Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lost and Gained

I think it's the Woody Allen movie, "Play It Again Sam," that features a scene where Tony Roberts character is telling Woody Allen's about how he can feel better about the loss of a relationship.  No matter that the relationship in question is the wife of Robert's character.  Allen is having trouble with accepting loss (what else is new?) and Roberts reminds him that there are certain things in this life that will always be with you.  In fact, he goes on to say that when you feel particularly depressed about the human condition for any reason, these things will always be there.  A Louis Armstrong trumpet solo, a dynamic sunset, great works of art, or even just places you like to visit, foods you enjoy, or the sound of wind, guitars with harmonicas, or a child laughing.  Simple as it is, just knowing these things will always be there makes it possible to endure some of the dark times we all must experience.
I can't remember how this impacts the lives or events of the movie referenced here, but I do know the concept has certainly helped me through a dark time or two.  I've gone so far as passing along this advice in one form or another to friends in need or folks I know feeling the full effect of loss in their lives.
 I had a chance to listen to some song lyrics the other night at a local music venue. One of the featured performers did a cover of John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery."  One particular stanza that got me thinking.
             Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery,
             Make me a poster from an old rodeo,
             Just give me something that I can hold on to,
             To believe in this living is just a hard way to go. 

Something that I can hold onto; it's the same issue, isn't it?  We all have angels from various cities and posters from past events that we can and do hold onto.  They will always be there for us.  
Angels and posters come in many forms.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bonus Word

“The bonus word is paraphernalia,” Mrs. McCarthy said. 
“Para..what,” someone yelled back.
“Par a fen al ia”  Mrs. McCarthy stood her ground.  All five feet 11inches of her Irish school teacher self.  Her mother of the brood, warm, stern, no nonsense self.  We loved her 7th grade English class and especially the bonus word on spelling tests.  If you got the bonus word right, it counted in place of a missed word somewhere else on the test.  The bonus word came with all the anticipation of a mystery.  Even a word like paraphernalia was fair game.  The trick, of course was that it was para …pher…nalia, not para… fa… nalia.  We knew this because paraphernalia had been the bonus word a few times already.  
   So, most of us at Sun Valley Junior High could spell paraphernalia, but we never used the word.  It wouldn’t come into heavy usage until the word drug preceded it a decade or two later and we were not in the habit of discussing our “camping paraphernalia,” just our shit. 
In that select group of 7th graders who not only knew the spelling, but the definition of paraphernalia, were students who no doubt would become very familiar with the concept as they navigated the passage from youth to adulthood.  Many, not the ones we’d expect. 
First choice would have been Mickey F.  His uncle was supposedly “Pretty Boy Floyd,” the gangster.  Mickey was a quiet kid with the short sleeves of his white Tee shirt rolled up all the way and the traces of a cigarette pack in the wrinkles.  He had the wavy hair and receding hairline of a 40-year-old man.  Nobody knew exactly who Pretty Boy Floyd was, except that he was a gangster that rode around in cars with running boards and “plugged” people with a Tommy gun.  It would be 20 years before any of us learned of his Robin Hood reputation and how he’d anonymously beg a meal with a poor Oklahoma family and leave a hundred dollar bill underneath his plate so they could “save their little home,” as Woody Guthrie sang. 
Arthur H. would come to know paraphernalia well.  His life was sucked up, spun dry and then shoved down the drain of the Vietnam War.  There must have been others in that group of Mrs. McCarthy’s but Arthur is one of the only one’s I heard about.  College wasn’t for him right out of high school and he’d hooked up with his fast lane girlfriend faster than a GTO.  The army offered mechanical training but they soon took the auto shop tools away and planted an M-14 in his hands.  By the time he had a weekend of leave in Hawaii, he’d been dumped by his “wife” and was back in Vietnam the following Monday.  He soon acquired paraphernalia.  Many of those boomer kids in uniform carried the same trappings of their brothers and sisters in Haight Ashbury.  Arthur’s collection, eased his pain, but stole his soul. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Stationery Story

The back to school commercials start in late July now.  I don’t feel the pull until the second week of August.  This is the exhilaration time for teachers, and even after retiring from the full-time routine the pull is always just as strong. 
I begin to think about stationery stores and then quickly lament that they don’t exist any more.  Or if they do, they hide in plain sight.  We have the big and getting bigger box stores and that seems to be about it.  Now the two giants, Depot and Max or Club, or whatever it’s called today, have merged.  Then there is Staples but they don’t even have decent staples.  I miss a good stationary store. 
Once upon a time I found things like file folders in unusual colors or wood grain.  Many choices of pens, pencils and the thing I love most, college-ruled, easy on the eyes, light green writing paper. 
I remember how just putting 5 sets of essays to grade in crisp new folders lightened the task.  I still employ that method for the work I do now with beginning teachers.

Maybe the pull of the office supplies has to do with the momentary control that comes with organizing the new products.  There is an instant for teachers preparing to open the year, when everything is pristine.  Nothing is missing, torn, graffittied, or broken.  The stapler is full, the writing paper in good supply.  Even the windows are clean.  For some, as in much of my experience, this all comes with rooms and furniture that have lasted for generations, but nonetheless, a delightful, ephemeral calm has settled on your learning environment.
One year, a particularly insightful parent worked a deal with a local stationary store in my community.  Each teacher was given about $300. credit and allowed to purchase whatever they wanted/needed for their classroom.  It resembled one of those multi-party lottery tickets for some.  While most purchased paper and art supplies and things that would hardly last the year, a few went for one big purchase.  One even bought a lectern.  I'm still trying to get my head around that, but it can't be helped.
Maybe just going online and being able to hunt for one of a kind or unique items will fill the slot that a local small business once held.  I doubt it but it's all that's left.  

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Jump Back

Last night I lost a post I'd written due to a poor internet signal in Central Oregon where I am currently spending a few days.  The irony of this jumps high in my face like the huge rainbow trout I also lost,  That fish was the subject of the post.
My thought was to get a written description down somewhere because it just might have been the fish of a lifetime.  Of course, for a fly fisherman who dutifully practices catch and release, I will always have the memory.  That's all we ever have anyway, isn't it.  I'll go out there today but it wont be like yesterday because no two days are alike.  Perhaps a few hours on the water will help sharpen my description skills.  More to come...
The second day arrived a bit cooler with very few clouds and fewer people.  I took my camera along mostly to tempt the fates, but was rewarded with a nice pic of the landscape, a surprise selfie, mostly from boredom, and a nice rainbow who pounced on my fly as I was floating peacefully eating an energy bar.  They always seem to make contact when my concentration is not 100 %. 

So long until next year or perhaps a post Labor Day adventure calls.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Picture This

I spent some time this morning looking at a slide show of photos from the 1930s.  Most of the work in this collection was of African Americans.  Having taught about The Great Depression many times, I'm familiar with many of the books and photos from that crucial time period.
Visual literacy is a subject that always played a role in the curriculum I created.  Who doesn't love to look at pictures.  Granted, there are historical photo essays that are difficult to look at, but in the long run, they are, in my view, always worthwhile.
One particular photo caught my attention.

This picture of a man walking up stairs to the segregated section of a movie theater wouldn't leave me alone.  As I've often done, I asked myself what I see first... and then what?  There is an artistic symmetry to the photo; a dualism from black and white to shadow and light, to have and have very little.  Lots of symbolism too.  The clock the Dr. Pepper message and of course the ladder that appears under the price of admission to the "colored"section of the theater.
That section would have been the balcony.  From there I wonder what films the good people of this little town had seen at this theater.  Since the photo dates to the 30s, there is a good chance that some of the most popular films of the era where shown.  If so, then they no doubt saw films that were characteristic of hard times.  Films that showed a better world, a world where want wasn't so extreme.  The era produced many of those.  Maybe they saw King Kong.  The beast that humanity eventually conquers serves to provide additional symbolic comfort for those who feared even more than fear itself.
Sitting in that darkened balcony, what must have gone through the minds of that audience?  If they were fortunate enough to purchase 10 cents worth of escapism, what reality did they exit the theater to?
I suppose I could do the research and answer some of my questions, but right now, I prefer to simply wonder.  I'm curious too, if in this segregated movie theater, some of the short films and advertisements directed at a Black audience were shown.  Maybe there were separate days/nights when Black folks could sit in any part of the theater.  Maybe not.  Occasionally, the old films surface locked away in a warehouse, for decades, and sometimes restored to once again reveal so much of our history.  For now, we do have some of these wonderful photos (sad and alarming as some may be) that still have the power to open up the imagination.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

RPM in Peace

There is a wonderful little record store in my neighborhood.  That's right a record store.  It's name says it all: Vinyl Resting Place.  We seem to have hastily buried the notion of records a few years back and now, as a culture, we may be having second thoughts.  It's no secret that younger generations prefer listening to vinyl.  They say the same thing that we said when CDs first came out.  All that stuff about sound quality and tone.  I've never really been able to tell the difference but I confess I did buy into it.  I used to find myself buying albums I had on vinyl as CDs only because I thought they might sound better.  Still not sure if that was a mistake but I have a few hundred of each now.
So, I peeked into the resting place the other day and found it was much more alive than I suspected.  One of the owners was there, a woman about my age and playing some Muddy Waters.  The selection was modest, but all albums were reasonably priced and appeared in good condition.  If I ever decide to send some of my vinyl to it's big turntable in the sky, this is the venue.  Someone will have the pleasure of discovering some of my best stuff anew.  Much more satisfying than a funeral.

As a result of my little venture there, I began recalling just how important buying was to me as a kid growing up in LA LA land.  Guess that began when I saw a 45 of Elvis' Jailhouse Rock in it's original sleeve.  I bought that exact record at the Community Market In North Hollywood when I was in the 5th or 6th grade.  Think I must have given 50 cents back then.  It sells for ten bucks today.  If my copy exists some where it might not have any sound left on the disk.  So many parties and bedroom performances...The same would go for one of the first 33 albums I bought, Ray Charles' Greatest Hits.  I played the hair off that album along with Hully Gully by the Olympics.  So much for Jr. and High school.  Along came Dylan and things changed.   Very few of my vinyl recordings from 1965-75 would bring much of a price. That's because I traveled a good deal from coast to coast those years and the times being what they were saw heavy use and many additions and subtractions from my collection. That's just the price paid.

There is one exception, and that is the RCA Vintage Jazz and Blues series that I consciously began to collect in the early 70s.  I had my first teaching job and the resources to "invest" in what I thought would be a worthwhile group of albums.  Besides, it was fun trying to find as many of those still in print as I could.  It often took a trip to another state, or even Canada to find something unavailable in Northern California where I lived most of my life to date.
My vinyl is in a couple of boxes, having recently moved.   I still haven't got a turntable but that may come.  At least one thing is settled.  I know where it's going to go when the time comes.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Hot Time

This has all the hallmarks of a long hot summer.  Start with the literal.  Here in Oregon, the record for consecutive 90+ degrees was not broken, it was smashed...with authority.  No rain here in Portland for over a month and though the city's beautiful parks still have greenery, the grass is turning brown.  Maybe a thunder shower or two will stop by this evening, but things are dry and getting dryer.
Last week I drove up to one of my favorite little lakes on Mt. Hood to do a little fly fishing for the first time this year.  The water temperature in the morning was well over 70 degrees and even at 7:30 in the morning, there was very little fish movement.  Only a few half-hearted rises and no interest in a dry fly whatsoever.  I managed to hook three in a two hour period, while landing only one.  The other two came unbuttoned either because they only nibbled at my nymph or because I was deliberately taking it easy on them and opted for the quicker release.  Either way, I went in early and called it a day before noon.
Hopefully things will straighten out before Fall arrives.  August appears a real desert right now.  We'll see what Central Oregon has to offer in a few weeks.  The altitude might be just the ticket, because there are a few places with shreds of snow remaining.  Even just looking at it might make the weather more endurable.

But while Portlanders have a difficult time with 90 degree weather, it's still nothing compared to a summer in Texas or Louisiana or any number of East Coast cities built on swamps.  We get a bit of humidity now and then, but more often than not, the heat is not as intense and besides, this is Beervana, so we have ample opportunity to mitigate the issue  in our favorite pubs.  Air conditioning helps too.
The Presidential campaign too has sparked a few outrageous thoughts recently.  Donald Trump is such a wonderful representative of the worst our culture has to offer.  His values spill out of the convoluted musings he utters daily.  To my refined educator's sense, he has no editor, his comments are unrehearsed, right off his expensive cuffs.  The question persists: For whom does he speak?  Could there be millions that share his racism, his misguided greed and his inflated sense of self-importance?  Probably.
And in the other corner sits Bernie Sanders.  Bernie has lit the fire under a simmering middle-class.  I'd love to see them go toe to toe.  That might heat up the air waves.  A good bit more than the luke-warm lessers of evil we will have in the end.