Before I dropped out of high school, I took a shop class where we learned how to solder and do electronics troubleshooting. At the end, everyone had to build a functional device, utilizing a kit selected from a vendor’s catalog of various projects; each kit had all the components you’d need to put it together.
Three years earlier, my brother had taken this class, and elected to build the “TV Jammer” circuit. This, for the express purpose of surreptitiously compromising our antenna reception and thereby ruining our father’s weekly 60 Minutes viewing experience. That story does not have a happy ending.
I chose instead to construct “The Librarian Tormentor” – a battery-powered circuit that could be housed in a small box. It would emit a loud shrieking noise of some twenty seconds duration, but then be silent for ten minutes or so, before repeating. The idea was to hide it on a library shelf among the books, and let it go to work. The expectation was that the tormented librarian would hear it, get up to search for it, not find the (suddenly silent) device, and finally return to her desk, just to have the entire drama replay itself.
If you have not experienced being a fifteen-year-old male, you’ll not fully grasp just how ingenious, how appealing, such a scenario was. I didn’t even dislike the librarian, and yet it seemed such an inspired thing to do. Why a vendor of educational supplies ever thought to put such a device in the hands of high school boys is rather puzzling.
So I thought about The Librarian Tormentor a lot the last few days, as I spent hours searching for a Yellow-billed Cuckoo – not exactly a common bird in Minnesota. It would call enough to give me a general idea as to location, and then stop: stop long enough for me to give up and go somewhere else, until, from a different location, it would repeat this little game.
It wasn’t that this was so maddening for me – I had managed to see the bird a few days ago in the same general area – by sheer luck – and to get one of my patented vent-photos of it. No, it was maddening because there were several other birders there looking for it also, and I wanted to help put them on it. But every time I heard it, they were somewhere else. And when I sent them to the place where I last heard it, no cuckoo was seen. Just to have the entire drama replay itself.
Usually, I am the guy that does not get the bird that someone else is repeatedly finding. This time it was the other way around, and it felt even worse. Karmic retribution for building that circuit in high school, I suppose.