Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Treatment

This is one of those go figure stories.  It's another version of you can take someone out of their environment, but not take their environment out of them.
We decided to take a little walk; or rather a little hike.  My wife and her two sisters had just returned from Central Oregon where they checked off a bucket list item by spending a few days in the delightful little town of Sisters.  Sisters, Oregon is in Deschutes county and a short drive from either the astonishingly beautiful Metolius River, or the Tam MacArhur Rim, and Three Creeks Lake, a beautiful little alpine lake set into a glacial bowl and gateway to all manner of hiking trails in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness.  But my wife and her sisters didn't do any hiking there, instead, they shopped.  The town of Sisters is home to many wonderful shops that feature everything from quilting to clothing to any and all imports you might find in a big city boutique.
After two days back in Portland running around in more retail outlets, the urge to hike returned and I set out with the three sisters to attempt a local trail/bike path that supposedly led to a small set of lakes used as a bird sanctuary.

It sounded promising and even featured a few well posted signs detailing the distance and time.  At first the little venture was surprisingly nice as we traversed the narrow path that ran behind homes and in between some grassy knolls and overhanging trees.  This adventure takes place in North Portland, not the stereotypical Portlandia, but the working class section.  Thus, it was no surprise that we passed some homeless encampments, and even imagined ourselves living under the overhanging limbs.  It's fascinating to me how just walking by can trigger thoughts of just where wold be the best cover and perhaps the softest ground.  On some level, I think we all can identify with the homeless and wonder just how far our survival instincts and skills would take us. Occasionally we'd comment on which spot seemed most desirable.  Identification or empathy?  Or something else? After about a mile and a half the signs directed us to surface streets before we rejoined some sort of paved bike/hiking path.  The scenery was unremarkable at best, depressing at worst.  Pockets of trash lined the roadway. Ultimately we ended up walking by the local sewage treatment plant.  We persevered...mile 4, mile ...5 .and mile 6.  The only high point was a brief section that bordered the Columbia Slough, a murky backwater that ultimately joins the mighty Columbia River, but at this point looked more like the perfect place to hide a body. A nice fit for the opening scenes of the latest episode of Forensic Files. There was a resident heron and another resident cormorant, but even they looked out of place.  In the end, we dead ended on a muddy trail in an industrial section just beyond the sewage treatment plant. The view was barren and bleak.  We turned around.  Our feet were screaming.  Calluses, blisters and cramps all led the chorus.
By the time we got back home and the laughter subsided, the thought hit.  This little trek through the bowels of North Portland will be the strongest memory of the 3 sisters get together.  Lacking in the spectacular beauty of Central Oregon it's worth was measured in laughter. Go figure.

Friday, June 17, 2016

How To Commemorate 50 years

I searched this morning
                in thick alpine water
then placed my hands on a  wooden trowel,

I'm weary of fear, so I traveled along the mountain's edge
in the direction of contentment,

I depend on osprey and eagles for friendship because
I cannot write another sonnet;

The depths reveal the image of garden tools well worn bearing palm prints
like my parents' dreams,

 Dreams that became their graves, side by side, forever sealed,
the grind becomes the ground becomes the mountains, golden, and lonely

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Let's play a little game of Harper's Index.  You know the feature in every Harper's magazine where statistics are offered in sentences that add up to astonishment.  Ok, here goes:
Number of state dinners since Obama took office---12
Number of press conferences about mass shootings in the same time period...16
You see where this is going.  So many folks reeling from this particularly dark time that sees the intersection of a hugely polarized nation outraged from something as mundane as a Presidential campaign clashing with a rigid Congress, more calls for gun control that would ban people from owning assault weapons, and the encroaching fear of "radical Islamic terrorists."  Trouble is, it's vastly more complicated than this already convoluted mess would indicate.
Perhaps we're dealing with lone wolves, perhaps we're dealing with radicalized jihadists,,maybe there's a bit of self-hatred or repressed sexual identity here too.  The Orlando night club shooting is vastly complicated, but a few things are remarkably clear.  When a person is on a "no fly" list and can't board a jet but can obtain an AR-15, a weapon designed for one purpose only (killing people efficiently) something's got to give.  Here's where it get's interesting.  In all the hue and cry, people are doing more and more "processing" than ever.
So it was that I set out for a day alone to get away from the constant stream of hard- headed nonsense that has bastardized the 2nd Amendment into meaninglessness.  Even though the day was dark and cloudy, one of my favorite spots was still below the snow level and I figured even a little light rain wasn't going to interfere with me scooting around a little alpine lake on my float tube.  Catching and releasing trout wasn't the priority, just being there came first.  Fly fishing is one of those few activities where nothing else matters  while you are doing it.  The sun played peek-a-boo all day.  But the clouds held their moisture as I brought my troubled soul to the mountain to see if I could unbraid my  emotions while thinking about this dismal national state we're enduring.
Even the fish were sullen, but I managed to make contact with a few.  The real highlight of the day, however, came with the presence of a female Mallard duck, who took time from her daily flight pattern to descend on me and ask for a ride.  She literally tried to jump up and sit on my lap at one point.

I dissuaded her from that idea because I wanted to make sure she was free of any opportunity to interact with a hook.  Now, I was out in the middle of the lake.  We're not talking about a duck walking up to me, she was trans-navigating the lake and flying from one end to the other when she made a bee line for me.  I think she wanted company.  I tried to be courteous, but we both got our feathers ruffled when she made that little leap I was forced to deny.  I've been sorting out this little adventure for a few hours now and I've come to the conclusion that it falls into the realm of a Zen coan.  At some point in the future it'll all become clear and I will have learned something.  I wish the same for my friends, family, and nation.

Sunday, June 12, 2016


This video will help many; good advice and easily put into practice.  I hope by including it here  that it might be seen by some folks who might otherwise not get the memo.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Coming To See Me

Muhammad Ali- 1942-2016

I'm sitting in Pauly Pavilion...on the floor.  This is hallowed ground.  It's the home of the National Champion UCLA basketball team with superstar Kareem Abdul Jabbar.  But there is no game today.  The arena has been divided in half with seating in the east end only for the latest guest in the campus speakers series.  I'm sitting alone trying to go unnoticed. My back is up against a seat, but my body and book bag are resting on the floor.
It's been a great series of speakers for this year, 1968.  But the last two were who I didn't want to miss.  First  Presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, and now, today, the person I wanted to see most of all.  I'm here early because of my friend Al, who is on the committee that coordinates the speaker's program.  Al, the East Coast born white guy with the enormous natural.  Al, with whom I've been in countless demonstrations against the war, the draft, the CIA on campus, police brutality, and civil  rights.  Al, who told me, if you ever want to go to any of the speakers presentations I can get you in free, you just have to go an hour early and hang out while I help with the set up.  Al delivered.  That's why I'm here at 1:00 when the speaker is due at 2:00.

So I'm sitting on the floor trying to read.  By 2:30 I can't concentrate.  I'm filled with anticipation.  Marking my place, shifting my weight, I close my book and look up to see two men walking slowly toward me.  One is immediately recognizable.  I'm looking into the face of Muhammad Ali.  This icon looks 50 feet tall because I'm still on the floor.  Ali is making his way across the room talking to Herbert Muhammad, his manager. Herbert is also one of the handlers in his corner.  Ali is casually dressed in sport coat and slacks.  He carries an attache case and is doing most of the talking.  I'm trying to be cool, like I belong.  Should I smile?  I decide not approach him and tell him how much of an inspiration he is to young people.  Instead, I sit and listen carefully.  Ali suddenly stops and takes in the enormity of the room.  I wonder what's in his attache case.  Does he have a speech prepared?  Does he even need a speech to talk to 5,000 people for an hour?  They take a few more steps and suddenly Ali stops and turns to his companion and says.  "In a few minutes, this place will be filled with people.  College people.  I never went to college yet they are all coming to see me and hear me speak."
Ali never said anything like that in his remarks to the crowd that day.  In fact, I scarcely recall what he talked about, save his remarks about not wanting to kill anybody in Vietnam.  He left his audience wanting more time just to be in his presence.  In a heartbeat, he was whisked away into a waiting limo and the program was over.  I don't think I told anyone about my fleeting moment and Ali's thoughts about being on a college campus.  It wasn't until years later when one of my students asked me about the Ali pictures and posters that were part of my wall of faces that I first told the story.
"Mr Greene, " a student asked, "Do you remember anything else about that day?"
Yes, there is one thing I'll never forget.  How magnificently good looking that man was.  If ever there was a use for the phrase larger than life it would be  for Muhammad Ali.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Turn The Tables

In her elegantly written  and poignant new book, M Train, Multitalented Patti Smith shares many of the intimate details of her personality and consequently her life.  That Smith has all the artist's sensibility there is no doubt.  One thing however, that I find fascinating is her enjoyment of ing to regular small cafes to rad and write.  While there is nothing special about this practice, Smith gives us other dimensions of both these places and her need and appreciation of them.
There is one particular cafe she frequents, Cafe Ino, where she feels most comfortable at a certain table.  It has become her table.  When she comes in she always has the same thing for breakfast. "Brown toast, olive oil, and back coffee. "
Smith has come to depend on this table as being there for the taking, but on occasion, it isn't.  At these times she grudgingly takes another, but not without some internal grumbling about having to do so.  We never find out if the owner of this cafe would save the table for her, or even if he would put a "permanently reserved for Patti Smith" sign on the table.  I'm sure she wouldn't want that, nevertheless, she can't help being a bit pissed off that she can't have her regular table.  Patti Smith shares her dissonance about this experience with her reader.  Somehow this really resonated with me because I've had the same experience.

For many years I got my morning coffee at a bakery/restaurant near my school.  I have always loved the idea of going somewhere first before going to work.  Time to read the paper, or look over something I need to reference.  Time to center myself and quietly enjoy my coffee with a breakfast item from the bakery.  This place I liked had a take-out window, but it was inside and one day I happened t sit at a small table with two chairs behind the restaurant lines.  Nobody bothered me.  In fact, I asked the wait staff at the bakery if it was OK to sit there for a few minutes even though I'd purchased take out items.  They were always fine with that.  On occasion, they'd ask to refill my paper cup.
When the day finally came that another person was sitting at "my table" I felt outraged.  Was it because this person also came everyday to the bakery and certainly new that this was where I sat?  Probably not.  Then it hit me.  I had no right to feel anything, especially outrage, about the fact that this table was being used by another.  From where does this unauthorized attachment come?  If it's a public place, it's a public table, right?  Of course.  Somehow reading about Patti Smith's similar experience legitimizes those feelings, however misplaced they might be.  One thing I know for sure.  If I owned a cage I'd have no problem maintaining a table with a sign that read: This Table Permanently Reserved For Patti Smith.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Double Date

"I got a few things to tell you."  Kenny called and began with the first thing.  He told me Janet was now in Hospice care.
"Oh," I said.
Janet is his former sister-in law.  She was my first girlfriend.  It's sobering to hear your first love is in Hospice care.
I knew she'd been battling cancer for awhile.  So has my sister and a number of other friends.  But Janet's battle was apparently in the final phase.
It must be 45 years since I spoke with her, but I still recall our first date.  I recall all the times Kenny and I went over to see Carol and Janet, the sisters we both took to our high school prom.  We even joined the Catholic Youth Organization to go to the dances with them.  A Jew and a Baptist would do anything to dance with the Borstner sisters.
But our relationships went in different directions.  Kenny married Carol after she got pregnant, and I went on to college and Janet ended up with the football star and class president of a large Catholic school in the suburbs of L.A.  They married.  They had kids and he became a doctor where they began their lives together in central California.  The dream turned into a nightmare for Janet when her husband became a philandering doctor and a divorce followed a decade later.  She never remarried.  I doubt she ever thought much of me too.  We were only 16, but our little relationship had it's own kind of passion.

When you don't have access to a car, you double date.  That we did. Often.  The first time was with an older friend who got his sister's '59 Chevy Impala (white with red leather interior) for the evening. This good Catholic girl never hesitated in defying her parents warning not to go to a drive-in.  I worried about the consequences of being found out and she made the first move.  True Dat.
I want to do or say something before Janet departs this life, contacting her now, after all these years, might not be appropriate.  So I can say it here.
Janet.  I loved you in the way a kid struggling with his self-esteem and self-hatred would.  I was always aware of trying to be the good kid your parents would approve of.  The man I became can forgive all our awkward times together, all those meaningless phone conversations, all that needless worry and concern.
I know you deserved better in this lifetime.  For that I am sad.
I want to thank you again for the surprise party you pulled off for my 16th birthday.  Lost in all that attention directed toward me was that it was Kenny's birthday too.  I never forgot that or that evening too.
Janet and I had a date to go to a football game the day of the Kennedy assassination.  It all got cancelled.  But her parents welcomed me along with a few other friends including Kenny that evening.  We sat around all evening until curfew just trying to figure out the immediate future and what it all meant.  Those things are unforgettable.  Like a first love.