Monday, July 19, 2004

On the line

A cold front is scudding towards my home from the Northeast. Outside my window I see a mass of clouds in the distance over the maple and spruce trees. It will probably rain. If it does I'll have to take the clothes in. My house is the only one in the neighborhood with a clothesline. I expect the other people here consider it an eyesore, just barely short of a prosecutable offense. These days the use of clotheslines is restricted to television commercials as a symbol of a chemically constructed "fresh scent" added to a detergent or fabric softener. I mourn the dearth of clotheslines. They are poetic and insprational. The implicit democracy and ethics of hanging out one's no longer "dirty" linen, the explicit green attitude of using the most efficient solar-powered dryer provide one level of meaning. On a sensory level we enjoy the squeak of the pulley, the creak of the line under the weight of the wet clothes becoming a low thrumming note as it tightens like the string of a bass viol. The joy of using a clothespin, and remembering that it was the Shakers who developed and perfected them. The Shakers danced prayers to the Lord shivering in His spirit like drying clothing quivering in the wind. Before I hung the clothes out today, a goldfinch perched on the line. He jittered his head and wings, obviously enjoying the sun. He stayed there a while to let me admire his beauty. Now that the bottom line sags with the weight of waterlogged shirts, jeans, socks and underwear. the top line makes a sharp, straight, white line against the green of trees and grass. But, if I look carefully, I see dragonflies, their small bodies spaced a few inches apart, resting from flight. They are spaced so evenly that they look like inch markings on a thin white ruler. The clouds are almost overhead. The maple leaves are turning upside-down. The birds are calling for rain. It's time for me to go take in the laundry.

Sunday, July 18, 2004


Something is wrong with this hammer. Watch this! I'll set the nail with a tap. Now thunk . . . thunk . . . thunk . . . See that That nail bent right over. What a shame. The hammer must be weighted wrong Y'know Or the handle's out of balance. The nails are good. It must be the hammer.

A Pretty Girl is Like a Malady

I was standing in a convenience store one day, talking to a friend at the counter, when I noticed her looking over my shoulder. I turned to watch the following scene. A shapely young lady in her early twenties was browsing the drink cooler. She was wearing sandals, strategically torn jeans that included a tear high in the crotch that made it clear that she was not wearing underwear and that she had passed puberty. her short-sleeved leotard top was also torn revealing the fact that the store's air-conditioning was set a little high. She was wearing about three dozen rings, blue lipstick, red eyeshadow, several large safety pins through one ear, and what looked like a prescription bottle through the lobe of the other ear. One side of her head was crewcut and bleached blond, the other was shoulder length bright red with purple streaking. You could tell that somewhere under there she was a pretty girl. We were unobtrusively watching here when a young man, probably about her own age, bustled in wearing a business suit and swinging a briefcase. Faced with this vision he stopped dead, his mouth agape. She looked over at him. Her face twisted into a scowl. "What the hell are YOU looking at a--h---!" she growled. My self-control was admirable. My friend. however, had just taken a sip of coffee with which she proceeded to short-out the register.

Brains but no Backbone

The Stazione Zoologica in Naples, Italy also includes a public aquarium. (One of the features was an electric ray in a petting tank. You couldn't get away with that in the US.) We had a large a large octopus in one of the display tanks who disappeared one night. The catwalks we used to feed the display animals were simply a set of boards laid over the tops of the tanks.

When we went searching, we found sucker marks drying on the boards and followed them. The octopus had gone past the dogfish tank (dogfish love to eat octopus) past the moray eel tank (morays also find octopus tasty), past the sea anemone tank (pretty but inedible) and dropped into the crab display where he reposed on a pile of empty crab shells radiating pleasure and satisfaction.

Many people don't realize that an octopus can clearly show its emotion. It is relatively easy to tell when an octopus is happy, sick, scared, curious or even horny by the texture and color of its skin, which it can control almost instantaneously.

After a few similar incidents, we moved this guy to a large tank in the common area of the research facility where he became a pet.

For those of you who may still doubt the intelligence of an octopus, let me continue. Our new pet loved being fed by hand. He also liked to grab my arm to get lifted out of the water and taken for a walk. They can survive cheerfully in the open air for longer than you might think.

His favorite game was to watch the door to see who came into his area. Octopods have extraordinarily good vision. If a stranger entered, he would quietly ease himself up and slightly over the edge of the tank (it was open at the top) and wait for his opportunity. Then he would use his siphon to jet a stream of cold seawater 15 - 20 feet to douse the unwary intruder. Then he dropped back into his tank an display the strong colors and hornlike skin protruberances that were his equivalent of giggling.


According to the OED, bumblepuppy is an alternate name for "nineholes" or bagatelle, a billiards-type game in which balls are struck with a cue towards a set of nine holes arranged at the semicircular end of a special table. A variant uses marbles or lead shot, presumably aimed at holes in the ground.
It is used generically as the name or descriptor of a game in which chance plays an inordinate role. As such it appears in a high tech version "centrifugal bumblepuppy" in Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World". Here is the description:
"The Director and his students stood for a short time watching a game of Centrifugal Bumble-puppy. Twenty children were grouped in a circle round a chrome-steel tower. A ball thrown up so as to land on the platform at the top of the tower rolled down into the interior, fell on a rapidly revolving disk, was hurled through one or other of the numerous apertures pierced in the cylindrical casing, and had to be caught."
Other Definitions
  • In E.M. Forster's A Room with a View" it is a form of tennis, that is described as, "an ancient and most honourable game, which consists in striking tennis-balls high into the air, so that they fall over the net and immoderately bounce"
  • William Howard Taft called his golf game "bumble puppy" golf
  • It is also a form of the game of whist characterized by bad play. It is mentioned in Emily Post's ""Etiquette" in 1922.
  • In Las Vegas it is a slang term for an inexperienced or careless player.
  • It is also the name of a tied fly for fishing.