Life on a Roll

Inside Iran: Holy City of Yazd

Nan Pang

After spending a night in the Varzaneh Desert in Iran with Hamidreza and his father, I was ready to head east. Because Varzaneh is a small desert town and does not have a bus stop, I decided to hitchhike from the nearest highway. It must have been a peculiar sight for the Iranians as they saw me with my 40L backpack standing at the highway to stop a car, as there is no hitchhiking culture in Iran. Luckily, a father and son picked me up and dropped me off at the nearest city called Na’in. There, two nice police officers at the highway checkpoint tried to stop a bus for me so that I could hop on to Yazd. They were curious about my background and the sneakers I was wearing. We chatted about sneaker brands and their police car while waiting for the buscars and sneakers are surely the lingua franca across the globe.  

I arrived at Yazd in the afternoon. This place probably has the essences of the middle eastern cities you imagineit has well-preserved mud bricks, a bright blue mosque, and iconic wind-catchers. I barely saw anyone on the street on my way to the Amir Chakhmaq Complex, most likely due to the extreme heat and the fact that the tea houses seemed to be closed due to Ramadan as well. Though Yazd is not considered  to be a religious city like Mashhad or Qom, it is definitely conservative and traditional. I noticed more women wearing traditional chadors as I walked down the street, adding a unique atmosphere to the city. After all, the word Yazd does mean “holy.” At twilight, the city came back to life once again. Rooftop cafes were popular spots among locals and tourists. People gathered around to share stories while sipping on drinks. Sekanjabin is a good summer drink to try if you don’t know what to get. It is one of the oldest Iranian drinks, made of honey, vinegar, and cucumber.

Jāmeh Mosque of Yazd

Wind-catchers of Yazd

Yazd art house rooftop cafe

Amir Chakhmaq complex

Yazd art house

Musings on a Ph.D.

Sarah Baker

A few weeks ago, I earned the opportunity to defend my thesis, the terminal task in receiving my Ph.D. While everyone’s path is different, the journey for me has been a rollercoaster of both academic and emotional development, and I’d like to reflect on what the process has taught me.

Photos courtesy of Melissa Jarmel

Photo courtesy of Jim Keller

It’s okay to feel lost at times.

I started my graduate school journey knowing that I wanted to study neuroscience, but I had very little experience in the field. Most of my research as an undergraduate was done in a physical inorganic chemistry lab, so I lacked the basic textbook knowledge of the neuroscience field. Getting up-to-speed was daunting, and it felt like many of my colleagues came into graduate school with a much better understanding of these fundamental concepts than I had. I spent my evenings those first couple of months reading textbooks and watching videos online. I wish I had known that what I would learn in the lab in the process of doing research was going to be more valuable than any chapter of a textbook that I had read. 

Graduate school can feel lonely, but you are not alone.

Moving to a new city and starting at a new institution where you don’t know anyone can feel overwhelming. You lose the camaraderie that naturally develops in high school and college when your whole class is studying for the same test and seeing each other regularly. The pressures of graduate school can add another dimension to feelings of isolation. While you interact with lab members and collaborators, the process of working on a Ph.D. is largely supposed to be your ownyour own project, your own body of work. Everyone feels imposter syndrome at one time or another (or maybe even constantly). Once I realized that everyone else was also going through their own unique challenges, or maybe even many of the same ones I was, I stopped thinking of graduate school as a solitary pursuit. I began to reach out to others. Daily coffee breaks with friends and colleagues to talk about our highs and lows became crucial to building a sense of community. 

Self-care is important.

Graduate school is full of pressure, either self-imposed or loaded on by mentors, competitors, and colleagues. For some, this may develop into feelings of having to constantly be in the lab to be productive. But as I have seen both with myself and classmates, this oftentimes leads to burnout. The rest of life does not stop just because you are now a graduate student. Make time to cook yourself a good meal and spend time with your friends and significant other. And don’t be afraid to make time for yourself. For me, I was most productive in the lab around the time that I became involved in more groups on campus and began training for a triathlon. My busier schedule meant that everything I did each day in the lab was more structured, as I needed to make the time for the things I enjoyed outside of the lab. Growth in graduate school is not limited to cognitive and academic growth, but can expand to other aspects of your life, as well. During the course of my Ph.D., some of my new experiences included travelling to three new countries, learning how to play volleyball better than I ever had in high school, teaching myself how to knit, and rekindling my love of reading and writing. I would encourage any other student to expand on an old hobby or something they have always wanted to do simultaneously with progressing on their thesis project.

Thank your people.

Getting good grades in high school and college largely comes from your own study habits and hard work. In graduate school, success not only comes from effort, but also from the insights and advice of colleagues and the support system that gets you through those hard days. Thank the people who help you along the way. And ask for help when you need it. Although no one in my family is in science, they have remained steadfast in their support of all my pursuits. My friends, both at Rockefeller and outside of the university, are the people who lift me up just by being there. Small gestures can show your support system that you are grateful.

You will find a new way to see the world.

It is impossible to complete a Ph.D. without learning something along the way. I have a new appreciation for the complexity of the dysregulation of immune processes that happen in Alzheimer’s disease, the topic of my thesis project. I learned new methodologies and improved my ability to critically evaluate both my own experiments and those published in the scientific literature. But more than that, I have a newfound admiration for the process of sciencethis deeper understanding could only happen by being a part of the process myself. 

I came into my Ph.D. having no career plan in mind, but came out the other end realizing the strengths I could pull together to have a successful career in medical communications. I recognized that my favorite parts of the Ph.D. were the times when I was writing and critically evaluating datadeveloping my thesis research proposal, working on grants, and authoring papers. I feel lucky that these experiences prepared me for an internship and new career at a medical education company. 

Beyond my professional growth, the process of graduate school has made me more confident in speaking up, fighting for what I care about, and being resilient when things do not go as planned. Despite beginning my Ph.D. with so much uncertainty and doubt, I have only become increasingly happy that I followed through with this pursuit. To any new graduate students out there, hang in there. The path is certainly a winding one with many peaks and valleys along the way. But try to savor the journey and keep moving forward. The trek will set you up to better face challenges for the rest of your life.

Pets of Tri-I: Working from Home with Pets

Gretchen M. Michelfeld

With some adorable exceptions, most of us do not bring our pets to work. We were used to coming home at the end of a long day to a cat clamoring to be fed or a dog dancing ecstatically at our return. The sudden change in work culture throughout the Tri-Institutional community has served to expand the work environment through videoconferencing (I just discovered that one of my bosses loves Monet and another likes antique cameras). At the same time, it’s hard to be trapped inside all day. We go a little stir crazy. And now we spend the whole day with our crazy pets, as well! 

I interviewed members of the community to see just how working at home with pets is impacting their daily working lives:

“Yogi has definitely made it easier for me,” said Joyce Ng of the Office of Sponsored Programs Administration. “He is my emotional support pup in these uncertain times.” Yogi is Ng’s twelve year old Pomeranian, who is very happy to have her home with him all day. However, “He has definitely become more attached and needy.” 

Joyce Ng and Yogi

According to Adam Collier of the Leibowitz Lab, Yogi would appear to be the opposite of his cat Zelda. 

Adam Collier and Zelda

“Zelda is an independent lady, so I always appreciate it when she lets me pet her,” Collier explained. “I think she is difficult to impress, but my talk of zebrafish piques her interest. At first, she seemed pretty confused with me being home all day and wondered why I’m in her house so much, but I think she has slowly gotten used to the idea of sharing her space with me.”

My own cat, Cleo, starts driving me crazy in the late afternoon. 

Something about the way the late-day sun creates shadows right above my desk makes her bounce off the walls, and she insists on having her supper much earlier than she would normally get it when I’m out of the apartment all day. Collier says Zelda has never really been motivated by food or treats—just catnip. Cleo definitely does not need catnip! But in these difficult times, there is nothing like a purring little furball in my lap to calm my frayed nerves. Cleo is usually excellent company. 

Anna Amelianchik of the Strickland Lab feels the same way about her cat, Mila. 


“Mila has been in our family for nearly eleven years,” Amelianchik explained to me over email. “Last year, I brought her with me from Russia, and despite the many challenges of caring for a pet, she has been a source of great comfort because she is the only family I have around. She is not exactly needy or cuddly like other cats, but when I am visibly upset or very ill, she sits next to me looking all concerned. And in trying times like these, what else do you need other than knowing that someone cares for your well-being?” 

Unlike Cleo, Mila makes Amelianchik’s apartment a peaceful place to work. 

“Mila makes it much easier to be isolated alone in a tiny studio apartment. She doesn’t tend to disturb me much when I work, but a few times a day she wakes up from a nap and comes to me asking for pets. It always makes me smile, but also gives me a chance to unpeel my eyes from the screen and let them rest before returning to work.”

Beckett and Cleo

Isolating alone can be very lonely, but quarantining with other people presents a whole other set of challenges. The first few days that I was trying to both work from home and help my eleven year old son, Beckett with online schooling, we both got very frustrated. But by the end of the first week, Cleo helped him calm down and focus. Now it’s comforting to see him casually snuggling with her while he logs onto Google Classroom or reads a novel for his English Language Arts class. It’s good for both of our stress levels, and I get a lot more work done.

The Rout Lab’s Natalia Ketaren finds her cat, Little Kitty, to be a stress reliever as well, but her home sometimes has the same challenges that ours does!

Little Kitty

“Little Kitty is definitely a stress reliever,” said Ketaren. “Pets are a calming presence and ours makes us laugh. She breaks up the work day. However, at times she goes completely wild and does circuits around the apartment. You have to put away your cups of tea or coffee to protect the electronics!”

What does Little Kitty think of Ketaren’s work?

“She sees my notebooks and papers as a bed. My laptop is both a bed and a chin scratcher. My pens are her toys. She often likes to be the center of attention. However, she will self-isolate somewhere where we can’t reach her to get some uninterrupted nap time.”

I think all of us working from home are pretty jealous of Little Kitty’s opportunities for uninterrupted nap time! We’ll just have to keep plugging away and make the best of a very strange situation. The thing is, our animals know nothing of this scary pandemic. They remind us of life’s simpler concerns and rewards.

Why COVID-19 Is Causing You to Eat Your Feelings

Anna Amelianchik

In the past few weeks, as the world has been struggling to curtail the coronavirus pandemic, social distancing requirements and the fear and anxiety brought on by the disease has changed our relationship with food. Shortly after Governor Cuomo issued a stay-at-home order for New York State, New Yorkers crowded grocery stores to stock up on pantry items like beans and pasta, swapped takeout for home-cooked meals, and went on baking frenzies worthy of their own Netflix show. In addition, stress and anxiety induced changes in our eating habits, leading some people to overeat and others to decrease their food intake. If you have recently found yourself snacking more than usual and gorging on calorie-dense foods, you are not alone.

Francois, the sourdough starter. (Photo courtesy of Polina Freitas Instagram: @ilisiel)

High-intensity, acute emotional states that promote the fight-or-flight response (e.g. extreme fear) suppress appetite and food intake. This neat evolutional perk ensured the survival of our species. However, in the case of moderate stress, about 40% of people actually respond by increasing their food intake. This behavior, often referred to as “emotional eating,” also causes some of us to reach for energy-dense and highly palatable foods, such as chocolate, sweet and savory pastries, pizza, burgers, French fries, and sausages. Emotional eating is understood to be a coping strategy that provides short-term relief from stress and negative emotions. However, a temporary improvement in mood can be followed by other negative emotions, such as feelings of guilt. In addition, emotional eating can lead to weight gain. If you identify as an emotional eater, there might be several reasons why you respond to stress by increasing the consumption of sugary and fatty foods: 

Serial dieting. Our bodies are unable to distinguish between self-imposed food restriction and real food shortages. Therefore, the body responds to dieting the same way it would respond to starvation: by slowing down the metabolic rate and increasing hunger and appetite. This often causes dieters to abandon their restrictions, particularly under stress. Therefore, dieting is considered to be a risk factor for the development of emotional eating. 

Poor interoceptive awareness. Some people are prone to confusing stress-related physiological responses with hunger—a phenomenon known as poor interoceptive awareness. This can be the result of inadequate emotion regulation strategies (e.g. suppression of emotions or avoidance of stress by distraction) and can lead to emotional eating. Interestingly, poor interoceptive awareness can develop as a result of damaging parental practices, such as neglectful, overly protective, manipulative, or hostile behaviors. 

Inadequate sleep. While not everyone changes their eating behaviors in stressful situations, almost everyone will attest to the fact that stress can interfere with sleep. In turn, poor sleep can lead to emotional eating by interfering with neurobiological, behavioral, and cognitive processes that regulate emotional responses. Moreover, emotional eating can lead to increased weight gain in short sleepers, i.e. people who habitually sleep less six hours a night, compared to long sleepers.

History of trauma. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as childhood and adult trauma exposure are associated with emotional eating. One possible mechanism underlying emotional eating in individuals with a history of trauma is the hypo-activation of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. Under stressful conditions, the HPA axis coordinates a neuroendocrine response that is thought to promote survival. However, a history of trauma might decrease HPA axis responses to stress and as a result, erase the typical post-stress reduction in hunger. 

Genetic susceptibility. The prevalence of emotional eating among children is very low, as emotional eating most commonly emerges in the transition between adolescence and adulthood. Additionally, both genetic and environmental factors play an important role in the development of emotional eating. For example, one study reported that a mutation in the dopamine D2 receptor (DRD2) gene predicted emotional eating in adolescents, but only if they also experienced inadequate parenting, such as high psychological control (e.g. “My father (mother) makes me feel guilty when I fail at school.”). In addition, a mutation in the serotonin transporter (5-HTT) gene can lead to emotional eating in adolescents, but only if the mutation co-occurs with depressive feelings. Both studies highlight the importance of genetics in the regulation of eating behaviors under stress, but indicate that it’s both nature and nurture that lead some people to turn to food in an attempt to self-medicate. 

Depression. Depression is typically characterized by a loss of appetite and weight loss. However, a significant 15-29% of depressed patients suffer from so-called “atypical depression,” which causes increased appetite and subsequent weight gain. These symptoms of atypical depression have a stronger association with emotional eating than other individual depression symptoms, linking depression to obesity. 

If you are worried about the long-term consequences of emotional eating, consider talking to a healthcare professional who can recommend strategies to minimize it. Studies show that such strategies might involve any of the following:

  • Incorporating moderate intensity unstructured exercise (e.g. long walks) and/or high-intensity structured exercise (e.g. running or interval training)
  • Meditating
  • Finding social support
  • Implementing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Establishing healthy, balanced dietary choices early on in the day
  • Using mindful eating habits (e.g. paying attention to hunger and satiety cues while eating)
  • Avoiding trigger foods (e.g. not buying foods you are likely to consume in response to stress)

Culture Corner

A War of the Worlds for the Age of Pandemic

Bernie Langs

Spoilers below!

There have been two excellent film adaptations of the ahead of its time 1898 science fiction novel by H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds. Gene Barry starred in the 1953 movie that would find repeated airtime in the late 1960s on local New York television, where I first viewed it as a boy. The most memorable moment (and sole remembrance for me) is towards the end of the story, when the terrified humans not yet slaughtered by the invading armies of aliens, take refuge in a bombed church. In 2005, Steven Spielberg directed a fantastic take on the notion of a merciless killing machine of invaders, with Tom Cruise as the hero (Ray Ferrier) who is forced to take fast and imaginative action to survive. The movie focuses on Ferrier’s desperate attempt to stay ahead of the alien starships as they pillage and destroy not only human life but turn the very earth itself into a blood-soaked wasteland. Spielberg effectively transforms Cruise’s character of a divorced and out-of-touch father of a young girl (the superlative Dakota Fanning) and teenage son (well-played by Justin Chatwin) into a selfless defender willing to take all measures to protect his family. In the last scene, as the aliens are dying off and crashing their vessels into sections of Boston, a tongue-in-cheek surprise occurs when Ferrier reaches his ex-wife’s home to safely deliver his daughter. He is greeted not only by his ex-wife and their son (who had been thought dead due to an earlier attack), but also by his former father-in-law, portrayed by none other than the star of the 1953 War of the Worlds, Gene Barry. 

Illustration by Henrique Alvim Corréa for The War of the Worlds (1906)

In both movies, the aliens easily repel the greatest efforts of mankind’s weaponry, only to die off naturally soon after their invasion.They succumb to the worlds’ ecosystem and atmosphere and are unable to defend themselves from microbes and bacterial disease. Although they are technologically superior and advanced, these monsters still die from invisible and natural attackers. The dread and fear that Spielberg evokes not only comes from the monstrous appearance of those steering the alien forces, but from the sounds their ships make announcing their approach. In one touching sequence, Cruise and his children march silently through a town with hundreds of other weary, fatigued, and fleeing refugees. The village’s walls are plastered with missing person posters, very much like those that covered Manhattan in the days after the September 11th attack. As the 1953 version of War of the Worlds might be considered a study in Cold War angst, the Spielberg film is a bleak portrayal made for the post-9/11 era. Harking back to the radio play voiced by Orson Welles in 1938, one can sense that it too was a mirror and reflection of the times. It would be but a matter of months before much of Europe would lie in ruin from the German onslaught of World War II.

Science fiction movies of aliens wreaking havoc on the earth come in several brands, the most popular being those depicting them as harsh killers desiring earth’s minerals and vegetation, as well as human flesh for sustenance. A few recent movies turned the genre on its head, including the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, where destruction is targeted only at the human species by a superior race of invaders who intend to save all other natural life forms from pollution and destructive wars. The 2016 movie Arrival is quite sophisticated and smart, as the army and intelligence units enlist a brilliant linguistic professor (Amy Adams) and physicist (Jeremey Renner) to break through in communicating with enormous octopus-like aliens manning ships hovering over major cities with unknown intentions. Arrival dives deep into science and philosophy and boasts a breathlessly tense and intellectually satisfying resolution. 

A new eight part Epix series based on H.G. Wells’ story debuted in the U.S. in early 2020. This version of War of the Worlds draws from the best approaches of past renditions and other alien invasion stories and makes a timely contribution to the surreal and challenging times we currently inhabit. Aired just prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, its lessons would have been equally as powerful had it been released two years after the end of this crisis.

Unlike the unfolding days and weeks of murders of past War of the World films, most of the mass killing by the invaders occurs immediately in this series. The handful of survivors living in England and France are initially saved only by finding accidental shelter from the destructive sound waves that killed millions of their fellow humans in a flash. The aliens are on a mission to not only hunt down and kill these survivors one-by-one, but also harvest their organs. In early episodes, we are teased with fleeting views of the aliens, making us think they will be as terrifying as those that Spielberg set loose over fifteen years ago. But the galloping dog-like creatures turn out only to be crude, metallic, robot-like machines (plenty scary though when they kill people). When one of them is finally destroyed and split open, it appears to utilize inexpertly cobbled together human tissues for its rudimentary thinking and actions. It becomes apparent to the survivors that these are only worker drones or soldiers of an unseen master (or masters) who have yet to reveal themselves from the mother ships.

Family and survival are a key to this series, but in a 21st century way that Steven Spielberg could never have anticipated in 2005. One English family, the Greshams, consists of a matriarch, Sarah (Natasha Little) and her two teenage children, the quietly pensive, but thoughtful Tom (Ty Tennant) and blind daughter, Emily (Daisy Edgar-Jones). The viewer is teased into believing that Sarah will act in the Cruise-like role of steadfast family protector, but immediately her children question her protectiveness as selfish when they are confronted by people in need whom their mother wants to bypass and leave to fend for themselves. This dynamic becomes more and more complex as the series evolves. On the French side, the Dumont family unfolds as a portrait of modern dysfunction to a tragic degree. Even in a time of emergency, the force and power of their past failures and pains cannot be escaped and become a danger to themselves and to the one man, Jonathan, trying to save them. He also happens to be the head of the Gresham clan and his goal is to return by foot via a long trek to London through The Channel Tunnel, where he hopes to reunite with his wife and children, should they still be alive (the viewer knows they are, but he doesn’t).

The most interesting aspects of this War of the Worlds are its portrayal of the two scientists, Catherine Durand (Léa Drucker), an astronomer in the Alps who first hears the signal of the invading force on a frequency in an observatory, and Bill Ward (Gabriel Byrne), a brilliant and aged neuroscientist in London. Unknown to each other, as both face life-and-death situations with their one surviving family member, they are attempting to figure out a method to defeat the invaders based on their own training. Ward wants not only to discover the aliens’ vulnerabilities, but to learn and comprehend its motives. It is this plot device that makes the production so unique. The unknown entities ruthlessly attacking are not here to blindly destroy or colonize or save other species from humans. What they crave is life itselftheir own livesand their fear of death, quite a human notion, is what motivates their blind pursuit of any actions that may save their species from oblivion. 

The series has countless shots of the streets of London and towns of France eerily empty at the height of the day, quite like what we are witnessing during our virus-protective lockdown in April 2020. Never has a television film centered on destruction been so eerily silent for so many long sections of its telling. Durand in France tunes into the alien signal at one point to hear music playing. It turns out to be one of the songs that astronomers launched in a space vehicle hoping to discover other intelligent life forms in the galaxy, quite like what NASA has done in the past. To her horror, Durand realizes the song she hears is one that she so harmlessly selected for the probe herself. The invaders found earth by tracing back the music to its origin and the astronomer is devastated to learn that it was her team’s recordings that led them here. In the final episode, Durand does find a frequency to disable the attack – at least for now, but we are not witnesses to its implementation. However, there are other complex and very gray aspects to the final episode of part one of the series that make for great emotional and tragic drama. 

I was taught long ago in school that bacteria, the killers of aliens in past War of the Worlds films, were living, natural beings. Viruses, on the other hand, I recall as a membraned “box” encasing a squiggly line of nucleic material with a small antenna-like shape atop—a killing machine knowing nothing but sucking life-force from its host and replicating like a blind monster. In the Epix series, the aliens adapt their destructive plans as humans make headway in understanding their weaknesses. Similarly, a virus mutates to evade medical treatments. Yet with great effort, scientists eventually discover medicines that viruses ultimately succumb to no matter how they morph. It may be a little silly to say that life will be true to art here, but in my heart, I believe that it will be our tireless, selfless scientists who bring down or find a way to protect us from this current viral invasion.

What Happened in 1918?

Aileen Marshall

Not many of us around the Tri-Institutional community have experienced a pandemic situation like COVID-19. News pundits and politicians are saying this is “unprecedented.” But is it? The word “pandemic” reminded me of references to the so-called Spanish Flu of 1918. Though that event was caused by an influenza virus, from a different family than the current SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, there are similarities between that outbreak and the current one. Perhaps we can learn lessons from the pandemic that happened almost 100 years ago. 

The influenza pandemic started in the spring of 1918 and lasted until the spring of 1919 during World War I. The Allied countries didn’t want people to panic or to distract from the war effort, so they censored reports of the new virulent flu. Spain was neutral, so most reports of the flu came from their newspapers; thus, it became known as the Spanish flu. However, the actual origin of the flu is still unclear.

There are three current hypotheses as to where the 1918 influenza virus started: Kansas, France, or China. A flu-like illness started appearing in Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas in late 1917. It was first reported on March 11th, 1918. At that point more than 100 soldiers had gotten sick and it was spreading quickly. Troops from this camp were shipped to Europe shortly after. Some say that this was not the origin because there was a deadlier flu in New York City at the same time. A 2018 review of the origins of the 1918 pandemic suggests that viral haemagglutinin proteins found in the samples from Kansas were older than those of the 1918 flu. Some think the virus first showed up in Étaples, France in late 1917 where there was an English military camp that was overcrowded with hundreds of thousands of soldiers passing through every day. Pigs and poultry were also kept at the camp, animals suspected of being carriers of the flu strain. And some think this flu started in China, although it’s hard to tell given that records from the country at the time are very sparse. There was a mild flu there at the time, and tens of thousands of Chinese workers toiled behind the French and English lines of the war. A 2018 study by evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey showed that there was no evidence of this flu along the routes the Chinese migrants traveled to Europe, suggesting that China might not have been the origin. This first wave lasted through the spring of 1918. 

The second wave started in August of that year and was deadlier than the first. New flu cases started appearing in France, Sierra Leone, and the United States. This time, predominantly young adults were affected. At Army and Navy training camps outside of Boston, almost half of the soldiers died. Worsening the spread, sick soldiers were often sent on crowded trains to crowded hospitals. In September of 1918, New York City started mandating that flu diagnoses be reported and requiring sick patients to be isolated at home. Many cities closed theaters, schools, churches, and bars and banned public gatherings. Philadelphia, however, decided to go ahead with a war bonds parade. Within days of the parade, tens of thousands were sick, and within ten days, over 1,000 people died. October of 1918 was the deadliest month of the pandemic. The United States recorded 195,000 deaths from the flu. Regulations banning spitting in public were passed. In November, news articles about the disease started appearing more frequently as the virus moved from France to Spain. Quarantine signs were put on the homes of people diagnosed with the flu. Yet this same month, people gathered in large numbers to celebrate Armistice Day. As the second wave ended in December, public health campaigns appeared instructing people to put their tissues in the garbage after sneezing into them. Officials asked businesses to stagger their opening and closing times and for people to walk to work to limit crowding on mass transit. The death rate overwhelmed morgues and bodies piled up. 

Three pandemic waves: weekly combined influenza and pneumonia mortality, United Kingdom, 1918–1919 (figure courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

A third, but smaller wave began in February of 1919. In New York City, only about 700 diagnoses and sixty-seven flu deaths were recorded. During this wave, city hospitals around the country set up studies of treatments for influenza. Efforts were made to implement more nursing school programs to address the nursing shortage created by the pandemic. It is now recognized that this shortage was partially due to a societal reluctance to hire African-American nurses. Near the end of the pandemic, President Woodrow Wilson collapsed during the Versailles Peace Conference in April of 1919; it is thought that he also contracted the flu. 

Thanks to studies over the last few decades, we now know that the 1918 influenza virus was an H1N1 strain, the same type that caused the swine flu epidemic in 2009. Our knowledge of the strain comes from preserved bodies in the permafrost in Alaska, where the pandemic had been particularly lethal to Native Americans, wiping out entire Inuit villages. In 2008, scientists were able to exhume one of the bodies and obtain tissue samples containing the virus. Because of the extreme cold, the viral particles were relatively well-preserved, and they were able to sequence its genome. A study by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, the United States Department of Agriculture, and Mount Sinai Medical School determined that a set of three genes enabled the virus to weaken bronchial tubes, which allowed for secondary bacterial infection, such as pneumonia. 

It is now thought that the 1918 flu virus spread so easily throughout the world due to several factors, including military troop movements. Many military installations were overcrowded, and more soldiers died from the flu than in battle. Malnutrition and poor hygiene were more common than today. Interestingly, the flu particularly struck people under age 65, which accounted for almost 90% of the fatalities. This was because influenza caused what is called a “cytokine storm,” an overreaction of the immune system, so young adults with stronger immune systems had stronger overreactions. Furthermore, the disease was not well-diagnosed, as it often caused bleeding in mucus membranes, a symptom not usually characteristic of the flu. There were no antiviral drugs available at the time. It is estimated that about 500 million individuals around the world were infected during the course of the pandemic, or about 25% of the world population. In the U.S., about 28% of the population, almost twenty-nine million, became infected. 

Global fatality estimates run from seventeen million to 100 million, or from 1% to 5% of the world. Estimated deaths for the U.S. run from 500,000 to 675,000, or around 0.5 % of the country’s population. Doctors would prescribe 8-30 grams of aspirin, which we now know is toxic. In fact, many deaths were due to aspirin poisoning. There was a high fatality rate among pregnant women. Studies have shown that children born to infected women had lower education levels and socioeconomic status than the general population. 

Research has shown that cities like Saint Louis, which had early and sustained practices of social distancing and quarantining the sick, were effective in reducing the spread and had very low fatalities. Saint Louis is often compared to the aforementioned situation in Philadelphia that had little intervention and high numbers of deaths. While these effective practices are similar to the situation with COVID-19 today, a significant difference is that influenza was infectious only during onset of symptoms, not like the asymptomatic transmission that is thought to be possible with this current coronavirus. While there are many parallels between the 1918 flu and COVID-19 pandemics, as of this writing, the global number of deaths from SARS-CoV-2 is 128,000 with 26,000 in the U.S., representing about 0.002% of the current population, five hundred times lower than during the flu pandemic a hundred years ago. Nutrition, hygiene, medicine, and communication have significantly improved during the last century. Remember to wash your hands several times a day, avoid touching your face, and distance yourself from crowds so that hopefully this current pandemic will become part of the history books soon.

Face masks made of gauze were widely used but offered little real protection. Nonetheless, these Red Cross workers in Boston assembled masks. “It is our duty to keep people from fear,” said Chicago’s health commissioner. “Worry kills more people than the epidemic.”
(image courtesy of National Archives)

Life on a roll

Winter in Scotland

Bernie Langs

Traveling off-season in Scotland allows for quieter access to tourist sites, such as castles and palaces, that are usually crowded and overrun in spring and summer (although some shutter for winter months but allow for strolls on their grounds). In December 2019, my wife and I lucked out with unusually mild weather for our entire stay in Ballater, a burgh in Aberdeenshire on the River Dee and close to Balmoral Castle. We also spent a few days in Edinburgh.

Stirling Castle

Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, with ruins of Holyrood Abbey in the background; an after hours tour of the Palace was great fun

Doune Castle, a medieval stronghold near the village of Doune, in the Stirling district of central Scotland. Scenes of the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and TV show “Outlander” were filmed here. The recently deceased Monty Python member, Terry Jones, narrates the amusing visitor audio guide.

Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven, on the North Sea

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness near Drumnadrochit; arriving by boat was an incredible experience.

Braemar Castle, near the village of Braemar in Aberdeenshire; constructed in 1628.

Natural Expressions


Nick Didkovsky, Bioinformatics Group Supervisor in the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Rockefeller, announces record releases and video premieres from his bands Doctor Nerve and Vomit Fist:

  • Doctor Nerve is an eight-piece instrumental band and just released what may be their heaviest and most hard-hitting record yet, LOUD (available on CD, digital download, and limited edition vinyl). The band also recently premiered a video, “If You Were Me Right Now I’d Be Dead,” where the musicians filmed the music at half-speed and backwards, then flipped and sped up the footage to synchronize to the music, for a very unique and jittery effect.
  • Vomit Fist is a three-piece metal band that just released their second EP, Omnicide. This release made the top twenty-five releases of 2019 by Sonic Abuse, and consists of extremely dense, high energy tracks, some of which are incredibly short (in fact, one piece serves as a convenient, twenty-second hand washing guide). A new lyric video for the track “Flies Choke the Grove” premiered on Invisible Oranges and can be viewed here.

Bernie Langs of The Rockefeller University Development Office has released a new music video, “I’ve Been Everywhere.” Langs acted as video director and musician, covering the song “I’ve Been Everywhere” while setting his performance to photos and footage from the past decade of his travels. Langs’ release can be viewed on his YouTube page.

Email Megan E. Kelley at to submit your art/music/performance/sporting/other event for next month’s “Natural Expressions” and follow @NatSelections on Twitter for more events. Digital and online events/releases are welcome!

Mother’s Day

Tracy Adams

Every year on the second Sunday in May, mothers all over the United States are celebrated. They are recognized for their unwavering love, support, and commitment to parenthood. Although a national, not a federal holiday, Mother’s Day ranks amongst the top ten most celebrated events of the year. Without a doubt, motherhood is a life-changing experience: the excitement, anticipation, anxieties, and exhilaration all lead to the moment when you set eyes on that bundle of joy, and the journey begins. 

The years ahead, from birth to adulthood, are bound to be filled with treasured memories, mementos, and experiences—enough to fill the Library of Congress (and possibly more). While there are many women who struggle with infertility, and others who opt not to have children, motherhood is still common amongst women in the U.S. from the ages of 25-44 years old, with roughly four million births recorded in 2018. The role of “mother” stretches beyond biological boundaries, too, encompassing foster-moms, adoptive moms, stepmoms, mothers-in-law, “mentor moms,” spiritual moms, and more. If you have that special “mom” figure in your life, she should be honored for her deeds and care every day of the year, and especially on Mother’s Day. 

Mother’s Day is thought to have originated as one woman’s personal journey to show appreciation to her own beloved mother. Anna May Jarvis, self-proclaimed “Mother of All Mother’s Day,” started her mission to celebrate mothers as an extension of her own mother’s crusade. In 1868, post-Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis (Anna Jarvis’ mother) coordinated a Mothers’ Friendship Day in West Virginia to bring former foes on the battlefield back together again. This memorialized day brought veterans together from the North and South in an intense exchange of weeping and handshakes. This act sparked other abolitionists to publicly recognize a mother’s anguish from sending her sons off to war and to make the pitch for peaceful, anti-war, political relationships. In 1905, Ann Reeves Jarvis died on the second Sunday in May. On the second anniversary of her death, Anna May Jarvis organized a small service at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, in tribute to her mother. In 1908, on the second Sunday in May, at the same church in Grafton, Virginia, the first formal Mother’s Day service was underway, where Anna distributed white carnations to all the attendees. By 1910, Mother’s Day was an official holiday in West Virginia and in subsequent years, other states and countries followed suit by nationalizing the day. Jarvis, the frontrunner supporter of the holiday, spent her entire life campaigning for the cause, obtaining trademarks for the phrases “second Sunday in May” and “Mother’s Day” and creating the Mother’s Day International Association. Because Jarvis intended Mother’s Day to be an intimate celebration between mothers and children, she was an astute opponent of commercializing the holiday. She rallied against exploitation by flower, candy, and card industries that tried to cash in. For example, she staged boycotts against florists that increased prices around that time of the year and crashed Mother’s Day conventions that didn’t embody her sentiments for the holiday. Needless to say, her actions earned her a few adversaries, ranging from the American War Mothers to Eleanor Roosevelt, until her passing at the age of 84, penniless and lonely.

Ann Reeves Jarvis, left, and her devoted daughter, Anna Jarvis, right. (image courtesy of Library of Congress)

There have been decades of controversy over who founded Mother’s Day, and we may never know who should be rightfully credited with this magnificent, heart-warming holiday. Undeniably, Mother’s Day in 2020 will be unlike any other that we’ve experienced in our or even our parents’ lifetimes. The coronavirus pandemic has put not only cherished traditions on hold, but also everyday life in NYC and across the globe. Typically, by this time of year, restaurants reservations’ lists are overflowing, department stores are buzzing with activity, and commercial partners are flooding the airwaves and billboards with all types of sentimental tokens and gestures of affection, from chocolate to silk scarves to jewelry to personalized keepsakes. This year will be vastly different with the realization that hundreds of thousands of people are dealing with the tremendous losses that COVID-19 and social distancing have ushered in. Due to social distancing, children won’t be able to wait in long lines to have that special dinner at mom’s favorite restaurant or gather the family at mom’s place for laughter, memories, and gift exchanges. However, even though department stores are closed, dine-in options are non-existent, and hugging your mom this Mother’s Day might not be feasible, this doesn’t have to stop the festivities and the sentiments that make Mother’s Day so memorable and enjoyable. In fact, this is perhaps the most essential time to demonstrate just how much you care for that special “mom” in your life. 

Suggestions for how to celebrate mom while social distancing:

  1. Zoom (Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp) with mom for video chatting and virtual hugs
  2. Open Table – for restaurant deliveries and farm-to-table deliveries
  3. Uber Eats – for take-out deliveries
  4. Netflix (Hulu) for virtual movie night – pick a flick on a streaming service of your choice and watch together
  5. Mixtiles (Fracture) – photo prints on canvas, photo paper, or glass
  6. Things Remembered – personalized Mother’s Day gifts
  7. Gift cards
  8. Donate to a charity in honor of mom

No doubt the world as we knew it no longer exists, but we can now rebrand ourselves as a society that makes the most of our time and resources, and get back to basics by making our relationships stronger than ever. Take this time to celebrate your mom. Whether you are in isolation with her or celebrating from a distance, make her feel special on her day. If you’re a mom too, take time for yourself, enjoying those peaceful spaces in your life. For those that have lost their mom or maternal figure, commemorate her spirit and memory by planting a tree, writing a poem, or penning her favorite recipe and distributing it to family and close friends. For those who never knew their mom–adopt a mom. We’re all in this together, so let’s celebrate life.

A Mother’s Love
Of all the special joys in life,
The big ones and the small,
A mother’s love and tenderness
Is the greatest of them all.
~ Anon.

What Have We Inherited

Melissa Jarmel

Photo courtesy of Melissa Jarmel

While the fate of many Broadway shows remains to be determined, some have already announced closures. One show, The Inheritance by Matthew Lopez, was set to close on March 15th anyway, but the cast unwittingly took their last bow just a few days before, as the entirety of Broadway closed their doors on March 12th. This show has frequently been on my mind since the pandemic began to alter our existence. It was written about and for gay men in New York City, though the themes of inheritance are universal, so I thought I’d start with talking to one of my favorite people and theatre buddies, Dylan K., about his experience seeing the show. 

Dylan K.: I had absolutely no idea just how much The Inheritance would affect me. A bit of background: I’m an NYC-living cis gay man in his thirties grappling with my own identity as such, and The Inheritance is (at the surface) about NYC-living cis gay men in their thirties grappling with their own identities, too. Needless to say, I found the content of the play extremely personal. Before my cohort of 30-something gay men, the previous generation was hugely impacted by the HIV/AIDS crisis. The disease itself is responsible for ending the lives of thousands of gay men who could have been the teachers, mentors, or friends I never got the chance to meet. I never fully considered all the ways the suffering of these men, their families and loved ones, as well as the stigmas still in society that stem from this time in history, have unconsciously shaped who I am today. Watching this play made me laugh a lot. But I also cried a lot, too. For me, that is why I go to the theater. To me, The Inheritance felt like a full-length mirror, placing at the forefront many ideas and questions about myself that I had buried deep in my subconscious. 

Melissa Jarmel: What will you carry most with you from this play? 

DK: The Inheritance made me deeply think about who I am today by understanding what came before me and forced me to question what I can offer to those who will come after me. The show teaches the consequences that come from not acknowledging or accepting one’s history, as well as it demonstrates the harm of holding too tightly to the past. The Inheritance made me realize there is so much I don’t know about the history of gay men in America and made me think hard about what kind of mentor I can be down the road. It made me realize that cross-generational communication isn’t properly celebrated in the gay community. I have a lot to learn from those who are older and younger than me. The Inheritance made me want to be a better listener. Also, we all have inherited a great deal from those who came before us, whether we are aware of it or not. 

Dylan was not alone in the laughter and tears he mentioned watching this play. When I attended, the largely male audience was audibly connecting with the show in a visceral way to a degree that is rare to experience en masse at the theatre. While the play toed the line of being pedantic at times, it clearly struck a nerve with many theatre-goers. Though there is one scene in particular that has been replaying in my mind since New York went on pause. The group of friends are discussing politics and one of them likens America to a living organism that you can break down into its cellular components, so if you could find a way to heal the cells, you could heal the body. Another friend runs with the analogy and reminds his friends that T-cells, specifically, are what alert the body that there is an infection, but HIV targets these cells that are supposed to be our watchful guardians. 

He goes on to say, “…if America is an organism and if its T-cells are its democracy, then what about [Trump]? Where does he fit in this analogy? You could say he is HIV: a cunning, pernicious retrovirus that has attached himself to the very core of American democracy and is now destroying the American Immune System: journalism, activism, politics, and even voting. And, like HIV, he is replicating his genetic material from tweet to tweet, from person to person, institution to institution, across the entire nation. Consequently, America is now falling prey to opportunistic infections its immune system had once been able to fight: fear, propaganda, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, white nationalism. And so, like any person with untreated HIV, you could say this nation has developed the American Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Let’s just call it what it is and diagnose it properly: America. Has. AIDS.” 

These are strong words, but maybe they’re not strong enough, especially in light of how the people the current president of the United States put in charge of this nation have failed to adequately inform and protect the American public throughout this pandemic. I’m not the first to draw parallels to the HIV/AIDS crisis and what is happening now, but when Dylan spoke of the loss of mentors and friends due to what happened then, my heart not only mourns for the thousands of families that are mourning their loved ones who have passed away due to COVID-19 but also for the future generations that have lost these thousands of lights as well. 

Theatres in New York City are officially closed until June 7th, but a recent interview with the president of the Broadway League revealed that the community is expecting an opening date of September or later. The Public Theater has also announced that there will not be Shakespeare in the Park performances this summer; however, for the first time in forty years, a recording of a previous summer 2019 production, Much Ado About Nothing, is available for free to stream until May 26th. The Globe Theatre in London is also streaming a previous Shakespearean production every two weeks for free. And Broadway World has compiled a list of 157 shows you can watch at home. Hopefully, we will be back in the theatres before the year’s end, but until then, I’m grateful that we have at least inherited all of these streaming options.

Dear Readers


Picture courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

These are unprecedented times.

Across the globe, communities, cities, and countries are taking measures to scale down the dynamic social interactions that defined our modern world. Social distancing, self-isolation, and quarantine have become imperative.

Many research institutions in the United States have entered a shutdown, ceasing lab operations for all work except that which is directly related to SARS-CoV2, in an attempt to stymie the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 18th, The Rockefeller University joined this effort.

While the changes in our daily lives may be unsettling, we are strong as a community. We have already seen lab donations to supply our local hospitals with personal protective equipment, community volunteerism to provide support services to Rockefeller community members, and guidance from our university leadership.

No one struggles alone. We are all in this together. And we will persevere.

 –Natural Selections Editorial Board


Available Resources:

Rockefeller University COVID-19 Updates (contact:

March 15th University Communication

Occupational Health Services and psychiatrist Dr. Nisha Mehta-Naik (contact:; (212) 327-8414)

COVID-19 Support Request (contact:

Anyone who has recovered from the novel coronavirus infection can participate in a study conducted at Rockefeller to better understand ways to block coronavirus infection.


Struggling with social distancing? Here are some ideas to keep you stimulated, active, and engaged with your community:

  •         Stay engaged in science

o   Write a review article. Preparing a review article is a great way to get a lot of reading done and also gain ideas for next steps for a project.

o   Host a journal club. Use Zoom to connect with your lab and discuss up-to-date literature.

o   Focus on an old project. Do you have an old project that you collected data for, but it fell by the wayside? Reconsider writing up your data and determining if it is publishable.

o   Apply for funding. Consider applying for both governmental funding and smaller private grants.

o   Think about career plans. MyIDP is a great platform for scientists to determine their strengths and weaknesses and explore potential career choices.

o   Promote your scientific work. Update your LinkedIn and ResearchGate profiles. Tweet about your work. Make sure your CV is up to date.

  •         Stay active

o   Hold a remote fitness challenge. Encourage your family, friends, and colleagues to get 30 minutes of activity a day.

o   Work on your push-up game. Stay strong by working on those exercises that require minimal equipment—think push-ups, planks, wall-sits, squats, and crunches.

o   Take online yoga classes. There are many platforms online and you can join Rockefeller’s listserv by contacting You can also join Rockefeller’s yoga group on Facebook and get access to regular videos of yoga classes.

o   Go for a walk. If you are feeling healthy, it’s ok to get outside and take a walk. Just make sure to social distance–stay at least 6 feet from others and wash your hands regularly.

  •         Stay connected

o   Video chat with your friends and family. Now is the time to connect with your favorite people that you are normally too busy to sit down and have a long conversation with. Try cooking a meal or sitting down for a cup of tea together.

o   Pick up a new hobby. Now is the time to focus on your knitting, instrumental, and baking skills. YouTube has tutorials on everything!

o   Play games remotely. Steam is an online gaming platform that has a play with friends function.

o   Watch a movie together. Use the Netflix Party extension for Google Chrome to watch a movie with a friend. The extension will synchronize playback and includes a chat function while you watch.

o   Blog. Write about your experiences, your science, or anything else you care about and share it on the web.

And above all, give yourself a break. It’s normal to feel anxious, and stress can make it difficult to concentrate. Don’t expect to be as productive as you would be in the lab. Do what you can and leave the rest.

A Different Kind of Outbreak

Anna Amelianchik

Before the novel coronavirus resulted in travel restrictions, event cancellations, and toilet paper shortages, The Rockefeller University community faced a different kind of outbreak: The Outbreak challenge. The Outbreak is a team-based six-week step and fitness challenge that syncs real-life steps and physical activity data recorded by a fitness tracker and translates them into virtual actions that you can take to survive a zombie outbreak. The app-based game tells an immersive story and offers six scenarios in which players have to reach safehouses to escape the zombie horde and progress through the challenge. Like many other workplace fitness challenges, The Outbreak helps employees build a community around a healthy lifestyle and foster behaviors that improve one’s health and reduce healthcare costs. The Rockefeller University’s leading team—“No Shorz Too Short”—is a great example of what the challenge was set to achieve with the average of 15,176 of team steps per day and the total of 637,395 steps over the six-week period. In addition, No Shorz Too Short put their steps to good use killing 1,055 zombies and reached all six safehouses in time. I had a conversation with the team leader, Zina, a Unit Clerk in The Rockefeller University’s Hospital, about The Outbreak challenge and its impact on her fitness and overall health. 

Can you describe your fitness regimen during the challenge?

My regimen was nothing too crazy to me, just had to go back to my old habits. I used to walk all the time anywhere and everywhere until I started working here. I have been taking transportation anywhere and everywhere and would cry about how thirty minutes was too far of a walk.

On day one of the challenge, I walked to work, then come week three, I walked to AND from work every day. If I had any errands to run, whether it was to return an item to a store, food shopping, pay bills etc., I made sure to walk there rather than hop on a bus or train.

Yeah it’s cold outside but once you get moving, trust me you will be stripping in the middle of the street when it gets hot. Playing Pokémon GO helped me a lot when I needed to get steps in. There were Pokémon I needed, and I would walk all over the city to get them before I headed home.

I went to the gym every day during my lunch break or went for a walk outside, depending on how my body felt that day. Hop on the bike for a few minutes then lift some weights. 

Did you notice any changes in your mood, energy levels, or general health while you were completing the challenge?

I will say after week three, I was exhausted physically, but alert and happy. I had trouble sleeping before. During the challenge I was knocked out at night and had a restful sleep. 

I was pushing my body to the limit every day but I wanted to keep going. So I made some adjustments to still reach my goal but not tire out (lift weights less and less cardio during the week). I felt stronger each day nonetheless and was happy to see the numbers on the scale go down each week, too. My mood improved. I was able to focus on the challenge and I became very competitive. I felt the need to outdo the other team. My team (“No Shorz Too Short”) and I would encourage one another to lead the race. Normally I am very lackadaisical. 

Are you able to keep it up now that the challenge is over?

When the challenge started, I had to tell myself every day, “Got to go to the gym or I got to work out.” Now that the challenge is over I wanted to take a break for a week and start again (don’t recommend it, you get lazy fast).

This challenge created a good habit that I will say I still keep to this day. I am still active and maintain the minimum step goal of 30,000 and daily walks/gym visits. I am going to wear my “short shorz”…eventually. HA!

Natural Expressions


On Sunday, April 12th, Guadalupe Astorga of The Rockefeller University’s Laboratory of Neurobiology was scheduled to play with her band SugaGold (previously featured in Natural Selections, A New Encounter on Stage: SugaGold by Alice Marino) at the New York Beer Company. Although this event will likely be cancelled, you can support her and SugaGold by checking out their music on YouTube and visiting their website.

Email Megan E. Kelley at to submit your art/music/performance/sporting/other event for next month’s “Natural Expressions” and follow @NatSelections on Twitter for more events. Digital and online events/releases are welcome!

Culture Corner

Best of the Boston Music Scene, 1979-1981: The Neighborhoods

Bernie Langs

The Neighborhoods in 1979, left to right, “Careful Mike” Quaglia, John Hartcorn, and David Minehan (image courtesy of Boston Groupie News)

I lived in Boston from 1979 to 1981, spending time as an active participant in the local rock music scene as a musician and songwriter playing in a short-lived band. The time period is now considered a ”golden age” of local New England music talent. I can attest to the truth of that label. My bandmates and I would frequent club performances displaying astonishing musicianship and singing, powered by a brutal adrenaline rush of energy that I believe has vanished from current popular music. 

Several Boston clubs boasted an extraordinary vitality, walled in ragged punk decor, including some of the venues we performed at—Cantones, The Club, Jonathan Swifts (in Cambridge), The Channel (more upscale), and especially the center and hub at the time of the local music scene, the Rathskeller, nicknamed “The Rat” and known as “Boston’s CBGB’s.”

One of my favorite acts was the group The City Thrills, and I enjoyed speaking and joking with their lead guitarist, Johnny Angel. Their dynamic lead singer, Barb Kitson, dated the soundboard tech at The Rat, “Granny,” whom we were all in awe of. Another of my favorite groups was The Lyres, led by the golden-haired, powerhouse performer known as “Mono Man” for his style of playing a vintage organ using one finger at strategic moments to hold a long, solitary high note for dramatic effect. The Lyres did a version of the sixties hit 96 Tears that was sublime, and my band was graced with a request to open for them for a show at a small club. A band called Robin Lane and the Chartbusters was tight and precise in their sound and often played the larger venues to sold out crowds. 

There was one undisputed leader of the pack during this period of fabulous live music, a trio named The Neighborhoods. They are still active as a band, with only their leader, David Minehan, remaining from the time I was a devoted fan. Through mutual friends, my band got to know the drummer, Mike Quaglia, an amiable fellow known as “Careful Mike” for the way he maintained a steady beat as his bassist and guitarist inflicted their wall of sound on the audience. His tenure with The Neighborhoods was from 1978 to 1990. We’d also chat at the clubs with bass player John Hartcorn who was with the band from 1979 to 1981. But I would never have presumed to approach the lead singer, guitarist, and composer, David Minehan. There was no musician or personality like him in Boston, not one player/composer/singer in his league. He would have been a presence in any music scene from New York to London. I’d venture to say that most of the band members from the Boston area that had made it on the national charts didn’t have Minehan’s natural star power, not only as a performer, but as a personality offstage (the one notable exception being Aerosmith’s front man, Stephen Tyler).

Everything about The Neighborhoods was unique. Their songs were centered around basic rock compositional form, but had great twists in their complex melodies and chord structures. The lyrics were poetic, minimal and displayed the rare sweet spot of intellectual, yet approachable subjects and expressiveness. Minehan played his blue Stratocaster hard and with sustain, but never overly distorted. You could hear each power chord and lead note ringing out from floor to ceiling at the clubs where they played, but not at a blistering volume at the threshold of pain. His guitarwork was not an attack on the ears but more like the comfort of a demonstrative cathedral bell ringing out in majesty. Minehan moved about the stage in a trance-like, troubled dance of tough emotions, and his demeanor was otherworldly, as if he existed in his own parallel universe of sound and vision. His hair was colored red rooster crimson in the style of early David Bowie, and piled up high in the manner of members of the English band, The Faces. 

Minehan’s act was no act at all, it was completely honest and unassuming. There was also no self-consciousness in any of the other band members as they created their joyful music. All serious rock enthusiasts long for a pure experience of music, something untainted by commercialism, consumerism, and a compromise of values for the sake of monetary success. The greatest bands never change their core sound or message to increase their audience, thereby polluting artistic vision. The Clash is the only other band I know of in a brotherhood with The Neighborhoods in terms of unwillingness to be anything other than true to music and the intellectual values held precious in the hearts of its members. 

There were times in my own band that we’d kick off our rehearsals by playing a rocking version of The Neighborhoods song, No Place Like Home. Our guitarist Dave would rip into the guitar and vocals and our virtuoso bassist Bill duplicated Careful Mike’s high harmonies. Our magnificently talented Keith Moon-style drummer, Dermot, brought a power and danger to the song that Careful Mike would never have attempted. No Place Like Home is a tale of a teenager’s withdrawal into a private world of music, with the reassuring tagline chorus shouted to the listener, “Little boy I know what you are going THROUGH!” The song kicks off with an amusing description of the youth’s family scene: “Mom and dad are so frightening/Every day is a crisis/Dad gets home and he’s NERVOUS!/The air’s so thick you can’t breathe!/Don’t let them get to you/there’s not much you can do/ and little boy I know what you’re going through…” Much of what Green Day would go on to write about in the 1990’s with their massively successful song output was anticipated by The Neighborhoods.

My other favorite songs by The Neighborhoods included an ode to the wondering eye of a young man, Flavors, featuring the cool chorus, “I love flavors – I love to try them ALL!”, and Prettiest Girl, which Elton John could have fit in nicely on his masterpiece album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. One of their most complex lyrical expressions was the power ballad, Mr. Reeves, a thoughtful meditation (and more) on the suicide of the original television Superman actor, George Reeves, whose bizarre leap off of a building haunted many a child watching the show during the 1960s.

 My band opened for The Neighborhoods in May 1980 at an intimate club in Providence, Rhode Island. It was an honor and a privilege to have done so. About five years ago I recorded a cover version of No Place Like Home as a birthday surprise for our former band’s guitarist Dave who remains a close friend with me and other members of the ‘Tones. We still bask in the memory of having witnessed the peak of The Neighborhoods forty years ago. The Neighborhoods would go on to open for David Bowie in 1987 at a stadium show in Foxborough, MA, and tour with major acts such as The Ramones, Cheap Trick, and Bowie’s art band, Tin Machine. David Minehan also played a stint as a guitarist with the alt-rock sensation, The Replacements. He currently runs a recording studio, Woolly Mammoth Sound, in the town of Waltham outside of Boston, and The Neighborhoods’ new set of songs, Last Known Address, can be streamed on Amazon Music and other services. I consider myself so fortunate to have been a witness to one of rock’s under-appreciated moments of glory, an exceptional, brief window of time in the genre that was honest and true with brilliant and pure sincerity in every performance. Everyone should be so lucky to be in the presence of genius in the artistic genre they hold closest to their soul. Link: The Neighborhoods perform Prettiest Girl and No Place Like Home in 1979 on Boston television:

Pets of Tri-I

Pooja Viswanathan

For this issue, I interview Rudy, the dog who lives with Riccardo De Santis (Postdoc, Brivanlou lab, The Rockefeller University) and his wife, Dacia (Columbia University). 

Pooja Viswanathan: How old are you? In human years?

Rudy: I have 5 human years. 

PV: Is there a story behind your name?

R: My parents wanted to name me after a scientist, but not a pretentious one. The story goes that one day, one of my humans (the tall and hairy one) was in what you humans call a “meeting” and he met this very important scientist from Harvard. They were having a very formal discussion until a young Ph.D. student stopped by and interrupted the conversation, saying to his important supervisor in front of everyone “Hey Rudy, are you missing again your own talk?” I don’t really see the connection, but this is the reason why I am named Rudy.  

PV: How did you first meet your humans?

R: I arrived in New York from Puerto Rico and I was staying in small dog resort on 38th Street and First Avenue called “Bidawee.” The food was good and my room had a lot of toys (I love toys). Many humans were going around visiting and meeting dogs. The day after my arrival my humans stopped by, and we started to hang out over some treats and some new toys (have I mentioned that I love toys?). They convinced me to go with them to stay in their apartment, where I took the bigger room and I left them the small one.

Photo courtesy of Riccardo and Dacia

PV: Where do you live?

R: I live in Faculty House, close to my favorite dog park just across the street by the river and my small private backyard that by coincidence is the Rockefeller campus.

PV: What are your favorite neighborhoods in NYC?

R: My favorite neighborhood is Central Park. It is perfect to spend my Sunday walk where I have the chance to meet many friends from all over the New York canine world.

PV: If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you live?

R: I would live where it is always sunny and warm—someone told me that a place like that exists and it is called Sicily. I will go there at some point, just for a quick check, and I will let you know.

PV: What are your favorite foods?

R: Carrots and treats, of any kind, shape or flavor! 

PV: What is your favorite weekend activity in NYC?

R: I like to hang out with my humans and walk around to say “hello” to every dog I come across. I like to have humans around when I meet my fellow dogs. 

PV: Besides your human roomies, who is your favorite human in the Tri-I community?

R: I like everybody, but I like those humans more who have treats. 

PV: Do you have a funny story to share with us?

R: The first time I went to Brooklyn, my humans decided to go on this strange car that goes on water that they call a ferry. In the beginning I was super scared of the weird noise and the rocking, but at some point I met a beautiful human puppy…her name is Marina. She petted me and I gave her a huge kiss. Suddenly, I was not scared anymore and I enjoyed my sniffing around in this island called Brooklyn.  

PV: Is there some way we can see more pictures of you on the interwebs?

R: I don’t have an Instagram profile yet. My parents said that I am too young, but they promised me that I can have one when I turn seven human years. 

PV: If you could have any human ability, what would it be?

R: I would like to have the human ability to open the fridge. I am sure something good is hidden there. My humans always go there and don’t let me look or sniff inside.