I just learned that Gordon Lightfoot has died, and I cannot keep the tears from streaming down my cheek.
In 1972, when I was at UCSB for my sophomore year in college, there was a local folk group who called themselves “The Storyville Players.” My friends and I saw them one night at an Isla Vista club, IV being the UCSB student ghetto. I’m still not sure how they let us in, we were only 19. Maybe it was a dry club, or a coffee house, or they didn’t care. No matter, I did not have any alcohol but was intoxicated by the music, and especially the harmonies they sung. At one point the female lead singer exuded that they were going to LA soon to hear their hero, Gordon Lightfoot. Lightfoot was a solo singer-songwriter, yet they sang his songs with mesmerizing harmony. It was a life-changing moment. As soon as my meager funds permitted, I bought the latest Gordon Lightfoot album – Alberta Bound. It spoke to my Canadian roots – Lightfoot was then based in Toronto, and that is where I was born. I wore that album out.
Carol and I met in 1974. We found out that we had much in common. A strange sense of humor (an early date was going to Blazing Saddles, and she did not give me the boot) and Gordon Lightfoot. We both had “If You Could Read My Mind” in our respective record collections.
We became serious the summer of 1974, when Lightfoot’s Sundown became the number 1 song, and we bought his album by the same name. We wore that album out, got engaged in September, and married in December. Our first musical purchase as a young married couple was his Carefree Highway.
Life happened, and we started to raise our family. Our kids no doubt got tired of my playing his music, but they were too young to say “hey dad, can you give it a rest.” Over time, Lightfoot became part of their lives as well.
Traveling through western Canada with the kids on one of many road trips, as we approached the place where the golden spike was struck, I played the Canadian Railroad Trilogy. Tim writes “Impossible to think about our great family road trips and not think about Gordo. Thank you, Dad, for bringing him into our lives.”
Older, my kids once told me they thought when they were young that I was Gordon Lightfoot. I kind of looked like him – a bit of a stretch I know, but I did have the moustache, and I knew all the words, the melodies, and the harmonies of all his songs. They just assumed I was him. But they grew out of it.
Finally, I was able to see him perform at Harrah’s in Reno. He came out, and it was obvious he was well lubricated. He flubbed a lot, and even forgot some of the words to his legendary “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” I was devastated. But then I got to thinking that someone who wrote the ballads he penned could not have had a choir boy life. It made sense. His must have been a hard life. Only later did I find out that he got his musical start singing in a church choir!
Later still I found out that it was during this period in his life when he had taken up with the woman who had given John Belushi his fatal dose of drugs.
The next time I saw Gord, he proudly announced that he was sober. His eyes were bright, he was clearly enjoying himself, and he remembered all of the words to the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and every other song he sang.
My son took up the guitar, and I suppose it is not going too far to say that Gordie was one of his musical heroes as well. I took him to see Gord in San Luis Obispo one time. The show started at 8pm and to kill some time before the show began we grabbed a hot dog somewhere. We got to the show safely at 7:55pm – and I was devastated to find out the show had started at 7:30. Tim was accommodating way beyond what a young man of his years should have been to his father who had not bothered to double check the start time. We bonded anyway. It was a memorable time.
My kids grew up, and in time we took them and their spouses to Las Vegas to see Lightfoot in person at The Orleans. I got everyone seated, and then, quite spontaneously, told them “OK kids, I’ve got to take care of something for a bit, but I’ll see you right after the performance” and winked. They laughed, but there was only one Gordon Lightfoot, and it was not me. I sat down, and we enjoyed the show.
Much later, Carol and I saw him when he was much older – and showed it. He had become gaunt, and wasn’t able to hit his high notes. Yet the audience was understanding, and loved him.
Carol and I last saw him in Phoenix a few years ago. At the end of the show, I turned to her and said “I don’t think I need to see him again. I would rather remember him when he was younger, and he could hit all the notes…and I could too.”
Gordon Lightfoot had a near death experience a number of years ago, and yet he came through it and after an extended period of recuperation started touring again. He didn’t need the money. Singing was what he did. It was who he was. Without his audiences, he may not have had a reason to live. So he toured.
But even his audiences could not keep him alive forever, and today he died.
And I still cannot keep the tears from streaming down.
When I was in college and thought I wanted to be a psychiatrist, I started reading psychology journals to see what I was in for. The foray into a psychiatric career didn’t last long, but I did read an article then that has stuck with me all these years.
The subjects of a study were asked to write down each song that would come into their consciousness throughout each day, and then record how they were feeling at the time. There was quite a correlation. I have often found that a song that lingers in my mind is a strikingly accurate indicator of how I am actually feeling.
Today, Steve Winwood’s “Back in the High Life Again” has been in my mind. I am not surprised. Yesterday I received word that I have healed and will not require jaw replacement surgery. When my oral oncologist delivered the news, I started fist-pumping like Kirk Gibson gimping around the bases on a bum leg after his famous home run in the 1988 World Series. We high-fived, and she and her assistant were beaming almost as much as I.
A year ago, the news was not so rosy. An oral surgeon had rendered the verdict that my two lower wisdom teeth had to come out and, thanks to radiation three years earlier, their removal would almost certainly lead to necrosis (death!) of my jaw requiring jaw replacement – a truly hideous procedure. This news led me to a pretty dark place. Fortunately, after a few months in a deep funk I was referred to Dr. Heidi Hansen. The outstanding care provided by her and her team at Providence Oral Oncology not only gave me hope, but ultimately brought about this great result. (It did not hurt that I spent what seemed like 2 or 3 hours a day on oral care, as she had directed.)
The euphoria of this moment will, of course, pass and other challenges will arise. But for right now, for this moment, I am back in the high life…again.
In World War I, submarine technology was in its infancy. One European country had a unique design, consisting of a steel tube that was so small the operator rode on top of it, not in it. An open-cockpit submarine as it were. SCUBA technology had not evolved to make this practical, so the model was quickly abandoned.
Enlarge that tube just a bit, and you have my home for 2 hours a day for the next 6 weeks: the SS HBC, or, a Hyper-Baric Chamber. The idea is that if you are in need of better healing than your body can provide on its own, you go in the chamber, put on an oxygen mask, they bring the pressure up to 2.4 atmospheres (the equivalent of being under water at a depth of 45 feet), and ram the oxygen into your system.
In my case, radiation therapy has robbed my jaw of the ability to heal after extraction of wisdom teeth, which my medico-dental crew has said is desperately required. It is scheduled for early February and the chances for healing will be enhanced with 20 dives before surgery and 10 dives after. Another voyager has had Type I diabetes since he was young, and has already lost one leg with another teetering on the edge. Another fellow traveler had an industrial accident. Two others were pretty quiet so I let it go.
Each dive takes about 2 hours. It takes about 10 minutes to bring the chamber to the requisite depth. You do not feel the pressure on your body, but your ears feel the change in pressure. I am lucky to have the ability to open my eustachian tubes at will, but I was still amazed at how quickly the pressure changed. They put a helmet on your head that looks like a clear plastic upside down pail, something out of a 1950’s sci fi movie. You then breathe pure oxygen for about a half an hour, then the pail comes off for 5 minutes as you get to take a break, back on for half an hour, another 5 minute break, then another half hour and back up to sea level.
Maggy is the Dive Master. She focused most of her time and attention on me since I was the newbie. The other 5 voyagers had already been there before and knew what to expect. She and I talked about the difference between the HBC, and the altitude chamber I had been in as a young pilot. She had a small rubber inflatable ball that she proudly displayed to me and asked me to watch as it collapsed in size during the dive, and later got back to normal size on the ascent. She is a Dive Master in the truest sense – she goes SCUBA diving too.
The process sounds simple, but outside there is a panel that looks like something out of NASA that is run by another operator.
They like the nautical analogy. They put stickers of fish on the walls of the chamber, and talk about dives, and depth, and descent, and ascent. The chamber is actually used for deep sea divers who get the bends and need to be brought back down to depth, and then brought up more slowly.
When the massive door was closed at the beginning with a loud clunk, I was glad I am not prone to claustrophobia. Immediately the sound level got loud as the motors pumped pressurized air into the chamber and oxygen into the helmets. They had a movie going on a small screen on one end of the chamber, but it was hard to hear the tv due to the other noises. I tried to read some books and newspapers I had brought, but the optics of the inflatable plastic helmet were horrible, and I started to get nausea and gave up. I watched the movie, which was not much better, but I managed to get through it all, and am hoping the next 29 dives will be better as I adjust to the sensations.
All in all though, given the choice I’d recommend Holland America for your next voyage.
It had to happen at some point. Other than me being gone on a trip now and then, we have always shared our marital bed. Until last tonight. And tonight, which is our 48th anniversary. Until I now I have never been sent to the doghouse, or had to sleep on the sofa.
Carol came down with it two days ago, and tested positive yesterday. She started Paxlovid today. Hers seems to be a mild case; her fever broke after only two days, and she hardly coughs or sneezes, and has no trouble breathing. She is quarantining in our bedroom, and I am waiting on her hand and foot (both of us donning our N95s), hoping that I come down with it too so we can share the load. For now though, I am still testing negative with no symptoms other than loneliness. I have a prescription for Paxlovid too, just in case.
So tonight will be different than our last 47 anniversaries. Carol is reading in the bedroom, and I get to watch Top Gun Maverick. So maybe it’s not so bad.
My wife Carol recently joined the Newport Rotary Club and I transferred my membership there. She had always been my Rotary partner but as of July 1, she became a Rotarian in our own right, and we were invited to give the New Member Spotlight at a club meeting:
Ken: “Service Above Self” – it’s a motto that resonates with both of us. For most of our 48 years together we have tried to live that motto, even before either of us joined a Rotary club, or even knew about Rotary. Even before we met, Carol and I did volunteer work. Ever since we were married in 1974, we have volunteered at our church, Habitat for Humanity, The Boys & Girls Clubs, Fresno Pacific University, the Central Valley Community Foundation, The Rotary Clubs of Clovis and Portland, and now the Newport Rotary Club. But, we are perhaps getting a bit ahead of ourselves.
Carol: Ken and my backgrounds were in some ways similar, but in other ways very different. My parents were both born in the US, and lived in the same home almost from the day I was born until they both died.
Ken: My parents each were born in tiny villages in what is now Ukraine, and their respective families emigrated to Canada in the 1920’s while each of my parents was under the age of 5. After my parents met and married, they typically moved to a new home every year or two. I was never in the same school more than 2 years in a row until I was just about to start high school, which is when we moved to Fresno.
Carol: I was in the same elementary, junior high, and high school until I graduated and went to the community college that was at the end of our block. I then went to San Francisco for 6 years, before moving back to the Fresno area, and then went to Fresno Pacific University to finish my degree, or so I thought.
Ken: I went to university in Fresno as well, which is where the rest of the story unfolds.
Carol: Ken and I met in April of 1974 in Fresno, CA. I was a youth group leader in my church and we needed to travel to a youth conference in Southern CA. My cousin Nancy was driving her car and we needed another car and driver. Nancy, who knew Ken, called and asked him if he would be willing to drive his car to the conference.
Ken: I tried everything I could think of to get out of going, but Nancy was persistent. Finally, she said “you are my last hope, and by the way, Carol Harder is also coming along as one of the leaders.” For some reason that piqued my interest even though I had never met Carol, and so I relented.
Carol: Everybody met up in the Fresno church parking lot on a Friday night. Two cars were going. Cousin Nancy and I with a couple of kids in one car, Ken and a few other kids in his car.
Ken: As soon as I got to the church parking lot, Carol popped out of Nancy’s car, and her bubbly personality was immediately evident when she said “Hi! I’m Carol! Fly me to Ontario!”
Carol: NOT true! But I was my usual friendly self.
Ken: We only spent a few minutes talking before heading off to LA in our respective cars, but I was already intrigued by Carol. At our first gas stop, she and I sauntered away from the group. I have no recollection of what we discussed except that at one point Carol used a mild 4 letter word. I thought to myself “This is NOT your typical Mennonite girl.” I was not your typical Mennonite boy either. I was smitten.
Carol: When we arrived at our destination, Ken was going to spend the weekend with a relative of his in nearby Riverside. He was going to pick us up after the church service on Sunday, but I invited Ken to join me at the Sunday morning service, and I hoped he would say yes.
Ken: Believe me, the LAST thing I wanted to do back then was to go to that church service, but the thought of sitting next to Carol was irresistible, so I went.
Carol: After the service we all went to a deli to get the fixings for lunch and ended up at a park in Pixley where we ate. Ken and I sat at the same picnic table. After lunch, I talked one of the kids into trading places with me so I could sit with Ken in his car the rest of the way home.
Ken: Sitting together on the way back to Fresno, the conversation was effortless. I was fearless in most things, having gotten my pilot’s license, and having gone on a solo 10,000 mile camping trip, all when I was only 17. But when it came to girls I was petrified – I usually just froze up. Talking with Carol on that trip home, however, was so easy that somehow without even breaking a sweat I asked her if she wanted to go flying with me sometime.
Carol: And I said yes. Ken picked me up at my dorm and we headed to the airport. I walked around the plane with him as he did the pre-flight inspection and he explained things about the airplane and what he was checking for. We had a lovely flight. I was afraid to tell him ahead of time that I get motion sickness, but there was no need. It was a smooth flight, and we watched a beautiful sunset.
Ken: After the flight, I dropped Carol off at her dorm. She showed me her room and we talked some more. As I was leaving, she touched my arm, and pulled me toward her so she could give me a kiss goodbye. It’s a good thing she made the first move, because I was so shy it might have been months before I would have mounted the courage to initiate that.
Carol: Ken was going to be leaving in September for his first year of law school at UCLA, but we had the whole summer ahead of us. We went out every 2 or 3 days. In early June Ken invited me to fly with him to the Porterville Moonlite Fly-in. Fly-ins are gatherings of pilots and airplanes, usually with a variety of antique and homebuilt airplanes. There would be various events, an afternoon air show, and an evening dinner dance. Ken said he would bring a couple of sleeping bags and we would spend the night at the airport, sleeping under the wing of his airplane. He seemed to think this was fun. And it sounded good to me too, so I agreed to go.
Ken: After the dinner dance, we and the other die-hards were hanging around and the owner of a classic WW II fighter, a P-40 made famous by the Flying Tigers, stood up on a table and announced that he had room for one person behind him in the P-40 and if someone would pay the gas he would take them up for a flight. Well, any other time I would have jumped at that, but no way was I going to leave Carol alone, especially among a bunch of pilots.
Carol: I had never seen an airshow before. I don’t remember much about that one, after all being married to Ken we have been to hundreds of airshows it seems. But I do remember that there was an army helicopter that was dolled up as Dumbo with big ears on either side. In the middle of the performance, it lost power and pancaked straight down into the ground. I felt sorry for the pilot (who did survive), but I was really concerned about Dumbo.
Ken: After only a couple of months, we started talking about marriage. Carol asked if I believed in long engagements. Since I had three years of law school ahead of me, it seemed fitting to wait until I graduated three years later.
Carol: Ken ended up driving back and forth between Fresno and UCLA just about every week, so we then started talking about getting married at the end of his first year. By October, however, Ken said why don’t we get married in December. He suggested a date that was 6 days after his first law school final and just before Christmas. I thought he was nuts – that left only two months to plan a wedding! However we both knew we were right for each other, and driving to and from LA every weekend was getting harder and harder, so I said yes.
Ken: And somehow we pulled it off. It was not exactly a hippie wedding – it was in a church after all, I wore a suit, and Carol wore a wedding dress. But it was definitely a wedding done on the cheap. One of my dorm-mates had a printing press and did printing as a hobby, so he agreed to do the wedding invitations. Carol and her sister made her wedding dress. There were no attendants or groomsmen. The wedding and reception were at Carol’s church so there was no charge for that. Our respective families along with people of the church prepared the food. My brother in law who was a pastor officiated. Mennonites did not believe in dancing back in those days so there was no need for a DJ or a band.
Carol : Ken and I still do not believe in dancing – it has nothing to do with religion, it’s just that neither of us is any good at it.
Ken: So eight months after we met, we were married and jetted off for an extravagant two day honeymoon in San Francisco.
Carol: Each of us had wanted to honeymoon at the then-new Hyatt Regency hotel in San Francisco, the first hotel to have indoor teardrop elevators so you can watch the courtyard as you ascend to your room. However, one of my favorite movies was Willie Wonka and I was afraid the elevator would go straight up through the roof.
Ken: We were poor students and could not afford two nights at the Hyatt Regency, so the second night was spent at the Travelodge, and then back home we went for Christmas with the family, and then to LA to begin our lives together.
Carol: I already knew Ken was an aviation nut, but that became especially clear when the pictures came back from our honeymoon. One picture was of me at the airport, and all the rest were out the window of the plane.
Ken: We moved to West LA and Carol became a legal secretary. She had to put off finishing college, but finally got her degree many years later. In my third and final year of law school, we had a baby girl who we named Jenny.
Carol: Jenny was not short for Jennifer, but long for the JN4 airplane known as the Jenny.
Ken: To get some legal experience, and help with the bills, I got a law clerk job with a law firm in LA in my last year of law school. Carol and I had previously decided that after school we would move back to Fresno, but I worked hard, and the firm offered me a job as an attorney once I passed the Bar exam. I was so proud telling this to Carol when I got home, and how much it paid. At that time, firms in LA paid about 50% more than firms in Fresno.
Carol: When Ken was finished telling me about the job offer, I said “well I’m glad they will be paying you a lot of money, so you can afford to fly back on weekends to visit Jenny and me, because we are moving back to Fresno.”
Ken: So, we moved back to Fresno. I got a job at a nice Fresno law firm, and in short order we had two more children, Kate and Tim, neither of whom was named after an airplane.
Carol: After that, the years flew by, but there were three constants: airplanes, travel, and community service.
Ken: During our lives together, Carol and I have owned three aircraft, and did some of our traveling by air.
Carol: Most of our travel though consisted of road trips and camping trips. We started with a tent, then moved on to a bigger tent, then a tent trailer, then a small motorhome, then a bigger one. After Ken retired, we bought a 35 foot diesel pusher and a Jeep to tow behind it and in the 4 years we owned them, we put 100,000 miles under our belts, touring all over North America.
Ken: As Carol said, community service was the other constant in our lives together.
Carol: Soon after we made our home in Fresno, I became Treasurer for our church, and Ken became the Chairman. Some of our friends thought it was hilarious that the Treasurer and Chairman of the church were sleeping together. In the years to come, Ken successfully led three building projects for the church, and we both were on numerous committees.
Ken: Over the ensuing years, we were given the opportunity to serve in a variety of capacities with a number of charitable organizations.
Carol: Ken was one of the founders of the Habitat for Humanity in Fresno, and served as President the year the first Habitat home was built.
Ken: Carol volunteered at the Habitat office and at the various building sites.
Carol: Ken joined the Clovis Rotary club, and when he became President he chose as his main goal to initiate a community-wide effort to establish a Boys & Girls club in Clovis. He chaired that effort which resulted in a $750,000 club being built largely with donated labor and materials. The Club now serves hundreds of children every year. Ken was then asked to become Chairman of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fresno County, which oversaw 15 separate Boys & Girls Clubs.
Ken: Carol helped out in every way that she could in all these endeavors. She also volunteered at the kids’ schools, a Salvation Army food distribution center, and a fair trade store and quilt shop that benefited world relief efforts. She did all of this while managing our home and family.
Carol: Ken also served as Chairman and General Counsel for Fresno Pacific University, and as a Trustee of the local Community Foundation, all while managing a thriving law practice.
Ken: We lived in the rural part of Fresno County on 15 rolling acres. To help raise money for various charities, Carol and I would put on Cowboy BBQs in our backyard. We even bought an authentic 100 year old chuckwagon to add atmosphere.
Carol: These BBQs were a lot of work to put on, but they raised money for great organizations and everyone who came had a great time, especially when we got everyone to join in singing songs of the Old West, culminating in Happy Trails.
Ken: We’ve had a lot of fun, but we’ve had some major health challenges. Shortly after our third child was born, Carol was diagnosed with MS. It was the relapsing-remitting form of MS. Her relapses were increasingly difficult, and we became very concerned about what the future would hold for her and for our young family. And then, after 35 years she went into remission, and it never came back again. However, the damage done to nerve endings during relapses does not magically go away in remission, so she does not get around as quickly as she once did.
Carol: Ken has had rheumatoid arthritis since he was 7 years old. It involves almost every joint in his body. He has had multiple joint replacements and fusions and it is remarkable that he can get along as well as he does. In the last 3 years, he has had tongue cancer not once but twice. The second time, they removed the entire right half of his tongue, replacing it with tissue from his forearm. So now, half of his tongue does all the work. I had hoped that would mean that Ken would only talk half as much, but unfortunately he talks now as much as ever. He is still getting over the effects of radiation therapy, but his sense of taste has returned. Since he does the cooking while I do the cleaning, I am really glad his sense of taste has come back.
Ken: By 2016, each of our three kids and their families had moved to Portland. We were thrilled that the kids wanted to all live in the same area and also that they wanted us to join them.
Carol: After visiting Portland many times we fell in love with Oregon, and bought a condo along the Willamette River in the South Waterfront area of Portland.
Ken: During the first year of the pandemic, we sold our motorhome, and ended up buying a condo in Newport, Oregon, overlooking the ocean.
Carol: We now divide our time between Portland and Newport.
Ken: Marriage is not easy, and like all couples we have had our ups and downs. In fact, when we would have celebrated our 25th anniversary we were separated.
Carol: But we continued to see a counselor, and ultimately remembered why we had fallen in love in the first place. On our 26th anniversary, we renewed our wedding vows, and went on a second honeymoon to the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco. This time we stayed there for TWO nights.
Ken: Even still, we do not agree on everything. Many people find it hard to believe that a Giants fan and a Dodger fan can live in the same household for almost 50 years.
For me I realize how thankful I am for so many things.
Mostly, I am thankful for even being around for another Christmas. As I reflect back, this was not assured in February when I was diagnosed with tongue cancer for the second time in less than 6 months. But I survived both cancers, and the loss of the starboard half of my tongue (replaced by skin from my port-side arm). This summer, a PetScan confirmed that I no longer have any cancer from my nose to my toes, but also flagged a brain tumor. It’s just a little guy on my pituitary gland. You may have one too. They are not all that uncommon, and are almost always non-cancerous. The doctor will follow it every 6 months for the rest of my life, but unless it starts growing or causing other symptoms (none so far), we will call that a win and be thankful for not having cancer anywhere.
While recovering in the hospital in early March, the world shut down. Between the surgery and radiation that followed, I was in a condition where catching Covid would likely have been a death sentence. But so far so good, and I am stronger and would likely survive a Covid infection now. To avoid finding out, we have left the cramped elevators, congested hallways, and busy sidewalks of high rise living in downtown Portland for the laid back world of a small town at the Oregon coast, at least until we can get the vaccine. I am thankful that we were able to do that. With all the people who are homeless and in poverty, I am thankful for having a home, food to eat, and the ability to eat it.
And medical care! I am thankful for my medical team, and all the resources that were devoted to getting me through this year.
And I am thankful for spit. Yes, saliva. Like so many things, you know its value when you don’t have it anymore. Radiation therapy obliterated my salivary glands, and caused so many things I loved to eat to quickly turn to wallpaper paste in my mouth. A New York Times article recently reported that people normally produce a quart of spit a day, so when you have a juicy steak it’s not the steak that is producing most of the juice. Just this past week, however, I have noticed that I can now produce a small amount of saliva. We celebrate these little victories!
I am also thankful for not being run over by my Jeep two weeks ago today. The circumstances are too embarrassing to relate here, but if you have ever read about someone being run over by their own vehicle I am here to tell you it can happen. But the good news is that I am HERE to tell you that. The fates rewarded me with a severely bruised and sprained ankle to help me remember NEVER TO LEAVE A RUNNING CAR EVEN IF YOU SHIFT TO PARK AND PULL THE HANDBRAKE. There, now you have been told too. My job here is done.
Two Wasted Minutes has always tried to remain non-political, though an amusing anecdote occasionally slips through. Is it political to be thankful that democracy in this country has survived?
Most of all, I am thankful for family and friends. I am in awe of the love and caring I experienced during this last year. My family without exception not only did what was needed, but also what would make life easier for Carol and me. My sister Shirley left her home in California to live with us and tend to my every whim. Hey Shirl – where were you when I was a bratty kid? Actually, she was there for me then, too. During the worst days following surgery, each of my kids took a turn staying with me through the night in the hospital, coaching me to breathe through that detestable tracheotomy and calming me to help get me through the worst nights of my life. Painful memories, but lessons of love that I can never forget.
And most of all, I am thankful for Carol, my wife of 46 years. Carol shows her love by letting me do things for myself but helping me when I need it, indulging my innumerable flights of fancy, providing the yin of calmness to my yang of restlessness. We are different people, and this was confirmed when we tested for personality types. Her type is shared by around 3% of the population, mine by about 1%. When reading about our respective types, we were not astonished to find that the single most compatible type to hers is mine, and mine, hers. She is still here. I am still here. There is a reason. I love you Carol. And happy anniversary!
Well, I am thankful for one more thing. You, my avid readers! Your likes and comments have goaded me to travel and write about it for almost 5 years now. Cancer and Covid brought that to a screeching halt of course, but the vaccine is at hand, and within months opportunities for travel will return.
Stay safe everyone, and Christmas-time wishes of love and happiness to all of you!
I have proposed, and at least one of my cancer buddies (CB’s) has agreed, that Johnny Nash wrote the perfect song for those of us who got cancer and came out on the other side. “I Can See Clearly Now” has always been one of my very favorite songs, and in light of the latest developments in my health, it seems ever more appropriate now.
Avid readers will recall that a little over a year ago, this travel blog was hijacked by cancer, not once but twice. Then, while recovering from cancer surgery numero dos, they found at least one errant cancer cell in a lymph node that was removed. My body was then subjected to the indignity of radiation therapy from which I am still healing. Thereafter, in the process of confirming by PetScan the absence of any lingering cancer, a tumor was found on my pituitary gland, risking the possibility of having to go through puberty again or maybe reversing it, neither option being appealing. Oh, and the possibility of brain cancer.
Over the weekend, the test results came back and they were all normal. The neurosurgeon is 99% sure that the growth in the pituitary area is non-cancerous. It is not causing problems now, and is not likely to cause any in the future. They’ll probably give me another brain MRI in a year to confirm that it is not growing. Other than that, my earlier PetScan showed no cancer from stem to stern, so for now I’ve got a clean bill.
It is a sad coincidence that at the same time my outlook has cleared up, Johnny Nash has died. He lived to age 80 and produced many great songs. None were more successful than Clearly, which was released in November of 1972 and spent 4 weeks atop the Billboard Top 100.
Many avid readers and dear friends have inquired as to the situation here (mine and Portland’s), so here is a quick update:
Fires and Smoke.
Much of Oregon is suffering greatly from wildfires caused by a confluence of factors:
First, the table was set with summers that have become increasingly hot and dry. Our humidity level earlier in the week was down to 11% – unheard of in this area.
Second, an unusually strong wind from very hot and very dry central Oregon came barreling east over the Cascades, plunging down the mountainsides into the Willamette Valley, and continuing all the way to the coast. This is rare and occurs with this strength (60 mph or more) only every 20 or 30 years.
Third, add to the mix sources of ignition including lightning, accidents, and at least one case of arson that triggered the devastating fires in Southern Oregon that wiped out the towns of Talent and Phoenix. In fact, one major fire east of Salem had been burning quietly for weeks, and had been left to extinguish itself over time – until the winds came. Over the last few days, that fire combined with another and the commingled conflagration has threatened even some exurbs of Portland.
Fourth, the air circulation pattern shifted from easterly winds to southerly winds, which brought in smoke from Southern Oregon and California.
Fifth, after smoke from Oregon and California fires had covered much of the Pacific Northwest, the winds ceased, leaving virtually the entire Pacific Coast, from B.C. south to California, obliterated by smoke for days now.
The result was tragic loss of life and property from the fires, and horrendous air quality throughout the region. In fact, for four days running the contenders for the worst air quality on the planet have been Portland, Seattle, Vancouver BC, and San Francisco. That unsavory honor has gone to Portland more than one of those days.
Aficionados of conspiracy theories may inquire whether it is true that antifa is setting the fires so they can go in after people evacuate and rob their homes. It is not. And to the Russian internet agencies that no doubt initiated this rubbish: Utikhnut!
A Personal Perspective.
The normal view from our condo in the heart of Portland, looking south and east:
The view as the fires were being whipped up by severe winds pouring in over the Cascade mountains from eastern and central Oregon:
Our view for the last four days:
Protests, Violence, and Riots.
These events have been well-covered in the national and international media so no reason to cover what you already know. Here, though, is a personal perspective from my own observations:
First, protests have continued every day, to some degree or another. By “protests” I use the Biden definition: “Violence is not protest. Setting fires is not protest. Destroying property is not protest.” Protests usually start during daylight hours and end by evening. They are peaceful.
Second, violent demonstrations have occurred virtually every night as well, beginning after (usually well after) the protestors have gone home.
Third, the violent demonstrations consist of a small number of people, with only an even smaller number of them actually engaged in violent behavior.
Fourth, the violent demonstrations take place within a 2 or 3 block area of wherever they have decided to focus their activities that particular night. When violence begins, the police declare a “riot,” arrest some of the perpetrators and sometimes others, and the crowd ultimately disperses. Our newly elected District Attorney has decided not to prosecute unless they can show violence resulting in serious damage or injury, so after arrest most everyone is released. Next day, repeat.
In my view the term “riot” hardly applies. Watts in 1965 was a riot. South Central LA after the Rodney King verdict was a riot. What is happening in Portland is localized, predictable, and contained.
As a result, these activities still do not affect day to day (and even night to night) life in Portland unless the demonstrators happen to have chosen your neighborhood on a particular night. This happened twice in my area, home to the local ICE facility. The first was the subject of my recent post: “Surrounded.” The second took place last week before the air turned toxic, and this one was a dud. Around 11pm I heard someone leading chants with a megaphone, but otherwise heard nothing more, and the next day there was – thankfully – no further vandalism that I could find.
Now, with the air quality having turned hazardous for everyone, the streets have largely become the domain solely of the homeless living downtown and in other pockets of Portland. Today I drove the streets of downtown, including the hotbed area outside the Justice Center and the Federal Building. Nothing looked different, just the same graffiti and vandalism I saw a month ago. The only sign of human occupation was the homeless tent community in the park across the street.
For the interested few: I continue to be wary of the growth that has taken up residence in the pituitary area of my brain, although I remain greatly relieved that the effort to rid my body of cancer has otherwise succeeded. Knowledgable people suspect that the brain tumor is benign and harmless, and will bother me less than being served lukewarm coffee. The medical team at OHSU will weigh in, no doubt after extensive testing, come October. Otherwise, I continue to be frustrated that healing from my two tongue cancer surgeries and radiation is neither linear nor rapid. In context, however, the fact that I CAN eat, CAN swallow, and CAN talk at all speaks volumes about the miraculous hands of my surgeons, the healing touch of the medical and nursing staff who have taken care of me, and the prayers and good wishes of the squadrons of people whose kindness and love I do not deserve but deeply appreciate.
Another protest took place last night in my neighborhood, at the edge of which lies the unfortunate home of the local ICE facility.
Around 11pm we heard a siren, then more sirens. Stepping out onto our 19th floor balcony, I noticed one squad car after another circling our building, sirens blaring, lights flashing. I counted at least 4 squad cars and 4 motor cops. By midnight, around 100 to 200 people congregated in the middle of the main intersection adjacent to our condo. Amoeba-like, the crowd first moved one way, then with no apparent motivating cause, switched course, then after awhile, switched direction again. A picnic table once again was dragged into the center of the street. I kept waiting for this one to be lit on fire like the one last week, but the crowd ultimately left without any incendiary activities. A couple of people even moved the picnic table back onto the sidewalk. By 1am, we were able to head back to bed. A walk around the neighborhood this morning revealed no apparent vandalism.
Nonetheless, there is a certain vulnerability that you feel when you are surrounded by events – potentially violent – outside your control. Our safety was never at risk, and yet I had a dim sense what it would be like to feel vulnerable to violence.
I am not sure what these midnight romps accomplish. Organized and peaceful marches have gained the support and participation of millions of people across the country. Those marches have changed minds, and have brought to the fore the need for racial justice and changes in policing. That is how you change society. A midnight march through a residential neighborhood? Sorry, it just pisses people off.
Having observed over 50 years of protests, beginning with the student riots of the late 1960’s, I have some suggestions for the people who organize (if one can use the term) the protests in Portland:
Peaceful protests are more powerful engines of change than violence or destruction. Over 70% of the populace support peaceful protests for racial justice; well over 70% actively oppose violent or destructive protests regardless of the cause.
Protests are more powerful the more people who attend. Thus, they should be scheduled when more people can attend, and they should be publicized for maximum participation.
Accordingly, secretly planned protests that start at 11pm or later on a weeknight will not be as effective as ones that happen during the day on a weekend. (Note: there is a reason why the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 took place on a Sunday during the afternoon, not at 11pm at night. Actually, there are a lot of reasons.)
Disrupting neighborhoods at night, even though populated by a good measure of progressives who share the goal of racial justice, does not serve your cause.
More to the point: if violence and destruction, regardless of the animating cause, becomes the dominating issue in the upcoming election, Trump will win. Is there really anything more that needs to be said?
[Well, maybe one more thing, this regarding a health update from your author. It seems he now has a brain tumor. It’s just a little guy, only about 5 silly millimeters long, that has found purchase on his pituitary gland. It is almost assuredly benign, but it does require some further investigation that will begin in early October. Allowed to grow, it can have an impact on vision, and nothing is more important to me than my sight so surgery is possible. I have already become a frequent flyer in the O.R., so if I do need to go in again, I am hoping I’ve accumulated enough points at least to get upgraded to high-speed internet.]
My neighborhood (South Waterfront) is populated by a number of high rise condo and apartment towers, some small, family owned businesses, a charter school, and the Portland location of ICE (the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency). The neighbors, in total NIMBY fashion, objected to putting ICE here a few years ago, but under federal supremacy the Feds do not need local approval and went ahead and put it here anyway. It was hardly noticed until the Trump administration started separating children from their parents with no plan or program for re-uniting them. Indeed, many children remain separated from their families to this day. This was nothing less than a war crime (since the President characterized the immigrants as an invaders, that is an appropriate appellation and not polemic), and the Portland Protest Class rose to the occasion and protested that for weeks and months. At some point, between the protestors needing to go back to school or their jobs, and the patience of the police class wearing thin, that protest ended.
George Floyd’s murder in May led to justifiable protests across the country. Over 70% of the country supports the movement for racial justice. While there is a struggle to determine how to convert the goal of racial justice to specific policies to achieve that, the groundwork is being laid.
Now, Portland is famous for three things. First our airport, routinely rated the best in the country. Second, our bike-friendliness. Third, our protestors. And when there is something to protest, our world-class protestors will not be out-lasted or out-done by any other group anywhere.
True to form, our George Floyd protests started early and often. We have now had almost three months of continuous daily protests. Sadly, the protests are becoming as notable for their violence as for the cause which inspired them. Even the head of the local NAACP has pleaded “As the demonstrations continue every night in Portland, many people with their own agendas are co-opting, and distracting attention from, what should be our central concern: the Black Lives Matter movement.”
So I can imagine the conversation that might have occurred last week among the protest dis-organizers (since there is no avowed organization):
“What do you want to do tonight, Marty?”
“I dunno. What do you want to do?”
“You wanna to go protest downtown again?”
“Nahh, we’ve done that the last 84 days.”
“Go try to burn down the Police Bureau?”
“Nahh, we did that last night.”
“I know. Let’s go protest ICE!”
“Yeah, that’s the ticket!”
I get the sense that it has become a protest in search of something to protest. It certainly isn’t about seeking racial justice. That train switched tracks from protest to working affirmatively for improvement months ago. The Portland Protest Class apparently did not get the memo.
So last week, while my wife and I headed to the Oregon Wine Country for some long-overdue R&R (and W), the protest transformed from a George Floyd/Racial Injustice protest, to a child-separation/ICE/Immigration protest.
On my return, I took a walk around the neighborhood. ICE is now boarded up.
No problem, no one ever noticed they were there anyway. And what do they need windows for?
The charter school next door has engaged in their own protest for months now, and their signs no doubt provided a defensive measure against vandalism (though I do not mean to demean their efforts which were genuine and pre-dated all protests in the neighborhood).
Local business owners, out of sincerity or self-protection or both, did the same.
One business across the street from ICE, a vintage decor store, did not get the memo, and this was the result:
At one point the protest must have ambled over to my building three or four blocks from ICE because this graffiti was on the road in front of it:
and I am told that this it what is left of a picnic table, swiped from a Vietnamese restaurant in our building, and burned to chards (the entire meaning of which vandalism completely escapes me):
By now, Trump is thrilled. The Portland Protest Class, rather than advancing the interest of racial justice, has has distracted from it and provided all the footage that Trump’s campaign could have dreamed of.
A letter to the editor in the Portland Oregonian Sunday from a writer in Kentucky beseeched the protestors to back off. The Republicans there are now running ads non-stop of the Portland protests with warnings that this will befall Kentucky too if Biden wins. You can call BS all day long, but the damage is being done, and being done by the same protestors who absolutely hate Trump.
To everything there is a season. The season for violent protest is over. The season for rolling up your sleeves to actually do the work of restoring justice to all, has begun. So protestors with a proclivity toward doing violence and causing destruction, please go home, clean your rooms, and start doing the work.
[Health update: to those avid readers who have suffered reading along this far solely to know the latest on my health: The PetScan determined that I no longer have cancer anywhere south of my eyeballs. Unfortunately, something lit up on the PetScan in the area of my brain, so I will be having a brain MRI this Thursday. No one on the medical team is particularly worried, since it’s not their brain after all, and also since PetScans are notorious for giving false positives in the brain area. A further update will follow after the MRI results are in.]