My first job when I moved to Boston in 1992 was at Tufts Medical School for a man named “Coffin”; he’d been anxious to hire someone/anyone from Bob Gallo’s Lab at NIH –so, he could say “She went from the Gallo to the Coffin”. Yes, scientists often have a bizarre basis for their humor. I’ve seen jokes years in the making! Not so unusual, when your daily life involves mindlessly, numbing repetitions, which lead to tiny amounts of data.
My first friend in Boston was a vivacious Spanish Doctor who was also a young newlywed, whose husband remained in Madrid. Since, I was a young widow, we immediately bonded on unrequited horniness. Being a New Englander, this presented as a cynical dry humor with grumpiness. Being a Spaniard, my friend Cova was more dramatic and vocal. We spent many evenings laughing and drinking Sangria. Actually, some combination of fruits, nuts and wine comprised many evenings with my European friends: Italians, French and especially, the Nordic Scientists. My recent forays into my genealogy explains why Gløg is still my go-to fun drink!
One evening, Cova entertained me with a secret that enthralled me for years. As a young girl, from a prominent family, Cova had to go learn a language that used no words; it was the language of the fan. It was quite the thing to do for well-to-do young woman. (Many of my European friends were quite blue-blooded. Sadly I had no knowledge of my own blue-blood at the time, other than the American version of six passengers on the Mayflower). Cova was not shy or apologetic, she was who she was and she was a well-educated physician of high social standing and well-versed in Fan Talk.
Taking out her fan, she showed me her lexicon, which I knew I would never need and was too drunk to remember but she ended with a shattering statement: “If we were in Madrid tonight, we would use our fans and my husband would immediately take me home to bed and you would do the same, with the man of your choice! We would get our itches scratched!” Granted Cova’s command of English wasn’t perfect, but I never forgot the message. I spent many hours sequencing the rous sarcoma virus those two years contemplating the power of a fan… Working in Chinatown also allowed me to decorate my lab bench with many wonderful fans… to the confusion of my lab partners!
Now, writing romances, I read all the books and took a few online classes for writing sex on the page. It’s been an enlightening journey but also dry and formulaic… (definition: Produced in accordance with a slavishly followed rule or style; predictable.) I can see there is a comfort zone in the predictable, but is that it? My favorite authors break the rules, for example Cherry Adair’s ‘hot monkey sex’ often has a good deal of steam building up to the act and not a 12 step program.
Lately, I’ve been thinking beyond the language of fans, since this is not Madrid and considering our own secret language that leads to hot monkey sex! And yeah, there is a formula for that (12 stages of intimacy) but I like surprises so much better than formulas, predictable is a turn-off for me. Or maybe it was a dozen years in molecular biology / immunology labs that predisposes me find formulas totally unsexy?
Sex in the lab was a reality for so many of my friends but for me? I was too focused on my work and my evenings were spent catching up on my writing and painting. This only made me a better target for the practical jokes that drove my coworkers. One day, the boss at my next job handed me a protocol and reagents to use in an experiment. Something was amiss. The men in the lab were barely containing their glee; my two friends, a British MD and a Japanese MD, both women, only rolled their eyes and smiled. I was oblivious, as usual. As I heated the reagent in boiling water, to denature the proteins, an odor filled the room.
Silly me, I said: “Huh, that’s a weird smell. It’s like… It’s like I should know –what it is? I know this but… it’s familiar but I can’t… it’s on the tip of my tongue…”
At that point, the men ran from the room laughing hysterically and my British friend handed me the labeled box from the trash, it was Salmon Sperm…
Oh, I can assure you, there was pay back! It also led to my acquiring a ‘good girl reputation’ and later, the false assumption that I was gay. But, at least now I can mine that fodder of humiliation for my writing! I know that feeling of slow spreading heat as your face burns with embarrassment.