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Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Tom Peterson's (and Gloria's, Too!), 1964 - 2009
It's the end of an era, gone but not forgotten to anyone who watched local news broadcasts or late night TV in Portland between 1964 and the early '00s. Tom Peterson's (and Gloria's Too!) is no more. Another local blog, The ZehnKratzen Times, has photos of a lease sign on the front of the building and the store's phone number has been disconnected. The store, the last remaining of a chain, closed sometime within the past month.
Despite being an area institution once as memorable as the "Made in Oregon" sign or Sam Adam's libido, it's surprising that no local news organization ran a tribute or a eulogy for the late, great home furnishing empire. Tom Peterson, his stores and his kooky marketing tactics were once infamous here in Portland. His iconic logo and "wake up! wake up!" ad campaign are still sure to conjure up memories for two generations of locals.
At the height of Peterson's glory in the 1980s, his face graced alarm clocks, Halloween masks and t-shirts. His stores offered free flat-top haircuts on the weekends and a trolley carted customers from location to location. You couldn't turn on the news or watch reruns of Cheers on KPTV without seeing one of his commercials. He had cameos in Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho and Mr Holland's Opus. Kurt Cobain can even be seen wearing one of his watches in this Nirvana poster.
Then the bubble burst for Peterson around 1990 when he made the mistake of investing heavily in a chain of local stereo stores as larger electronics chains like Circuit City began making inroads in Portland. Within a few years, he was bankrupt and his empire toppled but his story had a second act. Peterson, a man of humble beginnings (his wife Gloria once told the Oregonian he had holes in his shoes and nary a penny to his name when they first met) rallied back. He scaled the stores down to a single location on SE 82nd and the operation continued on as Tom Peterson's (and Gloria's Too!) for a number of years.
But he never reached those previous heights again. Eventually, the operation was moved to a smaller building on SE Insley. Peterson worked at both the store and as a motivational speaker for a while before his declining health began to wear on him. During its final years of operation, a family member managed the store.
Over winter break, a friend of mine who grew up in Portland flew out from DC. He had a list of places he wanted to see during his visit. In addition to Powell's Books and the typical places expats always hit, he wanted to see Tom Peterson's. I drove him over there on a cloudy December afternoon so he could buy a t-shirt and grab one of the masks. We chatted with a guy working at the front counter and he admitted that the store's days were numbered but that they'd had "one heck of a long run." My friend later penned a Wikipedia page on Tom Peterson.
I have one of Mr. Peterson's alarm clocks still sitting on a shelf in my bathroom. It broke years ago but I can't bear to throw it away. I'm sure other clocks are sitting in bathrooms, guest bedrooms and attics all over town. Mr. Peterson's legacy may be an odd one but he left a mark on Portland that few ever will.
Random Cell Phone Photo # 42
Spotted in the parking lot at the Kennedy School a few weeks ago:
I think I can field this one. WWCD? He would call for a ban on rock music, of course!
Labels: cell phone photos
Monday, March 30, 2009
The APB Tourism Bureau is open for business
Justin, a reader from Iowa, sent me this email over the weekend...
love your blog, quite entertaining... can I pick your brain for a minute? if so, read on...my girlfriend & I were planning a Europe trip this summer, but have decided not w/ the current economic "climate"... we'd like to stay state-side, after getting psyched for Europe, do you think Portland would be a total letdown, or do you think we'd still enjoy the trip? what would be the best time to come?
So....Europe vs. Portland? I wrote him back with my thoughts but what do y'all think? I mean, after all.....
Let me tell you about a series of recurring dreams that I've been having. About chickens. No, seriously, chickens. Feel free to play armchair Freud and explain them to me if you're feeling up to the task.
The dreams started around five years ago and I have one every few months. I still remember the first of these, which I wrote about here on the blog. In it I had just purchased a house in McMinnville with a large coup and decided to consult a neighbor about the logistics of raising hens. After being chased off his property, I drove to a nightmarish Petco-type superstore devoted entirely to chickens.
The more recent of these dreams involve me building a chicken coop and being nagged by neighbors for eggs. The most recent dream consisted entirely of an argument with a friend over whether or not it would be safe to set up the coop under the large apple tree that dominates my front yard.
Where are these dreams coming from? Well, raising "urban chickens" has become a popular fad around Portland in recent years. There's a house near my place with chickens that escape every so often and can occasionally be found blocking traffic. I can think of no less than three households in the area with coops.
So I found myself talking about these dreams over dinner at Gustav's Pub last week and the discussion led to three of us killing part of an otherwise dull afternoon at Livingscape Nursery's "Chicken Fest!" last Saturday. If I were serious about buying an urban chicken or three what sort of financial and time investment would I be looking at? Also: what's the best name for a hen that lives in a hipster metropolis like Portland?
I was considering Clucky Brewster.
First up, a professionally-built coop with all the bells and whistles can run between $600 and $1,000 while a homemade coop can be constructed for as little as $60. Among the other things we learned at Chicken Fest:
While I have plenty of space for a coop, the logistics of running one would prevent me from ever going through with this and I didn't do so hot when I helped a friend babysit some hens a few summers back. I've heard some nasty stories from a colleague who grew up on a farm with chickens (they're dirty, they peck everything to death, they poop all over the place, etc). My neighborhood is filled with cats, raccoons and Lewis & Clark undergrads. Plus, there's a state park three blocks from my door that's no doubt filled with plenty of bored coyotes that would love to get their paws on a chicken, especially a irony-lovin', Session Lager-swillin' hipster bird with a name like Clucky Brewster.
Maybe I should get a pig instead.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Flipping the crane
So I've been officially flipped off by successful recording artist Colin Meloy. Why? Because I asked him to and he kindly obliged. This one is soooooo going up on Facebook.
I went to the Decemberists signing over at Music Millennium on Tuesday night. The store was handing out free posters with copies of The Hazards of Love. Eager to support a "local, independent music store," a "local, oddball rock band" and the "local, empty wall spaces in our respective living rooms" Shanna and I bought two copies.
A line snaked around the store. When we got up to the band Meloy was soliciting opinions about the proposed 12-lane interstate bridge over the Columbia River. No, seriously. I can only assume that random political inquiries are what most indie rock lead singers start muttering after two hours of singing posters for hipsters. Shanna told him she's willing to endorse the proposal provided she doesn't have to pay for it. This earned a nod from Meloy.
I should have asked him about the MLS deal but I was too busy dinking around with the settings on my iPhone.
Greetings from a "spiral of fear and diminished expectations assailing the economy"
I was feeling a little blue this afternoon but, fortunately, this New York Times article perked me right up. It's nice to know that Powell's Books and Portland at large is what the Old Gray Lady considers prime examples of everything sick, sad and wrong with the woeful state of the nation's economy. It seems like just yesterday they were making this city out to be a utopia. But I guess every would-be Atlantis has to take on water at some point.
So what is it like to live in a city that's "a "spiral of fear and diminished expectations assailing the economy"? I'll tell you right after I chase all the squatting refugees from Barter Town off my lawn.
On a somewhat related note, I think Tina Turner should have gone with wind energy over the whole pig poop thing. Oh, wait. Maybe not.
Labels: the economy
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
You may have encountered this gentleman before in a Portland bar. I call him "The Handshaker" and I've run into him at least twice over the course of the past year, once at the Crow Bar and again at Wimpy's about a month ago. He's a guy, maybe about thirty, with a beard who wears a stocking cap and looks kind of like Marvin Gaye (here's a helpful visual reference). He catches you off guard and requests to shake your hand. Before you can think twice about it, the two of you are acting like you've just closed a business deal.
The last time this happened, he requested a second handshake, "a *real* handshake" as he put it, because the first one simply wasn't acceptable. I naively obliged, to which he replied, "there now, that wasn't so hard, was it?" Then, without another word, he turned and moved on to the bar to order a beer.
I don't know what to make of the guy, especially after that disconcerting encounter at Wimpy's. Afterward, I felt like I'd either been blessed or cursed. Maybe the Handshaker just likes to screw with the patrons of random Portland drinking establishments or maybe he's shooting for something along the lines of those "Free Hugs" people or maybe it's just his thing. If anyone out there has run into him or knows his story, I'm all ears.
Monday, March 23, 2009
I apologize in advance to Another Portland Blog's nonexistent vegetarian readership for the following post.
The Portland Farmers Market opened for the season on Saturday and, along with roughly 65% of everyone else living in the city, I went down there in search of locally-produced consumables. Instead of the organic fruits and vegetables that filled most of the booths I was looking for something else. Something that doesn't grow on trees or bushes. Something that was once covered in fur and probably went "moo" or "snarf" or "blargh" or.....
.....ok, what kind of a sound does a yak make?
I was on a hunt for yak meat (and flowers because it was my mom's birthday. I went with tulips. Hi, Mom).
I asked someone at the information booth and they gave me a funny look, as if to say, "Son, you wouldn't know what to do with yak meat if it was all they sold at your friendly, neighborhood Fred Meyer." He finally shrugged and told me to go ask the "buffalo guys."
Yes, the Portland Farmers Market has "buffalo guys." I had to roam through over a hundred booths before I found the one operated by the Pine Mountain Ranch. They deal primarily in buffalo products. I waited patiently in line behind someone who seemed downright crestfallen to learn that they were not only all sold out of buffalo liver but buffalo hearts and tongues as well.
I may have been tempted to buy a buffalo heart if they'd had any in stock but I settled on what I'd come to the market for: authentic ground yak meat. I told one of the guys working the booth that I was planning to use it in spaghetti sauce and he told me I'd be better off using Italian yak sausage. I went with that instead.
Yak meat doesn't come cheap. I paid $10.94 for a single pound. I tossed it in a pan on Sunday night and it was fairly difficult to work with. It's sort of dry and doesn't mash-up as easily as regular beef. But to answer the question that I'm sure is on your mind: what does it taste like? The flavor falls somewhere between buffalo and venison. Like most semi-exotic meats, it's got a bit of that whole "gamey" thing going on.
Once I tossed the meat into a pot with a batch of sauteed vegetables and a few jars of Newman's Vodka Spaghetti Sauce I couldn't taste much of a difference between yak and plain, old, boring ground beef. Honestly, I feel like I wasted the stuff. I should have made yak burgers instead.
Now just one question remains: what would buffalo heart spaghetti taste like? To the farmer's market!
The Not-So Exciting Columbia Sportswear Jacket Adventure
A few weekends back I spent an afternoon in a sweat lodge at a location that should probably remain unpublished. There are better places to leave a fairly expensive Columbia Sportswear jacket. For starters, somewhere within an hour drive of the city you're living in.
To clarify, I didn't leave the jacket in the lodge itself but rather a nearby yurt. I realized my mistake after getting home and tracked down the email address of the shaman that led the ceremony. In case you're wondering, yeah, this particular shaman has an email address. Everybody's gotta keep up with the times.
He kindly offered to drop the jacket off during his next trip to Portland but, after a missed opportunity to meet up, I decided to drive back out there to save him any further hassles. It was tough to find the place. After several missed turns and a spin on a patch of snow on the other side of a blind curve, I arrived back at the front gate.
Moments later, I was introduced to seven women touring the grounds. Apparently, I'd interrupted a weekend-long, female-only retreat. Ooops. After a quick introduction to everyone in attendance, I muttered "I'm just here to fetch my jacket...that I, uh, left here...ummm...I'll go get it now." The awkwardness in the air? 'Twas plentiful.
I grabbed the jacket, waved goodbye to everybody and made my way back to my car. I wonder what my jacket served witness to during its fortnight out there. It still smells like salmon and, strangely enough, Old Spice.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
The Hazards of (Savage) Love
Dear Savage Love,
I'm a young damsel living in a fictional fantasy world. The other day I was merrily skipping through the woods when I came across an injured fawn. I rushed to its aid and it transformed into a strapping, young lad. I allowed the fire of my loins to trump my otherwise upstanding moral fiber. Caught up in the passionate embrace of this mystical (and quite virile, I might add) woodland creature, I completely forgot about using protection. Now I've got a shape-shifting bun in my oven and I'm in love with its father. What should I do? I fear my unborn might decide to transform into an elephant in utero. And how might I best relate this unusual turn of events to Father?
Probably Pregnant With Bambi
There's enough fodder in the Decemberists' The Hazards of Love, to fill a dozen of Dan Savage's advice columns. I'm sure this letter would earn the album's heroine Margaret his standard, go-to response: "dump the mother#@#! already." Of course, she doesn't do this, plunging her further into an hour-long musical odyssey involving an unrepentant con man, a wicked forest witch, ghost children and power cords aplenty.
If a folk-rock concept album that mixes equal parts Little Red Riding Hood with Juno sounds ridiculous, well, think back to the plots of The Wall and Tommy. Not to reveal any spoilers but, at no point, does Margaret form a cult centered around pinball machines or spend any time in a metaphorical courtroom lorded over by a gigantic butt-shaped magistrate.
Like those albums, The Hazards of Love is grand in scope, ambition and marinated in pretentiousness. Singer-song writer Colin Meloy took the kitchen sink approach here. On top of slide guitars, harpsichords, banjos and pump organs there's a kiddie choir straight out of "Another Brick in the Wall Part 2." The music deviates from country to folk to metal to chamber music to prog rock to any given Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and back again.
Like the band itself, the album shouldn't work but it does and it does so harder than a hundred chimbley chimney sweeps. Is The Hazards of Love relentlessly cheesy, cheeky, dark and unlikely to win the Decemberists any new fans? Probably. For those that can handle the not-so cheery subject matter, there's "The Rake Song," the best (and likely only) radio-friendly pop song that will ever be recorded about flicide. FYI: according to this, the Decemberists average death count per song currently stands at 0.92. I wonder how that number stacks up against Johnny Cash's catalog.
And how long until a local theater group decides to produce a stage version?
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Portland has plenty of these places- restaurants, bars and hotels with a certain "vibe," for lack of a better word. Locales with an aura of mystery and darkness like something out of a Tom Waits song. When you walk in for the first time you're bound to find yourself thinking, "Yep, this establishment is probably haunted" even if you don't know its history.
The White Eagle, Hobos, Mama Mia Trattoria, the Kennedy School, the Shanghai, Old Town Pizza, they all bear a few dusty, old secrets and a ghost story or three. I recently wandered into the Tugboat Brewing Company on SW Ankeny and got that same feeling. Old photos and portraits line the walls alongside bookshelves. The booths are worn and the lamps look like they've been there for a hundred years. An old piano sits off in a corner.
It's a great spot with a friendly staff but I wonder if any of them hate to be the last one out the door every night. What's the history behind the place and what's the bio of its resident spirit? I'm sure they've got at least one hanging around.
So you don't believe in ghosts? Well, me neither, despite an incredibly creepy night I once spent in a room at the White Eagle. If you get the chance though, head down to Old Town Pizza by yourself on a quiet, preferably rainy weeknight right around 9 or so. Have a seat on the first floor, around the corner from the kitchen or, if you're feeling really daring, the table in the old elevator shaft.
Supposedly, many years ago, a prostitute named Nina was tossed down the shaft after she threatened to rat on her employer. If the legends are to be believed, she still wanders around the place in a white dress and occasionally pesters the staff. If you can get through your solitary meal without moving into the other room you're a braver person than I.
A St. Paddy's paddywagon?
I saw this PPD van driving around downtown as I was going home last night and decided to risk an accident in order to take a cell phone shot of it. Naturally, I had to make some use of the photo after risking life and limb like that. So stupid question time: this van qualifies as a paddywagon, right?
Labels: the law
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
How to make an "Irish Car Bomb"
I found myself in the middle of a debate about this other night. What's the correct recipe for one of the most offensively-titled drinks of all time? Or at least one of the most politically-themed, offensively-titled drinks of all time?
Here's the recipe for all of the "Irish Car Bombs" I've enjoyed on various St. Patrick's Days in the past. First, fill a pint glass 2/3s of the way full of stout. Then find a shot glass, put in a little cream, fill it to the top with whiskey, set the whiskey on fire, drop the shot glass in the pint glass and then chug the whole mess quickly before the cream curdles.
Now I'm told that this isn't the correct way and that fire shouldn't be incorporated at all. The internet confirms this, stating that a proper Irish Car Bomb should be made with Baileys instead of cream and that a flame should come nowhere near the whiskey. WTF? Where's the fun in that? I say that the lack of fire takes the "bomb" right out of the mix. Call this concoction what you will but, in my book, no fire = no Irish Car Bomb. This version might be better dubbed the "Wussy Wuss Bailey Wannabe Irish Car Bomb Wuss Fest That Isn't Actually an Irish Car Bomb."
Anyway, happy St. Patrick's Day, everybody. I'll conclude this post with my favorite Irish toast: "may the best of your yesterdays be the worst of your tomorrows."
Monday, March 16, 2009
On Saturday night I sat through all four hours and twenty-eight minutes of Steven Soderbergh's Che and the director's hour-long Q&A session afterward. It was a challenge and a cinematic endurance test that left me feeling more than a little punch drunk. I'd be lying if I told you that I didn't walk out of the theater in a socialist daze muttering revolutionary slogans to random strangers in broken Spanish.
¿Usted no oye los gritos de la gente de Boliva? Gritan para la libertad. Coloque su capitalismo y tome sus brazos. ¡Cante la canción de las masas amontonadas! ¡Viva la revolucion!
Oh, sorry about that. For what it's worth, the flashbacks haven't been happening as much today. Honest!
Even without its daunting running time, Soderbergh's efforts to offer an unbiased look at the revolutionary's military efforts would be a slog. Unlike similar historical epics like Lawrence of Arabia, Che offers little in the way of context for the events surrounding Che's actions. The film is divided into two sections, the first covering the Cuban revolution and the second following his botched mission in Bolivia. An opening scene at a dinner party in Mexico City sows the seeds of rebellion, offering a quick rundown on the struggles of the masses in Cuba, but the rest of this first section is content to follow the day-to-day hassles of keeping soldiers motivated in a jungle.
Soderbergh, in his drive to remain impartial, forgets to make one of the most compelling political figures of the 20th century the least bit interesting. Benicio Del Toro does his best with the title role but the director doesn't give him much to do but glumly boss around his underlings, smoke and gasp for breath (Che suffered from asthma). During the Q & A after the film, an audience member stood up and asked Soderbergh why he didn't give women more of a role in the film. In his response he explained that this was a conscientious effort on his part and that everyone fighting in the revolution had family and wives waiting for them back home. Based on his research, Che was notoriously driven, unrelenting and cold, thus Soderbergh's film had to be the same in order to best capture him.
The events of the Cuban revolution at least keep the first half moving at a steady pace. The film's depiction of the Battle of Santa Clara is calculated and intricate, darting between an official's office to a raid on a train full of soldiers and into an apartment complex where Che's men tear through the walls in order to set up an elaborate trap. The final scene before the intermission is Che's best moment. As the leader and his men triumphantly drive towards Havana, Che spots one of his lieutenants driving a stolen convertible and forces him to drive back to Santa Clara to return it. He shrugs and shakes his head. His forces haven't even reached Cuba's capital and already everybody's missing the point.
In the hands of a director like Steven Spielberg, who is a master of capturing moments like this and the souls of even the most challenging of historical figures, Che could have been an epic worthy of its running time. Unfortunately, Soderbergh and the film are stuck firmly in "fly on the wall" mode. The second half captures the bleak hopelessness of the leader's efforts in Bolivia but it forgets to make us care at all. Why did Che, with his middle-class upbringing and medical degree, go to the lengths that he did? Why didn't he at least settle for a comfortable, high-ranking gig in Castro's Cuba? And how can a film set so close to the equator feel as cold as ice? All for the sake of authenticity.
Ernesto "Che" Guevara deserves a great movie. This isn't it.
Che will play at Cinema 21 through Thursday.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
And then a member of the Rocky team started punching Slimer
I showed up late to this year's Urban Iditarod. The details were vague and the official website didn't offer up much in the way of the whens and wheres. I figured I'd found the place when I was driving down a side street off SE Grand and spotted a few hundred costumed "dogs" running towards my car.
The annual event takes place every March and, according to an oft-quoted KATU soundbite, "there are no winners, there are no losers, there are only belligerent people." If you've never been, the Urban Iditarod is a drunken spectacle that replaces the hard-working huskies of more traditional iditarods with drunks and the sleds with shopping carts. My colleagues and I spent a few hours among the teams, learning their ways and studying their habits, but we never did figure out if there any actual rules involved in this race. At one point I found myself asking the same question that perplexed Hunter. S. Thompson during a long-ago trip to the Honolulu Marathon: "why do these mad buggers run?"
One theory: beer. Another theory: more beer. A third theory: boredom, spandex and still more beer.
That's not to say that this year's iditarod lacked any displays of genuine competitive spirit. As the dogs took off from the race's first break area in a parking lot next to Dutch Brothers, a team comprised of Rockys attempted to distract the leader of a Ghostbuster-themed team. Have you ever tried to navigate a group of inebriates attached to a shopping cart while dressed in a green spandex Slimer suit? It isn't easy, especially when you've got three Sylvester Stallone imitators slapping you upside the head.
There were many awesome teams and costumes on display during Saturday's race. No less than two teams dressed up as the Ghostbusters. There was a team of perverted Boy Scout troop leaders, a team comprised of butchers that kept screaming at spectators in broken Italian and, my personal favorite, the team that decided to drag around a functional Port-A-Potty instead of a shopping cart.
The Urban Iditarod isn't your traditional spectator sport. The race comes to a screeching halt every few blocks, allowing the dogs and their leaders time to pump themselves full of more alcohol. We followed the teams as far as the Green Dragon before a broken iPhone forced us to bag the race and make an emergency trip to the Pioneer Place Apple Store. So we didn't get to see any combination of drunken crashes, puking, public nudity, police intervention, or anything like that. But, hey, that's not to say that the afternoon was entirely free of highlights. I got sprayed in the face by one dog who was packing a dildo/squirt gun. Fun!
So if you go next year? You might want to leave the kids at home. You should have seen the expressions on the faces of random motorists that had to wait in traffic while the teams bombed down Belmont. As we followed them one spectator stopped to chat with a befuddled auto mechanic. Since carrying around an open container is still a serious no-no in this town, she offered him her beer, which he gladly accepted.
I figure there's at least one team still rolling through the streets of Portland in a drunken haze, madly searching for a finish line that's no longer there or maybe never existed in the first place. If I'm right about this, I figure it's the guys with the shark-cart made partially out of Pabst cans.
More photos? In a Flickr gallery? But of course. Just click here.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
I remember a Sunday night in March, maybe about six years ago, when I was sitting in the Goose Hollow Inn on SW Jefferson with my friend Olly. Suddenly, around 150 bicyclists appeared out of nowhere. I ran outside looking for an explanation and one of them told me they were "Zoobombing."
Flash forward to last Sunday. Olly, fresh in from Toledo, our pal Pete and I were all sitting in the Goose again but this time only three Zoobombers passed by the tavern. What could be thinning their numbers? Maybe the cold weather is to blame or the economy (what can't be blamed on it?). Or maybe, after nearly a decade of terrorizing the West Hills on Sunday evenings, the whole thing has finally become passe.
Nope, that can't be it. The Zoobomb website and its forum are still up to date. Who knows. Maybe they were just having an off-night.
Still better than that Pabst ad
Been wondering what the story is behind those mysterious, inspirational messages astride the Hawthorne Bridge? Today's Oregonian has the answer.
Another highlight from today's edition of the daily, this photo of the "Super Colon" currently on display at Legacy Good Samaritan.
Bring soccer (hooliganism) to Portland
The current municipal controversy du jour in Portland is a proposal to drop a whole bunch of dough on another revamp of PGE Park to pave the way for an MLS franchise. I'm not entirely opposed to the idea...provided I don't have to think too much about where the money is going to come from. Jack Bogdanski has devoted a lot of space on his blog in recent weeks to decrying the cronyism and supposed backroom dealings that will fuel this already "done deal." Tomorrow morning, City Council will vote on whether or not to get the ball rolling on this one.
There's an argument to made on both sides but, let's be honest, are urban renewal funds ever going to go to a neighborhood that needs them? Will they go to repair Portland's roads or to patch the crumbling state of many of the city's public schools? Given City Hall's track record, of course not. Rather than a Convention Center hotel or a couplet on Burnside or another streetcar to a condo graveyard, I'd rather have a soccer stadium where I can pass a summer evening during the Great Depression Part Duex all tipsy on the delusion that I'm living in America's most European city.
Plus, having an MLS franchise in town will only further the chances of hooliganism. I'd pay good money to see a soccer riot in the downtown Nordstorms.
Monday, March 09, 2009
Earnest Rides Again
I got a chance to play theater critic again at Portland Center Stage last week. A production of The Importance of Being Earnest is currently running through March 29th in the Gerding Theater. It's a far cry from the last show that appeared on the theater's main stage, the lavish but dense and overlong Apollo. I was in a production of Earnest back in high school and, despite having once spent two months listening to the dialog over and over again, I still have a hard time keeping up with Oscar Wilde's century-old wit.
Earnest is a snide satire of Victorian England's idle upper-classes and the playwright's last work before he found himself immersed in a nasty scandal that led to his death. Some critics claim the play contains plenty of gay subtext but PCS shies away from all of that....or does it? James Knight's performance as Algernon is a bit over-the-top but here all the "Bunburying" is bound by the standard interpretation of the phrase.
If you've never seen it, Earnest centers around the exploits of two 19th-century playboys, Jack and Algernon, who spend their days embedding themselves (yeah, pun intended) in various affairs, deceits and aliases. Their efforts to juggle their gal-pals all come crashing down during a trip to Jack's country estate when the identity of both of them are called into question.
The dialog can be tough to keep up with but Earnest really does have some great one-liners. Director Chris Coleman keeps the pace fast and furious and the performances are all spot on but PCS' Earnest remains a perfectly standard production of the play. It's great for what it is but I wonder what Earnest would be like if it were tweaked ala those Shakespearean productions down in Ashland. What would the play look like if it were set in Nazi-era Germany or given a steam punk theme? Ok, ok, it would never work and Wilde's wit doesn't need to get suited up in such gimmickry.
One other thing and a quick SPOILER warning for those who have never seen or read Earnest. I did the math afterward and, if I'm correct here, the last few lines of the play reveal that Jack's fiancee Gwendolen is also his first cousin.
Oh, those naughty, naughty aristocrats.
Rejection, Portland Mercury style
Once upon a time, I spent a year struggling to become a Professional Journalist TM. For various reasons, not necessarily limited to the fact that the only paying, non-internship gig I could find was in Barstow, California, I decided to stick with a career in an entirely different field. Take a look around here. Tossing in the towel was a shrewd move on my part, no? Plus, given the perpetually shrinking market for print journalists in recent years, I can't say I've spent too much time crying my eyes out over not making the cut. Journalism is a tough racket and it gets tougher every day.
I received plenty of rejection letters during my job hunt but my favorite, by far, was the one I got from Wm. Steven Humphrey, the editor of The Portland Mercury. If you've never seen a copy of his standard rejection letter/email, it's one of the best in the business. I don't know if he still sends this one out but I've received it two or three times over the years. My friend Autumn was also sent a copy during her foray into the world o' media. Here's what it looks like:
It's very sweet, no?
Full disclosure: who landed the last position I applied for at the Mercury? Amy J. Ruiz herself. True story. So, off in some parallel universe, could I have found myself embroiled in a certain City Hall scandal? Naw. Over there I'm sure my doppelganger is currently enjoying a lucrative career as a globe-trotting crime fighter/sushi chef/brain surgeon/astronaut/Ferrari test driver.
Saturday, March 07, 2009
Crash and burn
This photo was taken on the beginners slope at Hoodoo as I was lying flat on my back and shortly after I heard a snap in my neck. The afternoon marked my first time on a snowboard and I never did quite figure out the whole "how to stop without falling over or crashing" thing. On this particular suicide run down those icy slopes I got going a little too fast, took a spill and felt something pop in my neck. For a brief moment I assumed that I'd never feel my belly-button again.
If there's anything I suck at, it's skiing. If there's anything I suck at more than skiing, it's snowboarding. Supposedly, the later is much easier than the former and that's true. It's incredibly easy to get up on a snowboard and launch yourself down a slope. But stopping? Much harder on a snowboard. I watched everyone around me bomb down the slope and somehow, magically, come to an elegant stop at the bottom by turning and leaning back on their boards. I tried this too and fell over every time. Maybe I should have, oh, done some reading or taken a few lessons before I went up there. Eh, whatever. I was in the mood to just toss myself into the deep end of the winter sports pool.
For those learning to snowboard for the first time much of that first day is spent on your back trying to summon up the courage to stand up again. Adding to the challenge: the temperature up at Hoodoo that day was in the high 40s and the snow was packed down and icy, making it super slick. It was incredibly easy to go from a stopped position to 88 MPH in two seconds flat.
The highlight of the afternoon, having my "fight or flight" kick in at the worst possible moment as I was getting off the lift. Without thinking, I reached out and grabbed an elderly lift operator to prevent myself from falling over, making him a reluctant participant in a crash that nearly broke his back and my ego for all time. He walked away without injury and I spent the rest of the afternoon hiking to the top of the hill to avoid both him and the lift. The other newbie I went with? No such problems.
But inner tubes? Those I can handle. You just throw yourself on a tube, point it down hill and slam into a snowbank when you feel like stopping. Of course, that gets boring after a while. Fortunately, the staff at Ski Bowl last Saturday looked the other way when a group of Jägermeister-chugging tubers decided to start constructing jumps on the resort's so-called "xtreme" tube runs.
I talked to one employee between his attempts to prevent a 30-student Bible study group from killing themselves by going down a run all at once while screaming quotes from Predator ("get to the choppa!" being one particularly random line from that 1987 celluloid classic). Supposedly, Ski Bowl once offered two truly scary slopes for inner tubes. They had to be shut down after one too many Johnny Knoxville-wannabes had to be carted down to Government Camp in ambulances.
I took a few of the jumps and, after landing hard on my shoulder, I decided to stick with the runs that wouldn't inevitably result in a Life Flight trip to OHSU. Shortly thereafter, we kicked back to watch everyone else hurt themselves. One guy managed hit a jump, fly off his tube and land on his feet. One girl wasn't so lucky and landed on her head before falling face deep in the snow. I'll be honest, there was about 10-seconds there where everyone thought she had killed herself but she got up and was back on the slopes 15 minutes later.
All things considered, maybe I should take up cross-country skiing. Nice, safe, tedious cross country skiing.....no, no, I just can't do it. I have a need. For speed.
Setting up an RSS feed? Der, I give up
I know that a lot of people out there use RSS feeds to keep up with their favorite blogs. This blog had one going for a while but it mysteriously stopped working after everything was moved over to a new server in January. A reader sent me a comment earlier this week asking what was up and I vowed to fix it.
After throwing three hours and change at the problem I really can't figure out a solution. Blogger's RSS software is deceptively simple. Supposedly, after users tweak a few settings and hit "republish," wa-la, the RSS feed is supposed to magically function via link. Or such is my understanding. If this process had worked, the blog's feed would currently be available here. Unfortunately, Blogger's software stubbornly refuses to upload such a file to my server to make this whole shebang work.
I've plowed through several forums and "how to" websites to no avail. The help guide on blogger.com has proven itself to be completely useless. Rather than drop another six hours on the problem I'm ready to toss in the towel. If anyone out there has a solution or knows anything about tweaking RSS settings in Blogger, I'd appreciate any pointers they might be willing to offer.
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Don't forget to bring a towel
I spent part of last night pounding out a lengthy blog post about where I spent Sunday afternoon. I visited what I've been told is one of the more traditional sweat lodges in the Pacific Northwest. As much as I would like to tell the world about what happened out there, I'm going to have to pull a "Richard Dreyfuss at the end of Stand By Me" move here and bury this one deep in my laptop's archives.
Why? Out of respect for those that organized "the sweat" and for those who attended. I was asked not to take photos and I didn't have the guts to ask anyone if I could report on the event. This much I will say: journalistic objectivity flies out the door pretty quick when you're sitting in near total darkness with dozens of people all talking to various deities as perspiration is pouring down your head like a waterfall. Sensory deprivation or "group-think," call it what you will, it has a way of shredding the skepticism of even the hardiest of doubters.
If you ever get the opportunity to visit a sweat lodge of this nature, heed this warning. If you're brave enough and willing to leave your cynicism at the door, you're in for something far crazier than any theme park ride and much more intense than anything you'll ever see at Sunday mass. Or at least that was my experience. I've seen some unusual things in this world but nothing quite like this.
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
A mighty big pompadour to fill
I saw the first episode of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and it wasn't quite as terrible as I was expecting. The set, especially the curtain, which may as well be the same one Carson used, looks fantastic and there will never be a better late night house band than the Roots. The opening bit with Conan was good but the rest fell pretty flat. You can watch the entire episode over here.
Fallon looked genuinely terrified and his interview with Robert De Niro was one of the most awkward since Chevy Chase's short stint as a late night host for Fox in the early '90s. Not that De Niro even bothered to phone it in, forcing Fallon to break out a pre-prepared collection of easy questions specifically designed for the actor's inevitable monosyllabic responses. Couldn't the show's producers have just brought Justin Timberlake out for the full interview segment?
The first episode played more like The Tonight Show With Jay Leno than Late Night with Conan O'Brien. It was too stiff, too forced and it played it too safe. Where was the quirky humor and the "we don't care" swagger of Letterman and O'Brien? Of course, O'Brien's stint at Late Night required years before he hit his stride but, then again, Fallon doesn't have his wit. So far, all he seems to have is the same rushed, slurred delivery that haunted him during his "Weekened Update" days and all that nervous blinking.
Is Don Quixote really the spokesman y'all want for the state lottery?
Ok, so he's supposed to be a "knight" and he's the Oregon Lottery's newish spokesman for responsible gambling but, none the less, isn't this a bit like having a cancer cell cartoon character pointing out the drawbacks of chain-smoking on behalf of Phillip Morris? For the record, that company's "anti-smoking" page doesn't offer a Quixote-equivalent.
Tilting at windmills? Yeah, you could say that.