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Random musings on a writer's life & times, with occasional input from acquaintances

 

Saturday, November 30, 2002

 
A few thoughts from Dave the Great on:

"Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford," by Kim Stafford, published 2002, 293 pp, Graywolf Press, $26.

I read this because the elder Stafford is Oregon’s patron saint of poets and I’ve always wondered what kind of man he was. His friends and acquaintances described him in glowing terms as gentle, amiable yet somehow inscrutable. His poetry tells you a lot about his Kansas childhood and such, but usually is oblique enough to leave you wondering where this guy is coming from otherwise. One of my newspaper buddies met him at Lewis & Clark College, where Stafford taught for many years, and termed him “a weird cat.” I lived within a few miles of him in the Portland area for ten years or so without ever laying eyes on him, in the days before I started writing poetry. I regret that.

I had to talk myself into reading this book, because I have tried some of Kim Stafford’s other writing and found it not my cup of tea. He has a penchant, as he admits in this book, for baroque prose, and that puts me off, old newspaper hack that I am. He also often seems more than a bit self-involved. I bought a book of his essays about Oregon, "Having Everything Right," in one of my fits of self-improvement (I always feel I don’t know enough about my home state to write about it with authority) and quickly tired of his first-person approach. I, I, I, as if the only thing that matters is what he sees when he looks at the Wallowa Mountains or Crater Lake or whatever. I realize he’s hoping readers will empathize, but . . .

The self-involvement does come through a bit in this book, as when he writes about his footloose days as backpack-wearing youth or his divorce, but for the most part he manages to stay focused on his father and keep the baroque prose to a minimum.

As Kim Stafford sees it, the key to his father’s life was his pacifism. It influenced almost everything he said and did. Because he opted to be a conscientious objector during World War II, he was more or less exiled from the idyllic Kansas of his boyhood, where people just couldn’t understand why he refused to fight when so many of their boys died in Italy or the South Pacific. He spent the rest of his life writing poems about Kansas.

When William Stafford wrote, it was with a pacifist’s method. He rose at 4 a.m. and laid on the couch and waited for words to come, which he jotted down. He didn’t plop down at a desk with an outline and attack a project, he let the words approach him.

He was put off by many of the anti-war protesters of the Vietnam era because they were so aggressive. His pacifism was to say I will not do this, not to berate other, less-enlightened souls for not adopting his stance. The best scene in the book occurs when Kim Stafford tells of a night when he was a young man driving his father to some event. They had a flat tire on a dark country road and stopped to fix it. As Kim crawled around changing the tire, they heard the rumble of motorcycles and a crew of Hell’s Angels-types swept around a nearby curve. Kim cringed on the ground, expecting a hassling, at least, and maybe a beating. His father, though, stepped into the road, assumed a slouched, come-what-may stance and directed a smile at the cyclists. The gang slowed, peered at them, then sped away. That, for me, summarizes Stafford’s approach to situations where aggression appears to be a foregone conclusion. It’s kind of amazing, in fact, how he could maintain that kind of composure.

In family life, Stafford’s acute pacifism seems to have made for many pleasant times -- young Kim rarely got reprimanded, even when he encountered his father in the living room while sneaking back into the house at 5 a.m. after a night of wandering around town -- but some difficult ones. When Kim’s older brother, Kit, committed suicide in his late thirties, the family was mystified by their father’s reaction. He withdrew into himself, refused to sit with the family at the funeral, rarely spoke of his eldest son’s death. Kim speculates that he had to come to terms with it on his own, just as he came to terms with war and poetry on his own. Sometimes it sounds as if dealing with William Stafford as a parent must have resembled dealing with Bre’r Rabbit in the tar baby story. Get upset, punch and punch, and get nothing for your exertion but more and more wrapped up in your victim.

Some useful William Stafford quotes gleaned from the book:

--“Each poem is a miracle that has been invited to happen. I must be willingly fallible in order to deserve a place in the realm where miracles happen.”

--“Keep a journal, and don’t assume that your work has to accomplish anything worthy: artists and peaceworkers are in it for the long haul, and not to be judged by immediate results.”

--“You try, you make your hunch as good as you can, and then see if the world can catch up to what you have imagined.” (This seems, in particular, a good stance for submitting work in hopes of having it published -- which he did relentlessly.)

--“When I write a poem . . . It’s like seeing a strip of the universe between the slats of a picket fence. You are passing, and between the pickets you glimpse a little of what’s beyond. . . And then I write another poem and I get another glimpse, another strip of light through the fence. And then another. Another. But I never know if the successive glimpses are connected. Behind the fence, I never know if all those strips of the universe have continuity, one substance.”

--“The authentic act of writing is more about clarity than magnitude.”

--“About poets: Most people don’t realize the stupendous attempts we think we are making -- to overwhelm by rightness, to do something peculiarly difficult to such a perfect pitch that we catch the universe, understand it, ride it, and live.”

--“An intentional person is too effective to be a good guide in the tentative activity of creating. I think it takes a certain kind of irresponsibility . . .” To which Kim Stafford adds: “But sometimes, that’s the idea: you have to get beyond pattern -- by intuitive exploration and ‘being lost willingly’ -- in order to find a new design.”

Also this from Kim: “I have read poem after poem of my father’s that reaches out for kindred intelligence, an understanding heart. The reach was real for him, but connection elusive . . . Poetry was his school to practice the reach, and suffer the defeat of absolute connection he intuited.”

All in all, a worthwhile book.



Friday, November 29, 2002

 
We were a Nielsen TV ratings family this week, logging all the shows we watched. The experience taught me several things:

--I watch way too much sports on TV.

--My wife watches way too much “Trading Spaces,” “Changing Rooms” and “Ground Force.”

--My 14-year-old son doesn’t watch TV, instead spending his free time conquering the world with his computer.

All in all, keeping a TV diary was enlightening.

For one thing, it brought home to me just how vapid and boring network television is these days. The only network shows I watched were ballgames, except for an episode of “Frasier.” I don’t think my wife watched any, and, of course, neither did my son. It makes me wonder if network TV was better years ago, when I used to watch it all the time, or if I watched it in those days simply because there were no options. Nowadays we have AT&T broadband at our house, which gives us so many non-network channels I didn’t even know we received some of them until I had to write them down in the diary. There’s a video game channel. Did you know that?

The diary also showed how short my attention span has become. You have to log your viewing habits in 15-minute bits, and it became a real pain in the beau-ttocks because I’d watch seven minutes of this and five minutes of that and three minutes of something else. Much of the time, I just had to guess at which thing I watched for the bulk of any 15-minute period and record that as the diary entry. And this was when I was actually watching a show or two, usually sitcom reruns, switching back and forth when they hit commercials or Ross started mooning over Rachel again (David Schwimmer -- get a life!). Often I just sat flipping through channels with the remote for minutes at a time. As my man Springsteen sung, “Fifty-seven Channels and Nothing On.” That’s REALLY hard to record.

Even when I left the TV on one channel for an hour or two, I almost never sat and watched it for the entire time. With all these specialized channels, we get lots of movies and sports events I sort of would like to watch, but I can’t just plant myself on the couch and gawk at a television set for hours. I get restless. Or sleepy. The Nielsen diary has a spot to note times when the television is on but no one is watching it. I assumed this was so I could record how I slept through the second half of “Spy Game” and most of “Harry Potter,” not to mention the middle quarters of several pro football games.

Remember when Marshall McLuhan told us “the medium is the message”? (I wrote a paper on him in grad school, so I remember.) If old MarMac was right, television's message is this: Read a book.





Thursday, November 28, 2002

 
Because this is Thanksgiving Day, I decided I should share with my loyal readers (both of them) something I wrote about the holiday years ago. I used to write a weekly column for The Bulletin, a newspaper in Bend, OR. This was one of my first pieces. I’ve made minor editing changes to allow for time passed.
------------------------------------------

To me, Thanksgiving means family, food and football.

I guess I began associating the holiday with food and family when I was four years old and living in southeast Nebraska, where my mother and her nine brothers and sisters were reared. On Thanksgiving Day we journeyed to the family homestead, a farm just outside the tiny community of Barada, and joined more aunts, uncles, cousins and great-this-and-thats than I could even comprehend.

The men gathered in the grassless yard between the rambling white farmhouse and the barns, slouching against cars or squatting in the dirt as they talked of weather and crops and cows. The women gravitated to the steamy kitchen, where they did the last-minute work on dinner and ministered to urchins who periodically burst into the room and spilled forth tales of minor crises.

Feeling very grown up and masculine, I joined the men in the cold sunlight of the barnyard. Great Uncle Ray, a bachelor in his 40s who had taken a shine to me because I overshot being born on his birthday by only a few hours, spotted some squirrels high in the towering old trees on the fringe of the yard. Pointing them out to me, Ray allowed as how squirrels made good eating, and he would just as soon have squirrel for Thanksgiving as turkey.

Thinking I was being teased, I told Ray I didn’t think he could get those squirrels down out of the trees. Encouraged by the other men, he went in the house and returned with a shotgun.

He stalked the yard for a few minutes, then raised the gun and cut loose at the leafless treetops with what seemed an enormous roar. Three small, furry forms plummeted to earth.

Women rushed onto the back steps of the house to find out what had made all the noise, then went back into the house reprimanding Ray for raising such a ruckus on a holiday. I felt sorry for the dead squirrels, but they soon disappeared into the house, too.

At mid afternoon Aunt, my grandmother’s spinster sister Frances, who was known merely as Aunt because she had no children but fussed over a large brood of nieces and nephews, emerged from the house and summoned everyone to eat.

Sawhorses had been set up in the dining room of the farmhouse, and long planks had been stretched across them to create a serving table. The top of the table was level with my four-year-old’s eyes. All I could see for yards was food. Bowls, platters and pans of food. Stacks of food. MOUNTAINS of food. Mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberries, olives, ham, sweet potatoes, stuffing, fruit salad, turkey, mince pie, whipped cream, pumpkin pie, rolls, celery, butter, apple sauce, homemade pickles, bread, corn. And, on a platter by itself, fried squirrel.

My mother filled my plate and plunked me down at another long table. I ate until could hardly hoist myself out of the chair. I even ate a tiny piece of squirrel. It tasted like chicken, but not as good as turkey.

I first took notice of the importance of Thanksgiving to football fanatics when I was 13. I no longer lived in the Midwest, but I returned with mom, Pop and my younger brother, Vic, for a visit.

I had just finished my first season of organized football. I had been a ferocious 109-pound halfback for an eighth-grade team in Panama City, Fla. Because I was a military brat, I was always the new kid at school. Deluded that sooner or later I was going to grow into a 6-foot, 190-pound superjock, I had decided that a good way to win social acceptance wherever I went was to become a gridiron great.

The star of college football that year -- and an inspiration to me -- was John David Crowe, a big, blond guy who played halfback at Texas A&M. A few days after Thanksgiving he would win the Heisman Trophy as the outstanding college football player in America. First, however, his team was to play Texas on television in what the sportswriters called ”a traditional Turkey Day shoot-out with the right to go to the Cotton Bowl on the line.”

On Thanksgiving morning, the weather was bitterly cold as we arrived at my Aunt Eunice’s farm. A big snowstorm had just blown down from Canada and belted the western plans, and northeast Kansas was on the frigid edge of the storm. The yard between the house and the barn, rutted and gouged by pickups and tractors before the frost set in, now heaved up in large, frozen mudwaves that would slice a knee open if you fell.

The house was a two-story, wooden structure identical to thousands of others that lean into the Kansas wind. Most farmers don’t try to heat the entirety of such a house. They warm the kitchen and maybe a parlor with a wood or oil stove. Doors to the rest of the house are kept closed and no one spends much time beyond the doors except to sleep pinned to a mattress by a pile of blankets.

My aunt’s family heated only the kitchen-dining area. The TV was in a parlor -- Beyond the Door. Undaunted, more or less, I marched through the door and plopped down before the big, console-model set. I fiddled with the controls until I located the one ghostly, static-ridden channel that the television picked up. Luckily, it was the channel that carried the Texas A&M-Texas game. The reception kept going bad, so I huddled in my jacket on the floor in front of the screen and adjusted -- and adjusted and adjusted -- the controls.

The room contained only one lamp, and it gave off a feeble glow. The wind howled against the sides of the house, trying force its way between the boards. I could see steam from my breath when I cupped my hands in front of my mouth.

Through the door, I could hear laughter and babbling voices in the heated kitchen-dining area. Every now and then, an aroma of warm, savory turkey dressing would sift beneath the door, presumably when someone opened the oven to check the baking process. But I stood -- or, more precisely, sat -- my ground. John David Crowe was having it out with Texas before my very eyes.

Mom eventually came and told me dinner was ready. Steadfast, I wheedled her into bringing me a plate of food in the parlor. Gusts of warm air washed over me as she pushed back and forth through the door. Clouds of steam rose from the plate as it sat on the floor. I warmed my hands over the food before eating it.

I stuck with the TV, though, to the bitter end. John David and Texas A&M wound up losing to Texas and missing out on the Cotton Bowl. Sigh. The final score, as I recall, was 19 to 13.

Following an impulse that first surfaced that day, for decades afterward I was one of those terrible people who wants to eat Thanksgiving dinner in front of the TV or very late in the evening, so televised football won’t be disrupted. I recent years, however, TV execs have rescued me. They quit broadcasting top-flight college football on Thanksgiving, substituting mostly the boring pros.

I might give up family times and food from a festive table for John David Crowe and rah-rah, but I won’t do it for Terdell Middleton (who?) and flood the zone against a nickel defense.

That’s just as well. My wife and her family think Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year, and they treat it as such. Relatives, friends and acquaintances from far and wide show up for an annual dinner with a menu that rivals the one I encountered in Nebraska when I was four years old. The company and the food make forfeiting football worthwhile.







Wednesday, November 27, 2002

 
Ray (Slice & Dice) Cutter stopped by my house.

“Dave dude,” he said, “I was going to give you a literary essay to post on Writeright about the National Book Award winner announced the other day, but it turns out I haven’t read it.

“In fact, I looked up a list of National Book Award winners, and I haven’t read any of them for the last seventeen years. Last one I read was ‘Victory over Japan,’ a collection of short stories from that semi-psycho southern belle, Ellen Gilchrist. Somebody left a dog-eared copy of it in my dentist’s waiting room, so I stole it. Gilchrist can sort of string words together, but I’m not into that overheated southern crap -- incest, the Civil War, I’m precious because I perspire instead of sweat. You know what I mean. Blanche DuBois rides again. Maybe that’s why I never got around to the last seventeen winners.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I saw a squib in the Oregonian about this year’s award. ‘Three Junes,’ by Julia Glass. I didn’t read it either.”

“Hell,” Ray replied, “I never even HEARD of it.”

“Doesn’t that sort of call your status as cultural arbiter into question? How can you arbit something you never heard of? Arbit. Is that a word?”

“Nah. It’s like ept. You hear of people being inept, but you never hear of anyone being ept. I am an arbiter, but I don’t arbit.”

“Well, anyway,” I said, “how do you hope to pull off this reviewing gig if you don’t read?”

“Hey, dude! I read. I read all the time. I just don’t read drivel like ‘Three Junes.’ Old Scottish gooner travels to Greece and falls for an artist chick, then his gay son connects with the same woman years later. Ellen Gilchrist goes to Scotland, for chrissakes.”

“I thought you didn’t read it,” I said.

Ray shrugged. “I looked it up on the internet.”

“If you don’t read National Book Award winners, what do you read?”

“All kinds of stuff. ‘Infinite Jest.’ ‘Gravity’s Rainbow.’ ‘Even Cowgirls Get The Blues.’ I just finished ‘Please Don’t Kill the Freshman.’ It was most excellent. Have you read it? This memoir by Zoe Trope? She’s local, goes to high school somewhere in Portland and writes the brutal truth about it. She uses a pseudonym, of course. The academic headbeaters would ruin her, otherwise.”

“My son has a copy of it around,” I said. “I glanced at it. Looked like gibberish to me. Diarrhea of the keyboard.”

“No, man!” Ray objected. “This book is outstanding! Here, I just happen to have my copy with me. I’ll read you a bit.”

He pulled a small, white pamphlet, the kind of thing poets call a chapbook, from the pocket of his trench coat and began to read:

“I yell at Wonka Boi today. Case Boy points out that I haven’t given up because I still care. I turn my head away and scowl because he is right. I am either too cold and shut off and hateful, or I am too loving and I care too much and I am too empathetic. I do not have peace. I do not have a medium. I tell Wonka Boi he wears my patience thin. He smirks, bites at my tongue with a lisp, tries so hard to be sassy. I want to slap him. I want to wake him up. I realize I am still trying. Like Linux Shoe tells me, I want to fix everything for everyone. I give them logical solutions and I don’t understand when they can’t follow through. Linux Shoe tells me that they know how to solve their problems and they choose not to. I have to believe him. I have to believe him or my tongue will bleed like bright red Kool Aid.”

Ray looked up at me with an awed expression.

“Gibberish,” I said.

“No, it’s not!” Ray shouted. “It’s cutting edge! It’s art! Zoe Trope may be the Jack Kerouac of the 2000s, the William S. Burroughs, the Terry Southern. Hell, she may even be the J.D. Salinger. She writes about kids, after all.”

“No, Ray,” I insisted. “Not in a million years will anyone mistake that gibberish for ‘Catcher in the Rye.’ ”

“Ah, Jordan, you troglodyte,” Ray sighed. “Come out of your cave and smell the campfire. You’re just jealous because Zoe Trope has a great book out at the age of sixteen, and you’re a literary nobody at your severely advanced age.”

“Kiss off,” I replied. “If you want to post something on my weblog, read and review ‘Three Junes.’ I’m willing to bet Julia Glass never on her worst day wrote anything as sappy as: ‘I have to believe him or my tongue will bleed like bright red Kool Aid.’ ”

Slice & Dice stomped out of my office without saying good-bye.



Tuesday, November 26, 2002

 
Received this e-mail from T-Model Tommy Goodloe:

Yo, Peoria Dave!

Did you see where the Boston Red Sox have hired this 28-year-old Theo Epstein to be their general manager? What the hell! When I was 28, I still chased girls and drank myself into a stupor every Saturday night, then spent Sunday morning yakking up breakfast. Well, I do that now, too, but you see my point. Twenty-eight is way too young to be GM of a baseball team. Twenty-eight is not even a grown-up, in terms of managing things. If this guy does a good job of managing his own haircut appointments, I’ll be surprised.

Plus, the Red Sox are teaming him with that management wizard Bill James, who they hired a few weeks back. The Sabremetrics-Toothed Tiger meets Barney the Dinosaur at Fenway Park. Ted Williams must be spinning in his grave, if he ever got there. I lost track of that one. Is The Splendid Splinter’s son still keeping his body on ice for cryogenic purposes, or did the other relatives win out and plant him in the ground?

I note, too, that the New Yawk Yankees have signed a working agreement with the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese League. Steinbrenner hopes this is going to give him a pipeline to load his roster with more superior talent like Hideki Irabu. And I do mean LOAD. Doesn’t ol’ George remember when he got in trouble with the Correctness Police for calling Irabu “the fat Jap” as he stunk out the joint in New York? Not every Japanese athlete trains 24 hours a day, 7 days a week like those Divine Wind teams who won all the Little League world titles. Japan is, after all, the nation that gave us sumo wrestling. I rest my case. I also rest Hideki Irabu. He needs it.

The Jailblazers are at it again. Ruben Patterson gets arrested on charges of whomping his wife while his kids watched. Talk about a spectator sport! With Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire facing pot charges, Portland's basketball team has more guys out on bail than it has kissing babies at shopping malls in Vancouver. Well, almost. Today’s Oregonian editorial was right to cite Jailblazers public relations rep as the world’s worst job.

Speaking of the Oregonian, did you see that Meehan guy’s column on the front page of the sports section Monday? It was all about how he coached 26 of the kids who played for Lake Oswego High in the state football quarterfinals Friday when they were grade-schoolers. He remembers how this one’s forehead beaded with sweat and that one “roared” after he scored. And I care about this why? I mean, I coached my share of kid sports’ teams, too. So did half the other adult males my age. I remember the kids fondly (well, most of the kids), but I don’t inflict my memories on the populace of Oregon from a prominent spot in the state’s largest newspaper. Meehan writes about his coaching experiences a lot. It’s prime evidence that he has nothing to say and he says it at great length. My spies tell me he’s a nice fella, but he ain’t no sports columnist. Whatever happened to that guy from Kentucky who was columnizing for the Oregonian? He disappeared a while back. Was he too entertaining, so they had to get rid of him? Did he mildew to death in our rain?

Or maybe it was like the deal that went down when I was in college. I worked part-time covering prep sports for the Smyrna Mail, in this little burg outside Atlanta, but one morning the city editor calls and tells me to go do the cop beat because the cop reporter didn’t show up for work. So I run the cops, come back, write up a couple fender benders and a stolen lawn mower. Before I leave for campus, I ask the city editor if he’s going to need me the next day. Yeah, he says, he guesses so, probably for several days.

“So what’s the story with the cop reporter?” I ask.

“I went over to his apartment this morning and the place was empty,” he tells me. “I knocked on a few doors. People said he loaded up a trailer about two o’clock this morning and left town driving a red Dodge. Seems he’d been diddling the wife of a neighbor who worked swing shift in a pulp mill. The guy got off the job at midnight and dropped by with a shotgun. Suggested our boy be gone by sunrise. He was.”

A few weeks later, the county government reporter received a post card from Chicago. It said the former cop reporter was writing for a feed and seed catalogue there. It was the only word we ever got from him. I had to cover cops for a month before the Mail hired a new reporter. Cut so many classes, I almost flunked out of Georgia Tech.

I wonder what part of Portland that Kentucky guy lived in. Maybe we should go knock on some doors.

Adios,
T-Model



Monday, November 25, 2002

 
Buford A. Chase telephoned me from his presidential campaign headquarters in Dufur.

“David my lad," he said, "I thought I should go on the record about this latest international affairs crisis.”

“You mean UN weapons inspectors in Iraq?” I replied.

“No, I mean the Canadian prime minister’s communications director referring to President Bush as ‘a moron.’”

“Are you sure it’s a crisis, Buford?” I said. “I haven’t heard anything about it.”

“Oh, most certainly. Big crisis. This Francoise Ducros woman was gabbing with a reporter about Bush and said, quote: ‘What a moron!’ Other reporters printed what she said. She offered to resign, but the prime minister refused to let her. He’s a leftwing commie pinko named Jean -- what kind of name is that for a man, anyhow? -- Chretien.”

“And you have some comment on the situation?” I said.

“Indeed I do,” Buford said. “I am formally recommending that President Bush invoke the Nixon Response.”

“The Nixon Response? That’s like the Monroe Doctrine, only different, huh?”

“Absolutely,” Buford agreed. “An apt analogy from your sharp mind.”

“Refresh my memory,” I said. “What exactly is the Nixon Response?”

“Well, as the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 set the tone for America’s dealings with European powers on the subject of Latin American independence, the Nixon Response of 1971 set the tone for this country’s dealings with Canada. When an aide brought up the name of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, President Richard Nixon responded: “That asshole!”

“Ah,” I said. “And that applies to the current controversy how?”

“President Bush must invoke the Nixon Response. Send Jean Chretien a telegram saying: ‘You asshole!’”

“I get it. The Canadian prime minister’s flak calls the American president a moron, so the American president calls the Canadian prime minister an asshole. That’s high-level diplomacy at its finest.”

“Damn straight’,” said Buford. “And when I get elected president, if some Canadian calls ME a moron, I’ll go up there, toss a burning sack of dogshit on his porch, ring the doorbell and run!”



Sunday, November 24, 2002

 
T-Model Tommy Goodloe sends this missive:

Went to Cornvalley for the Oregon-Oregon State football game Saturday. Wanda Wagstaff dragged me along as her date. You remember Wanda? Waitress at the Dew Drop Inn? Blonde beehive hair, big kazongas, queen of the Molalla Buckaroo a few (well, more than a few) years back. Dumb as a box of rocks, to borrow a phrase from my old pal Joe Bob Briggs, who wrote movie reviews for the Dallas rag that hired me to cover the Texas Strangers for a couple seasons. But she’s good-hearted and, ahem, friendly, if you know what I mean. A despondent Duck alum gave her his Civil War tickets after he watched Oregon’s blow-out loss to Washington on the Dew Drop’s big screen TV last week. Sort of a tip, I guess, but a pretty cheap-ass one, if you ask me.

I didn’t much want to go to the game, but if a friendly (ahem) woman with big kazongas invites you on an outing, you pretty much gotta go. We drove down in Wanda’s ‘87 Dodge pickup, that blue job with the gun rack in the back window and the missing left rear fender. Well, she drove. I slept. I had a hard Friday night at the Dew Drop, and my elbow was exhausted.

Man, it was about hair of the dog time when we got down there. First we had to wade through 400 tail-gater parties in the parking lot to get to the stadium, and most of the partiers were sucking down beer like they heard the Great God Prohibition banging at the door. Then we got inside and there was this drunk broad raising hell two seats down from us. She was 40-ish and pudgy, but with an impressive head of long blond hair and a face like a snobby cheerleader gone to seed. She was a Beaver believer, and she kept screaming at the guy in the green U of O hat sitting three rows in front. “You schmuck!” she bellowed when he stood for the Duck fightsong . “Sit down and shut up!” She gloated and danced and screeched as OSU went ahead 17 to 3, then fell into a sullen funk as Oregon caught up at 17 to 17.

“Look out,” whispered the guy behind us, a season-ticket holder. “She gets mean when the Beavers lose. She’s had fistfights.”

Oh, joy, I thought. Hung over and trapped in the middle of a punch-out between a beer-crazed Beaver and a hapless Duck. (If the guy had any hap, he wouldn’t have been there.) It was enough to make me reconsider my drinking habits.

“Isn’t this neat?” burbled Wanda Wagstaff.

“Neat?” I said, cutting a glance at the drunk broad.

“Sure,” Wanda gushed. “What a fun day! All this orange and black and green and yellow around the stadium, the trees outside with leaves gone gold, the fans so excited, the campus right over there. School spirit, fall, football. Neat!”

Wanda flunked out of Clackamas Community College after two terms twenty years ago, so school spirit makes her tear right up. Personally, I was relieved when Oregon State went back in front 24-17 and Ms. Psycho/Beaver down the row could resume gloating at the guy in the green hat instead of plotting a kamikaze attack on him.

The half ended and the drunk broad lurched to her feet alongside her female seatmate, who was pudgier but a bit less sloshed. They trudged away up the stairs.

“If we’re lucky, she won’t come back,” said the guy behind us. “She goes tailgating again at halftime. Sometimes she gets so plastered she can’t make it back inside.”

Wanda tugged my arm. “Let’s go buy some popcorn,” she said. “Some popcorn and a big ol’ Diet Dr. Pepper.”

We went out to the concession stands. They sold popcorn, but no Diet Dr. Pepper. Wanda settled for a bottle of diet peach Snapple. I had coffee, black, with two Advil.

When we got back to our seats, the game had started. We hadn’t missed much. Just four plays -- three penalties and a TV time out. That TV guy with the orange sleeve on his arm spent as much time on the field as the quarterbacks did.

Speaking of quarterbacks, Oregon’s stunk. When the Duckinis won their first six games this year, they almost convinced me it it was The Progam that mattered, they could win with Barney Fife at quarterback, it was all Mike Bellotti mojo, the offensive system, the deft recruiting of obscure but talented players USC didn’t want. As they flamed out and lost five of six games down the stretch, it became more and more apparent what Joey Harrington meant to the Ducks the last three years. Harrington usually could find enough points to make up for coach Nick Aliotti’s lousy defense. This year’s quarterback was once a child actor, but the role of Captain Comeback was too tough for him.

And speaking of penalties, the game had way too many of them. Twenty-three, in total. There were so many false starts, it looked like a deaf-school track meet. We spent so much time watching men pace back and forth, we could have been in a maternity ward waiting room. Rimshot, please.

But . . . there was good news. The drunk broad didn’t come back. Probably passed out in the bottom bunk of some Winnebago. After the Beavers finished plucking the Ducks 45-24, Wanda drove me back to her double-wide trailer in Troutdale and got friendly. It was neat. Ahem.





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