Wednesday, January 28, 2015


     Every third day I run three-and-a-half miles mostly through a nice nearby neighborhood instead of ours because it's more runner-friendly with even sidewalks, gentle slopes, and less traffic.  There's been a shrub along that route's sidewalk, however, that's annoyed me due to its below six feet overhang so that I have to duck for a few strides to avoid painful scratches on my face or ears, or having my ball cap scraped off my head. 
     Frustrated, I once stopped mid-stride and broke off a few branches to raise the overhang so that I and others might traverse full height. I felt no guilt as the owner was negligent in maintaining his plant and a blind pedestrian or bicyclist could get poked or scratched or a stooped runner or a senior could get a back injury. 
     Only last year did I discover it's not a shrub at all but a tangerine tree, its fruit ugly brown-orange and uninviting, spread in scrawny bunches across several patches.
     This year, however, starting from a couple months ago, the tree has been flush with dozens of luscious full fruit, many within easy grasp of passing walkers. I must admit I was more than once tempted as they appeared so juicy and sweet, perfect for breakfast. But I refrained from taking because there were no fallen fruit or leaves, suggesting the owner cared enough to tidy up and harvest.
     I thought if I saw the owner, I might ask for a few or maybe even suggest a purchase or trade for star fruit, for our landlord's tree has been similarly abundant with far more than he or we could ever want or need. But after weeks of running the only possible resident I saw was a young woman coming out of her new white Honda Accord parked streetside before the property, whom I sensed would feel awkward and probably say, “I don't know, you have to ask my dad,” or, “I guess it's okay,” or worse, “We have grocery bags full, let me get you one!”—as I didn't want to create a bother, especially if she got in trouble with her dad for doing the “wrong” thing.  
     Then about three weeks ago, I noticed several tangerines on the sidewalk, a few with holes in them as though pecked on by birds. On subsequent runs, it appeared that some of these had dried out and shriveled and that the scattered accumulated fallen leaves and fruits had grown. So on one of these runs, sensing that the fruit were now "fair game", I stopped at the spot, looked up into the dense foliage, and removed from deep within two of the ugliest, most mature, mottled, and dull brown fruit within easy reach, fruits I assumed would be sweet but that the owner would be least likely to miss. 
     When home, I shared my story with Deanne and my rationale for helping myself. That in college Business Law, I learned that “wind falls” describe fruit fallen onto adjacent property that may be legally kept by recipient neighbors. That county ordinances require property owners to maintain their plants so as not to obstruct nearby public walkways. That I hadn't trespassed to get the fruit. That no cop would arrest or cite me over two silly fruits. That any judge would throw out such a frivolous case. And that I intended to confess to the owner the next time I saw him. 
     To my bemused disappointment the fruit's flesh was sour and its membranes were bitter, yet they were edible enough so I shared them with my family in our oatmeal breakfast the following day. 
     Just last week, I saw the owner beside a ladder for the first time pruning the (still laden) overhanging branches. He was wearing earbuds and seemed distracted as I approached, slowed to a walk, and with a goofy smile and hand gesture said, “I hope you don't mind, they looked so good I got tempted and took a couple.”
     “That's fine, help yourself,” he said with an open smile, engaging himself the moment I addressed him. “They're a bit sour.” 
     “I'll trade you. We've got a star fruit tree with tons more than we could eat.” 
     “Like ours. No thanks, we're good,” he said and went on pruning.
     “Do you mind if I take four?” I asked.
     “Sure, go ahead.”
     “Sure you don't want some star fruit?”
     “We're good.” I wasn't sure if he didn't like star fruit, or perhaps didn't want to burden me or have to deal with me again.
     “Any difference which fruit I take which are sweeter?”
     “I'd avoid the more mature ones.”
     From the cut branches on the ground, I chose more youthful, bright shiny tangerines, including two already broken open. “Last chance, sure you don't want star fruit?”
     “We're good.” He smiled and nodded.
     I waved and ran home (dropping one and damaging near half of its wedges in the process). This time the fruits were sweeter and juicer and had pleasanter tart, bitter bites, although two were somewhat sour, but still edible. 
     During dinner, I explained to everyone the entire story that including Internet research I conducted that seemed to suggest that such fruit overhanging public space in Honolulu were gray areas, ill-defined by law whether they may or may not be taken by passers by, though credible authors suggested to always ask first.  I sensed this intuitively and would have recompensed the owner had he requested a reasonable sum such as a dollar per fruit, though such stinginess in Hawaii is seldom seen. Yet my main reason for approaching wasn't to appease my guilt (which I didn't feel) or seek forgiveness (which I didn't feel was necessary), but rather to establish friendly contact, have some fun, and put a positive close to my (some would say) criminal, naughty, or selfish act. As an aside, three days following my “theft”, I saw during a run a pleased-looking pedestrian walking toward me and away from the tree munching on something held hidden in his fist that I suspected was a tangerine.  As I passed the spot on the way home, I noticed the clean picked shell of a fresh fruit on the ground which suggested that I hadn't been the only one to succumb to temptation.  Had I been in Adam's feet, I have little reason to doubt that I'd have done the same thing, especially had the tree's debris been just as untidy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Showers of Blessings

     When Braden was in first grade, Deanne told me one day with a smile and gurgle of restrained laughter that there'd been an incident at school. His teacher had told her that during class the students began laughing and pointing out the window at Braden, who was walking around in his blue dinosaur underwear with his shorts wrapped around his ankles. (The boys' restroom was located just outside class. At home after using the bathroom he walked around half nude and took his time getting dressed, so he must have forgotten his place, which the teacher attributed to absent-mindedness. I thought, “He lives in his own world.” At least it never happened again: embarrassment can be a great teacher.)
     Jaren, who just turned seven, has been in the habit of pulling down his shorts and underwear to just above his knees to pee. At home, its fine. But in public restrooms he's getting a bit too old to do that when tip-toeing to reach the urinal.
     I tell him it's gross to allow his penis to touch the urinal (although I remembered having done so accidentally countless times as a kid his age), to use the toilet stall instead, and to pull down only the front of his pants if he's going to keep the stall door open. He mostly follows my instructions but sometimes has trouble with aim as I sometimes hear Deanne scream at him to stop peeing all over the floor and outside the toilet! I even forbade him not to use our restroom toilet ever again unless he sits down every time, so upset was I to have to clean up after him. (I forced him to clean it himself but of course he did a sloppy job so I had to go at it for fifteen more minutes to eradicate the urine smell.)
     Part of the problem stems from his holding it in until the very last second. Outside in the garage, him playing and me in the midst of a messy refinishing project, he'll stop and ask me to let him in the house (we lock the door) to use the bathroom. “How bad do you have to go?” I'll ask. “Bad,” he'll reply, shifting his feet and squirming like roaches were building a nest in his anus. 
     In the past, I've let him pee in bushes, a laundry room sink, and down a storm drain. But when I've felt generous (and responsible) I've opened the door in haste and watched him dash in and in a flurry lift the toilet seat, pull down his shorts and underwear, and unleash a torrent somewhere in the vicinity of his intended target. By “vicinity” I mean depending on how long he waits; whether his slippers come off cleanly; whether the toilet seat is already up or down; whether the seat gets fumbled on its way up; how cold the floor is; whether there's a cool breeze wafting in from Penelope's room; whether his thumbs catch the insides of his waist bands cleanly the first try; how well his thoughts and body coordinate; and his aim, hand control, attentiveness, and playfulness, his pee may end up either in full or in part: 1) In the toilet (good!), 2) On his clothes (bad!), or 3) Elsewhere outside the toilet (worst!). In short, lots of factors (including mid-pee adjustments) affect where his pee ends up. (Once it ended up in the bathtub because I told him to use it as both toilets were already occupied.)
     (As an aside, boys underwear don't have peekaboo holes in front. Mens underwear do but no one but the most persnickety use them as they're ill designed for that purpose. I won't elaborate except to say there are far more convenient and reliable methods to pee than by first having to navigate through a ridiculous contortionist's wet dream labyrinth. So what're they there for? My guess: expansion, ventilation, aesthetics, and sex appeal, the last being the same reason why lots of guys love their female companions in peek-a-boo underwear.) 
     After church one day, Jaren and I stopped off before leaving to “relieve ourselves of that uneasy burden” (quote from Gulliver's Travels). Jaren was in the toilet stall beside the urinal before which I stood, and as I finished I heard the sound of splashing in inappropriate places and saw upon the floor beside me a puddle form and grow from four to eight to twelve inches in rapid succession. “What are you doing?” I asked in alarm and went over to see Jaren holding a cupcake (for his birthday) and church bulletin in one hand, while his other hand in front of him was hidden from my view. All appeared in order, yet the stream outside the toilet on the walls, floor, and porcelain continued unabated for sickening seconds longer as he appeared to fumble to adjust its errant course.
     One hand peeing can be tricky for the best of them, especially with an uncooperative pants front that flicks out in the line of fire. “Next time ask for help if you want me to hold something,” I said, mentally noting that at least he was peeing big boy style by pulling down his pants and underwear fronts only and not exposing his butt. 
     Upon his finishing (clothes front, floor, and walls saturated), I gave him paper towels to sop up the mess. After several tries, the puddle on the floor was not much smaller, so I dismissed him and went after it myself, with not much better results. I then remembered seeing as we'd entered, the door to a storage room nearby open, so I checked inside and found a mop, wringer, and utility sink, which made my job far easier. As I cleaned, still irritated, I realized that he'll learn in time to pee properly, that some things are just messier to clean than others, and that cleaning up after him wasn't so bad as just a once-over would suffice. And I knew in my heart then as I do now that despite such irritants and inconveniences, I always have and always will love being a dad.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Indoor Games

     One of my fondest childhood memories was my Dad teaching my siblings and me card games such as cribbage, hearts, and bridge. It wasn't normal for him to spend an entire evening interacting with us as it was his nightly habit to instead watch TV, read the paper, and listen to the radio with an ear bud, often all at once. So when he got on a teach-them-a-new-card-game kick, it was special for us all, including him, as his eyes would light up and his hands would quiver whenever he got an exceptional hand. 
     He probably acquired his fondness for cards from his dad, a loving old chatterbox in our eyes, who taught us poker, Paiute, black jack, and craps, and how to liven these games by wagering chips. All his grandkids looked forward to playing cards with him for he had a way of creating excitement by saying “First knock, double!” or “Eieee! How can you raise me on a hand like that?” or “Best position is right hand of dealer because he gets to bid last,” or “Never count your chips at the table. Always wait until afterwards to figure out your winnings or losses.” He was knowledgeable and shared with us all his secrets.  
     To date I haven't taught my kids many indoor games other than checkers, chess, Hanafuda (with yaku), and a limited amount of poker. It hasn't interested them much, probably because we don't make a big deal of winning or losing as it's all about the fun. 
     Of course, we have some board games such as Life, Monopoly, Connect 4, Yahtzee, Scrabble, Trouble, and Mancala. It's mostly Jaren that's enjoyed playing these with me and I seldom say, “Okay, who wants to play a game?” perhaps because I so much prefer doing things outdoors that involve physical activity. Even walks at night can be beautiful and peaceful, with the air soft and cool and sometimes chilled.
     It was a surprise, then, that we had such a raucous grand time playing Pirate's Dice in Seattle with Norm and his kids. The simple bid or call game, last man with dice wins, involved mental probabilities calculations and psychological considerations (Who's bluffing? Who's bidding safe based on what they have?) for optimal strategy. The only certainties are a player's own dice, total dice remaining, and how many dice each player has. And bidding is based on all dice in play. (A die is lost in each round—either by a bidder, or a caller. Bids go around in a circle, each bid higher than the last, which reduces the probability of each successive bid's success. A “call” in lieu of a bid ends play at which point all dice are revealed.)
     Norm's kids are very competitive and bright so they advised on strategy in general terms: “Fifteen dice remain. That means there should be about five of any number other than one.” (Ones are wild.) Of course a player with a disproportionate share of ones or any other number may feel emboldened to bid aggressively.
     Most of the kids bid conservatively such as, “Two threes,” or “Three twos,” so to speed things up I bid aggressively such as “Five fives,” or “Six threes.” Norm's daughter and Braden got eliminated first, which left Pene, Norm, his son, and me left. Pene held the lead while Norm's son and I got eliminated. Norm and her—both highly competitive—went head to head, four dice to two in Pene's favor. Pene lost a die. Norm lost one. Pene lost two, leaving them with one each. Norm bid, “One four.” Pene bid, “One six.” Norm bid after a loooooong pause...., “Two sixes.” Pene, after a longish pause (What was she thinking? She couldn't possibly bid Three of anything) called. He showed a four; she showed a six. “I won,” Pene declared while onlookers screamed mock horror and delight.
     I said, “You don't have to say that. You should say, 'I got lucky.'” The build up had been so intense with shrieks, cries of alarm, groans, and laughter that she was just relieved to be done with it I think. (It seemed like she would have had difficulty swallowing, so intense was her concentration beneath Norm's show-me-what-you-got smug scrutiny and barrages of cheers (for her) and jeers (at Norm) from the partisan (everyone was rooting for her) crowd.)
     Later that evening after things had settled down, Norm's son said he needed to get more board games for his apartment (where he lives with a girlfriend and two others) because in the past, they just didn't get into the few that they have. 
     I noticed at recent church games nights a plethora of board games, only a couple of which were played at most, the adults mostly opting for Hanafuda, poker, and Scrabble, the kids opting for ping pong, pool, and Heads Up.  My daughter and her friend were the only ones to play traditional games Jenga and Candy Land but only for brief interludes when not much else was happening. I think it's sad that whereas my friends and I could spend dozens of hours across countless days playing Battleship, Monopoly, Life, Yahtzee, Chess, Checkers, Kings Corner, Clue, Risk, Stratego, Chinese Checkers, War, Speed, Trumps, and Poker, today's youth seem uninterested in such diversions, instead preferring electronic games that only seldom are played with others in person. Though traditional indoor games won't cement social bonds, they nonetheless beat out many of today's repelling do-it-yourself-while-with-others forms of hand held entertainment, so prevalent among youth I see in restaurants, buses, and public settings.
     In a couple years when Jaren's old enough (he surprised us by how well he did in Pirate's Dice) I'll teach the kids trumps—a good game to learn probabilities and strategy, and how to count cards and play cooperatively with a partner. I never mastered the game though I suppose I know its rudiments sufficiently well. And I won't more than mention the not-so-secret signals for strong suit, weak suit, high versus low, “I got boss,” hit again, pass the lead, etc., for sportsmanship—not cheating—is just as important as having fun, as there's never much fun if the most proficient cheaters always win, or if all luck, hope, and surprise are eliminated because everyone knows everyone else's cards, for to me, not knowing is half the fun.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Seattle on a Budget

     A huge benefit of living the simple life (see my prior Simple Life essay, regarding) is my kids are easy to please. Since I lived in Seattle for four years in the eighties and “did” its main downtown attractions (Pike's Place Market, Seattle Waterfront, Seattle Center, etc.) numerous times, I wished to avoid these during our recent trip over in favor of lesser know yet equally unique attractions.
           My friend Norm refused to let us shoot his BB gun in his yard, but instead drove the kids and me forty-five minutes due east into some logging roads foothills where empty aluminum cans were already set up on sticks for target practice. Each of us were able to plunk a can or two or hit Braden's hand drawn bull's eye mounted on a bramble. For additional entertainment on our drive over, Norm had blasted degenerate music on the stereo and speeded along at up to seventy miles per hour on unpaved, potholed roads. 
     In response, I described a former old, bald, and overweight scout leader who worked at a hardware store and his reckless driving in his beater Toyota Corolla when he drove us down Mauna Kea's winding, Saddle Road after a camp. While we watched bemused he took a sharp right that fish-tailed the car's rear end one hundred-eighty degrees, corrected with a swoop into the left lane (lucky no cars were there), and jerked the car to a stop. He asked in near panic if we were alright. We said yeah and he drove from then on very cautious. 
     Braden said it must be fun to drive fast even though it's not as safe. (The kids were giggling throughout Norm's driving antics—aiming straight for puddles, dodging potholes, and gunning the throttle.)
     I said it's fun until you get in an accident, everyone goes to the hospital, and two might not make it. 
     Norm slowed after that. (FYI: I never drive reckless or to impress kids other than by driving ultra safe and alert. Norm might mock me for it; I don't care).
     Next day, we visited lesser-known (I'd never been) Kubota Gardens and Seward Park to enjoy the cool, brisk weather and walk in woodsy surroundings. Both offered free, healthy fun, the former with numerous pathways on a huge plot of land, the latter with bald eagles (we didn't see any) and banned-in-Honolulu seesaw and roundabout and a built-into-a-hill playground. Jaren went around the last saying to himself, “This is awesome!” again and again. The south Lake Washington vistas and drive along fancy then funky neighborhoods also pleased. 
     Another day, the Museum of History and Industry cost us seventeen dollars per adult; free for all our (age fourteen and under) kids. It was worth it—something new and interesting with lots of hands-on exhibits (one “hall” with boring wall drawings featured a retro Space Invaders arcade game and ping-pong table free for use that the kids and I had fun fooling with—a nice respite from the more educational exhibits). We ate our home made roast beef sandwiches outside by a large man-made pond with the Space Needle as backdrop. A dozen Canadian geese came gliding in from the lake and slid in on their bellies in long slishy slides.  The kids tried to get near them but they kept their distances.
     Next door at the Center for Wooden Boats we went on a sail boat ride (free!) around South Lake Union. The twenty-eight foot double-masted Sharpie was entirely made of wood (I asked). Penelope and Braden each got to man the rudder, and Jaren and I got to paddle when the gentle breeze abated (I'd paddled a Hawaiian canoe twice before so I knew what to do). The volunteer skipper offered interesting stories and descriptions and a jocularly that lightened the mood. The squeaky creak of boom on mast as the wind turned sail added to the seafaring air as the boat listed beneath our uneven feet (we were all standing—just more comfortable as seating was limited and the boat's gunwale came up comfortably to our waists). After we had landed and left the Center it began to hail (bread crumb size) along with rain for ten minutes—fun to watch the stones dance like fleas on the pavement and coat the ground white. (While living in Seattle, I only saw it hail so heavy twice.) 
     We then caught a bus which took us via the subway tunnel to the International District south of downtown to purchase live dungenous crab and clams, and fresh fish and kai lan from Iwajimaya's to cook up for Norm and his two kids. On the way back, we stopped to look at floating houses along Lake Union's eastern shore. I asked a resident permission for us to look around as he entered the low swinging double doors that separated the unpaved parking area from stairs that led to a long dock that had about ten small houses secured on either side (similar docks extend for hundreds of yards, houses back-to-back, along the crowded shoreline). He was friendly and said sure. The elderly owner of the house at the end of the pier was also friendly and waved after we had enjoyed the night view beside his house. All the houses, some quite cute, others quirky, were surrounded by floating walkways, many of which had a boat or two (kayak, row boat, small motor boat, etc.) hitched up. Further, all were puny, and all were probably (based on previous Internet searches) very expensive. It seems that living on water in a tight-knit urban community was what attracted the owners, not so much the views, as only the two houses at the end of each pier have much to see other than neighbors' houses on all four sides just a few feet away.
     We also played in the snow up in the mountains on a clear sunny day (about twenty degrees cold!), so clear we could see on our way back Mount Rainier to the south as if it were only twenty (not the actual seventy) miles away.  
     On our last full day, after Norm had stepped out to train we scrubbed his refrigerator, stove, floors, windows, slop compost pot, and walls, cleaned his bathroom, and dusted his furniture. I told Deanne it felt good to be doing something productive. Our cleaning after each stay with Norm has become ritual—small payback for all the hospitality and food he'd provided. (We'd shopped for most of our food, though he provided many extra niceties.  And we did eat well, mostly due to his excellent cooking).
     I twice offered to leave some left over cash with him to help cover the cost of his exorbitant heating bill but he said, “No way. And if I find any of your money,”—I alluded to hiding some for him to find—“I'll mail it back to you using a forty-nine cents postage stamp.” Knowing him, he meant it, not caring if it got lost in the mail or stolen by a dishonest postal worker.  (Decades ago, when I was still single, I once deposited thirty dollars on a table before him to help pay for our dinners that he'd paid for via credit card.  He walked away and left it for tip.  Shocked at his nonchalant generosity, I pocketed the cash.)
     Best of all, we played spoons (a speed card game) and Pirate's Dice with Norm and his kids, and shared good times eating, talking, joking, and/or horsing around—all joyful, full of love, and memorable. It'd been a worthwhile way to spend our holidays away from home, one that we'd do again someday, God willing.