Friday, July 25, 2008

Leaning Curve

Sometimes the fishing is much better than the catching.  So it was when I took my brother-in-law to Timothy Lake this week.  Ever the purist, I kicked along on my float tube, casting my fly rod between stumps, next to logs and up against reeds.  I tried a few dry flies but mostly it was drifting a nymph or stripping a streamer, or both.  Nobody home.  Not even some mild interest my offerings.
Bro' John, on the other hand, slipped over the water in his kayak and took 3 fish on his spinning reel outfit.  Using mostly shiny silver spinners, both rainbows and brookies were impressed.  "Nice place you got here," he yelled across the lake at me as we both took a break from watching a pair of osprey do a mating dance about 500 feet above. 
Oh I know there will be other days and other lakes and rivers and streams and tail-waters, and fly fishing only places and many more times, but for a minute there, I was much too downcast for such a beautiful day.
It's always so unpredictable, with mystery the only guarantee, ever.  I wouldn't want it another way.  
Someday I'm going to just take a week or two and hang out on a lake or stream all day.  Each day will teach me more and more.  Then, when I return after dark winters, I'll be able to embrace my fate more fully.  Up the learning curve they call it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

To Die For

     In responding to the previous post, my friend Cameron thoughtfully reminds me to extend the question "What do we tell the 58,000 names on the wall?" to the millions of Vietnamese killed during the American occupation in Vietnam.  To this I would add the Australians, Canadians, Koreans, Chinese,  Yes, they all would have something to say about the current state of affairs. 
     I would also add the millions physically and psychologically maimed by that war.  Yes, they all figure into this paradox that has resulted from the stability that Vietnam offers corporate capitalists.  It's a hop, skip and a jump to oil and Iraq.  
     A few years ago, while teaching an International Relations class for high school seniors, I came across a wonderful cartoon.  My attempts to find it and post it here have been unsuccessful so far.  Let me describe it, however, because it's genius in it's concept.  Imagine a split screen.  On the left side is a Vietnamese girl, about 11 or 12 working on Nike shoes.  She sits at a sewing machine, her bare feet do not reach the floor.  Caption reads, "job, no shoes."  On the other side of the screen is an American adolescent male, leaning on a street light pole, wearing baggy pants, athletic jacket, high end Nikes. Caption reads, "$200. shoes, no job."
Damn, I wish I could draw.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Moose in the Mekong

So many of the young women looked alike. Save one, they all had long hair halfway down their back, gold hoop earrings, and, for the most part, the same smile. Of course they wore the same swim suit. Even the women from Asian countries, African countries, and the African-American woman who represented the U.S.A. had essentially the same hair style. That's right, Miss Universe. But it wasn't the cookie-cutter models on stage, the competition, whether evening gown, swim suit or answering terribly relevant questions about international relations that gave me pause. It wasn't the host and hostess, Jerry Springer and a former Spice Girl. (the Black one) It was the venue. Vietnam. The Peoples Republic of Vietnam was host to the 2008 Miss Universe pageant.
Within minutes after I stumbled upon this telecast, I was lost in thought. No surprise that so many violent images of Vietnam are emblazoned upon my consciousness. After all, the war was the defining moment of my generation. Yet the incongruousness of a beauty pageant in Vietnam is an earthquake. Springer even narrated a short travelogue section that shows all the contestants visiting a monument to Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi. Jane Fonda must have chuckled at that.
How wonderful that Vietnam, in all it's Communist glory is so popular with the "free" world and all it's Capitalist glory. How marvelous that labor in Vietnam is even cheaper now than China. It's only natural that the world has come to Vietnam to celebrate this beautiful country, its culture, people, and new status in the community of nations.
One question: What do we tell the 58,000 people whose names are on the wall. Guess what, it really wasn't about democracy, communism or any of that stuff. It really didn't matter who occupied those valleys, those hamlets, those cities. We're all economic partners now. Isn't it great? Trouble is, they can't hear us.
Now, whenever someone asks me how I feel about consciously deciding not to participate in that war, no matter the consequences, I will know where to begin. When asked about the risks of disagreeing with the foreign policy of your government, I will know what to say. When confronted with the ever popular any regrets? I need only say Miss Universe 2008. The discussion begins there.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Day's Work

The Farmers' Markets are in full swing in Portland now. Our summer starts on July 5th and the warm winds, long daylight hours, and bright mornings are very much in evidence in the size, color, and yield of this seasons fruit and vegetables. I always walk the perimeter of the downtown Farmer's Market first. Yesterday it was blueberry city. Native American fishermen had wild salmon from the Columbia River they had caught the previous day. Lots of onions, cauliflower, broccoli, and peppers. Strawberries, marionberries, raspberries, and cherries of all kinds completed the palate. Of course there are urban farmers who sow and reap in the concrete fields of the citiy offering chocolate, baked goods, breads, and wines as well.
People watching at a farmer's market is outstanding. On the Portland State campus, the visiting academics, Asian tourists, and our of towners are easy to spot. Sometimes all I have to do is close my eyes and listen. Since Portland is very dog friendly, a good many folks bring their best friends. A chunky woman with a huge Doberman was trying to fill a bag with red potatoes while her leashed companion lay his drooling head on a nearby pile of Yukon Golds. I moved on. Damned if my favorite berry farm didn't have the biggest blueberries (about the size of nickels) at a better price than most.
I always stop by the stall of an older man all the way from Joseph, in Eastern Oregon. He grows root crops, beets, turnips, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, and the like. They are gnarly but colorful. As I approached the stall, I could hear the farmer, who is easily in his 70s telling a customer that he eats his potatoes a couple of times a day. Taking a dusty, deep brown potato off a nearby pile he reached for a knife.
"Are those Russets?" the woman asked. "Oh no, these are a German potato, like a gold," he said. Cutting the potato in half to reveal a yellow gold, creamy interior he continued," I cut some of these into my eggs every morning, then sprinkle some cheese over the top. You can go out and do a day's work after that."
I bought a few thinking potato salad. Wonder how much work I could get out of that?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Happy Birthday Mr. President

Like some twisted Zen koan, the names Nelson Mandela and Amy Winehouse have surfaced together. Apparently she performed, in London, at a 90th birthday celebration for Mandela. I'd love to hear the rationale for this one. Yet, in meditating further, the synchronicity of this pair of prisoners makes sense. Yes, they both have spent time in cages; Mandela is, of course now free. I don't think folks expect either to live more than 10 more years. At 24, Winehouse has been alive fewer years than Mandela was incarcerated. Her death wish is no doubt equally as strong as Mandela's will to live.
Racism seems to have played a major role in the drama of both actor's lives. Violence too. What must go through Mandela's mind as he enjoys his birthday concert? He does enjoy it, doesn't he? Mandela, and South Africa may be best known for the Truth and Reconciliation committee. The will to bring to the surface the horrors of Apartheid, admit culpability, deal with the consequences, and attempt to move on is admirable. It is something few countries with similar backgrounds in oppression have done. It's a form of rehab, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I've Just Seen a Face

Like all cities, we have some fairly aggressive pan handlers here in Portland. One of our locals is is particularly bad shape. Aside from his gaunt, toothless, limping, loud self, he has to wear a catheter strapped to his leg. I'm sure his kidneys gave out a few years ago, and from his sunburned, painfully thin, scraggily bearded appearance, probably doesn't have long to go. In winter when the temperature dips under 30 degrees and he disappears for a few days, I feel sure we might not see him again. But he reappears.
When he sees me buy a newspaper out in front of my local coffee shop, he times his move. "Hey Buddy..." Often, I give him a quarter. I have bought him coffee before, but since the catheter, sometimes his pants are wet or his cuffs are dripping and I generally try to say away from anything that might impact his bladder. I know he eats, because I've seen the hyena gaze he gives when he's devouring something, like a person who hasn't had anything to eat in a while. People give him cigarettes, so he's able to maintain his nicotine stained face and hands easily.
Last week, while having dinner with my mother-in-law, her new significant other, a sister-in-law and her husband, and my wife, Katie, we were talking about our adapting to Portland and some of the perceived differences between living there and the Bay Area. Since it was Jenny's (my sister-in-law) and Katie's birthday dinner, we were in a fancy Italian restaurant in Layfayette, California, an upscale bedroom community of San Francisco. When Katie and I mentioned some of our new friends, it didn't take long for her to say that I have a favorite street person that I subsidize. "He even says, hey buddy, where's my quarter? if Bruce doesn't give him anything," Katie noted. "Yeah, he's aggressive," I conceded, "but one look at him and it's fairly obvious he's in bad shape. He won't be going to any job interviews tomorrow," I said.
Immediately by brother-in law, followed by my mother-in law's new suitor, launched into the familiar strain about how giving money to a street person is not really helping them. The bro-in-law even told story attributed to some construction workers of a blind man near their work site who used to collect a good income until one day one of them, testing his honesty tried to take his cup. "That guy grabbed it back, he could see all the time."
Now I'm sure versions of this urban tale exist as far back as the Great Depression. They then proceeded to tell me how much income street people often make. As they each took another sip from their $10.00 glass of wine and swallowed a bite from their $25.00 entree, I thought, my God, it's only a quarter!
Weighing my options, I could have responded in any number of ways. What I did say was, "You know, Buddha says that when you see a beggar you see the face of God."
"Do you really believe that?" came the reply from the one with the multi-million dollar portfolio.
All I said, and to myself at that, was it's only a quarter.