Those Were the Days


Russia House. The movie. It was recently on TV.  Great thriller. I remember seeing it on video shortly after it was released. Little did I know at the time that several of the supporting cast members would surface 25 years later as some of my favorite British film/TV actors. That’s a fun part of watching old movies.

When I was very young, I didn’t understand my parents’ thrill when an older film popped up on TV. I always assumed their enthusiasm for all things World War II and farther back was because it was of their generation; an intense period in history that none of the rest of us could, or ever would understand.

Now that I’m in my 50s, I think I get nostalgia. I am giddy when I see a Laugh-In rerun (there are only a few of you who know what a “rerun” is). Seeing 70s era films and TV shows with groovy chicks, like I wanted to be, with their long, stringy hair, parted in the middle (which my hairline would never do), dressed in hip-huggers and halter tops make me wistful. It brings back memories of Krishnas singing and dancing in the street. Vietnam war protests, Flower Power stickers, and Michael Jackson, when he was just a cute kid I had a crush on; when he was just a sweet boy in a boy band with his brothers. Doin’ the Hustle at 7th grade cotillion instead of the Waltz or Foxtrot (my mother was so shocked), Watergate-blah-blah-bah, sneaking into the family room after everyone was in bed to watch Saturday Night Live (with the volume barely audible so as not to wake my parents), the Cold War and loving how naughty it felt to sing aloud “Back in the U.S.S.R.” when my father was in earshot. Standing at the school bus stop all through the full eclipse of the sun, seen only from my corner of the world at the time.

Every generation is sentimental for days gone by. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have at least one complaint about how much things change from their youth to their adulthood. I suppose Millennials are approaching a time when hearing an early LL Cool J song will bring back memories of how computers used to be these heavy, giant blocks of putty-colored plastic and the internet was something you dialed into from a modem that made loud electronic noises (and downloading a file took at least 30 minutes).

But, if you think your world is moving too fast, think about my grandparents.* For literally hundreds of years before they were born, the only way you got from Point A to Point B was on horseback, or on a horse-drawn wagon of some kind. For hundreds of years, that was how it was done. Then, one day, you hear about these things they call machines; this thing they call the Automobile. Hell, that’s nothin’! They put a goddamned man on the moon! (as one grandfather would have put it). You think things are changing fast these days? Try living in a time when horse drawn carriages, oil lamp light, no electricity or running water were the standard, and had been for generations, to the discovery of molecules, atoms, industrialization and putting a man on the moon, all in the span of 70-some years. It’s a wonder my grandparents entire generation didn’t curl up into a fetal position in an all-out, mass nervous breakdown.

My point is, if they survived the whip-lash change of pace, and challenges to the absolutes they thought to be irrefutable with the modicum of grace and civility they were able to manage, so can we.

So can we.

*All four of my grandparents were born in the 1880s to 1900 and died in the late 50s through the early 80s. 


His Perrier Predicament

I’ve been rummaging through my father’s papers, notes and scribblings again for no other reason than a little spring cleaning. I came across the following bit he typed up on his Olympic typewriter on those sheets we called “onion paper.” (Best for making carbon copies. Remember those?)

This little essay is quintessentially Pops:

Perrier bottleStanding on my desk, amid the genteel clutter of various things I have accumulated over the years, and cannot bear to part with, is one object which should promptly have gone into the garbage can: It is an empty bottle of a popular seltzer water.

What prevented me from aimlessly casting it away is a admonition on its label, NO REFILL–PLEASE DISPOSE OF THOUGHTFULLY.

As instructed, I have earnestly been thinking about that for the past several days. That bottle has no place on my desk. But every time I reach to pluck it out of the midst of the pens and folders and boxes and dried bits of plants and small Mexican fertility gods and goddesses* that collectively provide me with solace at times when inspiration eludes me, I am forced to pause. Will what I am about to do be done Thoughtfully? It is at this point that frustration and fantasy conjoin.

I visualize myself naked, sitting on a rock, brooding like Rodin’s “Thinker.” Or as Hamlet contemplating “poor Yorick’s” skull. I wonder how to dispose of the bottle Thoughtfully. I think funereal thoughts. What if I was on my way to the cemetery with a tag attached to my toe which read, NO REFILL–PLEASE DISPOSE OF THOUGHTFULLY.

I know the author of that daunting legend on the label had no intention of causing me this kind of existential angst. But, if he did, why didn’t he instead admonish me to dispose of the bottle gently, or considerately, surreptitiously, cleverly, or, at least, quietly? Inconspicuously?

Maybe he was simply trying to instill imagination into the prosaic art of disposing of things (which is not, of course, an art, nor will it be, unless someone decides that there exists a state-of-the-art in the disposal of things, as in every endeavor these days, except maybe using the restroom, or putting on one’s trousers). Maybe–just maybe–what he had in mind was total avoidance of the ordinary. You know: open the garbage can, drop the bottle in, close the garbage can.

I’m sure what he was hoping for was that, stimulated by Thoughtfulness, I would wait until my bridge partner trumped my good ace, at which point I would shatter the bottle on his head. As I write this, I think that not only qualifies as a Thoughtful Disposal, it would also Thoughtfully rid myself of a bad bridge partner. Or, while driving through the verdant countryside, toss the bottle, full of gasoline and fixed with a lighted wick, onto the dry grass, thus saving the state the considerable cost of mowing along the verge.

Well, maybe not the latter, but disposing of the bottle could have a certain social value. For instance, one could invite friends and neighbors to a Bottle Burying Party, especially fun in the summer, amidst barbeques and pool parties. The fun part would be a contest, with the guests challenged to suggest the most unusual way to bury the bottle. Folks could bring their own bottle, giving a new meaning to “BYOB.” Undoubtedly, the whole party will discover that there is a state-of-the-art in the Thoughtfully disposed bottle. It would start a trend, written up in women’s magazines for the Thoughtful hostess looking for something special to make her party a real hit with the neighbors, to say nothing of the opportunity it would present for amateur composers of ceremonial music.

Leaving the Alice in Wonderland world of fantastic Thoughtfulness, I come to the ultimate conclusion that the only way I can get rid of the bottle is Whimsically.

As for the subject of disposal itself, I must Thoughtfully conclude this column, however un-artfully.

*My parents travelled often to Mexico. Over the years they collected quite the menagerie of clay figurines.

The “Real” Twin Peaks

Snoqualmie Falls and Salish Lodge

Snoqualmie Falls and Salish Lodge, on my little day trip, May 2017

Until the day I took a little Sunday drive a couple of weeks ago through the Snoqualmie Valley, I had no idea there was a new “Twin Peaks” series about to debut. I stopped at a place in North Bend for lunch and asked what all the “Twin Peaks” signs were about. North Bend served as one of the backdrops for the series. The “twin peaks” is actually Mount Si and the mountain ridge behind it, directly at the foot of which North Bend is situated. And the “Double R” cafe/diner in the series is a cafe in the middle of town. Still there, of course. But, after 25 years, the height of the show’s popularity had long since waned, so to see so many signs was odd. My waitress filled me in.

Hearing about “Twin Peaks” again made me think about Salish Lodge and Snoqualmie Falls, both prominently featured in the opening credits of the original series; the lodge standing in for the Great Northern Hotel in the series. It’d been a long time since I’d stopped at the falls, so decided I’d take that route home instead of the freeway.

The Salish Lodge (according to the Lodge’s website) was originally built in 1916 as eight-room inn; a rest stop for folks traversing the Snoqualmie mountain pass. That much I can believe. Unlike today’s 45-minute drive from the city, the trip in 1916 would have been a long journey around Lake Washington on old wagon and cattle trails…in a wagon pulled by horses, for the most part. At least, as I imagine it was. Even after the advent of the automobile, the trip would have been several hours. In 1988, just two years before the premiere of “Twin Peaks,” the old inn was completely re-built as a boutique hotel, spa and up-scale restaurant, and reopened as The Salish Lodge.

I’ve stopped to see the falls only a few times in my life. The last time I’d stopped was some years ago. Maybe as much as ten. It was summer. There’s a trail that goes down the steep foothill from the state park, and I hiked all the way down to the river bed. That time of year, in late August, you can get pretty close to the falls,  as the river is running fairly low. The falls aren’t as spectacular as a result, but it’s still a pretty sight. Somewhere I have pictures from that visit.

The visit before that was a couple of years before. Spring, maybe. Friends of the family won a bid at a silent auction for a tour of the hydroelectric power station. The station, built just before the falls, right across the river from the lodge, is a walk back in time to the Industrial Revolution. Most of the 100 some-odd year-old turbines and machines—all of which are subterranean, along with most of the facility, which is massive—still function, generating electricity for the local power utility. It was a fascinating experience. I asked a park volunteer if tours are still offered, but he said they discontinued them several years ago.

The only other time I’ve been to the falls and the lodge was another decade, or maybe fifteen years before those two visits. It was one for the memory books. I was in high school, or maybe college and it was either Mother’s Day or my mom’s birthday. The restaurant has always been popular with the Sunday Brunch set, especially for special occasions, and going out for brunch was always a favorite activity of my mothers’s.

As we took our seats, the wait staff closed the cafe curtains, blocking the view of the top of the falls. Now, getting a table at the window is tough to score. My father would have had to make a reservation weeks, if not months in advance. So, you can imagine his indignation.

“We apologize,” our waitress whispered to him, “but someone….fell…from the cliff last night and we just got notice the recovery crew will be bringing up…the body. Right here; outside the windows.”

Nobody “fell,” of course. Our waitress was making an effort to be discrete. Big beautiful water falls the world over are a common choice for suicides, and Snoqualmie Falls are notorious in our area for such, so none of us were surprised at the news. And the reason to close the curtains was wise, not because it would be an unsettling sight to see a body being lifted up from below, but because the lodge was built as close to the cliff ledge as possible, leaving precious little distance between the building and the cliff drop; only 3 or 4 feet. So not only would the sight of a rescue crew hauling up a dead body be an awful sight over Mimosas, Crepes Suzette and table-side prepared Italian sausage and gouda cheese frittata, but the sight of such only a foot or so from the window would be particularly disturbing. My parents, possessed of healthy sense of humor, simply laughed off our dumb luck.

However, about fifteen minutes later, our waitress returned all smiles. The recovery team used another route, she told us, as she and the other wait staff pulled back the curtains with a flourish.

“Voilà! Enjoy!” she gushed, and walked away.

Five minutes after that the wait staff came back into the dining hall, en masse, rushing to close the curtains again. My father learned later that the recovery crew said they’d look for another place to bring up the body in order to shield guests, but did not find one. Unfortunately, the restaurant manager misunderstood the message.


Fog, Sun, Wind, Lightning and Rain

…and that’s just the last 12 hours!

Yes, I write about weather a lot. But, think about it: weather is the essential stuff of drama! If it weren’t, then the perfectly coined cliche, “It was a dark and stormy night…” is meaningless.

I want and need to be mindful of the horrific floods in the MidWest this past week. I don’t want to belittle actual tragedy. But, what went down today in my corner of the world was the stuff of so many fantasy fictions.

First, it was the fog. Thick, “pea soup,” coastline fog; the like we rarely, if ever, see around here.  Warm, dense, grey cloudy mist that leaves droplets of water on window screens and a strip of clear blue sunshine on the east horizon. I was completely catapulted back to my California coastline childhood.

By mid-morning the fog had rolled back to the west, as such fogs do, and the first absolutely clear blue skies and bright sun of the year warmed our world all the way up to 70-degrees. Seriously folks, that’s something, given the icky fall and prolonged winter we’ve had. It was hard to believe the forecast was for a sudden drop in temperature and heavy rain fronts, one after the other.

But, this is the Pacific Northwest, and the weather can change that fast. I took a break about 4pm and walked outside. To the north the skies remained clear and bright, but to the south, the skies were not only dark with storm clouds, they were infested with lightning strikes. An hour and half later I was making my way home and the skies had become so dark, every car had its headlights on. Nobody had windshield wipers that could keep pace with the torrential waterfall of rain. I guarantee you, all of us were hoping lightning would not strike the power pole next to where we were driving.

As I write this, the heavy rains and thunderstorms have finally past. It’s been just over 12 hours since the fog I woke up to, an the temperatures have dropped from 70-degrees to 45-degrees. And, another clap of thunder just rolled through the heavens. What an incredibly dramatic day it’s been! So cool.

Rained Out

rained out copyToday they announced Seattle received the most rain since they started recording rainfall in 1895; a 122 year-old record for measurable rain from October through April. Nearly 45 inches. And April isn’t over yet. You guessed it; rain is in the forecast this week.

Now, that’s measurable rain, folks. Not the misty, or occasionally drizzly, or sporadically spitting rain, but the steady, “measurable” downpour.

Hey, rain happens. You live in this part of the world, you accept it. Like those who live in the northern mid-west who know a thing or two about snow, we know a thing or two about rain. The difference is, once spring comes to the mid-west, snow goes. Around here, spring comes and the rain just gets warmer. Summer comes, and the rain just gets that much warmer.

The saying goes in the Great North-wet that summer doesn’t actually start until July 5th. The 4th of July is often cloudy, cold and miserable, but the next day the clouds are gone, the sun is high in the sky and we finally get to bask in dry warmth. It is from that point forward that summer sets up camp for the duration of the season, often lingering well into October.

So, we hold fast during the long winter and soggy spring, impatient for summer to arrive, like lost-at-sea sailors, sure that any day now there’ll be the longed for sighting of dry land on the horizon.


Hope, faith and gratitude

You can’t go on with the business of living without hope tucked securely next to faith and gratitude.

Faith, that what is meant to be will also turn out to be the right thing, at just the right time.

Gratitude, that, no matter what, so goes your life, ever onward.

Hope, that if it all comes falling down, you’ll somehow have the will to adjust, and then carry on.

And, at the end of the day, if you get to sit down to a incredibly delicious plate of shrimp fettuccine with an excellent glass of wine, and get to look out at a beautiful view of boats, water and blue skies, then you know you must have done at least one thing right.

No idea where that came from today, but there it is.

Crossing paths with early spring

Today is the perfect day to finish reading “All the Light We Cannot See.” It may still be grey and damp, but spring warmth is finally here. I am sprawled on the couch with a hot cup of tea, NO blanket and slippers, and the windows open for the first time since October. After months of being sealed off from the outside world, it is good to hear the out-of-doors waft indoors again. Drowning out the otherwise perfect silence is the wild cacophony of bird song. Holy cow, what a racket! This has been a long, cold winter for all of us, apparently.

Anyway, today, as I mentioned, is the perfect day to finish another wonderfully told story that leaves you wistful for lost love; for meaningful, but sadly fleeting encounters, and wholly grateful that, were it not for the generosity of someone in my past, I might not now be comfortably sprawled on a couch reading a fantastic book. The feeling I have is not unlike today’s weather: Still grey and rainy, but with the first happy and hopeful glimpse of spring, however small.

I’ve also been ruminating on “crossed paths” since finishing the book. Have I made a difference in someone’s life with whom I’ve crossed paths? What years-long fate had to be in play for me and the other person to even meet, let alone develop a rapport, however brief? Not to be heavy-handed, or sentimental, but this book really does make you think about the randomness of life, both heroic and tragic, and of mindfulness, as it’s called these days, in the wake of all of it.

These thoughts are why l love creating stories. As writers, we look to bring the mystical and mysterious into the light; make it dance in and around the nooks and crannies of imagination. “All the Light We Cannot See” made me think, made me reminisce, and left me feel enlivened.

My God, what a fun thing it is to be inspired to tell a good story and to write, yes?