Friday, November 30, 2012

one for israel

I am not certain which alternative universe the United Nations lives in.

To be honest, I have never understood the utility of the general assembly -- other than to provide jobs for people who thought high school student council was the high point of their lives.  And it never fails to live up to all of my expectations.

Such as yesterday's vote to elevate the Palestine territory from "non-member observer entity" to "non-member observer state."  By a vote of 138 in favor.  9 opposed.  41 abstentions.  Silliness on skates.

My vote in opposition was spent at lunch.  At Kitzel's delicatessen in Olympia.

There is a back story.

Olympia is a left-leaning town.  Way left.  The kind of  town that prides itself on its food co-op that sells enough natural and raw food to please anyone with a food fetish.

And there is the rub.  The food co-op not only sells natural food, it sells natural food with a leftist self-righteousness.  The co-op recently decided to stop selling any products from Israel.

Why?  You already know the answer.  To the co-op, the only mature democratic republic in the Middle East -- the one that honors the rights of women, the right of free speech, even freedom of religion -- is the bad guy because its speaks in the voice of liberal democracy.

Olympia may be leftist, but some of its residents understand how a liberal democracy works.  The solution?  The free market.  In the guise of a Jewish delicatessen.  Not New York.  Jewish.
Kitzel's, to be exact.

We had lunch there today.  The place offers up delicatessen food at its finest. 

For me it was egg salad on an onion bagel.  My first choice -- a chopped liver sandwich -- had sold out earlier in the day.

The food was great.  I am not certain I have had better egg salad.  Plenty of dill.  Several other herbs I could not easily identify.  And a serving large enough that most of it fell out of the bagel.  That is what forks are for.

The service was even better than the food.  Personable.  Friendly.  Fun.

Everything you would expect from a delicatessen based on the principle of freedom of choice. 

There is nothing better than eating good food while knowing you are making a positive social statement.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

coaxing the blues out of the horn

My Great Aunt Bessie was my Auntie Mame   A woman that would never go hungry at the banquet of life.

She was my father’s aunt  But they were close enough in age that I always thought of her as his sister.  And she treated me as her son.  Well, not so much "son" as spoiled nephew.

Unlike Mame Dennis, she did not take me on trips to India or safaris in Africa.  Our adventures were trips to the Oregon coast or movies in Roseburg.  Always accompanied by my Uncle Don -- a French-Canadian lumberjack.

But they were hardly limited trips.  In my boyish imagination they were every bit as exotic as pony treks in

I introduced Aunt Bessie to you in my best girl almost three years ago. The post concluded with a note to me from my cousin, Gail.

When her daughter went through her effects, she found a note that she forwarded to me. Aunt Bessie wrote the note about a year before her hospitalization -- obviously knowing the end was near.

The note said that she had only one regret in life: that she had never been able to visit England. But she hoped someone would take her there -- one day.
I found Gail's letter during my memory clear cutting to get my house on the market.  It reminded me how we often live our lives without ever knowing what the people around us would like.

I did not know my aunt wanted to visit England.  I could have easily taken her there.  Not as a repayment for what she had done for me -- because love offered does not require recompense.  It merely needs to be shared.

This post has been rolling around in my head for almost a month.  But it turns out to be timely.

I have two very close friends from law school.  Ken and Patti, who now live in Olympia.  We have shared some of our best life experiences together.

Earlier this month, Patti sent me a note asking if I had some time available to visit with them.  She then told me she had been diagnosed with liver cancer and would soon be undergoing treatment.

And that is why I am now in Olympia.  Sharing life with people who mean more to me than anything else going on in my life right now.

I can hear Aunt Bessie reminding me to get out there and enjoy that banquet -- and reminding me that there are people I know who would like me to bring back a bit of dessert to the table.

With two forks.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

more training

Nostalgia is interesting.

I was under the impression I was on a train to Olympia.  It appears I am a time traveler.

When I switched trains in Portland, my head took me back almost sixty years ago.  Under these same awnings in 1955, I was about to take a trip that would open a new world to me.

As far as I know, I had never left Oregon before that trip to Detroit.  I am not even certain I had even been to Portland.  As a logging family, our idea of a long trip was going to Gravel Ford or Sitkum.

But there I was.  Amongst it all.   Surrounded by a new world.  Busy people.  Heading to exotic locations or on business trips.  Or just doing their jobs.

And, of course, there were the locomotives.  With their grumbling diesels.  Whose whistles in the night would transport a boy in his dreams to far away places.  Knowing he would one day go there.

That boy is now back on that same platform.  Having been to far more places than he could have imagined six decades ago.

And ready to see many more.


training myself

I am on the road again.

Or, more accurately, I am on the tracks.  On an Amtrak train heading toward Olympia, Washington.

My house cleanup has not been as steady as I would have liked.  So unsteady that I have extended my Oregon stay to 9 December. 

Even with the extension, the house will not be ready to go on the market.

But I needed to make my way north.  I may -- or may not -- write further about that.

When I am in Europe, I use trains extensively.  I seldom do in the western section of The States.  Car travel is simply far more practical.

I must confess, though, I do love trains.  Not in the trendy left way where trains are seen as noble reactionary beasts doing battle with automobiles.  It is not a fair fight.  And without substantial infusions of taxpayers' money, there would be no fight at all.

For $54 (US), I get a very comfortable reclining seat in the business class car.  A wi-fi connection (that I am putting to good use right now).  And a closeup view of a portion of America I have always loved.

My love affair with passenger trains began in the mid-1950s when our family took the train from Portland to Detroit to buy a new Ford station wagon.  We then drove back to Powers briefly visiting sights along the way. 

My Dad was one of those drivers who saw driving as a start and a finish.  All of the stuff along the way was merely interference in getting where he wanted to go.  As a result, my memory of the middle section of America is a bit hazy.

In 1966 my parents sent me off on the train with a group of high school students to visit Boston, Salem, New York City, Washington, and Charlottesville.  Being 16 on a train without parents was the very essence of freedom.

Other than two trips between Seattle and Portland in the 1990s, that has been my history with the American passenger train system.  It is just enough to keep the romance alive.  Any more trips would make me realize train travel is nothing more than riding in a spacious Greyhound.

So, for those of you who are American taxpayers, thank you very much for the subsidy.  I am enjoying my trip.

the once and future senator

The year was 1969.  The summer between my sophomore and junior years in college.

My friend John Crooks and I had just finished the summer semester.  Because we were both dual political science/history majors, we decided to put some of our studies to good use by flying over to Washington, DC for a week.

I think it was John's first trip.  It was my second.

And that trip is the provenance of this photograph.  The guy on the left you know.  The 20-year old version of your correspondent.  And someone not yet accustomed to cameras.

The Dapper Dan on the right was my senior senator at the time -- Mark Hatfield.

I grew up in a mixed marriage -- at least, politically.  One parent was Republican.  The other was a Democrat.  But they both agreed on one thing.  They admired Mark Hatfield. 

For me, he was the epitome of what a statesman should be.  Principled.  Persuasive.  Charismatic.  And a smart dresser.

I also learned from him that it was possible for two people to start out agreeing on a set of principles, but for each person to end up with differing political positions.  From him, I learned how to respect one other as God's creations.

Mark Hatfield died this past year after many years of public service.  Uncovering this photograph was a reminder that we all leave a legacy behind.

For that boy with the lop-sided smile, it was learning that principles transcend transitory political victories -- or defeats.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

thurber me this

One of my favorite social occasions when I come north is having lunch with my friend John.

I have introduced you to him in the past.  A former work colleague with a PhD in philosophy, and a master of common sense acquired in the wilds and wiles of Walla Walla.

We are about as far apart from one another in theology and politics as two guys can be.  Not quite a Jefferson-Castro chasm.  But within viewing distance.

What makes the friendship (and our conversations) work is our respect for each other even while we disagree.  Which is most of the time.  And on almost everything.

The drawing at the top of this post sums up our friendship. 

In 1996 I decided to buy a golden retriever.  John patiently listened to my stories of my boyhood dog -- Uncle Jiggs.  John decided I was far too old to need an uncle.  What I needed was a professor in my life.  Thus was born the notion of Professor Jiggs.

John started drawing a series of Thurberesque drawings.  All portraying the anthropomorphic adventures of my yet-to-be-acquired dog.  Each drawing also captured the eccentricities of the phantom dog's owner.

It appears that my concerns about being seen as an Edwardian-era child carried over into my adult life.

I had lunch with John two weeks ago.  Our conversation was the usual wide-ranging hodge-podge.  Part Dorothy Parker.  Part Velikovsky. Part Jeremiah.

But there was an odd edge to the afternoon.

In an email later that week, John pin-pointed the silent partner at our lunch.  "This lunch, however, definitely had a different feel to it.  You are a person in transition."

I am certainly transitioning away from Salem.  If I am ever able to sell the house, my visits will probably be far fewer than they have been over the past four years.

Even though I am not a person of place, I will continue to have relationships with people in places where I no longer live.  And visits will follow.

The spirit of Professor Jiggs, in his fez and smoking jacket, would certainly understand that.

Monday, November 26, 2012

a christmas story

Last August, Mom and I attended a fundraiser dinner in the Powers High School gymnasium.

Even though I never attended high school there, something was very familiar about the room.  Especially, the stage. 

I now know why.

While cleaning out some old boxes, I ran across a script and its associated program.  It turns out the Power High School stage was my big dramatic breakthrough. 

Sure.  I was in a few church plays.  A shepherd if I was lucky.  A sheep if I was not.

But those were the small rooms.  The high school gymnasium was the big room.  Where the entire town turned out for Christmas plays.  And I had a leading role.

Ok.  The lines were a little stilted.  "And my presents are all wrapped and ready for my taking them around tomorrow."

The play was long in the tooth when we put it on in 1957.  It was copyrighted in 1936.  Who knows when it was written.

My fear is that I may have been cast in the part because I sounded like an Edwardian-era child when I was 8.  The same type-casting that plagued Jane fonda in Klute.

What strikes me now about the play is that it is a Christmas play in a public school.  And presented to the entire community.

There is Mary.  Joseph.  Shepherds.  Angels.  Wisemen.  The Innkeeper.  And the baby Jesus -- present in every original song of the play.

Mexico, officially a secular nation, would have no trouble today presenting a play with the same characters in its schools.  And Oregon in the 1950s had no qualms. 

It never occurred to us that a holiday named Christmas could have no reference to the Messiah.  An assertion, if made now in an Amrican public school, would result in hand-wringing and pink slips.

The little play did not launch me on a stage career.  Unless you count trial lawyers as auxiliary thespians.  I guess they are.  I certainly know I was.

Without Jack and the intoxicating sound of applause, I may never have had an opportunity to tread the boards in court.

Thanks, Jack.  I had forgotten all about you and your reminder -- "No wonder you asked us if our hearts were ready for Christmas.  They weren't at all."


Sunday, November 25, 2012

california dreamin'

Friday's photograph made me wonder if there was ever a period in my life where my hair did not look like a cross between Albert Einstein and John Hinckley.

Of course, there was.  At least, during the five years I was on active duty with the Air Force.  An organization that took (and takes) its grooming standards very seriously.

That is me on the far right.  Doing my impression of a California boy.  Because I was.  At Castle Air Force base --to be exact. 

Four of us (the fourth is behind the camera) had just spent a Memorial Day weekend camping and water skiing at a local lake.  Within a month, I would have orders to report as "a technical assistant to the Hellenic Air Force."

But I still remember that weekend.  Having the freedom of my early 20s with good friends and a rented boat from the base recreational services.

California, like Oregon, offered a wide variety of outdoor opportunities.  Two weeks before the water ski weekend, we were at Yosemite indulging in another variety of skiing.

But good grooming was doomed.  After five years of having Uncle Sam tell me what to wear and how to cut my hair, I headed off to law school where my libertarian spirit ran free.

I am just happy this photograph did not end up in the hands of my political opponents during my 1988 campaign.  I could just imagine the caption.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

a three-tevye thanksgiving

If traditions are merely repetitions of once-original ideas, our thanksgiving dinner was laden with traditions-in-the-making.

Never mind that we may do none of them in the future.  And that some family traditions that one were -- such as, Pictionary -- just did not happen this year.

If nothing else, it was an eclectic Friday.  Starting with Slumdog Millionaire.  Even though the movie is well-written and cleverly filmed, it is probably not on the top of many holiday favorites lists.  And the reception was mixed in our little group.

In an attempt to get everybody back on board the holiday express, we watched a portion of Funny Girl while the turkey finished its procession from poultry ice cube to dinner starring attraction.  Not even The Streisand could upstage the bird.

My sister-in-law created an amazing meal that was characterized more by its basic nature.  When I prepared holiday meals, they tended toward the exotic and just plain weird.  Christie wisely avoided thse pitfalls with a moist turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and home-made cranberry relish.

My mother brought a cucumber salad and her trademark sweet potatoes (no yams, thank you very much).  Both fit right in with Christie's menu.

But even better than the food was the conversation and repartee.  My brother kicked it off with a reading of his Thanksgiving writing project from third grade.

Not too long ago, a friend commented that my family is like a situation comedy family.  And they are.  In the nicest sense of that term.  And we never worry about being cancelled mid-season.

We were then off to a new event for us.  Christie read that there was to be a Sound of Music sing along at Bend's live production theater.  That was all we knew.  And enough for all of us to sign up.

A little background may help here.  When The Sound of Music was released in the mid-60s, its Oregon home was exclusively at the Fox Theater in Portland.  As a road show.

And just like a Broadway show, tickets were purchased in advance with reserved seats.  It was the place where we took out-of-town guests. That alone was enough for the movie to have a special place in my memory.

It is also my niece's favorite movie.  That surprises me because she is even a bit more cynical about life than I am.

With that bag of nostalgia slung over our shoulders, we headed off to the Tower Theater.  To watch a very bad copy of the film with lyrics subtitles.

The idea was just as advertised.  We were all to sing along.  But there was much more.  Like a bourgeois version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, we were encouraged to participate in the film.

We booed the Baroness and the Nazis -- as if they had some sort of moral equivalency.  We waved small white flowers while singing Edelweiss.  New year's poppers were deployed for the first kiss between Maria and the Captain.

It was silly.  And a lot of fun.  My mother, who had not seen the movie in several years, seemed to enjoy herself as much as the rest of us.

In one day, we managed to visit the Slums of India, the music halls of Fanny Brice, and the Austrian Alps of the Von Trapps -- all while digesting one of the best meals I have had this past year.

That is a tradition I would not mind repeating.

Friday, November 23, 2012

hairy wit

The  photograph is old.  But the condition is as current as Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s resignation.

As long as I can remember my mother has shown an inordinate concern for the condition of my hair.  Usually, its length.  To be fair, my father was usually the prime target.

So, when Darrel, Mom, and I got together a week ago to attend a funeral, I knew my head topping would come up at some point.  It had been four months since I had it cut.

After the memorial service, we went to lunch at Lew's Coney Island -- one of our family's favorite neighborhood drive-ins.  While we were sitting there waiting for our food, Mom kept looking at my hair.  I knew what was coming.

"Who cuts your hair?"

Well, that was subtle.  Not at all what I had in mind.

I ducked and dodged.  "It has been so long since I had it cut, I can't remember who did it."

And then came the shiv.  "I was just wondering.  I thought it might be my hairdresser.  It is cut just like mine."

My Mom.  The Subtle Wit.  Oscar Wilde could not have delivered a better quip.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

a modern cotton holiday

For the past decade or so, my family has not celebrated Thanksgiving (or Christmas) on their designated days.

Work schedules.  Travel.  Availability.  All have conspired to keep us from setting down together on a day designated by some stranger as the "correct" day.  But we eventually get around to celebrating.

And our celebrations verge on Norman Rockwell.  Somewhat.  With Thanksgiving in February.  Or Christmas in May.

This year we are in danger of being labelled as "conformists."  Thanksgiving dinner will be on Friday.  In Bend.

On Wednesday, my brother and his wife (the two people who induced me to retire to Mexico) drove over to retrieve my niece from Oregon State -- and picked me up in Salem in the process. 

I am glad Darrel was driving.  As beautiful as the Cascades are during the day, driving through mountains at night in the snow is not my favorite pastime.

So, even though we will not be joining you tomorrow to thank God for the bounties he has bestowed on us, we will join in on a second round on Friday.

I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving.  No matter where you are.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

audrey 2 moves to melaque

About a year ago my landlady showed up at Casa Nanaimo with a rather sad-looking plant.

The gardener lashed it to the flamboyant tree with ropes -- like some Roman Easter ritual.  And there it sat.  Through the dry and rainy season. 

The only activity was a matrix of long white roots -- right out of a gothic film -- that girdled the tree.

I know this plot.  It was Little Shop of Horrors all over again.  One morning I anticipated a giant alien would be tied to the tree.

But I was wrong.  Instead, the plant started putting out columns of fresh green leaves during the summer rainy season.

Then one morning there was something new.  A thin spike.  That grew longer and longer.  When it was nearly five feet long, it started forming buds.

And there it sat for a couple of weeks.  Until I was greeted one day with delicate purple flowers.  Orchids.  Perfectly fit for a Lilliputian high school prom.

Unfortunately, that is when I headed north.  My landlady informs me that the display goes on. 

This year I will miss its best performance.  And, as long as the plant is not aware of my herbicide history with orchids, we may be able to coax a reprise next year.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

calendar girls

I write quite often about my efforts to keep the surface of the laguna clear on my inlet.  Most recently in green is my pond.

But I am not alone in the work.  My neighbor has cleared far more water cabbage and hyacinth than I have this year. The guests at his hotel enjoy sitting ion the veranda and watching the wildlife attracted to the cleared area.

There is also a local group, Prolatule, AC, organized to clean larger portions of the laguna.  To do that, they need to raise money to take on what is an almost sisyphean task.

This season's fundraiser is an art calendar.  A fourteen month calendar to be exact.  Centered around the fauna of the laguna.  Each month contains a photograph of local wildlife -- with a local dancer in body paint representing the spirit of that animal or bird.

My favorite is at the top of this post.

The calendars are available at businesses and homes in Melaque, La Manzanilla, Barra de Navidad, and Cihuatlan -- displaying this poster.  If I was there, there would be a poster on my gate.

150 pesos each.  A good deal for a quality calendar.  And the proceeds go to a good cause -- to help clean up at least a portion of the laguna.

Cleaned up, it could be a draw for birders, boaters, or people simply interested in the local wildlife.

For additional information, take a look at the organization's Facebook page: Prolatule A.C.

Monday, November 19, 2012

eating my loan

After two full weeks in Oregon, I finally had my first home-cooked meal here.

My friend and former work colleague Nancy invited me to her house where her daughter Molly whipped up a great meal of stuffed pork chops, roasted potatoes, and salad.  And an amazing home-made cherry pie.

I caught up on what was happening locally.  And, because we are attorneys, the topic turned to the cost of higher education.  Law schools, in particular.

Several young attorneys have told me their tales of financial woe involving they debts they incurred in law school.  One friend has a student loan of $160,000.  Amortized to pay off when he is in his 70s.

Those obligations make me feel like a space alien.  I knew that I had student loan debt when I left law school, but I was not certain how big the debt was.  Certainly less than $160,000.

As  a result of my donation project to Salem's land fill, I now know.  When I graduated in May 1979, I owed $2,500.  The first monthly payment of $90 was due a year later.  The interest rate was ridiculously low at 3% during the height of the Carter-Ford-Nixon inflation years.

Even though the last payment was not due until 1988, I paid it off in three years just before I bought my first house.

Why the big difference?   Between living at home, financial support from my parents, a part-time job, and short-term loans, I graduated college without any student loan debt.

My financial support in law school was similar.  Two years of GI Bill benefits, a part-time job, and summer work kept my debt under control.

So, what happened between 1979 and 2012?  Why doesn't the "putting yourself through college" formula work any more?

The big difference is tuition increases.  I have seen the statistics, but I do not recall the details.  But education costs have increased almost as much as medical costs.

There are lots of reasons for the medical cost increase.  But the prime cause of tuition increases is linked directly to the increase of education loan availability.  The more loans families are willing to undertake has freed educational institutions to increase their costs.  Student loan debt is now targeted to be the next housing and .com bubble to burst.

During the past year, I have read several policy proposals to reverse the education cost spiral.  But most of them seem to have about as much hope of being implemented as do reforms to Social Security and Medicare.

I am just glad I am a consumer of home-cooked meals, and not education, these days.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

jumping at danger

I had lunch with my friend Beth and her mother Saturday morning at one of  our favorite eateries in Salem -- Busick Court.  Some of the best Eggs Benedict in town.

My stir and toss method of divesting myself of possessions has resulted in some interesting coincidences.  And my lunch was Beth was another in that category.

Nine years ago Beth stopped by my work office to ask me if I was interested in taking up sky diving.  It was not an idle conversation point.  She was on her way to the Mulino airport and wanted to know if I would join her on another of her adventures.

She had just recently bungee-jumped out of a hot air balloon.  All she needed was an accordion to make it a trifecta.

Even though I had parachute training in the Air Force, I had never experienced a free fall.  But I was about to.

We had a rather lengthy briefing on safety and parachute packing.  After donning our gear, we crowded onto a small airplane and enjoyed the flight until we got to our jump altitude.

I recall our instructor asking me what was the most important lesson I had learned in the briefing.  My response?  "The moment I step out of this airplane, I am dead.  Unless certain things happen in a certain order." 

He thought I was clever.  I thought I was merely accurate.

On that first jump, I was not afraid.  Even though my pilot training made me wonder why I was leaving a perfectly good aircraft in flight. 

But there was very little sense of being several thousand feet above the planet.  It was too high for my brain to form a fear of heights.

The few moments I was in a free fall were some of the most amazing of my life.  I felt as if I was driving a motorcycle at 120 miles per hour -- without the motorcycle.  It was a libertarian dream of physical freedom.

Beth and I made a second jump.  We even talked about becoming certified, but the cost and other circumstances got in the way.

As exciting as those two jumps were, I had almost forgotten about them until I found my log book and first jump certificate.  Both of which are now in garbage bags.

But it was nice to revive those memories.

Someone commented a few days ago that the memories are in my head, not in these pieces of paper.  That is true.  But rediscovering these little memory jabbers has been the best part of clearing out my closets and file cabinets.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

give my rejects to broadway

Yesterday was theater wing day.

I have been collecting theater programs since 1966.  I am not certain why I kept as many as I have.  They are designed to be of limited use.  But there they were.

From Broadway.  London.  Los Angeles.  Oxford.  Portland.  Seattle.  Salem.  Paris.  Athens.  And with a range of plays just as broad.

All the way from the usual tourist schlock.  The MousetrapEvitaCatsPhantom of the OperaStarlight ExpressLes MiserablesMiss Saigon

To the more unusual.  My Fat Friend with John Inman of Are You Being Served.  The full series of D'Oyly Carte (de mortuis nihil nisi bonum) Gilbert and Sullivan productions.  A Little Night Music with Jean Simmons (the actress, not the tongue guy) and Hermione Gingold.  Billy -- when Michael Crawford was a comedian with a character actor's singing voice instead of his current false Caruso.  The amazing Chita Rivera in the pedestrian Kiss of the Spider Woman,  And Victor Borge.

Then there are the treasures: Harvey where I met James Stewart -- a tale already told in harvey the crocA Walk in the Woods with Alec Guiness and Edward Herrmann. And The Importance of Being Earnest with my favorite actress, Maggie Smith.

Some of the programs contain the autographs of the stars.

It was fun to look through them.  But I have not seen most of them in years.  They were prime targets to head to the dump.

But reprieves come in odd ways.

On Friday night, I attended a local high school production of Little Shop of Horrors.  It was not very good.  However, when I was introduced to the drama teacher, an idea hit me.  Why not pass on my collection to someone who would really appreciate it?

I made the offer.  The drama teacher accepted.  The collection will have a far better home than I have offered it over the past five decades.

If only it was that easy to divest myself of some of my other goods.

Friday, November 16, 2012

military digs

I am Indiana Jones.

At least I feel archaeological these days digging through the layers of my life.

Yesterday I hit a mother lode of memories.  Most of you know I was on active duty with the Air Force in the early 70s.  With assignments in Texas, Colorado, California, Greece, and England.

When I left the Air Force, I returned to law school in Oregon.  And then decided to join the Air Force Reserve as a judge advocate general -- where I served for 23 years.

The Air Force is big on education.  So big that to ignore getting a master's degree, or attending Air Command and Staff College, or Air War College is to guarantee no promotions and an early retirement.

I had almost forgotten I had accomplished all three.  Well, not so much the master's degree in International Relations -- while I was in England -- which was one of the most enjoyable years of my life.

But the two Air Force schools were -- what is the word? oh, yes -- a colossal waste of time.  As interesting as the Air Force procurement system is --.  Why finish that sentence?  The adjective "interesting" simply does not belong there.

While digging through my office closet, I found three five foot piles of course materials and law office manuals.  I had not touched any of them since I completed the courses.

And they would have remained untouched to this day if an attorney friend who was studying to be an Episcopal deacon had not requested material on just wars.  At least, they found some practical application.

They are now all on their way to the local dump.  Something I should have done a decade ago.

When I opened the law deskbook, I had what I thought was a far too revealing moment.  The then-new ethical regulations were safely wrapped in plastic.  Untouched by Steven hands.

Really?  I was that cavalier about ethics?

The next notebook answered the question.  I did not open those regulations because I was teaching a course on the regulations and had a dog-eared version of my own.

That chapter of my life ended in 1999 when I retired.  My pension check now barely pays the ongoing expenses of the Salem house.  One reason the house needs to go on the market.  I can use that money for a few more Mexican adventures.

So, you now have the Air Force chapter of my life.

With more little surprises to come.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

bonds up

My blogger pal, John Calypso over at Viva Veracruz, recently complained in Three of the Worst Movies Ever:  "Whoever is behind dumbing down the populace is doing a fine job."  And that was without seeing Taken 2.  Perhaps the most technically-inane movie of the decade.

He then noted he was looking forward to seeing Skyfall -- the new James Bond movie -- even though it would contain some of the same elements he found so offensive in the three lemons he had recently watched.

He needn't have worried.  This is the best Bond film I have seen in a long time.  Sure, the women are there.  But they are three-dimensional characters.  And there was violence.  But not of the amoral variety that seems to populate most American action films.

The movie is an interesting bridge piece.  Not as dark as the other Daniel Craig installments.  And it is certainly far more personal with its Cain-Abel dispute between Bond and arch-villain, former MI6 agent, Silva, vieing for the affection of Eve.  In this case, in the guise of Judi Dench's M.

And because the conflict is so personal between the three of them, we feel as if we have something invested in the outcome. 

The film is beautiful.  In Istanbul.  Shanghai.  Macau.  London.  Scotland.  Sites that seem both glamorous and familiar. 

Even the fight scenes seem simultaneously realistic and exotic.  Such as a two-man duel filmed against the lights projected on a Shanghai skyscraper.

I was a big fan of the early Bond films in the 60s.  Somewhere around Thunderball, I began to lose interest.  Then, I could not take any Moore.

It has taken me a bit to warm to Daniel Craig. But I am back in that Aston Martin DB5 with him.

Welcome back, James.  We missed you.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

unplanned voyages

On 5 August 1620, 121 passengers set sail on two ships -- Mayflower and Speedwell -- from Southampton, England.  Their destination was the Hudson River in the New World.

It was a false start.  The Speedwell proved to be so unseaworthy, that after two overhauls, it was abandoned in Plymouth.  On 6 September, 102 of the passengers crowded onto the Mayflower to begin their adventure of finding religious freedom.

The voyage did not quite go as planned.  Storms blew them off course, and they landed far north of their destination in Massachusetts.  Within one year half of them would be dead.  All of them may have died without the assistance of the local
Wampanoag -- who used the English settlers for their own political purposes.

At the end of their first year, the Pilgrims celebrated a good harvest with a Thanksgiving celebration.

It may be a little early to write of Thanksgiving.  At least, in its traditional sense.

But I am thankful to my brother who stopped by yesterday to share Costco apple pie with me.  He was interested in why I was thinking about keeping the Salem house and spending more time in Oregon.

He reminded me that I left Salem because I was feeling too comfortable here.  That I wanted to live the rest of my life being challenged, not coddled.  And even though I have not had many visitors while living in Mexico, I was obviously having a good time there.

So, like the Mayflower, I am back on my original voyage.  And I may end up someplace unexpected. 

Cleaning out the inside of the house may not be done by the end of November.  That simply means I may not be able to get the house on the market this month.  But on the market it will go.

And I will be back to Mexico to live some more adventures.  I have trips to Oaxaca and Chiapas planned for February.  There will be plenty of posts to share from what I have heard.

Having a brother to play the role of the
Wampanoag is reason enough for me to be thankful.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

inside the box

During the past two weeks, I have been spending more time in lunches and conversations with friends than I have spent sorting through my worldly goods.

That is not a complaint.  Relationships are far more important to me than sending old possessions to the dump.

Yesterday I had lunch with a retired attorney friend.  She is thoroughly enjoying retirement by throwing herself into activities she enjoys.  Cooking.  Art.  French.  Gardening.  Travel.

On the walk home, I caught sight of my house from about a block away.  It is looking quite snazzy with all of the yard and siding work.  And that made me think of a question left on a post two days ago. 

Why not stay in the house you own, with the books you love, the weather you prefer, among the friends and family whose company you enjoy?  Seems like a no-brainer.  But that's just me thinking outside of the box.
This morning I attended a meeting of the Salvation Army Advisory Board.  There has been a large turnover in membership during the past four years.  But it was good to be back with them.  Probably because their work makes a difference.

Nothing this month has helped me answer the commenter's question.  I enjoy my adventures in Mexico.  But the question is whether it is time for me to enjoy retirement elsewhere.

Or, at least, be able to answer the question credibly.


Monday, November 12, 2012

nothing like a good bath

At the rate it is taking me to sort through sixty years of acquisitions, it was obvious I needed to hire someone to start taking care of the outside of the house.

Not a lot needs to be done.  It is a pretty house that has held up rather well over the years.

But it really needed a bath. 

I live on a main street in Salem.  Twenty years of dust, algae, and moss has built up on its bright white exterior.

On Friday my yard man hired a fellow with a power washer.  His initial plan was to power wash on that day and then do a thorough cleaning today. 

The project is a bit bigger than that.  He is out there today finishing the third side of the house -- including cleaning out gutters.

I would like to think I could have done all of that.  And given enough time, I could have.  

But not as well as this guy and his assistant.  And if I learned anything as an attorney, I know to defer to the expertise of people who know what they are doing.

If I am going to get the house on the market by the end of this month, I will most likely need a couple more professionals like this.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

book 'em, danno

Well, here it is.  The decision every person pulling up stakes dreads.

What to do with the things we cherish most?

For some people, it is photographs  For others, correspondence.  For me, it is books.

I have kept almost every book I have ever read.  Their contents are part of me.  When I lived in this house, I would often re-read passages that popped to mind in the middle of the night when my memory starts doing cartwheels and will calm down only with an appropriate passage.  Such as, where is Charles I's head buried?

As a result of my my tome acquisition syndrome, I have books corralled in at least three rooms in the house.  What you see above is merely a sampling.

Before anyone says it: yes, I have lived in Mexico for almost four years without having daily access to my collection.  And it would be extremely difficult and expensive to send the library south -- where it would quickly disintegrate in the heat and humidity.

So, I need to turn loose and allow the books to find new homes.  But where?

My mother has offered to take a few of the biographies and historical books (no fiction, thank you very much).  But what happens to the rest?

This is not really an urgent problem.  Most of them can stay in the house while it is on the market.  But a day of reckoning is coming.  Soon. 

And if any of you have some good ideas, I could start divesting myself of them while I am in Oregon on this trip.

I am ready to book out.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

making it count

I thought the election was over.  But the discussion continues on the Melaque discussion board.

The chat is no longer about candidates.  My neighbor, Bill, made an interesting point about American presidential elections.

"I have never voted for a US presidential candidate in my life and I have never known any person that has ever voted for a US presidential candidate, either. Common people are not allowed to vote for the US president."

His point, of course, is that voters do not vote directly for presidential candidates.  They vote for a slate of electors.  And the electors then vote for president and vice-president.

But Bill was wrong.  He does know someone who has actually voted for a presidential candidate.  I did.  In 1984.

I re-discovered proof of that day amongst some papers in the desk from my old law office.  It has all of the style of a third grade spelling bee certificate.  Signed by the principal.

But it is cool enough to take to Mexico.  Where the humidity and heat will undoubtedly reduce it to its constituent pulp.

And if I need to finish that analogy, you have been ignoring my libertarian riffs.

Friday, November 09, 2012

drugs in the drizzle

It should have been a perfect day for me.

Gray skies.  45 degrees.  Drizzle.

Just right for a short-sleeve walk to Safeway to pick up my prescription.  More about that in a moment.

What made the day a bit less than perfect was my physical reaction to it.  Cool weather usually invigorates me.  But not yesterday.

Even though I have been getting adequate sleep, I felt a bit foggy.  The way I feel in hot weather.

I once dated a woman who grew up in Miami.  During winters in Oregon, she would get almost suicidal.  She was very dependent on her Florida sunshine.  I think the syndrome was called SAD.

Well, I am not a SAD guy.  But I may have become reliant on sunshine to bolster my usual "practically perfect in every way in this best of all possible worlds" attitude.

And I could have used a bit of that attitude once I was at the Safeway prescription desk.  I stopped in for a refill last Sunday.  But there were no refills left on that particular prescription.

The clerk told me she would fax a request to my doctor.  I was to return on Wednesday for a pick up.

Knowing the depths to which efficiency has sunk in American medicine, I waited an additional day.  Of course, my doctor's office had not yet responded to the fax.  When I called my doctor's office, the receptionist took my telephone number and said she would call back later in the day.  She didn't.

There is a move amongst American expatriates in Mexico to have Medicare coverage extended south of the border.  If that happens, say good-bye to the current efficiency of Mexican medicine and hello to American governmental gridlock.

In Mexico, I merely take my empty box to the drug store where I buy medication well below American prices.  No prescription.  No faxes.  No insurance bureaucracy.  Fast and simple.

I may simply wait until I get back to Mexico to refill my prescription.

But I suspect I will miss this lovely weather.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

what's up, doc?

I was about to assure you this blog is not turning into a draft of my autobiography.

I could.  But it would be a lie.

Sifting through six decades worth of possessions cannot avoid at least a few nostalgic moments.  Even those that are rankly sentimental.

My brother, Darrel, was here last weekend.  He stayed the night on Sunday after spending the weekend with my niece at Oregon State's father-daughter weekend.  We do have some traditions.

Rather than eat at the house, we dined at one of our favorite burger haunts.  At  our respective ages, conversation often turns to death.  This time it was the death of the mother of his high school girl friend (who is also a frequent reader and commenter).

Their family is filled with the type of overachievers that have made America exceptional.  Darrel listed off what each of them is doing.  He reminded me that one son (Phil) headed to Hollywood and made it big as a voice actor -- now as the voice of Jiminy Cricket.  Mel Blanc was a mentor.

If you are of a certain age, the name "Mel Blanc" will undoubtedly conjure up the voices of Warner Brother cartoons -- because that is where he became famous.  The Man of a Thousand Voices.  Most famously, the voice of Bugs Bunny.

Darrel and I have a special memory of Mel Blanc.  In the late 50s, the Oak Grove Fred Meyer had its grand opening.  And one of the celebrities the company used to draw families to the new store was Mel Blanc.

But not in the front portion of the store.  For some reason, Mel, in his ridiculous Bugs Bunny get-up, was relegated to the loading dock in the back of the store.

We kids did not care.  He may as well have been Roy Rogers in a rodeo arena.

I thought that was the end of this little stroll down nostalgia lane.  Until yesterday.  Stuck in amongst some of my photographs and love letters was a faded blue sheet of paper.  With a familiar face.  A familiar name.  And an autograph nearly fifty years old.

One more piece of evidence that the 8 year old boy who moved from Powers to Milwaukie is still very much with us.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

politics in the dump

Irony is a harsh handmaiden.

I started with sorting paperwork as part of Operation Sell-the-House.  And what should show up first?  A box of campaign paraphernalia from my 1988 run for the Oregon legislature.  A campaign that ended up in a narrow margin loss.

Budgets.  Newspaper articles.  Endorsements.  Buttons.  Campaign literature.

Lots of good memories.  And a reminder that I could never imagine wasting more of my life with political activity.  Especially, as a candidate.

And who is that guy in the photograph?  It is hard to believe I was ever that young.  But the 39-year old guy in the brochure is now over two decades older.

So, off goes most of the stuff to the city dump.  With a few reminders to keep me from stepping into the arena again.

The photograph at the top of the post is the cover of the campaign's first brochure.  But this is my favorite photograph.

Having no children of my own, I borrowed my brother's son, Ryan, to highlight the "schools" policy in the brochure.

Ryan is now in his 30s with a son of his own -- both of whom I should see this coming weekend at Thanksgiving dinner in Portland. 

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

talking trash

It is election day.  And I am in Oregon.

Usually, I get to watch American elections in the isolation of my little village.  But not this year.  I will be in the midst of the melee.  Waiting to see if voters are willing to soldier on or to take out the trash.

There will be no choice for me.  Taking out the trash is why I am in Oregon.

When I left here almost four years ago, I left one major task unfinished -- when I decided not to sell the Salem house before I headed south.

I had started dividing my possessions into piles: garbage, Salvation Army donations, things south-bound, things to be stored.  I stopped in mid-task once I realized I could simply ignore the hard choices -- a bit like our avoidance-prone politicians.

But the time for those choices is here.

The photograph at the top of this post is symbolic of my task.  It was a third bedroom I once used as an office -- and turned into a junk room on my trek south.

Almost everyone I know has a room or closet or basement or garage devoted to the memorialization of things that should be gone, but we do not have the moral courage to rid ourselves of.

This morning I will start in the office.  I already have a good idea what I am facing.  Almost everything is going to head to the dumpster.

Books are going to be the greatest burden.  Each book means something to my life.  But I seldom look at them these days.  And the Mexican coast would not be kind to them.  Even if I could get them there.

So far, I am not certain where a good home for them will be.

You will notice the lack of one category in my decision tree.  There will be no estate sale.  No lawn sale.  No garage sale.  No eBay account.

Even though I have a lot of items that have a respectable value (such as Roadway programs signed by stars), I do not have time to be an entrepreneur of collectibles.  I will leave that to the Salvation Army.
So, early this morning, I will start sorting and tossing.

And the voters?  They will make their own decisions.

Monday, November 05, 2012

dead reckoning

"Who am I?"

Over a year ago, I started an essay tackling that question.  The catalyst was the recently-released Autobiography of Mark Twain.  When I read the last page, I realized I knew a lot about Mark Twain, but next to nothing about his creator -- Samuel Clemens.  Clemens spent decades weaving a cocoon around his own life while creating the comfortable façade of the witty Twain. 

That may be one reason we find it so easy to believe Hal Holbrook successfully channels him.  Twain was simply another of Clemens’s fictional characters.

Of course, we all try similar legerdemain in our lives.  The role we create for ourselves is often not how the rest of the world sees us.

Last summer I received two email from long-time readers of this blog.  Both of them described me as being a social extrovert.  When I am actually a painfully shy introvert.

We see that disconnect around us every day.  Especially in the west where we invent First World Problems for ourselves.

You can hear it in the plaintive postmodern cries demanding the world to see outliers as they choose to portray themselves.  Creating fodder for the mangers of political correctness.

Modernists (especially the traditionalists in their ranks) are not so subjective.  What they think of other people is what they objectively observe.

So, what does all this have to do with the Day of the Dead?

My fellow bloggers told me I would never forget the experience.  That it was not like anything I had seen.  Part of that is true.

I will never forget the 16 hours we spent in the area around Lake
Pátzcuaro observing how Purépecha (and other Mexicans) remember their loved ones who have died.

We started with a daylight visit to the cemetery at Tzintzuntzan.  The cemetery had a large police contingent for security -- and an even larger contingent of boys carrying plastic jack-o-lanterns begging for pesos (no candy, thank you very much) from well-heeled tourists.

The light gave us an opportunity to see why the graves are lovingly prepared.  Usually decorated with orange marigolds -- lots of marigolds -- and purple-hued cockscombs.

As is true in most cultures, the wealthier the family, the more elaborate the display honoring the dead.  You might not be able to take it with you.  But your survivors can spend it on the glory of your memory.

And that is what this day is all about.  Remembering.  If we are what people know of us while we are alive, we have a certain immortality as long as there are those who will remember us.

Like this display.  There appeared to be no grave.  But Miguel was either a child or an adult whose life was somehow touched by trucks -- a fitting memorial for my own father.

We then spent the rest of the afternoon in Pátzcuaro.  You have read my comments about the town’s most honored benefactor -- Don Vasco de Quiroga.  How do you honor a man you revere, but have never met?

With a stylized altar as mythical as the heroic statue of the man that rises above the display.

Or maybe it is the heritage of the dancers that still perform for tourists each weekend.

Nightfall changed everything.  After all, it is only in the night that the spirits of the dead will visit the graveyards or their former homes to communicate with the living.

That sense of reverence and memory thickened in the graveyard of Arocutin -- a village on the western side of the lake.  And the only stop where the cemetery is in the walled yard of the church.

The candle light and the marigolds created an orange light making it easy to see why village relatives were spending the night where they were.  A rite that was communal, but also exclusive to each clan.

From Arocutin, we drove over to the former island of Jaracuaro -- famous for its production of hand-made straw hats.

Even though the hat sellers -- and other vendors -- were not going to miss the opportunity for selling wares to tourists, most local people were  there for a long night of Purépecha-inspired song and dance.  And food.  Lots of food.

We then drove to the other side of the lake.  To Ihuatzio -- best known for its archaeological site.  But on that night, its graveyard was the star.  With both the young --

-- and the elderly remembering those who had taken a journey every one of us in that yard will take.  And realizing we may be next in line for our own memorial service.

On our way back to Morelia, we stopped in the small graveyard of Tzurumútaro. Where the wealthy were easily distinguished from the graves of the poor.

Or where an unusual mix of Hummel-style figures kept company with the photograph of a couple now deceased.

And where the ubiquitous march of Halloween has made a beachhead in the land of tradition.

The next morning in Morelia, I found this interesting twist on tradition in the courtyard of one of the city’s larger churches.

For those of you who are not familiar with Mexican stores, Oxxo is the equivalent of 7-11 or Plaid Pantry.

For me, the tradition of remembering the dead was not new.  Even though Memorial Day was initiated as a way to honor America’s military dead, some families -- including my own -- would use it as a day to remember all of our deceased family members.

My mother and her sisters would drive to cemeteries to decorate graves.  When we were in southern Oregon, my mother would always buy flowers to decorate the graves of both her and my father’s families.

And we would reminisce on who they were.

Do the spirits of the dead visit graveyards on certain nights?  It seems to be a universal belief among pagan tribes throughout the world.

I don’t know.  But I do know that as long as we remember those who have gone on to the undiscovered country before us will remain alive as long as we maintain their memory.