Stories from 2007
"Mom! I am out of money since I payed for that ski trip to Lappland!!"
Portland, stopping a while at Wells Fargo Central to pick up a few Euros for Ian. The Euro goes up and up, but not as quickly as the death toll in Iraq!
"You know, there's a couple new members in the EU," I say to the clerk. The international tellers are stashed in isolation in the big cave of the sub-basement. There are special elevators for the sub-basement. You push a button called SB, and red lights outline the elevator you are to take. It's a different one each time. That's how precious even one tiny five euro note, each Canadian willy is!
"Yep...Slovenia! They've adopted the Euro now," she answers. "I think more of them will come aboard soon."
"I was thinking about the EU itself, about Romania and Bulgaria," I comment.
Each individual has their own spear of interest.
"Is it still nasty outside?" she asks. There are no windows down there.
"Not really, just this much." I indicate my drizzle splattered raincoat.
But maybe I shouldnt be reporting this conversation. Maybe the Fed is listening.
The meteorological docility wouldnt last long. It was hard to read the side street signs on the way to the Morrison Bridge. On I-84, I became disoriented by the rush hour taillights and the blobs of water on the windshield and almost ended up in the extensive I-205N queue that blocks one of the two lanes of the freeway for 30 carlengths. Parkrose, Gresham, Troutdale swept by like a gigantic car wash. Then it went dark....
It's the usual stuff on the January I-84. You get stuck in the flooded studded snow tire grooves of the right lane. You try and pass a Puget Sound Logistics semi and become mired in a lake. You pass a triple UPS truck in the dryness of the fish hatchery tunnel and score ten points. You're pummeled by 5 inch rain bombs at Wyeth. At Hood River West Exit, the Covenant Transport vehicle ahead of you in the right lane moves aside to let a 1994 All-Wheel Drive Suburu Legacy join the fray, but you cant see either one of them, just moving grey and red blurs. You brake anyway.
But this time it was different. Somewhere between the tunnel and Cascade Locks there was a strange fog. I'd never seen a fog like this, a round mass of snow white cotton, like an apple tree in spring.
"Huh!" I exclaimed to the little yellow Aveo. "An odd fog, but we'll go through like little soldiers!"
As we prepared to dive in, I suddenly noticed there were two glowing red Jonathans on the apple tree puff!"
"Satan's handmaiden!" I swore. "That's a car!" I slammed on my brakes and swerved. The car behind us rolled its headlights in disbelief as I wobbled into the left lane, almost ending up in the barrier like Mr Johnson from December. I recovered and passed the car, my heart pounding.
"It's a white 1973 GTO covered with exhaust fumes going 35mph," observed my little Aveo.
I'd never seen exhaust fumes like that!
Rain...sometimes it stops raining here, but this january morning it did not! Somewhere around Wyeth, we began to pass a white SUV on the left and hit a puddle. I lost my steering and the little yellow Aveo floated to the left, into the concrete barrier, WHAM! bouncing off to the right and....Erin and this little Dell computer bounced to the left...in surprise! She had been watching "Final Fantasy 3: Advent Children" instead of paying attention. The SUV shot past us we wobbled and the car behind us slowed down...and...no more WHAM!s
I wondered if we would be able to make it to the side of the freeway. Its little wheels continued to roll. I thought of the crumpled fenders.
"My insurance rates are toast!" I silently exclaimed.
"Shouldnt we stop, or are you too dazed, you careless fool?" snarled the Aveo.
I pulled over where a little mystery road jutted away. I opened the door into the splattering rain without pulling up my hood. I walked around to the front of the car.
Nothing had happened.
I walked around the car twice in disbelief. I kicked the fender. "Plastic!"
"Erin! Come look!" I exclaimed.
Erin looked. "Let me hug you!" she said.
We got into the Aveo and drove off.
"I dont think I want to go to Powell's," she said.
"Why not? Too shaken?"
"I just dont want to spend the rest of the day all gooey."
"My Arizona tea...I was holding it and it went all over the place. My face is sticky."
"Did it get on the computer?"
"Yeah, all over the keyboard. The **reason** I was holding it was that I lost the top."
You can delude yourself about winter....about the runs of water that crystalize like art glass on the dark basalt cliffs along Washington 14...about the fantasy beach the ice forms from open water on the cut off meanderloop near Multnomah Falls..............but crystalline ice isnt art glass. Unlike ice, glass isnt a solid, it's a very viscous, slowly moving liquid. When did you last skid off the road when you hit a patch of art glass? No, winter is a time when it's cold and unfortunate, frigid things happen.
"Erin! It's the plumbers! Roll down your window!"
Erin snarled. She had overslept and was in a bad mood and I was taking her to school. But I didnt want to miss the plumbers. It was two weeks now that we had had no hot water.....
"There's a leak in this 40 year old hot water heater! I'll have to drain it immediately, having already replumbed it so no water will ever flow from it into the pipes! We can heat water on the stove!" exclaimed my husband.
"How about my bath!"
"Huh! I didnt think of that! We'll run a hose to the other end of the house and lukewarm water will drain into the bathtub!"
...........and I'd been forced to relax in the hot tub at The Dalles Fitness and Court Club every night.
"You spoiled brat!!! Why is that so bad?" you ask like it's a joke.
"Because small children walk all over your feet and large men yell at each other in Spanish. But worst of all, you have to go back outside!"
"Hey you guys...is that our water heater in your truck?!?!" I shouted over Erin's embarrassed rolled eyes. So what if they were parked a block away!
"It says '1000' West 9th here' said a shady guy with a black handlebar mustache and a Cingular Cell Phone. What had happened to Big Ed, who worked so valiantly when the sewer overflowed in 2004?
"Eleven hundred," I answered. "The door's unlocked," I yelled, screeching off to the middle school.
"I dont like his mustache!" opined Erin.
When I returned, I ambled into the utility room. (We dont have a basement!)
"These wires fall apart in my hand," complained the man. How did copper wire fall apart? Oxidation from acid rain?
"Huh, I dont know anything about it..." I answered. I've learned to say that.
"I cant do any wiring. I cant do anything with these wires," he repeated. "You'll have to call an electrician."
"Huh...my husband was an electrician in the coast guard...I guess he can do something about it," I said mildly.
I sat in my room a while, writing something or answering e-mail, I dont know.
"Ma'am!" he yelled. "I called and they said to wire it anyway."
"Okay," I said mildly.
"In an hour you'll have hot water!" he replied.
It was maybe ten minutes after they left that I smelled burning plastic.
"Huh," I said mildly and walked into the big weird utility closet. An architect designed our house back in 1950, that's why it's so quirky. A huge gob of bubble gum plastic was glowing on the right side of the nameplate. That's where the wires were hooked up!
I shut off the circuit breaker and called Plumbing Central.
"There's a big glob of molten plastic on our water heater," I reported mildly.
&&&&&Often, when you look out of this window you will see a flock of blackbirds against brown grass and barren trees. But today...which is now yesterday...you can see white seagulls like kites against the snow.
So many of my stories have been about geology, or about music, or something else that's interesting. But this year I have become a person obsessed by the weather.
Now, today. there's just a black and white cat outside, ready to pounce.
PSU is closed! Portland is like a winter wonderland! writes someone on my radio list.
WOW! I mention to myself. Sounds like a great opportunity to amortize my snow tires!
I have my CDs and my computer and my camera and I'm ready to spin out onto I84. Out my Dalles City window, the ground is a depressing brown and bright green (Winter is when the grass comes alive!) but I know it will not last long. To the west the sky is white. I spin out, just like I said. Tiny flakes begin to spit as if from an Orator around Rowena, seven miles west. By the time I get to Hood River, the off ramp is a puffy and white! The right lane is moist and black, but most vehicles have slowed down to 40 miles an hour. There are a few reasons that drivers go real slow in weather like this:
a) They are using chains. Jing-jing-jing!
b) They are running solely and illegally on bald tires purchased back in 1983.
c) They are very cautious and fuel conscious and that's why they bought this 8 mpg SUV, in case they get in a wreck.
d) They are plumbers on their way to a water heater installation.
I follow a blue suburu. We spend the next hour weaving into the snowy left lane. Most people understand the irony of the left lane, so I wont go into it. We pass a double Fed-Ex truck and an orange Do-It Center semi. Then we see it! First, the flares, then the fire trucks, then the tow truck....an old blue chevy pickup has spun sideways into an outcrop of Mt Hood Sector Collapse debris! An even bluer cooler sits on the ground forlorn and jostled. For the rest of the trip, we will wonder why we arent playing it safe and traveling 40 on the moist black pavement.
"Because we have spikes on our tires to dig into the asphalt!" we answer.
The snow splatter increases. Blowing hexa-crystals lace the lanes like marble. The Columbia is lost in white mist. I ponder the North Dakota Blizzard of 1967.
But the worst is yet to come.
Gradually, the interstate's clear lane becomes covered with something resembling coconut gelato. Portland!!!! Who, me? Plow? Several big semis have pulled over to finally chain up.
Cars and trucks drive oblivious to lane boundaries in this yummy dessert. Fortunately most Portlanders are afraid of driving when the word "snow" is mentioned, so the results are not so chaotic as they could be. Near downtown, the gelato gives way to washboard ice. Home free! Suddenly, traffic comes to a moribund crawl! Somewhere up ahead there's a wreck or a stall, but we dont know. The only thing you can do is escape! I inch out of the fast lane and follow a line of cars as they drive up the Sandy Blvd. entrance ramp. This is the second time I have escaped in this way. Doesnt it sound dangerous?
I drive on along snowy Sandy and then Burnside and across the Willamette. The snow is new and clean and fluffy and this could be Minneapolis with its first snowstorm of November. The homeless huddle glumly by their shelter door, but other folks are throwing snowballs and laughing. I am stalled by a gleeful throng of pedestrians near the Park Squares who continue to cross when it says "Dont Walk." I honk my horn and squeeze by. My cell phone rings.
"Hello from Portland," I tell my husband.
"The weather is awful there! I was going to warn you not to go!"
Portland State may be closed, but Smith Center is open. I spend the next couple of hours in the subbasement flipping discs....the phone rings!
"This is Reverend Kate. I cant make it in today!" says Kate.
"I'll turn on the auto mix," I answer.
The phone rings again!
"I have the five o'clock show but I have new tires and it's a mess here in Lake Oswego and 54 Tri-Met busses have gone into the ditch!"
After my show is over I ascend from the dungeon. Some coeds are assembling a snowman. A snow plow ambles along Broadway, "Portland...The City That Works" written on the door. I snap some photos, then I get back into the little Aveo and drive back through the gelato and the blizzard.
Somewhere near Wyeth, three SUVs are stopped by the side of the freeway. A beige sedan has hit a basalt outcrop. A man wearing a blazer and a long white beard examines his sleigh, dazed. Soon firetrucks and police cars pierce the roadway with their flashing lights. I pass an Oregon State trooper. I wonder if I should be going so fast.
There are two new people at Friends Meeting, or rather four! She is cheerful and as round as a child's toy ball, and he is...he just looks like a guy. They're from Portland, and then they moved to Texas. Now they are back. They have two girls, one and two. Even if they hadnt said so, the girls are adopted. Black Texans in the gorge! Wow! You can never fade into the scenery if you're black! It's pretty easy if you're only a Texan.
The girls are actually the color of coffee with cream.
"They both have the same mother," she says. "And I got a call from Texas this week, on my birthday, to say their mother just had another baby! I didnt think we wanted to adopt another baby yet...but it was my birthday! Now we have to wait until they find out who the father is. If it's the same one as our second child, it will be OK. The mother....they've already determined she's an unsuitable parent. She's mentally ill..."
She pauses briefly as one of the other Quakers looks at her in doubt.
"This is her eighth child and she's 25."
That would make me doubt anyone's sanity.
"It's nice that they're sisters..." I comment afterwards "It makes them more of a family. Where are the other ones?"
"The first three are living together as well. The fourth...a boy....is living with his birth father. Another is in foster care. Their mother is out on the street. I guess there's not much you can do about that. You take the young ones and do what you can for them. !!Teeth!! The reason she's grabbing my teeth is that she's teething now and she's fascinated by teeth."
"Yeah," I said. I always doubted that I would qualify as an adoptive parent.
"But it will be months. She has to go through the system. They have to find her father. Then they have to have us checked out to see if WE are suitable...whether our house is safe....even though we've already qualified. Texas is becoming very concerned about these things now."
&&&&Across the grey river on the orange bridge, past John Palmes' sand outcrop and the now abandoned Shell station, along the Klickitat Hills on
Washington 14 past Murdock Mini Mart, following the path of the school buses to Lyle where I buy a bottle of water. I turn right and follow the Klickitat
River....in a hurry now because I have misjudged the time in the brown gloom of early January. On the left, the flat grey Klickitat is racing as well, but in
the opposite direction, late for its appointment to join with the Columbia. On the right is an odd wreck of a house against the steep wall of the river, extra
junk cars, a propane tank. I look at my phone and try a call. NO SERVICE!! says the screen. Farther on, there are more houses that push the oaks and
ponderosas out of the way...Wahkiacus...and then the town of Klickitat itself. I have not been to Klickitat in a year, maybe two. There are not too many
reasons to go to Klickitat.
You could knock these old faded lumber town houses down with a feather. Short streets turn right and end at the river. I turn left and look in confusion at Klickitat School. It's painted grey, and there's just enough of it to be confusing. But suddenly I see a man...maybe I know him...and follow him in the side door...and yes...it's Griz, a gent from the Forestry Service...and Owl...too, the AmeriCorps gal! The S.E.C.R.E.T.S. Ecology Team has been reunited here in the backwoods, with a new, extra mission of promoting Recycling!
"I'm glad I went out to get my boots!" says Griz, who will portray a hiker.
"Fifteen students...." begins owl. "Eight in fifth grade and seven in sixth!"
"These kids know each other pretty well by the time they're done!" adds the local volunteer.
I am handed a long brown polyester dress with roots on the bottom. The zipper no longer functions. My role for today is SNAG. I'm dead but still standing. All sorts of stuff lives on and inside me.
Nothing extraordinarily weird will happen in this class, nothing much to write about. Except that there are no Hispanics, no Indians, no blacks, no Asians. Everyone is white. Most students wear nice enough clothes. One strawberry blonde girl is dressed in a ragged, stained T-shirt, worn sweat pants, and tall rubber boots.
"Do any of you live in the country?" I ask. The girls at my table are enthusiastic. No one lives in Klickitat.
"I live two miles down the road to Lyle," one says.
"I live in Appleton," says another. Appleton is miles away, up the mountain. There's a volunteer fire station there.
"What a great group of kids!" remarks Owl after class. "They're all polite and excited! And what a beautiful classroom!"
I drive over to the one store...a gas station, the grocery is boarded up...and buy some Sun Chips. There is also a bar and a cafe. I head east past the eerie abandoned mill but realize that I am headed uphill into nothingness, so I turn around at the last house, back along the Klickitat.
APPLETON GRADE says a sign. I swerve back and follow the road cut into the dust and volcanic rocks of the valley walls. I pretend I am riding a school bus. Near the top, the pines turn to douglas fir and the ground is white with snow. Ahead is a house and a barn and a pasture where horses are grazing.
The Dalles, Oregon January 2007:
The tall dark man...tall dark and handsome...loomed above the little strawberry blond teller, his forboding brows furrowing in concern.
"How is your course?" he asked.
"I'm currently comparing two TV shows...Yes Minister [UK] and Kingdom [Denmark] for my midterm essay," I answered. But I knew the question was only a sly opener.
"You have too much money in this account," he began in his charming Spanish accent.
"I had to put it somewhere," I said. The Dutch guy in the Portland State office had told me to put it in a savings account. "I need a strap of ones please, not twenties!" I added to the beautiful teller.
"How liquid do you need this money to be? If you step over here to my office, we have a great deal on a seven month CD!"
Here is a question. Why do banks always want to set up accounts that pay you more interest?
Now I remembered...it was Carlos who had wired off my money to Storhandelsbanken in Stockholm. I hadnt paid enough attention to him because I'd been busy trying to figure out what my instructions said! It had been an experience for Carlos too...his first wire to Mother Sweden!
"Sign here and here and here...." he said.
I signed. "I devised this signature in Hgh School. I thought it looked like a neat scrawl. Now I'm stuck with it," though now it is even more of a scrawl.
"Pardon?" he quizzed.
"It doesnt look at all like my handwriting."
"You probably didnt know this, but I am from Chile. It is so strange here in the US, because when people do their signature, they just write their names. But in Chile....in all of Latin America...the signature looks nothing like the name. See, here...this is my signature"
"Huh.... can make out the first letters!"
"The signature is important in Chile because it is registered with the government. Some signatures make no sense at all. Here is my brother's signature..."
The brother's signature looked like the doppler effect.
"I'll have to write a story about this," I told him.
"If you want to write anything about Latin American, just ask me!" offered Carlos.
"I hate it when people say bad things about your parents!" said Erin. The Portland skyscrapers shot above my head like rockets, but soon my ego would
plummet like a wounded pigeon.
"Did they say something about ME?" I asked, incredulous. Was it someone I'd bought a smoothie after school? Had they ridden crumpled in my little yellow car like a vile serpent?
"Yeah...uh...they said 'Your mom is a freak.' I said 'You dont even know her.' They said, 'Everyone else says that too!!' Stupid preps!!!"
"Huh...well, I guess I am a little weird," I commented.
Every so often you have to take a deep breath and make a financial plunge. Thus it was that I walked into the back door of Stone's, the only sporting goods store in The Dalles. Soon there will be another one by Safeway.
"Can I help you?" asked a tall blond man lounging at the cash register.
"Yeah....uh..." I replied. "I need some very warm clothes so that I can go dog-sledding in Lappland." In Swedish, this is called Hundspannkurs.
"Wow!" said the blond man.
I eyed the boots near the front window.
"Minus thirty? Sure we got plenty of boots!" he said, pulling a couple pair off the wall.
"These ones would be easier to walk in, but this pair would be much warmer," debated a second salesman. "Lappland...isnt it dark up there all winter?"
"I'd love to go to Sweden...I'm three quarters Swedish!!" mused the first man. I stared at his blue eyes and wavy yellow hair. He was the spitting image of a young Stig Helmer.
"You should go sometime. They have all sorts of places to ski."
"Maybe I will! I would love snowboarding there!"
"What language do they speak there?" asked the other man.
"I Sverige talar man lite Svenska!" I answered.
Lappland is a state of mind. That's why my little group of international language junkies found ourselves suddenly packed into the Sami express....a silver
Hyundai and a battered Volvo wagon... and kidnapped to Reindeer Central.
Our host is a small wide eyed woman with a big pukka knife. She is clad in a blue Sami felt jacket , reindeer fur trousers, and a Clan MacDonald tartan scarf. She hands us each an armload of hay and tells us bids us:
"Folja mig till snöiga beten"....Follow me to the snowy pasture."
We do. There are hundreds of pretty reindeer here. They have various brands or green tags and different antler motifs. Sometimes one will make a wailing sound....
"He is crying for his mamma!" explains the Knife Woman.
"Awww...." one of the Language Junkie women replies.
Some of us drop our hay in the snow and take photos. This is the best photo opportunity of the fortnight, but if you try directly to get a closeup, the animal looks at you like a deer in headlights and backs off.
We move off into another snowy pasture, past trees that have been stripped to shoulder height. To get there you have to crawl under a fence on your stomach like a soldier under barbed wire. We applaud Lasse, who is in his seventies. There are even more reindeer here.
Then we walk back to the cars in the farmyard. Three firemen eject from a red Jokkmokk fire truck and begin to pull a lime green hose into the barn. We watch as the hose inflates and snap some photos. Smoke pours out of the roof vent. The Knife Woman shrugs and says she wondered why it has been so hot in the barn.
As we drive away, we pass two more fire trucks, one with a big ladder.
We stop again at the PolarCircln rest area. I am riding shotgun in the Hyundai.
"Jag var här med mina barn in 1999, I tell the Knife Woman.
"Var det på sommern?" she laughs.
Yep....I was here with my kids in the summer 1999. It was warmer.
A half buried clown sign offers ice cream, but the door to the café is locked. We walk past, up into another snowy pasture. Two reindeer are tethered on conifers.
"This is Rudolph," says the Knife Woman. Rudolph is the best reindeer in the world and we each have to pet its head, which is covered in soft fur. Knife woman points to the notches in its ears. Then we look at the other deer with its giant rack of antlers.
The Volvo Driver, a dark man in a black ski jacket, opens the hatch and pulls out a box of firewood. We follow the couple through the snow to a hut with a smoke hole in the roof. We sit on reindeer hides and choke on smoke until we get used to it. Someone makes fun of young Ewald from Holland, who set his boot on fire during the Hundspann trip. Knife Woman unpacks a device resembling a wok and the Volvo Driver slices reindeer meat off a ham-like cylinder.
Suddenly the sound of samba rythyms! Knife woman picks up her cell phone, looks at it, and says "It's not important," in Swedish. The rest of us, even the Europeans, are safe from their cell phones here in Jokkmokk Kommun.
Our leaders wok up reindeer meat and flat bread, and open dishes of berry cream and chopped tomatoes that probably came from Holland. They pour hot water and lingenberry juice into wooden dippers. I panic.
"Jag ar vegetarisk," I warn. They don't give me any reindeer meat. Everyone eats their sandwiches and berries, even though they just had a heavy lot of potatoes and meat balls or cod fish for lunch
Then the Sami couple makes strong coffee over the open fire. I don't take any of that either.
We return to our little hotel in Jokkmokk to face our homework. We get a lot of it, because we're covering a whole book in two weeks. I hike over to the Systembolag and pick up a bottle of 4.5% Kopparberg Premium Pear Cider. Systembolag is Swedish for ABC store, which in turn is an acronym for Alabama Beverage Control. Two grim grey Arctic Swedes are sitting in the front window, watching the clerks restock the whiskey section. I smell like smoke.
Jokkmokk, Sweden, February 2007
"Mush, Huskies!" mused Brian, his voice falling like chimney smoke to where I sat on reindeer hides. "Seargent Preston of the Yukon! You remember that show? It's out now on DVD!" But the passing greyscale landscape didnt look like the Yukon to me, it looked like Northern Minnesota, like Little Mantrap where my in-laws lived for so many years. Both of us were dead wrong, however. We were crossing the Arctic Circle on the snow of a frozen lake in Northern Sweden, pulled by five ragged little half-wolves, two of whom were wearing blue booties. Suddenly the two sleds in front of us slowed and Brian yelled out "Stanna! Stanna!" That's Swedish for "Stop! Stop!" But Brian had been too slow, and we veered to the right of the team ahead of us, as if we were in a Seattle rainstorm at rush hour.
"Huh!" I exclaimed as I looked to the left. "Vad är de för bergen?" What kind of rocks were those? Surely we werent stopping to look at the outcrop, that would be too much to ask for!
Fluffy snowflakes floated onto my head....my glasses so steamed from my masked breath that I couldnt see their details.
"I'd like to go dog sledding before I die!" That's not a thing many of us would say to ourselves. In fact, even I would have uttered it if a Hundspann Kurs had not been offered as a tack-on to my two week vacation for language junkies. That's how I had ended up on this sled with a large nostalgic survivalist from Indiana at the helm. He was in fact, twice the size of your average Dutch or Swiss or German language junkie.
"Du måste ta den här hundspannen, som har valdiga hundar....och någon som är liten måste vara med dig!" warned the wiry blond hundspann director in better Svenska than I have written.And that's how I know that hundspanning is like crosscountry skiing on a toboggan, and that your gloveless right hand can freeze as you unlatch a sled dog in cold weather.
I am in Jukkasjarvi, home of the Ice Hotel, scanning the frozen valley of the Torne. In front of me there is an overturned sled and beyond that the hotel's massive hundspann. Dogs are tied ten or twelve to a sled and they're waiting. Suddenly a sled takes off down the valley, four people packed on like a jar of herring. Black snowmobiles race like black cockroaches on the white river. But I'm not doing any of this stuff. My mission here is to walk along the Torne, to pace the streets of Jukasjarvi....and to visit the gift shop. I turn and heel towards the store.
"Judith! We've been looking all over for you!" says a fellow language junkie. Yeah, I'd eaten lunch packed in like herring with the gang, packing in the gravlax and fisksoppa on the buffet, then I'd just taken off. The problem is that I cant understand spoken Swedish unless it's song lyrics. At some point the director had said "Be back at the bus at hav fyra." But somehow I'd missed the rest.
"You're supposed to be in the ice hotel!"
Trapped, I walked back to the massive igloo, which is truly something. Room after frosty room is crafted by some artist, truly a weird, aesthetic delight. It dwarfs the little by typically Alaskan hut that Erin and I toured at Chena Hot Springs!
Jag har tre barn: Emma som är 25, Ian som är 17 och Erin som är 13. Jag har inte haft några tonårsproblem med alkohol eller fester för mina barn har varit varken populara eller konstiga. I stället tycker de om att läsa och den yngre älskar dataspela till exempel The Sims eller Empire Earth. Ofta pluggar de inte. Om vi tar deras böcker eller datortid, gå de till biblioteket.
Vi tog en föräldra kurs på Erins skola, men den varfaktiskt om barn som berusar sig och rymmar osv. Vi lärde oss att en vuxen alltid måste vara in huset när vänner bjuder hem våra barn och att vi aldrig skulle konfiskera deras böcker. Jag trodde att det inte var särskilt använderbart. Men min man började att vara orolig hela tid om vuxenövervakning. Det brydde mig jag inte on. Jag var glad om någon bjöd barnen till sitt hus.
När Ian fyllde 15 år, började han att sjunga med The Harmonaires och vara skådespelare på skolan. Då började han också att åka till rollbesättningfesterna hos bandlärarens och till Dennys Restaurang efter övning osv. Ibland kom Ian hem vid klockan ett eller halv två, men han söp aldrig. Sedan blev Ian en utbytes student i Finland och nu klagar min man inte över tiden och vuxenövervakning. I Finland brukar Ian dricka lite öl på festerna. När han kommer tillbaka, är han 18 och för ung att supa i USA.
Nu Erin är 13. Hennes vänner är pojkar för det mesta. Hon och hennes bäste väninna Sage är underbara pojkflickor. De och två vänner Keenan och Justin är alltid tilsammens. Ofta är de hos Keenan som har ett biljard bord och en stor TV. Varje fredag kväll åker de på bio och det är ibland nästan midnatt när jag hämtar dem. Min man har glömmt vuxenovervakning. Men jag ondrar hur det ska vara när hon är lite äldre. I alla fall, en bil körde på Erin för tre dagar sedan när hon och Justin hämtade en video att titta på hos Keenan. Det var klockan sju på kvällen och de var inte berusade!
Snow...always snow. Sometimes it falls, sometimes it just lays there, varved dirty layers pushed aside by snow plows. At 10:30 I pull on my Sorel boots and hoist my heavy, gut-ripping computer bag onto one of my two wheeled suitcases...Big Red and Erkki...and drag my luggage three blocks from my closed hotel to the closed bus station. A shiny blue long-distance double decker bound for Österholm is disgorging skiiers and boarders into a smaller bus bound west into the fjälls to Kvikkjokk. I stand the two suitcases in Shelter B and dash to the gas station. I grab a sandwich...a bread roll and a slice of cheese decorated by a lethal red pepper slice...and stand in the kassa line. The cashier draws a cup of coffee for a tidy man in his 30. Then Ulf Olsson, the name made up but the person real as a rendeer, steps up and begins to talk to her...slowly...his eyes two beady bloodshot marbles.
"Um...can I get a couple of those auto maintenance devices on the other side of the store," he mumbles in Swedish, as if they were cigarettes or lotto cards.
The bored teenager, hair like obsidian, rolls her eyes and begins her hike to the far wall.
"We only have them in this one size," she advises.
"That will work OK," he replies. She returns to the far wall. The butterflies in my stomach have commenced to dance.
"Ett hundra tjugo fem kronor," she says.
Ulf, bless his heart! Five days grey stubble on his face, a droopy dead animal on his head, a pair of slickly worn black trousers on his legs, and Lapin Kulta on his breath, he pauses to stare and fondly remember the day back in December 2006 when he took his yearly shower, hot steamy water flowing on him like the Luleå Älv in the sparkling summer sun. Kronor koins, he remembers and began to search his pockets, spilling them slowly down like silver and gold rain on the counter.
When I return to the station, my own double decker bus for Luleå is boarding. I will take another bus to the airport, and then, using my finger as a boarding pass, get onto a plane to Stockholm. Then I will take another plane to Frankfurt, and then another one to Portland.
I hurl my overweight bags through the back door, and board at the front, inserting my return ticket into a small device as the driver reaches automatically for his battered leather money bag. I seat myself at a table on the bottom level and no one comes to sit across because no one wants to sit backward. More riders enter, paying cash and, anticipating stunning views of the subarctic taiga they call home, continue on up the steps to the top level.
"Ett problem...fem minuter..." a uniformed man informs the driver. The people sitting behind me mumble to each other.
We leave exactly on time. For the next six hours, everything will be exactly on time. Then it will all fall apart. All three planes will be late taking off. In Frankfurt, I will arrive at the gate for Portland a half hour after the scheduled departure, but it wont make any difference, the big Lufthansa bird will still be waiting there.
We stop and pick up a young man with a snowboard at the Åsgaten hostel. We take one last look at the grey and yellow and red buildings of Jokkmokk. We drive southeast, crossing the Arctic Circle and after that there is almost nothing for miles but snow and trees and river and the vastness of northern Sweden. A half hour later, we arrive at the UnoX gas station in the outskirts of Vuollerim. We discharge the snowboarder and pick up a woman. Every so often we do that, pick up and discharge passengers clad in heavy duty winter clothing. A teenaged couple. A middle-aged woman who rides for ten minutes. The Bilisten station at Harads, the isolated Hållplats on route 97, the ornate brown travel center in Boden. Two and a half hours snowy hours later we arrive at Luleås grimly modern Busstation.
I buy a tuna fish sandwich and a Coke Lite, a banana and a cardamon roll. And a Donald Duck comic book...there are only two things I am smart enough to read, comic books and tabloid newspapers.
"Hej!" says a startled voice. I am surprised as well. I have run into Karl-Eric who works at the hotel our study course stayed at in Jokkmokk. Kalle, sun beauty of Lappland, native of Kalix and Haparanda! He is 18, with pale blond hair skin like snow and eyes as blue as those of a sled dog. I know him because he went with us on our trip to the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi near Kiruna, sitting in the back of the little mini bus and talking for hours in rapid, enthusiastic Swedish to anyone who would listen....but mostly to a Finnish woman named Pirjo who had learned Rapid Swedish as a child. Upon arrival at the Ice Hotel, as if by magic, he was able to buy a Vodka and Frozen Arctic Blueberry at the Absolut Ice Bar using his bank card as an ID.
"Varför kommer du hit?" he asks
"Jag åka till planet." By coincidence, planet is "the plane" på svenska.
"Är flera här med dig också?" he asks.
No...eveyone else left yesterday. Why was he here?
"I am going back to Jokkmokk," he says in English. The wheel of life turns, as do the tires of the Norrbotten busses.
Kalle buys an energy drink and browses the magazines. I stare at the big board that tells which platform to go to for which bus and shake my head. I would like to take the 52 to Arvidsjaur and on to Bodö on the North Sea, the 55 to Pajala and on to Karesuando. I would like to......
Life has turned like a wheel. Jokkmokk in Sweden and Parkano...my son's current home...in Finland have returned to the other side of the world. On the left side of the wheel, fading in transient memory, is a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Portland.
My seatmate has been sleeping for four hours, waking to chomp down on a special meal of rice and dal and then returning to slumber. (My own special vegetarian meal does not exist, obliterated somehere on the e-mail wires, forcing me to chomp down first on salmon in chervil sauce, then on cheese ravioli). I watch her sleep as we wing our way over Arhus and Reykjavik. She is a tiny, pretty young woman who could be a well-dressed Italian, but the festive henna patterns on her hands suggest a different story. Somewhere above the barren rocky tundra of Arctic Canada, her sleep gives up the ghost and she gets up. I open the blinds and hastily take photos of large scale glacial grooving of landscape before shutting the flap again. She returns.
"Are you from Portland?" she asks.
"No, I'm from The Dalles," I answer. "How about you?"
"I'm from Seaside," she replies.
She's from Seaside, Oregon, one block from the Pacific Ocean, where she and her husband own a motel. She likes it there, falling asleep to the sound of waves, but she hates the winter because it rains all the time. It's the slow season, though, and she can, on the one hand, help her teenagers with their homework. On the other, she can travel. She has just been home to India....INDIA!!!
"That's why you're so sleepy...you've flown from India!"
...to attend the weddings of her niece and then her nephew. She visited India for six weeks and she partied the whole time.
"Has India changed since you lived there," I asked.
"Yes it has! There did not have any freeways before. When I lived there everyone got around in cabs. [foot powered?] Now...everyone has to have a car. So much new industry has moved there. The people you call to ask about your computer live in India. Everyone wants a car, but there is nowhere to drive it. There is no where to park it. What a mess!"
It's spring now...you dont need a coat and purple flowers bloom along the flood basalt cliffs which line Washington route 14. But there is still snow on the mountains, and the grey ice fog persists on some mornings.
You would think I could come up with a story about the Northwest, but I cant. My mind is stuck...stuck in the white snow drifts of Lappland.
"Students!" said our Swedish teacher, E. Salminen, på svenska. "Here are some pictures from a magazine. Each person, take one!"
I picked up a photo of a guy ice fishing. It reminded me of Minnesota.
"Now, invent a personality for your picture. What it its name? Where does it live? And so on."
This is what I wrote. "Lars Swensson, 22 år, bor i Sundsvall, jobbar på bensinstation, har en sambo heter Ulrika, kör en 1992 Volvo, tycker om titta på idrotter på teve och spela ishockey och supa öl och pimpla. Han sitter på isen nu. Han vill fiska men han måste borra en hål. Han är jättetrött och har en baksmälla."
Vad är det på engelska?
"Lars Swenson, 22, lives in Sundsvall, works at a gas station, has a girlfriend named Ulrika, drives a 1992 Volvo, likes to watch sports on TV and play ice hockey and drink beer and ice fish. He is sitting on the ice now. He wants to fish but he has to bore a hole. He is very tired and has a hangover.
Notice the cognates between English and Swedish!"
"Now," said Eija, "Get together in small groups and make up a story where all of your people get together."
I got together with Kirsten, a blonde German orthopedic physician, and young Ewald from Holland, who had set his shoe on fire at the hundspann...dogsledding luncheon. Ewald had chosen a man at a computer named Ulf. He lived in some hellhole like Enköping, worked as a consultant, and was soon travelling to Iraq to open a paper-clip factory. Kirsten had chosen a black basketball player whose name was Malcolm....X. Malcolm....X was an American pro basketball player, but he had a Swedish girlfriend whom he was visiting.
Suddenly, Eija S. appeared at our table, out in the lobby of the well-designed Jokkmokk Adult Learning Center. She was holding a clog, belonging to the Advanced Class Intructor.
"This clog must figure somewhere in your story," she said, flopping the shoe back and forth.
I owe this story, which I was elected to read aloud, to the giggling wit of Kirsten and Ewald.
"Lars jobbar på bensinstation. Idag kommer två männer, Ulf och Malcom...X och Malcolms sambo till bensinstationen, för de vill köpa bensin. Malcolm köper på bensinautomaten och tappaner bensin på marken. Sedan Ulf börjar att röka och ljus upp en tändsticka. Sedan kommer en stor explosion. Brandsmännerna kommer fram och hitter bara Malcoms sambos toffel."
"Lars works at a gas station. Today two men come, Ulf and Malcolm...X and Malcom's girlfriend to the gas station, because they want to buy gasoline. Malcolm purchases at the automatic pump and spills gas on the ground. Then Ulf begins to smoke and lights a match. Then comes a big explosion. The firemen arrive and find only Malcolms girlfriend's clog."
"I wondered how you would work the shoe in!" exclaimed our teacher.
Interesting fact. The name Lars is actually pronounced Larsh if you are in Sweden.
It's a scene from a Kosher comedy thriller movie...where the old white haired metalhead grandmother blurts out...
"I went to Bloomington, Illinois to my nephew's Bar Mitzvah. Mazeltov!"
Well, sure, but how often is that old black shirted lady a Quaker? How often do Quakers get to do stuff like that? Only when one's Methodist brother-in-law meets another of his kind who is Jewish and falls madly in love! For them, golf and math education were the life-blood that was thicker than religion!
There we were, Aunt Donna from Durham, Cousin Emma and Baby Victor from Texas, and Cousin Erin and Irrelevant Judith from Oregon....
"I dont think I ever want to fly again. If I could drive to Bloomington I would go, but instead I'll go see my girlfriend in Eugene," said my husband. CHICKEN!!!
...sitting in row three of Cousin Avery's Bar Mitzvah. The minister...oops...rabbi was giving a lecture on shawls. When a Jewish boy becomes 13, he has a Bar Mitzvah and gets a free prayer shawl from his mom. Nothing about the shawl matters but the knots two strings that hang at each corner. But more than that, he becomes an adult, responsible for his actions. Most of them will hopefully be good. In the days of what we call the old testament, ungood actions needed to be atoned for. Even if you did something Patriotic that was bad, like killing someone in battle, you would have to atone.
Conversely, when a Quaker boy, like Ian for example, reaches 13, he is close to being in high school and becoming a Junior Friend. Then he can go on ski trips to Yakima and work trips to Mexico. He can learn how to conduct a Quaker Business Meeting and better yet, contemplate a future in an anarchistic hippie religion that unconditionally does not accept war.
Avery led part of the Jewish service as a function of his Bar Mitzvah. It consisted of reading from a blue book, several of which were stashed just like hymnals in the back of every pew. The rabbi read passages, the congregation read passages back and sang as well, unaccompanied, as if they were Primitive Baptists. Sometimes they spoke English, sometimes Hebrew. It was interesting listening to Cousin Avery speaking in Hebrew. During this time I had two major revelations:
1) "That sounds BALKAN!!!" Erin whispered in my ear. Some of the music in my recordings sounded like the music the Jewish folks were singing!
2) A Jewish religious service is not all that different from, say, a Unitarian (yeah, we know that) or a Baptist or an Episcopalian service. WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL?
Yep. That's what I wondered over and over. Same god, what's the big deal.
The big deal is that a Bar Mitzvah lasts too long. Soon, Curly Haired Baby Victor began to amuse himself by throwing tops of magic markers out in the aise so that I would pick them up. That wore thin for his mom. Suddenly, she arose as if by Divine Baptist Intervention and dragged him out into the hall!!!
Hmmm...I thought. I'll go out into the hall too!
"He's out of milk. That's his problem," said Emma.
I glanced out the architect-designed window at the Phillips 66 station down the street. "Look...we'll go get him some. You go back in!" This is the sort of thing that Real Grandmothers are expected to say.
Free...Baby Victor and I were free of Organized Religion, free at last to walk the streets of Bloomington, Illinois, past dead grass and melting lumps of sooty snow. We crossed the four lane street and opened the door of the gas station. Victor picked up a bag of Fiery Hot Pop Korn.
"Put that down Victor," I said. "That's TOO HOT!"
Then he picked up a bag of Sizzling Jalapeno Fritos. Crazy Salvadorans!
"Put that down Victor," I said. "That's TOO HOT!"
He finally setted on a box of Mild Cheezits. We continued on to the dairy case and found a pint of whole milk.
"No!" exclaimed the cashier, a man of middle eastern heritage. "No milk products. Dont buy any milk products! They are all expired. See, look at the date!"
The cashier turned the bottle over.
"November 2006?" I read in astonishment.
"No, nothing!" he blurted in broken English.
"Juice..." I muttered. Baby Victor and I walked back to the cooler with Cuppie. That's what Victor calls his cup. I grabbled a bottle of 100% pure apple juice, which had an expiration date of April 2007. Victor extracted a 10 oz brick of Pepper Jack from the bottom shelf.
Outside on the sidewalk, I poured the unappetizing water out of Cuppie and filled it with juice. Victor drank and drank.
We walked back to the Temple.
I had thought the Bar Mitzvah would be over by now, and we could eat bagels and lax and egg salad and have our pictures taken. But it wasnt. We had returned in time to watch Aunt Donna and Cousin Erin open the Ark so that the Torah could be placed back inside. What an experience for a Quaker Pagan Agnostic teenager and her aunt!
Final Exam, FL 410
Assignment: Write your own coming of age story. Chose the most dramatic incident from your childhood. Meditate on it Kundera style (what did it mean?) Or go a tiny bit magical realism Niemi style.
My First Date
I stood in The Green Bathroom, looking into the mirror. There were actually three mirrors, multiple realities that allowed you to spy on the back of your head if you wanted. I was afraid to look at the back of mine, at the fine, wavy brown hair that never came out right. It had been rolled into a rigid flip as I slept, teased into a puff, and sprayed with a light armor. Teased hair was considered passé in many parts of the country in 1967, but it was still in style here in suburban Birmingham. In fact, it would live on into the twenty first century, referred to with the derisive term "Big Hair." Back in the sixties, however, the dark etymologic twin of the gentile term "teased hair" was "ratted hair." The latter was derived from the legend that a girl in New Jersey had ratted her hair up really high and never washed it. One day they found her dead. A rat had crawled into her hairdo despite the thick crust and chewed out her brain.
I examined the front of my skinny body. A flowered shift hemmed four inches above the knee, white fishnet hose, yellow mary janes.
"You look like a floozy in that dress," disapproved my father when I bought the dress.
"I prefer the tailored look," commented my mother sadly.
Next year, in college, I would throw out my too-short shirtwaists and replace them with faded bell-bottoms and men's pocket T-shirts in assorted dismal colors. I would leave the pink rollers on a closet shelf and my hair would become long and droopy.
My second best friend also stared at the mirror. "You look, great, Gennett!" she said in an accent oozing with collards and black eyed peas. Henderson Dore would have felt right at home.
I was skeptical. "Thanks, Fxxx!" I answered. It had recently become fashionable for girls at W.A. Berry High School to address one another by their last names. Perhaps it was a misdirected declaration of war. Cathy was the wildest and craziest of my friends, and she had come to take me out on my first date. Most young ladies were lucky enough to be asked out by a boy, but I had been waiting years...at least two or three...and it hadnt happened. As early as eighth grade, you'd hear conversations like this in science class:
"How was the party, Brenda?"
"Great! And...Benny Earl and Donelle were making out IN THE CLOSET!!!"
But so far I had not been snatched into any closets, or even to a movie. Maybe it was because my hair was too unruly or I was too thin. Maybe I was too shy or too obnoxious. Maybe it was just Fate. Cathy, on the other hand, had been going out for ages with Leland, a guy she'd met at Church. Fxxx was a Unitarian, and luckily that place attracted all sorts of commie misfits.
"Leland has a friend he wants you to meet," Cathy told me.
The Fxxx Family Vista Cruiser was waiting for us in the driveway. Cathy slid into the driver's seat and pulled a brush out of her purse to fix her equally unruly blonde hair. She lit a Kool, and switched on the ignition. In a few minutes were out on the open road , floating in a cloud of cigarette smoke and exhaust. Britling's Cafeteria, Vestavia Shopping Center, Vestavia Bowling Lanes, everything was sucked behind us like a surrealistic doppler effect. Along the long gentle southern slope of Shades Mountain, Highway 31 was lined with junkyards, taverns, and red clay. Red clay was everywhere, splashed like blood on building foundations and roads wherever the Appalachian soil had been slashed open by bulldozers and backhoes. Beyond the scattered line of droopy buildings, there was nothing but trees, nothing but forest, nothing but pine and oak, maple and sweetgum. And a sometimes impenetrable understory.
"Alabama Power Company owns all that land," echoed my father's voice.
Leland was a student at The Indian Springs School, nineteen miles south of Birmingham up the steep northern slope of Double Oak Mountain. It was Alabama's premier institution for young nerds...as long as they were white and male. At Indian Springs, boys were prepared for the best colleges, ones even more impressive than Georgia Tech. The students played chess and spoke to each other in Latin: Academic Paradise in the Great Appalachian Forest. But it was hard to meet girls down there. The campus was way too isolated.
A half hour later, the gravel driveway of Indian Springs crackled under the tires of the blue Oldsmobile wagon. Two figures were lounging by the dorm entrance. I recognized Cathy's black-haired steady right away. Leland always looked the same, a sign that his mind was on higher pursuits, like reading the latest science fiction novel. He was wearing his usual white polyester short sleeved shirt and a pocket protector loaded with pencils and pens. His glasses were bipolar...black plastic on the top, wire on the bottom. Even in the sixties, the only people who wore frames like that were old men and Leland.
"Judy," he said with twinkling eyes and a warm smile. "This is George."
I fell in love with George the moment I saw him. He was short for a boy, about my height, and lightly muscular. He had straight blond hair that cascaded over his forehead like the Falls of the Tallapoosa and piercing blue eyes. He wore a blue stripped button down shirt. George was handsome and perfect.
"Quo vadis picea engelmanii," commented Leland.
"Cogito ergo sum," replied my date.
We made small talk, got to know each other as we walked to the Saturday Night Movie.
"What courses are you taking?" I asked.
He smiled with interest. "French 5, Differential Equations, Advanced Physics, and Art."
"Je parle la francis aussi!" j'ai dit. At least I wouldnt have to speak Latin.
We two returned to The Vista Cruiser after the movie. George walked with a thunking, uneven gait, as if his right leg were a two by four. The blue and yellow of his eyes and hair faded to grey in the darkness.
"What did you get on your ACT's?" he asked.
"Thirty," I answered. There was no shame in a thirty.
"I made a thirty six," he said and shrugged. My third best friend, Anne...who looked a lot like Leland...had scored a 34. That was the highest I had heard of. A 36 was the highest you could get.
"That should get me into college about anywhere," he added, grinning mildly. "I'm thinking of Princeton."
We walked on in silence, towards the oaks that lined the parking lot. A sudden breeze chilled my bare arms. Then, a grey, diaphanous figure appeared in the corner of my eye, lacing his way through the oaks. He was carrying a jug.
"Who is that?" I asked.
"Who?" replied George.
"The kid with the jug?"
"You can see him?" George's eyes grew wide and merry, reflected starlight. He paused. "That's the old moonshiner. He's an Indian Springs Tradition. Most people can't see him. Special people can." My date looked at the sky. "He's here to get water."
I didnt know what to think.
"Special people," George said, and continued smiling.
We sat down in the car. George thought a moment, then moved his hand along my shoulder.
"Mmm," he moaned. It was the sound I had been waiting for all my life. Jag doftade....I smelled the sticky aroma of aftershave, felt the pricky smoothness of shaven cheek brushing past as he turned to kiss me. A wave of pain and ecstasy broke in my lower abdomen, pulsing like the surf on the beach at Pensacola. I'd experienced this surge once before as I'd read The Golden Yoke: A Novel of the War of the Roses, when the duke removed his young bride's bodice. George's tongue snaked in my mouth like an evil spirit; I sensed the warmth of his body of mine on top of me, felt a mysterious muted spike reaching for me through his black chinos...
The morality of dating in Alabama of the mid-sixties was byzantine and somewhat illogical. Unless you were a rabid fundamentalist, there was really nothing wrong with making out like this on your first date, even if, like me, you had just met the young fellow a few hours earlier. Parking was a ritual, and it proved that your date didnt regard you as a disgusting, slimy slug. And you never knew who felt that way about you. For instance, the next summer, I would be dancing at a party with Emily Cxxx's older brother Raymond, whose friend Max borrowed my Vanilla Fudge album and never gave it back. Raymond would say, "How ya been, you old turd?" and I would reel from the blow. That same evening, I would start up a conversation with a Jefferson County School Bus driver over by the Bar-B-Q. Larry would smell of Brut and Listerine. He would date me all that summer, and we would even discuss getting married. I would reel from that idea as well. You just never could tell. The trick was, though, to know by osmosis when to stop, when to push away the insistent hand. Or else you would be considered a disgusting, slimy slut. "Just about now," I thought, using a technique similar to Indian wrestling to remove George's hand from the inside of my upper thigh.
Time seemed to stop in the warm summer evening. In the near distance, through the open door of The Vista Cruiser, I saw the hazy figure of an Indian, grey in the moonlight. I slipped out into the wooded evening. He was much younger than me...just a boy. "The four tribes, Creek, Cherokee, Chocktaw, Chickasaw," I thought to myself.
"Who are you?" I asked. "Why are you here?"
"Allting finns framför dig. Du har fått allt du behöver, alla ledtråder finns där redan. Gå bara tillbaka i minnet och lägg ihop bitarna. Då vet du vem jag är och varför du kan se mig," [Mikael Niemi, 2006, Mannen Som Dog Som en Lax, p 326] he answered in Creek...it must have been Creek, it wasn't Latin. The boy continued, "Everything is before you. You have everything you need, the clues have already been found. Just go back in your memory and put together the pieces. Then you will know who I am and why you can see me."
"Len," I said softly and closed my eyes. Waves of time washed over me. Len had lived in the split-level next door when we were nine. On summer mornings we boys would pick up our weapons and walk to the big woods that lay only a block from our houses. The dusty paths were endless, and they always came alive with long-dead Indians and settlers and rebel soldiers, or sometimes even with pirates and Roman legions. High overhead were tree forts, constructed from scraps of wood by unknown children, recent phantoms. Years later, when I returned to Vestavia to sell my parents home, I would visit with Jimmy Sxxxx, Patty's big brother, who had lived a block away, down on Mountain View Drive.
"I just stopped by to see what it looks like now inside," he would say. "I fix up houses, but this one is too much of a mess, with the dog pee on the oak floor and the water damage and the hole in the ceiling and everything.
I would shrug and change the subject. "It's great to see you. Most people don't realize what it was like growing up here, with the Woods."
Jimmy's eyes would cloud with memories. "Wasn't it great?" he would reply, using the beautifully aggressive consonants and dipthongs typical of Northern Alabama. "With the tree forts! God!"
Len moved away the next spring, in 1960. The Schlesingers moved in from Wisconsin, transferred from heaven to hell. Their two sons were burly high school football players.
Endless paths through southern pine forest, past lichen and moss-covered expanses of sandstones and shales, over noisy Appalachian creeks, along tall sunflower meadows where the power lines cut.
"You're here to show me the paths," I said. "Up here on Double Oak Mountain."
Lennox nodded. The trails here stretched as far as the eye could see, lit by fireflies and starlight and the big grey moon.
Soon, however, it became apparent that I was trapped in a magical allegory. An attorney sat at a table with a pitcher of beer. "My wife has the night shift at the hospital tonite," he enticed.
Further on, in an area of sandstone rubble, a dour man sat on his porch swing. "Now that I am forty, I have reached a turning point and have begun to contemplate the end of my life," he moaned.
"Who are all those men in the weeds by the side of the path? Is this something I'm supposed to see?" I asked.
"What men?" asked Lennox, puzzled. "Oh them....they're sirens...like the junk yards and the taverns. They look interesting on the outside, but in the end their songs will drag you through the dirt. Look beyond them, into the wilderness. What do you see?
"London! England!" I exclaimed. "Wow! Will I meet the Beatles?"
"No...but you'll find ammonites in the sea beyond Lyme Regis!"
The landscape glittered, each vista more exciting than the next. The glaciers of Banff and Jasper. Lake Superior. The Western Isles. The Alps. Norwegian Fjords. The Vatnajökull on Iceland's south coast. The thermal area on New Zealand's North Island. Haleakala. The Aleutians. Newfoundland....!!!
"Wow...what is that vast expanse of trees? It looks like Alabama!" I asked.
"That's Lappland....Swedish Lappland. It is as dangerous as the sirens. It will suck you in," answered my monochome neighbor.
"The sign...what does the sign say?"
"It says Pajala 95 km."
"Panama?" I could see the locks of the canal glowing in the distance.
"Pajala. This is as far as we can go."
I stared at him, turned towards the station wagon, and looked back at the Indian.
There was no one there. Only fireflies and the Vista Cruiser and George. And the taste of a boy's kiss.
"Mutiny In the Classroom"
It is certainly spring now in the Columbia Gorge. The forsythia and daffodils are blooming, and the grass is greener than ever on the hills...and it's growing, too! What a pleasure to just stand in the yard, getting knocked in the head by the family frisbee. The problem is that the leaves arent on the trees yet, except for the conifers, which pretty much always have leaves, or really needles, unless they're dead, or they are of the genus Larix, or larch, which is deciduous. That means that you can see the creek through the little woods, but on the other hand someone can watch you from tenth street, across the creek, getting hit on the head. By the time the leaves appear on the walnuts and cottonwoods, things will begin to dry up. Mill Creek will shrink from a bluish white ribbon of passion into a thin brown trail of lethargy.
Spring means that one more class is over. This one...European Humor and Satire, taught by Danish novelist Peter Fogtdal...I was gone so much that one minute I was writing my midterm (compare "Yes Minister" with "Kingdom"), the next I was filling out the evaluation and Peter was advertising his next course.
"They wouldnt give me any English credit for this course," complained Natasha, a foreign student from Moscow.
"They SHOULD...everyone else is getting credit for it. Go talk to them again," claimed Peter.
It is always a problem...the literature courses taught in the Foreign Language department are looked upon with suspicion.
"But my next course...The Modern European Historical Novel...is a U course. You should have no problem getting credit for that."
"I hate U courses," I remarked to the Canadian woman sitting next to me." To get a conventional degree at PSU, you have to take a number of University Studies Courses, where they teach you as a 20 year old how to think. The courses are a real nuisance. Any time you see an interesting name like "Alpine Environments" or "Oregon Geology," the number is bound to have a U after it. That means it isnt as scientific and fun as you might think. It is loaded with all sorts of extraneous how to think crap. You have to go back and pick something straightforward like "Intro to Italian" or "Remedial Algebra."
"I do too, " she answered, in the modest way of mature British Columbians. "That's why I'm a Liberal Studies Major." All the undergraduates over 30 to whom I have spoken are Liberal Studies majors.
"After you turn your evaluations in...anyone who wants to go to Broadway Coffee is welcome. I'll be there," announced Peter.
"You were really pushing it today," I commented to the neo-hippie ahead of me in the coffee line, not that I drink coffee, "when you asked Peter if you had to come to class and discuss the Italian film 'Starmaker,' because you didnt make it into class to watch it so you thought it pointless."
"Ha ha!" he laughed. "I was trying to force an confrontation actually."
Confrontation, ja ja! "I dont think I've ever met anyone like you, Brad," confronted Peter. "You should take into consideration that you have not shown up for a number of classes and that you sold one of your books before you finished it. You should take passing the course into consideration."
I sort of think anyone who couldnt show up for class for an Italian comedy movie should be flunked for complete idiocy. But Brad had said one thing that forged a bond between us.
"Class," asked Peter, "What did you think of 'Popular Music In Vittula'? Brad...did you manage to read this one?"
"I read the hell out of that book," answered Brad emphatically staring at his desk and shaking his fluffy head.
"What was your favorite book?" Peter asked everyone the next class day. "Judith?"
"'Popular Music In Vittula' is one of the best books I have ever read." That was our bond.
A few stragglers mentioned "Stolen Spring" or "Stars and Bars." But otherwise half the class loved Milan Kundera's "Slowness," a novel of thought set in a French chateau and hated Mikeal Niemi's Popular Music In Vittula. Half the class loved Niemi's book, a fragmented, magical coming of age story set in Swedish Lappland and hated "Slowness." A line is drawn, a seemingly insignificant line that grows in magnitude to encompass the entire philosophical world of people who have read both books.
And only I know why there is a line. No one else cares very much.
The half class is seated around a coffee table...I am drinking a honey spice tea....there is one man in our group who knows everything about films. He has watched thousands of movies, each one critically. If I have learned anything in this course, it is that I watch films as non-fiction, as reality. Directors dont exist. I would never have majored in film.
"Everyone hated me in high school," the husky man is laughing. "I was a star football player and a national merit scholar. I was a center...an offensive lineman. The football players hated me because I was a geek. The smart kids hated me because I was a jock. I was recruited by the University of Michigan.
"Did you play then?" someone asks.
"No," he answers. "The athletic program has complete control over you. I didnt want that."
Noosa, QLD, March 2007:
"I know!" said Auntie Anna. "We'll take you to the Farmers Market in Noosa! That way, you will see a lot of the local fruits and vegetables! Owin!" she bade her husband. "You cant drive Judy's rental car so we'll have to take your car!"
"What year is this...uh...car?" I would later ask.
"A 1992!" he said proudly.
It was exciting times at the 5 acre Day-Jameson organic mini-farm in rural southern Queensland. Some people have relatives who pop in all the time. But it had been a couple of decades...back when they lived near Wellington...since any of Anna's relatives had come to visit from America.
"Whoa!" Owin had exclaimed. "I guess I must be your uncle, Erin!"
Owin is what is known as a Kiwi. "My mother is third generation from people who came over on the boat..." he explained as we climbed up and up to look over the hill pocked countryside. "Those are all that are left of volcanoes!" claimed Owin. Yep, there is an interesting chain of hot spot volcanoes parallel to the east coast of Australia.
"When was that?" I asked.
"1858. But my father was born in London. My grandfather was in the Boer War."
"The Boer War," I repeated.
Going to Australia, I've discovered, is a lot like travelling to Alberta. Unlike New Zealand, you forget you're somewhere else. The Farmers Market was like being in Eugene at the Saturday Market. I took photos of wild mushrooms and eggplant.........and bananas and persimmons desplayed under the palms. I drooled past the food stands, and decided on a grilled vegetable pie from a merchant.
"We dont have pies like this in Oregon," I explained to my astounded in laws.
"Oh?" said Uncle Owin.
"Here is a Finger Lime," said Anna, changing the subject with a 2" long green citrus fruit. "It is a native plant!" She cut open the little fruit and squeezed out little limey balls into our palms. They were like caviar.
Suddenly I heard music! A leathery man in a cowboy shirt was playing his guitar at the entrance, and his guitar case was open! I stood for a minute, walked over to the restroom to collect my thoughts, returned with my plastic money, and stared at the CdRs propped up in the case.
"Which is your last CD?" I asked.
"This one here..." he answered as he took my little plastic prayer flags. "Where are you from?" he added.
"I'm from America."
He thought a second. "Take this one instead. It's songs I wrote about where I came from in Western Australia...the Kimberley. From Broom...used to be known in the pearling industry.
I bought a copy of "Colours of Australia." A search on google turns up no entries on the web.
"Can you sign it?" I asked. He pulled out a pen.
"How long have you been playing guitar?" I asked.
"Since I was the size of that little guy over there!" he pointed at a small child. "And I am 77 now."
Wyo--whatever, NSW: Every substantial travel venture...at least mine, most people have better luck...contains two major disasters.
1) Flights that arrive late. About half my flights arrive at their destination dangerously late. It didnt used to be that way.
2) A search for lodging...campgrounds or motel room or whatever...that lasts for hours and hours. Only once, however, have we not been able to find anything at all. That was on my honeymoon, in August 1974, when my cute bridegroom and I spent a romantic night in my old Toyota parked on a street in Podunk, Saskatchewan on the way back from Banff & Jasper. There were a lot of county fairs going on at the time which clogged up the cheap hoser motel rooms.
Our trip to Australia has now passed the the dual test. First, Wee Erin and I were stuck in LA for a day due to thunderstorms in Chicago. Second...we are now recovering from an unique experience called "Lost in Sydney." After spending day after day in an Australia dominated by cow pastures, weird birds, and gum trees, Sydney was rather unexpected.
But I wont tell these stories now. I'm too drunk on "2005 Mudgee Chardonnay Bin 343 Mudgee NSW 2850." This afternoon, after we visited the Koala Breeding Farm and with some resolve decided we could make Canberra and the National Museum by evening, I screeched to a stop at the Billabong [sp] Bottle Shop & Motel at Podunk, NSW.
"There are more white wines behind the Blue Door," said bored blond teenagers at the counter. In Australia, the drinking age is 18. This allows any on-the-road working class van-enhanced over-17 employee to legally spend the nite sitting outside a motel room discussing barbecued roadkill kangaroos with his mates, drunk as a wombat.
I opened the heavy blue door...yep, I knew beforehand it was a cooler...paradise in the hot muggy March of coastal Australia! I slammed the door. Trapped in a cooler! Ecstacy!!!
Suddenly I remembered Erin, dozing like a teenager in the rental car, dying of heat exhaustian like some forgotten Pomeranian pooch.
I hastily scanned the tiny cider section, my favorite. Yeah, I could get Strongbow at Safeway in The Dalles. Reluctantly I reopened the cooler door. You Aussies know why!
The two teenagers at the checkout stared at me.
"I'm looking for a 7 or 8 dollar wine," I suggested.
"Have you tried this?" asked the guy.
"This is all red wine," I moaned in disdain.
"um.." he exclaimed, rattling amongst the bottles. "Here's a Chardonnay."
The streets of Taree, New South Wales, are not quiet this Saturday night. Some inhabitants are attending a barbecue by the wide river. Most of the stores...even the TIPS...were closed, but the natives...often in pairs or in clumps of three to five...are restless. Downtown, they stalk KMart, the massive Coles Supermarket and its attached Liquorland, the Exchange Hotel and Drive-Through Spirits At the Rear, and Delicious Noodle Fast Carry Out No MSG, crossing the main streets against the signal like suicide bombers.
I circle back from my stroll and retrieve my purse full of plastic money. It is one block from the Pacific Motel to the East Court Chinese Buffet.
"Do you want something from the menu or the buffet?" The blonde young hostess is charging me before hand!!!
"I'll have the buffet! ......but...can I get something...uh....uh....a small fried rice for my daughter who will not leave the motel room?"
Then I stand by the small bar and order a chardonnay. Mmm...Chardonnay and Chinese food!
"We have Chardonnay by the bottle," says the hostess. "But we have Reisling and Pinot gris by the glass for $2.50."
"I'll have the reisling," I order. She maneuvers a new box of Lindemans into position. Lindemans! Oh no! I have travelled 12,000 miles to drink Lindemans! But now I know...Lindemans is the real Australian wine!
"You're makin a dive for those prawns, Darlin'!" comments a sun-browned, leathery man with star-blue eyes and a gold stud in one ear.
"I sure am!" I reply. The shrimp are huge and red, the heads still on, the eyes pivoting like periscopes.
"I dont blame you! Some of those are high cost!" he says, as if he has known me for years. Nine tenths of the Australians who speak to me sound like this, and most do speak to me. Australia is a Finn's nightmare of familiarity and small talk. The other tenth angrily accuse me of opening my car door into their fender or something else vile.
In a parallel world, I invite the man to my table for some more Lindemans and a moon light stroll along the river and...
After dinner, I walk back downtown, to Coles and Liquorland. There are many kind of ramen at Coles.
"What are you looking for?" asks the clerk at Liquorland. He is about my age. I stare at the wine, then the beer in the coolers.
"I dont know," I reply, laughing.
I circle around the gin and return. "I'm looking for a single of something dark and Australian."
He points out two bottles. "This one is darker...they are totally different. Totally."
I choose Toohey's Old Black Ale. The darker beer is trapped in a plastic six pack.
"What are you going to do with that?" he asks.
"Drink it!" I laugh.
Back again to the historic The Dalles, Oregon. I walk along ninth street from downtown Dalles City, carrying a diet mountain dew from Dinty's Market, the faucet from El Centro that froze and cracked during the winter and no one on first street had been able to braze, and a strap of georges from Wells Fargo containing a wild from "Dave in Fremont", Nebraska and a ghost bill from Casper the Friendly Ghost Georger, a vault teller in Orem, Utah. Suddenly a faded 1967 Oldsmobile pulls up beside me.
"Judith!" someone shrieks. I ignore them, staring intently at the asphalt.
"Judith!" I look inside at the insistent little old lady. She looks vaguely familiar.
"Oh hi!" I fudge.
"We've missed you! The Red Hat is meeting next weekend at the Pastime Saloon in Dufur! You'll be there won't you?"
Wow! The Pastime, with its elk heads and pool tables and keno games!
I reckon. http://yellowpages.aol.com/arts-and-entertainment/bars/or/dufur/
Home...but first we had to get through...
"Security in Brisbane Australia"
We'd bought the tall container of plastic snakes at a Koala Farm near Port Macquarie, New South Wales.
"Mother!" said Erin. "I bet Puppy"....her name for Baby Victor..."Would love these snakes!"
So I bought them. Soon, the rigid 6" cobra was perched on the steering column, continuously staring at me and baring its forked tongue. When times got tough and boring, when the kangaroos werent hopping by, Erin would dramatize tragic snake love stories. But once they slithered onto the black conveyer belt and went through X-ray, their days were numbered.
"No snakes on a plane," sniffled Erin.
"What?" I asked, distracted.
"They asked me if there was someone in Australia I could send them to."
"Security confiscated the plastic snakes? They confiscated Monte Python?"
"YES! They said that they might scare someone if we took them out!"
"They said what?"
&&&&&&&I had a dream about Battlefield Band...I was trapped for days in a horror grey urban maze of freeways and I was on foot. Suddenly I saw an apartment and knew it was theirs. They werent there, but I went in and refreshed myself with food and sleep. Then I set out again on my journey. Something told me..."Put out your thumb and they will come by and pick you up. Home is where the van is!"
Their album is one of the first Celtic albums I bought in the mid '80s....Scotland like you never heard it before.
I was inspired to play one of their even earlier songs on my show.
"Severe Emotional Distress" In honor of April 15th
Portland, April 2007
"What do you want, dear?" inquires the bartender.
"Can you make me a cosmo?" . The bar itself looks sleek and chic...and he's just poured someone a whiskey and soda in a plastic cup.
"Not here," he says.
"Do you have any wine?" I ask.
"No...we're pretty stipped down."
"I'm just too upperclass," I joke. He doesnt laugh. "How about a stout." It's on tap...
Not too stripped down for microbrews. Hey...it's Portland!
Hallf my comrades are drinking longnecks...PBR and Corona with lime...which cost one dollar less. We've just finished listening to...and watching...Scar Symmetry from Sweden, the opening act in "Metal For the Masses" at the Hawthorne Theatre. As far as I'm concerned, they are a distaster; the bad sound that typlifies live metal obliterated the Apocalyptic Melody in the Melodic Death...
"Melodic Death...great name for a metal band!" someone wrote me.
...and too many of them are shaved bald. Ugly! Five years ago, it would be typical for four young Swedish men to line up on stage, sweeping the floor with their long beautiful hair as they played their guitars like the cars of a rumbling express train along dark moon tracks. But now, it is a different world. I lean against the wall and moan in regret of passing time. I front of me, a drunken, blond, tattooed biker is propped on the wall as well, negotiating air guitar with a pbr bottle in one hand. His days are numbered too...most of the audience here are graduate students on their way to class.
There are unprecedented zones of involvement at metal concerts. Near the stage the standing audience is expected to react to the music...
"Let's see some horn signs out there!" instructs Stu Block of Into Eternity.
And the stage-huggers thrust their fingers into the air. Some bang their heads and cheer.
But farther back...the audience just stands, cool and detatched. The adults behind the barricade that helps define the bar stares into space. That's the norm for grown-up metal-heads in Cascadia, with the liquor laws the way they are.
"We are Into Eternity and we are bringing you the Finest in Radical Progressive Death Metal from ***Regina Saskatchewan***!" Stuart yells into the depths of the audience. He has long, light brown hair, blackened eyes, and knightlike leather cuffs around his thin wrists; he paces the stage like a caged wildcat.
Most importantly, Stu has an astounding voice. Following the ground-cracking advent of Mikael Åkerfeldt and Opeth with its juxtaposition of death growls and folky clear vocals, [see Opeth at http://w3.gorge.net/judith/stories4.htm] 50% of death metal bands feel compelled to try the same weird gymnastics. However, Into Eternity is a power-death band [see p 10, "Metal for the Masses Tour Program"] Instead of trying to be a part-time David Olney....for the lyrics of IE's new album with its feature track "Severe Emotional Distress" challenge even David's high standards of depression...Stuart is Carusso or maybe Freddy Mercury one moment, Satan the next, then suddenly a grim, vomitous graveworm. Ugh! How's that for astounding Canadian talent and versatility! It's sort of like the climatic extremes in the Prairie Provinces.
"Not every mother listens to metal," said Ian as we drove our way through the Yukon glacial outwash back in 2001. We were on our way to Scagway!
"But the metal your mother listens to isnt normal," explained Emma. "This 'Avantasia'...it's like a Broadway Musical. It's like 'Cats Metal.'"
That's who Stu Block reminds me of...Tobias Sammet of Edguy...magician of Avantasia!!! "We are the power in sight, we bring you fantasy. We are the kingdom of Light and Risto."
I passionately want to go up front, up by the stage, to be enveloped in Light and Fantasy, but I am trapped here in the bar...by the Oregon Liquor Laws and my plastic glass of watery mole sauce!
Two more bands. I will drive home. Just one more thing, though!
"Can I get one of those Dark Tranquilli...one of those Into Eternity Tshirts?" I ask the cheerful, pudgy hoser at the merchandise table.
"Which one..." Am I too indecisive? Too picky? "No, we're at the end of the tour. Nothing on back, no long sleeves."
"OK...that one," I point. I search my bag for georges.
Suddenly the wiry European clerk manning the adjoining position scrambles in search of Dark Tranquillity Belt Buckles. DT have two lls because that is "the secret sign for failure, self loathing, misery, and self-inflicted torture." [p 9]
"Madame!" he snarls. "Can you please pick up your purse? You are ruining everything!" Usch! Severe emotional distress! I elevat my bag and pulled out a ten and a twenty.
"I'm sure I can find change for that," grins the genial Canadian.
1. I stood at the check-out at Fred Meyer with a bag of Morning Star Farms Fake Chicken and a bag of Morning Star Farms Mini Corndogs. I pulled the georges from my purse. 1-2-3-4....I counted.
"Eight dollars!" said the clerk. Eight? They were on sale two for seven...I hesitated.
"That's right," continued the clerk. "You've got it right! That's seven...now you need another one!" As my hair gets whiter, clerks do this sort of crap more and more. Maybe I should start dyeing it again.
"I thought that Chicken Starter was on sale...but maybe it's not."
"Your receipt is in the bag," smiled the clerk.
"Yeah...I'll check it...."
I went back to the freezer aisle. Two for seven dollars. Then I went to the customer service counter.
"We'll have to do a price check," said the clerk.
2.Six kids, five and three quarter sets of tinker toys representing carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. Twelve blocks from home, and a world away from the forested sector collapse valley of the Hood River where we usually teach S.E.C.R.E.T.S.
Here are the structures of the forest: trees, snags, logs, canopy layers, openings, deep rich soil.
Here are the structures of the steppe: bunch grass, annual grass, riparian areas, living crust, sagebrush, lithosol.
Where would you rather live if you grew up in the Appalachians? Eh?
"Children!" I announce. "We're going to perform photosynthesis with tinker toys! First we'll make carbon dioxide...one black and two blues. This black one is carbon...does anyone have a pencil so we can look at carbon?"
"Where are we going on our trip?" asks a thin blond girl eagerly. "Can we take nintendos with us?"
"Uh...no...we're going to the Dalles Mountain Ranch. Right over in the Klickitats...you can see it out the window." Two of the fifth graders have constructed CO2 correctly, but then have continued to add more and more hydrogens and oxygens. Soon the room will be obliterated by plastic explosives.
"Is it farther away than Portland?" she continues.
"You can see it outside the window," I repeat.
Suddenly a guidance counselor appears. "I need to see this guy for a minute," she smiles, indicting a Hispanic lad who is staring blankly at his carbon atom. I stare at her. "I really need to see him," she repeats.
"I'm GOOD at chemistry!" shouts a thin boy with glasses, as he waves a molecule of anti-freeze.
"Quiet, children! How many of you know what an atom is?" I ask my group.
"Where does a plant get water...has anyone ever watered the grass? Has anyone seen a sprinkler?" I ask faintly, wiggling my feet to simulate roots.
This exercise has never gone well for me...not even in Parkdale, where 50% of the kids are Mexican slave labor. But this time it is armageddon. My voice carries the vicious edge of a woman who would like a second chance...a chance to do complex algebra problems and ponder aromatic rings. My Elderly Parent Bob...Methane Ethane Propane Butane! I had squandered my youth by not memorizing the structure of aspartame!
"C6H12O6....a sugar molecule! Everyone chain their carbons together now...no, just like he did...can you see what he did...like this? The black is carbon. You put the black ones together with this bond...this yellow stick here. Then you attach the water molecule. No...to the carbon!"
"I have no idea what is going on," complains the Hispanic lad, staring at his carbon molecule.
I hate this. I hate it. That's what I say to myself. Damn! I should just smile and shrug my shoulders.
Luckily there is not enough time to continue once the tinker toys are jammed together.
We four Stewards met in the hallway.
"How did it go today?" asked Salix from Americorps.
"Uh...Fine," said the pretty young high school volunteer stunned.
"Doug Fir?" That's me.
"The teacher told me that seven people in this class are ESL...."
"And eight students are Special Ed," added the other Americorps worker.
"It's a rough class. If you want them to understand, you have to say it slowly and simply!"
Two Minnesota Dreams
1. I'd almost finished packing up the audiovisual presentation that I'd assembled on the floor of Uncle Louie's barn...at his old orchard near New Ulm. My husband and mother in law watched me as they sat on lawn chairs this warm summer evening. Then I got in my little yellow aveo and drove down the lane to the road, past the basalt columns and age brush, and the Bonneville Power Authority (BPA) converter station. At the end of the road, on the highway I slipped into a farmers shed to change my shoes. I hate flip flops, cant stand the thing between the toes. Then I started to walk. A tourist bus picked me up and left me off in town, and I looked at the bakeries and butcher shops...like the Aussies still have. Too big for New Ulm...was I in Mankato then? I crossed a bridge and looked down, at the pastel sunset reflecting on huge ocean going vessels. "Can I help you miss? Lost?" asked a derelict. "Where are we? This doesnt look like Mankato either!" I replied. "We are just shy of the English Channel," he said. Where was my cell phone? I turned down towards the harbour and walked into a coop building, where each apartments was the size of a closet. Maybe they had a phone book...a map. Two men were walking down the hall. I recognized one..."I'm writing a novel about New York City presently," he said. It was Garrison Keillor! What a nightmare! That's when I woke up.
2. "How are you doing tonite?" asked the grocery clerk, a man of my age, but worlds apart. I thought of him as my own personal evening grocery clerk, because whenever I go down to Albertsons at ten thirty to buy some ramen noodles or a bottle of Diet Rite or Thunderbird, he is the only one on duty.
"Great!" I said. "I went to see Leo Kottke at the High School!"
"He's a guitar player!" I continued, handing him a marked Andy.
The Dalles Wahtonka High School was packed with an audience of old blue-state hippies...some white haired, some younger. I felt like one of them as I settled into my battered high school auditorium seat...they havent been changed since the school was built in art deco style. The matching azure curtains have however: they did a lot of fund-raising for those. Then I fell asleep. The problem was that I'd been to a Secret Barbecue Party...Dan Ross was there too!...and had a bunch of food as well as a free Black Butte Porter and a free Mike's Hard Lemonade.
"There's no alcohol in that....or almost none..." said a guy whose name I cannot disclose.
I took a couple of blurry photos of Leo, and then...suddenly....someone crept up on stage crouched on a bed at the back...and another huddled at the front. A fine mist of incisive notes enveloped the three of them.
That's how I knew that I had fallen asleep...not the sound sleep of a slumber devotee, but the hallucinogenic half-sleep of a Believer who sees visions.
Leo picked up his guitar and said: "They used to use bottlenecks to do this...but then all the good glass was gone. All that was left was wine bottles that left a bad tone...and they were green! Then suddenly I found myself in a factory that made anti-shock door latches for pizza ovens."
I navigated a small steamship through the rapids of a dark African river, on and on turning...turning wildly through the rapid splashes of strings against fingers!!!
Leo said: "The local mental hospital in Minnesota is locate in Wilmer [very near where your husband grew up!]. Every spring millions of frogs choose Wilmer as the place to cross the highway en masse. I keep thinking about the mental patients...how they must be reacting to the frogs who dont make it...."
Frogs...drops of water, waterfalls of notes up splashing violently up and back.
I rouse and examine Leo through the left bifocal of the sharp-nosed woman in front of me. To the left of her are three disarrayed men with long hair and beards. The one on the left is Ivan, a former electronics student of my husband and to his right is the former janitor at the community college who wanted to start a lo power radio station back in 2000, but didnt. No one knows who the third one is....except maybe the two other men.
Leo said: "When I was growing up...in Wyoming....my parents moved around a lot and usually they took me with them....someone told me that the way to steal a bbgun was to stuff it in your pants leg. I looked at the gun and it was longer than my leg! So what if I did get caught? No body cared about a third grader. But in the store they were playing records and the guy was singing vowels like I had never heard them before. It was "Alley Oop!!"
"Popular Music In Vittula"...I consciously dreamed of guitar notes hitting against the snows of beautiful Lappland, of Pajala and ice of the River Torne, of how they snuck into Matti's sisters room...the room spinning spinning like a turntable, slinging them against the wall like centrigal puppets when they first heard rock and roll, first heard that Beatles record.
Leo said: "I was on the white house lawn, dressed in wool in the summer heat...those were my trombone days in the marching band, when I was convinced I was playing the wrong instrument. And President Kennedy walked across the lawn right in front of us, a perfect man in a poured on suit...going somewhere important with something important to do. Never in my life had I experienced two people with such disparate lives."
Whatever tune Leo played next was brilliant. The guitar was in 5/4 time and the vocals were in 4/4. He sang about missiles, all in one breath. If I'd kept track of Leo Kottke, Ida known the song, but I havent kept track at all. All I remember is "Pamela Brown." I am like the Yellowstone Hot Spot...the body of my mantle plume continues eastward, but my head has been torn off by the North American plate and backtracks; it is hard to keep track of two heat sources at once.
New South Wales, March 2007: From Coffs Harbor west the beaches gave way to flat farmland and old hotels. That's almost when I started taking pictures of old expansive town hotels, with jazzed up or crumbling pubs beneath them, with signs like "ATM" and "XXX Gold" and Bundaberg Rum" hanging like flags or sails...but not yet. Now our little white car began to climb, up and up, along the Waterfall Way, with switchbacks that mimic the Cascades, and thick woods of moist trees...fingernail scrapings of rain forest that cut the persistent dry. At a little over look, a crumbling plastic sign read:
"Moist eucalypt forest dominates the dryer ridges which slope down into the Bellinger Valley....Sydney blue gum, brush box, tallowood, and white top box."
White stripped trunks of gum... I tried to pretend I was in New Zealand, in the valley of the Buller with its southern beeches and earthquakes, but it was as crazy as visualizing the gravel logging roads of the Santiam.
"Mom! Look!" urged Erin.
"Good grief! Where's the camera?!?!" I hustled.
They were slow and doglike and incredible! Two huge fat lizards, two footed snakes...two foot long perhaps, ambled at the margin of the woods. So these were the local imposters of skunks and 'coons! Dusty black and spotted stripes, fat tails, short deflated balloon limbs with huge fingers....and giant tongues that spat at you like pickle forks!
"Iguanas? Are they iguanas?" I hypothesized. Who knew?
Erin stood with her shadow almost over them and snapped photos. Then they walked off into the underbrush.
We waited for a highway repair crew truck to cross the one lane bridge which spanned the waterfall. Then we pulled out and were on our way too....up into the clouds...to the wet rain forest and the dry, Texas-like region they call New England.
If anyone asked, I'd smugly tell them this:
"I'm not interested in men anymore!"
But this is not entirely the case. There is one kind of man that fascinates me, as if he were a mighty stag with a vast, complex rack of antler.
Some of you know already what I mean. You've read my reviews of metal concerts.
Whoa! I was starving...no lunch and it was four twenty-two already! Past the Bonneville Curves, past Concrete dam and aerial network that sparks with voltage...it was then that I swerved back into the right lane behind a bored Swift semi tractor trailer and then off onto the Cascade Locks Exit, down Wa-Na-Pa Street and swiftly into the parking lot of Columbia Market. A dented white 14 passenger van was parked in front of the can and bottle deposit recycling machine, front side out. The windshield was a delicate concentric spider web where some massive object, maybe the head of a deer or a human, had collided with it. There was a big salmonid Native Fishing Permit in one corner. The white back doors were slung open and two men, their muscular brown arms half covered in rayon jackets were...one of them was heaving a crinkled black trash bag onto the sidewalk and the other was feeding budweiser bottles and pepsi cans into the screaming silver maw of the machine. Their black pony tails, waist-long, swung in the moist grey northwest afternoon like the tails of Mexican horses in the cherry festival parade. I sat in my Aveo and watched them.
My course this term is half a mistake, half not. It is called Northwest Prehistory and it is a half-web course, meeting five Monday evenings for three and a half hours in Hillsboro, on the other side of Portland. The teacher is a goofy tomboy archeologist, a wonderful lecturer. But the term is half over and I have not met anyone. Even worse, it makes me want to grab my old life back, clutching frantically with outstretched hand to sub-boreal Viking sites listed on the internet which obviously need pollen analysis.
I am sitting in class, close to the back, close to the wall. Two dark haired women come in late, sit next to me, the second physically picking up a desk and careening it over her head to sit next to the first. Maybe it will fall on *my* head and end my melancholy, figurative clutching. <chip>
The black haired woman sitting next to me...thin with freckles...is taking no notes. She is writing names of people in columns. Neither woman is taking notes. Oral tradition experts, I guess. <clip>
"Class!" says Dr Sarah, who is struggling to remember who is who in a class that is twice the projected size. "You have five minutes to write an answer to this. 'Should oral tradition be taken into account when doing archeological research?'" Ugh. This is typical U-course crap. I write a couple logical things, like the collapse of Red Bluff to form the Bridge of the Gods, then suggest that much of the science that I have known...geology...is stories anyway. Take continental drift. Forty years ago, people still taught vertical tectonics. Then everyone started believing in plate tectonics, then terranes like Wrangellia. Crunch! You might as well believe oral tradition until it is proven false, fill in some blanks. Then I write "Magical Realism" in the upper margin.
"Now...whoever reads their answer can get five points extra credit!" Not me...I'm taking the course Pass/No Pass. Some people read their answers and then someone asks Dr. Sarah:
"How did they know that Kennewick Man was in a cemetery assemblage?"
"Because of the five other skeletons that the Army Corps of Engineers buried under a ton of rip rap to avoid any more problems," answers Sarah, and the class discusses the battered middle-aged Kennewick Man again.
"Excuse me," interjects the dark haired chair lifter. "I would like to read my answer. I am a Native American and I thought people would find my opinion significant."
Sarah is bewildered. It is the look of a Turkish immigrant in Berlin who has been confronted with causing the holocaust. "Of course!"
"Most people have no idea how important our traditions are to us..." begins the dark haired woman. "Few European Americans know the world that we live in and how important our elders are to us....our burial practices."
"I am from the Tri-Cities," adds the freclked woman. "I lived near a cemetery where both Indians and white people were buried. The man who worked there told me that he always preferred the Native American Ceremonies."
"Thank you!" says Sarah, still bewildered.
That would be the best ending. But for me there is no ending. I think about Europeans, about oral tradition, about Jokkmokk, about the Sami, about the Karelia and the Kalevalic Culture, about archaeology and death, about the half worlds that I live in.
March, 2007, continued: In Dorrogo, New South Wales, I took my first photo of a hotel...not mine, since I stayed in motels, but a Hotel. In Australia, a Hotel is a huge old rambling thing...
"Isnt that a mistake you could rectify?" asked Kerry Kangaroo? "Not staying in even one REAL Aussie Hotel, with a rowdy pub huddling beneath like a lawn sprinkler?"
"Who knows?" I reply. Anyway, here is a photo: http://www.nnsw.com.au/dorrigo/images/hotelpic01.html
Dorrigo is located near a rainforest, a world heritage site,a very wet oasis in a wasteland of chronic dessication...a typical rainfall map of Australia resembles a rainfall map of Oregon forged into a curve by a noble blacksmith and then pulled to add an arid semicircular belly...
Over there! in the western distance towers the Miocene plug of the Ebor Volcano, part of an odd chain of hot-spot volcanos that no one else in the world knows about. Hawaii is a hot spot chain, and in Wyoming there is the Yellowstone hot spot which will soon erupt and obliterate western North America like a bad movie. And down there...back towards the coast that we looked down over the heads of docile lace goannas...we called them Giant Iguana lizards... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varanus_varius ...look, see the coastal plain...the Permo-Carboniferous sediments lazing in the shadow the ancient fire-pit!!!!
"Whoa! The Dorrigo Rainforest Center!" I exclaimed as I swung our tiny car into the parking lot. Erin rolled her eyes.
"Wow! There's another one of those Wicked Campers!" I continued excitedly. They're all over Australia, each with an odd red and black caricature of pop culture on its side. This one said "Rolling Stone" and featured grotesque faces of elderly rock musicians. http://www.wickedcampers.com.au/ ....see the YouTube Video! Soon we were on the skywalk, out above the rainforest canopy! I read a sign, a quote from a pioneer botanist. To paraphrase:
"We were the first botanists here, set loose on thousands of undescribed species! No words could describe the exhileration!"
I peered down upon the mysterious tops of foreign Australian trees, on the secret birds hiding in their folded green capes. I pretended I was a pioneer botanist.
Erin and I walked down the many steps, into the dark safe forest.
"Hello!" said a couple walking in the other direction.
"Hello!" said an elderly woman.
If you are tramping in New South Wales, it is best to get a tape recorder, or else your voice gives out!
"Take my picture by this tree...it'll be great for MySpace!" said Erin. The tall tree had an elegant curtainlike buttresses...I read the name...Carribbean. Carob Bean. Yellow Carabeen....
"And look at those tree ferns....and the climbing figs.....hey...take **my** picture!" I handed Erin my battered Coolpix. The camera suspended hastily in mid-air between our hands...and then fell to a ground with a thud.
"Oh no...I'm SO SORRY!!! exclaimed Erin.
After that it didnt work.
"Look...is that a turkey?" Erin asked. I turned on the camera. Blackness....just blackness.
"Ha ha...It's just a bush turkey!!!!" consoled a fellow hiker, nosy devil!
Was it busted....would I get a shiny new Aussie camera? I bought 2 batteries at the kiosk. I slipped them in....and...........
......And so it was that we stood in line to get one more person added to my blossoming Cing...AT&T account.
"I lost my cell phone!" said the teenager in line ahead of us, pulling out his Visa card.
"What kind of new phone did you have in mind?" asked the salesman.
"Just the regular cheap phone," said the lad. He had a foreign accent. At first I thought it was Spanish, but he had blond hair and blue eyes.
"He was skateboarding and he doesnt know where it went!" said his doting anglo mother...no...suddenly I realized....he was an exchange student. The Dalles is a wholesome dumping ground for exchange students....like Ian....so far away in Parkano!
"He has to have it by this evening!" said the exchange mother. She had long long grey hair...old hippie!!!!
"Hmm..." replied the salesman. "Why is this evening so special?" It wasnt just sly politeness. In The Dalles, it is important to know as much as possible about everyone.
"It's the PROM...
PROM NIGHT AT THE DALLES WAHTONKA HIGH SCHOOL!!! German? Italian?
"....but I'm not sure I'm going! I havent been able to call my date because I lost my cell phone!"
New England, March 2007:
The Hinterlands of the east coast of Australia begin where the rainforest begins to wilt. West of that, I suppose, is The Outback, but we never get that far. There is just too much Australia. The Hinterlands look a lot like Brazos County, Texas....
"Look Erin...there's a cow warning sign on the highway! Erin...are you awake? No?"
Suddenly, ahead of us in the other lane, a huge semi screeches to a halt. A black cow straddles both lanes and stares at it. There are cows the color of deep gothic midnight wandering all over the road like ants. It is up to the vehicles to negotiate around them.
"I guess that is why they have that sign," I comment to myself as I maneuvered the little white car through the ant pile.
We stop at the biggest city, Armidale. It is full of cute Cotswold Cottages, which is why the Lonely Planet describes it as schizophenic. We try to tour a historic homestead out by the airport, but its closed.
"Cafe! Let's have dinner!" I exclaim in dispair.
"I'll have a cheeseburger," orders Erin.
"Hmm...nothing vegetarian, but these potato wedges with sour cream and sweet chili sauce....!"
While we wait, I walk down past the gates. A man is sitting with his carry-ons, anticipating one of the four daily Quantas-Link flights to Sydney. In just a few days he will be forbidden to bring liquids on board, in the event he might be a terrorist. But for now he can carry all the gasoline and Lindemans that he wishes.
I sit back down with Erin and her manga book. The counter person brings a huge basket of 200 jojos, and bowls of sour cream and chilisauce. The dish is delicious and a great idea for four people drinking beer and watching rugby while they wait six hours for their 4 seater plane. I take some pictures with my Cool-Pix, which has miraculously recovered. Erin puts the remaining potatoes in some napkins. During the next 20 miles she will toss them onto the pavement to see them bounce.
Just what happened in the last days of Captain Thunderbolt, Bushranger?
You can see at the McCrossins Mill Museum in Uralla, NSW. You can also see the contents of a trunk in which were stashed the memorabilia of a kid that went to war and never came back....
The man at the desk is in a wheel chair.
Can I get your passcard?" asks the man.
"Your post code," he repeats.
"97058," I answer.
Erin and I walk around and look at the paintings of the last days of Fred Ward. The horse on which he met his demise was not his. The paintings are by Philip Pomeroy, who has a lot of symbolic tricks in his paintings that for tell the action....or symbolize it. Thunderbolt....
"My name is Captain Thunderbolt..." sings Andy Irvine in the deep caves of my mind. Can anyone tell me the album?
"He's a nice young man," comments Erin. "I wonder what happened to him.
"I dont know," I answer.
Then we turn and drive east, toward the ocean, away from the Texas Savanna they call New England. Erin snaps photos of the orange glow after sunset behind two trees. It looks like Africa. Soon it turns dark, and we begin to descend on slow switch backs.
"When will this road end?" I ask, as a logging truck beams its bright eyes at us in the black night.
Years later, there is a town. "Long Flat," I read....here amidst the switchbacks of the Oxley Highway. There is a glow of tavern lights on our left.
"Maybe we should stay there at the Travellers Rest!" I tease. There are drunks there in the Pub..." But likely not WIFI.
We dont stay there, but press on through the again waning rainforest, even though I am tired.
It is one more mistake we make. Australia is full of mistakes for us. Soon we will be back at the coast.
"Look at that out the window!" said my husband. "It looks like snow!"
"Whoa!!!" replied Erin.
"It's the cottonwoods...." I explained.
Late spring is in full swing fling here in The Dalles.
-----------"Doug Fir Stretches for the Ecotone"------------
Dalles Mountain Ranch, Washington: Steward Douglas Fir is standing on a rock overlooking the Columbia River. It is the three-ennual Secrets Field Trip. But for her it is different. Usually she is in lush damp...sometimes drenched...green forest. But now she is in the [non-]sagebrush steppe!! Yikes!
Here are the four structures of the sagebrush steppe: Lithosol, bunchgrass, annual grass ("Cheat grass is cheating!" I tell the children...), shrubs (no sagebrush here...SECRETS is cheating!), riparian area ("What type of trees are down there?...OAKS!! But by my house, on Mill Creek, we have walnuts and COTTONWOODS!!!") and finally, the sixth and most mystical structure...THE LIVING CRUST!!!
"Our first game is 'Meet A Rock.' Does anyone know what basalt is?'"
No one does!
"It is lava rock!"
"From a volcano?" someone asks.
"Usually it does come from a volcano. But in this case, millions of years ago, huge cracks formed in the earth all over this area and basalt flooded out and made the Columbia River Basalts!! It was a living hell here!!!!"
"You said the H word!!!" a kid accuses.
I smile, undaunted. The parent helper smiles too. He is employed at Wastewater Treatment and has a strong stomach!!!
"What's that flower?" I ask. The hill is dotted with big, isolated blooms.
"That's a lupine!" answers a girl.
"And that's a sunflower!" answers another.
"It's a special kind of sunflower called balsam root....and over there is yarrow or queen annes lace!" I can never tell the difference now. I could in Minnesota, where I learned about wildflowers.
I turn to the wide vista over the Columbia to the flat upland plains and hills of Oregon.
"What's growing over there?" I point to the dark fields on the ever dryer brown hills.
Silly! "Try a grain crop!"
"The view here is just as pretty as in the forest!" I have said to another parent.
"Yes!" smiles the parent, a woman with perky blonde hair.
But here is a SECRET!!! I like the forest the best!!!!
Imagine yourself at a concert...no, not Cannibal Corpse, not Cattle Decapitation, but a folk concert! Do you actually think Cattle Decapitation would play in The Dalles?
Here we are walking in the open, paneled door of The HistoricThe Dalles Civic Auditorium, holding in our hands the video camera of our minds. The Civ is newly restored and has Oregon Home colored walls. Grey haired, mellow people in jeans and fleeces tilt to the left and right with our footsteps...is it the plastic cups of local wine?
"Hi there!" Why it's Dan Ross, standing in a position of power at the back of the Fireside Room! Just a few degrees to the left in our video pan...voila! the fireplace for which the room is named...but maybe it's really an illusion to Firesign Theatre.
"Working the lights, eh, Dan?" We mean to say "sound," but this is cuter.
"Yeah..." there he is, putting his hand on a Chinese fake Tiffany floor lamp. "Here's my light!"
That is not entirely true. Swivel the lens beyond the mantlepiece and you see a stand with what 40 years ago would be a 3 fresnels with yellow, blue, and red gels on them. The stationary lights make the performers look dramatic.
This is a not suprising confession from me. Contemporary Folk is my social music. I feel that I am assigned to it by the complex politico-class system, yeah, well, there's also an obsession with puzzling out which songs have excellent lyics.
"Cross the plains like a range fire, lakes like inland seas.
Freezing fields of powder, full moon flying though the trees..."
When I was born, a Sparkling Spirit told me, "You werent meant to live here in rural Alabama..........."
"That's what my birth certificate says," says I. "RURAL"
"...You were meant to live in Rural Portland. It was a screw up. Black flies! Margaret Chase Smith! LL Bean! Gordon Bok!"
"Portland?" I exclaimed. It was then I knew my social fate. That's why I disguise myself in wool pullover, clog, and jean. I know my true place.
I am sitting here on the fifth row with my husband, trying to turn my new Korean flip phone to Vibrate. I've set the language to francais, you know, Mai 19 Sam, but I cant read French well enough to figure out ou est la vibrate seulement.
"You two text messaging each other?" laughs a woman standing by the paneled door. Why, it's Kate Power! She spoke to me! That's how I know we look like normal middle aged democrat professionals.
I buy a glass of Living Crust Celery Gewurtz.
"That's cellars, not celery," says my spouse.
"It ***tastes*** like celery," I protest.
Kate Power and Steve Einhorn are on first. Kate plays ukel. They have recenly been to Wallowa County at the extreme right of Oregon, in Joseph teaching songwriting to teenagers.
"We were at one school, in the middle of a 30,000 acre ranch. There were three students," Kate says.
At another place, the kids were supposed to write a song. 'What do you like to do,' Kate asked the kids, 'write about that!'
'I was hunting bear with my dad out at Quick Snake Peak,' said one kid.
But then when he figured out he was writing a song he added the second line, 'I was out on the beach almost naked drinking a margarita.'
I like the story a lot.
At break we go into the gym. We have pizza in one inch squares donated by Sahara Pizza, and some fruit and vegetable chunks with dip and some muffins and casually read the stuff that is stuck in with the Jazzercise Class mats. An odd man engages my husband in conversation like a lasso, will not let go his hold. I climb up to the next floor and stare at the deserted ballroom. I pretend I actually was asked to the prom, to homecoming.
The other singer is Laddie Ray Melvin from Spokane, a tall man with white hair and an artesian aquifer of melancholy. I have never heard of him, and wonder if he is a changeling as well, if he were actually born in Ozark or Sylacauga.
"I like that minor key song!" I exclaim to my husband.
May 2007, I-84 near Rowena, Oregon....
"Your daughter...by the way...is wonderful...she was so polite when she was talking to me!" said Henry.
"Thank you!" I answered. "She was..." concerned about you afterwards. I changed the subject. "My son is coming back from Finland....Do you remember my son? It was a while ago!"
"Um...no. I was pretty well sloshed, I guess. I was drinkin' with Jake that morning. I gotta stop drinking, doesnt work with the chemotherapy. I'm down to two beers a day."
"Did you notice his eyes, though...he has incredible eyes...an incredible bright blue!" Erin had said.
May 2007, The Dalles West Entrance Ramp...
He was standing there on the shoulder, as he often did, the cardboard sign reading Mosier, and a massive clear plastic bag by his feet. I pitched my foot to avoid looking at him, because I never stop now with Erin in the car.
"Oh...it's Henry!" I said to Erin, pulling over onto the black shoulder.
"You have to get in the back," I instructed. With that big bag, he wouldnt have fit in the front anyway. "How are you?"
"Not too good," answered Henry. "I'm out of remission. I have tumors all up and down my leg."
"Huh!" I said.
"The VA wants me to do radiation, but I dont, because it hurts too much. You know, I'm 63 years old, Gwen's been dead 14 years, I cant live forever.
"Huh," I said. "And you're living out here...." Out here in a shack built on public land.
"Oh it aint that bad. I bought a new wood stove," the last one being stolen. "They want to put me back in the group home in Walla Walla, but I dont want to be there with people with no legs or nothing, that cant do anything. I'd rather be out here."
"This is my daughter," I introduced.
"Why she's as pretty! And her mother...she's pretty too!" said Henry.
May 2007, I-84 near Rowena, Oregon...
"At least it's warming up...but it's really windy!"
"I know, it's hard for me to drive my car and keep a constant speed."
"All the green is turning to brown. I put my screens up on the windows. I been hacking away at the weeds outside my place...with all the rain this spring, I got weeds 3 feet high!"
"What is it like in the Northwest Folklife Hospitality Room?"
May 2007...Seattle Washington
You are driving north on I-5 toward Seattle in a rented Toyota Van with four teenagers inside. Three of them are in eighth graders.
You are travelling to the paragon of folk music in the Pacific Northwest...Northwest Folklife! You and your son...recently returned from foreign study in Finland...will be singing shape note hymns with the Saced Cow Harmogenizers. You both will be wearing a "performer" button!!! Shape note performers!!! Ha ha!!!
The elite...they all make great grades!!...eighth graders have a video player and a bunch of dumb movies they brought from home.
Heaven or Hell????
The last night you walk alone...a pitfall of travelling with beloved teenagers...towards the performer hospitality suite. You have a slowly defuncting CookPix in your hand...
"What did you pay for this...not much...it's a cheap camera. Get a new one if it's not working!!!" says your friend from Juneau at dinner.
...and you are taking pictures of jamming members of the Mill Creek String Band that should work but dont!!!
The Mill Creek String Band plays for our contra dances at Rockford Grange.
Screw this battered camera!
You are headed for the hopitality area...hell bent on taking photos of musicians you dont know! A fiddler...jamming...an accordianist...it is all visual art.
Imagine this expansive cement floored room in Seattle Center....hell bent on displaying championship squash and pumpkin pie.
You snap a couple guys playing guitar. Suddenly a woman approaches. She smiles and says "Let me take a picture of you two together!!!"
The guitar player in the purple shirt puts his arm around you and says "I just got lucky!!!"
"We dont even know each other!' I protest.
The woman takes a couple photos.
"What's your name?" I ask.
"Where are you from?"
"I'm from The Dalles," I reply, and smile for the camera.
I am standing in the foyer, watching members of the Mill Creek String Band jam again. My CoolPix is raised
Suddenly...PUG appears again!!! In his violet shirt!!!
"What kind of music do you do?" I ask.
"Actually, I'm stuck in the 70s.....I was in Cambodia recently and you know what they asked for..???"
"Rocky Mountain High?"
"Yeah...well...yes...no...but the Eagles.."
"Winslow Arizona....standing on the corner???"
The woman from Oregon walks through Seattle Center the next day and she sees a man in a purple shirt and he is busking. He is playing an accordion and a harmonica, and a bass drum with an American flag draped over it. All at the same time!!!
She thinks of being nineteen her nails dig into the turf of Seattle as time stares her into her face who will win whose claws will hold whose memory of you will sleep with me tonite
You are twenty and you gaze on a field of grass [actually a soccer field] and it is open and full before you, like a wild prairie!!! You will go west, replies the shimmering field of grass. You will drive west from Indiana.
You will never stop driving.
You will never drive too far.
That is the enigmatic answer.
The June Scarlet Begonia Red Hat Meeting!!!!! Zim's Brau Haus!!!!!!
"Judith!" said Cathy, a high echelon employee of the PUD. She was late because she was at Spooky's Pizza, planning her 40th high school reunion. "What a beautiful dress you are wearing!"
"Thank you!" I replied "It is from the St Vincent de Paul Boutique!!!" All up and down the table, Red Hatters nodded their approval! I was the center of attention!!! The dress is a Deep Purple lingerie nylon with exquisitely beaded flowers at each shoulder by Abbie Kent Made in USA for $5.99 with Saturday discount. It is worn over a completely unrelated purple velvet minidress by All That Jazz Hecho in Mexico for $2.99 to hide the waist cut neckline. Neither one would be legal by itself.
"That's where I got my reversable purple jacket!!" exclaimed Darlayne.
The Ladies here at Zim's are all dressed beautifully and they are kind...kinder and politer than any one group of people you know.
"This place used to be just a bar..." comments Cathy.
I stare at the beige concrete blocks above the walnut stained wainscoting, and then over at the walnut stained bar and the keno machines and the Friday night Karyoke signs and the Special Today Meat Loaf Sandwich. The area is roped off to accommodate Zim's new MINORS ALLOWED rating. It is nearly empty at this time of day. But at the end, a wirey man in a grey-blond mullet is eating a sandwich and watching TV. I want to excitedly tell everyone that he has an entire pitcher of Budweiser in front of him. But the conversation is centered on June.
June is Darlayne's mother-in-law. Perhaps 85....that's my guess...she is sharp as a tack. June began her story:
"I was in Oklahoma, and I was 24. I'd come to visit my father and I had my two children with me...Darlayne's husband, who was just a baby, and his sister, who was two. She put up her fingers and said 'I am two OH!' I hadnt seen him for 10 years. I asked someone where their house was and it turned out I was standing right in front of it!!!"
"Did you knock then?" asked Cathy. Cathy is about my age; she dyes her hair brown.
"I didnt need to. My step-mother came down the walk and threw her arms around me! She'd never met me...but she said:
'I knew you by the crooked Chishom smile!'"
"Here's your grilled cheese with tomato!" said the waitress. "Is the tomato there?"
"Yeah....there's some red stuff in there!"
"That's the owner!" intimated Cathy. "She's waiting on us herself!!!" Such is the influence of the Scarlet Begonias in The Dalles.
"My step-father took one look at me...I was wearing a tee shirt and dungaree shorts...it was Oklahoma in July and hot as hell...and he snarled:
'You should go put some clothes on!'
That's the last time I saw him. He was always like that. But my step-mother was wonderful. She was pregnant at the time..."
"That's a LOT of French fries!!!" I told Cathy.
"He was 80!!"
The Red Hatters gasp!! "How old was she?" asks someone.
"She was 34," informed June. She seemed driven in her story-telling. It was something that had to escape right that moment at Zim's Brauhaus.
"Ugh! Imagine being pregnant by an 80 year old man!!!"
June continued with a passion. She was driven to tell the story and that is why I relate it here. "I was the oldest of the children. My mother was 20...she was 15 when she married him. He was 64. It was just like my brother....he always had some young woman!!!"
Three Travellers Left Behind on I84...
June 2007, I-84, East The Dalles Entrance Ramp:
It was the day that Ian and I went to lunch in Wasco. There are just so many places you can eat in The Dalles and it is good to again have someone home who will travel to the next county for a sandwich. In any case the only way to get to Sherman County other than the free way is to buck the invisible torrents mazoola floodwaters eastward down Petersburg Road and over the gravel bar to the mouth of the Deschutes as if the aveo were some bright yellow rubber raft!
"Oh my! Ian!!" I exclaimed. Two men were at the side of the road, thumbs out!!! I swerved to stop, but then sped up, inclined to impossibility...
"I guess I am only going to Wasco!" I mourned. "Not even to the Biggs Bridge." Biggs Junction, 20 miles east, is a swirling mecca, an oasis of synthetic truck stops. Not like Wasco.
"They had a lot of gear....," consoled Ian.
"I would never have gotten that wheel chair in the Aveo," I replied.
June 2007, Hood River Shell:
I'd seen the black man with the trumpet before, here at the Shell Station by the Hood River Toll Bridge across the Mighty Columbia, but even before that, at the Car Toys corner across from Powell's Books in Portland.
"I Need Food," said the sign. So did we, that's why we stopped at Hood River Shell!!! We fueled up with Mountain Dew and Moon Pies and swung back onto the service road.
"Here...give him this dollar," I commanded.
"Aw...why do I have to do it?" whined Ian.
"Just do it!" I commanded. It was so great to have my son home again!!!
Ian got out of the car at the trumpet corner and gave the musician his dollar. The man said something to him.
"He says he needs money for his bus ticket," reported Ian.
"Where is he going?" I asked. I wondered if I could deal with listening to his out of tune trumpet for the next 60 miles.
"I'm trying to get out of here," he said. "I dont want to get caught over night here!"
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"Anywhere! My bus ticket, you see, is very expensive! My journey is around the whole wide world!!!!"
I shook my head. A dollar was enough.
June 2007, Wasco, Oregon:
"You can sit anywhere you like," said the waitress, gesturing to an empty afternoon roomful of plastic tablecloths surrounded by wheatfields. She gave us menus. In the next room, you could hear the sound of pool cues and neon Budweiser signs. We looked at our menus. "The Special is clam chowder and a tunafish sandwich."
"I'll have the tuna melt," I ordered. "And ice tea."
"I'll have a po' boy and a root beer," Ian ordered.
"The food here is actually pretty good," I commented.
Somewhere outside a white Chinese wind turbine struggled to turn the corner.
"I'm making macaroni and ground beef with ketchup hotdish...laatikko...for the AFS pot luck tonite!" said Ian. "It's characteristic of the Finnish cuisine!"
"Wha!!!!" exclaimed Erin. "You're not going to the Middle School promotion ceremony tonite? I went to yours!!!"
"It's no big deal, Erin," answered Ian. "Nothing happens there."
It was just four short years ago that Ian was preparing for his Middle School promotional, "...wearing two Hawaiian shirts purchased at Imamoto's Store on the Kona Coast." You can search for the words at http://w3.gorge.net/judith/stories4.htm and you will be able to imagine what it was like this year in the gym. History repeats itself. If he hadnt gone to Finland and come back with the wrong credits, he would be graduating again. As it was, we could only shrug. It was time for Erin to shine like a blazing June sun!!!
"Oh no!" We were late! A Middle School official was already speaking! He was saying complementary things and giving out awards!
"This is a great class! Our football team! This team fought like demons and broke the 150 year winning streak that had been so jealously guarded by Lyle, Washington!! Stand up football team!" Yay! Football team!
"This is a great class. We have a rule that no pants can sag! But some people just cant get the idea! Alexandro Valdez and Charlie Mendoza...they were the two worst offenders! Stand up Alexandro and Charlie...." Everyone clapped! "Come up here...I have something to give you...since we cant get you to stop sagging, we decided to give you some great looking bright satin boxer shorts. Ha Ha Ha!" laughed the official. Alex and Charlie grinned like cheshire cats!
"This is a great class!! Our girls basketball team leaped to great heights this year! Stand up, girls!" Everyone clapped!
"Gee I wonder when the band is going to stand up?" Maybe they would pull their instruments from beneath their seats and play. Maybe they already had!
The band had been fun for me...illegally stuffing clarinetists and saxophonists into my trunk and back seat, hauling them to Seattle for Folklife, listening to their weird stories and feuds. Actually, some did stand...Sage and Trace and Alfredo and Justin, for making good grades and acting nice. That was a world I hadnt seen...all I knew was that they were all smart and nice. I thought of how Erin had struggled with her midnight black device, with its weird silver buttons and mysterious reeds...and with the written notes....only to have it stolen the last month of school.
"That's OK," she had beamed. "In ninth grade they will let me play the BASSOON!!!"
Clarinets are great training for bassoonists.And Erin is a great little writer, too!
Finally, the man stopped talking and embarrassing various people, and diplomas were given out. They were basically all the same. The new teenagers retreated. It was Erin's first march in four inch heels and a saffron yellow hippie skirt skirt! She did quite well!
"We will have a LUAU after the ceremony, " said the official. "You MUST wear casual attire!"
"That's the Samoan influence in the community," a little bird twitters in my ear. A redtail!!!
"You can use the locker room to change out of your formal clothing and give it to your parents to prevent theft. If you are not attending the LUAU and dance, you will be required to leave the schoolgrounds immediately! If you try and return later after having smoked a couple of joints and downed a couple of six packs, you will be shot!!!"
Never to return. You can never go home.
We took a couple of photos and left alone. Suddenly, the cell phone rang...no more Samba rhythms with the new flip phone.
"Mom! I'm going camping!!! Can you find me a sleeping bag, a thick mat, and a big fluffy pillow?"
"You're CAMPING? Where? With who?"
"In the back yard of this guy who lives in Mosier, Nick's cousin. Claire, Amanda, Logan, Nick...some other people. I'll be home in a little while to get it!!!"
I stayed up till the dance was over. Someone gave Erin a ride. During a foray out to the soccer field, Sage had stepped on her big toe with her vicious
sharpened stiletto heel and now the toe was black. Erin would wake up at 2AM screaming in pain. It is a hard world out there!
The Civic Auditorium, The Dalles, OR, June 2007:
"If I can drive it on down through Birmingham
I'll fly back up to Memphis
As soon as as my feet hit solid ground
I'm gonna walk on back to Texas..."
I looked over to my right...Ian's eyes were closed. How could anyone sleep through a performance by Eric Taylor? But it was only for a few moments.
"I only got four hours sleep," apologized Ian. "It was because we were so crazy out there, camping in Mosier. We were so loud we ended up camping in the parking lot of the Grange. The gravel was murder!"
Four hours, four minutes, the only Texas boy in the room, but I snapped a photo that will haunt him the rest of his life.
Ten years ago, fifteen, I'd 'a taken these garbled notes I jotted down and written a review. Now I just take pictures and let the images fall before me. Just like my eye on the screen of my broken digital camera, like my hand on the dials and buttons, I try and find the best angle and best light. Then I download the images into my computer, into my brain and they just sit there, Eric Taylor with the flat pink face in a night landscape, Eric Taylor with the harshly simple details of a sudden burst of bright light.
"Beautiful dangers wears two faces best, like the beaded lizard of the west."
I am back at the the KEOS studio, back in Tio Gordo in Bryan watching...standing on low-pile carpet so lethal with mold that volunteers have resigned due to incurable illness....a graduate student named Sean who is play Hemingways Shotgun, the ultimate Texas song....and I am in some tavern or barbecue somewhere west of Caldwell or maybe at the Llano Turkey Sausage establishment with the tractor seats, out on the PreCambrian rocks of the Llano uplift...Llano...llama...Como se llama usted? The Shiner and Lonestar longnecks are swimming in some miniature galvanized cattle tank of melted ice and the patrons are sweating like hogs. Then the next my husband and I are in a nice home in Brenham and the host is taping away. There are neither colored lights nor microphone. Gary and Melissa are there too, inviting a complex story I cant relate here, it lays trapped forever, at least some of it, in my mind, like a sharped edged indoor party scene, which is OK, because you dont know them.
"Can you sign this?"
And Eric Taylor signs this.
And then the next moment I am briefly interviewing the mandoline player for The Bad Things.
"I hear people make jokes about mandoline players," I say uncontrollably. Eric Taylor just did, that's why I say this. He says they're jittery, wired.
"Mostly it's banjos and accordions," says the Bad Thing mildly.
Somehow Eric became the Garrison Keillor of Texas, a much more ominous calling. As if they were The Rasmus at a UK festival, I propel imaginary bottles of you dont want to know what at Garrison, because Garrison has betrayed me, become one of my husband's white haired Minnesota aunts after her death. But Eric Taylor is walking like I did from the Appalachians into Texas, so I'm not even gonna throw a bottle of Maryhill Pinot Gris at him. He tells stories...some I heard last year...about Big Love, the over weight Houston pharmaceutical expert, about table books, about Billy the Knife Thrower in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly, about how southern women are always north of where they are.
"Now that I am getting old," says "Taylor," "I feel guilty about everything. As I drove through St Louis, I finally admitted that I'd kidnapped the Lindberg baby!"
I eye the refreshment window as he ends his set. They always have local wine and microbrews.
If I were writing a review, I would play a trick.
"Here are the high points of the concert," I would imply. Then I would pick the songs where the Artiste had announced the titles, and where I could read my notes of what those titles were.
Who knows what we would say if we could identify everything.
Kauai? Sitka? the Snake River Plain? What was it that routed me from my dreams into the Antique Rose Emporium near Independence, Texas?
Uh...my daughter Emma? Baby Victor???
They say that the stacked terranes of the Klamath Block are actually a detatched extension of the Sierras. But they wouldnt want to say that too loud north of the Oregon border...only when they'd crossed into California. That's where we were now, California Dreamin' in an old mansion in Eureka, on top of Quaternary sediments, west of the Franciscan complex of the coastal range. We are miles and miles from the thrusted ophiolites and madrones of the Klamaths. But listen: tomorrow...we will drive the tortuous two hundred miles along the Wild Klamath River, where, aside from despite us, humans exist only to float on chunks of rubber and air...and to stop for a shower and grocery break on the Pacific Crest Trail!!!
It was the night of the great reunion: all the people she had ever know or seen or heard. Tonight, all the ones that had ever written anything were assembled in the high school auditorium. She passed Betsy Clowes who was on the same floor in Olvey-Andis Hall at Earlham, still looking 19! She continued down the aisle and took a seat next to Professor Emerits Dr Koenig from the Geology Department at A&M. He had a paper bag over his head. The rest of him was a octopus!!!
"I'm not reading anything out loud!" he hollered.
"Then it's up to you Judith," insisted the host, dapper in his tuxedo and bow tie. He led me to the front and handed me one of my stories.
"I cant read this!" she grimaced in horror. "This is the one where I experimented with not using any proper nouns, so no one would be at me. Every single one of them is x'ed out. Look at this sentence: XXXX and I arrived at the XXXXX Cafe at The University of XXXXX to hear XXXXXXX!!!"
"Who is this Don XXXXX?" queried the host.
"The accordion player for XXXXXXXXX, a XXXXXX band."
I awoke to find myself in a single bed in the Miss XXXXXX'X room of the XXXXXXXX XXXX Inn in downtown XXXXXX, XX.
There is something about Bed and Breakfasts that make most people want to tell copious tales around the strawberry hotcakes and mushroom omelettes. I do my best to listen, though usually I am totally incoherent. They all have their stories.
"We are here from Long Beach because our daughter has attended freshman orientation at Humboldt State. She must have spent all night partying! Soon we will be empty nesters."
"My daughter went to Humboldt State as well. My friend and I are here because my daughter died here and she wanted half her ashes scattered in California and half taken back to Pennsylvania." Gasp!
"My daughter and I are here to see the Redwoods," I mumbled, wishing Erin would comb the hair out of her face. It is something I thought I would never hear myself thinking.
"Where is that accent from?" I asked the host, Bob.
"I'm from Alabama," he said flatly, like the back of a kayak on a calm river. Flat was the clue.
"I'm from Alabama too....suburban Birmingham."
"Woodlawn," he replied, unexcited.
"Vestavia," I said.
"There are quite a few people from Alabama who have ended up at this bed and breakfast."
"It's the trees...."
"They move here because of the clean air and the quality of life," opined Bob.
"It's changed. Last time I was in Birmingham, it looked like there was no place to be from. It was a run down mess."
"I remember going to Loveman's and Pizitz, riding the bus downtown with the maids, to shop."
"We'd go to downtown Birmingham for our annual Christmas spending spree. Blach's..."
"Huh?" I asked.
"Blach's...they have a fine selection of men's apparel. Now it looks like no one would want to go there at all. But Vestavia, it must have done all right!"
"Yes, it has...but I lived right next to the Alabama Power Company woods, and that's all gone now." Where we built tree forts, it is all gracious homes.
"Is that round house still there?"
"The Vestavia Temple? No...the Baptists tore it down. They wanted to build a church there! We used to go eat there when it was a restaurant."
Bob shook his head. "They tear everything down in Birmingham."
You can see a picture of Vestavia Temple.
See what happened to it
Check out our Birmingham at
July 2007: "A Sad Story"
I picked him up in downtown Lyle for a ten mile ride to Hood River. The cheat grass in the dry hills along Washington 14 was like straw and the river glittered in the sun.
"I love it out there, it is so beautiful," a Vancouver archeologist had told me the weekend before.
For her, the hills were always green, particularly when she had a contract on the petroglyphs.
He too was brittle, like a golfer on the putting green that needed to be watered. He was quiet as the breeze today.
"I'll pay your bridge toll," he said. "I've got coupons. I left my car there last night...just over the bridge."
"Pretty warm," I mentioned.
"It's because it's been raining in Portland. When it rains there...when you can see the clouds over Cascade Locks...that means the wind doesnt blow here. That's what keeps it cool: the wind."
He was from Tallahassee, where it felt twenty degrees hotter because of the humidity. Every May, he drives to Portland to work. Once year, he had two weeks notice, and he drove for two weeks. Then in October, he returns to Florida. In Tallahassee, it freezes only once or twice a winter. You can grow citrus in your yard if you protect it, put it in a sheltered location. It's not the plant itself, it's the fruit, which ripens in winter and is full of water. When he was in college, he worked harvesting oranges, and every time the temperature dipped, they set out the smudge pots. He hated that. Ugh!
"Do you like living in Lyle?"
"Ha! It's an outlaw place...I hear down in Lower Lyle there are a lot of drugs, methamphetamines..."
"...but I live in the outskirts, along the [Klickitat] River. It's beautiful there, all you can see from the house are trees. And I'm gone all week. So I dont really know about it. And maybe it's not all like that anyway."
We drove through Bingen and turned left at the Bridge 76 to cross the Columbia. It was one bridge you couldnt cross on foot. It would be hard to ride a mountain bike across, even if you could, because the studs would get caught in the grating....
I handed in the commuter coupon at the toll booth. "It's right there in the parking lot of the Best Western," he said, fumbling at his right pocket.
"Oh no!! I dont have my key!!! Oh......"
In just a few minutes, he would catch a battered baby blue pickup back to Washington.
"Eavesdroppers at the P.O."
So I've bootlegged 6 Finnish pop rock albums of mine and I'm headed to the post office. Here is a list of my bootlegs:
Kilpi, 2 Ismo Alanko Sattio, Apulanta, Karjaleinen, Ville Kangas
I am sending them to my son Ian at Concordia Language Camp, where I hope he will finally get an A in Advanced Finnish.
You can see "Saku" here, on the right in all the tie dye.
What a long line at the Post Office today! Our real story starts at the beginning...almost...of the line. Two middle aged women are talking. I cant hear what they are saying. Suddenly, the man in front of them turns around and says excitedly:
"I couldnt help overhearing. Where is your son stationed?" The man is young and blond and is wearing a striking royal nylon shirt with a huge white cross and letters on the back. The letters read "Proud Member of the Scottish...." something. His right arm is covered with floral tattoos.
"Iraq," answers the woman.
The illustrated man grins. "I-raq!!! Great! Wow! I'm in the Army, myself. I'm stationed in Germany now!!"
"They cant tell us much of what's going on..." the woman continues to her friend.
"Did you hear that?" says the man behind the woman behind me to the woman behind me. "Iraq...great! I'd say pray for him! Iraq is the stupidest mistake we've ever made!"
"That and Viet Nam," suggests the woman.
"Viet Nam," verifies the man. "My godson joined the Marines...."
"Pray for HIM!" says the woman.
"That's about what I said to him. I said 'Dont you read about what's going on,' and he said 'No I dont.'"
"They dont let them read in the Marines," comments the woman.
"Well...he played violent games as a child...."
"I have never allowed my children to play games like that!"
"He got tired of blowing up things in his bedroom, now he's...."
Ian's draft registration card sits on the table here at home.
"I guess I'll wait and ask the Junior Friends about it," he said, shrugging his shoulders.
You never know what will happen.
It was once said that The Front Porch in College Station is featured on one of Robert Earl Keen's albums. But the years roll on and on like the drays from old Cork Station and the cattle drives down Carter Creek Parkway, and only now that I write do I remember in a soggy fog........
"This old porch is a steamin' greasy plate of enchiladas
With lots of cheese and onions ans a guacamole salad
You can get them at the LaSalle Hotel in old downtown
With ice tea and a waitress who will smile every time
Oh yeah, I left a quarter tip on my ten dollar bill"
That's what it says on the internet.
Once, in the 80s, we went to see a movie at the Front Porch on College Avenue, across from the food coop. Later, they tore down the coop and put up a structure which housed Thai Taste and an unnamed laundromat. After that, Thai Taste moved over to where the Cajun restaurant was, near where Albertsons used to be.
The movie was about injustice in Nicaragua I reckon. It was the 80s equivalent of a MoveOn party.
The LaSalle is also mentioned in the song, and these days you cant get enchiladas, but rather Starbucks Chai Latte and a &%^* muffin that looks innocuous but the next day they say:
"That has sausage in it!"
And you scowl and simply say "Every year that happens to me, I inadvertently eat meat!"
If you're smart you go over to Los Nortenos and order Huevos Rancheros with refried beans that probably have lard in them but no one tells you so you dont care.
I know all this because 2 weeks ago I drove a black rented Saturn with Lousiana Plates into Downtown Bryan from Austin in the dead of early morning, and registered at the LaSalle. It was OK to do this, because, as I have intimated, the LaSalle is now chic and not a flophouse. It was successfully renovated several years ago, and is now listed in a free booklet called "Historic Hotels of America" which the hotel sets out in the lobby and in your room and in Starbucks, and you can find it on the internet too. What they dont tell you that an earlier renovator fell to his death from the roof and that the Austin Lounge Lizards dedicated a performance to him...try googling that...and that the establishment is haunted.
I pulled into the chic LaSalle parking lot, opened the now chic front door, walked up to the chic desk and said:
"I have a reservation,"
The clerk said, figuratively, "No you dont." I whipped out my printed reservation reply with a color picture of the hotel.
The chubby man said "Lucky we have rooms available but the queens are all taken so we will have to upgrade you to a king........"
After this nothing happens of interest so I will begin another upgrade story:
"First Class Up Grades Too And From Texas"
"Upgrade to First Class?" methodically reported the Alaska Air e-ticket machine. Here is a question: "Why does 'Alaska' Air fly to San Jose?"
"Sure" I said. What's fifty dollars? A lot, actually, but once you've had a bad experience it could be worth one million in return. My bad experience was several years ago...I'd say 2002...when I flew east to folk alliance. I was stuck in a middle seat for three hours on Southwest while the plane sat on the Phoenix Sky Harbour runway. Temperatures rose to 150 degrees in the plane. If I had upgraded for $50...and I had the opportunity...if I had just known....
I proceeded to the gate, where I would report that I had lost my First Class Boarding Pass during the rigorous Security Check.
"Would you like to upgrade to First Class?" the clerk asked the pretty but impoverished young student ahead of me in line.
"How much is it?" she asked.
"Only fifty dollars!!!"
"Passengers! Our plane is delayed due to a broken toilet seat!" Yep...late taking off. This is pretty typical of Alaska Air!!! No worry...the next plane will be late as well!!!!
I boarded amongst the first passengers and sat down in a wide, blue luxurious bulkhead seat with a handsome businessman by my side.
"Would you like a drink before we take off?"
"I'll have a ginger ale," said the businessman. "My mother always gave us ginger ale when we traveled."
"I'll have an Alaskan Amber?" I said.
"Summer Ale," corrected the steward. "That is what we have now!"
[to be continued]
&&&&&&&&&&&&St-Joseph Beauce Quebec, July 2007
If you miss the turn off to Vermont, you are obliged to travel along hyway three through the northernmost knifelike tip of New Hampshire. There is little evidence of humans here...a few lodges, but mostly road and grey lakes and steel green trees covered by cold steamy mist. It is Alaska with maples. Two walkers hug the side of the road.
Suddenly, I brake....the suv ahead of me pulls over! Travellers from all over have stopped to photograph a large animal!
Suddenly, a walker is in the middle of the road! I cant stop the *Impala, but I make sure she passes between the tires.
At the Canadian border, I confess :
"I'm Judith and I am bound to enter Quebec and travel up the St Lawrence. I may have murdered a tiny chipmunk with my car!!! But that is a heck of a lot better than a moose!!"
In my mind, I do that.
Arette! In Canada, everything changes. You can see it as well when you cross at Blaine and Grand Marais. Dense forest turns to squares of pasture, a green soggy quilt riding the waves of the Pleistocene ocean.
Also....Everything is in French. Everything!! The houses and barns of New England come unstuck. The homes are now grim entities covered with ancient water-stained aluminum siding. Gas pumps erupt from cafes, from car dealerships, from supermarkets....but not from Variety Stores with rest rooms! Red maple leaf flags fly from the post offices, blue fleur de lis flags flutter from the dwellings.
As the conveyer belts of Quebecois roads rotate on, the numbers flip. Farms give way to forests, to lakes and golf courses, to heavy industrial. This is where I stop for the evening, at an all night cafe.
"Contact the waitress for a room," dit la sign.
"We have a room, but there are no windows," says the waitress. They have added on at the back, leaving a block of stranded cublicles!
"That's OK," I say. Motels are hard to find here.
I take my computer down to the restaurant and work. There are two mirrored shelves of alcohol behind the lunch counter. Two truckers come in and sit on stools and order coffee in French.
I go to bed and pretend I am in a cabin on the Isabella, from Helsinki to Stockholm...
"We just got thrown out of the disco!" reports Ian.
Or below decks on the RV Powell sailing the gulf for hydrocarbons...
"Hate to wake you up, but I need to use the computer!" says my boss.
"Wham!" says the next wave.
In the morning, I find my land legs and look at my cell phone. Eight fifty five! I order Le dejuner sante in the restaurant. It is full of aging travelers.
The sun is shining.
*"Impala" is Down East Alamoese for "Sub-Compact."
February 2004: Old Tallin Estonia...
"Wow...isnt this an interesting ancient church?" I query to my friend Cynthia, a former opera singer.
She balks. "But the smell...let's get out of here...NOW!~~" Her eyes narrow and widen.
"The smell?" I press....there's something sweet in the air.
"It's the smell of DEATH...of ROTTING FLESH!!" chides Cynthia. "This place is underlain by hundreds of rotting corpses!"
In only a few years, I would experience that same musty smell at a motel in Lincoln, Maine.
Maine, July 2007: If I lived in Maine, I would probably say there were two Maines...or three or four. Along the coast there are bustling tourist towns, but beyond this lie vast nothingnesses full of trees, many of whom are owned by paper companies or Indians. One such place is northwest of Calais on the NB border, and that is where I was headed, to pick up Erin....towards Darrow Canoe Camp!
My intent was to spend the night in Lincoln, Southeastern Maine's Gateway to Nothingness. I'd scoped one out on the way there...bland but clean appearance, wifi, probably a bathtub!!!
"Huh!" I exclaimed to the steering wheel of my rented subcompact Impala. "NO VACANCY!!!"
"Oh my!" she rolled her headlights in dismay.
"But look there, up ahead! It's a cute old motel!!! And it says "VACANCY!"
Cute indeed. The little motel was attached to a large victorian house, and there were trailers in the back. I rang the office bell. A large, ancient woman with a crew cut swiveled out from the house.
"Do you mind a twin room?" she asked.
"There's only one of me," I verified.
I waited while she found her credit card swiper, fondling a motel match book cover that advertised Wifi. Thank goodness!
The old woman turned her misty eyes up to the wall, to an ancient colored photograph.
"I was wondering if you knew about Mount Katahdin," she said.
"I think I saw it once." Katahdin is an igneous intrusive which injected itself into Maine during the Acadian Orogeny.
"It is Maine's National Treasure. I gape in awe every time I see it. And Baxter State Park...do you know about it? We used to be able to see Katahdin out that window, but they built the paper mill back behind us, and now it's covered up by the sawdust pile. You be sure to visit it, though!"
"I will," I promised. How can you resist the tears of a rugged Maine woman?
1) Aqua walls, grooved molding, tile shower, ash trays with matchbooks, stubby glassware with sanitary paper covers. It was a trip back into my childhood, when my parents stopped twice a year in Kentucky on the way to Indiana from Birmingham.
2) Smoke, disinfectant, mildew...I'd smelt everything in motel rooms recently. But the sweet small was different...yet familiar. I checked under the bed for bodies and turned on the airconditioner, which had worked in Forrestville, Buscawen, and St Joseph, that place in Quebec with no windows. Then I turned on my computer. Wifi! Two bars...I went over to the gas station, bought a package of cajun tuna and crackers, and returned. I took my computer outside and sat down on the cement step. (Later I would discover that I was using a neighbor's LinkSys and the motel's wifi was excellent! Oops!)
Suddenly, a Chinese man drove up in a Jeep with Massachusetts plates and rented a room for the night!
"Where's the best place to find bass around here?" he asked the ancient woman.
"WHAP!!!" I swatted several mosquitos. Blood poured from them.
"New Brunswick," said the woman.
"The customs people are really difficult in Calais," I added. "Last year they just waved me through. This year they wanted to know the story of my life."
"The last time I came in from New Brunswick, they detained us for two hours. They never told me why...national security I guess....it's all George Bush!!!"
I snapped another bug.
Another car appeared.
"I have nothing to do with this this motel, other than being a guest!" I warned. The Chinese guy stood musing.
"Is there another motel in town?" a man asked.
"Hmm....I think I saw a vacancy sign at the motel by the Mainway, " I suggested. That's Down East for "gas station."
"I didnt see one..."
The old woman appeared from the house and showed him the last remaining room.
"I think I'll drive on..." he told her. "There isnt a major chain in town?"
Then I went to bed, the sound of the airconditioner pitted against the deathy sweet smell.
In the bright light of morning, I opened the curtains to take photos of the quaint room.
A DEAD BAT was hanging in the front window!!! UGH!!!!
I snapped a photo of the half desiccated bat and wrote out a note to housekeeping.
July 2007: The Wachau...
Close your eyes, and dream of Austria.
You and I both are passengers on the Wachau as it floats first up and then down the blue Danube from Melk to Krems, fighting the fluid waters of the Donau as they churn downstream past gentle molasse sediments, past granites and gneisses....
I spent the night in a 35 euro a night room above a bar...open for guest registration as long as the drinkers were lively.
"I'll have the spaetzel and cheese, and a glass of cheap white wine," I told the bartender. I sat down and let the smoke rise like ambient mist around me.
"What is the drinking age in Austria?" I had asked my son's Viennese friend Georg.
"Sixteen," he answered.
"How many people live here?"
"There are eight million Austrians," Georg replied.
"More people than live in Oregon!" I exclaimed.
I boarded the Wachau at ten thirty, in a muddy Louisiana backwater. I paid 22.50 for a round trip.
"Would you like something to drink?" asked a waiter. In North America they would be selling cokes in paper cups at a counter. But here, sixteen years old were Stiegls from liter glasses. Except that almost no one on this boat was sixteen except....
"We paid all this money to go to Europe, so you'd better pay attention to what they're saying!!!"
...two bored American teenagers travelling with their parents and dingbat inattentive younger brother.
On this boat, grown ups lounged on the sunny deck drinking beer....
The beautiful Donau rolled on beneath us in three languages, mighty as the Columbia. The robbers compound, the Venus of Willendorf, the orchards, the castle where King Richard the Something or other of England was held for ransome until rescued by his minstrel. At Spitz, bicyclists on tour rolled off, to rejoin the rivers of highway. Gneiss and granite...terraces of wine grapes rose before us like a vast ampitheatre...millions of them peering down in rapt attention at the commerce on the Danube. What else could you do if you were a grape? Triple barges, riderless car ferries, brought cars from Eastern European sweatshops to Austria and beyond. Knifelike floating hotels from Switzerland and the Ukraine ferried tourists past smoky bars that they would hesitate to spend the night in.
"I'd like to take one of those trips from Passau to the Black Sea...." I would tell Georg's mother Eva.
She would frown. I am an idiot. "You would be stuck on the boat for a week. This way it only took a few hours!"
On the way back to Melk I ate lunch. The dining room was filled with school children shaking ketchup onto french fries.
"I'll have the pike and a glass of chardonnay," I ordered. I looked out the window at things I had seen before.
After lunch, I began to doze on the sunfilled deck...zzzz....
Suddenly, two of my fellow travellers began to tragically commote in Italian!!! Their toddler had almost succeeded in jumping off the ship!
"Hey, mate, where are you from?" a grey-haired traveller in shorts, a bush hat, and several backpacks asked the Italians. "Lots of kids you have there!!"
"Italy," they answered. "We love children!!!"
"We do as well. We have five children. Now they've grown up and we are travelling around, like this. Ha ha!!!!"
"Watched Over by Angels"
Henry...the Viet Nam vet who lives in a shack on State Land at Memaloose! I pulled over to the shoulder of the I84 The Dalles West Exit. The big SUVs behind me had not expected me to stop, so I had to do it gently.
Henry...I had wondered if he were still alive. The last time I had picked him up, he told me that he was checking into a halfway house in Walla Walla to die. Now it was obvious that he hadnt!
"I had a real bad time!" he told me. I waited for a chemotherapy story.
"Guy stole my chain saw and busted two of my ribs!!!"
"Wow!" I exclaimed, relieved. "Do you know who it was?"
"I sure do. It was Dustin G-----n. I know his probation officer, Kevin Klinger. He stole a car at St Vincent de Paul and left it at Safeway. Now he's stolen a truck and is driving that one around."
"Huh!" I said.
"He's about 27...He told me that he needed to get his life together so I let him stay with me for a while...but he's crazy. I think I'll start carrying a gun."
Dustin...Justin!!! Oh no! "I think I picked him up!" I announced in horror.
"You're lucky then...he could have hurt you real bad. He's a bad character. You have a lot of class. I worry about you."
"I had someone else with me..." I said, flustered. Should I be picking up hitchikers?
It was just before I went on my summer trips...that's why I didnt write about Dustin. I didnt write about the Dallesport Indian couple in matching Tshirts either, on their way to White Salmon on WA 14.
"I think I'd like to check out the antique store first," the woman told her guy. A gravel truck rumbled by in the other lane.
WHAP!!! The sound of gunfire!!!
"Did that get your windshield?" asked the man.
"Uh...yeah!" There was a crack on the drivers side in the shape of an @. There still is. Maybe I should try sending e-mail.
A couple days before, I'd picked up a gent on The Dalles west ramp. He had a small day pack on his back.
"I just need a ride home to Hood River," he said. "I live in White Salmon, but I can get across the bridge."
Then another man appeared, further along the ramp...Henry!!!...with his Mosier sign in his hands! I stopped.
"Name's Justin," he told the rider from White Salmon. Oops!
"It's not too often you get picked up by a woman," he continued.
"No..." the Salmonite agreed.
"Once a girl picked me up and we partied all night...hey...right over there...the Memaloose rest area. I have a friend who has a hooch over there."
I pulled over and let Justin out.
"Yep.." continued the man from White Salmon. "I've spent my whole life here. Vancouver, Hood River...but I grew up around Mill A...I love it up there."
"Around the lava beds...not much up there but trees..."
"There is a fire tower up there...you can see everything from there....up to Mount Ranier...clear up to Canada," he said.
How much longer will the god of George Fox protect me? How much longer can we extend our ropes?
"You might not see me this next winter," said Henry. "I'm applying for a job with a contractor in Kuwait for two thousand a week."
"Driving fuel trucks from Kuwait across the border to Iraq. The call it a contractor, but you're actually a mercenary. You gotta carry a gun or two with you. It's dangerous, but I'm 62 years old and got no one and I'm only making a hundred dollars a month catching squawfish and collecting cans."
"Yeah..." I said.
Corbett, OR, Balkanalia! 2007: Last year I realized that Balkan Dance Camp had run its course. This sort of thing happens to me all the time. In this case, I practiced Balkan dancing everytime I had a public opportunity...two or three times a year...but I didnt get any better. The person next to me still glared and stridently whispered "LEFT-two-three-LIFT!!!" So, in 2006, I decided just to go to the evening parties, just for the bands and not the work shops. But...after one evening, Erin emerged from the vast darkness with a mixed group familiar youths and angrily exclaimed.
"Why do we have to go HOME? Why DID YOU DO THIS MOM? We ALWAYS go to Balkanalia! This is my CHILDHOOD TRADITION!?!?
This year we are here for the entire event.
"This is my little friend," says Erin. She can speak Russian!"
"I studied Russian for four years...I came to the US when I was five! 'gde karandash ya bili xopopsho' "
"You are very lucky," I reply. I have forgotten almost all my Russian. She hasnt.
"Wow! I went to Romanian...uh...Romani dance class and it was great! I can almost fake it now!" says Ian. In the evening, I can see him dancing. It is a useful skill.
And me....I am sitting on a terrace of the Sandy River. I will sing with my class in a rebetika choir...with the Musicians Ensemble!"
"You guys are lucky," explains Christos"...to replicate this song you dont have to do any ornaments...Markos didnt, and...in fact he couldnt!"
"I notice he extends the notes on the first three lines, but on the last line he stops abruptly," queries one of the musicians in the class.
"Well..."says Christos twirling his zouk..."Vamvakaris was never known as a bouzouki virtuoso. My guess is that...especially on this song early in his carreer...he was just trying to stall to keep things together."
What was it about Markos Vamvakaris that made him such a noted rembetika figure?
Tents...I'm staying in a large tent, on my cot. Many people think I just like to stay in motels now. In truth, there are only two things that are better about motels...SOME motels...than camping.
1) a bathtub
...and I have wifi here, plugged into the exterior of The Wellness Center. Besides, there is no motel, just cabins stuffed with bunks. And showers. That's why I dont like music camps.
Nigadoo, New Brunswick, July 2007:
I begin my day near the tip of the Gaspe and the end of my rope. French Fatigue! Page after page of guidebooks, sign after sign, scowl after scowl from aging francophones at food stands:
"Je voudrais d'avoir une roll d'homard...c'est tout."
What a poor example of a Canadian I am, flunking French repeatedly as a child in Nainamo!!! Everywhere, I pretend that is my problem! But my Maine plates give me away.
The guiding light of New Brunswick draws my fiery Impala onward. At last the banks of Baie des Chaleur begin to close in. Through the birches and larches of a well kept rest area I pause and regarde the promised land. I turn back, mostly to avoid an aged francophone staring at me from a park bench.
Route 134 going east...In New Brunswick, the government is required by law to post signs in English as well as French! Just past Campbellton, a cherry picker is tailgating and police surround a tree that has fallen on the road. We are funnelled into one lane and emerge safe. Dans Dalhousie j'achete gas et un Lobster Roll de Subway...I see a sign for Acadia National Park, and head further east, touring authentic in situ farms and buildings of Acadian residents from many eras. I try to stay at the in situ hotel, but surmise that one needs a reservation and a model T. I turn south...toward PEI where I know they speak English...and near Nigadoo I see it...Hache RV Park and Motel avec internet haute vitesse. I slip in between the house and motel to Campground Registration.
"You have wifi in the motel?" I ask the owner.
"We have wifi everywhere here! You will see people with their laptops set up on picnic tables!"
"Forty dollars. Do you want to check the room out first?"
There is a bathtub in the room....as well as three bars! And no bats, as far as I can tell.
After my delicious dinner of ramen noodles from Grocerie de Hache, I explore the park. Most of the guests are staying at elaborately landscaped stationary caravans, and are gathered in happy groups eating and drinking and lighting bonfires.
"Roland! Comment va tu ajourd'hui?" they greet their friends...I guess. I cant understant any of this French!
At the corner, two middle aged women about my age toss balls at sticks....in this case at me as well. "AGHHHH!!!" I yell.
"We are dangerous women!!!" they laugh.
I continue on. Almost all the trailers are occupied. A few wanderers are setting up pop up tents on a grassy area. Beyond that, the primitive tent camping area is vacant except for trees and mosquitos. A dirt track leads to railroad tracks, occupied with tankers and flat cars.
July 2007, Quebec: It is sunset and the guests of the Motel Panoramique are assembled on the shore of the mighty Saguenay.
"Donnez moi mon Canon!"
"Le soleil...c'est si joli! Maintenant!"
"Et les ombres dans le beau fleuve!"
They gaze from their balconies, stand on the lawn by the picnic tables, at the dock, on the boat ramp and the smooth rocks below and take pictures, over and over, because each minute brings a different incredible glance of paradise. Only one of these, silhouettes on a red sky fallen as a twin into dark waters, will be perfect.
I walk back inside with two good shots...one of which I will stupidly erase.
"Is there any wifi here?" I ask the young clerk. There isnt, just the one computer in the lobby, but he knows that some one was able to get haute-vitesse somehow. I roll my eyes...
"Pardon!" initiates a short, chunky middle-aged man who is standing like a vulture by the breakfast tables. You have to buy your breakfast item by item, though caffeine and doughnuts are free. Just before sunset, I'd bought a bowl of Thai Flavored Ramen and had eaten it with a banana and doughnut at one of the riverside tables. "Pourqui etes-vous ici?"
"I'm sorry, but my French is terrible. I cant understand a thing!" I answer hopefully.
"Oh, I am sorry! But you see I like to talk to ze women...um...ze people and ask why zey have come here, what zey are doing! I have been born here, born by beaurtiful Lac St Jean and many years I have moved to Montreal but every year I come back here to stay at Chicoutimi. Everytime I look out onto ze beautiful fjord, it is so beautiful I want to cry!! So you tell me where have you been!"
I roll my eyes. "Lac St Jean...I thought I'd go there because I'd never been there. Then I couldnt find any place to stay."
"Did you see ze beautiful zoo...?? Ze beautiful marina at Peribonka? All the wonderful attractions?"
"No," I answer. "I pretty much need to have kids with me to go to zoos. Really...I just drove around it."
"You didn not stop? HOW CAN YOU HAVE VISITED OUR BEAUTIFUL LAC ST JEAN AND NOT STOP???" I feel like ducking under the aging computer.
"I tried to stop at an archeology museum, but it was closed already, but I did walk around. And...yeah...I did go on at a...uh...swamp walk...Promenade du Marais, which explained the history of the wetland ecosystem balance, right there where the Ticouape flows in."
"A swamp walk????"
We stare at each other.
Just north of Quebec City... if you take the shortcut... the Canadian landscape grows taller and so do the trees...you are abruptly in boreal forest dominated by balsam fir and white birch. The road stretches on, climbing mountains that view down upon broad, curved valleys scooped out by glaciers and rivers, upon quilt patches of meadow and darker trees. Stopping only twice, at a mega euro-style rest stop where you can buy Dixie Roasted Chicken...
"My French is awful...I'll have tabouli...and what's that stuff..is that vegetarian? Greek salad?"
"Qu'est ce que?"
...and at a pondside forest headquarters with rotting tourist cabins and tiny dogwoods to photograph...
Then you are over the hill, the gasp of the Alps in reverse, first farms and then a vast crepelike expanse of yellow flowers and green, the graben of the Saguenay everywhere growing and blooming except for the finely bedded outcrops on the sand and gravel pits and in the distance the lake that goes on, more expansive than the Klamath down off the Cascades, sweeter than Goose Lake as Oregon meets California. The Basin and Range of Francophonia, Lac St Jean and the associated Saguenay are downdropped terrain between faults; like the cavelike I5 in downtown Seattle they are a busy conduit of movement and commerce in a land so wild and savage.
"This isnt **just** a structural feature my fat tires are driving over!" counters Isaac Impala in his typical Down East twang.
"No indeed," answers the landscape. "During the Pleistocene, I was a major glacial pathway!"
"And it was only by Kind Fate that we have arrived here," I smile.
It is 3 o'clock. I buy an ice cream bar and travel on past homes and farms and bicyclists. I stop to look down on the flat lake and, at the ferme museum snap photos of the Historic Baking Oven from several angles. I drive through Val-Jaubert and Roberval, through Saint Felicien, past the mouth of the Ashuapmushuan, the Misstassini and the Misstassibi. I wonder if I should drive north along the road that goes west into the wilderness, where Quebec ends on the road maps like a 12th century map of the world. It is my supreme error that I cower, that I do not...I drive eastward along the north shore of Lac St Jean into the valley of the Saguenay. Ten thousand years ago, right here near Alma, ice melted off the toe of the shriveling glacier and the blue milkglass waters rolled east, just like me. I cross the metal bridge at Chicoutimi, where the river begins to feel like ocean breeze in your eyes. A sign points to MOTEL PANORAMIQUE, many blocks distant but obviously of great repute....
"Oh my!" I exclaim. Fate has determined the most stunning lodging of my trip!
I stare past the pool, past the picnic tables and kayaks to the fjord. Perhaps I will take a uturn, I think, but then again not. Never backtrack.
Soon I will travel across the St Lawrence by ferry and travel the length of the Gaspe Peninsula. It is becoming apparent that I should do this before the increasing hum of French conjugations, genders, and liasons are so loud that my head explodes from their vibrations.
September, 2007, Hood River Oregon:
Racing through the left lane of I84, that's when I saw them, under the bridge, a woman in an aqua tank top, a man, and a dog, no luggage, no packs, and you needed a telescope to see that one had their pale thumb out and it wasnt the dog. I couldnt get into the right lane but I considered a moment.
"Where are you headed?"
"The Dalles, we are so grateful, we have been here five hours in the hot sun and poor Bowzer is in the last stages of dehydration...."
I swung off at the Hwy 35 exit that goes to the White Salmon Bridge on the north and Government Camp on the south, cross the Mighty Hood River, roll into town and turn right into dowtown and am immediately trapped in:
***LABOR DAY TOURIST HELL***
Like cockroaches, seeping out of every door, a massive army of insects in bare arms, bare legs, sunglasses and goofy hats, crossing the intersections chaoticly one by one, some pausing in the middle of the street dazed in utter wonderment or confusion....and like cockroaches, they ran the risk of being not seen and smushed by my little Aveo....
Suddenly a hole opened up, and I was able to make a dash...down the hill and back onto the freeway and onto the City Center Exit, the Amazing Columbia spreading before me, dotted with uncountable fine lines of windsurfer sails...
"I'd just like to see you guys out there in February," I snarled. But I knew some of them were silly enough to take up the challenge.
I looked into my rear view mirror. Oh no! The couple and the dog were still out there, behind me under the bridge.
I bet they were tourists.
Forestville, Quebec, July 2007:
The boat between Forestville and Rimouski is the fastest ferry across the Saint Lawrence...the fastest ferry in all Quebec. Here at the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord, the river that could be straddled by a Quebec City bridge had opened up like a flower, had been woven into a cornucopia....and now it was 30 miles wide! Like the English Channel, France and Engl....France and France I reckoned!
"Avez vous un reservation?" asked the debonair ferryman.
"Yes...but my French is not very good."
The ferryman smiled and looked up my name. "Lane four," he instructed. What a good looking ferryman! Hmm...I wish I had a handsome boatman to ferry me over!
I parked my car and walked around, reading the plates...Quebec, Quebec, Quebec, Quebec, Quebec...typical! I had seen 2 or 3 Ontario plates since I crossed the border!....Quebec, Quebec...Florida!!! And over there what was that? My yellow Aveo! With another woman and a dog stuffed inside! Twilight Zone!
The cars in other lanes fired up their engines. A man in a jeep sped up to the ferryman and was sent to the end of the late line. My lane began to move and the steel ramp into the bowels of the vessel clanked beneath our feet! Ker-whump!
Not too much happened on the speedy ferry. I paid the fare for the both of us and bought a diet coke and a mini-sugar cream pie. The gray downpour of
yesterday evening was now a blue sky reflected sparkling in the estuarial waves. I enlarged a dusty red laker and snapped a hazy photo. Fifty-five minutes
later, we set our tires on the shore of the Gaspe Peninsula.
In Rimouski, I toured a typical pioneer home..."Est 'Rimouski' vraimont un mot francias?" I wondered. Where did they come up with the name Rimouski?
Up the tourist clogged Gaspe with the hounds of hell at my feet! I stopped at a beachside stand and bought a homard sandwich in a white styrofoam box. I
photographed boats and beaches and erased them. The tourists disappeared one by one, like windsurfers on a beautiful day. Lonely mountains and sharp
curves separated coveside villages. I took pictures of folded rocks and erased them. I thought about New Brunswick, just over that vast clump of conifers
"POINTE-À-LA-RENOMMÉE HISTORIC SITE...MARCONI!!!" said a sign. This should be a lot of fun! I followed a long, twisty set of roads to the first maritime radio station in North America, established in 1904.
"These people will come along with us," giggled my tour guide. "They have never given a tour in English and would like to see how it is done!"
Too fast...that's how it was done. What an amazing place! I could have stayed there for hours, and read every word on the posters, imagining myself valiantly receiving signals from every boat in distress...dot dash dash dot...SOS. Then I began to think about Snow Falling on Cedars.
I drove back to the shore. At the very end....as far east as the highway could take me...I saw a sign:
"MOTEL SUISSE---Haute Vitesse!" http://www.motelsuisse.com/
Too early! I drove on, but made a U-Turn back to the log complex.
"Was ist denn los hier? " a man said to the desk clerk. I had driven too far...I was back in Austria!!! No of course not. I was in Switzerland!
I checked in, powered up my e-mail, and then returned to the chic lodgelike restaurant for dinner. At this hour I was almost alone, except for a couple young Anglophones at the solarium tables drinking wine and writing in their journals.
"Roast beef is our special this evening...no meat, eh?....The scallops and shrimp on pasta is very good," advised the waitress. "Perhaps a little salad?"
I stared out through the plate glass to the end of the road. Was that Iceland or was it clouds? Five years ago, I stood among Icelandic fishing boats and scanned the horizon for Canada. "Now we have met in the middle!" I exclaimed quixotically.
A young woman with a midwestern accent arrived and rented a room. My food arrived as well....what a lot to eat!
"Pardon me..." I looked up from my crustaceans and my copy of "The Lonely Planet Guide to The Maritimes." It was the Midwesterner!
"I heard you speaking English. Are you travelling around the Gaspe? Do you know what is exciting to the south of here?"
"No," I answered. Nova Scotia? "That's the way I'm going! Where are you coming from?"
"New Hampshire, I was visiting my brother...I am from Chicago but I am now living in St Louis. Where are you from?"
"I'm from Oregon! I'm from the Columbia River Gorge. But I just drove from Maine."
"Wow! Hood River. I used to work for a eco-tour company that had a cruise boat, based in Alaska, but they were often in Oregon. It makes me think twice about eco-tourism." She grimaced." I'm not working now so why not take a road trip. Everyone said it was beautiful here! Now I'm wondering where to go next. Nova Scotia? Cape Breton? How about Prince Edward Island?"
"They have a bridge there now. It's really unique because it's all agricultural and red. They grow potatoes."
"Ugh! I had enough of agricultural!
"I bet you have. I was in Cape Breton last year. I liked it! But you could go to Newfoundland. It's the cool place to go, like Iceland!"
"Newfoundland...can you see icebergs and whales?"
"You can if you go up by Labrador. But to get to Newfoundland you have to take a ferry."
The waitress arrived with a sandwich and a glass of wine, which the Missourian took to her room. Hmm....Everyone was drinking wine at Cafe Suisse! I wondered why.
After dinner I brushed my teeth. Then I saw the glass with the slash over it above the sink.
"Wow! It's is the first time this has happened since I was in Vancouver in November. But this time I will die of Giardia!" I started to rinse my mouth out.
It was getting dark. I walked outside and noticed Missouri plates on an old car. I set my camera to "Sand and Snow" and began taking pictures of the bright colors over the trees...over Superior and the Mississippi....over the Pacific...my back to the end of the earth.
Confused...so is my brain! But imagine this innovative idea! Bring back memories as you remember them! That's the way they do it on a radio show, pick a CD, make a esoteric connection and play it!
But just for the record, here is my nightmare travel month:
July 6...Maine, New Hampshire, Quebec, Lac St Jean, Gaspe, New Brunswick, Maine, New Hampshire, Maine, PDX!!!! grab Ian who has returned from Finnish camp in Minnesota, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Austria, ***WACKEN***, PDX, someone's house in NE Portland where I leave Ian to sleep 4 hours before he goes to his Junior Friends Service Trip, then home!!! Where I clean my house for 3 weeks, pull weeds from the yard, contemplate how broke I am now. Everything is in perspective.
"Ian!" bellowed my spouse. "Are you washing the dishes?"
"No!" replied Ian. "I am watching this video on RoadTrek Class V Camper Vans...with MOM!!!"
"Wow...you can rent one of these in Langley BC and try it out!!!" I exclaim.
I was planning my escape! Only a mere hundred thousand C$ would buy a camper van! Then I could dump all my mothers furniture and glassware, all my mother-in-laws unused sewing supplies, in a self-store in Timbuktu and disappear into the night.
Slovenia, July 2007
I'd thought of Slovenia as paradise and Tito's summer palace, but for the most part it is a toll road that never stops. I wave my closed passport and a customs agent waves my shiny German Renault through the Gates of the East. But the toll booth asks for euros. There is a toll booth every 5 km on this road. Vinyards and idyllic dams alternate with dirty, tattered buildings, grim reminders of Soviet Rule; I remember these from Leipzig and Posneck in the early 90s. And toll booths. At one, a blond man walks up to me an begins pleading in native German.
"I'm not German," I say.
"You're not German?" he asks, confused and desperate.
It is then that the words of a desk clerk in Conway, New Hampshire pierce my ears. "Slovenia is a BEAUTIFUL place to visit...but then...(she continued ominously)...I used to LIVE IN ITALY!!!"
I pull off onto a real highway and drive, looking for cute Slovenian lodging, the white mountains looming over me as if to say, "You are in California." I stop at a gas station, peruse a map and continue to Ljubljana, shuffled back onto the freeway. I turne off onto a sidestreet where an old woman, ancient as Bulgaria, walks in a black dress. "Hotel and casino!" Haute vitesse? Fifteen times around the block and I am back on the toll road, headed to Trieste. Two toll booths, then one manned only by a ghost and a gate. I panick. The woman behind me gets out of her car, rolls her eyes, and says:
"You take the ticket and pay when you get off."
In tears, I pay at the last stop before the Italian border.
You would think that this would be the end of it all, that I would be safe inside the old EU now. Maybe so, but not safe from toll roads....
"Wait! What's the point of sludging up bandwidth with all this travel wimp stuff?" asked my Dell Inspiron 600m.
"The point is...um...that sometimes you overestimate what you can do on your own in uncharted territory. But even if you really screw up...even worse than I did...you've been there. You have hacked out the jungle of printed tour guides with your machete and turned it into your own living breathing roadmap."
"I suppose that this is analogy to other aspects of life," replied the battered laptop.
"Uh huh...but you know, sometimes it is more productive to ride on a tour bus."
In Italy, I chose to drive north, back to Tarvisio in the Alps and into Austria. I think of how I would like to sail on a tour boat along the Danube. I pass up Trieste and drive north...
"PAY TOLL AHEAD" a sign says in Italian.
"Oh no!" I reply. "How will I ever find a motel?" Unlike Finland, there are no simple, informative bed signs on the freeways. Both Slovenians and Italians own dogs who sniff out lodgings with their long noses.
I drive north along the tollway, suddenly realizing that the trees along the road are round green shrubs like in the oaks in the area between Mosier and Rowena. I reckon I am in maquis. I know the Mediterranean, the Adriatic, is a few kilometers to my left, but I never see it. I snap a picture, a green blur that I am sure is real maquis. I have never seen the Mediterranean. Yesterday I said this:
"Ian...want to take a Mediterranean cruise? Go to Greece and Turkey?"
"Sound great!" replied Ian. But Erin rolled her eyes. They were both almost out of the house forever. "He's just trying to mooch off of you as long as he can," she told me.
I leave the freeway at Udine. Downtown, the rich orange dusk is like a digital photo of a Texas bar. I circle a roundabout searching for my way, signs...hotel...Tarvisio...
A little blue Fiat hurls directly at my unwieldy Laguna...my foot hard on the break peddle....smack!...
The Fiat jerks to a halt and a short grey beared man begans yelling angrily in Italian. He looks at my car....*I* look at my car. The bumber is scratched.... He begins to yell in German...
"Mein deutsch ist nicht so gut!" I tell him, shaking. I may vomit, or faint.
He stares at me. "Warum?"
"It's a rental car....uh...parlez vous francais?"
After driving around aimlessly for a half hour in the eerie grey and orange light, I will discover a faint yield line on the pavement within the roundabout. It's not a phenomnon you see in The Dalles. In a few weeks, the rental company will charge me ten zillion dollar for the scratches on the bumper.
I find the route to Tarvisio, lose it, find it again. I drive north in the dark. I stop at a hotel and ask at the restaurant, but there are no single rooms. In The Dalles, they would just cut the room in half! I lose the route again and find myself in front of a toll booth. I make a U turn in terror and regain the northern highway. On my right is another hotel...expensive I reckon...but I stop anyway. I am still shaking, nauseated, and a bad driver who should never be allowed on any road ever again.
"English?" I ask the restaurant cashier. The locals are laughing and eating pizza and pasta in the spacious room. It is sort of like Spooky's.
"Uh..." she goes to fetch another woman.
"I am looking for a room."
Of course they have a room. A handsome Italian man who can also speak English takes me upstairs and asks me if it is OK. Of course it is. It is new and spotless. It looks out over whatever is beyond the parking lot and highway.
"How much?" I ask at the desk.
"Twenty euros...is that all right? Yes? And when you're ready you can come down and eat!"
"Our special is lasagna tonite," begins the waitress who can speak English. But I dont eat meat....they will make me a salad.
"Tomatoes and cheese?" she ask.
"And a glass of white wine....." I order. It is just like Romul's here in Columbia City.
The check out time is one pm here at the Hotel Albergo Ristorante "Al Girarrosto." I leave before that, but still people are packed in the restaurant eating pizza. There is a shiny blue polizia car in the parking lot, and two motorcyclists are adjusting their helmets. Jagged, half forested mountains tear at the cloudy blue sky. The Alps are all around us.
&&&&&&&&September, 2007 .....I am sitting at the bar at the Sweet Water brewing company, Atlanta Hartwell Airport. The room is packed with travelers.
"You wanta try the Sweetwater 424?" asks the barista before I can open my mouth. Like most of the employees here at the well-known Delta Hub, she is black, but unlike the cashier at Paschel's legendary southern food, she does not reprimand in a surly, bored monotone. In this Post-Bull Connor Universe, there are no color lines as far as beer is concerned. There are only two kinds of people here: those that are chomping down and drinking up in the Sweet Water, and those who are not.
"Is it light or dark?" I query.
"Dark," she says, and draws me a pint. It isnt exactly Black Butte, but then this is Georgia.
I snap some photos and then after a half hour, I ask the man next to me, "Is the airport still closed?" He is wearing a baseball cap. My mind races back to the gate across from the bar.
"I will let y'all know just as soon as it is safe to board the plane to Philadelphia without being electrocuted."
The man replies, "Dunno, probably...but my plane's delayed and I thought it would be a good opportunity to sit down and have a beer."
"Would you like another 424, sir?" asks the bartender. "Would you like to look at a menu?"
At least I made it here to Atlanta. At least I am not...
STUCK IN PANAMA!!!!
The Panama night is warm and muggy. There are five of us, including myself, and we are headed on foot for a restaurant that John knows from living here.
"You'll get real Panamanian food here!" he assures us. As we pass food cubbies and all nite groceries and convenience stores and and cell phone outlets and sidewalk cafes...it's pretty obvious that if the sign doesnt say something like 'Canton Lotus,' you're pretty much assured real Panamanian food.
"Conectado ai sabor....Mas cuerpo y sabor desde 1910...BALBOA!" suggests a huge billboard advertising the Panamania version of Budweiser.
I don't order Balboa at the real Panamanian cafe.
"Is there some really Panamanian drink?" I ask John. John asks the waiter, en espanol.
"He says they have a cocktail with the local rum...not really moonshine, but homemade....and sugar cane juice."
"OK!" I say. I'd hoped for some sort of Panamanian margarita, but beggars cant be choosers.
"Their special today is 'Chicken Parisienne'" translates John.
I zone in on the seafood soup and Franca, a Nigerian who lives in Missouri, settles on Chicken Parisienne. John orders appetizers...fried plantain and fried yucca and fried corn cakes and fried meat pies. John and his little family chose some unknown fried meat things with french fries and salad.
FACTS ABOUT PANAMA
a) You can spend American dollars, because that's all the dollars they have.
b) You can drink the water and eat the lettuce.
c) You can plug your computer directly into the American style outlet.
d) You can speak all the Spanish you want.
"You were here then when we invaded?" begins Franca.
"Yes...wedged between the stove and refrigerator at night. The Panamanians were shooting all over the neighborhood and the walls were so thin you were never safe at night from bullets. In the daytime everything was fine. We ran out of food...." Who said being a scientist isnt exciting!!!!!!
"How many people were killed then...a couple thousand?"
"At least a thousand...I believe it because I saw the bodies laid out."
"Huh!" I exclaim. The conversation has crept up on me.
"Finally they gave us five hundred dollars apiece...they called it emergency money. The army had cargo planes for us....but they wouldnt tell us where they were going until after we took off. Then they said 'Dover, Delaware.' We were happy..."
"It could have been Fairbanks....!!" exclaims Franca.
"We landed in Dover and it about 23 degrees below zero...some sort of freak cold snap. I started to walk across the runway with a blanket wrapped around me and they yelled, "Hey, give that back, it's government property!"
[Epilogue: "What's for dessert? I'll have this stuff!" I said pointing at the menu.
Like the syrupy, low-alcohol cocktail, it wasnt quite what I expected. The dessert was a sweet dark milky liquid with soft white cheese cubes floating on top, served in a bowl of finest melmac.]
Not everyone knows this, but the Cincinnati ...Queen City of the West...airport is actually in Kentucky, across the Ohio River. Emma was at the helm of our Chevrolet Uplander, and I rode shotgun. Our stealthy passengers were Ian, Erin, and Baby Victor. We were headed towards the unveiling of the Starr-Gennett Walk of Fame in Richmond, Indiana. My part of the family had purchased a slab of Vern Dalhart, who set the stage for Country Music As It Is. But in my heart, I would have liked to have purchased the tragic Bix...Bix Beiderbeck, who died from bathtub gin before he was thirty. Bix was the Janis Joplin, the Jim Morrison, the Kurt Cobain of jazz. As you grow older, you either learn that the wheel turns, or you're stupid enough to believe the wheel stops just for you.
"Up there on the bluffs," I moderated,"that's where Uncle June...your Uncle George lived, on Fox Hills Lane. He was a landscape architect, and designed the freeways of Cincinnati."
"Who?" asked Erin.
"Uncle George...Aunt Nancy...we visited them in Cleveland when you were two."
"When I had the chicken pox? The guy with the strawberry wallpaper?"
"I'm confused," began Emma. "Where are we supposed to go? Could we maybe get a map? Petersburg...am I supposed to get off at Petersburg?" We had picked Emma up on foot at Gate 52. We'd had to ride the shuttle and by the time we got to Baggage Claim, we had to go Claim our bags in the office!
"Movie...you got a movie?!?! And a snack box? We didnt get anything on that propeller plane from Houston!!!" chided Emma.
"Petersburg!" I replied. "Your great great grandmother died of consumption in her 30s in Petersburg". Imagine the handsome boatman ferrying her back home in the mist to her grave in Dillsboro, Indiana. Imagine her young cousin, an Ohio River boatman, dying at 27 of cholera. Imagine her son Enos on the way home forever from Andersonville, her husband, farrier and blacksmith, shot from his horse at Gettysburg, living in disoriented hell for the rest of his life. It is all here and we will drive through it tonite. The ghosts will press on the car until it explodes. Everyone but me will just roll their eyes. They dont know....
"Indiana! We're in INDIANA!!"
Wow! We were going the right way!
"Look...there's another sign...Welcome to Ohio!"
"They call this the Tri-State area...." I explained, but I really didnt know. It was certainly confusing!
We stopped at a convenience store in Lawrenceburg, where I bought a laminated map of Indiana and a diet Mountain Dew.
"I'm trying to get to Richmond," I said to the clerk, slapping down a bunch of marked georges.
"Uh..." she answered. "Cincinnati I can tell you about."
Lucky I am an ethnic Hoosier and knew the country by heart!
"Why arent there more cup holders in this stupid van?" asked Emma.
"Look...Rising Sun! There's a casino there now!!! But it used to be a farming capital for the Withrow family." I answered.
"And we're stuck going 40 mile an hour behind this stupid boat."
"I'm starving!" exclaimed Ian and Erin and Baby Victor. Outside the van, Franklincountyites...true hoosiers...were flocking to the local 1810 era foe Eagle dance joints. I felt for the membership card in my purse. Sex on the beach!
"That's because of the Brookville Reservoir. Your great grandfather George Homsher Hayward was born there. He was named after the local physician, George Homsher, who was also an amateur archaeologist and reported to congress on the Indian mounds. In the 1960s, Fairfield was inundated by the Whitewater River...by the reservoir. They should have flooded Bath...ha ha! Georgie's sister married into the Dubois family from Bath...look! There's a sign for Bath! And a sign for Arby's."
"Great!" said Ian.
"Will they have anything for you to eat, Mother?" asked Emma kindly.
"What's that on your T-Shirt?" asked the Manager of the Brookville Indiana Arby's. "It looks like Swedish!"
"Ah ha!" said the Hoosier. They'd struck up an Nordo-Indiana bond. The boys grinned at each other.
"Why...there IS something...I'll have six...no, twelve jalapeno poppers!" I ordered, pulling our my marked georges. "I'll probably throw up," I thought to myself. But I wolfed those puppies down and I was A-OK!
"I'll have a reuben," ordered Erin.
"I'll have the chicken salad sandwich," ordered Emma. "And some curly fries for Baby Victor!"
"I'll have a double cheese, curly fries, twelve jalapeno poppers and..." ordered Ian.
We screamed on through the night, Emma still at the helm. To the west, the reservoir pressed against my neck on the left like a cheap aging pillow.
"UGH!!! This reuben is cold and there isnt any cheese. It's got mayonnaise on it. It tastes bland. This is the most pathetic reuben I've ever had," complained Erin.
"Um..." said Emma. "I think you may have my chicken salad sandwich! Hand it over!!!"
As I write this, I start to laugh uncontrollably.
"There's a Subway!" I said.
"Oh %&^&%^," answered Erin.
"Isnt it amazing that he said Swedish?" pondered Ian.
I am so lucky to have my family close to me.
What is left of the Starr Piano Company:Richmond, Indiana, September, 2007.
I stood alongside Aunt Barbara's gold sedan. At 87, Barbara was the only one left of my father's generation. She was still beautiful, with quick darting eyes.
"Cousin Mike, do you remember eating with Grandfather at Jody's in Centerville?" I asked.
Imagine a panorama, a sweep of a U-Tube swinging through time and space.
It is 2005 and you are climbing onto the Chenoweth Table on the crest of the Columbia Gorge, the river and the now former Chenoweth high school below dwarfed by the channel cut by the great ice age floods.
It is 1961 and you are rummaging in the huge bank vault of Gennett and Sons, on the crest of Indiana's Whitewater Gorge. Outside, aluminum pontoon boats contructed for sale by Uncle Dick slice through airy waters dotted with paint cans, V belts, freon canisters, and Copeland compressors. Stacks of dusty papers from Gennett Investments droop on some of the pine shelves, but on others... magic!! Cruise brochures ply the raging woody main like Orlando Bloom. Cabins are laid out in different color rows, twin or double? Window or inside? The choppy black phone rings...
"Gennett Travel...yes, this is Fred! Mrs. Rodeheaver! Yes...have you made up your mind? Bermuda? Italy?"
I am 13 and the Hoosier sun is setting along the vegetated cracks of The National Road. Richmond Centerville Pennville East Germantown or Pershing Cambrdge City Mount Auburn Dublin Straughn...kerthunk go the wheels of the old Packard on the white four lane, past tidy farms and remodeled brick town buildings from before the civil war. Packard, hmmm...or was it my grandmother's old Buick? Just to Centerville, all those other towns stretched on like a rubber band to Indy. Just to Jody's Restaurant, and I sit across from Grandfather, a thin, bald, quiet, goofy man. This is what he enjoys doing, taking my seven Indiana cousins to dinner. Fried chicken and ice tea I reckon, but surely an apple dumbling with cream for dessert. We chat about my friends at school, or the Beatles, but surely not those tired, broken buildings down by the Whitewater.
Almost everyone who really knew about them is dead now, except Sam Meyer.
"Yeah..." said Mike, and then looked straight at me.
"You know...he never said a thing!"
Tiny Aunt Barbara grinned, and stepped like a queen into the waiting golf cart, but we walked, Michael, Ian, Erin, Emma, Baby Victor and I, down to the well-scrubbed ruins. The Duran Duran Grafitti under the cockatoo logo was gone now. So were the spare bricks, sold off to collectors.
53 out of 55 True Gennetts sat in the 53 VIP seats under the awning. The Gennett Walk of Fame Dedication was in full swing. Ian leaned against a flimsy support, an accident waiting to happen. I sat in the bleachers with the peasantry and began to doze. Speaker after speaker...zzzz....but suddenly someone said (to paraphrase):
"This is where Gennett made history...when it sued Victor for lateral grooved recordings. After that...Gennett recorded local music, not just the big bands. You didnt have to come from New York or Chicago. This is was where independent labels...independent music was born."
I pretend I am at my PhD graduation and grin. My mother's brother, the one who designed Cincinnati, is playing his trombone in the orchestra pit. We fooled them again, eh?
Ellensburg, Washington, September 2007: Over there! You can see it right over there, nestled between the Comfort Inn and the Holiday Inn Express...The
Inn At Goose Creek! This Inn is the sort of cultural anomaly I love to pieces at least once. On the one hand, everything is new...within the past ten
years...and the windows look across into the romantic liasons of the motel guests next door. On the other, the vast lobby is decorated twice as fancy as the
Historic Requa Inn at Klamath or the Skamania Lodge at Stevenson. Two stacks of Swedish magazines outline the love life of Crown Princess Victoria,
om man kan läsa lite svenska. The rooms themselves are all different, all cute, and each one has a jacuzzi tub and wifi, då kan man spela lite dota! I chose
the most outrageous: The I Love Christmas Room.
"Wow! Look at this!" Ian's eyes widened as he turned on the Christmas tree lights and flashed a photo of Santa.
Ian wasnt staying here, however. Soon he would be up the creek, to the Junior Friends Quarterly at Lazy F Ranch.
On the way back, down the creek past invisible cows and irrigation equipment, four shadows appear in the road ahead of me, deer brown as the hillsides cluster like white tomatoes on the vine, salmon jostling each other on the way upstream to spawn. They stare at me like cats caught in the act as I shriek and softly slam on my brakes. I wait for the soft thunk which never comes. I stop one foot away, I reckon, from the half-lit deer that stares at me in confusion. It is my closest call with a cervid so far, I tally. "Despite these farms along the Yakima, you are only scratching the surface. It is my country, not yours," she says.
"What are you doing today?" one Goose Creek owner asked me. He is a tape recorder and this is one of his favorite tapes.
"I dont know, I left my geology book ("On the Trail of Ice Age Floods") at home," I said. And my camera!
"Why dont I just take a break, relax here, go shopping," suggested the Swedish decorator. Why dont I sit here in the lobby, curl up and read a novel? I roll my eyes, acutely away of how defective I am.
"I guess I would be too bored," I laughed. I walked out into parking lot, climbed into the Aveo and drove west onto I-80. At the Krems Aufgang...at the Thorp exit, not too far from Ellensburg, I saw a sign for the Iron Horse State Park and dispatched the little yellow car in that direction.
Iron Horse...that means Railroad Train! The very long and narrow state park encompasses a part of the John Wayne trail, which, if you turn back time, is the route of the Milwaukee Road across Washington State. Earlier in the century, comfortable passenger cars travelled via total electricity from Seattle to Chicago along this gravel path, black brown power poles flashing by one by one. Spirit passengers and me too as I stumbled along the level grade, pebbles and sand catching in my red sandles, flying like the wind from Winnepeg to Churchill, Holyhead to London. Lunch in the dining car, a pull down berth for the night. Mile after mile of flat farm land, rows of crops against the rolling doe-like hills and basalt cuts. I glanced at a sign. There were miles to the next exciting tunnel, even further to the trailhead at Cle Elum. I would do the rest by car.
I drove through Krems, stopping at the old flour mill. Water for the mill had been routed out of the Yakima, and ultimately was used for both the flour and saw mills, for irrigation, and for the large shallow "ice pond" that furnished ice...packed in sawdust from the saw mill...for the railroads. Each year, they flooded the lake inch by inch until each inch froze. I continued on backroads towards Cle Elum, where passengers from the east saw the American West abruptly end and the northwest begin, and through the old Alaskan mining town of Roslyn. I travelled past the chilling new subdivisions, most just vacant lots, that surround the brown low water shorelines and dead stumps of Cle Elum lake, then turned left and up into hemlocks and firs, hanging moss and damp silence, toward Cooper Lake. I left the Aveo parked near a Toyota with a topper and walked some distance into the forest, skirting the lake. I could see someone fishing in the distance. If I had strapped on a pack, I could have walked up and up into the Wenatchee Wilderness. That is something I will probably never do.
I returned to the Inn at Goose Creek, being careful to avoid conversation, pulled last night's half shrimp quesadilla from my tiny refrigerator, and ate a late lunch. I bought a diet mountain dew at the Chevron and headed west, through the dry, burned sagebrush step that now lines interstate 80. I turned of south at Vantage, thinking I would ride the Milwaukee rails across the sparkling blue waters of the Columbia. I turned off at a sign that said "John Wayne Trail Parking" and struggled to open the door. There were no additional signs. Across the paved road, though, there were warnings for hunters to check with authorities in Yakima before entering the Army Shooting Range. I drove on and searched for any trail or road that would lead to old railroad bridge across the Columbia where I could continue on to Chicago..
"I bet that was the road from the parking lot,"
....That was a long walk. I could barely stand up in the wind. I drove on south through a huge orchard lined with rows of lombardy poplars. Farther to my left rose a mountain of basalt, fronted by massive active landslides. At the packing plant, a sign said "No Tresspassing." It was the end of the line, the end of the road down the west shore of the Columbia.
I drove north again to Vantage, bought some gas, and looked at fossil ginko stumps.
"That is a strong wind out there!" a tourist gasped at me.
Then I drove on backroads back to Ellensburg.
We bought gas and junk food at the Washougal Chevron and disappeared into the Cascadian Outback, into neck-jerking switchbacks and dense forests of western hemlock, douglas fir, and bigleaf maple.
"We're in England now," Erin said. "Or Scotland."
"I am on the road now!" I answered, shocked. Which road?...which exit into dense emerald British forests in our first naive years of rich discovery?
"Scotland...." Erin continued. "Do you remember seeing the battle in Scotland...where was that?"
"Killiecrankie...the Battle of Killiecrankie. But you were so young!" That was 1994. How could she remember something that happened when she was only a year old?
"Was that real or were they just doing it over again?" she continued. I remembered her bright, quick eyes.
"They were reenacting it!" I assured her. Shadows of Cascadian forest slapped the windows of our blue Vauxhall.
"The Scottish Lowlands," Erin said. The same forest trail brushed against my feet as we...Judith and her children: Little Ian, and Baby Erin...strolled in the woods near Blair Castle. Suddenly, men in kilts appear with swords and smoking muskets!!! They are attacking the British invaders!!!!
"When I was at Camp Namanu ...when I was at horseback riding...I had the advantage! When I was riding my horse through the woods [I could imagine] I was riding through the Scottish Lowlands, drawing my sword against the invading Clans!!!"
"Or, more importantly, against the British! Oh, Erin...keep that memory as long as you can!" I said. "Dont let it slip away!!!!"
How's school?...just great! My goal was to relax this year and study Norwegian I. Lefse in one hand, goat cheese in the other, I would just sit back and ride the simplified Train of Thought to Trondheim and Bodo. Jaså. But when the time came, Norwegian I was closed! I am studying "4 Scandinavian Authors" instead, viewing Norway again through the complex, warped eyes of Knut Hamsun. But you dont care about this do you? The only person who gives a fjord about my academic problems is me. In fact no one else ever did care that much, at least to the extent of attending....
The Dalles October 2007: "Parent Teacher Conferences!"
"I'm hurrying as fast as I can!" I told my child over the phone. Parent teacher conferences were tonite at the high school...and we now had two students there: a Freshman grader at Chenoweth and a Super Senior at East Campus. We would have to stand on our heads!
"Why are there two campuses...what is the point of a ninth grade campus?"
"The North Wasco school district sought to eliminate high paid administrators and teachers by combining the Chenoweth and The Dalles high schools. One school instead of two, yeah!" Combining two schools also serves to desegregate the local Samoan entertainment groups!
"I think we should split up," said my husband. "Which one do you want?"
"I dont know...which one do you want?" I answered. "But wait...I think you'd be happier talking to Erin's math teacher." No joke.
I drove up to the main campus, tried to parallel park behind a 2003 Sienna, gave up and diagonal parked by the gym. First we stopped by to pick up grades. "How do you think you did Ian?"
"Uh...pretty much OK, I guess...in most things."
I opened the envelope and gasped. "These grades were so awful they came up and wrapped up around themselves!" I exclaimed. For the first time in my remembrance, Ian had made all A's...except for an A+ in Video Production. That's the luxury of being a super-senior!
We walked down to American Literature...Ian's second time around, back before the last drama teacher's wife convinced him to go back to North Dakota. Ian made As the first time too; he likes to read. What a nutty counselor to steer him to paradise!
"I hear you lived in Texas!" began the teacher. "So did I!" She misses Houston a lot. There were things to do in Houston, any time you wanted, theatre, ballet....
"Did he tell you he was in our play?" You cant take it with you....
"I'm getting my hair cut soon to play the G-man...." Ian assured her.
Then came Woods I, in an underground room the size of an auditorium. A stout man shook huge paws ("les mains" en francais) with me and mainly remained silent.
"This is a dado here....and on the end a rabbit....and here's our mitre saw and this is for cutting wood on the grain and..."
"Your dad would have loved this," I commented. "And I would love to take the course!"
"At the other campus!" said the sign on the Harmoires door. And where was the Video teacher?
"Let's drive to Chenoweth!" I exclaimed. At least we werent driving to Washington!
Like the literature teacher, the video teacher was a woman about my age. I wondered what my life would be like if I'd taken that step and become a science teacher!?!? Heaven or hell...who knew? She sat alone in a vast room full of black Acer computers.
"Ian has a gift...he has an eye for this...you know what...I think I have their video right here. Let me see if I can find the flash drive! Hmm...I have a hard time making this thing work."
Suddenly an administrator and Ian's Woods I lockermate came through rolling a cart with free popcorn. It blended with the video: another scene from an odd dream in which people progressively said "dude" and then disappeared. The acting and photography were great!
"You should have worn the same shirt the second day you filmed," suggested the teacher.
In the hall, Erin and my husband waited in line for the history teacher. That's what you do when you are a freshman. Erin grabbed Ian and dragged him into the math room where a quiet Oriental man in a sweater vest stood erasing the board.
"Mr Chin!!!" she announced. "This is my BROTHER!!!!"
"Let's go find Mr Walworth," I suggested. Lloyd was hiding in the choir room, playing the piano. It was bad news.
"For one thing, Ian," he began grimly, "What's this about not coming to class? I have a hard time coming in at 6:30 in the morning too. And you've been gone a whole year. Things are different. These kids are the most meticulous I have ever seen. We're a performing group. It's all about uniformity. I dont care myself, as long as it's clean, but I think they'll ask you to cut your hair and shave off that...uh...beard."
For the first time in my career as a conference participant, I was indignant. "He's getting his hair cut to be a g-man...and what about the girls...they can look anyway they want, I bet." They wouldnt have to get their hair cut, I meant, but it didnt matter anyway. Mr Walworth was looking straight through me at Ian.
"He likes to kid me about it," Ian would say later.
Suddenly Erin appeared!
"I can sing better than Ian!" bragged Erin to Mr Walworth. Maybe so, maybe not, but Erin cant hit the low notes. She continued, "Mr Viemeister is at the other campus...can you take me there? Dad is still waiting for the history teacher. There isnt much time!"
"OK...well...I guess he can take care of it...you got an A in history anyway. Ian...you go with your dad!"
We drove back to the main campus and rushed into the band room.
"Erin Day-Gennett," greeted Mr V. With a smile, he went to the closet and pulled out a large case.
"Erin! Here is your BASSOON!!!"
Excitedly, Erin took the old brown case and unlatched the latches. The rich wooded woodwind was almost as tall as she was.
It had finally happened. She was now the official The Dalles Wahtonka Bassonist...once she learned how to play it!
"Erin wont be playing melody like she did on the clarinet," explained Mr V. "She'll be there with the bass clarinet, carrying the bottom range of notes for the orchestra."
October 2007...marching through georgia
1. Altlanta one AM...the wild Finnish songs of Sonata Arctica are over for the night. Vittu! Vittu kova! Ian and I cross Peachtree and head toward Peachtree, which is something you can do in Atlanta. We follow a 30 some couple up the block. The man...with the short cropped blond hair like a real estate agent or a computer geek ....is going berserk.
"F**k it! Get out of my F*****g way!!" he yells to a No Parking sign. It's as if he is a Park Blocks Schizophrenic, but it is more likely that he's just happy or drunk. The woman drops back a bit, tosses her long blond hair, and smiles.
"OK, come on you f*****g southern car, get out of the g*****n road. Move it, you f*****g southern hicks!!!"
"Are you as amused by this as much as I am?" she asks Ian.
"Uh...sure!" answers Ian.
"My name's Rebecca. And you're...."
"F**k this s**t!!" yells the man, but not at us.
"And you?" Rebecca extends her hand. "Are you staying at the hotel? We're on the 6th floor. Why dont you come up? We're...um...obviously not done for the night!" she invites, rolling her eyes.
Ian and I walk into the hotel. We look back and they are gone.
2. Six fifteen to Atlanta, on the road at three and on the plane at five fifty and then...zonk. Ian is zonking against the window and I am zonking against the aisle and the woman between us...who would have been Erin had it not been for an Emergency Important Marching Band Event in Eugene...is moaning!
"We have a busted plane, is that it?!?!?"
We might be moving, we might be lazing on the glistening grey tarmac,
----transitive verb (past tarˇmacked, past participle tarˇmacked, present participle tarˇmackˇing, 3rd person present singular tarˇmacks)---
I dont know and I dont care, I am unconscious in the face of a pale autumn dawn.
"Whatever was wrong before is OK now," announces the pilot as if in a dream.
"Oh no....this wont work...I'll be late...thirty five minutes...an hour....oh no..." wails the other voice as if in the same dream.
Some time later, I stare at my Delta Snack Box and mourn the couple hours of drama which have been brutally wrenched from my life by indefatigable sleep and I dont care. Really I just dont care.
"I'm going to miss my connection," says the dark haired woman. She has a tattoo of a feather wing on her back when she leans forward.
"Where are you flying?" I ask.
"Buffalo. God, this flight cost me a thousand dollars. They'll have to give me a round trip flight for this."
"It's a mechanical difficulty...they owe you something. Why are you going to Buffalo?"
"I'm going to the Native American Music Awards at Niagara Falls. I've never been there. My cousin...Jan Michael Looking Wolf...may win an award. He's been nominated before. He's a flute professor at the university and has been featured in a movie."
She is a tall woman...large but not chubby...I would have never taken her for an Indian at first glance. Now, I can hear a faint accent, and a certain odd naive lack of brittle bitterness in her desperate voice.
"Huh! We went there once...it's a great place....I'll write that down. John Michael Lucky Wolf...."
"He plays very beautiful, very soothing contemporary flute music. Oh gosh, and I had to get up at 3:30 to drive to the airport for this. What if I miss it?"
"Where do you live?" I ask.
"That makes sense."
+++"Martha's Dislocated Jaw"
"Oh~!!!" sighed Erin. "There is a conspiracy!!! My teachers are all saying...let's give four hours of homework!!! Mr Chin says let's assign fifty math problems each day of Homecoming week!!! I cant even lift my arms over my shoulders...see? See my enchanting pattern of bruises? And last night I had hallucinations....it's true...I sat up in bed and I could swear it was real. Football players were running all around me, taunting me, shrieking in my ear, It's not over yet Erin, you're still playing....
POWDER PUFF FOOTBALL!!"
Life is hard enough for a Marching Band Geek. Clarinet in hand, she is expected to squeek out mystery Tunes for all events...to ride around Downtown The Dalles as the sound track for the Noise Parade, to provide the framework for Spirit Assembly, and to stand amidst the fiery falling leaves of cold October for the Big Game. But these were events that were justified. The real emotional nightmare, the unexpected grit of teeth was POWDER PUFF FOOTBALL!!! See, what happens is that boys and girls exchange rolls. Some of the guys play volleyball in an event called TUFF PUFF. Um...
"What do you mean 'touch football'? We don't tackle? What's the point?" complained Erin after she volunteered. Yeah, as long as you have helmets and padding, she would later add.
---The fall night is cold and dark...three shirtless boy cheerleaders are shivering down by the de facto brass band and I am leaning against the round iron railing...watching...the players are like ants and I have no idea who Erin or anyone else is...
"Haw haw...someone's garter must have come loose!" commented the sports commentator. I rolled my eyes and move up into the bleachers....
...and I have no earthly idea what the heck is going on down there. I have NEVER EVER understood football....I just watch the clock tick down....
"Haw haw...this is touch football, but it looks like these ladies are tackling down there!!!...."
...I see a friend back down by the rail and I walk down and stand beside him and say Hi Bill and he doesnt notice me he just stares off into the windy frigid greenness of the field....----
"If you are the owner of the black vehicle with a Texas Department of Public Safety (?!?!) sticker in the windshield, please move it so the ambulance can get through!" announces the announcer. In the space of the next ten minutes the white ambulance and its red lights makes way slowly along the track. I stare at where the freshmen are taking their break while the juniors and seniors slug it out.
"And Niko takes the ball!!!" yells the commentator. A powerful Samoan senior in cornrows and bare brown arms makes her way to another touchdown!!
"Quien es aquella?" asks a boy next to me.
"Marta," answers a girl.
"The Freshman Marta?" replies the boy.
Down on the field, the freshman team poses for group photos. Then Martha is loaded into the ambulance.
Erin began a justified tirade. "The juniors were OK, but the sophomores were like demons from hell. They were jabbing their way through with their elbows. They were knocking us down...we dont have any helmets for that. This is supposed to be fun, and then they come out like a bunch of crazy dykes. That one who tried to twist Martha's head off, though, she didnt even CARE what she was doing, she was just going wild!!! And then they started to make fun of me for crying, but I told them just go ahead..."
Then we went home.
October 2007: Athens! Intellectual Capital of the Mystical East!! There is more than one way to get there from Atlanta and we took the longest one. It was un-intellectual enough to drive through the suburban Atlanta during rush...and I dont mean sorority recruitment....hour, but just plain stupid to drive through downtown Athens. Suddenly it started to rain!
"Wow! Thanks for bringing the Portland weather with you!" said our hostessa Vanessa when we reached her southern suburban home. "We're having a drought!"
There are benefits to always having a black cloud over your head.
We invaded for dinner...all 5 people in Vanessa's family went along!...at a nuevo southern deli in a drip...um...strip mall. You can find the same type of chic redneck place in Austin as well. Ian had Southern Salad. I had collards, fried green tomatoes, potato cakes, and corn bread with little kernels of corn in. And a bottle of English ale. At first I thought it was Shiner because of the orange on the label. Then it was too late.
"You put the vinegar with the peppers in it on the greens," someone told me. I rolled my eyes. Suddenly my now deceased father in law Lyle Day was sitting before me, pulling the little peppers out of the bottle I used to keep in the refrigerator in Duluth and eating them. I rolled my eyes again at him, rolling eyes at ghosts.
"Do you want to go walk around Athens now?" asked Vanessa. "They have some great clubs! Athens is the entertainment capital of the world!"
"Sure!" I said. What was in store for us in the dark of downtown Bulldog country. Some cities have cow statues, Athens has bulldogs!!!!
It was just Vanessa, Ian and myself.....wild and free above the glistening wet colors of the streets!!!
First, Vanessa stopped and said hi to her friends at the door of the 40 Watt Club, but we didnt go in. We passed the Pain and Wonder Tatoo Studio, and then entererd an antique store book shop. Our hostess has friends all over downtown Athens. I stared at rosaries and masonic insignias, and sifted through cheap jewelry as Vanessa chatted with her friend.
1)"He speaks Finnish," she explained to her friend, pointing at Ian.
2) "I used to live in Duluth!" I commented.
"FINNISH!!!" exclaimed the friend and began to tell his story. "I'm half Finnish! I used to spend the summers with my mother's family in Nashwaulk, up on the Iron Range. Everyone in town looked the same...blond hair and big round faces. And you could walk into any house in town and fix yourself a sandwich if you wanted. Everyone left their doors unlocked. I was from Chicago and I just couldnt believe it!"
"Paul is a gallery artist, and he is doing a project right now with the video camera over there," said Vanessa. "It will be placed in one of the leading museums in Atlanta."
"I'm taking videos of people of varying types and ages and putting them into a photo mosaic," expanded Paul. "I'm taking a video, and then taking a video of the video superimposed on the person sitting still. Would you like to do it?"
"Sure!" said Vanessa.
She sat on a bar stool in front of a black curtain, right there by the glass arguably stealable jewelry case.
"Move your arms! Move your head back!" barked Paul.
WHAM!!! Suddenly Vanessa was rolling on the floor! The bar stool had collapsed! Was she OK?
"I'm fine. I know how to fall...." I wondered how the accident would affect the mood of the videotape.
Ian went next. He moved his arms around like he did when he was pretending to do interpretive dance, to make the other children or Suomi bar customers laugh at him. Then Paul and his henchman projected the snaking image back on top of him. I snapped a photo of his shimmering rainbow reflection in the coke machine door. Then it my turn to shine; I had to take my glasses off. I moved my arms around like I do when I am trying to keep awake driving. It was quite an experience, and it took a while, but now I find that theres not much to say about it, other than the end product was like a moving tie dye spirit child of myself.
"Do you want to stop somewhere and have a beer or something now?" asked Vanessa. Ian answered that he was falling asleep, but I did. That's one of my biggest goals in life, to stop and have a drink. But I didnt say anything. Vanessa shrugged and took us back to the car the long way.
"There's some frat boys in tuxedos!" she pointed out. "I wonder what they're doing?" I fumbled for the CoolPix but I was too late. We got into the car....
"....and here is the area where the fraternities and sororities come to get really drunk! They give workshops to the girls on how to do it safely!"
1) What is the Real South?
2) What is the Real World?
October, 2007, I84 Portland Oregon: "Ian!" I exclaimed. "Stop reading and look at the map! How do I get to the Mississippi Ballroom?"
"Mother," he answered. "I thought you had a GPS in your head."
I do...and as my life progresses it becomes as insistent as a wild pug dog in its desire to be set loose. But I need a map to make it work.
Passau, Germany, July 2007: This Renault has a GPS as well and it has led us to the end of the road, since the only disc that Avis gave us reads "Nur Für Deutschland." Across the Donau, the Blue Danube, lies tomorrow and Itävalta, Austria, Österreich...the Eastern State....the unknown! But for now, the GPS has led us to the last available overpriced but very welcome room in the Holiday Inn. After dinner I walk around the city center looking for a functional ATM machine. Lonely voices bounce hollow against the yellowish light and the closed shops. Behind the hotel is the great river. Long passenger boats in wait to take lazy wanderers from many lands on long, fluid, idyllic journeys down past the Wachau and Wien, and some further on to unsure places like Romania.
"Oh!" I exclaim. "Take me with you!" Within the next week, I will drift along the Danube of Safe Austria for five hours and decide that a few hours of this is enough for me. But Unsure Romania...that would be a pleasure!!!
In front of the hotel is the rail station, deserted in the dark of evening except for an old white train. If a new one were to arrive, I would jump on board, no matter what the destination! I steady the camera and snap two photos, one long and one wide.
In the morning, we curve the Danube shore past much cheaper guesthouses and then climb on small roads into green forested heaven.
"Where is your GPS Wizard leading us, Ian?"
"Austria," he smiles. He doesnt care, as long as we get to Vienna today, which is what he told his friend Georg.
We cross the border at a gas station in a charming small village. The border is marked only by a sign that says:
PERMITS REQUIRED!!!! SPECIAL 10 DAY TOURIST RATE!!!
"Ian!" I ask. "What do you think they mean by permits. Where do you buy them? The gas station?"
....and our car becomes an arrow in a black field, pointing sometimes east, sometimes north or south...or even west! Sometimes there is a river with no bridge. Sometimes it is the Danube, sometimes the A1. As we near Vienna, we call Geog B--r on Ian's Finnish cell phone.
"HOW LONG has it taken you from Passau?" he asks.
But the worst is yet to come! Vienna!
"Just head east on....!" instructs the faint voice of Georg from the Nokia. Ian's minutes have run out and now there is only a strangly liberating silence. Some time later, we buy a couple of soda pops and a book called "Atlas: Österreich mit Europa" at a BP station.
"Turn there! Get into that lane!" We are downtown now...downtown Vienna. I have this image in my head: we are sitting beside a chubby little woman in an airplane and she is pleasantly asking in a whiny midwestern voice, "Why are you going to Minneapolis? Are you visiting friends?" By accident of friendship, we in the heart of old World Vienna, in the classy chic, yet safe splendor of the Austria that tourists plan for months to visit. Isnt that some exciting irony? No?
"Terve! You finally made it..." comments Georg snidely as he opens the ancient arched door to his apartment house.
"Ask him, Ian...." I nudge.
"What about these permits?" he asks.
Imagine life like a huge ferris wheel, like a rotating global orb, stopping to scoop up or dump off some passengers while others stall at the apex, turning some to the sunlight of noon while others cower or frolic in pitch black midnight. Here in Austria, we are perched at about 10AM in the sweet, brilliant morning of Vienna, even though it's actually dinnertime. Even better....we are headed towards a giant ferris wheel!!!
Vienna, Austria, July 2007:[continued] "The permits...I'm not sure, because we dont have a car. I think I have seen my mother drive *once*! I can walk or I can take a train or a bus anywhere I am interested in going. Everything is here. But I think you can get the permits at some gas stations or at the government tobacco stores. The government has a monopoly on smoking....you have to be 18 to smoke in Austria."
"What's the drinking age in Austria?" I asked.
"Sixteen," answered Georg.
Georg is a slight man, with wire rimmed glasses, brown hair halfway to his waist, and the aura of a Viennese diplomat. At seventeen, he was too young to smoke or drive, but he was old enough to get legally smashed if he had wanted. The last year had been spent an exchange student in Tampere, Finland, which is where Ian met him, and that is how I ended up going to Austria last summer, instead of somewhere logical like Kauai or Nome.
"Are you glad he went to Finland?" I will ask his mother tomorrow. Did she miss her only child?
"Not really glad," she will answer. "He goes to a school where the emphasis is on foreign languages. They wont accept many of his credits, and the Finnish he learned...."
"How did you learn so much Finnish when you were in Finland?" I ask today.
"Every time I heard a word I didnt understand, I had my family write it down and explain it. Then I would study every word!" Sehr gut poika!!!!
"Finland has one of the best business climates in the world," I will console his mother as she roles her eyes. But it wont make any difference.
"What do you call this room in English?" asked Georg, motioning to the shower that his uncle has built into the vast foyer of the apartment.
"We dont have this room in English!!!" I answered, astounded. "Shower room?"
"Are you hungry? I can make dinner for you, but then we will go out!" At this point, his mother is at a concert with a friend.
"Georg is a vegetarian," Ian added with a smile.
"I'll take you guys to an amusement park a couple blocks away...the Prater. They are showing movies there tonight. It's known for its giant ferris wheel, the Reisenrad! We'll ride on it!"
Giant, indeed! The Reisenrad is underlain with a gift shop and museum with tiny winged Polish warriors in glass cases, come to rescue the Viennese from the miniscule Turks, just as if it were the Space Needle in Seattle, except that the top revolves up and down! This alone is worth the plane fare. Outside, a ferris wheel car the size of a caboose approached the platform. Inside, tables were covered with white tableclothes and china and the passengers were drinking wine and tea.
"Judith," you ask. "Is this one of your dream sequences?"
"No..." Georg assures you as he did us. "This is real. You can rent these cars for dinner!"
Ian, Georg, and Judith began their voyage in the next car....along with some other folks. Backed by the grey steel of the ferris wheel frame, the many chic touristy colors of our garments reflected from the lights of the amusement park glittering through the windows. Gasp! I began to shoot photos, but slowed in the realization that most would just become so much blurry garbage deleted in the next round. But I will keep the black and lit landscape of Vienna below the moon, even though there are three of every light.
All too soon, our cruise of the tall sky was over. We walked amongst the wild rides and watched Austrians scream as they were mashed around upside down and centrifuged.
"See this giant mechanical green talking monkey on the left!" Georg reminisced. "He used to scare me when I was little." Ian nodded in empathy.
I snapped photos of and jeered at the McDonalds, but it made me hungry.
"Here's where the movie is going on," said Georg. Georg never exclaims, or he would have.
"Whoa! 'Star Wars' in German!" exclaimed Ian. Or was it subtitles? I was too enchanted by the stand next to the outdoor screen.
"Dessert mit Rum! Sie mussen 16 sein zu kaufen!" Whoa!
"I'll have one of those cakes dipping in rum and chocolate and whipped cream!" I ordered. The barista was from Arabia somewhere, so I figured I could speak English.
It was very rich. I ate half of it, then passed it on to the boys.
In the morning, we will stroll Vienna in the daylight, and it will be beautiful. I will buy a sangria for lunch at an outdoor stall. What will Ian buy?
"You're both taking pictures of the same thing!!" Georg exclaims perplexed.
"We are....but the interpretation will be very different." Ian says.
Can you write stories all at one time...or, like me, do you need to take a break after every nine lines?
The hot tub stagnates like a dead Jurassic sea. I guess the motor is not turned on, but I dont care. I have swum 9000 laps at the The Dalles Fitness and Court Club and I am very tired...too tired to avoid the three Columbia Gorge Community College students who have been lazily chatting for the last hour while I fought drowning. They are too old now to care if I invade...I am not even invading, they are so old. I lean back and begin to doze.
"I dont want to grow up," says the girl. "I never want to be any older than nineteen."
I have a new teacher at PSU...Tom. He is an unassuming man with wire rimmed glasses and graying short cropped hair, and an amazing understated wit that renders even the most erudite Knut Hamsun passage to dust. More about that later! Unlike my other FL (Foreign Language) teachers, Tom is an AMERICAN.
"I was born here but...." MY FLIP-PHONE BEGINS TO RING!!!!
"...I spent my childhood summers with my parent's family in Norway and learned Norwegian like a native!"
I bolt for the door and dont hear the rest of the story.
"Mom! Where are you? Can you pick me up at school?" pleads Erin.
"I'm in class in Portland...." I reply cheerfully. "I'm not even in a traffic jam yet!"
On the second day, suddenly, a Senior Audit enters the room, blasting the door open violently with his wheel chair. He is a robust, white-haired man not that much older than me...though on second thought he must be ...must be 65 to get the free audit.
"Great to see you! I got your e-mail" says our teacher, Tom. "He can speak Norwegian!"
"Yes!" says the new student.
Tom ribits his deceptive eyes at me. "Han kan tale Norsk."
"Jag kan inte förstå norska."
"HON kan tale Norsk,"
"Jaja, Han..jag förstår nu."
It's a trick. Verstehen Sie?
Two weeks later, I approach the classroom door. Two students are waiting, my friend Janet who lived for thirty years disguised as a Tillamook homemaker before coming out as a brilliant scholar, and the man in the wheelchair. <clip>
"I would like to travel again to Norway," I begin. "I have only been there twice. I would like to go to Spitsbergen...all the way to the top!"
The man in the wheelchair smiles and curves his hand up and over. "Yes! One two three four!"
"Aphasia," I instantly think to myself. And I forget about it.
"Have you been up there?" I ask. I know he has.
"Students!" announces Tom...and this is important. "'Niels Lyhne'...this is the book that elevated the novel...prose...to an art form on a level with poetry. No other author before this used descriptions, used words in the same way, with the same level of poetic ingenuity." Jens Peter Jacobsen, Dane, trained as a Botanist and translator of Darwin, is the unknown God of The Novel. Stunning existential German authors would gain valuable inspiration from Jacobsen and become famous with intense college students and professors. He would die from consumption in his thirties after writing two lushly beautiful but depressing (I know this for a fact!) and ultimately flawed novels. Into these two novels he would inject everything he had perceived about reality, in essence he would strive desperately to preserve his own being. If he had continued instead as a botanist he would have done this by describing and naming as many plants as he could.
Jacobsen...as well as Knut Hamsen...did a lot of mysterious tense changing as well.
After class, the Senior Audit powerfully swung his chair toward the teacher, his right arm and leg laying limp, and laid a map and a photograph out on the table. Pen Lines were drawn across the Atlantic and within Europe...and to Spitsbergen.
"Wow...that's you on the boat? I'd like to take that trip there...from Norway to England!" exclaimed Tom enviously.
"I've done that!" I smiled. The ferry from Kristianstad to Newcastle, 2000. Ian runs up to pig out dinner at the Viking Buffet...WHAM!!! Right into the TV monitor...bounces off ten feet sideways and wails in misery. A black goose egg appears on his temple.
"See...one two three four..." the audit pointed to the man on the prow of the vessel in the work jacket, and to the lines across the North Sea. Then he traced the line to Warsaw.
"Warsaw! Wow, you've been to Poland!" Tom exclaimed. "I sure would like to go there."
The man continued to trace out lines and point to the picture. Finally our teacher said,"Thanks for bringing those in! But I cant quite understand what you're trying to tell me."
There's not much else you can say.
-- November 2007
Time clicks on like the wheels of a bicycle on crunchy gravel. Fall fades like the fire covered leaves, so recently lying on the patio, now dropping as if from a bigleaf maple onto the forest floor, no...instead watch as they are scooped with my hands from the teal green rubbermaid laundry basket into the overstuffed heather green lawn debris dumpster!!!! With one fierce yank, or two or three depending on the variety, the tomato plants, mustarding little resistance after the iron nights of October, yield to the dumpster as well. There are so many things I have not done this year. Think of the things you did over and over and then there was that one last time and you never did it again. Yawned in your 8th grade math class....
I remember vividly sitting in Mr Cooper's math class. He was a chubby man with black glasses and an ever vanishing amount of black hair. He taught us about set math and venn diagrams...whoa, I ate this fascinating stuff up like pecan pie!...until too many parents complained that these were useless and irrelevant in Changing South and threatened to burn down the commie pinko school. I gazed at the way the sleeve-end of the bulky pink angora cardigan cut across my left arm and observed this:
"I was here at the last minute and I will be here the next. I will always be here, 13 and in 8th grade."
And I was right. I can always close my eyes at be at that moment....
Changed diapers. Dialed a phone. Sipped on a Diet Code Red. Trick Or Treat.
When I got home from Hood River, the entry lights were off. My son and my husband were sitting in front of the video monitor, eating Google lunch leftovers and watching the 1995 BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice." Erin was gone. I knew that, because I'd picked her and her friend Sage up from Wahtonka 9th Grade Campus and taken them to Sage's house.
"I am so ****** off!" exclaimed Sage. "They want me to be involved with SUPERVISED ACTIVITY!" No Trick or Treat!
"So what are you guys doing?" I asked.
"We're just hanging around the house doing homework," said Erin. "Then we're going over to Keenan's. But I'm not going with Sage to the Christian Couch Burning...."
"What?" I inquired.
"It's a Satanic ritual at her church..." said Erin.
"...and it's actually a lot of fun!" said Sage. "We burn a couch!"
So I figured she had changed her mind and gone to the Couch Ceremony, leaving me alone with two Couch Potatoes in the oven.
"I thought you'd decided to go trick or treating," I said to Ian.
"No...." he answered.
"Too old, eh? That's why I always loved having small children to go with."
The night wore on a bit. I walked down to Grocery Outlet, passing spooks, princesses, and two black clad middle schoolers making out on the sidewalk of the Cherry Pie Senior Apartments. In front of the Wash n Suds, a group of Hispanic 5th graders loitered as a boy in a huge rubber muscle chest fumbled at a pay phone. Then I went back home and began to feel myself pulled to Mr. Darcy
"You dont realize what you are doing to my poor nerves!" whined a middle aged woman in an empire gown....
......BUT....Suddenly, the door bell rang!!! Oh no!!!
No candy! We no longer buy candy. We learned the first year that our home does not exist...we do not exist...and no one dares come into our yard!! You can read the tragic story of our first year at http://w3.gorge.net/judith/stories.htm by entering the search term "November 2000" and looking just above that....
As soon as I opened the door, I knew who the four black smudged back clad spooks were. I recognized Erin, her friend Sage along with her boyfriend Cameron, and one of the twins....either the one who was going out with Trace or the one who was going out with Keenan. Erin looked like a raccoon!!!
"Trick Or Treat!!!" they yelled!
"Get out of here you scumbags!!" I snarled. Cameron pulled out his cell phone and began his retreat down the sidewalk to the driveway.
"MOM! Can you give us a ride up to Keenan's house?" asked the raccoon. The three remaining children hopped inside and queued for the restroom.
I pulled out the Halloween cookies I'd just bought at Albertsons for 75% off.
"Cookie?" I offered. Then all the children piled into the car. No one got into the trunk this time.
"Say, Mom...how do you like Jordan's outfit. Sage did his make-up."
" I bet you thought he was a girl!"
"Where did you guys go?" I asked.
"Around!" they answered.
I let Jordan off at Keenan's house.
"What do I do with Cameron?" I asked. Sage pulled out her cell phone. "I have to see if my parents will take him home...no...uh...maybe they'll change their minds..."
They didnt, and now they owe me. We began the long drive to the other side of The Dalles to take Cameron home. Cameron is no ordinary marching band geek like the rest of these kids. He is a FOOTBALL PLAYER!!! Now you can visualize this spook!
"See that mansion?" said Cameron as we passed the High School. "I trick or treated there one year and they only have me one miniature candy bar."
"They probably spent all their money on the house!" said Erin.
And as always, I am walking the neighborhoods of Alabama as I drive. I am The Wife of Black Beard's Ghost, and I will not stop until my grocery bag is full.
Finland, March 2005:
Nothing really happens in this story, which is why I didnt write it earlier before. Two and a half years later, many of the unremarkable details have melted like snow on the warm windowpane of my room. But today, Ian sends me a news release:
Eight killed in rare school shooting in Finland
At least eight people died when a gunman opened fire at a school in southern Finland on Wednesday, hours after a video was posted on YouTube predicting a school massacre.
And I remember the night I spent in Tuusula.
On the night of my penultimate day of my last trip to Finland, I found myself as is common driving around (in this case in a tiny Yaris) looking for somewhere remarkably interesting to very cheaply eat a gourmet dinner with wine and then spend the night. I'd driven east from Imatra for a few miles, turning back at Russian customs. I drove west along the south coast of Finland through Kotka and Loviisa in the blue sky and bright snow of early spring. But now I was driving in blackness and the blue of roadsigns in my headlights, taking wrong turns at twenty one o'clock towards darkened summer motels. Several miles north of Vantaa...the Helsinki airport...I saw one more of these silly, misleading sign devils and began to twist through the evening landscape toward Hotel Krapi. The Finnish language being what it is, the truth of Hotel Krapi is just the reverse of what you think it is!!!
"I am looking for a room!" I said.
"Surely!" answered the desk clerk. "I will give you a big one at a huge discount....we have quite a few vacancies right now."
"Is there somewhere to eat?" I asked.
"There are two restaurants with the hotel. The one over there in the Main House specializes in wild game, but you may find it too expensive. The one by the golf course over here on the map is more informal. That would be better."
The Hotel Krapi is situated on an old estate, one of several built in the last millenium on the shores of Lake Tuusula. Sibelius had a home on Tuusula's shores as well. In recent years the cow barn at Krapi was converted to hotel rooms; the big main house became the big Ravintola Krapihovi that I couldnt afford! Oh, I was so flummoxed! How wonderful it would be to wonder the grounds instead of driving Seattle-bound to Vantaa in the morning!
The Golf Course restaurant was round and modern. People chatted in the bar, and some were finishing their dinner. The kitchen would soon close. I no longer remember what I ordered, but I'll pretend.
"Heipaa! Haluan kasvisruokaspecialtyn ja lassi valkoviinia, ole hyvaa," I said.
I went back to my car and began pulling out all my stuff, using my key to open the side door. Everything had to either go into my two small bags, into the trash, or would be left as a bonus on the dresser in my beautiful room. Then I checked my e-mail in the lobby.
In the morning, I took a photo of the cold light of the sun splitting in the window, softly illuminating the pine furniture. I ate breakfast, accidently stealing a stainless steel coffee spoon. Then I put my two bags in my Yaris and drove south. I did not even have time to look at the town.
50-50 red and blue. Life in The Dalles is so exciting! You can tour the grocery stores! This is a great way to learn about America!
Grocery Outlet...this is the place you can get odd, luxury overstocks!!!
Two young men are conversing in the cheese isle.
"Do you remember Jason's dog?"
"You mean the one he always wraps in a blanket?"
Fred Meyer [Non Cascadian Translation: Kroger] has become much more high class after The Remodel. It is our version of "The Mall."
In the Remodel, they have created a cool, upscale area where portobellos languish with shiitake, and frozen Gardenburgers mingle with Organically Grown and Decapitated Chickens.
That is where you are standing, perusing non-executed chicken manufactured from fungus and $8 a pound Organic Cheese. You ponder myths about vegetarians, how you and I are accused of hating fast food and Diet Mountain Dew and Payday candy bars. Bah humbug! Suddenly, a clerk walks up. She is a short woman, with a gray-black braid and a New York accent. Wow! How did she end up in The Dalles?
"Can I help you find something?" she asks.
You swing your Gardenburger Chicken Patties...on sale 2 for $5...into defensive position. A lot of people who shop in Fred Meyer are lonely and hence are there for the great conversation with concerned employees, but you're just shopping due to being assigned to make dinner.
"Um...uh...I'm looking for some gravy that has no meat stuff in it." This is no joke. Many well-meaning food suppliers have no understanding of ethical vegetarianism. They load foods like cheese and noodle soup down with carnage items like Kosher Gelatin and Organic Sheep Rennet. Shrimp ramen...crustaceans have no brains, just nerve ganglia...often contains murdered chicken broth. You have to read the labels.
"Hmm...I know we have vegetarian chicken soup...right over here...but the soup doesnt work! Mushroom gravy...we had it last Thanksgiving!!! Yes!!! Right here!"
Indeed! Pacific Mushroom Gravy! Right here by the Pacific Organic Chicken Gravy and the Pacific Organic Beef Gravy...humane dead animal essence! You imagine being transported into a spaceship. To Serve Man...then you see the Recipe Book!!!"
Oops! Your imagination is going overboard!
"Are you vegan or vegetarian?" asks the short woman.
"Actually I eat seafood...um..." You see her blank stare and wonder is she thinks about Gary Varner's Desires or the organization of nervous systems in crab. "I'm a vegetarian," you answer politely.
Then the clerk begins her story. "I'm a wanna-be-vegan."
"It's HARD to be a vegan!" you tell her.
"I know, but I try. This last weekend we went to Vegan-Fest in Portland. What great food!"
"Wow!" you concur, dying with envy.
"My son went with me...he just wolfed down the food there! But at home, he wouldnt be caught dead eating vegan food. You know what I'm saying? But in Portland...that's a different town!"
Suddenly your cell phone rings....
"That's *my son*!" you exclaim. He's locked out of the house....
What fond delight! Second Saturday....Red Hat Scarlet Begonias at Noon and Contra Dancing at Seven! This afternoon I am wearing a red Punjabi ensamble topped with a purple hat because it is my birthday month.
"What an interesting outfit!" compliments the flambuoyant woman next to me. She is the executive director of a local assisted care facility and exhibits a lot of suave finesse.
"Thank you. Years ago, my husband went on a work trip to Dallas with a guy who was from Bangladesh and they stopped in a sari shop to buy stuff for his wife. My husband got me this!"
"Lots of bracelets, too!...and this one, 'W.O.A'...where did that one come from?"
Suddenly I am an animal backed into a corner. "Oh! That's just a festival band...it's not part of my costume!" I hem and haw.
But I will tell YOU. Wacken Open Air. Faster Harder Louder. It's starting to mildew, and it is rivited to my wrist.
Vienna, August 2007.
"I'd like to get there as soon as possible," said Georg firmly. He would become more and more assertive as the days and wheels rolled on. "They are showing the film 'Full Metal Jacket' tonite and I would like to see it."
"I guess we will drive through Germany and not the Czech Republic. Who knows what the roads are like there? In Germany I will have the Navigation System and we will not get lost." After Slovenia, it was a relief that would soon change to severe regret and then finally to an impatience to travel again in Central Europe.
Then we boarded the Renault Wagon with the bumper scraped in Italy....the Austrians: Georg and his friend Max in the back and Ian and myself in the front. Here is a secret: it is a dream of all mothers to do do something like this, to set out at the helm of a voyage of discovery with three teen aged boys. The window of opportunity to do this successfully is about the size of a camera viewfinder.
Wacken Open Air. The biggest metal festival in all of Europe, sold out at 70,000. In a few hours we were out of Austria and into Deutschland, on our way to Schleswig-Holstein! Situated like a chimney on the roof of Germany, it is a province that looks a lot like Denmark, and for good reason. For one thing, it's fairly flat! Even here, though, in the basement of Germany, there were cars in the northbound lanes with the white letters WOA. You'd be tooling along at 80 in the left lane and all of a sudden some daemon with two flashing lights exploded behind you...you'd duck frantically into the right lane...and it would be gone like a jet plane.
"BMW. 105 ." you'd say calmly, and notice a little 1982 Rabbit with tape or a black WOA flag in the back window passing you as well with feet stick out the side window.
We traveled the best course according to the Navigation System, which spoke like an English Matron, stopping only to buy petrol and junk food. More and more excited people with black T shirts began to cluster in the rest areas. I snapped photos of them. We hit Hamburg at Rush Hour. Suddenly we were at a dead stop in a orange lit tunnel behind a Lithuanian semi! Once we were out of the tunnel, we detoured through town as suggested by the Englishwoman. Georg rolled his eyes and his ears began to steam. Max sat politely. Tension began to mount. By seven we had passed Elmshorn and Itzehoe on the four lane....and suddenly a dead halt behind a Vauxhall with UK plates! A halt for which there was no detour!
The hours commenced to tick away. A Muslim family driving north was able to squeeze onto the shoulder and drive south. Someone brought out a grill and started to barbecue. I began to chat with a reticent man from the Vauxhall.
"When did you start out?" I asked.
"Right-O! We had to get up at 2AM to drive from Essex to the ferry at Dover. Then we drove through France...but it is better than the repulsive coach I was on last year. That took 24 hours! Good Lord, I wonder what the problem is!" No one knew.
"Ian!" I suggested. "Check and see what the Navigation System says!"
"Warning!" said the British Lady. "Eight and a half kilometers of people!" That included an elderly couple towing a holiday caravan, and a truck hauling turf...ordinary highway goers. We were all stuck!
"This never happened at Cropredy," I mused.
Most people were calm, but after a while, I began to panic. For one thing, there were no bathrooms. For another, though the boys were camping in the muddy fields, I had made a hotel reservation at a charming but relatively inexpensive hotel back down past Itzehoe. Why hadnt I stopped and gotten a key? "Do you want me to call the hotel?" asked Georg, tapping his foot. He pulled out his cell phone.
"Dr Gennett is stuck in traffic, and will be arriving late, ja ja ich verstehe, aber...," he began in Diplomatic Service Austrian, with a bearing far beyond his 17 years.
After several hours the police cleared an emergency path down the center...we all dutifully pulled to the shoulders. It was still light then.
"Maybe we could just go back along the emergency path to the hotel," I whined like a beaten dog. "I think they have room! You can tell the police I feel really sick."
"You're not sick," said Georg. The battle had escalated. Here is the clue: Georg couldnt wait to camp with his friends in the Blind Guardian Forum. I couldnt wait to take a shower!
All around us, people were beginning to party in resignation.
At midnight, in pitch blackness, the Vauxhall turned on its engine and red lights we followed. At first we looked for a wreck, but saw none.
"You'll love it at Wacken. Next time this wont happen," said Georg. "Personally I'm taking the train."
"I'll never come here again," I glared.
"Yes you will," he said.
"No I wont," I said.
Now, though, I feel myself drawn to return. I think, though, maybe I will drive a camper van with a bathroom.
We exited the freeway at the Schenefeld ramp and continued east to the Wacken festival site and onto a campground. We unloaded the boys' things onto the wet grass.
"Sie nur bringen uns," Georg explained, and the guard let me back out. I turned onto the vacant southbound lane of Route 23, and passed several kilometers of slow moving northbound headlights. Then it was darkness, and at two I found my truly beautiful hotel by the lake. I pulled out my cell phone, and the manager came from his home and let Dr Gennett into the lobby.
"Can I get you anything?" he asked.
"A glass of wine," I joked. He went into the bar and returned with a large glass of red wine.
[continued] "That's what Georg wants to be," comments Ian. "....attached to the diplomatic service. He's planning on the embassy in Finland for his National Service requirement!"
Germany, August 2007: "Wacken, second day"
In the morning I awoke and stumbled into the rustic breakfast room of the beautiful Bokel-Mühle am See. The See is a beautful lake, with a beautiful pavilion. The room was packed! I grabbed some earthy grain bread, five packages of Nutella, a boiled egg, a bowl of granola, and a cup of tea and took it to the one lonely table. Soon a woman in black clothes and blond hair approached.
"Do you mind if I sit with you?" she yawned.
"Sure! You can sit here!" Wow! It was evident that she was a native English speaker!...though she did have a lilt....
She forced a few somnolic, polite words out. "What are you doing here?"
"I took my son to a metal festival," I began.
"What a sweet mom you are! I'm a photographer from Toronto, and I have a photo pass! Some of the bands are staying here, you know." I looked over at some Italian style guys in black shirts...hmmm....
"I'm going too. I do a radio show in Portland."
"You should have gotten a press pass," she commented.
I sat in my room and stared for a while, then began my trip to the festival. The highway had returned to normal and the drive took me only 20 minutes.
"No ticket? This is a MUSIC FESTIVAL!!"
"Can you say that inEnglish?....My son has my ticket voucher and he's inside camping! They wouldnt send tickets to the US!!!" I whined to the surly man at the gate. And from that moment I cast myself into the odd role of a white haired lady naively tagging along with her son to a metal festival.
"OK...park over there, dear, at the end of the road!" he laughed. It was a mistake I would regret.
As I threaded my way through the manure and straw covered pastures, past cars and tents and the occasional motor home, past piles of food wrappers and beer bottles and lounging metalheads, and past ditzy men urinating against fences ten feet from porta potties, I began to draw a map of my route through 69,999 people to the stage area on a notepad stolen from Homewood Suites in Seattle, adding helpful landmarks like silver mercedes and Children of Bodom flags.
Then...this is where cell phones are an ingenious invention!
"Ian! Ian! Where do I meet you?"
"OVER HERE MOTHER! I CAN SEE YOU!!!"
We traded in the ticket voucher Ian had gotten me...
"They didnt have your name in their records, but I had the e-mail you gave me!" Yay!
...for this lovely woven rayon band, red and black, Wacken 2007, Faster Harder Louder. They clamped it onto my right wrist with a squashed Metal ring and I cant get it off. The Devil owns me now.
"I'm staying at the Blind Guardian Camp! Those people are great!" Blind Guardian is a band originally based on Middle Earth, and the fans tend to be quite gentle. "You wanted to see Tyr?" asked Ian. Tyr is a Faroese Viking Folk Metal band. There arent too many opportunities to see this genre! "It's over here at this stage!" We walked through the gate, not without incident, and up to the foyer area of the notorius Headbanger's Ballroom, where a whole bunch of metalheads were trying to get in and even more were trying to get out. The big chain link fence behind us swayed and began to collapse with the force of exiting fans! Ian, myself, and about fifteen other people leaned with full force against the fence to keep it upright. It was better to support the force of a tidal wave on a fence than to be pushed up against the open stainless steel urinal trough at the back! Ugh!
Then someone saw an exiting man with a small girl on his shoulders.
"Hey! Let them through!" they yelled.
The tumultuous surge parted like the waters of the Red Sea. If only I could have put little Ian on my shoulders!
Around dusk, Ian decided he wanted to go back to the hotel with me and check his e-mail. We followed the map that I had made and found the car and its navigation system just fine. But we would soon be in another jam the Navigation System couldnt get us out of!
"You cant drive out that way! You have to turn around!" said the guard. So we did, through asphalt, mud and manure.
"You cant drive out this way!" said another guard. We drove back.
"How do we get out then?" we asked a third guard. Suddenly, a huge Viking dressed in black emerged from the car that had been following us. Twirling his shiny broadsword, he thrust a map at the officials.
"I have been following them, thinking they knew the way! How do I get back to Denmark? I have dinner guests!" he bellowed in German. Write an Alternative History and assassinate Bismark?
"Just follow him..." the official told us pleasantly. "You will take the highway to Bokel. He will take country roads back to Denmark."
"This is where we were stalled last night." I told Ian as he watched the car travel south on the screen.
"Yeah...uh...at this point, I think I'll just ask to spend the night at the hotel. I can take a shower."
The moon glistened on the darkened waves of the See at Bokel. Reception was still open when I returned....though now I had a key to let myself in the building.
"My son is staying with me tonite!" I said.
"Let me check! That's fine!" said the receptionist. "Anything else?"
"Could I get a glass of white wine please?" She went to draw a glass for me.
"Tomorrow night we are having an event of our own!" added the man who had opened the door the night before. "We are having fire over the lake! Thousands of people are coming!"
"I'll be sure and be there!" I answered.
Germany, August 2007, Continued: On the morning of the third day, Ian and I began our journey back to Wacken and the wild biggest metal festival in the world. Suddenly, my cell phone began to ring!
"Where is Ian? We are worried about him here at the Blind Guardian Camp? Is he there?"
When camping, the boys only turn on their cell phones to make a call. That's why this sort of thing happens.
Soon we were at the festival. I told Ian, "I'm not going to Wacken today. I'm going to Denmark." Then I left him in the Full Metal Village of Wacken and headed north over the NorthEastSee Canal...north through Heide and Husum, past old brick houses, flat drained Holland fields and tall, blunt livestock covered dikes that hide the ocean from view. I stopped for awhile and hiked at a nature preserve. I drove to the ferry at Dagebull, and gazed longingly toward the invisible land of Sylt....GET ON THAT FERRY!!! said the voices in my head...
I drove through the invisible customs station between Germany and Denmark, where cell phones speak English as well as Danish. Then I navigated by map across Scandinavia to the big freeway, the E45...GO NORTH TO SWEDEN said the insistent voices...and back south again, dodging the condescending blinking headlights of BMWs and Mercedes and Audis.
"You came back from Wacken for the festival!" beamed the man at the registration desk. Well...
The hotel, indeed the whole village, was packed with cars and people and lights; the entire cow pasture across the road doubled as a parking lot. "The young people are at the beach pavilion and the older people are here at the hotel. The fireworks will take place at ten!" said the man at the desk.
"Is there a way to get something to eat?" I asked.
He looked dubious. "We have already stopped serving..." He paused and motioned towards the dining room. "No, here, sit at that table over by the window. I'll send someone over!" The room was full of local German fireworks-goers eating cake and drinking wine and coffee.
"Would you like some roast beef?" No, I dont eat meat. But I do eat fish.
"I will bring you some..what is the word...perch? pike?...from our lake...."
"Carp," I said. I'd read their web page! "And some house white wine."
She told her friend behind the desk in German "My English is so terrible!!"
"Your English is wonderful!" I laughed.
At ten I pushed through the dark crowds to a dark, secluded patch of lake shore and leaned against a tree. On my right a troop of cub scouts argued and
splashed in the shoreline mud and water. On my left, a crowd of older people were lounging in the open-air lake pavilion, sipping their drinks and glaring
the untidy remains of their buffet dinner. Across the eerie waters, thousands of happy young people were dancing and getting dead smashed to German
Electro. Behind the yellow ribbons, the rowboat was casting off into the middle of the lake. Soon it would be ejecting arcs of multicolored glittering
cinders into the dark night sky, out from the smoking chimney of Germany.
Portland, November 2007: "Selective Listening"
One day last week, Ian said, "Mother! HIM is at the Crystal Ballroom on Sunday! I'd like to see them!"
"Sure!" I replied. "I'll ask Erin." I pounded on her door just above the ERIN'S LAIR DO NOT ENTER sign.
"Do you want to go see HIM?" I bellowed.
"No," she said.
"Um...on second thought, I dont think I want to go by myself." By HIMself? What about me? But suddenly I remembered. I rattled through the Willamette Week.
"Would you like to see The Waterboys at the Aladdin instead?"
"Who are they?" he asked, stumped.
"An Irish Folk Rock Band from the '80s. Sharon Shannon played with them at one time. It'll be like going to see Fairport!"
"Sure!" he replied. "I like the Aladdin!"
"There's a line outside already...we can eat dinner over here...oops...its a bar...and that's a pub....here's another bar. The Aladdin used to be a porno theatre, so I guess that's why there are so many bars around the neighborhood." I drove on..."Burgerville!...Ian...pay attention!" He looked up from the copy of '"Darkness at Sethanon" that he'd bought at Powell's that afternoon. This is one of a series of books about a universe based on the author's d&d fantasies. "I'm READING!!!" Jeez!
"Look...over there...it's the Lemon Grass Thai Food!" I shrieked excitedly.
"Sounds good!" said Ian.
"I'll have the shrimp pad thai with thai beer!" I ordered.
"I'll have the chicken pad thai with thai coffee," Ian ordered.
The drinks came in glasses taller and more elegant than I had ever seen.
We drove back to the theatre. Most of the middle row seats were taken, so we sat three rows from the front on the right flank...close enough to the stage and the gargantuan speakers.
"Wow, Ian," I mused. "Remember when we came here to see Fairport and Erin was rolling around in the aisle?"
"Yeah...ha ha!!! Who is this band we just heard?"
"Great Aunt Ida from Vancouver British Columbia. I guess they covered one of the the Waterboy tunes. What would you call them...indie pop?"
"I dunno. With the three piece like that they reminded me of a jazz trio."
"Not too many people your age here!"
"But quite a few in their thirties...and their twenties. Ha ha...you can tell it's not a metal show; they've filled the mosh pit with chairs!"
A sepia photograph lined by heather green floated above my head...Fishermans Blues (1988). Fairport Convention was stretching it....too much rock and roll in the vocals, I reckon, and a keyboard player who bangs his head like a Finlander ...Tonight the Fab Five is dressed in suits from the late sixties; the fiddler, Steve Wickham is wearing a gold lame edwardian jacket...but doesnt that fiddle just take the cake, doesnt it define the band?
"Folk rock"...what is it? The Waterboys begin with singer songwriter rock. There's a great joke about George, Dick and Condi. But several songs in singer Mike Scott says this:
"We'll play a little jig now." Steve moves to the center and begins to play a jig and a couple other dance measures! "A jig is the queen of rhythms!" Mike explains. People begin to move to the front...into the small cramped space between the folding chairs and the stage...and commence to dance!!
"%&(&%^*" I mutter, "I cant see" and stand up.
Then the four old grey haired Scots behind me stand up. That's how these things work. It is mostly the right flank standing up! We are the best part of the audience!
"When will we be married, when will we be wed?
When will we be together in the same bed?" HEAVY IRISH...from the way back of Fishermans Blues! The dancers go wild!!!
It gets even better! Whoo-hoo!!!
"Now in our former lives...centuries ago...I was a washerwoman and Steve was my sister, and we sat in the doorway all day washing clothes. We used to fight all the time, but when we stopped, we would hum this tune. And him over there, in the trenches of world war I, he used to hum this tune to keep himself sane...and the drummer, as a convict breaking rocks in the Outback...him too! Suddenly they began to play, with soaring fiddle and screaming guitar...
***THE RAGGLE TAGGLE GYPSY [Seven Yellow Gypsies]***. Wow! What can I say? What a great birthday present.
"Play Fisherman's Blues!" yells a man from the front of the orchestra section.
"I'll play what I ^%(&%^ want when I want to play in," surls Mike Scott. Everyone laughs.
Oh...what else did they play? I dont have the remembrance, or even the knowledge of what they've done. It's not like Fairport, or Boiled In Lead, or Oysterband. I was a very selective listener. "The Stolen Child"....I couldnt have written a review back in the days when I felt I could write reviews.
Soon it is over. The people who have collected towards the front, standing up, are joined by almost everyone, even in the balcony. Everyone is standing and clapping. It isnt one of those half hearted deals where people clap for a while and give up, or when a band comes right back. It just goes on and on, twice even, hand and ear torture. When The Waterboys finally leave the stage for good, everyone dancing, half the concert will have been encore.
"Ian Ian!!!" I hiss. "It's Meadowlands!" Russian Army....that's the name of it. The long narrative of the young Russian soldier who liberates Berlin...and is shipped off to Siberia in fear that he has too westernized. What a great song...like a rolling Soviet tank! and in the first encore! Lucky we had clapped.
"I wish I was a fisherman...tumbling on the seas,
Far away from dry land and its bitter memories...." begin Mike Scott.
This will be the last song!
"What a rippin' band!" exclaims Ian as he raises his hand in the Sign that Wards off the Horned god.
August 2007 Wacken Day IV
"What kind of camera do you use to take those pictures?" I asked Caroline at breakfast.
"I use a Canon 938Z, but if I could afford it I'd buy a Pentax CL491. [not their real names].
"Uh..." The reason I asked was that I used to take pictures at the folk concerts I went to and send them in with my reviews. I used a Ricoh SLR with black and white film. The faster the film, the better picture you can take without a flash.
"Oh..." she laughed. "Something less technical? I use a digital slr. By the way who was that band last night with the fiddle? They were great."
"Hmm...Schandmaul," I guessed. Oh, gosh, I'd missed the famous German folk-metal band Schandmaul!!! Worse, tonight I would miss Haggard and Subway To Sally!!!
Today I would finally make my peace with Wacken and learn to love the fun. But tomorrow we would have to be at the Hamburg airport at six in the morning, because Ian would have to be on a plane from Portland to Mexico at five in the morning the next day. It was a very tight schedule with no real sleep!
I drove one last time from my wonderful hotel in the village of Bokel north to the village of Wacken, turned right, and parked along a country road. I strolled through the full metal village, under the famous dead cow skull sign that said "Welcome Metalheads." I bought a cheese "baguette" at an outdoor stand, and a normally priced coke lite at a second stand. I took photos of adored metalhead children, metalhead babies in strollers, and then I walked into the festival, passing along my way thousands of trashy tent yards and six rugged men and one woman urinating against a fence. Ugh!
I met Ian at the merchandise area..."Mom! I'd like to get a fleece jacket and a t-shirt and...."
We watched the legendary Finnish power metal band Stratovarius...mostly on the mega TV screen....and then went separate ways. I began to look for people my age...a chubby, bookish couple in Hawaiian shirts....a wiry man in a black Dream Theatre Tshirt. A young woman raised her cell phone and took my own quaint picture, sitting in my folkding chair looking at the program...chairs are considered extremely wimpy, but who wants to sit in manure? The strap on my sandles broke. I bought a Finntroll shirt...
"You want the one with the cheezy picture?" asked the salesman shaking his head...
at the Nuclear Blast store, and photographed the two level Beck's bar. I walked around looking for German folk metal albums to buy, but there were none!
"Norther..." I said to myself. "I'll go see the Finnish death metal band Norther." You wouldnt catch me dead playing a death metal album in my home or car, but Finnish guys are so cute to watch! I bought some vegetarian noodles and sat down in my little chair. The guy next to me was wearing an Elakalaiset shirt so I took his photo. Elakalaiset (the pensioneers), you may not know this, is a Finnish band that does polka covers of pop, rock, and metal tunes and has a certain popularity at German metal festivals and code hack-a-thons. I relaxed and listened to the entire Norther concert, even rushing forward to take a photo or two of the boys! On my way back to my chair, the concert ended, and everything was...um...quiet. I almost tripped over a young gentleman who was laying on the ground unconscious! As I passed, people began piling trash on him. I snapped a photo, not without guilt. Then, suddenly, a boy wrapped in a Canadian flag appeared and began removing the trash in disgust. Another man sat down and roused the sleeper.
"Are you alright?"
"Yeah, just exhausted and drunk," went the conversation in my mind.
Georg and Max handed Ian over at eleven, beneath the burning lights of the cow skull. A fine white eerie fog shrouded the campgrounds like a fifteenth century novel, and most metalheads were had their cameras out, snapping potential prizewinners or album covers.
"Where are you from?" asked an unsteady man with a walking stick.
"The US...Oregon!" we answered.
"I was in the US...in Phoenix visiting my sister!" slurred the man. His friend waited, grinning amiably.
Ian bade farewell to the Blind Guardian Pavilion and stuffed his wet tent into his backpack. Then we walked back to the car and left for Hamburg.
I have never really chosen the places that I call home. The Dalles is one of these places, and in fact if I had a choice right now I sure wouldnt choose it. But there are three things in sure supply that I am certain to find here at home, and those are:
1) A bathtub
2) Oriental-flavor ramen noodles for breakfast
3) Diet Mountain Dew...
That is why it is always a relief to be back from exotic places, despite the fact that The Dalles is about as exciting as this paragraph.
Mountain Dew Diet Code Red, on the other hand, is pretty much impossible. I used to get it at PSU all the time and then never found it again. Two years ago, I grabbed one off the shelf at a gas station in western Wyoming. And just a month ago, I pulled two out of the cooler at a convenience store in Conyers, Georgia!
Yesterday I could see little mountains of snow on two cars as I floated home on the interstate...and were those splatters on my windshield rain or snow?
Today, look, Erin, up on the hills above the pitchfork trees of this dull grey river town, see the horizontal line dividing white powdery snow from soggy dead grass! It is just above our heads! It is almost winter here in Utopia!
"Who is that lady waving at us?" I ask Erin. The thin woman with orange hair is wearing a pale blue rain parka and she is greeting us excitedly from the sidewalk.
"She seems to be waving at everyone," observes Erin as she takes a drag on her Burgerville Mocha Perk.
"Oh no!" I continue. "She's the woman I'm writing my story about! She's found me! What an omen!"
It was a Sunday in the days when the maples were red yet still intact. Ian and I turned into the Murdock Mini Mart for some gasoline to drive to Portland. I often fuel up here because I can pump my own and because I can post-pay 100% in stamped ones. The clerk puts a rubber band around the first 25, which is just what she just had done. I started to get back into my little yellow Aveo...
"Hello! Great to meet you!" announced a woman with hair the color of flaming maples. She extended her hand cheerfully.
"Uh, hi...." I replied, limply shaking her paw.
"I just moved here, Praise the Lord. I'm getting to know people. I'm Diane. What's your name?"
"Uh...I'm Judith. I actually dont live here in Murdock. I live in The Dalles." You can look right across the river to the Google plant in The Dalles, but thank goodness The Dalles is a world...and a state....apart from Murdock, Washington.
"Say! How do you like your little car? I used to have a car like this...a little Kia...but they impounded it. Loved it!" She blew a cloud of smoke over towards Pump 2.
"You were driving without a license?" Or maybe DWI?
"No...I'm not licensed here. Only in Pennsylvania and Idaho. It was a friend of mine...a Native American woman in fact. Is this this your son? What is your name? What are you reading?"
"Ill Met By Moonlight," answered Ian, scowling from the cave of the passengers seat.
"Wow! Sounds great! Let me borrow that when you're done! Okay?" Ian began to shake in terror for Mercedes Lackey.
"Um...we need to get to Portland now..." I hinted.
"Well, we'll see you around, God Willing!" A sturdy man in a long white mullet was strolling back to the pickup parked at Pump 3. "Right now I am getting to know that man right there. He is a true delight!!!"
Two things happened the day after thanksgiving. That's the day that Erin and I drove Emma and Little Victor back to Portland, so they could catch a plane back to Texas the next morning.
"My!" I commented. "The 'Carry Chains Or Traction Tires' sign is back up!" And as we passed Cascade Locks, Erin exclaimed,
"Is that snow over there?"
"It looks like a light powdery dusting on the trees over there!" replied Emma.
The second thing was the annual Starlight Parade, which starts behind Albertsons and ends up at the Post Office 97058.
"I have to be there at five," said Erin.
"You dont have to wear your uniform?"
"No...I just need to look festive. I have these reindeer antlers and...." she waved a pair of red satin Santa boxer shorts that someone had once bought Ian as a joke...."I'm wearing these over my jeans."
Ian glared at her and added, "I need to be there at five as well." He was wearing a pair of Carhart flannel lined jeans, which seemed appropriate too.
Soon, the children left for their parade! Later, though, Ian would return for a bell and some tinsel to wrap around his shoulders.
At six, my husband, Emma and Little Victor, and I set off across the metal footbridge over the sewer line to watch the parade in front of Gary Denney's Carpet and Capuccino. Many people sat in the parking lot in their cars and pickups, but the only way to really experience the parade is to sit or stand out in the dark fog haze. By the time I got there, the first law enforcement cars were cutting the crowd like ice...the City of The Dalles police and Wasco County Sheriff in their white SUVs and the Oregon State Patrol in their navy blue hot rod. Next, dark and silent like Night Princesses, the Rodeo Queens rode by waving, clip clop! The jingle bell rings of tubas and bass drum could now be heard in the distance. The hibiscus painted van of a local distributor followed, and a woman handed Victor a package of Maui Kettle Fried Jalepeno Chips. Then...there it was! The The Dalles Wahtonka High School Marching Band! Oom pah! I stood stunned for way too long...then set my camera and begin to run down the sidewalk. After one shot...a long smear of red Santa pants and black clarinet...I gave up. Cousins Restaurant...a red boot...the Young Republicans with their flat elephant....the 4H...the mighty ODOT snow plow and cherry picker...Ray Shultens Ford...two Lutheran churches...Victor rushes out for more Smarties!!!...the little Dallesport-Murdock firetruck and the big Mid Columbia engines....and then more police, leading the cars that had been backed up for ages on 6th street...
"Is that it?" asked someone.
"Where was Ian?" added Emma. Where was Ian? Where was his float?
"He's 18, he can take care of himself," I reaffirmed. We tried to call him, but all we could get was "The Great Bells of Christmas" ....
"Mom...we're having a little afterparty at Ixtapa...I wont be home until later," said Ian's fancy 9 band Euro-Nokia.
"Where were you?" I asked.
"On the other side of the float." Huh. "Stop by on the way out of town. Have a little dessert."
"Can I go?" said Erin, removing her shiny costume.
"Sure...." Erin climbed into the tiny space between the fat car seat and the door and we made our way down Cherry Heights to Ixtapa, one of the most important Mexican restaurants in The Dalles. The building used to be Dave's Pizza, before Dave started to manage the cafeteria up at The College. Then they added the facade and a lot of pastel stucco.
"The square dancers are here at the big table at the back...but I'll come out and say goodbye to VicVic," said Uncle Nini's phone.
"SQUARE DANCERS? Is THAT the float he was on?" exclaimed Emma in disbelief.
"Yes!" I answered. "He goes dancing every Thursday night. At least we know he is running with a good crowd....hey look at that license plate...that must be one of Ian's new friends!" The Oregon License Plate bore an official Square Dancers Silhouette embossed on the left hand side!"
"Oh my gosh...it's a BUICK!!!" moaned Emma, rolling her eyes!
"Mother!" said Emma. "Do you want to decorate the table?"
Of course I did. That's my traditional role at these events, to set the table.
"I'll use the blue and white china," I answered. "That's the one you like, isnt it, Emma?"
"Yes," said Emma. "I want that china."
"Hmm...not yet. But I'll give you a quiz and you can have them at some later date. Why are there so many plates?"
"Because she [my great grandmother Emma] had a big family?"
"Well, actually she didnt, it was the same size as ours, but I reckon she had her extended family over to eat. And then there was threshing...." I changed gears. "Too bad no one likes my mother's china."
"Did she actually pick it out?"
"I dont know. Her mother-in-law gave it to her. But my mother seemed to think it was pretty." The china is called Wedgewood Lichfield and is ringed with brown autumn chrysanthemums. It suited my mother.
I like it," countered Erin.
It was settled, then. Someday, if it wasnt smashed or inundated, Emma will get her great grandmother's German china. Erin will get her grandmother's English china. And Ian, not being party to this conversation, will get what is left...my five blue glass garage sale plates.
"What story do you want me to tell about thanksgiving?" I asked.
"Hmm..." Emma thought. "I suppose the Squash from Hell."
Here it is:
"Mother! It looks like you are having trouble eating your stuffed butternut squash!"
"Yeah...does someone have a knife I can use?" I didnt set a knife for myself and Victor due to silverware deficit. That's what happens when you take your box of Chinese blue-handled stainless steel on a Junior Friends camping trip. But it didnt matter...everyone else was eating stuffed chicken breast. Not me!!! I never touch the stuff...<clip>
"It looks like you got the Squash from Hell."
"Oh? You'd better tell me more so I can write the story!"
"We cooked the squash in the oven. Then we put it back in and cooked it some more. All the others got done, but not that one. Erin put it in the microwave for an hour in a pan of water, but nothing happened. It's the Squash From Hell."
"Huh!" I said, prying off the yellow flakes with my steak knife.
There....see it, on the dining room table. The computer is ready...30 years ago it would have been a slide projector and Uncle Louie would be dozing in the living room of his overheated New Ulm farmhouse, his stomach bloated on Minnesota turkey and sweet potato hot dish with miniature marshmallows. Lawrence Welk is on the TV screen....
Ian is ready too!!! "Now...it's time to look at photos!" I tell Emma. She seems amiable enough!
"Austria? Wacken?" I suggest. <clip>
"Here's fifteen fascinating photos of the traffic jam at Wacken," Ian narrates.
Suddenly...Emma wakes up with a bug in her memory! "I remember the HUGE traffic jam the first time we were at Fairport!!!" she exclaims.
"In 1990? There was a traffic jam?" I cannot remember any specific jam...there were so many traffic jams on the British Motorways!
"Yes...no one was getting anywhere but the motorcycles that were zooming in and out. So we decided to stop and eat!"
WOW~What an example of irony! That will make a great story!
Cropredy 1990, a seminal point in the life of my family, the year that I said **** it, I cant live forever, let's ***travel*** with small children one in diapers! Before this, we were ordinary Americans. Our wanderings were restricted at most to exotic places like the Door Peninsula or the wilds of Manitoba. But I had read iabout Cropredy in Dirty Linen, how the music there was all my choice....British Isles Folk Rock!
"Children!" I exclaimed. "Let's go!"
"Wow!" exclaimed Little Eight Year Old Emma. "England!!!"
We got passports, Guide for Travelling Quakers, and $400 Consolidator Tickets on British Air. We plunged into the Steaming Vortex of World Travel!!!
There is no documentation of this astounding adventure. I checked my well-intentioned journal sporadically documenting 1987-1992. The year 1990 is totally missing. More importantly, there are no photos in my increasingly digital and artistic arsenal of photo albums. That is because...and I will reveal the punchline prematurely..:
Cambridgeshire, summer 1990, near the end of our trip:
"Ian...Ian! I scream. "%*&%^%^...what are you doing?!!??!"
The door to the silver Vauxhall is open and Little Ian...13 months of trouble...
NO! 17 years later I cannot deal with this!!! Oh no! He has removed my roll of film from the door pocket and....OH NO!!!...is IN THE ACT OF PULLING MY ENTIRE ROLL OF FILM...THE ENTIRE TRIP...out into the light of day.
Yep...that's why they invented digital cameras!
A few passages in my older stories tell about this trip. For instance, there is "Campground on the Isle Of Skye at Portree," an exceptionally muddy, midgey place. Hiding in the tent, Emma and Ian look like they have chicken pox! I stroll out onto the vast seaweed covered tidal flats...
Yep... the midges on the Isle of Skye...
"You dont remember this, I'm sure!" I say to Ian as I read from 1999.
"All I remember is those bugs! Ugh!"
"You were only one year old!" But I know he does remember. It was only seventeen years ago.
Ian says, and I write:
"I wore that T shirt for the international fair.
the year after that Miss coffee got married and moved to Paris texas but I remember two things from that class
thunder cakes...some recipe in that one story from australia
how to tell how far a thunderstorm is away from you.
I miss Fannin. I miss Texas."
Dr Tom sighs and smiles. With the coming of winter, his tiny literature class has become like a patterned sweater sleeve pushed up against an elbow. Half his class has waited to the last day to give their talks. And as for Laxness' "Independent People"....!!! Oh dear! For weeks he had revised the reading assignments so that one and the other of the students could catch up.
"Class...I know some of you are a little behind, but try and read as far as you can. There are important things in the second half that I would like to talk about." Important, visst! In the upcoming pages, little Asta Solila will be impregnated by drug crazed school teacher!
"What did you wish for that night?" asks her brother, who had wished for Countries.
"I wished for Love," replies Asta.
"I am, however, showing a Christmas movie in Norwegian class tonite. Everyone is invited!!! But Judith...I suppose you need to drive back to The Dalles?"
"Yeah," says Judith. Plus, she thinks, I am scared it will be like the time I walked out on that Ingmar Bergman Christmas movie at the Swedish teacher's house.
Judith is the only student who has kept up, she has plenty of time on her hands back in The Dalles. And she is trying very hard to finish this masterpiece of poverty and strife among the sheep in desolate backfell Iceland. The Dad, Bjartur, has just nonchalantly found his son's corpse, decomposed and knawed on after being outside all winter. Soon he will toss his pseudo-daughter out for bringing shame onto the croft. Judith is sitting on the edge of her chair....except that now she feels it's time for a break.
Here is one story I do remember from the "Lost" trip of 1990!
The buildings here in Sproxton are red stone, unusual for England. My children's great great grandmother was born here, our flower of The Midlands. Later she emigrated moved to Michigan. The census said that they had lived "at the top of the village." I parked the silver Vauxhall at the churchyard and began to search for her parents tombstones. I never found any, but I did find nettles. They covered the whole unkempt overgrown graveyard, and I was so excited that I forgot I was wearing shorts. Later, my legs started to hurt. I bought some aspirin and washed my legs off . We pitched our tent at a campground, and I could hardly catch my breath for the stinging pain in my legs. I wondered if anyone could die of oxalic acid in their legs, or just the breathless pain. But eventually it stopped.
I had taken some photos of the red buildings. That was the first thing I thought of when Ian unrolled the film!
"The Annual Snow Tire Story"
Listen! OPB is saying this: "At 9PM the Klineline Bridge in Clark County, Washington will be closing to preclude High Water being a threat to public safety!!!"
...that's Vancouver!!! Oh my!
November, 2007, Grocery Outlet.
Not everyone has a Grocery Outlet in their home town, and that is a shame. They sell stuff cheap that various suppliers cant get rid of or just plain made too much of, or are secretly great but no one knows it. At any one time my Grocery Outlet basket may contain Amy's vegetarian Indian dinners, fresh mushrooms, Finnish Swiss cheese, and a bottle of 9% German wine for $2.99. It's hard to find low alcohol wines. Here's a secret: the less alcohol a wine has, the more you can drink of it!
That's about what I had, waiting in line. In front of me, a guy we'll call "Dave" in a black Serve-Pro-Disaster-Clean-Up uniform had just laid 4 rolls of Christmas wrapping paper on the conveyer belt. Then he put the red rubber bar down behind it.
"Thank you," I said.
In some places, people just stare at you when you say "thank you," but in The Dalles, it is a go-ahead to start a lengthy conversation and then propose marriage. Just two weeks ago in Fred Meyer, for example, a young man in just this situation delivered a recordbreaking monolog on the irrelevance of Brittney Spears and tabloid newspapers in general to the Northwestern culture...
"I'm hunkering down for the Storm of the Century...ha ha!" said the Serve-Pro technician.
"If you think it's coming..." interjected the cashier.
"You never know," sniped Dave. "I got a call from a friend of mine who said his girlfriend drove to White Salmon and when she went over that hill, the whole place was a white out!
"That's the worst place," I assured, affirming my knowledge of local conditions. "I just got my snow tires changed."
"You're safe then!" he said. "I have a friend in Hood River and she called Les Schwab at 8AM and they said that they couldnt accept any more cars. She drove to Portland and in 15 minutes she was out of there with her snow tires on."
"Portland!" I scoffed. "All they have there is RAIN!!!"
I'd been driving around for a couple day...through two evening snowfalls...with my snow tires in the back of my car, trying to avoid having them mounted. The studs gouge the roads into something resembling rutted Miocene ava flows! Ugh! Luckily both mornings had emerged the green of a summer-dry winter. The studded tires were still in the back seat when I drove back from the Wahtonka 9th grade campus where I had delivered Alfredo Vasquez's Honors Science report on the element antimony. Erin had printed it out, but, as is common, left it on the dining room table. Anyway, I was on 6th by Denney's when some Spanish Gangstas in the red 1992 Impala behind me flashed their headlights. In some towns you speed off in terror, but here in Salmon City, you pull over at the second flash as if they were the police! A young tough rolled down the passenger seat window.
"You got a flat tire," he said in the same tone that one would use if Al Kader had dynamited the dam and we all had to flee immediately up elevation on Cherry Heights Road.
"OH dear! Thank you!" I replied. Pulling over, I ascertained that the tire wasnt completely flat. I began the five block journey under the freeway to Nelson Tire.
"You got a flat tire!" accused a passing derelict can picker as I pulled in to the end of the line.
"Yeah, that's why I'm here," I laughed falsely. &*(^^&!!! With a line...actually three lines...this long, I might as well get my snow tires on.
I moseyed on inside and picked up a Time Magazine, where I read about where in the brain we experience morality. After about a half hour, I was done with that magazine and went up to the counter.
"Just a minute!" said the middle aged clerk, whom I fantasize as a Seattle lawyer who one day abruptly chose the simple life in a tire store in rural Oregon. "They just keep coming!"
"Um...I dont have to do anything with you if my tires are already mounted, do I?"
He looked at me for a minute and snickered. "No," he answered, shaking his head.
Twice each year, I say something the wrong way and he is amused.
I walk back to my little Aveo with a recent issue of Good Housekeeping and began reading the story of the parents of a coed who survived the Virginia Tech massacre, deciding never to let my children go to college. Over the next couple of hours, the yellow Aveo slowly inched forward three meters at a time, and my left rear tire slowly deflated.
"You have a flat tire!" exclaimed a surprised tire specialist when I attained the number two position in line three. "I'll fill it up so you're not sitting on the rim!"
I placed the key on the seat and walked inside. I looked down at a stack of Nokian Hakkepeliita studded snow tires. According to Wikipedia, these tires are named after "Finnish light cavalrymen in the service of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden during the Thirty Years' War (1618 to 1648)." Ian further elaborates that Hakkepeliitas function as mercenaries in Age of Empires III. Then my eyes darted over at the counter, where a woman and a strikingly blond man wearing a battered Diesel.com jacket with the words "Nouseva Kaamos" on the back consulted with the tire attorney. This phrase is Finnish for "polar night rising" or "the rising dark." The juxtaposition of black tires and brown jacket seemed like an weird omen to me!
I walked over and picked up a couple of cookies from the free coffee area and a newspaper from a chair.
"That's a Condon paper...you can read it if you like!" said a woman in her sixties with faded red hair. There was a Sherman County address on the paper.
"Okay!" I said, and read about the State Meteorologist's impending talk at the grange about "Oregon Climate Past, Present and Future." There will also be a prime rib dinner and the public is invited!
"You came all this way to get your tires changed?"
"Well...I live out in Moro. There is alot of snow there..."
"And ice on the roads?"
"Well..." she said. "The county takes care of the roads. But I was afraid of getting out of my driveway."
"Yeah? Me too!"
"I tried Wasco [in Sherman County] and they had already sold the pair, so I decided to come here."
I looked out the window. The specialists had begun to remove my tires, forever mounted on their rims.
"Do you want to go see Nightwish?" Ian asked.
"I dont know...I dont know if I like them with the new singer. Let's ask Erin!"
"NO!!!" snarled Erin, from behind her door.
"Uh...that's a play rehersal night," revealed Ian. "But I would really like you to go and tell me what you think!"
Nightwish...is the band that made me a folk-metalhead!!! But this, uh, Swedish pop frontwoman?
I sighed, hesitated, and bought a ticket on the internet, a mother's devotion to her son.
Finally the day came, November 1, 2007. It was one of the most elegant of my recent night's in Portland! Instead of buying a strap of ones at a suspicious bank and then hopping into the sludge of four oclock traffic, I strolled over to Paccini's elegant NO MINORS area.
"I'd like a cosmo and the happy hour mussels in tomato sauce." I told the young, hip bartender.
After relaxing for a while in front of the fireplace listening to the sound of pool balls, I returned to the elegant remodeled Smith Center and read a large portion of Selma Lagerlof's "Emperor of Portugalia" for Dr Tom's class. At six thirty, I strolled 14 blocks down tenth street, turned right on Burnside and walked a few more. I entered the Roseland Theater with neurotic dread.
"Any knives, guns or other weapons?"
It is a well know fact that the staff here at the Roseland ***metal*** detectors ruthessly trains the Homeland Security staff at the PDX airport!
"Bet you liked that, ha ha!" snickered a young woman as she rummaged in my front pocket to ascertain if that was really an Aveo key. The gentleman next to her was busy reassembling my cell phone.
I picked up my will-call, and ascended the steps where I was stamped. The next hurdle was gaining entrance to the NO MINORS balcony, where you can actually sit down and look blase.
"Can I see your ID, please?" asked an elderly woman, though I am sure we had already established an AARP centered camraderie. She stamped my other wrist with invisible ultraviolet ink.
Back on the main floor, a balding senior in a waist length white braid perused the Tshirts. I've discussed the concept of "zones" at metal concerts, but just today I stumbled across this amazing web site, "Male Metal Stereotypes" http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1895076&lastnode_id=1895598
apparently written by a law student metalhead at Kings College London.
(this person also wrote a review of Wacken Open Air http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1833291, an event which I described as you may remember.)
Anyway, there is also a link to "Female Metal Stereotypes." http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1906899.
These sites brilliantly coincide with my own perceptions about metal head classification. I just wish someone would construct an equivalent Folk Music document! Please do, and let me know!
The fans standing in the orchestra were from a wide range of types, but my guess that there were more than average of "5.The SCA Geek" mated in their own way with "3. The Vampire Queen." That's me, tastewise, but in appearance due to my age I am a "1. The Androgynous." That's why I stepped right up to the merchandise counter and bought a [black] "Tour Hoodie" for Ian figuring that if he didnt like it, I'd take it. As it turned out the Drama King hasnt had the opportunity, in fact I am wearing it right now!
I climbed back up to the "NO MINORS" bar.
"Do you know how to make a cosmopolitan?" I asked. They did. It was an elegant night at the Roseland! I sat down next to a totally unclassifiable dumpy middle aged couple from Beaverton. In fact, roughly half of the customers in the balcony were unclassifiable couples. I'd never seen anything like it at a metal concert. My guess is that they were all loyal members of the Scandinavian Heritage Society! The first band was Paradise Lost from the UK. Then Nightwish appeared on the stage. You can see a lot of You Tubes of Nightwish from Seattle on Halloween and none from Portland, where I doubt if any cameras could have made it through security. It's a good thing, because the sound on all the videos is from the abyss. Ugh! Plus in most Tubes the cinematographer is headbanging while filming!!!
The Roseland rapidly filled to capacity. Suddenly, down on the main floor a bunch of Intel employees commenced to mosh! Bash!! Wham!!! The skinny PSU math post doc with waist long blond hair was competing with the frizzy haired code jockey in the front row for the title of Best Headbanger. Everyone down there was pretty much banging away, Portland!, hands raised in devoted horn signs in the shifting colored lights! Even up here in the balcony, some people were rocking back and forth. It was hard for me to restrain myself.
And on stage....Nightwisht sang songs from the newer album that I did not have, but a few...Nemo, Sleeping Sun, If I Had an Angel...from the Old Days. The band, with it's mix of folk and film score symphonies and metal was as beautiful as ever before!! Absolutely elegant! Aural cinematography! Annette, the Swedish woman in the brown peasant dress, would never top Tarja Turonen's opera metal, but as one lanky tree huggerette commented:
"She has a better stage presence than Tarja ever did!"
And as for me...oh, those Finnish men! Arent they cute!
I'm still interested in that lost vacation, way back in 1990. In fact, I'm interested in the Welsh semi-lost vacation of 1992 as well. I've looked at the photos
in my album, and decided that instead of Ian destroying the film, he actually was the one who aimed the camera. Some three year olds are truly idiot
savants with the pentax. Ian's talents in photography have, in contrast, simmered and just now shot up like a Wyoming geyser.
South of London, August (?) 2002.
"Emma and Ian!" I exclaimed from the front seat of Red Car. "This is the last day of our trip. We must pack up tonite...and therefore we will stay in a nearby hotel." In those days, we always camped, wet weather or dry, or mooched off of Friends located in "The Guide to Unsuspecting Quakers." Unsuspecting Quakers listed their names in this book, offering lodging to other Seekers in hopes of being Meaningfully Hit By the Ghostly Light of George Fox while meditating with a 90 year old Pilgrim from West Elkton, Ohio. Instead, our correspondents got a crazy Fairport Convention addict with two talkative, TV starved children who couldnt keep their hands off the knick-knacks.
Whoa! Serendipity!.... I swung into the ample parking lot of a charming 14th century inn. "Delicious dinners, ensuite baths, and television!!! Baked beans for breakfast L19" I pulled out the atlas. "Only 10 minutes to Gatwick I am sure!" Soon the children were installed in the dim red-carpeted dining room and furnished with repugnant roast beef and I with traditionally British fish and chips and ale. The table was black with centuries of shellac and the floor electrified with burgundy red garden carpet.
"Was Britain different in those days?" you ask.
"Yes," I answer. "It was a charming land in transition. Milk was still delivered in bottles. They didnt have capuccino machines in BP stations until 1996!"
I spent most of the night packing...rolling the mildewed tent and sleeping bags into a tiny army duffel and stuffing canned curry dinners into my Big Red suitcase. Tthe children watched the telly for several hours, but then passed out on the bed. I was alone with the ancient furniture and my own extreme fatigue.
"It's only 30 minutes from Gatwick!" assured the staff at 6AM. Yes, and no. It depends on who is driving sheep across the road. But the main problem was that I dropped the car off at the south terminal...or was it the north terminal? It makes no difference to Eurocar where you take your vehicle. What matters is that you have to hike several miles....
"You have to take the light rail and then hike!" hisses a whiskery little hedgerow stoat who is haunting my memories.
The clerk at the British Air counter shook her head. "You'll have to run to catch that plane! Off with you now!!!" We took off at a clip, loaded down with carry-ons and dragging wee Ian between the two of us girls. Our first hurdle was security. We arrived drenched in sweat and exhausted.
"What's this here in the x-ray? It's radioactive!! Admit it...your name is reallly O'Daighgenaighcht, and you are IRA and this is a time-bomb! " said the agent.
"My LEAD CRYSTAL CLOCK!!!" wailed 10 year old Emma. "What are they doing with my Christmas clock???" I grew nervous.
"Madam, you are suspiciously agitated. Come over here while Mildred searches you for rocket launchers and plastic explosives."
By the time we had passed the IRA test the plane for Houston had already left. When we arrived...
"Hurry!" said the clerk at the desk. "The plane is still at the gate!" We leaped on to the gargantuan vehicle.
After a half hour or so, the stewardess whispered a secret to a stoic businessman from Leeds. "A leaky fruit crate...they are replacing it shortly!"
Devon cream! It is the afternoon teas that British Air was famous for in those days. When you flew home to America, the daylight hours were very long.
"Tonight Mighty Orion Jet-Skis On Our Wake...."
I got this idea in mid November that I could fit in another trip after my class was over. But I didnt want to get yelled at in Italian, or any other language, for scraping the dust off of anyone's Fiat. No driving! What to do?
"I'm thinking..." I told Debbie at Triple A, "Of taking a Caribbean Cruise to as many places that I havent been in as short a time as possible. I'm totally bored by sitting on the boat while everyone else gambles and watches cheesy Vegas style shows."
"Hmm..." said the perky agent. "You were on the western Caribbean cruise before. How about this one...it stops at Puerto Rico, two Virgin Islands, Antigua, and Nassau. And it's on the Carnival Liverty again!!! Is there anything you didnt like about your Carnival Cruise last time?"
"Well, the gambling and the shows...but you can always walk around on the deserted upper decks and look at the stars!"
"Great! It's settled then! You have a three floor upgrade for booking with AAA, so I'll put you right here in this windowless hole above the Victorian Karyoke Salon. That way, you can hear people imitating Elvis all night long!"
December, 2007: The Caribbean Trench.
Some say that in the early days, there was no Caribbean Plate. Then the Atlantic opened and the eastern and western hemispheres began to separate. A huge lava flow...like the one that occurred in Washington and Oregon in the Miocene...poured like black death across most of what we now call the Caribbean. North and South America, speeding their way to the Pacific, left the land in the middle behind. The Pacific/Farallon plate changed direction, rotating north America and shoving the Bahamas, which is really part of Florida, into Cuba, which magically became part of North America. Embargo or not, the suture between the North American and Caribbean plates stretches from north of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, through the top of Hispaniola, and, as discussed last year, across the sharp southern blade of Cuba and the Cayman Trench. That's where the blubbery-whale like vessel is now sailing as we join our heroine.
(You can explain all this better using Play-Doh, or by constructing an Indigenous Myth about Fairy Elephants.)
"Oh wow," exclaimed the woman from Oregon as she set down her dollar copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez' "One Hundred Years of Solitude." She was holed up here in the corner of the dining hall mezzanine, right by the door that leads to Deck W. Solitude! You could stand on that deck and look at the sky and the empty fourteen foot waves and dream of other voyages, of sailing with the Great Dr Greta Fryxell on the Gyre in the Gulf, where diatoms flowed like water across the decks and the halls were stacked with free Diet Coke. You could remember the chink of winter ice against the bows of ferries bound for Talinn or Turku, or gaze at the grey dawn sky through the sun roof from your sleeping bag on the Aleutian Trusty Tusty. But walking on deck and dreaming was hard to do just now, because rain was shooting horizontally due to a low pressure high. "Olga" was the name being whispered from passenger to passenger.
Soon an old black man, perhaps a dentist from Balcony Stateroom 7401, sat down near her with a cup of coffee. Quite a few of the folks on the boat were people of color, which would prove to be a clear advantage as a tourist in the eastern Caribbean ports. She pondered the impact of the stereotype "rich black tourists," and then considered that there probably werent too many Jewish people on board. The night before, on formal night, she had struggled through thousands of people in tuxedos and satins and a poorly conceived deck plan to find "The Lighting Of the Menorah--Atrium." By the time she arrived, the upcoming electric bulb was already lit and the wine poured. There were only about fifteen people crowding the table, which surprised her.
"I know there are more Jewish people than this in the party I came with!" wondered a short dark woman in a Brooklyn accent without malice.
The woman from Oregon crept closer to the latkes in the chafing dishes. So many! At first she held back.
"If you know the words, join me...over the wine!" smiled the leader, a tall, grey-haired man in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. The words were actually xeroxed on pieces of paper at the left of the latkes, but she didnt know that, so she listened like she did when Protestants say prayers aloud. But afterwards, people took stemmed glasses of Mogen David.
"I'm a Quaker, I can do anything I want," she said as she snapped for a glass. "And they need all the help they can get!" She took a few potato pancakes, too, and some white stuff and applesauce. She also didnt feel so odd, because her brother in law's wife was Jewish and they'd done this once in Minnesota at Christmas. And she'd just been to her nephew's Bar Mitzvah as well, and suddenly she thought of this: She was a child again, maybe ten or eleven, and she was riding with her dad in his Thunderbird up the winding road between Mountain Brook and Birmingham.
"There's Cathy's church," she said. "Her parents used to be Jewish, but I guess they changed their minds." "That's a smart move in the dental school business, Punkin', changing from a Jew to a Unitarian." Anyone else would have paused, but he didnt. "I wouldnt mind being a Jew sometimes myself, this Jesus stuff is a bunch of *bologna*! But it would be a downright *disaster* business-wise to do that."
"I believe in everything and nothing," she reflected as she started at Marquez' name on the front cover. "Everything is circular."
Suddenly the black man commenced to sing gospel songs, softly and as beautiful and deep as the quiet waters below the turbulent ocean. He sang several songs, and then the intercom came on:
"This is your captain!" The Captain of the Liverty is Italian and he only talks to the passengers once a day. "Ladies and Gentlemen, we are crossing the Puerto Rico Trough!" That's the suture between the North American and Caribbean plates!
The old man stopped singing and went back to drinking his coffee.
December 2007, Dallesport, Washington: Wham! I swerved slightly in the darkening afternoon to avoid the battered pick-up parked on the shoulder. Then the little yellow Aveo and I continued on down the straight highway that connects the The Dalles Columbia RIver bridge and its tiny supplement of motels and gas stations with Washington 14. After crossing the river and continuing a couple miles on the Dallespoint meander loop point bar, US197 dead stops at the dead grass at the foot of the high rolling Klickitat Hills. If you turn right, you can drive over dry basalt rangeland to Maryhill with its winery and Sam Hill's mansion, or continue on to recross the Columbia at the Biggs Bridge on US 97, of which US 197 is a parasitic twin. If you turn left, you can drive to Murdock Mini Mart, and on to the dark green Douglas fir and hemlock shrouded slopes of the Cascades, and ultimately to Vancouver.
Several seconds passed. That's when I saw the aging, bearded man on the side of the road, one hand holding a gas can and the other extended as a thumb. I gracefully pivoted to a stop against the fenceline.
"Bunchatrslndupontwshmcuvsclntbyga," he began.
"Huh," I said. "Do you just want across the bridge then?"
"Wow! How's come you ran out of gas? You would think with that gas can someone would have picked you up by now."
"That's what I just said." The man had a definite speech defect, probably acquired late in life. "I meant to buy gas at Biggs but I couldnt get across the bridge! There were thousands of semis backed up on the Wishram Curves!! So I came this way and ran out of gas right before I got to The Dalles."
"Oh my!" I exclaimed. I extracted my mental map of Gas Stations in the Gorge. In my youth, people called them "filling stations." Wasnt there a Shell station right west of the sometimes treacherous Wishram Curves as they descend to the Mighty Columbia? Had he missed it?
"I saw where they were closing the bridge for repair," I commented.
"That's not till January." Later, at home, I would check ODOT Trip-Chek and the diagnosis would be "congestion at the Wishram Curves." My final analysis showed that the one lane remaining open on the bridge could not accomodate the volume of traffic resulting from the closure of I5 due to flooding after the Storm of the Century.
In a flash we had crossed the Columbia. Two filling stations were just ahead. I dropped him off at the more visible Chevron.
"I hope I can repay your kindness someday," he said.
"Just pass it on..." I replied.
The ladies of the Red Hat met at the Baldwin Saloon in Mid-November. One woman said:
"Remember when they delivered milk in bottles?"
Another said: "Yes! Here is a funny story. We had a big black lab and one year, around Christmas time, he gathered up every carton of eggnog in the neighborhood. We got up and there were dozens of egg noggs on our front porch! We returned the ones we could, but some were ruined...full of teeth marks and dripping all over. We had to write a note to those people saying we would replace it!"
That's my Christmas story for this year. Below is a story about a place it would be fun to be on Christmas!
December, 2007: Puerto Rico rose in front of us suddenly, black dog tooth marks on a grey sky. The big cruise ship slid rapidly into San Juan in time lapse photography, so rapidly that the Woman From Oregon did not have time to fetch her camera before they were in the harbor! The white sun hung low in the sky. San Juan was town of temperate night parties. Could the passengers of the Liberty disembark quickly enough to catch the dusk?
Some of them, yes. The Oregonian has speculated on zones in metal concerts, and now she had a chance to hypothesize the same zonality for Cruise Chip Passengers as she began her descent. She already had had the opportunity to observe one zone in the cafeteria:
"It looks grey outside. I'm not going to go slogging around in the rain!" announced a woman as she slogged around in her dessert plate, visions of Bingo Cards dancing in her head. It is an arguable fact that about 50% of the guests in their heart of hearts could care less if the ship docks at all.
The Woman from Oregon was not of that zone. She was excited as heck to get off. She'd read "Old San Juan" in "The Rough Guide To the Caribbean" and had mapped out her route along the wall that once had encircled Old San Juan in a bid to defend it against Brits, Danes, Dutch, French, Caribs, Communists, and ghosts. Interestingly, she was the only person on the entire cruise flaky enough to carry around a tour book, or any kind of map at all. Everyone else on the ship had obviously memorized GPS and GNP during lulls in the lobster dinner. She was also probably the only person who, upon disembarkation, crossed her hands over her face at the first sign of the ship paperazzi.
"I take the pictures here in Puerto Rico!" she wispered as if to hiss like a snake.
Down on the pier, Zone Two was busy meeting their Shore Excursion guides...
"What a great conga line!" one woman exclaimed in the lukewarm tub the next day. "Every time you stopped they gave you another shot of tequila!"
...and Zone Three was staring at the water a minute before they climbed back on the elevator to the slots. The rest of the zones were filtering past the Pina Colada booth, ready to explore Old San Juan at dusk, the most beautiful site on the entire cruise! Soon, an invisible fisherman would cast a net of invisible, ephemeral camraderie across the intrepid explorers who wandered the streets of the city in ones and twos, or as small families.
The Woman From Oregon followed the unorganized group who passed on the glassy cobbles, under the colorful arch that read Feliz Navidad, suddenly realizing that the brown wall on her right was The Wall. A Spanish-speaker stopped at an inscription in the pavement, "This man put important things of the time under here, and they will be taken out soon!" he explained. They stopped and took out their cameras at a statue framed against the ocean and the pastel peach and blue sky, then they scattered their own ways. She followed the wall along the strand, capturing electronically the old turret and dock in the mild sunset. and passing through a red town gate. The narrow streets were as chic and clean here as Austria, stucco painted the colors of the pale dusk sky, doorway arches that could be flush, or extend back in a long gated passage, unscreened windows that continued almost to the sidewalk and were left open, so that the paintings in the living room and the washers and dryers seemed like outdoor furniture. She thought of eating at a restaurant, but she wanted to hold onto the last piece of natural light before the points of incandescent glow took over. She turned again toward the sea and Fuerte San Felipe del Morro, shocked by the National Park Service sign. This stop...possibly all she would ever see of The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico...would later seem most like America. Small groups of tourists milled aimlessly around the fort, now artificially lit yellow against the black sky. The fort buildings were closed, and the hillsides dark as night. She turned east, against the horizonless ocean above La Perla and the grey surf, on a two way street, Transitoing both ways, plunging silently across an invisible line into anonymity. A car took off from the sidewalk, boys shouting in Spanish as if they were from Oregon. A younger boy left a recessed doorway, heading off on an errand. She accidently followed him to the corner store, where dark, crisp sausage and meat pies were displayed in a glass case on the counter. She picked a Diet Coke from the cooler for $1.35, just like in the Mexican store at home. The clerk spoke English to her. She continued again down the hill, another young man, pale and thin with slick black hair and dressed in the black and white of a waiter, walked past her,
"Gu' Efnun!" he greeted.
"Hi!" she answered.
Then suddenly, she stepped back across the demarcation. The street was lined with shops selling fine jewelry and crafts and Tshirts. She stopped at the first chic restaurant she saw, La Mallorquina, which, she would later read the plaque outside, is the oldest restaurant continually in one place in the Americas. She would also later read in The Rough Guide that it is overpriced, but worth it for the quaint atmosphere de antigua. She ordered a Mojito, an interesting slurry of vodka and chopped mint. She sucked at the straw...
"Choke sputter cough!!!" The lone woman learned to slurp calmly and slowly.
"Would you like me to take your picture?" asked the waiter.
"No thank you!" she smiled. Photos were a function of friends, relatives, German hitchhikers...and mirrors.
She finished her overpriced, but charming shrimp and rice stew, and headed east to the second yellow dark fort, called Fuerte San Cristobal, through a park dazzling with Christmas lights. She then turned south, to the behemoth leviathan cruise ships. The term had first been used to describe very large motor homes with Texas plates, in the ferry queue in Port Angeles, Washington, across the Strait of San Juan de Fuca to Victoria. It was time to put her book up and hit the bars! Or maybe just hold on to the book....
The Woman From Cascadia felt the first drops when she went inside the ferry terminal to use the rest room. Five minutes later, she turned and Old San Juan was a silver waterfall. Olga's fury had been unleashed!!!
Six days later, at the Ft Lauderdale Airport, she stood in line in front of a Canadian couple, waiting for a luncheon table at Chili's.
"So you were in San Juan too! It was raining so hard I couldnt get back out to hit the bars!" she told them.
"Yes...we came in two hours later on the Crown of Creation," the man laughed. "We didnt even get off the boat with the rain!"
"We had already been there before anyway," explained the woman.
Question! Are there other, less silly, ways to cruise Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands by sea?
Answer! Yes. You can take passenger ferries from island to island, even to the British Virgin Islands. Keep this in mind when YOU travel!!!
Question! Where in America does one drive on the left?
Answer! In the Virgin Islands.
Question! Where in America is the drinking age 18?
Answer! Puerto Rico & the Virgin Islands.
St Thomas, USVI, December 2007: The Woman from Oregon was still asleep when the Carnival Liberty hit the dock at St Thomas. Hoo-ray, they were still in America, land of the free!
She made her way like an little determined ferry through the large shopping center that circumscribes the cruise dock. She crossed the street, eyeing the music store and avoiding the KMart. Desperate, she opened the door of Wendy's and walked up to the counter. Everyone in the fast food cafe was black, except for a nervous, chubby man with dark hair and vulture eyes.
"I'd like an Extra Large Diet Coke!" she ordered, her voice struggling to contain her excitement.
Diet Coke indeed, but here at the Columbia Gypsy Travel Bar, the bartender had thrown Atlanta, Panama City, and Copenhagen into a blender and poured out Charlotte Amalie Colada.
The Columbia Explorer continued past a tropical housing project...New Zealand? Hawaii? uh...Virgin Islands? and up a main artery, toward the grey-green mountains that overlook the blue grey Olga-infected harbor.
"Good morning!" said a thin black man. What a friendly village!
"Honk!" said a blue sedan.
"Hello!" said an oriental woman.
"Beep!" said a big grey SUV.
She would hear more beeps in 4 days in the Caribbean than she would hear the next year in Cascadia. Vehicles beep to warn the car just over the hill and around the corner of an incipient head on collision, to greet friends and to let enemies and tourists know that this is their last moment of life because they will soon be squashed. She turned left, down a smaller street, walking past wood shuttered or glass louvered windows. She noticed another chubby white man, pumping gas at a filling station. She saw tiny stores, and a colorful bar on a porch, open to the morning and already humming. The street sign was in Danish, she reckoned, Gade spreading from the Swedish gata to the Finnish katu, skipping past Jutland...all the way here to little St Thomas! She turned back to the ocean, standing on the sidewalk with the flotsan of seaweed and beer cans, while the salty surf rolled over her clogs and blisters, then on to town to look for a bookstore!
ARGH!!! CHAOS!!! Suddenly the Former Texan hit a pernicious demarcation!! The downtown, the old historic portion of Charlotte Amalie, had been beautifully renovated to accommodate tasteful souvenir, rum, and tanzanite shoppes!!! The street was swamped with ten thousand Class 4B cruise boat tourists!!!
"Can I ask you what you are looking for [in the way of tax free gems]?" asked a gentleman of color immediately.
"Yes!" she answered unable to really curb her irritation. "Diet Mountain Dew!!"
The man gasped but recovered. "There's a convenience store down there!" She followed one of the paved Gades, in this case a chic double footpath between buildings. Imagine the streets being this narrow in colonial times! She located and purchased a Diet Coke, then made her way through the tumult, which thinned abruptly at a shabby, sparse department store displaying childrens clothes and pots and pans.
"There's nothing more this way!" exclaimed a man from New Jersey to his wife, just before making a U-Turn. The Cascadian took him at his word and turned right. Then...She gasped in amazement!!!...as if she were faced by the Alps or the southeast coast of Iceland, as if the volcanic mountains of Saint Thomas had become a human Front Range!!! Right there, in that intersection, three loudly painted bars...fronted by old men lounging in chairs...were playing three different soca CDs at the same time!!! Chaos!!! Over at the school, Caribbean children played at recess in pink and grey uniforms.
"Can I take a photo?" she mouthed and smiled from beyond the fence. The skeptical teacher smiled back and nodded.
Up the steep slope, away from the bay on the highway, taunted by cars and SUVs with large horns, and by vicious blisters...she hoped to get to...where? The woman snapped a photo of the far away cruise ships and then descended again, past the flowers and the rubble and the woman hanging clothes on her balcony, past the Reggae Vegetarian Cafe with the dreadlocked clerk, the corner stores and beauty salons, past the school and back into Zone 4B.
"Can I help you find something [like tanzanite]?" asked someone's Native Helper.
"Yes," she said. "Some band-aids."
The Oregonian settled on lunch at a chic cafe recommended by the New York Times, she read right there by the door. You wonder why she turned tail like this, and so do I!! But she will tell you that she was afraid of the old men; those old men were quicksand. There was half a chance that one might tell her an interesting story when she sat down to eat, and another chance they would take her to be gullible because she was a tourist, not because she was, in truth, just habitually gullible, or half another chance that one would turn on her, and tell her just what she was doing wrong. That's how she ended up with plates full of chunky conch fritters, cornspoonbreadlike fungi, and eggnog seasoned plantain, chased with soursop colada, served by an graying hippie waitress and a native bartendress who sang Jinglebell Rock along with the radio....
"That's their world famous hot sauce," someone told her. "But dont use too much of it, because it's REALLY hot!!" a man told her.
...along with a bunch of tourists. But it is an unwritten rule amongst zone 1-5 cruise ship passengers that you go BACK to the SHIP to eat, because you've already paid for your food there! So perhaps everything was still alright....
Epilogue: On the way back to the ship, over by KMart, she was sucked into the record store. WHOOSH!!!
"What local album would you recommend?" she asked the clerk.
"Soca? Hmmm....This one I think, P'Your Passion!"
If St Thomas had been the Front Range, then Antigua would prove to be the Alps. And the Himalayas were probably somewhere around there
too...probably on the western half of Hispaniola, a mysterious blank spot on the Lonely Planet Guide to the Caribbean!!!
The tiny nation of Antigua and Barbuda lies south of the Virgin Islands, on the older, outer volcanic arc that rises from the Caribbean plate subduction zone just as the Cascades line the North American plate. Other tropical isles on this old chain are St Martin, St Bart, and part of Guadeloupe. During the Oligocene (about 29 million years ago), a huge volcano erupted, depositing volcanic rocks that you can see on the southwest corner of the island. These rocks eroded to form sediments intelaced with limestones, found in the central portion of the island, including the area around the capital, St Johns. In more recent times, limestone formed in the shallow seas which covered the northeast of Antiqua and the little island of Barbuda.
St John's, Antigua, December 2007. The Woman From Oregon and her sore feet disembarked from the gargantuan & garish Liberty and made their way through Zone 4B at the end of the pier. St John's and its glass paned windows lay before her like a simply drawn map. In only a few moments of walking, she found a dignified but worn limestone yellow church. In the churchyard, lonely 18th ghosts, so far now from Weybridge, lay forever overlooking the Caribbean town. In those days, you were just as likely to die at ten or thirty as at fifty or seventy! Down the hill she discovered the town pond, the waters waiting hopefully beyond the empty bleachers for a sporting event. Beyond that, she walked the city streets, where the small part of Antigua that she would be allowed to see unfolded like a blossoming frangipani. Chickens cruised the streets in small groups or alone. At one tan stone building living people...black and African instead of European...hung into the sills of windows listening to the silence of some event inside. Across the street, a sign dedicated a parking lot to the Memory of Brother O.C. Willis. But surely this was not so much different than making ones way through the heart of Deep Texas!
Closer to Downtown, St John's was in the streets, safe from everyone but a few Zone 6+ white tourists and an unknown number of incognito Afro-Americans. Antiquans milled around as if the whole town were an open air Saturday market, as if they were Portlandistas out after their Sunday morning coffee at the tiny food stand cafes. A man yelled at his wife, an old woman in a skirt and blouse in clashing patterns screamed angrily at a disinterested produce vendor. At the city market, there were dozens of fruit that the Cascadian could not identify! The Oregonian felt people staring as she took photos of the produce. She moved to the solace of a furniture store, where the clerks and customers again seemed snatched from Texas...to buy and sell American-styled furniture and tiny stoves and refrigerators. The buses at the central station were tiny, too, every one different.
"Wow!" she exclaimed. "A quaint supermarket! Maybe I can buy another Diet Coke!" The woman from Oregon made her way over to the beverage aisle. Oh!!! There were so many beverages there, helter skelter pop, juice, alcohol!!!! Ginger beer and....then she saw it and gasped:
"Diet Mountain Dew!!!"
What a dilemma! Would she choose a lush local mystery fruit delicacy or....???
"Kopparberg's Pear Cider!!!" Her two favorite drinks! She's have to get a photo of this!!! Suddenly a gentleman customer scowled and said,
"You cant do that in here!"
"I cant?" she whined. She believed that he might possibly not be making fun of her, as they had that rule in Albertsons as well. She grabbed one can of Diet Mountain Dew and checked out, fighting back the tears. It would be the only can of her favorite beverage that she would drink during the entire trip.
Aboard the ship, the woman quickly stuffed a fillet of Taryoke Salmon from the Grand Buffet into her mouth and set out again, this time for a four mile hike out to the ruins of a fort, through overgrown neighborhoods of corner stores and peeling paint, on deep guttered streets where cars and big silver SUVs beep an average of ten times a minute, with good reason. She took a photo of cruise ships framed by one of the alleyways, as the ultimate irony, similar to but oh so different than the view through the windows of the Juneau Public Library. Then the Salmon Princess took the high road past a gas station, past a popular, sparkling beach on the other side of a bay, and past goats grazing on a government lawn. At the barb wire contained containerized cargo dock, a DHL man queued patiently with employees to enter a locked gate, and she ran into a hostile acacia staring at them. A dockside worker in hardhat and red vest eyed her suspiciously through the fence.
"Are you lookin' for something?" he asked.
"Yeah...I'm looking at these rocks over here!" she replied quite honestly.
"Those rocks came from a VOLCANO!!!" he smiled.
But there was no way she could see to get to the old fort. There was nothing left to do but walk back, past the teeming gas station and a government office where the radio was blaring obituaries.
"We are mourning the death, Praise the Lord he has gone to his Maker, of our Faithful Brother Elton C. "Big Dog" Jefferson, 76, who leaves his beloved fishing boat floating alone and despairing in the waters of Half Moon Bay"....then the trumpets of Heaven began to play!
"Hey, I know that song!" she exclaimed, listening as she propped herself against the fence listening. "Why...It's 'The Final Countdown' by the Finnish power metal band Sonota Arctica!"
She started laughing hysterically as her swollen feet throbbed. Soca indeed!
Back in Zone 4C Tastefully Restored, she found a wine bar and ordered a glass.
"Where is your wine from?" she asked the blonde white clerk, whom she took to be from North Carolina or California.
"All our wine is from South Africa," she answered.
Then she ordered a spinach and garbanzo wrap from Afro-Caribbeans at a vegetarian cafe.
"You're at the wine bar? I'll deliver this to your table!" said the counter woman cheerfully.
The Woman From Oregon had to get a second glass of wine, because she bumped the table with her leg. The glass jumped straight up into the air, and she was able to catch it before it smashed, but the wine had gone straight up as well and then fallen obliquely.
"What kind of greens were those?" she asked the counter woman when she unnecessarily returned with the plate.
"Spinach. But it's the spinach with the big leaves."
"Golly!" she replied. "I thought it was collards!!"
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