‘Something Awful’ is an awfully good book

As the calendar ticked down to Election Day on Nov. 3rd, I found myself absorbed in a fascinating book with an irresistible title that took me back to the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“It Came From Something Awful: How a Toxic Troll Army Accidentally Memed Donald Trump into Office” is a mesmerizing account of so many things that I was vaguely aware of, but not fully informed about, relating to such topics as ’90s nihilism, misogynistic meme culture, and Pepe the Frog, a comic book cartoon figure that evolved into a symbol of hate.

If you’re a Boomer like me and baffled by one or more of those references, join the club. “Something Awful” explores the way culture and counterculture, the internet and reality, and politics and entertainment reflect one another in sometimes confusing, sometimes illuminating ways.

It’s an absorbing book, well-written and meticulously researched. I dog-eared at least two dozen pages, and found myself constantly saying, “Oh, I didn’t know that” or “Ah, now I see how this connects to that.”

Now that I’ve finished the book, I feel so much better able to understand so many things: the origin of 4chan, the alt-right website that became an internet cesspool for young, disenfranchised males; the toxic stew of despair, resentment, hate and irony expressed by so many of these trolls; and the intersection of this bubbling-below-the-surface culture with national politics, including the 2016 presidential election and the white nationalist march in Charlottesville.

The book was published in 2019 by Dale Beran, a Baltimore-based writer who comes at his subject with a certain expertise. As an East Coast college graduate with a liberal arts degree, he, too, was once aimless, broke, and interested in webcomics, like so many other underemployed, internet-savvy young men during the late 1990s and 2000s.

Dale Beran

From this insider perspective, and building on a magazine piece he wrote in 2017 about these same issues, Beran writes with authority about the mindset of these jaded computer geeks — known as “otaku,” super-fans of Japanese anime and manga — and their attraction to the anonymous message board known as 4chan. He explains how this website started by a 15-year-old American who was “bored and in need of porno” began as a place to trade pictures of anime girls with friends and ended up churning out pro-Trump propaganda.

The first section of the book traces the history of countercultures from the 1960s to 4chan, and how they all eventually got swallowed up by mainstream marketing campaigns that celebrated “rebellion.”

The second section details how chan4, founded in 2003, won a race to the bottom to see “who could be more screwed up, offensive and grotesque,” as its devotees used internet tools to post “sliced-up, digitized chunks” that skewered pop culture, entertainment, advertising, and video games through a culture of jokes — memes.

The third and final section details how 4chan spawned the alt-right, as a new generation of young people immersed in screen worlds flooded onto the site and older Gen-X users found themselves flailing after the 2008 economic crash.

Many of them were unemployed or stuck in dead-end jobs, were socially awkward, and living in their mom’s basement with few real-life connections — a sad group of isolated, powerless individuals so lacking in identity that they began to obsess over it, Beran said. Finding each other on 4chan, these self-proclaimed losers clung to race as a means of self-definition and turned to white supremacy and fascism.

By 2015, Beran explained, they would team up with Steve Bannon and others to back the candidacy of Trump, “who promised America’s losers that he would make them win so much they would set sick of winning.”

(Yes, that Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News and of Trump’s 2016 campaign who became senior counselor to the president, and who was arrested this summer on charges of defrauding donors to a private fund-raising effort intended to build new sections of wall on the Mexican border.)

Plenty of others associated with the alt-right and acts of violence are mentioned here, their roles explained and connections to recent headlines knitted into a coherent whole. They include the Proud Boys, the disgraced blogger Milo Yiannopoulos, the neo-Nazi leader Richard Spencer, the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the Charleston gunman Dylann Roof, the “incel” (involuntary celibate) Elliot Rodger, who killed seven people and wounded 14 others in a murderous rampage near Santa Barbara, and James Alex Fields, the 19-year-old who drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville and killed a 32-year-old woman.

In the case of the three young men — Roof, Rodger and Fields — I can see how their young minds may have been influenced by nihilism, the viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs have no value, and that life itself is senseless and useless.

***

What’s most fascinating — and scary and repulsive at the same time — is Beran’s explanation of what drew so many aimless teenagers and young male betas (as opposed to alphas) to 4chan and its predecessor, the website known as Something Awful.

Because 4chan permitted anonymous posts, the anything-goes content quickly turned into a sewer of weird fantasies including sexualized anime girls, My Little Pony fetishes, and an infamous 2010 thread in which a man posted photos of creepy dolls that filled the house he shared with his wife and children.

Beran writes that these dolls were human size, svelte and female, and had different animal faces with snouts resembling a cross between Miss Piggy and an old-fashioned teddy bear. Some were dressed in skimpy underwear, others in cheerleading outfits. “The images were so weird that even 4chan, den of freaks, freaked out,” Beran writes.

But what about Pepe the Frog and Donald Trump?

Back in 2005, a California artist named Matt Lurie created a comic strip with a frog character named Pepe that became an internet sensation. At some point, harmless and funny representations of Pepe became political, and far-right groups began to use the cartoon frog’s image in hateful memes — for instance, dressing him up as Hitler or a Klansman.

In October 2015, none other than Trump retweeted an image of himself as Pepe, along with a link to a YouTube video of his performance at the most recent Republican debate, and called it to the attention of Breitbart News and the Drudge Report, another right-wing site.

Then a candidate for president, Trump retweeted this image to right-wing news websites.

Trump’s 4chan fans celebrated. But it wasn’t until a few months later, January 2016, that Pepe went from innocent cartoon character to white supremacist symbol. A Twitter exchange between a conservative cable news pundit and young Trump supporters resulted in a flood of racist, pro-Trump memes featuring Trump-loving Pepes gripping assault rifles and wearing swastikas on their foreheads. 

Later that year, the Anti-Defamation League officially declared Pepe to be a hate symbol.

***

With all the tension leading up to this month’s election, reading “Something Awful” was something of a diversion, a time-traveling experience that recalled the Clinton vs. Trump campaign and the disgusting Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville.

The book came to my attention in the fall of 2019, thanks to a Portland State University librarian who knew I was interested in the topic of Media Literacy. I wish I’d had time to read it while I was still teaching; I certainly would have incorporated some of Beran’s material into my classes.

Nevertheless, I gained so much from this book. It not only gave this Boomer a broader context for understanding internet memes and their role in pop culture and politics. It also gave me a better understanding of the worldview of a troubled demographic: impressionable young men with low esteem, lousy employment prospects and poor social relationships who turned to 4chan to escape, to commiserate, to vent, to hate.

Four stars for Dale Beran and “Socially Awkward.”

Bonus: An excellent review of the book in Wired is here.

Squalor in the City of Roses

Homeless in Portland.

In a river city full of bridges, parks and charming neighborhoods, it’s easy to appreciate Portland’s beauty. The City of Roses can be downright gorgeous with pink cherry blossoms in the spring and vibrant rose gardens in the summer. At this time of year, autumn leaves carpet our streets and seasonal rains keep the air clean.

But lately I can’t shake the feeling that I’m giving a one-sided view when I post photos from my nature walks and bike rides.

There’s another side to Portland, and I’m sharing it today. Lay your eyes on the City of Tents.

Honestly, I struggled to find the right word for these images. Seedy? Shabby? I finally decided on squalor: the state of being extremely dirty and unpleasant, especially as a result of poverty or neglect, according to the Oxford Dictionaries.

I’m not judging anyone who’s living on the streets. I wouldn’t wish these conditions on anyone, especially with dropping temperatures. I’m only saying that in the past couple of years, homelessness in Portland seems to have become more acute — and it’s only gotten worse in this year of the coronavirus.

Literally any day and any direction I go for a bike ride, I will run into a cluster of tents. I see them near the freeway, under overpasses, on neighborhood streets, in and near parks. Some are no more than four blocks away, just across the street from the post office.

What used to be a single tent on a sidewalk has often morphed into a sad collection of tents, tarps, carts, bicycles, chairs and mounds of rubbish that take up an entire blockfront.

Why this has happened is no mystery. It’s a combination of unemployment and lack of affordable housing, compounded by a public health catastrophe.

Even in a city with a healthy pre-pandemic economy, not everyone benefits. Some folks are jobless because of lack of skills or education, drug and alcohol addictions, a criminal record or mental illness.

Roughly half of the city’s residents are tenants. For many, the cost of renting an apartment is beyond their reach, even as builders are adding thousands of new condos and apartments across the city.

Portland voters passed a $256 million bond measure in 2016 to build or preserve affordable housing. Two years later, Metro voters approved an additional $652 million measure to do the same across the tri-county region.

Yet the number of tents seems to only increase.

This week, crews started sweeping out a homeless encampment next to Laurelhurst Park, one of the city’s most beautiful parks and a place I’ve often gone to ride my bike.

About 100 people have been camped on the perimeter of the park for months, and they are just part of the estimated 2,000 who were living on the streets — pre-pandemic — according to a KGW report that aired last night. See the video below.

https://kgw.com/embeds/video/283-2cc4f3cf-5619-42c0-b718-99c3b5220dcb/iframe

Portland completely halted campsite removals at the beginning of the pandemic, citing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, The Oregonian reported. But the sweeps resumed in a limited capacity at the end of July, city officials said.

I can’t help but feel despair at the sight of these tents everywhere, along with a sense that Portland’s homelessness issue is with us to stay. The economic, social and health issues seem too knotty to untangle despite best efforts by local officials, nonprofit groups and taxpayers.

In the meantime, graffiti seems to be everywhere too. Downtown Portland is full of it, along with boarded-up retail stores that closed during the summer of protests, but the vandalism has spread out dramatically along the Willamette River and into residential and commercial neighborhoods.

On a bike ride this week, it was hard to miss — along with homeless camps — as I pedaled along the Eastbank Esplanade to OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and crossed McLoughlin Boulevard into close-in Southeast neighborhoods.

Portland has a graffiti prevention and removal program, but you can imagine how ineffective that can be in the face of tagging on countless homes and businesses, especially those no longer occupied.

I’m not so naive as to think Portland should somehow be exempt from these eyesores. Every city in America has these issues — and many smaller communities, too.

When you live in an urban area, you can expect to view tents as symbols of poverty and graffitied walls as expressions of rebellion. Both seem to me symptoms of a larger issue: the moral failings of capitalism. I’ll leave it there.

The surprising thing about retirement

Five months into this new phase of life, I’ve developed a concise response when someone asks how retirement is going.

My answer goes something like this: “It’s going well, except for Covid restrictions. I’m doing lots of reading, bike riding and hiking, plus some cooking, baking and blogging. I’m enjoying a variety of entertainment: TV, movies, sports, music, videos, podcasts. And, I’m spending more time with Lori and our little dog Charlotte.”

Had I not retired in June, I’d be gearing up right now for the end of the fall term, this being Week 8 of the 11-week quarter at Portland State University.

Instead, I’m on the other side of the computer screen, taking an international studies class for free as a so-called “senior auditor.” (Any Oregon resident 65 and older can audit a class at PSU without paying tuition if the instructor agrees and space is available. More to come on the Senior Adult Learning Center program in a future post.)

So, yes, retirement has been good.

I’m still an early riser, typically up no later than 6:30 a.m. But every day is like Saturday. Low stress, no work and rarely anything on the calendar.

I had imagined retirement would include hanging out with a book from time to time at neighborhood coffee shops. Although the pandemic blew up that plan, I can’t complain. Life is good.

But there is one aspect of retirement I hadn’t fully anticipated — and that is the fact that Lori and I are now together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

***

That might strike you as a no-brainer given that we’ve been married 45 years. But, honestly, the realization didn’t sink in until just recently.

Consider this:

We became parents in 1980, five years into our marriage, and we became empty nesters in 2010; that meant 30 years of cohabiting with one or more kids. In the past decade, living on our own, we still worked; that meant one-third of the day (8 to 10 hours) spent with clients or co-workers instead of each other.

Day trip to the Columbia River Gorge in 1977, before kids and, apparently, before haircuts were invented. (Photo by Brian McCay)

Lori retired last fall but I continued to work for nine more months. And when Covid precautions required that I teach remotely during my last term at PSU, I was often unavailable for hours at a time, holed up in a downstairs room on Zoom.

Now, fully retired, with neither one of us tethered to work, it dawned on me that Lori and I are around each other like never before — just the two of us, with no distractions. And it’s been great.

Sure, I still say and do things that annoy or irritate her, and we’ve become overly familiar with each other’s habits, preferences and pet peeves. But in this new chapter of life, it feels as though I’m rediscovering my spouse and appreciating her all over again.

Lori has always been the more creative, more active one of us with a broad array of interests and hobbies: gardening, knitting, cooking, exercise. She’s continued those and, now, is learning to play the cello, too.

Charlotte romping on the sand at Winema Beach in Tillamook County.

With virus transmission concerns limiting our socializing, our lives have turned inward to an even greater degree.

During the summer, we got out on bike rides and neighborhood walks. With the change in weather, we’ve hunkered down like everyone else. We have lunch and dinner together every day. Most afternoons, we take Charlotte to the neighborhood dog park. At night, we can sit down together and watch whatever appeals to us. This calls for compromise and accommodation, achieved simply by taking turns and trying something new.

But all this talk of activities obscures the more important thing — and that is appreciating all over again the fine qualities that attracted me to Lori in the first place. She is kind and generous, considerate of others and eternally optimistic. She is someone who lives up to her progressive values of inclusion and empathy. She still finds humor in my corny jokes and, thankfully, she continues to forgive my foibles and failings.

Had I been more thoughtful, I would have recognized that retirement would mean spending virtually every hour of the day together. Now that I realize this, I look forward even more to what lies ahead with my wife — separate activities for each of us, combined with travel and other shared experiences.

An end to my world

(Credit: Livescience.com)

By Sam Shearer

Editor’s note: And now for something radically different. I recently asked the son of some friends if he wanted to publish a piece on this blog, knowing he had an interest in creative writing and a lively imagination to go along with it.

Let me introduce you to Sam Shearer, 20 years old, a recent graduate of Portland’s Grant High School, currently taking time off in the pandemic from his studies at University of Redlands.

This is a piece of fantasy fiction, more of a myth than a conventional story, and part of a much larger narrative and imaginary world that Sam is working to create and develop. In fact, this is the last chapter in that evolving story. I’ll let Sam explain further.

— George Rede

***

Prologue: All my worlds have an Armageddon-like event that destroys the old universe and gives way to a new creation. This story takes place in the world I call Nayodin. The first thing to know about this tale is that each character is a god, demon, titan, or other above mortal being. I have drawn inspiration from J.R.R. Tolkein and Norse mythology’s Ragnarok for the events but the characters themselves are all strictly and completely my own.

There is no particular time in the future when these events take place; the best I can say is that it will be far, far from “present day” Nayodin. Most mortals fight on the side of the gods, against Almic-Zal (whom I would consider the villain to Neyodin). Some people want a takeaway from this, a sort of connection with the real world. But this piece is meant to be a total escape from reality and so I didn’t write it with any real life influences.

For me, this story symbolizes the need for an end to everything. It can be as big as life itself or as small as a trip to the store. Every journey, every story must have an end point or it will have no point to it. All things must have an end — that is what this story is for me. But as a reader you may draw new definitions and meanings from what you read and the characters in those stories. Without further ado, here is my story.

— Sam Shearer

An End to My World

This is the tale of the end. When the heavens fight to keep all creation. When Almic-Zal is freed and all gods and more go to war. When it starts, it’s said that the god of knowledge and wisdom Neros will take charge of the forces of the gods. He will command the gods’ army against the almighty Almic-Zal and his forces of fallen angels, gods, and demons.

As legends go, the forces of the gods will have the upper hand in this many millennia long war so long as Neros is in charge, but all the heavens will be betrayed. The titan of death, The Grim, will kill Neros. Without its head the armies of the gods will begin to fall apart. It will start with discourse in the ranks of heaven.

Not knowing who to trust and who not and without a wise leader the armies of the gods will fall apart. Then in a fit of rage the goddess of the dead, Igris, will rally many other gods and spearhead a charge toward Almic-Zal. In this charge the god of medicine, the goddess of swiftness, and the god of the earth will all die and the deity of love will be captured.

But even with these losses the spear will pierce the armies of the dark god all the way to its leader, Almic-Zal. There the goddess of the dead, the god of luck, the god of destruction, and the god of heroism will all die by the hand of Almic-Zal. With both the god of knowledge and luck dead, wisdom and luck will have left the armies of the gods. Without luck or wisdom the gods will begin to die. Arik, goddess of the seas and all water, will kill The Grim, only to die at the hands of the dark god’s son, Void. Void will soon after be slain by Idam, goddess of archery.

It is at this time the last hope of the gods will die. Leumas, god of war, who is set to hold the west side of the world for ten thousand years with his wife, will fall to Ilotle, a being far beyond any of the gods of heaven. Evol-Ybur, goddess of flame and wife to Leumas, will flee to what remains of the armies of heaven.

Now wisdom, luck, and war itself will have abandoned the gods. With no skill in war left, with all the luck run dry, with no wisdom left to pull from, heaven’s loss will have been assured.

In a last ditch attempt, Leumas’s greatest general, the spirit of war, will take most of the remaining titans and great heroes to find the book of time, an artifact that will make anything written on its pages into reality. But this will prove futile. This endeavor will have split the army of the gods in half and of those who went on this search only a small handful of titans will return. At that point, only four gods will live: Ayam, deity of choice, Idam, goddess of archery, Sigis, god of strength, and Evol-Ybur, goddess of flame.

Nyrb, deity of love, will live as well but now corrupted from their many millennia as Almic-Zal’s prisoner. Sigis will go on his own to challenge Almic-Zal and, while he will wound the dark god, he will perish. Ilotle will slay both Ayam and Evol-Ybur. Idam will be met on the field of battle by a corrupted Nyrb and the two shall die by the other’s hand.

With the fall of the last four gods, heaven’s forces will be no more. Whatever remnants of the armies of the gods still stand will fall soon after. With that it will be up to Ortarr, the creator of all things, to step in. He will effortlessly destroy all of the forces of the dark god. Yet he too will be filled with fear for Almic-Zal will be waiting for him at the end of all things.

The two greatest and most powerful beings in all of existence will clash and their duel will destroy all of the already ruined reality. Simply being in cosmic proximity to the clash of these two will rend everything until none of creation remains, until all is sent back to the nothingness that it was before the first being broke. What happens after is anyone’s guess, for there is none who can see past the destruction of all things.

Welcome to my ‘anarchist jurisdiction’

Portland values.

After this morning’s hike in a woodsy park and yesterday’s bike ride in two inner-city neighborhoods near our home, I can’t help but think back to the Trump administration’s designation of Portland as an “anarchist jurisdiction.”

What’s so threatening about a city where folks take to the trails for some fresh morning air or spend part of their afternoon raking leaves or walking their dogs along quiet residential streets?

Back in September, you’ll recall, the Justice Department named Portland, Seattle and New York as three cities where it planned to limit federal funding “to the maximum extent permitted by law” because local leaders weren’t coming down hard enough on criminal activity.

President Trump — ahem, outgoing President Trump — characterized Portland as a lawless city where vandalism and violence at racial-justice protests was endangering local residents. From the footage playing in an endless loop on Fox, you’d think our fair city was burning down.

Yeah, right.

On an hour-long bike ride Sunday afternoon, I pedaled through familiar parts of Portland that boosted my spirits and made the president’s claim seem utterly foolish.

I’m well aware I live in a blue bubble in Northeast Portland. There wasn’t a sliver of doubt that my neighbors and I would support the Biden-Harris ticket.

I’d barely begun my ride when I ran into three teenage girls picking up sidewalk litter. Turns out they were among dozens of students from Grant High School who were doing so as part of an environmental club project. Two of the girls happened to be the twin daughters of a local pastor I know.

A trio of Grant High students helping to clean up the neighborhood. From left: Helen, Katherine and Frances.

As I rode east from Irvington to Sullivan’s Gulch and Laurelhurst, lawn signs and bumper stickers spoke to the city’s progressive politics. A few folks still had Halloween decorations up, and one huge oak tree had been turned into a poetry post, with rows of white paper beckoning passersby to come closer for a look.

Neighborhood streets, clearly marked as bike routes, blazed with technicolor splashes of red, yellow, green and orange leaves. Courteous drivers pulled over to let me pass by them on especially narrow streets.

I saw no signs of antifa or police. Nothing that would qualify as anarchy. (Oh, and not a single Trump sign, either.)

Just everyday scenes of people going about their lives in a city that reflects my liberal values. A place that Trump calls “a beehive of terrorists.” A place that I’m proud to call home.

Calm before the storm on Election Day

Yellow! From the moment I began my hike Monday, I was hyperaware of this beautiful hue.

Knowing that rain was predicted for most of this week, I hustled out the door Monday morning to squeeze in a fair-weather hike a day ahead of the election.

I wasn’t alone in that thinking.

I must have run into about 15 people — including a handful with their dogs — on trails within Marquam Nature Park. Normally I’m alone, or nearly so, on those dirt paths in a place I’ve quickly come to adore.

It still blows my mind that a space this big — 200 acres of undeveloped land with 7 miles of hiking trails — is just 15 minutes away from my home and barely a mile or two from the downtown core.

On this day, the changing color of leaves from soothing green to brilliant yellow is what caught my attention.

We’re accustomed to thinking of forested areas as greenspaces — and for good reason. There are few things more enjoyable than walking through stands of Douglas fir and amongst ferns, ivy and a variety of ground plants.

But on Monday, as I entered the park, my eyes went skyward to the bright yellow leaves signaling fall’s arrival and then downward, where I suddenly became more aware of the brown leaves beneath my feet and gray stones along the trails.

With that heightened awareness, a cluster of orange mushrooms clinging to a tree trunk seemed all the more vivid.

During 2 1/2 hours, I walked along the Marquam, Flicker, Towhee and Warbler trails on the south end of the park, enjoying the peace and quiet that came before Tuesday’s chaotic — and still ongoing — Election Day.

No need to go on at length. I’ll let these images speak to the beauty of this place and hope you’ll appreciate the patterns and angles in some photos, and the singularity of certain objects in others.

Don’t be shocked. Portland has an all-women football team.

Women who are part of the Portland Fighting Shockwave play football for the passion and being part of a team. (Photo by Scott Larson)

By Matthew Welsh

Yes, Portland has an all-women tackle football team, and they are called the Portland Fighting Shockwave. The Fighting Shockwave were formed back in 2002, and play in the Women’s Football Alliance, which is the largest women’s football league in the world, with over 60 teams throughout the United States and Canada.

Their season runs from April to June with playoffs in July. They went 7-1 in 2019 and 7-1 as well in 2018. They were called the Portland Shockwave before the 2015 season when they merged with the Portland Fighting Fillies. They play teams across the country, with home games at Hare Field in Hillsboro.

The women who play for the Fighting Shockwave are all 18 or older and also have day jobs. There are lawyers, truck drivers, nurses, students, stay-at-home moms, managers, etc. who play for the Fighting Shockwave. There are former basketball players, rugby players, soccer players, and softball players who play for the Fighting Shockwave.

Normally, anywhere from 24 to 50 players will suit up for the Fighting Shockwave in a season. The team is one huge family where everyone supports each other and builds long-lasting friendships off the field. They do not get pay, but they play football for the passion and being part of a team. And no, they do not play in lingerie; they play in full uniforms, with full contact, just like the men do.

Same as everyone else, the Fighting Shockwave were hit hard by COVID-19. They had to cancel their entire 2020 season due to the pandemic. Thus, they did not have any income from ticket sales or fundraisers and missed the opportunity to get their name out to the public and continue to build their brand. The Fighting Shockwave were working with the media months before the pandemic hit. They were talking to almost a dozen newspapers, multiple TV stations, OPB, and a couple of magazines.

However, even though the team managed to get some media attention, the pandemic really put a damper on all their pre-season hard work. This really hurt a team that already lacks resources and name recognition. The Fighting Shockwave don’t have the have deep pockets and name recognition compared to the bigger Portland teams such as the Trail Blazers and the Timbers. They have to rely on volunteers and hitting the pavement on their own to get their name out there. 

But, the biggest disappointment for the players wasn’t the lost efforts of their media work but, as co-owner and team president Rebecca Brisson said, “that they could not play together as a team and missed out on the game-day experiences a season brings.  These ladies were practicing three times a week, then had it all taken away from them. It was really heartbreaking.  Especially for the rookies (who) were so excited to take the field for the first time.”

The Portland Fighting Shockwave, pictured here at Roosevelt High School, play in the Women’s Football Alliance, which includes over 60 teams throughout the United States and Canada. (Photo by Scott Larson)

The team is looking forward towards a 2021 season, getting back on the field and showing people that women can play tackle football without any gimmicks. 

Everything is unknown for the future, but the Fighting Shockwave are hoping to gain more attention in the media and want more fans to show up to their games. They also want to grow their presence on social media.  https://www.facebook.com/PortlandFightingShockwave

Last November, both the Clark County Today and KOIN had articles on the Fighting Shockwave. Plus, the Portland Mercury did a story on the Fighting Shockwave, and OPB interviewed the head coach and one of the players this past May on their Think Out Loud segment. The team is currently working with the Portland Observer and the Portland Tribune newspapers to do a story. They are also working with KOIN again this year. The Fighting Shockwave is hoping that this increased media presence will allow the team to improve their public image and increase their ticket sales.

The team includes women from all walks of life, such as lawyers, truck drivers, nurses, students and stay-at-home moms. (Photo by Scott Larson)

In the meantime, the Fighting Shockwave are actively looking for new players. As part of the league’s WFA National Tryout Day, presented by one of the league’s biggest sponsors, Xenith, they will hold tryouts on Saturday, November 7th, at The Salvation Army Moore Street – Chiang Memorial Field  (5325 N. Williams Ave., Portland, OR 97217).

Each participant will receive a free Xenith gym sack. Participants must be females 18 or older, are encouraged to wear masks, and have a football passion.  Players must sign a COVID waiver, and undergo a non-contact temperature check.

For more information about the tryout and how to pre-register, check out the team’s website at https://www.portlandfightingshockwave.com/. You do not need any previous experience, just a readiness to learn, a willingness to work hard, and a desire to be part of a team. Any woman is welcome no matter their race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or sexual identity.

***

Matthew Welsh is marketing coordinator for the Portland Fighting Shockwave.

Editor’s note: Matthew was an enthusiastic student of mine in a Sports and the Media course that I taught at Washington State University Vancouver. He graduated in December 2018 with a degree in Marketing and a minor in Communications.

‘Pizza Girl’ delivers a slice of life

“Her name was Jenny Hauser and every Wednesday I put pickles on her pizza.”

That’s the opening sentence and the final sentence in “Pizza Girl,” the debut novel of Jean Kyoung Frazier, a young, hip writer based in Los Angeles.

I learned of the novel this summer, as I was browsing a column in The New York Times, and it sounded so appealing that I vowed to read it at the earliest opportunity. I bought it a few days ago and then blazed through it in less than 48 hours during a recent getaway to a rustic resort in Southwest Washington. And now I’m here to sing its praises.

It’s funny, sad, poignant, raw and touching — and utterly revealing of a perspective that I’d probably never imagine otherwise.

The protagonist is Korean American, 18 years old, pregnant, and working as a pizza delivery girl in suburban Los Angeles. Still living at home, she has a strained relationship with her immigrant mother, confused feelings about her live-in boyfriend, and troubling memories of her deceased alcoholic father. Like her dad, she has a drinking problem, even as she’s dealing with morning sickness.

Suffice to say I’ve never met anyone like this character. And that’s the appeal of this book. After several serious topics that I read about during the summer having to do with the slave trade, the underground railroad, the Civil War, rural poverty and mental illness, it was a refreshing change to lose myself in the make-believe world of an L.A. teenager who’s directionless and trying to make sense of her life and looming motherhood.

Frazier, 27, is a gifted writer, with an ear for the language of working-class teens and a talent for blending humor, empathy and wisdom into an engaging narrative.

And what a story it is.

The nameless narrator’s boring work routine is disrupted one day when a stay-at-home mom named Jenny new to the neighborhood calls in an order for a pepperoni pizza with pickles — something she could easily get in the Midwest for her 7-year-old son but finds hard to get in L.A.

She delivers the order to an address “in a nice part of town where all the homes were big and uniform with perfectly mowed lawns” and where women in tracksuits walk their golden retrievers. Jenny thanks her, gives her a big tip and says goodbye with a light-hearted “Take care, Pizza Girl.”

And so the routine begins. Every Wednesday, Jenny calls in for a pepperoni-and-pickles and the Pizza Girl delivers it, inexplicably drawn to this 40-ish stranger with a long ponytail, a soft, once-fit body, baggy jeans, and a stain on the collar of her shirt.

Their weekly conversations develop into a friendship that propels the novel, providing Jenny with a young confidant while creating a sense of curiosity and escape for the nerdy, quirky Pizza Girl. She’s in denial about her pregnancy and totally confused about where her life is headed as a new high school graduate still living in the house where she grew up.

Jean Kyoung Frazier is a graduate of the University of Southern California and Columbia University.

Two excerpts show Frazier’s talent:

— Fantasizing about an intimate moment:

“I imagined us lying in a meadow, even though I’d never been to a meadow and had no idea how to find one.”

— Responding to her boyfriend, Billy, who’s urging her to fill out a college application and asks her what does like doing:

“This was the most painful question he could ask, maybe because I knew how I would answer it — I liked eating cereal early in the morning on the front steps of the house, seeing how sure and confident Mom’s hands moved as she folded laundry, watching TV on mute while I listened to my iPod, reading under trees and watching sunlight leak through the leaves above and cast strange patterns on my skin and the pages, pulling off my jeans the minute I got home, Gummy Bears, I liked after we [had sex], when we just lay in each other’s arms, not speaking — none of these answers were what he was looking for.”

“Pizza Girl” was a thoroughly enjoyable read. I loved the window into the lives of two women, separated by a generation, searching for meaning in suburbia and finding an unexpected connection in each other. And I loved the energy and intelligence that this young author brought to its page.

Here’s the article that caught my eye in the Times:

“An Unlikely Friendship, All Thanks to Pickles” – Elisabeth Egan

Frazier’s debut has the quirky, cool sweetness I loved in “Ladybird.” (You’ll laugh around the lump in your throat.) The writing feels fresh and uninhibited and the message — that a chance encounter can change your life — leaves you with a sense that anything is possible, even now.

I’ll be looking forward to more from Jean Kyoung Frazier, for sure.

Snug in a bug

The Potato Bug, suitable for two.

Just for kicks, I thought I’d do an online search for the best travel destinations for seniors and retirees.

Among the results that came back? Miami Beach. Santa Fe. Sedona. Portugal. The Caribbean.

Um, not what Lori and I were thinking. Certainly, not for our first vacation together as a newly retired couple.

Instead, Lori and I packed up the car with our little dog and headed out to the Long Beach Peninsula in Southwest Washington. Our destination: the funkiest, friendliest trailer park resort you could ever imagine

We’d heard of the Sou’wester Historic Lodge and Vintage Travel Trailer Resort in Seaview from our two older kids, who’d both stayed there. It’s just across the Columbia River, 15 miles north of Astoria, nestled into a grove of Douglas firs in a residential neighborhood just off a busy highway.

Scattered on the grounds are a hodgepodge of cabins, vintage travel trailers, RV spaces and campsites. There’s a main lodge with a small store, a common area for outdoor cooking and grilling, a Finnish sauna, a vintage store in a trailer, and a tiny teahouse, also in a trailer.

Established in 1892, the resort is two blocks away from U.S. 101 and a 10-minute walk to the ocean, where you can stroll along a smooth, sandy beach or explore the Discovery Trail’s miles of paved paths that run parallel to the water.

We stayed in a two-person trailer called the Potato Bug, which was snug as a bug. Actually, more than snug.

Imagine a living space with a double bed at one end and a couch at the opposite end. Along one side, there’s a three-burner stove (but no oven), a small sink and a vinyl-top table. On the other side, a narrow closet and a bathroom (with toilet but no sink or mirror) with a ceiling low enough that I barely had enough room to stand up straight.

That’s it. No chairs. No shower. No TV.

But, then, that’s what we expected — a quiet, rustic place where we could settle in for three nights and decompress.

Willamette Week’s Matthew Singer says it’s become “the go-to spot for artsy Portland scenesters looking to feed off the energy of the Pacific.”

“The Sou’Wester is an inn, campground and trailer park, all conforming to an aesthetic of thrift-store kitsch. It’s ramshackle enough to scare off daintier types, but cozy enough to feel like you’re staying at your grandparents’ house in the country. It’s quirky and earthy, romantic and rusted, silly and charming—like a frontier junk shop you wouldn’t mind honeymooning at.”

The Rusty Magic of Sou’Wester Lodge – Willamette Week

When the year began, we planned to visit our youngest son and his family in upstate New York during spring break. Didn’t happen. The pandemic forced us to cancel the trip, and wonder when and where we might travel once I retired from college teaching in June.

We were leery for some time, considering the health risks of staying in a motel or Airbnb, but convinced ourselves that we’d be OK at the Sou’wester, a place with strict mask requirements and sensible protocols relating to use of common spaces. We weren’t wrong.

Three days and three nights went by awfully fast. We slept in every morning, thanks to the utter stillness, and fixed all but one of our meals in our little trailer. We used the sauna on our first morning and that set a relaxing tone for the rest of the visit.

Seaview is tucked beteen Long Beach and Ilwaco.

That afternoon we enjoyed ourselves with Charlotte on the wide-open Seaview State Beach, even as pickup trucks occasionally drove past between us and the water. (It’s beyond me as to why any state would allow motor vehicles on a public beach.) We also saw a group of horseback riders and a couple of fishermen who bravely waded into the surf.

The next day we walked south on the Discovery Trail toward Ilwaco, enjoying views of the surf and woolly caterpillars along the path, before turning back to town. We drove north into Oysterville for a quick look at the historic town at the north end of the peninsula, then turned around and headed back into Long Beach for a late lunch, followed by a visit to Banana Books, an excellent used bookstore.

Back at the Potato Bug, we fixed dinner, read a little bit, played Scrabble, and went to bed early.

Next morning it was time to head home, rested and relaxed, and taking in scenic views of the mighty Columbia.

I don’t know when our next opportunity to travel will come. I’m hoping the spread of Covid-19 will come under control enough to allow us to visit New York or maybe California. More likely, we may have to settle for mini-trips like this one to other spots in the Pacific Northwest.

Perhaps Astoria? That wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

True story. Free chowder, thanks to Colson Whitehead

Maybe this is an only-in-Portland story. Or maybe something like this has happened to you. Anyway, here goes.

Earlier this month, Lori met a couple of friends for a socially distanced lunch in a backyard. I went for a morning hike that Friday morning, then decided to treat myself to a meal at a new fish-and-chips spot on the city’s eastside.

I masked up, placed my order at the curbside window, went back to my car and grabbed a book from the front seat, then sat against the hood to read a few pages while I waited for my order.

I’d just begun when the cashier called out, “Hey, what are you reading?”

I closed the book and approached the takeout window. She, too, was masked and I could see she was African American, either late 20s or early 30s.

I told her I was reading “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead. She was unfamiliar with the book, so I shared a little bit of the plot and the author. As I wrote in a previous blog post, the novel centers on a teenage girl who runs away from a Georgia plantation with the help of a hidden network that helped slaves escape to the North in the years before the Civil War. The book won Whitehead the first of two Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction.

A masterpiece about bravery amid the brutality of slavery

The cashier was intrigued by the story and impressed by Whitehead’s background. She added that she was looking for culturally relevant books to share with her son.

I told her I’d share the book when I was done. After all, it was free to me, so I wanted to pay it forward. She said sure, and told me her name: Maryam with a “y.”

Fast forward to yesterday, a blustery Saturday afternoon, three weeks after we met.

I showed up unannounced at her workplace — Rock Paper Fish on East Burnside — and walked up to the takeout window, book in hand. A young white woman at the register greeted me. I asked if a co-worker, a Black woman whose name I’d forgotten, was still working there.

“Maryam? Yes, she’s here today. I’ll go get her.”

Moments later, I heard her as she approached the window: “Oh, no you didn’t! You brought back the book??”

“I told you I would — and it was great!”

I handed over the book with its bright orange cover, with a bookmark and my email address inside, wished her well, and prepared to leave.

“Wait!” Maryam said, smiling eyes visible above her mask. “I’ve gotta give you some chowder!”

“What? No, you don’t need to do that.”

But, really, who turns down an offer like that? Not me.

So that is how Colson Whitehead got me a free takeout lunch of clam chowder, cole slaw, oyster crackers and two soda pops.

True story.

I love moments like these when two strangers in a city of half a million people can strike up a conversation that transcends gender, generation and, yes, race. Over the years, I’ve become more comfortable in situations like these, whether it’s chatting at a bus stop, in a grocery store or some other public place. In our case, it was Maryam who began the exchange.

I think it’s these little sparks of human connection that keep us grounded and optimistic in a world that too often encourages distance and distrust.

Thanks to Colson Whitehead and a friendly cashier, I’ve got another positive experience to add to the memory bank.