October 29, 2022

When an Old Man Wants to Sell His Guns

Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) on the road in The Straight Story.


When you see someone grocery shopping on a riding mower, it usually means that he has had too many DUIs and lost his license, or he cannot get it renewed for reasons of health. In Ralph's (pseudonym) case, it was the latter.

It put me in mind of the movie The Straight Story (1999), directed by David Lynch and starring Richard Farnsworth, anactor who had never registered with me until The Grey Fox (1982), at which point I became a big fan. 

In the movie, Alvin Straight (Farnsworth) sets off on a lawn tractor to drive 240 miles through Iowa and Wisconsin to reconcile with his dying brother. It was Farnsworth, however, who had reached the end of his journey, for he passed in 2000.

Take away Farnsworth's cowboy hat, makes his hair and beard longer,  and give him more of  paunch, and you have Ralph — we're going for the crusty old biker look here.

Ralph had come over earlier to ask a favor. "I want to sell my guns," he said. "I'd like to get a ride to Fargo."

Galen and I had gone to his place. It's a sick man's house: bed in the living room, and by the TV sofa, enough prescription bottles to fill a dinner plate. 

"What guns do you want to sell?" Galen asked.  Ralph reached under his pillow and pulled out not one but two Remington Model 1911 pistols in .45 ACP, both looking new. 

Then he opened a large new-looking gun safe in the hallway and pulled out more: two newish pump shotguns, a genuninely old boxlock shotgun in original case,  a Marlin .270 bolt action with synthetic stock, scope, and bipod, two .50-caliber muzzeloaders, a vintage Stevens .22 rifle, and several others. Some still had price tags.

Ralph wants to go to a pawn shop. Galen tells him that he will get the lowest payout there. On the other hand, he seems to think that if he paid $900 for a pistol, he can get that much for it from a store, which just ain't true over a short span of years.

We are equidistant from Cabela's and Scheels stores—both large outdoor clothing and equipment chains that buy and sell firearms. I called the Cabela's in East Grand Forks—yes, they will be open late, and we can bring the guns there to be evaluated by their buyer. 

But Richard objects. EAST Grand Forks is in Minnesota, and somehow every deal he has done in Minnesota turned to shit, or whatever. No Minnesota!

I call the Scheels store in Fargo. Yes, but they don't want fifteen firearms all at once. Maybe six. 

But suddenly no, they should go to auction! I call the nearest auction house. In fact, the owner knows Ralph slightly.  He also says, "It's about to get frozen up." The frequency of farm-country auctions drops off in winter. He wishes that he had had those firearms a month ago. He'll let Galen know when he has another one planned. 

We left it there.

There are other subtexts. When Ralph putt-putts up on the riding mower, he wants to borrow Galen's phone so he can call his son, Jacob, leaving an almost-begging message for Jacob to call him. 

Earlier, he had grumbled that he should just take the guns out to the farm where Jacob lives, crush them or something, and "take care of it." 

We both caught the subtext in that. It was reinforced when when he said he had told the clinic where he goes for dialysis that he wasn't coming in for his next appointment. 

I plan to leave in a couple of days, so I won't be around for the final act. I do hope that Ralph and Jacob work out their differences. It is damaging to lose a parent with unresolved issues still hanging between the generations, athough that happens all the time.  But a father who can say to his child, "You're doing OK. I'm proud of you" gives a gift that lasts a long long time.

October 08, 2022

How Do You Open This Thing?

The wildlife rehabilitation center where I help out sometimes as a taxi driver for orphaned critters has had a quiet year so far — a few mule deer fawns but no bears, no cats, no beavers or badgers. 

The fawns have all been "soft-released," in other words, let wander off into the foothills.

But the raccoons. There is a whole little nest of them, and they are still a bit small to be released this season. So much attention goes into keeping their busy little brains stimulated. Puzzles are good, especially if they can be "solved" by tearing something apart.

That "salmon" will be a bit of a disappointment though.


Photo credit: Tom Sanders

October 07, 2022

Got a Match? No, You Can't Have One

Danger! These are unlicensed matches!

The second chilly day row, and again I built a fire in the wood-burner, striking a match on the flagstones where it sits and touch the flame to a little pile of twigs and newspaper.

Striking a match. A "strike-anywhere" match, a.k.a. kitchen match. Tried to buy some lately?

They have been going away. Maybe you can blame "Brussels," in other words, the European Union, which outlawed "strike-anywhere" matches — as opposed to the "safety" strike-on-box/book type — effective May 31, 2018. (Some people claim that they started disappearing earlier than that.)

That should not affect North America, but you know the story: big companies often stop making products if they lose part of a market. So if little Hans and Francesca must be protected against strike-anywhere matches, so must we.

Last winter I went into a King Soopers (supermarket chain owned by Kroger) looking for strike-anywhere matches, which I use mainly for the wood stove and secondarily as a survival tool, keeping a few stashed in every backpack, etc. 

They were not there in the picnic and barbequeing stuff, where I had always found them.

I asked a clerk. "Oh, we don't carry those anymore." America's largest supermarket owner is saying no more kitchen matches? The only strike-anywhere matches were the extremely long, decorative, and expensive ones that some peope use to light fireplaces, charcoal grills, etc.

I immediately went online and bought several years' supply. Here is a website devoted to them — that's what happens when something becomes a niche market, I suppose. They are "dangerous."

This website discusses strike-anywhere matches, "safety" matches, and how to waterproof the former. to make "storm matches."

Matches in general are disappearing from popular culture. Back when people smoked in bars, when those people wanted to light up, they might ask the bartender for a light, and he woud pull a book of paper matches (printed with the bar's name, of course) out from under the bar and set it by their drink. 

Restaurants and cafes had bowls of free matchbooks by the cash register — when was the last time you saw some of those? They just quietly went away.

People used to collect them. An uncle of mine had a wall in one room covered with matchbooks that he collected, and he was not the only such interior decorator. 

Minnesota newspaper writer James Lileks, a big fan of mid-20th century pop culture, has a huge online matchbook museum. It's indexed, with photos and commentaries.

So between the demise of public smoking and some EU bureaucrat deciding citizens can't be trusted, matches are turning into this niche market, and pretty soon you will have to go to an outdoor-speciality store to find them?

 


October 02, 2022

The Secret to Picking a Hummingbird Feeder


Some of these designs work and others do not

Here in the southern Rockies, our hummingbirds have almost gone. 

I saw one female broad-tailed hummingbird yesterday (Sept. 30th). Evidently, she was the stickler who said, "We paid rent on this mountain cottage, and I am going to stay there until the month is over!" 

Meanwhile, Dad was already flying to Mexico to look for a winter apartment.

Some friends gave us a newfangled hummingbird feeder this summer. It is the one in back — a horizontal tube with multiple feeding stations. And they use it. I grant that.

The problem is that refilling it involves removing one of the little rubber feeding ports and pouring sugar water in through a tiny funnel — while not tilting the tube to let sugar water flow out the other ports

Sorry, too much hassle, too much mess. 

Then there was the ceramic globe feeder someone once gave us — a globe with a single tube to drink from. How did you clean the spherical feeder? Beats me. Vinegar and slosh a lot?

The tube feeder on top is garbage. The one at lower left is not bad but requires careful cleaning.  The one at lower right, with its bottom part botton center, is plain, un-artistic plastic and is super-easy to keep clean.

Here is the secret. Get a feeder that disassembles for easy cleaning. Everything should be accessible to a toothbrush or bottle brush. You need to to clean it thoroughly at least every couple of weeks. Use white vinegar if you see patches of mold growing.

Keep it simple. Mix white sugar with water 1:4 (that's one part sugar to four parts water). No food coloring. No honey. No agave syrup. Nothing else.

And pick a feeder that you can take apart and clean.