To the Point

There comes a time in every epoch when pragmatism simply evolves into extreme acquiescence and surrender to the forces of apathy and do-nothingness, a guarantor of the status quo in all of its easy, democratic criminality--its fortress of greed.--TL Simons

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Who's On First?

Baseball is almost here.


Junger's War

Sebastian Junger, you may recall, is the author of The Perfect Storm, a gripping account of a fishing accident in the Outer Banks region of the Atlantic off the coast of New England. George Clooney starred in the movie, which wasn't too bad, but not nearly as riveting as the book.

I read Junger's 2010 reportage, War, shortly after it appeared. The book wasn’t nearly as inspired as Storm, but it was a fascinating read nonetheless.

Junger spent time embedded with a U.S. Army platoon in a Taliban-controlled segment of Afghanistan's Kunar Province near the Pakistan border, entering and leaving the region five times over the course of 14 months.

Taliban fighters controlled a thirty-six square mile swath in the southern area of the province, in the Korengal Valley. (We don’t know what they control today because reporting like this is basically not happening now).

The valley is a tight area of villages hugging the Korengal River, which confluences with the Pech River to the north. The stretch of road from the Pech River to a series of U.S. outposts situated at the lower end of the valley was then in the heart of Taliban fighters' turf. At the time of Junger’s reportage it was considered the most dangerous road in the country. A majority of U.S. casualties in the Afghanistan War were occurring in the Korengal Valley when Junger embedded with the troops in 2008. He describes in detail what happened there over a harrowing year.

War correspondents are usually nuts, and Junger is no different. He got caught in firefights, had a Humvee blown out from under him, and fell in love with the Army grunts he wrote about. Like the soldiers under his reporter's gaze, he lost interest in the politics of America's war and turned survivalist to cope.

The book is about survival and the warrior bond.

Junger notes that grunts in the heat of a firefight are unconcerned with moral questions. There are no moral questions when someone is shooting at you. Reading War, one is struck by how all the memoirs and reportage of war correspondents are always similar. Inevitably, the writer falls in love with the troops, drops attempts to question the war's meaning on any level that hasn't a warrior's slant, and tells a gripping story.

In other words, you've read this book before.

The usual suspects show up in the narrative. Only their names and home towns have changed. The crusty old-timer reappears, along with the cherries new to the killing business. The rough but brilliant sergeant is in the hooch next to the frightened and inexperienced young officer.

The types are ready-made for a movie set. (In fact, Junger made a documentary of his experience; the footage above is from his Restrepo.)

The commanders are asses more concerned with dress codes than strategy. The soldiers are quick with their bios and tell Junger things like: it was either the Army or jail; the Army or a dead-end job in a Subway; the Army or boredom.

In rare cases there is patriotism.

This book doesn't reach the plateau of the best books about war, but it is serviceable, particularly in the way the author draws the terrain of Afghanistan and Korengal Valley, as well as the personalities of the kids who travel into harm’s way in support of America’s military.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mance Lipscomb

I saw the widely influential Texas blues player Mance Lipscomb in Eugene in 1973. He played outside on the lawn of the University of Oregon music building, and quite honestly the performance presented one of those life moments I now revere, an educational moment as such, a breakthrough in my understanding and deepening appreciation of roots music.

Mance Lipscomb's hometown of Navasota, Texas became one of the focal points of the blues revival movement of the sixties. In the summer of 1960, Mack McCormick and Chris Strachwitz drove deep into Grimes County, Texas and began quizzing the locals regarding the best musicians in the region. They were repeatedly referred to Lipscomb. They found him, heard him, and recorded him on the first day of their meeting. The label was Arhoolie and the first recording was called "Texas Songster," the guitarist/singer's chosen handle.

Lipscomb was born in 1895, the son of a former slave from Alabama and his half-Choctaw Native American wife. Sixty-five at the time he made his first recordings with Arhoolie, he was invited to Barry Olivier's Berkeley Folk Festival the next summer and thus began a recording career and touring schedule that often brought him to the west coast, including Eugene.

Lipscomb played a Dobro the day I watched him, sitting in awe on the lawn of Oregon's music school. At 78, his voice was yet remarkably resilient, tinged with a Texas drawl, his love of performance obvious.

Lipscomb died in 1976, age 80.


The Pot is Boiling

I'm at the tail end of a few projects that are quickly coming to fruition.

One involves a new publication, which I will formally announce here on Monday. The other two involve management scenarios designed to enhance the visibility of a couple of previously published Round Bend titles.

The pot is boiling, in other words.

So don't go away, or withdraw, or pout about stuff you can't control.

You'll get what's coming to you from Round Bend, I promise you, and you will live with it.

I'm not telling you that.  The guy in the picture is, and he has my back.  Buddy Dooley is one guy you do not want to cross.  Ever.

You've been warned.


Monday, February 27, 2012

William Saroyan

The Armenian-American writer William Saroyan (1908-1981) was a huge favorite of mine during my early romance with writers and stories. Born in Fresno to Armenian immigrants, he was raised for eight years in an orphanage in Oakland, after the early death of his father. Rejoining his poor mother in Fresno as a teenager, he sold papers and worked in local vineyards to contribute to the family income. He attended Fresno Technical High, but didn't graduate due to disciplinary issues.

He decided to become a writer after reading, at the behest of his mother, some of the stories his father had written. After a brief stint in the California National Guard, he went to New York for the first time at 19, only to become homesick. He returned to Fresno and plunged into his literary endeavors.

Saroyan famously spent the money he made writing as fast as he earned it, and he was prolific. He was an addicted gambler and drinker, but remained a high-spirited humorist over the entirety of his career. He met early success by publishing stories in the legendary Story Magazine and elsewhere. Those stories became The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, published in 1934. The stories of Depression Era hardship, told with compelling optimism, had great critical and commercial success, giving Saroyan the opportunity to travel. Daring...has often been compared favorably with other stories of hardship and oppression by Knut Hamsun (Hunger) and Orwell (Down and Out in Paris and London).

Saroyan wrote fast and with abandon, often getting reasonable first drafts out to his editors in rapid succession. With his early success, he was afforded the opportunity to submit and let others correct little spelling and grammar problems where they arose. Every writer should be so lucky, or good.

Two of my favorites of Saroyan's vast output are a pair of his non-fictional works: Places Where I've Done Time (1972) and Here Comes, There Goes You Know Who (1961).


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bernardo Bertolucci

He began his career in revolt, lashing out at the injustices of capitalism and the blinding middle-class decadence he witnessed as a young man. The son of an affluent and highly regarded poet, he was born in Parma, Italy. As a young man, Bertolucci fell under the spell of family friend Pier Paolo Pasolini, who gave him his first job in cinema and became his mentor.

Bertolucci's first films dealt with an early personal conflict of values. Awakening to the struggle of the lower-classes, he sought a method of disowning the comfortable. To combat the emptiness of bourgeois conformity, he turned to Marxism in the 1960s. His second film, Before the Revolution, probed questions of political identity. How is the tension between individuality and forms of governance reconciled? How does one live a moral life within the framework of materialism and the uneven hand of fate? What choice has man between how he feels and what society expects?

They're age-old questions, and every artist deals with them. In fact, they are entirely the point of art. Answered or not, they reflect the artist's worldview—that is, their importance is judged on a scale by the artist, whose work is always metered by perceptions of "what it means."

The "it" can be everything or nothing.

Of course, one doesn't necessarily have to be an artist to deal with such questions. One need only be human and engaged with life. But artists are the messengers, and what they do interests me, so I keep my eye on them.

Bertolucci's movies fit my style, and a few of them have sat near the top of my Top 25 list for years.

His movies speak to political evolution in the context of self-examination.

The Conformist, finished and distributed in 1970, gave the filmmaker international cachet. The story of how one man deals with 1930s fascism and his own broken psyche, the film's appeal rests in its recognition of an historical imperative—that individualism is in constant peril under the restraints of governance.

If you've seen this film, you know its message is as pertinent today as it was in 1970, when aspects of fascism similar to Mussolini's in the thirties were once again infiltrating Western thought.

The Kent State Massacre, in 1970, is one obvious example of fascist suppression in the U.S. from that era. Like mindless conformists, members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire at a student demonstration, killing four innocent people.

There are of course many other more recent examples from around the world, from the squelching of dissent in China to the fundamentalism of the Taliban to elements of the Christian Right. What they have in common is the ability to herd people into a niche that makes conformity expected and of paramount importance across a social spectrum. Holdouts are regarded as outlaws and are ultimately shunned by the conforming mass.

Tomorrow's news will bring more evidence that the murderous conformist is still plying his trade, in the name of one ideology or another.

Bertolucci's career skyrocketed after The Conformist appeared, and he made the blockbuster, Last Tango in Paris. The popularity of that film allowed him to make the five hour-long epic, 1900, his final exposition of his hoped-for utopianism. The film didn't sell well, crushing Bertolucci and causing him to rethink his ideals.

With The Last Emperor (1987), he moved into the mainstream and altered much of the political ideology he had so carefully manipulated as a young filmmaker.

Correspondingly, his movies became less interesting, at least to me.


Something Novel

It’s entirely something else now, but when I conceived of Round Bend Press I imagined it to be a conduit to my collection of plays at Lulu, the printing company that makes all this possible.

Anyone can publish a book these days, and that is a new democratic reality. However, as with democracy in general, it is not a perfect thing. A lot of crap has joined the publishing parade. (On the other hand, some very reputable presses, the mega-monoliths, publish their own fair share of crap.)

A few years ago I was brooding about not having a job and sending out dozens of resumes a week to various companies and hearing nothing back except a rare letter thanking me for my interest.

I was collecting unemployment at the time and working four to eight hours a day slamming out cover letters, fine tuning my approach to job hunting, and lamenting the old adage that says hunting for a job is the hardest job you'll ever have.

At the same time I was writing a novel.

Who in the hell is going to publish this I thought as I finished a draft. It hasn't novelistic qualities at all. It's a mystery, but not really a mystery. It's a crime novel, but not one in the ordinary sense. It's social satire, but loosely constructed. It's an anti-war novel, but marginally concerned with war. It's a social novel, but has elements of the anti-social throughout. What is it? Well, I thought, it's a slightly deranged stab at several genres at once and not a very good novel at all.

But there it sat in my laptop; several weeks of work come to naught.

Then I discovered Lulu. I'd never heard of it, but searching the Web for publishers, I read a story about "print-on-demand." Lulu was mentioned prominently in the story, so I investigated. I soon learned how the concept works and I decided to give it a try. I got terribly excited, typing my novel up as per the web site's suggestions, decoding the Cover Design template (but not fully), creating an actual book. Before this happened you might say I was out of touch. I still am usually, tagging along behind the masses, out of touch with what is happening in the technological world, movies, science, contemporary lit, art, pop culture, etc.

Holy cow! This is the job I've wanted all along, I realized as I worked at making my own book. I don't need to write deferential letters to strangers trying to convince them that I am a sincere hard worker who will do their company proud. I can do this instead!

Well, one can't simply stop looking for paying work, which I haven't, but let me put it this way—I now spend more time with Round Bend Press than I do with my futile job search. The economy is so bad in Oregon that I feel like quitting altogether and taking a tent into the woods; one would either die there or manage to live with the beasts. Or one could turn into a Ted Kaczynski-like figure, writing incendiary tracts against capital.

(I’m not advocating bombing anyone FBI guy. I’m not advocating anything here.)

I called my novel The Friends of Round Bend and self-published it at Lulu. The book wasn't ready to be published I discovered soon thereafter, having an assortment of typos and misspellings and a myriad of other problems (narrative, syntax, vocabulary, etc. etc.) All and all, a quite amateurish job filled with problems that I'd managed to overlook in my excitement to finally publish a book.

A slightly better issue of the novel was still up at Lulu until recently. I decided in the end that until I rewrite it or completely lose interest in its possibilities, I'll just leave it alone as a symbol of my subsequent efforts. (Today I have a collaborator on the project; perhaps something will come of that.)

It used to be said about Sherwood Anderson that he was a mediocre novelist and that short stories such as those he published in Winesburg, Ohio were as close to perfection as anything he wrote. His novels were too episodic, critics said. They lacked the necessary cohesion of the novel form, which is organic and fluid in structure. Winesburg, Ohio is indeed an unstructured, informal novel inasmuch as all the stories in it are interrelated. It is a fragmented glimpse, but not novelistic in the usual way we define the concept. As short stories however, the book is masterful.

The ideal novel wouldn't have chapters; it would open with the first sentence and each subsequent sentence would make perfect sense relative to the previous sentence and the next sentence, so that if one sentence diverged from its novelistic essence the entire structure of the thing would collapse and be indecipherable. In a sense, this is what Hemingway was talking about when he said his method was to write "one true sentence" at a time until a story was told. To banish the extraneous would then be the ultimate goal, giving the novel a ringing truth like the best haiku. A long novel would break into a myriad of haiku moments. No padding or flowering, simply the author's voice giving recognition to a moment or an object or a thing.

I imagine that nothing would ever to need happen in the novel if this were the case; it might perfect nothingness, which, as Sartre postulated, is the most significant realization of the way things are.

But of course Sartre may have been full of shit.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Frederick Exley

One evening in 1979, in Portland's Goose Hollow Inn, Peter Fritch told me about a book he'd recently finished called A Fan's Notes, by a writer named Frederick Exley.

Pete was a favorite customer of mine in the Goose, where I worked at the time, and I listened closely to his description of the novel.

He gave me a brief summary of the story, about a guy obsessed with Frank Gifford, the ex-USC and New York Giants football star. I knew about Gifford naturally enough because I grew up watching him play in news reels and on television.

Pete told me the first-person narrator in the book was a drunken madman, likely Exley embellishing autobiographical scenes from his life. You must read this book, Pete said.

The narrator of A Fan’s Notes fails at work and in marriage, obsesses about Gifford, drinks relentlessly, and repeatedly finds himself institutionalized for mental illness, Pete further informed me.

And, by the way, it’s funny, he said.

Pete's description of the novel struck me immediately as an interesting premise for a story.

As a kid just a decade earlier, I'd worshipped Joe Namath, the New York Jet who famously predicted victory against the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. I had owned a poster of Namath, resplendent in his clean green and white uniform, dropping back to pass. Scanning down field for his sure-handed receiver Don Maynard, daubs of what looked like black shoe polish under his eyes, the curls of his longish, dark hair protruding from the back of his helmet, he seemed God-like to a kid who grew up idolizing the athletes who played the games I loved for money.

I had my share of fantasies about being a professional athlete, as kids have since sports came on the scene. When I was fifteen, I wanted to be Broadway Joe Namath.

Namath fascinated me. He wore white shoes and averred that the three elixirs—Johnny Walker Scotch, white shoes and long fur coats—combined to help create his greatness.

Along with the strongest arm to ever play professional football, until Dan Marino and John Elway came along, all of that may have been true.

But likely not.

Despite my idolatry, it hadn't occurred to me to write a novel with Broadway Joe as a central character. But as I would eventually come to realize, I hadn't an ounce of Frederick Exley's talent and imagination, either.

Exley was, quite simply, a great writer. His reputation rests on the extraordinary book my friend Pete turned me on to, and two others that weren't as well received by his critics (his biographer Jonathan Yardley calls him a "one-book" novelist).

Frederick Exley died after his long fight with alcohol and depression in 1992. He was 65.


Jerzy Kosinski

Waiting for a train one morning on 5th Avenue, I fell into conversation with a fellow going to his job at the central library in Portland.

He told me how he secured his job, which I won't get into; suffice to say it was not through what might be considered normal channels.

You see, he was a contract laborer. Our conversation turned to wages and how the American economy has been stymied by the wages versus costs gap, the inflationary reality we love to hate, which is a terrible problem for a vast segment of low-income workers in the U.S. and has been for years.

Naturally enough, the conversation turned to the day the free-fall of real wages for workers started, which we agreed was the day Ronald Reagan became president and over the next eight years when the effects of Reaganomics took hold. I mean, this fellow and I, about the same age, were in sync about this.

We commiserated some more, recalling that when the bad actor-turned president died, a vast outpouring of sentimentality seized the nation, perpetuated by the contrived sentimentality of big-assed corporate media.


My new friend was quick with it, knew the score, had been around the block a few times, had read the news, was in tune, had been there and done that, had been a witness to history, had felt the hard hand- slap of fate, was down with it, was as clear as the Oregon sky on a rare good day, was hip and knowing, etc.

He said, "Because Americans are stupid."

That was the correct answer, exactly what I wanted to hear! And this was a stranger, honest to God, not some crony in the street, or a planted co-conspirator of mine tempting passers-by to berate us.

This was an honest-to-God citizen of Portland, a beautiful character, a truth-teller.

Then, being brilliant but perhaps lacking a few synapses like the rest of us, he said Reagan always reminded him of Peter Sellers in that movie...what was it know…Seller plays this...

Ronald Reagan was Chauncey Gardener in Being There, the Jerzy Kosinski satire about an ignoramus thought to be a sage.

The train rolled to a stop in front of me and this brilliant man I'd come to know so well after only five minutes.

We got on, certain we had solved one of the great mysteries of life, and went our separate ways.


Lonnie Johnson

Lonnie Johnson (1899-1970) was a highly influential (Elvis loved him) blues/jazz guitarist and singer born in Orleans Parish, New Orleans. He was raised in a family of musicians and said of the experience, "There was music all around us, and in my family you'd better play something, even if you just banged on a tin can."

A highly trained musician, Johnson was able to prolong his career by moving easily among musical genres and became a player in demand in the U.S., Europe and Canada. But for long stretches in his career he was ignored and had to keep a series of menial side jobs to make ends meet.

He moved from Philly to Toronto in 1965 and eventually opened a club there, but the business failed and he had to sell. He continued to work for the interests that bought the club, but he was fired after an argument with the new owner.

In 1969, Johnson was struck by a car on a Toronto street. Walking with a cane, he performed his final show with Buddy Guy at Massey Hall on Feb. 23, 1970. He died of a stroke in the late spring of that year and was buried in Toronto.

It is said that the great musician died broke.

Now, isn't that an unlikely story?


Friday, February 24, 2012

Two From Thomas

Somewhere among my papers I have a picture of a drawing Bob Thomas made of Jack Spicer's head, with a cigarette dangling from its mouth, ascending a staircase.

Strange guy, Bob.


Miles Davis

The music listening I've been involved with in recent months has been very good for me. Like many things over the years of my life, my interest in music and my musical tastes have taken many twists and turns. I'm now finding that I enjoy music more than at any other time in my life.

I grew up a trumpet player, starting at age 10. Over the years I learned to noodle out some faux piano and guitar figures as well and more or less left it at that. I always had the appreciation, but at times I let other things get in the way of my experiences with music.

I think I have a good ear. Not so much in the playing realm, but in knowing good music when I hear it, having the sudden recognition, usually within a few bars, that something interesting or accomplished is happening in a tune. Music has wonderful properties that play hide and seek with the senses. Often subtle and inhibited aural meaning emerges in successive encounters with a particular song, but something has to grab hold of you first, even appropriately placed silence.

I started listening to jazz after high school. That put rock and what little classical music I'd heard growing up on the back burner for many years.

Why was I drawn to the trumpet? I was unaware of jazz to begin with, but something in the sound of the horn caught me, swept me away. As odd as it may seem, I think I heard jazz before I knew jazz. I may have heard Miles before I discovered him.

So much mysticism? I think not.

Playing a typical brass march, which likely contained the first post "Mary Had a Little Lamb" phrases I learned on the horn, didn't stop me from hearing other stuff in my head. I can recall playing improvisations on the horn before reluctantly stopping long enough to learn a piece I had to learn for band competitions. Call it bad, instinctive jazz.

Maybe that is why I finally stopped playing. School band, a diet of Souza marches, bored me, finally. This was a long time before jazz education infiltrated the school system in Oregon, believe me.

Of course Miles Davis didn’t grow up in Oregon and he was no conformist. He played what he heard in his head, and then he took it to the clubs, starting at fifteen. He put it out there. Be damned if you didn't like it because his hero, Charlie Parker, did and Miles knew Charlie understood.

After treatment for heroin addiction and staying out of the clubs for a number of years, Miles founded one of the greatest quintets to every bless New York City. In featuring Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, Red Garland and John Coltrane, Miles Davis hit his stride as a band leader in the 1950s and created some of his most important and dynamic work.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Kubrick and Southern

Terry Southern had the balls to tell Stanley Kubrick that Dr. Strangelove was a comedy and not the oh-so-serious anti-nuclear, muckraking political tract Kubrick believed he'd conceived.

Kubrick listened and a classic was born. Peter Sellers had turned Kubrick on to The Magic Christian, Southern's masterpiece about human greed, and the book opened the director's mind to the possibility that Southern just might be a special kind of thinker. Plus, face it, if you were Kubrick and Sellers was telling you something, you were going to take it seriously.

Southern knew what kind of film Kubrick was making, even if the director didn't, because the novelist was intimately connected with the absurd. Southern understood plenty about comedy and its role in blowing apart the dearest old myths. To Southern, nothing was as absurd as a nation willing to annihilate humanity to save humanity.

Southern published The Magic Christian in 1959. Surely it is one of the top-ten funniest fictions every written by an American. It satirizes the myth of the detached fiscal aesthete--the man who is above needing or wanting money.

Here is the premise of the story, which was a decade after its publication made into a movie with Sellers in the lead role, but unfortunately without Kubrick as director:

Guy Grand, an eccentric billionaire, has a wicked, cruel streak and a desire to demonstrate how hypocritical people can be. He gives people money to make asses of themselves and discovers that nothing is too debasing for a human being to try if enough cash is offered in exchange.

At one point Grand tosses 100K into a vat of shit and tells people to have at it if they want, and of course people jump into the shit to retrieve the money.

Hell, who hasn't done that, metaphorically or otherwise?

Southern is an overlooked American writer.


Richard Burton & Claire Bloom

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, based on the John Le Carre novel. In this fragment Alec, controlled by London, has finally seen that he has been used by his peers to save an East German double agent during the height of the Cold War.

The great Richard Burton and Claire Bloom were stellar in this 1965 film directed by Martin Ritt.


Henry Aaron

(Henry Aaron)

As I continue to gather pieces for a new collection I'll consider this one:

In 1980 I researched and wrote a series of historical pieces on the Portland Beavers while working for a community monthly in Northwest Portland. I dug into a trove of microfiche files at the Portland library to find material dating from turn-of-the-century newspapers, and I leaned heavily on many stories by a long-time Oregonian writer, a legend in Oregon named L.H. Gregory, whom I could remember reading as a kid.

Gregory was among the last of the old-time sportswriters. He referred to the ballplayers as "lads" and extolled their virtues as "fine young men," and once described a manager as having a "Romanesque stature and nose," a man whose "dignity" surpassed even his managerial skills, etc.

A night on the town would include players under Gregory's watchful gaze "ice-skating in Fresno" on an off day, and "cutting manly figures" as they circled around the rink and "impressed the local ladies."

It was good stuff.

I used as much of the material as I could find and put together six pieces covering professional baseball in Portland between 1901 and 1980.

Lo, I had a minor hit in the community! One friend urged me to start going to spring training in Arizona and freelance baseball stories. People, generally old men, but a few old women as well, wrote to the newspaper thanking us for the memories of Vaughn Street Park, Portland's home field for over fifty years. Built in 1901, Vaughn had once been the finest ballpark on the west coast, people said. Everything changed when they tore that old stadium down in 1956. It just wasn't the same.

Baseball is American society's biggest nostalgia hook, even when the nostalgia is phony and trumped-up by baseball's never ending self-promotion. Or George Will, the waxiest of the baseball philosophers.

I understood baseball because I played the game. I played Little League, Babe Ruth, high school and junior college ball. But I swear to God baseball doesn't make me nostalgic at all. In fact, I don't even care for the game today. It's too money-centric now, and as with every professional sport most of the players are all about the money and little else. When Curt Flood sued baseball to free players at the negotiating table, the game changed, not just the ballparks, which always get rickety and old.

Curt Flood started free-agency rolling. That was good for the players, but bad for the fans. I knew Pete Ward, who played for the White Sox and Yankees for a decade, from my work in the bar business. He was a beer rep for a Portland distributor when I met him, and we once talked about the big money that came into baseball after he retired. He seemed a little wistful about the entire situation.

The baseball strike in the '90s was the last straw for me. I've seen a couple of games since then, but honestly the game bores me to death now, in part because I don't have the interest one must have to keep up with the revolving door of trades and salary disputes and drunken driving charges and dugout tiffs and on and on.

Throw in the "juicing" controversies--steroid use--of recent years and you have a yawner.

I wrote a small book about the Beavers, which in hindsight isn't really a very good book at all, and then I essentially lost interest in the team. Over the ensuing years I watched a handful of games, and I didn’t miss the game at all. Just a year ago the team's final owner, a rich kid whose father is Henry Paulson, and who is a soccer fanatic, sold the team out of town. He reconfigured the old baseball park into a futbol stadium.

But to get back on point, my baseball history was noticed. The Beaver's organization in 1980 had just switched hands again, this time falling in the lap of a young, aggressive Philadelphia native named David Hersh. Hersh favored long, thick, expensive cigars and nicely tailored suits and had a promoter's sensibility, like Charlie Finley, the then owner of the Oakland A's, and like one of the game's greatest-ever promoters, Bill Veeck (as in wreck).

Veeck, owner of the Chicago White Sox, made an early name for himself in 1951 when he hired 3' 7" Eddie Gaedel to pinch hit against the Detroit Tigers. The opposing pitcher walked him, of course, unable to find the six-inch strike zone a hunched over midget presents. For their part, Finley's Athletics kept a mule as a mascot at the ballpark in Oakland, a symbol of the owner's stubborn personality they say. Finley's teams were the first to wear white shoes and lobby for orange baseballs, which never happened thank the good lord lollipop.

David Hersh was 23 years-old when he came to Portland, at the time the youngest baseball executive in the land.

Never mind his relative inexperience, Hersh had somehow managed to find a list of investors who backed his dream, for a while, of placing Major League Baseball in Portland within a few years.

Like orange baseballs, it didn't happen, and Hersh moved on, dashing the hopes of Portland's smattering of hard-core fans.

I liked Hersh for his brashness and early willfulness to get it done and bring real ball to Portland. The Triple-A Beavers were good, but there is a considerable fall-off between the second highest level of baseball and the pinnacle league Babe Ruth helped build while nailing the grandstands together in Yankee Stadium. Anyone who knows baseball understands this, so the excitement Hersh brought to town was tangible.

I met Hersh at the stadium, where I'd been summoned by his Director of Communications, a Rick somebody (I've managed to inconveniently forget his last name; perhaps because he was somewhat of a dweeb). The organization was interested in my baseball history. I let them use whatever text they wanted to promote the team in their program, and in return they issued me a press pass, which I used sporadically for the next couple of seasons. I had asked for money, and Rick had said, "We're not that interested!"

The pass gave me access to the press box behind home plate, where I sat and daydreamed throughout the few games I attended. I may have even fallen asleep on occasion, to tell you how interested I was in the proceedings. I didn't write any more baseball stories that year.

Hersh walked up and down press row at times, doling out free food to the writers, which must have included me because when I was there I ate really well. Big, tasty sandwiches and all the pizza I wanted. Plus salads and savory desserts, cakes, trays of donuts, veggie plates--damn, I'm getting hungry recalling it all.

Hersh was a hand-shaker of course, moving around the ballpark in an effort to meet as many paying customers as he could. He was a back-slapper, touchy-feely, spreading his warm dreams to the writers and fans in the sincerest terms, with a perfect white smile, billowing cigar smoke as he laughed needlessly hard at poor quips--an honest to God salesman.

Hersh the promoter had worked out an affiliate's agreement with the Pirates, the team he brought to town for an exhibition at mid-season his first year. He held a home run contest, and the sight of Willie Stargell hitting the ball over 500 ft. to a balcony overlooking the ballpark in right field was an unforgettable sight, it really was. Hersh, smoking his cigar, stood near the on-deck circle with a wad of hundreds in his fist, and every time Stargell or the other derby contestants hit one out the kid would make a show of giving the batter a hundred. Two hours of this during pre-game, and the tab ran into the thousands.

A year or two later, Hersh brought Mickey Mantle and Henry Aaron to town for a special promotion. I heard later that Mick had been in Joe's Cellar on 21st Ave. with other baseball-types the night before and had drank a few and made an ass out of himself, which might explain why I didn't see him at the park the next night.

But I'm not absolutely sure he wasn't there, all I know is he didn't make it down to the press box, or I didn't see him at any rate.

I ran into Aaron after the game. The stadium offices were under the grandstands and I was down there, had just turned a corner out of the press box and I practically walk into Hammerin' Hank.

You know, Aaron wasn't a very large man, which was surprising given the number of homers he hit— 705. They say his power came from his wrists. When I saw Hank I naturally looked at those wrists, and I said, "Hello, Mr. Aaron."

He nodded and kept moving, until I said, "Could you please sign this for me?" I was holding a scrap of paper I'd just ripped from my notebook.

Hank looked at me with curious discernment and said, "Aren't you a little old to be asking for an autograph?"

Perhaps I was at 29. After that I don't remember what else I said, or how I justified myself, but Hank signed.

I owned that autograph for 20 years before losing it in a move. I should have given it to someone more responsible than I.




There are millions of soccer—all right, futbol—fans around the world, but I'm not one of them. As the World Cup wound down in South Africa two summers ago, I was left to wonder why I never embraced the sport.

I've been thinking long and hard about this question, and I now believe I have the answer(s).

1. The players are bad actors, particularly when one trips and falls and grabs his knee like somebody has taken a club to him (as happens in ice skating). That pathetic piece of equipment that looks like a surplus World War I battlefield stretcher comes out on the field and the faker waves it off and rejoins the action! It's a bad script, a cheap ploy to steal an undeserved rest. Your team is losing 0-0; get up and play the game! And don't be a crybaby.

2. Note the score: 0-0. Goodnight everybody. Thanks for coming to watch nothing!

3. One name? Like Sting? Like Rimbaud? Okay, Yrzuinifekuta, I dig the one name thing; you're an international icon. But can you sing? Can you write a great poem? No, you egomaniacal ass. All you can do is kick a ball and chase it around the field like a dog chasing a stick. And by the way, the futbol field is too damn large.

4. Beckham, you have no soul and your wife is too skinny. Buy her a meal for God's sake! She's your wife! Or are you broke already?

5. The game is for very fleet runners, and I could never run. I would have been lousy at the game; if I have no chance to win I'm going home and I'm taking the ball with me.

6. Hooligans.

7. Translate hooligans into 50 other languages.

8. No time outs? How do you pee out your last beer without missing the nothingness unfolding on the field? And I'm not taking a porta-potty to my seat with me like everyone else.

9. At the end of the game a single time-keeper knows how much time remains in the match, leaving the announcer to exclaim, "It's over! No, wait, apparently I'm wrong again!" And not to open a can of worms, but how do we know the time-keeper is telling the truth? Yeah, think about that one for a second...Makes you wonder, right?

10. Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooal!!!!!!


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Season of the Assassins

With the announcement today that two more Western journalists have died covering the treacherous wars in the Middle East--this time in Syria--perhaps this is a fitting recognition of their perilous work.

On Nir Rosen and Patrick Cockburn

"In reality both Abu Ghraib and Haditha were merely more extreme versions of the day-to-day workings of the American occupation in Iraq, and what makes them unique is not so much how bad they were, or how embarrassing, but the fact that they made their way to the media and were publicized despite attempts to cover them up. Focusing on Abu Ghraib and Haditha distracts us from the daily, little Abu Ghraibs and small-scale Hadithas that have made up the occupation. The occupation has been one vast extended crime against the Iraqi people, and most of it has occurred unnoticed by the American people and the media."

Nir Rosen

One of the most competent independent journalists to report out of Iraq at the height of the U.S. occupation and civil war, Nir Rosen is the author of In the Belly of the Green Bird, the best book I read during the second Iraq war.

Among the handful of books that actually focused on the socio-cultural repercussions of the war rather than merely critiquing its methodologies—America could have gotten it right after all, or so some opine—Green Bird offered an amazingly intimate look at Iraqi resistance.

While interviewing U.S. supporters among the Iraqi elites, he also talked to Al-Qaeda operatives, disgruntled shopkeepers, apolitical cynics, and many others given short-shrift by most Western journalists’ coverage of the war. The result was a book with better balance and more depth than much of the Iraq War canon.

Rosen, an Iranian-American born in New York City, melded into the streets of Baghdad and towns and villages throughout the country to talk to hundreds of ordinary Iraqis about the travails in their lives during wartime. Many of the Iraqis he talked to were different than the leaders who emerged from the initial power-brokering by Paul Bremer's Provisional Authority. Their interests did not merge directly with big oil and the huge government contracts being passed around in the initial frenzied turn from dictatorship to American puppet-state.

As was predictable when a corporatist state like America dished its power, the little guys in Iraq were run over, figuratively and literally, by the war machine during the all-out rush to seize the spoils of a shattered nation.

Rosen’s work is equal to that of another journalist whose work I admire, Patrick Cockburn of Britain’s Independent. Two of the best correspondents working today, they were fearless in their coverage of the war and could not be ignored. They did the brave and painstaking job of talking to the stratified populace of the nation before analyzing and reporting the nuances of realpolitik in Iraq.

And they did it when few others were willing to take the risk, which as we learned again today, is considerable when covering the Middle East.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Patchen & Berryman

(John Berryman)

Another pair of writers who influenced me as a young man, both of whom died the same year, just as I was growing familiar with their work:

One of the City Lights Pocket Poets Series titles Bob Thomas sent to me when I lived in Maine in the mid-seventies was Kenneth Patchen's Poems of Humor and Protest, which Lawrence Ferlinghetti published in 1956. Patchen's book was the third in the City Lights venture, and still remains among my favorites.

Patchen had a rough life, beginning with the loss of his sister when he was a teenager. Her death cast a pall over his life that he never completely transcended. Then, while still in his twenties, he was hurt when a friend's car fell on him as he worked under it. The accident damaged his spinal cord and Patchen suffered through a series of experimental surgeries, culminating in a final botched surgery that immobilized him. His wife, Miriam, took care of him and Patchen and she had a rare, completely dedicated relationship that inspired a number of very fine love poems by the writer.

Patchen's success was marginal, partially because he was a committed pacifist during World War II, and he acquiesced to no one (and of course poets are marginalized in general in the U.S). If ever a writer was committed to the ideal of peace it was Patchen, whose job as he formulated it was to delineate the world's suffering and pathos to a sleeping public.

His protest drew the attention of many notable writers on both coasts of the U.S. Henry Miller wrote a laudatory essay about his life and work, and the Beats gathered at his feet. With Kenneth Rexroth and a few others, he founded the jazz poetry movement of the forties, an idea Jack Kerouac ran with in 1959's Mexico City Blues, 242 improvised "choruses" that Kerouac affiliated with Charlie Parker and bebop. For his part, Patchen read with Charlie Mingus as early as 1955. Unfortunately, their gigs were never recorded, but a decade prior to working with Mingus, Patchen recorded with John Cage.

(In Portland in the late seventies Dan Lissy, a well-known writer and musician, had committed to memory the entirety of Kerouac’s book, a mammoth accomplishment. When Lissy recited the work you could hear Parker, I am convinced).

At mid-career, Patchen tried his hand with free-associative novel writing and penned The Journal of Albion Moonlight, a deep meditation on delirium and madness that is confounding in the manner of the "new novel," fragmented as open stasis and uninvolved with typical time-evolved narrative. It has a Dadaist or surreal quality, comparisons of which Patchen, always obstinate, disputed. The book was brought out by James Laughlin's New Directions, another of that publisher's great coups, in 1961.

Patchen wrote one other long prose work, in 1945, titled Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer, which amounts to an inside joke about novel writing. The book's protagonist must suffer all the indignity that a poor, would-be author suffers in his quest to be heard. His shyness about the world's reaction to his work has him spelling hell: h--l, so as to not offend the good taste of the masses. Etc.

Patchen died in 1972 at age 61.

The Temple

To leave the earth was my wish, and no will stayed my rising.
Early, before sun had filled the roads with carts
Conveying folk to weddings and to murders;
Before men left their selves of sleep, to wander
In the dark of the world like whipped beasts.

I took no pack. I had no horse, no staff, no gun.
I got up a little way and something called me,
Saying, 'Put your hand in mine. We will seek God together.'
And I answered, 'It is your father who is lost, not mine.'
Then the sky filled with tears of blood, and snakes sang.

I came under the influence of John Berryman while living in Eugene.  We'd grazed over him in a writing class I was in at Oregon and I was taken in by his odd syntax and freewheeling juxtaposition of images. Like Weldon Kees with the specter of Robinson, Berryman carried an alter-ego in his notebook, a troubled soul named "Henry." Berryman used Henry to root out life's curious agonies and as a second voice to counter despair and loss. Henry could be wise and confused at the same time, a psychological force with whom Berryman could commiserate about life's hardships and the tragedies that haunted him.

His businessman father committed suicide when Berryman was an adolescent and the sad reality deeply disturbed the poet. He carried the hardship throughout his life, yet managed to become a renowned teacher at Harvard and Princeton and later at the University of Minnesota, where he was working at the time of his own suicide in 1972 at age 58.

Among Berryman's most venerated poems are his Dream Songs, of which he wrote hundreds. This is one of my favorites.

Dream Song 14

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.


A Close Play at Home

True, we have weeks to go before spring actually arrives, but the unofficial version has begun.

In Arizona and Florida, baseball's best players are gathering for the start of spring training, the annual prelude to Major League Baseball's long regular season. It's a time when established players warm up and shake off the rust of a season of inactivity, and a time when young, fresh faces try to make an impression for the baseball lords and thus earn their (pin)stripes.

I once played baseball, a long time ago, and I too left a lasting impression:

Alex Rodriquez was the youngest player to hit 600 home runs, passing the milestone in 2010. Will he be the next all-time home run king, surpassing Barry Bonds?

Home runs are exciting, but nothing beats a close play at home on a real baseball fan's Excito-meter.

I’m reminded of a story.

I played high school baseball and in my entire career I hit one home run. It was at Central High in Monmouth against a team we were supposed to beat because we were a larger school. I don't know how it happened, but in a rare instance I connected on a pitch. The damn ball flew and flew and I can remember watching it a little too long like Barry Bonds used to do when he connected—it's an obnoxious habit—which was a mistake because the field in Monmouth had no fence. This meant the left fielder could chase the ball down no matter how far it rolled past him.

Understand that this ball was hit very deep. Had a home run fence been there it would have cleared it by twenty-feet. I mean this drive would have been out of any fenced ballpark in the land.

Not there in Monmouth, however, a landscape notable for its vast alignment of cow pastures stretching off into infinity.

I finally took off running the bases. I was one of the guys the coaches always said looked like I was carrying a piano on my back when I ran as fast as I could.

Running to second this time, I could see the left fielder had excellent speed and was catching up with the ball as it rolled in the outfield. I chugged around second, feeling heavy in the legs and breathing a mite too hard. I looked at the third base coach as I lugged toward the base and he was frantically waving me on, yelling "Turn it! Keep going!" He had his right arm working like a windmill, the baseball sign that says, "Don't even think about stopping here."

Running, I glanced at the left fielder. Good lord, I thought, seeing he had already picked up the ball and was getting ready to throw it to the shortstop, who had run out halfway to meet him for a relay throw.

I looked at the third base coach again and he was still insisting I round the bag and head toward home.

At that moment I'd have bet against myself making it.

I could hear my teammates exhorting me to run harder. They were standing up, waving towels and cheering their heads off. I pumped my legs and arms, seemingly not moving, yet the home plate grew nearer and I could see both the catcher and the umpire preparing for a close play.

It appeared I might have to slide into home and dirty my clean white uniform, and probably earn another raspberry (abrasion) on my ass for my effort.

The catcher crouched. The umpire peered closely at the plate and I went into my slide, a learned baseball maneuver that can be risky if one is careless or indecisive. I've seen players break their ankles by sliding too close to the bag, or by entangling themselves in a knot that could not be untied by anyone but an orthopedic surgeon

So I committed to sliding and stretched out my right leg, keeping my left leg bent under my rump and said here goes, "I'm gonna get dirty."

The ball came in from left field on a perfect one-hop peg from the shortstop and smacked into the catcher's glove just as my right toe grazed the lip of the plate. He tagged me an instant too late and the ump made the right call. I had hit an inside-the-park homer.

My first and last.

My teammates jumped on me, slapped me on the back, high-fived me and laughed their heads off. That this play was even close was nonsensical. I'd hit the ball so far that even a moderately fast player could have easily scored standing up. But I'd watched the ball sail too long and then I'd used my blazing speed to make it interesting at the plate.

My teammates laughed for days afterward about my blast and the piano on my back, and my coach just shook his head sadly and said, "Simons, I cannot believe you sometimes."

Well, he wasn't alone.


Sunday, February 19, 2012


(Jeremy Lin)

I must confess I have a touch of Linsanity after watching this kid play for the first time this morning.

Though prone to making occasional turnovers, he has an outstanding floor game marked by his ability to dribble-penetrate into the paint and distribute the ball to open teammates.

He had 14 assists to go along with 28 points in a win against the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.  His 7 turnovers were too many, but the kid has so much else going for him that the mistakes are tolerable.

He is relentless and he can shoot.

Very impressive.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Rothko Comes Home

"Rothko bummed around before moving to New York, where he took a class at the Art Students League in the 1920s. That's how his art career began.

And where this Portland show begins. The exhibit's earliest work, a 1926 still-life of a water pitcher, exhibits a Paul Cezanne-like naturalism toward his domestic subject matter.

Many of Rothko's influences revolved around friendships with fellow artists at the Art Students League, including Milton Avery and Adolph Gottlieb. The wonderful, contemplative "Nude" from 1933 has the vagueness of an abstraction -- but also the feel of a color-inspired work by Avery, who, in turn, drew from Matisse.

Although Rothko is not usually associated with urban cityscapes, he was quite adept at them. Guenther has assembled a few from the 1930s. Most depict the goings-on in the New York subway system -- people waiting on the platform or entering through the stairs. They're lovely, achieving a balance between representational precision and blurriness. They also have a Seurat-like emotional aloofness. You can feel Rothko's detachment from the world.

There's a touching work from the late 1930s of Rothko's first wife, jeweler Edith Sachar, that I can't help but read in an achingly sad way. The painting, "Craftsman," shows Sachar at work. It's playful and suggests a hint of Surrealism."---D.K. Row, The Oregonian.

The Mark Rothko retrospective at the Portland Art Museum starts today.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Two: Macdonald and Pound

Notes on a pair of luminaries:

Ross Macdonald

His hard-boiled alter-ego was Lew Archer, the sharpest detective on the West Coast for four decades. Ross Macdonald had a way with words, to be sure, but his biggest contribution to the private eye genre was his succinct appraisal of society throughout his creative life.

His characterizations are spot on, involving an array of humanity’s archetypes. His depth of psychological insight is vast. His descriptive powers and use of metaphor are strikingly original and give great pleasure, like a woman awakening to her sexual prowess.

I’ve read quite a bit of Macdonald and I’m currently reading an Archer novel published in 1969. If you haven’t tried this lately, pick up one of his books and rediscover gems such as these from The Goodbye Look:

The young pink-haired receptionist turned from the switchboard. The heavy dark lines accenting her eyes made her look like a prisoner peering out through bars.

His eyes and voice were faintly drowsy with the past.

Pacific Street rose like a slope in purgatory from the poor lower town to a hilltop section of fine old homes.

She laughed a little. Her whole body was dreaming of the past.

She was flushed and brilliant-eyed, as if she was terminating an assignation.

I waited for nearly an hour. The birds in the brush got used to me, and the insects became familiar.

The rectangle of sunlight on the linoleum was lengthening perceptibly, measuring out the afternoon and the movement of the earth.

The yelp of Betty’s horn brought me out of a half-sleep.

Her words touched a closed place in my mind.

What a great joy Ross Macdonald was. He died in 1983.

Ezra Pound

The highly influential modernist poet and literary gadfly Ezra Pound had a great sense of humor when he wasn't off on an anti-Semitic rant.

Pound lived a long life, from 1885 to 1972, most of it in Europe after losing his first teaching position in the U.S. due to scandalously inviting a young homeless woman to his room at Wabash College, where he lectured on classical literature.

Pound is known for befriending and helping many writers in their careers, including Joyce, Hemingway and T.S. Eliot, among others.

Pound is notoriously famous for his anti-Americanism, perhaps borne of a great love for America. Born in Hailey, Idaho and raised in Philadelphia, he was a child prodigy, starting college at age 15, when he announced his intention to become a great poet.

Pound believed credit would ruin economics and destroy nations. He may have been a visionary in that regard as well as in poetics.

Considering how judgments of obscenity in the early twentieth century were based on the extent of the supposed obscene material's circulation, Pound substitutes Classics for Pornography in this satirical poem:

Cantico del Sole

The thought of what America would be like

If the Classics had a wide circulation

Troubles my sleep,

The thought of what America,

The thought of what America,

The thought of what America would be like

If the Classics had a wide circulation

Troubles my sleep.

Nunc dimittis, now lettest thou thy servant,

Now lettest thou thy servant

Depart in peace.

The thought of what America,

The thought of what America,

The thought of what America would be like

If the Classics had a wide circulation...

Oh well!

It troubles my sleep.


Publication Day--Aphorisms by K.C. Bacon

Round Bend is pleased today to announce the official publication of K.C. Bacon's Aphorisms.

If you are hungry, like I am, for any snippet of language that promises clarity and a unique view of the world while delivering a delightful and engaging tonality, this collection is for you; if you are a fan of the aphoristic tradition; if you have it in mind that poets are our best citizens and critics; if you wonder how others view the big picture that is presented daily to the mere mortals existent on our planet; if you are curious; if you prefer to have something at hand while sitting on the crapper in the morning so as not to waste a moment of your ordinary routine; if you think words might entice the gals or guys in the bar staring into the abyss; if you are lonely and seeking good companionship; if you are a seeker; if you are a wiseguy or a wannabe jokester; if you want to be pithy, or sanguine; if you are lactose intolerant; if you are afraid; if you loathe or love Nietzsche, Twain, Swift, or Rabelais; if you have a heartbeat; if you can lay claim to any semblance of imagination at all; if you are any of these you will want to own this book.

Don't deprive yourself.

And if you're not sure what constitutes an aphorism, read this.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sad News

(Gary Carter, 1954-2012)

A great one has has passed away.

The 1986 World Series was one of the most memorable in my lifetime.


A True Story of Hearing Loss

Due to hearing loss resultant of listening to loud music as a youth, I made this ridiculous blunder two years ago:

What's all this business about Swine Fools invading the country? People are acting crazy about some sort of imminent threat from Swine Fools. Swine Fools are potentially deadly, nearly pandemic, blah, blah, and blah!

Well, here's some news for you. Swine Fools have been here all along.

You can find them in dive bars and fancy restaurants to be sure, but they're no less preponderant in the halls of Congress, or among the so-called captains of industry.

I've met them face to face and on the pages of the local paper. I've listened to them spout their contagious logic on television and radio. I've sat among them in classrooms, listened to their lectures, and passed them on the street on the way to the corner grocery store.

They've cut me off in traffic on occasion, and made me stand in long lines to buy things I don't need.

They ride bikes, walk, run, and talk trash on city buses. Their favorite cars are SUVs and beater spider sports cars with loud mufflers.

They’re obese and dangerously thin. They’re handsome and ugly as ogres. They’re witches and saints, courteous and rude. They’re as funny and boring as the City Club.

Swine Fools sin all week and go to church on Sunday. They’re atheists, but have a spiritual side. They’re Mormons and Jews, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims (have I left anybody out?).

Swine Fools are all too human, in other words.

Swine Fools have used and manipulated me in the work place.

A good portion of them are in jail, others are headed in that direction. Swine Fools are also, ironically, the jailers and the judges.

Have you ever met a lawyer that wasn't purely and simply a Swine Fool?  I didn't think so.

Swine Fools will pop up anywhere when you least expect it, just when you think you're safe. But you're never safe. It's foolish to think you are.

I've even dated Swine Fools. So have you, admit it. You go out and the thing just doesn't click. Maybe you're married to a Swine Fool, or thinking about marrying one.

Better, you recently divorced one and feel good for the first time in years.

Be careful though, you might go home alone and confront the Swine Fool in the mirror. It isn't pretty.

War is the work of Swine Fools. Lord knows we have a dose of that, don't we? We've been sick with it for a long time. I hope you don't really expect to get well soon. You'll be extremely disappointed in the end.

Look at the economy. It is the work of Swine Fools.

But it's been around, like war, forever. What is this, your second, third, fourth so-called recession? It’s my fourth.

I laugh.

Ever placed a bet, thinking you know the score before it happens? That's a Swine Fool move, believe me.

Swine Fools are winners and losers.

Let me reiterate. Swine Fools have been with us all along. This particular pandemic has been with us since the Kennewick Man’s time.

So I don’t want to hear anything more about Swine Fools. I’ll turn off the television, turn off the radio, and turn off my computer if I have to.

What's that you say?

Swine Flu, not Fool…

Uh, I gotta go. Thanks for listening.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Weldon Kees

Weldon Kees (1914-1955) is an often overlooked American poet and musician who was born and raised in Beatrice, Nebraska. I found him in an anthology of poets called Naked Poetry: Recent American Poetry in Open Forms, edited by Stephen Berg and Robert Mezey. This book was my bible in the early days of what passed for my academic training in poetics at the University of Oregon. Published in 1969, the collection is often credited for the rediscovery of Kees, a man who remains one of my guiding lights as a poet.

As much as I loved his work, I had never bothered to gather information on his background, until a strange coincidence occurred about fourteen years ago. I was living in Beatrice, Nebraska during a short-lived romance that was fast turning into a disaster. I was killing time one day in the Beatrice Public Library, much in need of a dose of something medicinal, when I found a book about Kees on a shelf dedicated to Nebraskan writers. That's when I discovered Kees was from the very town where I sat reading his bio! (Well, come on. It's not like going to NYC and Lowell, Mass. and discovering them to be Kerouac's romping grounds. I mean, I already knew that when I passed through Lowell the first time.)

I later shared this stunning (to me) discovery with as many of my Beatrice acquaintances as I could. None of them had heard of Kees, a favored son, an important man of letters, a brilliant jazz pianist, a painter, a former Time Magazine writer, and a graduate of UN, Lincoln.

Worse, none of them were impressed.

Poetry can be an awfully lonely business, but knowing Kees' work makes it worthwhile.

Kees was a prodigy, a gifted but troubled man. He leaped to his death, it is presumed, from the Golden Gate Bridge. His car was discovered on the bridge with the motor running, so that is probably what happened to him in 1955, but every time I saw an old man in Beatrice after my discovery I looked closely for a resemblance to Kees.

Maybe, I thought, just maybe he left San Francisco and returned home to live in anonymity.

This is Kees at his most brilliant:


No butler, no second maid, no blood upon the stair.
No eccentric aunt, no gardener, no family friend
Smiling among the bric-a-brac and murder.
Only a suburban house with the front door open
And a dog barking at a squirrel, and the cars
Passing. The corpse quite dead. The wife in Florida.

Consider the clues: the potato masher in a vase,
The torn photograph of a Wesleyan basketball team
Scattered with check stubs in the hall;
The unsent fan letter to Shirley Temple,
The Hoover button on the lapel of the deceased,
The note: "To be killed this way is quite all right with me."

Small wonder that the case remains unsolved,
Or that the sleuth, Le Roux, is now incurably insane,
And sits alone in a white room in a white gown,
Screaming that the entire world is mad, that clues
Lead nowhere, or to walls so high their tops cannot be seen;
Screaming all day of war, screaming that nothing can be solved.


The Grind

This is all fine and dandy, but it is not just women who are exploited in the restaurant business.

Every worker in the trade is at risk of exploitation.  All the time.

To Oregon's credit, the state's minimum wage laws are inclusive of restaurant workers, but that is not the case nationwide.

Not that Oregon's minimum wage is any great shakes. A single person will have a hard time surviving on today's minimum wage, no matter how austere his or her existence. Typically, rent will eat up over half of a minimum wage-earner's take home.

In fact the Oregon Restaurant Association has for years fought like hell for an exemption to the minimum wage standards set for all of Oregon's workers.

Poor Chris Dudley sought the ORA's endorsement in 2010 and paid dearly for it among service industry voters, who were aghast that the millionaire ex-Blazer supported rolling back wages for restaurant workers in his 2010 gubernatorial run.

It was a laughable blunder by Dudley, demonstrating just how out of touch his campaign was with the state's wage slaves.

A good waiter or waitress lucky enough to be in the right establishment in Oregon can make a decent living, but those kinds of situations are rare. And they do not always last, as the business is extremely volatile.

Today's hot spot can be tomorrow's losing proposition, just like that.

Stress? Unsatisfactory working conditions? Unless you've been in the business you don't know half the story.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ed McBain (Evan Hunter)

This may find its way into my new book:

In the early ‘50s a young Brooklyn-born writer with the pseudonym Evan Hunter wrote a novel that became a sensation and helped define the paranoia of an America evolving out of pre-World War II social constructs.

The novel was The Blackboard Jungle. It was a gritty look at American urban life and education, and it challenged some of the basic myths that Americans had for years clung to like life-preservers in a vast sea change.

Post-war, amid a generalized growing affluence and resulting flight to a smug suburban existence, American cities began to degenerate. None more so than New York City, Hunter's turf. Cities, left to their corrupt vices, teeming with impoverishment and soaring crime, became the raw material of anthropologists and literary realists alike. Hunter caught the wave and wrote about a group of kids and a school in crisis. A former teacher, he knew his subject well.

Faced with the facts, many Americans panicked. Youth, juvenile delinquents, poked and prodded by something called rock ‘n’ roll, became the era's bogymen. Sex and drugs had come out of the closet, and teenagers were to blame.

I can recall my fifth-grade teacher, perhaps fearful himself and trying his best to help save us from ourselves, read the novel aloud to our class. He read it, from start to finish, for an hour every afternoon. I can recall being absolutely captivated by its fluid narrative, its beautiful sentences, its mood, and characters that I could understand. This is great, I recall thinking. I'd like to be able to write like that.

I still would like to write like that, or at least that well.

Or as well as Ed McBain. You see Evan Hunter, whose real name was Salvatore Lombino, created the new pen name McBain (and a few others) in the sixties and turned to writing a series of procedural crime novels set in the mythical metropolis of Isola. Isola was of course New York, and McBain’s new literary domain became the 87th Precinct, a place where dumb and brilliant cops came together every day to solve Isola's most grisly and bizarre murder cases.

My favorite McBain novel is Fat Ollie's Book, a hilarious story about what happens when a decidedly nonliterary cop attempts to cash in on his crime fighting expertise by writing a book about detectives.

Fat Ollie loves to eat. He loves women, but he's shy around them, and he gets it in mind that the writing business is an easy racket. He determines he may as well become a famous author and make a fortune.

He won't be denied, until a street kid accidentally steals his novel-in-progress and throws a monkey wrench into an important case and Ollie's dream.

Fat Ollie's Book is brilliant, packed with a righteous view of human foibles and, quite deliberately, much to say about the creative-writing process.

Ed McBain was a genre master. He died in 2005 at age 79, leaving a long list of highly readable books to his huge fan base.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fiddling Around

Let's see. It's late in the evening now, a Sunday, and what have I accomplished...

Just a few things. I worked on marketing the press again today, and I began collecting my essays (or notes) for a new book that I'd like to publish here in the spring.

It will consist of pieces I like from the blog that I want to polish and expand (but not too much because I like the short form of some of them), and perhaps a few other things as of yet unpublished.

Work on my second memoir will have to take a backseat to this one, which I'm starting to like in concept.  Always a good thing.

Actually, it is kind of exciting, but too early to reveal anything about it.  Debating whether I want pictures in it for instance.  I can tell you however that it will be more personal than my book of pseudo-academic essays, Alt-Everything.

I'm mulling this title: People, Polemics & Pooh-Pahs: Notes from Under the Bar

I'm going to write it directly to a 6 x 9 format, which I've been advised to do by someone who swears by the technique.

I see it. I see how it will help put the book in perspective and eliminate some grunt work.

Did some editing and reading.

Too, I ordered another proof of K.C. Bacon's Aphorisms, since he okay-ed the PDF, which I finally made to fit pocket-size while vanquishing a couple of formatting problems.

It looks nice.

You'll be pleased when you buy one, I'm sure.


Friday, February 10, 2012


Well, I figured out some formatting functions with Word today that I didn't know how to use.

How have a I gotten this far given my program illiteracy?

Fortunately, this is my baby. If I worked for somebody else I'd have been shown the door yesterday.

I think I'll celebrate with a glass of water.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Day in the Life

(Cover of S,G & J)

My editorial meeting today with Charles Deemer went superbly.

We did not merely discuss the probable March publication of his new novel, Sodom, Gomorrah and Jones, which the writer/lapidary expert and I agree rises to a full-on crescendo of absolute sheen in the second half...

We talked politics and printing and work and art and telephones and the first half of novels.

 We talked college students and Buddy Dooley, and mothers and cancer and acting and...and so much in 20 minutes that my head is still swimming, and my heart is faint with the joy of the possibilities inherent in existence.

A day in the life of Round Bend.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I Know What You Went Through Bukowski

I don’t like having
to go downstairs in the elevator
to mingle with the assholes down there,
the crowd smoking on the street
in front of the building,
the lost souls walking through the lobby where
the somnolent halfwits linger
waiting to fleece their weary neighbors;
the shouting idiots and
the jackass in the walking boot
and Slayer tee-shirt,
who leans on his crutches until he dashes
away to make a deal;
the big men who want to be women
and dress in dresses that were fashionable
in 1900 and smile inanely
and want your sympathy;
the bored clerk with her nose buried
in a crime novel;
the smell of burning pizza in the
community oven,
the spills and sticky residue of the
soft drink addicts who come and go
like restless blackbirds on a wire;
the dense, incomprehensible flare-ups
borne of jealousy and boredom,
the heartlessness and emptiness
and stupidity crowding through the place,
a teeming, malevolent cesspool
that I’d destroy if I could,
wipe it out and begin anew with
a new plan,
a new mind and better choices,
and direction I’ve never known,
or understood.

I made this your day Bukowski,
and I miss your voice,
your strength,
and I hope to meet
you again when it is my
turn to dance with the sonofabitch
who started all this,
who let it get away from us,
like the peace and sanity
we once craved,
who asked us to comprehend
the word and the way,
who damn well knew we
couldn't and would have to
suffer ourselves, like the others,
waiting, waiting, for the bitterness
to ebb, before finally,
fading away.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Long, Weird Day

My what a long, weird day, which started too early because I woke up early and couldn't get back to sleep.

Looked around for just the right phone for me, which is shopping, which is something I loathe to do.

I think I'm a panicky shopper. I get in the store and I'm confronted by so much merchandise that I freeze up. I can't make decisions.

I've walked into stores and forgotten why I was there. They want to distract you. They want to separate you from your wallet.

I might be the chump shopper the clerks are waiting for. A guy that can be talked into something. My general ignorance of phones is an immediate drawback in this instance.

On the bright side, I did some reading and editing, the stuff I like doing.


The proof of K.C. Bacon's Aphorisms was a little flawed on the formatting end, so we'll set the date back on that release after all. March 1 sounds good.

The entire point is to get things right. Even if it causes delays, because in publishing you'd rather miss a self-imposed deadline than create something that doesn't meet the standards you devise for yourself as a designer/bookseller.

I try. Every once in awhile I mess up and must do things over. That's the advantage of print-on-demand right there.

You can do it over until it's right.


Monday, February 6, 2012


An entertaining Super Bowl, but not being a pro football fan in general (I like college ball), my heart wasn't in it.

The major difference between the pros and collegians is the sheer speed of the athletes. Even the huge guys have speed to complement their bulk and toughness.

I met up with Terence Connery, who is a television director and always has interesting production-related things to comment on during a telecast. A former Floridian, he covered the Dolphins and Marlins in Miami in the early 90s.

Poor guy is actually a big Dolphins fan. It's been awhile for him...

Charles Lucas was also there, knocking back a few beers with Terence and I.  Lucas is a solid barroom football analyst, given to grand pronouncements such as: "The coaching then was awful." And, "the refs are blowing too many calls." And, "it would have been more feasible to throw a pass then rather than run the ball for a three yard loss."

Quite astute, although not at the level of Chris Collinsworth.

Madonna... Why?

In more serious news, this press-related item regarding Eight Oregon Plays appeared in the most recent Portland State faculty newsletter.

In addition to this, Deemer is busy preparing his new novel for publication. Announcements regarding that will appear here soon.

Finally, in one other publishing note, K.C. Bacon will take a final look at the proof copy of his newest, Aphorisms, this week.

I expect the official announcement of its publication will come sooner rather than later.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Where's My Super Bowl?

This must be Super Bowl weekend.

Homeland Security moved Thursday to seize sixteen unauthorized sports-affiliated websites just three days before the annual NFL showcase.

The feds used a similar gambit just prior to last year's Super Bowl to shut down illegal sites.

The government claims that an array of revenue mechanisms suffer under the active pirate sites.

"These websites and their operators deprive sports leagues and networks of legitimate revenue" in what amounts to "virtual thievery," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan, who announced the website seizures

Tom Brady, the New England quarterback who will lead his team against the New York Giants in tomorrow's game, admits that he watched a free stream of last year's game while rehabbing his injured leg in Costa Rica.

First Row Sports, run by a Michigan man, is the biggest offender in the case.

The 28 year-old hacker, who ran multiple FRS sites, was arrested Thursday in the case.

I guess I won't be streaming the game this year. I watched college football all season on First Row Sports.  I mean, I wasn't able to attend every game I watched this season, so I thought it was a reasonable thing to do.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Amy and Letterman

'Bout as mainstream as it gets.

RIP Amy.



An eclectic Top 15 of punk bands.


The Ramones


Cock Sparrer

One of the earliest, best and most influential punk bands.

By the way, this is one of strongest pacifistic, anti-war, resistance songs ever writ.


Mainstream Punk

Punk became mainstream in the late 1970s.

Not a moment too soon.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Oregon's Haul

(Arik Armstead)

Oregon's 2012 football recruits.

The list is notable in that three are from Oregon and four hail from Texas. A sprinkling of other states are represented besides California, which has long been Oregon's prime recruiting territory.

Oregon is truly in the national picture now. One of the Texas kids said he was impressed with Oregon's nationally ranked broadcast journalism school.

See, some of these kids have their priorities in order. All of them think about landing in the NFL one day, but the smart ones are realistic and know they have a real educational opportunity that they can take advantage of in case their initial dreams are shot down.

The Willie Lyles imbroglio didn't seem to harm this top 20 class, nor did the threat of Chip Kelly leaving for the NFL turn off the early commits.

In fact, Oregon's lone 5 star blue chip recruit, Arik Armstead, said Kelly's humor and honesty during a home visit last week sold him on the program.

The football fan inside me goes into hibernation now. It'll revive in April when spring practice begins.

With this group and last year's, Oregon is destined to continue its on field success in the immediate future.