A few weeks ago I’d written a post about surviving in the woods. This is more about surviving the day-to-day. Like most stories and essays, it grew out of a small kernel of idea… irritation. Not claiming this post is a pearl, mind you! but I had chimed up in a group chat that I was cranky about something. I was at work, and in the middle of cleanup. See, the problem with working with organics is that they are mostly stinky. And some of them you really shouldn’t be inhaling. The other problem is that while we can and do work inside a hood, the waste containers are not also in the hood.
So no, I do not enjoy the smell of chloroform in the morning. Especially not on top of already having a headache. This snark led to a response by another member of the chat, laughing, that it would be funny to have a story where the bad guys found out the hard way that chloroform on a rag doesn’t work like it does in the movies, and have the heroine fighting them off screaming about lab safety.
For one thing, chloroform is volatile enough at room temp it’s hard to measure it accurately, let alone someone holding it in a rag, in their warm hand, for any length of time at all. And is that villain wearing a glove? Because buddy, that stuff works both ways and skin is no substitute for 4mil nitrile!
But it got me thinking. Being a female of the species, I am afflicted by the Western mode of dress, wherein there are no or inadequate pockets. When I get ready for my day, I’m usually wearing jeans, and I put my everything in those pockets. If I’m ‘dressing up’ I have to rely on a purse, and I’m bad about putting things down and remembering where I did that. I’ve never yet lost a purse entirely, but that’s more about the person I’m with seeing me start to walk away without it. If we posit that the idiot bad guy didn’t use the chloroform on the rag trick and knock himself out, and did succeed in capturing the only-slightly-mad-but-now-she’s-pissed scientist…
It’s a fun idea for a story, yes? I brought my coffee cup in to my desk in the dark this morning, and as I was reaching to put it down on the coaster next to my computer, I realized I’d dumped my pocket stuff here, rather than in the bowl next to the bed where it belongs. As I collected it to move it, the dots connected… and I had my post idea.
It seems like authors tend to put their characters in positions where they are either stupidly underprepared, or amazingly well-prepared in ways that leave you awed at the idea of that character being a real person and not insufferably smug all the time. We have to, really. We need to have our characters get into sticky situations, but we also need to get them out again. And we have the advantage, here. When I go to work with what’s in my pockets, that’s it. There is no more. I forget my earbuds? Too bad, grab them tomorrow. The character needs to have a tiny pocket plasma cutter to free herself from this steel-wrapped container? Author writes it into her pocket.
So what would I have in my pockets on a lab day? Keys (on a carabiner clip, but a small one, not meant for actual rope use. Although I used to have them on the real thing). Tiny wireless earbuds in a small charging case – there’s a lil’ wee battery in that, probably no bigger than my thumb. Phone, in a bump case (plastic) with a small flat sheet of steel for the magnetic stand in my car. Wallet. Penlight, pocket knife*, chapstick, and recently sometimes a pulse oximeter. In my hair are a pair of hairsticks, either metal or g10 fiberglass, designed as close-in last resort self defense tools. Grab me with my lab coat and you also give me a suction bulb, a roll of lab tape, post it notes, and a pocket protector full of assorted pens and sharpies.
That pocket knife never comes out of my pocket at work… we’re not supposed to use anything other than Approved ™ tools for cutting boxes, or whatever. Also, it’s a wee lil’ thing, a Swiss Army with one blade and no more than two tools. Now, the knives I carry in my purses…
Of course, if our villains were able to get into the building (entirely possible in spite of recent warning emails to not let people without a badge in) and accost me or someone like me in the lab. Well! I might not have much that would allow me to stand back farther than my arm could throw a stoppered volumetric flask, but that could be interesting. Not that I’ve put much time and thought into it, no.
I get bored, some days. Can you tell? Besides which, it’s always good to assess your surroundings and know that if something went sideways, you’d have tools for survival at hand. Or in your pockets.
(Header image: self-defense hairsticks by Bjorn Bladeworks in a low ‘do to accommodate hat)