0A: Peaking Early

July 29, 2007


A while back I wrote a blog post about “peaking.” In some types of athletics, competitors peak at very early ages; gymnasts and ice skaters are example in terms of Olympic athletics; some mathematicians and musical performers peak at an early age as well.

I mentioned that my granddaughter was a “world-class” competitor in the little-known competition known as “bad table manners.” However, I noted that she had apparently peaked before the age of three. She’s still pretty bad, but she has been known to say, “Please” and “Thank you,” from time to time (though usually only after prompting) and she can handle a spoon and a fork with some skill, though she often hides her competence. It’s sad but true: at the age of three, she is over the hill.

Recently I wrote a piece about a romantic gift I gave my wife. It was entered into the sentimentality division (not usually one of my better events). However, the judges were impressed. For example, Cameron said,

“I’m very impressed, Random! That might be hard to top!”

I think that nails it. At 63 years of age, I peaked too early. I am now over the hill.

However, old competitors can go a long way on guile and deceit. Consider baseball players such as Roger Clemons, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds.

I will shortly return to my tale of rabbit hunting. I am returning to the competition for vicious, blood-thirsty killers, an area where stealth, deceit, and lack of sentimentality provide older competitors with an edge. (Especially, if they have a knife concealed somewhere on their person.)

Back in the days when it was hip to be a hippie, my wife and I were “semi-hippies.” Our hair was long, and we dressed weird, but we never smoked pot or slept with anybody else besides each other. We were so square the other hippies looked askance on us.

Also, we went to hootenannies and listened to folk music at the folk music night clubs in Los Angeles such as the Ash Grove and Troubadour. My wife loved The New Lost City Ramblers (headed by Pete Seeger’s non-leftist nut case brother Mike Seeger), Canadian folk-rock husband and wife duo Ian and Sylvia (now divorced), and a pair of singers who performed as Kathy and Carol.

My wife especially loved Kathy and Carol’s song “Gold Watch and Chain.” In those days we didn’t have much money, so when we attended one of their concerts at a folk festival, and they were selling the album out of their car, we didn’t buy it. By the time I realized my wife really wanted that album, it was out of print.

It’s an old Carter Family song, but my wife didn’t want one of their albums. Emmylou Harris has recorded it, but she didn’t want that version either.

I searched for it at used records stores and at services that searched for old records, contacted the record company that had issued it, wrote to the singers, and once the Internet got going, searched on eBay. eBay has lots of gold watches with or without chains, but my wife is not that much of a jewelry person. As I mentioned once, I don’t wear rings (wedding or otherwise), and my wife stopped wearing a wedding ring years ago.

Occasionally I would hear my wife sadly singing a verse or two, and I would feel quite bad about her not having that album.

Last week, I was searching for something else on the Internet and noticed an advertisement on Amazon for a re-release of a Kathy and Carol album. Although I usually avoid clicking on web ads, I clicked eagerly on this and looked at the list of songs. Even though they had a typo in the song listing in the advertisement, I could tell it was “Gold Watch and Chain.” I yelled, “Yippee!” (providing further proof to my co-workers that their fellow employee is quite mad) and started hauling out my credit card as fast as my fingers could fumble.

When I got home from work late Wednesday night, I found a package from Amazon propped next to the mail box. The next morning, as my wife was getting up, the CD suddenly started playing “Gold Watch and Chain.” My wife came out of the bedroom and hugged me with cries of surprise and delight.

It took about 35 years to get around to this romantic gift, but some surprises just need a little time to get ripe.

I had finally redeemed the gold watch and chain from the pawn shop. This pawn shop is hard to find. I think it says, “Foul Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart” on the tiny sign, but it’s hard to find. It’s on a back street on an island somewhere.

Oh I’ll pawn you my gold watch and chain, love
And I’ll pawn you my gold wedding ring
I will pawn you this heart in my bosom
Only say that you’ll love me again

Darling, how could I stay here without you
I have nothing to ease my poor heart
This old world would seem sad, love, without you
Tell me now that we never will part

Oh I’ll pawn you my gold watch and chain, love
And I’ll pawn you my gold wedding ring
I will pawn you this heart in my bosom
Only say that you’ll love me again

Take back all the gifts you have given
A diamond ring and a lock of your hair
And a card with your picture upon it
It’s a face that is false but is fair

Oh I’ll pawn you my gold watch and chain, love
And I’ll pawn you my gold wedding ring
I will pawn you this heart in my bosom
Only say that you’ll love me again

Oh, the white rose that blooms in the garden
It grows with the love of my heart
It broke through on the day that I met you
It will die on the day that we part

Oh I’ll pawn you my gold watch and chain, love
And I’ll pawn you my gold wedding ring
I will pawn you this heart in my bosom
Only say that you’ll love me again


William Butler Yeats

The Circus Animals’ Desertion


I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last, being but a broken man,
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.


What can I but enumerate old themes,
First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose
Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,
That might adorn old songs or courtly shows;
But what cared I that set him on to ride,
I, starved for the bosom of his faery bride.

And then a counter-truth filled out its play,
‘The Countess Cathleen’ was the name I gave it;
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away,
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear must her own soul destroy
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,
And this brought forth a dream and soon enough
This dream itself had all my thought and love.

And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread
Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea;
Heart-mysteries there, and yet when all is said
It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
Players and painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of.


Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

4A Romantic Moment

July 26, 2007

Long time readers of my blog are aware that I am not very good at romance. For example, I once wrote of surprising my wife with a gift of a can of lye. She was delighted in fact, because she makes soap about once a year. Making soap requires lye, and lye is now hard to find because meth dealers use it in making their evil wares, so she was having a “I need some lye” crisis and I went far afield to find her some.

However, yesterday I really did provide her with a romantic and sentimental gift, much to her delight. I will tell the tale as soon as I get a chance.

When Random Granddaughter was less than a year old, we shared a duplex with her Mommies and from time to time, took care of the little girl on their side of the duplex.

RG was not an especially happy infant. It’s pretty normal for babies to cry a lot and to poop their pants, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. There did not seem to be anything wrong with her physically, and there were times when she smiled and waved a rattle and looked adorable, but I remember spending a lot of time walking around with a crying baby wondering what was distressing her. It might have been “colic,” or “teething,” or maybe not quite being over the shock of leaving the womb and facing the tough reality of life.

I remember everyone saying from time to time, Won’t it be nice when she can talk and tell us what is bothering her?

I also remember saying, I doubt you will entirely like what she has to say when she can talk and tell you what is bothering her.

As RG has developed, food has been a controversial issue every step of the way. Everyone in our barely extended family is very conscious of nutrition and of the desirability of eating well.

My parents were “health food nuts.” As I grew up, I rebelled against their often nutty attitudes about food, and it’s taken me a long time to get over my childish rebellion and approach food in a sensible manner.

I think RG’s parents approach these issues in a more sensible way. They do discuss with her topics such as nutrition. They give her a lot of choices.

There are still issues. She still considers “table manners” and the need to say “Please” and “Thank you,” as peculiar examples of adult insanity. She is a grazer rather than a diner, and the whole concept of a “meal” still mystifies her.

If RG later remembers her toddler and preschool years, and writes a memoir, this portion of her development may be titled, “How I Survived My Years in a North Korean Brainwashing Camp.”

Yesterday, her Mommies told us about how they had a discussion with her a day or two earlier about meals vs. snacks, and the need to eat a meal now and then and how snacks did not provide a balanced diet.

RG looked at them and said, “You are making too many decisions for me. I am growing up. I am becoming an adult now. I should be making my own decisions now.”

I remind everyone that my granddaughter is three years old, not 15. Even though she does not get to watch television, she is inhaling the zeitgeist of “growing up too fast,” through her pores.

Last night at dinner, which was very good, Random Granddaughter began to get a sulky look on her face. Everyone noticed. Mommies asked her what was the matter? They asked Is your stomach upset? They said, It is important to be able to talk about your feelings. She stuck out her lip and continued to look sulky. It was almost like the “good old days,” when she was an infant.

Eventually, we got to dessert. It was a big deal. Mrs. Random had braved the fleas and picked the first crop of boysenberries. She had made a boysenberry shortcake. She was getting ready to whip some cream so she could put whipped cream on the boysenberry shortcake. RG said, “I know how to whip cream,” as she saw Grandma take out the beater.

Grandma put out a little stool. RG stood over the cream and turned the beater handle. Cream is a tough creature and it takes a lot of whipping to whip it into shape. RG was doing a good job, but everyone could see that she was getting weary from the battle. Mommy said, “It’s OK to say, ‘I would like someone else to take a turn at whipping the cream.’”

RG said, “I would like someone else to take a turn at whipping the cream.” Grandma finished whipping the cream.

Grandma served the boysenberry shortcake. Everyone, including Random Granddaughter, ate in quiet delight. Then Mommy reminisced to RG, “When you were one year old, at your birthday party, you became very upset because we put whipped cream on your berries. You tried to take all the whipped cream off because it was ruining your berries.”

RG was amused about how immature she was as a one-year-old, and how she had not appreciated whipped cream.

Grandpa’s fork slipped, and he knocked a piece of shortcake, with berries and whipped cream on it, to the floor. “I guess I better clean up the mess,” I said and got down from the table.

RG looked at me. “Yes, clean up the mess. Every bit of it,” she said. Even in the North Korean brainwashing camp, RG has progressed from being an ordinary prisoner to being a “trustee,” who gets to help keep the other prisoners in line.

2O Admission on Way

July 21, 2007

Random Granddaughter is on her way to visit, bringing two Mommies with her.

Is she excited about the prospect of seeing grandparents? Get real. She is excited about getting to ride the ferry.

This week at preschool, she identified a ramp as a ferry loading dock, and practiced riding a tricycle on and off the ferry.

Grandma suggested to Random Daughter that perhaps at the real ferry, RG might be allowed to actually ride her tricycle on to the ferry.

There might be complications. The Highway Patrol Officer and his (or her, in some cases) bomb sniffing dog might have to sniff the tricycle before letting her board.

Lots of raspberries are ripe. Some of the boysenberries are ripe, also. Unfortunately, because of the bunnies sneaking into the garden, the berries now have fleas. (This is true.) Each day after she picks berries, Mrs. Random takes off her clothes, takes a shower, and washes her clothes.

RG will get some berries but will not be allowed an opportunity to pick berries herself. So much for the organic life style.

I told my daughter to check out the fire engines on the used car lot (it’s right after the Dairy Queen) after they get off the ferry and start driving toward the little house in the middle sized woods with the fleas.

The air rifle is in a safe place and will not come out during the visit. Tomorrow, I will hunt a bunny.

3H Quarry in my Sights

July 19, 2007

I decided to return to sporting goods store #1, try not to be overcome with dizziness again, and purchase one of the air rifles from them. I entered the store late on Friday night. The store was fairly quiet and empty, but eventually I located N, one of the young men who had attempted to help me several days earlier.

We zeroed in on air rifle #1 (on sale for about $100 off the regular price) and air rifle #2 (which had a scope and fired special pellets that go about 200 feet per second faster than rifle #1’s pellets).

N thought the sale price was no longer in effect. I suspected it was. My (quiet) conclusion was that the sales people at the store had about 60 zillion different items to keep track of, from rocket-propelled grenades to running shoes for four-year-old marathoners and were not always completely on top of each particular item on sale at any given time. As a canny shopper, I realized it was up to me to bully the sales people into believing an item I wanted was on sale. Given that I had little idea what item I wanted, I felt that we were now on an almost even level as we splashed around in the massive wading pool that represents modern consumer life.

Having looked at the store’s web page, I had observed rifle #1 displayed with a scope. I pointed this out to N who was contemplating a model of rifle #1 on a rack with no scope.

A young man of enterprise and initiative, he ripped open an unopened box. Lo and behold, there was indeed a scope. N exclaimed in surprise.

“How could this be?” I asked.

N replied, “Whoever put up the display model was too lazy to attach the scope,” he said. This struck me as so likely to be true; I could only beam in appreciation of his candor.

I then concluded, thinking out loud, “In the unlikely event I actually manage to hit a rabbit, it probably will not care about 200 fps. These are not Rambo rabbits that escape unscathed through a fusillade of projectiles. Also [putting on my savvy consumer expression] anything that is slightly different from the most standard model is less likely to work properly.”

[The flaw in my brilliant analysis is that no consumer product—special or standard—is likely to work properly. But one must do the best one can in dire situations.]

He then ran the rifle’s code through the cash register to see if it was still on sale. The cash register, without any bullying on my part, reported the rifle still on sale. I love obedient cash registers.

N then foolishly [too young to know better, obviously] asked if I would like him to attach the scope to the rifle before I left the store. If there is one thing I have learned in 63 years, it is: if a person with more mechanical adeptness than I [which includes most of the population of the known world] offers to do a mechanical task for me, I smile and say, “Yes.”

He then spent quite a bit of time attaching the scope. Although I could tell by the careful and methodical way he performed the task that he knew what he was doing, I could also tell it was a task involving quite a bit of patient competence.

As he worked, we chatted a bit. He mentioned something about going to college while he worked at the store. Gradually his life story emerged. N had been born and raised on a farm in Wisconsin. (I explained that I had lived in Wisconsin for a couple of years when I was in high school, so we had found a slight area of common ground.) He had grown up on a farm, hunting and fishing and living the down-home life of middle-America roots that might have turned me into a normal person..

I asked N what had brought him to the Pacific Northwest. He explained that his father had lost his job in the industrially depressed Midwest and moved to another job on the West coast. N accompanied his dad and enrolled in a junior college. He was planning to transfer to the university fairly soon.

“What are you studying?” I asked.

“I’ve always liked English,” he answered. “I like to write. I think I would like to be a writer.”

As an English major myself, I was charmed. This scion of country life and master of mechanical skills I lack is a budding creative writer, perhaps another Hemingway.

He finished attaching the scope. I thanked him, collected a can of pellets for ammunition, discreetly placed the weapon in the trunk of my car, and headed for home.

When I first started thinking about buying an air rifle, I called the two medium-sized hardware stores on the island where Mrs. Random and I frequently shop for hardware. In fact, it is quite amazing how often we visit hardware stores since we moved to the island in search of a simpler life. I never knew how many nuts and bolts the simple life takes. I suspect the simple life has become more complicated since Thoreau’s time.

However, neither of the two medium sized hardware stores on the island near us sells air rifles. It may be that knowing I am a regular customer, neither of these stores considers it safe to offer weapons for sale. (However, one had already sold me a chain saw.)

About the time I was heading out to large sporting goods stores on the mainland, Mrs. Friendly Neighbor had called to tell me that a small hardware store on the island sells weapons, including air rifles.

Mrs. FN said the guns in this (previously unknown to me hardware store) are kept in the back, and that I might have to ask for them. (Perhaps this is something like the video stores that keep the naughty videos in the back?)

However, when I entered the little hardware store and asked about rifles, a pleasant gentleman about my age said, “Oh, no, some one must have given you old information. I don’t sell guns any more.” In fact, the gentleman explained that not only did he not sell guns any more, but that he didn’t hunt any more, and that in fact, he had become a vegetarian. What is America coming to when old hunters and gun fanciers become vegetarians?

However, when I explained that I was searching for an air rifle to shoot rabbits, he said, “Oh, I have air rifles.” In fact, he had some air rifles in a display case right under the cash register counter at the front of the store.

The gentleman agreed that rabbits are quite the pest on the island. He said that the rabbits living on the island are not good to eat. I did not ask for an explanation, though this information worries me a bit. If there is something in island life that makes the rabbits unsafe to eat, is there something in island life that makes me unsafe to eat? I would not want to harm a predator that was dining on me. Anyway, although he is now a vegetarian, and although the rabbits are not good to eat, the proprietor saw no problem with hunting rabbits with an air rifle.

Unfortunately, the air rifle he showed to me was one that involved pumping and allowed for loading lots of BBs.

Mr. Friendly Neighbor uses a spring-propelled air gun that shoots one pellet. Mr. FN had taken down a rabbit with one shot with his gun. Mr. FN spoke skeptically of guns that require pumping and that fire BBs. Mr. FN lives near me and helps me in a gracious, patient, and kindly manner. If I bought a gun other than the gun he recommended, he would not say anything sarcastic or disparaging to me, and he would probably try to help me with it, but I don’t think it would be either gracious or sensible of me to not follow his advice, and then expect him to help me when things go amiss.

I thanked the man in the hardware store for his help and left the store. [To be continued]

I visited two other stores. One was another big sporting goods store near where I worked. It was more of a big “box” store. It was harder to get personalized service. It took me a while to find a person to help me in the weapons department. He was another young man in the same age group as the two gentlemen who helped me. I am not sure whether they are in Generation X, Generation Y, or Generation Z. Young people today should wear labels on their foreheads for us old folks, so we can identify them properly.

Has anybody else besides me wondered what comes after Generation Z? After all, Random Granddaughter may be in the generation after Z. How would I label her?

Fortunately, Microsoft Excel shows the way. When you get past column Z, you encounter column AA.

Random Granddaughter is a superlative child: definitely an AA child. I think it’s all going to work out.

Anyway, in sporting goods store #2, a polite young man pointed at a shelf containing one air rifle in a box. The price for this rifle was less expensive than the air rifles in store #1. I should have been delighted, but for some reason I felt less confident.

I didn’t see a scope in the picture on the box. I asked the young man if the air rifle came with a scope. He said it did not. However, he said, a scope could be added. In fact he had just the scope.

I didn’t even ask if the scope was a rifle (for bullets) scope or a scope for air rifles.

In fact, I confess I fled. Like a hunted rabbit.

After the Friendly Neighbor shot the latest little bunny in our garden with his air rifle (though really spring rifle) pellet gun, I set forth to get a similar air rifle.

It is a widely held belief in some quarters that it is far too easy for a deranged person to buy a gun. This may be true if a deranged person want to kill another person. However, if a deranged person wants to kill a rabbit, even a flock of rabbits, the bunnies are fairly safe. The 2nd Amendment provides very little assistance.(I qualify by noting that there may be militias that specialize in rabbit hunting.)

I visited a large sporting goods store near where I work. I approached a counter in front of many weapons. Two young men about 22 years of age greeted me. One wore earrings. The other, N, was slightly more conventional in appearance.

I explained that I needed an air rifle to kill rabbits. I mentioned that I had seen an advertisement of such a rifle on sale. I explained that I am a weapons idiot and would be putty in their hands, and they could easily sell me any junk they felt in the mood for disposing of, but that I hoped they would sell me something useful

The two young men were pleasant and helpful. I believe they are a credit to their employer and their cohort. It was fairly early in the morning, and I suspect they had many tasks to do in preparation for their day of arming the public, so their attention wandered a bit at times from my questions, but I never really lost them.

We fairly quickly focused on three air rifles. #1 was on sale. #2 was not on sale, but shot special pellets at a higher speed. #3 was a different brand than #1 and #2.

There was a certain amount of confusion about the prices of each air rifle. There was a certain amount of confusion about whether or not each rifle came with a scope or not.

Friendly Neighbor’s rifle has a scope, which he has carefully “sighted” (calibrated) for his size, height, arm length, and taste in breakfast cereals.

This led to discussions of whether a scope could be added to a rifle that did not come with a scope. Earrings brought out a scope that he said could be added. N said it was a scope for a rifle (meaning a rifle that fired bullets) and not a scope for an air rifle. They both looked at me and waited politely, as if I had something intelligent to contribute to the discussion.

Actually, I felt dizzy. Also, it was time to get to work. I realized I was not ready to make a stupid decision. Stupid decisions should not be rushed.

I said, “I have taken up a lot of your time. I am not ready to make a decision. Are you gentleman paid on commission? Because, if I come back later and buy one of these air rifles, I want you to get compensation for putting up with me.”

Earrings laughed sardonically. “No. If you told my boss that you bought a rifle because I helped you, he would say, ‘Good. Please get on with stocking the shelves.’”

I thanked them. I left for work, unarmed. [to be continued]




To get to work, I ride a ferry for part of the journey. I buy ferry tickets online. When the Barely Extended Family is going to visit us, I send them electronic tickets as attachments to an email.

When I recently sent my daughter tickets, I wrote:

“These tickets are so you can get to us. Bring Child for admission.”

Below is a summary of the email discussion that ensued.

My daughter’s questions are shown in italic. My replies are shown in bold.

hmm. any child?

Preferably a child named “Random Granddaughter.” Children named “Gertrude,” or “Whilhelmina,” or “Insipia,” or “Ernistine,” are less likely to get you in.

does child have to be in good mood?

One melt-down per day is allowed. If child engages in more than one, it will have to take its nap in the nettle bushes.


If covered with dirt on arrival, child may find itself being hosed off before entry into house.

willing to eat vegetables?

Child should eat one vegetable. For example, one green bean.

say “please” and “thank you” without prompting?

Child may prompt Grandma and Grandpa to say, “Please.”

please advise on child specifications.

Child should be special.