More to the story

May 3, 2008

I stop for coffee this afternoon at the Goldrush Coffee Bar because it’s near my house and an all-time favorite song pops into my head whenever I enter: Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush.” (Prophetic lyrics here.)

Coffee black for me, but “Tutley’s Triumph” catches my eye on the chalkboard menu. I’m told it’s a blend of white and dark chocolate, cinnamon, and vanilla syrup. In other words, a surprise sure to please Suzame, sissy coffee drink aficionado.

“Who’s Tutley?” I ask the barista, assuming it might be him and the drink his crowning achievement. “A dog,” he says. Read More

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Rippling Over Time

May 3, 2008

News flash: A Civil War cannonball kills a relic collector 140 years after it was fired near Richmond, Virginia.

Analysis: Wars don’t end when peace is declared; the weapons fight on.

Would the soldier who lit the cannon’s fuse done so had he recognized the potential consequences rippling out over Time . . . consequences (collector’s son fatherless, wife widowed) that have triggered yet more ripples with effects unknown?

Votes cast in elections create ripples, too.

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Treadmill Ghost

May 2, 2008

At the gym today, I saw the ghost of me. His image materialized six feet in front of me on the window overlooking the squash courts. I was striding in place on an elliptical machine. Cast in shades of gray, he appeared to occupy a space between two worlds, mine and one of shadows. He bounced up and down, a reflection methodically running toward me but getting no closer.

He looked maybe 15 years older. An old bald man well into decline but trim and relentless. I was thankful I couldn’t see his eyes, only darkness. The more I stared the more familiar the image became. My oxygen-deprived brain was perceiving signals heretofore beyond range. I was watching a broadcast of what will become of me. The soundless, subliminal message was clear: “I’m coming for you.” Read More

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Never the Same Again

Post image for Never the Same Again

May 1, 2008

Two Austrian brothers marvel at the alien but wondrous world we take for granted. It was hidden from them. Until now their world was a cellar, a makeshift prison. The warden? Their father.

One of the boys, 5-year-old Felix Fritzl, asks upon seeing the moon for the first time:

Is that God up there?

How can the moon ever look the same to me again? This thought leads to a memory: when I was Felix’s age, my father read an 1889 bedtime poem to my two brothers and me. We heard it many times, never tiring of the words. Even at that age, I could tell he relished reading them, delighting in their power to cast us adrift toward our nether worlds of sleep. Read More

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From My Window

May 1, 2008

Twenty children clutching flowers stroll the sidewalk beneath my window. No older than six and with teachers in tow, they stop, wave, and smile at me, the gray-haired crank a half-century older. I open the window, and they all call out “Happy May Day!” The sidewalk and street are dusted with wind-blown petals, whites and pinks from cherry and pear trees, like snow flakes that never melt.

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Stopping Time

April 30, 2008

Suzame, Atticus, and I wait for our food in the dinner-crowd din at Ken’s Artisan Pizza on SE 28th. I gaze out the window. People awash in early evening light pass on the sidewalk.

A young man comes into view. Hip-looking in that Portland style that anyone on the eastside under 30 wears like skin. Short-brimmed black cap, scraggly beard, messenger bag, and headphones — as in headphones so big they’d look nerdy on me but make him retro cool.

Then I see it. His yo-yo, dipping and rocking, then circling in a wide arc, the finale to a five-second show. All this while he walks, listening to who knows what on those headphones. And he was gone. Read More

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Love NPR, Hate NPR

April 30, 2008

It’s hard to imagine not having NPR on most of the time during the week. I don’t watch TV news, unless a huge news event occurs — 9/11, Katrina, and so forth. NPR‘s news is generally even-handed and not as entertainment-driven as most broadcast media have become. I like the interviews, like hearing music I might otherwise never hear, and like the sound of it from afar — a reassuring background noise.

That said, NPR recently has become a Clinton lovefest. Yes, I’m biased in favor of Barack Obama and therefore sensitive to even a change in an anchor’s tone of voice when discussing the Democratic candidates.

Two weeks ago I emailed NPR to complain about Cokie Roberts‘ report on Obama’s so-called “bitter” comment. She said he was “disparaging” voters. I contend he wasn’t. All I got back were an automated response that my email was received and several days later a perfunctory form letter than didn’t address my specific complaint.

But this morning I wanted to throw the radio in the garbage. Read More

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Obama Didn’t Sleep Here

April 28, 2008

A Barack Obama campaign worker was our overnight guest Sunday, part of a volunteer-your-home program Suzame and I signed up for. Then she was off to Salem this morning, two big suitcases in tow — “all my stuff,” she said. “I go where they send me.” It’s been that way for nearly a year. She spent many months in both New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

A recurring theme of our all-too-brief conversations was her chronic lack of sleep, and our guest room bed seemed to be a big hit.

We were hoping for some juicy gossip. Instead we heard an insider’s view of the insurmountable demographic challenges Obama faced in rural Pennsylvania and some of the tricks the opposition used. Most importantly, we came away with an up-close look at the zeal and commitment of one Obama staffer. No surprise that she’s passionate — “I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid” — but seeing it was invigorating.

When we told her how we climbed over folding chairs at Obama’s first campaign stop in Portland in October to shake his hand, she said with a beaming smile, “That’s so cool!” She meant it.

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Dear Tulip Thief

April 27, 2008

For a few weeks, we watched the dozen green tulip buds grow taller and fatten. They cloaked themselves in a hint of red. I planted them three years ago in a small corner garden at the intersection where we live in Northeast Portland.

The tulips were on the verge of opening, an event we and the many people who stroll past every day anticipate. Then nine of them were gone, snipped overnight. And it’s not the first time flowers or plants have been stolen from our yard. Two years ago I planted a variegated Jacob’s ladder next to our front steps. A few days later I noticed an empty hole.

I had to do something about the tulips, take some action in a futile, maddening situation, something beyond bitching and moaning. So I typed a letter to the thief, printed it out, and had it laminated. But by the time I got around to erecting it over the clipped tulip stumps, an adjacent batch of orange and gold tulips bloomed. I realized the sign wouldn’t make sense next to a glorious display of spring. So I’ll save it for next year and the inevitable return of greed. But here’s what I wrote: Read More

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Balloon Man’s lament

April 27, 2008

From a distance, Balloon Man looks happy. Little children line up next to him beneath an elm beginning to unfurl new leaves. The sights and sounds of the Portland Farmers Market surround them. The children watch in awe as his hands move in a blur, creating made-to-order pirate swords, three-corner hats, bugs, and dinosaurs.

“Three or five dollars or whatever you can afford,” Balloon Man says to the parents, smiling. The line is long, but the children wait patiently, mesmerized as his creations emerge.

Linger and listen closely, and Balloon Man offers more than clever toys; with little prompting he tells a disjointed narrative in rapid bursts. He’s a veteran balloon artist . . . 10 years on the job . . . a much-longer-than-expected break from his true calling as a magician . . . “I was going to work for David Copperfield but something happened — a long story” . . . he’s 41 . . . his thumbnails are yellowed and misshapen, the toll of handling too many balloons — “millions” — and the talcum powder inside . . . 100,000 popped on him until he developed “the touch” . . . a competitor nearby, only 16, resents his presence . . . he doesn’t mind: the boy’s still learning — “did you hear that pop?”

Balloon Man reminds me of a taut balloon. His words sound like air escaping, a lament easing the pressure.

He gives a little girl a pink balloon dog. “Now hug your daddy and tell him you love him.”

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Dapper Cadavers

April 26, 2008

Blue sky and a breath of warm air do wonders for Portland, especially on a Saturday in the midst of a cold spring. Among the throngs at the downtown Farmers Market are people with eyes closed, faces turned reverently toward the sun.

Strolling past baked goods and rows of vegetable starts for the garden, I hear a banjo tentatively strummed. Behind the vendors, in front of the Portland State University library steps, five young people line up and adjust their instruments: the banjo, metal washboard, plastic bucket bass fiddle, guitar, and accordion. No microphones or amps. Then they begin to wail and shake. Joyfully.

I’ve never heard the slightly off-key bluegrass tune, but it could be the fast-tempo soundtrack to my life’s happiest moments.

A crowd gathers. Like other parents did with their children, Suzame and I give Atticus a dollar bill to deposit in an open guitar case at the band’s feet. I should empty my wallet.

I ask the banjo player — a boy, really — the band’s name. “Dapper Cadavers,” he says. “We may be dead, but we died handsome.”

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What Hillary Said

April 25, 2008

News item: Hillary Clinton says as president she would “totally obliterate” Iran if it attacked Israel with nuclear weapons. Clinton made the comment as people in Pennsylvania voted in the Democratic primary.

I’ve become painfully accustomed to Clinton saying and doing anything to defeat Barack Obama. That her supporters seem all the more fervent as she ratchets up her rhetoric says much about them, I suppose. At least she’s making the choice between Democratic candidates all the more stark. According to the Clinton narrative, she’s displaying her toughness. I’ve known tough people who were weak leaders.

Clinton’s “as far as I know” comment in response to a question on 60 Minutes about whether Obama is a Muslim still burns like bile climbing up my throat. “Totally obliterate” is altogether different. It reminds me of how I felt when I was a kid and my next-door neighbor showed me a book with photos of Holocaust victims. They were strewn in jumbled stacks, naked, and dead in a pit. Read More

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Cracked Up

April 24, 2008

I’m a hypocrite. I rant about people yapping on their cell phones while they drive, especially on city streets.

Well, I wasn’t yapping but asking an operator for a phone number while driving through our Northeast Portland neighborhood. Suzame was sitting next to me. At the time my call seemed important enough for me to become one of “them.”

My complaint about mixing cell phones and driving is simple: it dulls your senses, making it more likely that you won’t see cyclists and pedestrians. Studies, of course, have documented the risk. On this day I saw too much.

As the operator talked, I noticed an open car door on the right and a man leaning into the car. As my car passed, his butt crack loomed into view, a crevice that blotted out the rest of the world.

I exclaimed loudly to Suzame, “Look at that big butt cra–.” I stopped myself but not soon enough to prevent a long silence on the phone.

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