Rapture revisited

June 8, 2008

I posted last week about the Rapture after finding a man’s suit abandoned on church steps in downtown Portland. Today, I stumbled upon this portentous scene on the edge of a lush Willamette Valley wheat field south of Portland:

I had stopped to photograph a long train hauling fresh-cut logs (the tracks are in the background). When I finished, I looked up and saw the three baby shoes on a manhole cover. Clearly they weren’t a failed installation of shoefiti — no wires overhead.

Now I’m rethinking the irreverence of my earlier Rapture comments. Two stark sightings in five days add up to more than coincidence. Not exactly prophecy. But what?

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I see her every day, part of the movie flickering past my window.

Driving an electric scooter chair, she talks to herself, occasionally gesturing as if stressing a point. The woman is among a cast featuring bicyclists galore, women carrying yoga mats, kids chattering to and from school, a United Nations of leashed dogs, and speeding cars I imagine reducing to embers if only I had a rocket launcher.

I watch this cavalcade from my home office, habit of an easily distracted mind. Who is this woman beneath a stocking hat, scanning the terrain for empty cans and bottles? As she whirs into view this morning, I see that her white dog with the doll-like face, usually peeking from her sweater, is missing. But tiny bears and other stuffed animals swing from her handlebars.

The other can collectors scouring Irvington, my Northeast Portland neighborhood, blend into the urban backdrop and pique no curiosity. Their travel patterns are either irregular or don’t register with me. This woman zipping past is an unnamed star in my window movie, worthy of top billing should it end and credits roll. Read More

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My latest landscaping project, completed as Hillary Clinton endorsed Barack Obama:

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The nation’s last charismatic political figure representing Hope was gunned down forty years ago today in Los Angeles. It was one week after I graduated from high school, and I was sleeping late. My summer job hadn’t begun. My brother David burst into my bedroom and woke me with the news.

At seventeen, politics interested me, and I was getting swept up in Bobby Mania. His impassioned anti-Vietnam War message had started eating away at the government propaganda I’d been force fed in civics class. But I was more drawn to his willingness to tell hard truths about our country. And I had succumbed to the strength he exuded. People felt it in his words. Some saw it in his eyes, including a Russian poet who described them as “two blue dots of will and anxiety.”

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Dare I compare atmospheres at different high schools forty years and three thousand miles apart? Such comparison seems sure to illuminate nothing surprising and elicit a chorus of yawns. It would be like examining life on planets in different solar systems populated by different life forms and declaring, “Eureka! They’re not the same!”

But after visiting a small Portland high school Tuesday and Wednesday to research a freelance newspaper story, I can’t resist.

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I don’t believe in the Rapture, though the concept intrigues me spiritually and intellectually. Perhaps that’s why a man’s suit caught my eye yesterday, abandoned on the steps of a downtown Portland church. A fine-looking suit with a subtle glen-plaid pattern. I considered inquiring at the Portland Korean Church, SE 10th and Clay. But if I knocked, what would I ask when the door opened? Is the suit only a test, like those we hear on the radio about the emergency warning system? If this had been a real Rapture. . .

I looked around, wondering whether the suit owner had zipped off on a practice spin for the June 14th World Naked Bike Ride. No luck. Was there really a Superman, and Clark Kent couldn’t find a phone booth? Had I missed an alien abduction? Or missed the Rapture itself, and this lone empty suit signaled bad news for Portland — the select few here are very few indeed? Read More

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Whisper in the swamp

June 3, 2008

Florida, 1973: I’m trudging through a Panhandle swamp on an August day with four other guys. Country Boy leads the way. Everyone on the land survey crew calls him this because his molasses twang sounds like gibberish half the time.

Country Boy wants to kick my ass. My machete nicked his hand not far back as we hacked through a hammock of hardwoods and cypress knees jutting from the water. But seeing that I still hold the machete, he only cusses me. If Country Boy knows my name, he never uses it. He calls me College Boy.

The sun is high, but it’s dusk beneath the trees. We push through calf-deep water and curtains of vines. Turkey vultures stare down from high branches. Ahead is an island of damp sand. We collapse there, water seeping from our boots. The heat presses down. I stick my machete in the sand, kneel, and drink from the swamp, the water tannic red but clean. My reflection looks up at me, a ghost. Someone whispers: snnnnnake. Read More

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Our small backyard goldfish pond in Northeast Portland sparkles from its annual cleanup today. The pond is compact: eight feet across at the widest point, thirty inches deep in the deepest spot, and nine hundred gallons. Just large enough that I can zoom in on a Google satellite map and spy its blurry roundness, as if I’m watching over it from space.

The pond came with the house when we moved in nearly five years ago. But (he boasts!) I transformed it: super-duper pump and filtration system with ultraviolet light hidden discreetly away and, more important, the addition of two marsh areas and many types of aquatic plants. Wild enough in summer that a heron swooped down into the urban landscape last year and feasted on a few unsuspecting fish.

A clump of cattails wagging in the wind reminds me of my boyhood lake in Florida. Red-wing blackbirds constantly flitted in and out of Sybelia’s cattails. Their song never varied but, depending on my mood, sounded like a greeting, a question, or a lament.

I find a recording of the song online. The sound rockets me back through more than four decades. I’m deposited in Sybelia’s bath-warm waters, where scene after scene of memories play unbidden. None is more vivid than this: I’m underwater, far beneath our two Labrador retrievers, Rogue and Sadie, swimming at the surface. Seen through a lens of deep water, they move in flickering frames of film faded with age. The dogs advance nowhere, passing each other in looping arcs.

They’re waiting for me to surface.

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Tom Jones haunts me. The well-preserved and über manly entertainer, whose twitching hips persuade otherwise demure women to part with their panties, has gyrated into the sacred halls of my bedroom.

Last night, for the third consecutive day, my wife Suzame sang snippets of “She’s a Lady.” We were in bed. This the woman who rolled her eyes at the prospect of taking her mother to see Jones in Portland as a Mother’s Day gift. And I the husband who agreed she should spend a bundle to get good seats, ensuring her mom would have a memorable evening.

Before the concert, Suzame spoke as if it was impending drudgery. Not her thing, she said. Her favorite music, like mine, veers from the mainstream. Our concert tastes don’t include Vegas-style entertainers. At the time, I doubted Suzame could have named one of Jones’ signature songs. I warned her women go ga-ga over him. She seemed only vaguely aware of the underwear-throwing zealotry that Jones incites. Read More

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Looking for home

May 31, 2008

How strange to stumble upon photos of my childhood house of the 1960s on a movie web site. I was searching Google images for a picture of Lake Sybelia in Maitland, Florida. Once a quaint hamlet of citrus trees and lakes, Maitland was long ago consumed by the tourist monster that ate Orlando. During my search, up popped the house — white columns, veranda, and canopy of live oaks — under siege by a phalanx of movie cameras and crew.

Interlopers! was my first thought, irrational given that my family rented the house and moved out thirty-eight years ago. Then the movie title tugged at me: The Way Back Home. Read More

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I’m not a conspiracy theorist. Nor am I prone to paranoia. But I also recognize that we rarely understand what’s happening around us.

Those caveats are an introduction to a story that should give everyone pause, no matter their politics. It’s received too little attention, perhaps because the idea seems so outlandish: the Bush administration has a plan for granting itself sweeping dictatorial powers in the event of a natural catastrophe or major terrorist attack. As part of the plan, a list of eight million people has been created, people who might be questioned by authorities or even rounded up and “detained.” (A once benign word, detained is now ominous and foreboding.) Read More

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Hyperbole was among my mother’s traits, especially when I was a kid. Before issuing a warning or threat regarding my behavior, she would foreshadow her pronouncement with squinted eyes, like a gunslinger telegraphing lethal intent. Then she might let loose with the cliché of clichés: “It will go on your permanent record!” I’d respond with a look of mock horror.

Mom, if you can hear me from the hereafter, I say this: you were right.

I’ve learned that a blot besmirches my permanent record, and anyone with a computer and Internet connection can see it. And Google is to blame! Read More

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I learned today that a high-school friend died over the weekend. I last saw Jeff Schofield nearly ten years ago at our thirty-year reunion in Florida. He was frail as a twig, victim of personal excesses that claim so many.

The news naturally conjured up memories of Winter Park High, class of 1968. I remembered parties at Jeff’s house, wild by our standards back then. But what came back more urgently was a trip he and I took our senior year.

We both were considering going to the University of Georgia or Mercer University and decided to take a road trip to check out the campuses. Read More

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