Music Mania

by Lorne Taichman

My current playlist has one entry, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. I listen to it at least once a day, and if rushed, I tune to the first movement and skip the rest. I love the way it begins so hesitantly and then gains in confidence as the theme is developed. It moves me each time I hear it. No. 4 has been the sole occupant of my playlist for the past few years. Before I focused on No. 4, I spent several years listening to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, also a masterpiece. I spent the 1990s in the company of the Emperor, that is the Emperor Concerto, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5. I know – I am the most boring and unimaginative listener. I am a borderline obsessive compulsive when it comes to music – I understand. I can’t help it. Let’s face it, when it comes to music we are not fully in charge.

I was first introduced to Beethoven’s piano concertos in the early 1990s when I purchased a five CD set with all five concertos on the Telarc label performed by Rudolf Serkin. The nice man at the CD store said they would never wear out, no matter how many times I played them. After a ruthless number of performances on my weary CD player, one CD began skipping, another developed a weird sound, and one just wouldn’t play at all. With the loss of that CD set I migrated to YouTube.

I think I know the origin of this fixation. Some sixty odd years ago, for reasons that now elude me, I bought a record of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. You know – “dah dah dah dum.” Well, after listening to that several hundred times, I recall feeling physically lifted, suspended in space, while the music rushed headlong on to its crescendo. That was the moment I fell in love with classical music and Beethoven in particular. Over time, I did manage to listen to other pieces. As a teenager, Ravel’s Bolero was good for making out, though those opportunities were infrequent. For several years in the early 1970s I listened only to James Taylor singing Fire and Rain. I loved the gentleness with which he came at those sad lyrics. Focusing on James Taylor was my attempt to be hip. For two years from 1980 through 1982, I gave all my attention to Dvorak’s New World Symphony. That piece seemed to capture the promise and hope of America. But when I learned that my brother had a deadly form of cancer, I punished myself by abstaining from listening to that piece. A few years back I enrolled in James Smith’s IRP class on Beethoven…masterful. I attended the entire series of lectures and concerts on the Beethoven symphonies given by Leon Botstein, the conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra. All nine symphonies are glorious, but they do not calm the soul like the piano concertos.

Some weeks past, I attended a country western concert at Symphony Space by a group called Ham Rodeo. It was unusual and energizing. When I returned home, I put on No. 4, just to settle down. I enjoy going to the NY Philharmonic Open Rehearsals at Lincoln Center. In fact, recently, I attended a rehearsal concert by piano soloist Stephen Hough. He was rehearsing Concerto No. 3 for a performance that evening.

You may be wondering why I ignore Beethoven’s piano concertos No. 1 and No. 2. It’s not a mystery. I enjoy them, yes, but they don’t capture me in the same way as Nos. 3, 4 or 5.

I should confess, I also listen to the 3rd Movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. It is the auditory definition of beauty. On NPR, I once heard of someone who listened to that movement every evening of his life. Now, that is an obsession.

For some years a disturbing thought about death was how would I manage in the absence of those musical pieces. In my musings, I imagined myself, looking down from above, witnessing my family and friends as they went about their lives. But the mystery was, which concerto would I be listening to, No. 3, No. 4 or No. 5, or even the second movement of Symphony No. 9?

Lorne Taichman: This essay was written in 2019 for the Advanced Autobiography Study Group coordinated by David Grogan. Lorne has been a member of IRP/LP² for about nine years.

Thursday Nights at the Gardens

by Lorne Taichman

Thursday night was wrestling night at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Gardens, a sad, shabby, featureless building located at 60 Carlton Street in downtown Toronto, was the home of the Toronto Maple Leaf hockey team. The “Leafs” won eleven Stanley Cup trophies playing at the Gardens. For hockey, the main floor of the arena was flooded and cooled to form a clear sheet of ice.  For wrestling however, a four-corner boxing ring was set up in the center with an elevated ramp leading from the ring to an exit on the side. This raised ramp allowed wrestlers to enter and exit without having to come in direct contact with angry, boisterous fans. The fans were there to see good versus evil, and those colossal forces, embodied in the wrestlers themselves, were clearly on display at the fights. The good guys fought clean, obeyed the rules; the bad guys fought dirty and never abided by the rules. 

Occasionally, on Thursday nights, my father took me to see the fights. I had no special interest in wrestling, but I was delighted to accompany him to one of his favorite haunts. My father loved wrestling. What is surprising is that this mild mannered, basically shy man would climb into the ring with the wresters and slug it out. I don’t mean that literally; he didn’t really enter the ring but if you saw him watching a match you would see why I say he was there alongside these gladiators. He followed each punch and every head lock with contortions of his own body. He would grimace and twist, kick out a leg, clench his fists as the fighters slugged each other. His gaze was riveted on the action. He was transfixed. There was no other display or activity that held him so entranced. He didn’t need to know the names or backgrounds of the antagonists. The mere sight of a match on the TV would stop him in his tracks and within a moment his jaw would be clenched, his body tense and his focus there in the pit. At the time I didn’t think it odd that this soft spoken, gentle man would so enjoy seeing two grown men pummel each other. I wonder what my mother thought of his going to watch fights and what she thought of his taking his son along. I cannot recall any resistance on her part.

The attendees at the fights were mostly men, working class Joe’s, dressed in the heavy clothes, grey windbreakers, featureless pants and unadorned caps. There was the occasional woman, but it was unusual. My father would often meet friends there. It didn’t seem pre-arranged. They just met by chance, fellow travelers on that strange violent road.

The best seats in the house were located on the ground floor. Occasionally we got to sit in that section, and when we did, I too would wait alongside that entrance ramp to get a close look at the wrestlers. I recall fans throwing peanuts at a bad-guy wrestler, Fred Atkins, I believe it was, as he made his entrance. I can still see the peanuts ricocheting off his darkly tanned, muscular chest as he snarled at the screaming fans. It was a good show. Usually we sat in the bleachers. 

The names of the wrestlers were quite creative. Whipper Billy Watson, a good guy, a Canadian, rather chunky in his build, famous for his sleeper hold and twice world champion. Bruno Sammartino, an enormous, muscular, clean fighter whose obituary recently appeared in the NY Times.  There was Yukon Eric, Killer Kowalski, Bobo Brazil, Bulldog Brower, The Masked Marvel, women wrestlers, midget wrestlers, even midget women wrestlers. There was an Israeli wrestler. I don’t recall his name and could not locate it on the internet. He was a clean fighter and when he entered the ring he would neatly drape a small white towel embossed with a blue Star of David over the top rope. Of course, we rooted for him. 

Unlikely as it may seem, there was a brief moment on those Thursday nights that was somewhat magical. After the announcer had introduced the wrestlers to the cheers and jeers of the expectant crowd, the referee would motion the combatants to the center, examine their hands and nails, give them brief instructions, and send them back to their respective corners. At that moment the lights in the arena were turned down and the overhead lights turned up full to light up the stage. All attention was directed at the ring and, I swear, there was a momentary glow that seemed to emanate from the pale white tarmac, an iridescent shimmer to the air above it. For that and only during that moment, the crowd hushed. The two combatants then slowly approached and at the right moment lunged at each other, usually grabbing the back of the opponent’s neck and attempting to go for a side head lock, a full nelson or a hammerlock, anything to immobilize the other and gain an advantage. 

Wrestlers were not allowed to strike with a closed fist. They could use a forearm or an elbow but not a fist. You could not choke or pull hair. If a part of a wrestler’s body was outside the ropes, the referee patted the wrestler on the shoulder, and he was supposed release his hold and move backward. Of course, bad guys never followed those rules. They struck with closed fists, often choked, pulled hair and never broke cleanly at the ropes. No matter how egregious the bad guy’s actions were, the referee would never disqualify the offending player. It was a fine show – good versus evil and evil often won. A fight between two good guys was boring. I don’t recall ever seeing a fight between two bad guys. It was widely held that the fights were fixed. It didn’t matter. We were not there for truth. We were there for victory over evil. 

In thinking back to those Thursday nights at the Gardens, I am struck by how strange it was that my father took me, his pre-teen son, to those events. I cannot imagine taking my children or grandchildren to such a spectacle. My father came from a different time. He lived through two world wars, a Holocaust, a time of overt antisemitism, poverty and a fiercely competitive marketplace to make his living. Perhaps the fights were a way for him to deal directly with some of the tensions and stresses he lived through. Perhaps the fights were the way he saw the world. He did live through times when evil was present and danger did lurk about. There were many corners of his life with which he struggled. Only now, many years after he is gone, do I appreciate them. The other day as I was surfing through TV channels I flashed through a wrestling match. Too bad he was not here to enjoy it. Had he been, I would have stopped the surfing and joined him in watching a good match. 


Lorne Taichman was a physician-scientist at Stony Brook University for over three decades. This essay was written in early 2019 for a class in Advanced Autobiography coordinated by David Grogan. Lorne has been a member of IRP/LP2 for about eight years. 


90th and Broadway

by Lorne Taichman

I don’t know his name. He opened a fruit and vegetable stand on the corner of 90th and Broadway about the same time we moved into the neighborhood, about a dozen years ago. We made the mistake of befriending him right at the outset, saying hello, warm greetings and so on. He always responded in kind, acknowledging us with a quirky little head tilt. It did not take long for our greeting to turn into an expectation on his part and some guilt on ours that we would purchase fruit or vegetables from him. I say it was a mistake because we soon realized that the produce he sold was of very poor quality. For example, once he convinced me to buy a package of figs: “Fresh. Very fresh. Six. Only two dollars.” Five of the six were inedible. Yet every time Ettie and I passed without stopping to purchase anything, he looked at us accusingly. Ettie is convinced he examines our parcels from Barzini, the grocery store on the other side of Broadway, looking for evidence of betrayal. I would often place items he doesn’t sell, such as milk or eggs, at the top of our parcels to throw him off the scent. Sometimes I would walk an extra block so as to enter our building from the 89th Street entrance where he could not see us at all. My most frequent ploy was to walk along the opposite side of 90th Street hoping the parked cars would conceal my passage from his view.

Nevertheless, that little fruit and vegetable stand supports an entire family. There is a wife, a large heavy woman with rough features and a fierce look in her eyes. Her face gives no hint of past youth. She is undoubtedly far younger than her appearance would suggest. She wears a headscarf and all is covered but her face. I can’t help it, but when she is sitting, resting alongside the stand, my gaze automatically zeros in on her two thick, meaty thighs straining against a dark, heavy skirt. I have never seen her speak a word to or exchange a glance with her husband. There is also a grandfather, an elderly gentleman with a rather kindly look. He knows how to say numbers and to make change, but he has never uttered any other word. And there is a son, a young teenager with alert eyes and a warm open smile. Often, all the family is present, standing idly awaiting the next customer. They are closely tuned to each other’s movements: when the father moves a few apples higher in the stack, the wife follows by shifting a few other apples sideways along the row followed closely by the grandfather transferring still a few other apples slightly lower. I suspect it is a very tight knit family that provides critical emotional support to one another in what must be a very strange land indeed.

What strikes Ettie and me is that, although we see and greet the owner every day, we know nothing about him: we don’t know his origins, his customs, his thoughts, even, as I said at the outset, his name. I often wonder what he sees, what judgments he makes about our behavior and ethics. In the summer when young women walk about in tight fitting, revealing clothes, what goes through his mind? Does he know we are Jews?

Like many Jews, Ettie and I often wonder, in a playful sort of way, who would save us when the Nazis return. It is a game we play to help us take measure of the inner core of a person’s character. We both agree that we would not be able to count on the corner fruit and vegetable man to shelter us. Perhaps he plays the same game and wonders if, in this angry land, we will save him. Probably not.

I suspect the gulf between us is larger than a language barrier. Our worlds are so different we likely have no basis for exchange. In truth, I am somewhat relieved that I cannot know his thoughts, for fear there would be views I would find disturbing. Perhaps he feels the same way about me. I wish him well but the distance between us is immense, even though he is right at the corner.

In winter he closes shop. He tells me it is too cold to stay in New York and goes back home. It is a relief when he is gone. I can now stride guilt-free across the corner of 90th and Broadway carrying my Barzini parcels with the fruit and vegetables sticking out at the top. Our salads definitely improve.


This essay was written as an exercise for the Guided Autobiography Class. Lorne Taichman was a physician-scientist. Writing has opened a whole new world for him. 

Irrational Numbers: A Fable

by Lorne Taichman

One day in the Land of Numbers, Zero and Infinity were having an argument. Each one thought he was more vital to the world of mathematics.  Infinity boasted that he was the largest number in the universe and that none could compare to that.  Zero took a more modest approach.  Zero said that, although he was nothing to speak of, he held a lot of power.  Any number multiplied by zero would be zero and any number divided by zero would be infinity.  The argument went on for what seemed like an eternity till all the other numbers, One, Two, Three, Four and so on had had enough and decided to put an end to this bickering once and for all.  The entire series of numbers met, chose One to be the spokesperson and called Zero and Infinity to a large community meeting.  When everyone had settled down, One spoke: “I may be only a one but I am the basis of all numbers.  I am not the only one who is special.  Two can divide into any even number.  Three makes a beautiful triangle.  Four is a perfect square.  There are five fingers on a hand.  Every snowflake has six sides.  There are seven days in a week …” One continued on and on explaining the importance and beauty of every number until Zero and Infinity grew weary and called a halt to the proceedings.  “Enough!” they cried and stopped their arguing.  Peace reigned in the Land of Numbers ever after.

Moral:   Every number counts


The. assignment for this week’s IRP Writing Workshop was to write a fable.  The thought of combative numbers for a fable came to me out of the blue on a numbing subway ride home.  




The Queen’s Boobs

by Lorne Taichman

On June 2, 1953, about a year and a half following the death of her father, King George VI, Princess Elizabeth was crowned Queen Elizabeth II in an elaborate coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey.  For an 11year old, the coronation provided an opportunity to glimpse at something forbidden and unbelievably exciting – the Queen’s breasts, or as we neighborhood kids called them, the Queen’s boobs.

We were living in Toronto, proud members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.  In elementary school we studied British history in lieu of Canadian history, read British authors rather than Canadian authors, and at the beginning of every movie, every play, even before the start of wrestling matches at Maple Leaf Gardens, we stood and sang God Save the King.  In the front of every classroom hung a map of the world with the British Isles in the center colored pink.  Canada was situated to the left of Britain and, like all Commonwealth countries, Canada was shaded pink.  When Princess Elizabeth visited Canada in 1951 we stood for hours on Bloor Street waiting to get a glimpse of her as she rode by in an open car.  She was young, beautiful and royal.

Shortly after that Canadian visit, King George died in his sleep.

The King is dead. God save the Queen!

For days, funereal music was broadcast nonstop on the radio with occasional breaks for a story or two of his last days.  I recall one report of his having gone hunting in cold weather a few weeks earlier wearing battery-heated stockings.  Everything the royal family did was of interest to us.  We were loyal subjects.

If you have been watching the Netflix series The Crown you will know the importance given to the coronation of a new monarch and you will also know that at one point in the proceedings the Queen’s hand, forehead and breast are anointed with holy oil.  It did not take long for a tiny band of 11 year old boys to realize just what this part of the ceremony meant for them – the Queen’s boobs were to be exposed for all to see.  Just thinking about the Queen baring her breasts in the middle of Westminster Abbey sent us into fits of uncontrollable nervous giggling.  However, when we learned that the coronation was to be televised, yes televised, we were beyond reach.  We would be able to see the forbidden fruit.  For kids who seriously debated whether the Queen shat like other people or wiped her own behind, the opportunity to see her bare chest was something of epic proportions.  What would they look like?  Do you think she shows them to Phillip her husband?  Our knowledge of a woman’s breasts was limited to stolen glances at bare-breasted African tribal women in National Geographic.

We were the first family in our neighborhood to own a TV.  So, on the day of the coronation, Motty, Hart, Bobby, Bernie and I assembled in my living room.  Fearful of missing that once-in-a-lifetime moment we remained glued to the TV and endured endless slow marches, solemn prayers and mind numbing speeches.  I recall my mother commenting on how surprised she was to see us boys so enthusiastic about the coronation.  Finally, the moment arrived.  The Archbishop, holding a vessel of holy oil, slowly approached the seated monarch.  Suddenly, without any warning, a grey placard was lowered in front of the camera blocking the entire scene.  There, instead of her majesty’s boobs, was the royal coat of arms adorned with its silly lion and stupid unicorn holding up a shield and jeweled crown.  We started hopping all about the room. “Get it away!” “Move!”  We were frantic.  As much as we willed it away that intruding piece of cardboard remained in place.  You cannot imagine our disappointment.  In a moment the ceremony was over.  The lion and unicorn were lifted away and there upon her throne sat the Queen, fully clothed and well anointed.

We did not stay to see the remainder of the ceremony.  We headed outside to play a game of war.  How fresh, innocent and unspoiled we were.  While the beauty and mystery of a woman’s body would always stay with us, our loyalty to the monarch, to the British Empire, to all that was British would never be quite the same.  Life moved on and so did we.


It seems so long ago that we were caught up in the excitement of the coronation as well as our plan to glimpse at the forbidden fruit.


My Father’s Pillow

by Lorne Taichman                   


Most nights my father slept on an oversized down pillow. It must have been about 3 or 4 times the size of a regular pillow. I think the it helped to alleviate a chronic backache.  What made that pillow so memorable was its smell: a warm, comfortable, all-embracing smell that originated from the use of Vitalis.  Vitalis was a pale-yellow, greaseless hair tonic for men. It was supposed to keep hair in place all day.  It came in a small, clear glass bottle that had a tiny opening at the top so that the bottle could be inverted and the tonic sprinkled on the top of the head without dousing the user. My father applied it every day.  He didn’t have a big bush of hair, rather, he had brown, straight hair of medium length, and after he splashed on Vitalis he would work the tonic in with a comb.  Before creating the part he would comb his hair forward, straight out in front of him, forming a flying wedge, a pointed prow, a bridge to nowhere. Cantilevered out there it held its shape, defying gravity. When he wasn’t around we kids would sprinkle Vitalis on our heads and try to create that same effect, but we had inherited our mother’s frizzy hair gene making our hair incapable of matching that proud beak.

The smell is difficult to describe. It wasn’t the odor of Vitalis, that clear, pungent, crisp, antiseptic smell; it had the essence of Vitalis at its base, but the scent had been transformed and reformulated by years of sweat, skin oil, body warmth mixed with whatever magic the feather down brought to the brew. It was a smell you didn’t whiff; you buried your head deep into the down, drew in a full breath and allowed the personality to totally envelop you. It was a smell that meant security, safety, continuity, comfort and well-being.

The alternate hair product for men, for those who wanted something more substantial, was Byrlcreem, a greasy, white cream you removed from a wide mouth jar with two or three fingers and rubbed deeply into your head. Again, the purpose was to keep hair in place all day.  We kids used Brylcreem – Vitalis was too old fashioned.  It took a bit of rubbing to work it evenly into your hair, but once in place it held your hair, no loose ends, guaranteed.  Brylcreem was first advertised on television with the jingle “Brylcreem – A little dab’ll do ya! You’ll look so debonair. Brylcreem- the gals’ll all pursue ya, they’ll love to run their fingers through your hair.” Ronald Reagan used Brylcreem. I think we teenagers stuck to Brylcreem because it gave a bit of sheen to our mops, and it felt manly to rub it vigorously into our heads.

Brylcreem had a mild soft odor and although we used it every day, our pillows never acquired a distinctive, friendly Brylcreem-based aroma. In fact, years of Brylcreem led to no pillow odor at all.  If you wanted comfort you went to the big pillow.

When we divvied up the contents of my parents’ home, one of the items I took was the big pillow. It rests in a large, green, plastic bag in an upstairs, out-of-the-way closet.  That size bag is usually used for tossing out large items of junk, though it fits the big pillow well.  However, the smell is gone. As hard as I try, as hard as I pull air through that down into my nostrils, I cannot find that familiar smell.  I am filled with deep sadness every time I try. Something so personal, dear and so intimate, is gone forever.


I was an academic medical researcher for several decades at Stony Brook University. I joined the IRP three years ago and have coordinated two courses — Cancer Therapy and A Broken Heart with Bob Braff.

Notes of a Retired Scientist


 by Lorne Taichman


The seed that led to my becoming a scientist rather than remaining a physician was planted in a most unexpected fashion. I was in my third year of medical school and fully enjoying the study of medicine. I was learning everything there was to know about the human body. The information I was absorbing had been tested and proven true by years of practice. My task was to acquire that knowledge and let it guide me in dealing with patients. I was secure and confident, that is until I encountered the clinical pathological conferences or CPCs lead by Dr. Jan Steiner.

Dr. Steiner, a Czech émigré, a combat soldier in the British army, a physician and a scientist, led the CPC sessions. We would be given the history, physical findings and laboratory results for a recently deceased patient. In fact, the patient was so recently deceased that his or her organs were displayed before us on stainless steel trays. Our task was to determine the cause of death. What was so remarkable about these sessions was Dr. Steiner’s irreverent tutelage. In most cases he succeeded in convincing us that had the patient not listened to the physician and had the patient stayed clear of the hospital that poor soul would have been outside that very morning basking in the sunshine on University Avenue. I was shocked. How could Dr. Steiner question so openly and so brazenly medical wisdom and standard medical practice? How could he so easily turn our certainty into doubt? I was intrigued by this enigmatic professor. So when Dr. Steiner agreed to let me work on a summer research project with him I was delighted. I was going to get an opportunity to work alongside this renegade. I would learn his secret.

On my first day at work Dr. Steiner briefly explained what he wanted me to do, and on the second day he disappeared for the summer. In the few moments we had had together I learned that my task was to make casts or molds of the blood vessels of the liver in experimental rats. The idea was to learn if gross changes took place in liver blood vessels when the rats were given a drug known to induce liver tumors. In a way the concept of vascular changes and cancer formation was way ahead of its time, a concept that Judah Folkman in Boston painstakingly and successfully developed into a new cancer therapy some 40 years later. But I am digressing. For an eager medical student set adrift I had two immediate problems – I had to figure out how to make the molds, and second, I had to not disappoint Dr. Steiner.

Making molds of the vascular tree was relatively simple. There was a liquid plastic that when injected into blood vessels would work its way into all the small branches and then harden solid. The trick then was to remove the liver tissue without harming the plastic moud.  That also turned out to be relatively simple. Immerse the liver in sulfuric acid and allow the acid to digest away the tissue. The plastic was resistant to the acid. Simple.

Somehow I managed to secure working space in a basement office with a small, casement window opening onto an alleyway on eastern side of the institute.  I got all the equipment I needed and ordered rats from a licensed supplier and had them housed in the institute. How excited I was to be working on my own project. Perhaps I would really discover something of importance.

In retrospect a kind angel must have been watching over me because, by all rights, I should have been blown sky high, or failing that, I should have been thrown out for destroying institute property. The explosion would have come from my reckless use of ether in an enclosed room a short distance from a lighted Bunsen burner. The ether was used to anesthetize and euthanize these poor creatures. The proper way would have been to work in a special hood that sucked the explosive fumes from the workspace and blew them to the outside. The lighted flame should have been nowhere near the can of ether. Why I did not blow the room and me apart is still a mystery to me.

My second offense was to ruin an exterior wall of the institute. It happened this way. After injecting the livers and allowing the plastic to harden I would remove the livers from the dead animals and place them in a large beaker filled with sulfuric acid. To avoid having the acid fumes linger in the small office I placed the beaker outside on the window ledge. The next morning I would retrieve the beaker, pour out the acid and gently rinse the plastic cast with water. Voilà! I had a delicate and detailed cast of the vascular tree of the liver. The fine branching structure was lovely to behold.

One morning, towards the end of the summer, coming into work I noticed a sizeable group gathered outside the eastern wall of the institute. I muscled my way to the front and there for all to see was an enormous blackened area. The surface of the building stone had been charred a ferocious black color. In the center of the damaged area was my casement window. I knew instantly what had happened. In the stagnant warm summer air the sulfuric acid fumes had wafted upwards along the face of the building and reacted with whatever happens when acid and stone make contact. I slowly backed away, kept very quiet and made no mention of the incident to anyone. That guiding angel once again saved me — no one ever connected my plastic casts with the remodeling job on the east wall of the institute.

In spite of the self-made hazards and property destruction, work on preparing molds proceeded nicely. One day, having several extra animals and not wanting to “waste them” I injected plastic into the bile ducts rather than the blood vessels. I was going to make casts of the biliary tree of the liver but it was the end of the day and I had no more beakers for liver digestion. Rather than euthanizing the animals I sewed up their abdomens and returned them, a little groggy, to recover in their cages. I promptly forgot about them.

As to my great discovery into the cause of cancer, unfortunately there was no difference that I could see between the cast of normal livers and those taken from livers in the early stages of cancer formation. Well, it wasn’t what I had hoped for but at least I had an answer.

A few days before the end of the summer job Dr. Steiner reappeared. When he asked to see what I had done, I showed him the vascular casts. We both agreed the experiment worked as planned but we could see no differences. I then remembered my forgotten mice, the ones whose bile ducts had been injected with plastic. I found the poor creatures, which by now had a severe case of jaundice and were deep yellow in color. I had no idea what had happened to make them so jaundiced. I brought them with some trepidation to Dr. Steiner. When we autopsied the animals and looked inside their abdomen, Dr. Steiner froze for a second and then shouted in his accented voice, “what have you done?” If I could have disappeared down a deep hole I would have gladly leaped. “Quick, make a slide of this liver and let’s look at it under the microscope.” I ran to obey, fully expecting to be ridiculed for something akin to scientific idiocy. I watched as his large hands focused the microscope on the tissue. “Look at what you have done. You have created a model for biliary cirrhosis. This is tremendous. I have been looking for this for years.”

I departed Dr. Steiner’s lab a few days later to start medical school. I hadn’t learned Dr. Steiner’s secret but I had discovered the sheer joy of discovery. I had, in my own blundering way, worked through a problem, used my own devices, tinkered and explored and come forth with an answer. I had created something that, although not monumental, was nevertheless, of my own making. What stuck with me most was that I had created it. There had been no guidelines to follow, no textbooks and no standards to lead the way. I was on my own.

It’s been 52 years since that summer and for 40 of those years, until my retirement, I was a happy scientist. I have never regretted a moment spent in asking the wrong questions, in looking behind the established wisdom and being the first to learn something new about living cells. Do I regret not practicing medicine? Yes, of course I do. It would have been a fulfilling pursuit, but I was seduced by the opportunity to venture into unknown territory and strike out on paths where it was possible to deface other institutional walls.


Lorne Taichman was an academic medical researcher for several decades at Stony Brook University. He joined the IRP three years ago and has coordinated two courses — Cancer Therapy and A Broken Heart (with Bob Braff).