Aunt Henriette sounded alert and perky when we finally connected by phone. She told me how important it is to think positively, and to avoid the “dark side.” There is some merit to this approach to life and I chatted with her in a positive manner.

I was relieved to hear that she talks frequently with Carl, her son. Carl lives in Oregon, about as far as he can get from his mom, in New York City, so perhaps he now feels it safe to speak with her. He lives with a lady friend in Oregon.

I asked Henriette if Carl lives near Portland (where we lived for a while). I asked where he lives and if it is near Portland (where my family lived for a while). Henriette, vague on West Coast geography, thought he was nearby to Portland. She said Carl lives in a place called Wolf Creek. After the phone conversation, I looked up Wolf Creek. It’s actually close to the border with California.

Carl and his lady friend, Jennifer, operate a gift shop, out in the sticks. They apparently only make money during the Christmas season.

Thursday had been Carl’s birthday. He is now 45. Just as Henriette is vague on geography, I am vague on ages. It was just the other day I remember seeing him as a kid, only in his 30s.

Henriette only mentioned chelates once or twice, and I resolutely ignored her references. to them.

I asked about her eyes. She said she had one cataract surgery about twenty years ago. She calls that her “good” eye. It sounds as if she is almost blind in the other eye.

She is seeing an alternative care eye doctor who uses the “Bates method.” The Bates method is a method of eye exercises that are supposed to make it possible to avoid the need for glasses. My parents were big into the Bates method when I was a child. At one time, Aldus Huxley, the writer, was a big fan of the Bates method.

It’s now widely regarded by the ophthalmology profession as bunk. However, my family will continue to keep medical quacks such as the chelates people and the Bates people and so on in business for many generations to come.

Henriette enjoyed the letter I sent her, with pictures of our garden and of Random Granddaughter. Perhaps she showed the pictures to the bed bugs. The exterminators are still working on her apartment. The work has become a construction project as all the sideboards have been removed and insecticide poured on the floor. Aunt Henriette is not actually sleeping on the floor. She explained that she has a sofa bed that opens.

As my wife commented to me, probably not all the alternative health care in the world will help Henriette if she is sleeping close to a floor piled with insecticide.

I told Henriette about our organic garden and how we are growing raspberries. Henriette told me there are many farmers’ markets in New York City. “I bought some raspberries at one the other day. They were good; they did not have pips that got into my teeth.”

She was surprised to learn that my wife volunteers at one of our local farmer’s markets by serving coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. “She said, “They don’t serve hot drinks at our farmer’s market.”

I said, “Probably there is a coffee shop next door to your farmer’s market.”

Henriette probably imagines there are no hot drinks within 20 miles of our farmer’s market, but actually the nearest coffee shop is only a half mile walk away. However, I didn’t explain how civilized things actually are where we live. As I tell my wife, “We live in the sticks.” Much like Henriette’s son, Carl, I guess.

What’s a Chelate?

August 28, 2009

A few days ago, I got an email from my cousin Julie, whom I barely know, about our Aunt Henriette. Henriette is the aunt who wanted to be an opera singer for the Metropolitan Opera. She married Morton, who told her he could coach her to be a successful opera singer. Henriette worked as a waitress to support Morton. As far as I know, Morton never did a day’s work in his life. The rest of my family despised Morton as a smarmy, anti-Semitic free loader, so Henriette has been rather isolated from the rest of her family. (It was eccentric of Morton to marry a woman from a Jewish family.)

Unlike many of my family members, I am not very musical. I heard Henriette practicing her opera singing. She did not sound very talented to me, but what do I know? For that matter, the Metropolitan never hired her, so perhaps they were as clueless as I.

After she gave up on her dream of being an opera singer, Henriette had a baby, Carl, and left Morton for a while. Eventually, they reconciled. When Carl became an adult he fled as far as he could, leaving New York City and hiding out with a girl friend in Oregon.


As I was the first child born in my generation, Henriette imprinted on me as a nephew she can depend on, especially for help with her computer. She called me from New York City and asked me to help solve her computer problems after her son Carl, who is actually better with computers than I am, refused to speak with her any more on the topic of computers. Henriette refused to believe that I could not diagnose and “fix” her computer over the phone. After I realized her computer was a hopeless mess, I bought her a new computer. Using reproductions of fine art works she pulled from the Internet, and the expensive ink jet printer I also bought her, Henriette put together calendars and advertised them on the Internet, hoping to make a lot of money.

Henriette and Morton had been living on money from my cousin Joanna, who learned to speak Chinese fluently in Taiwan and became a millionaire as co-founder of the baby furniture company Graco. After Joanna died of breast cancer, Joanna’s mother, my Aunt Naomi, Henriette’s sister, funneled money to her. When Naomi became ill and crippled in Australia, the money flow ceased.

My family is a great believer in “alternative health care.” My grandfather, Harry, was a dentist in Chicago who became a great follower of Dr. Kellogg of the cereal family. Dr. Kellogg believed in 1) never having sex and 2) solving all medical problems by giving people “colonics.” Colonics, in plain language, are enemas. Alternative health nuts believe that crap gets stuck in a person’s colon and needs to be flushed. Most medical authorities believe this theory is crap. I got a few colonics as a child, but mostly my parents believed that avoiding white sugar and eating organically grown vegetables was the key to avoiding disease. I think there is some merit to these policies, and my wife and I mostly eat food we grow ourselves or buy from farmer’s markets, but for medical care we mostly visit conventional physicians.

Although Grandfather Harry followed Dr. Kellog’s practices in terms of colonics, he was by all reports a horny old goat who sired four children on my monstrously narcissistic Grandmother, Agnes. As far as I know, Harry never cheated on Agnes, though I wouldn’t have blamed him.

Henriette and Naomi were big followers of alternative medical care. Naomi’s husband, Donald, grew up in a California high desert ranching family, became an electrical engineer, and then a chiropractor and professor of chiropractic “science.”. Their other daughter, Valerie, sister of millionaire Joanna, became a chiropractor also and now lives in Spain. After Naomi died, Donald had a heart attack. Valerie brought him to Canada for medical care.

Julie, my cousin, told me that Henriette, now in her eighties, is not doing that well. For one thing, her New York City apartment is full of bedbugs. This sounds like a bad joke, but it’s a real mess. The exterminators have fumigated her apartment twice. They threw her bed out into the trash. She is now sleeping on the floor.

Julie is a grade school teacher in upstate New York. Henriette, now lonely and poor, takes the bus up to visit Julie. Julie took Henriette to an “alternative” eye doctor who told her she has cataracts. However, it is not considered safe for Henriette to have cataract surgery at present (see below).

Henriette has been working at a senior center teaching computer classes to make some money. As I have spent hours on the phone trying to help her through her computer problems, I am somewhat mirthed at the idea of her teaching other senior citizens how to use computers.

 Her legs are swelling and getting varicose veins, and her heart has problems, with her arteries clogging.

As a big fan of alternative health care, Henriette has become fixated on “chelates” therapy, a therapy which sounds like quackery to me, that is supposed to remove blockages to arteries by natural means.

Henriette’s computer is sealed in a plastic bag because of the fumigation, so I have been sending her printed letters, pictures of my family and garden, and calling her on the phone. So far, Henriette, who is very conscientious, has been sending me about $30 a month to repay me for the computer I bought her. She has paid me a little over half. In my last letter, I said not to send me any more money. My wife and I have decided to forgive the rest of the money Henriette still owes us, though we are not going to send her any more money.

I allowed a week for the last letter to reach Henriette. I will call Henriette today. If she wants me to send her money for her chelates therapy, I will tell Henriette that as I would not spend money on chelates therapy for myself or my wife, I will not spend money on it for her, aside from freeing up the $30 a month she was sending me as repayment.

I am not looking forward to this conversation, because Henriette seems to be of the opinion that chelates therapy can keep her alive for a while, so she may be concluding I am helping pronounce a death sentence on her. Well, we all will die eventually, and we all have to make difficult decisions about what to do to keep ourselves alive and healthy as long as we can.

My wife, who is fairly healthy at the moment, said to me, “If I knew I had only a little while to live, I would try to be as comfortable as possible and occupy myself with activities I enjoy as much as I could, and not try to engage in extreme measures in a desperate attempt to stay alive.” That sounds sensible to me.


August 26, 2009

My wife and I have a large garden. Some of the garden is fenced. Most of the plants growing behind the fence are food plants, though there are flowers as well. The fence is to keep the “critters” (such as deer and bunnies) who eat our food plants away, though there are some flowers behind the fence. We will be electrifying the fence this winter to keep the raccoons (all named Rocky) away from plants and chickens, as the raccoons just climb over the fence. Some bunnies crawl under the fence. I shoot the bunnies with a pellet rifle. The chipmunks run in and out of the garden. The Friendly Neighbors thought the chipmunks were cute until they counted 21 chipmunks, all eating their peas. Then they put out rat traps until they were down to 0 chipmunks. We have about five chipmunks; at the moment we tolerate them.

Some of the garden is not fenced. Mostly we grow flowers that the critters don’t care for. We also grow some food we don’t like that much, such as one variety of blueberries we planted but my wife made faces at when she tasted them. She said, “The critters can eat these berries; fine with me.” Then she complained because the critters ate the leaves as well. The critters don’t follow the gentle rules my wife sets for them.

However, some plants just plant themselves. For example, we have a sunflower plant growing by itself outside the fence.. We also have some chard that planted itself behind the fence. Useful plants that plant themselves are known as “volunteers” to gardeners.


During my working life, I had 17 different jobs. That just counts the full-time jobs. I was unhappy in all of these jobs, and never well-suited to any of them. I also had at least that many supplementary part time jobs, as well as various transition jobs to keep me going after one of the full time jobs ended unhappily. Some of these supplementary jobs were OK, but none could be depended on for very long.

Over that same period of time, I have had one spouse and one child. Well if you count my daughter’s “out of law partner” as I call her, because my daughter and her partner have never tried to have a “gay” marriage, maybe I have had two children, one adopted. And, of course, I have had one granddaughter, the inimitable Random Granddaughter, now five years old, and starting kindergarten at the private school for very bright children next month.

Like us, the Friendly Neighbors have been married for 43 years. However, they each had one other spouse. Mrs. Friendly Neighbors’ first spouse became ill and died. I asked Mr. Friendly Neighbor about his first spouse. He is usually a very articulate and self-possessed person, but he looked very awkward and embarrassed at my question. Then he said, “Sometimes when you are young, you make dumb decisions.” I didn’t ask any more questions on the topic.

Some of the reasons I was ill-suited for all my jobs were that I suffer from:

1) attention-deficit disorder;

2) hyperactivity disorder;

3) dyslexia (in a mild form);

4) narcissistic personality disorder (in a mild form), a problem perhaps endemic in my family;

4) compulsive disobedience;

5) compulsive unwillingness to pretend that emperors with no clothes are well dressed.

More or less by accident, in my last two jobs I found myself teaching adult education classes, teaching people who were the most part not very computer literate how to use and understand computers. I gradually (after a rough start) became fairly skillful at this work. It took care of problems 1, 2 and 3 fairly well. When I was teaching, I was
a) Telling my students I was likely to get distracted from what I was supposed to be doing and I didn’t mind if they said to me, “Please get back on track to what you are supposed to be doing,” thus snapping out of problem #1.

b) Moving around the room, scribbling with white board markers, paying attention to different students as they worked on their computers, telling jokes (helping compensate for problem #2).

c) Laughing with good-humored self-mockery when I made mistakes writing words on the white board, and quickly erasing the mistakes and writing corrections on the white board (compensating for problem #3 to some extent).

d) Telling dumb jokes and dumb stories to a captive audience (helping indulge myself in #4 without too much problem, perhaps, though it was often a close call).

e) Almost getting fired in both jobs. Just lucky, I guess, that I didn’t get fired. (I have been fired from an earlier job. I never finished telling that story.) I got out of my next to last job just in time and retired from my last job just in time. Just lucky I guess.

f) Same as e).

I thought about teaching computer classes as a volunteer. However, I observed:

I.) Been there; done that; don’t need to get stuck in a rut.

II.) There is a woman on our island who is teaching computer classes for not very computer-literate people. Some of what she does is volunteer; some of what she does she gets paid for. She clearly does not want to share the work with me and has tactfully and gently communicated that preference.

I am comfortable with that.

My wife, can’t stand to have anybody else tell her what to do because she is so severe and so obedient to her inner boss. When she retired she went to work for herself, keeping her house and her garden in immaculate order, often speaking severely to the house, to the garden, and to herself. She also volunteered for the organic farmer’s market on Saturday morning, serving coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, and bossing herself around. She also volunteered at a senior center where she provides respite service for care takers of people who care for victims of Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia, where she practices being kind and patient. Then she comes home where she practices being kind and patient as well as severe and strict on me.

I have volunteered for the local church at the invitation of the Kindly Neighbor, where I help them split wood to donate to elderly people and people down on their luck through losing their job or illness or other misfortunes as a heat source in the winter. As the Kindly Neighbor is a great expert on wood, this volunteer work suits him very well. I enjoy it well-enough but it was not really that fulfilling for me, as I am not as fascinated with different varieties of wood and how to split them as he is.

A few months ago, my wife and I took a class sponsored by AARP (which used to stand for “American Association of Retired Persons” but now just stands for AARP–really) about driver safety for older drivers. The class costs a small fee. Many automobile insurance companies provide a small discount to elderly customers who take this class.

As I took the class, I thought:

α) This is a well-organized and well-organized program.

β) I can do this.

Yesterday, I went for a interview to be accepted as a volunteer for the program. The interview was a a location on the island about an hour away from where I live. (I live on a long island, though not the place in New York state known as “Long Island.”) I drove carefully. I thought it inappropriate to be killed in an auto accident on the way for an interview to be accepted for teaching a class on driver safety for senior citizens. I made it alive.

I hit it off well with the volunteer coordinator. He asked me to attend a class he is teaching in September, and teach one unit of the class so he can observe me teach. If he is pleased with how I do, the next step will be for me to attend a two-day volunteer training orientation. If I do well enough at that, after that I will begin teaching driver safety classes as a volunteer teacher. I will have to concentrate carefully so I can live that long and not fall prey to my various flaws and deficiencies while I am doing this volunteer service.




Good Nurse, Bad Patient

August 23, 2009

I volunteer for the “wood ministry” of a local church, although I am not a member of the church and not a religious believer. After the crew splits wood to donate to elderly people and people in financial difficulties to use for heat, we stop at the church to drink coffee, eat snacks, and chat.

One of the volunteers at the church is Mary, a retired nurse. She checks the blood pressure of many of the wood ministry volunteers. and provides other routine preventive health care services without cost to members of the church.

One day after a work session, I stopped by the office the church lets Mary use when she is helping church members. As I had just bought my own blood-pressure monitor, I wanted to test it against Mary’s monitor to help evaluate if it was accurate.

For some reason, Mary said to me during the course of our conversation, “I am going to tell you a story I have never told anybody else here at the church.”

I was a little surprised. I know Mary and husband are good friends with the Friendly Neighbors, and close to other people in this large church, so I was not sure why she would suddenly choose me, a person she barely knows, as a person for a confidence she had not shared with others she sees more often.

I should add that Mary is a very polite and friendly person, though I would not describe her as bashful or timid. I would also add that my impression is that Mary was a very competent nurse when she was working at her job before retirement.


She began to tell me about how a few years ago she had been almost killed in an auto accident. She had been driving alone along the main highway across our island at night. Another car hit her car head on.

Mary suffered many severe injuries, including a broken jaw, collapsed lung, as well as other broken bones and internal injuries.

“Of all the injuries I suffered, the broken ankle is the one that still troubles me most today,” she told me.

“I was in the hospital for weeks before I could be released. Eventually, I had to testify at a trial because the other driver was at fault. I was given a copy of my medical record to help me prepare for my testimony. As I was looking over the records, I noticed that there was a notation that I was a ‘difficult patient.’

“I certainly was a difficult patient. As a nurse I know that there many serious problems, such as bed sores, and wounds becoming infected, that patients requiring long bed confinement are likely to suffer. There are steps that nurses must take to prevent such problems from occurring.”

As I often do when I am writing a blog post, I looked information about bed sores on the World Wide Web. I learned that medical professionals refer to bed sores as “pressure sores,” and that preventive measures include changing dressings frequently, turning patients, and so on, as Mary told me. Not that I didn’t believe what Mary told me, but as the conversation took place a few months ago, I wanted to refresh my never entirely reliable memory.


Mary went on, “I certainly was a difficult patient. When any of the nurses caring for me neglected to take care of me properly, such as forgetting to turn me or forgetting to change a dressing as often as it should be, I spoke sternly and forcefully to them, and insisted that the job be done properly.

“I am proud to say that I never developed bed sores, and none of my wounds became infected again. I indeed was a very ‘bad patient’ and I am proud of it.”


She also told me that the blood pressure monitor I had purchased seemed to be a good one. I am glad it met with her approval.



Pebbles in hand (or pocket) Random Granddaughter and slightly extended family headed for the county fair on the island.

Plan was for the mommies to follow us in the rental car Mommy’s mother and step dad had rented for the trip to the Olympic. We were separated and parked in separate places, but Mrs. Random and I found them waiting to buy their tickets at the head of a long line, so we had them buy our tickets as for us, allowing us to jump the line and perhaps the shark as well.

We were all ready for lunch. Mommy’s step-dad is fit and lean from all his hiking, so he indulged in a big sandwich. Mrs. Random and I purchased hotdogs. Random Granddaughter now associates events such as fairs with a chance to purchase cotton candy. As a child I loathed cotton candy; as an adult I still despise it, but I see no problem with the rare indulgence for RG.

She has been an exceptionally food-persnickety child, but she is gradually entering the world of normal eating via a typical child-preferred meals. Pizza is good she now thinks, and for lunch at the fair, she considered a hot dog perfectly acceptable when mixed with bites of cotton candy. I watched with delight as she ate one hot dog well-slathered with mustard in a steady, methodical manner.

Off to the 4H exhibit where she considered bunnies and chickens with happy concentration. The second delightful observation for me was that she was in a good mood and obviously enjoying herself, with only one minor tantrum, involving application of sunscreen and branches and twigs in a sleeve.

She then watched some young ladies taking horses through paces in competitions. Will their be a pony living at the little house in the city? Will Sylvie the world’s most extroverted little cat learn to ride a horse?

RG was fascinated with the judging and awarding of ribbons. Later that evening, my wife remarked to me that perhaps RG is too fascinated with awards and prizes. I don’t know. My uncle George got a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Genius Award for composition in his seventies or so; my daughter was spelling champion of Oregon in fifth grade; perhaps RG will get a similar award in kindergarten, or perhaps she will wait until first or second grade.

We then watched the alpaca race. When I was in junior high school my family owned a cow and then a couple of goats. I milked the cow and one of the goats. Goats have personalities similar to cats. It is easy to become attached to them. (Unfortunately, our goat got sick and died and I had to dig a grave for it.)

Alpacas look like giant poodles that suffered exposure to radiation and then mutated; their personalities seem to be similar to goats.

The race worked like this. The 4H participant had to guide the alpaca through an obstacle course, holding the alpaca’s rein in one hand and holding a spoon with a raw egg perched it in the other hand.

“The eggs are from prize-winning chickens; they have been around here for a few days, so they are pretty ripe by now,” The Mistress of Ceremonies told us. She seemed to be having as much fun as one is allowed to with clothes on She also explained that the young competitors weren’t supposed to drop the egg. But not to worry, she reassured the contestants. “If you drop the egg you can pick it up again and put it back on the spoon. As long as it does not break. If I see yolk, it’s all over for you and I will toss you out of the race,” she chortled.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I observed a “cat Olympics” event at the fair, where cats were supposed to go through an obstacle course. The cats, naturally, regarded the whole exercise with a bemused, “You want me to do WHAT?” air. One cat even set itself down and immediately went to sleep.

Although none of the alpacas took a nap, and it is difficult to read the expression on an alpaca’s face, they seemed to regard the obstacle course in a similar fashion. Among with overcoming other impediments, they were supposed to walk though some tires on the ground; some jumped the tires, others headed for other parts of the fair, dragging their young keepers with them.

One young man, announced with much fanfare as last year’s champion, dropped his egg half way through the race. “Oh my, I see yolk down their on the ground,” the announcer crowed with much delight. 4H is not for nynnies (Finnish word for “sissy, as I just discovered last week).

After a few more exhibits and contests, Random Granddaughter, mommies, and alternative grandparents headed back to the city. Mrs. Random and I headed back to our little house in the medium-sized woods.

Yesterday (Saturday) we went to the county fair with Random Granddaughter, Mommy (RG’s birth mother and my daughter’s partner), Mama (Random Daughter), Mommy’s mother (B1) and her step-dad (K).

K is an enthusiastic hiker and for love of him B1 has become an enthusiastic hiker as well. Everyone went hiking in the Olympic mountains. Random Granddaughter had been a enthusiastic whiner when she had to walk a block in the city or a quarter of a mile to our mailbox in the county when she was four, but Mama told me she hiked several miles in the Olympics without whining, so we were suitably impressed with RG’s progress at the age of five.

We met at the organic farmer’s market where my wife usually volunteers on Saturday morning, serving drinks and her home baked wholesome goodies. My wife got permission to take the day off. When we arrived, we greeted her boss who was serving coffee instead of Mrs. Random.

“Mrs. Random decided to skip work today, but she is so dumb she showed up at the work place anyway,” I told her boss as she served us tea.

My wife tells me that hardly anyone is interested in the scones, muffins, cookies she bakes for the market. However, when she showed up with no baked goods in hand, at least half a dozen adults approached her and whined as loudly as Random Granddaughter at her worst.

Random Granddaughter loves to collect interesting pebbles and rocks. She finds many at our five acres, but her mommies make her leave them on a porch step instead of hauling them all back to the city.

At the market, my wife took RG to a stand where a man sells agates and other semi-precious stones, fossils and petrified woods, and similar fancy pebbles. As he greeted RG, he held out a tray of pebbles and said, “You get to choose one for free.” RG poked through the pebbles thoughtfully and chose the largest one.

She had to be reminded to say, “Thank you,” by my wife, but did so with such enthusiasm that the seller was quite charmed. He showed her a petrified horse tail plant and several other fossils and forced two more glamorous pebbles on the quite willing child, who remembered to say “Thank you.”

We headed out for the fairground. (To be continued).

Two Canterbury Tales

August 15, 2009


A couple of days ago, I overheard two strange statements. My wife and I went into town for various errands. One task was getting my hair cut. My hair dresser is a charming, down-to-earth woman who chats with me about her 15-year-old son who is a quarterback on the high school team. He had suffered an injury, but was bouncing back. Her husband had wanted to have his injury examined by a specialist, but she was confident in the healing power of youth.

As she finished with my hair, the next customer took a seat in the salon. “You’ve lost some weight,” she told him.

“Happens when you’re drinking,” he said. “I just spent two weeks in the hospital drying out from a binge,” he explained cheerfully.

“Yes,” she replied. “While somebody is drinking a lot of alcohol, they don’t pay much attention to food.” It struck me as an extraordinary conversation for a public place with half a dozen strangers listening, not the least because he was so cheerful and upbeat about it.


The second conversation was not meant to be overheard, but even more unusual. After a bit we went to the main cafe in town for lunch. It’s a very busy little restaurant. The food and the service is best described as “Not bad.” I have no problem with leaving a tip for the usual percentage, but I am not motivated to leave anything extra.

As my wife and I took a table, I noticed two young people sitting at the next table. If I was a bar tender and they ordered an alcoholic drink, I would have checked their ID’s very carefully, though I would not have been astonished if they were of legal age. On the other hand, I would not have been surprised to learn they were still high school students, either.

The woman was very pretty, with long blond hair and clear blue eyes, though she wore a shapeless, careless smock over jeans. I would not have been surprised to learn she was a princess on the homecoming court.

The young man seemed more like a member of the chess club or the debate team. I would not have described him as a “geek” or a “nerd,” but he did not seem like the type of young man one usually found in the company of one of the high school soc’s. I did not get the impression they were a “couple,” but they were having an animated conversation with lots of smiles and chuckles.

As I had taught high school for almost ten years, and not been a particularly happy or well-accepted kid myself in high school (though not persecuted like David had been), I tend to have a visceral dislike of adolescents and young adults, who often seem to have a nasty attitude and a great need to put down anyone not exactly like them in appearance, behavior, and attitude but I got very good vibes about these two young people. Their conversation and manner seemed amiable, cheerful, and good-natured.

I had not particularly meant to listen to them, but their table was very close to ours and gradually the conversation seeped into my consciousness. The young women was talking about a recent trip and how she had ended up in the hospital with a heart attack. The conversation struck me as extraordinary in two ways: one was how remarkable an occurrence this was for someone who is not much older than 21 years of age, if that, and second, how cheerfully she told the story and how cheerfully her companion received it. If one experiences and survives a terrible event such as that, gratitude for being alive is certainly a natural response, but relaxed cheerfulness surprised me, even so.

While my wife and I accompanied our daughter to pick up Random Granddaughter from her piano lesson, her partner fixed a birthday dinner for her, consisting of roast chicken, red potatoes, and asparagus. For dessert we had cups of summer fruit, and then Random Daughter opened her presents.

During dinner, I watched RG curiously to see if her interest in food has increased.

Not much, I observed. Under gentle but relentless pressure by mommies, her table manners have improved a bit; although at the start of dinner she displayed an impressive “boarding house reach” to grab a chicken leg she wanted (perhaps a good sign of being able to reach distant keys as her pianist career develops). As dinner progressed, she picked at her food in her usual desultory fashion and lost interest until we reached dessert.

Woo commented to me in an email that as RG is learning how to cook and helping with growing some food plants, her relationship with food will probably develop into a healthy one. (I was going to quote the email but can’t find it.) I think this is about right. The mommies told us that RG requested (it sounded more like “demanded” to me) the right to plan the menus for two dinners each week. Her choices were fairly “kid-like.” For example, at the height of the recent heat wave, RG specified pizza as her dinner of choice. The extended family is so wholesome now in their food habits, they made their own pizza at home instead of ordering out for it.

RG has also decided that violin music is now a necessity for getting to sleep during her nap. Mommy studied violin at Oberlin, but before graduation decided to have a life instead of being a professional violinist, but she has never entirely dropped the violin, and now she often plays it a bit when RG is going down for her nap. If Mommy is unavailable for a performance, RG listens to some violin music on her little boom box.

I envision her at the age of 25 or so, having her mother drop in to serenade her to sleep, perhaps to the discomfiture of a spouse or partner.


Yesterday, we went into town to visit the Barely Extended Family, celebrating my daughter’s birthday,  and celebrating Random Granddaughter because we always celebrate her.

I am filled with appreciation. Marrying my wife was like winning the lottery. My daughter being born was like winning the lottery twice. RG–well, I don’t want her to get a swelled head, so if she asks you, tell her the lottery committee is still evaluating her ticket to see if it is genuine.

We not only congratulated my daughter on having a birthday (something just about anyone can do), we also congratulated her on leaving her old job and getting accepted into graduate school. As I mentioned a while back, she was rejected on her first application (for not being a math major), so she completed two years of calculus by distance learning and was accepted on a second application with great enthusiasm.

As I mentioned recently, RG has cast aside her career as an artist, not to mention her earlier careers as a fire chief, railroad engineer, and ferry captain, and has embarked on a career as a concert pianist. Yesterday, she went for her second piano lesson. The teacher lives about five blocks away, so my wife and I walked over with Random Daughter to pick her up.

As we walked up the driveway, through a window we saw RG banging away on a piano with great enthusiasm. Although I could not hear anything through the window, I was impressed with her body language and stage presence. If I had a video to show you, you would agree that RG is now ready for an appearance at Carnegie Hall.

As we stood outside, waiting for the rehearsal to finish, a black and white cat walked up the driveway. The cat looked just like Sylvie, the mommies’ wonderful extroverted cat. The cat is half as big again as Sylvie and is male, and clearly an introvert (like most cats), though he cautiously sniffed my hand. At that moment, the piano teacher’s husband walked up the driveway and greeted us in a friendly way with a British accent.

The piano teacher and RG came out to greet us as well. The piano teacher told us that RG is having a good time and displaying talent as well. Obviously, the piano teacher has a lot of experience in talking to grandparents.

My wife had asked me a question about children’s piano lessons, so I asked the expert. (My wife is too cautious and shy to ask such questions, but now that I am in my 60s, I will ask almost any question to almost anybody.

“When you teach piano to a small child, are the pieces specially adapted for the reach of a small hand?”

“We start with the five basic keys,” she said. “However, you would be amazed at how flexible little hands are, and soon they are reaching for other keys.”

She went on with other good news. “She has learned two songs. Today, she learned ‘Wendy the Whale.’ After she practiced her two pieces, she finished with some improvisation.”

Of course. As soon as she actually appears on stage at Carnegie Hall, the audience will surely want to hear some improvisation besides impeccable performance of old chestnuts of the standard repertoire such as ‘Wendy the Whale.’

Cats in the Military

August 7, 2009

I own a silly book which I bought for 25 cents somewhere called The First Pet History of the World.

The author talks about dogs helping in wars; no surprises there. I was entranced though by a section about cats assisting the military.

In 1967, the United States Army tried to use house cats to assist soldiers in the Vietnamese War. The goal was to take advantage of feline night vision to help soldiers as they patrolled in the dark. The author claims to be quoting from an actual military report on the experiment. I have no idea if this is really true or not, but I think it’s a hoot to read, so I will quote it here.

Soldiers were harnessed to tom cats and set loose in the jungle after dark.

Quoting from the supposed military report:

The animals led the troops racing through thick brush in pursuit of mice and birds.

Troops had to force the the cats to follow the direction of the patrol; the practice often led to the animals stalking and attacking the dangling pack straps of the soldier marching in front of the animal.

If the weather was inclement or even threatening inclemency, the cats were never anywhere to be found.

Often when the troops were forced to take cover, the cats took the opportunity to sharpen their claws on the boots of the troops, regardless of the seriousness of the situation.

A number of the troops traded their cats to Vietnamese women for their favors. When questioned about this, the troops claimed the animals ran away.


David, have you considered enlisting Little Liu?