My obsessions have driven me deep into the tank

A streak of obsessive compulsiveness runs through my family. My son was diagnosed with OCD, an affliction shared by such greats as Winston Churchill, Harrison Ford, and Howard Hughes.

The beeping in our house emanated not from the smoke detector but from the little guy’s electronic thermometer, his favorite toy.

My brother, as we left a meeting of the Dane County Board, on which we both served, pointed at a vehicle in the parking garage under the city-county building.

“What am I looking at, Brother Supervisor?”

“Bad parking,” he answered, his visage grim.

I took inventory (which is itself an example) of some of your genial blogger’s late-life obsessions. They seem to run their course, only to be replaced by others even more expensive.

Allen Edmonds shoes. I was on Gov. Thompson’s staff when, during our state’s sesquicentennial in 1998, he ordered that brand of shoes as gifts for each of other 49 governors (not at taxpayer expense). Our job was to determine the shoe size of each. Yes, a career in government service is every bit as glamorous as TV and the movies make it out to be!

The upshot: I purchased a dozen Allen Edmonds for my own size 11s within a few months, and a set of brushes, polishes, and waxes. Many a blissful hour passed with the catalog open to my wishful gaze. Took a day off work to make a pilgrimage to the factory in Port Washington. Left the company store with a pair of tasseled loafers; the mahogany-over-black Woodstock model (normally a $250 value).

That obsession replaced aquariums. It started innocently enough with a one-gallon bowl containing two goldfish. That escalated to larger habitats to accommodate strange, Japanese-bred goldfish: lionheads, orandas, ryukins, and another kind with little airbags on their faces. The more hideous, the better.

There followed a 25-gallon reproduction of the flora and fauna of the Amazon River. The soothing sound of bubbling water permeated the residence, especially after the installation of a 75-gallon, saltwater ocean reef tank. Had to reinforce the floor beneath it with a floor jack in the basement. Only distilled water was allowed into the tank, and sea-specific salt. An apothecary of potions regulated the pH and kept the good bacteria happy, the bad at bay. Three different systems – employing charcoal and exotic spun filters – purified the water. Submersible heaters kept a constant 78 degrees. A pantry full of flakes, pellets, and canned worms nourished my aquatic guests, which included anemones and clownfish (pictured).

A hermit crab clambered atop the reef rocks and every so often picked up the large conch shell, placed for decorative purposes. The crustacean picked up the shell, twice its size, with two of its six appendages, and twirled it counter-clockwise as its stalk-mounted eyes bobbed back and forth as it examined every crease and fold. One morning, I espied the poor creature’s inert shell, lifeless on the tank floor, and grieved its passing, until I saw the conch shell clambering along. The crab had ditched its previous home for larger quarters.

I spent thousands of dollars on that hobby, then sold the gear for $100. Worth it just to free up the garage. The mandolin, a member of the violin family, had long since taken hold of my consciousness. The double-stringed instrument is big in American bluegrass. Old Bill Monroe was a virtuoso. Even with lessons, old David Blaska was not.

Zebra finches were next. A talkative bunch, these colorful birds. They loved nothing more than grabbing the spun cotton provided for them and insulating their beehive-shaped nests, which they dutifully populated with tiny eggs. Baby finches, three at a time, poked wide-open beaks out of the nest openings awaiting their regurgitated nourishment.

Keeping them caged was cruelty itself, so the avians were given the run of the screened porch. One landed on my knee as I read the morning paper, cocked its head as it examined the Brobdingnagian before him, and deposited its calling card. It was only a matter of time before the most intrepid found an obscure tear in the screening. One week after their mass escape, one finch alighted on a branch just two feet from my backyard bench, tweeted goodbye, and flew off – presumably, back to New Zealand.

An obsession with fine cigars demanded the care and feeding of humidors, a subscription to Cigar Aficionado magazine, four-course cigar dinners at the Madison Club, a trip to Canada to purchase a Cuban, and a promissory note to the dry cleaners.

Acquiring a two-seat, ragtop sports car wasn’t enough, it required customizing with after-market enhancements and polishing with a mail-order-only polymer. We joined a driving club devoted to the marque, took over small towns with three dozen of our little cars, and raced it at Road America for a stiff fee. Next year, I promise to wax the little fellow.

My current fixation is firearms. I’ve put up a sign over the garage door for the United Parcel Service driver, a frequent visitor: “Ammo Deliveries Here.”

Joined a shooting club. Passed the intensive DNR Hunter Education course. Took a six-hour concealed carry course from Madison College. Paid $50 for my CCW permit (#32230). Joined the NRA (great magazine, lots of stickers). Installed a gun safe. Replaced my Ruger SP101’s factory grips with one-of-a-kind cocobolo wood inserts. Shot trap. Researched just the right gun-cleaning and lubrication system. (Chose Hoppes Elite products.)

Planning my next purchase, either a Ruger LCR or a Smith & Wesson Airlight 638 (suggestions welcomed in the comment section below), after I come up with a plausible song and dance for my patient spouse whom, with Abraham Lincoln, fondly does she hope and fervently she does pray, “this, too, shall pass.”

Send in the clowns

Profanity, booing, name-calling, and bullhorns blasting inches away from sensitive ears. Those of us who endured the Siege of the Capitol know it all too well.

Now this overweening sense of self-entitlement has hit Beloit. The Beloit Daily News calls out the unions for their “thuggish” behavior for harassing a businessman and his octogenarian guests at the recent Rock County Republican Lincoln Day dinner. The victims of this abuse were invited to the dinner for no political purpose but to promote VetsRoll, which takes the dwindling number of World War II and Korean War heroes to Washington, D.C., all expenses paid, to view the war memorials.

Beloit Daily News editor Bill Barth is addressing the businessman when he advises, “brush this offense aside. You’ve seen the best in America. This is just the clown show.”

With friends like these …

Poor Warren Harding (“I never should have been here”) said he could deal with his enemies, it was his friends who kept him walking the floor at night. Chicago teachers are demanding 30% pay raises because the mayor wants longer school days. Just watch good Democrat Rahm Emmanuel go all Chris Christie on them and be a hero for it.

But it should put the kibosh on any chances Tom Barrett might have had to succeed Walker in a recall election. The Milwaukee mayor is hosting Emmanuel for a mayoral campaign fundraiser March 28. Wisconsin liberals are not pleased.

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