When Mary arrived on time at the mommies house, Sylvie, the world’s most extroverted and friendly cat, came out to greet her. I worried if the guests might be allergic to cats or phobic about cats. Mary petted Sylvie and scratched her under her chin and Sylvie purred. Not to worry, I thought.

Mary speaks English well, but she speaks slowly and thoughtfully. It seems obvious to me that she is translating from English to Spanish and back as she converses.

The first thing that had gone wrong in my careful plans became apparent. I had checked with Mary on her food preferences. She had said that she ate almost everything, but she didn’t like broccoli. I conveyed the information to Mommy and Mama.

Somehow the message became garbled. My daughter, concentrating on preparing a vegetarian-friendly meal for my other guests, S and F from Romania, prepared a quiche with broccoli and onions.

Fortunately, RD made the quiche half onion and half broccoli.

The second thing that went wrong was that after half an hour there was no sign of S and F from Romania. We decided to serve brunch. My daughter asked Mary if she would like a broccoli slice of quiche or an onion slice? Mary, polite as always, asked for onion quiche. Whether she was thinking This must be another strange American custom; whatever you ask not to be served they offer you anyway I could not tell on her impassive Inca face.

Soon we were deep in conversation. Everyone in my family listened in fascination as Mary talked about her childhood in Lima. In past conversations with Mary, she struck me as portraying Peru in a slightly rosy glow, though my policy is never to tell people from other countries about their own countries. In any case, she talked about a time when rebellion and terrorism and conflict wracked Peru.

When she was a small child her two older siblings (a brother and a sister) attended public school. Each morning and each evening Mary’s mother was terrified that they would be shot, or blown up, or kidnapped on the way to and from school.

Mary began to talk about her time in the United States. When she started graduate school, to support herself she worked nights at an assisting living center. Many of the people she assisted suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. My wife has been volunteering at a senior center. The main part of her volunteer activities has been relieving caretakers of caretakers of elderly people including those suffering from Alzheimer’s. Everyone was fascinated as Mary’s discussed her experiences and observations. Random Granddaughter was listening very quietly. What she was making of the conversation I could not tell, but she was listening intently.

The food was very good. Besides the quiche, the mommies prepared some giant muffins of various flavors ranging from hot pepper to mild. My wife had created a lemon braided twist bread which is renowned in our family. RG, as usual at a formal meal, ate a few bites but mostly regarded the food as if it came from a not very interesting alien planet.

 When I was younger, I heard Johnny Cash sing a novelty song called “A boy named Sue.”

I don’t think Mary’s Peruvian father had a similar intent in naming her Mary instead of Maria.  She says he likes American movies, so he named her “Mary” because there were many Mary’s in American movies. He named one of her sisters “Vivian” because he liked Gone with the Wind(starring Vivian Leigh). Mary’s other sister has a Russian name I can’t spell.

 In the case of Mary, although her name did not make her combative it made her very polite and very firm. Whenever she meets someone, whether Hispanic or Anglo, and introduces herself as “Mary,” the person is likely to start calling her “Maria” (a more typical Hispanic name).

 Mary gently but persistently keeps reminding them her name is “Mary,” until they start calling her Mary.

 When she was in high school in Peru, her counselor told her, “You are very good at math. You should study to become an accountant because that is a good career for a woman who is good at math.

 Mary listened politely and thought, I don’t want to become an accountant. I want to become an engineer.

 She graduated from college in Peru with a degree in Industrial Engineering. Then she came to the United States, got a Master’s Degree in the same field, and then went to work for an American utility company. She recently became an American citizen.


The mommies agreed to host my favorite two volunteers for a brunch so I could keep in touch with them after I retired: Mary from Peru and S (and her husband F) from Romania. Mrs. Random and I arrived a few minutes early. I decided to prepare Random Granddaughter for her international visitors.

Random Granddaughter studied continents in preschool.. I had wondered what a “continent” means to a four year old child, but I decided to work with the knowledge she had gained, whatever it was.. I asked my daughter, “Do you have a globe?”

Random Daughter said, “No, but RG has a place mat with a map of the world.”

I got the place mat out. I asked RG, “Do you know where South America is?”

She pointed at South America. Boy is she smart I thought.

“Do you know where Europe is?” She pointed at Europe.

I pointed at Peru. I said, “Here is Peru in South America. Mary, who will be here in a few minutes is from Peru.”

I said, “Here is Romania in Europe. S, who will be here in about half an hour, is from Romania.”

The map showed different countries in different colors. I noticed that both Peru and Romania were purple. I pointed this out to RG. “In both Peru and Romania, everything is purple,” I told RG.

She gave me the LOOK. This is a look everyone in my family gives me. It means He is crazy but usually harmless.


Next: a boy named Sue and a girl named Mary.



About a week ago, I wrote about how I had been doing some business with a family that owns a computer store on the island where I live. I have been pleased with their service and support, but a week ago I was shocked to learn that the son-in-law of the couple who own the business is gravely ill. I have an encouraging update.

 Today I called and asked how he was doing. I talked with “Mom” who acts as the receptionist.

Son-in-law had been ill with something wrong with his heart as well as other organs shutting down. Mom said, “He is out of intensive care and looking much better. They think he will be able to come home in about five days.”

 “That is wonderful news!” I exclaimed. “Do they know what was wrong with him?”

“We transferred him to the University Hospital. They decided he had a viral infection in his heart. They gave him anti-viral drugs. The treatment seemed to work. They are regarded as the best hospital in the area. It seems to be true.”

When my daughter was 14 she came down with a mysterious ailment that resembled appendicitis but wasn’t. The episode scared my wife and I half to death at the time. Fortunately, surgery revealed that an ovary had twisted around itself; removal saved her life. It happened again with her other ovary when she was in her 30s; that is why my daughter can’t bear children.

Our family trauma, while frightening enough, was not as awful as the one Mom and Papa went through. However, I truthfully said to Mom,

“I have a little idea of what you have been going through. I am so glad that things are looking better for Son in Law.”

Reminders of Mortality

March 14, 2009


Now that I am 65 years old, I find myself thinking about death on perhaps a daily basis. I think about my death on a daily basis. I don’t dwell on it a lot, but a thought or two on the topic passes through my mind. Is this morbid?

I am in fairly good health, though I can detect my vision getting a little worse every day. I have cataracts. My HMO’s doctors may not be able to operate on them; or if they do, I may lose vision in one eye.

In any case, although there is nothing tangible threatening me at the moment, I think I should be prepared for my end before it comes upon me.

Also, I keep encountering reminders of mortality. I just wrote about a person in a business I am buying computers from who is very ill with a mysterious ailment. Here is another encounter I just had.

Yesterday, I got my hair cut. When we moved to the island, I found a hairdresser. When I was a child, I went to barber shops. At I became an adult, barbershops became hairdressers. When I was working and had a long commute to the mainland, it was difficult to work getting my hair and beard cut as frequently as I should. Now I can.

I updated my hairdresser on the adventure of Random Granddaughter. She has a son in high school.

She said, “He has been very quiet lately. He went snowboarding with three girl friends. [These are high school girls who are friends, as opposed to a “girlfriend,” though he has one of those also.]

One of his friends fell and broke her leg. As they set her leg at the hospital, the doctors discovered some cancer. On further examination, they discovered her body is riddled with cancer. She is expected to have less than a month to live.”

“How old is this young lady,” I asked.

“She is eighteen years old. As I said, my son has been very quiet lately,” she told me.


I have always enjoyed knowing people who don’t easily fit into neat categories. Pandemonic, who may be my sister in a cosmic order, refers to such people as “affinity group jumpers.” My wife and I fit into this paradox group; we raised our daughter to be such a creature. Mama (my daughter) and Mommy (my daughter’s out of law partner) are raising Random Granddaughter to be an affinity group jumper as well.

I have had seventeen full-time jobs during my life; I fit in none of them well. In January I turned 65 and retired from my last job, teaching computer classes for a large library system. As part of my duties, I trained and placed volunteer teachers. Some of the volunteers were wonderful; some of the volunteers were confused or irritating.

Two of the volunteers I found particularly wonderful and I hoped to keep in touch with them after retirement. Recently I asked Mama and Mommy to host them for a brunch at the mommy’s house. My wife sniffed that I was taking advantage of the mommies; I admitted it, but as the mommies have several friends around the world from my daughter’s Pearson College days (an international school in Canada), as well as friends from their Oberlin days and from my daughter’s graduate school at Cornell days, I thought everyone will be congenial, though I am telling everyone they don’t have to.

So today (Saturday), we are heading out to meet with everyone including Mary, from Peru, and S and R from Romania.

I have written before about Mary. Her name is Mary instead of Maria because her father likes American movies. One of her sisters is named Vivian (after Vivian Leigh; her other sister has a Russian name. All the girls in her family gain excellent education. One of her sisters is a child psychiatrist; the other sister has a doctorate in linguistics. Mary’s high school counselor told her, “You are good at math; you should become an accountant.”

Mary, who is very polite and very determined, thought, I don’t want to be an accountant; I want to become an engineer. After getting an undergraduate degree in Peru, she came to the United States and got a graduate degree in industrial engineering at the University of Washington. She now works for a big utility company and last year she gained her American citizenship.

I am a little reluctant much of the time to use real names so I will refer to my other volunteer as S and to her husband as R. S and R are from Romania. They first went to Canada where R worked as a programmer and S worked as a technical writer. When Microsoft offered R a job, they helped him get a work permit. S could not get an American work permit, so she worked for the library as a volunteer trainer. I have yet to meet R, but as S is very intelligent and charming, I assume that anyone she married is also intelligent and charming.

S became bored with volunteering and wanted to get a job. She kept applying and getting turned down. She and another candidate would be the finalists. As the other candidate was an American citizen, companies would consider it to much trouble to bother with getting A a work permit.

As does my daughter’s Finnish friend, R speaks English much better than many Americans.

Finally, she enrolled at the University of Washington, got a graduate degree (something like an MBA, but slightly different). Shortly after her graduation, the UW hired her.

Today, my wife and I, Mama and Mommy, Random Grandaughter, Mary, and S, and R will meet for brunch at the mommies’ house.

RG has recently been diagnosed at super-intelligent. All the other people I just named are also very intelligent, much more intelligent than I am. I envision that as all these very intelligent people gather in the mommies’ house, a glow will begin to surround the house, some sort of critical mass of intelligence and good nature (because all the people I mention are not only intelligent by very kind and sweet as well) will be achieved and some sort of astounding event may take place.

On the other hand, perhaps we will all just have a very good time. RG may be a little cranky, though, because Friday she went in to the doctor for her five-year-old checkup and had four shots. Four shots would make me cranky, anyway.

Aventures of RG, Part 2

March 13, 2009


I think it is a consensus among my wife, my daughter, her partner, and myself that the most important job for a parent is to help one’s child be a decent human being. If said child has a great talent or spectacular IQ, that should still be directed as far as possible to the Good Side of the Force.

So, RG, just don’t get too full of yourself, OK?


Along those lines of thought, I’ve been a bit surprised to hear the Friendly Neighbors speak of RG and her mommies with considerable admiration. Now, I think of my barely extended family with great admiration, but that’s my job as a grandparent. When RG visits, she is on pretty good behavior, because she enjoys petting the chickens (some of whom are very affectionate) and watching the ducks, some of whom are very entertaining. On this Saturday, she collected the eggs, which she considered a treat.

However, as cute and smart as RG is, much of the time she is a little drama queen, especially when it comes to food. On Sunday, I had to run an errand. The mommies and RG took Grandma Random out to a restaurant as a birthday treat. As is typical, RG staged some drama, and wouldn’t eat her food.

Even though “peanut butter and jelly sandwich” was not a menu item, eventually, the restaurant dug up some peanut butter and cobbled together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the fussy little girl. When Grandma related this story to me muttering about RG having nothing but starch for lunch, I said, “We need to have the Friendly Neighbors come to dinner with us when RG is here, so they can see her dramatic theatrics and get a more realistic picture of her.”


However, there is a bit of a “Rest of the story” (as Paul Harvey, a radio news commentator who just died, liked to say). The Friendly Neighbor is driving to California. (His mother recently died and he is attending to her affairs and picking up some of belongings for himself and his sister). I happened to be talking to his wife and learned that a) his sister is a spoiled brat and b) one of their grandchildren doesn’t behave that well and his parents consider his antics as “cute.” So RG is looking good to them. Nevertheless, there is a saying about the grass looking greener in other pastures.

A few weekends ago, Mommies and Random Granddaughter visited us, in part to help celebrate my wife’s 62nd birthday.

Shortly after they arrived on Saturday afternoon, we walked over to the Friendly Neighbors so the mommies could buy some fresh eggs and so RG could pet the chickens and view the ducks.

Mommy (my daughter’s Out of Law Partner and RG’s birth mother) teaches at a private school for high-IQ children I call for blog purposes SVBC (School for Very Bright Children). When Mommy decided to move RG to the school’s preschool, the school rejected her as a) not smart enough and b) too introverted. However, a while later, SVBC said, Let’s rethink that and tested RG again. This time they said, very, very smart; we will be happy to enroll her.

The mommies have been considering whether to enroll RG in public kindergarten or SVBC kindergarten. As we walked to the Friendly Neighbors, RG told me, “I will be going to SVBC.”

I was a little surprised. I thought the decision was not coming for a couple of months.

Later, the mommies told me that SVBC (which is very expensive, as befits a private K-12 school that is rather like a version of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or Stanford for small children) had made a very generous financial aid offer. I realized that the mommies wanted to send RG to the school but had been worried about the cost, especially as my daughter will be quitting her job and taking another stab at graduate school next fall.

Mommy also confessed she had peeked at IQ scores of other students. As a teacher she is allowed to do so. Even among this collection of carefully selected little smart asses, RG scores as one of the brightest there.

How Close to Tragedy?

March 9, 2009


When I taught computer classes, some students (mistakenly considering me an “expert”) would say, “I am going to buy a computer. What kind should I buy?”They were shocked when I said, “I don’t know.”

I have bought several computers over my life. I have never had a very good experience.

The last desktop computer I bought was a Dell. I had various problems, many of which were my fault. Nevertheless, I won’t buy another Dell. I am a person who holds grudges and tries to get revenge. (I am working on trying to get revenge against the auto dealer who sold us a perfectly good pickup truck and treated us like dirt, in my opinion, an opinion consistent with Pandemonic’s warnings about auto dealers.)

I noticed a computer store on the island. I stopped and talked to the proprietor. I will call him Papa. I talked to his [son], whom I will call Son. Papa’s wife answers the phone and greets people as they come in the store. I will call her Mom. As you can see, they own a family business. I will call them John Quincy Adams computers because their real name sounds like a different President.

I said, “I am going to buy two computers. I am going to buy a laptop because I have to give back the work laptop I now take home when I retire. I am going to buy a desktop because the Dell I bought sucks.”

I also said, “I will tell you about myself. If I do business with someone and they provide good service and a good product, I will be unreasonably loyal and keep doing business with them for a long time and tell other people they are wonderful.

“However, if I feel they have treated me badly or provided poor service or a poor product,” I will hold a grudge and try to get revenge.

“Also, I know enough about computers to be dangerous, but most of the time I am ignorant. I often make decisions out of ignorance and a mistaken impression that I know what I am talking about.

“You may not want to deal a customer with such a bad attitude.”

Papa said, “I am comfortable with that. I will sell you computers if you like what we offer.”

I started with the laptop. I worked with Son. I said I was thinking about switching from Windows to Linux. He said, “We don’t work with Linux. We would not be able to provide any support.. I am not sure we can get you a good laptop that will work well with Linux.”

I said, “I don’t need the computer tomorrow. Please look into it.”

Son did some research. He suggested a laptop. He said, “I am not very comfortable with trying to put Linux on it.”

I decided not to force them to try to do something they are not comfortable with. I bought a laptop. So far it is working fine. [This is the laptop somebody might have been trying to steal the other day.]

I wanted a laptop in part because I suffer from early morning insomnia. I wake up and write blog posts and comments. If I go upstairs to the desktop, it wakes up my wife. I can use the laptop downstairs. I have a wireless router so I can pick up the Internet on the laptop. But it the Internet was not coming through. Papa said, “The router the phone company gave you is not very good. We can sell you a better wireless router.”

I said, “Can I try it out before I actually buy it?” They loaned me a wireless router. I still wasn’t getting a good connection. Papa asked, “Where do you live?” After I told him, he said, “I will be on that art of the island on Friday. I will be glad to come buy and look at the problem.”

Without charging me any money, he came and fiddled with my connection and talked to the phone company. Eventually the problem turned out to be because of a mistake I had made. Papa said, “Test it out some more. Pay us for the router when you feel comfortable.

The bill from the phone company said Soon we are going to have better routers and better speed! Stay tuned!

After the incident with the man perhaps trying to steal my laptop, I drove over t the computer store, which is not very far away from the tire store. Often Papa, Son and Mom are all in the store, but today Papa was the only one there.

I asked Papa about the FUD message I had received from the phone company. I asked if the phone company was really going to make improvements. Papa said, “I don’t know. They don’t tell me much, either.”


We talked about some other things. He had a big model train set in the store (not yet unpacked). I asked him if he was a model railroader. He said, “No. but Mom [his wife, not in the store at the time] is really into Christmas. I am going to set the train up around the tree.” I chuckled. I don’t know if they are religious or not. My wife, although an atheist (as am I) is really into Christmas.

I told Papa, I didn’t want to buy the router if the phone company was going to provide a better one. On the other hand, definitely wanted to pay him in some way for his excellent service. I said,, “If I don’t buy the router, I will buy something else that costs at least as much, such as a battery backup system.”He said, “I am comfortable with you keeping the router for a couple of months while you decide.”

I thought about the difference in dealing with him and dealing with the used car dealer who infuriated me.

Suddenly he changed the subject. He said, “Son is ill. He’s not really our son; he is our son-in-law, but he is like a son to us. He is in the hospital. [He named a big hospital on the mainland.]

“They don’t really know what is the matter with him. He is in isolation because they don’t know if it is something infectious. There is something seriously wrong with his liver and his heart. Other organs are also shutting down.”

“How old is he?” I asked. I was in shock. I had talked with Son a week earlier. He had seemed fine. He is a very pleasant young man.

“He is 37” Papa told me. I just turned 65. With my family history I never thought I would live this long. My father died around the age of 38 I think.

I said, “I don’t know what to say. That is horrible news. Probably I would not be of much help, but if I can help out in the store in some way, please let me know.” I thanked him, said goodbye, and left the computer store and headed out on my next errand of the day.

In my last post, I talked about someone who might have been trying to steal my laptop.

The conversation with the owner of the computer store took place on the same day. I am a little reluctant to call him and ask about Son, but of course I am wondering. I will probably send him an email this week and ask him how Son is doing. In the case of the laptop, I don’t know how close I might have been to theft. In the case of the family at the computer store, I don’t know how close I am to tragedy.

How Close to Theft?

March 6, 2009


My wife and I bought a used truck. We made some mistakes in how we did so, even though Pandemonic warned us that automobile dealers cannot be trusted. Unfortunately, she didn’t warn us until after we made our purchase.. This is our fault, not hers, as I did not ask her advice in advance of making our rash decision.

Anyway, the dealer did nothing that would warrant hiring a lawyer or contacting a consumer protection agency. I will tell the story in a different post at a different time, if I live that long.

The salesman told us that the used pickup truck had new tires. He indicated that the tires were an unusual brand.

After we fixed most of the things wrong with the truck, I fretted about the tires. Yesterday, I was running errands, so I stopped by the tire dealer we use. (Unlike my experience with the auto dealer, I have used this tire company on a number of occasions and have never had a bad experience. (However, your mileage may vary.)


Recently, I bought a laptop from a computer store. (see next blog post) to replace the laptop my last employer let me take home and use. Laptops are a frequently stolen item, so I worried about my work laptop and I worried about my own laptop. I had my laptop in the truck. I stopped at the tire store.

A serviceman came out while I was parking the truck. “Can I help you?” he asked.

I said, “My wife and I bought this truck and we were unhappy with the purchase.” I added, “This has nothing to do with your store.”

I went on, “They told us they had put new tires on. I have my doubts about everything they did. However, probably the tires are fine, but I would like you to check them over for me. I expect you will say they are fine, and I expect that I will not buy anything from you today. But I have been very happy with your work and your products in the past, and I expect to be happy to purchase products from you when I need to in the future.”

He told me that he would be glad to examine the tires.

Although I do not distrust the tire dealer or their employees, I decided not to leave the laptop in the truck. I carried the laptop (in its case) into the tire dealer’s waiting area. I laid the laptop case on a table where they leave newspapers for customers to read.

I had not had lunch, so I had a bag of their free popcorn and a drink of their free coffee. Several people were waiting. One woman restrained two lively medium-sized dogs on leashes and kept soothing the excited dogs. I am more of a cat person than a dog person, but I get along with dogs well enough. I asked her, “Is it OK to pet your dogs? I ask because I don’t want to upset them if they are excitable.” She told me they liked being petted, and they seemed happy enough when I let them sniff me and then stroked them.

A television was showing President Obama’s meeting with his health care taskforce. He cracked a couple of good jokes and displayed good stage presence. There were several people, all in my age cohort-50s and 60s, in the waiting area.

A man in his 50s, very respectable looking entered the waiting area. He looked at my laptop case. Then he picked it up, carried it over to an empty seat, and put it on the floor next to the seat as he sat down.

For a few seconds, I stared in disbelief. Then I said, “Excuse me, that is my laptop.”

“Oh,” he replied perfectly smoothly. “I thought it was my wife’s laptop.”

I said, “No, it’s mine.” He picked it, walked over and put it on the table. He said a few more words about how much it looked like his wife’s laptop. I thanked him, and went back to eating my popcorn and drinking my coffee.

Was he telling the truth or was the respectable-looking middle-aged man trying to steal my laptop in plain sight of God and man and everybody?

After a while, the tire technician came into the waiting area. He told me he had parked my truck in the parking lot and handed me the key. He said, “The tires seem to be fine. However, I have never heard of this brand of tire.”

I said, “I expected that the tires would be fine. I am not surprised that you never heard of this brand of tire. Although you are probably familiar with every brand of tire on earth, the dealer I bought the truck from probably found a way to bring in tires from Mars. Although I am not going to buy tires from you today, I am pretty sure I will need to buy tires from you sooner rather than later, and this will be where I buy them. Thank you also for the popcorn and the coffee.”
I picked up my laptop (which had not been claimed by the man’s wife) and walked out to the truck. I started the truck headed out to the gym.

Next: How close to tragedy?