A dreaded Sunday morning excursion: stocking up on household staples at Costco in outer Northeast Portland. Luckily, I only have to run this gantlet once every few months. Not sure I could take the crowded aisles and old ladies peddling samples of bad food any more often.

What eases my disorientation and general disgust with commercial excess isn’t the $15.25 in coupon savings. It’s what I see on the way home. Call them diversions. Perhaps they wouldn’t have registered at all had my errand been different or my mind occupied with something pressing. But what I see stays with me: Read More

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First it was Zimbabwe, slavery, and the women’s suffrage movement. Now the possibility of Barack Obama’s assassination, RFK-style, is Hillary Clinton’s latest rationale for staying in the race. What’s next? Her “concern” that Obama could develop a brain tumor or melanoma or revert to childhood bed-wetting?

Make it stop. Please.

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Runaway grocery cart

May 20, 2008

They’ve appeared before on the sidewalk across the street from my home office — grocery carts deposited like driftwood on an overnight tide. I noticed one this morning but paid it no mind. That is until I observed people react to this interloper in Irvington, my Northeast Portland neighborhood.

There was the boy clad in yellow backpack and cruising the sidewalk on a foot scooter. He wheeled to a stop and peered inside at an assortment of discards. Then a woman (his mother I presume), tugged along by a dalmatian, shooed him away. A few other pedestrians slowed and glanced at it, including a man who kicked at one of the wheels. Read More

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Stooping to a new low, the Clintons tried today to undermine my family’s support for Barack Obama. They dispatched Chelsea to enlist our little boy, Atticus, in a duplicitous campaign to persuade us to switch our allegiance.

While Atticus and his mother, Suzame, waited for friends outside the entrance to the Oregon Zoo in Portland, Chelsea swooped upon them from a white SUV.

Unfortunately Atticus, who is nearly 3, was too stunned to remember the chant he’s been forced to practice for hours on end: “Yes we can! Yes we can!”

In truth, by all reports, Chelsea was genuinely friendly and laid back. As she said goodbye to Atticus by name, he waved and announced: “I’m going to see the dinosaurs.” To which Chelsea replied, “I wish I was seeing the dinosaurs, too. That sounds like more fun.”

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Let’s say you’re politically active. Active enough to volunteer time campaigning for your favorite candidate. (I’ve done a little for Barack Obama but not nearly as much as I should.) But would you travel to Canada and work for candidates there, such as the leader of the Liberal Party, Stéphane Dion?

Most of us can’t name a single Canadian politician much less ponder helping any of them. But 10 people from the Vancouver area arrived in Portland last night to help Obama. My wife Suzame and I are hosting one of them for several nights, Tiffany Glover. Clearly as passionate about Obama as we are, Tiffany belongs to Canadians for Obama, a group that also campaigned for him in Washington and Texas. Read More

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From my car at the stoplight on NE 20th at Sandy Boulevard in Portland, I see a man so frail that the warm breeze might whisk him away. Bent at the waist, he’s shuffling forward six inches with each hesitant step. He reaches the sidewalk to my right. His pale yellowed skin appears brittle and translucent, like parchment held up to light. A hand-rolled cigarette droops from his lips.

He looks only half in this world. A final exit must be close.

He makes it to the crossing signal. A young woman on a bike cruises to a stop next to him. He cranes his head toward her, mechanically as if someone inside him is struggling with ropes and pulleys. He raises a hand in a slow wave, speaks to her, and smiles so broadly his eyes close. She smiles back.

He shuffles away along Sandy, faster.

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The real appeasers

May 15, 2008

Sometimes the best insight and analysis of the day’s news comes from anonymous “readers” who, like me, devour our favorite blogs with unbridled fervor. Here’s a nod to just such a person, who takes on President Bush and John McCain for their attacks today on Barack Obama for his willingness to talk to Iran’s president. Imagine that — the audacity to talk to adversaries. (Remedial history 101: Reagan met with Gorbachev, Nixon with Mao during the Cold War).

Don’t wait for the mainstream media to dissect Bush or McCain’s words with such illuminating precision. It will never happen. (Courtesy of Talking Points Memo, one of my favorite sites.)

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A small story, courtesy of my home office window in the Irvington neighborhood of Northeast Portland:

Many evenings a woman rides past on a recumbent bike with her two leashed Weimaraners striding behind her. Many mornings another woman drives a sedan slowly and close to the curb while her dog – a fox terrier, I think – scrambles along the sidewalk.

The second woman represents in microcosm a significantly larger story that preeminent environmental writer Bill McKibben told Sunday in the Los Angeles Times. The jist: we’re all in big trouble unless the woman starts emulating the Weimaraner owner or at least parks her car and walks with her dog. Read More

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My mother never made it west of the Mississippi. Until now. As I write, countless specks of her are in San Francisco Bay and the Pacific, bound for who knows where on the lunar whim of tides.

She’s used to the water. When she died in 2003, my two brothers and I scattered some of her ashes in Apalachicola Bay a few steps from her house on St. George Island in the Florida Panhandle and in the lake where we grew up in Central Florida. The rest she wanted deposited in San Francisco. But she waited patiently in Portland, a protracted layover in a plastic container hidden away in my office cabinet. Atop the cabinet rests her senior class photograph (class of 1948, Bosse High School, Evansville, Indiana).

My mother – her friends called her Joanie – loved sentimental songs. When I was a kid, she played Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” over and over. This was her only connection to the city, and the images and emotions evoked in the 1962 song touched her in ways I don’t claim to understand. Read More

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Bears for Obama

May 11, 2008

They’re coming out of the woods for Barack Obama.

As my wife, Suzame, and I drove Saturday along a winding, tree-lined road in Marin County, California, en route to Point Reyes, she shouted: “Turn around and go back! You won’t believe what I saw.”

And there he stood, a majestic creature at the edge of the forest, the most super delegate of them all.

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May 8, 2008

Art is man’s nature; nature is God’s art.

— Philip James Bailey, English poet

More photos of Chaiten volcano eruption in Chile here and here. News here.

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Good year, 1950

May 7, 2008

“Is your birthday really Friday?” I ask the wisp of a man leaning against the Post Office wall in Northeast Portland and panhandling for money. Thickets of wiry gray hair spill from beneath his maroon stocking hat. A beard partly hides sunken cheeks. His clothes are faded but clean.

It was our second encounter. I’d given him 30 cents a few minutes earlier as I left the building. He called out to me in a raspy voice that he needed money for his birthday. A clever line, I thought, more original than most I hear from street people. So I gave him my spare change. Call me uncaring, but I don’t usually give money to panhandlers for fear they’ll spend it on booze or drugs.

When I handed over the change, I was unintentionally brusque. Or I couldn’t hide my skepticism, I suppose, and strode off to my car a half-block away. Without thinking why, I walked back to the man and asked him my question, knowing we might share something in common—if he wasn’t lying. But to what end? Read More

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Josh Ritter connects

May 6, 2008

josh “I used to live on Prescott,” acclaimed singer and songwriter Josh Ritter tells me on the phone. I tell him I live nearby in Northeast Portland. We’re chatting like people who might have passed in the grocery aisle and nodded a hello but now are finally getting to know each other.

I’m trying not to come across as a blithering groupie but probably failing. It’s 10:30 Saturday night. I’m at home, and Josh — were buds now, right? — is in a parking lot outside a bar in Athens, Georgia, where he’s just performed. According to a reliable source (my daughter, Erin), Josh is sipping a drink and still sweat-drenched from another signature electric performance. For an hour he’s been greeting fans, posing for pictures, signing autographs, and doing a lot of hugging. And reveling in it. Read More

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