Tag Archives: Portland


            I’m on the air, standing alone in front of a small TV audience. I’m with my Bluebird or Brownie troop (depending what I was at the time, possibly even a Cub Scout), visiting the Heck Harper television program in Portland. This was the time when TV was new, black and white, and kids traveled with youth groups to the stations so their parents could see them on television, which for most kids would be their only 9 minutes of fame as they stood paralyzed by the lights and cameras, squirming or shoving fingers up their noses.

            Heck Harper, the local television cowboy (every station had one) with his white Stetson, thrusts a microphone into my face and asks, “And what do you want to be when you grow up? A nurse? A teacher?”  He’s thinking I’ll say “A mommy” or “a housewife.” But I know the answer to this one.

           “I want to be a Project Manager.”

            Heck looks at me blankly and moves on swiftly to the next kid. It’s a reaction I’ll become familiar with.

            From the time I was small, I had one ambition in life: Project Manager. This was confusing to my mother who, because she worked on Portland’s “Film Row” at the branch offices of MGM and later Universal, encouraged her daughters to seek careers in the film industry. I believe Mom envisioned for my beautiful red-haired older sister the life of a movie star, and me, possibly a Grip, Best Boy or Boom Operator.

            But I’d had a vision of “Project Manager,” and I was determined this was The Way.

            When little friends of mine played dress up, with Joan costumed as a princess, Margaret a cowgirl, and Ricky a Ballerina, I carried a clipboard, pen and a sheet of costly wide-lined bond paper on which I drew a work breakdown structure. I couldn’t tell you where this idea came from because, like the “Project Manager” vision, incredibly not one person in my immediate or extended family had shown the persistence, diligence and fortitude to work in the nonexistent field of Project Management.

            My high school counselor, Miss Settee, tried to discourage me about careers. “It’s almost impossible for a woman to be a journalist, a lawyer, or a corporate manager,” she said, looking out her office window at a fresh-faced blonde-haired youth pouring soap powder into the school fountain.

            Enthusiastically, I shook my head in agreement.  

            She finally looked at me. “So what do you want to put down on your college applications as your career choice?”

            “Project Manager,” I said.

            She wrote down “Home Economics Teacher.”

            I was admitted to UCLA, but they didn’t have a “Project Manager” major. I decided I could live temporarily with a popular major—Political Science.  Years later, people who’d majored in any social science quietly changed their majors on paper to impressive ones like Pre-Med, Pre-Law, Pre-Social Welfare, and Pre-Eclampsia.

            By the time I finished UCLA, I wanted to apply to graduate school. Once again none of the schools across the country offered a “Project Manager” major.  Meanwhile, since I had to pick something, I studied to become a social studies high school teacher and later a lawyer, both excellent careers to sharpen up one’s skills in public speaking and reading the “Want Ads.”

            The closest I came to my dream job was when computer dating became a reality and I filled out an application claiming to be a “Project Manager.”  At last I could come out with my career of choice. I sincerely believed the computer dating service when they insisted they would match me to men who would respect my Project Manager career goal. And in fact several potential dates on their applications claimed they were “open to new experiences” and “willing to meet a woman whose career goal was Project Manager” especially since, as one wrote, “I have nothing against bisexuals.”    

            Over the decades I searched repeatedly for a job opening as a Project Manager. When I got married and raised a family—though not with a computer date—I put aside the career dream.  Eventually I concluded that my two sons were probably not going to prison and I could resume looking for my elusive Project Manager job. A computer I acquired promised to make my job search easier and it did.

             However, to my astonishment there were now at least 42,000 Project Manager jobs on CareerBuilder, 1,000 Project Manager jobs on Monster.com, and 36,000 Project Manager jobs on Indeed! One site estimated there would be a need for 500,000 Project Manager Jobs in the near future! Project Manager jobs—MY original job of choice—-were everywhere!!

            Now there were too many people calling themselves Project Managers. I couldn’t get through the door for an interview.  Some Project Managers had to have such absurd backgrounds as contractors, architects, computer nerds, engineers, and MBAs. All to clog up the simple field of Project Management so they could remind everyone they’d aced Algebra 2, Calculus and Trig in high school. Other Project Manager jobs that required specific Project Manager experience were listed as available at nonprofits like poetry societies, nursery schools and cat-sitting services.

            I had no chance.

            Desperately, I went to the local state employment office where a career counselor administered several career assessment tests.

            The results were clear. The best two choices for me for a career?

            Project Manager.  Baptist Minister.

            The rueful career counselor said, “Look, you need to be realistic. Pick a traditional job—like sales—where your only competition is every recent college graduate and everyone in their 20s and 30s. But at least that narrows the field. Or pick a field that was formerly oversaturated and now occupied by only a few people. A field where you don’t need to go back to school, your college major doesn’t matter, you hardly need work experience, and your decades of unemployment won’t count. Best of all, a field where your business card alone will impress hell out of everyone.”

            Suddenly, it was clear. A bright future lay ahead. We both knew if I couldn’t be a Project Manager, there was that one job just tailor-made for me.

           “You’re right,” I said. “I’m going to be a Consultant.”


            The startling release of Boy Scout sexual abuse files by an attorney from my home town, of Portland, Oregon prompted me to review my own history as a youngster with youth organizations.  I recall certain experiences that caused profound psychological effects, possibly leading to what in the 80’s was popularly called “An Identity Crisis.”

            It’s difficult to imagine a kid wrestling with an identity crisis at such a young age, but I exhibited this possibility when, as a very young child, I planned to succeed cowgirl Dale Evans as Roy Rogers’ partner or be the next Lois Lane at the Daily Planet.  (In fact, for most of my life, I’ve lived a Walter Mitty existence. I’ve also imagined myself as Walter Mitty.)

            But the more significant psychological torment began when my parents told me I was to attend kindergarten at Portland’s new Meriwether Lewis Elementary School. Although this sounded promising, the Portland School Board at the time apparently lacked confidence in Lewis or perhaps its new students, since classes only went up through the 4th grade.

            The following year after kindergarten, which I aced, the school boundary changed. I was placed in first grade at Duniway Elementary School, ten blocks in the other direction from my house.  I attended first and second grade at Duniway, an assuring stability, since I was assigned to the same kindly teacher for both grades, a Mrs. Vera Smith. She only punished me once by writing my name on the Utter Humiliation Board when she learned I’d been asking kids returning from receiving polio shots if the injections hurt. This offense was discovered after another student—Judy Cary— ratted me out. (I am hoping this disclosure and your sending this column to at least 100 people, will finally “out” Judy Cary as an informant.)

            When I was eligible for third grade, the school boundary changed again and I was enrolled once more in Lewis School. I attended for two years since Lewis tentatively began adding one new grade level a year.

            For fifth grade (you know what’s coming), the school boundary changed and I was back at Duniway School. I was there for four consecutive years, possibly because of the rumored assassination of the School Boundaries Clerk.

            This see-sawing of school attendance at different locations might have caused identity crises for many children, but I always knew I was either a Lewis student or a Duniway student, depending on who was asking. I also recognized the advantage of knowing more people I’d later see or avoid at the magnet high school. (For the record, I attended one year at that high school and then, maintaining my consistent pattern, attended another high school across the Willamette River in downtown Portland.)

            No, the identity crisis arrived because every time I changed schools (not counting high school), I needed to join a different youth organization.  In second grade at Duniway, my parents signed me up for Bluebirds, the youngest age group for what was then the Camp Fire Girls. Bluebirds wore cute uniforms—navy vests and skirts, baseball hats, blouses with Peter Pan collars.  As supervised by a stay-at-home mother, which 95% of mothers were at the time, our group mostly did small crafts like little leather coin purses “stitched” with shoelaces.

            Years later I began to notice most of the small crafts I’d made mysteriously disappeared, although my parents assured me my artwork was packed away for safekeeping. These were the same parents who assured me my duckling Peeper had been sent to a farm family for safekeeping. (For further information on Peeper’s fate, see the online San Francisco Chronicle, “Pet Birds, They’re Not What’s For Dinner.”   http://www.sfgate.com/homeandgarden/article/Pet-birds-they-re-not-what-s-for-dinner-2514578.php.)

            Back at Lewis School in third grade, I was compelled to enroll in the Brownies, then the youngest group of Girl Scouts. The Brownie Scout Handbook—–all youth organizations had handbooks—–showed little girls cavorting outdoors and inside, wearing light brown uniforms with beanies. Mostly we did small crafts under the guidance of a stay-at-home mother. (Please re-read last paragraph.)

            The following year at Lewis, I was formally invested (as the term was used) and became a Girl Scout, with a new green uniform and sash. I met the requirements of the Tenderfoot Rank and later the Second Class Rank, which sounded demeaning but allowed me to begin earning proficiency badges. I learned one particular life-long skill—-emptying a tuna fish can, filling it with paraffin, lighting a string attached to the paraffin, putting the tuna can inside an empty upside down 46-oz Hawaiian Punch juice can and cooking a small pancake on top. This is one of the skills I’d always list on college applications and computer dating forms.

            When I was back at Duniway, the predominant youth group was Camp Fire Girls. I didn’t dare reveal I’d been in the competing organization. For Girl Scouts I’d had to memorize the Girl Scout Promise, the Girl Scout Laws, the Girl Scout Motto, history of Girl Scouting, and the salute and handshake.  Now I had to mentally dismiss all that and immediately memorize the Camp Fire Girl lore and requirements, including  a progression of earned certificates—–Trail Seekers, Wood Gatherers, Fire Makers, and Torch Bearer.

            The language of the certificates reflected the organization’s interest in camping, but the stanzas contained formal, stilted verse. The Wood Gatherers’ pledge began “As faggots are brought to the fire firmly held by the sinews which bind them…” My sophisticated Las Vegas cousin had once used the word “faggots,” which he’d defined but perplexed me, so that I had a bizarre visual image whenever I said the Wood Gatherers’ pledge.  

            One of the goals of the Camp Fire Girls was to earn colored beads, each representing a different skill, such as a red bead for health, blue bead for nature, yellow for business, etc. The Camp Fire Girl Handbook was filled with pages and pages of activities you could do and the beads you’d earn. I’d confidently go through the handbook and, to the irritation of the other untalented girls, I’d check off most of activities in each section, confident I’d done them.

             The Camp Fire Group leader/mother was aghast at the number of my check marks, questioning my credibility. But I wasn’t deterred because I had visions of all the colorful beads strung and draping down my Indian ceremonial gown which my working mother would have to sew for me.

             The Camp Fire Girls helped establish early, in fact, my mother’s duty to perform sewing machine assignments not only for Camp Fire Girls, but also for my 7th grade Home Economics (Home Ec) class when there were only three sewing machines per class that were bitterly contested by my classmates. Oddly, my mother never thanked me for giving her the opportunity to buy a treadle (foot-pumped) sewing machine so she could, for my Home Ec assignments, learn to sew a zipper in a skirt, stitch a blouse, and ultimately get to complete the skirt, all skills she should have acquired years before.

            The only time I recall having a male youth group leader was when the father of a classmate, the former Duniway principal Dr. Patton, took us up one weekend to the regional Camp Fire Girls resident camp, Camp Namanu.  My sister had stayed there one summer and reported she’d had a good time.  The rustic forested camp contained a meadow and ponds, and bordered the treacherous Sandy River. With the usual Portland overcast gloom, our Camp Fire Girls’ group planned several indoor activities for where we’d stay, a two story wooden lodge known as Kiwanis that had been built in the mid-1930’s. Our bunk beds were located on the second floor with its fenced balcony that overlooked the main floor. 

            Looking back at that weekend at the sleepaway camp when a man conducted our program, I can safely say I was never the same because of what he did. On Saturday night, the night before we left, Dr. Patton told us to go to bed and after we complied, giggling and goofing off even as we lay on our beds, he began to talk. He spoke slowly from below us, downstairs, describing in an unusually somber voice about the legend of an animal, a beast that used to roam the forest near Camp Namanu. 

            I couldn’t see anything out beyond our balcony except for the few lights that were still on in the lodge’s kitchen.  

            There were a few nervous titters from the girls. Then “Shhhhhhhh!!” “Be quiet, you guys!” and “Shut up!” “Shhhh it!” More giggles.

            A Varmint, Dr. Patton continued, was the creature who roamed the woods, drawn to campfires and voices. The smell of food, but especially human flesh. The Varmint, once seen, was described as “sort of like a wolf on all fours, but also like a werewolf, and he could scurry around quickly, sometimes noiselessly unless he was trapped, and then he’d smash and crash till he could leap and tear his way back into the woods.”

            I sensed an uneasy silence that descended on the girls, but secretly I scoffed. I knew and could tell a lot of ghost stories. Like the Walking Bloody Hand. I’d whisper to friends how the Walking Bloody Hand could find its way to a house, the house where YOU LIVE. And then it comes up the stairs, slowly, slowly, slowly toward your room. Now it’s getting closer. And closer… And closer.

            “And the Varmint has been seen not long ago,” Dr. Patton said, “possibly drinking at the river and scurrying through the brush. A cook here thought she saw it when she looked out the window one late afternoon.”

            I tried to pull the sleeping bag over my head, but it won’t go any further. I burrowed down, remembering the Walking Bloody Hand. And now it’s outside your door. And now the knob turns slowly, slowly. And now it’s inside your room….and walking to your bed…..blood is dripping…..

            I don’t remember my sister telling me about the Varmint. Why did she leave this part out? Dr. Patton’s just making this up, I know. I’ve never heard of a Varmint animal.

            “What was that noise?” Dr. Patton sounded startled. Uneasily I looked up from my bed and tried to see downstairs, but there was only the yellow glow of the kitchen light. Nearby, girls lay frozen or crammed deep in their sleeping bags. One had a pillow over her head.

            CRASH! BANG! BOOM! CRASH! CRASH!  Something was smashing its way below us, through what–? Pots and pans?– scrambling to get out of the building.

            Screams nearby.  My heart pounded. My stomach jumped into my colon.

            But Dr. Patton was still alive. I heard him laugh with gusto.

            Then I heard him reassemble and put away in cupboards the collection of pots and pans we hadn’t seen. He wished us a good night.

            When he turned out the kitchen light, I was deep in my sleeping bag, listening. That’s how I spent the night, listening.

            Decades later, re-reading about the Boy Scouts cover-ups of abuses, I’d have to say that the one male leader of my youth organization never laid a hand on me. But he still had a deleterious effect on my psyche.

            Proof? For one thing, from that night on, I always refused to wash any pots and pans.


Hollywood Don’t Have a Cow, Man

After all the atrocious films currently occupying our neighborhood cinemas, you’d think I’d be euphoric that Steven Spielberg has directed Warhorse, a World War I picture about (spoiler alert) a talking horse who goes AWOL and ends up teaching animal husbandry classes at UC Davis. I may have my horse films mixed up, considering all the horse films—National Velvet, Seabiscuit, Secretariat, Smoky, The Black Stallion, The Horse Whisperer—more than 50 in all, according to Encyclopedia Britannica or possibly 415,000, according to Wikipedia.

Whatever the number, I am not pleased that once again Hollywood has ignored an animal that has given so much to mankind. I’m not talking about other animals who’ve starred in innumerable movies—snakes, lizards, tarantulas, ants, apes, fish, bears, dogs, deer, lions, mice, cockatoos. Even mules have starred in films (Francis the Talking Mule, Francis Joins the Navy, Francis Runs for Congress).

The animal most neglected by studios is the cow.

The only movie I recall that featured a cow or steer in a leading role was the 1991 film, City Slickers, about forbidden love on cattle drives, in this case between Billy Crystal ( the dude) and Jack Palance ( a heifer). A motherless calf named Norman stole the show, bonding to Crystal’s character, moving into Crystal’s home and ultimately, in the film’s heart-warming end, made into prime rib.

What is it about cows that discourage Hollywood from seeking more scripts with a cow in the lead? Consider that California, the movie capitol, is also is America’s number one milk producing state.  The state of Wisconsin has pitifully proclaimed itself “The Dairy State” in its futile attempt to snatch the title. They even selected a Cow of the Year, a red and white Holstein, chosen for its milk production (52,000 pounds in one year), outstanding showing performance, and best resemblance to Governor Scott Walker.

In one way or another most of us have had a cow in our lives. My earliest cow experience was a field trip our kindergarten class took to Alpenrose Dairy in my Portland, Oregon hometown. In a fragrant barn I watched cows being milked by hand, which seemed morally wrong. The later invention of the milking machine was even more depraved. At a minimum each cow should’ve been provided with a hospital gown.

A few years later I heard the hushed-up story of a UFO that landed in a field at a farm, causing suspended motion in the cows, who neither moved, mooed or expelled methane. The farmer and his wife, watching from the safety of their kitchen window, looked on in horror. When they reported their observations to the U.S. Air Force, they were advised soberly that either a weather balloon had landed in the field, causing mass bovine hysteria, or cows were panicked by a layer of swamp gas festooned with colorful lights that was able to make 90 degree turns and accelerate to 57,000 mph.

As I got older, cows always got a bad rap. In school we learned about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow who kicked over a kerosene lamp that started the Chicago fire, a myth that unfortunately wasn’t discovered until thousands of cattle were falsely imprisoned for playing with matches and committing arson.  In college art classes I discovered the artist Chagall always painted colorful cows flying around or carrying a parasol to protect them from cows flying above them. The flying cow symbolism, long debated by art historians and doctoral students, was finally explained in 1965 by Chagall in a rare interview as both his embrace of life and the fulfillment of a contract he had with Borden’s Dairy.

In recent years cows have suffered another indignity—replaced by artificial hand painted cows made of fiberglass that appear in parades, parks, lawns, business centers, state fairs— even Walt Disney World. In Pleasanton, California, a 690-pound Scottish-designed fiberglass milking cow rode in the town’s holiday parade after being detained by Customs agents in New York, subjected to poking, prodding, an invasive scan of x-rays, and force-fed a Nathan’s hot dog with onions and mustard. This would never occur with real cows—their anatomy makes body surveillance difficult and their passivity makes them less effective as terrorists.

Admittedly, the fiberglass cows do have value:  “The Incredible Milking Cow,” an interactive educational cow, can be ordered from Marquis Enterprises of New Hampshire for $7150 to teach children the art of milking. The “Moo” is optional—$750. So are extra teats, if you are so inclined. It is much less disconcerting to watch a pump deliver constant fluid from fiberglass udders to the “authentic stainless steel milking pan” than to watch live cows cringe with embarrassment being milked in front of 60 gawking children.

Another plus for fiberglass cows: they’ve been used by the Royal Veterinary College in Britain to teach students how to perform gynecological exams on real cows. Students get a lifelike feel of a real bovine reproductive tract because of a virtual reality simulator implanted in the fiberglass cow’s hindquarters. The instructor follows a student’s hand movements inside the cow using a computer monitor. (The cow may not use the computer monitor more than 30 minutes.)  In a test, students were given five minutes to locate the cow’s uterus. Fiberglass cow trained students found the uterus 56% of the time. The other 44% successfully located the cow’s anus.

Another UK advance—an artificial cow that kills deadly flies in African because it replicates the smell of a cow and attracts tsetse flies that cause sleeping sickness. However, a real cow’s manure smell has also been shown to have substantial benefits. The publication New Scientist reported that working with manure can drastically reduce chances of developing lung cancer, and that dairy farmers are five times less likely than the general public to develop the disease. Their greater exposure to germs offered better resistance. In a follow-up study, New Scientist reported that cows exposed to dairy farmers were five times more likely to develop lung cancer.

In New Zealand the dairy cow population outnumbers humans. It’s frightening to think what would happen if cows universally realized their potential power, worse if fiberglass cows are simultaneously mass-produced. Clearly Hollywood must realize the political implications of a planet overrun with hostile bovines who were never featured positively in a film.

It is high time for one of the currently lackluster major studios to produce a moving, powerful, certain to be critically-acclaimed film starring Daniel Day-Lewis and a cow.

“My Momma Told Me…..You Better Shop Around”

            I was driving by St. Mary’s Catholic Church here in Walnut Creek last week, and glanced over at a crowd spilling from the main door or standing around in groups. Rather than the usual bridal party and guests in colorful clothes, everyone appeared to be wearing black. I recognized at once what the sad and somber occasion was. They had shopped the recent Anniversary Sale at my (former) favorite department store, which I’ll call Snortstrum.

            For the past five years, Snortrum’s apparel displayed in catalogues and on captive manikins has been mostly dark, dowdy, and bizarre in keeping with their slogan “Reinvent Yourself.” People who’ve shopped at Snortstrum have been forcibly reinvented by sales clerks—– locked into dressing rooms and ceaselessly handed clothing so aesthetically nauseating that the tortured customers willingly yield their credit cards just to escape from the store. I have seen dazed, reinvented women walking around wearing white, oversized, off-the-shoulder cotton blouses that resemble king-size torn pillowcases, their swollen feet stuffed into four inch studded platform high heels, while carrying massive purses the size of small dog travel kennels, and poured into tight pencil skirts that force the women to walk as if they were waiting for a suppository to melt.

            I sent an e-mail to a vice president of merchandising at Snortstrum and grumbled about their disappointing fashion choices. When I received a reply, I was afraid to open the e-mail: The subject line was marked “F.U.”

            “Do I really open that e-mail?” I asked my husband Alan.

            “Maybe it means ‘follow up,’” he said.

            He was right. The vice president of merchandising claimed the store was “not trying to buy just for women under 30 and the extremely wealthy,” but suggested I might look elsewhere for more price-conscious fashion, such as Ace Hardware.

            I am grateful my mom isn’t alive to see how Snortstrum has evolved. When I was young, Mom dragged me and my sister to buy shoes at the store, which for its first 62 years of existence only carried shoes, and in Portland was the clear favorite for footwear. Mom complained I was hard on shoes, so she bought me sturdy saddle shoes— white tie shoes with brown around the middle that required lacing up through eight or more eye holes. Each of these shoes weighed about ten pounds.  

            The only reason I stopped whining when Mom insisted we shop for shoes was because Snortstrum added an attraction to its shoe department that tantalized every kid. The first time I saw the vertical wooden cabinet that resembled a podium, I wondered why a boy about my age and his parents were looking down through tubes that rose out of the top of the cabinet. After I tried on several pair of saddle shoes, the salesman, sensing a sale, led us to the wooden cabinet and told me to climb up and put my feet inside an opening at the bottom of the cabinet.

            “You can see how the shoes fit through this x-ray device,” the salesman said to Mom, “because you’ll actually see the bones of her feet and the outline of the shoes.”

            I wiggled my toes and watched them move under the fluoroscopic light that seemed to shine right through to the bones. While Mom paid for the shoes, I competed with other kids for the chance to watch my feet in the shoe-fitting machine. From then on I eagerly went to shop for shoes, even if they weren’t for me, just so I could repeatedly see my feet in the x-ray beam.

            Despite the advantages to Snortstrum’s shoe sales, the shoe-fitting x-ray device was finally yanked from all their stores, as I discovered to my disappointment. Most states outlawed the units—an estimated 10,000 nationwide—- by the late ‘50s because of the radiation hazard associated with the machines.

            I ended up, because of the styles of shoes perennially carried by Snortstrum, with a propensity for corns and permanently crooked toes. My little toes on each end curve to face the other toes, which are disgusted to share the same foot.

            These days when I see the perennial pointed toe and high heel shoes featured at Snortstrum, along with the expensive, homely clothes and purses, I flash back fondly to the years when Snortstrum was the best –and more affordable—place to buy. I’m also convinced I’ve never had as much fun shopping as I did when I was being irradiated by Snortstrum’s shoe-fitting x-ray machine.