I grew up in a small community in central California. The two major industries (if you can call them that) were farming and the Navy. It might seem odd to people that there would be a Navy base far from the water, but the San Joaquin Valley provided the Navy with clear skies for the pilots to get lots of air time and practice. In my small neighborhood most of my friends had fathers who were Navy pilots.
As a young boy, I remember listening to a conversation between my father and a next door neighbor who had just returned from a tour in Vietnam. The neighbor described what was happening over there as “hell,” an image that was very vivid in my mind as a child growing up in the church. Even though the war in Vietnam was thousands of miles away, it was a very real part of my community, so much so that I had friends who had fathers who were POWs and MIAs. These men loved flying, but they also loved their country in a time when service to their country was not too popular.
I also remember talking to one of my friends about his father, who was a pilot, who had been awarded a medal for bombing a building. My friend said to me, “I guess my dad has killed people.” My friend seemed to have trouble with the dual images of father and soldier.
The life of a Navy family didn’t change much after Vietnam, because the fathers were often gone on long cruises around the world. These cruises could last as long as 6 months and were very difficult for my friends who were without a father during that time. It is an incredible sacrifice for a family to make and it is one that continues today.
One of the most memorable people that grew up on my block was another kid: Vincent “Otis” Tolbert was a few years older than me and his father was also a Navy pilot. Otis was a large kid and grew into an even larger man. When he was a senior in high school, I was a freshman. He was the star fullback on the football team, and tossed the discus for the track team. He eventually went to Fresno State on a football scholarship.
One day Otis dropped by my house to talk to my older sister, she wasn’t home. Otis saw that I had a Risk game out and asked if I wanted to play. We played for a few hours, they were memorable hours for me, because Otis was all of those things I longed to be: popular, athletic, and intelligent. For him to sit down and play a game with me, meant so much. It was as if a personal hero had dropped by my house just to spend time with me.
I followed his career at Fresno State until I moved away and lost touch with where he was and what he was doing.
I know now that Otis was serving his country in the Navy, like his father. He served in Desert Storm and then took a job serving his country at the Pentagon. On September 11th, Otis was at work when a high jacked airplane slammed into his office killing him.
I found out Otis had been killed when I read a list of 9/11 victims, at first it was hard to believe that someone as strong and athletic as Otis had died. He was one of those people I assumed would live on beyond me because of his vitality and strength, but he didn’t.
I am not a flag waving American, but I do believe in the ideals that the United States represents. Otis also believed in the ideals of our country, so much so that he was willing to serve his country as a soldier. His sacrifice is what Memorial Day is all about. It is about him and the thousands like him who have died in the line of duty. With Otis, Memorial Day has become more personal for me. I will think of him this weekend, I will think of his family, I will think of the other families I grew up with who had fathers serving in the Navy and I will thank them for what they have done for all of us who practice our freedoms daily. I will also hope for the day when people like Otis Tolbert will not have to give their lives for freedom. I will hope for world peace and I will hope for a day where we celebrate an end to all war.
Mixed into two feet of decay,
smells of death, and rot, and must.
It tears at cells of life
melting them into the muck.
This purgatorial zone eats life.
Draws it in, turns it, rolls it into heat.
Turning life, churning life, burning life
out of this dead thing.
So what does one do after spending four hours in a bookstore? Well, one might eat a little food. Portland offers too many food options, so I keep it simple and go to the same place every time, Kornblatt’s on 23rd. Kornblatt’s is a New York style deli. The deli is not very big but there is seating for about 200 people all wedged into the space of disco dance floor.
I ordered the “seasonal” sandwich the Brooklyn Bomber (fried latka, grilled onions, melted cheese, beef brisket, on a sweet bun). I don’t what season it needs to be to order a sandwich that has nothing seasonal in it, but you will notice that there is not a picture of this sandwich because as soon as the plate hit the table my mind went blank and I inhaled the sandwich in under ten minutes. This was not a little sandwich either, but when it was gone I felt a pang of regret. It might have been the 12,000 calories I just consumed bumping into my stomach walls, but more likely it was the realization that the sandwich was gone.
We then hiked back to the car which was parked about five blocks away, 23rd Avenue is a busy little area on the west side of downtown. It is also another example of how Portland gets it right. The entire area is surrounded by old houses that have been fixed up, painted and now create a lovely little village feel.
After lunch it is always time for a coffee and some writing. The best place for this activity is Hawthorne. On the way to Hawthorne we always stop at Music Millennium where I remember what record stores once were. The loss of music stores makes me feel like singing a few verses of American Pie (not that stupid movie, but the song my Don McLean.)
The coffee and writing ritual has developed over the years, but my friend and I exchange little words and ideas and then write something. Usually it is poetry, but this year we went with ye ole prose.
Hawthorne is a great little neighborhood also. It is one of the funky areas of Portland where people my age feel older. There is also a smaller Powell’s books. Yes, I did go into the bookstore and look at more books, but for once I didn’t buy anything. I also saw a women who embodied the Hawthorne neighborhood: about six feet tall, blonde spiked hair, yellow cowboy boots, denim knee-length shorts, tight yellow tank-top, completely covered with tattoos from mid neck to top of the yellow boots.
After our writing it is time for a walk in Laurelhurst Park. This is a great little neighborhood park where there is a off-leash dog area and plenty of space for people to play frisbee or just absorb the sunshine.
Why do I end up at the Rhinelander to eat dinner? I don’t really know. Maybe it is the cheese fondue, maybe it is trying to recapture something I loved about Germany, maybe it is just what we normally do. It doesn’t really matter, because the final stop before heading back is always the Rhinelander.
Did I eat too much? Yes, and I had desert also.
If I ate this way every day would I die of a heart attack? Yes.
Are there 20 other great neighborhoods in Portland that I missed? Yes.
Is the downtown one of the coolest, greatest examples of urban renewal in America? Yes.
Is the waterfront awesome? Yes.
Could I spend a week there and just wander from micro-pub to micro-pub? Yes.
Will I be returning to Portland next year at the end of May? Yes.
Portland, Oregon is about a five-hour drive from my home. Now if you live in the eastern portion of the United States or in Europe, a five-hour drive will take you through about five major metropolitan areas, here in God’s country (the Pacific Northwest, land of milk, honey and coffee) a five-hour drive will take you to the tattoo/piercing capital of the universe: Portland.
Each year, for the past eight years, I have made this psuedo-religious trip to the Rose City with a friend. Our primary goal is to visit the greatest bookstore on the planet, Powell’s books, but the trip has evolved from a frenetic attempt to squeeze as much Portland into a day into a ritual of friendship. The first few times we visited Portland we played nine holes of golf and worked Powell’s into the equation, these days it is primarily Powell’s.
What makes Powell’s so great? The same thing that makes everything else great in the United States of America…hugeness. Powell’s is a monstrosity of a bookstore, which by American standards makes it great, but it is also an independent bookstore in an age when local bookstores are dying. Powell’s has managed to prosper in this age of digital content and books delivered to your doorstep. The main reason (I don’t really know but because this is my blog I can say what I want) Powell’s is successful is because it is located in Portland, land of the weird. The citizens of Portland have bumper-stickers and T-shirts with the unofficial city motto: Keep Portland Weird. Could there be a better motto in the world? Okay, Berlin’s “Poor but Sexy” is a close second.
The people of Portland might step into a Barnes and Noble bookstore, but they would feel like they were cheating on their significant other. The citizens of Portland might look like a bunch of dirty hippies, but they take their social responsibility seriously.
The plan goes like this: Arrive at Powell’s, park, start upstairs in the Drama section and work our way down through the bookstore until exhausted. Usual time spent in Powell’s: 3.5 – 4 hours.
After we have reached the end of the bookshelves, we reconvene in the coffee lounge and decide what to buy and what to return. This year I managed to keep all of my bounty: Six Memos for the Next Millennium by Calvino, The Sun Also Rises Companion by Reynolds, The Crack-Up by Fitzgerald, The 1-Hour Guidebook to Hamlet, Those Guys Have All the Fun by Miller and Shales, and Picasso’s: Guernica by Chipp.
I could not find two of the books I was hoping to bring home. The lady dressed like Tinkerbell at the information desk said they had the books at the Beaverton location, but I could not fit that into my busy schedule. It will give me a reason to search out the Beaverton location on my next drive through Portland.
Tomorrow’s post: Lunch, a stroll through smellyville, and dinner.
The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award will be announcing the finalists next week. Calls went out to the three writers this past Monday and the only call I got was from Les Schwab. My brake pads are in, which was good news, but not the news I was hoping for. It certainly has been a great ride and my friends around the world have been supportive as I moved from round to round. Thanks.
So now it is back to the business of writing letters to agents and waiting. The good news is I have a handful of great reviews and a nearly flawless review from Publisher’s Weekly. I should be able to get my size 12.5 in the door somewhere. If not, it won’t be the end of the world. When I set out to write Six Summers in Paris reaching the end was my goal. I made it there, not many people finish a novel and even fewer writers get their work published.
What’s next on my global plan to take over the publishing world? Not much, I will pop in here to drop a few words and I will also continue my work on two other novels I have started and crank out more short stories. One of my stories (The Land Baron) came in second place in a local contest and it will be published in the Tidepools literary magazine in June.
My annual pilgrimage to Powell’s bookstore is on Friday and for the first time ever I will document the wanderings of Jon Quixote and Peter the Red.
Anyone who runs a blog gets spam and almost all of it gets filtered out and ends up in a trash folder. I like to open the old spam trashcan and take a peek inside. Here is a gem from two days ago.
|Hi there: thanks for taking the time of creating up this knowledge. I usually attempt to even more my knowledge of elements. No matter if I concur or disagree, I really like facts. I don’t forget the old times if the only source of details was the library or even the newspaper. They each seem so old. Please excuse my bad english : )|
1. The post the spammer is referring to was about a museum in Chicago.
2. The spam arrived a week after the post was placed.
3. This spammer has excellent taste in blogs.
What can we deduce about this spammer?
1. English is not their first language and looking at the sentence structure I would assume they are from an Asian country. (Since there are more people living in Asia than anywhere else, this is a safe guess.)
2. They are self-aware. Note the, “Please excuse my bad english” phrase tacked on to the end of the message. This acknowledgement shows us that the spammer is not a machine cranking out messages and sending them off into the internets unknowingly.
3. They are happy. The “:)” is evidence that this spammer is filled with joy. Why else would anyone attach a smiley face to their email.
4. They are probably female. Most males would use a winking smiley face when sending spam. The winking smiley face is a little more masculine and creepy, the traditional smiley face is more feminine and joyous.
5. This person is a little confused. One cannot “creat[e] up this knowledge.” Knowledge is either there or not, so there is no creating of knowledge. This leads me to believe that this spammer is from a country where there are elements of magical thinking.
6. They don’t like confrontation. “No matter if I concur or disagree” is an interesting non-confrontational way of saying, “I might just possibly disagree with you, but I don’t want to fight about it.”
7. They are conflicted. They “like facts” but believe that knowledge can be created. This struggle between science and mysticism is causing a great deal of turmoil inside this spammer.
8. They are older than the internet. They “don’t forget the old times” when the library and newspaper were the only places where you could get facts. One would assume that the spammer is someone youthful, but this evidence suggests that they are older and therefore even more optimistic than previously assumed.
Now this is very confusing since we have established that this person lives in Asia, does not speak English as her primary language, is happy, doesn’t like confrontation, is older than 25 and is conflicted.
Some of you, dear readers, are already guessing who this might be and let me just say, “No, it is not Sarah Palin.” There are two very specific pieces of information that point to her not being the spammer: 1.”I really like facts” 2.”even the newspaper.”
Katie Couric established that Mrs. Palin never read a newspaper, and anyone paying attention to the republican party for the past 20 years realizes that liking facts is not part of the platform.
Arthur Conan Doyle (me) will now put it all together for you. One of the overlooked possibilities (overlooked because I overlooked it, making it more difficult for you to figure out what was going on) is that this person might be a recent immigrant to the United States. They are aware of their weaknesses in English because they are constantly confronted by the mean streets of America. They must live in a city that has a vibrant Asian community (just about any city in the US) but since the post was about The Art Institute in Chicago we can safely assume this middle aged woman lives in Chicago, is happy to be in America and loves good writing.
I think that narrows it down enough. I will leave the rest of the figuring to you.
The Olympic Mountains are blanketed with grey this morning.
Swirling clouds cling to treetops like dull cotton.
Fridays should not be grey and gloomy.
Sunshine should stream through the windows.
Birds should be singing songs.
Windows should be opened.
Hope should bloom.
Today is grey.
Grey like milked tea
Grey promises a green Spring.
A Spring filled with budding trees.
Future colors to fill my early mornings.
Not today though, today is grey and cold.
The roads glisten with rain and summer still waits.
Someone in London deserves a medal. I am not speaking of the upcoming Olympics or of some Londoner’s brave behavior during WW II, I am talking about a cultural decision to make many of the museums in London free. The first time I traveled to London I did not know this and I purchased a “London Pass” which got me into a few of the attractions that had an entrance fee (Tower of London, Queen’s Gallery), but when I tried to use my pass at most of the museums (National Gallery, Tate Modern, Natural History, Victoria and Albert) I discovered that these cultural landmarks were there for everyone to enjoy without having to spend a quid, a pound, or a guinea.
These museums are not free because they suck, the are free because someone decided that you shouldn’t have to pay to see some of the greatest stuff in the world. My favorite museum in London is The British Museum.
There are people who are probably saying as they read this, “Well, the reason the museum is free is because all the stuff inside is stolen from somewhere else.” Sure, Elgin is not going to get a warm reception in Greece any time soon, but I don’t think he cares since he has been dead for many years, but most of England doesn’t care either. It is that British attitude that is both admirable and maddening. For all their cultural awareness and preservation of the arts, there is an underlying, unspoken message for people who don’t like it, “We don’t care what you think.”
The greatness of the museum collection is unquestioned. The Elgin Marbles are impressive, the Rosetta Stone sits behind a big glass case and is always surrounded by people, the Egyptian rooms are impressive, but what I like best about the museum is that two great poems were inspired by visits here.
There are probably other reasons to like the museum, but each time I have visited I find myself circulating in the same general area: enter the Great Court, take a left and wander for a couple hours.
Now the British Museum is not everyone’s favorite place, in fact some people don’t like anything about the museum other than the food.
So, if you are a lover of chocolate frogs or reminders of the greatness of man’s ancient cultures the British Museum is a must see, and it is one of my favorite places.