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 ...