Saturday, May 27, 2017

My Summer of Love

We are approaching the 50th anniversary of the "Summer of Love."  Ironically that contrasts sharply with the summer of hate that seems to be upon us now.  50 years ago, I was a college student living in Southern California.  Like many, I went north to San Francisco that year to check out the intersection of Haight and Ashbury and see what all the fuss was about.  No, I did not wear a flower in my hair, but there were many who did.
Because I was a struggling student the 500 mile trip was done in sections.  With a friend, I took a Greyhound bus, and rode all night to Salinas.  From there we rode to Monterey and then made our way to Carmel, where we had booked a room in what was then known as a "guest house."  In the pre-computer, pre-Air Band B world, there were still folks who had a spare room that they rented out and my friend had been there before.  In a beautiful little home on a very quiet street, we explored the Carmel Monterey area for a couple of days.  On the wharf in Monterey, I found a craftsman by the name of Grabowski who had all manner of things I'd never seen before.  I left his little shop with a peg belt and a knit scarf.  That belt, which featured a wooden peg that went into a couple of leather loops in the best was one of my signature garments throughout the 60s.
The most memorable part of that little trek came when we stood on Highway 1 and hitchhiked our way to the city by the bay.

San Francisco was buzzing that year.  Thousands flocked to "The Haight" and congregated in Golden Gate Park.  I vividly recall how young most people swarming the streets of the city were.  How broke they were two.  My first encounter with what the media soon dubbed "hippies" was a couple of dirty faced, tired kids from the midwest trying to get quarters to "buy some doughnuts."  Nothing romantic there.  I remember an ice cream store on Haight called "God's Eye" and, of course picking up copies of the San Francisco Oracle and numerous other counter culture publications, all of which have vanished like the morning fog every day.

My friend Rob and I stayed in a cheap hotel in North Beach.  One bathroom down the hall and a blinking red light from a strip joint flashing at night.  I recall that I just laid on top of the bed, not wanting to discover what surprises laid under the covers.
We frequented City Lights books and took in the scene on upper Grant Ave. near Chinatown and then rode cable cars to Fisherman's Wharf.  In what might be a classic scene from a bad movie about the "Summer of Love" I remember walking from the heart of downtown Monterey back to the highway when a Gray Line tour bus went by.  Both Rob and I had bought new hats, rather big black frontiersman looking things that kept the sun out of our eyes and the rain off our heads.  As the tour bus passed, I could hear the driver talking on his microphone telling the passengers to glance at us over to the right.  "Two hippies on their way to hitch hike...blah blah blah...it tailed off.  Laughter and tired feet, sourdough bread and cheese...Summer of Love.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

No Fly Fishing on the First Date

Finding a fly fishing partner has eluded me.  Since moving to Oregon, I've had a couple of short term relationships with fly fishers, but so far none as gone the distance.  It's complicated, but either they no longer share my passion for the sport, or have moved away, or aren't available.  I once tried placing an add on an online community bulletin board, but that only resulted in a woman who was looking for more than a fishing buddy.  Truth be told, she lined up under the banner of "I always wanted to try fly fishing." Not interested.

I need a clone.  Someone near my age and ability who enjoys getting into a float tube and onto a lake, or perhaps walking the banks of a small stream or friendly river.  But the risks are great.  I have fears too.  I'm afraid of finding someone who isn't all that easy to be around, or who has bad habits, or plays food and alcohol fast and loose.  Someone who talks too much, or is a slob, or isn't punctual or is essentially too needy.
I'm not perfect. Hardly, but I'm at the age when I refuse to lower my expectations for a partner who would accompany me in this sacred endeavor. I'm conscious of time and health and this is serious.
Sure my tongue is firmly in my cheek as I write this but these are real considerations nonetheless.  It's somehow a whole lot easier to go alone and avoid unnecessary drama or time with someone I don't respect.  It's a lot like dating.  It can get lonely too.  So I'm looking and trying to put myself out there again as summer nears. As I said to my neighbor, an older woman enjoying the independence that retirement brings, "No fly fishing on the first date."  It's like that, you know.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Jerked Around

I had a rather unsettling, if not bizarre encounter with a homeless person the other day.  As I was scurrying to meet with a teacher I'm mentoring a 20 something guy sprang from a bus bench and asked if he could ask me something.  We all know the drill here, but his youth and condition held me for a split second so I thought I'd just cut to the chase and tell him I was busy but here's a dollar.  The dollar bill I thought was in my front pocket turned out to be a five and at that point the threshold is crossed.  No turning back.  He took the money and then rather uncharacteristically seemed to undergo a personality change.  What followed was a rather speedy, rather schizophrenic diatribe complete with people from another universe and his anger at have ing the 5 dollar bill.
"Well, if you're angry about having it, you can always give it back," I replied.  He wasn't going for that but seemed intent on continuing the conversation, one-way as it was.

I was done.  I wished him luck and fought off the temptation to urge him to get help.  I can still see the tattooed letters over one eyebrow.  At first they looked like RFK.  A homage to Bobby Kennedy?  Not quite,  just another use of some letters that might have been an R and a K somewhere.  So what's the takeaway?  That even homeless people can get angry when taking your money?  That finding food and shelter come after finding mental health resources?  Probably all of it.
That afternoon I had a scheduled visit from the cable TV guy.  My signal boxes, like me, are old and need replacing.  Since he lived in my neighborhood, we got into a quick discussion about some of the new places coming into our rapidly gentrifying corner of North Portland.  Soon we focused on a jerk chicken place called Jamaica House.  Just opened, it's been filling the surrounding streets with the aroma of cooking chicken.  I mentioned that I'd seen a guy with dreads and a ball cap with a large cannibis leaf on it working over a BBQ placed in front of a Jamaican flag that adorns the old house where the restaurant is located.  My technician, a Puerto Rican, originally from New York said he'd heard of the place and was wanting to try it also.  He then launched into a diatribe about  how one can't be too careful about assuming anything because it might just have been a non-Jamaican sporting all the cultural regalia out there cooking.
That afternoon, we walked over to the place, my wife and I, and entered the Jamaica House.  Said cook emerged from the kitchen with a big smile and gave us a menu.  Though the place was empty, it was still early enough in the afternoon so we waited.  A woman sitting at the bar offered a comment about the uncharacteristic spring weather.  The old house turned restaurant reminded me of a few similar places I'd seen in Texas.  Only those were BBQ joints with red soda water and potato salad.  They often had juke boxes, one in particular with only BBKing, Bobby Bland, and Little Milton records inside them.

We heard hacking from the kitchen; meat cleaver cutting up chicken...I hope.  10 minutes later we were home with our meals and the moment of truth was at hand.  The chicken was OK, not memorable and rather bony.  Present were a few parts most people don't eat.  I must confess that I'm a chicken bone lover and eat most anything and definitely every part except a few.  What passed for beans and rice was a large serving of rice, completely undercooked.  Crunchy.  Hard crunchy, not fried rice crunchy.  The beans present I could count on one hand.  That's right, five or fewer, no joke.
I hope this place makes it, but I have my doubts.  Portland is a food town and people will vote with their dollars and their palates.  I'll try again in a few weeks, just to see if anything has changed.  In the same way, if I ever encounter that homeless guy again, and we are both not in such a rush to condemn, we'll see if a donation to his well being still makes him angry.  You got to accept people and things were they are, not where you want them to be.  At least, in the beginning.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Places Gone Places Remembered

I live in a small community that's constantly changing.  Yes, some of the change can be filed under gentrification, but a good deal of it is subject to the changing social, economic, and technological shifts occurring in this early part of the 21st Century.
Old businesses, like the outdated means of communication and means of purchasing goods and services are dropping by the wayside.  Their replacements are not always progressive, but they are hard to ignore.  Just the other day I saw an older woman write a check to pay for groceries.  In an age when a phone app or the swipe of a plastic card is commonly used to buy a cup of coffee, this seemed like such an anomaly.  I half expected the cashier to take the check and ask, What's this?'
Maybe that's a little extreme, but rest assured, that day is coming.
We do so many things interactively with our phones and computers.  Our phones are our computers now, aren't they?
At this point in my life, I've made some decisions about reading and writing with regard to the technology available.  While I know it's neither good or advisable to ignore what I don't like, nevertheless I'm going to stick with books and records as long as I can.  I like the look and feel of them.  They are more than just words on a page or screens or sound coming from somewhere. They are entities that I want to have and hold.
We like to document the loss of places that have vanished in space and time.  My community is filled with homes and buildings that have been repurposed a few times over the years.  Just this morning I noticed a restaurant that closed down a few months ago will soon reopen as a bottle shop featuring beers and wines of the northwest.  The space was once a tavern that looks and feels like it's origin in the lumber industry as a local tavern.  It's got one of those beautiful ceilings that always grabs those who chance to look up.  I love that it now looks down on millennials drinking pinot noir when once it sheltered flannel-clad lumbermen.

The Beatles sang about "Places I'll remember all my lifetime."  Though gone, we do recall the people and things that occupied these locations.  Some spaces remain permanently in the mind.  The old Polo Grounds,  the house I grew up in, and racetracks like Bay Meadows, Hollywood Park, and Longacres.
I never went to see the Giants play in New York though I have early childhood memories of Willie Mays playing in the Polo Grounds.  The house I grew up in is probably still standing but looks nothing like I recall, though in my mind I see it perfectly and could navigate each room in the dark from memory.
When a racetrack dies, all the memories come rushing back.  Something about an empty grandstand and the stillness of a site that once was filled with color and movement.
Longacres, near Seattle Washington was the quintessential mid century racetrack.  With equal parts country and art deco, it's pastoral setting and classic green/white color scheme made it a template for all the hope and promise...luck and excitement it dished up for years.  I went there once in the 1970s while passing through the area.  The day was stunningly beautiful.  It was a week day so the on site crowd was smaller than usual and I wandered upstairs to a private box in the grandstand.  There was nobody around and as the crowd began to fill in before the first race, I decided to make myself comfortable as if it were my box and I belonged.  I just wanted to watch a race from this prime location.  I had no intention of trespassing.  Looking over the railing at the horses on the track, I sensed two people enter this box of 6 seats.  In my mind I rehearsed what I would say, and how I would apologize, but before I could say anything, one of the two men behind me asked, "Have you seen Richard this morning?"
"No, haven't seen him today," I replied realizing they mistook me for someone they knew.  Sensing I belonged, I relaxed and remained until the horses of the first race crossed the wire.  My two new friends departed shortly thereafter and I decided to move along as well.  I'll always remember Longacres as a very friendly place.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Portable

The first time I went to Disneyland--the Disneyland in Southern California-- I was about 9 years old.  I vividly recall sitting with my aunt on a horse drawn streetcar that took visitors from the front of the park up Main Street.  Back then, it was a re-creation of a turn of the century (20th Century) Main St. with what we loosely called "old fashioned" stores with cracker barrels, penny candy, and proprietors who wore hats and garters on their sleeves.  Disney was always keenly aware of the romanticism of the "good old days" and probably wanted his guests to breathe in the nostalgia as they entered his masterpiece of an amusement park.

So, sitting there with my Aunt Dorothy I had an epiphany.  My aunt had lived in aa world where she could actually remember horse drawn streetcars as the state of the art.  Suddenly, she was, at the age of 50, part of the recent past.  As I watched the monorail train go by and eagerly awaited my first look at Tomorrowland, I realized the pace of technology.
Now it's my turn to be sitting on the streetcar of defunct technology.  I realized the other day how many things that young people today will never see outside a museum or an amusement park.
A couple of years ago, one of my niece's children accompanied me in my pick-up on an ice cream run to the local grocery store.  It was a warm summer afternoon and Annie was anxious to show me that she was now old enough to ride up front in the cab with me.  She suddenly realized she couldn't roll down the window because there was no power window button.  When I showed her the little hand crank, she was dumbfounded but quickly recovered.  Then she thought that it was the "coolest" thing.  I guess it would be never having seen a window  come down that way.
These little revelations occur daily.  Sometimes I marvel at the fact that I went through college without a computer.  I've heard that it's possible to get a college education these days without ever going in a library.  I see how, but I'm not sure I like that idea.

Wish I still had my little Remington portable.  I couldn't get rid of it fast enough when I bought my first word processor.  I should have thought longer on that decision, but then, I do enjoy going to museums.

Friday, April 7, 2017

7th Decade




Outside my walls,
     I welcome measured mystery,
          I no longer remember eating the Blues,
Drinking ancient sadness,
     Just poetry from green lakes,
          and gray rain,

What now?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Gary Redux


Gary

It took me a while to get this picture (taken by David Soffa) of Gary.  But here it is, at last.
Gary was one of the most memorable kids in the St. George Homes back in the early 1970s simply because of his voice.  High Pitched doesn't really come close, rather pre pubescent sums it up.  Like a few of the other kids Gary had a fixation.  Comic Book superheroes, to be sure.  But not their images, more like the words used in their exploits.  Think Batman and think Pow and Zap and BOOOOM!
At some point in his formative years those comics were all he had and he managed to incorporate all those adjectives and verbs into his reality.  Even in this photo, Gary is about to smile.  He laughed a good deal.  Laughed and
smiled when uttering those action words,
laughed and smiled when being hit by other kids in the home.  His agggression was sublimely passive and that further inspired his tormentors.  Of all the kids I recall, Gary was perhaps the most lovable.  His histrionics often took the form of self-deprecation.  "I can't do anything right..."  "Everything always turns out wrong."  Just imagine that in the voice of a pre-pubescent 12 year old.  But Gary  was centered in his own way.  Despite the violence that surrounded him daily, he managed to find humor more often than all the others.  Today, when I think about Gary, I realize that he must be in his late 50s by now.  My hope is that his voice is as deep and mellow as his disposition could be.  I hope, too that a few things have gone right for him.