Friday, June 27, 2014

Flow and ebb

So now Doug's gone. Maybe just for a year. Coming back briefly in the fall. We'll see.

Lake Natoma got emptier.

We'd been swimming together several times a week for 2 1/2 years. Doug's leaving for his native New England to help with his grandchildren.

"Fast" Karl left earlier this month. Though he had only been swimming with us for seven months, he was dedicated, and his dedication inspired even if his speed deflated.

On his last swam before heading for work somewhere in the Rockies, he laced twice the length of Lake Natoma, about 10 miles. Notre Dame swimmer; whatcha gonna do?

Karl's a mountain man who found California's ways strange. I don't think he's coming back. Except, of course, to swim the length of Tahoe, 21 miles, later this summer.

What did good ol' Heraclitus say? "You could not step twice in the same river."

To which I add, "Not even with the same toes."

Change: The only constant.

Toes come and toes go.

Sarah had already joined our core group of rogues before Doug and Karl took flight. It wasn't until she said it out loud that we finally acted on our shoulda-coulda-wouldas, swimming longer distances regularly. Once a week for the last month, Sarah has swum the length of the lake, and small various and sundry of us have joined in.

The length used to be a daunting once-a-year enterprise, borne out on the Fourth of July. Now it's oh-so-slowly becoming a routine change in routine.

David's the iron man now, literally and figuratively. We've been swimming together longer than I have with Doug; in fact, I think it was a winter morning on upper Natoma when Doug first joined David and me.

David is the exception to every rule: An Iron Man©® triathlete who eschews triathleticism … a wetsuit wearer who defies conventional wisdom and swims just about as fast without one, when we can get him to … the polite smiling contrarian who I guess really meant it when he said he wouldn't pay the measly $10 annual fee to our group.

That's how we all met, though, through the Sacramento Swimming Enthusiasts page on the site.

But we've become an ad hoc splinter cell, using text messages to gather, rather than the site. We're the few who like upper Natoma chiefly, where the water spilling directly from the bottom of Folsom Lake is always a little colder. It's much less crowded, free of beachgoers. Few rowing crews make it all the way up here, most staying on the 2,000-meter race course at the lower lake.

We're the few who swim Natoma year-round. Most swimmers on the site prefer the lower lake during the evenings (too warm, too crowded) or what's left of dwindling Folsom Lake, where gather the three forks of the American River that release into Natoma.

I've met so many meetup people on my scheduled swims, whom I see once or twice more and then never again. They either decide against open water swimming, or figure out the group's not competitive and I certainly am not going to give them much of a race, or join the Folsom/lower Natoma/evening swim crowd.

It got me thinking of those who stuck out the cold water with me in the four years I've swum Natoma:
  • Jim, whom I met at one of my first swims, a Polar Bear event in mid-February. I forgot my goggles, my wife urged me to ask Jim for an extra pair, and we struck up an immediate friendship. Jim's the one who showed me not to take the open water so seriously, to revel in the realization that few people enjoy this or want to.

    When I first hit the winter choppy water of Folsom Lake I wanted to quit for good, and Jim's the one who told me to swim 10 stroke at a time, get my bearings, swim 10 more, and keep going — to let time get me used to the new adventure. I think of his help every time I swim through heavy water with confidence and a semblance of ease.

    We swam together most of two years, and many times he brought fast Kathy, a champion open water swimmer, which was a commitment since they had to come from two counties over. I swam in several open-water races with them that first year.

    Jim got a different job and different obligations, and Kathy's life changed around. I haven't seen them in a long while, nor have I raced since then.
  • Brad, whom I still see, though he's more rogue than us, preferring mostly to swim on his own, and swim great distances. I first saw Brad at one of the Polar Bear swims four years ago. All of us huddled at the shore in our wetsuits, tentative penguins, when suddenly came Brad in just swim briefs and goggles, diving in and swimming away into the foggy chill while we stood and stared.

    Until that moment, I thought it may have been illegal to swim without a wetsuit. But I soon resolved to swim that way since I hated wearing my neoprene, and weaned myself out of it, shedding it for five, then 10, then 15 minutes in the cold water after each group swim.

    I still swim with Brad on occasion. It feels weird to drive home after my swim knowing he'll still be in for a couple of hours more. He's swum the length of Tahoe, and a mile in freezing water; whatcha gonna do?
  • Stacy and I were the first long-term rogues, swimming off the grid and venturing northeast to upper Natoma. It was exotic water when we first tried it out. Few boats and of course no swimmers, the only noise coming from the aggressive domestic geese that had been released to the wild to cadge visitors for food.

    Every swim was discovery and serendipity as we learned where the water was deep and where shallow. We learned to endure the cold water for longer and longer distances, and swim against current. We established routes under the new bridge, and downstream to Texas Hill, a little island where once Texas miners had come to dry-dig for gold.

    We swam many times when Stacy wasn't running or doing cross-fit workouts. We even swam the length of the lake one Fourth of July, me with my inflatable butt buoy and him with a modified boogie board he called his party boat, sailing behind him. It had a flag and a foam noodle arch and a stretch net to hold his food to the board. Even with a long fin below, the party boat capsized in the wind.

    Stacy once left for Tennessee to run a 30-mile race with his sister, and never really came back to swimming.
  • Ryan made the fastest ever transition from heavily wetsuited swimmer to skin swimmer — 10 minutes. He's a concert organist from Canada who showed up one day in a thick wetsuit with some sort of shirt over it, gloves, booties and what looked like deep-sea diver's cowl.

    You don't need all of that, we said. Or, really, any of it.

    OK, said Ryan and in one swim he became a skin swimmer. He was just about the most joyful open water enthusiast, but he disappeared after a couple of months.
  • Susie, her hair and smile dazzlingly white, also loved to whoop and holler and express on our behalf of the wonder of open water swimming. I think she sticks to the evenings and lower Natoma swims these days.
  • Helen, whom I met in the early days. I don't think she swims much anymore, but she probably doesn't have time, seeing how she now runs races of 50 and 100 miles regularly.
  • Myron, who was running the group and cheerfully organizing Polar Bear swims and other activities, but who moved on to other things.
  • Patti, who runs the group now and puts a lot of energy into keeping the group going.
  • Special guest stars: Dave came all the way from Cork, Ireland, to swim in Upper Natoma last summer. Suzie, an ultra-marathon swimmer who launched the 24-hour relay swim in San Francisco Bay, last summer brought another marathon swimmer, Roxie, to explore upper Natoma. They laughed as they swim in too-shallow water past the first bridge and had to stand up on the slippery rocks.

    Lisa made a great arc through the northwest last week and stopped by my lake on her way home to the Bay Area. Lisa and David and Karl and I swam as part of team at Suzie's 24-hour relay swim in February.

    Nejib came from Tunisia swam lower Natoma last year, cold but not cold enough swim for peace in the Bering Strait. It didn't matter: He swim four kilometers in 39-degree water along the International Date Line. for his eventual 4-kilometer swim in the frigid water of the Bering Strait, a swim for peace.
  • Kate, completing her residency at a nearby hospital, swam almost every day with us for five weeks. We'd met at the 24-hour relay swim. She pushed our distance a bit to get her ready for a swim across Tahoe later this summer.

    Late in our swims, she said she didn't like swimming under the bridges. Lisa said she didn't like the shadow the bridge cast through the green water.

    We've come to know the scary plants are just plants, the shallows just riprap, the current just something to relax in and pierce through for half again as many strokes, the chop just a fun reminder of being present in the water.
  • I'm forgetting or misplacing some names, I know. The various Dans, Steve, Sean, all fast. Haven't seen them in a long time.
We've come to a happy peace about our relative speeds. If anything, I give the other swimmers a harder time for being fast than they do for my sloth. We collect at the shore, no matter our arrival times, and leave to drink coffee at the "adjective" Starbucks™® (so named because we sit outside next to the drive-thru and count how many descriptors drivers use to order their drinks), or good beer, or the occasional meal. Usually a going-away meal.

The only thing I could beat Doug at is cold-water endurance. Fortified with bioprene, I'd keep going while he'd turn back, and if we'd planned it right I'd leave my Thermos® of boiling water in his car so he could fight the intense shivers with a cup of cocoa. After winter swims it takes us a good 40 minutes of jumping up and down in the parking lot and sloshing hot cocoa all over ourselves before we're even ready to drive for hot coffee.

These days, though, with even the coldest water hanging in the low 60s Fahrenheit, Doug would swim well past our turnaround point and double back to meet me when I hit that point. The Thermos™ of hot water is more reflex these days; I pack it but we don't use it.

A go-getter whose actions speak louder than words, Doug has already created a meetup group in his homeland, New England Open Water, and has a swim already planned next weekend in Thoreau's Walden Pond. Twenty "BigWataSwimmas" have already joined.

The core group at upper Natoma has changed and shifted. Though I've been lucky of late to swim with someone else, I'll probably end up swimming by myself again many times. I know I'll swim many, many times with David and Sarah and Patti, and that a new swimmer or two will show and join our group. Most will leave after awhile. A precious few nuts will stick around for long run, and we'll keep on swimming, finding new routes, new swim adventures, different lives to talk about over coffee or beers.

That's the way it's been, the way it will be.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

We may never pass this way again

Our long experiment with Oregon is over.

Having retrieved our daughter and her belongings after graduation from the University of Oregon last week, and swept up Nancy's mom and her belongings from the idyllic park of erstwhile snowbirds along the way, we retreated to California.

Their tents struck, the wayfarers in our immediate family have come home for good.

Mom will live with us. Our daughter, a lucky Duck who gets to study in Ireland for the summer, will then look for work in the land of movies and television and entertainment.

Save for a week at summer's end to settle affairs at the snowbird park, we may never pass this way again.
(Which made me think of the Seals and Crofts song, but just the title, which you and I probably think is meant to be wistful. Which is why I think my high school graduating class chose it for our commencement theme.

But it's really more of a "let's get it on while the gettin' on is good" song. Which may be why my graduating class picked it after all, which means I've been out of the loop longer than I feared. The song was already old when my high school class picked it. We were bad choosers or we had bad choices. Our junior prom theme was "Reunited" by Peaches and Herb. Think on that a moment, while we return you to our regularly scheduled post, now in progress … )
We've no compelling reason to visit Oregon anymore, inviting as it is. Portland, emerald and grand and sweeping along the banks of the Willamette, is a loooooooooong drive from Sacramento, even for craft beers and friends with whom to enjoy them. It was only a quick morning's drive from Eugene in the few times we were able to visit our daughter.

Last week amounted to one last run-through, one last check under the bed for belongings. We did what we did for one last time. We tried to close the circle on some things, and even succeeded a couple of times.

While we weren't looking, our daughter Mo graduated. It is the blur people describe. When we gathered in a ballroom at the memorial union for our daughter's school commencement — she exempted us from having to attend the main ceremony the next day with thousands of other grads — I realized it was the only room at the university I've been in twice. The first time was when we dropped her off four years before, for a campus orientation.

Between then and now we talked Mo twice into staying at the university. Bleak mid-winter brought her down and she couldn't stand it. Her saving was the Newman Club, for Catholics attending public universities. Her grandma and mom encouraged her to visit the Newman table during orientation activities, and the friendships she had gained in Newman kept her in Eugene those winters, kept her going.

Eventually Mo worked as a full-time peer counselor for Newman one year, earned a scholarship through it, and led music for student Masses. She organized the music for her own baccalaureate Mass last week, her last official task in Eugene. The rest of her fellow graduates in their green caps and gowns sat in the front row, families behind them. Newman staff members recognized them, and the priest blessed them.

The songs she and the choir sang made our worship back home seem dusty, and us seem old.

Mo became an Oregon resident to save on tuition, which impeded her studies for a full year as she had to account for most of her income and do Oregon resident kinds of things that weren't college kinds of things. Somehow, though, by attending summer school a couple of years, she made up the lost time and finished in four years.

Maybe it's not a homeless-to-Harvard story, but it's gutsy and speaks to hard work, and I'm proud of her. She tells us her real education is out in the industry of her choice, and we as parents take it on faith.

Since we skipped the big commencement, we did the town a day ahead of everyone else: A nice restaurant the first evening, with our son and his girlfriend; my sister; Mo's grandma, her surviving grandparent; and Nancy and me. We went to craft beer places the next, Track Town Pizza, dependable ol' wood-paneled no-frills Track Town Pizza, the next. No lines. We beat the crowds each day.

Goodbye, Track Town Pizza.

Goodbye, Eugene streets that I had only last week gotten used to. Goodbye, Target® and Lowe's™, where we had bought dorm stuff and moving-away stuff. Goodbye, Hirons®©, which advertises as a pharmacy but is more chock full of tchotschkes than any store I have ever seen. Goodbye, Safeway®™ on 18th Avenue, where it's hard to believe Mo's car conked out in heavy snows last winter and had to be abandoned for a few days.

Goodbye, Courtesy Inn, and you lovely family that runs it and revels in your children, both high school valedictorians and probably doctors by now. If we ever come back, we will stay in your motel and not the Motel 6®© which charged much more for much less. It used to be Motel 6™® rates ended in 6 and were double digits. No more.

Goodbye, Keystone Cafe, the vegan breakfast place around the corner from Courtesy Inn. We never ate the vegan plates but we loved what we ate, even if Mo didn't care for the place. We even loved the industrial-strength boombox atop a refrigerator in the corner, playing Motown hits.

Goodbye, Fern Ridge Reservoir, you shallow, reedy lake outside Eugene. I was going to swim you one last time, but signs posted at the entrances warned, "If in doubt, stay out," and the water exhibited three of the symptoms of possible high bacteria count. My latent adventurous spirit has its limits.

Goodbye, University of Oregon. Goodbye, Eugene.

Goodbye, Sutherlin, you mystery town of former glory with few visible means of support. It can't be the snowbirds parked nearby, because they shop for goods and healthcare in Roseburg the next town over.

Goodbye, Cooper Creek Reservoir, draped in fog and nestled in the dark forested slopes. I couldn't swim in you one last time either, having locked the keys and all my swim gear in the U-Haul®™ truck our last night in Oregon. (U-Haul's ™® motto should be: "Order a 10-foot truck and we'll give a 20-foot truck instead, and make you drive 25 miles to the next town to get it!")

Goodbye, verdant slopes of southern Oregon, starting to look tan and raggedy and — dare I say, Californian?


• • •

While I wasn't looking, the World Cup began. Not that I was looking all that hard, to our son's consternation. Though his love for the game has soared, mine faded when my children stopped playing. Similarly, my fascination with University of Oregon football team's flashy play and flashier uniforms, different each week, will die now that our daughter no longer attends.

I appreciate soccer; I appreciate that it's so much different than what we Americans expect of sports, that the joy is in the development of a near-goal so much more than the score.

But I left my heart in San Francisco with the Giants, and it doesn't have room for other sports.

• • •
While I wasn't looking, the Giants fell down a rabbit hole and became as expert at losing painfully as they had at winning handily.

Though I knew their rocket ride to first could not sustain, I didn't expect them to lose so atrociously, giving up leads in late innings all three times to the Colorado Rockies at home, losing six in a row and nine of 10 before finally righting themselves over the weekend against the Arizona Diamondbacks. As of last night they showed their losing side again, getting shut out by the lowly San Diego Padres, 6-0.

The Giants still hold the lead in the National League West. What kind of Giants fan does it make me if I wish they were in second, chasing the lead?
Long-ago logo for a mythical entity,
from Jan Conroy's design class
• • •

While I wasn't looking, Jan Conroy perished in a car accident.

Jan was one of the few people I'd call erudite. He was quietly bright, quietly mirthful, quietly tall, and it belied his passion for graphic design. He had retired as the executive director of communications department at UC Davis, and I was fortunate to be a student long ago in graphic design classes he taught.

Jan especially loved the history of graphic design, and it was contagious. He took great care to tell me when I had screwed up on a design, and when I had hit a groove, and he made me want to do more and better.

You'd have liked him. Goodbye, Jan.

• • •

While I wasn't looking, Gene "Gino" Bertolucci passed away.

Mr. B, as I called him, was larger-than-life, something I can't be. He was big and imposing, big laugh, big features, big laser eyes.

I don't know whether it would upset him to say he was the embodiment of the sacred and profane —truly a tireless volunteer for the poor and hungry in the neighborhoods around Our Lady of the Assumption Church, where he was a longtime parishioner, but with a disarmingly earthy way of describing the machinations of his volunteer work. You had to have been there.

Goodbye, Mr. B.

• • •

While I wasn't looking, Iraq all but dissolved.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, depending on your news source and political persuasion, and a slow U-Haul®™ truck and many miles to truck it all let me listen to the entire spectrum — has run of the place, I heard. The border between Syria and Iraq has effectively dissolved, many of the armed Iraqi units the United States had trained ran off, Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki is pissing everyone off, and his country may split into three politico-religious sectors.

Obama blew it, pundit after pundit professed on the caustic radio shows. My favorite was former Vice President Dick Cheney's blistering attack on Obama, "Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many."

One clever Cheney critic said that's like a starting pitcher giving up 10 runs in the first inning, handing the ball over and blaming the bullpen for the loss.

Yeah, except for all the blood and mangling of thousands of lives, the waste of billions into someone's pockets, the outright lies and misdirection.

Goodbye, human decency.

Is it wrong of me to burden my children with hope for a better world?

Thursday, June 12, 2014


This is how huge Jim Hayes factored in our lives:

Nancy and I didn't tell him when we decided to leave news reporting. Having cast ourselves out of Eden, we were ashamed.

Sure, it sounds like sacrilegious hyperbole, but that's how we felt.

As a result, we wasted many years not hearing his wise words, of friendship as fellow adults rather than idealistic and naive journalism students, of addressing each other as  Jim and Nancy and Shawn (she and I met at the school newspaper) rather than Mr. Hayes and Nancy and Shawn.

facebook®©™, God love it, reclaimed some of that time.

Jim Hayes passed away this week, of complications from cancer. He was 88.

He was The Guy at Cal Poly's journalism department in San Luis Obispo. Our other professors came from the profession, too, but Jim Hayes was the reporting instructor at the time. He came from the horseshoe-shaped copy desk in the clattering newsroom of all our film-fed ideas of what a newsroom looked and sounded and smelled like. He was what we wanted to be. What some of us thought we wanted to be, anyway.

Funny, as a student I never once asked him his news background, where he came from, what he had done in life. You'd think a future news reporter would think to ask. I never did.

Besides, the guy scared the hell out of me.

So kindly and gentle, yet so frustratingly enigmatic, so apt to saunter while all of us students seemed to be running all the time — that was Jim Hayes for me.  I was always waiting for his fangs to spring and his skin to change color.

We all wanted Jim Hayes' attention, because he Knew Things, and he knew that we knew it.

He used this mind trick on us onrushing journalism students, seeking counsel as he sauntered about campus. Jim Hayes would respond to our questions with a story, a parable having nothing to do with what we asked — or did it? — and then would saunter through the fog he had just loosed in our brains, and disappear.

We wanted to be reporters. Jim Hayes was The Way, and we followed.

It was not easy. His fangs, in fact, came out. They flashed for our sin of misspelling, of not checking facts, of using the wrong punctuation.
Carelessness can be Fatal. Sorry. See me. Ask not for whom the F tells …

Fangs with a capital "F." Big, red, boldly, juicily branded in PaperMate™® pen that hemorrhaged at the top of your typed and stapled news story — "F!" Any ink left in the pen was used to write: See me.
(To be accurate, the juicy letters were just as likely to be black ink as red, but they hurt the same. "Don't let facts get in the way of a good story," as Jim Hayes never would have said.)
I don't want to remember what I remember, but I believe two "F's" on stories filed during the quarter meant an "F" for the course. See me next quarter. See me If the course is available. See me, and we'll see.
My friend David Middlecamp, a photographer at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo, dredges up worse, reminding me that Jim Hayes also showed your work to the class. He made transparencies of your story and projected it onto the wall. Your story remained anonymous; he blotted your name. The room was also dark during this dark time, concealing glee and utter shame alike, so Mr. Hayes was not without his mercies.
For days on end, it seemed, Mr. Hayes and the class shared in excoriating your work and eviscerating your confidence. For nanoseconds, by comparison, your fluky good story won praise and admiration, and it seemed months sauntered by before that happened again.

I remember now. I remember that moments before Mr. Hayes projected my story, I could not be sure whether damnation was at hand. Usually it was.

Jim Hayes also gave us current-events quizzes. One wrong answer and you failed, as I remember. No Internet, no Google®, no Yahoo™© news feed, no Huffington Post®™ or Buzzfeed™, no bell curve, no gimmes. You had to devour the newspaper and Time® and Newsweek™ magazines. On top of your zoology and geography and whatever other burdens you carried. Or else.
My first year at Cal Poly, I hyperventilated all the oxygen in San Luis Obispo. I questioned my existence and purpose. I took every pain, every long night, to report my stories to perfection.

And failed anyway.

Carelessness … Quote leads should be avoided, at least until you
learn how to handle straight summaries … Wrong possessive …
This means nothing if you don't know where it is … etc., etc., etc.
A wild circuit of felt pen ink emanated from the F, lassoing the offensive misspellings in the third graf. Plenty of  ink left: See me.

Nothing about bringing my own cigarettes and blindfold. I inferred that much from his violent dance of penmanship.

Perhaps this is the "F" story (left) that signaled my doom in his class. I sweated that visit, imagining the implosive end to my brief time at college:
"It's clear this isn't for you," I imagined Jim Hayes telling me. "You can't seem to avoid mistakes, and a reporter can't make mistakes. A reporter's readers are counting on him for the truth. You can't handle the truth.

(That's right: I imagined he predated Aaron Sorkin.)

"I know some people," I imagined him saying, after the deathliest pause. "I suppose I can find something for you in another department. What else do you think you wouldn't be bad at?"
I think I had already told my parents I was probably coming home to start over.

Nerve-wracked news story in hand, I saw Jim Hayes, and what he said instead was, "Come with me."

He led me down the hall to the Mustang Daily offices, where students produce a newspaper all on their own.

"Andrew," Jim Hayes said to the editor, Andrew Jowers, who towered over us. "This is Shawn Turner. He's going to be reporting to you from now on, and you'll turn his stories in to me to grade for reporting class."

Jim Hayes turned to me, looking over his half-rim glasses. "OK?" he said.

"Thank you!" I said. "All right," he answered, and sauntered back to his office.

Andrew didn't seem unhappy at the news. If he was, he hid it well, and gave me a story. I could not hide being stunned at what just happened.

And that's how I passed reporting I and II classes. I can't say the stories were perfect — student editors, I'm sure, saved my ass from Jim Hayes' scarlet brand many times — but I felt capable under this different pressure. Maybe it was being among peers, maybe the incentive of seeing my words in print the next day, the obligation it presented. I really have no idea.

But Jim Hayes had an idea, and I'll always be grateful.

I didn't become the news reporter I imagined, partly because I hadn't fully imagined that life. I had no long-range plan beyond getting a job, and once I got a job I also got a life, and the life I got (the life I enjoy now) made being a reporter difficult. Also I found out the hard way I didn't like being a reporter and wasn't all that good at it.

Nancy and I eventually departed for public relations, two words we couldn't say without wincing when we were students.

And we felt we had fallen from grace.

In his gracious way, Jim Hayes again entered our lives through facebook®™. He kindly commented on my blog posts, reminding me by his comments that I wasn't writing for myself, that other people were reading … that Jim Hayes was reading. He never mentioned my spelling or my transitions that never would have passed in his class. He never questioned my wayward ways over the years. He just relayed kind words even when I had been ranting.

He told us to call him Jim. I had to force myself.

Then his comments stopped, and eventually through facebook®™ we learned he had become ill.
One of his former students started a facebook®© page, "We love Jim Hayes," and at his passing this week, 385 people had joined, daily extolling his guidance and inspiration.

Most of them, to my shock, told my story on that page, the story of failure. I wasn't the only one who had gotten an "F" on a story, as I had long believed, or even one of the few. Many had failed, many were summoned to his office. I had been embarrassed to tell my story, except to marvel to a few close people how Jim Hayes had turned my failure into opportunity. I'm surprised I still had my bloody old newspaper stories; I found them in the bottom file drawer at the very back.

"F" instead became the badge of honor worn by reporters who learned their craft under Jim Hayes. That's the real marvel — he set so many people on their careers. People who sing the same praises as a kind but uncompromising man who made his students hold the profession to the highest standard, his standard.

Not just award-winning heavy-duty news people around the world, who are legion and his legacy — and who kept a vibrant relationship with their mentor, whom they called "Hayes." He inspired schlubs like me who found other things to do and tended to call him Mr. Hayes.

In his last days I learned he had been a Navy frogman during World War II in the Pacific Theater, that his dad had been an Associated Press bureau chief. In his last days I traced his long and storied career. In his last days I learned he had a family, a vibrant family that has reached out to Jim Hayes' many followers through the facebook™® page made for him, family that was with him at his death.

Jim Hayes' legacy for me will be his love of words, made beautiful by their economy.

In his honor, I end this post the way we ended our stories for him — old school:


(Donations to the Jim Hayes Scholarship Fund at Cal Poly are accepted online at

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Our long national nightmares are over:
  • California Chrome®™ didn't win the Triple Crown™®, which only bettors and nine-year-old girls really cared about.

    (And right out of the gate, so to speak, I lash out in my ignorance, knowing nothing about horses, racing, betting or nine-year-old girls.)

    (But come on … did you
    really care about it?)

    Co-owner Steve Coburn quickly shook the bandwagon empty and tarnished good feeling by calling other horse owners cowards for not racing their horses in all three Triple Crown©® races, instead putting fresh horses up against California Chrome in the Belmont Stakes®™ last weekend.

    But that's the way it's been since almost always — I looked it up, poking tiny light in my darkness — which is why the Triple Crown®™ is so rare: Only 11 since 1919 when the whole business began, the last by Affirmed in 1978.

    (I looked it up.)

    Horses should have to compete in all three races — the Kentucky Derby®, the Preakness Stakes™® and Belmont®© — in order to vie for the Triple Crown®™, Coburn said into the nearest microphone right after the race, without so much as a "Nice race, congratulations to the winner."

    Knowing nothing about horse racing, I still can't see how that would be any fun — a field of tired horses cantering (looked it up!) around the track, jockeys trying not to embarrass themselves.

    The Triple Crown©® is a Really Big Deal, I'm gonna guess, because despite having to race fresh horses, the exhausted champions prevail.

    Even if California Chrome® had won — what of it? The news value would have lasted no longer than Monday around the water cooler (does anybody really talk around water coolers?)

    At best it becomes the stuff of random conversation, like I had last week — no water coolers were harmed — trying to name three Triple Crown winners — Seattle Slew? Secretariat? National Velvet? My Little Pony®™?

    Or a movie starring Shia LeBeouf™®.

    At least one TV station here sent one of its news anchors to New York to cover Belmont®™ himself (the other co-owners are from Yuba City, about an hour away, and I guess all the news syndicates were broken). I'd put that down as a misappropriation of funds.

    Coburn has since apologized to America and the world. But I think he already did us a favor.
  • Richard Sherman®™ has been picked for the cover of the next Madden NFL®™© football video game.

    I was really sweating it. The cover could have gone any number of ways — imagine the world with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on the Madden®™ cover! —  but it went to the polarizing cornerback of the Seattle Seahawks, who is one of the few defensive players to get the honors.

    I know this because I can't not know it. It's one of those "News" Items You Can't Avoid If You Tried by spending any amount of time on the Internets. The story went on for a couple of days, masquerading as important and useful in some fashion.

  • The NBA finals are over.

    They're not over? How long does this thing go on? Does it seem to you like the NBA playoffs have rumbled on for three months, maybe longer than the regular season?

    How many more days of LeBron and whatever he says, does, thinks, doesn't think, pontificates? How much more of posturing and flopping and cults of personality? No doubt the game is full of physical prowess, but it plays like a soap opera. Gimme baseball, where bat flips and showing off are strongly discouraged.
In other matters completely unrelated, it bears repeating what documentary filmmaker Michael Moore said two weeks about shootings in America,  "Enjoy the rest of your day, and rest assured this will all happen again very soon."

Thursday, June 5, 2014

May the 35th be with you

Just the other day I groused to a friend how people are gonna get so fed up with our government they'll eventually rise to act. You know, parading my ignorance.

I wondered aloud why China's vast population hadn't risen by now against its oppressive government.

Then I remembered it tried, 25 years ago this week. And I remember I drew a cartoon about it.

Remembering is a thing I can do. Also writing "June 4." And grousing about it to a friend. Such things, as I understand, one cannot do in China.

One is not supposed to know about June 4, 1989, in which China's People's Liberation Army crushed a pro-democracy protest at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and across China. No one knows how many were killed — Hundreds? Thousands? — after China put a sudden end to more than a month of demonstrations.

It began in April 1989 with the death of a Communist Party official who advocated reforms to government policies that invited corruption and nepotism, destabilized the economy and left college students with few career prospects.

Memorials to Hu Yaobong's death by college students grew into something else and much larger, and at one point as many as 1 million people filled Tiananmen Square, and protests spread to hundreds of cities and included hunger strikes, sit-ins, and demands from unionized students for speech and press freedoms.

China's government let all of this go for awhile, the power elite squabbling and posturing about what to do, and even showed small signs of support, or at least conciliation.

Then it declared martial law at the end of May, finding it helpful to brand the protestors as terrorists and counter-revolutionaries. Soldiers over the course of three days fought the demonstrators, with orders to clear the square by nightfall June 4 using any means necessary, which meant guns and tanks.

Today, June 5, is the 25th anniversary of the most iconic image of these events — the still-unknown man who alone stood in front of a long column of People's Liberation Army tanks rolling on the square. Video shows him and the lead tank even doing a bit of a dance as the tank tries to go around the man.

Its memory dims — its memory never existed for many Chinese. What many of us also forget is that after the man climbed on a tank to talk to its operators, someone eventually came to push him out of the tanks' path, and the machines rolled on to the remaining protestors.

China at least does the exhausting work of enforced passivity for its people — or maybe enforced amnesia. How can one remember or act on an event, after all, that never existed?

News gatherers this week shared in the novelty of interviewing Chinese people, many of them college students who had never heard of these events in 1989. Many of them said they were more focused on finding jobs. Those who did know used clever ways to find information about it, referring to the anniversary as May 35 rather than June 4 to skirt China's attempts to purge the event from collective memory.

We here, by contrast, know so much — maybe not all we have the right to know, maybe not the truth about so many things, not by a long shot — but we know what millions of Chinese don't about their own country.

We know money runs our own government, that corporate money trumps you and you and you and you. And you. We have some idea of how our political system works, also how it's supposed to work. We have it in our power to change it.

Yet we fall short, enforcing passivity on ourselves. In California the voter turnout for this week's primary was a brownout, a record low, less than 20 percent of those registered to vote. Supposedly we're content; supposedly we don't think we have much say in the outcome.

Tomorrow marks another turning point, the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion on the beaches of Normandy, D-Day.

What were they fighting for again? Memory dims.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


You've had those days: The atoms ripple out of weft, just so. Everything looks the same but isn't, a dim facsimile revealed only after the world has resumed operation.

It's not like Santa Ana wind days, or Halloween. When I walked out my front door as a kid in the morning and the wind already blew hot toward the ocean, rather than cool and foggy off the water, the world changed, became taut and bristly, tilted farther, and you could count on strange outcomes, like an arsonist starting a nearby brush fire, by day's end.

Halloween was always fraught with oddity, especially as night fell red and cool.

But I expected those days to be different, and anything that happened, real or imagined, became product of their portent.

The days I'm talking about come without warning, and manifest many different ways. I detect them by looking backward, tracing their strangeness to the first events.

These last days have come with a lot of staring.

They started at church, when a man caught the spirit and began dancing during a song. Which is fine in many churches, except ours is not a dancing church, and this man dancing alone suddenly made the song very long. It's a song of high praise, so dancing theoretically is not out of the question, but since I was a kid it's the-song-the-congregation-watches-the-choir-sing-at-this-certain-point-at-Mass-before-a-lot-of-talking-commences. No dancing.

Then I sang the psalm. I'm a cantor — meaning I have a skosh too much vanity and not enough common sense — so I sing up at the side of the altar at the ambo, fancy word for lectern.

The choir director wrote the music for this psalm, simple and nice. I walked to the ambo like always, opened the book where the psalm was inserted, looked out briefly at the congregation like always, then down to the choir director at the piano at the corner of the congregation, like always, and waited for her to begin playing the phrase.

But nothing happened. The choir director stared at me. Just stared. I looked out at the congregation, waiting. Still nothing happened. Then at the director. She was still staring at me. I wanted so badly to shrug or smile or throw up my hands or gesture in some way, but I didn't dare. I just stood there, and the moments passed.

Was I supposed to begin this a cappella? Did I miss something, some instruction? Did the choir director miss giving some instruction?

The moments continued to pass. Finally, the director played the opening bars and the world resumed. We didn't talk about it after. Maybe it was a moment only I recognized.

Then Monday I returned a box full of art materials I was using for a class I taught. The organization I work for has its office at an elementary school, and the staff is used to me showing up every month or so to fetch items. They say hello, and in credit to their keen memory, sometimes greet me by name.

Not Monday.

Monday I made two trips into the office to drop off the bulky items. The staff stared as I walked in, then looked away.

The school year is running to an end and the office was stacked with piles of this and that, more crowded than usual.

"Where's the best place to put these so they're not in your way?" I asked.

"There's good," said a greeter who knows my name but didn't use it Monday, didn't say hello, didn't look up, started a conversation with a disembodied voice on the other side of a wall instead.

Atoms having shifted.

Slow drivers clogged the fast lanes, traffic lights stuck way too long on red. The barista could have found a nicer way to tell me the line was over there. The coffeehouse stared, atoms having changed places.

I post on facebook®© after every swim on a page for swimmers. But these days I struggle for something new to say about my swim, for enthusiasm to click through the other posts, even such enthusiastic posts, sharing their joy that I recognize but don't feel at the moment. Now some of those posters have created new offshoot swimming pages and made me a member, but I barely have time now to look at the posts I already receive.

The air is thinner, the colors washed out. Sigh.

Maybe we're all, all of us, just a bit tired. Maybe it's me.

Maybe it's just one of those days.