When I returned to work last week, I found the lab full of summer students, one of which had my old bench. So I appropriated a bench in a different room, a room that's also occupied by two research fellows with the awesome names of Enhu and Qiang, and a professor from another university who's here on sabbatical. The professor is at the desk next to mine, and his mere presence makes me feel slightly more important in my job. :) Normally he works with mice, but his experiments weren't behaving, so he's come to our lab to try the same thing in sea urchins, which are simpler and better understood than mammals.
I learned this from someone else; the professor himself says very little, at least on first acquaintance, so by the end of my second day back we'd still hardly exchanged two words. I was surveying my new territory. Terribly dusty. It's strange to me that some folks will carefully wipe down their benches with RNAse AWAY and fire up the Bunsen burner and employ sterile technique, but they'll leave all the shelves in the proximity so dirty that they're just asking for dust particles contaminated with who-knows-what to fall into their tubes. Like putting a deadbolt on your door and then sleeping with the downstairs windows open.
Anyway, I also enjoy neatness for its own sake and not just the experiements'. So I collected ethanol and paper towels and climbed up on my bench to wipe down the high shelves above it. I had to clean off every bottle and box and piece of equipment resting on the shelves too. Dirtied a lot of towels; it was satisfying. As I worked I happily listened to my iPod (a Fundamental Morals lecture given by Fr. Brian Mullady to seminary students-- found it in my roommate's collection). But then I knocked something down and it crashed on the benchtop. For the first time my labmates glanced up and noticed what I was doing. "You need help?" asked Qiang, concerned. "I'm fine, thanks though!" I brightly answered from my high perch. Then I saw the professor staring at me.
"Don't get dead," he said.
Thank you for your concern. :)