After yesterday’s depressing tirade I thought I’d loosen myself up with a nostalgic romp through the daisy fields of my youth. No, I won’t rehash my smarmy first pet stories again. Today you get to hear about one of vet school’s most entertaining courses: anatomy lab.

As in medical school, anatomy is a first year course in all vet schools. On the very first day of class 100 students are ushered into a large, cold room with huge, factory-style windows and Dunkin Donuts-issue fluorescent lighting. Tall, hard stools surround twenty or so stainless steel, gurney-esque tables. On top of each table lies a dog, legs splayed in varying degrees of post-mortem, hyper-embalmed rigor.

Quartets of students surround each medium-sized dog of indeterminate breed (and presumed shelter provenance). We eye each other warily, as if stuck in some horrific cocktail party nightmare, and introduce ourselves. We skim over the basics: our hometown, our college and our professional aspirations. Then we get down to the serious business of the day: naming our dog.

I honestly don’t remember what we named ours but it was something pedestrian and descriptive like Spot. One table of potential losers named their dog FUBAR (and if you don’t know what that stands for you can Google it as this is a family blog; not one where we support disparaging comments on pets that may have died for our learning pleasure).

We learned a lot about each other this first day—and little of it had to do with the information we provided about ourselves. The rest of the semester proved similarly revealing. Those students with an initial penchant for sarcastic witticisms at the expense of their dogs often turned out to be not the disrespectfully dim-witted I’d assumed. They were usually just trying to depersonalize the pets they’d have to slice and dice into pseudo-dog-like hunks by the end of the quarter. But others kept up their charmingly obnoxious behavior and well earned the scorn of their fellow students.

By the time we coalesced into groups of twelve to dissect a horse (a few short weeks later), we’d already decided which like-minded foursomes meshed with our own worldviews. Still, there was always that one freak we’d all want to stay away from. Any group sporting one of these was at great social peril. (If that sounds uncharitable consider 100 people you might meet randomly—there’s always that one or two you’d never want to meet in a dark alley).

The competition in anatomy lab was fierce—not just to work in respectable student groups but also to secure a better cadaver, a more central location, and—most of all—to out-perform everyone else. It was our first opportunity to let everyone assembled know who was going to out-rank whom. Even at our chummiest, this undercurrent tinged our relationships.

I also distinctly remember anatomy lab as the time I experienced my first brush with textbook sexual harassment. My foursome (of attractive women) had split off to study the equine penis. One of the lab instructors sauntered over, apparently to help us glean new insights on the subject. After describing the key features of the equine reproductive musculature, innervation and circulation, he proceeded to launch into a description of his ideal version of fellatio, using the horse’s member as key visual aid.

Needless to say I was disgusted by his overzealous lecture. That’s very interesting, I ventured lightheartedly, why don’t you explain that again? —to that table of guys, for example. I reported his bad behavior (despite the protests of my three female classmates) and [inexplicably] never managed a friendship with them again. (Was I wrong?)

It’s interesting how this class (our first intensively social learning experience in four years) proved divisive or cohesive of friendships for the entirety of that time (and beyond). Since then I`ve had occasion to consider why some anatomy lab alliances lasted and others dissolved.

My theory? There’s something about the close-quarter collegiality coupled with biting competition in an atmosphere of extreme social stress that brings out the best and worst in us at warp speed. Why else would the office holiday party hold such an esteemed place in our culture’s collective conscience?

Things to ponder as we move deep into the holiday fray…