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.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Stepping Out

I stepped out of my life for a week. a snakeskin or a bad habit that's been gnawing on your soul for far too long.  Didn't walk away, just floated down a highway until I couldn't take the exhaust fumes and the landscape that crumbled in sunlight.

Stepped into a life where people talk far too loudly and share their persona anxieties with everyone in earshot.  A land where summer dictates the clothing and cars run over everything.
I stepped out of my life and let it place for a week.
My life in limbo is all that exists for this week.  Nothing else captures my attention because it isn't there. It is frozen in time, longing to exist and incapable of anything more than a memory.
I stepped to of my life to a land not wholly strange.  A onetime home on hills that stand and stare back.
I stepped into thinking about going back.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Derby Day 2016

34years ago, this week, I was in Louisville, Kentucky.  I had the good fortune to land full press credentials to cover the Kentucky Derby for a Northern California thoroughbred breeders magazine.  With full support from family, friends, and my school administrators, I took the week off and set off for Kentucky.  Talk about a dream fulfilled.  Fortunately, I had a friend whose family lived in Louisville and let me stay in their spare room.  With rental car, and press pass in tow, I visited Churchill Downs daily for the better part of the week before the Derby and collected interviews, statistics, photographs, and all manner of data on the 20 entries for the big race.  I mingled with most of the famous sports reporters of my generation.  I was temporarily accepted into the network of turf writers and eagerly partook of all the privileges (access, food, beverages) afforded one with full credentials.  The magical week included winning about $500. in successful bets and an unforgettable walk at 5:00 am on Derby morning across the very track the race is run on while steaming thoroughbreds completed morning workouts.  Heaven...for a bit...yet.
Every May, I relive the experience as I prepare to watch the Derby on the first Saturday of the 5th month.  For years after that 1982 Derby I used to watch the Churchill races at a racetrack, usually Golden Gate Fields.  Sometimes I enjoyed Derby Day in the press box,(I was a working turf writer for 20 years) sometimes with my friends at the track.  Occasionally I went to a Derby party or had one myself.  That's all changed.  It's become a solitary day for me now that I've moved to the Northwest.  Everything is done through the TV and/or online these days.  Still, I maintain the ritual.  It's like a rite of spring.  The Freshman class are about to graduate to another level.  It's all we have left.  Usually I'll talk to a couple of friends about the race and who I like and how it might go.  Running in the Derby and being in position to win it take prodigious amounts of luck.  Combined with the speed and stamina and peak performance needed, it's the biggest risk that leads to the biggest reward.  My hope every year is that all who enter the gate to compete leave the track 2 minutes later in good shape.

West Coast horses have done very well these last few years.  I strongly believe at this point we won't see another American Pharaoh or Triple Crown winner this year, but Nyquist, who enters the 2016 Derby as the 3-1 favorite is probably the only hope.  He's undefeated and among long time horse players, you never get off an undefeated horse.  Since it's time for my pre-race predictions, I have to let it roll now, before the race if I am to be credible.  Of the 20 horses entered, It's still possible that one or two could scratch before Saturday, May 7th.  There are two Also Eligible (alternates) so a 20 horse field is likely.  I can eliminate half the field.  That leaves 10 for me to choose from.  I like Nyqvist because he has tactical speed and probably the stamina to sustain it for 1 1/4 miles.  I also like Creator and Exaggerator two deep closers who might be able to weave through traffic and make sustained late runs.  A few others to keep in mind are Mo Tom, who's been unlucky and might put it all together with some needed good fortune.  Real long shots would include Mohayman, Suddenbreaking news, and Whitmore.  I realize I'm eliminating contenders like Gun Runner, Brody's Cause and Destin and a few others, but ultimately one must take a stance.  I will, however look at the horses as much as TV will allow and if necessary make some changes based on who looks particularly good and who seems completely unnerved by 150,000 inebriated, screaming fans.  All these factors matter. Lani Is a well bred colt who has been racing in Japan and though unpredictable could have an impact on the finish.  I'll be aware of that.  After all, I'm still a working journalist at heart.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Deep Down in the Delta

Inside the hardware store is a great place to evade a sudden rain shower.  I ducked in and waited for the fickle storm to pass and the sun to reappear.  First the garden shop and then sizing up a couple of wood screws to finally hang a hatrack.
By the time I got to lightbulbs I heard a familiar voice.  Why would canned music give me a familiar voice I care about?
Wait...isn't that Son House?  Course it is.  I know the tune.  Muted and probably in nobody's radar I moved through pest traps and bug sprays and stopped briefly to admire some trinkets best classified as knick knacks, stocking stuffers, or simply things you don't need but can't resist touching.
Son House in my local Ace Hardware.  How does that happen?  Did the person responsible for the sound track of this afternoon migrate to the Northwest from the Mississippi Delta?  Is it a random act of serendipity?  Did a music programmer one day draw a diagonal line from the bottom right side of the to the top left side and end up in Portland, Oregon?
Delta blues from Son House, on a stormy day in Portland.  Ace is the place.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Mother Teresa Restored My TV

I had to do the Comcast dance again.  That's the game you play when you have a cable problem or your monthly fee abruptly rises without warning.  This time it was the TV.  I watch more news than the average person.  So when my morning dose never materialized, I soon found myself dancing with Comcast.
The picture that morning was replaced with a blue screen telling me that some software had to be downloaded and it might take a few minutes.  After the first hour went by, I decided to troubleshoot.  The online community soon informed me that I was not alone and that this message could last hours. But one of the posts suggested contacting a Comcast customer service rep online chat for quicker results.  That I did.  Within minutes I was chatting with someone who's name was Materesa.  Not sure if she was in India, but she was very courteous and attempted to solicit some information and fix my problem.  Ma caught me immediately, and even in my frustrated state, I had the feeling that a miracle was suddenly possible.  After resending my signal, this saintly woman informed me that there was still some sort of interference and that I needed to schedule an appointment and perhaps have the little cable box replaced.  This I did.  After offering me a few things I did not want or need, she began to sign off.  Then a sort of download box appeared on the blue screen.  Bright red.  I started to type in the reply box, "What is that red bar slowing moving on my screen...when the online chat ended.  I left the TV on and in about 15 minutes the download box was slowly turning from red to orange to yellow to light green to deep, vivid green.  This looked like a positive sign.  I watched and waited.  In another 10 minutes a message appeared telling me not to "switch off" the TV.  I let it be.  10 more minutes passed.  The messages came faster now and I watch the miracle unfold as my system "powered up" and then "connected to the platform."  5 more minutes passed and then I was back to normal or as my old grandfather would say, I was "cookin' with gas."  I'm not exactly sure what transpired that morning, but I prefer to think that Mother Teresa...and her power to produce miracles, restored my TV. I cancelled the service appointment.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Socially Responsible

Christian right wing Republicans are such hypocrites.  I was reading some posts on the evils of socialism, probably in response to the popularity of Bernie Sanders, and noticed how most of the points expressed were based on weak stereotypes.  Of course, having the paranoid gene helps in this process.
The gist of their fear comes from the fact that socialism enables those who don't work, or choose not to work, to benefit from those who do.  If I have two cows, the government will demand that I give you one.  So the thinking goes.  Over simplistic, to be sure, but most of these right wingers really believe this.  No matter that there are numerous references to the accumulation of wealth and the importance of sharing with those less fortunate in the Bible.  Probably in any version of any Bible you choose.

So where does this inaccurate thinking come from?  It seems to me to be a base anxiety about getting taken advantage of rather than coming from a brother's keeper attitude.  I've expressed many times before this that my suspicion is that the brain is wired differently to allow this kind of contradictory thinking to prevail.  So this misguided thinking in my mind appears to be the stuff of righteous justice to the conservative mind.  It's a kind of logic that defies deep thinking much the same way that this rigidity locks them into positions that leave much to be desired when it comes to gender equality and understanding the science behind everything from climate change to the reality faced by transsexuals.
Of course the supreme irony here is that much like Bernie Sanders, the revered one, Jesus Christ himself, was a Jewish socialist.  I'm sure they'd be outraged that I put those two together in the same sentence but they've got nothing more to see my point than to read the Bible.  They do that, don't they?  Still, the conservative right is adamant that jesus was hardly a "Socialist hippie."  That's their term and further steeps all this misinterpretation in more stereotypes.  While they concede that it's a Christ-like thing to help the poor and ailing, they further believe that Jesus's version of free health care is his own love for people.  Heaven forbid somebody get something of substance for nothing.  In the end we're left with a stubborn knot pinning liberal versus conservative values against one another.  Just another reflection of the current state of affairs whether in Congress or the Presidential election, where what is tied up isn't really holding anything together.