The last two days of the long holiday week were a vast improvement over the prior three, although it required both a cunning plan worthy of a WWII POW camp escape, plus fortuitous circumstance in the form of a $20 bill tucked into a Christmas card by Someone Who Should Have Known Better. The result being that TBSofA (see below) finally staggered in at around 1:00 a.m. Saturday morning, thus facilitating my silent, surreptitious departure at 6:00 a.m.
Although I spent a large portion of my childhood in and around Portland, and still have many relatives living there, I seldom get down to visit, so when the opportunity arises it's always a treat. At Christmas it's particularly significant, with all the emphasis on family and renewal. For me, driving across the bridge between Washington and Oregon is like traveling down a tunnel to the past.
The weather was it's normal chilly, wet self, but off in the distance the West Hills were capped with a whipped cream topping of snow clouds. The weather light on top of the old PG&E Building was a steady red, indicating inclement conditions. The White Stag sign at the west end of the Burnside Bridge lit up like a giant neon welcome mat. Regardless of where else I've lived, or for how long, there's a physical sensation I get whenever I see these things that resonates through every atom of my being with the sound that things make when they've come home.
I wasn't scheduled to meet up with my grandmother until around noon, so I had a good five hours to kill beforehand. Plenty of time to trek a bit south to Lake Oswego, where I lived for about four years, or nearly half my life by the time I left to live with my mom in February, 1971. Whenever I can, if I have the time, I make a point of going back, just to have a look around. I don't know anyone there anymore, but there's a certain comfort and satisfaction in being able to retread old familiar paths, if only to keep the memory of the steps fresh in one's mind.
Take SW Macadam from downtown until it turns into Riverside Dr, then follow it along the Willamette River, twisting and winding past Riverview Cemetary, Elk Rock, through Briarwood until you hit the north end of State St. Keep driving past the old Lake Theatre, where I spent innumerable Sunday afternoons watching double-features and Three Stooges shorts, past storefronts that I stare at through the rain spattered windshield while visualizing names that haven't existed on their marquees for more than 30 years: that bank used to be the Burger Chef, which TBSofA in the innocence of his infancy used to mispronounce as, "Bugger Chef"; that dry-cleaners used to be the A&W drive-in; Lakewood Elementary, where in third grade Kip Carson would crack us up during "heads down" by arranging his Cub Scout kerchief and glasses Janus-like on the back of his head, where in fourth grade my dad coached us in the finer points of rebounding off the backboard during YMCA basketball league, and where at the age of nine I fell in "like" with a girl -- Amy Bright -- for the first time. Only the movie theatre and the school still exist more-or-less in their incarnations of three decades ago, and by a happy twist of fate, the school now serves as the town's performing arts center.
Take the right leg at George Rogers Park, where I played pee-wee soccer in a similarly drenching summer rain, and sat in my dad's VW beetle after practice listening to The Archies sing "Sugar, Sugar" on the am radio (KISN, "Home Of The Good Guys!"), and where I spent seemingly unending summer days running through the woods playing "Land Of The Giants" or army or any of a dozen other childhood games with kids whose faces have blurred into indistinct shapes with the passing of time, and most of whose names have become similarly unrecognizeable. Cross the bridge next to the dam where the lake outlets into Oswego Creek, and there on the left is the old house, 755 Maple St., barely recognizeable with it's new two story solarium. I don't feel a need to stop, just the need to know the place where I used to live is still there.
I keep driving for another quarter mile, then turn around and head back for the park and get out for a bit of a leg stretch in the freezing drizzle. As I walk, I'm drawn further back in time by each familiar signpost: the old concrete play sculpture, looking like the calcified skull of some prehistoric dinosaur; the old stone foundry further down the trail; the rotted pilings along the riverbank where we used to pull up rocks during the low tide summers to look for crawdads underneath.
Just the thought of some of those times is enough to take a bit of the chill off, but not quite enough. As the rain desperately tries to transform itself from a liquid to a solid state, I head back up the trail to the relative comfort of the bus and drive back to the city, back to the present.
They say, "You can't go home again". But, the truth is you can -- up to a point -- so long as you accept the fact that sometimes "home" is just a handful of trinkets stored away in a little wooden cigarbox your grandmother gave you for your seventh or eighth birthday. Or that "home" may simply be a pulsing of electro-chemical energy stimulating a few hundred million neurons in a part of your brain that serves the same purpose. The place itself may change, become unrecognizeable, even disappear completely, but so long as you still have the cigarbox and whatever treasures are kept safe within it, you can make do just as well as if it were the real thing.
True to form, the Christmas Holiday has turned into yet another of my annual trips to "Dysfunction Junction", wherein the interaction with certain elements within the great, extended family that is my birthright and patrimony results in emotional responses ranging from near passsive-aggressive levels of guilt, frustration and resentment, all the way off the scale to actual Fear For The Life And Well-Being Of Others.
Not to burden you, dear reader with the grisley details, but suffice it to say, I write this from a small coffee house in Northeast Portland, where I have escaped to after three days of babysitting an alcoholic younger brother who, despite all his well-meaning intentions, has pretty much single-handedly turned this Festive Season into -- well, if not exactly a living nightmare, then at the very least several days of anxious, sleep-depriving wariness, while some or other relative sits up until the wee hours either waiting for said brother to stumble home from his nightly depravations, or else waiting for the almost equally odds-on phone call from the local constabulatory informing us of little brother's incarceration for public inebriation, aggressive pan-handling, petty theft or assaulting a police officer.
Needless to say, it's not a pleasant way to spend time with the family.
Fortunately, The Rose City shall provide some brief respite, where I can hopefully make some small, necessary withdrawls from the Karmic ATM of my soul, instead of having the loose change sucked out of my psychic pockets by the Black Sheep of Arizona.
I'm just greatful ONE side of my family exhibits a tendency towards something resembling sanity...
And by the way, to those of you I haven't said this to in person -- I hope you've had a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Festive Kwanzaa or whatever you choose to celebrate this time of year, and that you remember to save a little of that merriment and joy you've felt these past few days for those (not just myself), who could sure use a bit of cheer right now to balance the scales back to equilibrium.
Scaled Composites, the company founded by aviation pioneer Burt Rutan picked an auspitious day -- today being the 100th Anniversary Of The Wright Brothers Flight -- to take his latest venture Space ShipOne(Seen above in an earlier glide-only test) on a little test flight -- at Mach 1.9, thus becoming the first non-commercial, privately built-and-financed aircraft to break the Sound Barrier.
Why is this newsworthy? Well, by most accounts SpaceShip One is currently the odds-on favorite to win the $10 mmX Prize, a competition intended to encourage development of the first privately-financed reusable suborbital spacecraft. Of the 25 teams entered to-date Rutan's has progressed the furthest from design concept to actual test flights of the suborbital vehicle, and given his reputation in the industry as an innovator (he being the designer of the Ultra-Light mini airplane, as well as holding the record for the first -- and so far only non-stop around-the-world flight). there are few who can match his level of technical expertise to pull off what may very well be the first great aeronautical achievement of the 21st Century, opening up the threshhold of outer space to the private sector.
Who know? Maybe someday I'll actually get to fulfill that childhood dream of being an astronaut. Chances are a trip on SpaceShip One will be more within reach of my pocketbook than these guys.
With several trips to the local Churches Of Our Lady Of The Disposable Income (read: shopping malls) under my belt, and the annual shopping agony nearing completion, I still have a nagging question: why in the world is it necessary for some stores to have multiple outlets IN THE SAME MALL??? Are people considered too lazy to be able to walk ALL THE WAY to the other end just to get to The Gap or Helly Hanson, that TPTB in their wisdom decided that TWO stores within 500 feet of each other would be better?
It's almost as bad as having a Starbucks on every other block. For example, Bellevue Square, site of last evenings excursion has THREE, along with TWO SBC's, one Tully's, one Peet's, and at least three other lesser branded java joints as well. Oddly enough, with all those coffee stops the one thing you'd think WOULD require multiple redundancy -- namely restrooms -- seem to be in rather short supply there.
All of which begs another question: Does the Eastside REALLY have so many wealthy people with SO MUCH money burning holes in the pockets of their Dockers that Bellevue Square can support no less than NINE different jewelry stores? Geez, you can't swing a dead Lhaso Apso in there without hitting a diamond merchant.
And yet you can walk across the street, and stand in the shadow of a big empty building where The Bellevue Art Museum used to be, before they ran out of money and had to close their doors a couple of months ago.
Nine jewelry stores, no problem. One Art Museum, no can do.
Normally, I've tried to avoid blatant reposting of other people's blog content, but the following little speculation from "graphic novel" writer Warren Ellis ("Transmetropolitan", "Planetary" & "Global Frequency" among many others) is such an insightful explanation for the behavior of "those crazy kids today" that it bears repeating.
Just forget for a moment that he's writing this as if it's a room full of superpowered mutant teenagers he's talking to, and the main argument actually does make a lot of sense.
You're not different.
The world has spent forty years telling you you're different. Some of your own teachers have doubtless told you that you're different, with the best of intentions. But you are not different.
You are new.
Yes, you are mutants. But so are the Basque people of Spain. Did you know that? They have a gene that protects them against heart disease. It is a gene that no other people have. That, by definition, makes them mutants.
Do people without that gene go to the Basque region with pitchforks and torches? Do people seek to outlaw them? Have people, in fact, designed and constructed giant robots to hunt and kill the Basque populace? No. They are simply part of the human genestream.
The genestream is the human torpedo, fired out of Africa at the dawn of intelligent life. Think of it as a contrail, shooting out of the past and roaring into the future. It curls around the world, thickening as it gathers pace. The African human is part of the genestream. The Ainu, the Inuit, the Caucasian, the Sumerian. The Basque. All of these are part of the human genestream, powering forward into future time. And at the front of the genestream is us. The human warhead of the evolutionary missile.
Some people have called us Homo Superior, which is supposed to mean superior human, superhuman.
Our genus is in fact Homo Novus. We are, quite simply,
You are not different. You are simply new.
The people who don't like you have a name, too. Neophobes. Those who fear and hate the new. And I bring good news. Neophobes die early. It's true. A recent scientific study shows that neophobes experience such stress when in the presence of the new that it signficantly shortens their lifespans. By hating you, they're killing themselves.
By now, I'm sure most of you have spotted the fatal flaw in my Basque analogy. The Basques look like every other standard-issue human on the face of the planet, and you don't. Many of you, I'm glad to say, do not look like standard-issue Homo Sapiens. And that, you believe, is why the outside world does not accept you.
I have good news on that score, too. I'm just a little ray of sunshine today, aren't I?
All you have to do is look out the window. Look at your human peers, the teens and twentysomethings. They're twisting themselves into something other than standard-issue human. They're changing themselves, with piercings and brandings, and implantations and surgeries. There's a surging body modification movement full of people sinking feathers into their backs with hooks to make wings, and splitting their tongues in two, and connecting extra arms to their nervous systems.
Do you know why they're doing that? Because they want to be you. They want to be new humans. They are testing the absolute boundaries of their own bodies because they want to become what you are naturally.
There's a word for them, too. Neophiles. People who embrace the new. And they live longer.
You think you're never going to be accepted? Look out the window. The current generation of the previous model of human is cutting itself to bits to try and be mutants. They want to be you because you break all the rules they hate just by existing.
Every last one of you is a subversive icon. Every last one of you is a genetic superstar. You are the genestream A-list, blasting the world into the future.
And everywhere you go, you make the world new again.
Last night I kicked off my annual "Holiday Party High-Carb Binge & Blowout", with the first annual "Seattle Performers Unions Holiday Extravaganza" featuring "The Wonderful World of Baklava" -- or so it seemed. There was SOOOO much baklava. Piles and piles of it, strewn around the lobby of The Intiman Theatre like pieces of driftwood littering a beach after a winter storm.
There is still baklava, seductively sitting within arm's length of my desk, staring at me with those exotic eyes of almond. Tantalizing me with its flimsy gauze of chocolate barely covering its lusciousness. It whispers to me with a Siren's call, a sugary Salome seducing me in honeyed dulcet tones to, "Pleassssse, jussssst a nibble! One tiiiiiiiiny tid-bit of filo won't huuuuurt! You knooooooow you waaaaaant it. You muuuuuuuust haaaaaaaaave it! Eat it! Eat it NOW!"
And so, it begins again.
This is what my life will be reduced to for the next three weeks, as I stagger drunkenly from one sweet tart to the next like some sugar-starved fiend, seeking always to ascend to the dizzying heights of sucrose-infused euphoria, only to be unceremoniously body-slammed back down into the depths of carbohydrate catatonia a few minutes later. I shall wander, like a pariah or leper from one red-green-and-white decorated dish to another, shunned by the patrician vegetables, unable even to make eye contact with the pius fruits, clinging to the shadows beneath the generic holiday decorations like something unholy, emerging only to make brief, furtive reptilian clawed snatches at the innocent roaming herds of cookies, fudge, divinity, nut logs, quickbreads, candies and chocolates, mowing them down like buffalo on the Great Plains, a one-man plague of locusts descending to wreak biblical havoc on the verdant fields of innumerable plastic party platters.
And you shall know me by these signs: The the little flecks of sticky saliva clinging to my chin like morning dew on a leaf of grass, the tell-tale brown chocolate stains beneath my fingernails, the dilated eyes and twitchy fingers constantly grabbing the open air at phantom plates of sugary goodness, the waistline that softens and sags like a half deflated hot-air balloon, the throbbing of arteries as they vibrate like violin strings to the gentle rhythm of the Glucose Symphony.
If you see me in this abject state, do not shun me, for I am flesh, and flesh is weak.
And I PROMISE, I'll cut down -- right around December 29th or so.
Housesitting again in Bellevue for the next two weeks. Actually, it's a pretty good gig for a guy whose normal living arrangements would make an Apollo Command Module feel spacious by comparison, but it does have some odd effects on my system.
For example, sleeping is a bit of a challenge. Over the past two and a-half years, I've become accustomed to a variety of environmental patterns; lapping waves, (sometimes not so) gentle rocking, the clanking of halyards against masts, the white-noise drone of I-5 traffic from across the lake, the faintly organic smell of the water, cats jumping on me at odd hours, that sort of thing.
In Bellevue, I've got none of this. The room is pitch dark, soundless to the point that I can easily hear the faint gear-meshing of the little alarm clock next to the bed, and there's not even the smallest hint of any rhythmic pitch-and-yaw that usually rocks me into slumber-land. So, it usually takes me several days to adjust to the new conditions, meanwhile I toss and turn as my body expresses a vague dissatisfaction with the current sleeping arrangments.
But, when I do finally fall asleep, I've noticed that my dream states are highly vivid and detailed, and that I can often remember particular dreams for hours or even days; last night two in particular stuck with me, one in which I and several of my friends were going over reams and reams of financial data, influenced no doubt by the forum I attended earlier in the evening dealing with the financial trouble at The Seattle Fringe Festival. The other involved purchasing huge slabs of bloody steaks at a supermarket. Instead of being neatly packaged in stryofoam and shrink wrap, they were just laying on the counter, and the checker would slide the whole thing across the bar-code scanner and throw it in a plastic bag. Then, as I was walking home with the bag of meat dripping blood on my shoes, I encountered the world's biggest outdoor fruit tray. Mountains of quartered oranges, bunches of grapes covering the ground like a carpet, piles of berries strewn across the landscape, all neatly separated by item, but without a pathway between, so that the only way to negotiate the tons of fruit was to simply wade into and over it.
The last thing I can remember thinking before I woke up is that I wish I'd asked the checker to double-bag my side of beef, so I would have had an extra one to scoop up some of the pulpy goodness I was stomping into Spodie beneath my feet.
Gertrude Ederle (1906 - 2003) was one of those remarkable women who in the early decades of the last century proved that females were as physically capable of taking on extreme challenges as any male. On 6 August 1926, at the age of 20, she became the first woman to successfully swim the English Channel, a feat accomplished by only five men before her. A world-class athlete by any standard, during her career she not only won three Olympic medals (Gold, Silver and Bronze in Paris, 1924), but shattered a number of long-distance swimming records formerly held by men, some of which stood for more than two decades.
I first encountered the Late Ms. Ederle in a book given to me by my father when I was about 8 or 9 years old, "100 Greatest Sports Heroes", a biographical compilation of the most noteworthy athletes of the first half of the 20th Century. Along with Ederle, this was where I first learned about such legendary sports figures as Jim Thorpe, Roy Campenella, George Gipp, Babe Didrikson, Bob Cousy, George Mikan, Bronco Nagurski, Gar Wood, and a host of others, many of whom are probably now only footnotes in the annals of professional sports. I still have the book, one of the few relics to have survived from my childhood.
Although I'm not exactly big on sports in general, it's still interesting to go back to it ever once in a while. The entries, penned by notable sports writers of the day (including the late Seattle Post-Intelligencer Sports Editor, Royal Broughm -- the one that little street between our two mega-stadiums is named for), paint a portrait of an earlier, decidedly more innocent period in our nation's adolescence, when victory against adversity or overwhelming odds was considered its own reward.
One of the great things about this book is that it includes luminaries from a wide array of sporting activities, far beyond "the big three" of football/baseball/basketball; jockeys, wrestlers, rowers, boat racers, even a bowler. The other thing that always struck me about it was its obvious color-blindedness. Jackie Robinson, the first black to play in professional baseball shares space with Ty Cobb, one of the most notorious racists the game ever knew. John L. Sullivan, the great irish brawler is recognized alongside Sugar Ray Robinson, possibly the most intelligent boxer ever to step into a ring. Thorpe, a Native American and perhaps the greatest all-round athlete this nation has ever produced has his legendary achievements held far above the relatively minor scandal that stripped him of his Olympic gold medals in both the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon (restored in 1982). And then there are the notable women such as Ederle, whose accomplishments rivaled those of their male counterparts.
Most of the athletes included in the book never made huge piles of money; no shoe endorsement contracts, no multi-million dollar annual salaries, in fact, many weren't even what we would consider "professional" by contemporary standards. They were for the most part, simply people who thrived on physical challenge, and who accepted victory and defeat with equanimity, poise and dignity. In this modern era of the pampered, spoiled, overpaid, media annointed sports superstar, these now mostly forgotten athletes represent what is perhaps today a nearly unobtainable ideal -- that victory is as much about exceeding ones own physical and mental limitations, as it is about beating ones opponent.