That time I got crosswise with the crossing guard

January 7, 2017 at 8:51 am | Posted in alaska, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I was awkward, socially inept and introverted to a fault when I was a kid.  I came by it honestly, somehow.  These was nothing wrong with my upbringing or my parents.  My siblings [I was the oldest] were not this way.  It was a great source of frustration to my mom, who sought out help to try to figure out what was wrong with me, and desperately longed to put me on the path to normalization.  This was in the ’60s, a bit before introversion began to be recognized as more of a normal variation, vs. an illness or defect.  She was always waiting for me to have a breakout moment and emerge from my shell.

One September day in 1971, I did stick up for myself and do something unexpected.

Three years before then, the same summer we moved to a new house [the only one I got to live in that our architect father designed], we began attending our neighborhood public school.  The one where we previously were enrolled was a private school, The Little School — it was located on the lower level of the University Unitarian Church [they just leased the space, it wasn’t affiliated and wasn’t a religious school].  The elementary kids were in the church and the middle school aged kids were in a different leased church building across a side street.

In 1968 The Little School finally got a campus of its own, a collection of small buildings on a beautiful site in Bellevue, on the east side of Lake Washington opposite Seattle.  I recall touring the new school and wishing so much I could go there.  There were little round classroom buildings and larger commons buildings arranged on a beautiful sloped site, densely wooded with huge old growth Douglas firs and little random stepping stone pathways between the various pods.  Our parents decided against committing to taking us that far away and picking us up every day, and enrolled us in public school.  I was heartbroken!

I managed to hold my own in public school, but recall it feeling like a prison camp compared to the nurturing environment I was used to.  When I saw the other kids smoking on the lower playfield behind the wood baseball backstop, or threatening other kids, or breaking windows — or thousands of other ways of acting badly — at first I didn’t even get it.  There was a sense it was good for me.   A few years later, faced with a choice of attending an alternative high school in Anchorage instead of a mainstream one, I stuck with the mainstream choice.

In the summer of 1971 when I was between 5th and 6th grade we spent the whole summer in Alaska.  My dad had been there off and on for a couple of years and was doing a lot better finding architectural work in Anchorage — bustling and expanding in the early days of Big Oil on the North Slope — than in Seattle, where a recession was deepening.  I’d been in Seattle my entire life and while I loved it [later I would realize how great it was for development of progressive ideals and an imaginative outlook on life], Alaska was an eye opener for me and a grand adventure.  My dad had a project that involved an inventory and condition survey of facilities in state parks, that required him to travel the road system of the state.  He took my mom, my siblings and I with him and we set out from our little Spenard apartment in our Mercury station wagon with a 20 ft. travel trailer — that we had wrangled up the 2,700 miles from Seattle right after school let out.

I hated Alaska for the first week or so [what kind of backwater had I been kidnapped to?] but the feeling soon gave way to admiration and awe.  The whole summer was a crazy camping trip, being dirty and sweaty, wearing the same clothes too many days in a row, not bathing much… and letting many other learned and practiced manners and behavior backslide a bit.

We would return to Seattle in the fall for my 6th grade year, then spend the following summer getting ready before moving to Anchorage for good in the fall — and all the plot twists to follow, for better or worse.

In America in general in the late ’60s, the formality and clean cut, Mad Men appearance and outlook of the early and mid-’60s was giving way to the hippie era.  It took a couple years longer to trickle down to elementary school, and not everybody was on the same schedule with it.  For me the transition got started that very summer.  I’d been back in Seattle for 10 days or so, and in school for the first week when I walked up the hill at the end of the school day.

The school’s single access point was a steep driveway that plunged into the lower plateau of the school site from an elevated, gently sloping road that was a neighborhood collector road despite being narrow and uneven.  [I looked at it on Google Maps and it looks the same today as it did that day more than 45 years ago.]  I always walked up the hill, on a sidewalk on the right hand side of the driveway, turned right at the top and walked along the collector road eight more blocks or so to my house.

There was a crossing guard stationed at the top of the hill where the school driveway T-boned into the collector street.  And a crosswalk — really just some wide painted stripes across the road.  The crossing guards wore uniforms of a sort, as I recall it was a hat, a vest with some kind of a diagonal strap across the chest?  Can’t exactly picture it but it was sort of ramshackle and sort of police-like at once.  And a wooden staff with a red flag on it.  It was their job to walk into the crosswalk and hold out the flag to halt traffic while the school kids crossed the road.  The kids might have to queue up and wait a couple minutes until a break in traffic, though usually the street was not busy.

I was a gangly, skinny kid who’d had a recent growth spurt.  I had acclimated to Alaska, cooler in the summer and I was under-dressed compared to the other kids — that day I was in blue jeans with ripped up knees and a short sleeved light pullover sweater, a little frayed, copper color with three white stripes across the chest — both items a little too small.  Sandals on my big feet and an unruly mess of sandy-brown hair.

The crossing guard was a 5th grader, a year younger than me [and inches shorter].  He still looked more like 1967 — white corduroys, large square tartan plaid buttoning shirt under a light tan cloth coat, oxford shoes and a flat top crew cut.  When I got to the top of the hill, there  were three younger kids waiting to cross.  There wasn’t an abundance of room there, so I carefully stepped around them, on a narrow patch of grass between the sidewalk and a blackberry vine topped steep bank, and started to pivot to turn right and head up and along the road toward home.

The crossing guard held up his flag and barked out, “STOP!”.  And I tilted my head a bit, gesturing with my skinny arm toward the top of the narrow sloping street.

“I’m not crossing, I am walking up this way on this side of the street.”

He didn’t reply but continued to hold up the flag.  I kind of waved it off and continued on my way.  I thought he’d merely made a mistake, thinking I was going to step into the crosswalk, until realizing that wasn’t what I was up to.  I walked the rest of the way home and didn’t think any more of it.

The next day I was at school [seem to recall the confrontation, if one could refer to it that way was on a Friday, so this would be the following Monday] my teacher asked me to step out into the hallway with her, then told me I had been called to the Principal’s Office, and escorted me there.  I found myself sitting in a chair in front of the Principal’s desk.  The crossing guard was already there, in a second chair four feet away.

We sat there in silence for what seemed like a half hour but was probably ten minutes.  This was the third year in this school I transferred into for 4th grade, and I had seen the Principal before but never close up.  Mr. Ernesto L. Balerezo was an intimidating presence to say the least.  Tall, dark skinned, handsome, barrel chested, with a mane of combed, oiled black hair.  Unquestionable authority and presence.  He looked like he was chiseled from a single hunk of the most dense granite ever discovered.

The crossing guard started to say something, and Balarezo looked up from the stack of papers he was going through, making marks with a pencil in the margins of some of the pages, lowered his reading glasses and put a thick index finger to his lips.  The kid immediately clammed up!  After taking a phone call and combing through a ten page report, he laid the glasses on the desk, looked at the crossing guard and said, “OK, what happened?”

“Well, there were cars coming and going in the road and I was waiting for a break in traffic so I could get some kids across the crosswalk.  I told him to stop, and he didn’t stop!”

Balarezo pivoted toward me and said, “And what do you think happened?”

I was as nervous as hell when first in the room but had started to calm down by then.  I said, “I didn’t think it was necessary for me to stop, since I was turning right and not crossing either the driveway or the road.  I have been doing this the same way every day, coming to the school and going home for two years and this is the first time somebody told me I had to stop.  So it just seemed like he made a mistake, and assumed I was going to cross the street, when I never intended to do so.”

Just then the crossing guard blurted out, a bit too loudly, “I am the crossing guard, and if I tell him to stop, he has to stop!”

He started to make another point, but Mr. B held up his hand and all further talk ceased again.  Then he went back to his paperwork.  Called his secretary a couple times with brief questions and to issue instructions.  After a few more minutes — as I sat there in awe and the crossing guard looked uncomfortable and embarrassed — Balarezo looked up from his work again.  Flashing a brief grin for the first time, he said, “OK, then.  I’m not going to have any more trouble from you two, and you will get along from now on, right?”

Nothing more was said about it by anybody.  The crossing guard was still at his post at the end of the day, and beginning then, and each day following I would walk up to the corner, pause and look at him and he would give me a signal indicating it was OK to turn and walk up the street.  We were in detente to avoid blowing each other up, just like the United States and the Soviet Union.  Two months later, the crossing guard was moved to a different street corner a couple blocks further down the street, the opposite way from my route home.  His replacement never even looked at me, let alone insist I get his permission to turn the corner.

I’m surprised I can recall this incident in such detail, when so much else from those years is forgotten.  I can’t recall if my mom ever spoke to me about it.  I wonder if she was secretly pleased I’d finally done something normal?

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Updating Cysewski

March 29, 2015 at 3:46 am | Posted in anchorage, art, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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This was an idea of Jon Lang’s — a longtime friend who has come into his own as an independent Producer/Director of art films lately.  [He and I have talked about joint ventures on art projects before but I’ve never followed through.]

Stephen Cysewski has been getting lots of buzz for a long time about his 1970s photos of Anchorage, Fairbanks, Seattle, Tacoma and other places.  Jon’s idea was that he and his wife, local photographer Jamie Lang and I would go around and take contemporary photos matching Cysewski’s four decades old ones — and be able to observe how much the physical settings had changed, or had not.

Some of the locations of the vintage shots are easy to spot, others not so much.  But we enjoy a challenge!

Today I got the ball rolling.  First I picked out some shots from Cysewski’s site and printed them at approx. 3×5.  On the way back home, I stopped at a few of the sites.  Prints in hand, I tried to recreate the shot from the same angle, as closely as possible.  Some were more successful than others.

Maybe we’ll work on this some more, refine the approach and technique?  But this seems like a decent start!  Kind of fun, isn’t it?

 

This was easy to place because there’s another photo of it on Cysewski’s site of a sign in the front yard that includes the address [cropped out of this view].  There was a fortune teller in here when Cysewski wandered by [on W. 6th Ave. between H and I Streets] back in the ’70s.  This little house and the one to the left of it are now gone, but the one on the right [at 825 W. 6th] is still there and in recent years was a Chinese restaurant, though it now appears to be closed.  The front yard was decreased by a widening of 6th Ave.

Same location today.

This one was easy to composite, by matching the Capt. Cook Hotel tower in the background, and the dormer on the house that’s still there.

This scene has hardly changed at all.  For a long time in the ’80s and ’90s the tile was covered up with beige paint, but later they had the sense to strip it off.  The building is owned by the Catholic Archdiocese.  The owner of the tile business was Elmer Eller, as I recall.  He moved it out of downtown in the early 1980s, and then went out of business.

The first Denali Tower, at 2600 Denali St.  The business development of Midtown was just getting a head of steam, and when this tower was completed in 1977 it looked out of place among small houses and low-key side streets.  Cysewski’s view is from Cordova St. looking east.

Today the houses are gone and their lots are part of an expanded parking lot.  A second Denali Tower with 13 stories was finished next door at 2550 Denali St. in 1983.

This place just seems like the archetypal Pipeline era establishment [at E. Fireweed Lane and Fairbanks St.].  In the ’80s it was a branch of El Toro Restaurant [they had a bigger one in Wasilla] and later it was Steve’s Sports Bar.  Recently it’s been vacant.  Last year somebody stripped the exterior and began renovations that have since stalled.

This place on E. 4th Ave. just west of Gambell St. was suffering a lot of deferred maintenance issues but nonetheless seemed to be some sort of State offices, judging from the Chevy Nova staff cars with State of Alaska seals on the doors.

It looks quite a bit better now, and it and the larger building to the right are a seedy residential hotel [but it’s better than living on the streets].

Used car lot where a boxy low rise state office building now sits [it’s just a little newer than this photo] and a fast food place, Malay’s Sandwiches that today is Burger Jim.  Looking east at 4th and Gambell.

This was the hardest one to create a composite from the two images.  The original was taken with an SLR from inside a car, the one today with an iPhone 6 standing in the street.  I was able to sort of line up the mountains, but the rest of it looks a bit unconvincing.

Side note on this one: The large building-mounted sign on the sandwich place in the old photo was only recently removed.  I took its photo in 2009.

The last stops on today’s tour will be Mt. View.  Here’s Cysewski’s candid looking east from Mt. View Dr. and Bragaw St. in the ’70s.  He was probably standing right where I was, at a short section of solid wall next to large plate glass south facing windows of a laundromat.  The gas station that’s just cropped out of the view was torn down in 2009 in favor of the Credit Union 1.

This one includes what was then Alaska State Bank and is now McKinley Services in the foreground and Jamico’s Pizza [that is still there, remarkably] beyond.  Mt. View Dr. just east of Bragaw, view looking SW.

Insomniac writing studio, Part I

November 30, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The locas twittered drunkenly outside his window, hopping on limbs of the bare winter lilac, and he became distracted.

He was considering another trip to middle America — in the stairway to the roof, the last trip? He wasn’t sure, but he felt ready to do it again. Partly as a way to make good on the bluffing of the last couple trips; partly just to get away; partly an opportunity to plan photo safaris in increasingly bleak [to him, compelling] Rust Belt scenarios.

He wondered about the schedule of Jackeen J. O’Malleys. Would it be Seattle straight through to Chicago again? Or cheaper to go some circuitous path — Salt Lake, LA, Phoenix, Memphis? He wondered whose job is it to dream up these chicken fat connections? It must be a computer logarithm, because what human would think it made sense to veer hundreds of miles off in another direction? The more direct the better, he told himself — the crawl space at an apartment construction site just made him weary.

His friend in Springfield, Missouri had suggested a road trip to NOLA in a Studebaker Avanti — but he wasn’t getting his heart set on the idea in case it is drawing dead. He thought, what would that be like, anyway? A bit like ‘Sideways’ only with rednecks, truck stops, motels and roadside kitsch, instead of wine bars and boutique restaurants and the Napa Valley? A shmoo on a branch outside turned its head and looked at him with a reassuring face, as if to say, you want to be all in on that one, even if there’s ample opportunity to fold.

At the base of a rock wall next to train tracks, it seemed as if it would take multiple trips to really scout out the surroundings and find the images others couldn’t or wouldn’t.  The difference, on a picnic table in a closed campground was he knew what subject matter and images he was seeking — thanks to fruitful mentoring by an extremely creative and imaginative artist/photographer.

He decided he was as prepared as he was going to be to Drinky Crow the skies to the heartland.  Suddenly, swiftly on the living room floor all that was needed was [of course!] money — for a plane ticket and to get around on the ground — for this not to turn up snake eyes.

Back to work, he whispered.  In the attic of the garage much needed sleep.

5-8-14

May 10, 2014 at 5:25 am | Posted in photo du jour, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Checking out the sand dune at Kincaid Park

May 4, 2014 at 8:19 pm | Posted in anchorage, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The denuded area of Kincaid Park along its southern coast had been there for many years, but in the ’90s sometime the authorities started to get a bit more concerned, and wondered [with good reason] if a large part of the park was turning into a desert?  I’d heard about the sand dune for years, and seen signs of its presence but had never seen it in person.

These geo-cachers give a pretty good basic explanation of what happened there.

And Alaska Dispatch has a good photo gallery and description of the area from 2011.  Their headline might seem alarmist, until one sees this landscape in real life.  Descriptions and even aerial photos don’t really do it justice.  The dune head seems like it could swallow the Anchorage bowl.

Here’s a few of my photos from Mayday evening.

Reinventing Edith Macefield

April 22, 2014 at 5:21 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Recently somebody randomly contacted me through Flickr about my 2008 photos of Edith Macefield’s house.  [I happened to be visiting Seattle the week after Macefield’s death and I went by there and had a look at some notes people had placed outside her house.]  They were looking for info about Macefield for an article in the Architecture section of a Czech web site.

This is what I wrote to them [hastily, including every grammar and sentence construction mistake in the book]:

I didn’t know who Edith Macefield was but I noticed her house for the first time in 1988 while working at an architectural firm a couple blocks away. The Seattle neighborhood was really a mixed bag — charming but gritty mix of industrial waste, marine infrastructure and support businesses, auto shops, vacant lots overgrown with blackberry vines and cars rumbling over the 1912 vintage Ballard bridge. Her tiny, square house with pyramid-shaped roof and little dormers was modest and well kept. There was a blue Chevy compact parked on the street in front of the house. A small yard, a tree and a clothes line; and rose bushes behind a low wire fence.

In 2008 I learned a lot more about Macefield when her story was publicized in the news media. She put up with a lot of changes in the decades in the house — a warehouse next door became a refuse transfer facility, then an abandoned, graffiti covered eyesore. Homeless people roamed the streets and camped out in old RVs under the bridge. Still, I can totally see why she stayed. The house was well sited on a low traffic side street, just far enough from the bridge so the noise wasn’t too annoying. Great south facing sunny lot.

She became a local and then national folk hero by refusing to sell out to the mall developer. As much as $750,000 was offered, as I recall, but Macefield said the place was priceless to her.

One of the aspects of Seattle I really appreciate, and part of what makes it a great place on Earth [despite all the changes] is that by and large they have allowed the old and new parts of the city to mingle and co-exist. At least this has been the case lately and for a while now. Perhaps this partly resulted from a rather overzealous approach to redevelopment that prevailed from the late 19th century at a furious pace through the 1930s, and to a lesser extent until the mid-1960s. The tidelands between downtown and West Seattle were filled in, the forests of Ballard and the North End knocked down, creeks undergrounded/ducted, the Duwamish River was channeled, and a series of street regrade projects ensued including the destruction of Denny Hill [chronicled in the novel ‘Madison House’]. Later the demo of lots of downtown buildings along the route of Interstate 5 fomented another round of growth shock — the Pike Place Market [the most famous and loved Seattle landmark] narrowly escaped the wrecker’s ball in this period. 

I don’t really know but assume all this contributed to people being in less of a hurry to mow down everything that’s old and in the way. 

And that was why, in a few days following her death, scores of people who didn’t know Macefield stopped by her house to leave anonymous notes on her fence expressing admiration for her steadfastness and lack of greed and crass calculation; and for having the good sense to know when she had a good place and sticking with it through good times and bad.

And recently I received a follow-on message with a link to the resulting article.  It loses something in translation but is still compelling and, um, sort of hilarious!

Admiration from a stranger. [Click on image for larger version.]

Reflecting on it more, I am starting to think we are all getting Macefield wrong.  It’s been difficult to find out anything about her via casual reading around on the web.  She was 83 when she became a story.  And by most accounts, she didn’t care for the attention.  Perhaps she felt like she was living in a ‘Twilight Zone-ish, end up in hell’ scenario where she was surrounded by people who had lost their minds?  She was doing fine with her books and her opera records and probably just wished everyone would leave her alone.  Certainly wouldn’t care about hipster tattoo tributes to her tenacity and principles.

So I am considering trying to dig a little deeper, and write a story about her house and property with less emphasis on what happened after 2006, and more about the 106 years the house was there before 2006.

AZ

May 13, 2013 at 5:20 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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It was supposed to be a week in Mexico, but airfare from Anchorage was prohibitively expensive.  So, Michele traded it for a week in Scottsdale, Arizona.  I had never been to AZ at all, so it was a new experience.

driving Mingus Mountain

The first place we went was Jerome.  We headed north on Route 17, got stuck in standstill traffic a couple hours… finally got moving again.  Turning west on Route 69, through more desert [and Prescott] and then climbed up through the trees to the mighty Mingus Mountain!  Something like 200 turns in 12 miles.  Here is Michele negotiating a blind curve in our rented VW Beetle.

jerome street

Jerome is a funky little town that was a 19th century mining town, then later was nearly abandoned.  Today it’s a mix of full time residents and accommodations for tourists [B&Bs, wine bars, shops and galleries].  Steep switchback streets and buildings clinging to steep rock cliffs.  Totally charming.

We went back on our last day.  Next trip, maybe we’ll just stay here [Scottsdale was nice, but it’s a little rich for my blood].

sedona rock form

A rock formation near Sedona.

hammond B-3 at MIM

One of the newer museums in the area is the MIM [Musical Instrument Museum] in Scottsdale.  We were overwhelmed by it.  Lots to see — too much, really.  Built by the former CEO of Target, it is a first class facility.  It’s organized by continents, and runs through a musical history of the world with displays and accompanying video clips.  Here is a Hammond B-3 organ.  You’ve heard this in a lot of popular songs, even if [like me] you didn’t know what it looks like.

turntable mixing board

Custom turntable and mixer from the Hip-Hop section of the MIM.

auto-orchestra

 

taliesin west tour start

The beginning of a 90 minute tour of Taliesin West.  This was my trip highlight.  It was all I’d imagined and more.  I really appreciated the perspective our tour guide gave to Frank Lloyd Wright’s life, work and character.  All the anecdotes and stories — priceless!  He was, and continues to be an outsider — designing against the current and the European tradition.

FLW's fire breathing dragon

Most of Wright’s art collection isn’t on site anymore, but there is this dragon.  I almost wanted to come back for the evening tour so I could see it spit flame!  It was funny to think of the old man and some Hollywood actors hunkered down watching movies in one of the theaters there in the 1940s.

taliesin west bldg

 

first day of indian school

We went to the Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix.  An amazing place.  Loved how they have integrated modern galleries without changing the classic exterior.  There was a whole world of native artifacts and some contemporary exhibits too.  This shot is from an installation about Indian boarding schools, in all their ghastly horror!

 

shade tree

The development pattern in the greater Phoenix west valley is kind of shocking — a low scale pattern of strip retail, large lot residential and high speed arterials spreads out for miles and is still under construction.  But I noticed that in 50 to 75 ft deep buffer zones along the arterial roads there is still a functioning desert environment with all kinds of plant and animal life.

cactus flower

 

michele cameraman glasses

Michele at the Desert Botanical Garden.  I like this photo for the atmosphere, even if it isn’t the greatest portrait and has a blown highlight.

a real tree

There’s nothing like getting out of Alaska once in awhile!  I always stop and marvel at large trees, because in Southcentral we really don’t have any.

cosanti and michele

Another highlight was Cosanti, the home of architect Paolo Soleri and the place where wind chime bells and other handcrafted art pieces are produced.  This was really worth seeing!  Next trip, I will go to Arcosanti!

cosanti

My old co-worker, friend and real estate guru Peggy tipped me off about Cosanti.  I had a nice lunch with her and caught up.  And she gave us some great tips on restaurants.  We had a grilled artichoke and I had a ‘Macho Salad’ at Bandera in Old Town Scottsdale.  Man, was that good!  Wow.

AZ route 69

So long, AZ!  I had a great time and will be back!

Wheely dream

April 10, 2013 at 3:51 pm | Posted in alaska, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I became concerned when I got close.  Something had gone wrong  at our cute little split level while I was away for a few months.  Maintenance was out the window.  The yard was littered with junk cars.  Windows were broken, doors displaced and hanging loosely, trash everywhere.  Water trickled from a hole in the wall.  Inside the place looked like it had been ransacked.  Unattended children and others were milling about.

I found a woman who seemed to be my stepmother.  She looked ashamed and began to explain.  I said, ‘Wait!  Hold that thought!  I just need to go up to my room for a few minutes.’  In my 11×11 room in the back corner of the upper floor I found my friend Bruce sitting on a little cot in the corner.  There was also a hastily and badly built large bed that filled up most of the rest of the room, with three sleeping positions in a row with light blue wool blankets with dirty white pillows.  Boarders from Russia, to judge from the style of the blankets and the few personal items.

‘Bruce, I have to have my room back immediately.  Isn’t there someplace else you and these guys can go?’

We walk downstairs to the basement.  Only it isn’t the same basement.  It is as big as a football field with a 24 foot high ceiling.  On the far end there are some big gates and it appears to be open to a light filled valley beyond.  There is nobody around but there is some earth moving equipment parked there, and some walls have been framed.  We walk to a spot on the far wall.  ‘The Russians could move down here,’ I suggest.  ‘They could each have a suite as big as a house, instead of sharing my small room.’  Bruce looked at me with a frown, as if to say that isn’t going to happen and I can’t tell you why.

Such a strange atmosphere.  It’s like the owners have become tenants.  The house is part of a huge project, but the profits are going to an absentee slumlord who is letting the property become a rundown health hazard!

Awake and thinking about it for awhile, I decided the whole dream was a metaphor of Alaska.

Sudden, unexpected death of a friend

February 27, 2013 at 11:16 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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John Woodward in 2009

I didn’t know John Woodward before the accident.  Sometime in the 1980s he was thrown from a car in a crash and suffered brain damage.  After that he was prone to seizures, had to take lots of prescription medications and occasionally experienced blackouts.  Nevertheless, he impressed friends and family by putting his life back together, and advocated for other disabled people to be able to live independently.

I met him for the first time in 1989.  I would rather hang around with him than a lot of other people I knew.  Communication wasn’t always the most linear, but I found him genuine in a way I find few of my other friends — he lacked a tendency to back stab or toward actions justified by moral relativism.  He was enthusiastic.  He always asked about my two sons and wanted to hear all about them, as bad as the news sometimes was.  He would tell me to support them as much as I could and to be a good role model.

He was on the way back to his sister’s house from a grocery store a few days ago when he experienced a seizure, and then cardiac arrest.

Rock on, John!  Wherever you may be now.

BlackBerry marketing idea

December 28, 2012 at 11:35 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Until late 2010 I had never owned a cell phone.  In Summer 2010, I was about to head down to Homer.  I’d been on a couple fun dates with Michele in Anchorage a few days before.  Now she was inviting me to her place for the weekend where I supposed we would find out if we really liked each other.  Standing in the kitchen talking to her on my red 1980s wall phone.  “Will you call me when you’re getting close, so I will know when to expect you?”  “Umm, well — I could try…”  Then, wishing to sound more affirmative: “Yes.  Yes, I will call.”  I pictured myself borrowing somebody’s phone at a scenic overlook.

As I suspected, there is just one single pay phone between Anchorage and Homer, at a small grocery and liquor store in Anchor Point.  There was one at the Soldotna Fred Meyer but it didn’t work.  A coin jammed in the slot and no dial tone.  I guess no one cared that it was broken.  At the Safeway there I could see the place the phones used to be — a couple of wires sticking out the end of conduit pipes at the top of two rectangles of darker paint.  I could barely hear Michele [my hearing isn’t what it used to be].  She said, “I’m glad to hear from you!  I almost didn’t answer because I didn’t think it was you!”  There was a volume button in the middle of the receiver but her voice got no louder after pushing it a few times in both directions.

These days, I send her text messages to tell her I’ve left South Anchorage; made it to Wildman’s Store in Cooper Landing; in Soldotna getting some gas, need anything from the store?… In Anchor Pt. and ETA arrive Homer.  I have become a convert of the convenience.  And my photography with real cameras has fallen to nothing while experimentation with various iphone photo apps has gone through the roof (at the same time, the iphone has become the most popular camera on Flickr).

Talking to the AT&T rep yesterday about upgrading from an iphone 3GS to a 4S.  (AT&T is the only logical choice in the 907.)  He sounded like he was reading through a script prepared as late as the Eisenhower era.  Ernestine could have done this justice.  “I would like to thank you for your patience and participation, Mr. Clark.  We have just another minute to finalize this order,” he said in a manner and accent that made me think of Herb Tarlek, or a used car salesman from the same era.

Dreaming tonight.  There was a female confidant who took me aside and starting asking personal questions in a way that made me want to tell her more.  What kind of phone do I have?  “It is an iphone and I just renewed its contract.”  “Oh nooo!  We really need to get you a BlackBerry!  You will soon realize why it is so.”  I was skeptical.

Then I had to go to a meeting, only instead of our bland little conference room with the white walls and flat screen we are sitting at cafe tables and tall stools in a grand gallery atrium of a big city museum.  There is a male receptionist bantering loudly with a series of calls and visitors.  And instead of my usual co-workers there are some of my most admired Alaska artists, and we are all casually sketching and plein air painting at the foot of a giant sculpture, a segmented curve that looks like a Schoppert interpretation of a calving glacier.

We soon adjourned to a smaller, more intimate gathering.  A multicourse meal seated around an Aalto vase-shaped glass table.  My confidant presented my new phone.  It is a brown and tan replica of an early 1960s Swingline stapler, at about 2/3 scale.  The one that’s between eras, with the top looking like the late ’60s/’70s and the base like the ’40s/’50s gray ones.  (This must have been inspired by seeing my co-worker’s new tape dispenser that looks like a 30 ft tape measure, as I was leaving the office yesterday.)  The stapler makes a soothing chime-y buzz and I answer it by taking off the top part, holding it by the handle and speaking into the slot where the staples would be.

This time the AT&T guy is so disarmingly charming that we are quickly fast friends.  Someone comes by to ask if I have enough ice for my drink.  The people around the table are laughing, telling jokes and stories and carrying on with exaggerated gestures.  The AT&T man’s inquiries are so discreet I forget I am even talking about a cell phone contract.  He is the Great Gatsby and I am one of his weekend guests.  I hear a man near me say to the person next to him, the people who fall for this pitch tend to be super successful in life.  Most don’t have the patience or imagination.  (Neither can they convincingly whip a stapler out of their pocket and hold it up to their ear, eh?)

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