A woman clad in body-hugging, long-sleeve Nike shirt, Adidas leggings and New Balance shoes,  is running toward me. She is pushing one of those baby jogger strollers. You know how a rhythmic, rocking motion can calm and soothe many a fussy infant? Hers is not that kind of baby.
A lone seagull crouches in the grass, extends its necks and emits staccato, croaking calls, as if doing a series of vocal exercises to warm up for the squawking to come. A man who looks to be in his mid 30′s places a duffle bag beneath the canopy of a large cedar tree and begins some kind of martial arts exercises. I hear a wheezing noise coming from behind me; I’m on “alert status,” as one must be when walking in unfamiliar territory, and stop at a fork in the path and turn around. An elderly gentleman is about 20 feet behind me on the path. He’s rail thin, looks as if a strong breeze could knock him over,. He has a thick mass of shock white hair atop his deeply furrowed head, and he’s wearing a bright neon safety vest. He pumps his arms as he strides past me, flashing a beatific smile and greeting me with a cheery, “Good moooooooorning!” I take the fork to the right, and soon I hear the familiar, shuffle shuffle crunch snuffle snuffle that heralds the approach of a biped and its dog, respectively walking and inspecting the twig-strewn gravel path. Ahead of me to the south, a sleek black lab, let off its leash by its human, intensely and hopefully  streaks toward two seagulls resting on the grass by the duck pond. The birds watch the rapidly approaching canine, waiting until the last moment before nonchalantly spreading their wigs and rising helicopter-like over the dog, which rockets beneath them. The dog slows down for a nanosecond, glances back at its human, resumes its speed and slightly changes direction – reminding me of how a cat, when it somehow fails, begins to casually groom itself as if to say, Oh yeah, I meant to do that.
The simple sights and sounds of a city awakening to the assurance of a beautiful day.
MH, Belle and I are staying in an olde apartment building (ca 1912) across the street from the perfect venue for a morning – or afternoon or evening – walk. Wright Park is a 27 acre arboretum with a series of gravel loop trails, a duck pond, a lawn bowling/bocce ball court, a botanical conservancy, several themed works of bronze statuary and one seemingly random memorial. As my après-walk internet search later confirms, I’m not the only person to have wondered why, in the middle of a Tacoma park, is there a monument to Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen? 
We are in Tacoma for three reasons.
1. to return K to college (UPS).
2. Belle is interested in UPS, and is doing campus tours and other activities UPS offers to prospective students. On our way back to Oregon we will stop at Evergreen College in Olympia, for similar check-out-the-school exploring.
3. there is no third reason.
K came home for his spring break last week. At the end of the week we made a two day trip to Manzanita and then drove the scenic route  to take K back to UPS. It seems as though all of Tacoma was out when we arrived on Saturday afternoon. There is something about Tacoma on a sunny day that reminds me of San Francisco. Perhaps it’s the city’s many hills, and the view you have atop them, to the north, east and west, of the bay (Puget Sound’s Commencement Bay, in Tacoma’s case). In cities like Tacoma and San Francisco, which are known for their often overcast/inclement weather, a clear, bright sunny day seems to bring out the best in residents and visitors alike.
Just in case you were wondering, after reading that last comparison, I neither smoke nor inhale. Apologies to San Fransiscoites: the afore-mentioned weather rumination is the only Tacoma characteristic that reminds me of The City. Your beloved Baghdad by The Bay’s charm remains intact, and unique.
Saturday night, after dropping off K at his dorm, Belle, MH & I had dinner at Pomodoro, in Tacoma’s Procter district. Not long after we were seated Belle removed her sketch pad and pencils from her purse. She and MH were seated across from me, and Belle looked in my direction as she began to sketch. I turned around to see if perhaps a cute waiter or bus boy was lurking behind me. Nope. This put me into a rather mild existential panic. I tried my best not to sound like a bad Robert DeNiro imitation as I asked, “Are you sketching me?”
“Yes,” Belle replied. “Hold still.”
I didn’t hold still. None of us held still. We were doing restaurant-things: eating, drinking, lifting napkins to our mouths, answering questions from our server, as well as allegedly conversing with one another. Belle said nothing more, but from her heavy sighs and eyebrow gymnastics it was apparent that she was disappointed with my lack of stillness, and other attributes that render me unfit for sketching.
I do not translate well to photos. I am not a still life, and loathe having my picture taken in any form and for any cause. The reasons for this are not particularly complicated or interesting; they are known to those supposedly closest to me, and in a kind and just world (calling Mr. Rogers) would be respected, even if not “understood.” This is rarely the case.
From the POV of a fotografizophobic,  when people gaze at you intently and allegedly dispassionately, judging the contours (read: inadequacies) of your bone structure and other facial features, hearing them say, “Hold still so I can sketch you/take your picture” is the emotional equivalent of hearing, Hold still so that I may throw acid in your face.
Unsolicited, adult-to-adult advice: when any sentient being declines to have their picture taken by you, respect their wishes and move on. Do not whine and wheedle, do not attempt any form of emotional blackmail (“The family reunion shot will be ruined if you’re not in it, and who knows if Uncle Anus will live long enough to attend the next one!”). Unless I am renewing my driver’s license and you are the DMV camera dude, or you are the hospital’s medical photographer sent to document my Mayo Clinic-worthy bulbous axillary tumor, back off. It’s that simple.
* * *
We interrupt this family travelogue to bring you a political rant.
Your regular programming will return shortly.
Department of I’m glad he didn’t live/I wish he’d lived to see this
My father had an inexplicable, embarrassing (to me) fascination with Richard Milhous Nixon. He’d been to Nixon’s “Western White House” home in San Clemente on official (IRS) business and had met the then Prevaricator Commander-in-Chief. To a man of my dad’s generation who began life as a dirt-poor country boy in a southern family of share croppers, meeting The President must have been seen as a pinnacle of the American dream. Thus, I tell myself my father’s interest was a case of celebrity worship, or that all-too-human fascination with any personal brush with power, and not that he actually admired the lying, venal, foul-mouthed, paranoid, commie-baiting, racist contender for worst president ever.
I thought no new revelations about Nixon could ever surprise me, even though I knew there were more tapes and documents yet to be declassified. Still, it was chilling to read the revelations contained in the LBJ tapes about just how low RMN would go to obtain power. In 1968, fearing that the Paris Peace Talks would end the Vietnam War and thus his election chances, Nixon secretly intervened to sabotage the negotiations. He sent his envoy to get the South Vietnamese to pull out of the talks, promising them “a better deal” if he were elected. LBJ, informed of Nixon’s treachery by the FBI, felt Nixon was committing treason, but feared going public with the information for several reasons, including national security concerns and having to reveal that the FBI and the NSA were bugging the South Vietnamese ambassador’s phone and intercepting his communications. Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey, informed of the situation by LBJ a few days before the election, decided it would be too disruptive to the country to accuse the Republicans of treason, especially if the Dems were going to win anyway (they were ahead in the polls).
What is that old saying, something about how all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing?
The peace talks collapsed, Nixon ended his campaign by promising an alternative to the inept Democratic strategy – look at them, they couldn’t even get the South Vietnamese to the negotiating table! – and won the election with less than 1% of the popular vote. His “better deal” led to the war dragging on until 1975…which caused the additional deaths of Twenty. Two. Thousand. American soldiers. 
Despite – or perhaps because of – being a fiction writer I’m a huge fan of reality. A part of me wishes my father could have read the transcripts, and that he and I could’ve discuss the revelations, and that he would have been able to understand at least a part of my vitriol for RMN, which is best expressed by Hunter S. Thompson’s He Was A Crook. Another part  wimps out on reality, and tries to embrace the idea that an old man went in peace, holding on to whatever fantasies he had, the Nixon one (oh….ick) included.
Richard Nixon…He was the real thing — a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time. He lied to his friends and betrayed the trust of his family. Not even Gerald Ford, the unhappy ex-president who pardoned Nixon and kept him out of prison, was immune to the evil fallout. Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that “I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon.”
(Hunter S. Thompson, writing in The Atlantic, May 1, 1994)
* * *
More freethinker troublemaking:
* * *
“It’s the problem…that no one likes to talk about. No wonder they call it Silent But Deadly.”
How’s that for a commercial lead-in? But really, ladies and germs, The same type of fabric used by the military to protect against chemical weapons can be yours, with the purchase of the intriguingly named Better Marriage Blanket. Unfortunately, it’s not what you’re thinking. Or, maybe it is. Oh, who cares – any product with the selling point “offending molecules are absorbed before anyone knows they’re there” is worth a moment of your attention, right? Not only that, it’s given me the idea of how to solve the North Korea situation. Get our Navy Seals to wrap Kim Jong-un in a Better Marriage Blanket, and it’ll be like he’s not even there.
Speaking of other problems no one likes to talk about, there are those family road trips that do not end in all sweetness and light and witty anecdotes. Unsolicited adult-to-adult advice, revisited (the photography-free version): do not endure treatment from family members that you would find intolerable coming from anyone else.
Smarter people than us said this:
* Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.
― Alexander Pope
* There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.
- Martin Luther King Jr
* Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.
- George Carlin
* * *
Joy, Interrupted: An Anthology on Motherhood and Loss. Hmm, not the feel-good title of the year, you say? The collection contains some beautiful, intriguing, moving essays, poems and fiction on the subject of loss in the context of motherhood, including, in the last category, a story of mine. Two years ago I read the editor’s call for submissions and submitted my story “Maddie is Dead.”  It was one of those made-me-shiver incidents when the editor contacted me to say that she loved the story and wanted to include it in the collection, and by the way, is the story indeed fiction (it is), and by-the-by-the-way, did I know that her deceased daughter was named Maddie?
The anthology should be in book stores later this year and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
* * *
One last gasp at the road trip story. It was our first night in Tacoma, in the afore-mentioned apartment with Belle & Mark, and Belle was cranky due to a nasty, lingering cold and (gasp) no TV on site. She turned down any suggestion I had for playing cards, games, etc. I passed the time doing an online search for…hmmm, parameters, hmmm. What would be a spirit-lifting image to see? How about sloths wearing onsies?
Best. Search. In. A. Long. Time.
An adorable Bradypodidae, dressed in baby clothes. Hijinks are bound to ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
 The Clash of the Titans?
 Warning: anthropomorphizing zone ahead.
 A Norwegian-American artist sculpted a bust of Ibsen, his mentor and friend. Three bronze busts cast from the original ended up in places with large populations of Norski immigrants: St. Paul, MN, Wahpeton, N.D., and Tacoma. Just because.
 The Tacoma narrative was written earlier this week, on Sunday and Monday.
 to her brother’s genuine if mild apprehension.
 Up the Oregon coast, crossing the Clumbia River at Astoria, following the Willapa Bay, cutting over to Olympia at the small town of Raymond. Which led us to wonder if there was a man in the town named Raymond, and if so, do all of the townspeople like him?
 Fotografizophobia is the fear of having your picture taken.
 .and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians soldiers and civilians.
 The part spelled “protective daughter,” no doubt.
 A lame popularized by Milton Berle in the 1950′s: “Good evening, ladies and germs. I mean ladies and gentlemen. I call you ladies and gentlemen, but you know what you really are.” It was funnier then. Supposedly.
 Previously published in The Externalist, issue 4, October 7.