February, Good Riddance

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Sitting at urgent care one December night when my wife had a health scare, I was stuck in the waiting area for three hours with only one issue of a Portland Monthly Magazine. I read it cover to cover and read it some more until I had read every word of the issue. A short blurb jumped out at me. I remember the article was about February and what a tough month it can be. I considered the thoughts of Rich Reece who had been interviewed for the piece.

He pointed out that February was not a good time to make any life changes. People get in bad moods and funks. They get the winter blahs. It had been his experience that people make bad, snap decisions this time of year.

At that point I braced myself for February. Years ago I had dropped out of college in mid winter so it was something I dwelled on. I wasn’t expecting bad things to happen but the article served as a reminder of what could happen if you don’t respect February. Reece pointed out that he wouldn’t make any serious decisions in this time of year like breaking up with someone or quitting a job without lining up another one. With that taken into account, I slogged my way through the month. Anytime I got down or felt lousy I reminded myself what month it was. I wasn’t going to quit my job, get mad at anyone or raise a ruckus at anytime. I didn’t do myself any favors by drinking too much coffee and not eating enough fruits and vegetables but I didn’t want to do much of anything else, just look for the light at the end of the tunnel which seemed to be the next month.

The odd thing was that I had told my friend Jeff Dodge about the article soon after I read it. He told me Rich Reece was someone I had just met. He had been a part of a short film I had worked on with Jeff set in the early 80’s, about a band on tour that had to do an interview with an obnoxious and abrasive AM radio DJ in Lincoln Nebraska. I could have bent his ear up and down about February, if only I had known.

Now February doesn’t seem so bad. We’ve had sunny days, not warm enough for my tastes, but sunshine nonetheless. I was reminded that last February we had ice and snow, but that doesn’t seem to happen often. And while the east coast had their blizzards, this winter has seen about three snowflakes.

I remember first moving to Portland in February seven years ago, feeling warm temperatures and fresh air despite it being damp. We had seasonal weather that year, like we always do in February. We headed to the park to throw a frisbee. We didn’t have jobs. But February has its share of gloomy, gray days. It’s as good an explanation as any for why Valentine’s Day is right smack in the middle of the month. You need flowers to look at and chocolate to make it to March. And why not make it shorter by three days most years. Let’s finish this miserable month as soon as possible.

I have yet to touch base with Rich Reece again. He might find it strange to see himself mentioned in a blog post. I found out he lives in my neighborhood so if I get the chance I’ll tell him that I think he saved my life or at the very least had me thinking up some better strategies to survive February.

Sadly, I have learned that the link below no longer works!

Here’s a link to the article. Scroll down to the headline that says: Get Your Head Right

http://www.portlandmonthlymag.com/arts-and-entertainment/articles/50-things-every-portlander-must-do-this-winter-learn-december-2014

Feb gray sky

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The Finster Show!

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There is still time to catch the Finster show at the Portland Museum of Modern Art located in the basement of Mississippi Records at 5202 N. Albina Ave. Portland, OR 97217. I would advise you to stop reading now and go directly to see this art, don’t make any excuses or procrastinate. I have not made it over to the show myself but it’s not to be missed. We’re talking about the Reverend Howard Finster, the eccentric, southern preacher who started cranking out primitive folk art late in his life and didn’t stop until his death in 2001.

I’m biased because I like this art so much. It’s colorful, sometimes crude, but always detailed in a energetic way with stick figure angels and smiling clouds. Sometimes there’s a message to the work that’s glaringly obvious because it’s written on the painting whether it’s a biblical verse or another kind of platitude. This is a show made up of work collected by area residents. As a college student in Virginia during the 80’s it would have been difficult for me not to have come in contact with the art of Howard Finster either through album covers which used his art or by having a chance to see an amazing show in nearby Roanoke, VA. I saw more of his art on display in the folk collection of the National Gallery and his pieces were included in other folk art shows that came to the Washington DC area where I lived and there was always a painting or two of his in the shows at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

Finster’s art will be in town until March 14 so there is still time to see it. The thought of having a collection of Finster’s work on display in Portland amazes me. There’s nothing like those paintings. I was always captivated by that wild southern spirit of Howard Finster. He was all kinds of charming, yet mysterious, which had me wondering where his creativity was coming from and how it had been inspired. I could never forget the video of him as he told the story of how he got paint on his finger and when he looked at it there was a face that told him to paint sacred art. Paradise Gardens, his home compound seemed like a mythical place with folk art cut outs sprouting out of the yard like mushrooms. I was glad to be able to visit in 1998 and tour the grounds and years later happy to hear about the major restoration that has since taken place. Get to the show. You’ve waited too long already.

Show info: http://portlandmuseumofmodernart.com/Howard-Finster-Jan-2015

Here’s a tour of Finster’s Paradise Gardens from 1998:

Here’s info on a film about the restoration of Paradise Gardens. Hopefully it will make it out to Portland:

http://www.finsterfilm.com

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Here’s some additional memories inspired by Finster. He’s not the type of southerner I would have encountered as a kid living in the Atlanta area in the early to mid 70’s but his portrait of Jimmy Carter I saw while reviewing footage of Paradise Gardens had me flashing back to the good old days. I must have been impressed with Carter because my big brother, Jack, went on a school field trip to the Atlanta state capital and saw then Governor, Jimmy Carter, hard at work at his desk and then soon after he became president. We moved to Washington D.C. two years later and went to Carter’s inaugural parade. In a lawyer’s office, looking down on Pennsylvania Avenue, we saw Jimmy take to the streets with Rosalyn in her teal coat and a then 9 year old Amy Carter skipping around.

Jimmy was too nice a guy to be president for long. I mean the dude isn’t getting much respect from me as I’m using his first name. He used to get on TV and tell us to turn our thermostat down and wear sweaters to conserve energy. Carter was the first president to put solar panels on the White House so I guess he was on to something. Jimmy Carter jumped ahead of the other notable Georgians I remember from my childhood like Lester Maddox, not a hero, but an oddball who ran a strange newspaper advertisement for what I recall was a restaurant. I later adapted the ad for a book report. “Lester Maddox says read Stuart Little.” And there was James Oglethorpe who probably was more of a hero type. I immortalized him in a diorama for a school.

Jimmy Carter Says Yes! Have a listen:

The Pittsburgh Orbit

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Since I started the Portland Orbit, I had the idea that other cities could have their own Orbit, but I didn’t consider how I could accomplish this. Once I started blogging, I spent all my spare time on the content of the blog so franchising became a forgotten dream. Then my old friend Will Simmons and I were emailing about something and he planted the seed of starting the Pittsburgh Orbit. I wrote him back and said, yeah, that would be really cool, no pressure or anything and he was hesitant, but the next thing I knew not only had he started the site, he was blogging like a fiend and the content was amazing to me.

Pittsburgh flood markers, a jaws tombstone and gum graffiti are just some of the topics Will has written about. Writing like a professor on some kind of academic steroids, his thoughts are far from stuffy, they’re alive, comical, sometimes sad but always engaging. If this is to become a west coast east coast rivalry I can only hope it remains friendly. Will is raising the blogging bar so high that I’m not sure my nephew John could high jump over it. The Portland Orbit recently posted a piece on a baby doll strapped to a car while the Pittsburgh Orbit ran an expose on a dead mall in suburban Pittsburgh. Baby doll vs dead mall, mono brow vs high brow, I don’t know, it could be a west coast/east coast thing, only time and continued writing will tell.

It was over ten years ago that Will helped me produced a video about Pittsburgh for a public access television series I was producing. Without much direction, Will stepped into a producer and TV host role with ease. He guided us to great material for segments then drove us around as the camera rolled and we got to know his city.  Will is the kind of guy who is always willing to help, has great ideas and loves talking about Pittsburgh.

We welcome the Pittsburgh Orbit to the blogosphere. There can’t be anyone more proud and excited to be reading the thoughts of Will Simmons on the city where he has been a long time resident, a place he now considers his adopted hometown. It’s going on 20 years, if memory serves me well, and much of that time has found Will, camera in hand, exploring his surroundings. The idea of him sharing his Pittsburgh enthusiasm with me and other readers means we’re in for some good reading. Whether you’ve lived in Pittsburgh, visited or even if you’re unfamiliar with the city but you enjoy absorbing curious culture about a specific locale, I know the Pittsburgh Orbit will provide enjoyment to anyone in any of these categories.

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Will Simmons takes Clown Art serious.

Watch the public access show about Pittsburgh featuring Will Simmons as an accidentally awesome TV host:

See Will Simmons in his musician guise from his days as a member of the legendary band The Hope-Harveys:

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An Orbit Obit: Dalo’s Ethiopian Kitchen

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Dalo’s Ethiopian Kitchen, the restaurant anyway, has been gone a while and maybe it should not have been a surprise given the dramatic sweep of new buildings that have been taking over North Williams Ave. From the outside it never looked like much, nondescript and in a building that housed the Oregon Minority Entrepreneurs Association. Inside it was like any Ethiopian restaurant with Ethiopian music, Ethiopian travel posters and a bar towards the back. It was a bit dingy but the food was good. It seemed to be run by an older, bubbly gentleman and his harried son. You never wanted to order off the menu, not after they started the buffet service, because it seemed to take hours to get food. Now time isn’t so bad when you just want to hang out with friends but hours, and yes it’s an exaggeration, when I’m thinking multiple hours it was probably closer to 2 than 3, but there is only so much time that can be spent in a restaurant waiting for food or the check. The buffet on the other hand was easy. There was a sink ten feet away so you could wash your hands, important when you’re eating with them, otherwise you had to grab the key and walk down the hall to a shared bathroom. The buffet was good for eating in or loading up serving savers for carry out. Dalo’s Kitchen made me realize that there are varying ways of preparing Ethiopian food, different items, a variety of dishes with every restaurant providing their unique take on what Ethiopian food can be.

I drive up North Williams sometimes when I pick up carry out from Queen of Sheeba, another Ethiopian restaurant. I’ve lived in Portland long enough to remember when North Williams was more empty lots than condos but I can’t get nostalgic about the old Hostess store. The construction boom was a bit of a shock after years with nothing much going on or going up. A recent ride up Williams on my bike had me spotting 20 or more construction workers on a lunch break. Changes to the area like the addition of New Seasons and other new businesses and restaurants as well as North Williams now having one of the automobile lanes reserved for bikes have made the street more active. It feels like it has the potential to get congested but most of the time I’m passing through.

I miss Dalo’s in it’s old spot. When I saw it had been demolished it was disconcerting but there were buildings going up on all sides so why wouldn’t there be a new big building there too. Dalo’s Kitchen has a food cart in Alberta. The website points out you can “find us next to the New Rose City Cab Co.” The optimist in me has Dalo’s Kitchen becoming a restaurant again and returning to some nicer digs. The Oregon Minority Entrepreneurs Association has a fine new office set up in Hayden Meadows in the Delta Park area so maybe all hope is not lost. In the meantime I have to hit the cart not only for the food but maybe to see if I can find the bubbly old man and his harried son. Anybody know how to get to the New Rose City Cab Company?

Hungry? Check out this link to see pictures of food:
http://www.dalos-kitchen.com

Couldn’t have said it better myself:

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/06/as_north_williams_booms_longti.html

Happy Valentine’s Day

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The spirit of the day has taken over. Earlier in the week I was in a Dollar Store parking lot when I witnessed two people carrying enormous bunches of balloons. They proceeded to stuff them into a station wagon. My research revealed that the first batch of store bought balloons totaled 124. One escaped and floated away. How this was actually accomplished I never found out because I went into the store to do my in depth reporting.  I was told that 250 balloons were purchased in all making a return pick up necessary.  250 balloons at a dollar a pop, you do the math.

For all of you getting the love, flowers, chocolate, the cards, wine and prix fixe meals have a happy and abundant Valentine’s Day.

Valentine's Day

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Post Script:  This (above) was hanging on a telephone pole in downtown Kenton dark and early Valentine’s Day.  The sign included free hand decorated tags for the taking to spread Valentine’s Day cheer.

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Trimet Tales #1

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I’ve been riding the Max on Mondays for substitute teaching work in the Beaverton School District. Once a week is enough to keep it interesting and not make it a dull routine. Someone always seems to act out when I’m on the train. One morning getting on the yellow line at the Denver Ave station heading downtown, I noticed a guy wearing a sparkly New Year’s pork pie hat. His odd style caught my eye even before he stood up and started doing Tai Chi. My internal suburban panic mode kicked in as I tried to assess the threat level. Soon after I was making cynical asides in my head critiquing his Tai Chi abilities. Kung Fu Tai Chi is what it looked like—too fast, too jerky. Although I know nothing about Tai Chi. It seemed wrong.

The kid in front of me intrigued me. He was stuffing his backpack with a healthful lunch of seaweed soup in tupperware and another container of beans and rice. I saw the soup sloshing and could imagine it spilling in his backpack. His food out shined my sad provisions that included an outdated can of chunky beef soup and a serving saver of dry Raisin Bran.

Tai Chi guy moved closer. He was standing ten feet away looking at me. It did not seem like a good time to jot down notes. I eyed the train’s panic button that would allow me to contact the train’s driver. Since seeing his behavior I had debated if it was okay to flail about in a Tai Chi manner in public on a Max train when there was no apparent Tai Chi class scheduled or instructor in sight. It seemed threatening. He had demonstrated some karate looking moves and could flip out at any moment and start kicking ass. His hat made him look like he was on a New Year’s Eve bender nine months after the fact. He looked more crazy than tough with his slight build and tight faux leather maroon jacket. I was hoping he’d get off the train. Maybe my Jedi Mind Trick worked because he hopped off at the next stop.

The kid across from me pulled out a text book. The only two letters I saw from the title were a P and an H. Physics, I thought, nice, a scientist. The pictures were sketches of the human body which caused me to conclude that it was an art book. Now I was looking at another Portland artist. No, the title had the word physical in it. It was the human body. The kid will be a Doctor for sure. Science wins.

I had to get prepared to spend six hours working with children with autism so maybe analyzing my fellow travelers and seeing a guy acting strange wasn’t such a bad thing after all. I wondered what his aim was. Did he need attention? Did he want to connect with other people and talk about Tai Chi? The mystery remains, but this guy seemed to want to follow a Max train tradition of doing what he wanted to do in public. I arrived at my sub job early and while in the staff lounge I stumbled across a picture of Robert DeNiro in US Weekly, doing what else, but Tai Chi while rehearsing for a movie role. Maybe Tai Chi is not such a bad way to start the day.

My favorite TriMet related blog!:

http://rantingsofatrimetbusdriver.blogspot.com/?m=1

An Empty Post

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I think if you sat and thought about it for awhile you might agree that there is nothing sadder than an empty poetry post. I’ve seen a few that contain poems and they even add new ones from time to time. Within the last two weeks I stopped at a poetry post on North Wilbur and enjoyed a Lawrence Ferlinghetti poem which was great because it felt like such a random way to experience poetry. I’d like to pursue the poetry post phenomenon at length another time which will require more in depth reporting. In the meantime please view these post photographs. Image them filled with poems and try not to weep while considering their emptiness.

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Shed Incorporated

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Have you seen Stephen Weis standing in the shadow?

All the bands and all the clubs in this town have had me curious for awhile. What do these gazillion bands sound like? What goes on in these venues? I’m lucky to live in a neighborhood that has a bar that doesn’t usually have a cover charge so checking out a band can be a low risk proposition. Through the word of mouth of my brother-in-law Paul (this blog is sure to make him the most famous brother-in-law in the world) I was motivated to check out Shed Incorporated who was performing  at the World Famous Kenton Club. Paul had inspired me to check out Muscle Beach and I blogged about their show at the Foggy Notion a couple of months ago.

Shed Incorporated turned out to be one of the loudest acoustic bands I’ve ever seen. They plugged directly into the PA system and let it rip. Throwing arena rock moves and strutting on the stage, they held up their guitars and brought bravado and enthusiasm to their act. What struck me was the variety of styles they worked into their songs from finger bending power chords to quick bursts of a bluegrass riff here to a nod to prog rock there. It was all done in fun and far from the usual folky trappings you might expect when you see two guys singing and playing acoustic guitars.

Band members, guitarist and singer Stephen Weis and guitarist and singer Thomas Diesel, were college rockers in Buffalo, NY who made their way to Portland. As Stephen mentioned on stage, and I agree, no one is really sure what an imprint is but it’s what the Portland Mercury is calling their new release entitled V or maybe Five, if you still want to believe in Roman numerals.

More info here:
http://www.discorporatetape.net

Read about them in the Mercury too:

http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/the-golden-country-shed-incorporated-and-three-for-silver/Event?oid=14588255

My apologies for the quality of the photo.  The club was lit with a chandelier not a tiki torch like it looks in the photo.  Indoor photography is limited when you’re using an old iPhone.

Legends Alive

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I had heard bits and pieces of the legend of Fred and Toody. It came at me in strange ways like the bumper sticker at Mississippi Records that read Fred and Toody Not Fred and Carrie. I never heard their music and anything I read about them seemed only to cement their reputation deep in my subconscious. When I heard that Mississippi Records was hosting a movie about one of their bands, Dead Moon, at the Hollywood Theater I saw an opportunity to explore this phenomenon. The documentary Unknown Passage was shown on January 22nd followed by a performance by Fred and Toody. The movie screened to a sold out crowd. As I watched the legend became a real story about Fred’s beginnings in show business, his brief soul singing days as Deep Soul Cole and the bands he performed with in the 60’s that were eventually immortalized on the Nuggets garage band compilations. It may have taken Fred a while, but after years of being in and out of bands it occurred to him that the one person he could count on and get along with, his wife Toody, had the makings to be a good bandmate as well. So she became a bass player. She was also a great singer in their new wave band Rat, and I loved her singing on the choruses in the footage of Dead Moon playing their sludgy, bluesy rock. Unknown Passage has great show footage and captures the band traveling through Europe and dealing with the endless grind of touring.

I can’t recommend the movie enough. It looks like it’s available on the Dead Moon website. It gave me an appreciation of Fred and Toody’s humility and authenticity. Dead Moon drummer Andrew Loomis pointed out in the movie about how independent the band really was illustrated by scenes of Fred playing around with the lathe Toody bought him as he masters a record wearing his bathrobe. I didn’t fully understand the record recording process. I was thinking that what Fred was doing with the giant machine was making each of the band’s records by hand. But the band was doing most everything else from recording themselves to putting their recordings out on their own label—certainly as DIY as you can get. There’s the frugality to admire too. Fred talks about buying new used tires for the touring van after using the old ones years longer than he was told they’d last. Not to mention his building his house from scrap wood.

During the screening I saw my inner critic taking over. After ten to fifteen minutes I was telling myself that I didn’t think the movie was any good but that is was being screened for it’s historical virtues. It seemed disjointed starting with a trailer followed by a long performance and some random interviews. Then the movie faded out and the theater went dark. I’m pretty sure it was Eric Isaacson from Mississippi Records who made his way to the stage in front of the screen. He announced that they had made a mistake and started the screening with the DVD extras.Then it was on to the main feature. After the movie, Fred and Toody performed. I didn’t know the songs but they felt like familiar,  down and dirty rock. Toody sang “Johnny’s Got a Gun,” followed by a song with a chorus that included the phrase “running out of time.” I had just watched Fred and Toody’s lives passing through time and could really feel that sense of everyone getting older but the song’s urgency and beauty hit home. Since I get up early, I usually don’t stay out late. I was cutting out of the show, but I made a point to run down both aisles to get close enough to get these fanboy fanzine-style performance photos from each angle and then I kept running, out of time and out of the theater to make my way home.

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For more info and to order the film see:

http://www.deadmoonusa.com