Items, items. Who's got an item? Columnist raises Caen
Anyone who lived in the Bay Area in the latter half of the last century had a friend in San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen. Caen was a marvelous master of "items" — tidbits of random weirdness, gossip and occasional news scoops.
Caen's items were little pictures of the city he famously dubbed "Bagdad by the Bay." He called his column "three-dot journalism" because each item was separated by a trio of dots. The dots spared Caen from having to write strained transitions to link the mayhem of his wildly unrelated items.
At the beginning of this new year, I find myself faced with a similar list of non-sequiturs and so, with apologies to Caen, I'll indulge in some three-dottery.
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With a tip of the hat to Caen, let's first consider an appellation worthy of where we live. We are decidedly NOT "Bagdad by the Bay NORTH." The cold, slab-like "Southwest Portland" is starkly inappropriate for our meandering, even mystical, topography. As much as I love the romance of "Sylvania," the name has an archaic, remote Arthurian whiff about it. I'm thinking Herb might have liked "Labyrinthia" (or perhaps "East Beaverton") along with the motto: "Once you're here, there's no getting out."
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I recently returned from the American Southeast — Charleston and Aiken, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. I'm lucky to have survived. Back there, every other driver seems to be in training for the Daytona 500. The speeds, traffic weaving and tailgating on the interstates are the stuff of NASCAR. But here in sedate, congested Labyrinthia, we judiciously and rightly ignore traffic signs in the name of decorum and propriety.
Consider just two intersections. At the top of Dosch Road, there is a stop sign at Patton. Nothing tells backed-up drivers on Patton that they have to let the Dosch commuters access. But they do — like clockwork. Every other car lets one in from Dosch. Same thing at the busy westside on-ramp off Naito Parkway onto the Ross Island Bridge's eastbound lanes. Common lawless courtesy and nothing more make zipper merging possible. I take this to be a form of civic grace, like stopping for pedestrians even when they aren't in zebra crossings.
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Sitting with a scone and a cuppa at Hillsdale's Baker & Spice, I'm looking out at the utility wires running along Capitol Highway. The things should have been undergrounded decades ago, but that's another story. Recently, I've been fixated on the pigeons perched on the wires like notes on a musical staff.
I'm not a skilled sight reader, but I've taken to picking out tunes the pigeons randomly "write" on the wires. One day they lined up to form the opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth — da da da DUM! After that it was pigeon cacophony.
This home-grown Infinite Pigeon Theorem rivals the famed Infinite Monkey Theorem that states a monkey randomly hitting typewriter keys for an infinite amount of time is bound, eventually, to write works of Shakespeare.
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Three deaths in 2018 were deeply felt in Labyrinthia.
The first was that of Don Snedecor's Southwest Portland Post. I've noted before that when businesses close we simply say they have gone out of business. Newspapers are different. They are voices and when they cease publishing, we say they die. We will miss the "voice" of the Post.
In the pre-internet era, anyone who wondered how places in Oregon got their names knew where to find the answer: the weighty reference book "Oregon Geographic Names," by Lewis L. McArthur, who carried forward work begun by his father. McArthur lived near Healy Heights on Council Crest. The McArthurs' book documents the origins of more than 6,000 Oregon placenames. The weighty tome became a model for other reference books on geographic names.
McArthur. a World War II vet, was 101 when he died in September.
Josh Kadish — neighbor, minstrel (locally at the Hillsdale Farmer's Market), community leader, sage legal counselor and friend — died with dignity in October at age 67 after a long struggle with cancer.. The void of his absence reminds us of the living presence of his rich legacy — his dry wit, his wisdom, his generosity, his patience, his music and his kindness.
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On an uplifting note, some may remember Pat Shields from a non-three-dot column last August about River West Village, which serves seniors in their homes. Pat, both a volunteer at River West and then a recipient of its services, was suffering from a debilitating case of pneumonia that had lasted for seven months. When I checked in with her not long ago, she was happy to report she is feeling much better and that River West's volunteers have soared in number from 90 to 500.
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And a Happy New Year to you.