Apr 18

Water Under The Bridge

I am a teacher of writing. The maxim I try to hammer home to my students above all else is this: be specific. So when I received this mission, to write a love letter and put it in a public place, I had a problem. How could I write a love letter specific enough to meet my standards, but general enough to apply to anyone who might pick it up and read it? As Kurt Vonnegut writes in God Bless You, Mister Rosewater: “If [we are] going to love everybody, no matter what they are, no matter what they do, then those of us who love particular people for particular reasons had better find ourselves a new word.”

After fiddling with a number of letter-writing schemes, it finally came to me: what I needed wasn’t a more specific letter, but rather a more specific location in which to post the letter. I needed someplace that was technically public, but which only a few people were likely to actually visit. I knew exactly where to go.

See, I know a secret about the city of Chicago, and in four years of telling it to other people, I haven’t come across anybody else who knew it already. Now I will share it with you:

You can go inside the bridges.

Most bridges in Chicago have two trapdoors on either side, right in the middle of the pedestrian walkway. These trapdoors are heavy, but they are not locked. They are not, in fact, lockable. Each door leads to a little ladder, which leads to a little platform overlooking the river. Sometimes I sit on these little platforms and watch the tour boats go by. Only children notice me.

So I figured, if anybody else happens onto these trapdoors, they’re the kind of person I could love.

To begin, I waterproofed an envelope using copious amounts of packing tape.


Then I composed my letter:



If you’re reading this, it means one of two things:

1) You’re an explorer. You saw a trapdoor and you opened it. You are one of a handful of people who are awake in this dreaming city. I love you for your awareness, your curiosity, the way you fight inertia and seek the strange. There’s a great view of the canal down here. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

2) You work down here. You are a doctor for sick bridges. I love you, because you are part of the invisible force that keeps the city from crumbling around us. I love you because it is people like you who allow us to forget entropy. Plus, your line of work takes you to an awesome place like this.

I don’t know who you are, but I do know that I love you. And I would like to know who you are. If you’re interested, check out amonthof.org. We could use your stories. OR just email me. I’m [MY EMAIL].

Keep doing what you do,

I had a lot of bridges to choose from. After a few failures (bridges without doors or with unopenable doors), I decided on the Wabash street bridge. I used to walk across it every week on the way to therapy, and it’s one of the only bridges with wood paneling instead of concrete or metal. Plus, the view is lovely.


I picked a trapdoor on the side I always walk on.


Opened it up, and slapped my letter onto the underside of the door.


Then I climbed down to the platform, for old time’s sake.


I didn’t stay down long. I had places to be. I popped my head up in the middle of a crowd of people, but none of them even looked at me. None of them tried the trapdoor after I moved on, either. Ah well, you can spend your whole life waiting for The One.

Apr 16

A Month Of… Love Letters

A Month Of… Love Letters
Leave a love letter in a public space. Did they contact you?

As is always the case, if you do the task you get into the show for free. Leave proof in the comments below.

Stage 733
1225 West Belmont
Wed. May 14th
7:30 Food
8:00 Stories
$10 or free with a shared dish or a story in the comments below.

Apr 08

Breaking the Code

The completion of this month’s task brought me to an unlikely place.

God is on our side.

Notre Dame!

Tucked away from the gilded dome and Touchdown Jesus, the biology building at Notre Dame is an unremarkably squat, rectangular brick building. There, my friend Matt is working on something that will hopefully make the world a better place.

Matt is preparing to collect mosquitoes from a bucket.

Matt is studying mosquitoes. Aedes aegypti, the yellow fever mosquito, to be more specific. As its name suggests, Aades aegypti is a common disease vector. Yellow fever once wiped out one-tenth of Philadelphia’s population in 1793. Today, there are about 200,000 cases and 30,000 deaths each year. Those who contract yellow fever experience fever, chills, nausea, muscle pains, and liver damage, which gives the skin of the afflicted a yellowish hue. In addition to its namesake yellow fever, the mosquito also spreads dengue fever. Victims of dengue fever experience fever, severe muscle and joint pain (dengue fever is sometimes dubbed breakbone fever), skin rashes, and, in extreme cases, rapid blood loss. 2.5 billion people are at risk of contracting dengue fever, and dengue infections number between 50 to 100 million cases each year.

Aades aegypti infestation is widespread, and there is no vaccine, no treatment, and no cure for dengue fever. Therefore, efforts on controlling the disease have been centered on prevention. Traditionally, the prevention of dengue fever is done by either minimizing feeding opportunities (usually through chemical repellents, thick clothing, and/or mosquito nets) or controlling the mosquito population.

Matt’s research is taking an entirely different route: he is studying the interaction between the dengue virus and aades aegypti. It’s a complex system of interactions, but within complexity lies opportunity. The dengue virus is carried in the midgut of female aades aegypti. Infection occurs when the virus infects the insect’s salivary gland and the insect feeds on human blood. The virus appears to alter the feeding behavior of infected mosquitoes: infected mosquitoes tend to make more probes with their proboscis while feeding compared to uninfected mosquitoes. Fortunately, the dengue virus offers no fitness benefits to the mosquito, so infected mosquitoes are not out-competing uninfected mosquitoes. And, perhaps because the relationship between the mosquitoes and the dengue virus is not mutualistic, some aades aegypti are actually resistant to the dengue virus.

Mosquito platter, served chilled. Mosquitoes become inert at low temperatures.

Matt is probing the nature of this resistance. To those of us with a basic handle on biology, the key lies in the genetic code of aades aegypti. However, identifying the “genetic switch” for dengue resistance is much more difficult in reality. In fact, there is no simple genetic switch, and our knowledge of Mendelian genetics and Punnett square is patently outclassed at this level. Aades aegypti DNA contains approximately 15,000 genes, and the genes interact with each other in numerous series of overlapping pathways.

When Matt finds the genes dictating dengue resistance, the war is still far from over. The next step would be to create a transgenic population of dengue-resistant aades aegypti and release them into the wild. However, in order for dengue-resistance to spread within a wild population, the dengue-resistant aades aegypti must be granted some sort of fitness benefit so that their genes will propagate more successfully. The introduction of transgenic specimens into a wild population always carry some risk, as it is difficult predict, and even harder to control, the outcome outside the laboratory. Furthermore, there exists multiple serotypes of the dengue virus, and resistance to one serotype doesn’t necessarily grant resistance to the other serotypes.

Matt spends a lot of his time breeding and feeding mosquitoes. He starts with a batch of eggs on a strip of paper towel. The eggs look like black specks and are desiccant-resistant. Put the eggs in water, and larvae will emerge in about a day. The larvae will go through 4 larval stages before becoming pupae. Adults emerge 7 to 8 days after hatching, after which they live for 2 to 4 weeks.

Egg strip. The eggs are hardy and hatchable for up to six months after laying. Some mosquito species lay eggs that can overwinter.

Larvae. Both mosquito larvae and pupae are aquatic.

Pupae. Before reaching adulthood, mosquitoes are fed powdered liver and ground cat food.

Adults. Aades aegypti are considered large mosquitoes. The sand flies are some other mosquito species kept in the insectary are tiny in comparison.

Matt is only interested in the females. He would let the females take a blood meal (usually from mice, but occasionally from himself) and then dissect them and study their midgut.

Mosquitoes are responsible for carrying some of the most infectious and deadly diseases. Malaria, a parasite that uses mosquitoes as vectors, killed over half a million people in 2012 alone (most were children under 5). Learning to control mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases would be a monumental feat in human history, and I’m glad Matt gave me a glimpse of our progress. While there will never be an end to the war between us and the pathogens that affect us (you might be familiar with the Red Queen hypothesis), Matt’s research gives me hope. Furthermore, as someone who has been tormented by mosquitoes throughout his life, it was satisfying to maim a mosquito with my shaky, inexpert hands.

Successful dissection! The female mosquito is headless, and its midgut is exposed.

Mar 21

A Month Of… Bugs!

What is up with people voting for bugs? Why did I do that with you?

What are you going to do?

The official directions this month are Find a Bug… Fix a Bug. And while I have no idea where I’m going to take this topic — I’m super duper looking forward to this Month’s completions by our hosts, Polly, Duo, and Cory.

Google says:

If you’re looking for the facebook invite you can find it here:


Otherwise! Just Join us

A Month Of… Bugs!
At Stage 773
1225 W. Belmont
Wed. April 9th
7:30 Food
8:00 Stories
$10 or free with a completed task and or a dish to share!

Mar 07

Understanding the CouchSurfing Experience

I’m an active member of CouchSurfing. The premise of the website is quite simple: traveling is fun, lodging is expensive, and hotels are a shitty way to see the world, so why not introduce travelers to hospitable locals? While I don’t travel much myself, I do love meeting new people, especially those willing to rely on the kindness of strangers. In February, I had the pleasure of hosting Amelia and Vishal, and I thought this would be a perfect opportunity for an interview. Without further ado, here’s the lovely couple and what they had to say about their experience on CouchSurfing.

Aren’t they adorable?

I thought they did a pretty good job too. It was much better than the first time they did it, which involved their home-schooled Norwegian baby and giving away one of their real names accidentally.

Steph and Sandeep met while they were attending Brown University. Steph is a science writer, and Sandeep is in med school. Steph requested to stay with when she and Sandeep were in town for a conference. I gladly agreed because Steph shared my interest in food, science, and terrible puns.

In her request to stay with me, Steph offered up this gem:

Where did George Washington keep his armies? In his (s)levees!

It would have been a crime not to host her after that.

Steph actually got her English name from her Chinese name, which sounds a lot like “-phanie.” Yay for cross-lingual puns! Sandeep is one of those whose people with musical tastes so eclectic yet so good you wonder whether he came from the indie dimension. Both of them were crazy smart, but had a very subdued way of showing it.

I dropped the question of “would you guys like to be filmed for an interview” about 20 minutes after first meeting them. They agreed on the spot. Over the next few days, I got to know them better and thought about how to approach the interview. Inspiration struck when we started talking about what CouchSurfing.

For all the good CouchSurfing does, it has its dark corners. Ageism and sexism are very real forces on the website: if you’re a female traveler in your twenties, chances are multiple people will be requesting to host you. However, if you’re, say, a male traveler in your fifties, people are not nearly as proactive about “showing you everything the city has to offer.” CouchSurfing does not officially condone SexSurfing (the intersection of hospitality and NSA sex). However, there have been a few official stories about finding love through the CouchSurfing network. This makes sense, of course. People on CouchSurfing are essentially pre-selected to be compatible. Travel is a great conversation topic and an easy demonstration of personal worth. The acts of giving and receiving are baked into the CouchSurfing experience. There are photos. There’s private messaging. There’s no need to go on the prowl: home visit is guaranteed.

All this makes me a little uncomfortable, and even though I believe different people get different things out of CouchSurfing, I wanted to undermine the notion of “use CouchSurfing to find love as one would a dating site.” And so, when I approached Steph and Sandeep for the interview, I told them to lie to me.

Compared to Amelia and Vishal, Steph and Sandeep are much cooler people. We visited Rotofugi and caught the Traveling Circus art exhibit. They cooked me dinner and made me sesame ginger ice cream from scratch. We talked about everything from pandas to life in Providence. The storybook romance of Amelia and Vishal (or the crazier version of Jessica and Kyle) pales in comparison to all the seemingly ordinary things we did. You may or may not meet the love of your life on CouchSurfing, but you definitely will meet fun, interesting people who understand you and vice versa. Meet strangers. Be kind to them. Listen to their stories. Enjoy their company. To me, that is the core of the CouchSurfing experience (and life).



Steph and Sandeep thought their lives were boring compared to mine. I thought my life was boring compared to the lives of all the CouchSurfers I’ve hosted. I think all of us worry about how mundane our own lives are at one time or another. But everyone’s life is interesting, and everyone’s got at least one good story to tell. And so, I hope to hear some of your stories at A Month of… Immediately Understood!

Bonus content: in anticipation of Season 4 of Game of Thrones, watch my Austrian CouchSurfers play the Game of Thrones theme on their melodicas.

Mar 07

A Month Of… Immediately Understood

Immediately Understood
Create a five minute documentary about a stranger or acquaintance.

There are times in our life where we just know what’s going on. There are times when after years of study, we still don’t get it. At A Month Of… we will be delving into things immediately understood. This month’s task is to create a 5 minute documentary about a stranger or acquaintance.

My submission is in the comments below. As always, if you do the task, you get into the show for free. Post proof in the comments below.

(My foray’s into learning how to code felt like this. Why won’t this compile, what’s an exception error? How did I pass three classes in this and I still don’t know how to call a class? Do you call classes? Is that a thing? Oh God, the nightmares are coming back. *cough cough*)

A Month Of… Immediately Understood
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
7:30pm Potluck
8:00pm Stories
Facebook Invite

$10 or…
Free with a shared dish or if you complete the task and post it in the comments below!

Feb 11

Here’s a Man

1 votedvote

Here’s a man who is six feet tall.
Here’s a man who is 5’11”. And a half.
Here’s a man who is maybe 5’11”. In the morning. With shoes on.
Height is subjective.

Here’s a man who bakes because he loves creating things with his own hands.
Here’s a man who bakes because baking is love.
Here’s a man who bakes because he hopes baking will find him love.
Dessert is irresistible.

Here’s a man who goes to the gym because friendship is magic.
Here’s a man who goes to the gym because he really loves the steam room.
Here’s a man who goes to the gym because he hates the way he looks.
All is vanity.

Here’s a man who welcomes strangers into his home because strangers are interesting.
Here’s a man who welcomes strangers into his home because he needs to be in control.
Here’s a man who welcomes strangers into his home because when strangers leave, there’s no sense of loss.
There’s no sense of pain.

Here’s a man who is always happy.
Here’s a man who cured his depression with sheer force of will.
Here’s a man who staved off his “depression” with coffee.

Here’s a man whose writing has been winning awards since the 2nd grade.
Here’s a man whose writing pays his bills.
Here’s a man who can’t produce a god damn predicate these days.
Is a writer who doesn’t write still a writer?

Here’s a man who wants people to see themselves the way he seems them: each beautiful and amazing.
Here’s a man who wants someone to love him the way he thinks he loves the world.
Here’s a man who doesn’t know what he wants.
She walked out that night.

Here’s a man who is living the dream.
Here’s a man who is dreaming instead of living.
Here’s a man who fears living means trampling his dreams.
But I, being poor, have only my dreams.

Here’s a man who is alive.
Here’s a scientist with a sample size of one.
Here’s a boy who is so very scared because there is no before and there is no after and all he wants is to know he’s not alone and everything’s going to be okay.
I’m not okay, but I’m working on it.

A Month of… Tall Tales

Dec 07









Dec 05

My Other Icing Is Made of Fire

1 votedvote

From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to set food on fire. Not cook with fire mind you—that’s a given—but to have the food itself ablaze. Having done bananas foster and café brûlot diabolique before, I wanted something even more showy, so I settled on a cake. The recipe can be found here.

Because making a whole cake for myself would be a waste, I needed an occasion to share the cake with people. Luckily, I’m a part of Our Fair City, an awesome Chicago-based online sci-fi radio drama. The cast and crew had just wrapped up the recordings for Season 5. I asked Jeffrey Gardner, the executive producer and director of the show, whether I could bring a flaming cake to the Season 5 wrap party he was hosting. His response was somewhere between “oh god yes please” and “I don’t think it’ll burn down the apartment.”

It’s hard to write about fire. None of the descriptions we give fire, be it orange, small, or 5-alarm, can fully capture fire’s mesmeric motion and dangerous beauty. So instead of trying to do it justice in vain, take a look at the cake yourself!

I don’t know what kind of childhood you had growing up, but when I first learned how to reliably light matches, I was drunk with power. I branched out from there: I stoked our coal-burning furnace on cold winter mornings; I toyed with fireworks and blew off a chunk of my foot; I played with accelerants and burned my toys, my dad’s couch, and almost the entire house. Today, I treat fire with proper fear, respect, and awe. I think we all have stories about fire, and I’d love to hear your stories at A Month Of… Light It Up!

Nov 28

Reach Out and Torch Something

The theme/task for December’s show is Light It Up.

Light It Up: build something with the sole intent of lighting it on fire after it’s done.

We love fire, and we hope you love fire too. We have played with fire, and we will play with fire again for your entertainment.



Join us on December 11th for an interactive, multimedia presentation of A Month Of! Remember, admission is free if you bring a story related to the theme Light It Up! Will you delight or destroy? Incite or illuminate? Seduce or scare? We want you to tell us all about it.

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