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.