didn’t have to rely on Sir Kicks-a-Lot for audio relief.  It wasn’t the best sleep I’ve ever had, but it was far superior to whatever dozing I might have accomplished while fighting gravity on the edge of the aisle.  I was in coach heaven, and slipped off quickly into a peaceful night’s rest.

It wasn’t until much later the next morning, when I opened my eyes to find my original seatmate standing over me looking somewhat sheepish that I realized he had meant to come back.  Despite removing all his worldly goods (read: place-holders), he hadn’t intended to leave for good at all, but rather had every idea of returning to his rightfully purchased seat in the middle of the night.

Pssh! Buddy, you gotta defend your turf! That’s all I have to say.

That, of course, is totally a lie. I had many things to say – I jolted awake and scrambled all my belongings into the window corner to make it easier for him to sit down (read: to make it easier for me to then remain in the window seat for the rest of the trip), then apologized profusely and explained that I thought he’d left for good, seeing as he’s taken all his things.  He was a genuinely good sport about it, said he’d come back around midnight, saw me sleeping and didn’t want to disturb me. You know, “saw you sleeping” is such a nice way to say “I saw that you’d totally taken over my space, re-purposed it for your own use, and even laid down an elementary slumber infrastructure of your own textiles to mark your territory.”

All I can say to that un-voiced angst is, “Take notes.”

And damn straight that’s what I did. We may have boarded in the Midwest, but we’re Boston-bound I’m New England born and bred, sir. I don’t mess around with niceties when there’s sleep on the line!

Anyway, we got on reasonably well for the rest of the trek, and after my initial effusion of penitence, I smiled a bit mischievously to myself and enjoyed the pleasant rested feeling in my limbs and my now un-obstructed view out the window.

I’m sure I will have to pay my karmic dues for that one someday, but for now I take this story as a classic validation of the adage, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.”

Of course, if you’re less interested in the forgiveness option, you can always take the more political route to success.  For my experience was also a classic case of a favorite expansionist philosophy of mine, which urges settlers who find a territory unmarked and undefended to take it as quickly as possible without asking either permission or forgiveness. Indeed the only thing you need ask, if challenged, is one simple question:  “I’m sorry, but do you have a flag?”