watching the wheels



Here's how old-fashioned we used to be: we used to buy things week-by-week as we needed them. About out of paper towels? Buy another roll. I usually have crackers and peanut butter for lunch, so when a box of crackers was about half gone, the next time we were at the grocery store I'd get another box. When I used the last razor blade in a pack, I'd buy another pack.

All that has changed. Our house has gotten out of the "just-in-time" inventory biz.

Now we have a storage room that has two dozen rolls of paper towels, a three-year supply of Ziplock bags, a scary-looking avalanche-waiting-to-happen of toilet paper, stockpiles of toothpaste and razor blades and, yes, I'll admit it, a jumbo carton of Triscuits. Not jumbo in the normal grocery store sense of, "slightly larger than a normal sized box," but jumbo in the sense that you could throw a sheet over it and show a movie, including a VistaVision Biblical epic from 1956.

You'd almost think we are nut-job survivalists, but I swear we're not. Survivalists, I mean. So what happened to turn us from normal people to squirrels in human form?

One word: Costco.

Costco is a warehouse shopping place not far from our house, and about a year ago we ponied up 30 bucks or so for a membership. That's right, somehow we were able to mentally justify paying money to a place to let us shop there. I really don't want to think too closely about that aspect of things.

But once you enter Costco, it's a wonderland of commerce. Groceries, produce, electronics, books, office supplies, prescription drugs--the product lines go on and on. After a few minutes, a certain brain-altering logic takes hold, the kind of logic that says, "Sure, I'd like a gross of granola bars!"

And then you drive home, the back bumper of your car dragging like you've got a cow carcass in the trunk, to unload your five-year supply of Dial soap, your 1,000 breakfasts worth of Quaker oatmeal, your next 800 headaches worth of Tylenol, and all that other stuff.

Do we save any money buying stuff this way as opposed to the old, "Hey-we're-out-of-floss-so-we-better-get-some" household shopping technique? Yeah, probably so. We spend more in the short run buying stuff in big quantities, but the unit costs are less, and we save that money bit by bit over the course of all those weeks we're using up all those paper towels. That's the theory anyway.

But the main thing I've noticed--in addition to the fact that now the stacks of stuff in the storage room are as precarious as a California hillside after a three-day rain--is that my concept of when I need to buy things is different. Now when we have two rolls of paper towels it feels like we need to buy more paper towels. In the old days B.C.--before Costco--two rolls were about the most we ever had around, and, in fact, two roll felt felt pretty flush, paper towel-wise.

This raises conflicting emotions in me. On one hand, buying non perishable household goods in bulk leaves me feeling kind of virtuous. If nothing else, we are definitely prepared for all kinds of spills.

On the other hand, if you think about it, this is not a cool person's way of shopping, and, naturally, Sharon and I are nothing if not cool persons.

Here's what I mean: the implication of having a storage room full of Costco bargains is that we are people who are staying put. We are not young newlyweds in an apartment who could theoretically pack a U-Haul and be gone next week, chasing greener pastures, bluer skies, and better metaphors.

No, we are people with a mortgage. We are people with three dogs. I think the last time we moved we had a U-Haul's worth of books alone, never mind our other stuff. Except we didn't use a U-Haul, we called a moving company.

A trip to Costco makes this stay-putted-ness real. We pretty obviously aren't lighting out for the territory because we have to stay here and use up this nine-pack of shampoo, and somehow not get buried in Triscuits reaching for a new bottle.

This naturally would bring up a joke that references Fibber McGee's closet, except that most people are too young to get a joke based on an old radio show, and that would make me feel even older than shopping at Costco.

Costco might even sell Metamucil in bulk packs. If they do, I NEVER want to know about it.

(Wood is editor of House Organ, Director of Publications for VUMC, and author of Watching the Wheels: Cheap Irony, Righetous Indignation, and Semi-Enlighted Opinion, which is a collection of past columns.)


February 2005


Pets of VUMC 2005

They're cute, they're loveable, sometimes they're scary. A couple of them are even cold blooded. It's a festival of Medical Center pets!


A Disaster Hits Home

Medical Student Himali Wijesooriya, a native of Sri Lanka, lost family members in the tsunami. Lisa Peper talks to her about her experiences.


VUMC photographer Dana Johnson's photograph of Surelle Chavez taking aride won an award from the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions .

Sybil's Art

The Gallery in VUMC features art by "Sybil" including some pieces by some of her other personalities.



Hidden talent hits a high note in Vanderbilt Community Chorus


Every Tuesday evening, for two hours, some of Vanderbilt's finest voices come together to let some of their lesser-known talents shine by making music with the Vanderbilt Community Chorus (VCC).

VCC is a musical melting pot of well-respected professionals in their day jobs--from a resident in otolaryngology in the Medical Center to a visual media expert in the School of Nursing, an employee of the Bill Wilkerson Center, a medical student, and employees from the Law School, the Business School and more.

VCC Musical Director, Pamela Schneller, senior lecturer in choral music and assistant dean at the Blair School of Music, said it is a unique group.

"I'm in awe of these people," said Schneller, who also directs the Vanderbilt Concert Choir, the Blair Children's Chorus and the Vanderbilt Chamber Singers. "After long days of work they come and put on a different hat. They leave their careers and worries at the door and share in something different--creating art, beauty and truth as individuals combined in a common cause."

Anton Chen, M.D., a resident at VUMC who sang with the choir for two years, said the diversity is something he enjoyed. "We have members from all walks of life--at Vanderbilt, from the community--doing all sorts of things. All of us, however, enjoy music enough to dedicate a part of our lives to the group," Chen said.

VCC began five years ago, and is comprised of more than 50 members made up of Vanderbilt faculty, staff and alumni. Some singers from the greater Nashville community are also members, having an interest in the level of professionalism and musicality seen in VCC. New members audition each year to join the ranks of returning singers.

Angie Antkowiak, a soprano in the choir, and a health educator outside of Vanderbilt by day, said singing helps her with public speaking. "Singing in the choir since I was in high school has really helped me find my voice and develop my public speaking skills," she said. "I love to sing. It is the one thing that helps to lift my mood, and I love hearing the harmony of the many voices in a choir. It is the most beautiful instrument." 

Chen said his profession and music go hand in hand, and the choir is a good outlet for him on many levels. "As otolaryngologists, our scope of practice includes laryngology and care of the professional and amateur voice. I initially joined the VCC to learn more about vocal technique and to gain more insight into our patients with voice difficulties, but I also go for the more selfish reason of enjoying music and singing.  

"Although I enjoy taking care of patients at Vanderbilt, I found myself starved for music, which had been such an integral part of my life before I started residency," he added.  

Courtney Denoff, who sings soprano in the choir, also has a similar work connection to music and using the voice in her work as a speech-language pathologist at the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center. Yet she enjoys the escape from work that being a part of the choir allows. "I enjoy singing beautiful and challenging music, and this allows me some personal time away from work and other obligations to enjoy something that I love to do," said Denoff.

  The chorus' next concert, a Valentine "Intermezzo," featuring songs of love, will be held Feb. 13 at 4 p.m. in the Martha Rivers Ingram Hall at the Blair School of Music. It is free and open to the community. For more information about the choir or how to audition visit: handbook.htm.




Buddy the squirrel killed by car


Buddy the squirrel, the longtime mascot of the office of Pediatric Surgery and the subject of a story in the November 2004 issue of House Organ, died shortly after the publication of that issue.

The cause of death was being hit by a car in the Medical Arts Building driveway, said Laura Williams, insurance reimbursement specialist in Pediatric Surgery. Apparently some food had been thrown into the driveway and Buddy hopped out to get it just as a car pulled quickly through, and hit him.

"He died instantly," Williams said. "One of the [Pediatric Surgery staff] went down and identified him."

Buddy was known to the Pediatric Surgery office staff because he had been coming to their windows for treats for almost 10 years. He was even known to come into the offices and help himself to snacks, and was identifiable by a missing tuft of fur from his tail.

Those in the office had been concerned because Pediatric Surgery's December move to new offices would have left Buddy peering into empty windows. It was the fact that he died before the office moved, as well as knowing the circumstances of his death, that provided a silver lining to his friends, Williams said.

"We never had to worry about him," she said. "He didn't suffer and I was glad to know what happened. He had a very full life."



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