On part of my trip to work, I ride a ferry. Generally, there are one or two state patrol cars parked at the ferry dock, observing as we load. Usually, at least one of the police cars includes a dog to sniff the cars before they start to drive on board the ferry.

Last Friday morning, there was a brief news item in the paper that someone on one of the state ferries had observed suspicious looking people taking photographs on board a ferry (different route than mine). That evening as I boarded my evening ferry, besides noticing four state patrol cars, I also observed four black-clad men wearing conspicuous side arms boarding the ferries and observing all the cars as they boarded. Later, the men, whose black outfits bore the letters, “United States Coast Guard,” patrolled the passenger decks. Their hands were relaxed, but not far from their pistols.

Last night, Thursday, the black clad Coast Guardsmen (this time with one black clad woman among them) were back again, once more observing the boarding and departing cars and patrolling the passenger decks. The news media have been very quite about ferry activity after that one brief news item, with no mention of any special Coast Guard Activity.

Aunt Naomi, the ballerina, from a bohemian Jewish Chicago family obsessed with alternative health care, married Donald, product of a California pioneer ranching family in the high desert near Hemet, an engineer who worked for the power utility in Los Angeles.

Donald and Naomi settled in Fullerton, another small town in Orange County, California, only a few miles away from Brea.

Naomi opened a ballet studio. Donald eventually became a chiropractor. One of their two daughters, Joanna, learned Chinese in Taiwan and became, with her Taiwanese husband, the millionaire co-owner of the multi-national manufacturer of baby strollers and children’s furniture, Graco. I consider her success an example of the virtues of bringing hybrid vigor into your family tree.

After Grandfather Harry, dentist turned naturopath, died, perhaps because he had not given himself enough colonics to keep himself healthy forever, Grandmother Agnes moved to California to live with her daughter, Naomi.

As a pacifist, Agnes believed she would turn the world away from war by writing children’s plays that contained no conflict and no violence. By watching and performing in such plays, the next generation of children would become, Agnes believed, a new kind of human who would eschew violence. As you can see, Agnes was ahead of her time. Perhaps a few million years ahead.

Once a year, Naomi would rent a theatre to put on a recital of the children in her ballet studio. Ballet studios put on recitals just as companies pay dividends to investors. Parents invest in ballet lessons; they receive their dividend payment when they see little Caroline cavort on stage in her tutu.

Grandma Agnes wrote and directed a play that served as a “frame” for the whole recital. Thus Naomi, a very good daughter, humored her mother.

Although I could not (and still cannot) dance a lick, I was drafted into performing in the play as one of the two non-dancing characters. As the play opened, my stage sister and I were walking in the woods. Behind the stage scenery trees, presumably invisible to us though quite visible to the audience, were many little fairies in tutus along with the Queen of the Fairies, the most advanced “ballerina” of the dance studio, a teenager who had graduated to “toe” shoes and could display some actual dancing ability.

My stage sister exclaimed, “Oh, what beautiful woods. I bet fairies live here! [Rustling and suppressed giggling among hidden fairies.] I wish I could be a fairy and dance through the woods! Wouldn’t you like to be a fairy dancing through the woods, too, Random?”

At this point, I delivered my big line of the play. Twirling around in an exaggerated pastiche of fairy dancing, I exclaimed, “Oh, sure, I bet I would look really cute as a prancing fairy!” (As this was still the innocent 1950s, this line was not greeted with the embarrassed laughter it would produce today.)

The Fairy Queen royally emerged from the stage bushes and trees, sternly chastising me for my disdainful and disrespectful attitude toward fairies. To teach me the error of my ways, the various inhabitants of faerie land would perform for my sister and I. For the next two hours I stood at awkward attention watching fairies, elves, sprites, and other magical creatures perform. (Fortunately for my aching legs and uncertain bladder, there were a couple of intermissions.)

Small children who were not really able to dance, a group that included my younger brother B and my younger sister D, portrayed brownies who tumbled. My brother performed his somersault, and then noticed that our sister was standing petulantly still.

“Do your somersault!” he sternly chastised her.

“I can’t! My back hurts,” my sister retorted in a loud voice that carried through the entire theatre.

My aunt, an experienced impresario of small children performing over their heads, quickly rushed on stage with a gracious smile/moue toward the parents of affectionate complicity and gently but firmly ushered the floundering brownies off stage.

Eventually, all the denizens of faerie gathered on stage for a grand finale of magical dancing prowess. The Queen of Fairy Land demanded of Random if he now appreciated the wonders of life as a fairy. The eleven-year-old nephew of the owner of the dance studio, bored out of his tiny brain, mustered as enthusiastic an assent as he bring himself to simulate and then joined in the bows to the thundering applause of the assembled parents.

After we our final retreat from the stage, my grandmother gathered me to her ample bosom and with regal aplomb, congratulated me on my dramatic prowess. I think that was my last appearance on a stage as an actor, though my brother, an accomplished amateur musician and ham, later performed in several neighborhood theatre productions as a combination actor/guitarist.

Yes, I know no guns appeared in this chapter. Agnes would have wanted it that way. They do appear in the next episode as we make our way to my uncle’s ranch near Hemet.

Yes, I know everyone wants to know if any rabbits have bitten the dust. Well, I tell my stories in my rambling way (a bad habit I learned from Jean Shepherd), so you’ll have to wait a bit longer.

Though, I will say that if you keep a pet bunny, and it appears on the grounds of the little house in the medium-sized woods, it should wear a bunny license and be on a leash, if it knows what’s good for it.

Some children, such as my junior high classmate, Jackie, grew up with real guns and learned to shoot at real bullets at an early age. (That is not a typing error, as you shall see.) Other children, like me, grow up with pacifist grandmothers, such as my father’s mother, Agnes, who abhorred letting children play with toy guns and other “war toys.”

As a teenager, I was much influenced by the humorist Jean Shepherd. I’ve been watching Seinfeld videos lately, and I was amused to read that this very successful comedian lists Shepherd as one of his biggest influences.

At the inception of World War II, my father joined the army. Besides having a patriotic motivation to defend his country, I suspect he was moved by a desire to get away from his mother and to “stick it in her eye” (as the saying goes) by becoming a soldier. As he was sent to India to defend it against a Japanese attack that never came, he did get a long way away.

After WWII, my father’s sister, Naomi, who had dreams of being a ballerina (and did dance in the chorus line of a road company production of the musical, Oklahoma), moved to California, perhaps to seek her fortune as a dancer in films. She may also have been trying to get away from her mother as well.

After my father demobilized, following the lead of his sister, he took my mother and me (now five years old) to California, perhaps still fleeing Agnes. I have a slight recollection of crossing the Rocky Mountains as we rode the train across the continental divide.

After they got to California, they took me to a pony farm that took photographs of children sitting on little steeds. I once saw the picture taken at that time showing me sitting on a pony dressed in a cowboy outfit with two little cap guns in holsters strapped to my waist. They sent this picture of me to Grandma Agnes, who predictably “had a cow.”

Shepherd did a variety of work in radio, television, print, and movies. He is best known for his work in the movie, A Christmas Story, a movie based on his writing and which he narrated. The young hero of the movie, Ralphie, desperately wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, despite warnings from adults that he will “shoot his eye out.”

When I was a junior high school student in the small Orange County, California town of Brea, I did not own a BB gun, though I remember wanting one.

My classmate, Jackie, whose father was a hunter, did own a BB gun. One day he stole a real bullet from his Dad’s ammunition supply, placed it into a cleft in a tree, and began firing at it with his BB gun. He hit it; the bullet exploded and launched itself, hitting Jackie in the eye. As this took place around 1955, I have no documentation to back this up, but it really happened.

Jackie survived, and eventually came back to school with a glass eye. We (his fellow classmates) were much impressed. Years later, it occurs to me that with his talent for making “bank shots,” Jackie could perhaps have become a great pool shark, perhaps known as “One Eye Jackie.” On the other hand, with only one eye, his depth perception might have been forever ruined, perhaps making “One Shot Wonder Jackie” a better nickname for him.

Adventures with guns will continue