Illustration by Angelika Manhart
The sincerest form of flattery

Sails and Sensibilities

By Kara Zang

After an almost summer-long discussion of when and where and what the joint lab outing should be, there finally came a consensus between the neighboring Klingensmith and Waverly laboratories to partake of a chartered deep-sea fishing voyage. Though of course a scientist spends most of his time working, it is of equal import for him to be able to see his colleagues in casual settings to form collegial relationships. Thus, when the time comes that he wishes to borrow something from his fellow scientist, be it time, knowledge, or a piece of equipment, a rapport will exist betwixt them that allows for such collaboration. In any event, deep-sea fishing seemed a great adventure.

“If I should catch just one fish, I shall be happy,” stated Mr. Wang, a post-doctoral fellow in the Waverly lab.

“I am just relieved that we needn’t go to the sea-shore in our bathing costumes as was once suggested,” replied Ms. O’Keefe. “I simply do not need to see Dr. Waverly (who was her employer) in a bathing costume.” All of the ladies agreed.

To Miss Riley, however, this deep-sea adventure was more than a mere lab outing, for Mr. Shepard, not yet a full member of the lab, was nonetheless accompanying them. “Oh, I do hope Mr. Shepard joins the lab!” exclaimed Miss Riley.

“Why, Miss Riley, I believe you are very fond of Mr. Shepard,” remarked Miss Fiennes, as she raised an eyebrow and cocked her head inquisitively.

“I am merely fond of his scientific experience and how it will benefit our work,” Miss Riley sniffed, and quickly turned her head, lest Miss Fiennes catch her blush.

The day of the fishing expedition arrived at last, and all in the party met it with the utmost excitement. Several lab members were traveling from their own residences and had arranged to meet at the dock. Those who were traveling from their workplace agreed to share carriages, which filled quickly. Dr. Waverly had driven and had two remaining seats, but Miss Riley and Miss Fiennes thought it indecorous for two young ladies such as themselves to accept a ride from a single gentleman, even one who was not their immediate supervisor, and so they instead hailed a cab. On their way, they received word from Mr. Shepard that he had, unsurprisingly, missed all of the other carriages and was hoping he could join the two ladies in their cab. Though acceptance of such a request was not quite on the right side of proper, Miss Riley and Miss Fiennes allowed it. Miss Fiennes cast Miss Riley a knowing countenance.

To Miss Riley’s great disappointment, Mr. Shepard, upon alighting in the cab, began to regale the two ladies with tales of the wonders of his current rotation in Dr. Weber’s lab. Miss Riley looked out the window. Miss Fiennes, however, was eager to speak with Mr. Shepard, as she had not heard from him in over a fortnight, and she indeed wished to learn about his current rotation, at the end of which he must decide whether he would rather stay with Dr. Weber or return to Dr. Klingensmith’s laboratory and thereby join Miss Fiennes and Miss Riley.

After telling Miss Fiennes about the science of the Weber lab, Mr. Shepard remarked, “Sailing is very much in fashion this season. The Weber lab hired a boat on which we could act as the crew. It was such a delight! If you ladies have any questions about boats, I would be happy to oblige.”

“Oh, that reminds me, Miss Fiennes,” said Miss Riley as their cab crawled along, “I have brought seasickness prophylactics if you wish to have one. I have used them in the past, and they work quite splendidly.”

“Oh, thank you, Miss Riley. I think I shall.”

“Pish posh! You simply need to think healthy thoughts—and drink plenty of alcohol, of course, and you’ll be right as rain!” said Mr. Shepard with a wink.

While the three young people were discussing these matters, it came to their attention that traffic was simply not moving. Afraid that they would be late to meet the rest of their party, Miss Fiennes and Miss Riley agreed to take a short cut proposed by Mr. Shepard.

Short cuts, as they say, make for long delays, and this one was no exception. Mr. Shepard was far less familiar with the route than he had led the ladies to believe. As he navigated on his phone, dictating directions to the cab driver, he became completely overwrought, and they missed their exit. Just as they were trying to turn around, they received word from their employer, Dr. Klingensmith, that all of the other members of their party had arrived at the dock. With a flurry of texts and a hurried phone call, Mr. Shepard ascertained that this was not a private boat, as they had believed, but a semi-private boat, and the other parties, including a rather rowdy bachelor party, were ready to go. In fact, the only passengers not there were Mr. Shepard, Miss Fiennes, and Miss Riley.

“The captain is leaving in three minutes with or without you,” said Dr. Klingensmith over the telephone. “There is a bachelor party on board that is VERY eager to cast off.”

“I assure you, we are exiting the highway presently,” replied Mr. Shepard. “We are driving up. We can see the dock!”

“The captain says he cannot wait any longer.”

“We are paying!” Mr. Shepard signaled to the ladies to ready themselves to quit the cab the very moment it showed any sign of stopping.

“Go, go, go!” yelled Mr. Shepard. Miss Fiennes, Mr. Shepard, and Miss Riley ran down the dock, skirts flying, their party cheering, and the captain and bachelor party looking on with disdain. The captain, not happy at having been asked to delay, weighed anchor as soon as they were aboard.

The voyage thus begun, every member of their party remarked on the refreshing effect of the salt breeze after being in the city. They watched the dock grow smaller as they sailed away and began to fantasize about the size of the fish that they would catch that afternoon.

While they sailed to the first fishing hole, they laid out their picnic lunch. Dr. Klingensmith had brought sandwiches to share, Mr. Wang had brought shrimp, and Ms. O’Keefe had brought drinks. Altogether, the party had a delightful spread. Miss Schmidt, a co-worker of Mr. Wang’s, was carrying about the shrimp cocktail to ensure all members of the party were able to sample some, as she thought it was simply divine. Cheerful conversation and laughter filled the air as the captain took the boat out to sea. How wonderful to be in the sun—and not in the laboratory—on such a beautiful summer day!

The ship arrived at its first destination. Nothing appeared particularly remarkable about this patch of sea, but the captain determined that it would be a good place for those aboard to get their first taste of deep-sea fishing. The ship began to rock, in what was at first a soothing manner; however, it soon became all but a rolling pitch befitting a tempest.

Before long, most of the beautiful shrimp that they had so enjoyed was no longer in their bellies; instead it was decorating the side of the boat a brilliant pink. Miss Schmidt, who had enjoyed the shrimp the most, lay down to lament the loss of her lunch. Mr. Wang and his wife and child shut themselves in the cabin for a four-hour out-of-body experience. Ms. O’Keefe and Miss Fiennes, after losing their lunches, sat and fanned themselves, feeling as though this truly was the end. Miss Riley went to the upper deck and read her book, the seasickness prophylactic having worked wonders on her constitution. Mr. Shepard and Dr. Klingensmith, neither of whom were affected by the violent motion of the boat, despite having forgone the prophylactics, continued fishing, with Dr. Klingensmith teaching his two young sons how to bait the hook and feel the tug of the line when a fish took the bait. With a beer in hand, Mr. Shepard caught the biggest fish of the day. For him, the four hours of what most in their party considered a hellish experience passed quite amiably.

“You see?” he crowed to anyone who would listen. “One needs only a cold beer and salubrious thoughts to stay upright. Many of you simply allowed yourselves to accept the inevitability of emesis.”

When the seemingly never-ending fishing expedition finally concluded, Mr. Shepard left with his filleted fish in hand and a smile upon his face. Dr. Klingensmith, likewise, returned to land a hero, as his sons had witnessed him catch a Flying Chinese Dragon fish, which cannot be eaten, but was by far the most visually impressive specimen the boys had ever seen. The rest of the party, still green and barely able to move, vowed that they would never again so much as look upon a boat; the spouses of the laboratory members even declared certain divorce if such an outing was ever again proposed.

Though the outing itself was deemed an utter failure, as the purpose had been to spend quality time with their colleagues, all in the party agreed afterwards that it at least made for a good story, and that it had brought them closer in a way that no shared positive experience could have done. There is a certain amount of intimacy that arises out of witnessing one’s colleagues spill the contents of their bellies all over the side of a boat. In fact, at the end of the summer, Mr. Shepard joined the Klingensmith laboratory, as he felt more at home, personally and scientifically, with the members of the Klingensmith laboratory. As for the collaborative relationship between the Klingensmith and Waverly laboratories, the members of the two labs were able to commiserate over the fishing expedition, and therefore trust each other and work together, for many years to come.


Kara Zang has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from New York University and recently completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Columbia University.