8/27/11

My Brief Career In Microbiology

Like most people around my age (I have recently entered the early stage of  late waning middle youth)  of  I have, on occasion, wondered if my life could have turned out completely different, if only I had picked door number two, or even if some tiny, imperceptible change in my actions might have put me on a completely different path. Essentially, I can't help but apply the butterfly effect to my own history and wonder...
Sometimes I think I could have been a good scientist.  I have spent a good chunk of my adult life reading science essays and non-fiction, much of it by the esteemed Isaac Asimov,  trying to make up for an education notably deficient in the sciences.  It's sad, but true; my formal science education pretty much ended the day I stuck the tweezers in the electrical outlet in my eighth-grade science classroom.
But with the discussion over at Pharyngula recently involving what it is microbiologists do, and whether they spend their time peering into microscopes (apparently not), I was reminded of my own youthful "experiment" in that field, and came to the realization that it was an early example of a small action with profound consequences further down the road, and may in fact represent the first time I was diverted from the path of science.
I found out that there were things I didn't want to know. Or at least look at.
I was nine years old. I received, as a Christmas gift, a small Gilbert brand microscope, which I think offered 30X magnification (I still have it in my closet).  I was fascinated and intrigued by the details it showed me, details of shape and structure I had never been aware of before. I looked at the usual kid stuff, possibly based on recommendations in the instructions that came with it. Stuff like sugar, which looks like this:


And human hair, which looks like this:


I looked at the torn edges of paper, at handwriting and printing, at my own boogers. A new world was revealed to me. So much more than I had ever imagined!
And then one night I spied, on the floor, some sort of small (and very dead) insect. Possibly a gnat, a flea, or a fruit fly; I will never know. I remember thinking "this should look really cool under the microscope."  I carefully prepared my slide like the good little scientist I knew I was.

























Mommy! Mommy! Monster!
No, I didn't actually go crying for my mommy. I was, after all, nine years old.  I was independent. I climbed trees and stuff, all by myself.  And I'm not sure my mother would have dealt with the thing any better had I showed it to her.
But it was a monster. Of that there was no doubt; it had horrible, bulging eyes; it had a gaping maw with sharp fangs to render me; it had antennae, to communicate with what I dared not imagine; it had fucking armor plating, for crying out loud. The skeleton...my god, the skeleton is on the outside. Noooooo!
I learned that day that there is a whole other world, all around us at all times, that we can't even see. A world of which we are barely even aware, even as it permeates our entire existence. And that world is full of monsters, horrible demonic beasts beyond imagination.  Aliens who don't carry you away aboard some incredible spaceship, but actually burrow inside you. You are their spaceship. They don't just probe you, they probe and then eat what they find. Hiding under the blanket will not protect you from these monsters, because they live in your bed. They hide in your eyebrows. They are coming through the walls.  They can smell your very breath and blood, and they are hungry. Always hungry.
Drums. Drums in the deep. They are here. We cannot hold them.
And that's why I'm not a scientist.

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