From: Jobs I Once Held That Now No Longer Exist

I’ve been devoting a lot of thought, of late, to the myriad-stranded, convoluted web that is my employment history. As I pointed out last summer, the job at Small Egg Roll turned out to be the worst—and by far the most disappointing—of all of them, which is especially disheartening in the respect that it was the one job among all of them for which I actually had considerable aptitude and interest, and for which I was best qualified. In most instances, that wasn’t so much the case.

Reflecting on the “early days” of my nascent career as an adult, I can summon to mind several dubious instances of on-the-job experience, which subsequently afforded me very little in the way of applicable real world skills. What has happened to the call for fir cone dryer workers, for God’s sake?

The Sun

The Sun

Yes. Fir cone dryers. For eons of millenia the job of drying fir cones was left to the sun—always the most efficient at such chores, what with having nothing better to do than burn for billions of years and all. A heat source is, of course, at the core of any drying operation worth its seed.

But then mankind came along. And, as has long been known, mankind is always in a hurry—in a hurry to make the sun burn faster, hotter, longer, stronger, and with better air circulation. Thus the fir cone dryer was born. What would be the necessity of drying a fir cone in the first place you might very well ask?

There was a time when there was no cloning. I know that is very difficult for some to conceive. But it’s true. There was no cloning. Well, technically, Nature has been cloning all along, but for this particular postulate we need to leave things like the sun and Nature out of the equation. It is Man’s endless quest to duplicate these natural devices that have led Humankind to invent important apparatuses to duplicate Nature’s weaponry, just in case we destroy the original model. Hey, it’s happened!


It was probably going on before he came along, but you can blame Gifford Pinchot for implementing the concept of reforestation on a National forest level. Reforestation allowed the big timber companies to feel okay about clear cutting every last stick of original growth timber in the country. It’s okay folks, we’re replanting! It’ll all be replaced. We’ll plant little babies around the stumps of the great giants we cut down. What a system!

So, back in the days before there were clones, seeds were required in order to propagate the species. In the summer, fir trees produce fruit in the form of cones, which bear inside of them the seeds for creating little baby trees. As the cones mature, some will open while on the tree, allowing their seeds to fly upon the breeze, to land where we know not.

Fir Cone

But, as is often the case in life unfortunately, other cones fall from the tree unopened, as yet still fettered full with the seed which they are mandated to scatter. So, down they go, whereupon the sun will continue the process it began when the cone was still attached to the tree. The sun will gently heat the fallen fir cone so that, eventually, after not long at all in sun time, the cone will dry and open, and the seeds will fall out onto the forest floor. Many creatures of the wild (squirrels and rats especially, I might point out) consider fir seeds to be something of a delicacy. But, as these things go in nature, some seeds remain behind to sprout into seedlings and eventually grow into significant bodies of wood.

Such a process, of course, requires a great deal of time by our standards. According to the rings on the trees we’ve cut down, it can take hundreds of years for one to get monstrously huge. Here again, while hundreds of years doesn’t mean shit to a tree, humans are an impatient lot and they want everything yesterday, including their trees and the seeds required to get the ball rolling on fulfilling that desire. Fellas, we need a fir cone dryer!

Main St. Dallas, Oregon

Main St. Dallas, Oregon

Now I came to the fir cone game through the back door. Sally and I had recently quit school and moved to Dallas, Oregon ten miles and a world away from the comparative collegial world, which lay in the Monmouth and Independence vicinity to the east. We chose to move to Dallas, I guess, to find new opportunities, though what opportunities those might have been were apparently not particularly well defined, as I don’t remember. It is the Polk county seat, so potentially there was some allure in that fact, though I doubt it. That doesn’t seem our speed.

Well, we did move out of the house in Independence because, as a newly founded couple, we felt the need to strike out upon our own—leaving behind my college roommates Tom and Doug—to forge in the smithy of our souls the uncreated conscience of our relationship. So, that and the fact that—as was customary in a household with Tom, Doug and me in it—there were at least three (actually five, I believe) dogs and an indeterminable number of cats, in that specific instance, jammed into a little two-bedroom bungalo. So, I suppose the motivation may have been weighted toward Sally’s perspective. It was a long time ago. We relocated.

We moved into a sad little dollhouse in Dallas, which was fine, as we had no belongings to put in it anyway. It wasn’t like we required spacious quarters. I believe the biggest bone of contention (as it were) was that the backyard was fenced, in order to corral Spider and Gypsy, who were wont to roam when given the opportunity. They were themselves a young couple, wild in their ways.

The place was on Southwest 10th Street between Birch and Cherry on the hill overlooking Fairview Avenue by the A&W at the western edge of town. I’m not sure what we did for money at first. I believe rent was $85 a month and bills amounted to about $25, so we cobbled that together from leftover student loan money, I would imagine. Allen moved in for a time into the cubby-hole room in the converted attic, second-story plywood affair. I’m sure we charged him a princely sum to maintain those luxurious quarters. We were merciless.

I don’t think it took very long before it became apparent that a job or two might be required somewhere along the line. My only previous job experience was a mostly failed experiment in the construction trade the summer following my senior year in high school. The only benefit that came of that experience was the fact that it could be noted on subsequent job applications. More about construction adventures another time.

Filberts, For the Pickin'

Filberts, for the Pickin’

At first we tried “picking” filberts (hazelnuts) at an extensive orchard out toward Pedee. That’s a terrific job if you like to be bent over in the autumn dew rooting through fallen leaves for the husk-y little suckers like a truffle snuffer. I think we made like two or three dollars in four hours or so, before it started raining so hard that we quit for the day. We never went back there again, I assure you.

Some Town's Country Inn

A Country Kitchen Kind of Place

Sometime not long after that, Sally found a job at a little restaurant on the other side of town at the Country Kitchen (everything out there is named “Country” something. Hell they ARE out in the country and they are mighty damn hickily proud of the whole damn deal). The place was about the size of a double wide with similar ambience, if you were to fill it with a counter and three or four booths, thirty smelly guys and a palpable layer of cigarette smoke.

I think the only job requirement was to get the orders right and to battle the indefatigable, degenerate advances of the horde of misfit and misbegotten males, relentlessly bent on converting trees into some unrecognizable form. Sally was capable of contending with that sort of bullshit without a lot of undue duress, therefore the job was hers and one aspect of her personality was in its element. She held court.


Waitin’ fer Breakfast

She worked the morning shift at the Country Kitchen, four-thirty to two in the afternoon, serving greasy breakfasts and bestowing endless cups of coffee to loggers preparing to ride the crummy out to the woods of the nearby Pacific Coast range to denude any remaining pristine patches of forest. No sooner was that clan gone, around six, than the guys who worked at the Willamette Industries mill at the south end of town would trundle in. They’d leave around seven-thirty and all the construction crews would show up, seeking fortification before they headed out to their various job sites. It was a regular eco-system. The fellers, the planers, and the builders. Nothing left but saw dust and fir cones.

Stumpy, Three-Finger Bill, and Lefty--Lucky in the Foreground

Three-Finger Bill, Stumpy and Lefty–Lucky in the Foreground

Oh yeah, fir cones. So Sally had her finger on the local employment pulse at the Country Kitchen. She knew too of my limited job history, lack of any real proficiencies, and my incredible phobia for losing digits and/or appendages—a fear that in the community of Dallas was widely scorned and ridiculed by the likes of Lucky, Lefty, Stumpy and Three-Finger Bill. However, despite her diligent efforts, Sally was unable to immediately generate any satisfactory leads for my narrow occupational skill set. Still, I persevered.

Falls City, Oregon when the Town was Thriving

Falls City, Oregon when the Town was Thriving

Through a friend (one of like ten guys named Mike I knew back then) who lived out in the tiny coast range timber dimlet of Falls City, I had occasionally found labor (the term “work” seems so formal), picking Douglas fir cones. Commensurate with my resume, it was a low expectation job, to be sure, one that in many ways bore a distinct resemblance to filbert picking, an occupation for which I had demonstrated some limited capacity, though that was perhaps coupled with a distinct lack of ambition and enthusiasm.

The job responsibilities of a fir cone picker were few. One was encouraged to fill a burlap sack with the things, picked up from the ground by the novice, or expertly plucked from the boughs above by veteran fir cone pickers, such as my friend, Mike. Were one to successfully fill a bag with fir cones—which, while similar to filling a bag with filbert clusters, was considerably easier and less time-consuming to accomplish—an opportunity was thus created for the prospect of fair recompense for the effort. There was the reasonable expectation to get paid a couple of bucks for a filled sack at the fir cone dryer loading dock.

A Fine Fir for Pickin' Cones

A Fine Fir for Pickin’ Cones

Soon I was scaling forty or fifty feet up young fir trees, climbing to the upper limbs where the cones were easy picking. Filling several sacks with cones was easily accomplished up there, especially if one didn’t mind heights. Among my other disinclinations in life, heights ranks chief among them, just behind loss of limbs. However, Mike taught me how to ride the outer boughs, gently sliding down on the furthest limbs from the top of the tree to the ground, assuaging to a great degree my apprehensions in regard to gravity, as encountered from a lofty perch among the firs.

That endeavor went well, as far as it went. But I longed for stability, a future. I longed for permanence. I longed for warmth. Winter was approaching. As it so happened, one day while delivering our load of sacks to the fir cone dryer dock, where we got weighed up and paid. Wild Bill, the boss man of the entire dryer operation, made it generally known that they were hiring. Eureka! I didn’t need to be told twice. It was under cover from the rain. It was warm. It required very little extended effort and even less consistent thought. There was a lot of down time, passed in countless intoxicating ways.

Not long after I was hired, Allen got hooked up working there too, most likely of his own initiative. It wasn’t like I had any pull with Wild Bill or anything. The fir cone dryer lay fixed upon a rolling hill, about a mile out of town on the Kings Valley Highway. It looked like an old, weathered barn—which may very well have been one of its former incarnations. I never asked.

Most likely it was always some sort of dryer. There are plum orchards abounding in that green region of the mid-Willamette Valley. Lots of cherries. Filberts too, of course. All might require a dryer in some instances. I can’t imagine that a fir cone dryer differs very much from something like a prune dryer, the process and preferred outcome being essentially the same.

A Prime Barn for a Fir Cone Dryer

A Prime Barn for a Fir Cone Dryer

The design of the structure thoughtfully utilized the lay of the land. The dryer itself was a segmented wooden shaft enclosed inside a two-story barn. The shaft was about twelve feet wide—divided by two partitions that formed three compartments—and it was six feet high. It descended from the top story to the lower, twenty-five feet in length, at a gradual declining gradient. At the bottom, an oil furnace was mounted in a smaller structure abutted to one side of the barn, with massive air ducts leading into the shaft.

Just off the “highway” at the front, there was a small gravel parking lot. The loading dock and storage area adjoined the building on the town side. There was a cramped office with a door out to the dock and a door opposite that opened into to the work area at the top end of the dryer. Beneath the window between the office and the exterior entry doorway at the other side of the barn, sacks of cones were stacked and served as an impromptu row of seats.

Rookies primarily tended to remain in that vicinity. That’s where you learned the ropes. The demands of the position were few. Those there were involved some occasional moderate exertion and plenty of waiting around—which I was pretty good at, as occupations go.

Somebody's Idea of a Fir Cone Dryer Operation

Somebody’s Idea of a Fir Cone Dryer Operation

The action portion of the day was spent cutting open the twine-sewn burlap sacks of (usually) wet cones and distributing them upon the drying screens. Once the cones were evenly spread upon those trays, a guy would feed each one down into one of the dryer via slots at the sides of the each compartment wall. Five screens could be slid down per slot, and the slots were spaced about a eighteen inches apart, horizontally—so that the hot air of the furnace could circulate among the cones. Altogether there were three chutes twenty-five feet long, with four planes of five trays. A lot of cones! Forty or fifty sacks at a crack.

Typically it took the better part of a couple of hours for two guys to perform the task. One guy would cut open the sacks with a curved knife, dumping the cones on a screen. The other guy would spread them out evenly, and then slide the trays down the shafts.

Each row had to be addressed from top to bottom, as extending too far laterally on any one level would create certain future regretful acrobatics in trying to slide the other segments of screens into place. It was hot work. Even in the chilly, wet late fall, the place was toasty—and fragrant. It always smelled of musty balsamic forest and Christmastime around there.

It could take up to four hours for the cones to bake sufficiently enough for them to open and drop their seed to the floor of the drying shaft. It was a hiatus during which “work,” such as we knew it, would come to a complete halt and “break time” would ensue.

Workin' Hard? Or Hardly Workin'?

Workin’ Hard? Or Hardly Workin’?

Around six-thirty the early birds would arrive to convene the Royal Order of the Fir Cone Dryer Friars social club for yet another evening of merriment. Most came packing a bottle of something stiff or at least a six-pack. Several guys would show up with guitars. Rick. Mike (another Mike) played guitar. So did Allen. Me too. So did Lee.

Lee was a wistful wisp of a man, prematurely old, with a jaunty black moustache and a permanent five-day growth of salt and pepper stubble scattered on a gaunt, hollow-haunted visage. He had a sweet, pudgy, wife with glowing roseate skin, who was very plain; and two cherubic blue-eyed young daughters. The four of them lived in a small, ramshackle yellow rental on Ellendale Loop at the far outskirts of town.

That's Lee in the Back

That’s Lee in the Back

Whenever I read Carlos Castaneda books, I would always picture Lee in the role of Don Juan. He was a restless lonesome wind, sonambulently ambling the dryer premeses like a persistently distracted ghost. I was never absolutely sure of his position there. I thought he might be some sort of watchman—as we worked the swing shift, from four to midnight, and probably needed security—though I can’t imagine what for. Maybe he performed some other function in the grand scheme of things, I don’t know. He just wandered around.

Artist's Depiction of Wild Bill

Artist’s Depiction of Wild Bill

Allen remembers Wild Bill looking like Lee Marvin. I remember him to resemble a red-faced Patrick Dennehy. He probably looked like James Coburn. He was in his late thirties, broad, with sandy graying hair and a certain larger than life quality. We agree that his chief feature was that he popped open a can of Oly at any available opportunity—which was most of the time. Wild Bill served as host when the festivities would get under way. Eventually he would head out to his pickup and down a succession of beers, blankly gazing out the windshield while listening to Charlie Rich and Donna Fargo on the radio.

Yer Everyday Lift Carrier

Yer Everyday Lift Carrier

The Social Club served as a refuge for old-timers and misfits—castoffs from the slowly dying timber industry. With few forests left to fell, or logs left to mill into boards and beams, work had become scarce. It was true they were hiring at the Caterpillar plant and Towmotor. Those two operations pretty much kept Dallas and much of Polk County alive. But most of the Clubbers were too decrepit or inept to be retrained for a position so sophisticated as D2 bulldozer assembly or the manufacture of lift carriers.

Many of the old farts would come by just to get away from the little woman bedeviling them at home and to get a snoot full without her knowing about it. The younger guys turned up to hang out (as well at the dryer as anywhere else in Dallas), get a free buzz on and jam. It was pretty much a nightly affair.

Bucky and his crew of two from down below, didn’t participate in playing music. They’d come up at break and pretty much keep to themselves. They sat bunched together on a row of sacks along the side wall next to the office, chain-smoking cigarettes, staring vacantly into space. Bucky was in his early 30s, round-faced, effusive curly blond hair stuffed under a dirty black Greek fisherman’s hat. He was a typical country clyde, nice enough guy, with a ferrety face and big, wide, buck teeth. He maintained and operated the furnace and oversaw his seed sacking crew of two down at the bottom of the shaft.

So we’d sit around for the better part of four hours getting smashed and playing guitars. There might be as many as twenty guys sitting around doing nothing—although only seven of us were getting paid to do so. Allen was by far the best guitarist. Allen always was the best guitarist in any situation, under any conditions. Mike played with a sort of bluesy, Dead-y, country flair indigenous to the region at the time. I’ve always been pretty much of a strummer, rhythm guitar guy.

Rick was a rhythm guitarist too, but he had a voice that was as big and husky as he was. He was blind in one eye and it had a tendency to wander, so that sometimes its gaze might follow you around while he was looking in a completely different direction. It was often quite unnerving, especially if you had never before witnessed the phenomenon.

I would guess that it was that eye (or the general regional malaise) that prevented Rick from meeting with great success. He wrote wonderful songs. The lyrics were typically meaningless, but the words always sounded very nice together. In most cases something about his “old lady.” “My old lady has green eyes, as green as emeralds in the sea.” I’ll never forget that one.

So, anyway, when he came around. Rick was the song guy. He could get something “formal” going, like a real song with actual structure that everyone could more or less play together on—rather than each of us just showing off the licks we knew in endless jams. But, after a few drinks, even those pointless jams got very interesting.

Merle Travis

Merle Travis

Lee had a very unique guitar style. He wasn’t a good player at all. And he was rather shy as a performer. But he had a distinctive manner of playing that I had never heard before, nor have I since. I would say that it had its roots in Travis Picking (think “Wildwood Flower”), or whatever style it was before Merle Travis popularized it—a certain bluegrass feel—with vague, Arkansasian overtones.

Allen says the music Lee played sounded like Hank Williams retreads. I don’t remember it that way at all. Whatever Lee was up to, his guitar playing was very unique and he probably employed the same technique that Hank Williams and Merle Travis heard and imitated when they began to create their own music. It preceded them. It was an old, rural style that probably doesn’t even exist anymore. I remember his music fondly. Or, perhaps more accurately: I remember being quite fond of Lee’s music.

Eventually, the cones would actually dry and we would have to go back to work. I don’t even slightly recall what my tasks were at that point in the procedure. It’s all a sloshy, dim blue memory. I faintly recall the guys from below sweeping the seeds down the chute with wide push brooms (or maybe that was us from the top). But before that could happen, all the de-seeded cones needed to be dumped from the screens into bags that would eventually go to the bark dust facility, wherever that was. And the trays needed to be collected and placed back on the hand truck up at the top of the shaft. I have no idea how that happened.

wreckThe job at the fir cone dryer didn’t last long—maybe six months. I remember my last night there Bucky didn’t show up. Bucky never didn’t show up. He was always there. He was the most paycheck-motivated character I’ve ever known. But the night before he had tried to drive back home drunk from Salem and he got in a wreck out on Highway 22 near Rickreal. The other driver was killed and Bucky ended up doing seven years in prison for vehicular manslaughter.

When spring came, Allen took off to go live with Juanita in Monmouth. Sally and I moved out of the house on 10th about ten blocks east to the cool, old two-story house on the corner of Clay and Hayter. Tom and Terri moved in to the lower half of the dwelling and it wasn’t long after that Tom and I got jobs doing construction with Mike (yes, a different Mike). Those Days of the Golden Homes were a story unto themselves.




Well, the past year has been full of chaos and turmoil and I’m hoping for things to settle for a while so I can get some work done. I re-edited Unreal Gods last winter and took out three chapters. So now it’s under 600 pages, at least. I think I’m pretty much the only one to read the new version. I think three people (including me) have read the original. The hell with trying to get editors to read the damn thing, I can’t even get my friends to read it. Which brings us to our next installment of biblical haiku.


The Bible VII

Matthew, Luke and Mark

Had an argument with John

The pissed apostle.


Adventures in the Realm of Dog Part 1

I’ve been thinking about Mitt Romney a lot lately. No, not because he is the most wooden excuse for a human entity that ever mechanically laughed at the most inappropriate time. Not because he reeks of rich kid, laizzez faire cynicism: ‘What will be, will be. And it’s gonna be really good for me.”  Not because his hair is dyed the color of a black hole (perhaps disguising a remnant imploded brain of similar hue), or the fact that he wears his (neatly pressed) jeans like a forty-five year old mother of four from Schenechtady, New York. It’s not even because he’s an habitual liar, an inveterate opportunist chameleon, a tool, and a corporate mule.

Though I probably should, I haven’t been thinking about Mitt Romney because he lives on his “capital gains income,” upon which he pays a mere 13.9% tax, while hiding most of his “gains” offshore. I’m not even thinking about him because it would appear that his plan for the nation would be to continue to squeeze the American middle class back to serfdom and bondage, if at all possible. You know, a lot of the old, aristocratic wealth in the Western world is still pissed off about that whole Magna Carta thing. It disrupted a lot of lives.

No, I’ve been thinking about Mittens for one reason only: Seamus the dog, a friendly looking Irish Setter lad. Poor Seamus. I know a lot about dogs and families. I’ve been closely involved with both for most of my life. I consider myself to be something of a learned expert on the dog/family dynamic. And it says so much about Mitt and the whole family Romney that they would even contemplate driving 500 miles or so with a dog stuck inside of a (no doubt) luxury “air tight” carrier, lashed to the top of the Romney family station-wagon.

I have never been witness to the family dynamic between Mitt and the rest of the Romney clan, but out on my limb of the tree of humanity, no self-respecting kid would have gone anywhere near a vehicle where the family pet was being tethered to the top. In my family, my sister would have thrown a royal shit fit at the thought of it long before it would have occurred to the three of us boys. But we would have objected too. Eventually.

And there was no way my mom or dad would have even considered putting our dog in a carrier on top of the car in the first place. Why should they? That’s what the luggage carrier on top of our station-wagon was for–luggage. And really, if we absolutely had to transport something living uptop, my middle brother, the adventurer of the tribe, would have happily volunteered for the position. But that never happened.

We kind of swung the other way when it came to dog issues. My dad had specific ideas regarding how dogs should behave, and it was nothing like anything the AKC ever heard of. Our first dog was Pepper. He was a black puppy, vaguely labrador. He didn’t last long. He got hit by a car he was chasing. We did not live on a busy street. Not at all. And how he developed the car chasing habit is a mystery to me. I was young at the time and as yet not within my full faculties of dog sussmanship.

Car chasing appears to be one of those activities that dogs have managed to evolve away from. Probably by natural selection. The ones that chased didn’t live long enough to procreate. End of the line. Either that, or it’s the leash laws.

Next up was Marty. He was the first in a short series of dogs named after Walt Disney  characters. Marty died a tragic death, the details of which I will not divulge in this particular tale. There will be no wags dogging our tales here, I tell you.

Not long after Marty’s untimely demise, we moved to another part of town. It was just after I’d finished the second grade. Shortly after settling into our new abode, we acquired a dog. I believe we found Tyke (not a Disney-related name) tied to a tree out on the playground at the grade school. At that time, tying a dog to a secluded tree out in the middle of nowhere way at the back of the playground, and deserting it, was an indication that ownership was being forfeited and the first young swagjack to come along that was of a mind (and relatively certain of convincing his caregivers) could have that dog. For free. It was an acknowledged form of canine transaction in those days.

Anyway, one of us ended up bringing Tyke home. I’m pretty sure it was my sister, because her radar for deserted dogs was especially keen. It’s probably a good thing people didn’t leave horses tied to trees at the playground. We didn’t have enough room for that. At some point, during my year in the third grade, Tyke disappeared. I do not suspect foul play. Dogs were allowed to roam at large back then–and we lived in a fairly rural urban area. There were a lot of wide open fields–across the street, and near by. Given the opportunity, dogs are known to wander. Tyke wandered a tad too far, it would seem.

It’s my recollection that we picked up Yeller late in the following summer, just after school had resumed. I’m not sure which of us it was, I suspect it again was my sister (see above), but one of us found him tied to the tree at the back of the playground, and brought him home. I do know that Yeller had formerly belonged to Tommy McDonald. I never found out the circumstances surrounding the necessity for the McDonald family’s surrendering Yeller, but they did.

We named Yeller after a heroic Disney movie dog, the subject of an especially tragic story–one which we kids had held dear for many years, I suppose waiting for Yeller to come along. Whatever the case the name Yeller befell upon that particular dog who was, no doubt, familiar with some other name when he was boarding with the McDonalds. But he was Yeller, and Yeller he was. If all this were taking place now, I’m sure his name would be Joey after the horse in the film War Horse.

Gypsy and Yeller (More about Gypsy in blogs to come)

He was nearly full-grown when we got him, around two years old, not a big dog, maybe thirty-five or forty pounds. Very early on we decided that he was a Golden Retriever/Cocker Spaniel blend. He looked like a small Goldie, but he had Charlemagne Cocker ears. As we grew older we concocted a lot of breed names. Golden Cock, Cockatriever (more on this later, perhaps) etc.

Yeller was a handsome young fellow, and, apparently bearing in mind his uncertain circumstances with the McDonalds, he never once took for granted his place within our family. He aimed to please–especially my sister, whom he loved dearly and completely. Yeller would do (and did) anything for my sister. Those exploits will be detailed at another time. I’m talkin’ about the poor Seamus Romney connection here.

And how it is hard for me to conceive–in my anti-Romneyian universe–of not treating Yeller as a member of our core family. Not a pet, a comrade. He took that responsibility very seriously and for that he was often well-rewarded. Especially when we were having meals at the dining room table. He was small enough that he was able to maneuver unimpeded, and mostly undetected, under the table.

Here’s an example of my father’s somewhat eccentric approach to these not infrequent family connundra within which we were swept by the livestock that freely grazed throughout our household. As Yeller made the rounds beneath the table, we four kids supplied a steady stream of delicious bits. Whatever we had. Bread. Baked potato, macaroni, corn, peas, fat, gristle. Yeller was not at all picky. Pretty much anything that hit the floor, he claimed for his own–an unspoken agreement between us kids and him.

For quite some time there was no impediment to that particular food chain and it conveyed without interruption. Until one day while at dinner, my dad dropped something to the floor, I don’t remember what it was. Maybe his wallet. I don’t think it was food, but I think Yeller thought it was. Before my dad could reach down to pick up whatever it was, Yeller had already snatched it up and pulled back, ostensibly to eat it, if at all possible.

Either my dad actually never knew about the deal we had going on with Yeller, or (far more likely) he was just in the mood for a little entertainment, Clarke-style. Whichever the case, he stood up with a fairly ferocious start, scaring the holy bejeesus out of us and poor Yeller, who was a very sensitive dog. My dad dramatically tossed his napkin down on the table and grabbed an extra chair from the corner bellowing good-naturedly, “If you’re gonna feed that damn dog human food, he can sit at the table and eat like a human, too.”

At that, Dad yanked Yeller out from under the table and plopped him down in the chair. With an odd expression on his face, my father went into the kitchen and fetched a plate and utensils. Then he began to load up the plate. Maybe mashed potatoes and chicken and green beans. Who knows? Scooting us over, Dad slid the extra chair forward, up tight against the table, about chest-high, and placed the plate of food in front of Yeller.

Snatching up a napkin, Dad tucked it into Yeller’s collar. Picking up a fork, he slid the handle between the pads of Yeller’s right paw. Slowly, he helped the mortified dog to scoop up a forkful of food from the plate, guiding it unsteadily toward his mouth. While we kids laughed hysterically, Yeller unenthusiastically ate dinner at the table with the rest of the family. Though he never again was seated at the table, Yeller steadfastly maintained his patrol of the territory beneath. However, he avoided at all costs my dad’s end of the food conveyor.

I’m certain, if it was Mitt and the Romneys, Seamus never would have been allowed in the house in the first place, stationed instead in his apartment at the back of the estate. Seamus couldn’t possibly have lurked under the table, but if he somehow managed to make it that far, the question must be asked: What Would Mitt Do?

Certainly Mitt would have Seamus dispatched forthwith back to his apartment, after a stern rebuke, of course. Probably a few rounds of obedience therapy with the trainer. Maybe the electric dog collar for a few days, just so old Seamus would remember his “boundaries.” We can’t have that dog running around like a wild animal, now can we? Maybe a little kennel time’ll take the spring out of his stride. Oh, he’ll ride on top of the car. Yes, he will. You bet he will. And he’ll damn well love it. Won’tcha fella?

Left to me, I’d let Seamus drive the station-wagon while Mitt rode in the “airtight carrier up top. (Oh he loves it. Climbs up there all by himself! Don’cha boy?). Then again, if it were up to me, I would be far more inclined to vote for a dog than any of the candidates running for the Republican nomination in the 2012 presidential election.

A dog can be trusted. A dog tells the truth and never lies. A dog tries to see the good side of things and to make the most of them. A dog is loyal and unbiased. Prince or pauper, a dog will love you all the same. A dog can sniff out your motivations. If he thinks you’re up to no good, he will let you know of his suspicions. It’s hard to argue with a dog. Dogs are persistent and honorable. Dogs are noble. Dogs care.

Name for me one politician to whom those characteristics might apply. Yeah, I can’t name one either. In fact Mahatma Gandhi was the only name I could think of to fit all the qualifications, the high personal standards of the common mongrel. That’s a pretty sad commentary. But it’s true. And if Yeller were still running around, and running, I’d vote for him.


As part of my ongoing series, attempting to describe to you the time-honored process, wherein, for representation by a literary agent or publisher, one must “query” ahead before you can get anyone to look at the synopsis of your book and maybe a few chapters. Tell your story. What’s your book about? You have fifty words. Maybe a hundred. But really, if you don’t get your point across in the first couple sentences of your query, you’re most likely heading for the rejection pile. Last time, I described the process as like trying to write a haiku to describe the Bible. Try it. I’d love to see other submissions. Here’s my second installment.

The Bible II

John Lennon once said:

“Nothing to get hung about.”

Don’t tell Jesus that.

I’m sorry. I was raised a Catholic.

Enter 2012

Here it is, another New Year. I’ve had more of these than I care to count, so this business of “resolutions” is lost on me. I resolve not to make any more resolutions. Amen. There are many things within my life about which I am very resolute. Not one of those things have required the expiration of some arbitrary year (nor its magical imagined metamorphosis into another) in order to motivate me toward them. In the end, you either do it or you don’t.

This being my inaugural voyage piloting the good blog SP, I don’t have any intention, agenda, or anything enlightening to say. Those who know me will not be in the least surprised at that disclosure. But it’s never stopped me in the past. More or less (probably less) I just wanted to take this thing for a spin, RPO it (for those not acquainted with the ins and outs of the automotive repair industry: Run the Piss Out of it) and put it back in the driveway for a month or two. We’ll see about that.

Those familiar with my “work,” the more public aspects of it anyway, are familiar with my (euphemistically speaking) career in the realm of reporting upon the transpirations of the local music scene. I have been doing this for far too long. I’m starting to feel like Dick Clark on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. “Wheel the old boy out and give him  his confetti.” Speaking for myself–and I am the only person I entrust to do such a thing–I would hazard that Dick probably still enjoys showing up for the event. That’s my MO, anyway and I’m sticking to it.

This is my attitude about putting a dog to sleep. If it’s not having fun anymore, then it’s time to consider…you know. Because what is a dog’s life if not (hopefully) fun? Most dogs lives aren’t fun I suspect, and that is, no doubt, the subject of another blog on another day. But, dogs were designed by the human race as sources of endless inter-species funitude. One thing dogs know how to do is to have a good time. At least that’s true for the dogs I know. Fun lovers, each and every.

So when Dick Clark stops having fun, it’ll be time to pull the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve plug. That’s my attitude too. When local music and musicians stop being fun for me, I’ll turn in my turntable. Until that day, here I shall remain. I’ll give up my pen when you rip it from my cold dead hands.

I already have repositories for my work in the area of local music. My current reviews and observations appear at under the heading: The Good The Bad and the Ugly. Also at the site is a link to the Two Louies archives. Eventually all of my album reviews and articles (way, way over a thousand reviews and a million words) through many hundred issues of Two Louies will be posted online. In addition, my History of Portland Rock is linked to both sites. The History is incomplete, to be sure. It’s my understanding that history is never complete. But all of the local music history that I have observed is linked here. So think of this site as your one-stop hub for all things SP. If that is not a enough of a caveat, the outcome is out of my hands. Warning served

God bless him, Mister Buko seems strangely reluctant to commit his every waking hour to the necessities of my websites and creative outpourings, thus I must be patient with the tortoise-like pace at which these various sites are assembled. Trying to maintain these things for myself is out of the question. My girlfriend refers to me as a Luddite. And, truly, in that respect she is being much too kind.

I am technologically impaired. This is not a new revelation. I was the source of endless frustration for my father, who could not understand my inability to differentiate between a car’s generator and radiator. It was always my contention that the device “radiated” electricity. However, this confusion has made my communication with mechanics (of whom there have been many, over the years, given the fact that I have worked for pikers for most of my life) very difficult– a situation greatly magnified by the fact that my longtime mechanic, Mister Ho Hoang of Ho’s Auto Repair at 33rd and Division, is Vietnamese, with English as a very distant second language. Our conversations sound like Marx Brothers’ bits. Fun stuff.

So, without the kindness of strangers, I would probably be still scribing my tomes on the backs of paper sacks and envelopes (in the driver’s seat of my inoperative vehicle), and the few of you who might stumble across these missives would be shut out from the benefit of my inciteful insight. Just ponder that for a minute or two!

Blame it on the enchiladas. I am more inclined to think it’s Michael Jarmer. For some reason, last night, I was inspired to consider this ongoing exercise in literary masturbation called a blog. Right now, I think I already have the best readership here that I’m likely to encounter: me. Strangely, I get almost all of my jokes and view myself as being pretty witty and erudite. All other estimations appear to topple from that lofty nest. I’ll make some effort toward readership. But, I must say: self-promotion is not among my attributes. I’ll see if I can get a few friends to like it for Facebook. That should do the trick.

What does one do with these here blog thangs, anyways? My first inclination in all things is to smoke it. And, as an existential conceptual exercise, I have to say I’m gettin’ a buzz. Beyond that? Meh. Tell you what. In commemoration for these days of resolution, I hereby resolve. I will try to promote a few of my creative pursuits. I mean, if not here, then where?

I don’t know.

Maybe it is and maybe it ain’t Maya Year Zero. We’ve got what? 353 days until we find out? Well, let the meltdown countdown begin. I just want to ask. Are there still any Mayas around to re-calibrate their long count calendar, if it’s just a case of the original authors running out of rock? That’d give us another 5,100 years, give or take, and we can be done with the whole matter for a while. I’m looking forward to putting this one to bed once and for all. But not until after Carlos & Toni’s End of the World party. Hey, if you’re going out, you might as well party like it’s 1999.

Now, if the world does indeed survive whatever the Maya have planned for December 21st, you might well ask: “Well, SP, what was it, exactly, you were planning on promoting?” That’s a good question for which I actually happen to have an answer. Unreal Gods. Unreal Gods? Unreal Gods. It’s a band. It’s a book. It’s a way of life. It’s biographical. It’s a novel. If I can shake out enough people here, I might post a few chapters. It’s, like, 625 pages long. So, Ive got a few extra pages for show purposes.

Unreal Gods is a novel based on the life of Billy Rancher and his band the Unreal Gods. If you’re not familiar with Billy’s story, and an alarming few hipsters in this vaingloriously cutting-edge artistic rats nest are familiar with it, then, here is the novel to tell you of his adventures.

I spent twenty five years sitting on Billy Rancher’s tale. I wanted to blur for myself reality and fiction. It actually took that long to forget it all, so that I could tell Billy’s story from a more distant, objective perspective. Plus, a lot of what is in the book is not true. A lot of it is. I don’t want to be responsible for the accuracy of either. I hate accuracy. That entails research.

My own research typically does not extend much farther than consulting my History of Portland Rock or other similar resources. And if you’re at all interested in the story of Billy and the Gods, the History provides details and a basic outline and chronology. It’s a great story. Timeless. Sad. Timeless and sad.

I’m sure I have lots of other stuff to promote. I’ll think about that. Right now, I need to remain focussed on the book, as it is very important that Billy’s story is told. As soon as I figure out how to do such a thing, I will link to Michael Jarmer’s site. Michael is a longtime Portland musician (Here Comes Everybody) who is also a writer and he is wrestling with many of the same dilemmas that I am, in regards to the pathetic publishing industry and the ridiculous hoops one must jump through to even hope to get a book published. Your assignment for today: write a haiku describing in vivid detail the plot of the Bible.

We’ll save that gnashing of teeth for another play date. For today, I wanted to put forth my manifesto. I lack, I think, a thesis. A punchline. A cause. So, it’s a manifesto without a cause. If that doesn’t sound like “not with a bang but a whimper,” I don’t know what does.


A pretty good book.

The hero dies in the end.

Oops. Spoiler alert.