(Part 2 of the visit to Mary from Peru.)

Random Granddaughter is beginning to integrate with adult society. Although RG was appalled and horrified by the delicious Peruvian food Mary prepared for us, she politely took a bite of the vegetables and rice Mary served in her lovely apartment and ate some of the cilantro’d chicken Mary served.

Although she was bored by the adult conversation, she sat politely, merely helping herself to use one of Mary’s combs to use to comb her doll’s hair as she ignored the adult conversation. As the doll is based on a Williamsburg little girl, RG’s distraction was a deft way to bring the conversation around to her recent trip to colonial Williamsburg (while visiting her “East Coast” grandparents). As a budding artist, our granddaughter was most interested in watching how they made red paint. RG found it charmingly gross that they crush 70,000 cochineal beetles (from South America!) to generate a useful quantity of red dye.

Saturday, Mommy (Random Granddaughter’s birth mother), RG and I went to visit my Peruvian friend, Mary, so named (instead of Maria) because Mary’s father liked American movies, naming Mary’s sister, “Vivian,” after Vivian Leigh, and naming Mary after American movie stars in general.

Mrs. Random did not come because she was helping open the organic farmer’s market, for the season where she barristas and serves her own splendid organic whole grain baked goods that are not as heavy as bricks. They are not only wholesome; they taste good. Is that not indeed magic worthy of Harry Potter?

Our daughter, Mama, did not come because she had a graduate school midterm Monday. My daughter has a Bachelor’s degree in biology and a Master’s degree in horticulture but she is now pursuing a Master’s degree in medical statistics. My daughter has not attended any of her graduations. However, as she has been studying calculus and statistics with such incredible discipline and concentration, I regard my daughter as being under the spell of an evil sorcerer. I told her that when she graduates from her current program, I will attend the graduation, and as they hand her her diploma, I will stop the ceremony and perform a ceremony to free my daughter from her enchantment. “You are now free to stop studying incessantly and function like a normal human being,” I will gravely intone in front of the other enchanted students, just as the campus police arrive to drag me away.

To be continued with disturbing evidence that RG is growing up and merging with society.

Weekend Plans

October 7, 2009

This weekend  we will babysit Random Granddaughter so the mommies can go out for a night. The advantage seems to be that we will do it for free and can be trusted with her.

We also are trying to get together with Mary from Peru, though we are having difficulty reconciling schedules.

I looked for Peruvian restaurants, thinking we could take Mary to lunch and she could discuss Peruvian cuisine with us. The good news is that there actually was a Peruvian restaurant near where she lives and works. The bad news is that it has been closed because of the building being remodeled. The good news is that it may open again some day in a new building.

Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first. We look forward to seeing RG and having her tell us what she is doing in kindergarten and to seeing Sylvie as well, though she is getting kind of old for a cat.

I am allergic to cats, though my allergies seem to have lessened as I get older. My wife, who was not allergic to cats, has developed allergies as she gets older.

I am considering getting a Siberian forest cat. This breed seems to create fewer allergic reactions in humans than most other types of cats. There is a breeder in Albany, Oregon. I figure we would have to spend a week petting and testing one of their kittens to see if we could safely adopt one.

As I get older and feebler, it seems to me that it would be nice to be able to sit with a cat in my lap and pet it and listen to it purr.

If I suggest this scheme to my wife, she will immediately tell me it is a very bad idea and we will have a big fight over it.

Mary from Peru to Visit

September 13, 2009

Some time back, I wrote about hosting a party at the mommies’ house for my two favorite volunteers: Mary (not Maria) from Peru and S from Romania.

My wife was quite taken with Mary. I think because they are much alike. Each is very intelligent but does not think she is. Each does exactly as she pleases regardless of what other people think they “ought” to do. Of course, they are different as well. Mary has a Master’s Degree in Industrial Engineering. My wife took one college class.

In any case, I asked my wife, “Do you want to invite Mary to visit us?” My wife seldom wants people to visit us unless she had decided to invite them. However, in this case, she said, “Yes.”

Mary said she has bought a condo and that things are going well at her job for a utility company and that she will visit us next month.

My wife said, “Be sure to tell her we will pay for her ferry ticket.”

I let the mommies know about the visit, but their lives are so busy and complicated I don’t know if they will join us. Perhaps Random Granddaughter can invite her entire kindergarten class from the school for very bright children. On the way, they could stop and visit the used car dealer that sells used fire trucks and as a project they could take a fire engine apart and put it back together.


While we were eating the brunch and conversing with Mary, the phone rang. I had given the mommies’ phone number to our guests, so I guessed it might be S from Romania.

Indeed it was. From the conversation, I understood that she might have had trouble finding the mommies’ house. 65th Street is one of the main cross streets near where they live. S and her husband F were at 165th Street, perhaps 20 miles away.

From the conversation, it was clear S and F were discouraged and embarrassed by being so late and thinking about not trying to come. Mommy told them to come, and I spoke loudly so they might hear my voice, and said, “Please come. It will be fine.”


As we waited, Mary continued to tell us about her life in America. After she received her Master’s Degree in industrial engineering, she was hired by a large utility company that serves several counties, including the island where my life and I live. As our electricity goes out frequently from wind storms, I once told Mary, “The next time our power goes out, I will call you and ask you to come over to get it up again.”

She replied, “I’m sorry, I work in the natural gas department; I won’t be able to help you.”


At the brunch, I asked Mary about how her company is holding up with the economic troubles. Had they started to lay anybody off?

She said they had not layoffs, but their planning had been thrown into turmoil. All their plans were based on forecasts of continuing growth and for lots of news houses (and thus lots of demand for more power hookups).

Mary said she is going to England in April. She will see her sister who now lives in London. I thought her sister was a linguist, but Mary said she is a statistician. I brought my daughter into the conversation, mentioning that she will be studying statistics in graduate school this fall.

Mary has two weeks of vacation coming, so she plans to spend two weeks in London; one week to see her sister, the second just to travel around in England.

Mary’s boss asked her if she really needed two weeks of vacation, she said. This sounded very crazy to me, but as most of the bosses I have had in my 17 different jobs while I was working were crazy, it also sounded perfectly normal to me.

In any case, Mary is very stubborn (though very polite), so she always does as she pleases and seems to be quite unperturbed when someone else disapproves. If she becomes one of Random Granddaughter’s “adopted aunts” (a tradition in my family) this may be a good model for her to role for RG.

At this point, S and F, our guests from Romania, finally arrived.

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.


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.

Social Occasion Part 2

February 4, 2009

Speaking of International Relations (as David just did), one of the impossible tasks of modern life is to arrange a social event by email. It takes about 57 emails before schedules can be reconciled. I was trying to arrange a date and time when Mama and Mommy and Random Granddaughter and Mary and S and F can all have an international social occasion at the mommies’ house.The date Mary set doesn’t work for S and F. We arranged a week later.

I thought, dinner. The mommies said, how about brunch at 10 am? S and F said, we have an appointment and can not arrive until eleven. I said, how about 11 am? Mary said, that would be fine; I sleep late on weekends. The mommies said, that would be late because RG must take her nap by 1 pm. I said, I am making an executive decision, we will meet at 10:30 am.

Then the mommies asked, what about food preferences? T(hey have had guests who wouldn’t eat this or that.) I will email the guests today and ask what they like to eat and what they don’t like to eat. They are very polite people so they probably will tell us they eat everything. Nobody eats everything. RG hardly eats anything. (She will be the first five year old to suffer from anorexia.)

Mrs. Random is concerned I am taking advantage of the mommies to be my diplomatic social hostesses (which of course, I am), and said, we [Grandma and Grandpa] should pay for the food. The mommies said, don’t worry about it. Of course, Mrs. Random, in her Martha Stewart alter, is fretting about it.

Now RG is on deadline to learn Quechua and Romanian in three weeks. And the mommies said, RG may get bored with all the adults around and wander off and do something else in the middle of the social occasion (and perhaps provoke an international incident).

At the last minute, somebody will probably not be able to make it. I will sulk because all my careful scheming has come to naught.

Then there’s Bunny, the killer rabbit masquerading as RG’s favorite stuffed animal. He may decide to wreak revenge on me (for my bunicide in the woods) in the middle of the social occasion, ruining the mommies’ best tablecloth with bloodstains.

This is the first week I don’t have to go to work. I have a list of 10,000 things I need to do. Mrs. Random has a list of 10,0020 things I have to do. The 20 have to come before any of mine. Perhaps her 10,000 things come before my 10,000 things.

The Peruvian Matchmaker

January 21, 2009

I have at times tried to play matchmaker. Sometimes it has worked. Sometimes it has not.  

The word “matchmaker” implies a romantic connection, but matchmaking just means putting two people in touch with each other.  

Years ago, I was teaching a computer class in Portland. The class ran for two days. On the first day, I had the students introduce themselves. One person said, “I am an office manager.”  

Another person said, “I am taking this class to help me get a job.”  

“What kind of work do you do?” I asked.  

“Secretarial work,” she said. I asked the office manager, “Are you hiring at the moment?”  

She said, “Why, yes, we are seeking a secretary at the moment.”  

With my usual subtlety, I said, “I suggest you talk to each other during the class break, which will take place in about an hour and a half.”  

After the second day of the class, the student approached me and thanked me. “I got the job!” she said. As far as I know, lightening never struck like this again, but once in a while I have put two people together and something good happened.  

I have talked a few times about one of the volunteers I work with, Mary, a very determined woman from Peru, who came to the United States to go to graduate school in engineering. She offered to volunteer and teach computer classes in Spanish. The library system often fumbles the ball (as do I from time to time), but eventually they were able to get her started teaching classes in Spanish.  

I asked her once, “Why are you called “Mary” instead of “Maria.”  

“My father loves American movies. One of my sisters is named ‘Vivian’ after Vivian Leigh because he loves ‘Gone with the Wind.’” One of her sisters is a child psychiatrist and the other has a doctorate in linguistics. She told me that getting a lot of education is a tradition for the women in her family. In Peru, her counselor told her, “You are good in math. I recommend that you become an accountant.”  

I don’t think Mary is named after a particular movie star; her father just likes the American name “Mary.” When Mary meets another Hispanic person and converses with them in Spanish and introduces herself as Mary, they are puzzled. Mary is very patient and very firm and keeps reminding them her name is “Mary” until they get used to it.  

Mary was very polite and very determined when her high school counselor in Peru told her, “You are very good with math. You should be an accountant.”  

Mary is very polite, but also very determined. She said, “I don’t want to be an accountant. I want to be an engineer.”  

Mary went to college in Peru and got an engineering degree. Then she came to the United States, went to graduate school, and got a Master’s Degree in engineering and then got a job with a utility company.  

Mary is very short, and she looks just like I would imagine an Inca woman would look like, so I guess her ancestors were Indians, but she is an Inca woman with a Masters Degree in Industrial Engineering. I love people who don’t fit into neat boxes  

I retire at the end of this month. I suggested that Mary and I go out for coffee as I may not see her again, and I like her a lot. She is working for a utility company.  

“How are things going for you?” I asked her.  

“Very well,” she said. “I was rather bored, but then they gave me a promotion. I now have more responsibility and now I earn more money. By the way, I just received my American citizenship,” she told me. I congratulated her.  

I told her about my granddaughter and how she has been “diagnosed” as having a very high IQ and what a character she is.  

Mary said, “I would like to meet your granddaughter.” I said, “I will check with my daughter and her partner and see if I can invite you over for dinner with them and my wife and I so you can meet RG.” Mary also told me that she doesn’t think she is particulary intelligent; she just makes up her mind what she wants to do and perseveres until she accomplishes it.  

It is a tradition in my family to adopt relatives. My daughter had several excellent “aunts” we adopted for her. RG has an “aunt” who drives a bus in Portland. The people I call the “Friendly Neighbors” have “adopted” RG as a grandchild. There’s no reason why she can‘t have a Peruvian “aunt.” Actually, Mommy speaks some Spanish and spent some time in Puerto Rico.  

The day after I had coffee with Mary I was teaching a class and met some interesting people. Two work in sales. I helped them both with Excel. Julie is “American” and sells Swatch watches. Inni is Russian but sells real estate in Seattle. Julie has a lot of trouble with Excel, but said she needs it for her work and that my class was very helpful to her. Inni is very sharp at math and frequently corrected me on little errors I made during class because of my dyslexia. However, she said the class was very helpful to her because I introduced some information new to her.  

 After the end of the class, I talked a bit with Julie and Inni. I said to both of them, “I plan to start a part time business after I retire. It will involve a lot of sales work. I had a business once that failed. One of my weakest points at that time was in sales work. I realize I should pay attention to this part of what I plan to do.”  

Can I call on you to give me some advice on selling?” They both said, “Yes.”  

A quiet young man in the class came up to talk to me after I finished talking with Julie and Inni. He told me he needed to learn much more about computers. He looked and sounded Hispanic. He told me that he had been doing factory work but he wanted to go to graduate school and break out of his fairly menial work.  

“Where are you from?” I asked. “  

“I am from Peru,” he said.  

“I am retiring soon and I won’t be teaching any more computer classes,” I told him. “I would like to encourage you and help you pick up more computer skills, so you can go on with your education, but I won’t be available to do so,” I continued. I also said,  

“I know somebody from Peru who works as a volunteer and teaches computer classes in Spanish. She can probably help you learn more about computers. I will check with her first to make sure it is OK, but if it is I will take you both out for coffee and introduce you to each other.”  

Mary seems to be doing fine, but as far as I know she is unattached, and I get the feeling she is a little lonely. Who knows? I have seen stranger things happen than two Peruvians in the United States being introduced by an Anglo.  

As David said about how I met my wife, “You met your wife because of a prank call?”  

Also, the young Peruvian man is named “John.” He said, “My father named me John instead of ‘Juan’ because he likes American movies…”  

I am not making this up.

One of the jokes I told her was about how my wife and I are incompatible. I said, “When people become romantically involved, they are in a ‘honeymoon’ situation. They think everything about the lover is wonderful. Then if they are together for a long time (married or not), they encounter differences and disagreements. The real test is if they can survive the conflicts.

“If I were running a ‘dating service,’ I would require people to have a big fight in the first month they are ‘going together’ so they can see if they are really compatible.”

Mary agreed that a pre-marital fight would be a good idea.

“My wife has a very bad temper. I also have a very bad temper. We agree with five acres of woods, whoever kills the other one first has to bury the dead spouse. My wife says I am safe because she can’t dig a hole deep enough to bury me.

“My wife got a job on the island. She was chosen from 80 applicants. We thought we were very lucky. But then one of her co-workers proved to be a very bad employee. This co-worker didn’t do much work. She gossiped to the boss about the other workers not doing their work. My wife hates work, but she is a very hard worker. (Instead of working she likes to ‘putter’ at home. If anyone else saw her puttering at home they would think she is working very, very hard.) My wife couldn’t stand having a co-worker who wouldn’t work. I said, ‘You will lose your temper and get fired.” So my wife quit her job before she lost her temper and puttered happily at home for a while. But she kept reading the want ads, looking for a part time job. My wife is a very responsible person and she knows we need the money. Especially now that I might get fired.

“When I told my wife I was in trouble on my job, she said, ‘I told you to be more careful and more obedient and more respectful.’

“I said, ‘You were right. You did tell me. Except it is impossible to do my job now.’

“She said, ‘You should do it anyway.’

“My wife applied for a job at a horse ranch. The job involves office work, not taking care of horses. The ranch provides therapy for troubled youths (and a few troubled adults). The therapy involves riding horses.

“My wife went for an interview. She said to me, ‘They want a lot of different things. I am not sure I can do everything they want. I am not sure this would be a good job for me.’ [My wife always wants to be perfect at everything she does. She can’t stand to be sloppy or careless or faulty in any work she does.]

“My wife said, ‘I don’t know if I will bother to send a follow-up letter.’

“I said, ‘We always send follow-up letters after applying for a job, thanking them for the interview. Not getting a follow-up letter is the easiest way to weed out applicants. You don’t have to take the job if you don’t want it, but let them make the decision if they want to offer it.’ [I thought my wife was trying to subvert her chance of getting the job.]

“My wife said, ‘I don’t know the last name of the person who interviewed me.’

“I said, ‘Call and ask the last name.’

“My wife said, ‘That would look really dumb.’

“I said, ‘I forget names all the time. I used to be embarrassed. Now I say, “I am really dumb. You just told me your name and I forgot it. Please tell me your name again.” People are usually appreciative that I am honest and that I care enough to try and get the name right.

“My wife said, “I don’t feel I can write a long flowery letter about how excited I am over the job and what a wonderful job I can do.

“I said, ‘Just say, “Thank you for the opportunity to interview for the job.”’ If Random Granddaughter was served a nice meal and didn’t want to eat it, but took two bites and said, ‘Thank you for dinner’ with a sulky look on her face without being prompted we would think, Those are very good manners for a four-year-old little girl and we wouldn’t get upset because she didn’t smile make an effusive speech about how wonderful dinner was. If you send a very plain letter, they will think, At least she knows how to be polite and they won’t refuse to consider you even if you aren’t effusive.

“So after 42 years of marriage we still keep fighting,” I said to Mary. “But we haven’t killed each other or divorced each other because we argue and criticize each other.” Mary laughed at my joke. She is very polite.

We expressed sympathy for each other’s plight and headed for our respective homes.