Autumn memories

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A good way to start a weekend visit? With a hot drink at happy hour. From left, Lin, George, Lori and Terry.

Seems it wasn’t that long ago that summer turned to fall. Mornings got cooler. Trees went from leafy to naked. And another academic term began at Portland State.

And now what?

Halloween, Thanksgiving and the World Series all have come and gone. Today kicks off the last week of classes at PSU. And the winter equinox is less than a month away.

Before another day slips by, it’s time to pause and reflect on a few highlights of recent weeks.

Catholic school girls: Early in the month, two of Lori’s closest friends came up from San Francisco to spend a three-day weekend with us. Terry (Long) Mullaney is Lori’s BFF.  They grew up across the street from each other in the City by the Bay, and Terry still lives in her childhood home with her husband Mike.

Lori and Terry attended Catholic schools from first grade through 12th, and it was at the all-girls Mercy High School that they met Linda Dillon and became fast friends. After graduation, the trio took different paths to college and the world of work, but have stayed in close contact through the decades.

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We tried to make the most of their time here, showing them a couple of neighborhoods to get a feel for Northeast Portland. We also rode the Portland Streetcar to and from the South Waterfront district for lunch and a trip on the tram to Oregon Health & Science University. We popped in at Powell’s Books, went to dinner at Aviary and had some great home-cooked meals as well.

It’s always fun to get the female perspective from hanging out with three longtime friends.

Rip City: November means the start of the NBA season and, in Portland, there’s no better ticket in town than the Blazers. Lori and I got to see only one game together last year, so I’m making amends this season, hoping to attend at least three more with her.

We saw the Blazers take down the Phoenix Suns on Oct. 28, the first Saturday of the season. After seeing them lose all six games I attended last year, it was good to see the team get off to a winning start this season.

Happy hour: Teaching has gone well this fall at PSU, and I’ve added a new responsibility as internship coordinator for the Department of Communication. But I’ve also enjoyed being part of the crew at my other job at the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance.

Our executive director is out on temporary medical leave, so the other four of us have been working extra hard to keep things going in his absence. We bring together local high school students, leading employers and community volunteers, helping to facilitate career days, classroom speakers, mock interviews, essay writing workshops and other activities that help teens prepare for college and career.

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The Dream Team at Portland Workforce Alliance includes, clockwise from left, Susan Nielsen, myself, Sherri Nee and Kristen Kohashi.

Last week, my co-workers and I got together after work during a happy hour that was therapeutic for all of us. Our schedules often don’t mesh, so it was nice to finally get some down time together. I’m very fortunate to work with such smart, likable people.

Giving thanks: Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday simply because it is the most meaningful in terms of appreciating your loved ones and the least driven by commercial hype.

This year, Nathan was the only one of our kids available to join us. His girlfriend, now fiancee, Sara hung out with her parents. Simone and Kyndall were on vacation in a place with a tropical climate. And, of course, Jordan, Jamie and baby Emalyn were 2,000 miles away in Missouri.

We had a relaxing evening with our oldest child, and an obscenely delicious meal built around a roasted turkey prepared by Lori.

The next day, we invited Chris, a new friend from the neighborhood, and her dog Oliver to join us for leftovers. Chris is a warm and generous soul. Ollie, her trusty Jack Russell Terrier, is Charlotte’s best friend. The two romp together and walk together, and on this night wound up relaxing next to each other on Charlotte’s bed in front of the fireplace.

Four-star movie: This post began with Catholic school girls and it’s ending with another Catholic school girl. Lori and I saw a Sunday matinee showing of “Lady Bird,” one of those independent films with an engaging coming-of-age story and a quirky but lovable lead character.

Saoirse Ronan, who turned in an Oscar-nominated performance in “Brooklyn,” stars as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a restless 17-year-old who can’t wait to be done with her senior year of high school and move to New York for college. Lady Bird (a name she gave herself) is bored with her hometown of Sacramento, California, and oh-so-done with the rules and restrictions at her all-girls Catholic school. She’s also got a rocky relationship with her hard-working disciplinarian mom, played wonderfully by Laurie Metcalf.

The problem for Lady Bird is that her grades are mediocre and she’s just gotten suspended for mouthing off at school. Plus, she’s trying to navigate friendships and loyalties, romance and sex, and figure out who she is herself as someone who’s grown up poor and aspires to something more, whatever and wherever that may be.

It’s a refreshing film that lets you see the world through the eyes of a smart and still-evolving teenage girl. As writer and director, Greta Gerwig has come up with an entertaining story, believable characters and authentic dialogue. As the film’s namesake, Saoirse Ronan is sweet and funny, vulnerable and unsettled. I won’t be surprised if she, Metcalf, Gerwig and the film itself are nominated for Oscars next year.

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Leaf pick-up day finally arrived last week, just as several piles in our neighborhood swelled to the size of a mid-sized car.

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The perfect guest

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Friends for a half-century: George and Al at the Moda Center after a Blazers win.

What do you say about a house guest who makes his bed, prepares dinner, washes the dishes. and walks your dog?

If you’re me, you say, “It’s just what I expected coming from Al.”

Al Rodriguez is my best friend, mi compadre. Has been since freshman year of high school. We met as grade school kids when our dads took us to a San Francisco Giants baseball game at Candlestick Park. (Actually, it might have been when we were in junior high — there’s some dispute about that. But there’s no disputing the friendship that’s stretched out across five decades.)

We ran track and cross country together in high school. Talked about girls and relationships over countless cups of coffee and late-night meals in suburban Fremont. Became roommates during our junior year at San Jose State after he transferred there from the private college he’d been attending in South Dakota.

Two years later, he was the best man at our wedding. All three of us were just 22.

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Sept. 6, 1975: Lori and George with matron of honor Linda Hansen, best man Al Rodriguez and groom Michael Granberry.

In the years following graduation, Lori and I headed north to Oregon, where we’ve planted our roots and raised our family. Al remained in California, working in the public and nonprofit sectors, and for nearly 20 years has made his home in Santa Barbara, where he lives with his wife, Elizabeth. They are extraordinarily close to their only child, Nicole.

We sometimes went years between visits. We’d often rendezvous in Los Angeles when I was attending a job fair on behalf of my former employer. But lately we’ve been able to see each other at least once a year, and that’s been due in no small part to his willingness to come up to Portland for the annual Voices of August meetup.

***

That was the reason for his most recent stay. He arrived on a Friday, left on a Wednesday. In between, the three of us got to catch up in depth. And I got to spend some Bro Time with him on consecutive nights before he left for the airport.

Sunday: After Saturday’s small-but-stellar meetup of VOA contributors, we chilled the following day. Took an extended walk in our neighborhood, enjoying the fall colors and giving our excitable dog, Charlotte, some time to walk off a little energy. Came home and turned the kitchen over to Al, who prepared two trays of chicken enchiladas.

Monday: While Lori and I worked in the morning, Al hopped on a TriMet bus to a public swimming pool in North Portland. Took him to lunch downtown so he (er, we) could indulge in the food carts. Picked one that was selling Middle Eastern food — Kafta House! scrumptious! — and chatted with the Syrian owners for a bit.

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In the evening, Al and I enjoyed a Pop-Up Magazine presentation at Revolution Hall. I’d attended one the year before so I knew what to expect: an evening of live entertainment featuring writers, animation, video, music, dancing and a karaoke piece that had the whole auditorium singing along to the Journey classic “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Tuesday:  Again, we had to work in the morning. This time Al borrowed my bike and rode south along the Eastside Esplanade and the Willamette Greenway down to the Sellwood Bridge. All three of us took an afternoon walk in the Alberta Arts District, from the Tiny Houses Hotel to Bernie’s Southern Kitchen and back. Stopped for a happy hour beverage and toasted our friendship.

After a multiethnic dinner of Al’s leftover enchiladas and Lori’s luscious lasagna, Al and I went to the Trail Blazers’ home opener against New Orleans. Traffic was really heavy, which caused us to miss the ear-splitting introductions and other hoopla. But we found our seats a couple minutes in and enjoyed the outcome: a Portland win.

Wednesday: We said our goodbyes in the morning and left Al to enjoy breakfast on his own, followed by an Uber ride to the airport.

Friendships can be hard to maintain in this era of texting and increasingly rare phone calls. In this case, I’m grateful for the enduring bond that took root in the mid-’60s, long before Al and I met our wives.

Simply put, Al (or Al Rod, as he was known in high school) is a rock. Someone I can talk to candidly — and listen to attentively — because we know each other so well. He calls me out when I deserve it. He needles me because he can. And he makes me feel valued because he listens carefully and responds thoughtfully and constructively.

Proud to have known this man for as long as I have and to call him my best friend. Mi compadre.

Heck, even Charlotte likes him.

VOA 7.0 meetup

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VOA peeps gathered Oct. 20 at McMenamin’s Broadway Pub. Front row, from left: Gosia Wozniacka, Elizabeth Gomez, Jennifer Brennock, Lynn St. Georges, Lori Rede, Lakshmi Jagannathan. Back row, from left: George Rede, John Killen, Bob Ehlers, Al Rodriguez, Keith Cantrell. Not pictured: Eric Wilcox.

There were fewer of us at this year’s Voices of August meetup  but that hardly took away from the good energy in the room.

A week ago today, 13 of us came together at a Northeast Portland brewpub to celebrate another year of great writing and great camaraderie centered around my annual guest blog project: 31 writers on 31 topics presented in 31 days.

In its seventh year, VOA has eclipsed anything I might have imagined when I first extended invitations to friends, family and work colleagues to choose a subject and write an original essay. Each piece reflects something of the writer’s interests and values. Each piece has something to inform, entertain, inspire or remind us of people, pets, ideas and events that are important.

Sometimes those essays are about taking new adventures or dealing with personal loss. Sometimes they are about facing our fears or celebrating an accomplishment. Sometimes they are about where we are in the stages of life and dealing with those challenges.

No matter what, they resonate widely. (More on that below.)

As good as those essays are, it’s the conversation sparked by these blog posts that is truly remarkable. Unlike the shouting and name-calling we see in too many reader comment sections, what you see within the VOA community is mutual respect and cause for reflection. From those online connections has emerged an annual opportunity to meet face-to-face with each other, renewing old friendships or making new ones.

Those good vibes were on full display last Saturday, with participants coming from as far as Northern and Southern California (thank you, Lakshmi Jagannathan, Raghu Raghavan and Al Rodriguez). Closer to home, we welcomed a VOA rookie to the party: Cynthia Gomez, a Portland State colleague of mine who’s just begun a masters program in Creative Writing.

I would have loved a larger turnout, of course. But several factors — out-of-town travel, family birthdays, health issues and more — conspired to chip away at attendance. Still, I marvel that we had contributions this year from a record nine states: Oregon, Washington, California, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Texas and New York. What’s more, those writers ranged in age from 60-plus to 18 to 13. Amazing variety.

***

Each year, I invite followers of VOA — regular readers plus writers, past and present — to vote for their three favorite pieces. It’s torture, I know, to select just three from the wonderful array of submissions. But here’s the deal: There are no criteria other than to choose what resonated with you, whether it was the quality of the writing or the subject of the piece. Either way, it’s good.

The top vote-getters win a gift card to a bookstore. This year, weirdly enough, not a single one of this year’s favorites was at the meetup. So, here’s a hearty online round of applause for those whose essays struck us as extra special:

John Knapp: “The Odometer” — On the eve of turning 63, John reflects on the matter-of-fact approach he’s taking toward life after learning his heart disease has advanced despite his best efforts:

“I was never going to get out of here alive, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life pining for that hot dog I wanted, but never ate because I was afraid it might raise my cholesterol. Life is short.”

Midori Mori: “What it means to have Pride” — A precocious 13-year-old living in Portland’s liberal bubble sets out on a path of self-acceptance as transgender but finds it doesn’t come easily.

“It seems mostly everyone around me can accept who I am and the only person who can’t is me. I don’t care if I have to shout out to the world that I am transgender, but for now saying that about myself still makes me uncomfortable. Some part of me is more in shock of my own label than denial.”

Aki Mori: “My beautiful child, Midori” — A father writes candidly about his struggle to embrace his daughter’s new gender identity.

“I am coming along, and Midori gives me plenty of space with her happy-go-lucky personality. With the passing of time I am beginning to treat Midori more and more like my son, even subconsciously in many cases.”

Mary Pimentel: “Monster”— What’s it like to grow up without a mom who fell into drug abuse as a teenager? An 18-year-old college freshman draws us into her world, revealing the pain and emptiness she felt as a child but also her own capacity to understand and forgive.

“I live my life with pride and appreciation knowing I share so many qualities with such a beautiful human being yet with sorrow knowing that something evil took away the chance of having a mom to braid my hair and wipe the tears from my first heartbreak. I love her immensely still, and no matter the negative, I am living.”

And, as an exclamation point on VOA 7.0, I’m giving an Editor’s Award to Nike Bentley, who’s been part of this project since Year One. She’s a former student of mine, now married and mother of two feisty girls, and she sets a high bar when it comes to reader engagement. Every comment she leaves at the end of a post is thoughtful and often just as eloquent as the essay itself.

Catch up with anything you missed: VOA 7.0 index page

Memories of Minidoka, Heart Mountain

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Worst selfie ever? Possibly. Gathered together on Sept. 24 at Twentysix Cafe, from left: Midori, Ayumi, Aki and Katie Mori, John and Nancy Stephenson; and Alice Suter.

Earlier this year, Oregon joined the nation in marking the 75th anniversary of the executive order, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, that led to the forced incarceration of 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.

Here in Portland, Japanese Americans and their allies gathered on the waterfront on Feb. 19 for a Day of Remembrance to honor those who were imprisoned, including 4,000 from Oregon, and to condemn the wartime hysteria that led to the disruption of so many lives of innocent people at internment camps across the United States.

Recently, I was privileged to be part of a multi-generational conversation with friends that brought together a camp internee, the daughter of a camp architect, and a family of four that visited camps in two western states.

Nancy (Komatsubara) Stephenson was 3 years old when she and several family members were sent from their home in Alaska to Camp Minidoka in south-central Idaho. A retired schoolteacher now living in Northeast Portland, she is married to John Stephenson, who was 4 years old when his dad, a Navy sailor, was killed during the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Alice (Hardesty) Suter was 5 years old when her parents took her and her brother on a summer  vacation to Cody, Wyoming. Decades later, she would learn that her dad was one of the architects who designed and supervised construction of barracks at the Heart Mountain internment camp just outside Cody in northwestern Wyoming. Alice, a retired audiologist and freelance writer, is my neighbor, just two doors away on our quiet NE Portland street..

Aki Mori and his young family were headed to Yellowstone last year when he noticed a highway exit sign for Minidoka. He and his wife Katie and their two daughters wound up visiting both Minidoka and Heart Mountain, on opposite sides of the famed national park. Aki is a high school vice principal and lives in Beaverton.

Alone among the group, I have no connection to the camps. But through a series of coincidences this year and last, I learned a lot about the camps through each and every one of the aforementioned friends and neighbors.

It dawned on me that everyone might enjoy meeting each other and sharing their experiences. And so it was that we gathered a week ago at a favorite coffee shop in my neighborhood.

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John, Nancy and Alice all came with stories to tell.

***

In July 2016, Aki and Midori, then 12, both wrote movingly about their experiences visiting the two camps in Idaho and Wyoming. I published their essays on my blog during the annual Voices of August guest blog project.

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In November 2016, my wife Lori and I were among a group of six, including Nancy and John, who went to see a play about the life of Gordon Hirabayashi, a Seattle college student who challenged the wartime curfew targeting Japanese Americans. Afterward, Nancy lent me “Surviving Minidoka,” a beautifully written and illustrated book examining the legacy of Japanese American incarceration, and I wrote a glowing review just before the year ended.

 

Then, early this year, I learned that Alice was working on a magazine article about Heart Mountain that told of the warm welcome she received at a 2016 pilgrimage to the camp’s WW II Interpretive Center, an annual event that encourages visitors to learn more about the so-called “relocation center.”

In the process, I discovered that Alice had also written an article on the Hirabayashi play for Oregon ArtsWatch, about a month before Nancy, John and I had seen it. In researching the piece, Alice had interviewed the playwright, Jeanne Sakata, whose father and grandfather and other relatives were sent to an Arizona camp.

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Ryun Yu was marvelous as Gordon Hirabayashi in the Portland Center Stage production of “Hold These Truths.”

As for myself, I knew broad outlines but few details of this dark chapter in our nation’s history. I knew, for instance, that Portland had served as a processing center for West Coast internees. But I was ashamed to learn that the campus of San Jose State University, my alma mater, also served the same purpose.

I also learned that some internees were sent to Lordsburg, New Mexico, a godforsaken place on the Arizona-N.M. border that I had passed through many times while driving east from Tucson to visit my father and stepmother. Turns out that Nancy’s father was initially sent to Lordsburg as a suspected spy and only later transferred to Minidoka to join his wife and three daughters.

***

Sunday’s conversation, in a sunlit room in a covered patio, could not have gone better.

Everything unfolded organically. People introduced themselves to each other and, with no prompting from me, soon began talking earnestly about their varied experiences. As each person shared a memory or an observation, everyone else listened. No interruptions. No testy exchanges. Just a respectful carving out of space for each person to have their say.

Alice grew up in the Chicago suburbs. She said she didn’t know about her father’s role in designing internee housing until she was in her mid-30s. They never discussed the subject.

Because of her father’s work, Alice said she was nervous about how she would be received by camp survivors and their families at the Heart Mountain pilgrimage. She was pleasantly surprised by how warm and welcoming people were, adding that she is still in contact with friends she made there.

Nancy grew up in Petersburg, a small fishing village near Juneau. When her father was arrested, authorities rounded up Nancy’s mom and her siblings and put them in the local jail because they had nowhere else for them. Imagine spending the night in jail when you’re 3 years old.

Nancy brought along a camp yearbook for us to see, but said she doesn’t have vivid memories of Minidoka. Flipping through the pages of photos and activities, my heart broke a little at the thought of immigrant and U.S.-born adults alike trying to convey a sense of normalcy during their captivity.

Midori asked Nancy if she was angry all these years later.

No, she replied.

“What I am really sad about is that I never talked to my parents at length about what happened,” Nancy said. ” I remember things like playing but not about guards with rifles at the gates or things like that. We were just little kids. We were too young to remember. I don’t feel real anger, just sorrow.”

Aki is from the Midwest. I met him several years ago when he submitted an op-ed piece to The Oregonian’s Sunday Opinion section. I noticed in his bio that he had taught in the same school district in Union City, the working-class suburb where I grew up across the bay from San Francisco.

His wife Katie has a Union City connection, too. When she and her mother and sister immigrated from Taiwan, Katie was a 9th grade ESL student at James Logan High School, the same school that I would have attended had we had not moved to adjoining Fremont. Katie adapted quickly, went on to get a degree in biochemistry and worked for a tech company before becoming a stay-at-home mom.

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The Mori family: From left, Midori, Aki, Ayumi and Katie.

 

Their children exhibited poise, manners and distinctly different personalities during our meet-up.

Midori, 13, is in the 8th grade. The more outgoing of the pair, Midori loves judo, plays the piano, and recently wrote about transitioning from female to male. (“What it means to have Pride.”)

Ayumi, 10, is in the 5th grade. She plays the violin, loves figure skating and, like her sibling, is a precocious writer.

Both said they appreciated the opportunity to learn about life in the internment camps with their parents. Midori, in particular, is interested broadly in World War II.

“I learned about (the camps) through my dad,” Midori said. “The least I can do is respect those who came before us.”

***.

We broke off after 90 minutes, feeling as though we’d just scratched the surface and vowing to meet again. What a wonderful way it was to spend part of an afternoon with such gracious people all around the table, ages 10 to 80-ish.

 

Nancy wrote to thank me for bringing everyone together.

“I know John agrees with me in saying that it was a very enjoyable and heartwarming experience to talk with everyone. It was a privilege to meet such kind, thoughtful and intelligent young people as Midori and Ayumi. They have such a bright future ahead of them.”

Indeed.

 

New space, new author

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Kate Carroll de Gutes welcomes the crowd to her Sept. 14 book launch at the Fremont Theater.

Last Thursday was one of those nights that captures the essence of what it’s like to live in this city: a melding of books, bites, music and friends, all done without leaving our zip code.

Our friend Molly Holsapple invited Lori and me to join her and others at a book launch featuring local author Kate Carroll de Gutes at the Fremont Theater. And, oh, could we meet beforehand for drinks and a light dinner at the Italian restaurant across the street?

Well, sure.

I hadn’t heard of de Gutes and I didn’t even realize the Fremont Theater existed. Unbeknownst to me, it opened as part of a new building that went up about two years ago at the corner of Northeast Fremont Street and 24th Avenue, about a mile from our home,

Going to this free event would be a good way to get acquainted with both author and venue. Turns out both were eye-openers.

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Kate Carroll de Gutes reads from “The Authenticity Experiment.”

Kate Carroll de Gutes is a Portland writer who was promoting a new book, “The Authenticity Experiment,” a collection of essays that began as a 30-day blogging challenge to be more honest about her life. Her first collection of essays, “Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear,” had won an Oregon Book Award in creative nonfiction and a Literary Lambda Award for memoir/biography.

On Thursday, de Gutes was finishing a three-city tour of Bend, Seattle and Portland with a book reading that felt like we were in someone’s living room.

The Fremont Theater seats about 120 people in an intimate space with a small stage at one end and a bar at the other. The building has a 22-foot-tall ceiling and two levels. Little did I know this place has been hosting live music, theater and other events for some time.

In fact, the evening began with a short set performed by local folk musicians Steve Einhorn and Kate Power, a married couple who are also former owners of Artichoke Music in Southeast Portland. The duo set a warm, welcoming tone with four songs featuring vocals, acoustic guitars and Steve’s ukelele.

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Kate Power and Steve Einhorn performed four songs as a warm-up for the book reading.

de Gutes was charming and relaxed, with a large number of friends in the audience. Hip from head to toe, came out in a bow tie and polka dot shirt, Levi’s and a pair of black Converse. Her essays were beautifully written — concise, compelling, humorous, sad and, above all, authentic — in tackling topics of death, friendship, family and grief. Within a single year, she said, her mother, best friend and editor-mentor all died. Blogging was a way to cope.

“I kept writing because it kept me sane,” she said.

We bought the new book and Kate signed it. Lori’s already read it and pronounced it a winner. I’m still pounding through a 500-pages-plus novel but plan to dive into Kate’s book next.

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Kate Carroll de Gutes signs her new book for a new fan, Lori.

Thanks all around …

— To Molly for introducing us to a new author here in our city.

— To Broadway Books, our neighborhood independent bookstore, for supporting writers like this one and promoting literacy in our city.

— To Kate Carroll de Gutes, for doing what nonfiction writers do best — reveal something of themselves in order to address common themes that bring us together as human beings.

 

Together again. For real.

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Bowling buddies, from left; George, Erin, Brian, Morgan, Beth and Ellie.

We live in an age when friendships and even family relationships are navigated with texts and Facebook posts rather than face-to-face interaction. So it was nice to set the technology aside for a day and spend some face time with a handful of friends I used to see regularly.

I’m talking about the Broken Taco Shells, a collection of four men and three women who used to rotate in and out filling four spots on a coed bowling team. We used to play on Monday nights at Hollywood Bowl, a venue that has since been remade into a hardware store.

Our four-year run as a team ended after a last-place finish in 2014 — not because we felt badly about where we placed, but because we felt we wanted to move on to other things.

We came together two summers ago for a day of bowling and a potluck meal. On Sunday, we reunited again at AMF Pro 300, a Southeast Portland venue that’s destined to become a Target store.

If Lori is the hub, we are the spokes on the wheel.

It’s fun to hang out with people who share a common interest (bowling) and a common connection (my wife). If Lori is the hub, we are the spokes on the wheel. Aside from myself, all but one member of the old team knows her directly or indirectly through her personal training business. The other came to know her as a fellow dog owner at a neighborhood city park.

Ironically, Lori was in Missouri visiting our youngest son and his family on the day we got together to bowl. We also were missing one team member, John, who was out of town for work.

Everyone else was present and accounted for: Erin, Beth, Ellie, Brian, Morgan and myself.

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The Broken Taco Shells, from left: Beth, Ellie, Brian, George, Morgan and Erin.

As you’d expect, everyone was dealing with rusty bowling skills. I hadn’t picked up a ball for six months and the same could be said for nearly everyone else. Morgan, fresh from a European vacation, dazzled everyone — and probably surprised himself — when he rolled a turkey in the 10th frame of the first game.

After two games, we were done. We crossed a busy boulevard and found a private booth at Hopworks Urban Brewery, where we could continue our conversation over beers and bites.

It was a fun way to spend three hours on a lazy weekend. Face time beats Facebook every time.

Guy time with ZZ

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Bob and George enjoy a pre-concert beer on the roof of the former Washington High School in Southeast Portland.

This week brought the opportunity to hang out with with a longtime friend over a couple of beers and then enjoy a ZZ Ward concert at Portland’s Revolution Hall. My buddy Bob Ehlers and I were among a sold-out crowd of 850 who enjoyed a 90-minute set by Ward, described on her website as a “Fedora-rocking, guitar-shredding, harmonica-wielding blues siren.”

Yeah, a little overstated, but there’s definitely some talent there. ZZ plays guitar and keyboards and a damn-good harmonica. She also sings (duh) and writes her own lyrics.

If you don’t know her, ZZ is Zsuzsanna Ward, a Pennsylvania native who grew up in Roseburg, an Oregon timber town, and is now based in Los Angeles. Thursday’s show was part of a national tour to support her just-released second full-length CD called “The Storm.” Already, the CD has risen to No. 1 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart.

ZZ played more than 20 songs, delivering a high-energy performance that had dozens of young people in front of the stage dancing and jumping up like human pogo sticks. She attracted an all-ages crowd, so Bob and I fit in just fine.

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Roseburg’s own ZZ Ward rockin’ the house at Revolution Hall.

ZZ is billed primarily as a blues artist, but her music incorporates hip-hop and, in my mind, makes it really hard to slot her into a single genre.

I’d heard a few songs of hers on Pandora and was intrigued enough to check her out in a live show. ZZ is nowhere near the level of Susan Tedeschi, an accomplished blues guitarist and vocalist, but she’s got potential and I definitely felt I got my money’s worth.

Check her out and see if you agree:

Before the show, Bob and I spent a couple hours at a rooftop bar, enjoying the great view on a perfect summer evening. The concert venue is actually a refurbished high school auditorium housed in the former Washington High School in Southeast Portland’s Buckman neighborhood.

There’s a ground-level brewpub, plus another bar on the second floor, the auditorium on the second and third floors, commercial offices and community meeting rooms scattered throughout the four-story building, and lots of room on the roof to have a drink.

Just as the McMenamin Brothers have turned other schools and absolute buildings into thriving restaurants and brewpubs, so too did a private developer convert this tired old building into something imaginative and vibrant.

The grounds also feature an old athletic field that now serves as a dog park. In fact, this is where my little dog and I were attacked by a couple of unleashed big dogs during a visit here late last year.

On Thursday, a couple of dogs were there with their owners. Seeing them romping around on the grass made me feel a little sad, wishing I could bring Charlotte back for a visit.

On the other hand, I left feeling good about introducing my friend to a new venue and a new artist. Good food, good beer, good conversation, good music. Hard to beat.

Photograph of ZZ Ward by Bob Ehlers.

Wiener wars

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 Cincinnati chili with all the fixings: red beans, cheddar cheese, diced sweet onions and oyster crackers.

It was a weekend for wieners — and I’m not talking about politicians.

Nope, we’re talking tube steaks, cased meats, working-class sausages.

Saturday brought the 8th annual International Hot Dog Competition, a fun-filled celebration of the humble dog that took place at the home of our daughter Simone and her wife Kyndall.

About 17 competitors, including Lori and me, showed up with our own specially crafted toppings to lay on top of seven or eight hot dogs that in turn were cut up into tasting-size morsels so everyone present could have a chance to sample and rate them.

The friendly competition began in Pittsburgh, when Simone and Kyndall were living there for a couple years, and then switched to Portland when the ladies moved back.

It’s a kick. It takes place every year around the Fourth of July in their backyard and features some of the most audaciously creative toppings ever to grace a bun. The hosts provide the wieners and buns (although you’re free to create your own homemade buns) and the entrants provide the rest.

We’re not talking ketchup-mustard-relish, mind you. Not by a long shot.

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The hostesses with the most-eses. Kyndall (left) and Simone, the human hot dogs, welcome their guests and announce the rules of competition.

We’re talking jawdropping creations like the Poutine Dog, made with cheese curds, beer-soaked French fries and brown gravy; the Fidel, a Cubano-style entry made with slow-roasted pork, ham and cheese; and the Cheeseus Take The Wheel, made with eight cheeses, mac-n-cheese and Flaming Hot Cheetos crumbs. Every one of them served on top of a wiener nestled in a bun.

Some entries are deep-fried, some smothered in sauces and gravies, and others prepared with savory vegetables and meats.

With roughly 70 to 80 people in attendance, there were plenty of tasters. Each person voted for his or her three favorites and the top three votegetters were honored with prizes. The highly coveted first-place prize is a bust of Abraham Lincoln containing years-old cologne. It rotates from winner to winner and who knows what kinds of chemical reactions have occurred inside that fragrant flask over the years.

I couldn’t tell you the names or ingredients of the first- and third-place winners, but I do know the second-place entry was fashioned after the Monte Cristo sandwich. This one was called the Monte. Like its namesake, it was prepared with ham, turkey and swiss slices, dipped in an egg/milk mixture and grilled to a golden brown, then topped with powdered sugar and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Lori wowed the crowd with her Brown Betty, a scrumptious combination of carmelized onions, brown sugar and bacon.

I did a Cincinnati chili dog, consisting of a meatless chili, red beans, diced sweet onions, shredded cheddar cheese, and oyster crackers — just as they do it in Ohio.

Though the wienerfest is the big draw, there’s no question that the hours of socializing are what drives the annual event. There’s a totally chill vibe that makes for easy conversation with friends, new and old, and support from the crowd for every contestant. It’s a family-friendly event, with lots of couples, several young children and a few dogs — the furry kind.

Lori and I are the oldest ones there and we’re honored to be invited each year to hang with Simone and Kyndall’s many friends. It’s also nice that our oldest son, Nathan, and his fiance, Sara, are among the regulars.

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On Sunday, wieners also were at the center of a gathering at our place. We get together every few weeks with some great friends — Irma and Joe, Renee and Ed — for a dinner party. Each couple takes a turn hosting the dinner, and Sunday it was our turn.

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Up on the roof. Back row (L to R): Ed, Renee and Joe; Front row: Lori, Irma and Janet. Too close to camera: George

We had extra hot dogs from Saturday’s bash and I cooked up another pot of Cincinnati chili. If you’ve never had it, just know it’s got cinnamon and chocolate, as well as cumin, cloves, allspice, chili pepper and cayenne pepper, so it’s sweet and savory at the same time.

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From Irma’s kitchen: marionberry and raspberry tarts.

Irma brought her friend Janet. who was visiting from Seattle, and we all enjoyed a tasty meal on our rooftop deck, finished off with raspberry and marionberry tarts a la mode.

It was a weekend with wieners and it was wonderful.

2017 Oregon Book Awards

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George and Jennifer outside the Gerding Theater.

It wasn’t the Oscars and it wasn’t the Grammys. But it was my first time attending an awards event and it was pretty cool.

On Monday night, I joined my friend Jennifer Brennock at the 2017 Oregon Book Awards, held at the Gerding Theater in Northwest Portland.

No red carpet in sight. But in the lobby there was a pop-up book sale going on staffed by the folks from Broadway Books, my neighborhood book store. Also, there were plenty of animated conversations going on among book nerds of all ages, young adults to retirees.

For those of us who love words, it was a night to celebrate seasoned pros, first-time authors and everyone in between who strives to inform and inspire us readers with works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. If you’ve ever written seriously — whether for work or as a hobby — you know the feeling of facing a blank screen and wondering when or how the first words will materialize.

If you’re patient, they will come. Eventually.

Knowing a little something about what that’s like, I felt nothing but admiration for these accomplished writers who faced the blank screen and won the stare-down. These are the diligent, creative folks whose characters, plots, scenes and dialogues — imagined or real — come to life on the page, often after years of research. Such work is impressive and every one of the Oregon Book Award finalists deserved the whistles, whoops and hollers they received.

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Before the event, I met Jennifer at a coffee-and-wine bar a short walk from the Gerding. We met several years ago when I attended a writing workshop she was leading on Orcas Island. I was impressed by the way she led the class and since then I have been dazzled by her writing.

Read Jennifer’s contribution (“Baby Shower”) to my Voices of August guest blog project.

She’s taught English at the community college level and I’m now teaching communications classes at two universities, so we have that connection, too. Jennifer’s students are blessed to have someone whose writing prompts challenge them to think and feel deeply and whose own intelligence and passion explode off the page.

The awards program, sponsored by Literary Arts, itself was entertaining — probably more so than you’d think given the absence of live music, video clips or other such stuff that you see at the Academy Awards.

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The Portland nonprofit Literary Arts sponsors the Oregon Book Awards.

A California author, Lysley Tenorio, was a charming master of ceremonies, filling the same role as Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen DeGeneres and others have done at the Oscars.

Anis Mojgani, a spoken word artist based in Portland, performed a poem. Téa Johnson, a Grant High School senior, reprised her winning entry in the citywide high school poetry slam competition known as Verselandia.

Read a profile of Téa Johnson in Grant Magazine.

Finalists were announced in eight categories, and the judge for each one read an excerpt from the winner’s book before calling that person to the stage.

Turns out that I had met — ever so briefly — the winner in the first category. Kate Berube took home the award for Children’s Literature for her book “Hannah and Sugar.” Last summer, I took part in a fundraising trivia contest sponsored by a nonprofit that provides books to low-income children. Kate, an author and illustrator, was at that same fundraiser and donated a portion of profits from her sales that night to the same cause.

Even better, Jennifer knew the woman who won the Creative Nonfiction award. That would be Walidah Imarisha, who is currently a lecturer at Stanford but also has taught at Portland State and Oregon State universities. Walidah was honored for “Angels Without Dirty Wings,” a book about life behind prison walls that weaves together the stories of three people — her incarcerated brother and his fellow inmate and herself..

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Reunited: Jennifer Brennock and Walidah Imarisha

Jennifer and Walidah have known each other since graduate school. In the lobby afterwards, the two embraced and Walidah autographed the book I bought on the spot. Gotta make room for it on my always crowded bookshelf.

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Two quick anecdotes that illustrate what a small world we live in:

Walidah’s companion that evening was a young man who had participated years ago in a summer journalism program for minority high school students that brought him to The Oregonian, my former employer  John Joo, then a student at Beaverton High School, remembered me from the program — probably one of those times when I popped into a room of teenagers wolfing down pizza and soda during a visit to the newsroom and said a few words. What a great memory.

Before leaving, I introduced myself to Cindy Williams Gutiérrez, the only Latina/o among the Oregon Book Award winners. Cindy is a poet who’s worked with Milagro Theater, the bilingual theater group where my wife and I saw a recent production. Her new book, “Words That Burn,” dramatizes the World War II experiences of three men, including Lawson Inada, a Japanese American internee who later taught at Southern Oregon College, where Jennifer met him as an undergraduate student.

Cindy chatted warmly, jotted her email address on a card, and invited me to get in touch. I think I’ll do just that.

All in all, a fun evening spent in the company of someone who loves words as much as I do. Who needs the red carpet anyway?

Season-ending selfie

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Blazermaniacs: Deborah and George during the first half. Smiles went away during second half.

You can stick a fork in the Trail Blazers now. After last night’s gut-wrenching loss to the titanic Golden State Warriors, my favorite basketball team is one loss away from having its season come to an official end.

That should happen Monday night when the Warriors seek to put the finishing touch on a 4-to-0 playoff sweep of the home team.

On Saturday, I went with my friend, Deborah Heath, to see Game 3 of this Round 1 matchup between the Blazers and the Warriors, the defending Western Conference champions.

The Blazers played beautifully in the first half, inspired by the presence of their injured big man, Josuf Nurkic, and brilliant play by their star guards, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Deborah and I wore giddy smiles as the Blazers took a 67-54 halftime lead.

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A fellow fan shows her support of the Blazers’ new center, a 7-footer from Bosnia who’s only 22 years old.

Unfortunately, Golden State is loaded with talent and the visitors came back to steal a clutch 119-113 win that tore the hearts out of the Blazers and their fans. So much for those halftime smiles.

The loss meant that I went winless as a spectactor. Yep, all six games that I attended this season ended in a loss.

LA Clippers. Dallas. Golden State. Boston. Washington. Golden State, again.

What a contrast to last year when every game I saw produced a win and a shower of confetti. I didn’t expect a repeat of last season but even one win — especially last night, when the stakes were higher — would have been nice.

Predictions: No. 1, Golden State is going to win it all this year. And why shouldn’t they with four All-Stars on their team? No. 2, if Nurkic is healthy next season, watch out for the Blazers.