Over The Rainbow

Listen, young people: This is how life happens. One day you vacuum the floor together, a year later you drive up to a ridge overlooking the red rocks of Sedona, and surrounded by friends and family you get married. Two months later you put all your belongings into a small trailer and move to Seattle, hope in your hearts and $500 in your pockets and everything ahead of you.

I watched as she grew, as she moved her way from Seattle Opera Chorus member and small parts in musicals to leading roles in operas, concerts, and recitals. She became a familiar face and voice in the music scene in Western Washington and British Columbia.

There were also babies and mortgages and arguments and stuff, but mostly I watched my wife sing and make people happy.


A world-class singer who is semi-retired and now lives in this area told me once that he considered Julie Kae one of the top three sopranos in the world. He seemed a little bewildered that this was such a secret, but my wife’s goals were never about fame and fortune.

Four years ago she had a calling to serve in another way, and this June she finishes seminary. Last week we got the news that she passed her ordination exams, the big hurdle, which with her degree now will allow her to be called as a pastor of a church.

I know her secrets. I know her history and her strengths; I know her flaws and failings. I’ve watched her for twenty years and sometimes I’ve wondered why, but never for very long.


I tried to explain to my daughter the other night that, in my feeble father’s philosophy, life is like a movie. In the technical sense, I mean: A series of moments, discrete and isolated, which with the persistence of vision and the arbitrary measure of years give the illusion of motion. The moments are still there, though, which is why her grandmothers could easily tell her what it’s like to be 17. They are still 17.

So am I, for that matter. I’m still 17, and 30, and 43, all at once. I’m still 23, and I sit in an empty theater and listen. I’m young and callow, but I know that the future is a mystery and that happiness is fleeting and should be embraced; and at that moment I feel I would be content to sit there and listen to her sing forever.

(Note: The text is from “Over The Rainbow,” a piece I wrote in 2002)


Since there were some odd issues in embedding, if you’re interested in a mini-selection of my lovely wife singing some Broadway, you can listen on this site. It’ll be worth it, too.

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My Brush With Greatness, Or Something

A column is up, somewhere…

I came home the other day with an exciting story for my wife, something to keep the marriage lively.

“A lady grabbed me in the store,” I announced, although her reaction was a little subdued. It takes a bit more, I guess, after all these years. I would probably have to break a plate or something.

But it happened. You know the footage of all the teenage girls going berserk when the Beatles first came to America? The screaming, the crying, how they rushed the stage and tried desperately to touch one of the guys? So, it wasn’t like that.

I do have fans, though, or at least readers. I’ve met some of you recently, in different public situations, and it’s been pure pleasure. Although usually we just shake hands.

More exciting adventures here.

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And Now, The Rest Of The Story

I wrote about the picture last week in the newspaper, but I didn’t link because the web sites were funky and I wasn’t pleased with it anyway. Some things require more than 800 words. Epic poems. Novels. My thoughts about pretty much everything.

And it felt perfunctory; as I wrote on this blog a while back, I had more to say about this particular picture. What I was thinking was, hey: I’ve got a good Valentine’s Day story. And suddenly Valentine’s Day had come and I had a deadline and so on. It was sort of rushed.

And really? It’s an easy thing to misconstrue, and a hard thing to explain. It’s sort of nostalgia, but then maybe it’s metanostalgic, remembering what I used to remember. And it’s certainly metametamorphical, a snapshot in time of a snapshot in time. See? We can get tangled here pretty quickly.

So here it is, as plain and simple as I can make it: A friend once took a picture of me, posed and sort of pretentious (although not, as several people have implied, a lie; that’s not actually my 12-string in the photo, but I’ve been playing the guitar for over 40 years. Long periods go by when I don’t play, and I was never interested enough in it to be more than passable, but if I put my mind to it and practice I’m not bad at all).

In those prehistoric times, of course, a picture like this took work. She had to finish the roll of film first. She then had to rent a darkroom, develop the film, do what magic she wanted to do, crop, enlarge, make prints, etc. The idea was that she’d produce a nice print and it’d be a gift for my girlfriend, for Valentine’s Day.

I want to note that I have no special feelings for Valentine’s Day. I’d guess I’m as romantic as the next guy, or most guys — February 14 never really made a mark, is all. If I ever spent a Valentine’s Day moping around because I didn’t have love in my life, I’ve lost that particular memory.

But I remember a million details about this Valentine’s Day, in 1979. And, as it turns out, it left a mark, too.

I can tell you that I drove a 1973 Celica, a little sporty car I loved. I worked a graveyard shift at an HMO. I was 20. I was starting a one-week vacation that day, as I got off at 6am. My plans were to pick up the picture, drive to my brand-new apartment and sleep for a few hours, give my girlfriend her gift, and then drive up north to Flagstaff, where my once and future school, Northern Arizona University, was hosting a regional American College Theater Festival. Lots of schools, lots of plays, lots of fun. My old friend and former roommate Kurt had arranged for me to have tickets for all the performances. He had responsibilities, so he gave them to our mutual friend, Sue, who would wait with them in Kurt’s apartment for me to show up.

She waited a long time.

Kurt is dead, now, of a sudden, massive heart attack 10 years ago. Sue is alive and well, now a lighting designer for a theater company in Minneapolis. Hi Sue.

So this is not turning out all that plain and simple, sorry. Let’s cut to the chase. After picking up the picture, I was involved in a serious car accident.

Oh, well. Serious. Relative term. Serious, maybe, in the sense that it had echoes; even at that age, my social sphere had already seen two major car accidents, one involving far more serious injuries that I would suffer, and the other resulting in the death of a high school friend. Trauma has a long half-life; nobody wanted to hear any more bad news.

In truth, it wasn’t that bad. I’d made a quick left turn at a tricky spot, a curve as I remember, and I just never saw the other car. It T-boned my little Celica, slamming me across the road until I hit the curb. I was wearing a seatbelt (not a given in 1979), but my head hit the rearview mirror and maybe the dashboard, slicing up my right ear and my forehead, and also lacerating my right knee against something.

Lessons learned? Ears have a lot of nerves. And even superficial forehead lacerations can bleed a lot.

Details? I remember that the car radio kept playing, and I listened to the traffic guy in his helicopter describe my accident below. A paramedic on his way to work just happened to drive by, so first aid was almost immediately on the scene, applying direct pressure and making my blood loss, which had already soaked my shirt, not an issue.

A plastic surgeon sutured my head wounds. I wore an air cast and walked on crutches for a couple of weeks. I didn’t need to be hospitalized, although my mom thought that was a bad call and maybe it was.

On the way home from the doctor’s office, exhausted and with a horrible headache, I suddenly remembered my picture. My mom somehow found out the location of the junkyard where my poor totaled Celica had been towed and retrieved the print. My girlfriend eventually got it, but I’m thinking the charm had been lost by then.

And we broke up, eventually, and moved on, and if I remember the story correctly an irritated husband, years later, tore it up. I probably wouldn’t have been so theatrical if I’d been in his shoes, but I get the impulse — your wife shouldn’t be keeping pictures of old boyfriends, even in boxes in the closet.

So this wasn’t really about romance, or Valentine’s Day, or even love, not really. When my friend found a second print, also stored in a box somewhere, it meant less to me to reflect on what a rootless, unsure poseur I was at 20 than to remember the story. And the ifs.

If I hadn’t had to make a side trip to retrieve the picture…you get it.

As I said, metametaphorical. Or at least leveling back out, peering through layers until I find the subjunctive mood and a counterfactual that I wonder about sometimes. Not a lot; you can only wander through other lives so much before paradoxes pop up and children go poof! and so on.

My friend Guy Erickson was kind enough to mail the print to me. My friend Sue Berger stays in touch and might remember this vaguely, who knows? A couple of days after the accident, my friend Pat Russel came down from Flag to visit me; I saw Pat last summer. The story has little tendrils that make me smile.

I pick up my guitar and play it more often these days.

I have a little scar over my left eye, and another one on my right knee. Hard to see but there.

And my wife liked the picture a lot, seemed charmed by my younger image, although when I told her the story, told her, “It was a gift for Robyn,” she made a funny face and said, “I’m not sure I like it that much now,” which made me smile, too.

Robyn remembers, too. I sent her an email.

As for trauma, who knows? I remember getting restless after that accident, so maybe. I eventually moved to LA, played with comedy, came home again, went back to school, fell in love…the rest of the story.

It’s a fun picture. It sits by my wife’s piano. Maybe we’ll frame it. Maybe, we’ll put it in a box in our closet. Maybe that’s where it belongs.

And maybe, when I look at it, all I see is a story. I certainly don’t see myself. I do, though, see an alternate ending, and you have to be careful with those.

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Something Sets Us Free

Thanks to my daughter, I got the This American Life iPhone/Touch app, which is fantastic. At $2.99, I not only add my 299 cents to support the show, but I get (streaming only) access to every single episode of TAL ever. What a deal. I really like that show. I would really like to be a contributor. You guys know where to find me.

I also listen to Fresh Air with Terry Gross, which offers great interviews with writers, musicians, actors, all sorts of public figures. I’ve found lots of books and music and films to enjoy from that show. I would also love to be a guest, although maybe I should make a movie first.

And that’s it.

I love radio, or the idea of radio, anyway. I loved my time as a DJ on my college radio station, which was problematic since it was a Top 40 station at the time and I didn’t listen to Top 40 songs. At the time. The request line was a challenge. Still, it was fun to mess around with radio.

(Portrait of the author as a young deejay)

Otherwise? No radio for me. No music. No talk. No nothing. Podcasts, maybe.

Radio is dangerous for my blood pressure, I’m thinking. Even talk radio hosts who technically might agree with me on most things are…talk radio hosts. No thanks.

A few months ago I accidentally listened to a few minutes of talk radio (accidentally=it was on, I left it on). The host was talking about the health care reform situation. His caller was offering her opinion that she wasn’t in favor of any plan that shelled out taxpayer dollars to provide abortions (always a nice straw man). The host countered by saying that we don’t get to choose that sort of thing, how he opposed our intervention in Iraq but still paid his share of it. He then, just to liven things up, asked the caller if she also was angry about her tax dollars funding the deaths of thousands of Iraqi children as a result of the war.

“No,” she said, then raised her voice, which I shall reflect by capital letters, as per protocol. “THEY ATTACKED US FIRST!”

And I turned it off, and so on.

Leonard Pitts wrote a column this weekend that I almost hesitate to link to, just because it’s disturbing in a civics sort of way. Although I’ll note that the person Pitts is dealing with is a specific kind of idiot, sort of in the “denier” category. That’s a whole kind of stupid all its own.

But his overall point, about the irrelevance of facts, apparently, in contemporary American political discourse, is valid. Again, disturbing. I should be enjoying our current sunshine.

It’s not just talk radio. It’s virtually all of cable news now, from what I can tell. Some are better than others, but mostly the reality-free community gets plenty of airtime and apparently enough of an audience to make it profitable. I know people who watch this stuff all day long. Must. Find. Sunshine.

But it prompts a question on my part, which you can consider rhetorical or not, your call. Answer if you wish, too.

A significant proportion of Americans, apparently, as war with Iraq loomed seven years ago, believed we were invading as a direct response to the 9/11 attacks. They didn’t know the truth, in other words. Some of this was some fancy insinuation on the part of the Bush administration, but mostly it was perpetuated by their friends in what passed for mass media (and some who weren’t technically friends but were wetting their pants lest someone call them unpatriotic or biased).

So here’s my question: If you were one of these people, who believed that Saddam somehow orchestrated 9/11 and that the hijackers were Iraqi, and now you know differently…do you think about that? Do you question now how you get your information? Do you search harder and more thoroughly for the truth? Do you suspect what you hear and read until you can verify or disprove?

Or do you still believe what you’re told to believe get your information from pretty much the same sources? (sorry – had a momentary and uncharacteristic flash of bitterness. Sarcasm adds nothing to this imaginary conversation.)

Just curious.

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Kids Say…

I’ve scavenged my personal life for years, for public consumption and (usually) for word counts. Including the lives of my children, which seems, on retrospect, unfair. I can only hope they don’t write books about me.

I’ve tried to be careful, to guard boundaries and stay away from subjects, with mixed results, although I’ve done pretty good with quotes, I think. Parents have a nasty habit of thinking their kids are aphorism-spouting machines and it’s tempting to share their wit and wisdom with the world, particularly in Christmas letters. Context is usually everything; it can get old. And sometimes bizarre. So I’ve tried to resist.

I do have to note that I’m passionately in love with my children, and do believe their wit and wisdom to be very awesome. My son makes me laugh at least once a day, and I’m a hard laugh.

And after a long conversation with my daughter yesterday, on various subjects but with some thematic consistency, she said this:

“My kids will play with dirt.”

See? Context.

I’m already feeling a little guilty. She’s probably used to it, though.

It just made me smile, though. It makes me smile right now.

She was talking about her goals for parenthood, whenever that happens, her aim to be somewhere in south Texas, with some space and land and a backyard with peppers growing. And that she would trytrytry to keep her theoretical children from becoming robots, electronic junkies, iPhone addicts, whatever. Hopefully they will be able to play in dirt. I approve, as a theoretical grandfather. I play in dirt sometimes even now. Lots and lots of fun.

So, still smiling. Also at this.

She already knows something about kids, as it turns out.

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Insert Tiger Pun Here

Seriously. I had to resist.

And “Tiger” is really sort of a silly nickname for a grown man, or would be if he weren’t Tiger. Then again, Eldrick Woods isn’t quite as flashy, although looking at it right there in Arial I’m thinking it would have worked fine for a golfer.

I have no interest in Tiger Woods at all, except for the unavoidable kind. I’m not a golfer or a golf watcher or a golf fan, although I completely understand how people are; it just never happened for me. Mostly, then, when I’ve thought about Tiger Woods it’s been to reflect on how awesome he is, and how I wish I were that awesome.

That hasn’t much changed, either. The guy is amazingly disciplined, fit, driven, yadda yadda yadda. I admire the hell out of people like that.

I do, probably, have more to say about Tiger, as it turns out, unless I come up with a different subject next week. It happens; I get ideas.

For now, I point you to this Salon piece by Mary Elizabeth Williams, in which she kindly outlines for us the 12-step derivation of Tiger’s statement today. She does a good job, too; I have no problem believing that Tiger Woods has by now been thoroughly instructed in the elements of what addiction specialists refer to as The Minnesota Model, the conventional therapeutic approach to compulsive behavior of this sort, based upon the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. It sure sounded like it, anyway.

Not that I care, which is a problem when I’m sort of in the opinion business. But since Tiger Woods isn’t me, or a family member or a friend, or someone I held up as a role model or someone who owes me money, I don’t have any passion at all. It’s his business.

Anyway. More later, probably. I just thought it was a nice article, in case you care about such things and wondered where all that stuff Tiger was talking about came from. Looks like he learned it.

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