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(Note: On Friday night, July 29, three former Kamiak High School students were murdered while they were enjoying a backyard party, shot by the ex-boyfriend of one of the victims. This is my column for this week.)

————

I know what I’m doing, and how it works.

I’ve written in this space for 15 years, and being a digital pack rat from the early days, all 750 or so of those columns are sitting on my hard drive. And a couple of other hard drives. And in the cloud. Possibly in a scrapbook that my mother made (she likes to scrapbook; I haven’t asked).

The disadvantage to writing for so long is that I repeat myself. Constantly, actually, or that’s how it feels.

The advantage is that probably no one remembers, but it bothers me. So whenever I get the feeling that I’ve used the same phrase before, and maybe several times before, I do a quick search through the archives just to see what turns up. Sometimes I’m surprised. Sometimes not.

There’s a phrase that’s been running through my head for the past few days, though, and it doesn’t belong to me. I’ve never used it before, as far as I can tell, but it still resides somewhere in what passes for my brain.

I began to think that I might have read it in a book when I was in high school, and somehow it stuck. High school was a long time ago, though.

In fact, my 40th high school reunion in this weekend, held at a fancy resort in Phoenix, where by the time the festivities get started it should cool down to somewhere in the upper 100s.

I’m not going, but not really because it’s being held in August in a city where people who actually live there leave town. I’ve just got things to do, and I’m not really that interested anyway. I know a few people from high school, and can easily keep tabs on others if I wish. In the past year, as a matter of fact, I’ve had mini-reunions with several of my fellow 1976 graduates.

I wish them all a good time, though. I imagine a lot of stories will be told, once everyone figures out who the other people are (we’ve probably aged a little). Favorite teachers, the big state football championship game (we lost), the fact that it was the Bicentennial year.

Maybe they’ll remember our last day of school, which was memorable. A senior who failed a class or something and so wasn’t going to be able to graduate got angry, and somehow got hold of an Army tear gas canister. He set it off in a trash can on that day, sending clouds of gas swooping through the hallways and panicking everyone, of course. It was all over the news, and we never went back to our high school until we walked across the football field stage a few days later to get our diplomas.

This was domestic terrorism, or we’d call it that today. It was just a minor trauma for most of us, confusion and fear mixed in with a big day. When Columbine happened, it brought back the memory, although they were two different events, of course. No one died at my school.

And that’s not where the phrase stuck in my head comes from. But it’s part of it.

There were no school shootings back then, or if there were they were so isolated, and so resistant to copycat behavior for whatever reason, that we didn’t notice.

We noticed in 2014, when a few minutes after my wife left her job as a professor at Seattle Pacific University, Aaron Ybarra entered Otto Miller Hall and began firing, killing 19-year-old Paul Lee and injuring two others. I sat by my phone, eyes on the live video coverage, waiting to hear from my wife, imagining the worst.

By then, of course, we were all used to the horror. Not desensitized, but it was beginning to feel familiar. Sandy Hook. Virginia Tech. Aurora. Springfield. And so on.

I wrote about some of this, but never used this particular phrase. And yet it bounced around my brain all last weekend, until I gave Mr. Google a try.

I didn’t want to plagiarize, and it felt so familiar, those words.

It turns out that they have a confusing provenance. A version appears in Tom Hank’s acceptance speech when he won an Oscar for “Philadelphia.” Another, with slightly different wording, comes up a decade later in an episode of “The West Wing.” So now I know why I was hearing them, and why now.

The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight.

My daughter went to Kamiak High School, and sang in the choir.

The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight.

My wife has taught many high school singers from many of the high schools in this area, including Kamiak. Jackson. Meadowdale. At least a couple of the young people at that Mukilteo house party have been in my home.

The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight.

I have no solutions. No answers. No nothing. I just know singers, and I know young singers, or something about them. I hear them, have heard them, for years, many of them in my living room.

But this is community grief only. Not the grief of parents and family and friends. Just grief, and shock, and sameness that leads me to dark places. I need music. We all need to sing.

I like to believe the streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight, and I like to believe they are singing.

(Photo by Sara Bruestle)
(Photo by Sara Bruestle)
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The Days Are Getting Shorter

My uncle died on our 33rd anniversary, on July 30. It was also his mother’s (my grandmother) birthday, although she’s been gone for a few decades.

He was a good guy to my mom after Dad died (his brother), doing chores around her house that she could use an extra hand with, and occasionally making her crazy. Both Sigars brothers had a tendency toward perfectionism and the attitude that there was one way or the highway. It could be frustrating but also inspiring, in a sense. I sort of like the idea of one good way.

This is fairly ominous for me, should I decide to look at it that way. He was around 74, tying with my maternal grandfather for the oldest lifespan of a male in my family, at least going back a couple of generations. My father died at 67, and his father at 66.

My grandmothers landed in the same territory, early to mid-70s. I am, then, at least from a family history standpoint, 15 years away from living on borrowed time.

It’s possible to whistle my way past the graveyard on this a bit. Both my father and his father had some very dangerous habits, cigarettes being the main culprit but alcohol had a part to play, probably more so with my grandfather. This will cut your lifespan, you betcha.

Grandmothers? Dunno. There were issues, but we all die from something. My family tends to die young.

On the other hand, Mom turns 80 next January. We’re having a party. She’s our only hope.

I don’t know what to make of this, or why I should spend much time worrying about it. My uncle died from a rare disease that can strike anyone, without cause or provocation. He was always lean, a radical nonsmoker, and active and engaged. Bad stuff happens.

This existential flavor to the past year or so is getting a little tiresome, but here we are. It’s time to see life as finite, finally, and figure out what I’m going to do about that.

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In The Event

veep

I strained my back this weekend, partly the result of my desk chair jamming up and no longer able to rise to a comfortable keyboard level, and mostly because I had the brilliant idea of bending at the waist to trim weeds that couldn’t be mowed or even line trimmed because of…nature. Let’s just say nature.

So I tried to rest, popped ibuprofen, and ended up binge-watching VEEP, HBO’s series that just finished its fifth season. I’ve watched it from the beginning, but the seasons drip out episode by episode over 10 weeks, and eventually I realized I’d forgotten how certain characters were introduced, so I went back in time.

None of this is important. You probably don’t watch VEEP, given the content at our fingertips, although if you’re interested in background political stuff and don’t mind some pretty outrageous language (there’s probably a more profane show on one of the premium channels, but maybe not. This is remarkable, anyway), this is fun.

But side from the profanity and general incompetence of nearly everyone, VEEP decided to take the Constitution for a long ride. After a year of frustration at her lack of access and the indignities of being a woman in a boy’s club (they can’t match her language, though), she learns that the president (always POTUS, in dialogue) is not going to run for a second term due to health issues with his wife.

So we get incompetence on a national stage, as she faces off in the primary season against an ex-baseball manager, a clueless junior congressman, a bumbling former Secretary of Defense, and a sitting governor of Minnesota who is not only Asian but an Iraq War vet, which he mentions about every other sentence.

And blah blah blah. She loses Iowa and New Hampshire, but not before POTUS decides to resign, making his VEEP the new POTUS. And new ball game.

She somehow she vaults to the lead and wins the nomination (lots of stuff is skipped, which is why I went back to review, thinking I must have missed something) while trying to look presidential.

Anyway. The general election turns out to be a tie, and the entirety of this latest season was compressed into the time between the November election and January 20, during which time the House of Representatives will choose a president from among the top three candidates, each house delegation getting one, consensus vote; first to 26 is president.

On the other hand, the vice-president doesn’t need to win a majority of electoral votes, just a plurality, and in the case of an Electoral tie he’s picked by the Senate.

In the case of a House tie (some states can’t reach a consensus and abstain being the easiest way to this scenario, unless a strong third-party candidate siphons some votes), assuming a Vice-President has been elected by the Senate, the VEEP-elect becomes the president.

SPOILER ALERT FOR SEASON #5 of VEEP

This is what happened on this last season of VEEP. No president is selected, and then the vote for VEEP goes to the Senate…I’ll stop spoiling.

But even though VEEP is as far from The West Wing as it is from Scandal and the rest, a sitcom devoted to dysfunction, it actually provides a civic lesson.

In the original constitution (Article II, section I), the electoral college and process for picking a president is laid out. In this original version, each elector in the electoral college gets two votes for President. The winner gets to be the top dog; second place is vice-president. Seemed workable.

Except, even as much as our founders feared the rise of factionalism (i.e., political parties), they failed to address that possibility. By our third presidential election, the Federalists (Adams, Hamilton) had lined up in opposition to the Jefferson-led Democratic-Republicans. Since the Federalists cast their first vote for John Adams but then dispersed their second votes, Thomas Jefferson was elected vice-president. The working relationship took a hit from day #1.

But in 1800, the big flaw arose. Once the two parties became established, it was clear that each party’s electors would vote for their choices for president and vice-president, creating a tie (that is, if in 2016 Clinton nominates Tim Kaine for vice-president, back in 1800 they would receive the same amount of electoral votes).

This is what happened in the election of 1800, when Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, tied in just this fashion (even though there was a plan for some electors to switch votes to someone other than Burr to avoid this, the word somehow got lost). It took 35 ballots or so to elect Jefferson, and amendments to the Constitution were being considered.

So we got the 12th amendment, which among other things establishes that electors would have to vote separately for President and Vice-President. It also includes some vague language about what happens in the case of a tie in the House, which I assume is season #6 of VEEP.

Getting a tie in the electoral college is certainly possible (538 is an even number, so it could be 269-269 with 270 required to win). A third candidate with some momentum could toss it into the House because no one got the required 270. The chances of a tie in Congress is remote (the lame-duck Congress would vote) but not impossible. Still, the scenario is fascinating.

Also, the 20th amendment, which moved the Inauguration from March 4 to January 20, tossed in some vague instructions on what happens in the case that a vice-president elect takes the oath of office. In other words, there’s no guarantee s/he will remain so. It’s complicated.

And probably only suitable for a sitcom about politics, but I gotta hand it to them: Along with the laughs, we get a lesson in civics. More of this might make this actually a fun election season.

***

Section 3. If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.

Section 4. The Congress may by law provide for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the House of Representatives may choose a President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them, and for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the Senate may choose a Vice President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them.

 

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Wifexit

This time is different. It’s always been different, but in minor ways. Now it’s just different.

Every June, at least for the past few years, my wife finishes grading her final exams and hops on a plane for Texas (sometimes to other places, but she usually ends up in Texas eventually). This is where our grandson, daughter and son-in-law are, of course, but also her mother, brother, and many other relatives who didn’t stray far.

And this Tuesday is her mom’s 90th birthday; they’re holding a big party today. But we’re here, not there, and here is what I’m talking about.

I’ve said this many times, but again: I was in the delivery room. I saw my son born, held him a few seconds later, and tried very hard over the next 26-1/2 years to hang on. I didn’t see that coming.

Still, this is just what you do. This is parenthood, or Parenthood. Your kids are who they are, and sometimes they need more than you imagine way back when.

My daughter and her husband know all about this. They had 17 months of baby bliss, a pretty bad couple of weeks, and then adjustment. Their boy needs extra attention, so they develop a knack for that.

It’s just that my knack has dimmed with time and age, and the inevitable changes that happen when a boy grows up. He’s been taller than I am for years now, eliminating the nudge as a way to manipulate him, and his awareness of the world, intellectual capacity, and advice are all increasing rapidly, as expected. He was supposed to catch up. He’s almost there.

So I have less of a son and more of a roommate, although neither of us feels compelled to put a tie or bandana on the doorknob to signal privacy. We do minor things to annoy each other, but mostly we manage just fine, a couple of guys who know each other, maybe, too well.

And on top of everything else – that’s a pretty big else – he’s progressively developed leg pain, spasms and just pain, radiating from his back. He’s a sedentary, overweight young man who’s very tall, but he has signs of arthritis and some disk issues. We’re waiting on approval for an MRI, and physical therapy is on the table, but there have been some days of driving from clinic to clinic. This will be an interesting summer.

Otherwise, we manage. Our tastes in pretty much everything are different, including music, movies and food, so we mostly just dance around each other, keeping track but otherwise staying out of the way. We take walks together, getting out of the house in this transitional weather (cloudy and some rain, moving into serious summer by tomorrow), wandering the aisles of Best Buy, window shopping for a video card that runs nearly $800, a Holy Grail for this gamer, unobtainable until circumstances change.

Circumstances, in fact, might change, but that’s down the road. I’m working on a project with a partner that seems ripe with possibilities, but we’ll wait to see. In the meantime, I have about 7 weeks to come up with around $4000 to cover expenses, and then that repeats for a couple of months. I was desperate enough to send out nearly 40 resumes, just looking for either part-time or fulltime work, even dumb, clerical or phone-answering work, anything to make a few temporary bucks. It appears that the world is not interested in 58-year-old men.

I still intend to make them interested. Kind of uphill at the moment.

***

I’d comment on Brexit, just for the sake of posterity, but I can’t find a comment. I have no idea what will happen, but I suspect similarities to our country and much of (at least) the Western world. Politicians can now lie with impunity, a remarkable thing considering we can fact-check in real time. Donald Trump, who of course is a unique individual in American history and so all bets can sort of be considered off, lies all the time. Doesn’t seem to hurt him.

There’s more of this directed toward Hillary Clinton, in fact, who is guarded and paranoid and answers questions about these situations in a very Clintonian fashion, which is to say she misspoke or was misunderstood. Some of these make sense, but it won’t stop the accusers.

And when Trump says that the United States is the highest taxed country in the world (it’s not; it sits in the middle of developed countries), it’s not true but he knows people want to believe it. As people in the UK apparently wanted to believe that leaving the EU would recreate an Anglo-Saxon Great Britain once again, or wanted to believe that they were sending hard-earned money to Poland, and half a dozen other misinformed opinions.

Is there blame here? News media, maybe, but then a lot of us consider the main outlets as worthless in terms of news. Particularly their bending-over-backwards attempt to say “both sides do it,” ignoring…well, just about everything. Both sides do something, and something we probably don’t approve of, but it’s not the same thing.

Anyway. I’m not all that interested; mildly interested. As I’m mildly interested in this current U.S. race. Assuming Trump is in for the long haul (I honestly don’t understand how the man’s ego is going to let him follow this road to ignominy or at least humiliation, but I see no signs of him dropping out), anything can happen, I guess, but he’s running against an unpopular candidate and he’s going to get creamed. He’s 70 years old, and assuming he sticks around another 20 years following Nov. 8, 2016, I can’t imagine that we’ll pay much attention anymore.

If you’re interested in a scientific approach, check out the Princeton Election Consortium, run by neuroscientist Sam Wang. He’s the science-minded alternative to Nate Silver, with no skin in the game as far as creating a talking head personality. He runs under the radar, and he’s more accurate than Silver, although as the election nears the difference is slight.

At this point, though, his aggregate sampling of state polls currently shows Clinton winning 328 electoral votes to Trump’s 210, with anywhere from 70 to 85% certainty. At this point in time. I plan to watch and wait. I’m really not that interested, as I say. Aside from surprises in Ohio or Pennsylvania, which are possible but seem daunting, I think this dinner is done.

***

A friend yesterday mentioned that I still looked pretty skinny, but I’ve managed to get solidly into the upper 160s, with a few heavy meals later in the evening kicking me into the lower 170s for a day or two. I take my vitamin D supplements and try to eat better, and if things get light I can always find a go-to meal to fill the coffers. Exercise is still erratic but getting better. Come September I may be able to ditch the antidepressant, which seems to have helped but is just one more pill. I like to avoid pills.

***

Finally, the numbers are fun, if probably meaningless. I turn 58 in a few weeks. I was also born in 1958, which means this will be…any ideas? Is your birthday that corresponds to the last two digits of the year of your birth a big deal? If so, it’s over quickly if you’re born at the early part of the century, and only a mathematical goal to await if your birthday falls toward the end of that century.

Me, born in the middle of the 20th century, I get my special year at what seems to be a special time. I’m working on a project that may change my life drastically. The Summer Olympics show up, as does the (wait for it) 58th presidential election.

I may actually have magical powers this year. Hard to say. You might want to brush by me to see if it rubs off.

In the meantime, I’m looking for an appropriate name for this phenomenon. Chronological convergence is all I can come up with at the moment. I welcome suggestions.

And thoughts and prayers and whatever else you do to privately show support for my son, who faces an ordeal and possibly back surgery. He’s way too young, but then he’s got 64 years until he reaches his own convergence. By then, we may understand how important this is.

I will be dead, of course, but in the meantime I’m keeping my eyes open for signs. A possible superpower is not out of the question.

Or just my wife back. I assume she’s coming back.

I assume the same thing for the United Kingdom, by the way. Just not sure how that plays out. Again. It might be an interesting year.

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Still The One: Tweet That.

(From a 2011 column, which popped up today in my On This Day feed. Feels appropriate somehow to repost.)

***

I take my unimportance in the world very seriously, since it frees up my day considerably when I acknowledge that the universe will exist without me, no sweat.

I also understand that the universe does not need pictures of me in a towel or my boxer shorts.  I’d be glad to pass this knowledge on to random members of Congress.  There is comfort in insignificance if you look at it the right way.

And although I’m weary of Rep. Weiner and all the rest, Sarah and Arnold and the summer stories like this that always crop up, I will say that there is a secret closely held by men of a certain age, men whose bodies are not suitable for framing.  Men who are sometimes short, or balding, or homely, or chubby, and often all of the above, and still have managed to sustain long relationships with lovely, alluring women without once sending them a suggestive tweet.  Men who have loved and lived with women they didn’t deserve, women who somehow tolerate them and aren’t tempted to place a pillow over their sleeping faces while they snore and forget to take it off.

But it’s a secret.

I will tell you this, though.  I had a very nice weekend, and it comes with a story.

I’d volunteered to help out some teenagers trying to raise money for a trip, which happened in the usual way.  That is, I found out after the fact that I’d offered to help. This is because other people know what’s best for me, and I’m married to them.

It was a good cause, a mission trip designed to be fun but also to teach young people the benefits that come from helping others, feeding hungry people among them. My daughter participated in a few trips like these when she was a teenager and came back with an appreciation for the lives of others and some skill with a hammer, always useful, so I was glad to pitch in.

The fundraiser involved a variety show, lots of people volunteering what talent they’d been storing in a closet somewhere.  If you’ve never been involved in this sort of project, if you’ve never seen perfectly ordinary-appearing people dust off their tap shoes or drag the saxophone out of the attic, you’ve missed a moment. You think you will laugh and poke fun, and you’ll realize later that the entire evening was infused with grace.  There is such hope for us, sometimes.

This was in my comfort zone. In college, needing a summer job, I got hired at a small dinner theater. I suspect they mostly wanted me to write skits for the show, although part of my job description involved singing and dancing. It was the first time I truly understood the phrase “comedy of errors,” but I had a great summer.

And I met a young woman, and so on. You either know or can guess the story. The next year we did it again. We even sang a duet, the sentimental and jokey “I Remember It Well” from the movie “Gigi,” two older people looking back on their long romance, remembering what they’ve forgotten.  We sang it every night, six nights a week.

Including the night we got married, by the way.  That was special.

So she and I were old hands at this variety show business.  I was given the job of emcee, no dancing required, and my wife accompanied some acts on the piano. She also sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” bringing down the house.  Of course.

Here’s the thing about my summers, long ago, spent on a stage in a college town: They were also infused with grace. I fell in love, I got married, I sang with my wife on the night we were wed. And when we were done, when we finished that last summer, packed our bags and headed for the Pacific Northwest, I knew my singing days were over. You can only fool all of the audience some of the time, and my time was up.

So 28 years later, when the suggestion came up that my wife and I sing together, I had some doubts. But we flipped through songbooks anyway, while we listened to a CD of accompaniment, and then we heard it.  A familiar intro, a few bars, a memory.

“We met at 9,” I croaked.

“We met at 8,” she answered.

“I was on time.”

“No, you were late.”

And we sang “I Remember It Well” until our faces got scrunchy and our voices caught. We settled on something from “The Fantastiks” instead. It went OK.

So here’s the secret, Rep. Weiner: Save your flirting for the one who married you, for she will be the one who tells you you’re not getting old. The one who remembers when you forget. The one who still loves you, who still dances with you, who still sings with you, after all these years.

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No Haven For The Hot

It’s slightly after 10am and 73 degrees outside, which is where I’m not. We’re supposed to have a high of 76 but I do believe that will be upgraded fairly soon.

It was 93 in Seattle yesterday, by the way. A record.

It’s always a little dicey when trying to explain warm weather in the Pacific Northwest. It’s almost always nice, seldom humid but not dry, just warm. I don’t blame people in other parts snorting at our complaints.

But it’s early June, and 93 is a bit warm for early June, or any day for that matter. We were expecting 60s. We tend to expect that.

And few have air conditioning, because there are few times we need it. Open the windows, turn on the ceiling fan, let the breezes begin. That’s what we do.

But 93 degrees is a new ball game. You buy new fans. You go to the mall. Or else you just go outside, where, again, it’s not humid or dry, just warm. Warm feels nice.

Inside, it’s not so nice. It’s actually kind of miserable, mostly because of its rarity. We survive. We drink a lot of water.

***

I wrote a column this morning about my 40th high school reunion. It wasn’t really the subject; that would be the future, or the future that awaited us. I did note, though, that the reunion committee, for what I’m sure are good reasons, but not that sure, scheduled this event to take place in August. In Phoenix.

Of course, in Arizona in the summer people just quickly move from air-conditioned places to air-conditioned cars, but when it’s 115 you still know. That’s August. I think I’ll pass.

***

My wife is currently in Connecticut, taking a seminar at Yale School of Divinity. Yesterday she noted the proximity of Grove Street Cemetery, where she’d heard famous people were buried. She’s going to check it out.

I told her to take a selfie in front of the grave of Walter Camp, the father of modern American football. Bart Giamatti, former commissioner of MLB and father to actor Paul, also lies in rest there.

Along with actor Raymond Massey, and a memorial to Glenn Miller (his body was never recovered after an airplane crash).

Eli Whitney is there somewhere, as is Noah Webster.

And Roger Sherman.

Sherman is an authentic Founder, the only man to sign all four founding documents (the Articles of Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution). He was also closely connected to Yale, and served as the mayor of New Haven, a position he held when he died.

I say get a selfie with him, too.

And he reminds me that the summer of 1776 was a particularly brutal one in Philadelphia, with high temperatures and stifling hot indoors. So again I apologize. 93 degrees isn’t that big of a deal. We don’t have to start a country or anything.

Roger Sherman
Roger Sherman
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That 70s Show

There are a dozen or so photographs of my father when he was in high school in the 50s, blue jeans with rolled-up cuffs, greasy and slicked back hair, cigarette between his teeth and a pack rolled up in his left white T-shirt sleeve, black leather jacket casually slung over his shoulder, smile across his lips that seemed friendly but simmering, somehow.

These pictures don’t actually exist, as far as I know, and also as far as I know they never did or would have. I can still see them.

I’m just superimposing a time, place, and culture over my father, reinforced by stereotype. He certainly always had that cigarette, and the shirt and jeans. He just wasn’t Fonzie, as far as I know.

***

I graduated from high school 40 years ago, on June 3, 1976. It wasn’t particularly memorable, although I’d mention that I got to graduate first (or maybe second, behind the valedictorian; I was student body president and got to lead everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance). There are other memories. It was fine.

This is the only picture I could find of that night, though. Mom has more, I’m sure, but now I wish I’d kept my clothes. If you’re too young to remember the 70s, this might be the polyester you’re looking for.

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The Miranda Mile

hamilton_miranda_grammys.0.0

I don’t think about luck. Don’t know, don’t care. Nothing looks like luck to me anymore. It just feels weird.

I’ve had several weird moments recently. The one I’m going to tell you about was the weirdest.

I picked up my wife on Tuesday at Seattle Pacific University, where she’s wrapping up the spring quarter, to drive across Lake Washington to an Italian restaurant in Renton, where we had the annual choir party (choir stops in the summer; small church).

It’s been called the Mercer Mess for as long as I remember, before and after a long, several-year project that completely changed that particular commute. It’s still a mess from the mid-afternoon until early evening, and we had to take it.

So we went slow. My wife drove, as she likes to do, particularly when she knows the way and I just rely on my phone. She was waiting on the sidewalk when I arrived, and I switched over to the passenger seat and she took the wheel. This is sort of important.

We’d just reached Mercer, in fact, at about the 10-minute mark, which means we essentially crawled the mile or so to reach that spot. My wife wanted to play some music from her phone, and while we waited at a red light, in the left turn lane, she had me search her purse for it. Then she searched. Then I called her phone. It was a long light.

I checked the Find My Friends app, which I often do when I’m trying to locate my wife, and it showed her phone was in the car. We just couldn’t hear it or, again, find it.

I’m tempted to talk about prepositions, since I love to talk about prepositions. But maybe George Carlin will do. Carlin always loved words and wordplay, but he went through a period when his act mostly consisted of riffs on the subject. One of his jokes along this line was about how he didn’t want to get on a plane, he wanted to get in it. Maybe you can see where I’m going.

My wife rolled down her window after getting a strange sensation from above her head and there it was, right where she placed it, on the edge of the roof on the driver’s side of the car. Her phone had a little joyride and no harm done.

I have no idea.

***

What she wanted to play, and did after the Mercer Miracle, was the soundtrack from Hamilton. She’s been playing it at home almost nonstop, and as I passed by her studio I heard rap and wondered. I wasn’t onboard.

I knew what a powerhouse talent Lin-Manuel Miranda was. I read the book it was based on. I was a big Alexander Hamilton guy. I was writing about him a decade ago. I looked.

I just hadn’t had the time, or the inclination, but now I’m a Hamilton guy. I think the universe wanted me to be.

***

You can’t study Alexander Hamilton, even casually, without thinking about factions. These founder guys were very concerned about factions. They got them anyway.

We now think of them as political parties, and in the past 30 years or so it’s become more binary as the two parties devolve into monolithism, which may not be an actual word. Hamilton and Jefferson started it, anyway, although it’s hard to draw parallels from 225 years ago. There was some bad blood at the beginning, at any rate, so there always has been.

For posterity, meaning future searches I intend to do of this very blog, here at the beginning of June 2016 there are still three viable candidates to be the 45th President of the United States. Only one of them appears to want the job.

And I assume she’ll get it. I’m not that excited. Maybe in the fall.

What’s interesting to me is Trump, of course, and how this plays out. I have no inside information, just journalism, but it appears to me that Trump has done what he threatened to do in 2012; run as a protest candidate, draw a lot of media attention, service his brand and increase his wealth. Which he says is 10 billion dollars, but which looks like a lot less. You don’t launch scam universities or sell steaks with your name on it, as Mark Cuban said the other day, if you have a bunch of billions.

I’m guessing that the Clinton camp wants this increased scrutiny to play out slowly, and for a really good reason: This is a bizarre scenario, and has been since September, when Trump started to look less like a joke and more like a candidate, albeit one who didn’t really want to be president, as I say, and obviously has very little idea about what the job entails.

I mean, the guy could just melt under the ego assault and be so damaged by this September that he’s no longer a candidate. Weirder things have really not happened.

Maybe the phone on the car roof was weirder, but again: I suspect the universe wanted me to appreciate Hamilton, and I do. Everything else is just history in waiting. This should be interesting.

The choir ladies and me.
The choir ladies and me.
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The Accidental Pedestrian

PrintI’ve thought of it as a whim for over a year. It has a whimsical feel.

And I guess it was, although I don’t think I live in a universe anymore in which whims don’t involve determinism at some level. I don’t trust this kind of randomness.

Not that I have a good explanation, but a year ago today I walked from my home, here in the north Puget Sound region, to St. Andrew Presbyterian church in Renton, which is in the south. Thirty miles by highway or, as it turned out, byway. I stuck with the latter.

I like to walk. It was projected to be a warm and sunny day. My wife would be waiting for me, as she had choir practice. The route looked fun. It felt like a challenge. I had plenty of time on my hands. And so on.

I called it a pilgrimage, finally, and it was, as long as you’re willing to give me some leeway on spiritual or moral enlightenment. This is a tricky business, being a pilgrim, and way more complicated than you might think.

For one thing, a lot of mental energy was expended on not getting hit by something. Cars, trucks, bikes. I crossed busy streets very carefully, but I was extra vigilant on the trails, as bike riders zipped past me without, usually, a vocal head’s up. I never saw another walker, so I assume that I was an anomaly on at least some of these, or at least on a weekday.

And then there were the last six miles, as I turned left and headed east. And up.

I drive up Coal Creek Parkway regularly these days, sometimes once a week. It’s never not on my mind, that walk, not when I do. If you know the area and are on Coal Creek someday, think of me at the intersection with Forest. That’s where I sat down, 26 miles in, and gave up. I’d run out of water, not carrying extra because hey, I was walking through cities. They have stores and such.

Just not where I was walking, not that last hour or so, and I was a little dehydrated. Out of gas. Able to walk but less interested. I texted my wife to come pick me up, but by the time she responded I was back on my feet, eyes focused on an imaginary horizon on an imaginary flat route instead of the hill I was climbing. A grocery store appeared a mile later, I got rehydrated, and I ambled the last three miles in an hour, taking my time. The entire walk took over 9-1/2 hours, although it was closer to 11 by the time I reached the church, counting breaks and lights, etc. I burned about 3600 calories, and climbed a total elevation of 2500 feet. Whimsical.

And I had some enlightenment, which I tried to explain to a friend who was waiting for me at the church with a cold drink. It wasn’t particularly grand enlightenment, but it’s all I got.

This is hard, I kept thinking. I’ve walked a lot, and a lot of it was hard for different reasons, but this was hard. It was a little stupid, too, but mostly hard. I didn’t need to prove to myself that I could do a hard thing.

I just needed to remind myself. That was my moment of clarity, unobscured by sweat and sore feet. The coming year might not be so fun, I was thinking. I might need to remember that I know how to do hard things.

I was right, by the way.

***

We went hiking in April with old and dear friends at Multnomah Falls near Portland. This followed two weeks of alarm, as a routine physical exam showed some blood test abnormalities and, by the way, I’d lost over 40 pounds I didn’t mean to lose. It wasn’t a mystery to me; I knew what I weighed. But hearing myself describe the past year to my doctor, with the lack of appetite, sleep problems, other problems, I suddenly realized what was going on.

People in recovery circles tend to use a vocabulary that employs flexible semantics; words sometime mean what you want them to mean. What you need them to.

What I’d engaged with over the past year had been carefully planned, well-documented self-destructive behavior. I’d call that a relapse.

Understanding that, I got a clear picture of what I’d done to myself. I went on a hunger strike to protest the lack of serenity in my life. I screwed up. I’d erased all I’d managed to accomplish over the past decade.

Or that’s how the semantic part works. Flexible, as I said.

But we hiked that trail, on that sunny but cold April morning, and it was steep and everyone was breathing hard, including our companions, both obnoxiously healthy and athletic people. Just not me.

“Chuck didn’t even look like he was breathing,” one of them said to Julie later. I was, but instead of the energy-poor, deconditioned self I expected, this was just steep. I live in the land of steep. I’ve walked a lot of hills. Including one that nearly broke my heart, a year ago today, and I remembered then that I know how to do hard things, and why.

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The Red Firebird

(NOTE: This is my May 25 column)

The Red Firebird

There is a fifth season, and it is upon us. I know about such things.

I’ve come to think of it as Wistful Season, and I’ve seen the best minds of my generation turned to mush at the sight of offspring walking across a stage to get a diploma, or gliding down the aisle toward the future. Other generations, too. This season spares no one.

Beginning around Memorial Day weekend and winding down as June does, Wistful Season is marked by culture, not climate, although weather has a definite part to play. Nobody wants their parade rained on.

It’s the time of year when we could all use a little help spelling “congratulations,” but I still think of it as wistful. While we celebrate as parents, for example, when watching our children graduate from somewhere, somehow, we also know what’s been lost. Childhood, some innocence, some duties. A lot of money, too, but I’m not talking about money.

Stories have a way of appearing to wrap up at this time of year, when of course they don’t. Millions of newlyweds, graduates, or entry-level employees are simply marking a milestone, a change, a new direction, and the rest of us eventually figure that out. And so we become wistful, aware that moments have come and are now gone.

We’re also aware, many of us, that we won’t know the whole thing. Most of us will never experience the full arc of another’s life story; we enter and exit in our own chapters. We’re left without knowing the ending, or else we just hear narratives from other voices, the parts we missed.

I know many of these narratives, as I’m sure you do. Family stories in particular are exchanged, enhanced, and occasionally exaggerated over the years. But not just family.

Here’s a little narrative for you: When my wife and I moved to Seattle in 1983, a singer and an actor, dreams in our pockets and maybe some quarters and dimes, we obviously had priorities. A place to live. Jobs. Trying not to smother a young marriage in its crib with the trauma and drama of moving far away from family two months after our wedding. Priorities.

Eventually, though, my wife would need a vocal coach. Dreams in pockets, etc. And during her second Seattle performance, playing a small part in a production of “The King and I,” she was given a name.

It turned out that we would move, following learning of our impending parenthood, to an apartment just two blocks from this teacher’s studio. This was convenient and also gave me my introduction to this woman, just beginning a relationship with my wife.

Her name was Roberta Manion, and it was a long relationship. My wife presided over the funeral service of Roberta’s lovely husband, Woody. My daughter grew up as a presence in that studio during her mother’s lessons, and eventually had a few of her own with Roberta.

What I remember sharply, though, is the day I met her, very early on, right about this time of year, when Roberta came by our place to pick up my wife for a concert or recital or something; who remembers? I just know that she drove a red Firebird, and I can still see her in my mind’s eye. She was in her mid-60s then, but we’d never seen someone that age who had her beauty, youth, and energy.

She was a true product of the Pacific Northwest, born in Spokane, moving to Seattle at age 12 and graduating from Roosevelt High School. She attended UW and Cornish, and during World War II she entertained the troops in Navy and USO shows. She was a presence and phenomenon, apparently, appearing all over the area in concerts and recitals, and on radio and television.

There’s a picture of Roberta from this time that hangs over my wife’s piano, a promotional shot that shows a slender, glamorous, beautiful woman, vaguely reminiscent of some combination of Lena Horne, Doris Day, and Audrey Hepburn.

When her career began to ebb, as they do, she became the woman I knew, a beloved and influential voice teacher in this region for 45 years.

As I said, it was a long relationship. My wife left her own singing career eventually and went to seminary, and Roberta finally retired and moved a little closer to family.

And last week, we got the news that Roberta Manion had passed away, three months shy of her 99th birthday.

Nearly a century of life, most of it spent around music, is surely worth celebrating. Her legacy is rich and powerful, and practically legendary here in the Northwest. My wife was one of her prize students, as well as eventually a colleague, but always a friend. We are wistful these days.

It’s certainly possible, if not probable, that Roberta sang for some of those whose lives were cut short during service to their country, whom we remember this coming Memorial Day. They have stories. We all do.

Those stories all have beginnings, and endings, and in some cases glorious middles. I’m drawn to these sorts of stories. I like to hear them, and I like to tell them.

So I’ve told you some of the story of Roberta Manion, a Northwest original, a spectacular singer, a friend, a teacher. I just thought it was a good one, and deserved to be told, and I was right.

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