Monday, April 23, 2018

My next posts will be bits of fiction. My sister would have enjoyed them, and if you are my other reader I hope you will, too.
Every so often I wake up. I move through my life doing and being many things, and most of the time hardly notice. Every so often, I notice. I believe this is called lucidity. I’ve heard the word applied usually to a dream experience that seemed real. For me it happens when a feeling of awareness dawns and I know where I am, in a wholeness of reality. Lines of writing dance, I smell the sounds of the world, I hear and taste the colors, and it is beautiful. But the occasions are rarely beautiful. Why the gift comes at mundane times I cannot fathom. Why should I suddenly grow acutely aware of my weight on the maroon vinyl seat of the chair beneath me? Why must I see every sparkling detail of each little flame shaped light bulb in the fixture over the restaurant table, and see it again, blurred and glowing in a hundred reflections on the silverware, half-filled water glasses, in the shiny, slightly greasy table top, in the eyes of my companions at the table? What is there to know that is so important to notice, in detail, the rancid smell and the colors of the brown, red, orange and green patterns in the old carpet covering the restaurant floor? We are the staff of a church, gathered to talk God-shop at a cheap Chinese restaurant. Two tables are pushed together for the seven of us. Our menus, also slightly greasy, are in our hands. We are contemplating column A, B, C. I lay down my menu, ask my friends to choose my usual for me, push back my chair (how vivid is the sound of the legs sliding over the carpet!), rise, and walk away toward the men’s room, which I know to be around the corner, past the reception desk, and through a narrow hallway. I push open the door of the restroom with my elbow, wary of germs I cannot see but know to be lurking. As I step into the room I see a cluster of rather small men pressed toward the one urinal. They are wearing green felt coats. The ones in back have hats with wide brims and tall, rounded tops. A taller man stands close to the fixture. He wears a small, neat hat with a jaunty brim. I wonder why I do not feel surprised to walk in on five of Santa’s elves, and do not question that urinating as a group is not something entirely normal. I open the door to the stall on the left, and close it behind me. I unzip and as I begin I say, in what I hope is a companionable way, “Isn’t it handy that these stalls are so large?” I feel a silent awareness from my neighbors. I think I hear one of them say “Mine is really quite ugly.” I think, but do not say, in what would have been a pastoral tone, “Oh, nothing that God makes should be considered ugly.” A tremor, a vibration, perhaps a group snicker from over there . . . I finish, tuck in and zip up, and exit the stall. I look at the elves. The tall one is watching me. His skin is ivory, his hair darkest black, his eyes like deep holes. If his face has an expression, I cannot recognize it. Like Peter on the mountaintop, I speak a little polite nonsense. “Well, how nice it’s been to meet you. I . . er . . . do hope you will have a good year.” A stocky elf removes his hat, turns and faces his companions. He tells a joke. “If you ask Uncle if his wife has a cold, he will say yes. If you ask Uncle if he, too, has a cold he will (and here the elf’s face becomes that of an old grizzled man, hunched over a bit to one side) just -sniifFFFF-. A titter runs through the huddle of elves. I smile. I can tell it is a joke, and for a second I get it, but then it is lost except for a feeling of amusement. The tall elf continues to look at me. His face shows no expression that I can match with any human face. Yet he is sizing me up with mischievous, deep, kind amusement. In fact, to look at him I see the very incarnation of mirth. I understand that these creatures, ancient craftsmen of toys for the children of the world, exist in some kind of air of humor and happiness. I back toward the exit. Again I say, “So nice to meet you!” I walk halfway out the door and turn back in the doorway for a last look. The tall elf continues his inscrutable gaze, and I say, “I’m going to forget all this as soon as I close the door behind me, aren’t I?” Somehow I feel smiled at, which I take as assurance that indeed memory of my encroachment into this dimension of magic, in the oddest of places, will fade with each step I take back to my table and my friends and my Kung-Pao chicken. I walk one step, then two, following the hallway back to the dining area. I tell myself that I will retain my lucidity long enough to at least remember that I will forget something wonderful. Instead, with each step the restaurant lights glow and blend into a misty, shapeless light. I begin to forget why I came to this place. And as I forget I remember more and more of the elves. I remember and savor the deep green of their coats, the silence of their continuous laughter, their pure goodwill. I am given knowledge of the details of their uniforms; why I knew the tall elf was the leader by his unique hat, but also it is not a leadership of status but of role — he is the chief servant and spokesman, guide and coordinator of the spontaneous humor of his companions. I begin to forget who I was. One reality is dissolving into a dream I can quite remember. I also know this is a joke. That I am remembering backwards is quite funny. Well done. Now I remember. I am smiling. But if you saw me, you might not recognize that I am smiling.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

I got called to be an extra for a TV show shooting here in town! I stepped out the back door of my house and walked through the rain the five blocks to the crew holding area at the local Catholic Church. The directions from the producers were perfect, so I found my way to the small church hall where the staff were organizing and orienting the day’s extras. When I walked in I passed by to the end of a line of very nice looking people. Right away I sensed I was in introvert heaven as practically everyone seemed to be very self-conscious and no one was smiling or making eye contact. Heaven for them, that is, because I am the opposite of introverted, falling on the far end of the raging extravert continuum. Anyway, rather than a line of people wiggling, chatting, and otherwise waiting eagerly to be on TV, they seemed more like a line of people waiting to have their fingerprints taken. I smiled at the tallish, slender young woman behind me, though, and we struck up a conversation. This was the first time as an extra for both of us. We were both excited and eager to see how the whole process worked. OK I’ll stop talking now. As we stood in line the manager, Zach, gave us instructions about how to and not to fill out the employment forms we were waiting to receive. The young man was obviously stressed, talking to himself a lot, but also cracking dry jokes constantly. I hope he noticed at least me smirking, because I thought he was very funny and was trying have fun and get us to have fun too. But it was a tough line. I guess most felt a little shy and nervous. As I got up to the desk to get my forms he asked me, as he did the people before me, my name and role. He was looking up names on his little phone screen while also talking on a squawking radio to others outside and on set. I told him my name was hyphenated, which helped him find me quickly . . . he had already opined that whoever it was sent him the list didn’t put us in alphabetical order. Since I was probably the oldest person there (most of the extras were students and young adults, with a few 30 & 40 year olds thrown in) he pegged me right away for one of the “Professors”. I quickly took my papers and backtracked through the line to the prep room. I guess I was a little nervous too, because I almost walked into the women’s rest room by mistake. So I got my forms filled out; had to wrangle (silently) for a chair and a spot at a table. Folks were still seeming quiet, nervous, and self-absorbed; but the staff, including an extra herder, wardrobe, and makeup people, kept their eyes bright and smiles close to their lips. I filled out my forms, left my bags and coat in a pile on the floor, and got back in line. It didn’t take too long to show my ID and head back for wardrobe and makeup. I got pulled from the wardrobe line as that one was slow & a chair was open. I sat in a folding chair of the kind you always see on TV in the make up room, introduced myself to the makeup gal, who gave me a little pat of something on my forehead to keep me from shining & that was it, then back in line. Most of the extras had followed instructions and brought several “looks” in the preppy casual style. I was surprised at how particular and also how kind the wardrobe lady was, a young woman with a perpetual smile and endless affirmations about how good we all looked, with questions about how we felt looking how we looked. So people were unpacking backs with blouses, blazers, sweaters and the like and comparing combinations. That part was great because I felt like even the extras mattered because how we looked mattered, too. When it was my turn the wardrobe person looked at me and said “Professor!” I had come in my tweedish sport coat, brown Vans, black shirt and pants, and my felt fedora. I said, “What do you think? I brought a few options, too.” She said, “Are you happy?” “Sure!” “Great. You nailed it!” So quick as that I was professorial and done and set to waiting around for further instructions. As I hung about watching people get dressed and made up I became aware how very good looking everyone in the room was. Yes, the roomed teemed with only beautiful people, some who knew it and others who didn’t know it. We were chosen, I realized, because of how we looked and might look on camera. It didn’t occur to me to wonder which kind I was, one who knew or didn’t know about my looks. Anyway now I suppose I know. And here I thought my eye-candy days were long gone! All this took about an hour, which seemed longer for all the waiting involved; also because people didn’t know each other and weren’t gabbing. Eventually we were called to attention and given instructions prior to getting shuttled to the “shoot”. So if you ever get to do this here is how it goes: “You will get instructions on what to do as BG (background) when you get there. DO NOT TALK ON THE SET AND DO NOT TALK TO THE ACTORS (so they can focus, which is fair). Your cue to do what you are instructed to do is BACKGROUND. When you hear BACKGROUND start moving immediately. When you hear RESET go back to your starting position and listen again for your cue. ACTION is for the actors/stars! Oh, and did I say DO NOT TALK ON THE SET. Just be quiet! You are furniture and potted plants!” No, he didn’t really say that last part. So then we lined up and waited for several white Ford vans to pull up for us. We piled in. The fellow next to me said howdy and we exchanged names. I’m keeping track! Now I have met Tyler in the van and Hannah in line and Oh yes Ron who finally couldn’t stand it in the waiting room before and told me about his wife and family and moving several times and how long he had lived in Portland and what a clown he is and how hard it was not to start goofing around. Anyway now I know three people! No, four! The wisecracking manager guy is Zach. Not a bad start. The wardrobe lady (don’t know her name) sat up in front with the driver (whose name she knew) and chatted happily while the rest of us made like potted plants and didn’t talk or move. Well, I fidgeted a bit and kept trying to make eye contact with SOMEONE. No luck. It took just a couple of minutes to haul us downtown to the alleyway back entrance to a rented hall off main street. I’d been in there several times; the high school holds their annual auction/dance/fundraiser there, and the local Latina empowerment group hosts Day of the Dead celebration there. Most folks came from out of town; so I had a little advantage in orientation and comfort level. We started settling in the main floor; a buffet was set out and the room smelled great. But before too long our handlers hollered for us to go upstairs (there is a balcony above the main floor) because BG holding is up there, not down here, which is obviously for the real actors/stars. It was kind of funny; lights and warmth and food on the main floor, hard chairs and darkness (no lights upstairs) and no goodies for BG. I’m not complaining, just observing. Some of the staff obviously treated us like real people with feelings; the invisible producers and, apparently, another layer of the production really probably did see us just as drivers of cars, wearers of hats, leafy ferns, ficuses, and a cacti or three. Just part of the experience and seeing how it works. Fascinating! Two other “Professors” sat at the same table with me upstairs as we waited for mobilization to the shoot. Aha! I’m not the only extravert after all. They seemed relieved to be able to chat. The fun part is neither one cared what anyone did for their real job. I didn’t have to ruin the conversation by confessing about my job. We just talked about how the day was going, if we had done this before (they both had, a lot), etc. The funny thing I wondered if Scott was a pastor because he kind of acted like one. Hey, now I know five people! After another half hour or so Zach the wisecracker came upstairs and started picking people to follow him onto the set, which was the sidewalk outside the building. He took a few at a time; at one point he beckoned to some young women “Follow me!” and then muttered as he passed by me, “if you want to live.” Smirk! Well at least I got it. The girls tailed him timidly downstairs as if their lives depended on it and on out the door. Eventually we all made it to the street, which was set up to look like a main street with shops in a small town. Amazing what they did with that. But details matter; cars had fake Oregon license plates on them (no free advertising for Ron Tonkin), fresh old leaves were being scattered on the sidewalk, even fresh branches with fall leaves attached to the bare ones still budding. One of my new professor friends sat at a cafe table with a “student” and were given muffins as props. I was seated sort of under a portico and given an empty coffee cup and plate with a dirty crumpled napkin and several blueberries. The professor grinned at me. Smirk! The prop guy helped himself to one of my blueberries. Smirk! That was fine except anyone who really knows me knows I always fold my napkins after I use them. No one will recognize me! Or it will seem fake because I NEVER wad up my napkin and I ALWAYS eat all my blueberries! Focus. I got instructions first from Zach, who wanted me to read a book then get up and walk away (no book yet) on a cue. Then I got other instructions from the other herder, nice lady, to move to sit at the other side of the table and chat with HEY I KNOW YOU WE MET IN LINE a young lady, Hannah in real life, while other people interacted with us. The cold steel chair shivered my timbers; a staffer at least came by and cheerfully wiped off the seat with a damp towel, better than nothing. All around us gaffers and camera people and set people in safety vests bustled around with their equipment. We all waited in our start spots and DID NOT TALK. Of course everyone else around us was talking so why couldn’t we talk? All of sudden everything went quiet and we heard BACKGROUND! Our cue! Start pretending to talk! “Oh wow, that’s great! When did you get the news? That’s fantastic! You’ve been waiting all your life for this! Good for you! No thanks, we’re good, don’t need more invisible coffee. Amazing! Ha hahahahaha! What are you saying? I don’t understand a word you are pretending to say! Ha hahahaha! Isn’t this great!” Then the background noise starts up again & some bustling happens and some people getting new instructions and Hannah and I are sitting on our cold chairs with invisible coffee in 40 degrees without mittens and beginning to shiver, which gets worse as we do this over and over again for about an hour . . . Did you know, if you are cold, that if you smile and pretend to have a wonderful conversation you will not feel cold as you are doing that? During this time I caught a glimpse of two of the STARS. They walked right by me! I could tell they were stars because of their terrific make up and top shelf wardrobe. Very nice looking young ladies. I did not try to talk to them. One glanced at me and I felt . . . plant like. Perhaps she thought “Hm, It’s a cactus, wearing a fedora.” It’s a wrap! Finally! It’s a good thing because the producers had to unblock main street at a certain time. Now regular people are coming and going, acting completely natural in the most easy way, which was so very hard for us to do on cue because we are BG for a television show. Real Life leaks back in to main street with people walking too fast, dodging each other, and sounds of real traffic. For us BGs it’s time to go back inside and upstairs to the holding balcony. I have much more I can say and describe. The experience went on for another hour and a half of waiting, chatting, listening, sitting, and wondering what would happen next. We had to wait until production was done with us; we might have needed to stay for another number of hours for reshoots or additional BG needs. As it turned out they only needed 8 students and recruited them to stay on until who knows when long into the night. The rest of us were “released”, how’s that for a cue! I chatted with my “Professor” friends (never knew why we were called that as we actually were just older BGs) while in line waiting to get my voucher signed. I will get paid for 5 hours of Bacdgrounding at minimum wage. My new friends do this a lot; apparently once you are “in” you get called for various things. They had done Portlandia and a show called “American Vandal”, some kind of mocumentary detective show, among other things. Sometimes they hung around for as long as 12 hours for shoots. Once one of them got offered a line to say, but since he wasn’t really a Jewish dad he couldn’t pronounce the Hebrew needed at the wedding. Anyway they are BG junkies or something, kind of like a hobby. So they will be back. I think if you study backgrounds of television shows and commercials filmed in Portland you’ll see them regularly. I told the nice lady who signed my voucher that I had a good time. Thanks! And if anyone asks me, I would definitely do it again. You may be wondering what the TV show is that we might be in. I can’t tell you that as it is a pilot and not officially picked up yet. Also, even though I know the name of the program I can’t tell you a thing about it because it’s not the kind of thing I watch anyway. But yeehoo I’m gonna be on TV! I believe this is my sister’s doing, but that is another story for another time.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Here is a unique footprints story. Sometime in the darkness of Tuesday before dawn a person climbed up on the church roof and attempted to remove a skylight, perhaps seeking entry to the church after hours. We know it wasn't wind, rain, or fat crow because of the big boot print on the shattered plexiglass on the carpet below the opening in the roof. I'm very thankful to walk in to a bit of a mess with no broken body in the midst of it. The incident reminds me of the story of friends who lowered their paralytic friend through a roof to get him close enough for Jesus to heal him. I always kind of wondered what kind of a mess that might make, so here is an answer. After examining the mess, I looked up at the lovely blue sky now visible from inside the hallway outside the office. I hope the day dawned more hopeful for the person who broke the window. Repairs are underway, but I do rather like the view.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

I walked the length of a very small beach along the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon yesterday. In the space of about a hundred yards and less than five minutes I passed a young family speaking in Arabic, a pair of men walking together chatting in Chinese, a couple in their thirties complaining to each other in a Slavic language, a very young man and young woman strolling closely and whispering in Korean, and various people rich to homeless whose language is mine. I also saw a very white young man fishing peacefully right next to a very black young man who had just emerged from a chilly swim. I saw and heard these things in view of Tilikum Crossing, a lovely new bridge that joins the west and east banks of the river. A few minutes earlier, I saw the rock in this photograph. Why anyone would feel a need to declare anyplace in the world a ****hole is a great sadness to me.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

On a sunny day in late spring mom buckled me up in the backseat of our Ford Fairlane and motored out with a friend to a mountain meadow. I'm guessing from my memory of wild grass up to my waist and how much taller mom was than me that I was about five years old. Our target that day was wild native iris which mom loved and coveted for her garden. Later on in life I learned she had an interest in genetic engineering, hoping to cross breed a certain wild strain with domestic plants and create a whole new breed, hopefully in a perfect true blue that so far had eluded everyone in that line of work. But on that bright day I just remember being set free to poke about on the alpine fields with the instruction to look for little blue iris flowers. I found one! In my excitement I picked the blossom and carried it to mom and her prospecting buddy. Her eyes lit up and she smiled when I presented the flower, sky blue with unusually wide petals for a wild iris. Then she asked me to show her where I found the plant. I didn't remember where it was, exactly. And it turned out this particular plant just had one flower, I had picked it, and so we could not find the plant, though we searched for a long time. This little story feels typical of my mother's life -- lived with deep dreams that sometimes seemed just a lost glance away from coming true. Regardless of setbacks, though, she kept working at it, and this is, I hope, is a good trait I learned from her. I think I've been luckier, as many of my deep dreams for love and happiness have come more true than hers. When mom died after a battle with cancer I offered to do a drawing for the folder for her memorial service, which I modified to be engraved on her grave marker. The image is my memory of that little blue iris flower I found for her, a promise that dreams exist and are worth pursuing. She died on January 4, 1992, and I miss her today.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Some larger homes in Jesus’ day had an extra room more properly called a guest chamber. This room was not used day to day. It was like the guest room many of us have in our homes. We keep it clean and ready for company, should they come to visit. In Luke’s story of the birth of Christ, the word for this chamber is normally, and inaccurately, translated “inn”. But the Greek word “kataluma” actually refers to a guest chamber in a home. With this insight, here is what Luke really describes as Jesus comes into the world. Joseph arrives, with a very pregnant Mary, in Bethlehem at the door of the home of a relative. He and Mary are, in the ways of the those days, made warmly and thoroughly welcome, even though they could not have notified anyone about their arrival ahead of time. The holy couple were not the first to arrive, so the guest room is already full. Does this mean they will be turned away? Even we rather cynical westerners can understand that, when family comes, you make room. In this case there remained space in the living room. The common living area in such a home, back then, would also have included a nook for animals such as sheep or a donkey. The presence of animals in the house meant that a manger, or feedbox, would have been a common feature in this large family living space. So Mary had help, and Joseph had relatives to pace with as the time came. Jesus was born in a family home, surrounded by his uncles and aunts and cousins. His birth happened right out in the middle of the place where a big family cooks, eats, laughs, plays, argues, and sleeps together. Even the livestock get in on the fun. Mary and Joseph and Jesus were not alone. In fact they could not have been any less alone! This was not a private birth. Jesus came into the world in a warm little sea of humanity, and no doubt when he was delivered everyone smiled and cheered and hugged and cried for joy. This is the more factual, and also the more true, story of Jesus’ birth. Jesus came into a world where he was welcomed and loved. He arrived in a setting of warm hospitality. When Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem, they came home to have their baby. Why not, then, believe that THIS is the way the world is, and this is how people really are? There is always room. If there is room for the Son of God, there is room for everyone. If we believe the real Gospel story, we should live it.

Monday, August 28, 2017

I drove a little 1991 Toyota for twenty one years. The car served well as my work car — my little four-speed pastor chariot gave me good economy and happiness in driving. But the car was ready for a new owner, so we sold it to a neighbor for his commuting car. In the meantime, we cast about for a replacement, something nice, not too expensive. The neighbors right across the street - the same house I found gold in front of - put a for sale sign on what I thought was a rather plain looking silver sedan. So we looked into buying it. The car docked in their garage for several years, undriven. The husband bought his wife a dream car, a 2007 Buick LaCross CXL, with a dash of chrome trim here and leather everything inside. We took it out for a drive, marveling that the car still smelled new and had only 686 miles on the odometer. Ann, the little old lady neighbor, meant to drive at least to church on Sunday, but never did because she became ill. The car offered a terrific bargain for us, so we made a deal and soon the Buick, as I coldly referred to it, moved across the street into our driveway. I think I missed my little blue scooter, and also nursed a negative attitude about GM cars. Seven years passed in a wink. The Buick provided quiet and solid service, even though I never really liked the car — not one I would have gone out in search of. With time passing our solid Honda van came ready to bequeath to our son, and all things looking flush we are buying a new Subaru to serve as our adventures in retirement car in a few years. But after a trip or two the windshield in the car we named SubyRu developed a crack, such that we have left it parked for over a month awaiting a replacement windshield from the Mothership. So I’ve spent a lot more time than I expected with the Buick. In the past few weeks I’ve bonded with her. I’ve realized she has a beautiful ride, is a solid and reliable car, and is lovely, her paint a gleaming Platinum. As I washed and waxed her recently I remembered Ann wistfully saying goodbye, and asking us to take good care of her (the car), which we promised to do. As I’m detailing the inside, conditioning the leather upholstery, and, now, marveling that the car still looks new after ten years, I have a warm feeling and realize that I have fallen in love. This shy, elegant, strong sedan is in my heart. As such things happen, now that she has won my trust and affection, she gives me her name. Silvia - roughly translated, Traveling Silver. Hi yo! Away!