Monday, February 29, 2016

1 Home

The film, "99 Homes"  has been out for awhile.  My guess is that it's audience dwindles when people find out that the subject matter is the recent real estate bust that accompanied the economic turn down of 2008.  Like the Academy Award winning "The Big Short," this is a film about the winners and losers.   But, with a twist.  A hard working single parent living with his son and his mother falls on hard times when construction work get cuts back and ultimately gets foreclosed upon.  The twist comes when he ends up going to work for the very real estate agent that gives him the bad news.

What follows is a subtle portray and even more subtle discussion of the value conflict in this culture over property, the American Dream of owning a home, and ultimately playing the game fairly.  Our hero makes some bad decisions in his haste to regain his home.  In fact the definition of the difference between a house and a home lies in the balance.
Similarly, a situation in my local community got me thinking of "99 Homes."  Some neighbors want to prevent the destruction of a house originally built in 1902.  Seems as if the property was sold by the last remaining relatives of the man that built the house back then to a developer who wants to replace it with some condos.  Some more condos... Portland is suddenly awash in condos.
The trade off between the stately but archaic old house and the condos aesthetic is clearly what's at stake here.  The neighborhood sees the history and look of the immediate environment as clearly more important than a shiny new building.  The homeowner would rather just keep his memories of the house and sell the property.  In fact, in a local news broadcast, he said,"This house has no economic value."
I tend to side with the neighborhood.  Sometimes it's not all about economic value; it's about the look, feel and history of the place.  I think we all know what's going to happen here.  It's the great American value conflict.  Profit v. human life.

Monday, February 22, 2016

No Thanks

I've always wondered why some people are so intrigued with and ultimately seduced by groups that turn out to be nothing more than cults.  These organizations have authoritarian power structures and seem to be most appealing to people with a certain set of circumstances in their past.
I've lost a few friends over the years to the likes of Scientology, EST and a few other lesser known organizations.  Many of those groups have fallen by the wayside, but some stubbornly go on luring new generations of privileged, disaffected, vulnerable folks.
I was thinking the other day about specific instances in my past when I came into contact with these groups or their adherants.
Back in 1970, in the Bay Area, just walking around in San Francisco or Berkeley would initiate all manner of inquiries from "recruiters."  Scientology used to give out a lengthy questionnaire inviting people to take home this handout and then come to a meeting later in the week.  There were gurus and meditation gurus and groups that wore all peached colored or red colored  clothing marching around the Bay Area.  Harry Krishnas used to have a daily march up Telegraph Avenue every afternoon.

I've come to believe that there are a few common denominators that unite these groups and the people that find them so intriguing.  Most of the people I know who were duped were after something more in their life.  In fact there was one group called More House.  Not to be confused with the traditionally Black college of the same name, this group and various off shoots were more like a commune that set out to have it's followers get "more" of everything in their lives.  I remember being asked to go to a meeting set by this group in someone's home in Berkeley back then.  My friend was mildly interested and I agreed to accompany her in case a quick getaway was needed. What started out like a party with people milling about this older home suddenly became a lecture with two disciples of the group sitting on top of a tall bed crosslegged while everyone else sat on the floor.  The  conscious positioning of people said it all.  The hierarchy was in place and the web spun.  We left.  It was nothing more than the attempt of a few greedy, manipulative individuals to convince the "common people" to submit to their ideas.
The more famous cult nicknamed the Moonies used to stalk the Berkeley campus around Finals to set their traps.  Once, after a final exam in my final graduate semester at Cal, Berkeley I was bicycling home and chanced to stop to pick up a Daily Cal, the student newspaper.  Turning around, I was confronted by a beautiful young woman who handed me a flyer of sorts and invited me to her home for dinner.  Anything was possible in Berkeley those days, but something felt terribly wrong.  I had no knowledge that the sensory deprivation that accompanies Finals was fertile ground for these groups.  They pounced when students were most vulnerable.  Fortunately I view all invitations from strangers with a critical eye and politely accepted the offer and promised nothing.  Within a year that specific group was under fire for their practices and went on to become revealed as just another scam in the name of peace love and harmony.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

I'm Melting

The great American playwright, Arthur Miller, made immortality one of his constant themes.  In fact he once said that trying to achieve it, or at least be remembered is like "carving your initials on a cake of ice on a hot July day."  Social media is a good example of latter day attempts at immortality.  But what happens to all these attempts?  even some of the most famous are soon forgotten.  Perhaps if we write a classic song or piece of literature or if we make a painting on the scale of the Mona Lisa that cake of ice will remain frozen just a little longer.  Perhaps.  In his incisive oral histories, Studs Terkel has captured many of the ways people try to leave their mark.  I was always fond of the steel worker he interviewed who always tried to leave a little blemish on his work just so people would not forget that a human being was involved in this work.  That probably goes on in many factories to this day.  But immortality is, as Miller suggests, a futile pursuit.  Perhaps the best we can hope for is to be firmly placed on a family tree that continues to grow.  With the renewed interest in finding our roots, the task and the technology is all the more possible.

What happens to the flotsam and jetsam of a life?  Remarkably, it's a fairly quick and easy process to rid the world of one's presence.  Harsh as it sounds, people's belongings and leavings can dissolve into their surroundings rather quickly.  Places accept books, clothing, furniture and most anything of value.  Other places accept all the rest.  Poof!
I was wondering the other day, while cleaning a closet about what will happen to a variety of things I still have.  Not anything anyone would want, but some old journals, poems, paintings, and paintings with poems on them?  I won't flatter myself with the notion that people, some people would love to discover these things someday when I'm gone, but they would sure be easier to discard without me.  Or the alternative:  I could begin to deal with all the possessions I have that were attempts at immortality while I'm of sound mind.  Think I will.  Some sort of ritual or ceremony might be best.  Too bad I don't have a fireplace where I can burn things.  Sometimes fire is cleansing.  And...it's the opposite of ice.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Photo Booth

In my neighborhood is a new store called Therapy.  Lot's of folks go in this boutique like establishment that carries everything from greeting cards to furniture.  Lots of "Made in Oregon" type objects and a selection of books, art, and clothing that reflects Northwest tastes.  Many people like to say they are "in therapy."

The other day I noticed a new item.  It was one of those old school type photo booths.  On closer inspection, it looked like one of the originals with the small strips of sample photos proudly displayed on the sides of the machine.  But in talking with the sales person a bit, I found out this is a modern version of one of the originals.  The cost is $5.00 for a strip of 4 small photographs and the machine has the ability to post one or more on Facebook instantly as well.  Of course.
Not exactly the 25 cent version of my childhood.  But enough to get me thinking on the photo booth that my neighborhood posse and I used to frequent at the miniature golf course in our neck of the woods.  After playing a round of gold, still full of laughter, we'd wait our turn and pile into the photo booth.  Jimmy, Paul, Randy (sometimes) and myself hovered around the small stool inside and attempt to close the curtain.  We had a few quarters between us so there was enough for three or four rounds.  There was no such thing as instant photography in those days so the entire process often took some time.  After the mugging for the 4 shots was done we'd wait huddled around the yellow mound below the glass screen that house the red light that would flash before each snap of the shutter.  One night Jimmy noticed that the yellow mound resembled a large breast with a slit in the middle that would usher forth the much awaited photo strip.  "Give titty give," he started to chant.  It wasn't long until the four of us demanded, in chorus-like fashion, "Give titty give."  When after what seemed like much too long, the slim strip of paper appeared, we'd cheer and then slowly turn over the photo strip. More laughter.  Repeat the process.

I've often thought that putting one of these photo booths on a high school campus would be a real moneymaker.  Of course that was before everyone carried around a camera and the phenomena of selfies.  Today, the impact would be rather underwhelming, I fear.  Unless, of course, there was a rebirth of fondness for the genre.  A sepia toned contact sheet of your childhood available, on demand, from Mother Nature herself.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

First World Problems

First World Problems


    are minor inconveniences.
My password is temporarily blocked,
   and I haven't been able to find that brand
                       of crackers I like.
Why do some food items appear, endear,  and then disappear
                 forever?

The yellow plastic cap on the bathroom
    cleanser popped off and went down the toilet...
course I flushed it down but worried that I might block the
         pipes...It's probably at the sewage treatment plant by now.

How many days must I wait until I know
                for sure

that my picture wasn't taken by the "Your Speed Is...." contraption
on Hawthorne Blvd?


I wasn't able to get the elliptical machine at the gym that I usually use.  It's getting crowded
in there on the days I go most often.
Some folks don't check their email for days and I can't seem to find a morning newspaper
in the coin box anymore.
   Go paperless...go paperless...go paperless..
How many passwords will it take till they know
that too many passwords have died?


Another package in the neighborhood stolen
   off the front porch.
My car leaks...sometimes.
It's tax time again.