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Saturday, October 30, 2010

More Swinging

Even though the weather has turned cold, Bow and I have been going outside more lately, because Bow has been asking to go outside specifically, repeatedly and adamantly. I end up pacing a lot, because it's too cold to sit down and stay still. But Bow seems especially energized. He plays chase. He tries to incite the dogs. And he swings. He especially likes to play tag and use the swing as the protected zone, where he is out of reach and untouchable.

I managed to capture better shots of him on his swing this morning than the ones I posted last time.

Once Bow has had his fill of swinging and running around, he retires to the human chair, not his metal bench. I think he believes the bench is more for exercising.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Swinging Outside: Going Out on a Limb

This morning Bow and I went outside. I was hoping that he would enjoy playing on his new swing. Actually, it's an old swing, but he hasn't had the opportunity to use in a while. Yesterday, Rex the welder came by to reinforce one of our inner doors, and he also installed two iron rings in the outer pen so we could hang a swing. It was one of the swings Bow used to use regularly, before the sun room was converted into part of the pen system. It used to hang from the beam that is now inaccessible to those of us inside the pen.

Yesterday, Lawrence installed the swing for Bow after Rex left, and Bow had a good time with it. But this morning it was cold, and Bow didn't want to swing. He lay on the outer chair that is not intended for him, so much as for the human with him, and he wrapped himself up in his own body heat.
He did make a few cursory attempts at swinging to appease me, but he really wasn't into it.

Eventually, we went back inside, and soon thereafter Mark, the Schwan's delivery guy, came by to take our order. Bow and Mark are well acquainted, and Mark greeted Bow the usual way: "Hi, there buddy, how you doin'?"

"Could you keep talking to Bow while I get my purse?" I asked Mark. (Actually, my fanny pack was right there in the pen, but it was covered up, and I couldn't see it.) Mark dutifully kept up the chit-chat with Bow, but when I came back, he told me: "I think I said something that made him mad."

"What did you say?" I asked, going back in to get my wallet.

"I asked him wouldn't you like to go outside and swing from one of those trees?"

Apparently, this set Bow off and canceled all the good will that Mark had built up with him.

After Mark left, I asked Bow why he got mad. Bow spelled: "He's trying to kill Bow."

"You mean because he was trying to tempt you to leave the pen?"

"Yes," Bow spelled. "It's dangerous."

Bow is aware of what happens to chimpanzees who venture outside their homes. He has heard about recent events, and he wants nothing to do with it. He even objected to this line from one of my Debt Collector songs: "I would rather be free than live trapped in a cage." The cage is safer.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Weather Prediction

Yesterday, when he was out with Lawrence in the outer pens, Bow asked to come in. He took Lawrence to the glass and spelled: "I think it's going to rain." Then he asked to go back out again. Apparently, the only reason for going in was in order to share the insight. (Bow has no letters and no computer outside, so if something occurs to him out there, he has to go in to spell it out.)

Well, it didn't rain. The weather was blustery, and the tree limbs swayed and the leaves fell, but there was no rain. Later in the day, when they were next to the computer, Lawrence asked Bow: "Why do you think it's going to rain?"

Bow took the chopstick, pressed a few letters and the computer said: "Why is..." But the question was never finished. Lawrence speculated that Bow was trying to say something like: "Why is the wind blowing?" But that's just one guess out of many.

All day, there were gusts of wind, and you could even hear it blow, but there was no rain. It did rain a little in the middle of the night.

This morning I mentioned this to Bow, and he spelled: "Yes. Bow is smart."

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Mystery of the Missing Scissors

Yesterday afternoon I made a mad dash for the kitchen to put the chicken in the oven as usual. I had Bow's permission to do this, but he knows exactly how long it should take me to do it, and I was very dismayed when the scissors for removing the shrink wrapped plastic off the thawed hen was not anywhere near the sink, where it should be. I usually keep these scissors in a crystal vase intended for a single long stemmed flower. The vase is right next to the sink, but it was empty. I started to panic. Where could the scissors have gone?

Sometimes Sword borrows those scissors when she has a new sack of chicken feed to open, and sometimes she fails to return them. I checked the garage near the chicken feed area. Nothing!  So then I made a dash for my bedroom and brought out a different pair of scissors, appropriate for sewing and paper work, but not very good for kitchen tasks. I prepared the chicken, placed it in the oven, and was on my way back to the pen when I ran into Sword in the hall. "Have you seen my scissors?" I asked her.

"Which scissors?"

"The ones that go in the kitchen."

She popped into the kitchen and came out sporting the scissors I had just used, the ones that came from the bedroom. "These scissors?"

"No. Never mind."

I hurried back to the pen and Bow. I was half expecting to find a puddle on the floor, in punishment for having taken so long. But no, Bow was good. He was patiently waiting for me at the door. He had been watching the exchange between me and Sword.

"I don't know who took my scissors," I told Bow, not really expecting him to answer.

Bow took my hand, led me to the glass and spelled: "Bow doesn't think Sword took them." This was very nice of him, since he often says things that are not so complimentary about her. (Sibling rivalry.)

"Then who?" I asked.

"Mommy," he spelled.

"Me? What did I do with the scissors?"

"You opened something," he spelled.

It was true! When he said that, I suddenly remembered that I had used them to open a package around lunch time. Mystery solved. They were on the dining room table, next to the package.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sometimes there's not much to report. It's fall. The leaves are turning. The weather outside is perfect. Cool, but not too cold. Bow and I went outside and snapped some pictures, using the built in  camera of my computer. He loves to stick out his tongue for the camera. Sword was out in the yard, playing with the dogs.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Who brought the food?

Last Monday, when Lawrence was sitting with Bow, Bow asked him if he could have an apple. I was out with Sword at the time, so Lawrence went to look for an appropriate apple to give to Bow. Now, I keep apples handy out on the dining table, in big bowls right next to the bananas. And I keep other apples, the ones that are in reserve, in case the first apples run out, in the refrigerator. But it was around three-thirty, and Lawrence knew that we eat dinner at five, and he didn't want to spoil Bow's appetite, but he did want to comply with the request. The apples on the table were big, red apples and big yellow apples. The red apples had come in a large bag, and we were down to the last couple of them. Lawrence felt the apples in the bowl, both yellow and red, were too large for just a snack. So he went looking for smaller apples in the refrigerator. He found an unopened bag full of yellowish/red apples, and he took one and gave it to Bow.

Lawrence told me that he'd taken an apple from the refrigerator to give to Bow before he left that day. It was not a problem. So when I served dinner, I decided to give Bow one of the big red apples. And the next day at lunch, I gave him the last of the big red apples, while I took one of the smaller yellowish/red apples for myself.

Bow threw a fit! He would not finish eating his red apple. I came and looked at it, to make sure it wasn't rotten. It wasn't. It was fine. "Bow, why won't you eat your red apple?" I asked.

He gestured at my tray and then spelled: "Uncle Lawrence gave you those apples to give to me!"

I was shocked. "No, Bow, he didn't. Those are my apples. I bought them at the store with my own money. Lawrence let you have one of them as a snack, but he didn't bring them, and they don't all belong to you!"

It took quite a while to convince him. Because Bow had never seen any of those apples until Lawrence gave him one, he assumed Lawrence had brought them. He thought he knew all my apples and that those were not mine. However, I did convince him, and he did eventually finish eating his big red apple.

It's true that many times people do bring by food just for Bow. Once Rex the welder and his wife brought shiny red apples that had grown on their own trees just for Bow, and only Bow got to eat them. Lawrence does sometimes bring special snacks just for Bow. Tracey brought sweet potatoes he had grown himself just for Bow, and only Bow got to eat them. Bow received a shipment of pears a few times as a present, and we were so anxious to honor Bow's property rights, that when he refused to eat them, we let them rot. But the second time that happened, we decided that if Bow refused to eat the pears when they were overripe, then others could do so, because it is really very wasteful.

As a firm believer in property rights, I have raised Bow to be aware of what is his and to claim it. However, it was really disconcerting to be mistakenly accused by my little boy of stealing what he believed to be his apples!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bow Proofs my book "In Case There's A Fox"

Today the proof of my CreateSpace Book In Case There's a Fox arrived, and Bow is helping me to proof it. If a book is Bow-proof, then it has to be a good book, don't you think?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Bow is not always that cooperative, so the word "yes" is not often on his lips. Or on his keyboard. Or one that he spells on the glass. He is usually not a "yes-man". But yesterday the word for the day was "yes".

After lunch, Tracey, our computer consultant, came by with my old Gateway laptop that recently lost its hard drive. He had saved as many of my data files as he could, and had backed them up on the new hard drive. The old operating system with all my installed programs could not be saved, and so we were in the process of trying to replicate it, when Lawrence came back from lunch.

Bow greeted Lawrence very  noisily, with lots of chimp vocalizations, and rattled the door, and tried to display how very big and strong he was. It was quite a bit more of a display than Lawrence would have gotten, if Tracey were not there.

Tracey and I kept working on the computer, while Bow and Lawrence played in the adjoining pen. Then Bow took Lawrence to the glass and spelled out that  he wanted to go outside. Lawrence escorted him  out, but Bow made a big point of rattling the door right behind where Tracey was sitting, working on my  Gateway.

Tracey turned around and asked: "Bow, are you going outside now?" And Bow said "Yes." After which, Lawrence opened the next door, and the two of them went outside to  play.

What do I mean, he said "Yes"? Well, it really was more like "eh", but I just know he meant to say "yes". The consonants weren't there, because he can't make them. All he can make is the vowel, and the intonational contour, and let me tell you, those were perfect! Lawrence and I both thought he was saying yes.

Am I completely deluded? Well, no, I'm not making a scientific claim here. I realize that this would carry no weight with the scientific community. But here are some of the reasons that it makes sense to us:

  • It wasn't a chimpanzee vocalization. Bow's chimp cries express emotions more than specific thoughts, and as such they tend to be repetitions of the same vocal patterns over and over again.
  • This was a single syllable he uttered, very crisp, with the correct vowel, and with no repetition.
  • In the context of the short exchange with Tracey, it sounded as if he said yes.
After that, Tracey and I started talking about how hard it is for humans to express themselves in writing in real time, when their larynx is injured, and how hard it is for Bow to use his touch screen computer to spell out words.

Meanwhile, Bow and Lawrence wrestled outside, and Lawrence told me afterwards that Bow had been working really hard to beat him, probably because he wanted to impress Tracey. Finally, Lawrence gave in. "You win," he told Bow, and Bow, feeling satisfied, decided to go  in  to use the potty.

Afterwards, when Lawrence was emptying out the potty, Bow picked up the chopstick he uses for his touchscreen. Lawrence, who was already in the corridor, said to Bow: "Now don't you  be playing with that. You either put it down or use it to say something." (I can't tell you how many chopsticks we've lost as a result of other uses that Bow has put them to.)

In response to  Lawrence's admonition, Bow picked up the chopstick, poked at the computer about three times, and the computer said: "Yes."

I was stunned. "It sounded like yes! Did it sound like yes to you?"

Lawrence and Tracey both agreed. "It didn't sound like anything else besides yes," Lawrence said.

"That was good, Bow!" I said.

Bow clapped.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bow's Tooth Fairy Money

This morning I am still preoccupied by my discovery, while editing The Debt Collector, that the going rate for milk teeth has quadrupled since 1985. I try to interest my children in the discovery, but they are non-plussed. "Did you know that in 1985 when I first wrote this play, a milk tooth went for twenty-five cents," I say to Sword.

"Yeah. So?'

"So this means that a quarter is worth a lot less today than it was back then."

Sword is not impressed. "The bank just gives people more money now, so the things in the store also cost more, so it's all the same." No big deal, she implies.

"But what about all the people who saved their money for twenty-five years and now can't buy anything with it?"

"Nobody does that," she says. "They would die."

"I do."

"No, you don't," she replies.

"I don't?"

"You mean to say that you haven't bought groceries for the past twenty-five years?" she asks, with a knowing tone of voice.

"Well, no... I've bought groceries..."

"So you lied..."

Well, okay, but I am trying to curtail my reliance on store bought groceries. I turn to Bow and ask him: "Well, what do you think about inflation?"

He refuses to answer that question. He invites me to play chase instead.

Here's another thing Bow refuses to do: spend his tooth fairy money. There it sits in his piggy bank, and there it will remain. He won't tell me what to buy with it. I think if it were up to Bow, the price of everything would go down, because there wouldn't be any demand.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Bow is so Good!

This morning was a little tough. I took Sword to the theater last night, and we had a great time, but we got home close to midnight, which in turn made us oversleep and caused a lot of little chaotic things to  happen. Sword missed her bus. Bow acted up. I had to drive Sword to school. I had no sitter, and Bow was not very cooperative.

But Bow is really not such a bad guy. I was checking my email and Hubpages comments a couple of minutes ago, when, in my peripheral vision, I saw that Bow was playing with something. I just naturally assumed it was the bottom wiper, and so I used my deepest and most authoritative voice to say: "Put it back where it belongs!" I didn't even look up, but I saw Bow respond to my request, go over to the potty, pick up the bottom wiper, place something in the bottom wiper's spot on the potty seat very carefully, and then put the bottom wiper over whatever it was.  All this I could see with my side vision. (My peripheral vision seems to be expanding, the more time I spend with Bow and the computer at the same time.)

Wait, a minute, I thought to myself. That wasn't the bottom wiper he was playing with. What was it then?

It turned out that it was a piece of  vine from the grapes I gave him this morning. I hadn't cleared it away. I'm getting sloppy. Wasn't it nice of Bow to decide that it belonged under the bottom wiper? He's such a big help.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

News About Kanzi

Bow and I live in isolation in a protected zone inside our pens. We have an internet connection, and we subscribe to a couple of magazines, but we don't watch TV, and we don't get any newspapers, except the ones that arrive for free and are used to line the bottom of Sword's bird cages. However, when something that affects us happens in the outer world, the news eventually filters down even to us.

Yesterday, as usual, Lawrence was trying to get Bow to use his computer. Bow spelled something on the glass. (I don't remember what it was.) And Lawrence said to him: "Why don't you say that on your computer?"

Bow took the chopstick from Lawrence, strode purposefully toward the computer, poked at it once, and the computer said, in its robot voice: "Why?" Lawrence didn't see what key Bow hit, but he figures it must have been the letter Y. Nevertheless, "why" is what Bow seems to have meant. Why should I spell it on the computer when you can understand me perfectly well when I spell it on the glass?

Well, the answer might have been: so you can go on Oprah. When Lawrence was leaving, he turned to me and said: "My family tells me they saw some chimp on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and he wasn't just an ordinary chimp; he used symbols to communicate. And also, he could blow up balloons."

I raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure it was a chimp? It sounds like a bonobo. What was his name?"

"I don't know. I didn't see the show. My wife and kids saw it."

"Well, it sounds like Kanzi," I said.

"Oh, so you've heard about him?" Lawrence asked.

I smiled. "I've met him."

When Lawrence had gone, Bow said to me: "Bow is trying not to be mad that Kanzi is important."

This made me laugh. Jealousy doesn't have to be all bad. It could be a very good motivator for Bow. Then I called my mother, to see if she had caught that Oprah show. She said she hadn't. So then I googled it. It's not very hard to find. Just google "Oprah Kanzi" and immediately you'll find evidence that Oprah had a segment about Kanzi recently.

One of the articles this search led me to had a very nice picture of Kanzi, and underneath, it said: "Kanzi has English comprehension on the same level as a two and a half year old human child." That's based on a study conducted decades ago. I shared this with Bow and asked him what he thought about that. "Those people are stupid," he said.

Kanzi's comprehension is not limited to the weird novel sentences that were used to prove his understanding of English syntax. His English production ability is not limited to the lexigrams at his disposal. Anyone would sound like a two year old if limited to lexigrams and not allowed to spell out words. What primatologists manage to "prove" and what they actually know about the primates they work with are two different things.

This morning Bow was still thinking about that. Before breakfast, when I was expecting him to tell me what he wanted to eat, he spelled out: "Kanzi is not a baby. Kanzi is big. Everyone knows Kanzi is not stupid."

"Yes, you're right, Bow," I said.

Kanzi is thirty years old. And, no, he's not stupid. Neither is Sue.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bow's Involvement in Every Aspect of My Life

I've ordered my first proof of the CreateSpace book In Case There's a Fox, and so now I don't have to work on that for a while until the proof arrives. Meanwhile, there's the first act of The Debt Collector to finish revising. I wrote the first act in 1985 and the third act in 2009/2010, and I need to make sure they go well together. Bow, for his part, has only one concern:  whatever it is I am doing, he should be involved. He acted up a little this morning, but as soon as I allowed him to sit on my lap, he was happy. The picture above is of the two of us peering into the screen, while I hold the old Debt Collector manuscript.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Can versus Will

Yesterday afternoon, while Lawrence was watching Bow, I baked a cake. No, I didn't bake it from scratch. It was from a lemon-poppy seed muffin mix, but I baked it like a cake, and I used three eggs instead of two, because of the surplus of eggs that we have. I haven't baked anything in ages, because the oven is in the kitchen, and I need a sitter just to be able to get there.

Well, that's not completely accurate. I bake chicken and sweet potatoes practically every day, but I have that down as a routine, and I don't spend one extra minute in the kitchen. I just stick them in the oven as fast as I can. Cakes, though, even when they come in a mix, require a little more time.

Bow can see the kitchen from the pens. That's one of the nice things about the house layout. The pens open up into the living room, so Bow can see anything that goes on in the living room with no extra effort. In order to see the kitchen, he has to stand in a certain spot and peer at an angle.

I could see Bow and Lawrence standing there, watching me as I prepared the mix. Then, when the cake was in the oven, I called Sword to the kitchen so she could lick the bowl. I glanced in the direction of the pens. Bow was standing on his tippy-toes watching all this intently.

Sword is not a very efficient bowl licker, so there was plenty left when she was done. I brought the bowl into the entry way of the pens. "Would you like to lick the bowl, Bow?" I asked. "Tell Lawrence on the computer."

We are still trying to coax Bow to use the touchscreen computer rather than the letters on the glass. We do not use food as a reward. But licking the bowl isn't really about food. It's almost like a recreational activity.

Bow didn't answer me, so I left the bowl there and went to check my email. When I was gone, Bow took Lawrence to the glass and spelled: "I want to lick the bowl."

"Can you say that on the computer?" Lawrence asked.

"Yes," Bow spelled. Then he went over to the computer, but didn't spell anything. After that, he took Lawrence back to the letters on the glass.

"Okay, Bow, I know you can spell it on the computer," Lawrence said. "But will you spell it on the computer?"

Bow spelled: "No."

"Why not?"

"It's hard."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pushy Visitors

When I came back at noon from running errands today, Lawrence had to tell me that Bow had misbehaved while I was gone. Bow was making a lot of raspberry sounds, so it was hard for me to hear what Lawrence was saying. "It's because ... came by," was all I could hear.

"Who came by?"

"Jehovah's Witnesses. ... You've heard of Jehovah's Witnesses?"

Well, who hasn't heard of Jehovah's Witnesses? Of course, I had. In fact, Bow and I have met a lot of Jehovah's Witnesses. There was a time when Bow was riding on my back all day, and the only kind of rest I could get was to sit with him on the front porch for a while. It was before he was confined to the pens. Before there were any pens. But it was after I could no longer allow him to move freely through the house. As long as I held him, or he was riding on my back, Bow behaved well. But if I put him down, he would run around like a madman, leaving destruction and chaos in his wake.

At first, I told myself that I would get things done while we sat there on the porch. I brought out a canvas and paints, but Bow would not let me concentrate even on that. The moment I had my back turned, he'd snatch a tube of paint, and before I knew it, he had swallowed all of its contents.

So it was that when the Jehovah's Witnesses dropped by, they always found me sitting on the porch with Bow, doing nothing. They would come by, and they were polite but persistent, and they would not leave unless I  accepted a pamphlet. I tried not to argue with them so as not to prolong the visit, and also because Bow can sense even the slightest animosity between people, and it can set him off. But as soon as the Jehovah's Witnesses had driven away, I would turn to Bow and ask: "Do you want to read this book?" He was always very interested, but as soon as he had finished reading it, he would start chewing on the edges. This would happen every time the Jehovah's Witnesses came by, until one day they caught Bow with one of their pamphlets. "These are very valuable, and they cost a lot of money to print," they told me. "If that's what you're going to do with them, we're not going to bring you any more."

"Okay," I said as meekly as I could. And that's how I got the Jehovah's Witnesses to stop coming by. And they haven't been here for years!

But today they dropped by again, and they wouldn't take no for an answer, even though Lawrence told them that he had his own beliefs, and that he doesn't live here, and that he was working, and that he had to get back to Bow. Nothing could convince them not to leave their booklet. So finally in desperation Lawrence said: "Fine, give me the booklet."

When he got back to Bow, Bow had peed in several different places in protest.

"Why were you bad?" I asked Bow at lunch.

"Because a bad man came to bother us."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bow's Concern for My Image

I've been working hard on trying to master the CreateSpace publication path. I have various manuscripts in memory in each of my old laptops, and the hard disk can fail at any moment. Yes, I have hard copies, too, and some things are backed up on CD and DVD, but it all seems very risky, and I want to stop sitting on old manuscripts and just get them out there to the public. The best way to preserve a document is to continuously make copies of it, and CreateSpace offers to do this for free. So even if I don't look at it as a potential revenue stream, it's a great system for archiving.

However, I do have to learn a few technical skills before I can make use of this service, and Bow doesn't like it when I concentrate for long periods of time on any one thing. Just as I try to influence Bow to focus his attention, Bow tries to influence me to scatter mine. Because we have no choice but to spend twelve hours a day together, this is give and take goes on all day.

"You never finish," he spells. Then he tickles the bottoms of my feet, and we play chase. I jump up and down with him, or we play music and dance to it. But just as he can't stand to concentrate on a task for long, I can't stand to stop working until I have finished. So I go back to the computer, and he goes back to fidgeting.

Finally, I finish a hub in which I share my frustrated efforts to put together a CreateSpace book cover. I go over to the other side of the glass to play with Bow. He spells: "Mommy, don't tell them it's hard for you."

Bow is concerned about my reputation! He wants people to think I am smart.