Saturday Sounds: James Taylor

There are certain recording artists you associate with particular times in your life and James Taylor is one of those for me.

His debut album, “Sweet Baby James,” came out in 1970, the same year I started college, and the songs on that album — “Fire and Rain,” “You’ve Got A Friend” and more — became part of the soundtrack to my years at San Jose State.

He went on to record a slew of other albums as my generation’s perhaps best-known singer-songwriter,  someone known for earnest lyrics,  pleasing melodies and a signature sound with his warm voice and acoustic guitar.

Taylor has won multiple Grammy awards and has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the prestigious Songwriters Hall of Fame. He’s also collaborated with other artists, including my favorite, Alison Krauss.

He played a concert in Portland last night, but we had other commitments and couldn’t go. That’s fine, though, because I still carry fond memories of seeing him during my college days. He played at the Berkeley Community Theater and the opening act was Linda Ronstadt.

Does that make me old?

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Elmore and Bobbie Ann

If you love books, you know the satisfaction that comes from picking one up that you know nothing about and then, after diving in, discovering you’ve hit the jackpot. When the author is someone you haven’t read before, the pleasure is even sweeter.

And so, on the heels of reading Katherine Boo’s highly touted nonfiction book about a Mumbai slum, I’ve just breezed through two used bookstore finds that turned out to be delightful. Coming after the intensity of Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” they were a welcome diversion to the world of light fiction.

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Master crime writer Elmore Leonard

“Pagan Babies” (2000) was my belated introduction to Elmore Leonard. I picked up the paperback for a buck at a flea market in New Mexico when visiting my dad a couple months ago. I was aware of Leonard’s reputation as America’s foremost crime novelist, with more than 40 books spanning a 60-year career until his death, at age 87, last October. I can see now why the critics loved him. If “Pagan Babies” is any indication, he’s a great storyteller, with a wonderful ear for dialogue, and the ability to both surprise you and keep you in suspense as the plot deepens.

paganbabies.coverIn this instance, Leonard spins a great tale about a rather unconventional priest, who’s from Detroit (like Leonard) but is living in Rwanda, where he drinks whiskey, smokes ganja, wears a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt, and occasionally says Mass and hears confession. Turns out this man of God fled to Africa to escape a tax fraud indictment.

When Father Terry Dunn returns to the United States and meets an attractive ex-con and aspiring comic named Debbie Dewey, the two of them join forces to raise money for Rwandan orphans,try to put the screws to her sleazy ex-boyfriend, and in the process run up against the mob.

it’s a fun and fast read, full of conniving characters and delightful plot twists.

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Bobbie Ann Mason signing a book in Memphis, Tennessee.

“Love Life” (1989) is a collection of 15 stories by Bobbie Ann Mason. I like short stories (in this case, none is longer than 21 pages) and I’d heard good things about Mason, so I was happy to run across her book during a visit to Orcas Island last year. She’s the author of “In Country,” which was made into a movie about a teenaged Kentucky girl whose father died in Vietnam before her birth and who becomes obsessed with finding out about her dad and his experiences.

In “Love Life,” Mason writes about the lives of ordinary people in Kentucky — salt-of-the-earth types like factory workers and schoolteachers, drugstore clerks and divorcees trying out new relationships. Mason is good at sketching her characters and drawing you into their lives, frequently leaving their fates unresolved — just like real life. Their aspirations and frustrations, their hopes and regrets, all ring true as universal experiences we’ve either gone through ourselves or readily recognize.

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In one favorite story, she writes about Steve, a mattress factory worker who drives a muscle car with the words “Midnight Magic” painted on the rear in large pink curlicue letters. He’s just had a quarrel with his girlfriend and is still half drunk from the night before. sitting in his kitchen eating a Big Mac and fries and sucking down a beer. He’s the kind of guy who goes to do his laundry and notices a pretty woman in purple jeans reading a book, but decides not to approach her because she might be too smart for him. He’s also the kind of guy who spaces out and forgets he’s promised to pick up friends at the Nashville airport — 2 1/2 hours away. He packs some beer in a cooler and jumps on the interstate but as he crosses into Tennessee, he notices a man lying face down about 20 feet from the shoulder of the road, not moving. Should he call the police?

Mason empathizes with her characters — she doesn’t make fun of them — and she presents them as more than one-dimensional. Though these stories are 25 years old now, they hold up well. And, as is with Leonard, they leave me wanting to read more.

Photograph of Leonard by Vince Bucci/Getty Images

Photograph of Mason by Jenny Lederer

Throwback Thursday: Young parents

 

Lori and Nathan in the back yard of our Salem home in 1980.

Lori and Nathan in the back yard of our Salem home in 1980.

When we had friends come up from San Francisco for a recent visit, one of them brought with her a couple of pages out of an old photo album.

Sharing the harvest of those memories today, I’m struck by the timeless beauty of my wife, Lori, and the utter contentment of our first-born son, Nathan.

New dad George and drowsy son Nathan.

New dad George and drowsy son Nathan.

We were both 27 then and living in Salem. Parenthood was both a challenge and a source of pride.

Simone would come along 3 years later and Jordan 4 more years after that.

In these pictures, I see a mother’s boundless love for her child and a baby boy’s charming innocence.

Radiant in the Oregon sunshine.

Radiant in the Oregon sunshine.

Seeing them again after three decades takes me back to a time when life was simpler, when we were becoming a young family. And it makes me realize yet again that I am a lucky, lucky man.

Photographs: Linda Dillon

Bowling, burgers, burritos and tadpoles

Several months had passed since Lori and I had managed to visit our youngest son and daughter-in-law, so when the stars aligned on Memorial Day weekend, we jumped at the chance to head north.

Jamie & Jordan at Hidalgo's.

Jamie & Jordan at Hidalgo’s.

August was the last time we’d been up to their home in Spanaway, just outside Tacoma, owing to the difficulty of coordinating the schedules of all four of us. Heck, until Mother’s Day, we hadn’t seen Jordan and Jamie together since New Year’s Day.

Our visit was barely more than 24 hours from late morning Saturday to just after lunch Sunday, but it was just right in terms of time spent together, with allowances for Guy Time and Girl Time.

Bowling. Shortly after Jamie arrived home after concluding an on-call visit at the veterinarian’s office where she works, she and Lori suggested Jordan and I get away for some father-son time. We chose bowling at a nearby alley and had a fun time.

Before you can grill, you've got to move Beau.

Before you can grill, you’ve got to move Beau.

Burgers. After a trip to the grocery store, it was time for Jordan to put on his chef’s hat and apron (well, OK, you’ll have to imagine it) and fire up the grill. He delivered four perfect hamburgers, washed down with beer and wine.

Burritos. Sunday lunch called for a trip to Jordan and Jamie’s favorite Mexican restaurant – Hidalgo’s. It’s become part of the routine whenever we visit and I know each and every time what Jordan will order: bean-and-cheese burrito.

Jamie and Jax (in background) check out the pond.

Jamie and Jax (in background) check out the pond.

Tadpoles. J and J are justifiably proud of all the work they’ve done in their backyard to make it such an amazing place. They’ve pruned fruit trees, planted a vegetable garden, strung up a hammock and made a small backyard pond habitable again. They have seven goldfish.

Lori and Jamie chose to visit a nursery during Girl Time Sunday morning and they came home with some items to improve the pond’s water quality and get rid of the algae buildup. Water plants? Sure. But tadpoles? Yep. They’ll eat the scum.

Who knew?

And who knows how long it will be before our next visit? I know I can count on another meal at Hidalgo’s. I’m expecting to see a cleaner, healthier pond, along with a family of frogs.

 

Otto (top) and Jax, a rescue pit bull puppy, patrol the backyard. All was secure.

Otto (top) and Jax, a rescue pit bull puppy, patrol the backyard. All was secure.

Scavenging for survival in Annawadi

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Abject poverty and hope for a better life dwell together in Annawadi, a slum near the airport in Mumbai, India.

When the investigative journalist Katherine Boo set out to write about poverty in India’s largest city, she didn’t merely want to chronicle “poignant snapshots of Indian squalor: the ribby children with flies in their eyes and other emblems of abjectness that one can’t help but see within five minutes of walking into a slum.”

No, her goal during nearly 3 1/2 years of reporting in a Mumbai slum known as Annawadi, was something far more ambitious and difficult to discern. In a place so poor that residents compete ferociously to scavenge for recyclable trash they can sell for a pittance, what forces determine who succeeds (a relative term) and who fails? What role does individual initiative play and what are its limits? How do market forces, government policies and endemic corruption encourage or stunt opportunity? Whose capabilities are squandered and at what cost?

In short, she asks, “By what means might that ribby child grow up to less poor?”

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Katherine Boo

Boo is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, a staff writer for The New Yorker and a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship “genius” grant. She’s known for immersion-style projects that probe dark subjects like poverty. And she won a National Book Award for her 2012 book, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers.”

I knew all that when I put the book on my wish list last Christmas. Recently, I got the chance to read it.

I hesitate to use the word “beautiful” but it is a stirring book, the product of tireless reporting and a clear-eyed narrative that seeks only to inform, never to judge. By focusing on 3,000 people crammed together on a half-acre in a city of nearly 13 million, she brings things down to a manageable scale. By telling the stories of a handful of residents, she gives voice to the aspirations, frustrations and indignities of individuals who might otherwise be reduced to “poignant snapshots of Indian squalor.” She succeeds magnificently.

Boo.bookcover3dAmong others, we come to know the industrious teenager Abdul, the one-legged prostitute Fatima, the wannabe politician Asha and her beautiful, ambitious daughter Manju, who hopes to become the first Annawadian to graduate from college. Abdul, a master trash collector, and two other family members run up against brutish police and mind-boggling corruption after they are arrested following the death of a neighbor. Their plight drives much of the book.

Boo is a fair-skinned, slender blonde, married to an Indian man, who couldn’t help but stand out in Annawadi, a place where raggedy shacks and huts are built near an open sewage lake adjacent to a road leading to the Mumbai airport. Yet, with the help of two translators, she evidently won the trust (or at least the tolerance) of her many subjects as she reported from November 2007 to March 2011 in the Indian capital formerly known as Bombay.

In focusing on Annawadi, Boo literally takes us behind gleaming aluminum fences and a concrete wall separating the slum from the airport and a cluster of five-star hotels. The wall is covered with sunshine-yellow ads for Italianate floor tiles and a corporate slogan runs its entire length, repeating the words “Beautiful forever, beautiful forever.”

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A Mumbai slum in a city of more than 12 million people.

The division of wealth and poverty reflects the chasm between new India and old India, as the slum dwellers strive to survive in a country whose growing wealth doesn’t begin to trickle down to them.

“Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is a gritty read, for sure. But you can’t help but come away with an appreciation for the well-rounded portraits of these people in Annawadi. Boo doesn’t make them out to be heroes; she simply presents them as real human beings, each of them flawed and striving in their own way against enormous odds. This is immersion journalism at its finest. An important story told with insight and empathy through the eyes of memorable characters.

Photograph of boys: beyondthebeautifulforevers.com

Photograph of slum: National Public Radio

Note: Katherine Boo is scheduled to speak in Portland in April 2015 as part of Portland Arts & Lectures.

Read a Q&A with her editor, Kate Medina.

 

So long, Peter

20 years, 6 months, 11 days. That’s how long the Peter Bhatia era lasted at The Oregonian. And now he, too, is gone.

Wednesday, May 21, marked the last day at work for Peter, a talented editor and widely respected industry leader, after two decades of award-winning journalism, daunting challenges and head-spinning change. He’s leaving as editor of The Oregonian to teach at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

On his last day in the office, Peter Bhatia talked, hugged, shook hands and spoke with dozens of staff members.

On his last day in the office, Peter Bhatia talked, hugged, shook hands and spoke with dozens of staff members.

Coincidentally, today is his 61st birthday, a fitting bridge from the newsroom to the classroom. He starts Wednesday in Tempe as one of the faculty who will work with a select group of college journalists on a group investigative project.

Yesterday was a day to celebrate Peter and his legacy, and so the newsroom staff gathered in the room known as The Well for a formal sendoff. It’s the same room where we’ve eaten pizza on election nights, held in-house training sessions and celebrated Pulitzer Prizes — a string of six since 1999, the most recent one just this year for editorial writing. It’s also the place where we came together during the recession years to listen to buyout offers and say farewell to departing staff members.

Some of us veterans have been there even longer than Peter and we’ve seen a steady stream of tech-savvy younger journalists join our ranks. Together we’ve made the wrenching (and ongoing) transition from a traditional print newspaper, with daily home delivery across the entire state of Oregon, to a digital-first company that publishes 24/7 with interactive features, photo galleries, videos and more while cutting back on home delivery and introducing a tabloid-sized compact newspaper.

Has it been challenging? Yes. Has it been difficult? Yes. Is it working? We hope so. We think so.

Peter joined The Oregonian in late 1993 as managing editor (the No. 2 job in the newsroom) at age 40. I was a member of the in-house committee of editors and reporters who interviewed candidates for the position and I remember thinking we made a great hire in snagging him from The Sacramento Bee. For 15 years, he and former editor Sandy Rowe led The Oregonian to unprecedented success, compiling all sorts of prestigious journalism awards in addition to the Pulitzers, and molding the paper into one of the country’s very best regional newspapers.

A mock front page was a parting gift.

A mock front page was a parting gift.

Peter rose to become president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and seemed to be involved in a thousand things at once: accreditation visits, ethics seminars, advisory boards; diversity programs, short-term teaching gigs, etc. As someone of Indian heritage and the son of a university professor, he was (and continues to be) a prime supporter of the Asian American Journalists Association. He had a boundless work ethic, an enormous capacity for work, a facility with numbers, and an amazing recall of details. He rooted for the 49ers and Giants; Stanford (his alma mater) and Washington State (where his dad taught); and Jesuit High School (where his son attended; their daughter went to St. Mary’s Academy).

After Sandy retired at the end of 2009, The Oregonian became Peter’s newsroom to run. The stellar journalism continued, even as the recession hit and readers’ habits changed. It fell to Peter to make wrenching cuts in newsroom staff even as we scrambled, like the rest of the industry, to deliver the news to an audience that increasingly wanted its news delivered electronically.

It was my great pleasure to work closely with Peter and Sandy for some 10 years or so as the newsroom recruitment director and training editor. By changing the face of the newsroom through aggressive hiring that made us more diverse, we raised the quality and breadth of our journalism to better reflect the entire community. Success bred success.

With the creation of the Oregonian Media Group last fall, and the demise of the old Oregonian Publishing Co., a new era began and another one ended.

In the midst of such radical change, it’s understandable that Peter would look for new opportunities. I’m glad he’s found a good fit and I am sure he will bring passion and a first-rate mind to his new job in academia.

And so I say to a great colleague, good luck and best wishes in the next phase of his career.

At last, marriage equality

Finally!

On Monday, May 19, Oregon became the latest state to legalize gay marriage when a federal judge ruled that a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Michael McShane ended 10 years of unequal treatment since Oregon voters passed Measure 36, an initiative that defined marriage as between one man and one woman and left families like ours on the outside looking in.

As The Oregonian’s Jeff Mapes reported, Monday’s ruling made Oregon the seventh state where a federal judge has struck down a ban on gay marriage since the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated key sections of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have already legalized same-sex marriage.

Given the incremental change we’ve seen as one state after another has seen fit to allow gay marriage – through court rulings, legislative action or voter approval – the landmark ruling in Oregon was widely expected. And it was immediately celebrated with more than 100 weddings performed in Multnomah County, where we live.

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Simone and Kyndall, the brides to be.

As a result of McShane’s ruling, representatives of Basic Rights Oregon said they would drop plans to place an initiative permitting gay marriage on the November ballot. It’s always struck me as absurd that such a fundamental issue of civil rights would be subject to a popular vote, rather than permitted outright as a matter of fairness and equality. Nevertheless, I signed a petition last year and was prepared to vote for a measure in in the fall.

Had the issue gone to the ballot, I’m confident it would have passed. We’ve seen a remarkable change in attitudes among Americans in the past decade or so in terms of supporting same-sex marriage, one that I think has been fueled by two factors: the growing presence of gay characters on television shows and in movies; and the realization that gays are everywhere in society – the workplace, sports, politics, the arts, etc.

There’s no question that younger generations have been more accepting than older folks in accepting same-sex relationships. We’ve seen that in our own family as our two sons, 34 and 26, and their partners have joined us in supporting our daughter, 31, and the woman she is going to marry. They’ve been together for seven years (as stable as any heterosexual couple) and have been engaged since November 2012, right around the time Washington state’s voter-approved law took effect permitting gay marriage.

Simone and her partner, Kyndall, would have liked to get married in Oregon. But because it wasn’t allowed, they long ago made plans to have the wedding and reception on Washington’s Orcas Island, where we have a cabin. The ceremony will take place in August and we will at last be able to welcome Kyndall into the Rede household as our second daughter-in-law.

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My two lovelies, Simone and Lori

It so happened that Simone came over for dinner Sunday night, as Kyndall is back east for work for a few days. We talked about what a special day Monday would be, a day of celebration and historic importance, and shared Simone’s disappointment that her love would not be able to share it with her. I think I can safely say, however, that the joy and euphoria that greeted Monday’s ruling in Oregon stretched as far as Pennsylvania and buoyed Kyndall’s spirits.

Finally, two things.

1. It was 17 months ago that I wrote a blog post – “Love the one you wish” – shortly after Simone and Kyndall became engaged.

“I have come to see – through simply being around Kyndall and Simone and their many, many friends and my many, many neighbors and co-workers who are gay or lesbian – that there’s only one thing that counts: whom you love,” I wrote then. “Simone and Kyndall are as happy and as committed a couple as a parent would want – and I love ‘em both to death. How nice that we are living in a time when we are seeing public and private attitudes shift and institutions change.”

2. I was impressed by Judge McShane’s eloquence in acknowledging many people have been raised with a traditional view of marriage that makes them uncertain about the future.

“I know that many suggest we are going down a slippery slope that will have no moral boundaries,” he said in his opinion. “To those who truly harbor such fears, I can only say this: Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other … and rise.”

Catholic school girls

For the second weekend in a row, we got to open our home to out-of-state visitors. This time, it was Terry and Linda, lifelong friends of Lori, who came up from San Francisco to spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning with us.

Terry and Linda go way, way back with Lori. All were members of the same graduating class at Mercy High School, an all-girls school when students wore cardigan sweaters, plaid skirts, white shirts and sensible shoes. Terry goes back even further. Her family lived across the street from Lori’s and they attended the same neighborhood church and parochial schools from first grade through 12th.

Mercy High grads, from left, Linda Dillon, Lori Rauh Rede, Terry Long Mullaney.

Mercy High grads, from left, Linda Dillon, Lori Rauh Rede, Terry Long Mullaney.

Terry still lives in San Francisco with her husband, Mike. Linda, who is single, lives in Colma, just south of the city.

It had been decades since either visited Portland, so we were eager to show them a slice of our city while crossing our fingers that the rain would hold off. It did and they were suitably impressed.

Lori did the Waterfront Park/Eastbank Esplanade loop with them, which gave them a great view of the downtown skyline as they walked along the banks of the Willamette River. We fixed a homemade dinner Friday, hit the food carts Saturday (a first-time experience for both) and had a delightful dinner outdoors at a neighborhood cafe on Saturday.

All three ladies went to Zumba class on Saturday morning, then joined Simone as she went to a local seamstress for a wedding dress fitting. Nathan came over later in the day and joined us for snacks and a drink on our rooftop.

It’s great to see Lori relax with two of her dearest friends, poring over old photos, dredging up favorite memories, and sharing the common experiences of growing older. Boy, is there anything she and Terry don’t know about each other after a lifelong friendship? I seriously doubt it.

Lori, George, Terry and Linda raise a glass at Petisco.

Lori, George, Terry and Linda raise a glass at Petisco.

It was my pleasure to prepare breakfast for everyone Sunday morning, then watch as Lori drove off with them for a little more neighborhood sightseeing before taking them to the airport.

I’m delighted our California visitors had such a good time, and I hope they’ll be back again soon.

 

 

Rejuvenation

The circumstances were just right today to head out to Tryon Creek State Park and reacquaint myself with one of the prettiest places to run in the metro area.

Let’s see: Mid-day Sunday. Weekend visitors had just left. Nothing on my plate for the afternoon. And a weather forecast that promised variety.

Had a leisurely drive out there, with multiple shades of green tree leaves and shrubs flooding my senses. I breathed in the crisp, clean air and enjoyed my run, reacquainting myself with the mostly gentle hills winding through forest trails marked by ivy, ferns and towering trees.

TryonCreek1

How inviting is this?

I was the only runner on the dirt trail, and one of just three on the return route along an asphalt path meant to be shared with bicyclists and walkers. (It’s a popular place as well for equestrians, birders and nature lovers of all ages.)

I felt refreshed and rejuvenated, keeping an easy pace through a light rain, sunbreaks, drizzle, mist, more sunbreaks, and a dry patch.

How could 16 months pass since the last time I visited?

I know part of the answer lies in my desire to vary my weekly exercise routine. I’ve been swimming, lifting weights, running  and going to yoga on Sunday mornings with Lori. (I haven’t done yoga in a few weeks, but that’s a temporary situation that will soon be resolved.).

A bigger factor is that I tend to run mostly in the neighborhood, just because it is what is practical during the week. Today’s run prompts me to reset my priorities. I’ll mix things up during the week, but I’m going to dedicate my Saturdays to a longer run in a park and resume Sunday morning yoga in June.

A view from the Nature Center of a trail leading back to the parking lot.

View from the Nature Center of a trail leading back to the parking lot.

Saturday Sounds: It’s A Beautiful Day

If you’re of a certain age, you will always recognize the opening notes and lyrics to “White Bird.”

White bird
In a golden cage
On a winter’s day
In the rain

The 1969 song composed by vocalist/violinist David LaFlamme was six minutes of perfection, in my book. And it endures as a signature sound of the San Francisco scene of that era.

Here’s the studio version from the LP “It’s A Beautiful Day,” followed by two live performances — one at Golden Gate Park, another from a more recent gig.

Forgive the fashion disasters. They weren’t alone.