Sunday, December 8, 2013

decipher prophecies through a mic and say peace

Mic Capes - Innercity Tantrum from Casey Parks on Vimeo.

I've been working on a series of videos about St. Johns rappers this month. I had two of the guys do a Capella versions of their songs for me. Mic Capes was raised in foster homes, instant ramen and the music of Tupac and Nas. He works at recreation centers now, using rap to connect with kids.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

So on that note, I'm leaving after this song

Mic Capes

In which Mic tries to write his way to a better life.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

You feel like a hundred times yourself

Milan and Olga

I've been wanting to try some writing exercises, so my new hobby is finding old photographs and trying to write a story based off them. Here's my first attempt.

Milan came back too tall for his mother. Twenty-two years old, but those last six inches -- grown while he was away at school becoming an accountant, "a man, ma, with real prospects" -- made him seem a good decade older than the boy she had reluctantly let leave. He had grown a mustache, just like his piece of shit father had worn when she met him outside the 5-and-Dime. And Milan wore a suit, which his father had never once done, not even at his own funeral. He had insisted he be buried in the outfit he wore every day, white t-shirt, Dickies Bib overalls. "But will the neighbors think?" she had asked. "They'll say that Olga didn't even keep enough for a burial. They'll say we're immigrants."

"We are immigrants," he said then turned on his heels, pushed through to the yard. The screen door's slap told her it was done.

Milan hadn't come for the funeral. Too many classes, he had said. But he sent a card and a dying bouquet of peonies. No one asked about him at the funeral. His father's get-up was story enough. But two years later, here her boy stood. This time, the peonies were still alive.

"So," Olga said. "Tell me about the girl."

Friday, September 20, 2013

Humming helicopters through the blades of a fan

Riding the 17 home: This bus is stone-cold quiet most hours, but PSU's classes empty right into the bus every run between noon and 3 p.m. The 1:30 is jostling already with girls comparing shoes and nail polish, girls who will get off at the mall or the parents' homes in Alameda, but the bus driver has something to say, too. "It's time for class," he says. "The bus is moving."

We break into the street and he points to the courthouse. "You want to stop at Main if you're interested in the justice system or if you have business with the justice system," he said. He points out Pioneer Square, and it sounds like he's telling its history, but he has no microphone. He's no match for the churn and exhale of the engine. The next time I can make him out, we're stopped.

"Burnside is a great connector," he said. "You can go to Beaverton or Gresham, but we'll wait here with a view of Northwest Portland."

"And now the bus is moving."

A woman in hijab is face-timing, but she snakes an earphone out from her scarf to hear the man in front of her. He's looking, pointing to her head.

"It's 80 degrees. Aren't you hot?"

"No," she says, then turns back to her phone with an eye roll.

"I'm just saying it's hot," he says.

The college girls talking boys switch to singing to overcome the engine and the lurker. But no landmark goes unmentioned from the front. The grey house bus station and the I-5 overpass are as important as the place where NBA stars shoot. We're two miles from industry, he says. We are above the Willamette River. Six buses cross the intersection of MLK and Broadway, he says, and you can walk to any of them.

The bus is moving.

"We have crossed into Northeast," the driver said. "Everyone has their own preference, but if you're still on this bus, you probably like Northeast. I do, too."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How I learned I can't do everything

The second- or third-worst thing about heartache was the jars. For years, I hadn't opened one myself. I'd feign a twist then a grimace then hand it off to my girlfriend. Pop. They always opened on her first grab.

The first week without her, I wrung and clawed at a jar of spaghetti sauce. I used a spoon for leverage then rifled through my drawers, hoping to find that circle of friction my mother gave me when I moved west. "So you can get into mayonnaise," she said. That circle was missing now. I ate the spaghetti with butter and salt instead.

I had nothing to do with my nights, so I hired a personal trainer. "What's your fitness goal?" he asked. "I want to be able to open my own jars," I said.

He laughed. "Let's start with some pull-ups," he said.

Afterward, I used a can-opener to pry open some pickles. I slapped the spaghetti sauce against the floor. I looked again for that circle. I found it wedged behind the spatulas, hung over the back of the drawer. I wrenched it around the sauce lid. It stayed stuck.

My trainer taught me to squat 100 times in a row. He taught me to bench-press 45 and stand flamingo on one leg for a solid minute. After two months, I could do push-ups and 12 kinds of crunches. I could not open a jar.

I made do with can openers, using them like beer bottle openers to relieve the pressure from the lids. I asked a neighbor for help once. I was sheepish, but starving.

By the time I met my next girlfriend, I had forgotten the ease with which my ex had popped lids. My ways were messy, but they worked. Besides, I was an independent woman. I would not lose another relationship to dependence. I made my own money, popped my own lids. I take out the trash like the chore does not offend me. I wash the dishes as soon as I eat.

So when my new girl handed me a jar to open, I reached for the can opener, no shame.

"Oh, your tiny hands," she said, catching me in the act. "I bet you just can't get any leverage."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Summer on its last burnished legs

Roosevelt High School footbal

Roosevelt High School football game

Roosevelt High School football game

Roosevelt High School football game

"He's messing up the snaps," the quarterback said. One of the dozen assistant coaches pulled the center away from the huddle, tossed him the ball. "Let me see you snap," he said.

The teenager tossed the ball through his legs. The coach caught it, pitched it back.


They passed the ball back and forth 10 times, then the coach held it.

"Man," he said. "Are you hitting yourself in the nuts?"

The teen -- a lumbering 245-pounder -- kept one hand on the astroturf as he nodded.

"Man, that should be your No. 1 goal. Just keep thinking it, 'Do not hit myself in the nuts.'"

The practice paused as the other team flew into the endzone for touchdown number three. The game looked lost. The coach caught the center's eye and passed the ball back. "This isn't the only game," he said. "It's just the first game."

The boy snapped again, just a little lower. It sailed clear and easy. A perfect snap. Something to show off next week.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

It's years beyond the worst of it, and it's our time


Header is from upcoming novel The Residue Years by Mitchell S. Jackson

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Friday, July 19, 2013

Both hands steal into the swollen summer air, a blind reach

A PCC interaction 3

Here's a little interaction I witnessed the other day while reporting a separate story.

Yves Mutara missed his first bus home. The next southbound 4 wouldn’t come for another few minutes. He spent the first of those moments staring at the beard.

In three decades of living in Democratic Republic of Congo, Mutara had never seen a beard like that. The hair was wild and white and seemed to float around, rather than protrude from, the dark face wearing it.

Mutara looked down the road for the bus. No sign of it. He approached the beard.

“Excuse me,” he said. His voice was soft with a trace of the French accent he learned in Kinshasa in school. “How old are you?”

A pair of eyes lit up underneath two equally wild and white eyebrows.

“In my soul or in my physical body?” the man asked.

“Your physical body,” Mutara explained. “Because, see, when I watch you, you look young. You have energy. You are strong. But as I get closer, you look …”

“Old,” the man finished.

He laughed and introduced himself as Thimmaiah. He was 67 and studying basic English at Portland Community College’s Cascade campus. Thimmaiah was born Tadaga Doddathimmaiah in a Southern Indian town called Mysore. He's still learning to speak, he said, but that didn't slow him down. Every word seemed accompanied by its own exclamation point. His eyebrows bounced independently of each other.

Mutara, still quiet, explained he was studying business at the school.

“Why are you white hair everywhere?” Mutara asked. “Is it fashion? How do you look so good?”

“I trained for wrestling. And I never smoked. And I never did drugs. And I can teach you tiger breathing right here,” Thimmaiah said.

“I also never smoke,” Mutara said, his voice rising.

His bus stopped, let off a few passengers, then continued down North Albina Street without him. He moved here two years ago, but moments like these, where he feels he fits, are rare.

“Are you 26?” Thimmaiah said.

“That’s right, 36,” Mutara said, mishearing. “When I see you,” he told his new acquaintance, “I see the glory of God.”

“You don’t have to tell me about God,” Thimmaiah said. “He’s in my soul. I was raised Hindu, but Jesus is the energy that brought me to this country.”

They exchanged email addresses and stories of the way God had pulled them from worse situations.

“I was lost,” Mutara said. “And now I am here with you.”

Thimmaiah lunged at Mutara, grabbing him in a hug. That white hair enveloped him. They pulled apart after half a minute. Then Mutara walked to catch the bus, a strand of white hair shining out against his navy button-up.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Back in our town

I'm working on a video project about a neighborhood. Here are some photos I took in the neighborhood.



Kenton Station underground

Kenton Antiques

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Givin ends to my friends and it feels stupendous

Chris the St. Johns Barber

What's better than one story about a barber? Two! Here's a different kind of barber, just half a mile away from yesterday's barber.

North Chautauqua's barber from Casey Parks on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Advertising looks and chops a must


Hot days are hair cut days. Darlene Robinette has spent plenty of afternoons in her Kenton barbershop, 7 Bucks a Whack, just goofing off, petting her 8-year-old peekapoo Elvis. But it seems like the whole neighborhood comes in on the days the thermometer shoots past 80.

Take Monday for instance: 90 degrees by 6 p.m. That’s normally quitting time, Robinette said. Half a dozen guys were still waiting to have their beards trimmed. She worked an hour later. Even though it was her 72nd birthday. Even though she had worn her bathing suit and a pair of waterproof shorts all day, hoping she could sneak out to Sauvie Island for a dip.

A regular came by late afternoon. Robinette had two clipper cuts waiting to be done, so he waited down the road at a Lottery machine. He reappeared half an hour later, $1,100 in hand.

“He said he’d buy me a drink at Kenton Station,” Robinette said.

A customer was still waiting at 7 p.m., but Robinette asked her to please come back the next day. That drink was waiting, “and I’d about whacked til I dropped,” Robinette said.

The narrow Kenton shop is Robinette’s third. She moved to the space 11 years ago from a space on Southeast Morrison. She misses the pompadours her Southeast customers favored, but otherwise, Kenton is perfect. She likes the library and the park, and when quitting time does, in fact, come, she can make it home to her Jantzen Beach house boat or to the water on Sauvie Island in no time flat.

She learned to cut hair from her mother in Lake Oswego in the mid 1940s. Irene Eoff had been studying to become a barber before she became pregnant with Darlene. Four other children followed, and though Eoff never finished her studies, she lined all the neighborhood kids up on weekends for a free buzz.

By the time Robinette daughter was 7, Eoff had her daughter doing perms. Eoff never had the chance to do hair for a living. She worked as a school bus driver and as a housekeeper for St. Vincent Hospital and Medical Center. When she passed away in 1994, Robinette used the inheritance to buy her first shop, a walk-in street level spot in the Clifford Apartments. She moved to the Morrisson location after the apartment building burned down in 1998.

Robinette keeps a picture of her mom hanging on a wood-block clock above the barber chair in her Kenton location.

“That way she can see what I did with the money and watch me work every day,” Robinette said.

Yelp reviewers give Robinette decent marks, in part for her ability to multi-task.

“Darlene was actually boiling potatoes while cutting my hair (in between smoke breaks),” one five-star reviewer wrote.

She doesn’t have a favorite haircut. She does it all and offers a free eyebrow trim for the $7. She prefers not to use scissors. Shears have hurt her hands ever since she broke both wrists a month before the apartment fire.

She still does perms, though she doesn’t advertise them, out of respect for the nearby beauty salons. She doesn’t keep a look book. She has something better: a magazine that shows former Mayor Sam Adams on the cover.

“I gave him this haircut,” she said. “He told me, ‘Whenever I need something special done with my hair, you’re the one.’”

Sure enough, the former mayor gave the spot a 5-star review on Yelp.

“He has a lot of cowlicks,” Robinett said. “But they can be worked with.”

Saturday, June 22, 2013

and I don't mind racing through our goodbyes

My living room needs some art.Untitled

I've never felt at home anywhere the way I do in this apartment. When I was young, we changed houses the way some people change bedsheets. I imagined nothing different for my life when I signed a rental agreement for this 1909, wood-floored, big-windowed apartment. In three years, I'll be out of here, I thought. II stayed six, and though I'm sitting on the floor now, with Lafayette smelling every box as I type, I am finally leaving.

This is where I learned to take pictures, where we kissed the first time. It's where I said goodbye over and over again. I stocked my first shelves here with a bottle of Pimms and a tin of cumin. That first year, I bought a new spice with every paycheck. I made only $7.80 an hour, but when I saved enough, sometimes I bought a bottle of whiskey. I fell asleep to the rumble of buses and motorcycles, woke up to my cat chirping at birds. I watched at least eight cars crash into the tree outside.

I stacked my books two deep on every shelf, kept a string of Christmas lights hung across the window for all but the first six months. I lined the walls with snapshots and kept my nicest bowls in the liquor cabinet, filled with cat treats. After you left your aloe vera here in 2008, I let it die then brought it back to life again. I think that happened a few times, but eventually, I learned to keep a plant (or 20) alive without any Lazarus-like miracles.

This is where I held the Monday night dinners, the annual Valentine's party. This is where we danced and collapsed, where I grew too old to party anymore. This is where you said to me, so devastatingly in 2007, "It's a nice place for a 24-year-old."

It was a nice place for any age, except for those days when it wasn't -- when the ceiling leaked for two years, when the hot water went out every week, when silverfish darted underneath midnight steps to the bathroom. It was too hot in the summer, too hot in the winter, but I never tired of the view. The rounded arch moldings reminded me of jazz when I toured the apartment, and I dreamed I could become a great writer here. I never became great, but I won't hold it against the molding.

My new place is one mile north. It doesn't have the view of the Fremont bridge or the totally uncomfortable fire escape. It doesn't have my neighbors, Amy and Milan, whom I've spent half a decade getting to know in the two feet of hallway between our doors. But it has two more cats, a big backyard and a girlfriend who knew exactly all the right things to say to me on one of the worst days of my entire life. That is, it has everything I need, here at 30. I unpacked my shoes and my books first. It's already home.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

But you'd rather make it hard

On the beach

Stress days these days, but soon, I'll be fancy free again, lunging across sand, all my jowls flapping.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

This wasn't the adventure it sounds

My guiding principle for my work life has always been something Diana Sugg said at a conference a few years ago. "Follow your ghosts." My mother had me as a teenager 30 years ago.

That said, work, recently:

Where I worked today - portrait day for teen mothers

The playroom became a beauty salon when the bell rang. It was 2 p.m. at Roosevelt High School, two weeks shy of summer, and the teen mothers whose toddlers attend Albina Early Head Start at the school were prepping for family pictures.

Anna Baldwin-Sanders, a part-time teacher at Head Start, twisted 17-year-old Lourdes Castillo's hair around a curling iron, while another teacher finished up a perm nearby.

"Luis," Lourdes called to her boyfriend, who was feeding their 11-month-old son, Christopher, a bottle. "Find his tie."

Outside, members of West Linn's SouthLake Church had transformed a school courtyard into a portrait studio. The church has volunteered at the St. Johns school for five years. Each year, members ask Ariana Altieri, the Portland School District's teen-parent coordinator, what the teen mothers need.

After the church bought diapers, box fans and clothes, its members had one more question for the parents: What do you want?

Family pictures topped the list, so Wednesday church member Karen Bonelli-Sanquist brought her Nikon and spent three hours making portraits of 11 families. The church congregation will print each family's favorite photographs.

At 2:30 p.m., Lourdes emerged in ringlets. Christopher's onesie had given way to a three-piece suit, complete with a blue tie and a tongue stained cupcake-blue. The wind blew Christopher's tuft of hair into a fauxhawk like his father's.

Lourdes and Luis met four years ago during a soccer trip to Mt. Hood. They started dating a year later, and when Christopher came, Lourdes transferred to Roosevelt from Benson to be closer to her family and to enroll her son in Head Start. Luis took a year off to earn money working full-time at McDonalds. The 19-year-old said he plans to enroll in Roosevelt in the fall. The couple will graduate together next year, just as Christopher hits his terrible twos.

Those tantrum days seemed far off Thursday, though, as their boy beamed for the pictures, revealing all eight teeth at once.

"He's a natural," said church member Beth Romes, who, 37 years ago, was a teen mother herself.

"I take a lot of pictures of him," Lourdes said, motioning toward her phone. But the trio hadn't had a photo taken together since Christopher was only a month, she said.

Lourdes drops Christopher off each morning at Head Start then picks him at 4 p.m., after school and after homework. Two weeks from now, the family will be on its own for a few months.

This summer, Albina will discontinue its summer program for the first time. Before federal budget cuts, teachers such as Baldwin-Sanders visited the mothers once a week for half-an-hour at their homes. They also hosted monthly socials for the families. Baldwin-Sanders and the Southlake members are trying to create a volunteer program for this summer, but they're not sure yet if it'll work out.

As the afternoon neared 4 p.m., Bonelli-Sanquist turned her camera to show the family a sneak peek of the photos. The family had knelt to fit on a child's-sized bridge, and the pictures made the school brick look picaresque.

At the right angle, you couldn't even make out the cafeteria windows, the students spilling out from afternoon activities, just a wall away.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Front-seat freestyle

An essay I wrote a few year's ago is on the Dossier Journal Website now.

Down at Portland’s Central Precinct, down three floors, three cops sit slack-jawed staring at the biggest flat screen TV I have ever seen. A deep TV narrator voice says, “Lil’ Rick’s crippin’ had gone too far. The balancing act was torture.”

It’s 10 til four, and the cops lounge around a long table, the kind we use at work for important meetings. Lil’ Rick is a man now, but on the History Channel, he’s still a Los Angeles teenager wielding big guns and blue handkerchiefs. Being a Crip, he says, meant hating everything red — even strawberry soda.

I’m here for a ride-along with Officer Chad Stensgaard — a cop who spent a day in court last month after parking in a no-parking zone to eat dinner and watch the Blazers game. I’m a newspaper reporter, new to the night cops beat after spending a few years writing about education. Tonight, Chad’s going to take me through the dilapidated part of downtown known as Old Town, show me how the crack addicts have migrated north again. Two years ago, the police chief had declared victory: The big raid had sent 158 dealers or users to jail. Crack was gone.

“It just went downtown for a few years,” Chad says, handing over a bullet-proof vest. “Now we’ve been policing downtown, so it’s moved back here.”

I put on the vest. It’s extra-large, the only size they have. I just topped 110, and the vest hangs off with arm holes so big I could step through them.

Chad is young, studly with a spikey handsome-man haircut. He spends the first hour rolling slowly through the streets, coolly telling me about this or that time he arrested someone. He drives by a hair salon twice, tells me his wife works there. The shop is part of the new, remodeled plaza that city officials had said would turn Old Town around. It’s upscale, but close enough to the downscale area that Chad likes to check in on his wife. The car windows are down, and Chad says a police-like “Hello” to nearly everyone we pass. People are quick to greet him back, as if an officer’s hello mandates a respectful reply. “Good evening, officer.”

It’s 5:30, a Thursday night in the middle of June. Nothing is going on yet. I only have a few hours, and I feel impatient for some kind of action, something I can go back to work and write down so my bosses will think I’m a go-getter. I’m the youngest person on staff, and I want to stop feeling like I’ll never catch up to the other reporters.

“The commander thought I could use some good publicity,” Chad tells me. “That’s why I agreed to take a reporter with me tonight.”

I’m not sure what to say back to him, so I don’t say anything. Chad turns the radio on — the pop station, not the police scanner — and sings softly as he drives. I look out the window, wondering what people think when they see me in the passenger seat. After half an hour, Chad jerks the car into an old Burger King parking lot. Someone burned the insides out long ago. The sign is gone, but its essential Burger Kingness — the drive-through, the mission-tile roof — is intact. I try not to smile. Maybe this will be something.

Read the rest on Dossier.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love

Every place has a scent, she said, and this one smells like you. It's men's deodorant and six years' worth of burnt clove oil, the peppermint soap waiting in the shower. It's kicked-up cat litter and a dozen Indian spices. It's Head and Shoulders shampoo, bleach and natural dishwashing liquid, the trace of rain sneaking in through old windows. It's the pages of 200 books, the pungent shirts worn with sweat from three outfits ago. It's two dozen plants and expensive coffee beans and lavender lotion and the kind of mold you will never be able to clean out of a hundred-year-old apartment.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Let me loosen up the blindfold

New Columbia Oral Histories from Casey Parks on Vimeo.

This is the oral history I mentioned, a video of children reading their parents' secrets.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I don't tell stories. I let 'em tell theyselves.

New Columbia oral history Jane

Jane, in New Columbia the night the girls practiced their oral history recitations. They are 12 and 13 and 16, and they spent a year learning how to interview. Then they knocked on a neighbor's door, said tell me about your childhood, your struggle, your secret hope. Saturday night, the girls will read edited transcriptions from 20 of the residents, the story of the community in miniature.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

I try to keep it cool when we collide

On the end of an era:

I cannot remember having any bed other than this one. They brought it home to me in a metal frame, a matching glass-top table set off to the side. I broke the glass some time that year, which is about how long it took me to get used to being there, again, with them. This was 16, half a decade since we had last lived all together like this. This bed is too girly, I said. Then I kept it another 13 years.

The queen-sized, pillow-top was the nicest thing my parents ever bought for me, and I held onto it as a link back. I did, for four years, sleep on a twin-sized, college-issued plastic dorm mattress. Then I crashed on borrowed beds in other people's houses. Those were the years when I could never settle down. Every night for six months, I pulled a creaky queen out of a mid-century modern sofa. I slept on half a dozen futons. I tossed and turned half a year away on a bright blue rubber blow-up, issued free with my $200-a-month rent. I slept on the bed you bought with your first adult paycheck. I gave that up for a futon and my own paycheck, a $7.80-an-hour gig that I hoped would send me somewhere.

I thought I was still in my rambling years when I touched down this way. They sent the bed anyway -- frameless, but otherwise the same soft nest of youth. You'll save money, my mother said. You can buy a new bed when you settle. I propped it up on a king-size case. The jutting edges used to catch my shins when I walked past. Then I hung two shoes over, the soles softening the blow.

We stayed static here, rotating the foot for the head, the wall for the window, but always on the same hundred-year-old wooden floor. My body sank its spot in long ago. My hips dip into the same arc every night. Which is how I learned staying isn't the same as settling. Which is why I can give this bed up only now, six years in one spot, but only now catching hold of an anchor.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Without a dope beat to step to --

It's been a long time, shouldn't left you

Vinnie Dewayne

Vinnie Dewayne

Vinnie Dewayne's bass is a whisper when he talks. But when he raps ...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

making it possible to swim / his way out of Compton

Jefferson basketball talk.JPG

The gym had changed since the days Denmark Reid averaged 23 points a game for Jefferson High School. So had his jumpshot. But Reid and Mitchell Jackson played as if they were boys Friday night, trading shots with a girls-sized ball.

"That's OK, my hands are small anyway," Reid, a former shooting guard, said before sinking a three-pointer.

In the early 1990s, the men played on powerhouse Jefferson teams that led the city in scoring. Their lives diverged after they left that court.

Reid went on to play college ball then settled back in Portland. But Jackson never had the precision his best friend did -- he sold drugs instead. After a prison stint, he changed his course. He graduated from Portland State University then moved to New York City, where he works as a writer and professor.

They came together last week to shoot footage for Jackson's documentary, a film that will accompany his forthcoming novel, The Residue Years. In a two-hour session, Reid, Jackson and current Jefferson coach Pat Strickland talked about the good old days, the legends who never became great, the games they almost won.

"Basketball was it for me," Reid told Jackson. "It gave me options.

Jackson wore a decidedly New York get-up -- a black shirt buttoned to the neck and a pair of gray, fashion-forward slouchers that vaguely resembled sweatpants -- an avant garde uniform that did not go unteased. But Jackson and Reid are cut from the same cloth, 30-somethings reared on basketball and a particular North Portland flavor that has influenced the rest of their lives.

More than 80 percent of the neighborhood around Jefferson High School was African American in the 1990s. Today, less than half is.

But young black men still suit up in Democrat blue, hoping that ball will lift them somewhere else. So much so that a Nike film crew spent the winter documenting the team's season, ending with its 5A state championship.

"If you walked into the street today and asked any kid, they would say they want to play in the NBA," said Strickland, the state's 5A coach of the year.

Basketball was the reason Reid never joined a gang. Basketball was the reason he earned a degree. Reid played only three years at Jeff, but he is third on the school's all-time points list. When he graduated in 1993, his SAT score kept him out of the University of Portland. His 1,490 career points at Jefferson earned him a scholarship to New Mexico State instead.

"Without basketball, there's no telling where I would have been," Reid said. "I just wasn't the smartest guy in the room."

Scouts started following Reid as a middle schooler hooping at Beaumont Middle School. Back then, students could attend any school to play ball, and newspapers covered Reid's decision as if it were LeBron choosing Miami.

But none of the glory, even the later glory of averaging double digits in a Division 1 season, compared with the North and Northeast Portland park games, Reid said.

"Back then, you got your grit in the park," Strickland agreed. "Kids today don't have that park grit. The superstars today are prima donnas. They say, 'That asphalt would hurt my knees.'"

The three were playing in Peninsula Park in 1997, the day Jackson was busted for selling crack.

"What were you thinking when you learned I was slinging dope?" Jackson asked Friday.

"I was in a state of shock," Strickland said. "Square-bear Mitch? This dude is like Urkel, and he's out here doing this?"

Crack was always around the neighborhood then. Jackson's mother used, too. But that wasn't supposed to be Jackson's story, Reid said, because Jackson, now 37, could always write.

He was a decent shooting guard -- "You shot 21 against Benson, but it should have been 50," Reid reminded him -- but he shined in the classroom. The drug charge was shocking. The book deal with Bloomsbury was not.

When it came time to pen his first novel, Jackson called Reid for details. The former star works at Cascadia Behavioral Health now. He has the memory of an elephant. He remembers every stat, every ball that bounced off the rim.

Tell me about the old legends, Jackson said. For hours, they talked about all the hoopers who went through Jefferson. Some ended up in jail. Division 1 dreams disappeared with drugs. A few went to college.

"We were the lucky ones," Reid said.

Then he picked up a ball, headed to center court and shot. Jackson had words, the kind of poetry a publisher noticed, but this was still their language.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Friday, March 8, 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

Bus Chronicle No. 1 -- the 77-Broadway-Halsey

I'm trying to figure a way to work smarter at my job. I'm nowhere near making the kinds of stories I want to make, so I'm trying to figure ways I can become markedly better. To start with, I'm re-reading old journalism narrative guides. The first -- "Stalking the Feature Story" -- urges writers to get in the habit of writing scenes. Not just when you're on a story, but always. To be in the habit of deliberately writing down all details. To paint a scene. I'm especially bad at physical descriptions, so I want to work on that. What do people look like, how do they move, how do they sound, how do they sit still (because, does anyone ever?). To that end, I'm working on a little journalism 101 project -- chronicling my bus rides. Here's my first attempt. It is super light on all those physical descriptions, but I'm just trying to start. It's from two minutes of my ride from the gym to my apartment.

Bus Chronicle No. 1 -- the 77-Broadway-Halsey

The oversized boy could be anywhere between 20 and 40, depending on his growth rate. He has a full mustache, but his skin lacks any wrinkles.

"I don't go out much," he tells the woman next to him. "And if I do, it takes me a while to open up to people."

He's wearing shorts on a 45-degree day. He wears hiking boots and a windbreaker. His teeth aren't any more crooked than anyone's, but they aren't straight either. His hair grows in pointed angled tufts that could go Eraserhead, if only he'd let it shoot.

"She's already my best friend, so I thought ..." he trails off.

"When we go out to dinner, she always pays $5 or $10 more than her half," he says. "She doesn't have to love me, mom. She can just like me."

His mom raises an eyebrow, repositions her purse.

"It's true. Love is unconditional. But you build up to it. I mean, she loves me in a way already."

"She's not very affectionate," he says. "Like, she won't hold my hand, and she doesn't touch people's arms when she talks. But she's friends with all her ex-boyfriends. She's just a really great person."

His mother moves her purse again. Thirty seconds pass.

"I haven't ... yet," he says. "Right now I'm still ... I just wanted to let you know."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Telling me how you're going to outlive your body


Two years ago I lost my best friend. I didn't know I was mad til last night, hearing the news that she wants to go, too. Can't you all just take better care of yourselves, stick around for me?

I still see him everywhere, though. I still think to write him. Anytime something is good or bad or pretty. Even if it's not.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

on seeing the 100 percent perfect writer one February evening

George Saunders reading

I arrive 6:15 for the 7:30 reading, and only a dozen seats remain. I grab a solo at the front, flanked by a middle-aged ladies book club on the left, a couple of college girls on the left. Everyone is wearing boots.

The 50- or maybe 60-year-olds say "Tenth of December" will win the National Book Award. The college girls are hatching a plan to take George Saunders out for a drink.

The 12 seats are gone by 6:30; the standing room is taken by 7. It's Friday night in the most literate of cities.

A woman nearby -- wearing boots also -- says, "I saw him a year and a half ago and only 20 people were here. What happened?"

A college girl says he is just publishing more regularly. She doesn't mention the January New York Times Magazine article, the one that proclaimed three days into 2013 that "Tenth of December" is the best book we'll read all year.

A table is set up for post-reading autographs. On it, there is a bottle of Purel, a box of Kleenex and maybe 15 pens.

A Powells worker says if you go to the bathroom, you cannot come back. He teaches us three times how to make a line. When the author appears, do not follow your instinct. Do not curve toward Architecture. Go back. Wrap the room. Snake back to the staircase if you must. Don't go the bathroom.

The 50- or maybe 60-year-olds say Lincoln will win the Oscar. They say, "This sure is a young crowd." The college girls are starstruck when Kevin Sampsell passes.

"Kevin Sampsell," one says. "That is Kevin. Sampsell."

I spy with my little eye, six seats down, Cheryl Strayed. The college girls don't notice, but, woo boy, George Saunders does. He sneaks up through the back stairwell, fresh off an airplane and taking two steps back when he sees the crowd.

"Cheryl," he says.

George Saunders has a lisp, two bald spots and too-long, boot cut jeans. His cuffs are torn. He plays with the change in his pocket.

But he is god here. And damn funny, too. He is humble in a way that feels real. He is insightful, gracious and silly. He reads 30 minutes in six different voices. He jingles his change. He looks for the first question. Even at capacity, it's hard to find that first ask.

"Who in here has the most sexual energy?" he asks.

The front row of boots-wearing 20-somethings can't help but laugh when the guy raises his hand. He is hefty, and he has the exact hairstyle of Larry from The Three Stooges. His glasses aren't plastic frames; his jeans aren't skinny.

Talking is easy after that, though Saunders fumbles with his change the whole time. He talks about his wife, the years he sneaked writing fiction at a day job writing technical copy. He says we should give in to our native charms. He says he is anxious, but writing is easy now. He has tricks and no TV.

The Powell's employees let a few questions slide past the 8:30 mark. And when the line does indeed snake back to the staircase, the college girls give up. Outside, by their bikes, they discuss going for a drink without him. But what's the use, they're buzzed already.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

And I'm waiting on the weather that I know will pass.

Bull kelp

I know that it's true: It's gonna be a good year.