My Nana, my Home, my Hero, my Haystack.

Yesterday my wife and I visited the Portland Art Museum. One of the exhibits is a patron-participation collection called Object Stories. Laura told me that we could bring an object and contribute to the collection, so I brought an item I have had for many years, and told its story. To document the object story, I sat in a booth and spoke while an audio recording was made. Then some photos were snapped of me and my object. In about a week my story will join the many others already recorded and on display there and online. (Update: my Object Story is now here.)

I brought a bottle half-filled with sand. Here is the story.

Sometime in 1976 or 1977, my grandmother, whom we always called Nana, had a collection of antique glass bottles.  I don’t think she had collected them; they came to her, if I remember correctly , together and uncleaned. She let me have one that she knew I was interested in. It was made of clear glass, about four inches high. It had been a bottle of battery oil – Thomas Edison Battery Oil.

Edison was a childhood hero, a man whose genius, creativity, scientific mind and brilliant inventions inspired me and made me want to grow up to be an inventor. At least, when I was eight. His signature was formed in relief vertically on the bottle: Thomas A. Edison.

A year or two later I moved away. In the summer of 1978, I moved to Montana, and later in the summer came back to Oregon, where my family spent a week at the coast. I brought the bottle. About to turn 15, I knew I was closing the chapter of my childhood in Oregon, and wanted to bring a piece of it with me to my new home. So I went down to the beach one day, scooped up some sand, put it in the bottle and stopped it with a wine cork. I took it back to Montana with me, and except for a short period here or there, I’ve had it with me ever since. For 34 years.

I chose the coastal sand over some Portland clay because the ocean beach was special to me, especially Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock where I often went as a boy. So I didn’t need a moment’s thought when choosing the object for my story. This little bottle with its fourfold precious meanings – a gift from Nana, the name of a childhood hero, a piece of home and a remembrance of boyhood summer days at the ocean – came instantly to mind.


Mobs | Part Two

Previously on The Free Range: I have had two opportunities to witness street mobs in action, from formation to mayhem to dispersion. The experiences didn’t provide me much in the way of insight. But did they did make an enormous impression on me, and confirm for me what is commonly understood of mob psychology.


Almost exactly ten years after the Seattle Market melee, I found myself in another mob. In May, 1991 I was in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park with my sister Julie. In this case, no riot ensued, and no one got hurt, but the frightening character of the mob was on display.

Yoyogi Park on any Sunday: just wonderful and bizarre and brilliant. If you ever have the good fortune of visiting Tokyo, stay through Sunday so you can go to Harajuku and walk through Yoyogi Park. There you will see a delightful cultural menagerie,  uniquely Japanese, swirling with cross currents of Asian, American and European influence and participation. And it must be one of the best places for people-watching in the world.

After we had walked through most of the Park and were heading back out, we came to group of a few hundred Iran-jin. They were guest-workers, all young men who were standing together, talking and dancing. The mood was festive, there was music playing, and their street-party spirit was infectious.

Three Amerika-jin, a couple of guys and one young woman, were there as well. They had been drinking. They had not been trained in cross-cultural competency. The woman started dancing, as if she were merely joining in the fun. But she was not. She quickly seized the attention of a great many of these bachelor strangers in a strange land. What she thought about her dancing, and what the men thought about it, were two wildly different things. I can’t say what was in their minds, but as I said in my previous post, in a mob there is nothing in the mind at all.

The happy Iran-jin as we found them.

The woman soon found herself the center of attention and, cheered on by the excited crowd, kept her up beer-fueled dance party. Now she was encircled, and the shouting and cheering was all around her. “Woo-hoo! Look at me!”

Yes, we are all looking at you. Is that all you’re going to do? Isn’t there something more? The crowd closed together and in on her and her friends. I believed they were hoping that she would shed some clothing. American women do that, don’t they? But what they wanted was hard to discern.

The Amerika-jin decided that the crowd was crowding them and the men began trying to get them to back off a little. They did not. The woman stopped dancing and her smile turned to fear. Now all of them were trying to push the crowd back and get away. The enthusiasm of the crowd was high, though, and they wanted the show to resume. No, really! We want you to dance some more! I think it was pretty important to them.

To start dancing like that, and after you have stoked the interest of the men, then to just stop – well, it wasn’t playing well. Her friends started shoving the crowd back and shouting furiously at them to let them go their way. Afraid and angry, they had to back their way out of the mob.

Fortunately, it it did not escalate beyond mobbing and trying to touch the woman. They  were able to get away. Though it took a while before the mob realized Salome and her friends were gone, when they did, the crowd spread out out as they had been when we arrived.

It was only a close call, more or less a mis-communication between cultures. With a mob, you can’t explain, “I was just dancing because everyone else was. We do that in America, men and women together. I’m not a stripper.” It’s that much harder if they don’t speak your language.

The scene  impressed on me just how fast things can change in a crowd, and how they can spin out of control when people don’t understand each other.

These two experiences have convinced me that there is only one wise course if I am in a crowd that turns into a mob: Hanarere.

Mobs | Part One

Warning: strong language, violence and communism.

I have a special disdain for and fear of mobs and the irrational behavior they engender, especially violence. It is not a phobia, it’s more like the healthy fear you should have of the lion’s den.  Outside: ooh look, a lion. Inside: yikes-a-hooty.

I have had two opportunities to witness street mobs in action, from formation to mayhem to dispersion. The experiences didn’t provide me much in the way of insight. But did they did make an enormous impression on me, and confirm for me what is commonly understood of mob psychology.

Marketplace of Ideas

The first incident happened on May 2, 1981, shortly after I had moved to Seattle from Missoula, Montana. I had a Saturday off from my new job at the cinema, and walked down to the Pike Place Market. It was a clear, cool, sunny day.  At the entrance to the Market, at 1st and Pike, there was a small group of demonstrators from the Revolutionary Communist Party. I knew the RCP. They were very active in Seattle. They were serious communists, who called for the violent overthrow of the US Government by the end of the 80s. They meant to wage all-out war on American soil, killing everyone who opposed their violent imposition of a Worker’s Paradise.The American Communists were lame. The Chinese and the Soviets were pikers. The RCP were going to really crack a few eggs.

But, for today, this was a peaceful group of maybe fifteen comrades, more than half of them women, in their twenties and thirties. They had their red flags, Revolutionary Worker newspapers , and a bullhorn. I walked past them, past a man on the sidewalk playing a flute, past the florist into the Left Bank Bookstore, with its door propped open.

The scene of the riot today

After I browsed for about ten minutes, I heard one of the partisans start up on the bullhorn. I walked over to the door.

“Listen up, America! Your time of complacency is coming to an end! The working people will no longer tolerate the oppression by the ruling class! The bourgeois Reagan regime will not survive the coming upheaval!”

I walked out the door to listen. My complacency was already over. It had been, for two years. The man with the flute played on.  Some other people stopped to listen. The speaker gathered some steam. He quoted Marx, from the Manifesto, nothing to lose but their chains, blah, blah, blah, and then handed the bullhorn off to an African-American comrade. He brought the anger. More people gathered as he rained the wrath of the proletariat on the heads of the dirty, racist, honky capitalists who were going to die in the Revolution.

Understand: I was sympathetic to my communist brothers and sisters. But I was strictly for non-violence. I winced at the thought of a revolution by force of arms. Any sensible person knows that’s a dead end, especially in a country that provides for the peaceful change in government.

The crowd began to feed some of that anger back to the RCP. I don’t think it mattered much who these demonstrators were. Their message was angrily anti-American, and the growing crowd didn’t like it. I was close enough to see their faces, and the partisans were sorry they had let this guy on the bullhorn. Someone took it back, as the crowd grew more hostile.

“Hey, listen. Don’t let us do all the talking. I know there’s a lot of people who have a different point of view—“

“Damn right, commie $#@?!”

“Okay. So the horn’s all yours. Come over here and speak your mind.”

Too late for that, Phil Donahue.

“We want an exchange of ideas here, not a shouting match.”

Yeah, violent revolutions are all about exchanging ideas.

Across the street was the legendary 52 Donuts, a grubby, yellowed cafe peopled by lost boys and hoods. They all emptied out, joined the mob, and immediately became the most hostile and violent people on the street. After all, how could you could pass up a little ultraviolence, especially when you’re in a mob? And mobs don’t get arrested until the cops show up — by then the mob is no more. But now, there was crowd of about two to three hundred people.

Here’s some advice from a former radical. If your rhetoric for overthrowing the oppressive capitalist system evokes anger and violence from street kids at 52 Donuts – scroungers, thieves, pan-handlers and hustlers – it’s time to furl your red flags and call it a day. If the struggling masses want to break your head on the pavement, they probably can’t  be counted on to break bourgeois heads at your request.

Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out
-The Beatles

Yep, it turned out the street kids loved America, and not the Revolution. The following year I wrote about this incident for a composition class.

The people (in the crowd) hurled their worst insults at them, and they retorted with Marxist-Leninist doctrine. Then the violence broke forth. It began when a few people went into the Market and bought some vegetables (and eggs), which they threw at the communists as the crowd cheered.

“Hey! Why are you afraid to talk? If you disagree with us, get up here and we’ll have a debate like civilized human beings!”

At the time the irony was lost on me of a group that wanted a peaceful environment to launch a violent struggle in which thousands if not millions of their fellow citizens would be slaughtered. I have since learned this is in keeping with RCP strategy to remain safely on the right side of the law, until the day arrives they can oversee their revolutionary bloodbath.

With that, the speaker received a raw egg squarely in an open eye with such force that his eye started bleeding. At that point I was standing about ten feet away. I knew that staying in that particular spot might soon became dangerous, but I couldn’t persuade myself to leave. Part of it was the excitement…

Then a man, mid-twenties, appeared at my side, said he was a reporter and started interviewing me. I told him how it started. The crowd was pushing in, pressing more tightly around the demonstrators. There was no pushing my way out now. I was in it.

Our talk was interrupted by some confusion behind us. I heard the rattling of the chain-link fence that encased the market newsstand. A tall young man scurried up it and climbed onto the roof. After shouting and whistling, he got everyone’s attention.

“Okay, everybody, listen up! This whole situation is goddamn ridiculous! It’s stupid, and it should stop right now. These people out here – now, I don’t happen to agree with them personally. But dammit, they got a right to be here and have their say.”

A few cheers.

“I think you’re all a bunch of cowards if you don’t have the guts to talk to them like they want. (Booing now) And this bullshit of throwing stuff just shows what chickenshits you are! Now knock it off!”

Some scattered cheers, but mostly anger still. His effort to elevate the discourse didn’t help, other than indicating that, like me, not everyone there was with the mob.The crowd was now a mix of bystanders, trouble-makers looking for a fight, and some persons who would defend the demonstrators, either peacefully or by obliging the trouble-makers with a fight.

People armed themselves. They took the flags from the communists and used the sticks to batter them. They grabbed the newspapers and made a pile with them and the flags and started a bonfire in the street. I saw a young woman being kicked and beaten with a flag pole by a 10 year old kid. The other women had their hair pulled, were slapped, kicked and pushed down. The sticks were broken to give them sharp ends…

Fists started to fly. The reporter and I put ourselves between as many people as we could (holding our arms out and pressing backwards against the mob) to prevent fights. There was little we could do. It was becoming a riot…

There was sheer mass confusion. Shouting, flying objects, fist fights, and the whole crowd pressing closer to the center. Finally the the communists were completely pressed in… and were forced to start retreating. Then the cops arrived, about six or seven of them. They forced their way through the crowd, breaking up fights.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned the blood. There was blood.

One cop broke up a fight and one of the fighters tried to grab him. He got a serious thwacking across his thigh.

“Hey, we saw that!” someone yelled. “Somebody get his badge number!”

“Don’t worry, I got it!” yelled someone else.

(Side note: The police broke up the melee when the communists were utterly hemmed in, kept it from getting worse, and made possible their retreat. Red Papers 4 (1970), part of the RCP’s founding manifesto, advocates and celebrates the murder of police officers at every opportunity. Yeah, you’re welcome, comrades.)

The crowd began to withdraw toward the street again, and disperse, while the demonstrators ran into the Market. I helped a woman off the ground and told to her to beat it – as her brave brothers already had. I stayed until the place was completely cleared. The man playing the flute was gone. The pavement was littered with produce, eggs, and pages from the Worker newspapers. I picked one up, smeared with egg, and kept it.
When I wrote about this in 1982, I saw the episode as a defeat of American values (freedoms of speech and peaceable assembly) at the hands of thuggish American patriotism. I thought the mob should have known they were stepping on rights which were central to our national greatness. But I didn’t consider that mobs don’t know anything. They don’t think. Now I look at the incident more as the confused collision of bored and violent kids feeling the resurgent national pride ushered in by the new president (along with the release of the hostages from Iran and the first space shuttle launch), with incendiary, strident America-hatred – all mashed into the forward, unthinking, unfeeling momentum of a street mob: which more than anything acts likes a mindless, furious lunatic.

Next: Mobs | Part Two

A free flag! Already the Party pours its blessings on a grateful proletarian.

Because of Easter

Because of Easter morning
I know that Jesus can give me what he promised
I know that death is not the end, and the grave cannot hold me
I know that life here is only the beginning, a very short beginning
I know that my sufferings here are brief compared to an eternity of love and communion

Because of Easter morning
I know this life is a vapor and death a momentary passage
I know I will see my loved ones again who are waiting for the Great Reunion
I know I will see and hold my son again –
and I know it will seem as though a mere few moments parted us

Because of Easter morning
I know every vestige of fear and destruction and evil is swallowed up
I know nothing can separate me from the love of God that lives in Jesus
I know the Spirit that brought back Jesus will also bring me back
on that Great Day

We found the stone rolled away and the final reel missing

From the Manger to the Cross (1912)

Despite being made ten years later, it seems fitting to compare this movie with The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ (1902-05). Both early silent Jesus movies, they are also both offered to current viewers on the same DVD and likely to be seen by the same audience.

From the Manger to the Cross is an important movie, apart from its subject matter. It was was made on a large budget, was a huge commercial success and was selected in 1998 by the Library of Congress for preservation in its National Film Registry. Director Sidney Olcott was praised as the greatest film director working.

Sidney Olcott 1873-1946

Watching Manger shows how fast the art and craft of cinema was developing in its early days. In most respects this careful American production, shot on location in Palestine, is superior to its French predecessor. The acting is much improved, and in place of theatrical sets and costumes,  locations, costumes and extras lend more authenticity to the experience. It has more of a narrative flow to it, using intertitles that include dialogue and quotes form the King James Version setting up each scene.

It is a more sober telling of the story. The pace is relaxed. The special effects take a back seat to the realism of the setting and performances. Though the camera does not move, the actors freely within the space, and different angles are sometimes used. The composition and blocking are much more sophisticated.

Gene Gauntier 1885-1966

Two of the performances should be noted. Mary the mother of Jesus is an older, down to earth woman, far from overwhelmed by the burden she has received. There is a fascinating scene that I think I have figured out.  In Nazareth, Mary and Jesus, age 12, are sitting together just outside Joseph’s shop. While Joseph seems to be fumbling with his work, Mary is holding up a scroll, presumably of the Scriptures, and they are reading and discussing it together. It is not clear who is learning from whom; perhaps they are learning together. Is this a suffragette Mary? Given the era, this seems a remarkable insertion into a fairly spare retelling.

I wondered about this until I recalled that Mary is played by the remarkable film pioneer Gene Gauntier – actress, director and screenwriter – who also wrote the script for this film. I believe that, like the renaissance masters, she has painted herself into the picture: a student of Scripture, sitting with Jesus.

Then there is Jesus. Robert Henderson-Bland has given us a better performance , with greater emotional range, including smiling here and grieving there. But  other choices make Jesus out to be a pretty cool customer at times. He puts on a nonchalance, turning away from amazed onlookers after a miracle as if t’were no big deal. After turning the water into wine, he saunters back to his seat. “Yeah, that’s how I party, folks.”

There are little flourishes and details that are interesting and unexpected. The last supper shows everyone actually reclining rather than sitting, and Jesus is shown carrying a tau cross – both indications Gauntier did her research. Mary of Bethany has the most delightful look of pleasure when Jesus admonishes her sister. The priests are particularly wicked, laughing out loud at Judas when he throws the money down and runs away in remorse. The passion is very violent, bloody even. It must have been genuinely intense viewing for a 1912 audience. The mockery and other abuse is ugly, as it should be. The crucifixion is realistic and beautifully shot.

The most stunning surprise of this movie shouldn’t have surprised me at all, because it’s in the title. When Jesus dies on the cross, the story ends. Intertitle with John 3:16. Roll credits. Movie over.

Wow. When they said from the manger to the cross, that’s just what they meant. No burial, no garden tomb, no resurrection. Yes, I was – and am – very surprised that a movie made for American audiences in 1912 ends with a dead Jesus.

If you were planning your Easter to include a Jesus movie, you should skip this one.