Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Better Mousetrap

Dear George,
I think I was a barbarian as a child.  Among other things, this showed up in my zest for killing mice.  Because we lived in the country, our house was home to lots of creatures, especially when the weather got cold.  When I turned twelve, my job was to bait the mouse traps in the kitchen and dispose of any corpses that were there the next day.  I’d get up first thing in the morning and run to the kitchen.  If I found a dead mouse I’d wake up my younger brother Steven and show him the victim.  Then we’d take it out and bury it in the field.  I don’t know how many mice I trapped during those years, but it must have been in the dozens. 

Now, quite a few decades later, I’ve definitely mellowed.  My interest in exterminating mice has dropped to zero (or even -20).  Last week when our cleaning lady said that she’d found mouse droppings behind our toaster, Katja insisted that I go to the hardware store and get some traps.  I was delighted to discover that they stocked a humane, no-kill mouse trap.  It cost three times as much as the regular guillotine-like traps, but I bought it without a second thought.  It’s such an ingenious invention.  The heart of it is a long tube that rests upon a fulcrum so that, when a mouse walks into the tube to get the cheese at the far end, it tilts the tube forward, and the door slams shut behind them.  The mouse isn’t hurt at all, and one can free it in a pleasant, wildlife-friendly environment. 

I baited the trap that night with Cheez Whiz, and I got up early the next morning to see what had happened.  I was excited to discover that the door to the trap was closed.  I got dressed and took the trap down the street to a large, wooded lot on a hillside.  I set the trap on the ground, opened the door, and waited for the mouse to back his way out.  When he didn’t appear, I tilted the trap up so he would slide out.  Still no mouse.  I carefully peeked into the tube.  To my shock, it was empty.  The cheese was gone, but the mouse had somehow escaped.  I couldn’t imagine how that happened.  Such a clever mouse. 

I set up the trap the next night and checked the following morning.  The same story.  Closed door, no cheese, no mouse.  On the third morning the door wasn’t closed, and the cheese was still there.  I decided that the mouse had wised up to my tricks and was not going to mess around.  On morning four the door was closed again, but the cheese was still inside, and the mouse had obviously escaped.  

I haven’t given up on this excellent trap, and I’ll set it again tonight.  I am wondering if the mouse’s family members have figured out how to release him or her.  In any case, I’ve decided  that my new mousetrap is even more humane than I’d first imagined.  First of all, it leads to humanitarian behaviors on my part, and I feel like a better person as a consequence.  And it’s even more favorable for the mouse.  He gets free cheese and can continue to live in out house with his family and his babies. He probably feels very smart.  All things considered, it’s the best of all possible worlds for humans and for mice. 

Postscript.  A couple of days after writing this I checked the trap again, just out of curiosity.  When I shook it, I thought I heard a sound inside.  I opened the end and saw inside a shriveled up mouse corpse.  It was covered in a mucousy fluid that spread over the floor of the trap and had leaked out onto the kitchen counter.  I speculated that it was some bodily fluid that mice emit when they are being slowly tortured to death.  Disgusted with myself, the trap, and the mouse’s sad body, I put the corpse in our garden and threw the ten-dollar trap in the garbage can.  Humane traps, I realized, are the old-fashioned kind that instantly snap and break the mouse’s neck.  I’ve decided, though, to go with no traps at all.  Mice can live in our house.  They’re cute, quiet, invisible, and they’re not causing anybody any trouble.  I might even start putting out cheese in the evening.   

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sweetheart Visit

Dear George,
We had our spring family get-together last weekend when our son J drove up from New Orleans with our granddaughter V and grandson L.  The children are turning nine in September and continue to grow up at a steady pace.  V had a new haircut which was quite “in”, and L had grown 7 inches in the past year.  They successfully completed their first year in their new school (switching from Spanish-speaking to English-speaking).  Their grandfather tested them on multiplication and spelling, and they are definitely whizzes.  Here are some of the things that we did.

On the way up from New Orleans
Our group stopped at Mammoth Cave
That is my favorite spot on earth
J learned it was mapped by a slave

Saturday morning we went to the zoo
The elephant swam in his pool
We saw Fiona’s huge parents.
And the painted dogs were so cool

The children love eating at Skyline
They each had a junior three-way
Chili and cheese is addictive
The energy lasts a full day

From Skyline we went down to Graeter’s
Our street is so good for ice cream
The children lapped up their lemon sorbet
I think they had found their true dream

The children like to search in our attic
They find all this interesting stuff
V picked a pair of dolls to bring home
L seemed to think two were enough

Donna came by for a visit
She brought fresh rugula to share
V showed her all of her animals
Donna thought the children so fair

Our Father’s Day brunch was at Big Boy
Bacon and eggs and French toast
We had two fathers in our family group
And both enjoyed it the most

The Museum Center had costumes from Star Wars
Chewbaca, Yoda, Darth Vader
The costumes were fantastic and elegant
Lord Sith was clearly the nadir

Later we drove to the Valley Thrift
It’s the top of our local thrift stores
V picked out the best bathrobe ever
While I bought a few dinosaurs

We all went for pizza at Deweys
Plain for L, mushrooms for V
The grownups had the Bronx Bomber
We ate every slice but for three

We walked down the street to Toku Baru
J gave the kids twelve bucks to spend
V picked out an incense burner
And L chose spinners by the end

Monday we went to the Sunlite Pool
Though I got us lost on the way
The children loved all the sprays and slides
Coney Island was such a fine day

Katja prepared a filet mignon dinner
It was the very last step of their stay
Our sweethearts set off at nine p.m.
Thirteen hours, they stopped on the way

All of these visits are wonderful
And all of them wind up too quick
The children grow more every single time
Keeping up with the youth is some trick

Monday, June 12, 2017

Best of Friends

Dear George,
My parents were part of such a great circle of friends in Menominee.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it elsewhere.  These were business and professional people who maintained close friendships for half a century or more.  They had regular parties and get-togethers of all sorts – community theater, Great Books discussion groups, poetry and art parties, jazz gatherings, oil painting outings, hunting camp get-togethers, boat trips, golfing, picnics on the Bay, Fourth of July celebrations, Xmas visits, etc.  Part of it was probably due to living in a small town.  People were in close proximity, and there weren’t a lot of big city-like events (e.g., symphony concerts, pro sports) so people relied much more on socializing with one another.  One of my childhood friends told me recently that my father had explained to her that their generation had come of age in the midst of the Great Depression, and, lacking money and job opportunities elsewhere, all of them had remained in their hometown near their families.  Recently, browsing through my father’s photographs, I found a set that he’d taken before an annual New Year’s Eve party at Riverside Country Club.  Here are some of the couples who made up this wonderful social group.

Jackie and Marty Burke

The Burkes lived at Pine Beach in Marinette with their three kids, Skipper (Martin Jr.), Ann, and Robbie.  Skipper was one of my best childhood friends. When we visited, we’d go swimming in Green Bay. 

Florence and Bill Caley

The Caley family, with kids Bill, Tom, and Bruce, lived at Northwood Cove on the Green Bay shore, just north of the city limits.  The Caleys hosted a big Fourth of July beach party each year, and fathers and sons would go to Peshtigo to buy the fireworks.  

Nan and Jes Jacobsen

The Jacobsens had three girls, Nancy, Jeanne, and Mary Nell.  Jes used to get Green Bay Packer tickets for our family, and we stayed at their Green Bay shore cottage during family reunions.  

Vic and Ruth Mars

The Mars, with their kids Mary and Charley, also lived at Northwood Cove.  Vic was a painter; Ruth a gardener.  They hosted a Christmas Eve Party where we children hid behind chairs and sofas and watched Santa’s visit.  (He actually was there.) 

Mike and Jean O’Hara

The O’Hara’s, with their four kids, Terry, Michael Dennis, Kiera, and Sean, lived on the Green Bay shore, and we spent a lot of time together as families, the kids swimming in the Bay or the river.  A Menominee lawyer, Mike served on the Michigan Supreme Court and was a devout Green Bay Packer and Notre Dame fan.   

John and Ruth Sargent

The Sargents, with their son John (and maybe other siblings), were the third family at Northwood Cove.  John was a junior fellow golfer at Riverside Country Club.  When our family first moved to our house on the river and had no electricity, John Sargent would periodically come and start up the gas-powered electricity generator in our garage.  

Dick and Muriel Sawyer  

Dick Sawyer was my dad’s law partner.  The Sawyers, with Susan, Barb, and Chip, lived in a grand house on State Street.  Dick had a hunting camp in the county, and my dad and I joined him for a duck hunting outing. 

Martina and Pat Steffke  

Because of his army assignment in Austria at the end of World War II, Pat met and married Martina, an opera singer.  We ten year old boys thought she was the most beautiful woman we’d ever seen.  The Steffkes, with son Sammy, lived on the Green Bay shore. 

Jean and Margaret Worth

The Worths lived on State Street with their three daughters, Dooley, Ann, and Jeanie.  Jean was the editor of the Menominee Herald-Leader and a prominent U.P. historian.  The Worths owned a hunting camp at Cedar River where we and many other families enjoyed frequent happy outings.  

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Everyone Loves Fiona

Dear George,
Thanks to YouTube videos, our Cincinnati Zoo’s baby hippo, Fiona, has become the most famous hippo in all of history.  She has over half a million followers on Facebook, and views of her videos run into the millions.  Born six weeks early on Jan. 24, 2016, Fiona weighed less than half as much as the average hippo newborn, and there was grave concern about her survival.  Now her size, weight, and health status are equivalent to hippos born after a full-term pregnancy.  Katja and I check for Fiona updates every day, and I have to admit that I’ve adopted her as my muse.  Here’s my update.

      Everyone Loves Fiona

My wife says Fiona is beautiful
I myself think she’s ugly-cute
She could be hired by Looney Tunes
Such a pudgy little hippo galoot

Fiona was a six-week preemie
They doubted they’d keep her alive
She weighed only twenty-nine pounds at birth
The smallest had been fifty-five

This newborn was too weak to nurse with her mom
The humans took over her care
She got early food through an intravenous tube
For months it was scare after scare

Twenty-five people joined Fiona’s team
Keepers, techies, and vets
They called her “Little Spoon” from snuggling
Perilous work but they had no regrets

Fiona gained pounds, got ready for her pool
She learned how to climb down the ramp
Soon she was paddling from side to side 
As though it were summer camp

Now Fiona’s at home in the water
She glides along the bottom of her pool
Then she’ll come up for a quick snootful of air
Dive back down through her own whirlpool

Fiona’s been learning to run here and there
She’s speedy though not a gazelle
Curious about every new plaything
Which she seeks out to nudge and to smell

This baby is such a good eater
All day long she has formula and hay 
This week she reached over two ninety pounds
She will wind up three thousand, they say

Her parents are Bibi and Henry
Together they weigh three point five tons
This youngster must get bigger to be with them
So she won’t be squashed by their buns

We keep a close eye on Fiona
Her YouTube videos are grand
This hippo’s the source of our smiles and laughs
When we meet her we’ll do a handstand