Sunday, December 25, 2011

Time Travel of a Different Sort

When I was about thirteen my parents let me buy a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. It had a plastic stock and fore piece. I made it a new stock and fore piece. It looked really nice. I still have the BB gun. I keep it in the cabinet with my real guns. Unlike my other guns the BB gun doesn’t work. I wore it out. The spring mechanism that drove the pellets just finally gave up decades ago. But I have kept the corpse of that precious little gun. I had hoped to buy a replacement mechanism to fix it, but such a thing was not available.

The activity that caused the spring mechanism to finally wear out was massive. Daisy didn’t build a weak little product, I just used it to its death. An in the process I became a deadly shot.

Now it is Christmas Day 2011.

My wife and daughter are in London baby sitting one of my daughter’s friend’s cats. I am baby sitting our last remaining cat, Bert the 19 or so year old Maine Coon that wandered into our yard in 1998. He likes it on Lopez so we are on Lopez.

Here is an email I sent my wife a couple of hours ago.

I just opened/found my presents.

I had hopefully wished that Midnight in Paris would be there.

But there were two packages.

I guess I had my mind set to seeing Midnight being there when I had opened the first package.

I was almost outside of myself, on the sidelines watching, as a startled yelp of delight came out of me when I saw Groundhog Day. Oddly I was listening – as I am now – to The Tobolowski Files.

I was really pleased that Midnight was in the next.

Then I opened the envelope on the tree.

When I opened the Mysti side of the closet and saw the Red Ryder I experienced a feeling that – even if I had been aware that such feelings were still in me I would have not been able to describe – was an overwhelming surprise.

I was twelve years old again.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Time Capsule

Not long ago the wife of one of my fraternity brothers gave me a letter I had written to him.  Previously she had given a number of other such letters that I had written him and which I had read.  They were bilge. 

So I thanked her for the one she had just given me and put it aside. 

I didn’t expect to find more merit in this one than I had in the other ones.

But I did, finally, read it.

And then I begged my wife to key it for me.  There is only one edit.

I give it to you you here for what it is worth.

“27 Feb 67


I likewise am sorry that I haven’t written but my reasons are somewhat different. I even tore one up that I had written because it was fucked up. Also, I’m not trying to keep the correspondence on a one-for-one basis.

First, don’t tell me about not being able to leave. You, at least could if you wanted to, get in your little pink car, say screw it, flip a BA at fading Pullman and go off into the world to make your fortune. (Of course it wouldn’t be long before general Hersey came calling, but at least you have a choice.) I absolutely can’t leave. I am under official orders telling me against all human logic to stay in one of the most unsafe, unhealthy dunghills in the entire world. I can’t even catch a bus ride to Bien Hoa on my day off because I have duty and travel restrictions (an “E” prefix on my AFSC – Air Force Specialty Code – which looks like: E8054) because they think that I know too much and cannot be allowed to be put in a situation more liable to capture than Saigon. This means that I am on a treadmill which must make 365 revolutions before I can get off.

At least I’ve somehow reconciled myself to this. For awhile I didn’t think that I was going to be able to do so; I was really on the ragged edge of insanity. Now I just float through the whole situation, hoping no-one will say much to me because if he does I will lash out and try to destroy him. The only people I can tolerate are the ones who become irrational when they talk about being here. This is, truly, the only rational way to react here, which may go to show ou how much of a paradox everything is. I want to destroy the ones—the vast majority unfortunately, who want to “make the best of it, and take things as they come.” This, fat, satisfied complacency can only be defined in terms of what Conrad wrote about. These are the ones who have no trouble coursing through life because they never perceive anything. They don’t really act, they merely flow along the stream. They are unruffled, but by the same token they never participate in life because they never see it or find it.

Seriously, there is a drastic need for someone to take a real stand. But no one has. No one apparently will. While Johnson mumbles of a bitter long struggle (if that is any sort of a definition) military men talk of a situation that is “bigger than all of us.” God damn it, it isn’t bigger than all of us. If someone would just have the guts to do something, we could begin to accomplish something. You will notice that there is a trend toward accepting Bob Kennedy’s thesis of talking to the NLF since they constitute “A” (possibly “THE”) legitimate voice of the Vietnamese people. This is a sign of hope, but why did we have to wait so long? Why can’t we have somebody as president who is capable—like Kennedy.

(Incidentally I’ve got to take a parenthetical time-out here to say that this whole place just shook like an earth quake. Some B-52s just dumped a hell of a load of explosives someplace near here. Now they’re doing it again—5 minutes later. I guess here will be more too—Jesus, if that doesn’t run the V.C. to the conference table I don’t know what will—that is sort of ridiculous isn’t it?)

Speaking of things that are sort of ridiculous next winter when I get back, I want you and me and Doug to find a little crummy tavern, wherever we happen to be—you may be home for Xmas by that time. I want to sit there and drink beer and eat “o-cello special super-wonderful” sandwitches [sic], and play shuffle board, or whatever the game is and get obnoxiously drunk. I hope that my repeated reference to this type of thing in my letters doesn’t sound like random ravings because they are not. One of the major things that has gotten me through this horror show so far has been knowledge of the fact that I could return to controlled absurdity when I got back. The description of the action doesn’t come anywhere near telling its value. For instance sitting on a table taking turns drinking out of a ½ gallon pitcher and making lewd observations about the young ladies present could be pretty high schoolish. But when it is something totally spontaneous, totally without thought, just like waking from a dream and finding yourself doing something, I think it takes on a real value. If you’re doing something like this merely because at that moment it was what you wanted to do, it seemed natural, then it has a sort of legitimate meaning; it isn’t for appearance. Since these things that we do spontaneously always take such a rather macabre form they are of especial value to us. They allow us momentarily to transcend general life and all the “non perceivers” that I mentioned earlier; they allow us to sit back and let this stupidity go by, for awhile at least not affecting us. When I return from here, next to seeing my wife I need this, because there is no such reprieve available here; at least I haven’t found it.

I may have asked you before, but I don’t remember for sure and you haven’t answered me in any case, about Multnomah Law School. Just how useful would a degree from there be? Would one from the University of Washington be sufficiently more useful that it would be worth the extra trouble?

I was going to pick up a beginning accounting course with the U of Maryland extension Center here, but I found out that if I accepted financial assistance from the Air Force my obligation would be extended 24 months from completion of the course. Doing a quick about face I vacated the premises screaming and foaming at the mouth. I guess I’ll have to pick it up in my first year in law school.

Ruth seems to be getting along quite well; she has gotten high grades so far in her interior decorating course and is now taking a course in antiques also. This coupled with her experience at the rug and drape company should put her in a good position to get future jobs. Along these lines, one of the biggest moral uplifts since I’ve been here was something she said in one of her recent letters. A rough quote would be “I hope you don’t change your mind about law school because I think it is best for you and also what you want. You know by now that I will help in every way I can.” Somehow this makes life in the future begin to become more real. After being told for more than 2 years about the terrors of getting out of the Air force and going on “The Outside,” I guess it has had some effect upon me. Not having ever really had to make my way on “The Outside” I have no quick answers to these merchants of doom. All I know is that I don’t like the military and I want to be a civilian, at which they laugh derisively and all-knowingly. With Ruth giving me the concrete as well as moral backing that she is there is no doubt in my mind what is right. Actually there never was, but while I was more than willing to throw myself into the black, swirling unknown, of “The Outside,” I was a little reticent to do so to Ruth and the kids. This tour has solidified what I knew all along. Further it has given me some real confidence in myself, plus a conviction that I am needed in politics. I know I can do better than many or most of those now running the show; when I see messes like this I know that people like you and me are drastically needed. Perhaps salvation is just around the corner.

A final thought, one that I touched on before but didn’t amplify, is think long and hard about how you fulfill your military obligation. In fact let’s do some real serious analysis of this subject both drunk and sober this Christmas season. I hope you don’t think that I am getting nosey, because I am truly interested, and feel that I have some reason to consider myself an authority of sorts. We’ve got to consider the political necessity of the military, and what status this necessity entails. i.e., is being a 6 months reservist as good as being some sort of officer? We also have to figure that Vietnam service probably isn’t a necessity, because as time goes by I think this is going to become an albatross—not around the neck of those who participated, but definitely of those who instigated it. Thus, since it won’t be a question of your patriotism, but of your good sense, and since being here is probably the worst thing that could ever happen to a person, I think avoiding here would be wise. Anyway, there are a bunch of things to consider, and since I just stumbled into the military I think I have learned a little bit about what to do and what not to do.

A final thought is that I have heard, I guess obviously who from—Dick—that you are not looking as healthy as you might. Seriously, you don’t serve yourself or any of your friends or our cause by destroying your health at the age of 24. Once you do ruin it, it will never be properly restored. You ought to at least eat 2 good—not pizza—meals a day, either cooked by you or at a restaurant. Possible if you walked to and from the tavern it might help also. Remember that the day of the unattractive politician is over, and being half dead is hardly attractive.

I’ve put my nose into your business about as much as is possible, but possibly the closing will justify it to you:

A E K ∆ B


Monday, December 12, 2011

A Shift in Paradigms

My sisters and I have a custom that has now assumed a surprising number of years of continuity.

Three times a year, in proximity to our respective birthdays, we go to Schuckers at the Olympic for a leisurely lunch.

Often, for me, that lunch involves two of Schuckers’ wonderful – Tanqueray – martinis.

Those martinis make me expansive in my world view beyond my non-Tanqueray world view.

They sometimes cause me to commit to things that I would not otherwise have committed to.

Such was the case at our most recent Schuckers lunch, which happened to be in celebration of my most recent birthday.

“Why don’t you come to my place for Thanksgiving” I heard someone say.

My sisters had had a subset of what I had had to drink, so the assent was uniform.

No importance was assigned to the fact that we had been talking only a few minutes previous about the myriad childhood nightmares that had been our Thanksgivings when we had lived with our parents.

I invited and they accepted.

On balance the whole thing turned out really well. 

But that is not what I am posting about.

What I am posting about is a tangential occurrence to Thanksgiving, and an occurrence which may be of world changing consequence.

The event occurred the night before Thanksgiving.  I had just loaded the dishwasher to its upper capacity limit, had put the soap in the soap holder and had performed the intricate sequence of button pushings and door openings and closings that have in recent years become necessary to make the obviously failing, and no longer available for replacement control panel perform the task of starting a wash cycle.

Nothing happened.  “No problem” I thought.  In the years that the panel has been in the process of ceasing to work I have had many such aborted attempts, and always, with a little creative clicking of buttons and openings and closings of the latch the thing has always started.  But on this Thanksgiving Eve such was not to be the case.  No matter what I did, nothing started, and the glowing green cycle complete light happily continued to document the washer’s final successful cycle.

The panel had finally died.  “It picked a hell of a bad time” I heard a voice somewhat like mine but with a hysterical timbre to it say.  That same voice then said a number of other things which it would be impolite for me to recount.

I thought seriously of calling my sisters and cancelling Thanksgiving.  It was only the completely chicken shit nature of doing that that kept me from doing it.  But I really had no idea how I was going to deal with the mass of dishes produced by Thanksgiving food preparation and consumption.  I wasn’t even sure how I was going to deal with the full washer load that I already had.

In a moment of quiet rationality a thought occurred to me.  “How did my Grandmothers, who never had a dish washer ever get through Thanksgiving?”

No answer to that question immediately presented itself, but at least it allayed for a moment the increasing hysteria that had begun to descend upon me.  And in that lull I became atypically perceptive: the real problem with hand washing dishes is not the washing of them; that doesn’t take very long, and the time can be occupied fairly pleasantly with various mental wanderings and day dreams; the real problem is that there isn’t a dish drainer in existence that holds enough dishes; so one needs to do a few, put them in the drainer, and either dry them, or wait for them to dry, the former being time consuming and totally unrewarding, and the latter being so time consuming that more dishes are likely to begin to accumulate before the first batch of the base set have gotten dry.

And it was that revelation that presented to me as a follow up insight the obvious solution to the problem: the now dead dishwasher was a monstrously large dish drainer.  And the totally inadequate one then became a sort of bonus rather than a tool inadequate for the task.  In total I had plenty of dish drainer real estate.  All I needed to do was pull both dishwasher shelves out – there was still plenty of room to get around it – and put the washed and rinsed dishes in their accustomed washing stations.  The only difference was they were drying not washing.  What a concept.

I have gotten through Thanksgiving and every day since totally content with my wonderful large dish drainer.

I have no idea when or if I will ever replace that drainer with one that actually washes dishes.  It’s funny how many more entertaining and rewarding things one can find to do with a thousand dollars when one has a perfectly good, copious and eminently serviceable dish drainer.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Great Idea, Newt

Today I heard the best and most revealing idea yet from a republican Presidential candidate.

Newt Gingrich today was quoted saying that union janitors at our nation’s colleges and universities should be replaced by students.

He said that not only would that save money, it would also get the jump on preparing graduates for their post college careers.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Musings of an Occasionally Fallen Away Democrat

A few facts need to precede the musings.

The first Presidential election in which I was old enough to vote was 1964.

I was in Officer Training School at Lackland Air Force Base.

I voted for Johnson.

In 1968 I voted for Humphrey. It was brutally difficult for me when I marked the absentee ballot (I was still in the Air Force) because I had watched, during the campaign which had preceded that ballot marking, my choice – Gene McCarthy – ruthlessly run out of contention by Robert Kennedy, and then had watched Kennedy – whom I had, by then, decided to vote for - gunned down in Los Angeles, leaving Humphrey. That posed for me a major problem. Humphrey seemed to me to be complicit in the war that had made Johnson not be running and had made me to be in the Air Force. That being in the Air Force was a state of being instead of doing what I had wanted to do after graduating college. That complicity, or my perception of that complicity, had made that mark on that ballot one of the hardest things I had ever done to that point in my life. But on election night – faced with the nightmare reality of a Nixon presidency - I actually started getting excited as Humphrey seemed to be pulling away in the popular vote. Nixon was, to me, as close to the devil incarnate as I had ever seen.

In 1972 I voted for McGovern.

In 1976 I voted for Ford. Carter made no sense to me. I was – as history seems to have revealed – just too stupid to see the brilliance of the man. Ford did the right thing for the country, I felt, in pardoning Nixon. In spite of fits of vindictive joy at the prospect of Nixon being tried for treason, I felt, after each such fit, that pardoning was by far the best thing for the country. And Ford seemed stable.

In 1980 I voted for Reagan. When I was in Vietnam, as the 1968 Presidential election had begun to to loom in the distant future – I was in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967 – I was depending upon the Republican Party to nominate either Rockefeller or Reagan. As a member of the team in Saigon whose mission it was to document the existence of Lyndon’s light at the end of the tunnel I had had a belly full of lies from that President. After all, I helped manufacture the data upon which those lies were based so I knew where those lies were buried. That revelation – my preferences for choice in the upcoming election – shows that I was clearly beginning to have, even as early as 1967, major misgivings about the way the Democrats were running things. (One of my personally invented truisms was “FDR is easy to simulate but impossible to duplicate”.) But the Republicans gave me Nixon. So it took 13 years and Carter on offer for the second time for a stark choice – for the second time (it was Carter in the first time, also) to run me into the Republican camp. At least I was falling away with a candidate for whom I had 13 years earlier felt an affinity. And Ford had already gotten me actively past the near occasion of sin stage to the actual act of the sin. So 1980 was easy.

In 1984 I voted for Reagan.

In 1988 I voted for Bush. I was laboring under the fantasy that Reagan had made the world a safer and better place, and I interpreted the “Points of Light” speech to be Bush’s commitment to making the United States a better place for everyone that lived here. But I gave him only one term.

In 1992 I voted for Perot. Bush didn’t get it done and I couldn’t see how Clinton had a chance of accomplishing anything. I actually thought Perot might have a chance. The state of the country was so bad that Perot, with his desire to sit down with a “blank sheet of paper “ and start over, seemed to me to have what America – if only its citizens were listening – needed; so I thought Perot had a chance. But no one was listening.

In 1996 I voted for Dole. Clinton was still the other choice and I hadn’t seen anything to change my 1992 mind.

By 2000 the Republican Party – the party of Hatfield, Lindsay, Rockefeller, Evans, McCall, and many other rational, decent people, had morphed into a crazed fascist/Neanderthal/christian cult. Since then they have gone downhill every election cycle.

In 2000 I voted for Gore.

In 2004 I voted for Kerry.

In 2008 I voted for Obama.

Today in The Week I read a snippet titled “The GOP: Growing Panic on the Right”. The Week is a digest of what has happened in the world during the seven days prior to its publication. It is brilliantly edited, and seems to be balanced: each digested recount of a happening is made up of editorially arranged quotes and paraphrased continuations of those quotes that tell a (usually) two sided story about whatever is being presented.

“Panic on the Right” nets out to the following: there isn’t anybody on offer from the republicans that is of the sort to win the presidency and to subsequently be President and that is obvious; but, that aside, Romney is going to win the nomination and win the presidency.

I had long before come to that grim assessment of the situation.

But wait, there is, and always has been, more.

In the process of my seeing and hearing everything that has been involved in my coming to the same assessment as the digested presentation of The Week I have gone through, what is for me, the inevitable urge to stray from the Democrats – when I am given, what I deem to be compelling reasons for straying. And Obama has done an effective job of giving me those compelling reasons.

While under the influence of that urge to stray I have tried to decide who would be someone I would consider voting for from the republicans (now that they are a cult I now don’t capitalize the name of the GOP). The cavalcade of clowns that is currently vying for the nomination has one person who – in spite of his constant need to throw raw meat to the cult – makes a lot of sense and knows a great deal about the world and America’s place in it. But no one is listening to John Huntsman. Going outside the cavalcade, Chuck Hagel came to mind. But he hasn’t even tried to see if any one would listen. He knows better.

But then it came to me.

And the revelation that came to me allowed me to return to Obama, just as I had on that election night so long ago returned to Humphrey. And I return with that same burst of enthusiasm.

That revelation was: anybody nominated by the republicans, no matter how much he or she might know, or how much sense he or she might make, and no matter how much I might believe that he or she could get the country back on the right track, could not make it happen.

Anyone elected by a cult is beholden to that cult and must, needs be, push, promote, propose and support the beliefs and the policies of that cult.

And that is an America that I don’t ever want to see.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Random Thoughts With No Conclusion

As a general rule of thumb I believe that massive cutting of government spending now will put is in, or nearly in, a death spiral of layoffs, reduced tax revenues, cost cutting, layoffs, reduced tax revenues ... and so on.

So, I further believe that the cutting that is obviously absolutely necessary needs to be planned for a time when tax revenues are rising and jobs are increasing.

The Economist has a report in last week’s issue that names the biggest employers in the world. The US Defense Department is number one with 3.2 million employees, followed by (I’m not kidding) the Chinese Army with 2.3 million. Wal-Mart has 2.1 million.

I think that the Defense budget is between 400 and 500 billion (dollars).

I heard a guy from the Washington Post this morning who has written a book called – I think – Top Secret America. The book reveals a number of disquieting things about a shadow government/defense department that has risen up since 2001. Among the more disquieting, the author says that if this shadow were to be accounted for the defense budget would be 1.4 trillion (dollars).

But who knows.

I live on Social Security and IBM retirement. I fund special things with IRA distributions. Those distributions cost me 25 – 30% in taxes depending upon their size. I’m not a millionaire. But I am paying a rate that we all know would amount to class warfare if any of our poor millionaire brethren were asked to pay at a rate anywhere near similar to that.

But then they haven’t had any government provided bonuses in the last couple of years, either, so I guess times are really tough for them. So I guess it makes sense for me to pay and for them not to. Holding back their government provided bonuses is surely all the class warfare that they can be expected to tolerate.

But back to cutting.

So where do we cut? For example,does anybody really know anything about the – apparently – off the books 600 billion (dollars) that our annual defense costs in addition to the on the books 400 –500 billion (dollars)? Or does anybody really know anything about that on the books half trillion (dollars)? If they don’t know about it how can they cut it? If they do know about it and they can cut it do they know how many jobs in how many industries that cutting will eliminate?

Does anybody really care?

I think it’s just too much fun for them all to dance around their various campfires shouting cut, cut cut, prior to heading off to their government provided dining rooms and athletic facilities to expect them to know or care about anything that fringes the edges of reality.

I heard an interview on To The Point this morning between two differently view pointed people about Social Security. Net net, one of the guys said that with rational and minor adjustments the program is solvent for now and beyond. The other guy said it was just a Ponzi scheme with a safe full of IOUs. The first guy pointed out that the so called IOUs were really US Treasury Bonds. The second guy said that you could call them what you want to but they are worthless. If I had been the first guy I would have asked the second guy if he thought that we ought to keep that fact – the worthlessness of US Treasury Bonds - a secret from the Chinese.

But he didn’t think of it. And Warren Olney hadn’t asked me to be part of the interview.

The second guy also thinks that today’s young people should be allowed to put their Social Security money in an IRA managed by financial professionals. I have most of the pittance that I possess beyond Social Security and IBM in one of those.

Its track record had made Social Security look pretty good.

I guess the kids need to learn that not all Ponzis are created equal.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

So Rare

Jimmy Dorsey has been on my mind recently.

I don’t know why. He has just kept creeping into my reveries.

I was telling a friend recently that it wasn’t Ed Sullivan who gave Elvis his first exposure to national television.

It was the Dorsey Brothers. They had Elvis on their Saturday night variety hour substantially before most people had ever heard of him. After the Dorseys everybody had heard of him.

I always watched the Dorseys on Saturday night with my parents. I watched because I loved the brothers, their story and their music. I guess that love had started when I first saw the movie The Fabulous Dorseys. For me that movie was a magic exit to somewhere that I would have liked to have been rather than the place and time in which I actually existed. Seeing the vestiges of that magic on the Saturday night show was a weekly escape for me.

And I savored that time each week.

I was just settling into my Dorsey trance one Saturday evening when Jimmy made an announcement. He said something like “now the young man that all the girls have been waiting for…”

I had missed the Sinatra phenomenon so I had no referent for the reaction that elicited from all the young women in the audience. There was an overwhelming and massive wave of screaming.

Before I had fully absorbed that fact, Jimmy went on. “Here tonight, ( I couldn’t tell what he said next but I thought it was ‘Elmer Pickle’, or some such sounding name) is…”

The screaming ascended several levels and some guy came running out and started jumping around and contorting his body and face and making sounds such as I had never heard.

My parents went crazy.

They thought he was great.

I thought they WERE crazy.

It took me months to catch up with them.

But I did.

And so did the world.

Before the show was over Tommy announced that Elvis would be back the following week as guest Master of Ceremonies.

And a star had been spawned.

I said at the outset of this post that Jimmy has been on my mind.

The recurring touchstone for those thoughts on Jimmy has been So Rare, his last hit single.

I bought it from iTunes last night and have not been able to stop playing it.

I looked at where iTunes placed him in my music library.

He resides between Jimmy Buffett and Johann Sebastian Bach.

How fitting.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Adventures with Ambien and other Stories: A Review

Screw-loose can be bad. Or screw-loose can be good. Then again, screw-loose can be a conscious literary decision made by a writer.

In the case of Adventures with Ambien by Lin Laurie screw-loose is two of those things.

Lin has written a book of experiences, observations and feelings with which most of us would be familiar (perhaps more women than men).

And a book that only fit that description would probably not have been very interesting or very entertaining.

But Lin has chosen to add something to the mix. She has chosen to wrap the whole tale in an envelope of beautifully screw-loose abandon that keeps one turning pages, occasionally shouting in derision, sometimes shouting in despair and sometimes, following a shout with a heartfelt laugh.

So, in the case of Adventures, screw-loose is both a good thing and also a conscious and effective literary decision made by the author.

Adventures with Ambien and Other Stories is an easily likeable and easily readable 181 pages.

You can buy it on Amazon, either in book or electronic form, and at also in either format.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

It’s Pickle Time

For the last few years at that time of the year when the cucumbers are getting to be about the size of dill pickles a disparate group from various parts of Portland and its greater metropolitan area (an area in which I include Seattle) begin to stir themselves from whatever other things may have been occupying their typically brief attention spans.

They begin to think of pickles.

The reason for those stirrings have never been clear to me. From such discussions as I have ever been able to have with other members of the group (in addition to being short of attention span, they are also a taciturn lot)  it is apparent that the reasons for the annual migration are equally opaque to them.

For whatever reason, or perhaps no reason, we all just begin an annual migration to Northeast Portland about this time of the year.  That – Northeast Portland - is from whence an inventory of ambrosia-like dill pickles emanates each year. 

That emanation refills the pickle larder of each of us.

The fact that each such larder by this time of the year has been sorely diminished, or has disappeared altogether, may be the reason for the stirrings of each of us to the home of the magic pickle.

But who knows.

There are many tales to be told in relation to these annual stirrings, and this year I intend to tell them all.  Four Months in Paris will, for a brief time be dedicated, not to political ravings, or stories from le 6iem, but instead, only to stories related to the annual pursuit of the pickle.

A couple of those incidents, and therefore tales, have already occurred. 

But I am getting ahead of myself.

pickle label for 2011

Monday, August 8, 2011

Please, Please, Please Wisconsin

Recall all six of those fucking Tea Party Republicans.  And then get rid of the re-incarnation of Hitler – good old boy Scott Walker.

They are slippery, but they can be caught.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Portland Mayor’s Race

Max Brumm is running for Mayor of Portland.

And his opponents – the ones so far announced – don’t seem to have a lot of ideas.

So they are co-opting Max’s ideas.  And as they co-opt Max’s ideas, they, of course, don’t make any attribution.  Attribution would admit that there is a candidate named Max Brumm.

And that, they must feel, would be a mistake.

It is better to just pretend that no such person exists.

Max Brumm is a viable candidate for the job of mayor of Portland Oregon..

How do I know that?  Instinct mainly.

But I have known him for quite some time and I have noticed that he always means what he says. 

And that is, from my point of view, an important characteristic in a leader.  And what he has said, and, therefore, what he means, are ideas that could be important for the City of Portland.

That is probably why his opponents are beginning to offer up his ideas as their own.

And that just isn’t right.

His opponents apparently are scared to death of what Max Brumm is. That is because: he has no history; he has no interest groups; he has no money. He is just the raw sort of politician that – in the old days – used  to win elections - before money and party - became the only names of the game.

So what are Max’s opponents saying about him?

How interesting.

They aren’t saying anything about him.

In fact, they are ignoring him.

But – as they ignore – they adopt.

They adopt Max’s propositions to the voters of Portland.

And therein lies a tale.

So, let’s look at it.

Max said, when he announced in April – he was the first – that he had four issues and a slogan.  The slogan would be the banner; the issues would be what he would carry forward as part of his administration’s to-do items. They were:

1. The Max Banner: “Change Starts at the top”

2. Issue One: We need efficient City Infrastructure

3. Issue Two: The Pot is the Pot.  Switching Money Around Doesn’t Change the Amount Available.

4. Issue Three: Parks are a disgrace.  They need to be turned into something that a world class city would consider to be acceptable.

That was April.

This is July.

So what is different?


Max now has two opponents. 

And they won’t admit that they are running against a nineteen year old who is serious.

But what they have begun to decide to say would seem to indicate that they have noticed Max and have discovered the issues that Max has made part of his campaign from the start. Here is what they are now saying, long after Max first said it.

!. The Food Lady says we need to change things at the top.

2. The food lady also says that we need more city infrastructure.

3. The Stephenson Guy says that we can’t keep moving money around.

4. The Stephenson Guy also says that we need better parks.  (So, why is somebody from Washington in this race anyway?)

As an interested observer from Seattle (so do I get to run also) I just wanted to point out an apparent electoral oddity: the best candidate in the Portland Mayor’s race is being treated as if he were invisible.

Luckily Max is highly, in fact, visible.  And to date he seems to be the one with the ideas.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Difference

It is astounding, sometimes, to me.

“It”, that is, is  the difference between me and my wife.

Back before we both became unemployed via that euphemistic transitional term – retirement – we were both gainfully employed for quite a number of years.  As it happened, we both worked for the same company.  We both worked for IBM.  As it turned out, the fact that we both worked for that company had a great deal to do with – everything really – the fact that we ever became married. 

It’s hard to imagine, in the face of some of the stresses that the fact of that mutually shared employer imposed on us, how we could still be married. 

But we are.

Self serving history aside, the point to what I had set out to write when I first set out to write whatever it is that is still to be written, is that I am writing that she and I – my wife and I – are diametric beings.

I just had  my nose rubbed in that fact as recently as an hour ago.

She was going back to Seattle.

I am staying on the island with Bert. 

Bert needs to be stayed with because Bert is a cat. 

Cats have many qualities that make them quite independent.  Several of those qualities aren’t scooping the poop from their cat boxes and feeding themselves after their bowls have become empty. So if you have a cat, and Bert is a cat, you need to consider their strengths and their weaknesses (I prefer to think of the weaknesses as unique requirements) when you think about travelling.

Bert brings to the table some non-cat related special requirements.  He is really old.  We don’t know how old because he joined us from somewhere – some house up above ours in rich people’s land - on the upper side of our back garden in Seattle.  Our best guess is that he lived with someone who had died. That best guess continues with the belief that whoever it was that, subsequent to that assumed death, settled the assumed dead person’s affairs, had no place for Bert.

We have no idea, obviously, what his – the cat’s - real name is.

So – as our self-invented myth of Bert recounts - he came down and insinuated himself into our lives.

And that insinuation was gradual. 

Bert is a politician.

That was in 1998.  Bert must have been, the vets tell us, four or five years old at the time.

But back to the point of this story. 

That point being the difference between me and my wife.

She spent a good part of the afternoon packing her car for the trip back to Seattle.  Most of what she was packing was recycling and garbage.  We prefer not to burden the island with our detritus. 

Besides we pay for two addresses to the City of Seattle for taking stuff like that to wherever the City takes stuff like that.

But there were a few other – more crucial – things that needed to be packed. 

The strawberries that we had picked this morning were among those things.

She left about an hour and fifteen minutes ahead of ferry departure time which was really unlike her but she really wanted to make that ferry.

After she left I went out and planted some chard to backfill that which we have already consumed.

I also planted a couple lettuces. 

That was not a backfill.

That was a pale rider of an imitation of the massive crop of lettuce – in all its amazing plethora of forms – that is going to seed much faster than is our ability to consume it.

Having planted those things, the weather having been quite dry, I attached the hose to the faucet and started to water everything, starting with the herbs, catnip and lettuces.

It was quite pleasant.

The water that runs out of the head of the sprayer and the water that runs out of the place where the asymmetrically deformed male joint of the hose  (sorry, I don’t know how else to describe the mechanics of this) is connected to the sprayer.  Most of that water could and was directed to the various plants that had become amazingly dry in the last 36 hours or so.  However, the non-sprayed-to-the-plants water – the water that came out of the head and out of the joint with the hose – of course had to go somewhere, and it wasn’t to the plants.  That somewhere where the water had to go turned out to be my shoes, and all over my pants.

But what the hell.

I was just finishing filling my shoes and wetting my pants while at the same time watering the last of the driftwood delineated beds that we have planted with all sorts of vegetable delicacies when a car came shooting down our driveway.

It’s not a driveway, it is a very short gravel road, but driveway is the easiest thing to call it.

The window of the car was down.

My wife was in the car, which shouldn’t have surprised me because the car was her car.

“I forgot the strawberries” I heard floating over the air between me in the garden and the going-down-the-driveway car.

“Shit” I said to myself, on her behalf.

Replete with that guilt that can only come from empathy – and love – I thought to myself “why didn’t I just stay in the house?  She must have called and I could have taken the berries to her and she could have kept her place in line at the ferry dock.”

But I had been planting and watering. 

So she had needed to make a decision.

And therein lies the point to this story – the point with which I commenced this story.

That point was, and is, the difference between us.

I, had the identical misfortune befallen me, would have sat in line, cursed, railed against my ancestors, the fates, the gods, the leadership in Washington DC and the administration of the Washington State ferries.

But I would have stayed in line.

I have no idea what, if any, verbal externalization my wife might have indulged in.

But, because she appeared coming down the driveway at about the time that the ferry probably should have been loading, I know that she hadn’t stayed in line.


I called her on her iPhone about ten minutes after the ferry must have departed.

To my surprise she answered.

“She must be in line waiting for the eight o’clock” I thought to myself.

“Hi, where are you?”

“I’m on the ferry.”

I couldn’t have done that.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Email Musings in Response to an Imaginary Friend

I just finished dinner.  It was a filet of sockeye salmon from Alaska and a salad made from lettuce we have grown here on the island. I also had some steamed broccoli from an unknown source.

It – the dinner - was assisted by the better part of a bottle of cheap cabernet sauvignon from Columbia Crest.

At dinner’s completion I felt fortified enough to come back to your email, which I received earlier today.

I am really glad that you are drinking. 

I may not be quite so glad about the spirit, or quantity that you appear to be bringing to the project, but the base fact is, I believe a positive one. 

But then I voted for Ronald Reagan. 


So I probably shouldn’t be commenting on anything, let alone something as important as the balance of someone’s life.  Especially when that balance belongs to someone important to me, and important despite the massive multi-year silence that for reasons I can’t understand descended upon the relationship. 

So why should I be telling that person, that relationship, that drinking (again or still?) is a good thing? 

Instinct, I guess.

I know not, except from my own self concept, but I THINK that a lot of us feel as you do.

If you were to read Screen Saver from front to back sequentially, I believe you would see that that is how I feel – that we  - you and I, among a small host that I know of - should have been acknowledged to have been, or maybe even were, more significant than the fates have given us credit for. 

I just choose to say “what the fuck” and keep forging ahead, either toward oblivion or toward fame. 

Given the time left, and my track record to date, the latter seems more likely.

As for you, you apparently have chosen to brood.

I think both approaches to the problem have their place.

In any event, I am glad that someone is actually reading my memoir, albeit cafeteria style.

I think I’ll finish the wine.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Death Revisited

In Screen Saver I recount two times that I think that I have died. 

One of them was fairly recent: it was in 2007, I think. 

Anyway, it was when I had to stay in bed for six weeks to recuperate from foot surgery.  That time I wasn’t actually in bed when the occurrence occurred; I was in a chair in the living room lifting weights to keep from going crazy and to keep from becoming a disgusting pool of flab.  That time I just went elsewhere and didn’t return for a short period of time and had some frolics of fancy in my absence.

The more recent experience was substantially more strange than its predecessor.

Today I had it’s twin.  That is, I had the twin experience to the more recent of the two. And it was equally strange.

If you were to read Screen Saver you would know about both of the predecessor experiences and be able to evaluate their relative strangeness for yourself.

The one today was as follows.

I was about 7 miles into a great – it turned out to be, 16 mile bike ride - and I  suddenly discovered that I was somewhere else and fading.  I won’t belabor the rest of the story, although it is fairly interesting, as much as I am able to remember it. 

The end of the story is that I think I have returned.from wherever it is that I had lapsed to, although things – things such as who and where I am - continued to ebb and flow for most of the rest of the day.

All things considered, I like still being here.

But if there is good wine and stuffed zucchini from Vita’s in some other place, and if we go there when we finally fade, I guess going won’t be so bad. 

Especially if my wife is there.

She doesn’t believe in this shit that I keep having happen to me.

An that is a comforting counterbalance to my vestigial Roman Catholic fears of an afterlife.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ollie the Eagle and the New York Times

Since the last post Ollie has been in the land of the missing.

We want to hope that that is good news.

We want not to hope that that is bad news.

But we just don’t know.

After sitting on the beach with his back turned to us, and to the salmon that we had put out for him to eat, he flew off with surprising vigor.  So maybe what we want to hope is more likely than what we want not to hope. 

But we just don’t know. 

But apparently we can be sure of something else.

The New York Times, having been declared to be dead, or at best, moribund, seems to be doing quite well on the Island. 

At least, that can be said, about the Sunday edition.

Only a few weeks ago the local market decided to sell the Sunday New York Times.  If the paper were dead, or moribund, that decision should have stirred up vast quantities of buyer apathy.

That hasn’t been the case.

We got to the market at 0930 last Sunday and got the last New York Times. 

They had been on sale for an hour and a half. 

Dead seems to be a description that just doesn’t fit the state of the paper.  Or at least on our island, the New York Times is alive and sold out every Sunday.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ollie Update From My Wife

Tuesday AM.  We found the eagle on the beach beyond the trail.  His appearance was very disheartening (see below).   He was lying in the sand, appeared scruffy, moved stiffly, and pooped a few times.  Imagine if you'd slept all night on the beach, and you'll have a pretty fair image of how he looked.  We put out some salmon, but he was not interested.  So as not to further disturb him, we left a short time later.

Tuesday PM.  After the disappointment of the morning, we were relieved to find him sitting on a log looking somewhat better.  We were able to approach quite close and put down over a pound of salmon on a log.  As soon as I withdrew a short distance, he flew to the salmon, inspected it, and began wolfing it down.  Check out this youtube video for an amazing movie about 19 minutes long...the real action begins about 3 minutes in).

In previous emails we discussed his injured RIGHT leg.  After watching him and watching the video, we have concluded it's his LEFT leg that's the problem.  He limps badly when he walks and appears to lack the strength in his left leg to effectively hold fish while shredding with his beak.  Watching him limp is heart-rending, but he's a game fellow.  Although still dirty and dishelved, he seemed more alert and energetic.  After he'd eaten most of the salmon, we withdrew.  We were probably 30' from him, but with the zoom lens we might as well have been on top of him.

Wednesday PM.  He was much farther down the beach, sitting on a log.  We approached to within 20'; he looked a little nervous but didn't fly.  This time we put out turkey breast.  He watched, but didn't come to inspect.  A couple of times he buried his beak in his breast and wing--is this the beginning of preening?  We formed the impression that he was looking and listening to whatever might be in the trees up the hill.  He's still limping badly on the left leg.  A couple of eagles flew overhead screeching.  We thought they might be what he was listening to.  We reclaimed all but two pieces of turkey breast.  Just as we were leaving he took off (flying pretty strongly) and disappeared into the trees.

Thursday PM.  We had to go three hours earlier than normal feeding time.  We found him on the beach just south of the fallen blackened Madrone tree.  He was sitting on driftwood but flew when I approached to put out the food, landing on a branch in a nearby tree .  He was still favoring his left foot and trailed it when he flew.  Unfortunately our timing has not been good enough to catch him flying.  We put down three large salmon filets, which he seemed to see from his perch in the tree.  Uncharacteristically, he turned his back to us and refused to come down to eat.  After a short time we left while he was still in the tree.

ollie eating salmon for email 00001

ollie eating salmon for email 00002

ollie the eagle 062811 0000 email

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

More About Ollie

After the eagle with the broken wing that had been on our neighbor’s lawn just above our vegetable garden flew away, we just looked at each other for a moment or two.

Then we went back in the house.

As the day progressed we wondered more and more about whether the eagle that had been on the lawn was one and the same with the one we had discovered on the beach the day before.  We wondered if it had been Ollie.

Finally my wife decided to do something other than wonder about it.  She packed up some smelt that had been contributed by an acquaintance from an animal recovery organization and headed south down the beach.

When she got back she said that she had seen the eagle and had left three smelt for him and had departed.  She didn’t know if the eagle had eaten the smelt, or even if eagles liked smelt.  It had been the best that she could do.  I thought that she had done pretty well.

Later that day, in the early evening, we both retraced our steps south.  We had the smelt with us just in case.  As we approached the place where she had left the smelt earlier in the day my wife found two smelt.  Maybe he had eaten one of them, we thought.

After a half mile or so we saw the eagle.  He was huddled in some driftwood with his back to us, but even from that view he cast a demeanor of misery.  We stopped and watched for awhile and decided to let him alone for the time being.  We decided to leave him alone for the night.  We thought that he had had enough stress for one day. We didn’t want to contribute any more of it for the day; we turned and departed.

As we got into the vicinity of our house the canine rocket – the one from the quarter a mile away domicile -  appeared.  He was galloping toward us. 

His master was a quarter mile back. 

I engaged the dog with some tricks that I have learned over the years.  (Those tricks were mainly desperation measures from the days when I used to run every early morning.  That running often took place in locations that I had gone to on business and with which I was totally unfamiliar.  That business travel coupled with running often led to unpleasant encounters with unpleasant dogs.  It once – at a brand new hotel on the outskirts of Dallas – involved an entire pack of dogs that decided that it would be fun to chase me down.  Desperation proved to indeed be the mother of invention on that early morning.  And what I did then has often worked with other dogs, subsequent to that encounter, when they have come after me.  Having trained, and hunted, and lived with - until he died at thirteen years old - a German Shorthaired Pointer, also imparted to me some skills in dealing with dogs.)

So I engaged this dog with all the artifices I had learned.  That kept him in front of me, not past me, going down the beach to the eagle.  Since I continued to walk toward him he kept backing up.

Ultimately my artifices and his backing up reaction to them put him, and me, and his master in close proximity.

An animated conversation ensued. 

Ultimately the dog and his master turned to the north leaving Ollie, or some other eagle, alone on the beach without the harassment of a dog. 

We returned home for the night.

We had a full day the next day leaving no time for checking on the eagle.

In fact, it wasn’t until the next day that we were able to find the time to go see if he was still in the area, still alive and still functioning.

One of our neighbors knew a different way to get to the beach from the one we typically choose.  That different way involved going into the woods up the road from us and going down a primitive trail to a set of steps that opened out onto the beach.  It was quite scenic en route.  When we got to the bottom we stopped for a moment to look around and talk.  I think the eagle was the farthest thing from our minds.

I know it was the furthest thing from my mind.

That was probably why I almost made a startled noise when I turned to face the woods and found myself looking into the eyes of the eagle. 

He was in a tree just in front of me. 

And he was pretty surely Ollie.  I could tell from the dirty tone that dimmed the brilliance of the usually white head of a bald eagle.  His eyes were the same almost white yellow that we had seen previously. They were not the more golden yellow of a younger, healthy bald eagle.

“There he is” I uttered in a gasp turned whisper.  “Oh wow (or something like that)”.  “Let’s see if he will eat some smelt.”

Our neighbor and I moved back what seemed a distance appropriate to creating a comfortable buffer of space between us and Ollie. My wife stayed where she was.  She whistled at the bird as she opened the smelt sack.  She put several smelt down on a log as close to the tree where the bird was as she dared.  The bird just looked into the distance like one of our national leaders posing for Mt Rushmore.

My wife backed away to where our neighbor and I were standing. 

The eagle kept staring and looking presidential.

“Oh look.  He’s looking down.”

“And he’s getting ready to fly.”

As those words were spoken Ollie gathered himself and dropped down to the smelt.  He grabbed one and swallowed it.  Before long he had swallowed all of them. 

We felt really good.

We departed.

For the rest of that evening we discussed the apparently improving prospects for our injured eagle.  Having an appetite must indicate some reservoir of good health we thought.  And eating and getting nourishment must be going to have some ameliorative effect on his overall condition.

Or so we hoped.

The next morning we went to town and bought out the local butcher’s supply of crab bait.  It was mostly salmon skeletons left after filets had been taken.  There was quite a bit of meat still on those skeletons.   We had been told that eagles like scales and fins and heads and stuff.

We had lots of those things.

The acid test came that evening: could we find Ollie again and if we did find him, could we keep him from flying away while we spread his dinner; and would he eat the dinner once it was spread if indeed he stayed rather than fleeing?

We could; we did; and he did. 

As we stopped in front of a very large rock, or very small monolith, I turned and found myself staring into the eyes of a very familiar eagle.  He had been sitting there on the rock.  Was he waiting for us? 

We laid out a dinner of salmon.  

It was unbelievable.  We were standing not far away from an eagle tearing apart salmon skeletons and eating the pieces that he tore with gusto and relish.  I like to cook for myself and others.  I have never felt more culinarilly appreciated. 

We watched as the last vestiges of the salmon disappeared and then took our leave, north up the beach.

No dogs appeared and all seemed to be right with the world.  We had fed Ollie for the second night in a row.  How could things not turn out well, we asked ourselves.

The next morning we got some insight to the answer to that question.

We had decided that if one meal a day was good, two must be great.

So we headed out, about 0730, south down the beach.  We had decided against the trail because it had been raining and things in the closely hugging undergrowth were pretty wet.

We saw an eagle in a tree.  Then we saw another in the same tree.  One had been there and the other had just flown in.  We wondered if either, probably the first, was Ollie.  We looked at both through the binoculars.  We had just about convinced ourselves that the first one was Ollie when both took flight and went off into the nether regions to the south.

Neither had been Ollie.

After walking down the beach some more we hadn’t seen hide nor feather of our breakfast buddy, and we had stopped to assess the situation.  Just as we started, what we had just agreed to a not be about to be a very long continuation of our search, I saw him. 

It was just like every other time.  I suddenly phased from not seeing the eagle to seeing the eagle.  It was an almost ghostly transition from not there to there.

I said something really negative like “Oh no.”  Then I said “I think he’s dead”.

Just ahead of us, tail pointing our direction white head visible but half buried in the crumple of the rest of the pile of feathers that was his body was an eagle.  It had to be our eagle.  And he looked dead.  We slowed but continued.  After a few steps he stirred and sort of flopped, sort of hobbled away from us.  He wasn’t dead but he didn’t look good.

We laid out some food, but his back was to us and we didn’t hold out much hope for his eating it.  We left and went home with hearts substantially heavier than any time in our relationship with Ollie.

That then leaves only last evening to account for.  The best way to tell that tale is to refer you to:

So far so good

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

An Eagle is Down

The day after the movie of the eagle that was featured in yesterday’s blog post we were having a late breakfast.  It would have been a late lunch for many, given the time – which was about 1330 – but it was our first meal of the day so it must have been breakfast.

The doorbell rang.

Our doorbell really is a bell.  It’s a lot like the ones employed in the old days by chuck wagon cooks.  It is bell shaped(not too surprising since that is what it is) and it has a ringer mounted up deep in its innards.  It is mounted on the right side of the dual doors that allow entry to the house. That doorbell ring, which consisted of several assertive swings of the ringer with its attached leather thong tether, was followed by a rapid and assertive series of knocks.  This whole deluge of sound was a first for me.  I had never heard the bell before.  I had never thought of it as a doorbell before.  I had thought that it was there to call the hands to dinner.  I have wondered since we got this place what ever became of those hands.

My wife answered the door.

It was a neighbor.

“May I use your phone for a 911 call?”

“Of Course!” 

And they both trailed back into the kitchen dining area.

That phone is a very valuable antique.  It is a blue Princess phone from the days when there were still phone cops.  We keep it prominently displayed on the window sill of the window looking out of our kitchen eating area at the next door neighbor’s fence.  The cord is just long enough to reach over to our massive mahogany plank dining table.  That makes it possible to put the phone on the dining table.  With the phone on the dining table one can sit in one of the dining chairs (actually they are part of the outdoor teak table and chair set but the wind precludes sitting out much so that table and those chairs have migrated indoors).  Having that table indoors allows it to be used for piling, sorting and categorizing magazines; and the chairs can be used as dining chairs.  Having those chairs inside and deployable as dining chairs makes it possible to put off the decision of what the correct type of dining chairs might need to be.

And that sort of suspension of decision is always a good thing. 

Anyway, all of these things – the chairs, the phone, the piles of magazines – are part of an intricate sort of habitat that we are creating for ourselves here on the island.

There are many parallel other components of that habitat.

To mention one: the phone is seldom if ever put on the dining table with its attendant dining chair (or outdoor chair to be completely accurate) allowing an office like configuration of phone, chair and table.  Instead, the phone is usually used from its accustomed place on the window sill.  That makes it possible, makes it likely, really, that in the course of using the thing it will be pulled off onto the carpet with a slightly muffled ring and crash. 

That keeps things like long distance calls short and keeps the phone bill down.

But anyway.

Our neighbor headed for the phone.  I said “good morning”.  He dialed the phone.  My wife said “may I ask what is the emergency?”  Our neighbor said “just listen to what I say to 911and you will discover this.”  I wondered if the guy was an IT Professional.

He told 911 that there was an eagle with a broken wing at an address which he gave them.  He listened to whatever it was that 911 responded with and then said that he needed somebody to come out and get the eagle.  He listened again and then said “great” or something to that effect and hung up. Then he turned to talk to us.  The phone fell to the floor with a muffled ring and crash.  I scooped it up and put it back on the sill.

Valuable antiques such as that Princess phone need that sort of immediate attention.

“Its up there” he said pointing in the direction of our vegetable garden.

We responded with some information about Ollie.  We asked a few questions trying to zoom in on the likelihood of the eagle with the broken wing being Ollie.  We both hoped it was Ollie, because an eagle with a broken wing could perhaps be caught and nursed back to health.  An eagle with two functioning wings was well nigh impossible to catch.  The likelihood of it being Ollie was indeterminate based on what our neighbor was able to tell us about the eagle he had seen and called 911 about. 

Our neighbor thanked us for use of the phone and took his leave.

A series of related phone calls, initiated by us, ensued over the next 15 minutes.  The upshot of those conversations was that there was no way in hell that 911 was going to send anyone out to catch an injured eagle.  One of the people we talked to did call some agency who would do that sort of thing but we were totally unclear as to when such a visit might occur.  In the meantime, Ollie, or some other eagle that was on the lawn just above our vegetable garden was at the mercy of the all the caprices the neighborhood could conjure.

One of those caprices could have been another neighbor’s dog. 

That dog lives a quarter mile away or so.  The dog takes off frequently from his quarter mile away home and races joyfully, barking gaily down to where our neighbor’s lawn, just above our vegetable garden, is.  I have been there several times in the garden or in our driveway as he has arrived from his slightly distant home. 

Invariably the scene is the same.

He stops. 

He takes a look at me. 

He starts barking frantically, making half hearted lunges in my direction.

I am in no way threatened by this. 

Nor am I in any way endangered. 

I am, however, consistently annoyed to the core of my being by this behavior. 

To cap it off, the dog’s master stands a quarter mile away shouting for the dog to return. 

The dog pays no attention.

My wife and I looked at each other.  “What if that dog gets out?” we could hear each other’s minds and hearts saying.

So she went up as quickly as possible to take up a vigil and hope to fend off any attacks by the quarter mile away canine projectile.  I followed as soon as I could get my camera out.

As I approached, my wife was above the eagle on the edge of our driveway.  She was kneeling in the grass watching.  I stopped substantially below her on the driveway.  I turned on the camera and started taking pictures. 

The eagle got nervous. 

The eagle raised his wings up and down a couple of times.

The eagle raised his wings one more time and flew off.

So much for the broken wing. 

He headed south as he broached the beach.  Just as he had passed south out of sight an immature eagle appeared and followed him south.

I couldn’t tell if the eagle on the lawn above our vegetable garden was Ollie.  I didn’t, and don’t, think that this one looked like the emaciated skeleton I had taken a video of the day before. So is it Ollie getting better from his malady?  Or is it an additional sick eagle?

What do you think?

sick eagle 062311 00005

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ollie the Eagle

Our Island has quite a number of eagles. Some of them may be golden eagles. Or they may be immature bald eagles. There are a lot of bald eagles. We have three that live somewhere near us. At dawn all three play top gun out over the water and back over our studio. There is a fourth that sometimes appears with the three. That is one that is almost certainly an immature bald eagle. That one has changed since I first saw it late last year from an all dark black-brown bird to a bird with some white beginning to show. It is apparently going through a molt from its baby colors to its adult colors.

So eagles are kind of a big deal in our lives here on the north side of the island. I have ridden my bike around enough of the island to know that there are a great many other eagles here in addition to “ours”. There are enough to – probably – cause the residents of the rest of the island to feel the same: “what a big deal to have bald eagles all around us”.

So when one of these eagles – not one of the three plus the juvenile that live near us, but one that must be part of a tribe down the beach a little to the south of us – came up with a broken leg, we were pretty unhappy about it. I’m sure the rest of the island would share that unhappiness if they knew about it. Maybe this blog post will let them know about it.

I doubt that it will because nobody reads this blog.

In any event, what started as a sad likelihood – people here don’t often get the facts wrong, but since we hadn’t actually seen the crippled bird we could hold out hope that the word of mouth that there was an eagle with a broken leg was only a rumor – became, for us, a grim fact the day we first saw it for ourselves.

My partner and one of our neighbors walked down the beach looking for the bird a day or two before I had come back to the island from town. The still hoped-to-be-rumor had indicated that the bird was living on the ground in the driftwood some distance down the beach from our habitation.

Unfortunately those two saw the bird. It had enough strength to fly up into a tree immediately off the beach behind where it had been sitting, but it hadn’t enough strength to go any farther. And they could see that it was dragging a leg as it flew.

When I got to the island a day later one of the first things we did was walk down the beach to see if Ollie – we had named him by then – was still in that general vicinity.

He was.

And he didn’t look good.

And I am posting a short movie I took of him.

And there is more to the story.

And it is still unfolding.

So stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Desolation Row

Somewhere on a reel to reel tape I have a copy of Highway 61 Revisited

I had borrowed the album from a friend.  I was in Saigon.  I had recorded it on my Sony reel to reel.  I had been in Saigon, was in Saigon, and as far as I could tell, was always going to be in Saigon (the Israelis picked my time in the “war effort” to start a war with Egypt and geopolitics, being what it always is, I was pretty sure that I would be trapped in Vietnam for the duration of my life) and I had not, at the point of the commencement of this little story, gotten “used to it”.

In fact I hated everything about America and its “war effort”.

I had not volunteered for Vietnam .  However the career military – I was career civilian -  uniformly did volunteer.  “It’s not much of a war, but it’s the only one we’ve got”.  I heard that so many times that I just wanted to puke.

But, not having been a volunteer, I had had some fairly deep feelings about Vietnam.

Here is a quote from a book I once wrote:

“I hadn’t volunteered for Vietnam. If one had any aspirations for an Air Force career, one put in one’s personnel records that one volunteered for Vietnam service as soon as possible. In my case that addition to my records would have occurred at Cannon. I hadn’t thought that I had any career aspirations, although even if I had I wouldn’t have volunteered. Volunteering looked too much like tempting fate. Besides, being in the military had meant that going to Vietnam was inevitable.

Having passed through the gate from civilian life to the military life had changed at some levels my pre-military perspectives. The inevitability of Vietnamese service wasn’t a problem for me; it wasn’t something that I felt burdened with; it wasn’t something that I had any inclination to try to avoid. I just didn’t think tempting fate made any sense.

My father had fought in the final stages of World War Two in Czechoslovakia. And millions of other Americans had also fought in various parts of the world starting in 1941, or before in the case of those who had joined RAF. And the world was different than it would have been if they had not fought, and I really believed that the world was a vastly better place as a result of their fighting than it would have been if they hadn’t fought. I really believed that it was my turn. I would have preferred to have had a world free of the obligation to go fight somewhere – a world where I could have continued singing and telling jokes with Joe and Dave in a youthful attempt at trying to be something that I had dreamed of for years - but that wasn’t the way the world was. It was clearly my turn. And once the wheels had turned in whatever way they were going to turn and I had gotten my orders to go I would go with, fear, yes, but shored by the certainty and the belief that nothing could abrogate the debt I owed to my father and his generation. The thing I had only begun to have the faintest inkling of, as I looked at this sardonic, grinning, paunchy Captain - 250 pounds of man stuffed into a 190 pound pair of khaki 1505s - was that this war might be different. This war might be an option, or, worse, a mistake. This war might have no real purpose. It didn’t seem to have had any real beginning and it might never have any real end. It just might be, had been, was and always would be. In Latin that description would have sounded like a prayer we Catholics called an ejaculation.”

The Captain referenced – I dubbed him Captain Cochon – was an officer who was lurking at a significant choke point of my “processing in” to Vietnam.  He was the person who, I thought, was going to tell me the threat to my country reason that I had packed my bags, left my wife, left my children, left my friends, left everything – really – to go join the war effort.  What he said was “well. we’ll see if we can’t find something for you to do”.

I snapped.

I never have never un-snapped completely. 

But as sometimes happens, I had, in the current issue of my life, done something that had something to do with that boring and sad old past: just recently I  bought Highway 61 Revisited  on iTunes.  And it was a Proustian moment when I played it for the first time. 

But it wasn’t until it got to Desolation Row that I remembered, on a level that is hard to describe, the hate that I had felt, and still do feel , for the people who had been in charge of that fiasco we call now the Vietnam War.  Of all of Bob Dylan’s songs, for me, at least, Desolation Row says more than I would have thought to been possible to say about a system that is so phony it needs a form of  vermin that we know as lobbyists.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Tombstone


Ruth and Noel and Joe and I went to Moscow Idaho one Autumn weekend. If you read Screen Saver you know that Ruth was my first wife and Noel and Joe were our sons. If you didn’t read Screen Saver, Ruth was nonetheless my first wife, and Noel and Joe were our two sons.

We went one time to Moscow to visit Jack and Ted. Again from Screen Saver, Jack was a close friend whom I had met in high school and who remained a close friend for a significant portion of the rest of my life; Ted was his roommate for awhile during their time in law school; Ted is still my friend.
We went to visit the site of their being roommates, a beautifully finished daylight basement apartment on Moscow Mountain, not far out of Moscow; Moscow is the home of the University of Idaho and the law school that Jack and Ted were attending.

The daylight basement apartment where they lived was the lower level of a recently built house belonging to Doctor Tenny, a professor in the English Department at the University. Doctor – inevitably he was called behind his back “Doc” – lived in the upper rest of the house with his wife.

The day we arrived we met the Doctor before we had found Jack and Ted. It was late mid-afternoon on a beautiful blue and gold shimmering October day. Doc Tenny was in the rather large driveway terminus that doubled as a parking pad directly in front of the windows of Jack and Ted’s apartment. Doc Tenny greeted us with almost courtly welcoming courtesy. The majority of that attention and courtesy seemed to be directed to Ruth, but that didn’t particularly surprise me. Ruth was thought by many people to look like Ingrid Bergman – I wasn’t one of them – and I assumed that the Doctor, a man in his seventies, didn’t often have attractive young blonde women as his guest. I quickly felt as if I were a hindrance to something, but that was a fleeting impression. One of the things I learned before leaving was that Ruth was certainly not of a scarce or unusual genre at the Doctor’s abode. He conducted an honors upper division literature class consisting mostly of young women not much different from Ruth, and part of the potential advanced credit curriculum involved visits to the Doctor at his domicile on the Mountain for in-depth literary analysis.

As a part of the welcoming pleasantries the Doctor gestured vaguely in the direction of what appeared to be an automobile. It must have been a 1957 Dodge, but it was somewhat hard to ascertain its exact lineage because where there once had been fins and fenders and lights there were dents and holes and bumps and roundness. Not long in the future from that October day the snows would come and, being on a mountain, the ice would follow. The garage and driveway during that time of the year became a place requiring caution, and caution was a thing that the Doctor, it seemed, lacked. Old Overholt apparently made a bad time of the year for driving not seem so bad at all; apparently due to that spiritual influence, the Doctor’s car had gradually become a shapeless lump of dented and rounded sheet metal. Jack and Ted said watching him get the vehicle out of the garage and launched out of the parking apron, down the mountain-trail-like driveway to the main highway was an experience not to be missed; the return, they said was equally exciting. The essence of the fins could still be perceived, which is how I knew that it was a Dodge; it was a well used vehicle.

The gesture to the lump-like automobile was accompanied by a running dialogue in something resembling drunken Elizabethan (or at least not contemporary American) English. “Behold yonder stands the noblest of steeds. She carries me unto battle and victory over the stanchions of evil.”
Noel and Joe were beginning to pay attention. Ruth didn’t know what to say. Nor did I. With murmurs from the two boys – murmurs of something between admiration and caution – and silence from Ruth and me, he continued. “I gainsay those who call her a cheval qui a la coeur brisé. She is merely reaching her threshold of greatness.”
With that he lurched toward the steps leading to his portion of the domicile. “Join me, children, in the curtilage for an imbibement. “ And up and in he went.

We were just looking at one another, wondering what to do next and wondering where our friends and hosts were when they appeared.

“We saw you coming and saw him out there and decided the only proper entrance for you – since such an opportunity was available – was for you folks to get a shot of the Doc unfiltered. You would have thought we were making it up otherwise,” said Ted. He was something of a poet. “He invited us in, and that isn’t an invitation to be taken lightly,” said Jack.

“What dost thou desire, fair damsel?” boomed across the large great room-with-massive-fireplace. Ruth being the only damsel present, I assumed the Doctor was addressing her. “Gin and tonic?” she asked. “Your every wish shall be granted,” rejoined Doc Tenny. And he set about making one.

As we all sat around talking, and drinking - Jack and Ted and I had helped ourselves to beer from the refrigerator, and the Doctor had poured a large tumbler of Irish without ice – time just seemed to pass. In spite of the awkwardly surreal nature of the encounter to that point, I had to admit, and I assumed the others had had to as well, that the Doctor was a good host and terribly entertaining.

After some time and some drinks he began to speak in a more contemporary manner. “ I have a treasure in the trunk of my car that I rarely share with others, but for this august group, I would like to make an exception.” Ted and Jack just looked at one another. I saw a flash of something pass between them, but I had no idea what it might be. “Yes, after our next re-fill we must go out; we must go out before darkness settles upon us, and I will show you my treasure.” And then we did another round.

Once out on the twilit parking apron, the Doctor moved to what must have been the rear of the amorphous mound of metal that was his automobile, and with a flourish withdrew a key, shakily thrust it in the direction of what was most probably the trunk and a piece of flattish metal popped up at a forty five degree angle.

In the waning light one could see a mass of things, but there was one thing of note. It was the biggest thing in the cavity: it was about three feet in length, eighteen inches in width, was curved on one end and was flat on the other end. It appeared to be made of stone. It was a tombstone.

“I found this in the woods several years ago, and I want it to adorn my grave when I’m gone. It sums me up better than I could have ever contemplated doing myself. I doubt even if Marian would have done as well.” And he, with grimaces and grunts – it was, indeed made of stone – horsed the thing out of the trunk and leaned it against his leg so that all could see. In the rapidly waning light it was still possible to read the chiseled words: “He Was A Good Woodsman”.
Thinking about this story and then telling it as I just have completed, from the vantage point of all of those intervening years has caused me to ponder what might be my exit line, my epitaph. And, I think I have it:

He Nearly Accomplished Quite A Number Of Things

Halloween Story Part Thirty Seven

It must have been somewhere between the years 1600 and 1700 when the giant oak came down.

A team of woodsmen had been dispatched to cut it down and hew the massive trunk into timbers that could be used as structural members in the buildings that were going up all over Paris.

But bringing it down had not been easy.

First, the very thing that made its harvesting a desirable action, that thing being its massive size had come close to being the undoing of the project.  The tree had clung to the rocky ridge of an outcropping from whence it had emerged from an acorn randomly abandoned by some ancient squirrel for so many centuries that its trunk possessed a diameter – the woodsmen soon discovered – far greater than the length of any cross cut saw known to be in existence.  This they had discovered to their chagrin when first they had dragged the massive and heavy blade that they did possess up the difficult, rocky, slippery and very steep incline that allowed them to gain access to the base of the tree.

The blade was probably ten feet in length.  It was far short of being able to do much more than enter the first few feet of the trunk.  That initial attempt had created a nasty and perhaps fatally deep gash in the ancient giant’s trunk, but it had not come close to severing it completely through.  The woodsmen had considered trying to put an equally deep cut into the opposing side of the trunk but the drop off from that side to the ravine below made such an endeavor impossible unless one were able to invoke some form of levitation.

So the tree was wounded, but spared, from that initial attempt.  And with winter coming on, the tree was left to preside over another of the uncountable winters that it had endured and survived.

But that would be its last.

The woodsmen did not rest that winter.  They were hard at work on a much bigger blade.  Before they had left the giant for the winter they had measured what would be needed in size from a blade to be able to re-enter the cut already started and make it all the way through to the other side.  They assumed the tree would come down somewhat before the saw had cut completely through, but they didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

They visited every smith that they knew.  It was surprising how hard it turned out to be to be able to acquire a sheet of iron the size that they needed.  A number of smiths said that they could provide the thing, but they all failed to deliver what had been promised.  They were all either too short in the final analysis, or if long enough they were made of two or more pieces that had been hammered to appear as a functionally single piece, but their seams told the true story: under the stress of the almost endless back and forth that would be necessary to complete the cut the seams would heat and they would fail.  The woodsmen were not smiths, but they knew the intricacies of their trade so well that they knew that a hammered seam would not stand up to the stress of their intended mission.  Only a single continuous sheet of iron would allow them to craft the blade that they needed.

As the winter deepened and their ability to acquire the blank that they needed from which to create the great blade that would fell the great oak they began to despair of success.

It was then that Luc, the younger of the two woodsmen brothers, heard of a sort of wizard or alchemist who made a metal from iron, but once made it really wasn’t iron any more.  He wasn’t a smith and he wasn’t inside the walls of Paris.  He was a short distance outside of the walls in a place that had a small stream and was in a quite large grove of second growth oak.  Luc had heard that the wizard had chosen that spot so that he had room enough build the rather larger earthen structure in which he made the metal and the equally large fireplace or kiln where he burned the oak that he harvested from the adjacent grove.  In that kiln he reduced the oak to charcoal.  That charcoal was the secret to the metal that he produced.  His metal had proven to be a superior raw material for the blades of swords and he was prospering with sales of his product to the sword makers of numerous nobles.  It was said that perhaps even the king had blades made from this wizard’s metal.

So one day in early February Luc went outside the walls and visited the wizard or alchemist or super smith or whatever he might be.  Luc didn’t really care.  He just wanted a one piece blank of metal from which he and his brother could craft a blade sufficient to complete the job they had started the previous winter.  Gerard, Luc’s brother woodsman didn’t have much hope for the venture.

The Ethics of Road Kill

In Screen Saver there are a number of stories that have bird hunting with Blitz and Brown – two wonderful German Shorthaired Pointers - as their background milieu. These stories inevitably talk about various aspects of hunting, shooting, preparing, cooking and eating various upland game birds: pheasant, chukkar, Hungarian partridge and quail.

What I didn't realize I was omitting during all the writing and editing of the book was that I completely neglected to mention a key adjunct to the hunting of birds. Being out in the wheat fields and sugar beet fields of Oregon and Idaho inevitably brought Jack and me into contact with a physical phenomenon and an associated dilemma. Pheasants like to fly into the path of oncoming cars. Sometimes they make it through unscathed. Sometimes they don't. When they don't, they often manage to limp and flop to the edge of the road where they die not much worse than for the wear and tear of a ruptured heart or massive concussion resulting from contact with the car. This caused the phenomenon: lots of possibly edible game scattered hither and yon along the roadways and byways of many beautiful autumn afternoons. Which led to the dilemma: is it ethical to re-harvest any or all of that previously harvested game?

Jack and I decided that, if we had seen the game being harvested the answer was a definite yes. If the incident of the bird's demise had not been personally witnessed by us, and, if upon stopping and examining a victim, rigor mortis had not yet set in, the answer was a slightly less enthusiastic yes, but yes nonetheless. If the victim was stiff as a tray of ice cubes the answer became hunger dependent.

Recipe to follow.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pogo Was His Hero

Dave was a member of the RF Trio. The Trio was one of the major themes in Screen Saver. When Dave died a couple of years ago I wrote this memorial. His family preferred the "Dave was born ... Dave always liked ... Dave leaves ..." format. So I have finally decided to publish mine.

Pogo was his hero. Until or unless one reads some volumes of Walt Kelly’s stories of Okefenokee Swamp and its denizens, that statement seems somewhere between meaningless and ridiculous. After such a reading one joins Dave in acknowledging his hero, and acquires a sense of wonder at Dave’s grasp of the absurd.

Music was his essence. When one watches Yo-Yo Ma play the cello it is his face that becomes the center of attention. The contortions and grimaces that accompany (perhaps provide) the verging on heavenly sounds are amazing. When Dave played the banjo similar facial gymnastics were present. And the sounds, while not Bach or Beethoven were equally heavenly.

Versatility was his forte. He excelled at singing, magic tricks, story telling, writing songs, selling appliances, being a fireman, being a health care worker, being an executive administrator, being a father, being a husband, being a friend and being a confidante. He was about as complete as any individual human ever is.
Whimsical was his spirit. When much younger he named a group of neighborhood friends the Simpson Street Marauders. The group still exists.

A real life was his goal. A friend once observed that Dave wished “to navigate the sea of life floating in an inner tube of happiness while strumming the banjo”. Those of us who knew him think that he succeeded, and have a deep admiration for his success.

But that life has ended. With Dave’s passing, the other side now has two Simpson Street Marauders. That is joyous news for the other side.