Love in Cleveland

“I love Cleveland,” said Malia, looking up Ninth Street.

We were walking with the crowd streaming out of the mid-day Indians-Rockies game, on our way to the downtown Heinen’s supermarket for a quick step in and look up at the amazing rotunda.

And, just as Malia said that, I was thinking the same words: “I love Cleveland.” It’s gritty and vibrant, proud and personable, accessible and familiar.

The rushed Heinen’s stop was homage to Grocery, by Michael Ruhlman. His final chapters recount how the Heinen brothers refashioned that glorious old bank into a unique downtown grocery store. Read the book. Visit the store.

We’re here for just a few short days, fitting in that baseball game with Uncle Butch, and then a reunion with Erin’s family on the shores of Lake Erie, before we zip back to North Carolina to make final arrangements for short-term tenants to move into our house on the four acres. That house has been a lot of work, and it’s satisfying to stand in the yard as darkness falls and the owls start hooting.

The last few months have been a whirlwind.

The Zuiker Family reunion was in Tennessee, with sing-a-longs and game nights, tubing down the Pigeon River, hiking on the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountain’s National Park, a cousin’s wedding, alpine slides, a primer on solar eclipses, my dad’s (labor-intensive) meatball dinner, lots of photos and conversation. So much fun.

Then, Nick, my brother, gathered family and friends for his wedding on the beach in Cancun, with Carolyn. Erin and I had just 40 hours to enjoy the Grand Velas Playa del Carmen resort, enough time for the 12-course molecular-gastronomy tasting dinner at Cafe de Arturo. And enough time for piña coladas at the pool bar. We could have enjoyed a few more of those if we’d known that our plane would need its brakes repaired (and that the U.S. Immigration and Customs desk as Charlotte’s international airport wouldn’t open for another hour, which kept us waiting on the plane). Next time, we’ll stay in Mexico until America is open.

Then, more work on the house. And busy days at our day jobs. And kids to camps. But not much excercise because of a couple of toes broken during Sunday soccer a few weeks ago.

Sure, politics has been an undercurrent, at times a riptide trying its best to pull me under and out to sea. I want to ignore the chump who is acting as president, and his band of misfits, but I know I can’t fully disengage.

Today, in Cleveland, I woke up next to my lover in the house where 21 years ago we danced in celebration of our own wedding. And now I’m about to step out of Phoenix Coffee here in Ohio City and drive to meet up with Erin and the others in Sandusky, where they are riding roller coasters.



State of things

Anton and Erin Zuiker, in front of our new (old) house in Chapel Hill, NC

Seven years ago, soon after turning 40 and welcoming my son, Oliver, to the world, I took a new job at Duke, as communications director for the Department of Medicine. A few days before my official start, I jumped in to help the new chair, Dr. Mary Klotman, prepare her first State of the Department presentation. I’ve helped with each state presentation since, including her final talk today. It was a fitting end to her tenure, and an honor to listen as she sang the praises of the many faculty leaders who make our department so stellar. Now she is Dean Klotman, leading the Duke School of Medicine. I’m staying with the department, eager to continue building on our communications successes; we’ll be launching a new This Week in Medicine e-newsletter template, and sending out our first printed Alumni Report, in the coming weeks (we worked with Thinkso Creative, a NYC-based design agency).

Mid week, in the midst of preparing that presentation, a pause to join Erin to finalize the purchase of our new house. Actually, it’s an old house, built in 1961, with plaster walls and terrazzo floors and gypsum roof, on 4.1 acres of wooded land in Chapel Hill, NC. Oliver wants a zip line, Erin wants a garden, Anna wants a dog, Malia wants a basketball court, and I want a little writing shed among the trees.



Moving days

At work, the office of Dr. Mary Klotman, my boss and chair of the Department of Medicine for the past seven years, was emptied, cleaned, and repainted. Dr. Klotman has moved to the Dean’s Office to be dean of the Duke School of Medicine. I’m staying put, excited to continue our various communications, web, alumni, and other projects, and to work with our interim chair, Dr. Joseph Rogers.

Last week, we emptied the house at 235 Legends Way and moved a street over to a townhouse, a one-year spot while we purchase and renovate an old house on four acres of land in Chapel Hill. My brother, Joel, and my in-laws, Dan and Joanne, came down to help with the move. Joanne cleaned out the fridge and freezer one day, on the lookout for the Ziploc bag with the anisakis worm I saved one night soon after we’d moved into that house.

The worm was long gone, but Joanne reminded me that that incident had inspired her to call her favorite Cleveland-area grocery store, Heinen’s, and ask what they knew of anisakis in wild fish. The Rocky River Heinen’s customer service desk connected her to the manager, and then to the fish department, and then the chain’s head fish buyer called Joanne to explain how they candle their fish to check for quality and parasitic nematodes. Joanne and I are both reading Michael Ruhlman’s new book, Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America, which focuses on Heinen’s as a way to explore the way food gets to our fridges and freezers. It’s Michael, so it’s a great read. I’m hoping we can get him back to North Carolina later this summer for a reading and other events at Duke and in the Triangle.

In college, I shopped at the Heinen’s on Green Road; when Erin and I lived at Shaker Square, we shopped at the store at Chagrin Road. I wish we had a Heinen’s here in North Carolina. We get Great Lakes Brewing Company bottles (and maybe cans soon), so why not have the best grocery store you could ask for? I’m ready—in the process of consolidating my many boxes of many papers and photos, I came across my Heinen’s preferred customer card from the 1990s.



Dark steps

One night last week, I needed the exertion of a good run, but it was past sundown by the time I could get out. I consciously left my flashlight at home, though, and headed out into the dark streets around my neighborhood. After my turnaround, headed back down the road, I noticed a car had slowed to a stop at least 20 yards before the next stop sign. I stopped short. The car started moving again, and in its headlights I saw a writhing shape. Carefully, closer, and a snake was dying in my path. It was too dark to determine what kind of snake, so I moved around it and ran home in the middle of the road.

The next day, driving up the road, I slowed to look. The flattened copperhead was there, right where it would have bitten me if that car hadn’t intervened just in time.

The lesson: take your flashlight when running after dark, especially in the spring when you know the snakes are slithering about.



Henrietta, Rebecca, Deborah, and Oprah

This weekend, hundreds of thousands of people — including my father in Honolulu — marched for science or gathered for science festivals (on the Tar Heel Ten Miler race, we ran past the tents and tables being set up for the UNC Science Expo) across the nation. Erin and the girls and I gathered in our living room to celebrate science another way.

After today’s Sunday meal, and once Oliver was tucked into bed with a newly liberated tooth under his pillow, we watched the HBO adaptation of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. Rebecca’s book is a must read, and the movie — starring Oprah Winfrey as Henrietta’s daughter Deborah Lacks — was really good, raising quite a lot of discussion topics for us to tackle at future Sunday dinners.

At ScienceOnline’09, Erin and I heard Rebecca read a couple of spell-binding chapters of her book before it was published. Here’s what I noted in my annual thank-them post-conference blog post:

Rebecca Skloot couldn’t join us last year, but with her book finally drafted and off to her publisher, she was game to come to RTP this year to attend ScienceOnline’09 and keynote the Women in Science and Engineering networking event Friday night at Sigma Xi. Erica Tsai, Phoebe Lee, Ana Sanchez, Amrika Deonarine and Rachel Witek put together a fantastic event, and Skloot’s talk about the immortal contribution of Henrietta Lacks to science was riveting.

Last night, I joined some neighbors at a brewpub in Durham, and met an Irish microbiologist who studies antibiotics and Staph. aureus. I didn’t think to ask him, but I bet he’s used HeLa cells in his research. Next time, I hope we’ll raise a pint together. “To science, and Henrietta Lacks.”



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