Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Signs of a good neighborhood

This is how you know you live in a good neighborhood.

My path home from Mount Tabor's summit takes me past Benjamin Franklin High School where today I beheld a pleasing sight.

An organization called Oregon's Kitchen Table is conducting an online survey on public schools as a means, I think, of initiating a public discussion. A worthy endeavor. You can view the web site here. I encourage any Oregonians who might be interested in contributing to public discussion of issues to take a look. Even (or perhaps especially) right-wingers. The idea of a public forum to discuss real issues with a diversity of Oregonians appeals. I plan on signing up as soon as I finish this blog post.

But the reason I learned of the organization at all is because I saw the signs posted in front of Franklin and noticed something. They were written in 6 different languages!

One would naturally expect that there would be signs in both English and Spanish, of course. Spanish is the de facto second language of this country.
And no Portlander would be surprised to see signs in Mandarin or Vietnamese. Chinese people have been in Portland since the city was founded. Downtown Portland has a Chinatown section, with Chinese and Taiwanese consulates, but many Chinese people live in Southeast, as well. There are many Chinese restaurateurs and grocers. And the sheer number of pho kitchens (even within walking distance of my home!) attests to the city's ample Vietnamese population.

Mandarin and Vietnamese
And I wasn't too surprised to see the Cyrillic characters of the Russian language on one of the signs. Inner Southeast Portland has a significant Slavic demographic. I think most of the Slavs in Portland are Russian, but there are also many Ukrainians. 

Somali and Russian
But there was one language that I couldn't readily identify. So, when I got home I did a Google Translate language identification. 

The language turned out to be Somali. Apparently, there are enough Somalis in the area that the Kitchen Table folks felt it justified to have a sign printed up in their language.

Well, when it comes to diversity, Portland may not be San Fransisco or Vancouver (BC), but we're getting better. And I find it very cool to live in a neighborhood where there is a need for signs in a half dozen different languages.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


  1. When we were still dating and your English was fragmentary and tenuous. I was taking you home one afternoon and you reached across the console and took my hand as I was driving. And you smiled, peering out at the road ahead of us and you said, "I don't be lonely no more, now I have my Dade."

  2. As I watched the Honda Civic creep out of the DMV parking lot. You were at the wheel and the driving test administrator sat next to you, clipboard in hand. I felt helpless watching the car pull away without me. And my heart was full of pride and hope and fear. Pride, because it was I who taught you how to drive. Fear, because I knew how disappointed and hurt you would be if you didn't pass. And hope, because I wanted it badly for you, even though it meant you'd need me less.

  3. When we said goodbye in the airport security line. You were bound for Dakar. I must stay and we would be apart for a time. And I'd been discreetly weeping all day at the thought of our separation, but I was trying to hold it together. And when the time came for you to pass through the metal detectors, you turned to me smiling bravely, and said "Bye, honey," but your voice broke, setting my tears free. And I cried as I drove home without you, remembering how you looked as you waved goodbye from the far side of the security panels, your form strobed by the faceless shapes of people passing between us.

  4. When I led you down to the bench in Waterfront Park. You moved gingerly. The pain of your recent surgery and the grief of your father's passing enveloped you in agony. And I tried to feel what you felt, to make me alive and hyper-aware for some way to alleviate your suffering. And you held my hand and we watched the people go by: the strollers and the skaters, the hopeful and the homeless.

  5. As I watched them present you with your Certified Nursing Assistant Certificate. You were proud and I was proud and the people who knew you, who had worked and studied with you, all loved you. And the residents, whom you cared for --the double-amputee diabetes victim, the confused old woman, the bent and broken veteran --they all loved you, too, because they knew that the care you gave them was given out of compassion and basic human decency. I could tell they knew by the way they looked at you.
  6. When I was suffering and full of doubt. When I believed I had failed, was failing, would always fail. We were in the car, driving to look at the condominium we were going to buy and you asked me what you could do. And I said, "Just love me, honey." And you said, "I do love you. You're a good husband." You drew out the word "good" for emphasis, which made me cry. Because I was afraid that I would fail you, too. But you would have none of it. "You're a good husband," you insisted.

  7. When Youssou N'dour came on the YouTube feed and you sprang up from the couch and danced an Mbalax dance out of sheer joy. You turned your face to the ceiling, a raptured, open-mouth smile beaming out to the heavens beyond. A moment of joyful abandon with only me to bear witness. But I testify. I testify now.

  8. When you surprised me with kibbeh. I had wanted Lebanese food for supper, but you, ever mindful of my health, didn't want to go to Nicholas. You were concerned that I would eat too much bread. So, we didn't go. But then you surprised me because you had secretly gotten take-out kibbeh as a special treat for me. Your smile --your beautiful, delighted smile --told me how very pleased you were to please me.

  9. When I wonder, every day. What laws of divine justice or what random firing in the cosmos endowed me with this reward? Is it possible that I deserve this? I can't believe it. I'm not all that. I'm just not. Humbling. It's all very, very humbling.
Happy 9th Anniversary, my love. My Mat. My beautiful wife.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Movie review: Foxcatcher

Perplexing. Befuddling. Those were the first two words that came to mind when I tried to charactarize Bennet Miller's acclaimed new flick, Foxcatcher.

The film is based on an actual incident that occurred in 1996 when John Dupont, heir to the Dupont family fortune, gunned down Dan Shultz, a gold-medal winning Olympic Free Style wrestler. The narrative of the film, then, recounts the events and circumstances that led to this tragic and inexplicable event.

The film stars Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell and Mark Ruffalo, each of whom turn in powerful and convincing performances.

Up to now, I haven't been much of a Channing Tatum fan, but this film gave me new respect for him. He plays Mark Shultz, Dan's younger brother and the film's chief protagonist. Mark is a man very much at war with himself. Although an Olympic gold medalist, his self-esteem is shaky. Tatum conveys this in the set of his shoulders, in his tormented expressions, in his troubling bouts of tearfulness.

Steve Carrell plays John Dupont, the wealthy Dupont heir who attempts to buy his way into the world of Olympic wrestling by sponsoring a training facility at Foxcatcher, the family estate. Carrell's interpretation of an out-of-touch blueblood is disturbing as well as convincing.  "Ornithologist, philanthropist, philatelist," Dupont chants to Mark Shultz in a self-aggrandizing monologue.

But the best performance, in my opinion, was Mark Ruffalo as Dan Schultz, the murder victim. The way Ruffalo moves, the way he rolls his shoulders as he walks, the way he holds his arms like weapons at the ready, all say "Olympic wrestler." And, from the accounts I've read of the real Dan Schultz, Ruffalo's interpretation of a calm, reasoning and compassionate man is spot on.

The choreography in this film is fantastic. Tatum and Ruffalo are completely convincing in the wrestling sequences. And Carrell is convincing as well --as a pathetic caricature of a wrestler.

Of course, being a film, the Foxcatcher story is abridged, but it seems to me that Miller's work conveyed the essence of the event. In the real-life investigation following the murder, police were never able to establish a motive for Dupont's behavior.

In the end, it was a senseless tragedy. Like I said: perplexing. Befuddling.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Last day of staycation

Adieu, 2014. Bienvenue, 2015.
Last day of winter staycation. It's been good. A time of rejuvenation. A reprieve from nagging, hateful anxiety.

The Year of our Lord 2014 passed with but a whisper last week and I can't say I'll miss it. It was an emotionally bruising year --a year of change, a year of turmoil. And just as the newborn passes through the birth canal battered and bruised but alive to a world of possibilities and wonder, so too for me and my beloved African woman as we face the new year.

Prescience is beyond us despite the claims of the soothsayers. None of us may know what is to come. Reassurance is mere intellectual placebo, whether it be the solace afforded by mystical entities entreated with incensed rituals or ardent prayer, or the pseudo-certainty of mathematical equations derived from discipline and rationality. No guarantees, folks. It could all end in cold entropy.

But I believe we'll be alright. Me, Maty, family, friends. I think things will work out fine for us. And I know for dead cold certain that it will all be as it must, as it is ordained.

Today, anyway, the last day of staycation, that's enough.

Peace out.