Saturday, August 3, 2013

The True Legend of the Concrete Tapeworm

The True Legend of the Concrete Tapeworm
John Janovy, Jr.

There once was a beat-up, white-painted, wooden building that sat in a wooded depression across the road south from the Lake McConaughy spillway in Keith County, Nebraska. That building had been the headquarters for the crew that build Kingsley Dam, the enormous earth-filled structure that impounded the lake called “Big Mac.” During the early 1980s, the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District decided to “finish” Kingsley Dam by putting a hydroelectric plant into the spillway, a rather formidable but interesting task. That building had mainly been used by fishermen as a convenient restroom, but Central moved it out of the woods and down to a site near the Cedar Point Biological Station’s White Gate. See TEACHING IN EDEN, RoutledgeFalmer, 2003, for the complete analysis of the White Gate’s influence on American higher education. Obviously, late at night, over beers outside the White Gate, there was plenty of discussion about that building, the wisdom of Central’s decision to build the hydro plant, what might happen to it after the project was finished, and, of course, parasitology.

Central used the building to store various construction supplies. I was director of the CPBS at the time, and we needed some additional research space, so Ron Randall, who was the CPBS facilities manager at the time, and I did an inspection of the building and decided it might be useful. Ron said something like “it needs a new roof, new siding, new floor, and new wiring, but other than that, it’s in good shape.” The timbers were 1930s-era, and very solid. After the hydro plant was finished, I asked Central if we could have the building and they said “yes,” although we had to move it.

Ron rented a Bobcat, and although he did most of the work, I got to drive the Bobcat and did some of the excavation at the site, at CPBS, that had been formerly occupied by a green mobile home used as a research lab by several workers. After the building site was level, we dug the footing trench and Ron called in the concrete truck. After the footing was poured, there was some concrete left over, so I asked the truck driver if he’d pour a string of concrete in the space that would eventually be beneath the building’s floor. He did, and I shaped that string of concrete into a very large tapeworm sculpture, maybe 10 feet long. A local mason was hired to lay the foundation, and Star Moving Company from Hershey, Nebraska, moved the building from the White Gate to its new site, setting it gracefully on the foundation (but not without knocking a couple of blocks off, which had to be replaced before the building could be lowered).

There were barn swallow nests on the building, just under the eaves, when it was outside the White Gate, and those birds followed the building as it made its journey in to CPBS. That’s why the building is now named The Swallow Barn. Ron did virtually all of the updating and repair, and The Swallow Barn was used as a research facility, mainly by parasitologists, for years before it was remodeled into living quarters.

During the summer of 2013, there was some reason for people to get beneath that building, maybe because of a needed air conditioning repair. A couple of students, I believe, crawled into the crawl space (which is fairly generous, but you can’t stand up in it), and confirmed that yes indeed, like in a true intestine, that concrete tapeworm still lies there in the dark, absorbing all the parasitological wisdom that’s been brought into The Swallow Barn by the various people working above it’s concrete scolex.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013


On the other hand, sometimes a problem can turn into a positive experience. Not long ago, standing in front of a large auditorium full of freshman students, three ladies in the back of the room simply would not shut up, and the laughing seemed to be disturbing those around them. So I kicked them out of class. As you can imagine, the other 257 people in that room were very attentive for the rest of the period. But I got an e-mail later that day from one of those who’d been sent out:

I was asked to leave your class this morning and 
I just wanted to say that I am sincerely sorry for my
actions. I am ashamed and I honestly meant no 
disrespect to you or my classmates. Make no mistake, 
I was very humiliated by being asked to leave class. 
I really was paying attention to your lecture 
and final exam preparation discussion, but I did allow 
myself to become momentarily distracted and I take 
full responsibility for that lapse of judgment. Please 
understand that I am not writing this in order to argue 
my actions as acceptable, because I was in the wrong, 
but I just wanted to tell you that I am sorry. 
Respond if you wish, but I just thought you should know.
I responded. And the fact that this student sent the above message means that at the end of the semester, if she is a tenth of a point away from the next highest letter grade, I’ll move her up. But the real lesson is that no matter how anonymous or hidden you may think you are in a large auditorium, a teacher can probably see you and recognize immediately whether you are contributing to the overall academic atmosphere or being a distraction to your classmates. Fifty minutes is not very long. Just sit there, pay attention, and at least look like you’re taking notes, glancing up at the screen or blackboard periodically, even if you’re busy writing a poem or a letter to your significant other.

Monday, December 31, 2012


“I think there’s a typo in the Bible,” said Satan. “Remember, right in the beginning, when I’m a snake and there’s this apple tree? I think that when you wrote ‘not eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’ that what you really meant was ‘now eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.’ I mean, if You’re going to let them evolve those big brains, maybe You should let them know what’s good and bad?” Satan sipped on her coffee and looked over at the next table where a college kid was eating a brownie. “I think I need a big cookie full of macadamia nuts,” she said; “I heard macadamia nuts are really high in calories and have lots of fat.”

The whole book is available as a paperback at or on Kindle and Nook.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Bohemian coffee cake recipe and demo

Bohemian coffee cake recipe and demo
See for the recipe and a demonstration of how it's assembled once the dough has been allowed to rise (twice) in a warm place.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


But LPD’s mind lay in the clouds. Storms come from the west. Thunderheads hide in the mountains. They live in the canyons, deep in caves, until cold winds make them angry. Then they grow, and take their revenge on the prairies. In their towering, boiling, anguish, their reds and orange reflections, they are emotions come into corporeal life. Their visage is anger; their lightning is excitement; their rain—tears; their stillness, yellow light, soft singing of tiny frogs, are all a kind of renewal. This rain is a persistent one. The wet raccoon becomes surly, with bared fangs, quick to bite and shake its fur, nervous as the tale goes on, almost as if he remembers only too well the dirt, heavy bones, the ancient dried skin, stringy black and brittle hair, the broken pots, baskets, all out of the grave. The grave. He scratches and yowls. From the woods north of campus comes the scream of a rabbit whose back is cut in two by a weasel’s stiletto teeth. Finally, at five in the morning, comes the calling of toads. With this last, Dinkle stops.
“The storm always brings them back together,” he says.

(DINKLE: A SPIRITUAL BIOGRAPHY is a ghost story for our times; it's available on smashwords, kindle, and nook.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

WHY GOD MADE TAPEWORMS - This theological masterpiece is available free; you are welcome to spread it around to friends who might love tapeworms.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Note to a superb student hassling a paper through reviewers

B______ -

By way of perspective:

(1) KEITH COUNTY JOURNAL - rejected 22 times (by 22 different publishers, one of whom wrote “Why do you waste your postage sending us things that don’t turn us on?”) before being picked up by St. Martin's Press; eventually sold thousands of copies, got my picture in TIME Magazine, and is still in print after 34 years.

(2) YELLOWLEGS - rejected several times (through my agent but not by my agent) before Norman Mailer's editor said, in essence, "throw away the crap and keep the story." After cutting the book in half, St. Martin's picked it up on a two-book deal. Later, a film deal on YELLOWLEGS paid for one of our children’s education at Berkeley, but ended in an out-of-court settlement, deposited in a University of Nebraska Foundation account, that paid for my research for several years.

(3) TEACHING IN EDEN: THE CEDAR POINT LESSONS – rejected, through my agent (but not by my agent), by the University of Nebraska Press, in fact by return mail. Eventually sold and published by RoutledgeFalmer, a Taylor and Francis company. The University of Nebraska Press editor who rejected it, without even reading the proposal or sample chapters, was the same editor who left UNP and convinced the John Neihardt heirs to transfer the rights to all Neihardt’s books to this editor’s new company. (The Neihardt property was a major income producer for UNP).

(4) VERMILION SEA – rejected, through my agent, by the University of Nebraska Press, without review. Eventually sold and published by Houghton-Mifflin. VS was a heavily, and I do mean heavily, edited book, both by the H-M senior editor and the copy editor, the former simply writing “rew!” (= “re-write”) on paragraph after paragraph, and the copy editor letting me get by with the most embarrassing mistake I’ve ever published (won’t tell you what it is.)

(5) TUSKERS – rejected 23 times, through my agent, by various publishers. After the 23rd rejection, my agent said “everybody in the agency loves this book but we simply cannot sell it. I’ll be happy to write the contract if you can sell it.” I tried a couple of more times, unsuccessfully, with Jena (the ESPN child) hassling me constantly to get it into print. Eventually, when and the e-book business got up and running, I did self-publish it.

(6) THE GINKGO – My agent rejected this one, declining to handle it, calling it “an evocative book about ideas, exactly the kind of thing the American book-buying public is getting increasingly impatient with.” (I re-wrote the prologue and added that quote, plus some narrative to put it into perspective.) It was subsequently rejected by about 40 different publishers. I eventually self-published it and still consider it my finest piece of creative work.

(7) ON BECOMING A BIOLOGIST – At the opposite end of the author-publisher-agent spectrum is OBAB, which my agent negotiated and sold, then told me I was going to write it. The editor at Harper and Row was gentleman named Rick Kot, one of the most professional people I’ve ever worked with. For two years I worked on both the manuscript and the outline; he edited the latter, which eventually got up to about 50 pages, at least a dozen times, until he finally took it to the H&R editorial board for approval. After that, I re-wrote the whole book at least three times, all as a result of his editing and commentary, after which he asked “are you now ready for me to edit it?” I answered “yes,” and ended up doing as much creative work in the next six months as I’d done in the previous 2-3 years. This book is still in print after nearly 30 years.

(8) The intro biology textbook project – As a result of KEITH COUNTY JOURNAL, an editor from one of the major textbook publishers showed up in my office to talk about a BIOS 101 textbook. I signed the contract. The manuscript eventually got to 1200 pages of typing and graphic design (all by me), reviewed and re-written three times, before we came to a mutual agreement that this project was not going to be successful. This all took place in the early 1980s.

(9) BERNICE AND JOHN: FINALLY MEETING YOUR PARENTS WHO DIED A LONG TIME AGO – a current book project, the so-called “Oklahoma book.” The University of Oklahoma Press rejected this one by return mail with a smart-ass crack something like “we get a manuscript once a week about Depression-era parents who made good.” They missed the whole point. University of Nebraska Press had it, or a version of it, three years ago, lost it, then contacted me about a year ago to ask if I was still interested in having them review it. I sent them a pdf (their preferred format) but have heard nothing from them in that past year. Once this parasit textbook project is finished, I’ll self-publish B&J.

(10) OUTWITTING COLLEGE PROFESSORS – I originally gave this one away as a pdf file to my BIOS 101 class, then self-published with That worked pretty well. Pearson picked up the book as a second edition but didn’t really make it part of their success in college package like I thought they would, so I got all the rights back from them and have since done the third and fourth editions, also through createspace, as well as kindle, nook, smashwords, etc. I’m not getting rich off it but it does sell copies fairly regularly.

I won’t even mention the many other book projects, fiction and otherwise, that have not come to fruition for several reasons. In my opinion, if that daily hour of creative writing over in the Union, and the writer-agent-publisher business that comes from it, have any value at all, it’s been to put the scientific manuscript publication experience into perspective.

Hang in there.