Monday, May 28, 2007

What were YOU thinking of, today?

It seems to me that the VERY best thing for the majority of Americans would be to think of this Memorial Day not as time reserved for barbeques and softball in the park, but as the time it took a 19-year-old private to bleed out, alone amid the dying crowd in the grass before the wall at Fredricksburg.

The time it took a husband and father to convulse his way into death from typhus in the tent hospital outside Santiago de Cuba.

The time that the battalion runner, a former mill hand from Utica, New York, spent in a shell hole in the Argonne staring at the rest of his life drizzling out of his shattered legs.

The time it took for the jolting trip down the Apennines to the CCP, unfelt by the father of three because of the jagged rip in his gut wall that killed him that morning.

The time required to freeze a high school kid from Corvallis, Oregon, to the parched, high ground above the Yalu River.

The time it took for the resupply bird to come for the plastic bag that contained what had been a young man from the Bronx who would never see the Walt Frazier he loved play again.

The time taken up by the last day in the life of a professional officer whose fiance will never understand why she died in a "vehicular accident" in the middle of a street in Taji.

I've been proud to be a soldier, and don't kid myself that there will be a day when the killer ape "studies war no more". But the modern view of war as video entertainment for the masses sickens me. Every single fucking human being needs to have it driven into his or her forehead with a steel nail that every single day in every single war some person dies a stupid, meaningless death that snuffs out a world in a moment. That those empty eyes zipped inside a bag or covered by a bloody blanket were the windows to an entire universe, once.

That the price we pay for forging our national will is paid in the unlived futures of those we kill and those of us who die to make it so.

Maybe then we'd be sure of what we want to achieve before we reopen the doors of the Temple of Janus.

"Go tell the Constable that we are but warriors for the working day.
Our glories and our gilt are all o'ersmirched
With rainy marching in the painful field." Henry V

Flat as a Pancake

Having parked a tearful preschooler with his grandparents, Mojo and I loaded up the wagon and headed to...well, not to swimmin' pools and movie stars. We headed East, to the high desert of Oregon, to spend the first part of the Memorial Day weekend on our own. We hadn't had a vacation alone together since February of 2006, when we slammed our pile of hideously expensive adoption paperwork down (which we're now in the process of hideously expensively re-doing - thanks, CCAA, you bastards...) and fled to the Kona coast.

The lovely rented Ford "Freestyle" skated up the long climb over Barlow Pass and skiied down the even longer descent into the Warm Springs Reservation with the kind of effortless grace I associate with the great climbers; Gino Bartali, Virenque or Leipheimer, or a Republican congressman evading a supoena. We slowed to pass through the ugly sprawl that has developed around Madras, Redmond and Bend, conciously trying to relax amid the slow-moving press of steel and concrete that is the new face of the Highway 97 corridor. I noticed that Redmond's Wal-Mart is in progress but the site I investigated in Bend is still vacant. Win one, lose one...
Finally we ducked out onto the open road again south of Bend and found our turn onto Paulina Lake Road. We began climbing again, up from the sage and rabbitbrush into the pine woods, enjoying the scent and the yellow pillars of ponderosa pine that lined the turning roadway. We payed our now-inevitable fee to enter Newberry N.V.M. and from there to our destination for the day: East Lake Resort.

This little camp has a long history: the first "East Lake Resort" was an Edwardian fishing camp complete with grandiose two-story hotel built in the Nineteen-teens. The current version is a cluster of little green-roofed red cabins along the grey pumice shore of the higher of Newberry's two lakes.

Here's "Teal", our own little green-roofed red cabin, complete with rustic beds and a lovely view of East Lake. We had our own ducks (see above) and our own little kitchen and potty. It was very cozy, and we mean to go back this summer.

The sunset that evening was appropriately firey, but the real beauty was the misty dawn that surprised me the next day. For the first time in what feels like, well, a long time, I had no schedule, no demands, no responsibility of work, or family or fatherhood. I could sit in the sun and just be. Drink hot sweet coffee, listen to the mountain chickadee and the brewer's blackbirds call and watch the silent lake and the dark hills beyond.
So after a slow morning we got back in the rental and drove down to Big Obsidian Flow, a very young a'a lava flow that issued from Paulina Peak in the very final phases of the last eruptive period 1,300 years ago. "A'a", by the way, is a hawaiian word for the rough, clinkery type of basaltic lava; the literal translation is "Ow, my fucking feet!"

Mojo was feeling adventurous and hiked far out on the flow. I stopped where the snow covered the trail and backtracked, instead taking the time to peer down into the convoluted whorls of pumice and glass that formed the flow itself, enjoyed the wild sounds of wind and distant bird calls, or the silence of snow and stone.

Clark's nutcracker's harsh grinding drifted up from the hill below, and a pair of mad chipmunks chased each other around the informational marker at the base of the stairs that led to the flow. The sun was warm and the day was gentle, and the other visitors only mildly intrusive. My favorite were the three young guys, one of whom won the "Fucking D'uh Moment" award by observing: "Fuckin' big rockpile, dude!". Ya think that's why they called it "Big Obsidian Flow", nimrod?
The green body of water at the base of the flow is called "Lost Lake" - I'm not sure who lost it or why, but it's quite small compared to the lakes around it, so perhaps the name implies that the owner is lost between East and Paulina Lakes.

From BOF we stopped briefly at Paulina Resort (a bit more than East Lake and yet less attractive) and then at Paulina Falls (which, despite the linked website's opinion, I don't think were "overrated" at all). Four osprey put on an aerial display, weaving and diving while all the while voicing the odd peering cry they make. The falls were, well, fall-y, all rainbow mist and boulders. I'm not sure what we find so appealing about falling water; is it the sound, soothing and energizing at once? Do we simply enjoy the sight of a river doing what we like to do, leaping about like a primate?

No matter. We enjoyed the lovely falls, the osprey, and the two girls with the matching "White Trash Racing" jackets who pitched their Corona Lights into the pit toilet (hey, I like a good beer buzz early in the morning, too, "ladies", but d'y'mind NOT plugging up the pissoir for the suck truck guy? Guess you can take the girl out into the National Volcanic Monument but not take the White Trash out of the girl, eh?)

We left behind us a lot more Newberry, and our hope is to bring the Peeper back with us in August to enjoy more of this beautiful country. But now it was time to saddle up the Freestyle and ride, cowgirls. We wedeled our way down to Highway 97, turned south, and then southeast down the Fort Rock highway, through the ranked ponderosa pines over the hills beyond LaPine and...

...into the desert.

(next time: forts, swamps, and Lake County's free condom distribution program)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Oregon's Outback incredibly austere and at the same time rich with life. We just this afternoon returned from our three-day vacation in Oregon's Eastern Desert. A lot more later. But now just this image, from Fort Rock, a magnificent tuff ring in the Pleistocene Fort Rock Lake.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Better Days

Just back from a good evening sharing the UEFA Champions League final with our friends B and J. Good meal, fun game, great sharing a bit of their lives. Both very excited about their upcoming hike of the Pacific Crest Trail this summer, and J has passed all of her high-stakes tests and is on track to take her MS in statistics this fall. Get some, guys!

Note that, once again, fucking Blogger refuses to accept my paragraph breaks. Wassupwitdat? So here goes the infamous text color change thing...

The game itself was Inzaghi and the Reds: the boys from Liverpool came to play, and showed that not all English football is dour clogging defenders and hopeless crosses into the 18-yard box. Much of the attractive play came from the lads from Anfield. But that didn't matter.

In the end, it came down to one player, Filippo Inzaghi. First with a horrible, deflected "goal" scored by deflecting a free kick off his arm while turning away, his eyes screwed shut like a toddler getting a vaccination. For this he was dubbed "Italy's premier goal-poacher" by one of the announcers. Oh, puh-leeze. As soccer goes, that barely qualified as poaching an egg...

But, in a wierd way like the famous "Hand of God" game in 1986, the scorer of the first, ridiculous goal also scored the second, and a lovely run it was, too, with a precise finish. And that was it.

So the first part of the week was much better than the start. Little Peep has really been enjoying his visit from the Grands - who disappeared yesterday and did I not know better
I would suspect of having checked into the Jupiter Hotel for a bit of funky urban pleasure (and please, God, do NOT let me keep that image in my head...) - and has been generally a happier and loving-er Pea.

So now it's Holiday Time! The grands are coming to stay with the Peeper and Deb and I are off for a vaction trip in our slick little rented Ford "Freestyle". It all sounds very cool and hip and I'll post the pictures when we get back.
One thing that has happened in our world - in a very odd, under-the-radar sort of way - is that the China adoption "alternative" newsgroup we belong to has erupted in a very odd (and, to my mind, silly) controversy.
It seems that some of the members wanted to add some friends. The group moderators, having posted quite plainly that the group was closed to new members, said no. Rather than accepting this like grown-ups, the disappointed members made quite a fuss to the point where it broke out on the board itself. Now many of the people there are angry, or unhappy, or both; one member posted that she was sad because the group was her "refuge" from the sad-bad-madness of the outside world, her support and her tonic in the hard times waiting for the CCAA to get off its' collective dead ass and refer us some kinder.
And all I could think of is: isn't this just like people? From the first screaming australopithecene fight down at the waterhole to the cybersquabbles of a bunch of the unchurched, when you get people together in groups the first thing they seem to do is make a big group hug against the "others" and the second is to start bashing each other across the base of the skull for some bizarre reasons incomprehensible to the same outsiders.
My take on this was, frankly, a shrug. What else did we expect? Some perfect world where we are all loving and understanding and forgiving? That we'd all stand at the waterhole and sing Kumbaya?
But that would mean that the Beatles, the Cowsills and the Bay City Rollers would all still be together.
I'm not sure if that would be a Good Thing...or a Bad Thing.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Grandparents arrive

When the Chief was a mere slip of a redleg, he had something of the reputation among his peers as one who had a loose tongue around his social and military betters, as well as being noted for his somewhat creative strain of invective.

In other words, his military superiors thought him a smartass.

He was famously quoted at length for his summary of a particularly scathing After Actions Report wherein his battery had been accused of failing to meet Army Standards by a rather gaping-chasm-like margin.

"Well..." I told the Regular Army evaluator "...there are good days and bad days. Some days you get the bear. And some days the bear gets you. And then there are the days when the bear just pulls your T-shirt over your head, bends you over and bloops you up the dumpster until the eyes pop out of your head."

Yesterday was one of those days.

I had hoped to post lots of pictures of the fun we had at Vancouver, Washington's "Dozer Days" riding the big trucks, working dozers and graders and excavators. Ummm, no. The Peeper was very excited on the way over but became more clingy and less happy with every minute we spent in the immense, noisy, busy sandlot. He hated the horns and sirens and seemed bothered by the people all around him. By the time we finally got to the excavator he refused to let go of Mojo and had to be carried off looking like a very frightened little monkey.

I have to say that I was a rather wretched Daddy, irked with my son for his lack of enthusiasm about something we had planned and expected him to enjoy. And a particularly lousy husband, taking out my ill humor on my wife, who had done nothing to deserve it except try and comfort her child, who was distraught with the noise, confusion and bustle of the event.

So they left, and I tried to stay with our friend Courtney and her sons, but they soon reported themselves tired and hungry and cashless. That ended "Dozer Days". Too bad - it's a fun event. Maybe we'll go next year. I promise to be less of a butthead.

Things went downhill after that, if you can believe it. Peep was a little serpent's tooth all day, Mojo was harrassed and angry, with him for being a little pill, with me for being a jackass in Vancouver; I felt frustrated and ill-tempered...just one of those T-shirt-over-the-head-bear-sodomy-days, and then Gramma and Grampa Mojo (let's call them Chickie and Bubba for short) arrived after midnight, their flight out of the East Coast having been cancelled and the rebooked flight over four hours later. I fell asleep on the couch and missed their first two phone calls before waking, stumbling out and driving in a sort of dazed frenzy across a darkened North Portland to the airport. Chickie was desperately chatty on the drive to the motel, while Bubba sat silently beside me, either as grumpy as I was or just at a loss for conversation. Which is perfectly possible - my father-in-law isn't exactly the Dorothy Parker of auto mechanics.

So here I am at 3 a.m., still sleepless, hoping for a better day today.

Friday, May 18, 2007

I have to think in my heart

From my beloved Mojo comes the latest from the Deep Peep, little-known philosopher.

"This morning, Shea was eating breakfast and out of the blue said "Mei-mei sure is taking a long time to get here".

Then he decided to name her Lilac.
It's almost enough to renew one's faith in the universe."

Yeah, little buddy, it is taking a long time. But we'll love her even more when she gets here.
Oh, and by the way; your Mommy's name is "Mommy", not "Warthog". Just sayin'.

I, on the other hand, am OK with "Warthog".

The title for this post? It's what the Peep says when he has to reflect on something. We will be in his bedroom trying to decide which Kama-Sutra-ish "snuggle" we will do before bed (Peeper-lies-beside-Daddy, Peeper-lies-on-top-of-Daddy, Peeper-sits-and-bounces-on-Daddy's-full-tummy...) and he will take his chin in his hand and announce that he needs to "think in his heart" what to do. I know how you feel, little guy. I think with my heart whenever I think about you.

The War Czar

Scene: The White House Situation Room, deep below the Oval Office.

The Commander Guy is moving little army men around his Situation Room mapboard of Baghdad muttering to his coterie of uniformed flunkies, moving squads here and there when LTG Lute comes in with a sheaf of dispatches:

W: Well, man? Where is al-Dafi? Where is al-Awadi?

Lute: My Decider, I...the latest reports...Petraeus says that they have removed al-Dafi, and Al-Awadi has resigned. The Iraqis aren't coming.

W: Liar! Traitor! Al-Dafi IS coming! Al-Dafi will defeat the terrorists! Al-..."

(scene dissolves in chaos as Dubya falls twitching and begins gnawing the carpet as aides squeak and begin to panic for the exits)

Friday Parenthood blogging

What You Cannot Remember, What You Cannot Know
-for Abigail

When you were two you used to say
I can do it all by myself, then when you were three
You had tantrums, essentially
Because you wanted to go back and be a baby like before,
And also to be a grownup.
It was perplexing,
It was a mini-rehearsal
For adolescence, which lurks inside your body
Now that you are almost nine,
Like a duplicate baby, an angel
Or alien, we don't know which,
Forceful and intelligent and weird,
Playing with the controls.
Fetal eyes blinking, non-negotiable demands
Like Coke bubbles overflowing a glass,
It strengthens and grows.
When you read it stares through your eyes,
It vibrates when you practice piano,
The cotton dresses hang in your closet
Like conspirators, wavering in its breeze.
We watch you turn inward, your hair
Falls over your face like a veil that hides whatever
You would rather others don't know,
You lean your head listening
For its keen highstrung melancholy voice.
Here comes the gypsy caravan,
Ding-a-ling, the icecream man,
Plenty of glee and woe up the road.
We would do anything for you,
Sweetie, but we can do nothing—
You have to do it all by yourself.

by Alicia Suskin Astriker, from No Heaven. © University of Pittsburgh Press.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


...comes another new mommy with her new family half-portion today. SBird and Emme (known for reasons I have been unable - okay, unwilling - to dig out of the archives over at The Singing Bird) are finally home today from their meeting over in the Middle Kingdom.

I could go on and on about how this is the first day of a journey that will last two lifetimes and more. But I'd rather turn the blog over to Grantland Rice:

...Across the field of play
the dusk has come, the hour is late.
The fight is done and lost or won,
the player files out through the gate.
The tumult dies, the cheer is hushed,
the stands are bare, the park is still.

But through the night there shines the light
of home beyond the silent hill.


UPDATE: 5/17/07

Whatever it was - and I suspect it had nothing to do with us and a lot to do with the karmic debt owed to Millicent and Floyd - it worked. They were chosen from out of 25 families to be the Mommy and Daddy of little Thor (I leave her parents to tell you her real name over there in the Different Dirt).

Okay, gods.

We're square.


(I'd love to post one of her pictures but her mom (hey, Mil - doesn't it kick ass to say that?) is still a little worried about privacy. Anyway, suffice to say that Mojo says that in the picture little Thor is wearing the MOST adorable shoes. I said: who's looking at the shoes?

Whaddya think? Does it gotta be the shoes?)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Do ut des

The ancient Romans had what I consider a very realistic concept of "God". Being a reasonably hardheaded people, they realized that a divine entity didn't get to be a deity by being randomly eleemosynary. That there were favors to be exchanged, deals to be cut, wheels to be greased, in return for those little driblets of heavenly favor. God - or gods - wasn't to be expected to just scatter largesse on the grubby little inhabitants of the workaday world without a little bit of...encouragement.

So when they made sacrifice to the Olympians, the Roman donor would say: "Do ut des" - meaning something like "I give to you so you will give to me."

Well, I'm calling in my marker.

Of all the people who are destined to be a great Mom and Dad, Millicent and Floyd over at Different Dirt are the destin-est. They are so full of love that they shine with it from within, like a luminaria on a still October night. Some lucky little girl out there deserves a mommy and daddy like them. And right now they're on pins and needles, waiting to hear if their dreams of parenthood will be incarnated in a little girl who needs them as her parents.

I don't ask for much from life. Mojo will tell you that my family rule is "If" - a stoic demand to put the best face on the misery and grief the World hands you. And as most of you who follow this blog know, it has handed Mojo and I some and more. But now I'm asking. And you, too, who know her, who read her, can ask, too. Beat your drum, light your sacrifice, send up your prayer, chant or simply think of them.

Do ut des.

Give them this. Give them this child. I give that you will give to them the beginnings of a lifetime of hope, love and joy.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Mommy Track

On mother's day, this, from Lois McMaster Bujold's Shards of Honor:
"Nine months of pregnancy, two years of diapering, and that's just the beginning. Tens of thousands of meals, thousands of bedtime stories, years of school. Dozens of teachers. A lot of people went into making him."

For all the mothers who have put their children to bed tonight, for all the mothers whose children are far away and who wait in the darkness in hope that the next morning will find them still alive, for all the mothers who will be there tomorrow morning with love and kindness, hope and encouragment, gentle hands and soft kisses. For all of us who were made the men and women we are, as good as we are, as thoughtful and loving as we try to be, by the mothers who brought us from cradle to doorpost readying us to step off into a world that they helped make ready for us...
Here's a draft and a sippy to them.
Here's to my love, Mojolicious, always the Mother of Our Year, from Peeper and I, and...
To The Mothers! May they always be the making of us!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Cool Things in North Portland: The St. John's Parade

First, here's The Peep with his new bike (just visible in the lower left). Now that he's a big four-year-old he is a superb cyclist, the Tom Boonen of the can't-wipe-his-own-backside-yet age group. We're at the corner of N Richmond and N Lombard where we rode to today's Cool Thing in North Portland.It's been too long since I've done one of these CoTiNoPs - I think the last one was about Merlo Field, and that had to have been back in the fall, since soccer season is well and gone. So this CoTiNoP (pronounced "cot-nop" like the what the kitty does on your best black sweater when you leave it on the bedspread...) is truly overdue. AND, to make things even spicier, it's not a place. It's a thing.
Every May the internationally known St. Johns Parade transforms our little town out here at the tag-end of Portland into a combination of Brazilian Carnaval, Bavarian Fasching and that thing they do down in Lents in Southeast Portland where they get the guy who runs the all night pawnshop and Spirit of the Holy Redeemer Chapel and Car Wash to bless all the cars everybody in the neighborhood has stolen all year (called "The Feast of St. Dismas", I believe). A pretty good part of the area turns out to see the fire trucks, car clubs, politicians, rodeo queens, Shriners, little league teams and the rest of the menage amble down North Lombard. Here, for example, are our own Astor School Marching Eaglets doing the prepubescent-cheerleader thing:
It's a very...American...sort of thing. Organized, after a fashion, but not very; and with some sort of direction, but not particularly well directed. The parade is a little bit of everything to no purpose at all. It's silliness in its most concentrated form. Witness the marching pirates - I frankly can't imagine what to say that speaks as plainly as the sight of them.
Couple of parade thoughts at random:
When did elementary and middle schools start having marching bands? None of my lower schools in the 60s and 70s had them.
What is it about parades that bring out the goofy exhibitionist in people? Or is it that parades just bring out goofy exhibitionists?
Who the hell dreams of being a Royal Rosarian? Rock star? Sure. Pro athlete? Okay. Astronaut, pharmacist, biker mama...but the RRs? WTF..?

So be sure to get here early; good seats in the ivy go fast.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Your tax dollars at work...

This isn't really going back on my promise to stay away from the subject of Iraq. Well, okay, it touches on the damn place, but it's more about our country and the way we've chosen to do business when that business is war.

First, as shown by the picture at the top, you can understand why the U.S. Army and USMC want a tactical vehicle that is better at surviving land mine detonations than the standard HMMWV (the "hummer" of suburban dad wet-dreams). Most of our casualties in the past three "wars" (Vietnam, Somalia and Afghanistan/Iraq) have been from mines and booby-traps.

(As an aside - I can't abide the latest buzz-word for these things, "IED's". Something planted in the ground or up a dead donkey's butt that blows up when you walk or drive by is a mine. OR a booby-trap. Always was, always will be. See, that wasn't hard, was it?)

Anyway, the USMC has already put in a request for something like 500 of these things, to be designed and built by an as-yet undesignated maker on an as-yet undetermined design.

However, based on the slide to the left, it looks like they want something like the huge, spendy Cougar or Buffalo Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles already chauffeuring Dick Cheney and his ilk around in theatre.

Well, that's real special.

the only problem I have with that is that, once again, the U.S. Department
of Defense is reinventing the freaking wheel. Because, y'see, once upon a time there was another army that fought a long, ugly, inconclusive war in the desert against an elusive enemy that specialized in mines and boody-traps.

That army is now the South African National Defence Force. And that already have an off-the-shelf MRAP, the Mamba, which as you can see looks like a regular Land-rover, has mostly off-the-shelf Unimog parts and would be probably half as spendy as this new, sexy MRAP that AM General or whoever will wind up making.

But I suspect that there's no jobs for any Congresscritters, or any money to be made for high-rolling political contributors or big defense contractors in buying Mambas from South Africa. So you and I will pay for the new monsters that will roll off the production line just in time...for the NEXT desert adventure..?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Now we are Four

It seems like you were tiny just a moment ago, so timid and shy, that I worried that you would be so meek that you would be bullied by everyone you met.
But now you are a bold little ruffian who loves going fast on his bike and insisted we ride the Oaks Park kiddie coaster THREE TIMES last Saturday - which, I might add, isn't nearly as much fun for a 49 year old as a 3.99 year old. It's a mass times acceleration thing, Peep.
But that's what happens when you turn four. You are adorable, inventive, playful, silly and impossible. We love you more every day. Happy Birthday, Peeper.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

I was so much older then...

I wanted to mention and turn you towards this post . I started it some time ago so thanks to the magic of Blogger it's now buried down the page.
I started thinking and writing about it because I came across this webpage about my old Panama duty station, Fort Kobbe (I can't help the cheesy music; it's the Web and let's face it, you get what you get). And because freighted with child and house and struggle for the legal tender I don't get to travel to cool places like Millicent does.
BUT - I, too, was once a jaunty young rogue and had my day of peeking about in distant lands. And the thing about that is that once you've been East (or south, west or north) of Suez you tend to remember those journeys and think of the places you were and the people you were - and who and where you are now.
I was a lot younger then. Jellybean Ronnie was napping through his days in the Oval Office, The Bangles were playing in MTV, and Michael Jackson seemed a lot less wierd than he...okay, no, actually, he was just as whack then as he is now.
As Suzanne Vega would remind us, there were also troubles then much like there are troubles now. Time and distance has helped us forget that our elected ninnies were just as stupid back in the day. Their dead are just as dead and the maimed as maimed. Their crimes just as nasty and brutish. We've just forgotten them, that's all.
Back then I was untroubled by the worries of the world - a paratroop sergeant, a medic in the old 2nd Battalion, 187th Infantry. I rode to work in one of these:
an M782 Gama Goat ambulance, a piece of work and worth a post all in itself. Who but a military contractor would think it was a good idea to built a vehicle designed to swim (so the bottom was completely sealed) with the main wiring harness routed below the engine block, so that to replace or even work on the wiring system you had to pull the entire fucking power pack?

But I didn't post this to bitch about a thirty-year-old ambulance. I wanted to talk about a journey. And I wanted to ask you to take the time to page down and read my thoughts about a place I once both loved and hated: