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::: center home >> being here >> last donut? >> preparing


In the summertime, our halls are warm, a little too humid and quiet; and we are preparing for our Visiting Fellows and Postdocs. There's even time for idle diversions.

This time of summer quiet is definitely getting shorter. We used never to see visitors arriving in August, weeks before the official start of term. Now it is becoming common.

Thanos arrived first in mid August. His seniority gave him the office with, what I think, is the best view.

It was only a brief stop. He wanted to drop his gear, set up his office and then go with his wife to visit California, Las Vegas and Chicago, with a stop back in Pittsburgh in between. Sometime in these comings and goings, he warned me that he'd been felled by a virus. The fear of swine 'flu has now largely dissipated, but enough lingered for him to have to test to see if this was it. "Then I wouldn't have to worry any more," he told me. The next day the test results were in. "It wasn't swine 'flu," he said, heaving slightly with the disappointment. The irony of the moment was irresistible and I replied,"Too bad. Let's hope for the plague next time!"

By the time Thanos had arrived, most of our preparations were in place. Carol had long ago put new computers where needed in the Fellows' offices, according to the flavor the wanted. PC or Mac? I walked past Natalie's soon to be office and caught sight of one of the new Macs. "Oh, it's gorgeous!" Carol nervously eyed me as I suggested that we haul in my old beaten up Mac and perhaps, just for a few weeks, I could try out whether this one really works. She was smiling, but her body language was saying "You'd better be joking, buster. No one messes with my Fellows' stuff!"

One morning, as I walked past the same office, it was piled full of boxes and Karen was crouching behind a partially assembled chair. That was fast, I thought. It seemed that it was only yesterday that Karen had shown me that some of our Fellows' office chairs were getting a little shabby and she wanted to order new ones. Here they were. She stood and puffed a little. "It's harder than you think," she said with some triumph in her voice;"I had to use brute force." As Karen's friends know, that meant something. Karen's slight build masks an athlete who is as likely to be kayaking rapids, chopping wood or cross-country skiing.

Karen 's efforts were just in time. Later that morning, Lisa Damm was scheduled to arrive and she was to get one of the chairs. A little while after Lisa had passed through, Karen was again on the floor assembling a second chair, this time for Lisa.

Then it was the first day of term. The sound of the blue September calendar printing from the photocopy machine came down the hall: "Clack. Woosh. Clack. Woosh. ..." Dennis Pozega, who is taking over from Peter Gildenhuys, was scheduled to arrive for this first day. His name had been added to the masthead outside our front door. I heard the jingling of keys, and there he was standing for the first time in front of his door. I burst out of my office, camera in hand. "Got to get a photo of the moment!" He posed, smiling awkwardly and, no doubt thinking, "He's crazy--what I have got myself into?!"

Labor Day came and went. Term had now started in earnest, and in the week that followed the bulk of our fellows were arriving. On Tuesday, Slobodan Perovic and Lydia Patton arrived. By pure chance I happened to be walking to the Center's front door or through it the moment each arrived. I wondered later if they thought this was some prearranged ritual that made it possible for me to welcome them in person the moment they arrived.

On the Wednesday, I came in early before 8:30am, since I had a very full day of teaching. It was all quiet and I was alone to prepare. Or so I thought. A few minutes later, a gentleman in a suit strode down the hallway towards my office.

I don't recall the last time I saw a regular professor in a suit, so I was momentarily confounded. But then no professor is every really at home in a suit these days. I relaxed and knew who it was even before Drozdstoj Stoyanov introduced himself. He had been in his office for 40 minutes already, he told me. "I'm a doctor," he said "so I got used to starting early." I mused in reply. "I am a parent and that had the same effect."

The following day, the last of our complement arrived. Michele Massimi is visiting in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science. She glided through my door and led in Mark Sprevak, her new husband and our final Fellow. The two carry with them the infectious happiness of a newly married couple. Earlier Michele had given me a little packet of elaborately wrapped almonds, a memento of their nuptials. It sat in the middle of my table, waiting for exactly this moment. I wondered if Mark would notice.

John D. Norton

Revised 9/28/09 - Copyright 2009