An arranged marriage

Story had been working as a technician for Dick McIntosh at the Harvard Biology Labs in Cambridge, in anticipation of graduate school.  Dick, a brilliant scientist and wonderful person, had come to like Story, but he disapproved of her boyfriend.  Early in the summer of 1969, after my second year of medical school, I received an invitation from Dick to work in his laboratory during the summer.  Dick had been my advisor for an honors thesis in college, and I assumed that his invitation proceeded from his confidence in my promise as an investigator.

I shared an office with Story, who had an intimidating reputation as able to serial thin section, and as a great microscopist.  She was also entrancingly beautiful.  I had been dating another medical student, who early during the summer had nicely packed sandwiches for my lunch.  About mid-summer, Story noticed that the tidy lunches had been replaced by soggy tuna sandwiches, and surmised that my personal relationships had changed.  I had not learned to drain the oil before making the tuna sandwich.

Over the course of the summer, we were smitten with one another.  In the fall, I moved my only possession, a KLH 20, into her apartment on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge.  That was real commitment; we were married the next August.

We had been married for five years when Dick McIntosh and Mimi invited us for dinner.  They congratulated themselves on their plot and its success.  My invitation to the lab had been designed to displace the undesirable boyfriend, and biology had run its course in the intended fashion.  Dick and Mimi must have had a great time watching as Story and I grew together.


The first time I saw Story

During the summer before medical school, I was working with the Zeiss EM 9A electron microscope at the Biological Labs in Cambridge.  I had finished an honors project doing electron microscopy, and was allowed to continue working on the device.  The bargain, however, stipulated that I keep the instrument aligned and functioning optimally.  That was well nigh impossible.  It had a poorly designed double cup condenser system that was always drifting out of mechanical alignment.  Each day I toiled for 1-2 hours just to get the image on the screen.

While I was working in the darkened EM room, Dick McIntosh, my research project advisor, came into the room with a little blonde slip of a girl.  He explained that she was coming to work as a technician, and that one of her chores would be to take over care of the Zeiss.  She was lovely, and I stammered out something about being willing to help her to learn about the device.StorySundress

They left, and continued their tour.  I sat in the warm glow of the experience, but later chuckled to myself. I could not imagine that cute little blonde managing to deal with my microscope.

That turned out to be true.  Story found the Zeiss to be unusable.  So, she switched to the superb Siemens EM, and generated beautiful images.  I had not been trusted with that machine.StorySiemens StorySundress

Work with Tom Reese

In 1972, I completed my internship, and headed to the NIH to serve as a fellow in the Public Health Service, doing research with Dr. Ned Feder.  However, I had developed an interested in Neuroscience, and Ned elected to send me instead to the laboratory of Milton Brightman and Tom Reese.  I had never heard of them, and certainly they were not expecting me.  Still, they found a desk for me.  It had a microtome on it, but no one really liked that microtome, so I was undisturbed.  I set about finishing some projects from medical school and internship.

I didn’t break anything.  One day, Tom sidled up to me and in his own diffident way asked if I would like to look at the cerebellum in a new way.  That was the beginning of our collaboration on synaptic structure in the mammalian central nervous system, using a variety of freeze fracture techniques.  Later, I joined John Heuser and Tom in their work on transmitter release at the frog neuromuscular junction.  Things went well; we generated the data for 7 publications.  Toward the end of the two years, Tom invited me to stay at the NIH.  I was sorely tempted.  However, the ‘dark side’ was strong in me, and I elected to return to my clinical education.

To my surprise, there was not much that I had to do during the second year of residency training in Neurology at the Massachusetts General Hospital, so I traveled to nearby Woods Hole, and joined Tom in his laboratory there during the summer of 1976.  We continued our research, and I helped in teaching the Neurobiology Course at MBL.  That was the beginning of an extraordinary mentorship and collaboration.  We worked together at Woods Hole in the summer over the next 13 years.  Techniques and questions changed.  Tom never pushed, nor pulled, but always gave me the sense that we were working together.

Even good things have a time course, and after 1988, it was not feasible for me to continue to travel to Woods Hole in the summer.  Over the interval 1972-1989, we wrote 20 papers together.

Tom has wonderful biological intuition.  He has been central to our understanding of three major biological issues:  the structural basis of the blood brain barrier, the release of transmitter at synaptic junctions, and the mechanisms of axon transport.  He is still working on a fourth, the organization of proteins in and around the postsynaptic membrane.

The gathering of students and collaborators in Woods Hole in July, 2015, in celebration of Tom’s work, bears testimony to his character and inspiration.  I will always thank him for the infectious and persuasive enthusiasm with which he viewed the importance of our science together.


Freezing in Casco Bay

_20150217_Winter_022All the long-time Maine residents are convinced that we have had a lot of snow this 2014-15 winter  It has also been really cold.  Yesterday, February 16, we looked out to discover that Bustins Island was completely surrounded by ice.  This morning, after yet another night of single digit temperatures, this whole end of Casco Bay is frozen over.

Seasmoke over the Harraseeket

Maine continues to show new facets of natural beauty.  Seasmoke occurs when the air is very cold, colder than the underlying water.  It was about zero Fahrenheit when I took this picture through the window of our bedroom

Seasmoke over the Harraseeket river

Seasmoke over the Harraseeket river

The Gang of Eight, and more

We might never have been part of the Gang if Woody had not been able to overcome his prejudice.  Story and Dennis lived next door to Woody and Judy in Wellesley, Massachusetts, beginning around 1980.  On the comparatively infrequent appropriate days, I washed my car in the driveway.  Unfortunately, I whistled while I worked, and I chose to whistle fragments of Beethoven symphonies. Woody found this so disquieting that he kept his distance.  We knew that Judy’s work as a flight attendant kept her frequently away from home, and so we offered Woody and his children the opportunity to join us for meals.  Woody remained aloof.

When Woody’s surprise 40th birthday came around, Judy assigned me the job of cooking the pig.  This was a substantial increase from my experience with hot dogs, and I was nervous.  An A-frame spit over a tray of coals had been rented, and the pig was properly spitted.  It did not seem to me that the coals would be sufficient, so I draped heavy duty aluminum foil over the A-frame, and reflected all the heat onto the roasting pig.  It worked incredibly well, and the pig was done well before Woody was brought home from the Red Sox game.  I had sufficient leisure that I could sample the various beers that were assembled.

Story was late to the party, and had trouble finding anyone who could speak in complete sentences.  She learned to introduce herself as “the pig cooker’s wife” and all went well.

We become good friends with Woody and Judy, and eventually were invited to join them and the Dannes family at a communal condominium rental in Bethany Beach, MD.  This became a treasured annual event, and we continued our July vacation together for many years.  Our children grew up in the gentle tides and dunes of Bethany, and the adults solved many philosophical conundrums.

On several occasions, driving home from the beach, we visited with George and Linda in New Hope, Pennsylvania.  Woody, Judy, George, Linda, Al and Judy had all known one another at RPI or in associated parties.  I have hoped for years that I would be taught the fraternity handshake, but this remains elusive.   Linda and George completed the Gang of eight, and a new tradition of New Year’s with George and Linda was happily established and maintained.

The Gang of Eight will assemble at the (new) home of George and Linda in New Hope for our New Year’s celebration.  All the various offspring will be elsewhere.  We hope to be able to stay awake until midnight.  We share our resolutions, and have found that the resolutions are repetitive.

Hello world!

My son, Michael, has helped me through the process of setting up this site.  I hope that part of his motivation is that interesting conversations may emerge.

Correspondence has changed in its media.  In my basement are letters to family and friends from college days, barely legible, but well-intentioned.  I have spent many hours reading and composing email.  Those communications are not in my basement; I did not realize how evanescent they might be.  I have learned to use web sites to share images with friends and family, but it is difficult to respond in kind.  Perhaps this site will allow friends and family to share thoughts and ideas, while preserving the thread of the correspondence.


When did people get lost in American politics?  Now, wealthy individuals and corporations control most of the legislative process, and most of the processes leading to elections.