Heard but not heeded

September 11, 2008

No one who’s eighty says, “The years have dragged on and on. When is this thing going to finally end?”

So I wasn’t surprised to hear my father say on his eightieth birthday, “I’m amazed at how quickly it’s gone by.” Read More


Dying for tanned hides

September 10, 2008

In the examining room, I waited for the dermatologist. Framed on the wall was an information sheet about melanoma.

The doctor entered. Tall, thin, and past retirement age, he shook my hand as one would expect an ex-Marine to shake it. Read More


Swashbucklers next door

September 9, 2008

Everyone has a bad neighbor story. Few have bad neighbors who are pirates. The people who rent a house two doors down could even be pirate vampires, judging from their cadaver-like skin and habit of emerging only at dusk.

Read More


Tonight south of Portland I saw a young guy wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with “Kill All the Terrorists” in big letters. In smaller letters was the kicker: “And let Allah sort it out.”

Read More


Decades Later, an Answer

September 6, 2008

It took more than a half-century, but I finally learned why we ended up living on a lake in Central Florida during my childhood. Not one house but three as we moved clockwise around Lake Sybelia in Maitland from the late 1950s to 1970. Read More


False facade of words

September 5, 2008

Reading for me is breathing. A good story, fiction or non-fiction, is among life’s wonders. I like fiction because it opens another world and allows me to inhabit it. I like non-fiction because if well done, it illuminates truths otherwise beyond my reach.

All this brings me to Sarah Palin. The story she told at the GOP convention and reinforced by McCain and his staff is compelling in a superficial way. Buzz words such as hockey mom and reformer and maverick create a pleasing picture that people long to embrace.

Read More


High water, deep memories

September 2, 2008

Flying into Orlando last week, I see a familiar sight: Central Florida’s abundant lakes stretching to the horizon. But something is different. No sandy beaches. The lakes are brimming over from Tropical Storm Fay’s deluges. Later I feel the land between the lakes squish beneath my feet. The newspaper where I worked is filled with photos of the St. Johns River spreading far from its banks.

I’ve returned to celebrate my father’s eightieth birthday. One of my most vivid memories of the man swirls past in Saturday’s tropical winds and rains, the outlying bands of Hurricane Gustav sloshing toward the Gulf Coast.

It was 1960, and I was a boy. Hurricane Donna, a monster storm, cut through the Orlando area. My father woke my brothers and me at 2 a.m. to watch the wind tear grapefruit from a tree. The spectacle left us giddy. So did the prospect of school closing. We didn’t anticipate having to work in the yard for three days to clean up Donna’s mess.

In the days before Donna arrived, tropical storms and the typical onslaught of summer thunderstorms had saturated everything. Donna brought epic rains, and the water had nowhere to go. Highways disappeared. Last week, with the sodden overheated air weighing on me, it felt like forty-eight years ago.

Now I’m home in Portland, savoring every breath from cool dry skies. In twelve days, l return to Orlando for a reunion (Winter Park High, class of 1968). More memories await. Happy ones, yes, but tempered with regrets for what’s been lost. As I struggle to recognize friends long unseen, storms with names may be churning our way.


Adventures in flying

September 1, 2008

“What’s in the cup?” asks the woman x-raying our carry-on bags at Orlando International Airport. Our cross-country trip home to Portland is not beginning well.

“Our little boy’s water. It’s his sippy cup,” says my wife, Suzame.

“You say it’s water. But I don’t know it’s water,” the woman says, her tone curt and accusatory, as if an interrogation has begun.

“At other airports this has never been been a problem,” Suzame says. “They must have different rules.”

The rules are the same everywhere,” the woman says. She gestures to a colleague, who takes the cup to a table and displays tools for detecting the presence of explosives. But it’s a sham — he tests nothing.

“She’s nutty,” he says softly so his fellow-employee won’t hear, and gives Suzame the cup.


Head case

August 25, 2008

Oh, the travails of parenthood. How do father and mother anticipate this scenario: Atticus, newly turned three, begins crying. We find him wearing on his head a rigid cardboard can, his Lincoln Logs container.

“Why are you crying, son?” I ask. “It’s stuck!” he wails.

We can’t budge it. Suzame pries out his ears and holds his head while I tug, gingerly, several times. His feet start to lift off the ground. We move him to a bed. Same results.

We contemplate cutting off the can. Too dangerous. What about rubbing cooking oil around the lip or soaking it with a sponge? Then I reconsider cutting. With scissors I poke a hole near the bottom, far from his head, work in a finger, and manage to tear the cardboard. Atticus’ whimpering turns to laughter.

A memory is born.


Groupie in the making

August 25, 2008

I stand in the rain. The Avett Brothers are about to take the stage in Portland at the Oregon Zoo amphitheater. So miserable is the weather this night that wife and little son fled for home after the opening act.

Everyone is soaked and cold. While I wait, tunes from “Emotionalism” play in my head. Soon we’re jumping, crowded at the edge of the stage, invigorated by the Avetts’ energy that will keep me awake long after I’m home.

What’s the appeal? Not just their harmonizing twang tinged with rock and frenetic punk outbursts. Or their whiskey North Carolina drawls and plaintive lyrics. These boys are just flat out wired and unafraid to bare what’s roiling inside them.

I’m afraid to look at the rest of their tour schedule. I might bust out the Visa card and follow them, old-guy groupie who knows the lyrics and gets funny looks from the young hipsters when he sings along. Can’t help myself.


Juncture in the past

August 23, 2008

Four weeks from tonight, I’ll attend my forty-year high-school reunion in Winter Park, Florida. We were invited to write about a memory. I chose not the end-of-school campout of about twenty-five guys. It only lasted a few hours because a Seminole County sheriff’s deputy busted us just as the drunken revelry was cranking up. A few classmates barely made it out of jail in time to attend graduation. Instead, I chose the lesser-known prequel to that story:

Far from anything, we lurched along two sandy ruts winding through pine and scrub oak north of Red Bug Road. I was driving my mother’s faded station wagon, nicknamed the Blue Boat. Perched cross-legged atop the roof, Danny and Charlie looked more like maharajas on safari than seniors about to graduate. Stripped to the waist and wearing their shirts swami-style around their heads, they scanned the woods.

I turned up the radio, drowning out the clatter of barbed wire that had wrapped around the drive shaft a few miles back. We’d come too far to turn around. Not that we knew where we were. That was part of the plan, getting lost to see what we could find. And we were doing more than searching for a camp site; we were clutching what little was left of our years together in a grip that couldn’t hold. Read More


Night of the dolphin

August 22, 2008

Many years ago I worked at Florida Today, the daily newspaper in Brevard County. That’s the county Tropical Storm Fay drowned this week in twenty-five inches of rain.

For a while I worked a late-night shift. During a periodic commitment to not hit the bars with the gang after work, I’d run along the Indian River about 2 a.m. Not a sound except my plodding feet and panting breaths. Then one night I heard another sound — rhythmic breathing. Soon I figured out the source, a dolphin just offshore swimming in sync with me. We stayed together for at least a mile.

Tonight I wonder if the dolphin swims above the street where I ran, finding no other beating heart to connect with in the flooded dark.


Votes lost in the ether

August 22, 2008

After reading this account of programming errors plaguing touchscreen voting machines in Ohio, can anyone have any confidence in a free and fair election? Too bad the story doesn’t detail if there’s any pattern to the dropped votes. For example, how do they correlate to the party registration of voters whose ballots aren’t counted?

And why is any electronic voting allowed anywhere in the United States when it’s not proven to be fail safe? And to think that some states don’t require a backup paper trail. Oregon has its share of problems but holding reputable elections isn’t one of them.

Once upon a time, we lived in a democracy.