Pocket Stuff

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)

23 comments

  1. You are addressing the issue of what a certain subset of the population commonly refer to as EDC, or Every Day Carry. Depending on professional requirements the lists can be quite impressive.
    As an aside, a frequent question I run into in the groups I frequent is not what knife do you carry, but rather how many knives do you typically have on you for EDC.

    1. If I had better pockets, I’d have more stuff. Probably just as well I don’t. If you ever see me out and about with a cute handbag… there are multiple knives involved.

      For some reason I was thinking EDC was specifically firearm (which is verboten at work).

      1. Or you could imitate Leslie Fish’s herpetologist friend:

        “I’ve got a purse that goes rattle, hiss, and slither
        As I walk so meekly down the street.
        And I hope some punky-boi will snatch it.
        And I smile when I think of what he’ll meet.”

      2. EDC – pocket litter – is the “what are you prepared for, in your everyday carry?” The concealed weapon is the easy and obvious first thing to talk about, and so it gets the most press… especially by gun reviewers and magazines. But scratch the surface, and you find a wealth of information and opinions, from the blowhard to the vague, with some excellent articles and information and options along the way.

        In the end, it boils down to: what emergencies do you foresee in your everyday, and what do you have to deal with them? Earbuds to combat boredom. Phone for information and contact. If your wallet has cash and credit, then you just gave yourself two options right there, whether or not you were thinking about it that way. Many EMTs and former combat medics have a small trauma kit on their belt, looking like a slightly oversized cell phone holster, that includes a tourniquet. Many guys who’ve been on the two-way range not only carry a firearm, but a back-up gun, and/or reloaders for the gun, because they’ve seen situations where what they had wasn’t enough.

        But it’s not just tacti-cool stuff. Many’s the mom whose EDC includes lots of backups for potential bad situations… yes, The Diaper Bag. From whence cometh not only diapers and wipes, but changes of clothes, and extensive collection of bandages and neosporin tubes, nail clippers, kleenex, hairbands, pre-packaged formula (just add water) and bottles, and… well, the carry for every emergency common to littles.

        Which morphs into The Purse Of Holding.

        Even on the not-mom end, my purse is organized about my potential emergencies. My coworkers were a little amazed that my purse contains my inhaler, fast-acting immediate antihistamine (benadryll), slow-acting long lasting antihistamine (allegra), tylenol, ibuprofin, lactaid, epi pen, and a roll of antacids But those are the basic problems with my body acting badly, so why wouldn’t I be prepared?
        I didn’t tell them about the multiple knives, flashlight, or the nice zippered pouch on the back with the snug little holster in its dedicated compartment.

        And then we get into my off-body pocket, also known as “the junk in the car trunk.” Wherein lies the extensive first aid kit, the air compressor powered by a cigarette lighter, the fire extinguisher, the flat of water, the blanket just in case, the spare jacket, a small toolbag, the e-tool, the spare roll of toilet paper… If you have it, it’s amazing how often situations come up in which it’s needed.

        1. Leading to “Ma, how do you carry this?” and “Ma, this is not a Bag of Holding, it’s a portal into an Entire Universe!”

          If I have it, I won’t need it. If I don’t have it, I will need it urgently. It is entirely predictable. So I have it.

          And then someone else urgently needs it. Because that’s how it works. And my boys know that pads are pads and blood is blood. No sense in having multipurpose items if the people who may be using them in an emergency don’t know their uses!

          Do I even know what-all is in there? No. The easy solution is to grab cash and ID and leave the purse with the hatpins if I have to go in the courthouse.

        2. “Why is there a shovel in your trunk?”
          “it snows where I live. And yes, I have dug out a few times. At least once in my own driveway.”

          And the toolkit etc. is useful even when the car is new. Once upon a time I was driving home in an aging heap and saw this fellow on the side of Interstate, looking for water in the ditch as he carried a fast food cup. I left the two jugs (one water, one antifreeze) with him and drove home – and immediately another jug of ‘spare’ antifreeze. And his car? Looked shiny and new, even if it wasn’t.

  2. There’s a reoccurring daydream I’ve had about being in a large office building under attack and being defended by the skeleton staff that works overnights–janitorial, security and maintenance. (I’ve worked in all three industries.)

    The nature of the attaching force varies from time to time, but they are always well organized and more powerful than the defenders. The fun comes from noticing just how many seemingly innocent objects could be turned into improvised weapons and/or booby traps.

    1. I’ve gone through my classroom several times and mentally marked “this can do that, and this can do that.” Likewise my office at home, and other places. Your greatest weapon for self defense is between your ears.

    2. The weird part of my dream like that is that I have a rappelling rope in my desk drawer, I break the window (with a chair), and rappel down 20 floors. My co-workers enjoyed my recounting.

  3. I don’t know that I’ve heard “EDC” refer to “what’s in your pockets,” but I HAVE seen numerous posts on firearms-related boards talking about what is carried everyday APART from a firearm. I, too, understand EDC as referring to the customary firearm.
    As far as the bangstick, in recent years my EDC has been an FN Hi-Power, surplussed by the Israeli Defense Force. It’s got some lovely proof marks! The N8^2 IWB holster makes it disappear under most circumstances. However, in the past year, I’ve picked up a couple of alternatives, including a Browning BDA in .380, and a Walther PP in 7.65 Browning, a German police surplus.
    Other items which are a part of my getting dressed are an older Leatherman multi-tool, worn in a sheath on my belt; it was my dad’s.
    Like you, my keys are on an aluminum carabiner, which also contains a tiny knife and a small emergency (metal) medicine container.
    Instead of a wallet, I carry a leather-covered notepad, which has a pocket for ID & credit cards and a small amount of currency.
    Finally, I always carry in my watch pocket a brass medallion, marking the number of years living free, and a silver dollar. Usually that’s a Peace Dollar, but for the past week or so, it’s been a 1908 Philippine silver peso, from the Manila Bay salvage operation.

  4. Then there are the ones who do not know what preparation is. . .

    Still remember critting a story where one character tends a wounded on outside in the cold and is careful to pull blankets ON TOP of her.

    As far as I could tell, she was on bare ground.

    1. *looks at thermometer, cringes* The local Animal Shelter was begging for straw and pet igloos, NO BLANKETS please, because the blankets freeze when they get soiled. Straw will keep insulating. They are going to try and get al the animals indoors, but if they can’t, they want all the critters up off the ground and sheltered.

  5. Labs are usually different than when I worked one decades ago. Our door was the first one in the hall after the employee entrance. So we had to plan for what we would do if a crazy came in. One actually did come in planning to kill her supervisor, but passed us by. In those days, there were lots of self protection options for the creative, even in a liberal focused upper management with very strict rules. Heavy stuff can be thrown or used as clubs. Cleaning supplies can be blinding or otherwise made useful. The guys reporting to me weren’t very creative, but us gals were wicked. I’m glad we never had to use our plans, but we were prepared.

  6. True about the brain between the ears. How many of us, when we enter an unfamiliar, multi-story building, look for the stairs and emergency exits?

    I do. Then I complain to security if I can’t find them or they’re poorly marked. I much prefer stairs to elevators when going down. It depends on the number of floors going up but if it’s only two or three floors, the stairs are faster.

    1. I check exit signage, emergency lighting, clearance to stairwells, so on and so forth by reflex these days. I’ve was stopped and questioned by security as a casino once when somebody noticed that I was checking out the position of the cameras on the floor.

    2. Aye. I am annoyed by the signs at elevator warning about not using them, but they (signs, hotel management) do NOT point where the stairs ARE. That might just be important. It seems to be “We put up the sign like the law says. Done.” Too bad you (they) didn’t THINK about it.

      1. Once upon a time, some SF convention goers and two airplane pilots were waiting for the elevator except that it was broken. So the con-goers headed toward the stairs, and one pilot told the other, “Follow the weirdoes, they always know where the stairs are.”

  7. Extra/spare vehicle key – not on same ring or even in same place as usual vehicle key – locked out? Not now. OR.. (and with a forecast low of -23F tonight..) I can start the vehicle and let it run to warm up/charge up AND lock it and leave it be for a while. (Keeping coat if not on, at least close by as a reminder that I left an engine running.)

  8. Way back when, before the Montreal Protocol, I worked with a fellow who used cutting fluid as a solvent to clean up some stuff, rather than use Windex or Soft Scrub or suchlike. I did that for a bit, then noticed some odd numbness. Got to wondering… looked at fluid can.. 1,1,1-trichloroethane (you’re WAY ahead of me, aren’t you?). That sounded familiar but I couldn’t place it right off. Dug out Pa’s old chemistry books and went hunting…. oh, trichloromethane is… also called chloroform, and this is that with another methyl group in the mix. Yeah, enough of that, Soft Scrub seemed a MUCH better idea.

  9. I think my day is done! I learned my new thing. I had no idea chloroform doesn’t work the way it does on TV. Hopefully, that will never be useful information, but is new.

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