Friday, May 30, 2003

Back to the Range

When Soo sees that I’ve been imagining conversations between birds and then using those hallucinations to counter an anti-Keynesian movement pervasive in today’s government, she sends me to hit balls. Hey, whatever it takes.
So, I left our little sanctuary and rolled over the Agate Passage Bridge, past the casino, past the final resting place of Seattle’s namesake, and back to that swath of land off South Kingston Road. This time Interrogator Bob wasn’t there. A couple of guys were chipping around the “green” out front. That looked like a good idea, so I put on my golf shoes and went out to work on my short game. It’s the first to go, right before your libido and your memory, or is it the other way around. Man does not live by the big stick alone (or words to that effect).
A fine mist had started to fall, but nothing to prevent me from knocking a few balls around. Again, I was impressed with the setup of this little operation. There was no need for the proprietors to go to the great expense of putting in a real putting green when all they really needed was this, a patch of low mown grass to practice with the little sticks. After about 45 minutes, the rain started to pick up and I decided to move to the shelter of the barn. There were three guys already pounding away. I bought a big bucket of balls from the kid in the shack and assumed my spot in front of the mirror. I hadn’t gotten through half the bucket when a guy came up and started watching me. He was standing with his back to a picture of Ben Hogan mid-swing and facing me. The juxtaposition between Hogan’s technical perfection and my mad swipes must have seemed extreme. I put another ball on the rubber practice tee and began to waggle, but the guy’s presence was finally too much to ignore. I turned and just looked at him.
“Hi there,” he said with undue jocularity, “I’m not bothering you, am I?”
“No,” I lied, “I was just wondering if you needed anything.”
“You must be the guy from Las Piedras Island,” he replied, with an odd nod at my shoes and complete disregard for my perturbation.
Exasperated, I said, “What, do you guys compare notes at the Lodge?”
“Ha, ha, no, down at the bar. Not much goes on around here.”
“’Here’ meaning Kingston?”
He had taken a step forward and stood holding a fairway wood, “Well, yeah, not much goes on in Kingston, but even less goes on around here,” and he said it with a sweep of the club to encompass the range and adjoining environs.
“So you, Bob and the boys sit around the bar and talk about, what, everybody you don’t know who comes to the range?”
“Not that many people we don’t know come to this range,” he said matter of factly.
“That’s what Bob said,” I said.
“Yeah, well, even Bob gets it right some times.”
“And, who are you?” I asked, not pleasantly, but not unpleasantly either. I wanted these guys to understand I just wanted to be left alone.
“Jacob, Jake,” he said extending his hand.
“Nice to meet you Jacob Jake,” I lied again and shook his hand.
“Just Jake,” he corrected my purposeful mistake.
“Well, still nice to meet you just Jake. Are we done, or do you have more questions for me, because I’d kinda like to just finish hitting these balls.”
“Oh, yeah, sure,” he said backing up apologetically. “Go right ahead, sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to say, ‘hello.’”
“Very kind of you.” I don’t know why I was being so terse. I’m usually a very friendly person. I just felt as if my personal space was being violated.
Jake went away. I consciously ignored everyone else and just hit the rest of my golf balls. When I was done Jake was already gone. I took off those tell-tale white FootJoys, got in the car and drove home thinking I could just as easily drive south to Bremerton to play golf.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

The Economics of Jay Nation

As some of you know I’ve been sending drafts of this document to people for their amusement and mine. One such person, a good friend whom I respect and trust immensely, replied with an email entitled “The Birds Are Getting Fat.” And, indeed, he was correct. The Jays, the Robins, even the hummingbirds (just a tad jowly) have looked slimmer. I understood the subtext, of course (the email contained job listings), but I still stopped feeding the Jays every day. I was concerned about my activities somehow affecting the larger ecosystem. The truth is I’d seen swarms of spiders crawling the lawn, and we’re being overrun (slowly) by a stampede of slugs (a six inch long leopard slug slimed up the kitchen window last week). I don’t know if these creatures comprise the natural diet of the Steller’s Jay, all I’ve ever seen a Steller’s Jay eat is a Hoody’s unsalted peanut. But, based on the recommendations of a graduate of the Harvard Business School, and an inherent belief that birds unfed long enough might just find slugs and spiders appetizing, I decided to put the Jays on a diet to see what would happen.
Let me tell you the results have been nothing short of amazing. I had always simply accepted the law of supply and demand. I’d read about it in books and heard learned folks discuss it, but it had never been more immediate than the battle for the last bit of Ben & Jerry’s. That is until I saw hungry Jays.
Initially, I just randomly started skipping days. I’d not feed them one day, and then the next day leave a few peanuts near where I’d seen the most spiders. (There do seem to be fewer spiders, but I have no empirical evidence to prove my actions [or inactions] caused this perceived reduction). On days following non-feeding days I seemed to notice a series of bird calls after I’d spread out the nuts. Nate really enjoys Jay-feeding time and has gotten quite adept at cracking the peanuts, pulling out the nuts, sticking them in his mouth and then spitting them on the deck. Now that we have him trained to spit out the nuts, we’re going to take him to a baseball game and he’s going to be irate with me when I chew and actually swallow (gasp) a peanut. Anyway, as he muddles around with the nuts, I have time to observe both him and the world around him. I’m convinced the Jays have started leaving a scout near the deck. I no longer feed them only in the morning, sometimes I’ll feed them in the afternoon, sometimes dusk, sometimes not at all. Yet, it never fails that within a few minutes of putting out the nuts the bird calls begin. It’s as if the flock has spotters throughout the neighborhood just waiting for a food sighting and then they start a phone tree of sorts, each call getting more distant until the whole flock has been notified and they come swooping in to get their grub. I recognize that I’m personifying the actions of animals, and I’m assuming an ordered form of communication and cooperation within a group of lesser beings. And, again, I’m dipping an uneducated toe into a scientific pond that has (no doubt) been amply explored. Regardless, I started to marvel at the actions of the Jays every time I fed them. This sense of wonder, combined with the obvious pleasure Nate garnered from the event, made it more difficult to not feed the Jays. But, not feed them I did. (I love that sentence for some reason).
Then, this morning, when I was playing with Nathan in the driveway (he likes climbing in and out of my car), I heard a ruckus in the bushes. There were two Jays fighting! How could this be? What happened to the spirit of mutual cooperation amongst this flock of Jays? I had not fed them that day, indeed I could not remember the last time I had, it could have been several days. Is it possible that when faced with a short-term reduction in supply these previously friendly birds lost all amity and became mortal enemies? Is hunger such a powerful motivator that it outweighs all prior feelings of esprit de corps?
And then it hit me. Jay Nation is America. We all work together (or give the impression of working together), but the moment there’s not enough to go around we’re squawking and screeching and trying to snatch a peanut scrap out of the mouths of our fellow citizens. We’ll all stand united to defeat the evil chipmunk. As long as we’re happy, we’ll leave Robin Nation alone to pick at the worms. Yet the moment there’s an ounce of difficulty we’re ready to drop mitts and brawl. Or at least whine. Let’s face it we’re all a bunch of selfish whiners. And, I’m the worst of the flock. I’ve got a wonderful wife who loves and supports me, a fantastic kid who I get to spend more time with than 99% of all fathers, and I benefited financially from an anomalous tech-boom that I dumbly stumbled into having little or no training to justify the jobs I had. My background and education (I typed my thesis. On a typewriter. Before my first job out of college, I had never used a computer or took any sort of computer class, ever.) gave me about as much right to work in high-tech as George W. Bush’s gave him to be president. And there’s the rub (are you catching on to the rhythm of these chapters?). It’s not about who’s qualified or who’s deserving, it’s about who’s willing to take it. Do the Jays sit around and think, “Golly, I really shouldn’t take that last peanut from Gaston. He’s getting kind of old and can’t see as well as he did back in ’92 when he was managing this flock. I’ll just leave it for him.”
No, of course they don’t. I’m no zoologist, but I’d wager that the vast majority of animals in the wild are only interested in taking care of themselves. The question we as humans should be asking ourselves is, are we animals in the wild?

Friday, May 2, 2003


The temptation is to lean towards the Jack Nicholson character in “The Shining.” Don’t shave, don’t shower, scowl and walk around the house mumbling to myself. I’m tempted to create a document that reads “All work and no play makes Billy a dull boy,” over and over again, then leave it conspicuously open so Soo can discover it. Soo doesn’t buy the descent into madness routine, though. I have no right to be miserable and a neurotic self-indulgent fantasy does not a full-blown psychosis make. Besides, it’s spring! I just can’t get motivated to sharpen the long knives when the flowers start blooming and partly sunny outweighs partly cloudy.

Among of green
Stiff old bright
Broken branch come
White sweet may

It’s the only poem I know entirely by heart (primarily because it’s only 13 words), yet even in (or possibly because of) its brevity it captures the essence of spring, the gray to green to white, the rebirth, the whole cycle of life thing. A better wordsmith has already captured in those 13 words what I’m going to stumble around on for a chapter or so, but it’s early, I’ve got coffee and some time to type so what the hell.
I’ve been spending a lot of time mowing the lawn. It’s very calming and meditative in a sweaty grassy kind of way, all the parallel lines, making order out of chaos, taming nature and all that. Pushing a mower back and forth gives you time to think, which as I’ve already noted, can be a dangerous thing for me. After running through the usual, “When will I get a job, who else can give me a job, how are we going to get enough money to continue paying our mortgage, get health coverage, put Nate through school, solve world hunger,” etc…my mind drifts towards the more ethereal.
When we first saw this place everything was green, well, gray and green. And for the first month it stayed that way, just relentless, albeit multi-shaded, green. Mossy green, deep forest green, grassy yellowy green, brilliant almost chartreuse green, and every shade in between, all mixed with the dormant brown and gray twiggy masses of growth around here. It was the continued and consistent presence of green that made the first appearance of other colors so remarkable. Or maybe not so remarkable. This is, afterall, the Evergreen State. It rains, things grow. In keeping with my one great skill, ie stating the obvious; however plain and ordinary everyone else might view this stuff, I will continue.
So, I’m mowing the lawn and there’s this little shrub growing under some trees, just an ordinary juniper-y looking thing. I’d walked past it a few dozen times and never noticed it. Today, or that day, whenever it was when things started to bloom, I noticed little pink flowers sprouting out of the ends of its branches. Eureka! I stopped mowing and knelt down to take a closer look. They were beautiful. Tiny delicate blooms just squirting out of gnarly green pipe-cleaner brushes. Forgive my sentimentality, but it was moving. It was like a ray of hope, a promise that somewhere amidst all this pervasive green, there were other emotions waiting to break free. And now you may see where I’m going with this.
I get over myself and go back to mowing and thinking. Why is it that plants bloom? What’s the point of making themselves attractive? What’s the point of shaving or showering or not scowling at someone? Is there a biological imperative for humans to look pretty, beyond the healthful sanitary reasons, I mean. And beyond the vain attempts to spruce ourselves up to attract a mate, or maybe not too far beyond. Plants flower so they can attract birds or insects to gather their seeds or otherwise help them propagate. Maybe we’re all just gray and green, we’re all twisted twigs and deep buried roots, and it’s only sometimes for some of us that the conditions are right that it’s sunny or there’s enough warmth or nutrients or whatever to make us flower. Not rocket science or plant science, I know, botanists and psychologists and poets have written about this before and better than I.
Yesterday, I took a shower, gussied myself up and took the ferry into Seattle so I could have lunch and “network” with someone who has a job. All the job-finding experts say this is a good thing to do.
We’ll see. Anything’s possible, it is May again.