Friday flashback: ‘At last, a swimmer’

AE.AlRod ELee

Al Rodriguez and his wife, Master Swimmer Elizabeth Lee.

I’m going back into the Voices of August vault each week to fetch some favorite posts.

Here’s one from 2012, written by Al Rodriguez, my best friend since high school, college roommate and best man at my wedding.

It’s a powerful reminder to not let our ego get in the way of trying new things. A lesson I could take to heart more often.

At last, a swimmer



The burden of being black and male

ta-nehisi coates

Author and journalist Ta-Nehihi Coates

Generally speaking, I read fiction for entertainment and nonfiction to learn something. That doesn’t the two are mutually exclusive. Fictional characters and plots can provide valuable insight and perspective into class and culture.

But when I seek out a deeply reported book that’s based on real people and events, I’m expecting to come away with a fuller understanding of something that goes well beyond the headlines — whether it’s the hidden world of daily life in a Mumbai slum (Katherine Boo, “Beyond The Beautiful Forevers” or the hazardous journey of a Honduran boy traveling to the United States in search of his mother (Sonia Nazario, “Enrique’s Journey”).

To those two examples I add “Between The World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

It’s a thin book, just 152 pages, but it packs a big punch. Written in the form of a letter to his 15-year-old son, Coates’ memoir draws on his analysis of American history, personal experiences growing up on the streets of Baltimore, his intellectual awakening at Howard University and fresh reporting on events based on today’s headlines.

As a 40-year-old father, Coates seeks to provide his son a context for understanding police brutality as state-sanctioned violence, a manifestation of the institutional racism that puts him — a relatively privileged teenager with college-educated parents — at risk because of what others see and think when they glimpse his dark skin.

In short, it is “the talk” that so many black parents have with their sons about racial profiling and the perils of black male life.

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it,” Coates writes.

Toni Morrison calls the book “required reading.” I couldn’t agree more. The book, a New York Times bestseller, was chosen last year for the National Book Award for Nonfiction amid a wave of honors and publicity for Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He was named a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called “genius grant,” invited to speak at the University of Virginia’s Community MLK Celebration and was interviewed on NPR and The Colbert Report among others.


Make no mistake. The book is all about America’s racial history and Coates’ assertion that the legacy of slavery and segregation is a criminal justice system, based on fear, subjugation, that imprisons black people in grossly disproportionate numbers and routinely exonerates police officers who kill unarmed black people, typically returning them to service.

Barely six pages into the book, the names of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others killed by police smack you in the face. Go one more page and there’s a reference to “a widely shared picture of an eleven-year-old black boy tearfully hugging a white police officer.” It is, of course, the image captured at a Ferguson-related rally in Portland, Oregon, that went viral late last year.

coates book coverDeeper into the book, Coates recounts the shock and heartache of learning that a Howard classmate, a Bible-toting vegetarian son of a Philadelphia radiologist, was tailed one night by a suburban cop through three jurisdictions and shot six times — once in the arm, five times in the back. No drugs or guns were found in the car.

The cop, black in this case, worked for Prince Georges County, an upscale black-majority county adjacent to Washington, D.C. No surprise that the cop was cleared of wrongdoing in the death of 25-year-old Prince Jones Jr. and returned to the streets.

Not mentioned in the book — but also illustrative of Coates’ argument — is this example close to home. As 2015 ended, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that the city of Portland must rehire a white police officer who was fired in 2010 after fatally shooting an unarmed black man in the back.

Spurred by the 2014 death of Michael Brown, The Washington Post conducted a study of police shootings in the United States last year and found that cops shot and killed nearly 1,000 people, many of them under questionable circumstances, including about 250  people (one in four) with psychological problems.

“Although black men make up only 6 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 40 percent of the unarmed men shot to death by police,” the Post reported.

If you view such deaths as tragic but unrelated incidents, you see the world differently from Coates. He contends that they are the result of a pattern of centuries of mistreatment and use of force against black Americans.

“I knew that Prince was not killed by a single officer so much as he was murdered by his country and all the fears that have marked it from birth,” Coates writes of his college friend.

“The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of this country’s criminal justice policy it cannot be said that it was imposed by a repressive minority,” he adds. “The abuses that have followed from these policies…are the product of democratic will.”

Coates is himself the son of a former Black Panther Party member who later became a librarian at Howard. He writes with the unflinching directness of Richard Wright, whose poem inspired the book’s title, and the eloquence of James Baldwin.

Little wonder that the New York Observer calls him “the single best writer on the subject of race in the United States.”

(Thank you, Carol Robinson, for mentioning this book when I recently asked Facebook friends what they were reading.)

Friday flashback: ‘Hey world, you’re not the boss of me’

One of the best things I’ve ever done as a blogger is to follow a friend’s lead and ask assorted people who’ve come into my life to write a guest blog post.

The practice started in the summer of 2011, shortly after I’d written a guest post myself for Kristen Mira’s blog. From that one piece came the idea for Voices of August, a month of guest bloggers on the original Rough and Rede blog.

Jasper (2)

Jasper the Golden Retriever. Handsome at 1 year old.

I love the variety of topics and perspectives — and the sheer quality of writing — that these folks have contributed in the five years since VOA began.

It occurred to me that I needn’t wait until August every year to enjoy the richness of these outside voices. So, in addition to new guest posts that I plan to solicit all year long, I’m going back into the VOA vault each week to fetch some older favorites.

I give you Isolde Raftery, writing from Seattle about a neighborhood walk with her dad’s dog, Jasper: ‘Hey world, you’re not the boss of me’



A year of exploration


Bicycle/pedestrian paths, like the Mount Vernon Trail, symbolize wide-open possibilities for exploration.

It’s already been seven days since the calendar turned to 2016. That means it’s time to hold myself accountable again in the form of some new year’s resolutions.

A lot of people don’t bother with them, but I find them helpful as a step in the direction of self-improvement. Before I even get to mine, here are a couple of tidbits:

If you’re a resolution-maker, you’re among the estimated 40 percent or so of Americans who set out with good intentions. For whatever reason, only about 8 percent succeed in keeping them, according to University of Scranton research.

The most popular resolutions? Again, according to the Scranton researchers:

Lose Weight
Getting Organized
Spend Less, Save More
Enjoy Life to the Fullest
Staying Fit and Healthy
Learn Something Exciting
Quit Smoking
Help Others in Their Dreams
Fall in Love
Spend More Time with Family

I suppose No. 1 could easily make my list, but I’m going to keep that in the back of my mind in deference to a couple of others I’m giving higher priority.

This year, I want to focus on two things: 1. Getting out of town. 2. Trying new things.

Together they go well with an overall intention to just explore. Given my new retirement status, I don’t think getting out of town should pose much of an obstacle. It’s common for new retirees to want to travel, and certainly I want to do that too. But I’m thinking more modestly — just get out and about to places like Multnomah Falls, Silver Creek Falls, the Columbia River Gorge.

Trying new things is a complementary mindset. Already, I’ve joined Lori in a new Saturday morning activity — a cycling class at our local gym. I expect there will be plenty more things that fall in my lap or that I seek out.

I don’t know that these twin objectives have anything to do with self-improvement, other than to keep my mind open rather than closed.

As for last year, I settled on three things: Patience, portions and people.

Patience was about trying to accept that a lot of things are beyond my control, so why not just let it go.

Portions was about restraint, about being more watchful of how much I ate, even if — or, rather, especially if — it was a favorite food.

People was about making more connections in person instead of becoming overly reliant on digital communications.


Connecting with former co-worker Jackie Weatherspoon over coffee was a direct result of my vow to spend more “face time” with people in 2015.

Being honest with myself, I fell short too many times with the first and the second. I think I did pretty well with the third, though, and I plan to continue building on that “face time” with assorted friends, co-workers and new acquaintances.

A final pledge. Here’s my list of non-resolutions: no neck tattoo or neck beard; no man bun, ponytail or dreadlocks; no nose ring or earlobe plugs; no passing gas in elevators.

Want help setting your own 2016 goals? Here’s a post from a year ago on “4 Simple Goal Setting Ideas for 2015”



Ah, retirement


Ready for retirement! New slippers and fleece pajamas.

With no expectations and no obligations, I’ve got to say Day One certainly went well. I was well prepared for the launch, having gone out and bought a new pair of slippers and pajama bottoms.

The briefest of recaps:

— Got up around 5:30 (I’ve been an early riser for so long it was unavoidable.) Enjoyed an hour of quiet reading with a cup of coffee and light breakfast.

— Eyelids got heavy around 8 so…why not take a nap? Charlotte joined me on the couch and we quickly fell into slumber.

skull PJs

That’s Charlotte, tucked into the back of my knee. (Surreptitiously photographed by Lori.)

— Went to the gym and hit the elliptical. Had a light lunch, then went out and shoveled the snow off the sidewalk in front of our condos — the least I could do for our neighbors and anyone else stepping gingerly on the icy surface.

— Enjoyed some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, courtesy of Lori and Simone, who came over to visit after learning her government office would be closed for the day. Is this what retirement is going to be like? Wife and daughter baking cookies every day? Only in my dreams.


Dim lighting and a shaky hand produce one less-than-awesome selfie of George & Bob.

— Met my friend Bob Ehlers for pizza and beer at an excellent brewpub, followed by the Portland vs. Memphis basketball game. The Blazers played probably their worst game of the season and lost to the Grizzlies, 91-78. Though a win by the home team would have been nice, it was good spending time with Bob.

He’s on quite a roll these days: First, his beloved Iowa Hawkeyes get crushed in the Rose Bowl; then his adopted Oregon Ducks blow a sure win in the Alamo Bowl; and now his Blazers fall flat against Memphis. And all this after seeing Portland lose to the Suns and the Knicks earlier in the season. Hmmm….I’m seeing a disturbing pattern here.

Christmas in January


Ninety-one years of good, clean living. (Hint: Jordan is 28.)

Prelude: It’s a silent, snowbound scene that I view outside my window as I sit down to write the first blog post of my retirement. Sure, I posted a year-in-review piece on Jan. 1, but this one’s different: This is the first day when I would normally be at work.

Instead, I have the luxury of writing at mid-morning, still in a T-shirt and pajamas. I’m aware that five of my last six posts have been about me, me, me. I’ll excuse myself by saying, well, it’s not every day that someone retires and has the chance to look back at a fulfilling career and all the people who contributed to it. And in the coming days, I expect there will be another dose or two of me, me, me — you know, new year’s resolutions and all. All that is just to say that the focus will change soon enough and, if all goes as planned, you’ll see more guest bloggers this year.

And now, with the background music changing from Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris to KT Tunstall, it’s time to write.


When your family has two end-of-year birthdays tucked between the major holidays, it can make for an extended celebration.

That was the case on Saturday, Jan. 2, when we finally all got a chance to gather under the pink pencil Christmas tree that, for aesthetic and practical reasons, has replaced the traditional green Noble fir in the corner of our compact living space.

Most of us — that is, Nathan & Sara, Jordan & Jamie, Lori & myself — were together Christmas Eve but Simone & Kyndall were just days into a  well-earned vacation in a tropical locale, so we had to defer our gift exchange until they returned late last week.

It was worth the wait. It always fills me with a simple joy to see our three kids and their partners enjoying themselves and each other. Over dinner, drinks and board games, the conversation grows louder and bawdier. Beneath it is an affection for one and all, which is all the more remarkable considering how wildly different they are from each other in upbringing and personality.

Xmas 2015 (2)

Clockwise from bottom left: Nathan, Simone, Kyndall, George, Lori, Jordan, Jamie and Sara.

Lori and I had celebrated my birthday earlier in the week, ending with a Japanese dinner with a couple of friends. On Saturday, Jordan was the focus. Our youngest son — the one who’s gone from enlisted infantryman with a tour of duty in Afghanistan to a dean’s list student majoring in biology at a small liberal arts school — turned 28 years old on New Year’s Eve.

His future is bright and I know all of us wish him and his wife the best as we all head into this new year.

As for me? I’m a year older and I’d like to think a year wiser.

Twenty Fifteen

New Year Wallpaper.


We’ve just flipped the calendar to a new year. But before embarking on new adventures in 2016, it’s time for the annual look back at the year just finished.

Happy to say there was a lot to like about 2015. Here are a few of my favorite memories, in no particular order:


Can’t name a single favorite but I can say the year started and finished with two stellar novels — “The Lowlands” by Jhumpa Lahiri and “Let The Great World Spin” by Colum McCann.


Jhumpa Lahiri, master storyteller.

In between, there was a lot to like:  Jess Walter’s collection of short stories. “We Live in Water”; “The Last Flight of Poxl West” by Daniel Torday; the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson; and  “The Four Words From Home” by my former Oregonian colleague Angie Chuang, based on the parallels between two immigrant families — her Taiwanese parents and an extended family of Afghan Americans.


How lucky was I to see all these performers? Jackson Browne, The Doobie Brothers, Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, Florence + The Machine, London Grammar and a future star, Liz Longley.


The amazing Florence Welch.


It was a stellar year for motion pictures. Those I liked best included: “Birdman,” “The Theory of Everything,” “The Imitation Game,” “Still Alice,” “Amy,” “Spotlight,” and “The Martian,”


Best Actress: Julianne Moore.


They are the spice of life and, increasingly, I seem to be in the company of those with salt and pepper hair. A quick shout-out to my new bowling team, the aptly named Mediaocracies, with John, Tony and Brian. Likewise, to my newest poker buddies,  Beth, Erin and Ellie, who’ve come over a couple times on Ladies’ Game Night to play cards with Lori and me.


Card sharks: Erin, Beth, Ellie & Lori.

In the fall, we had a great visit here in Portland with our dear friends from  Santa Barbara, Al and Elizabeth. They scheduled their trip so they could be part of the 5th annual Voices of August meetup for guest bloggers who contributed to R&R II.


We celebrated as many birthdays and other special occasions as we could with our kids and their spouses/partners. It’s harder than you’d think all getting together given that two of the three couples live in Portland. But we take what we can get.


George, Lori, Nathan & Simone at the hot dog throwdown.

Two highlights: The 6th Annual International Hot Dog Competition, a backyard bash hosted by Simone and her wife Kyndall, and the weekend I got to see Jordan here in Portland during a bachelor weekend when Lori was in San Francisco attending a high school reunion.


Lunch with Jordan at Tilt


We made three visits to Heaven on Earth — also known as Orcas Island. Once in the spring, twice in the summer. Did all the usual things. Golf, kayaking, hiking, lots of reading, board games and just chillin’. No better place for it.


Outside the White House gates.

Our big trip came in September, when we marked our 40th wedding anniversary with a visit to Washington, D.C. We were part of a Road Scholar group that saw the sights in the nation’s capital from the seat of a bicycle. Hot and humid, but fun.

Work and career

Finally, it was a milestone year for both of us. Lori moved her personal training business from the place where she’d been for nine years to a newer, larger space a couple miles away. And I turned in my laptop and walked away from the newsroom after 30 years at The Oregonian.


Covered workplace issues during the 2015 Oregon Legislature. No more.

Fortunate to take early retirement at 63 but looking forward to the next few chapters in his charmed life that I lead. I have food, shelter, heat, health, a wonderful wife, three pets that bring me joy and now lots of free time. Who could ask for anything more?

So long, 2015. You were good to me.

2015 image: MyCityWeb