The Joy of the Broken Urinal Blues


Half the world has no idea what it is like for a guy to piss in a rock and roll club.  Women are better for it.

Last week I went out to see my buddies in the band Volcker.  (Yea, the former Fed Chair.  They sling their rock with intellectual asides.)  The venue was the soon to be torn down Ash Street Saloon.  As what passes for civilization marches through Portland, one great club after another it being replaced by expensive housing.  Two whiskies in I needed to use the facilities.  Mid-stream I realized that when these clubs go, so do the unique men’s restrooms.  So, being a 21st century man I recorded the passing of a classic rock club men’s room.

As such restrooms go, the Ash Street wasn’t bad.  All the plumbing worked.  There was no line.  The floor was mostly dry.  The art work and graffiti were generally non-offensive.  I have seen worse.

The much lamented punk club Satyricon featured a device known to regulars as the “piss trough.”  Don’t ask.  For reasons I have never understood, some drunk men decide to work out their anger in club restrooms.  Some dude took the cover off the toilet at the old Mt. Tabor and used it to pulverize the rest of the plumbing.  This would have been a passing strangeness but for years after the broken porcelain remaining in service, more or less.  At my 90’s favorite La Luna, the doors were ripped off the stalls and not replaced.  Once in awhile the staff painted over the walls with deep red paint allowing another layer of graffiti to appear.  Note, I believe that site is now a restaurant.


The penis is a sketchy fluid delivery device. Generally dependable but lacking in accuracy.  Compound that with a wall lined with uninals, a few hundred men and a few thousand beers and…well…you get the picture.  A common feature of men’s restrooms in clubs is a layer of urine and water on the floor.  Roseland is especially known for this phenomenon.  Ever notice the wet trail from the restroom.  Now you will.  I sometimes look at women leaving their facilities with dry feet and sigh.

Once at a Marshall Tucker Band show in a park in Southern Maryland when the line finally let me in the room I discovered that creative drunk souls had adapted all the sinks as uninals.  I wish I could say that this was an outlier of male behavior, but it wasn’t the last time I saw such creativity in the the face of “having to go so bad!”  Yea, men are barbarians.

I am not really sure why the men’s restroom has long existed at the junction of artistic expression and aggression.  Possibly the reigning king in Portland is Dante’s.  Besides the art and broken fixtures there is an amazing series of improvised fixes.  A replacement wooden door to a stall seemingly gnawed by giant termites gives one pause.  As each new chuck of the door disappears, a new coat of black paint is slathered to salve the wound.

There is a massive upside to all this degradation.  Be honest, sometimes, after a few beers  there is a visceral satisfaction to a long, closed-eyed piss.  Many times in the midst of just such a moment I pause to consider what I am hearing all around me.  My “moment of zen” is realizing that I have the joy of relieving myself with some of the best artists in the world playing live behind me.  How often to you get to go to the restroom with Buddy Guy or BB King or Sleater-Kinney or the Foo Fighters as background music.  Honestly, for such a mundane bodily function does it ever get any better?

Just watch your step on the way out.

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Life Among the “NIMBY Racists”


More people are coming.  How many times have we heard that?  When I drive around Portland I sometimes get a little lost because my memory landmarks are gone, replaced by a monoculture of 5 story apartment buildings.

An ugly fight has emerged over density in the old R5 zoned neighborhoods.  My neighborhood.  There are people, like me, who some time ago made the biggest investment of their lives in a single family home.  On the other side of the argument is the curious coalition of  low income housing advocates and developers.  I was in City Hall for the planning battle between those two sides.  In many cases the division was between younger apartment dwellers and people like me.  It got nasty.  The agist rhetoric flowed freely.

So where are the adults in this policy argument?  Evidently, not in Salem. The Speaker of the House, Tina Kotek referred to home owners as NIMBY racists.  Well that’s helpful.  The use of the word “racist” a now a liberal trope.  It’s how you marginalize even the most rational opposition to public policy.  The policy discussion then becomes an attempt to refute the claim.  I saw the term used like this in City Hall over and over.

Historical racism in real estate is a fact all across America.  Portland is not unique.  When   the Portland Development Commission started to remove “blight” they started downtown knocking down entire Italian and Jewish neighborhoods, then crossed the river and went at historically black neighborhoods.  Then it was all about location and money.  Racism is woven in that story but for developers cultural context is secondary to the dough.

The clue about what is really happening here is that fact that developers are part of the housing coalition.  There is money to be made and if playing the role of housing advocate gets that done, so be it.  Tearing down a small starter homes has been very profitable for some time now.  Building duplexes would be even better.  Buy a home for $350,000, tear it down the foundation, double the square feet and you have an $800,000 home.  Better yet…turn that same footprint into a duplex and you have two $600,000 homes.  You tell me.  Are developers building “affordable housing” or are they systematically eliminating the affordable housing in R5 neighborhoods to make a buck?

Who are the NIMBY racists?  Is it the Asian woman across the street whose father built a home on that lot a decade ago?  How about the other neighbor (retired public union employee Tina) in the little 1920’s house who bought it in 1980 for $20,000?  Are the racists the two teachers with kids who live next door and bought a small house just before the latest boom?  What about my neighbor on the other side, the other retired state worker and his wife?  Many of us bought the houses we live in for prices the seem impossible for newcomers to imagine.  For the most part, post-redlining in what were once almost entirely working class neighborhoods


Right now, I can hear construction noise on my block.  A family from California is gutting a nice house to upgrade it.  They bought it for $800,000.  Another 1906 house is on a double lot.  The software guy is moving it to the second lot and building a entire new home on the now vacant lot.  A little further down, a nice starter house has been gutted and a second story is being added.  It will fetch $700,000 when they are done.  My longtime neighbors and I stand in our front yards shaking our heads.  Where is all this money coming from?

When I got my first apartment in an old house in inner SE in 1983, I roamed around amazed at how lovely and cheap the houses were in these close-in neighborhoods.  People I met from the west side turned up their noses to crossing the river and buying a home there.  I dreamed of owning one of those houses and 10 years later, having scrimped and saved, I bought a tiny starter home.  It is just the kind of home that is being eliminated.  No matter how you carve up these neighborhoods with duplexes and four-plexes these neighborhoods will never be affordable again.

I saw a METRO survey that said that when asked over 60% of Portland millennials aspired to a home with a yard when they paired up and had kids.  Of course.  We have not revoked the American dream.  But I’m sorry.  In Portland, you missed it.  Every political decision we have made in the last 30 years has led us to this outcome.  Yea!  We did it to ourselves.


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Death on the Eastbound MAX


What’s going on here?  Like so many people I had to stop to ponder the vicious attacks on humanity at the Hollywood MAX station.  As I read about the reactions to the violence, things just keep getting more complicated.  Grief, anger, nobility, politics, factions, unity, exploitation…the sparks fly into like consciousness like a spinning pinwheel on the 4th of July.

While there was terror on that train, I am not sure what happened was terrorism.  Someone seems to be trying to make a point when you put the ism on terror.  I am not convinced there was a point to this violence.  The perpetrator is clearly mentally ill.  He organized his mental illness around a vile ideology.  With 8 years in a maximum security penitentiary he had plenty of white power mentors.  He also learned that with a blade the best way to kill was to slash throats not stab.  Useful knowledge in a prison.  Devastating on the streets.

What Trump responsible?  Maybe.  In any society there are evil forces lurking just below the thin layer of order.  History is replete with the repeated stories of seemingly happy neighbors turning on each other.  Rwanda, Germany, Yugoslavia.  The beast is always lurking.  Trump came to power by lifting the lid on some of America’s most mutated genes.  Given the freedom to act out, the power of the mob takes hold.  And in every mob there are damaged people who don’t know the difference between being played for power and empowering their personal evils.

I was struck by the compassion at the first memorial.  A memorial is a sacred ritual.  From the family of one of the victims we received a benediction that flowed like their tears.  Who are these folks who are so fluent in the language of compassion?  How did they create a son whose last words were a blessing?

Unfortunately, even that moment became too Portland.  Narrow factions used the moment to attack leaders.  Justifiable anger, an emotion for after the ritual, poured forth.  Even in a brief moment where unity seemed possible, our culture of unrestrained narcissism had its moment.

For days I have tried to boil down this tragedy to an essence.  I need a touchstone beyond  myself and the inevitable momentum of entanglement in a thousand agendas.  Sitting in my backyard yesterday, I wrote at sentence in the margins of a book.  For me, it comes down to this:

People confronted evil and practiced compassion.




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That Time With Gregg Allman in Atlanta


Have you ever had a waking dream? I got to see the Allman Brothers Band a couple of times. The second time I saw them play their music.

The passing of Gregg Allman reminded me of the first time I saw the band. In 1978 I was just out of college and living with my girlfriend in Salem, Oregon. To say I was aimless would be generous. I was working graveyard shift at an Interstate 5 gas station and trying my hand at growing pot in bedroom closet. I had a vague idea that I wanted to work in politics and government. A friend of mine was doing graduate work at Willamette University and said I should try Salem.

Well, government in Salem was a tiny closed system then and pretty much now. So, we were hanging out at a park on the Willamette a lot and living the small town life. My best friend from college was living in Washington DC and landed a job on a Senate staff. He called and said I should come to DC and check it out. I had only flown once before in my life, so this was going to be a real adventure.

Here is how not to get from Salem, Oregon to Washington DC. Drive to Portland and catch a plane to Seattle. Wait for a couple of hours and fly to St. Louis. Sit on the runway in St. Louis as a connecting flight for an hour, and then fly to Atlanta. Hang in Atlanta for 3 hours to catch a flight to DC. (Anyone remember Eastern Airlines?) All totaled, a 14-hour trip to DC. Like I said, I knew nothing about flying.

It was May; I left Portland in kind of dress pants and a wool sweater. I never left the planes or airports so I had no idea I was flying to the south and no one was wearing wool there.

I was exhausted by time I got to Atlanta and found the gate. There was no one there yet so I treated myself to one of America’s great newspapers, the Atlanta Constitution. Soon enough I was sprawled in the chair, sound asleep with the newspaper over my face. I don’t know how long I had been sleeping but when I pulled the paper off my face I was sitting in the middle of a collection of sort of typical 70’s post-hippie looking dudes.

The black guy across from me had a cast on his foot and he was talking to the longhaired guy next to him about how he was going to play the bass drum with the cast. Seems he had tried parachuting from a plane during their collective vacation and it didn’t work out so well.

Listening to them talk it was as if my brain suddenly clicked back on. Drums? A band. Did that guy just call him Jai? Really. I know that name. That would be “Jaimoe” a drummer for the Allman Brothers. The guy offering that they could tape Jaimoe’s foot to the bass drum pedal was, of course, Dickey Betts. I looked around me and realized I was sitting in the middle of the album cover.  I had woken up in the middle of the Allman Brothers Band.

In the exact moment my befuddled brain had the thought “Where’s Gregg,” I looked to my left and there he was in the signature leather coat with sheep shin trim. He sat down by me. You could have hit me with a cattle prod and I would not have notced. I could not think of anything to say. Sign my newspaper? Lame. Then I realized I was invisible to then. I was in the middle of the band and they were talking like friends do. How did you spend the vacation? Jai really fucked up but we have it figured out. Where are we going now?

I realized that moment was not going to get any better by outing myself. And most bizarrely, Gregg’s big jacket made me feel better about the wool sweater. I was a stoner from Oregon but looked sooooo straight in their midst. I just soaked it in and after a while they all left. I wanted to run down the concourse and tell someone, but the waiting area was empty again. And I still had to finish the trip that would completely alter my life.

The second time I saw the Allman Brothers Band they played. They were great. Thanks Gregg. It was terrific to almost meet you.

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Give Me Appropriation with a side of Beans and Rice


The absolute truth is that none of us can get through a day without a little cultural appropriation. Humans are creatures of infinite adaptation and co-optation.  The folks who are most scary believe in racial and cultural purity.  Yea, I am taking to you Aryan Brotherhood.  Yet, given the Darwinian absolute of genetic and cultural blending, there are a committed collection of liberals who live to “call out” cultural appropriation.  Being Portland, the cultural warriors are now taking on tortillas and spring rolls.

“This week in white nonsense, two white women—Kali Wilgus and Liz “LC” Connely—decided it would be cute to open a food truck after a fateful excursion to Mexico. There’s really nothing special about opening a Mexican restaurant—it’s probably something that happens everyday. But the owners of Kooks Burritos all but admitted in an interview with Willamette Week that they colonized this style of food….”

Oh, it didn’t stop with poor Kooks which has been shut down by the backlash. There is now “don’t buy” list of restaurants in Portland who committed the sin of falling in love with a cuisine and adapting it in ways that resulted in, heaven forbid, success. Pok Pok…Por Que No… sinners all.

I totally get being proud of one’s culture. I come from deep Scots-Irish roots. My people were tossed out of both Scotland and Ireland by religious persecution. We ended up in Appalachia and the Ozarks. I did the genetics test and discovered my genes are the result of cultural inbreeding. My people didn’t get far from the hills until my Grandfather lit out for California after the second world war. Turns out my stubbornness, loyalty, insularity and “don’t fuck with me” chip on my shoulder are all defining cultural traits.

However, at this very moment, my gene pool has a wonderful new feature. My family now has an African-American niece and a mixed-race great nephew. (And yes, if someone messed with that little I guy, in good Scots-Irish tradition, I would fuck them up.) The millennial vanguard of the cultural appropriation police may be missing the point. As a generation, they are also coupling up without regard to race and cultural lines. The inevitable result will be a world where the label “white” will mostly be a confused reference to pigment having no cultural meaning.

Love your roots, don’t fetishize them. Appropriation is good. Imagine a world where field calls didn’t become the Blues that didn’t become Rock and Roll. What of the cultural streams that became Jazz in all its incarnations. White punk kids in England understood that their music would not have a soul without its Reggae backbeat. And food? Look in your kitchen, subtract all the cultural appropriation and you have one really crappy dinner.

Last Summer, at the last Pickles game I shared the closing innings with two Latinos while we downed hot dogs and microbrewery beers. We discovered that we all came here from Southern California, they escaped poverty in Mexico, my people the same story in the Ozarks.  Still, we easily recognized each other at a ballgame, laughed and told stories with the pop of the catcher’s mitt as our timekeeper.  The cultural cross currents in that little moment are dizzying.

Cultures, entire civilizations, come and go. Revel in your roots while they exist but don’t for a moment think you can stop appropriation any more than you can stop evolution. We live in a place made strong by its blending, borrowing and adapting. Thinking you can change that natural process will just leave you frustrated and ultimately irrelevant.


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Caught In Our Own Thought Bubbles

Americans are sorting. Regionally and ideologically. It’s natural to seek your tribe…your clan…your kind. But it is dangerous too. Unchallenged thinking is an insidious toxin to personal and societal growth. If I learned anything from 8 years in Portland City Hall, it’s that Portland is an ideological bubble and our political leadership is trapped in an even smaller bubble.

I have always considered myself a political liberal. I have never voted a Democratic Party line but that party aligns with many of my values. Initially, City Hall was more a political place for me than an ideological one. Sure, the lefties ruled, but there were no real litmus tests. Randy Leonard and Sam Adams were transactional politicians. Deal making, the essence of the compromises needed to govern effectively, was the rule.

With the change of faces in City Hall, the politics became more and more left leaning. It is useful to understand that Portland politics is a very small game. I saw the same faces in City Hall over and over, both lobbying us and in council meetings. I used to say that about 200 people, both professional lobbyists and citizen activists, ran Portland. There are traditional business lobbies but in Portland there are a dozen politically potent non-profits for each business interest. We even fund such interests in the form of narrowly drawn, deeply entrenched neighborhood associations.

While I can comfortably say that I saw no overt corruption in my time in government, what was true is that a limited number of people and organizations have instant access. And, with very few exceptions, the voices heard are flavors of liberal.

The longer I was in the job, the clearer it became that my more centrist view of government and politics was an outlier. I have spent a good portion of my intellectual life studying political polarization. I wrote a MA thesis in the topic. In order to do that honestly, I had to be familiar with conservative ideology and media. Political extremes repel me. I even changed my voter registration to non-affiliated. In meeting after meeting with outside parties, I never heard anyone question liberal tropes on social, financial, environmental, racial and political issues. It just wasn’t done. To out oneself as having questions came with a political cost.

I found myself needing to begin to draw personal lines in the sand against the dominant dogma. I spoke up for fiscal responsibility when the public’s money was being tossed around. I defended law enforcement officers in an environment where reflexive cop bashing has no real downside. From the first day in City Hall, I believed it was my job to make sure my elected had a spectrum of advice to consider when making decisions. Even when I am not in agreement with a position, I can speak fluent conservative. I know hearing a different perspectives made for more refined policy positions.

In a subsequent essay, I will consider the most powerful lobbyists in the City, the bureaucrats. Even in cases were I knew, folks from the bureaus had different political views, they kept their heads down. Career survival depends in fidelity to the dominant dogma or silence.

Even if you are a liberal, happily in what you define as a liberal city, you should be worried about homogeneous thinking. I lost track of the times I heard people criticize conservatives as close-minded. They simply didn’t see the irony that at both ends of the political spectrum contrary views are ignored, if not discriminated against. The hypocrisy of knowing without doubt is rarely visible to the extremes.

While they would lose every vote 4-1, I always fanaticized about how the decision making would be different on City Council would be different if there was only one moderate voice. Look at your news feed about what is happening in Washington today. How is that always preaching to one’s respective choir working out for us now? Bubbles are mostly great echo chambers.




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How Hillary Clinton Shattered America

I just read Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign.  For anyone who is, like me, a political junkie, it is mandatory reading.  Two good reporters, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, set out to tell the inside story of how Hillary Clinton became America’s first female president.  They had amazing access and interviewed over 100 people after the campaign. This was going to be their 21st century version of Theodore White’s classic about Kennedy, The Making of the President. Instead, they wrote the much-needed autopsy of one of the greatest failures in American electoral politics.

The book is a meticulous timeline of the entire campaign. For them, it started with the stunning realization that the campaign was a mess from the beginning and didn’t get better. Most importantly, from the before the primaries even began they identified the reason that it would fail. Hilary Clinton did not know why she was running for president.

Let that sink in…. The Clintons had been running since Obama defeated them in 2008. For 8 years they had conducted a relentless infanticide of the Democratic leadership bench. And from beginning to end of the campaign, Hilary could not clearly communicate why she wanted to be president. In fact, she continually raged at her staff to tell her why she was running.

I have been a relentless Clinton critic. My old blog in 2007 was full of my complaints about dynastic presidencies and the relentless, incestuous drama of Clintonland. I too saw this train coming down the track.

Allen and Parnes, write in detail how Hilary and her clan were determined not to make the mistakes of 2008. They were going to use what worked for Obama, detailed analytics of the electorate. But as one interviewee said, what they forgot was that behind the Obama machine was a great candidate who always knew why he wanted to be president. No matter how they overcompensated with technique, the Clinton campaign had one of the worst candidates ever to mouth a talking point.

Hillary and her campaign staff make the points that Bernie was a surprise, the Russians had it in for her, Trump got almost all of the free media, misogyny is real, their voter models were wrong…. I’ll stop. Valid? Sure. But here is why you have heard these points. This was the excuse messaging created in the empty Clinton campaign headquarters immediately after the campaign. What almost no one talked about was the candidate herself. Even now, Hillary briefly takes responsibility and moves quickly to the talking points. The hubris is strong with this one.

The inside the bubble tales in the book are wonderful. There was constant infighting between the millennial wonks and the old guard Clintonistas. Hillary was afraid of firing anyone on the campaign so just kept creating shadow power centers each with a different view of decision-making. We also see Bill, the aging, hobbled lion whose political radar was always just a bit off except when it came to the need to do more in the rustbelt states. (She didn’t go to Wisconsin…AT ALL!)

I am glad that Hillary isn’t president. She simply has awful judgment and no vision as a leader. As with my own vote, all that saves her in context is the frightening reality of Donald Trump. As an independent, I depend on the simple competence of the party whose values more closely align with mine. What we are seeing now is a collection of old, out of touch leaders sending out a declared independent, Bernie Sanders, to unify them.

With the Clintons finally gone, America needs a refreshed Democratic party. Color me skeptical and deeply worried about the future of our liberal democracy.

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Snakes and Rats and Tyranny

I am not one to immediately run to NAZI comparisons when thinking about President Trump. I thought it was crazy when the left started in on NAZI jabs during the George Bush administration. On Saturday I watched Trump’s speech at his rally in Pennsylvania. Yes, I do that. I watched parts of several of his rallies during the campaign. It is good to know what he is saying to his most engaged followers.

During his speech on Saturday, I noticed that several times he reached toward his inside coat pocket. He reached, looked out at the crowd, and then changed his mind. Trump is a showman. He reads crowds like most people read a menu at the drive-thru. Finally, he saw he moment was right and here is what he read:

“On her way to work one morning

Down the path alongside the lake

A tenderhearted woman saw a poor half-frozen snake

His pretty colored skin had been all frosted with the dew

“Oh well,” she cried, “I’ll take you in and I’ll take care of you”

Now she clutched him to her bosom, “You’re so beautiful,” she cried

“But if I hadn’t brought you in by now you might have died”

Now she stroked his pretty skin and then she kissed and held him tight 

But instead of saying thanks, that snake gave her a vicious bite”

As we realized what he was reading, Sally and I became more and more horrified. Here was Trump’s metaphor for immigrants. The crowd was not just eating it up, as I looked at the people sitting behind him I realized that they knew this poem. They smiling and reciting it along with him. Trump read the lines with relish, growling and sneering for emphasis. In am my viewings of Trump speeches I had never see this part of the act. Evidently, it was a regular part of his stump speech.

Poetry, in this case a lyric, is a direct route to the heart. It is how you take an idea make it stick. The happy crowd members knew the poem by heart and repeated it without thinking. There is not doubt this wasn’t originally Trump’s idea. At some point, someone smarter than him handed him this poem and he immediately saw its power. He knows how to manipulate a mob.

If you went to the movies in Germany in the 30’s and early 40’s you saw newsreels prepared by the Ministry of Propaganda. Some of Joseph Goebbels’ best work. For the first time Goebbels used the technique of morphing faces into vermin. Over and over again. The faces were Jews. The vermin rats. From there, he showed hordes of rats running though homes and streets. The propaganda was, as we know, frighteningly effective.

On Saturday last, that wasn’t a candidate morphing immigrants into snakes, that was the President of the United States. Snakes and rats. What are we becoming?

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Rush and Rachel Walk Into a Bar….

I am a centrist. That means I am always looking for the middle ground between political extremes. Probably the only place I have unyielding dogma is my view of the American League’s designated hitter rule. It’s an abomination.

I am fiscally conservative and liberal on most social positions. I read, watch and listen by dipping into both extremes in American political thought. When I tell my liberal friends that I always watch Fox News Sunday or listen to Lars Larson when I am driving around they shudder and say, “I just can’t think of doing that.” Yea, I know.

Early in my graduate work I ran across an academic piece where researchers looked at the brains of persons who were being exposed to political positions different than their personal beliefs. Hearing or reading such materials, the volunteer’s brains lit up the emotional parts of their brains. When people say it is impossible to hear different opinions, they are, in large part, physiologically right.

As my academic work depended on being able to overcome my innate liberalism, I knew I had to expose myself to ideas that made me uncomfortable. My solution? I listened to Rush Limbaugh every morning until I stopped reacting emotionally. Eventually, I would look at the morning paper and try to coolly predict Rush’s talking points for the day. I got good at it and since that time I can listen to positions vastly different from my own without wanting to throw things.

The stranger result of my pursuit of middle ground is that I have developed a different sort of intolerance for people who can only live in, and preach to, their own choir. As polarization has become more and more deep in our society I am pretty much annoyed at everyone. My 8 years in the City Hall liberal echo chamber probably made me more conservative. How’s that for reactionary?

What is true at both edges is that, though they would not admit it, the attachment to victimization is universal. On the right, it is essential to be angry at something all the time. The government is victimizing you. The bureaucrats are taking away your rights. Oh if we could just get back to the good old days. The left spends just as much time looking for outrage in traditional power structures and privilege. Semantic bear traps are baited daily so that the innocent bungler can be proven ethically or morally inadequate.

I wear my contempt for both extremes on my sleeves because I don’t think either pole in our national debate as an end game. Listening to Rush all day or participating in yet another daylong conference on agreeing with each other is not the way out of this current dilemma. I know it literally hurts but try to connect with ideas that make you crazy. If you can, you may discover that beyond the anger and talking points each side occasionally makes sense. No…really…do.

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How You Remember

All of our senses trigger memories. I was just driving home and Boston’s “More That A Feeling” came on the oldies radio. That song immediately triggered a memory of a lovely afternoon in my college dorm just after that song came out. From the second floor of the dorm you could go out of a window to the roof. It was our beach. Standing there, More Than a Feeling was playing out of several open dorm windows. I was a little high and when the song came to the part where the guitars soar, so did I.

So why do I remember that moment. I believe it’s because, well before I knew anything about Zen, I had decided to pay special attention to moments that mattered. You know the ones. Out loud, or to yourself, you say, “it doesn’t get any better than this.” We all do this but often without the commitment to truly know that is true. If you can do that, your memory becomes a personal story, triggered and told for a lifetime.

I come from storytellers. I have deep Scots-Irish roots from both gene pools. I heard stories from my great grandparents and on down the line to my generation. I love this oral tradition and take some joy in passing on stories that have been handed to me for safekeeping. No doubt, time and memory, and the simple truth that the fish always gets bigger, have altered the details of these stories. But their core of truth remains intact. The lesson or joke or joy or sadness is all still there for the taking. I think the lasting stories are the products of knowing when you in the midst of something special.

I am not sure why, but at a young age I decided it was important to recognize and savor some moments. Now, I know that this habit is actually an essential part of Buddhist thought. I recognized both impermanence (we won’t go this way again) and mindfulness (know this moment) were somehow essential. In each experience I put down a marker, emotional and intellectual. I build in a tiny pause to appreciate.

Many of my moments are like the dorm story. What could be more mundane than Sally and I lounging in chairs, sleeping dogs our feet, looking out at the ocean with a perfect temperature breeze in our face. But in that moment I paused to know this was special. Some memories are obvious like standing on as street corner looking, really looking, at the U.S. Capital for the first time. Others involve the completion of long lifetime circles. For much of my adult life I couldn’t fly. I had always wanted to go to Spring Training to see my Giants. For every real fan there is a special moment when you step out of the concourse and see the green of the field for the first time. That time I stopped in my tracks and felt that moment in every part of my body knowing it was a hard earned memory.

As I sit here, I am awash in times I knew I had only one chance, that moment, to know the completeness of an act, a place, or a person. It is far too easy to rush through life and thoughtlessly pile up memories. And no, the easy access to a phone camera is not a friend here. Images without mindfulness scroll by as thought triggers not memory makers. I am happy to know that driving down the road I can put myself in a moment that at the time I recognized as singular, ephemeral and essential. The next time you have the thought, “it doesn’t get any better than this” take that as sign that the moment deserves your full attention. If only for a few seconds, take everything in because one day that moment will become a your story. Something essential that you can share.

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