I came home to find my husband engrossed in sorting a four-pound bag of miniature jelly beans by color into rows of lined-up Dixie cups. My husband is not a persnickety eater – had the jelly beans been for eating, he would have been tossing them down his gullet in diverse handfuls, not meticulously segregating them. Sixteen months ago, his behavior would have alarmed me. I would have looked worriedly into his eyes and asked him questions like “Who’s the president of the United States?” and “What day is it?” and “What’s our address?” to assure myself that he hadn’t lost his marbles. But over the last 16 months I’ve learned to consider behavior like this completely normal. There was the episode involving raw liver, raw potatoes, our blender, and lots of small plastic containers. There was the origami fest of paper helicopters with various wingspans dropped from a chair, a stepladder and our second floor loft. There were little bolts or washers or whatever those things are called strung on thin rope amid animated talk of pendulums.
So instead of panicking when I saw my highly educated 52-year-old husband carefully sorting a huge pile of tiny jelly beans into ranks of Dixie cups, I calmly joked that the lab must be about miscegenation or perhaps racial profiling. He grinned, then excitedly explained that it was about protective coloration and biological diversity. The plain jelly beans are standing in for food (sensibly enough) and the speckled jelly beans represent poison in a complicated three-round experiment with ever-scarcer and more camouflaged food supplies as the rounds progress. From what I could glean from the explanation, the planning and matériel for this experiment rival those of the Red Army for the Battle of Berlin. There were apparently a few ultra-tense moments at the plant nursery this morning as the commandant considered both red cedar bark and pine cat litter for the base, but, he informed me without a shred of irony, he resolved the controversy in favor of red cedar bark because it smelled better.
Sixteen months ago, my husband started teaching biology at a nearby state college. It’s been a little like living with Mr. Science ever since, but he couldn’t be happier and I have to say I’ve learned more than I ever did in high school (the last time I had anything to do with biology from an instructional standpoint). There seems to be a non-scientific lesson inherent in all this, too, which is that you can't make assumptions about people based on externals. It doesn’t stand to reason that a man with an undergraduate degree from Yale, an M.D. from the University of Chicago, and 25 years of practicing medicine under his belt could so exuberantly sort jelly beans. Similarly, it seems unlikely that someone so taken with the jelly bean enterprise could have such blue-chip credentials. But both are absolutely true.