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A Heartfelt Loss

In Life on August 24, 2009 at 6:14 pm

I found out, through a front-page article in The Oregonian the other day, that my old boss and friend and father-figure Bob Gerding had finally succumbed to the cancer he’d been living with for many years. He was 71.

Bob is always going to have a place in my heart. I worked for him from 1987 – 1994 and became fast friends with his wife Diana and son Eric. He was honestly like a father to me. I still remember vividly a number of times when he pulled me into his office and said “what’s going on?” and I burst into tears because I was 20 something and going through infertility. He reminded me of my dad, only better. He listened. He paid attention. He made me feel like he would be there for me, like a parent, no matter what.

And when I was getting divorced and needed a job after 10 years of staying home with my (adopted) kids, Bob was the first person I called. He didn’t have anything for me but he knew a guy… and boom, just like that I had a good job and was on my way to a new and better life. I don’t think he ever knew how much that meant to me.

The last time I saw Bob was 2 years ago. I was at OHSU getting my last chemo treatment when he walked in the door. He was getting a treatment, too. He came over and sat with me and my parents for what seems like hours, entertaining us with stories and distracting me from my pain and fatigue. It was an absolutely wonderful end to my chemo horrors, and a lovely catch-up with a wonderful man.

Rest in peace Bob. You affected so many people in your too-short life and you leave an incredible legacy through your work with Gerding Edlen. But to me, you leave a memory of great love for life and for those you came into contact with. I might have just been an administrative assistant/office girl, but you treated me with dignity and respect and like part of your family. I was very blessed to know you.

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What Have You Done To Lift Somebody Up?

In Music, Travel on August 8, 2009 at 10:15 am

Paul Thorn at the Crystal Bay Club, Lake Tah

I’ve thought a lot lately about the relationship between a performer and the audience. Between musicians and their fans.  I can only imagine the tricky walk that’s necessary to maintain appropriate boundaries between the two. We’ve all heard stories of divas who are completely hands off towards any and all fan interaction, and lovely stories about those who, while mega stars, still take a few moments to acknowledge their die-hards (a little shout out here to Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi.) Performers at all levels have the power to either crush or lift up their fans. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve had it happen.

Through the years I’ve gone through periods of loving a certain band or performer more than most. I’ve flown to see them perform out of town. I’ve been a letter-writing fan-club member. I’ve waited outside stage doors after shows to ask for an autograph.  I’ve donated money to their charities, bought every obscure European import CD, poured over lyric books and taped every TV appearance. In short, I’ve been a good fan. I totally get that big names are pulled in a million directions and they are there to perform and under no obligation whatsoever to even say boo to those who support them. Still, I felt a huge slam to my self-respect when after standing in the broiling sun for hours waiting for the tour bus to pull up at the back of a small theater, a certain female singer/songwriter on the rise didn’t even give a glance in the direction of the 4 fans that were patiently waiting to tell her thank you for what she meant to them. I got to pet her dog. Wow. Melodramatic as it sounds, I was more than a little bit crushed.  It was embarrassing to have waited there wasting my LIFE to try and say thank you to her.  But I digress.  Music still affects me deeply. The joy of hearing it, dancing to it and singing along loudly. The message the song brings to the world. The opportunity to see it performed live. I was just so off caring whether or not I ever met another musician.

Fast forward to 2008. Bluesfest. The Oregonian newspaper touts a real-life son of a preacher man from Tupelo, MS named Paul Thorn as a must-see act with a “deep Americana sound. Think barroom showdown with Delbert McClinton, Bruce Springsteen and John Hiatt.” I liked the sound of that and made sure we were there for the performance. We were blown away, not only by the band’s sound, but also by the smart/funny/poignant lyrics, the positive message that life is all about love and people are pretty much the same deep down. It’s about loving your neighbor and the golden rule. A little blues, a little gospel, a little country, a little stand up comedy and a lot of rock and roll along with the clear message that if we didn’t buy his CD we would be going to hell. Not wanting to go to hell right that minute we decide to buy a CD, and stand in line to have our moment with Paul and his Sharpie.

As we moved to the front of the line and started to speak to Paul, a drunk, disheveled man stopped at the table and told Paul how much he loved his music, but that he didn’t have the money to buy a CD. I wish I could say that I took our signed CD from Paul and handed it to him and said God Bless You, but that was not at all my reaction. I was pissed off. I wanted my 15 seconds of Paul Thorn attention and made no secret of it. I was a brat. I still remember the look on Paul’s face, the way he was able to say in few words that THAT was what it was all about. That man. Being kind to THAT man. Not just warming to those who are well groomed and middle class, but the lowest of the low.  Oh yeah. WWJD and all that. Bam, it was a bitchslap to my ego that I needed and haven’t forgotten. It’s the kind of life lesson that you are both humiliated to need and blessed to receive.

Two nights later the family was front and center for the Paul Thorn Band at Sellwood Park. It was a gorgeous summer night, a nice long set, and plenty of dancing by yours truly. After the show as new fans lined up for the meet and greet with Paul,  JJ went off to talk to Jeffrey Perkins, the drummer. It’s always so cool when a drummer kid can talk to a drummer pro. Jeff was so nice to JJ and Bob ended up talking to Jeff about growing up in Chicago and who knows what else. It was a great night. Our “fandom” was cemented and over the course of the last year we’ve slowly accumulated most of the PTB releases. Its music that the whole family enjoys, and great for family singalongs in the car. JJ even got his dad’s family into it.

All summer we checked and re-checked the Paul Thorn website but no shows were coming anywhere near Portland. However, on my birthday there was a free show at the Crystal Bay Club in Lake Tahoe. Yes it was a total splurge, but Bob’s always up for that. Flights, car, hotel and birthday dinner restaurant were booked. We had a beautiful, sunny, relaxing day, an amazing dinner at The Soule Domain and headed over to the Club a little before 9:00. There they were. The guys we remembered from the year before. This time I KNOW the songs and sing and dance and get thanked from the stage for “shaking my groove thing” (as if I could NOT do that!)  During the break we buy merch we don’t really need but do because we love to support this band and we want to tell this to Paul’s face. We get drinks and I turn around to see Bob engrossed in conversation with Jeffrey Perkins. Seriously! He remembered us! Remembered JJ, too. Absolutely incredible that through all their touring he could remember where he met us and what we talked about last year. After the show I got my picture taken with Paul (yeah I know, I’m a big dork.) What a great birthday present the entire night turned out to be.

THIS is how you build a fan base. THIS is how you get people to follow you forever. You give a few minutes of your time, say hello, acknowledge that these are real people with real lives who have taken time out to come and see you. You thank them. You lift them up. Thank you Paul Thorn and band for lifting US up.  You are wonderful people, and we are proud to be among your fans.

Second City, Take One

In Travel on August 6, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Chicago!

In July, Bob and I took a trip to Chicago. It was my first trip to the Second City. We had some time-consuming family obligations but also managed a few days of sightseeing.

Some of the highlights:

Chi-Town Pizza in our Gold Coast neighborhood was a great find at 3:00 a.m. Watching the drunk clubbers while we downed our slices was almost as good as the pizza.

-Millenium Park, specifically the Cloud Gate, aka The Bean. And the animated fountains.

– Coming home each night to our lovely, quiet apartment at The Flemish House on Cedar Street.

-Eavesdropping on some very, very gay boys on the El one night when we had to pack in like sardines. “Honey you KNOW I love people of ALL kinds but THIS is riDICulous!”

-Seeing my first giant Rothko at the Art Institute of Chicago:

Yes that's me standing in front of a giant Mark Rothko painting

-Seeing Bob’s favorite view of the city at night, from Adler Planetarium.

-The surprise of finding such a lovely, quiet place as Ogden Slip.

-My martini at the Chicago Firehouse restaurant. Best ever.

-Our walk down the Oak Street Beach, and back through our neighborhood on Astor Street. Quiet streets and exquisite mansions. Fabulous.

-Sitting on a bench at the end of Navy Pier in the late afternoon sunshine. Perfect temperature, perfect one-beer buzz, great company.

Big cities are amazing. They are full of man-made marvels. And much noise. I’m happy to visit. I’m also very happy to come home.

Daddy

In Life, Parkinson's on June 16, 2009 at 11:38 am

Papa SmallWe are in the bathroom. Daddy sits on a wooden chair in front of the sink. Barechested. Hollow. White underpants baggy, sized from another lifetime. I hold the shaving cream can over his cupped hands, squirting a small ball into his left palm. I watch amazed, as old muscle memory takes over. The blank mask of Parkinson’s has dulled expression, slowed reaction, but still he can put the shaving cream where it belongs. Slowly dip right fingers into the left palm. Daub right cheek, then left. Dip fingers. Upper lip, then neck, until his 2 days growth is covered in white.

I wet a blue washrag, wring it out and carefully wipe the excess from his hands. Together we find a razor; I wet it and hand it to him. I watch his reflection in the mirror, amazed that he can still bring razor to cheek, pull down, strip away the white, only smooth cheek left behind. He shaves himself without a nick. I wish I had a camera so that I could photograph him in black and white. He is dignified and capable in this moment. How diligently he works the right side of his face and his upper lip. I think about how long he’s been practicing this morning ritual. I wonder how long he will be able to continue.

When he’s half done he hands me the razor. Without shame or apology he asks me to do the rest. This is only the second time I’ve done it and I know I have to press harder than I want to in order to get a close shave. I’m afraid I’ll cut him, but I don’t. When I’m done I rinse out the washrag, warming and wringing, wiping his face. He has sleep in the corners of his eyes. I notice how dark his eyelashes are, how blue his eyes, and wonder if they’ve always been that way. I run the washrag over his scalp and hair, trying to restore some order as well I can. I notice his ears need cleaning, but he’s losing patience with the hard wooden seat. I run the washcloth over his upper body. His shoulders are small. Hunched. Shrunken. I remember being a little girl in the pool, standing on those shoulders while he was underwater, waiting for him to pop me up into the air. He was so big then. So broad. So capable.

I dress him. Help him to stand. Watch carefully as he maneuvers with his cane to his favorite chair and slowly, painfully eases to a seat. “Thank you,” he says. “You’re welcome,” I reply. “I’m happy to be here.”

Daddy.

Verana Part I

In Travel, vacation on June 1, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Just the name alone is enough to make me pause and exhale. Verana. Ah.

“Where do you want to go, Mom? What would feel good?”

After non-stop care of Dad she needs a break. She’s near the point of breaking down herself. She’s been his only nurse for much too long. She’s brittle and exhausted.

“A spa,” she says. “I want to go to that place in Mexico where you went before chemo.”

“Verana?” I ask.

“Yes, Verana.”

Arrangements are made. We have the Bungalow for 5 nights, all inclusive. Questions are asked: “Mom, are you okay with no walls?” “Why yes.” “A set menu?” “Sure.” “An outdoor shower?” “Sounds wonderful.” Questions are answered: “Did you pack bug spray?” “Yep.” “How about sunscreen?” “Check.” “Hiking shoes?”  “Okay, but… sure mom, we’ll hike.”

An uneventful airplane ride. Immigration in Puerto Vallarta is excruciatingly slow. Running the gauntlet of time share hacks is loud and annoying. Watching the clock and realizing the Verana boat is supposed to leave with us on it right now and we’re at least a half hour away by speeding, nail biting, Third World passing-on-a-curve taxi. Wondering if we should call someone. Text someone. What will we do if the boat is gone? Hire our own? Stay overnight somewhere? We decide not to think too much about the what-ifs and instead stare out the taxi windows. Hold our breath.

I hate Mexico. It’s a shit hole. So many abandoned buildings. Protruding re-bar. Trash on the side of the road. Dusty, ugly, messy poverty. Resort developments with huge entry arches leading to nothing. Build an elaborate gate and they will come apparently. But the sky is blue. The bougainvillea is in bloom. The water is sparkling, the air is warm and salty and we are free of all responsibilities for 5 glorious nights.

We finally make the turn down the hill into Boca de Tomatlan, the Verana boat departure point. Crap village. Cobblestones. Dark doorways. Cheap plastic toys hanging outside a shop. A young man comes out of nowhere, the taxi driver rolls down his window and stops. Grunts something about Verana.

“Boat to Verana?” I ask the man. “Has it left?”

“Oh no,” is the reply. “Driver will be back in 5 minutes.”  “Really?” “Really.” Exhale. Bags are removed from the cab and carried out onto the beach and set next to a table with an umbrella. “You want something to drink?”

Do we want something to drink? Well yes, we do. Ignoring the obvious, that this guy knows he can squeeze a more than a few bucks out of frazzled Verana-bound travelers, we happily buy a couple cold Mexican beers, and then a few more, and then 2 for the boat driver, who we are told has been waiting in the hot sun for such a long time…

I love Mexico. It’s so fucked up. But at least it’s predictable.

The boat ride is lovely. A balmy half hour zipping along the coast watching turquoise water crash upon gray rocks against a hillside of palms in the late afternoon light. Pelicans cruise the shoreline.  We watch for dolphins. We breathe. Eventually we come around a corner and I can see the orange umbrellas of Verana up on the hillside.

“There it is Mom. There’s Verana. Up there.”

We pull up to a dock. The water is rough but a lovely young man steps out, grabs the boat’s line and helps us out. Our luggage? Mom wonders if she’ll see it again as the boat rushes off. I know it’s being taken to a beach where mules will meet it to carry it up the hill, but she’s forgotten that’s how they do it here. Alex takes both our heavy backpacks, begins to chat, and leads us up through the new day spa, and on up the hill. The path is mostly concrete and big stones with steps. It goes up and up without pause. After 15 minutes Mom needs a break, and incredibly there’s a bench right where she needs it. The jungle birds are amazingly loud. It’s hot. We’ve been traveling all day. Just when we realize that Alex’s entire purpose, beyond guiding us, is to talk so much that we’re distracted from the climb, we arrive. There stands Sonia with a tray offering flower-bedecked washcloths. The cool white towels feel so good on our sweaty faces. Fresh squeezed limeade and handmade chips with dip are waiting on a nearby table. Heaven. We sink down onto the cushioned bench. We’ve arrived.

Welcome to your vacation Mom. Welcome to Verana.

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Kindle

In Life on March 8, 2009 at 12:58 pm


I’ve had my Kindle 2 for about a week now. The pre-order was a Valentine’s present from Bob, and I wasn’t any too happy about it actually. All I really wanted was a bunch of tulips and a card.

Why didn’t I want a Kindle? It seemed VERY extravagant to start with. About $400 all in which to me is a LOT of money. I’ve never been what you would call an early adapter I guess. It was technology I didn’t think I needed or wanted as I’ve been happily reading regular books for 40 years now. There was some bitching along the lines of “you bought this for me because you wanted it for yourself,” what we like to call Pulling a William, in honor of my father who once bought my mom a set of binoculars that had a built-in compass in them. Besides, I thought to myself, I buy my books used at Powells or Goodwill. Except quite often I don’t. I pick up the latest literary paperback fiction at Target at least a couple times a month… impulse book shopping that I don’t admit to.

At first I explored the free books websites, wirelessly downloading classics I missed in high school and college like Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Okay, that was a start. Halfway through Catch 22 I get a little bored and start thinking about other books. I download samples. I start reading a sample. There I am, Saturday morning with my coffee and my Kindle, four and a half chapters into The Reader by Bernard Schlink and I’m gripped. I want the rest of the book. Power the wireless on, hit “download” and Boom in what seems like just a few seconds there it is. For about $8 I’ve got the book. I read and finished the book within a day. All from the comfort of my favorite reading spot at home.

I get it now.

Thank you Bob. You were right. I do love it.

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My heart is sick

In dogs, Life with Animals, pitbull on February 19, 2009 at 3:10 pm

I can’t believe they euthanized all 145 Wilkes County, NC dog bust pits. 60 of them were puppies!!! Seriously, when will these locales take to heart the lessons we’ve learned from the Vick bust and others? Poor angel doggies.

To read more click on this this: Lassie Get Help

Magical New Orleans

In Travel on February 16, 2009 at 11:07 pm

Last weekend Bob and I headed down South for a weekend in my most favorite city, New Orleans. Before we left I wondered if the magic would still be there for me. Was this going to be the trip that made me say “I’ve had enough, next destination please.”  I wondered if Bob would like it enough to want to keep going back. I was actually a bit anxious about the trip.

As has been my experience every trip down there, NOLA does not disappoint. There is a magic there that I’ve not found anywhere else on the planet.  Just walking down the street presents a feast for all senses. Music pouring from every doorway, the smells of fried seafood mixed with interesting street smells, the charmingly dilapidated French Quarter buildings,  bizarre art, street musicians of the highest caliber, glimpses into hidden courtyards, the promise of intrigue behind the shutters, I love it all.

Here’s what I remember from Friday: Bob’s excitement at being able to buy a dacquiri and a beer next door to our guest house, Coops being full, the shadow of the magical statue of Jesus behind St. Louis Cathedral, wandering into a Bourbon Street club to find out Marva Wright was singing. Swing dancing to Marva Wright singing Proud Mary with an ubiquitous NOLA gentleman until I thought I was going to throw up, using some of the worst bathrooms on the face of the planet, being hustled into the Oceana Grill and being pleasantly surprised that the food didn’t suck, the girls gone wild on one particular balcony and the slack-jawed men staring at them. Catching beads without having to do anything degrading to get them! Walking up to Rampart Street and looking at the entrance to Louis Armstrong Park, where I’ve always heard it was too dangerous to go. Walking and walking and walking. Sore feet. Taking a wonderful jacuzzi bath after we got back to the Elysian Fields Inn.

That was evening number one.

Second day: Sleeping in so late we missed breakfast, stumbling upon an incredible art hearse, eating a fried shrimp poboy at Johnnys, buying street art, happening across the great museum store on Jackson Square, wiling away the afternoon in the courtyard of Napoleon House where Bob had his first Pimm’s Cup and I enjoyed several Dixie Longnecks. Seeing my friends Kimi and Shayne again and laughing and laughing with them like we’d all been together forever. Finding a place to watch the Krewe de Vieux parade next to hilarious peeps from Mississippi and ending up friends with them by the end of the parade. Catching lots of parade booty. Kimi’s search for penis beads. Bob’s facilitating her search by asking for them in every tourist shop. More bad bathrooms. The cakes in the window of the sex shop on Dumaine. Kimi’s purchase there. My purchase there. Wearing a headband with penises on it until I gave it to Kimi. Coops being full again, but having a perfectly fine meal at Angeli’s. Getting really excited about the thought of getting tattoos. Walking home at 2 am hearing one incredible band after another pouring out the doors of the clubs on Frenchman Street. The gay couple telling Kimi they loved her headband. Noting that Sago Palms, Colocasias and Alocasias grow like weeds there. Staying up until 3 am!

Could it get any better?

Sunday started with a porch-step serenade from the “Bicycle Balladeer” including an all-out gospel version of Amazing Grace. Then a little shopping in the Artist’s co-op and a few hours spent at Electric Ladyland Tattoo Parlor where Kimi and I got fleur-de-lis tattoos. Ouch! Then goodbye to our friends and more wandering. Some scary shops selling dark magic supplies, Bob’s first Lucky Dog, wandering into a quiet bar on Dauphine.  It was a gay bar. The bartender gave us a bowl of cheetohs. There was a leprechan sitting at the bar. He had a pot of gold. Having an incredible “feed me” dinner at the Louisiana Bistro, shopping for souvenirs for the kids, a quiet romantic walk back with window shopping on Royal Street.

And all too soon, back home. I could have easily stayed a week. Longer. What I realize is so important to me is getting out of my box as often as possible. I am a better person there amongst the crazy people. Relaxed. Outgoing. Funloving. I can be those things in Portland too. The food may not be as good, nor the February weather as warm, but I can carry the magic of New Orleans in my heart.

Holocaust, Personalized

In Family History, Life on February 16, 2009 at 9:23 pm

I read the book “Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana de Rosnay and it awakened in me an intense desire to learn more, not only about the Holocaust, but about my Jewish Prague relatives who were victims of the Holocaust.

Several years ago, when my sister was working for the Red Cross, she did the research to find out their fates. When she moved to Europe I became the caretaker of the Red Cross papers, but I hadn’t really dug in to understand what they were, and what they meant.

We hear all the time about the 6 million Jews. Sometimes we even hear about the other 5 million made up of homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gypsies, Catholics, Poles, disabled peoples and on and on and on. It’s mind boggling. How many is 6 million? How many is 11 million?  How can we even begin to imagine what it must have been like for any one of those people? Any one family taken?

And so I began my quest to understand. What was it like in Prague in the early 1940’s for Aunt Helena, my maternal grandfather’s aunt, and a widow from 1938, and her adult children Martha, Ottilie, Vilem, Pavel and Ervin? Did those distant cousins have children? What did they do for a living before they were reduced to laborers because they were Jews? What must it have been like to have been a family of means, slowly reduced to living in a ghetto with nothing? What must it have been like to pack a suitcase and be put on a truck or a train, not knowing where you would end up? I read about Terezin. I examined their transport cards and researched the death camps each one was sent to. Auschwitz. Treblinka. And others. Some of the cousins lived for years. Others for only months. Two don’t have final transports listed. Does this mean they survived? I have so many questions. I feel so compelled to try and understand the horror. Sometimes I have this strong feeling that at this moment, I amthe only person on the planet thinking of them. Of their names. Of the lives they were forced to give up. All for the “crime” of being born as Jews.

There are times in life when you can face horror. This was one of those times. I watched Nazi propaganda films, “Schindler’s List” and numerous documentaries. I read Elie Wiesel’s “Night” and Art Speigelman’s wonderful graphic novel “Maus” along with several other memoirs. I poured over websites to learn more. The mug shots from Auschwitz will stay with me always, as well as the images of smokestacks. Suitcases. Bone-chilling cold. Starvation. I allowed myself to imagine what it would be like as a mother to have my children torn from me. To have to turn my back on a parent, a loved one, a friend, in order to ensure my survival. And how would a person return from that? How would it be possible to go on with life after surviving extreme horror?

I don’t know. What I do know is that it is my job to remember those relatives. It is my job to be sure my children remember. We all know much more about the Holocaust than we did before and hopefully we are better for it. Kauders (nee Neustadl) family, Bless You.