Gray Flannel Suits

So I’m doing research for a new play, and I thought I’d throw out a request for connections: that is, I’m looking to chat with someone who worked for Associated Press, UPI, or Reuters in the 1950s or early 60s, prefereably in San Francisco, or even someone who just lived in San Francisco during that time (particularly in North Beach). Just want to ask some general questions, and phone or e-mail works for me. So if you know a retiree, man or woman, who might be willing to share a few stories, please let me know, either here or via e-mail at:




One more note about the Oregon Book Awards, and then I’ll shut up and try to move on.

The night of the awards, my wife Deborah and I were sitting in the second row, a little to the right of the presenter, and next to Deborah sat a very charming older lady who was graciously excited about the evening, and who seemed to be pleased to know I’d been nominated. In front of me sat two of the other finalists–both good friends who I was very happy for–along with some other writer friends I hadn’t seen in some time–Jan Baross and Sharon Whitney. It all felt cozy and festive…and I was nervous as hell and completely convinced there was no way I was ever going to win.

So then Keith came out with a guitar, started doing my lines, and I became totally calm. I looked over at Deb and saw the comprehension wash over her. And what I thought was going to be terribly difficult–going up and speaking–wasn’t bad at all. (They had good monitors, and I felt my old radio voice coming back to me, which was kind of amusing since the play’s main character was a DJ and some of the background drew on my radio days. And I don’t know if it was the hall or they’d thrown a little reverb on the mike, but I got just enough slapback from where I was standing that I could hear a vague echo of what I was saying. Felt like I should have started singing “Mystery Train.”)

Afterwards, the older lady reached across Deb, took my hand, squeezed it, and gave me a megawatt smile. It was one of the nicest moments of a beautiful evening.

Later at the reception, I learned she was Dorothy Stafford, wife of the late poet William Stafford, whose work I dearly love and who took time to chat with me a reading in Northwest Portland years ago, when I’d first moved back to the Pacific Northwest after living in New York and New Orleans. It moves me now just to think of it. Mr. Stafford was Oregon class: real, sensitive, giving, and a writer who could crush and salve you with just a few lines. I remember coming away from that evening, some 18 years ago, and thinking: you know, it is kind of nice to be back–maybe this will work out.

Thanks for reminding me, Dorothy, of an Oregon we should never take for granted.



It’s Friday, it’s been a long, goddamned week; so why not check in with…David Lynch? He has a camera that comes down from the ceiling from which he gives weather reports on the Internet, he’s building a sphere around an old clock, he says watching “2001” on a laptop is stupid, and he digs Norman Rockwell.

What’s not to like?

His Davidness

Liberation? Really?

So…do you ever feel like it’s Paris, 1944, and you’re listening to the Allied advance on the secret wireless radio behind the wall in the wine cellar of the Ritz Hotel? And all you (and the economy) have to do is stay alive…until January 20th?

And they thought there’d be dancing in the streets of Baghdad. Just wait.

A Wavelength

All writers have special moments in their plays or books. Often they’re the same as that of the audience–the big turnaround, the climax, the descriptive passage that nails a moment. But sometimes, they’re just something that resonates with us and which comes to us with no warning, simply out of the dark.

Lost Wavelengths, as you’ve probably heard me say, won the Oregon Book Award a week or so ago, an event which still kind of feels unreal. The OBA people asked me to send a sample that a presenter could read, in case I was lucky enough to be chosen, an I sent them kind of a funny passage of two characters starting to get to know each other. Then it turned out that only one person was reading–the marvelous Keith Scales–and he and the OBA people found probably the only monologue in the entire play.

It was grand, and people seemed to enjoy it (Keith did an outstanding performance), but it wasn’t my favorite moment in the piece. My favorite moment comes after two of the characters–Murray, a public radio DJ who travels around the country taping “outsider” musicians (musicians without any formal training or even musical knowledge but who are drawn to create…the musical equivalent of Grandma Moses or the Rev. Howard Finster), and Claudia, a radio reporter who’s doing a story on Murray–have spent an evening getting to know each other better than most subject/reporter relationships. They’re having a couple drinks, hanging out in a motel in Kansas, and the following, odd little exchange happens. I don’t know why I like it, but it was one of those moments when I was both inside the character, and the character went and surprised me. And, somehow, it seems to take on a ever slightly bigger meaning to me after the election.

Well, if they think of me at all back at the station, they’re not thinking this.

Not cutting an erotic swath through the Midwest?

Dorothy smoking a cigarette? (With post-coital languor) “Oh, Toto, Toto. It really is Kansas.”

It is.

Kansas is underrated.

It’s pretty much like everywhere else now. McJob, McHouse, McFamily. I ought to know: I’m from Nebraska. You either get absorbed or go crazy.

There! That’s why!

People flee, screaming, to New York?

No, no. That sameness. That Wal-mart, strip mall world. A bottomless cornucopia of market-researched tapioca. And still there’s people driven to make something new. Because they’re gifted or clueless or…possessed by Satan. Still there’s this voice under the surface, smothered but struggling. Gives me hope.

Of what?

They can’t own everything.


So, being dutifully brought up on Sean Connery’s Bond (along with trout fishing and science fiction, something I shared early with my journalist father), it’s been gratifying to see Daniel Craig bring the cool back to the James Bond films, which it lost when Mr. Connery hung up his dinner jacket and toupee. Craig’s Bond is more Steve McQueen than Connery, but, what the hell, if you like Connery, you’re bound to like McQueen because, well, he was if anything, cooler than Bond. (Some could make the case that Steve McQueen was as cool as one can possibly get, without being John Coltrane, but arguing about such things is rather, uh, less than cool.)

To cut to the chase scene: Quantum of Solace has many of them, and they’re extraordinarily good, and Craig is great, his Bond is the smartest guy in the room, and the quips are spare and droll, a welcome antidote to the jokey Bond films of the 70s. The story’s not quite as rich as Casino Royale, but the film’s still among the best in the series. Which is saying something out of 22 films, six of which were made by actor who owned the role like a king.

In short, it’s a great ride, you completely forget whatever’s bothering you for a few hours, and, afterwards, there’s a little snap in your stride, and your eyes feel ever-so-slightly hooded as you fire up the car.

But don’t peel out. You don’t need to. Consequently, it would be uncool. Wouldn’t it?