My living situation is that I rent a room in my friend Chris's house. Since Chris works in California, this essentially means I have a decent-sized house to myself. So when my former housemate Matthew, a brain scientist specializing in autism and a professor at Cornell, was offered a one-year visiting appointment at MIT, I checked with Chris and then told Matthew he was welcome to stay here for the duration. So for a couple of months now Matthew and I have been housemates again. Which is all good. But it has its moments.
If you've had takeout more than a dozen times in your life, you're probably familiar with the reusable, leak-proof container at right. At least around here it's almost entirely replaced the disposable styrafoam ones. The other day when I was getting my bike out of the garage, I noticed a rather large — 6 liter, roughly — such container sitting on the floor next to Matthew's bike. There was a straight shadow about two-thirds of the way up, so it was clearly mostly full of some kind of liquid, and darker shadows below the line. The only thing I could think of (oh my poor limited imagination) was that Matthew had gotten a large tub of takeout soup from somewhere, and forgotten to take it inside. Even in the hottest weather, the garage stays fairly cool, so I decided there wasn't much risk of pressure building up and blowing the lid off the container, spewing rotting soup all over the place — and that it was therefore not my problem. I went on with the bike-mechanic stuff I'd come down to do, and about an hour later Matthew came down.
"Hey, Matthew. Did you leave a biology experiment in the garage?"
"There's what looks like an oversized takeout container on the floor of the garage; looks like it's about half full of soup."
"Oh. No, it's not a biology experiment."
"Do I want to know?"
"Oh, it's a brain." He proceeded to explain that he'd een asked to write an article for the Cambridge Encyclopedia of something-or-other on brain physiology, and that all the illustrations he'd been able to find were copyrighted. So he's going to take his own pictures and label them. I, meanwhile, am standing there trying to decide how I feel about body parts in plastic tubs in the garage. I decided I was, on balance, more amused than squicked.
"How, exactly, is this not a biology experiment?"
Matthew, who can be quite literal minded, explained that he wasn't performing experiments on the brain. I decided to skip explaining that I was using the phrase colloquially, and that having a brain in a takeout-tub in your garage would qualify as a biology experiment in most people's understanding of the phrase.
But the next time I hear someone say "where did I put my brain?" I'll be able to offer a suggestion....