Back on track

Wesley Matthews, No. 2.

Wesley Matthews, No. 2.

No pre-game food porn photos to share this time (although that Koolakofsky burger at Tilt is da bomb). Just a post-game exhalation of relief.

The Blazers beat the San Antonio Spurs pretty handily last night (highlights here) and it was a victory that Portland needed. It was the team’s first win since the All-Star break after two losses. With an important game coming up against Oklahoma City, the last thing the Blazers wanted was to fold again and head into Friday’s contest on a three-game losing streak.

My buddy, Blazer Bob, came up from Salem to join me at the game. Nice to trade updates on our kids at these occasional meetups. Latest thing on his end? His son Chris and a fellow transplant from Ireland bought themselves a restaurant-bar in Ho Chi Minh City, where Chris has been living the last few years.

I admire the sense of adventure to live in Southeast Asia in the first place as well as the risk-taking involved to put up the resources to buy the former bistro. With a new name (Gumbo’s) and a substantial ex-pat community there in the former Saigon, here’s hoping they will taste nothing but success.

Hmmm….started talking about the Blazers, wound up writing about a Vietnamese bistro.

Just goes to show Guy Time is more than just burgers, beer and basketball. Other topics discussed last night: books, movies, politics and plans for travel later this year,

***

For the record, the Blazers spanked the Spurs, 111 to 95. The leading scorer was my favorite player, Wesley Matthews, with 31 points. One more regular season game to attend next month, this time with Lori. We’ll be rooting hard vs. the Houston Rockets.

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#February Fail

failureObviously, I jinxed myself.

Barely three weeks ago, I went on record with a modest goal: to exercise each and every day this month. Well, that didn’t last long.

Scarcely had one week gone by when I got sick. Caught a cold and missed three days of exercise.

The following week I wound up taking another four days off in a row, thanks to a combination of a sore low back that came out of nowhere and a ridiculously early start time to my workday one particular Monday.

I thought I was on track. But no…

Yesterday morning, on what was to be a shorter-than-usual neighborhood run, I felt a tweak in my left calf. Argh! I pushed through, pausing every few blocks to massage it, and managed to complete the run. Afterward, I was limping around the office. So frustrating.

I can just imagine what some of you are thinking. (Yes, you, Al Rodriguez.) Old Man Rede is starting to feel the aches and pains that remind us we’re not half the age we used to be. That may be true, but I can be stubborn.

Today, at least, I went swimming and then spent some time in the Jacuzzi trying to pamper my tender calf.

I may have fallen short in February — um, make that fell short — but there will be a month later this year when I declare victory.  I will exercise 30 (or 31) consecutive days and the achievement will be all the sweeter.

Ready for the Oscars

The 85h Academy Awards are set for tonight.

The 85h Academy Awards are set for tonight.

After last month’s post giving my quick take on five Oscar-nominated movies, I’m back with my thoughts on three more.

Not gonna pick any winners.That’s too tough. Just sharing my perspective FWIW.

Theory_of_Everything“The Theory of Everything.” Superb. I went in wondering how could a biographical movie about a world-renowned scientist confined to a wheelchair possibly be of great cinematic interest? Boy, was I 100 percent wrong. Eddie Redmayne is amazing in the role of Stephen Hawking, the brilliant British physicist and best-selling author.

I hadn’t seen or even heard of Redmayne,* but now I see why he ran off with the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards for Best Actor. More than any of the other Best Actor nominees in this year’s field, it seems to me, he had to convey so much emotional intelligence and subtleties in mood with his face and eyes, all the while being in a semi-contorted position as a result of a motor neuron disease. It’s an understated but powerhouse performance that honors the work and determination of the real-life Hawking.

Equally surprising and delightful is Felicity Jones, who plays Jane Wilde, Hawking’s wife and the author of the book on which the movie is based. Jones is one of the Best Actress nominees and she’s very deserving too. Through her, we too are attracted to the young, awkward Hawking; we appreciate her commitment to him and admire her strength and steadfastness when the disease becomes a physical and emotional challenge.

It may not win Best Picture but it’s an excellent film.

* Turns out I had seen Remayne previously. He played opposite Michelle Williams in the 2011 movie “My Life With Marilyn.”

Selma_poster“Selma.” It’s timely. It’s important. It’s got its moments. But, honestly, I walked away from this film mildly disappointed.

I think it was one of those films where the buzz is so strong that it’s hard to match the expectations. The film was widely praised for its depiction of the behind-the-scenes drama during key events of the U.S. civil rights movement in 1964 and 1965. Unquestionably,. David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. and Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King are both outstanding, and the story is compelling.

But.

It felt like I’d already seen this movie. It was as if I were seeing yet another PBS documentary on the topic, except with better cinematography, greater production values and several identifiable faces among the cast.

Thanks to history books and at least three television specials in recent years that have dealt with this topic, I’m pretty  familiar with this period in American history. And I’m well aware of the significance of the Selma to Montgomery marches that led to passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. So for me it wasn’t a matter of learning something new, as I did with “The Imitation Game” and the story of British mathematicians cracking the Nazis’ secret code during World Wat II/

I knew what was coming in “Selma.” I knew going in who the bad guys were — Gov. George Wallace and the Alabama state troopers. And I knew who the good guys were — King, Abernathy, John Lewis, Hosea Williams and others. As a result, there wasn’t the tension associated with not knowing what happens next.

Much has been made about director Ana DuVernay and her portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson and his relationship with King. I’m one of those who thinks LBJ was misrepresented as a reluctant supporter of civil rights, but I also recognize directors have artistic license to tell the story (or piece of the story) that they want.to tell.

All in all, a good film. Even a very good film. But it’s not one I’d rank in the top handful of the year.

foxcatcher-poster-channing-tatum-900“Foxcatcher.” Steve Carell in a dramatic lead role in yet another movie based on true events? Better believe it. And you’d better believe Carell was a revelation as an eccentric multimillioniare, John E. duPont. Carell plays a creepy, emotionally stunted — and ultimately unstable — character who seeks gratification as the benefactor and “coach” of the U.S. Olympic wrestling team during the run-up to the 1988 Games in South Korea.

It’s quite a switch from the lovable loser and pretentious boss we know him from previous roles in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “The Office.”

Without giving away too much of the plot, duPont sees himself as a super-patriot and would-be molder of young men who wants nothing more than to lead the U.S. wrestling team to gold in Seoul. As a ridiculously wealthy man, he owns an estate and wrestling compound near Valley Forge, Pa., to which he invites many of the top U.S. wrestlers so they can train together.

Central to his dreams of glory is recruiting brothers Dave and Mark Schultz, both gold medal winners in the 1984 Games. Mark Ruffalo is outstanding as older brother Dave and Channing Tatum is quite good as Mark, who sees the opportunity to train at duPont’s Foxcatcher facility as a chance to move out of his brother’s shadow. The bond between the brothers is real and touching.

Meanwhile, duPont deals with a domineering mother (Vanessa Redgrave) who disapproves of wrestling as “a low sport.” He’s delusional about his role as a mentor and a serious control freak with the wrestlers. Things build to a climax as duPont becomes more irrational after the death of his mother. Predictably, things end badly.

Given all the flak that Ana DuVernay has received for taking liberties in “Selma,” it’s more than fair to point out a long list of inconsistencies and outright fictions about “Foxcatcher” compiled by Time magazine.

My triple bottom line: All three movies are worth seeing.

Photograph: The Independent

Bonus: Esquire’s feature interview with Channing Tatum

PIFF at 38: One dud, one hit, one gem

piff38What do China, Croatia and Cuba have in common?

Well, sure, all three countries have been ruled by Socialists or Communists.

But all three countries also produced films that I saw during this month’s Portland International Film Festival.

If PIFF were a Super Bowl, this year would be number XXXVIII – an event with 97 full-length features and 60 shorts screened at seven venues over 16 days. I didn’t make it to any of last year’s films, so I was glad to catch three this time around – even if it made for a busy month, what with the Oscars just a few days away.

So how did these three rate? Let’s say one dud, one hit and one gem.

A quick review:

Black_Coal,_Thin_Ice_Poster“Black Coal, Thin Ice” (China) was billed as film noir – a “surreal mix of Western pulp fiction and Eastern philosophical ruminations.”

This one was a dud. It’s about a former cop who’s retired to a mining town in northern China to drink his past away. But a string of murders make him recall a botched police investigation a few years earlier.

Honestly, I couldn’t follow the story. One minute the ex-cop is doing surveillance at a corner laundry, then following the female clerk who works there. At some point, he crosses over from detective to stalker, forcing himself upon her sexually, while a fellow cop gets slashed and stabbed to death with a pair of ice skates, and then chopped into pieces with said skates.

Next thing I know, fireworks are exploding on a rooftop. Then the screen goes black and the credits come up.

Huh?

I always enjoy exploring different cultures. But sometimes things are lost in translation and, sadly, this was one of those times.

cowboys-poster“Cowboys” (Croatia) easily made up for the Chinese clunker. This one was a hit.

A big-city director named Sasa is offered an opportunity to restart the neglected community theater in his hometown, so he returns to the dull industrial town of his youth.

A call for auditions yields not a single experienced actor, leaving Sasa with a cast of eight socially awkward misfits who’ve never acted before and the certainty that he’s headed for a disastrous production. They’re so bad they’re funny. They agree to perform a Hollywood Western but this means they must overcome their petty rivalries and personal insecurities – a daunting challenge.

When Sasa becomes ill just before opening night, the cast of underdogs find themselves all on their own. Can they pull it off?

conducta_02-500x400“Conducta” (Cuba) was a gem.

With the recent reopening of diplomatic relations with Cuba, I was eager to see this film, described as “a sensitive, unembellished look at contemporary life in Cuba.”

“Conducta” means “Behavior.” It’s the story of an 11-year-old boy, Chala, who gets into trouble at school and with the police for fighting dogs, and who has to deal with an alcoholic, drug-abusing mother who spends her nights hustling in Havana.

School administrators and social workers want to send him to “re-education” school, but his teacher, Carmela, sees the basic goodness and potential in Chala and fights against the system to keep him in her class. Carmela is the only person who believes in Chala but even with her best efforts — coming after a heart attack and in the face of an indifferent bureaucracy — he’s at risk of falling through the cracks.

The cinematography is excellent and the young actor playing Chala is wonderful in conveying the street smarts and underlying humanity of a kid forced to fend for himself and support his mother. He’s resilient, loyal to his friends, and bold enough to act on his feelings for Yeni, a smart and pretty classmate who, along with her dad, faces issues of her own in fighting to stay in school.

It’s a compelling film set against a crumbling Havana cityscape. Chala and Carmela make for a likable team and the aging teacher serves as a moral compass not just for her students but for the adults around her. Her principled behavior silences her critics and reminds us of the importance of doing the right thing in hopes of overcoming a perceived wrong.

When the stakes are high, when the future of a bright, lower-class kid is at issue, we should all embrace our inner Carmela.

Read a review of “Conducta” by a Cuban writer, Miriam Celaya: “More Chalas Than Carmelas”

30 years at The O

Hey, I know that car!  And I know that building, too.

Hey, I know that car! And I know that building, too.

It’s become a cliché to say that no one takes a job anymore anticipating he or she will stay with that employer for the next 30 years.

So I guess it’s a good thing that my career path brought me to Portland in the mid-‘80s, when such things were still possible.

This month marks 30 years since I joined the staff of The Oregonian. I was 32 years old then, a reporter at the Statesman Journal in Salem, and a few months removed from a yearlong sabbatical at the University of Michigan.

Clearly, that year at the U of M was a launching pad from a medium-sized daily newspaper to a metro daily, with more resources and more opportunities than I could have imagined in Salem.

To say I’m grateful goes without saying.

I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside great journalists, to meet hundreds of community members, to recruit talented and diverse students and professionals, to travel widely across the United States and into Mexico – and to provide my family with the kind of middle-class stability I hoped for in a city I love.

Since February 1985, I’ve worked all over the newsroom – reporter, editor, recruitment director, bureau chief, editorial writer and reporter again. I’ve worked early mornings, days, nights, weekends and days again. I’ve worked in Oregon City, Portland, Gresham, Tigard, Hillsboro, Beaverton and Portland again.

Technology has changed how we do what we do – boy, has it ever — but the basics are still the same. The journalistic values of truthfulness, accuracy, fairness and context resonate as strongly as ever. And in today’s fractured media landscape, I take heart in knowing The Oregonian and OregonLive.com remain one place readers can turn for reliable, in-depth information.

I don’t mean to turn this into a lofty essay about the First Amendment and the Fourth Estate. Nor do I feel a need to revisit all of the corporate and newsroom changes of the past few years. Mostly, I just want to acknowledge a personal milestone that arrived quietly this month.

Thirty years with one employer is pretty remarkable, if you ask me. I’d had a great career at The Oregonian and I look forward to my remaining time with a sense of optimism. I’ve got a great beat (workplace issues), a trusted editor and plenty of support around me as I look to continue developing my skills in a multimedia world.

***

A final thought: While most everyone was taking Monday off for Presidents’ Day, I was up early and on the road to Salem for an 8 a.m. legislative hearing — the first of three I’d cover that day on the topic of paid sick days. Talk about coming full circle. There was a time when I lived and worked in Salem that I’d report to the Capitol building every day for work.

Yesterday found me in the same building, 30 years later, in a familiar hearing room, covering an entirely different cast of state representatives and senators and explaining the issues being debated in the proposed bills. I introduced myself to a few politicians, as well as business and labor lobbyists and a regular citizen or two, wrote and posted two stories online, met my print deadline — and marveled at how everything (technology) and nothing (reporting) had changed.

How I met my husband: Guest blogger

Sultan and Jackie were married on Leap Day (Feb. 29) 2004. Here they are with, from left, Isaiah (8), Malcolm (6) and Ava (10).

Sultan and Jackie were married on Leap Day 2004. Here they are with, from left, Isaiah (8), Malcolm (6) and Ava (10).

Editor’s note: I met Jackie Love on a recruiting trip to Tallahassee, Florida, and the campus of Florida A&M. As The Oregonian’s recruitment director, I made it a priority to go to places where we hadn’t tapped into pools of promising talent. Meeting Jackie and recruiting someone of her character to Portland (along with an equally talented classmate) remains one of my fondest memories from the late ’90s. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Jackie tells her favorite story.

By Jackie Weatherspoon

It was Friday, Jan. 8, 1999. I was 24 and black and single in a city that didn’t seem to hold much promise for me by way of love.

A recent transplant from the South (I had moved here a more than a year before to take a reporting job at The Oregonian,) I had specific notions of what of I was looking for in a man: Tall, dark and handsome. Smart, cute and funny. African American.

I was willing to compromise on some of my requirements (not everyone can be cute AND funny) but I knew I wanted to date a black man. And I was living in Portland, Oregon, and my odds seemed very, very slim.

Not that there weren’t black men around in Portland in the late ’90s. They just didn’t seem interested in me. And that was OK. But it was lonely and I started thinking maybe it was time to move on.

But I had friends. Wonderful women who reported every black male sighting they had in the city. Men were spotted at bakeries and gas stations and at Fred Meyers. Keep hoping, is what they wanted me to know. There is someone out there for you. There is someone here for you. You just haven’t met him, yet.

Turns out, I wasn’t the one who was meant to meet him. That was Jennifer.

All it took for me to find true love was for her to take a quick trip to Hawaii over the Christmas holiday in December 1998.  She spotted him across the aisle from her in the rear of an Alaska Airlines flight. He was wearing shorts and sandals (with socks) in December during an ice storm (yes, he was headed to Hawaii, too.)

Intrepid newspaper reporter that she is, she sized him up. He was black (score!), he looked to be about my age (he’s a mere three months older than me) and he was attractive (so very…) and he appeared single (no ring on his finger.) He would be perfect for Jackie, she thought.

She struck up a conversation with him and learned all the important details a girl needs to size up a man for her friend. Where he worked (he was an engineer) and whom he was meeting in Hawaii (his family, phew!), where he went to college (a top-tier engineering school), where he lived (across the river in Vancouver, Washington.)

They parted ways and I know he never expected to hear from her again. He’s friendly and enjoys meeting new people when he travels.

But I was in for a surprise. I came in to work on Friday, Jan. 8, 1999, the last day of my holiday vacation (I was just there to pick something up and had planned to go straight home), and was bombarded by a wave of excitement unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.

I wasn’t in the office when Jennifer returned the previous week after her trip to Hawaii. But she had already shared her news with all of the women on our team. She’d found me a guy.

Before I could even sit down, almost all of my female co-workers rattled off all of the pertinent details about him and in short order had looked him up on Alta Vista (there was no Google back then.) Within a few minutes of coming in, I was staring at his face (a college graduation picture) online and laughing at their excitement. All they needed to do then was confirm that he indeed worked where he said he did. Much to my surprise, my friend called his workplace, requested to speak to him and waited until he answered the phone. Then she hung up.

Yep, he worked there.

I was touched in so many ways. To know my friends cared about my happiness enough to go to such lengths to help me meet a nice guy meant the world to me. It still does.

But how would he be different from the black guys at the bakery or the gas station or at Fred Meyer? How was I ever going to meet him?

As I was about to learn, some things are just meant to be.

Jackie and George at a Northeast Portland coffee shop.

Jackie and George at a Northeast Portland coffee shop.

Enter Mignon. The mom of a dear friend of mine from college and a mentor, she also had my best interests at heart. I called her when I got home and told her the ridiculous story of my dear friends and their matchmaking escapades.

And then she told me a story.

A high school English teacher, she told me about a former student of hers, who as a young man had cancer. She was there for him and his family and cared a great deal about him. He got better, graduated from high school and went on to college and they lost touch.

I remained silent, not sure what this had to do with me.

He went to the same engineering school at the same university as the young man your friends met, she said. He seems about the same age and they are both African American men. They must know each other.

Find out, she said to me. And she hung up. I stood in my living room wondering what I was supposed to do about that. And then I did what any good journalist would do: I called him at work.

I remember my words coming out in a rush: My name, where I worked, how I knew who he was, that I wasn’t calling for work, telling him about my mentor and her student, asking him if he maybe knew that young man.

He listened and then asked if he could call me back. I gave him my home number and hung up.

He called back 10 minutes later and said he and the young man went to school together. They had graduated together and, yes, he had his information. It was a Friday, so he would have to go home and retrieve it, but he would get it to me by Monday.

I was tickled. I gave him my work phone and email address and said goodbye.

Monday quickly came around and I was back at work and on deadline. He called me at 3:30 p.m. to let me know he had emailed me the information. He seemed to want to talk, but I was on deadline and expecting a call (it was a landline without a second line) and I needed to hang up. I was abrupt and told him thanks and goodbye.

A few hours later, I was trying to figure out what to do. Mignon had given me the perfect opening to get to know this man and I was worried that I might have blown it.

I wrote him an email thanking him for getting back to me so quickly, apologizing for being so rude on the phone and letting him know that I was new to the area, having recently graduated from Florida A&M University. I hoped he understood the significance of my attending a historically black college and university and that he knew I was sending him a subtle hint.

I hit send and I waited.

I waited two days for a reply. When it came, it was short, just one line: Would you like to go out for a drink tomorrow?

He had taken the hint and, it turns out, had been looking for someone like me, too.

The rest (five years of dating, getting married on Feb. 29, 2004, three children and a happy family) is history in the making.

Thank you, Jennifer. Thank you, Mignon. Thank you, my dear work friends. I thank all of you in my heart every year for putting me on the path to happiness. I could not have gotten here without you.

Jackie Weatherspoon lives in Vancouver, Washington, with her husband and three children. She’s a stay-at-home parent who is trying her hand at being a ‘dance mom, basketball mom and soccer mom’. After more than 17 years in the Northwest, she has finally gotten used to the rain and owns her fair share of fleece items and warm socks.

Mister Otto

Still No. 1: Otto

Still No. 1: Otto

With all the attention being given to the newest member of our household, I’m thinking it’s way past time to say a few good words about Mister Otto.

A few good words like…I really do appreciate what a good dog he’s been since we brought Charlotte home in October. Really, he’s been an excellent dog in every conceivable way.

It’s not easy when you’ve had your “parents” all to yourself for the past few years. All of a sudden and with no choice in the matter, you’re asked to share the attention, to wait longer for a shorter walk and, most of all, adapt to this strange critter who came in off the street.

But Otto has done it all and done it masterfully.

He’s 10 now, and his gray muzzle shows it. He sleeps longer, he moves slower (deliberately, not painfully) and he’s not nearly as rambunctious as he used to be. Leave that to his little sister, the little black ball of energy (aka Charlotte) who’s nipping at his ear and lunging at his ankles in the early morning hours before he’s had a chance to open both eyelids.

If a walk around the block with Charlotte is an adventure, a walk with Otto is a leisurely respite. I was out with him the other day and thinking there are so many adjectives that would describe him at this stage: loyal, patient, adaptable, even-tempered, affectionate.

It’s been nice to see Charlotte become part of our household as she becomes accustomed to the daily routine. She plays hard, she naps near the fireplace, she settles down after dark, she curls up in our lap. It’s also been nice to see how Otto has accommodated her, exhibiting the same kind of tolerance that our big Max once showed Otto when he was the high-strung puppy.

We’ve often referred to our Jack Russell terrier as Sheriff Otto because he used to position himself near the street-facing window and growl at occasional passersby, as if he were providing security at some event. Now that Deputy Charlotte outdoes him in that regard, I think he’s pretty much ready to give up his badge and turn in his holster.

These days he’s just Mister Otto. Dapper and dependable.

He and Lori have always had a special bond, as anyone who knows the pair will surely agree. But I’ve gotta say, I love him too.

Straddling two worlds: poverty and privilege

robert-peaceJeff Hobbs grew up a child of privilege. The son of a doctor, he was raised in an 18th Century farmhouse on 15 acres of rolling hills in rural Delaware, 30 miles from Philadelphia. Jeff attended private schools and followed his father and older brother to Yale, where he was a track star and, like everyone else, an academic overachiever.

Rob Peace grew up a child of poverty. The only child born to an unwed mother who worked in a kitchen, he was just a young boy when his father was imprisoned for the murders of two women who lived in their neighborhood near Newark, New Jersey. He grew up in the midst of poverty, drugs, violence, crime and a culture of low expectations. Yet, he too made it to Yale.

Intellectually gifted and uncommonly self-determined, Rob attended an all-boys prep school in the inner city, became a star water polo player (of all things), then won a full scholarship to Yale, where he majored in molecular biophysics and biochemistry.

Thrown together as freshman roommates, Hobbs and Peace overcome their obvious differences — one white, one black; one rich, one poor; one arriving with a sense of expectation and possibility, the other thrown into a jarring environment different in every conceivable way from the street life few of his peers managed to escape.

If you’re thinking this sounds like the foundation of a compelling nonfiction book, you’d be right. But it’s not about — or at least not primarily about — two young Ivy Leaguers becoming Best Friends Forever.

No, it’s about one young man’s seemingly unlimited potential, the enormous pressures on him to support his family and friends, and the sad, sudden death of that young man. Most of all, it’s a meticulously researched, even-handed account of the double life that Rob Peace led as he tried to straddle two worlds defined by privilege and poverty. He was shot dead at age 30, in a case that remains officially unsolved but points to rival drug dealers in his old neighborhood.

I first heard about “The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace” from a New York Times book review last fall. In December, I received it as a surprise birthday gift. And now that I’ve finished it, I can say it is a superb effort by the author, Jeff Hobbs, to write honestly about his former college roommate and what led to his terrible end.

Imagine his challenge: to break away from his L.A. home, where he is a househusband and aspiring novelist, and dive into a world as foreign to him as he could ever imagine. During the years Rob was growing up, more than one in three Newark residents lived below the poverty line.  The city’s violent crime rate was so consistently high that a 1996 Time magazine article called it the most dangerous city in America.

Rob Peace during graduation weekend in 2002.

Rob Peace during graduation weekend in 2002.

Hobbs interviews everyone he can — Rob’s family members and friends, high school teachers, college buddies and more. He tells the story of young, precocious Rob and his lifelong friends, the Burger Boyz, who together attended St. Benedict’s Prep. He writes of generational poverty; of Jackie Peace’s unrelenting sacrifices to give her son a chance to rise above; of his father’s imprisonment when he was just 7 — and of Rob’s never-ending efforts, as a teenager and continuing at Yale, to free his father on appeal.

The result is a compelling, 360-degree take on his college roommate. Hobbs offers a clear-eyed account of Rob’s two lives — navigating his way on a campus full of overachievers while never losing his sense of identity or street cred. Rob travels home frequently to visit his mother and his imprisoned father. He hangs with friends, smokes weed, sells dope, goes to parties — and all this he must do without calling attention to himself as a Yalie.

Post-graduation, Hobbs writes of his ex-roommate’s schemes to earn money flipping houses rather than working a conventional job. Rob teaches for a while at his alma mater but quits. He puts off graduate school, gets a job with Continental Airlines hauling luggage so he can travel the world and, ultimately, concocts a scheme to buy and sell a huge quantity of marijuana, planning to make a killing on the profits and then quit the drug trade.

It’s not to be.

Jeff Hobbs

Jeff Hobbs

One reviewer calls the book “a moral fable for our times” and “a tour de force of compassion and insight.” Another calls it a “poignant and powerful can’t-put-it-down book about friendship and loss.”

It’s all that, I agree. Hobbs describes clashing cultures with nuance and insight. He is sympathetic to Rob but not an apologist. He strives to explain Rob without judging him, striving to help the reader understand why his friend might have done the things he did.

Ultimately, it’s 402 pages of high-quality writing and impressive research. It would be easy to condemn Rob Peace as one who squandered his vast potential. But truth is more complicated than cliche. Jeff Hobbs’ book leaves you — or should leave you — with an appreciation for the multifaceted struggle faced by any gifted young person trying to bridge the physical and emotional realities of two worlds as different as Newark and the Ivy League.

Listen to an interview with Jeff Hobbs on NPR.

Read a review in The Washington Post.

Worth the wait

Friday nights usually find us relaxing in front of the TV, watching something we’ve previously recorded, and grateful for the end of a work week.

Last night was an exception — and what a fine one it was.

After months and months of waiting, Lori and I saw the British band London Grammar in concert.

They played to a sold-out crowd at the Roseland Theater, performing just about every song on their debut CD, “If You Wait.”

We purchased the tickets last summer, anticipating a show the day after Thanksgiving. But when the lead singer came down with an infected tooth and then vocal strain, parts of the band’s U.S. tour were postponed.

Finally, we got to see them. And, yes, they were worth the wait.

The view from the Roseland Theater balcony.

The view from the Roseland Theater balcony.

London Grammar consists of just three people: vocalist Hannah Reid, guitarist Dan Rothman and keyboardist/percussionist Dot Major. “If You Wait” came out in early 2013 and it’s been so well received that the band has been touring across Europe and the United States for some time.

I love their sound. As I’ve written before, Reid’s vocals are reminiscent of Florence Welch, from Florence and the Machine. She’s quite the presence, tall and blond at center stage, though Lori commented she gives off a casual vibe. I agreed. She doesn’t flaunt her beauty. She just writes great lyrics and sings, and plays keyboards on a couple of songs.

It’s a funny thing. In recent years, our musical tastes have gone in different directions. Lori likes danceable tunes and electronica. I’ve been drawn to alternative bands and certain country/folk artists.

So glad we both thoroughly enjoyed London Grammar. Lori summed it up in one word: “Great!”

Simone’s power year

A tiara for the birthday girl.

A tiara for the birthday girl.

We gathered Wednesday in our cozy little condo to celebrate the arrival of another birthday for our darling daughter Simone.

Even now, we’re just as likely to call her “darling” as we were when she was 5. She was a double handful as a creative and determined little girl – whether playing with My Little Pony or creating on-air personalities for a make-believe news broadcast.

Our little girl has blossomed into quite the young adult. At 32 years old, she’s now married, co-owner of a home and about to start a new job with Metro as a senior management auditor, leaving behind the Secretary of State’s Audits Division.

Six months after their wedding, the glow is evident for Kyndall and Simone.

Six months after their wedding, the glow is evident for Kyndall and Simone.

Somehow, she also grows lovelier each year, too.

This year, we celebrated a day early. Lori served up an amazing meal for Simone and Kyndall; Nathan and Sara (who came after work to join us for dessert); and ourselves.

Jordan and Jamie couldn’t come down midweek but thoughtfully sent a gift.

Simone has been proclaiming 2015 as her power year. How so?

Because if you take her birth date (2/5) and multiply two to the fifth power (2x2x2x2x2), you get 32.

Leave it to an auditor to come up with that.

Simone with big brother Nathan.

Simone with big brother Nathan.

I’m a proud papa, clearly. And I know Lori feels the same when I say it’s so gratifying to see our girl at such a great place in her life.

Leaving the four-days-a-week commute to Salem behind will give her more time here in Portland and more opportunity to fashion a work-life balance that works for her and Kyndall.

I’ll be eager to see what else happens during Simone’s power year.

Cake? Who needs it when you've got this assortment of treats from Nuvrei, the bakery-cafe where Nathan works.

Cake? Who needs it when you’ve got this assortment of treats from Nuvrei, the bakery-cafe where Nathan works?