Saturday, August 29, 2009

Supply Schools

I've been watching the usual "Back to School" slew of commercials this week. Yes, it is true that for the most part, students and teachers do get excited about the beginning of a school year. There is some sort of renewal that transpires. One of the best things about teaching is that every year you have the opportunity to begin again.
One thing that has resonated stronger than usual is a local school supplies drive sponsored by a TV station, a credit Union and a few other businesses. People have been asked to drop off pencils, paper, backpacks and the like in several conveniently located barrels around town. For some reason this strikes me as particularly sad. I see it as a powerful reflection of inequity in our schools. Because it's something true about our schools, it's bigger reflection is our society; our culture.
I know I should feel pleased that people are opening up their hearts and placing gluesticks, colored pencils, and fancy file folders in these bins, but, to me, it's disquieting. I don't begrudge the generosity, but I can't help thinking that this is more a statement of how underfunded public education is. Here in Portland, one school district actually laid off 60 teachers last week, right before they were to return t the classroom. Yesterday, the union and the Administration got together and communicated for the first time in a couple of years and 42 got their jobs back. What a way to begin the year.
In similar fashion, I met some of the student teachers I'll be working with this year. One found out just recently that the cooperating teacher he'd been scheduled to have, the one he'd been observing all last year, was having his schedule changed and would not be doing anything in social science, his field. All this against a background of ridiculous calls for more standardized tests, more curriculum driven by those bullshit test scores, and teachers asked to take pay cuts or work furloughs, or teach subjects they don't care about, or, in some cases, substitute or hang around to see if they can have their old jobs back.
No, we don't need school supplies, we need to supply schools.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bridge to Nowhere

The numbers say it all. The symmetry is blatantly disrupted by the third column of numbers; the show prices: $97. $172. and $138. In horse racing it's what's called "bridge jumping."
Here's the deal. When a race sets up in such a way that the overwhelming favorite is sure to run at least third, a wealthy, albeit greedy, bettor places a huge "show" wager and is assured of collecting a guaranteed 10 cents on the dollar. In their mind they think, if I can produce $100,000. they'll give me $2000. It usually works. When it doesn't, you lose big, hence the term bridge jumper.
Someone tried this last Saturday at the Humboldt County Fair race meet in Ferndale. This is in very Northern California, just below Eureka. This little fair racing site holds the distinction of being the longest continual racing fair in the nation. To appreciate Ferndale, you must see it. It's a 5/8 mile track set in the redwoods in the tiny dairy community of Ferndale. It's so full of tradition you can't take a sep in any direction without bumping into something or someone who can tell you a story, recall an event, or bring a smile just by recalling something they've seen. In my years as a turf writer for The Blood-Horse magazine I did a few Ferndale related pieces, even got the cover-story one time. That will have to wait for another time, last Saturday Ferndale wrote it's latest chapter with the tale of a true bridge jumper race.
Here's how the board read:

2 $14.20 5.80 97.40
3 $11.00 172.60
4 $138.00

There were 5 horses in the race. The #6 horse ran fourth, and the 1/9 overwhelming favorite the #5 horse ran last. What happened? At this writing I do not know, but will investigate. Knowing Ferndale, the horse could have broken down and not finished the race, or could have been taken out by missing the turn for some reason. Ferndale's turns are extremely tight. They are not banked as with other 5/8 mile tracks still in existence, so, if a horse misses the turn or is outside of another horse who gets carried wide, bam! you are out of contention in a heartbeat. Maybe that happened. In any case, a quick review of the betting pools of that race reveal that the amount bet to show on those 5 horses looked like this:

The #1 horse was scratched and did not run.
2 $562.
3 $315
4 $393
5 $96,747
6 $361

When the #5 horse finished out of the money, all the show money bet was distributed to those bettors who held show wagers on #s 2, 3, or 4. Hence the inflated prices.
This is the stuff of racing lore. There is certainly more to this story. I'll see what I can dig up. I need to tell you that whoevr bet the $90 + thousand dollars to show on the 5 horse could have done it from anywhere that race was simulcast. They need not walk onto the fair grounds with that much cash. It could have even been in the form of a voucher. In any case, smells like a bridge jumper to me.
At this writing I have no knowledge of the person or persons who made and lost that bet. But one fascinating detail remains. The name of the 1/9 horse who took all that money and finished off the board was Snatch the Cash.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Reading at the Blackbird

Oregon Literary Review co-hosts First Wednesdays, a series of readings, performances and wine-tasting at the Blackbird Wine Shop, 3519 NE 44th off Fremont, 7-9pm. This show is 21 and over. Contact Julie Mae Madsen at for more information.

The readers for September 2 are Bruce Greene, David Cooke, Carrie-Ann Tkaczyk, A. Molotkov, & Evan Cooper.

This night features writers of a successful Portland writing group The Guttery (

Bruce Greene taught for 33 years at an urban high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a teacher-consultant for the Bay Area Writing Project at UC Berkeley for the last 20 years, he’s published numerous articles on educational issues in his own practice as well as personal essays based on his experiences and observations. An avid thoroughbred horse lover, and frequent contributor to The Blood-Horse magazine, he served as Northern California correspondent from 1985-2000. Bruce now lives and writes in Portland, Oregon and is currently looking for three new streams to fly fish, two more coffeehouses conducive to writing, and one literary agent for his recently completed memoir, Above This Wall: The Life and Times of a VISTA Volunteer 1969-70.

David Cooke is a former middle school special education teacher who operates a landscape maintenance business aptly named The Lawn Guy. He is a founding member of two writing groups– Leora: A Writing Group and The Guttery. He graduated from both the University of California, Santa Cruz and the Portland State University Masters of Special Education program. Raised Catholic in Oakland, California, he now resides in Lake Oswego, Oregon with painter, Jessica Acevedo. His debut as the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize winner is available in The Hunger Mountain Journal online and in print. He is currently compiling a chapbook entitled Discretion.

Before landing in Portland, Carrie-Ann Tkaczyk lived all over. She learned kickboxing in Turkey, faced-off with a rhino in Nepal, discussed the weather with Queen Elizabeth in England, and was chastised by Mother Theresa in India. She’s now proud to declare herself a coffee mug carryin’, microbrew drinkin’, Powell browsin’, environmental stumpin’, trail hikin’ Portlander. She writes novels about the adventures that occur when the will of the individual and the collective muscle of a culture clash.

A. Molotkov is a writer, composer, filmmaker and visual artist. Born in Russia, he moved to the US in 1990 and switched to writing in English in 1993. He is the author of several novels, short story and poetry collections and the winner of the 2008 E. M. Koeppel Short Fiction Award. The winning story “Round Trip” has been nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Award and accepted by Intramel for publication in Italian. A. Molotkov’s poetry and short stories have appeared in over a dozen publications, both in print and online. Visit him at

Evan Cooper is a writer of fiction. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Willamette University and an M.A. in Media and Culture from the Universiteit van Amsterdam. He often rolls them up and uses them for house fly-icide and K-9 reprimands. He lives and writes in Portland, Oregon.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


His name was Willard Smith. I first met him in the fall of 1969 while a VISTA Volunteer in the 3rd Ward of Houston, Texas. On a whim, I went to a horse auction with another VISTA and we ended up bidding on a nervous little gelding recently shipped in from the Texas panhandle. Much to our surprise, but more to our disbelief, our $150. bid took the prize.

If not for a generous old man, who also bought a hundred dollar horse that day, we may have had to ride our new friend home. I can still see the two horses standing in the bed of this guy's old pick-up truck. Following them on the freeway was just about heart stopping. At least we had a destination. Fortunately, my partner in crime, Julie, had located a horse boarding stable about 10 miles from our home and that's when I met the Smith family.
Our little brown gelding arrived in good shape. Never question anything an old black man in overalls knows and does. We paid him about 10 bucks for the task and parted company. Albion, the name of our new charge, remained fairly skiddish during the next few months, but our friendship with Willard blossomed. He, his wife, and two sons were most helpful. In speech, manner, and appearance, he represented the Texas I feared, but Willard was hardly a threat; he was a gentleman, a teacher, and a humanitarian. In time, we traded Albion for Amber, a beautiful buckskin mare who had been a barrel racing champ. Seems as if Willard knew of a soon to be divorced Texas princess who just wanted to move on. He gave us a deal we couldn't refuse. Albion went to another boarder at the stable who could give him the time and attention he needed. We could still visit him.
If you are interested in hearing more about Willard, his family, and his abundant horsemanship, you'll just have to read my book: Above This Wall: The Life and Times of a VISTA Volunteer 1969-70
It's all there, including the reason for Willard's huge laugh in this photo.
He was the Texan I remember most; a lone star in an enormous sky.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Poem

Odd Hours
c2009 Bruce L. Greene

Odd Hours

The mind’s passion is all for singing out. Obscurity has another tale to tell.
-Adrienne Rich

They emerge at odd hours.
Always crouched like wilting string beans, or oversized soap bubbles; well over prime, instantly vulnerable,
In remote corners of their PROPERTY
they’ll weed awhile,
Jerking the veins of unwanted intruders from their domestic carpet-dream;
It’s what they have,
what they control,
what they do.

When careers have yielded to succulents,
they appear on weekdays,
with mid-morning saws, leaf blowing,
edge and hedge trimming,
fumes for the elms,
oscillating decibels for infants,
vibrations for ant colonies.

Eleanor tempts the last light with an impromptu tour of her lawn;
She hears crows descending
and wonders about their youth,
Never seen any nests,
never seen baby crows,
they just appear fully grown;
Their numbers have increased,
would that Hitchcock could see the tree behind the alley.


I could never make that sudden appearance;
Mine was never a life of home-owning
I care less for lawns than lives.
Slightly more for ideas than irises;

When my road becomes a U-turn,
I see my father in their eyes,
I attempt, again, to find the contentment in raking leaves,
capturing them all before another falls,
and another,
still another,
always another.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Big Sky, Here's Why

My recent trip to Montana was filled with weather extremes. The heat of the day often gave way to thunder showers each evening.
An early morning fishing trip into a dark canyon: the view from a kayack,
A brief visit with a cutthroat trout before he returned to his holding place in the east fork of the Bitterroot river.