October 6th, 2004

When I'm Bad I'm Better


LAKE STEVENS -- Amid the chaotic beeping of bar scanners and clashing of grocery carts, Ron McInnes tunes out all distractions and fixates on the miniature crane hovering over a blue hedgehog.

The 73-year-old comes to the Frontier Village Safeway almost every day, feeding the coin-operated game at the front of the store for the chance to snag a stuffed animal with a remotely operated metal claw.

It's part of the retired Air Force master sergeant's routine, just like lunch at the same restaurant and monthly spaghetti dinners at the South Lake Stevens Grange, where he distributes his stockpile of toys to friends and strangers alike.

More than 2,000 stuffed animals and cartoon characters inhabit his shotgun-style, one-bedroom home, where they appear to be waging a silent war on uncluttered space. McInnes estimates he's given away half that many since he started playing skill crane games a decade ago. It's a small investment in a bachelor's happiness, just $5 a day -- unless there's a stubborn orange-headed cow or striped teddy bear just taunting him.

His doctor has told him to watch his blood pressure, and sometimes after playing, he has to walk down to the pet store and watch the kittens sleep for a while until his heart calms down.

"I think it's kind of addictive," he said giddily, leaving with the hedgehog, three bears, a fuzzy cow and a not readily identifiable cartoon character. "I'm in a second childhood, I guess."
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