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One Day At The p-3 Facility...


By Richard S. Weisman

THE CAMBRIDGE CITY COUNCIL last week approved research within the city limits into the phenomenon of "recombinant DNA," according to strict guidelines imposed by both Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci's "citizen's gang of 400," and the National Institutes of Health. This was a good thing, I figured, but I didn't realize just how good it was until I telephoned my friend Whacker up at North Central State. Whacker, you see, claims to have been doing this kind of research for years, "in a little p-3 facility I built in my spare time out in my garage using plans pirated from an unpublished 1956 issue of 'Popular Gene Mechanics'."

I went out to Whacker's house the other day to discuss the implications--and the potential beneficial effects--of the forthcoming research with him. I was greeted at the gate to his palatial home by a dog which, somewhat surprisingly, spoke seven languages and, after he showed me to the front door, challenged me to a game of whist.

Whacker looked excited. "Come on down to the basement!" he yelled, flailing his arms about wildly. "If I don't get a Nobel for this, then those people aren't worth a soggy pouch of Borkum Riff!"

I descended the steep stairway into what to all external appearances looked like your typical crackpot scientist's basement laboratory. There were the obligatory vapor-emitting test-tubes, cages full of mice, and banks of multi-colored lights rhythmically beating on and off. Something seemed amiss, however. The mice weren't soiling the copies of Padan Aram that had been placed in their cages. No, it looked to me as though they were reading them.

"Look over here in this corner!" commanded Whacker. I looked, but the sight that confronted me didn't register for a couple of minutes. I was dumbfounded. It was Mayor Vellucci--at least it looked like Mayor Vellucci--but it spoke in the voice of George Wald. It was giving what appeared to be a lecture on Death. That's how I knew.

I bolted, but Whacker had barred my only avenue of escape with a cage containing an amorphous, feather-covered mass of seemingly organic matter, labelled "Boneless Chicken (Szechuan)."

Whacker was playing the role of mad scientist to the hilt, emitting gales of frightening, nervous laughter. "My p-3 facility is this way," he said, indicating a chicken-wire and cardboard contraption in yet another corner of our dank cell.

Whacker pointed the way menacingly with a microtome. Curious but fearful, I peered inside the facility. I shuddered involuntarily.

Giant one-celled organisms--they couldn't have been any less than four feet tall--were literally enveloping everything in their path: farm animals, ears of corn, television news anchorpeople, controlled substances. And there was a lab technician in there, dressed up in a lab technician's outfit, and wearing a gas mask.

"EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" exclaimed Whacker, his breath heavy on my neck. "What?" I queried. "EEEEEEE-coli!" Whacker rejoined. "My little buddies--not so little any more, eh?

"Davidowitz in there just orchestrates the whole process these days, since most of those guys are experienced enough by now to know for themselves what the next move is."

I was nonplussed. "Whacker," I exclaimed, "just what goes on in there?"

WHACKER BEGAN explaining, so quickly that I was thankful I had brought my tape recorder. "Today we're mostly working on food company contracts," he began. "Big food--that's the name of the game, yep, yep. You saw that boneless chicken over there, right?"

I nodded.

"Well, that was only the beginning. Davidowitz will be in there this afternoon doing us up a little--actually very big--Polynesian Meatless Cow."

"With recombinant genes on our side, we're gonna do great things, great things, yep, yep. Drop a bucket of these little coca coli on the Mexican countryside, and you'll have big meatless enchiladas running around, terrorizing people. And there's another big plus--"

"What's that?" I asked.

"They'll never get cancer."

"You should let the Defense Department know about that," I offered.

"Small potatoes," responded Whacker. "Speaking of small potatoes, Davidowitz came up with a batch of french fries yesterday that you could build a log cabin with if you happen to overcook them. Popcorn that's smart enough to pop itself, and big enough so that you only have to order one kernel in a movie theater; cars made out of asparagus that eat tollbooths; marijuana that smokes itself and tells jokes; Government professors who only give A's and who have four legs of differing lengths; entire city councils without tongues; baseball players with bats instead of arms; bats with baseball players instead of wings; edible deep-sea oil-drilling platforms; homosexual turnips--"

"Whacker! Whacker! Snap out of it! You're really getting carried away!" I yelled.

But Whacker wouldn't stop.

"Liver that chops itself and spreads itself on Ritz crackers; paramecia smart enough to make collect phone calls; Girl Scout cookies made out of Girl Scouts..."

That's when I made my getaway. Up the stairs past the sleeping boneless chicken, past a bowl of goldfish knitting woolen sweaters, past a lobster wearing a bib that said "Kosher," and out into the yard, where I hid in six-foot tall blades of grass which were reading copies of Pravda. I made it to my car, but to my chagrin, it was being eaten--by the very dog whose invitation to whist I had foolishly declined earlier in the afternoon.

I stayed on at Whacker's for dinner that evening, and I can't say I didn't wholeheartedly enjoy myself.

Recombinant franks and beans...spinach that did a socko comic monologue before I swallowed it...spaghetti that twirled itself around my fork like a whirling dervish...And that chopped liver!

Professor Meselson, you just gotta get Whacker's recipe...

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