Posts Tagged ‘cheney’

The Traveler

2 March 2012

Dear J-

Usually when I touched down in Spokane the first thing i’d ask my parents was whether or not Charlie was around. I’d give him a call and walk over, and we’d take the dog for a long walk, catching up as we strolled around campus. The campus has changed now — that old brick quad outside Patterson now has better paving and I’m sure nicer landscaping, there’s a fountain somewhere that I didn’t think I’d see, and the student union now features Baldy’s instead of the Alleyway Grille. One of my big regrets has been that I didn’t do more to document the Cheney of my youth, either through words or photographs and that era is gone. Colleges are big business and the upgrades to curb appeal no doubt make better impressions than ivy-covered Hargreaves Hall somberly empty in the hot summer sun.

The high school is wholly different, the junior high is now a middle school (and expanded and remodeled away from the funky 70s prison it used to be). There are houses now where I remember wheat fields and some of the places we used to walk have now been no doubt walled off and barred up. My parents’ old house has been sold and I’m not convinced that I could go back without walking by at least once, convinced that I still have a bed there ready for me at the end of a long dark night spent outside in the cold walking in loops and talking.

I would ask what you’ve been up to and what movies you’d seen, maybe, and how scchool was going because the thought I have going back to Cheney is that of a student: that’s how we were, that’s what we did when we went back. Life was that walk: settling back into steady orbit around some larger star; the gravitational pull of Cheney was always family and friends andn we’ve been scattered to the four winds since then: Michigan, North Carolina, California. I fear I’d go back only to remember that you can’t go back: the physical changes and way we’ve grown up, grown apart have left me without roots in the north. My life is here, my home is here, my heart is here, for better or worse I’ve staked our family on this so Cal life. There must be something academic to it: this alienation of life and purpose, this continued feeling of stranger in a strange land.




Size Class

11 March 2010

Dear J-

Back in Washington, the state used to classify school athletics by enrollment; AAA schools had a thousand students or more, AA schools were five hundred to a thousand, and so on until you got to the B schools, whose exact numbers I don’t remember, but I believe were less than a hundred students in the entire high school. The really big schools were all from the major centers — Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, and the Tri-Cities — and our town was big enough to support a AA school (I think our exact number was close to eight hundred when you counted in the 9th graders?), And our town was not huge by any stretch — eight thousand people inside the city limits, maybe a total of ten including the borders of the district.

Some of the B schools, though, had to draw from two or more towns to even field teams; that’s where you’d hear of names like Almira-Coulee-Hartline, Tekoa-Oakesdale, or St. John-Endicott (whose St. John contingent called “Emptysquat” to emphasize just how small the town was), and they were all, almost without exception, east of the mountains. This is the background that shapes my perspective; I knew about cities and subways but only as a theoretical exercise; a determined bicyclist could make it across town in fifteen minutes, which led to thoughts of becoming a bicycle messenger in a place with no demand for one.

In comparison the county and corridors we travel (fifty miles of city along I-5) are asprawl with concrete and streetlights; I still goggle at it every so often to remind myself of the St. Johns and Coulee Citys of the world, where time stood still for us one week each summer. With any luck we should be able to find ourselves someplace a world apart yet close in my mind, some time this summer; the unexpected reminders of home are always waiting to ambush my head.


Prom Apologies

20 December 2008

Dear J-

So to the downtown Spokane Bon Marche store Santa, 1976, let’s just say that the nearly-two-year-old that was plunked down on your lap wasn’t the most pleased to be there, so late at night anyway, and can we just sweep that meltdown under the table and let bygones be bygones?


But seriously, something that’s been stewing in the back of my mind for fifteen years or so — and I hate saying it, it sounds like I’m one of those people who never got over high school; it’s not something that kept me up at night, just more that I lost the chance to say anything at the time and in what’s becoming a trend for me, I lost track of, well, everyone not in my current life.  As a side note, I spent half an hour cleaning carpets this morning because I forgot to walk the dogs; theVet despairs of how easily distracted I am by the immediate task — this is why I’ve spent a small fortune on electronic brains that I invariably forget to update.

The point is that my relentless narcissism excluded any thought that hey, maybe it took TWO seventeen-year-olds (skip down to the Allman Brothers song, here) to multiply awkwardness into some perfect storm of silences and mis-communications.  It made for a memorable prom, but perhaps not the memories that most pairs take away from that particular night.  For my part, I left a lot unsaid; I wish I’d explained how long I’d waited — nearly three years, from the moment she’d walked in to homeroom — and that I didn’t care if there was no future in it, just to be there tonight with her was magical enough; all the steps — here for pictures, there for dinner, then back to the dance — all the rituals of tux and corsages and shaking the father’s hand — all that blurred together, all matching and missing the visions I’d had in my head for that night.

I’ll leave it there, but hasten to add that my contribution to it was not insignificant; as I’ve noted before, I chose inaction over initiative every time I had the choice.  My life was full of structure at seventeen; the next sixteen years have been filled with terror and learning at having that safety net slowly but surely cut away strand by strand until I learned (am learning) how and why to enjoy the moment for what it is, not compared to some ineffable ideal.


Pegler Party

17 September 2008

Dear J-

We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity.

— from Sarah Palin’s speech at the RNC (now attributed to Westbrook Pegler)

Well, it certainly made for a nice little paean to the joys of small-town life; I’m sure it resonated in a lot of heads, mine included (we grew up in Cheney, less than eight thousand people).  But at the same time, there’s a ton of reasons that I never moved back to a small town.  When we were looking to places to live after theVet graduated from Davis, the choice boiled down to either San Diego or Clearlake, a bucolic place where the local crime sheet was filled with tales of dogs breaking into houses and consuming food left lying out.  I thought that we had made a mistake, but now I can’t say we did.

There’s a certain naivete in trusting blindly in a populist view; free from the corrupting, decadent influences of city life and higher education, you’d think that moral values would blossom.  Back in Cheney — the entire eastern half of Washington, really — we threw out the sitting Speaker of the House, Tom Foley, in favor of a fast-talking George Nethercutt, who advocated term limits.  DC politics were in for a change.  No more business as usual, no more good old boy network, here we’d finally have a break from the same representation we’d kept for the last thirty years.  And then, breaking his own pledge and central tenet, he ran for a third term explaining that hey, he’d just got there and now he’d have a real opportunity to change things.  And better yet, we bought it and re-elected him.  So there’s a vote for the corrupting influence of politics, right?

The cynic in me believes that it was Nethercutt’s plan all along.  We believe in the myth of outside corrupting forces because it absolves us from blame.  Not my fault, if I hadn’t been exposed to that, after all … It’s funny when you consider the source of that small-town homily; as The Wall Street Journal reports, the author, Westbrook Pegler, was little more than an unrepentantly self-described racist.  Why should we live with the regurgitated lies of a half century ago?  We live in an era where lies grow lives when repeated often enough.  A casual disregard for the truth, for verifying sources, for excessive hyperbole is almost de rigeur now, unfortunately.  Where do we continue from here?  How can we trust someone like this?


The Nicest Yearbook Entry

5 November 2006

Dawn Mosher, I have your 1992 yearbook. It’s my oversight — I chose not to buy any sort of class of ’92 memorabilia (stupid stupid stupid), so when one came available on eBay, I jumped at it. Embarrassingly, my hairstyle hasn’t improved from those 1992 photographs.


The last two years of junior high, after that first awful shock of having everyone in the school district in your classes, were somewhat better. I settled down a little bit and got yearbooks those years. Most of the time, I didn’t have to use too much whiteout to let my parents peer through them, not that the words were so bad, they just leered frighteningly bold and real from the pages. The nicest entry I ever read in my yearbook was written by someone I hardly knew beyond bumping into a few times in class and yet seemed perceive me more clearly than I even saw myself.


We were the Trojans

5 November 2006

Somehow, when USC says it, it sounds more threatening.


By the time I got to junior high, I became acutely conscious of who I was. Your shoes never match your pants, no matter that they’re corduroy and no one in their right mind would want to wear ugly poop-colored corduroys, to say nothing of your shirt not accessorizing well with your hairstyle, if you want to call that a hairstyle, standing in front of your locker-mirror with a comb and brush all day and all between periods the acrid wafting of AquaNet on the breeze … I’m sure that most of you know what it’s like.