Old Florida returns

July 6, 2008

Unless you lived in the state before it was overrun with people, the term Old Florida means nothing. But when I grew up there with my two brothers, it meant uncrowded beaches and orange groves everywhere. But even Old Florida had its tourist attractions, such as Silver Springs. One day, long ago, my mother took us there.

Without context, this image from the outing nearly a half century ago looks kitschy. Evidence of a tacky Florida before it became Disney-fied. But it’s among twenty family photos that brother Bill, now a criminology professor at Florida State University, sent me today. Until now, I had only two pictures from those early years.

So I don’t see kitsch; I see a window into a past, faded and indistinct, but framed in the vibrant colors of what once was.

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Fury on the Fourth

July 5, 2008

In Portland, Fourth of July fireworks typically begin a day or two early and linger for a few days. I’m talking about unofficial fireworks, the kind I nearly maimed myself with as a kid.

This evening on my front steps, I heard a firecracker explode up the street. At the sound, an Alfred Hitchcock flock of crows rose from the trees. The sky darkened as they passed overhead. Later my wife said I’d been shat upon.

Maybe the fury of the Fourth loosens the bowels of birds. It’s hell on dogs. Our friends down the street have two miniature greyhounds, loving but nervous dogs. During a fusillade last night, little Zoe crashed through a window and disappeared into the night. The Humane Society phoned today with good news.

Despite these incidents, one trivial and the other nearly tragic, neighborhood fireworks were dramatically diminished this year. At times it was eerily quiet. As if people decided there’s not much to celebrate.

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Imagine a world in which our doctors treat us the way veterinarians treat our pets. This occurs to me as I stare at a three-by-two-inch can, the temporary resting place of Bok Choy Tong. The can is painted with red, orange, and blue flowers, not unlike our garden where her remains will be spread.

Before Bok Choy died last month at eighteen, I learned more about her body and health than I know about mine. Granted, my doctor hasn’t treated me nearly as often. But in similar circumstances I doubt he would spend hours explaining his findings. At times during Boychoy’s last year, I thought I was attending an introductory class in feline physiology. Read More

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Worse than 9/11?

July 2, 2008

Fox News calls the Obamas’ playful fist bump a “terrorist” handshake. An on-air guest says half-jokingly that Barack Obama needs to be assassinated. Fox refers to Michelle Obama as a “baby mama” (euphemism for unwed black mother). Now this on the fair and balanced network: digitally altered photos of two New York Times reporters to make them appear older and decidedly less attractive.

People I love watch Fox with a religious fervor. They’re smart and good human beings. I’d like to believe Rupert Murdoch has hypnotized them. Or maybe the glossy, pouty lips and cleavage of his foxed up women anchors did the trick. I wish either explained the inexplicable.

Their Fox fixation is stark evidence of how they and other people who elected a disastrous president and worse vice president can’t see the reality of what they’ve unleashed. They don’t recognize the mistakes, the tragedies, the shame. We live in the same country but occupy realities a universe apart.

Maybe they’ll snap out of it, and the day will come when everyone refers to Bush and Cheney’s first inauguration day like we do 9/11. That way numerical shorthand will trigger not just an image of burning towers and death but a nation losing its soul: 1/20.

THURSDAY UPDATE: Times Culture Editor Sam Sifton says the newspaper won’t respond to Fox:

It is fighting with a pig, everyone gets dirty and the pig likes it.

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Scene, unseen

July 1, 2008

He’s back. The old man with caved-in cheeks, driving a faded blue car. I saw him today. Third time in a week, always morning. This time will he see me starring from my window across the street? Just sits there, eyes down, motor running. Drives off after a minute or two.

I hadn’t seen him for a few years. Same spot then. I was working in the yard. He opened the door, leaned out, dumped an ashtray of cigarette butts. I hollered. He sped off. The butts? Torn bits of a Polaroid photograph.

Later I pieced them together. A destroyed secret emerging? Blurred Christmas tree lights burned through a dark background. Across the foreground jutted an outstretched hand. A test or accidental snapshot.

Or I missed something, am missing something now. Eyes only see 20 percent of what we perceive. I read it. Memory fills in the rest.

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And God gave us words

June 30, 2008

Touchy, touchy some people are, especially zealots on the way-out-there religious right. The American Family Association’s news web site has a filter that automatically changes words it doesn’t like. So an Associated Press story from Eugene, Oregon, about track star Tyson Gay was “corrected.”

The headline: “Homosexual eases into 100 final at Olympic trials.” The story:

Tyson Homosexual easily won his semifinal for the 100 meters at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials and seemed to save something for the final later Sunday.

And on it went. Read more here, if you can stomach it. The AFA later changed the story, restoring Gay’s good name.

Maybe the AFA’s on to something. Imagine the possibilities with the name Bush.

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Poodle hip, not standard

June 30, 2008

Portland is dog crazy. Walk a dog through neighborhoods like mine (Irvington) and you’ll get more oohs and ahs from passersby than if pushing a cute baby in a stroller. The city reportedly has the country’s highest per capita of canines.

Like many of their owners, some Portland dogs display individuality via bodily adornments. Take Olive’s new hairdo, a henna treatment that sets her apart from other standard poodles. She caught my eye today in the pooch procession past my home office. Read More

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Summer stars greet the sun today — freshly opened blossoms in my Portland teardrop pond. I’ll wade in and reward my babies with fertilizer pellets. But I’ll be tempted to disappear beneath the lily pads into my past. Read More

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We’re trashed

June 28, 2008

I couldn’t sleep recently and switched on the television. Up popped a PBS story about life on an Navy aircraft carrier, which at 2 a.m. I figured would bore me to slumber. I didn’t pay much attention until a sailor explained how much trash is dumped overboard from this floating city every day.

Last year I’d read about two Texas-size floating islands of plastic bags and other trash. Flanking the Hawaiian islands, these vortexes (pictured is the one east of Japan) are twelve feet deep in some spots. Not vivid enough to embed in your mind? Think about swimming through them. Read More

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Of wisp and ashes

June 26, 2008

“Shawn is my name,” he says, holding out a small gnarled hand.

Shawn shows no hint that he minds me, a stranger, flagging him down as he zips past my house on his electric cart. He answers personal questions with no hesitation, no suspicion.

I ask to photograph him and the dog perched at his feet. “That’s Pappy. He’s a pappilon. Couldn’t make it without him.” Read More

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Nature in the city

June 25, 2008

Tufts of white fluff drift over my goldfish pond, on the way somewhere. Escapees from a cottonwood tree perhaps, fanning out on this cloudless and cool Portland morning. Another pastoral moment deep in the city.

From my neighbors’ century-old linden tree comes an incessant chirp. Beneath the shroud of limbs, I can’t see the bird but its notes are familiar: distress.

A silent bird comes into view, a juvenile Cooper’s hawk on a thick limb. Its head bobs down then up, pauses, then resumes. Each movement frees little white feathers that join a wind-blown procession toward the pond.

Spying me, the hawk lifts off, baby bird brunch in its beak, and disappears through the green canopy.

The other bird, hidden, still chirps, each note now a lament for what’s been lost.

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Really local locavores

June 25, 2008

A little publicity goes a long way. In May, I wrote a story for The Oregonian about two Portland men starting a new business, City Garden Farms. Their idea: grow vegetables in the urban yards of people willing to participate in return for a weekly supply of the harvest.

Their entrepreneurial zeal impressed me. Their philosophy impressed me more: grow food on small plots within a few miles of consumers, minimizing the environmental effects of transportation. Read More

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Brave new bike world

June 23, 2008

A modest wish for a better world popped in my head Sunday during Portland’s six miles and six hours without cars event (photo slideshow here). I was taking a break on a bench at Arbor Lodge Park, enjoying the people streaming past, many with kids in tow, headed for food or hula-hoop lessons.

But I wasn’t relaxed: my bike, my wife’s, and our little boy’s bike trailer were parked against a tree behind me, sans locks. Paranoia from several bike thefts over the years was desecrating the event’s life-is-great vibe. Then my wish came to me. Read More

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