August 17, 2003

Slurry Putty

Graugh. I offer the most half-assed apologies for not writing very much. Lately my brain has been a curdled mass of sunburned meat slurry. I have been completely over-stimulated this entire summer and it is a delightful way to live life, but not one that lends itself to an ongoing narrative. Every five seconds I’m jolted with ten more sights, sounds, smells and emotions that need to be documented, but never are, because they’re always jostled aside by more neat stuff. We humans are creatures of the senses. Plug the ears with beeswax, stitch the eyes and mouth shut, flay off the skin and you’ve got a sad ocean of isolation. And a concept for a freakin’ weird horror flick.

It’s hard to believe it’s August. August air must be humid and filled with the drone of cicadas. We don’t have cicadas out here in Hood River. Having spent all my Augusts (and all my years) in Minnesota, I have never had an August without cicadas. Right now there is nothing signalling the onslaught of fall, and the entire summer the weather hasn’t changed a bit (windy, sunny, hot). In Minnesota you’d get a yard sale of different meteorlogic events every week. The familiar seasonal cycles have been blown to hell and I feel like I’m living in a time warp.

I’m not complaining. Far from it. It’s just different. As I’ve said before, I just need to measure time by other means. Last weekend was the first time I tried kiteboarding. Last week I bought a kite. Friday I lost an essential component to my kite bar leash system. Saturday I fixed it with a purple YMCA Camp Ihduhapi carabiner. Today I fixed it with the leash system from my snowboard. “Custom,” we call such modifications in Japanese Style. I went out kiteboarding every day this weekend, and now I’m getting some decent reaches using the board. Before you know it I’ll be opening the first kiteboarding shop in Duluth.

I absolutely love this sport and I’ve been trying to figure out how to express it in words, but it’s difficult because it’s some hardcore, delicate, sentimental schizat. Kiteboarding is all about sun and sand and bronzed muscles, but it’s also about carefully finessing power out of the wind. It’s about adrenaline, but it’s also about philosophy. Dig?

At the same time I’m a tad discouraged about my writing, not because I think my writing is bad, but because other people’s writing is bad. Every morning I read the Oregonian, which is a standard liberal-posing-as-objective newspaper, not a serious illness that results from high taxes, clean mountain air and low exposure to gasoline fumes. The Oregonian likes to run feature stories, which in the news biz are soft fluffy articles that have little relevance to the world at large. If a feature story is well-written it cannot be as easily dismissed as I have suggested here, but the problem is that bad feature writing is an incurable disease among many journalists.

The worst part is always the lede (funny story: the Oregonian screwed up one day and forgot to finish a headline for one of their stories… all it said was ‘Lede’ in big black letters… front page, too!), which is the first few paragraphs of the story. The true test of any feature is whether or not you can read the lede without vomiting. At the Oregonian, feature ledes are almost exclusively “narrative ledes” which is journalese for “I want to write novels but I got stuck at this two-bit reporter job but one day I’ll be discovered and THEY’LL ALL BE SORRY.”

Wanna try some ledes? Grab an air sickness bag and hold on!

The pickup gleams in the summer sun. A 1963 Ford Stepside. Butch Beckhardt runs a rag over the curves of the hood, wiping away traces of dust. He is a short man, with a sturdy physique and a faded Marine Corps tattoo on his left forearm.

Butch’s father — a stoic man who worked for years at a Ford dealership — was the truck’s first owner. He doted on it, and when he could no longer drive it, he passed it down to his sons.

Whee! Wasn’t that fun? Let’s try another one!

Rep. Rob Patridge’s office in the state Capitol sits next door to the bigger suite commanded by House Majority Leader Tim Knopp.

The two are friends — have been since they started at the Legislature together in 1999. When the agenda loosens up, so do they. They hang out together and talk shop.

Can’t you just paint the picture in your mind? It’s like a Silly Putty facsimile straight to the forebrain!

The yellow dog rested his snout on her blue-jeaned lap and glanced up.

That was it. Mary Thompson, a 49-year-old former “gang mom” serving a life sentence for arranging a Eugene teenager’s murder, gave in to her soft side.

Sitting at a table in Coffee Creek Correctional Facility’s Housing Unit J, she began to weep.

As we say in the Rowhouse, “Dane, did you draw on the dog?” “It’s a yellow dog!”

The single-wide mobile home sits in a sun-baked gravel lot on a bleak scrap of industrial land. The bedrooms are the size of matchboxes and when the air-conditioning went out several weeks ago, no one could sleep.

It’s not the lap of luxury. But the temporary home of the Portland Fire Bureau’s Engine 13, along U.S. Highway 30 in Linnton, proved perfectly located Tuesday night when a fire erupted at Larson’s Moorage, just three miles up the road.

Line up the adjectives, my friends. I knew they sun-baked raisins, but gravel? And an erupting fire? What is this, volcano country? And as far as matchboxes go, are we talking big boxes of strike-anywhere matches, or really small boxes of strike-on-box matches, or are we actually talking about match booklets; the yellow and black kind that say you can earn your high school diploma through the mail? We need important specifics, here, and we’re not getting them.

Rod in hand, Jason McGinnis, 14, prowled the banks of Johnson Creek in Milwaukie, chasing after a shadow he thought was a big catfish.

A hard strike later, Jason reeled in a red-belly piranha, a predatory fish normally found in South America.

“I was like, ‘Whoa, what did I just do?’ ” said Jason, who’ll be a freshman at New Urban High School in the fall.

Truth be told, I think that’s the best quote in the history of journalism. Really, I do.

The small ivory-colored brooch easily stands out among the artifacts being sorted atop a picnic table serving as part of an archaeological lab.

Bearing an ornamental green leaf and gold trim, the brooch provides a hint that hardy Willamette Valley pioneers didn’t lose their appreciation of things delicate and elegant when they settled the area more than 150 years ago.


They tried to make a difference.


Whatever. If you’ll excuse me, I have an egg of Silly Putty here that needs twiddling.

You lay silly putty eggs? We’re going to be rich. I’ll have business cards printed up immediately.

I think such a thing just might have to happen. Today I got dragged twenty feet over a sandbar and bloodied up my armpit and thought, “You know, anyone crazy enough to live in Duluth would kill (kill!) for a shot at this sport.”
My goal would be to keep the murder rate down and the kitesurfing rate up. The death rate will likely remain the same or increase.