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But It’s Too Late, Baby

My wife and I were enjoying a Father’s Day brunch at Shari’s.  I enjoy the time when we can sit and talk without interruption from the TV, phone or computer.  Today our conversation wandered to her telling how she had always idolized and mimicked her older sister.  After high school, her sister bought a small foreign car, she got a small foreign car.  Her sister worked at Alpha Beta’s main offices, she got on at Alpha Beta’s main offices.  She told how as middle-schoolers, both were traumatized when her folks practically dragged them kicking and screaming from southern California to live in the country, in Oregon.  Her sister returned to California after graduation.  My future wife followed.

As we waited for our food, she took my hand and said, “But, if I hadn’t moved to Oregon I would never have met you.”  I savored those sweet words, but then reminded her that after our high school graduation, she left me and Oregon without hesitation and without looking back.  I squeezed her hand and said, “If I hadn’t moved to California, we would never have married.”

I asked if she remembered the day, early in our cohabitation when she told me she wanted out.  I couldn’t believe when she said no, she didn’t remember that.

It was 1971, Sunny Anaheim California, I was living my dream come true – living with my love, now my lover.  She came home one day from her college accounting class and said she wanted out of this relationship.  The shock was so devastating; I can’t remember the words she used, I only heard, “I want out.”  I do remember she said Carol King’s song, “It’s Too Late” expressed just what she felt, Something inside has died and I can’t hide And I just can’t fake it…..

Although I can’t remember any words I spoke, I managed to change her mind, at least temporarily.  I knew in my heart if that was how she really felt, we would undoubtedly come back to it.  I would have to be brave, face reality and let her go.  Given more time together, we might see our relationship grow, change, or die.

That unhappy day finally did arrive when she realized and confirmed that she did want to end our relationship.  Before long, we were gone our separate ways.

But here we are now holding hands forty-seven years later,

after saying goodbye forever,

after trying on new relationships,

after a broken heart or two,

a reconciliation,

a wedding,

a stable home,

a baby and another baby,

and eventually four grandchildren –

here we are having a nice Father’s Day brunch at Sharri’s.

I win.

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Nailed It!

I was working in a mobile home factory in Costa Mesa California, with my new friend Jimmy Gustafson.  Jim was from Michigan, and I was from Oregon.  He got me the job interview there.  Together we were learning Spanish and building mobile homes.

The factory, “Ardon Mobile Homes,” would push three or four new “5th wheel” trailers out the doors each day.  Jim and I (and usually one other) were the FLOOR DEPARTMENT.  I laid out the pre-cut 2X6’s on an enormous table and shot them together with a huge, powerful pneumatic nail-gun.  This gun shot three-inch nails!  I then covered one side of the new floor with a skin of sheet metal, and the other with a layer of plywood.

At the same time, Jim would be preparing the metal chassis, and when we were both ready, he would hoist the chassis into the air, roll it over and lower it onto my wooden deck.  We then fastened them together, flipped it back on its wheels, and “the other” would install the wheel wells and glue down some linoleum.

The factory was a busy, noisy place.  Every day, above the combined roar of factory sounds, you could hear the buzz signals from the plant’s communication system.  Each department head had his own “buzz code;” two buzzes for one person, three buzzes for another, and so on.  If you heard your code, you were to report to the office.  The metal buzzer itself was mounted on the wall, directly above the FLOOR DEPARTMENT, just below the second-floor office window that overlooked the indoor plant operations.

One day, Jimmy was in a particularly bad mood.  Nothing was going right.  We were busy at our usual tasks, when overhead came the blast, “BUZZ! BUZZ! BUZZ!!   BUZZ! BUZZ! BUZZ!!    BUZZ! BUZZ! BUZZ!!”  The code was a series of three quick blasts, summoning a certain department head to the upstairs office. “BUZZ! BUZZ! BUZZ!!   BUZZ! BUZZ! BUZZ!!   BUZZ! BUZZ! BUZZ!!”  It must have been quite urgent; the code was repeating faster than any human could possibly respond to it.  “BUZZ! BUZZ! BUZZ!!   BUZZ! BUZZ! BUZZ!!

“SHUUUTTUUUUUUPP!!” Jim screamed at the top of his lungs, as he shouldered the gigantic nailing gun.  Without hesitation, he swung it towards the buzzer, held the safety back with one hand and let go with rapid fire: “POP!-POP!-POP!-POP!-POP!-POP!-POP!-POP!-POP!-POP!!

A hush suddenly fell over the entire factory.  The last of the three-inch nails from Jim’s barrage could still be heard hitting the office window glass and bouncing on the cement floor below like spent bullet casings.

I stood there in shock, mouth agape, watching to see if the glass would finally shatter when I noticed the top of the secretary’s head slowly rising into view from below the window, where she dove to safety.

When Jimmy saw her and realized what he had done, he spun around, dropped that giant nail gun to the floor, and kind of sideways over his shoulder asked me in a very quiet voice, “Do you think she heard me?”

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Was I really that thin?


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Art’s Birthday Surprise

Art and I met in sixth grade and became best friends.  It was his sixteenth birthday and his mother was letting him celebrate with an unchaperoned party in their apartment.

My girlfriend, Cindy and I were invited.  Art’s girlfriend, Shorty was there too.  Shorty was a skinny girl with short reddish-brown hair and big fat freckles sprinkled across her nose and forehead.  She said she got her nickname from walking under tables when she was younger.

I didn’t know most of the other guests, but there was a table full of food, cake and ice-cream, ice chests full of cold pop, extremely loud music (I mean the walls were shaking!), and best of all – NO ADULTS!

I don’t remember who suggested it, but soon everyone sat in a circle on the carpet and began playing spin the bottle for kisses.  It was both intimidating and thrilling.  Until that day, I had only kissed the lips of one girl.

As the party progressed, Art was enjoying all the birthday attention.  Shorty was feeling more and more dejected as she felt he was completely ignoring her.

When I saw her frown, I suggested, “Come on Shorty, let’s go for a walk.”

It was dark and cool outside, and not a safe Northeast Portland neighborhood.  We talked as we walked the perimeter of the “U” shaped apartment building, following the endless hallway formed by the buildings smooth white wall on one side, and the tall wooden fence on the other.

Shorty said she felt that she may as well have not come to the party because of the way Art was treating her.  I tried to comfort her by explaining that it was his birthday party, and tonight he was the star of the show; and that I was sure he didn’t mean to slight her.  She seemed to feel a little better after she thought it over.

We found ourselves passing below an open window that had heat and pounding music pouring out of it.  It was the back of Art’s apartment!

“Let’s sneak in through here and really scare those guys,” I said.

She grinned in agreement as I made a stirrup with my hands to help her reach the window ledge just above our heads.  Once there, she turned around and reached down to help pull me up.  She was leaning back and still pulling my arm as I struggled through the window – we both lost balance and crashed down onto an unmade bed.

At the very same instant we hit the bed, the blaring music stopped in mid-note and was instantly replaced with a deafening silence.  At that exact moment, Art’s brother opened the bedroom door and looked in.  I think the squeaking bed noise was magnified in everyone’s ears because of the gaping silence that reclaimed the air.  When he saw me on top of Shorty, on the still bouncing, loudly squeaking bed, he threw the door open wide and yelled, “Hey everybody!  Quick!  Look at this!”

Before we could even sit up, Art, Cindy, and the rest of the party guests were gathered around the still squeaking bed, eyes wide, chins dropped, speechless.

“Really,” I said in our defense, “We just wanted to surprise you!”

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It was the next to the last Babe Ruth baseball game of the season.  As we parents watched our teenagers from the good seats (our lawn chairs).  My wife commented on what a nice evening it turned out to be.

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From the street behind us, we heard a strange noise.  It was a loud rubber smudge sound.  Everyone in our row of chairs turned in time to see an old, orange, Ford station-wagon nose in between two parked cars, jump the curb, and was about to crash through the 6′ cyclone fence, on its way to us and the baseball diamond.

As we sprang to our feet, the car made a sharp right turn avoiding the fence and continued along the grass way with the fence on one side and parked cars on the other.  It traveled nearly a block on the same lawn traversed by baseball players, parents and siblings, grand-parents, coaches and umpires.  Luckily, no one was walking there at that moment.

In a couple seconds, another dad and I were running after the car.  We raced along the fence, made the quick jog through the narrow gate, and chased after what I thought might be a drunk driver.  I shouted his license number so one of us might remember.  The car finally rolled to a stop.  The two of us were pounding on the door window, shouting, “Turn it off!”  The guy with me slid one finger left to right under his chin (signaling, kill it!) in case the driver didn’t speak English.

The driver turned the motor off, got out and walked to the back of the car.  I reached in and pulled the keys from the ignition and tossed them in the back seat.

By this time, a white van came racing down the street with horn honking, and nosed into an empty parking space near the station wagon.  The driver, a very large lady, was extremely excited, shouting, “Are you okay!?  I didn’t expect you to hit me so hard!”

She left two babies in the van and approached the driver of the wagon.  “I just didn’t expect you to hit me so hard!” She panted.  A crowd was gathering, and the wagon driver was waving his arms, saying, “I’ss okay, sheez my wife.  Andat’s my van, too!”

Realizing he may not be drunk, I asked him why he drove his car over the curb and all that distance on the grass.  He explained that he was driving it to the repair shop (at seven in the evening) because “he had no brakes!”  He knew his car had no brakes, so he had his wife drive ahead of him in the van, and if he needed to stop, he would bump into her.  She would be his brakes.

A Stop Sign was waiting for them at Ninth Street where they would have to turn or drive through the baseball field.  She brought the van to a stop, angled slightly to the left.  He ran into her with enough force to knock her out of the way, cross the street, jump the curb and make a turn before eventually stopping.

The smudge noise we heard was the spare tire on the back of the van.  I don’t know if his emergency brake worked or if he considered using it.  I don’t know if he shifted the transmission out of gear.  He didn’t think to turn the motor off.  He apparently didn’t think about a lot of things.

An ambulance came for his wife; she was so upset and having trouble breathing, she had to lie down on the grass.  The Police also showed up and cited the man for careless driving.  As I started back to my son’s ball game, I noticed something was printed across the front of the wagon driver’s baseball cap.  I was curious what this guy might endorse, so I got closer to read it.  I swear to you this is true.  His cap announced: “God must love STUPID PEOPLE because he sure makes a lot of them.”

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Happy Birthday, Little Brother

My “real dad” came to see me one day when I was about seven years old.  I recognized him right away, even though I hadn’t seen much of him since he and Mom divorced when I was about three.

from Paula (132)_edited-1On this rare visit he brought me a present, a shiny new bicycle, my very first!  It was a sturdy “one speed,” Huffy, black with white pin stripes and shiny chrome.  I had already learned to ride on the neighbor kids bikes, so I was very excited!

My horizons were immediately broadened.  I was amazed at how quickly this thing would move the pavement under me; and it was mine!

Before long, I had transformed my bicycle into a faster and sleeker pedal fast speed machine.  I took the fenders and chain-guard off to drop dead weight, and I lowered the handle bars for more peddle pumping leverage.  It was so cool!  Some left over model car decals added that perfect finishing touch.

I rode that bike everywhere, on road and off.  I rode it daily to Lake Shore School until it disappeared from the school bike rack, it was gone!  Stolen!  Somebody stole my bike!

Imagine my surprise and relief when I found it lying in a friend’s driveway as I walked home.  He didn’t steal it, he was walking with me.  I didn’t have a bike lock, so after that, I walked to school.

One day walking home, I followed my daily path through the empty lot that bordered our back yard.  When I reached our patio, there was my step-dad working on my bike.

Before this day, he had never given me anything, and he had never done anything with me, and he had never done anything for me.  That’s just how it was.  But now he had installed new fenders, a chain guard, a basket, and even a headlight on my bike!

I was very confused.  I didn’t know why he was doing this for me (it was completely out of character), and though he was doing this very nice thing, I was doomed to be terribly ungrateful because I really didn’t like what he was doing to my bike.

I stood there in silent disbelief, watching him from behind, not knowing what to say or do.  I finally said, “Gee Dad, you don’t have to do all that for me.”

Without turning away from his work, he answered, “I’m not.  I’m giving this bike to your brother for his birthday.”

I stood there waiting for more words, the kind that would sometimes follow disappointment.  Words like, “Don’t you worry – your birthday is coming soon and I’ll bet you get a brand new bike,” or maybe, “Christmas is just around the corner and I’m sure Santa will bring you a better bike than this.”  I waited, but, there were no more words.  That was it.

Happy Birthday, little brother.

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Dinner at Dad’s


Diane took this picture of me in my Chevelle a couple years after dinner at Dad’s

I was driving my ’65 Chevelle home from my first real job after high school.  My dad put in a good word for me with a business associate and I ended up working as a shipping and receiving clerk for George Marandas Inc., a clothing manufacturer on Sandy Boulevard in Portland.  I had no plans for college.  Really, I had no plans or direction for my life, so this was good for now.

My folks divorced when I was three, and my dad was not part of my life.  I rarely saw him; he was in some sort of cult known as the United Plymouth Brethren.  He would step briefly in and out of my world every few years; I knew who he was.  Our short conversations were uncomfortable.  He made contact with me about the time I was graduating from high school, and helped me get this job.

I knew where his house was, and I also knew that in his cult, he was not permitted to socialize with me, or anyone not in the cult, but I stopped anyway.

My teenage half-sister answered the door, I’d only seen her a time or two since she was a baby.  They allowed me in and we all sat on the couch, my dad, his wife, their two boys and daughter.  My half-siblings seemed quite fascinated and reacted to me as if I were from another world, which I was.  Their mom soon returned to the kitchen, dinner was cooking.

We would break the silence with small talk; there was no radio or TV in the house – that was one of the many cult rules.  Soon I could tell their dinner was almost ready and I should excuse myself and head home.  But, it smelled very good, maybe there was a chance they would invite me to stay.  Dinner in my little $65-a-month duplex in Newberg would either be macaroni and cheese or bean soup, again.

I thought the awkward moment finally ended when my dad stood up and ask if I would like to stay for dinner, but awkward was just warming up.  Trying not to sound too pleased, I answered, “Well, okay.”  As if rehearsed, the others stood at once and quickly disappeared into the kitchen.  I stood up and hesitated, wondering if I was supposed to follow – they didn’t say.  Just then they returned, each carrying a TV tray with food, more food, and something to drink.  It was all placed in front of me without a word spoken.  They disappeared again, except for my dad.  He explained, “We can’t eat with anyone who is not in our fellowship, so you eat here, we’ll eat in there, and if you need anything, just ring this bell.”

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The Coffenbury Sea

It was summer, 1966, Fort Stevens State Park on the Oregon coast.  I was 14 years old and on a family camp-out that included my new step-brother, Ronnie (age 7) and three new step-sisters.

The sky was blue, the air was sweet and warm as I raced through the camp on my Stingray bike with its high-rise handlebars and banana seat.  I swung by our campsite to tell my folks I was going to ride down to the beach.  They said, “Take Ronnie.”  I said I didn’t want to take Ronnie.  They said to take him or I couldn’t go, so I sat him on the handlebars and begrudgingly peddled away.

Biking down the pathway was fun; it came out of the trees at Coffenbury Lake, not far from the ocean.  With Ronnie still cradled in the handlebars, I peddled towards the lake and stopped at a pick-nick table resting my foot on the bench seat for support.

“Well,” I said to Ronnie, “There it is. The Pacific Ocean.”

“Wow!” was his reply.

“And see those trees over there?” I pointed across the lake, “That’s Europe.”


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