London Stories: An Agatha Christie masterpiece

“You have been summoned for jury service.”

Date/Time: Sun 29 July 2018 15:00 (3 pm)

Location: London County Hall, Central Gallery, Row B, Seat 24

Jury service? Yes — and I went willingly. The occasion? I had bought myself a ticket to see Agatha Christie’s “Witness for the Prosecution” while in London last summer. The play, then 10 months into its run, was being staged in the magnificent London County Hall on the south bank of the River Thames.

July 29 was to be my last full day in London before flying home after teaching a two-week course in the city. I wanted to end on a high note, with a dose of arts and culture. I could not have asked for a better experience.

The setting was grand. The production was fabulous. It was one of those moments when I had to pinch myself and appreciate the circumstances that had brought me here: I was teaching a study-abroad class for the first time and exploring the British capital with six students from the Portland area. And now I was watching live theater in a nearly century-old building.

London County Hall, opened in 1922, sits on the south bank of the River Thames, flanked on one side by the London Eye.

After a farewell dinner on Friday night, my students and I went our separate ways on the final weekend of the program. I wound up here. Not in the West End theater district, but several miles away at the elegant London County Hall, which began construction before the First World War and opened in 1922, The building originally housed the London County Council government offices, but today it is home to two hotels, several restaurants, apartments and tourist attractions.

County Hall is next to the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel, and across the Thames from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Little wonder that this photogenic building in a tourist hot spot attracts so much attention.

Approaching the building from the south side, you enter a spacious foyer and climb a marble staircase which takes you into the theater. My seat was in the second level, perfectly centered and looking down at the stage. I was at the end of a row seated next to a friendly woman my age. Her name was Laura, as I recall, and she had come with her husband and grandchildren. She said they were retired and came in from the suburbs regularly for performances just like this.

The production itself was superb. Agatha Christie was a master storyteller, and this play was adapted from one of her short stories published way back in 1925. When she died in 1979 at age 85, she had written 66 crime novels, 6 non-crime novels, more than 20 plays and upwards of 150 short stories. With more than 2 billion books published, she was outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.

In “Witness for the Prosecution,” the story centers on themes of justice, passion and betrayal in a courtroom setting. A young man, Leonard Vole, is accused of murdering a widow to inherit her wealth. Leonard is brought to trial and we, the audience, quickly lose ourselves in the gripping drama as he and other witnesses, including his callous wife, are called to testify. At stake is a possible death sentence if he is found guilty.

Even some 10 months after I saw the play, I have fond memories of losing myself in a world-class production featuring British stage actors at the top of their craft. Along with sharp dialogue and crystalline acoustics, there are white-wigged jurists and swift set changes that keep the story moving to its climax — and then to a surprising, alternate ending.

When I came home, I was excited to share the experience with my wife. I rented a DVD of the 1957 film adaptation starring Charles Laughton and Marlene Dietrich and directed by Billy Wilder.

The movie received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, but watching it six decades later, I had to wonder why. Viewing it on the small screen in black and white, I was put off by the appalling sexism embodied by Laughton’s character. Did I miss all that in London? Or was the dialogue toned down for a modern audience?

In any event, catching this matinee performance was a highlight among highlights during my short stay in London. In just five more weeks, I’ll return to teach the same class, this time with 10 students in tow from Portland State University and Washington State University Vancouver.

Lori will join me toward the tail end of the program, so we can have a few days together to explore the city.

We definitely want to see a play or two. I just may try to talk her into seeing this one. It’s scheduled to continue its run through March 2020. #SeeYouinCourt

Rip City

The 2018-19 NBA season came to a dramatic end this week for the Trail Blazers with one final loss to the indomitable Golden State Warriors.

With this souvenir from Tuesday’s game, I now have enough Blazer T-shirts to wear one every weekday.

Count me among the tens of thousands of Portlanders who enjoyed this joyride of a season and felt only a smidgen of sadness that it ended how it did. On the contrary, this team was fun to watch. They overcame adversity caused by a string of injuries and the death of the team’s owner, and in doing so they brought the city together in a way we haven’t seen for nearly 20 years.

Losing in four straight games to the two-time defending champions was nothing to feel badly about, considering that the Blazers easily could have — and should have — won at least two, if not three, of the games.

Enes Kanter and Maurice Harkless: Two of the good guys.

I think back to a year ago, when I shared in the despair of a four-game sweep by the underdog New Orleans Pelicans, and there’s no comparison.

I saw the Blazers lose Game 2 of that series at home, wondering how the wheels had fallen off. This year, I saw the Blazers win Game 2 of the Oklahoma City series before seeing them fall, valiantly, to Denver in Game 4 and to Golden State in this week’s season-ending overtime loss. (Ain’t no one gonna stop Stephen Curry and Draymond Green from another title.)

Even though the last two games resulted in losses, the competitive fire was there and the entertainment value was sky-high. I nearly went hoarse after the GSW game, but every minute was a blast.

I grew up in the Bay Area going to Giants and A’s games as a young baseball fan, but I’ve got to say there’s something special about an NBA playoff game. The intensity ratchets up and every possession seems to carry extra weight. Little wonder that bodies fly for rebounds or loose balls, that dunks resonate to the upper sections, and the breakneck pace of the game showcases all the finesse, grace, power and creativity of the players. It’s like watching ballet in fast-forward mode.

Larger than life image of CJ McCollum.

Like every other Blazers fan, I look at the team’s two stars, Damian Lilliard and CJ McCollum, as representing the best qualities of today’s modern athletes. They are not just supremely talented on the court, but they are involved in the community, natural leaders in the locker room, and thoughtful and well-spoken in their media interviews. I admire their paths from lesser-known colleges (Weber State and Lehigh) to the pros, and I appreciate that McCollum majored in journalism.

But it’s not just those two. The whole roster seems full of guys I wouldn’t mind having a beer with — or maybe a Gatorade in their case.

I attended seven regular season games this year and the Blazers won them all. Add in the OKC win and they were 8-2 in games I saw. I’m only able to do this because I’ve purchased one-third of one-half of a pair of season tickets through a friend of ours. Sharing the costs this way not only makes it affordable but it gives me reason to look forward to seven games a year — enough to take Lori or my kids or friends to different ones. If I want to attend an occasional extra game or two, I can do that too.

I don’t know if the Blazers will be able to recapture some of this season’s magic next year but I’m grateful for the memories created during this one.

Who could have predicted Meyers Leonard would go from the end of the bench to leading scorer against the Warriors?

We’re living in a time when our attention is divided, our societal cohesiveness is fragmented and our political culture is toxic. I appreciate having an outlet for pure entertainment and a bonding experience with strangers that’s all too rare in everyday life. And if I can sip on a beer while cheering for someone instead of rooting against someone, so much the better.

Come next fall, I’ll be ready for another edition of Rip City.

Unfurling a flag with Portland’s nickname: Rip City all the way.

Shot in the Heart: A Portland story

People of a certain age might remember Gary Gilmore as one of America’s most notorious criminals. Sentenced to death after murdering two innocent men in Utah, he was executed by firing squad on January 17, 1977, just a few months after the U.S. Supreme Court had reinstated the death penalty.

I was living in Bend, Oregon, at the time and, as an opponent of capital punishment, I still remember being shocked when I learned from a radio news report that he’d been put to death.

These days, I have another reason to remember Gilmore and, frankly, it’s hard to shake. Turns out that Gilmore not only grew up in Portland, but one of his crimes was committed about a mile away from where I live. As a teenager, he raped a 14-year-old girl in an apartment on a street that I drive on virtually every week.

Creepy? To say the least.

I learned of that sordid crime and much, much more from reading “Shot in the Heart,” a sad but beautifully written memoir by Mikal Gilmore about his brother Gary and their dysfunctional family. I read the book last year and found myself drawn into it despite the dark subject matter, but I’ve never written about it until now.

Picking it up again, I was startled to realize it was published in 1994 — some 25 years ago. And thumbing through it, I am reminded of the powerful, honest writing that propelled me through 400 pages of a book that one reviewer called “mesmerizing…riveting and immensely moving.”

“You were Gary Gilmore’s younger brother, weren’t you? What did it feel like, having him die like that?” he was often asked.

“I was never really sure how to answer that question,” he wrote. “But I hated it every time the questions were asked. I tried for years to be polite or thick-skinned about it….I felt that nobody would ever forget or forgive me just for being that dead f—— killer’s brother. I learned a bit of what it’s like to live on in the aftermath of the punishment: as a living relative, you have to take on some of the burden and legacy of the punishment. People can no longer insult or hurt Gary Gilmore, but because you are his brother — even if you’re not much like him — they can aim it at you.

“It’s as if anybody who has emerged from a family that yielded a murderer must also be formed by the same causes, the same evil, must in some way also be responsible for the violence that resulted, must also bear the mark of a frightening and shameful heritage. It’s as if there is guilt in the simple fact of the bloodline itself.”

Gary Gilmore in Portland Police Bureau mug shots.

Gary Gilmore’s death ended a virtual moratorium on capital punishment that had lasted nearly 10 years in the United States, and it spawned a novel and a movie that both won critical acclaim.

Norman Mailer wrote a fact-based novel (The Executioner’s Song, 1979) about Gilmore that won him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Mailer then adapted the book into a movie (1982) that starred Tommy Lee Jones as Gilmore and won the actor an Emmy Award.

Twelve years later, Mikal Gilmore wrote his memoir.

I already knew Mikal was an accomplished journalist as a music writer for Rolling Stone. What I didn’t know was that he was born here and grew up with his family in Southeast Portland (in the same impoverished neighborhood where Lori and I first lived when we first moved here) and in suburban Milwaukie (where I got my first reporting job in Oregon). Mikal attended Milwaukie High School and later graduated from Portland State University, where I now teach.

Author Mikal Gilmore (rollingstone.com)

But “Shot in the Heart” is not about Mikal. It is about his mom and dad and three older brothers, all of whom were scarred by the violence that defined their everyday life. The father, Frank Gilmore, was a petty criminal who beat his young wife, Bessie, and did the same to his sons, Frank Jr., Gary and Gaylen. Mikal, the youngest by seven years and born when his dad was 61, escaped that treatment.

Gary suffered the worst of those beatings, and he rebelled. As a young teen, he began ditching school and staying out late, drinking and smoking weed. Soon enough, he turned to the criminal life, stealing cars and robbing stores. To my astonishment, I found the book riddled with references to streets and places I know: 82nd Avenue, 52nd and Division, Johnson Creek Boulevard, Northeast Weidler Street (where the rape occurred).

Gary did time at MacLaren’s Reform School for Boys in Woodburn, the Rocky Butte Jail in east Portland, the Oregon State Correctional Institution and Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. He was arrested in Washington, Idaho, California and Texas before making his way to Utah, where he fatally shot a gas station attendant and a motel manager while on parole. He was 36 when he was executed — shot in the heart by a firing squad.

Nothing can excuse Gary Gilmore’s life of crime, culminating in the murders in Provo, Utah. But it’s also obvious that his father’s brutish, violent behavior helped set him on that path and, likewise, contributed to the death of his brother Gaylen, at age 27, from complications from a stabbing.

Sad to say, hope for any semblance of normal life was snuffed out at an early age for young Gary.

“My family’s ruin did not end with Gary, because it had not started with him,” Mikal, now 68, concludes. “…I realized I had grown up in a family that would not continue. There were four sons, and none of us went on to have our own families. We did not go on to spread any legacy or dynasty, to extend or fulfill any of our needs, kind or cruel, damaged or conscientious, through children. We didn’t even have kids in order to beat or ruin them as we had one been beaten or ruined…

“It’s as if what had happened to in our family was so awful that it had to end with us, it had to stop, and that to have children was to risk the perpetuation of that ruin.”

“Shot in the Heart” is hardly uplifting reading. But it is searingly honest and infused with empathy and insight. It truly is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.

So long, WSUV. Hello, PSU.


Lights are off. Semester is done. Time for a new chapter as a college instructor.

After class last week, I went through the usual routine. Turned off the A/V projector. Grabbed my dry-erase markers, textbook and file folders and zipped ’em into my shoulder bag. Turned off the lights and shut the door.

Wistfully, I headed off to the parking lot. I had just given the final exam in my Sports and the Media class, and it would be the last time I would go through this routine.

After three years of teaching at Washington State University Vancouver, it was time to close the book (literally) and look forward to what comes next.

I’ve been offered a one-year, full-time faculty position at Portland State University for the 2019-20 academic year. In order to accept the job, I had to say no to further employment at WSUV.

While I’m excited to step into an expanded role at Portland State, I regret that it comes at the price of giving up the good thing I had going at WSUV. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the mix of students and small-college feel of this public university in southwest Washington, where many, like myself, are first-generation college students.

What does all this mean?

First, it means I can take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Dr. Narayanan Iyer, director of the Integrated Strategic Communication program at WSUV, for hiring me as an adjunct instructor in January 2017. Known affectionately to students and staff as Nanu, he gave me the chance to teach three different courses over my time there, stretching across the spring, summer and fall semesters.

Read “Cougartown” for a look back at my first semester at WSUV

I had no idea what Integrated Strategic Communications meant when I began. But I now know it includes a broad-based curriculum that touches on public relations, advertising, multimedia content creation, social media and digital content management, and a whiff of journalism.

I wasn’t there to teach journalism, per se. But through my Sports and the Media class and others that I taught — Media Ethics and Reporting Across Platforms — I sought to introduce students to the multimedia reporting skills and industry challenges facing digital-era journalists.

Second, I can say “thank you” to a host of professionals who gave generously of their time and expertise. Students heard directly from these guest speakers about the skills and attributes it takes to be a front-line journalist; about the professional relationships one must build with sources, including athletes and coaches; and about the ethical quandaries they encounter almost daily in the course of doing their jobs.

These talented men and women opened students’ eyes to the nasty trolling one puts up with on social media, most frequently aimed at women journalists. And in a couple of cases, speakers talked about the mental health issues that confront athletes, as well as what it feels like to be the subject of media coverage.

Here’s a heartfelt “thank you” to all who spoke to my students over these past three years: Lindsay Schnell, Jamie Goldberg. Tom Goldman, Casey Holdahl, Rich Burk, Chris Metz, Tyson Alger, Gina Mizell, Taylor Ricci, Nathan Braaten, Brenda Tracy, Mark Mohammadpour, Dianne Danowski-Smith, Chris Broderick, Beth Nakamura, Stephanie Yao-Long, Lillian Mongeau, Steve Woodward, Katy Sword, David Lippoff, Will Ulbricht, Kate Lesniak, Anna Griffin and Kyle Iboshi.

Taylor Ricci and Nathan Braaten came up from Corvallis this year to talk about mental health issues facing student-athletes, citing their own experiences at Oregon State University.

A special thanks goes out to Evelyn Smith, who was the only and one teaching assistant I had. She was a rock star during the Media and Society class I taught last fall, and graduated in December.

So what’s next?

Next school year, I’ll be teaching two courses each during the fall, winter and spring quarters at Portland State, while continuing to coordinate the academic internship program in the Department of Communication.

I’ll begin in September with Media Literacy, my bread-and-butter course, and Media Ethics — two very timely and essential topics.

Before then, I’ll head off to the U.K. this summer to teach Media Literacy in London. It will be my second time leading this study-abroad course through Portland State, and I’m looking forward to having 10 students this time, up from 6 last year.

It’s a two-week course that runs July 8-22. This time, Lori will join me at the tail end of the program and we’ll enjoy being tourists for a few days.

It’s been a great ride, Vancouver. I look forward to more of the same, Portland.


Though I’m excited about what comes next, I’ll miss the small-college feel of WSU Vancouver.

Sunshine and softball

Pink ribbons symbolizing cancer awareness flank the Portland State logo at Gordon Faber Recreation Complex in Hillsboro.

As a sports fan and member of the Portland State University faculty, I’ve always wanted to be supportive of our school’s student-athletes. Friday afternoon gave me a chance to do that, with the women’s softball team holding its final home stand of the season in nearby Hillboro.

I set aside a pile of papers I was grading and made the 20-minute drive to the Gordon Faber Recreational Complex, where I took a seat behind home plate and settled in for a couple hours of exciting action on a sun-drenched afternoon.

I couldn’t have picked a better time to show up.

— The Lady Vikings were taking on Weber State, the first-place team in the Sky West Conference in which PSU competes. The visitors from Utah had a 12-1 record in conference play compared to Portland State’s 7 wins, 7 losses.

Handmade signs show support for family and friends during the StrikeOut Cancer game.

— The Viks were wearing pink jerseys because they were hosting a StrikeOut Cancer game. The outfield grass featured two giant pink ribbons on either side of the school logo, and two cancer survivors — each related to a Portland State player — threw out a ceremonial first pitch. On the receiving end of the pitches were the daughter and niece of those respective cancer survivors.

A breast cancer survivor prepares to embrace her niece, a PSU player, after throwing a ceremonial first pitch.

— Coincidentally, one of the players was a former student of mine. I had Kaela Morrow in the very first class I taught at PSU, when she was just a sophomore. She earned all-conference honors last year as a junior, and on Saturday she was one of three players honored during Senior Day at the final home game of the season.

Kaela Morrow, star athlete and star student, between games of Friday’s doubleheader.

— During the just-completed winter quarter, Kaela was among a group of Communications majors I supervised in an academic internship class. She got a taste of journalism by writing a blog for the PSU Athletic Department called Kaela’s Corner, which she used to interview teammates and provide an insider’s view of the season’s ups and downs.

The game I watched Friday was well-played and closely contested. Weber State took a 3-2 lead into the final inning and scored 4 more runs, only to have Portland State rally with a two-out, 3-run home run that cut the deficit to a final score of 7-5. (I didn’t stick around for the second game of the doubleheader, but Weber State won that one, too.)

What I saw was plenty entertaining. These young women are superb athletes. I saw outfielders make diving catches, and infielders make back-handed stops and sharp throws. The pitchers for each team zipped the ball hard and fast, resulting in an audible “pop” every time it landed in the catcher’s mitt. Batters whacked the ball or laid down bunts, and displayed considerable speed running the bases.

The Lady Vikings gather with their coach after a tough 7-5 loss.

The atmosphere was as casual as could be. The players on each team served as their own cheerleaders. Sporting ribbons in their hair and paint on their faces, they cheered, chanted and clapped, and exchanged elaborate high-fives during pre-game introductions. You could sense a real camaraderie among the players.

As a spectator, you could sit on metal bleachers behind home plate or either side of it, or stand wherever you liked. (Weber State had a rooting section of its own along the first-base line.)

You could also watch from a grassy berm beyond the outfield fence, and plenty of spectators chose to do that, sunning themselves in the process. I made my way out there during the last inning and was pleasantly surprised when the Vikings’ clean-up hitter bashed a fly ball that sailed over the left field fence. The yellow ball landed a few feet away from me and I scooped it up, thinking what a cool souvenir it would make. A member of the PSU game crew came out to get it, however, and I gave it up without a second thought.

A home run by Rachel Manlove landed a few feet away from me.

In my three years of teaching at PSU, I’ve had various athletic team members in my classes, ranging from football, basketball and soccer to the most recent, tennis, cross country, and track and field. I’ve managed to see two men’s basketball games, but nothing else.

Teaching Sports and the Media this year, I’ve gained a greater respect for these young men and women who compete at the NCAA’s Division I level. Not only must they put in long hours of practice and travel time, they often have to deal with injuries, high performance expectations from coaches and fans, and mental stress — all while keeping up with their studies.

Friday was a chance to show support for the softball team while taking a much-needed break from my own workload. I’d call that a win-win, no matter what the scoreboard said.