Mouth At War

March 3, 2009

I might have been sitting in a dental school classroom, taking lecture notes on all the bad things that can happen in the mouth. But I was prone in my dentist’s chair, enthralled with a stream-of-conscious presentation the hygienist delivered while prodding gums and polishing teeth. Read More

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Mixed-Up Portland

March 2, 2009

I’m confused. Portland, my home, is the fifth most popular destination among people moving from state to state. But it’s also the unhappiest city in the country, according to a new study.

Something’s amiss. Either the movers haven’t heard how forlorn we Portland residents supposedly are or the findings are wrong. Read More

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Black or White

March 1, 2009

This story won the 2005 fiction award in the graduate writing program at Portland State University. Read More

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Recently I stumbled upon old snapshots of unidentified people I can’t get out of my head.

The photos are on two web sites, waiting for someone to give names to faces. One site features more than 500 color images from film found in cameras at flea markets and second-hand stores. The other site consists of 44 black and white pictures that have haunted a man since he found the negatives at a garage sale 15 years ago. Read More

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Clueless Time Traveler

February 27, 2009

A writing professor I know often uses time travel as a plot device. His novel about Abraham Lincoln involuntarily appearing in Chicago in the 1950s bring him to life in a unique way. More intriguing is the professor’s unpublished story imagining himself as an adult occupying his boyhood body and mind.

That’s a journey I would gladly take. I already go back in dreams. Why not make it real and less overwrought? Read More

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Battle of the Sexes

February 27, 2009

From the book Pendleton Round-Up at 100: Oregon’s Legendary Rodeo.

It was a battle of the sexes that never came to pass. Not that Mabel Strickland and other cowgirls didn’t try in 1924. Emboldened by their skills and growing popularity among rodeo fans from Pendleton to New York to London, they wanted to compete directly with the cowboys.

Who could blame them? The prize money was richer and the trophies larger. Riding bucking broncos and wrestling steers to the ground, the women faced the same dangers as men. The prowess and daring of Strickland, Fox Hastings, Lorena Trickey, Prairie Rose Henderson, and others were evident. A month before the Round-Up that year, Strickland had the second best time in steer roping among cowboys and cowgirls at the Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Two years earlier at the Round-Up, she had roped and tied down a steer in eighteen seconds, close to the men’s world record.

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From the book Pendleton Round-Up at 100: Oregon’s Legendary Rodeo.

In an era of stark racial divides, it was remarkable that the Pendleton Round-Up’s most famous contest happened at all. The year was 1911. Segregation was rampant, and memories of Indian wars and slavery lingered. Viewed through the lens of today’s world, the storyline smacks of something Hollywood might contrive for maximum ratings: three cowboys — one white, one black, and one Nez Perce survivor of U.S. Army bullets competing to become champion bronc-buster. But the Round-Up had been an open affair from its start a year earlier, and the usually strong grip of prejudice loosened long enough for the historic competition to take place. Unanswered even now, however, is whether racial bias rather than skill dictated the controversial outcome.

None of the 15,000 people who crowded into the arena on an autumn Saturday knew they were about to watch a contest that’s still the centerpiece of Round-Up lore, or that they collectively would become a key character in the story’s dramatic conclusion. In the end, the crowd chose one champion, and the judges chose another. Read More

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Written for The Oregonian newspaper and published Jan. 22, 2009.

This is a story about love, shopping locally and the power of the Internet.

And burritos, too.

It began in early December when a man learned that his mother’s Northeast neighborhood business, Broadway Books, faced financial problems more ominous than the struggles small independent booksellers typically see. Read More

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Fate of Printed Pages

February 26, 2009

I spent a long time on the print side of newspapers and a good number of years starting and nurturing their online offspring. These days I’m online much of each day and night but still have this thing for the printed page.

It began, like many things, with a childhood ritual: plodding barefoot to the end of our driveway in Maitland, Florida and fetching the morning paper. As a kid I also fell in love with magazines, especially Life, which opened the world to me in pictures. Read More

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Shades of a Renegade

February 25, 2009

Written for The Oregonian newspaper and published Feb. 28, 2008.

A young man’s face gazes upon the world from a gnarled tree.

His portrait is attached to the trunk along a well-traveled street of tidy houses. Painted mostly in blues and black against sunset reds, the image burns through winter’s gloom, luring a motorist to stop.

Black, unreadable eyes stare straight ahead. The mouth hints at a suppressed smile. The long, flawless face is unguarded and open. There’s no signature, adding to the intrigue.

Does the artist live in the nearest house? A knock summons a bearded man wearing a short-brimmed cap. Read More

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Written for The Oregonian newspaper and published May 8, 2008.

Martin Barrett and Dan Bravin stand next to tidy rows they’ve planted with spinach, lettuce, carrot and other seeds — and at the edge of a new take on urban farming.

Their idea: to farm in city backyards of people who donate the land in return for a share of the harvests, and to sell the rest to nearby consumers and at farmers markets.

The plan took root in Barrett’s backyard and blossomed into City Garden Farmers. The motto: “Live Urban, Eat Local.”

“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” says Barrett in his Scottish brogue, recalling a childhood of meals from his family’s garden in Edinburgh. Read More

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Shining Light on Truth

February 24, 2009

Rarely do I find commentary as incisive and articulate as that of Scott Horton. His “No Comment” blog for Harper’s Magazine illuminates current affairs not with polemics but cohesive facts and analysis. Reading his work I see the fog of he-said-she-said media coverage lift to reveal what looks like truth. Read More

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Graffiti and the Fartinator

February 22, 2009

Graffiti fascinates me. It’s hard to miss in Portland, especially east of the Willamette River where I live. Some is artistic. Most is illegible, as if space aliens scrawl communiques at night, unaware that their writings generally make no sense to Earthlings. And defacing property, no matter the creativity involved, is a crime costing major money to clean up.

Why then would a retail store inside a mall festoon its facade with unreadable graffiti? Even the font in the store name resembles taggers’ bold lettering. Read More

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