Another Danger from a Warming Planet

“How do you get people to protect themselves from something they don’t believe in?”
– Steve Andrews

A meteor hit earth near a small town in Pennsylvania. The impact released a diminutive mass of formless, gelatinous goo. The sludge attached itself to a hapless human victim, devouring it before oozing its way to the next unsuspecting prey. The muck grew larger with each person it consumed. As it increased in size and appetite, panic ensued in town.

The 1958 motion picture “The Blob” tells the story. Steve McQueen, in his first starring role, portrays the protagonist Steve Andrews, who encounters the monster’s first victim. (The movie features a theme song composed by up-and-coming songwriters Burt Bacharach and Mack David.) As the beast grows, neither bullets nor fire nor electric shock can stop its relentless rampage. Eventually, the ogre retreats when Steve aims the chilling spray of a CO2 fire extinguisher at it.

While the townspeople race off to round up all the fire extinguishers they can find, Lieutenant Dave is on the radio to Washington: “I think you should send us the biggest transport plane you have, and take this thing to the Arctic or somewhere and drop it where it will never thaw.”

Lieutenant Dave: “At least we’ve got it stopped.”
Steve Andrews: “Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold.”

Not only is the average temperature rising in the Arctic, it’s increasing at a pace much faster than anywhere else on earth.

Be ready with your CO2 extinguisher.

The Colonial Theatre, prominently featured in the “The Blob,” is putting on a stay-at-home version for its Blobfest 2020.

Police Chronicles: The Opossum Incident

The Burger Barn on Northeast Union Avenue was a late-night gathering place for Portland’s black citizenry. To some of Portland’s Police Department it was a hangout for the disreputable.

In the spring of 1981, two of PDX’s finest deposited four dead opossums at the front entry to the black-owned business. Witnesses said four police cars and seven other cops were present. News of this prompted protest marches through downtown. Charles Jordan, the city commissioner in charge of the Police Bureau, fired the two officers. An arbitrator later reinstated the two officers with thirty-day unpaid suspensions. Hundreds of angry cops marched on City Hall. The Burger Barn filed a $3.4 million suit against the city but eventually settled for $64,000.

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When Ofays Riot

“I am urging the parents of white youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing LL Bean.”

Seaside is a small town on the northern Oregon Coast, an hour-and-a-half drive from Portland. It has long been a popular destination for vacationing families and spring-break revelers. It’s home to skee-ball, bumper cars and Lewis and Clark’s salt works.

A fight broke out among several young males in Seaside during the Labor Day weekend in 1962. When police moved in to break it up, hundreds of young white people went on a rampage, bombarding police with rocks and beer bottles, full and empty. (Yes, alcohol was involved.)

Firefighters trained hoses on the rioters; the rioters took knives to the hoses. The hoses they didn’t slash, they turned on the firefighters. Storefront windows on Broadway were smashed, cars were vandalized. The thirty-foot-high lifeguard tower was pulled from the beach. Police reinforcements came from Astoria and Portland. Sixty people were arrested.

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Remembering Christo and Jeanne-Claude

“It will give shape to the wind. It will go over the hills and into the sea, like a ribbon of light.”
– from environmental-impact report for Running Fence

Lost amid the whirlwinds of news—COVID-19, the murder of George Floyd and resultant demonstrations, opportunistic rioting and looting—is the obituary of the artist Christo, who has died at age eighty-four.

With Jeanne-Claude, his wife and collaborator, Christo gave the world wondrous, larger-than-life art installations in public spaces. All were open to everyone at no cost; Christo and Jeanne-Claude financed the projects themselves. They were all temporary, gone without a trace after a couple weeks, with no environmental damage and no public expense.

Christo & Jeanne-Claude in Central Park
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Deja Vu All Over Again

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Let’s take a ride in the Wayback Machine. Forty years ago, we saw incessant news reports about Mt. St. Helens, kind of like the non-stop COVID-19 reporting today. For months the mountain had been bulging, and expelling steam and ash almost daily.

Scientists said there was imminent danger and the area should be closed off. Washington-state authorities agreed and put a quarantine in effect, blocking access into the danger zone. Right away noise began about infringing on people’s constitutional rights and the damage to tourism and the economy. The mountain’s burping was the new normal and nothing more was going to happen. (This was the era before patriots paraded in camouflage outfits and brandished combat weaponry.)

Interviews with one crusty old-timer, named Harry Truman, who lived on the mountain and said he wasn’t leaving, were a regular feature on the nightly news. According to Truman’s niece, “He thought (the volcano) would just go straight up and that somebody would be able to come and get him.”

Pressure to reopen the area increased. Officials met to discuss what action to take. Scientists expected reaffirmation of the closures and were surprised that the discussions were about plans to reopen the area. Five days later Mt. St. Helens blew. Mr. Truman and fifty-six other people died. Most died from thermal burns or inhaling hot ash. According to some estimates the death toll may be higher, that many unknown victims were swallowed by the debris flow.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Baseball Fun with the Mavericks

Portland’s professional baseball club was a charter member of the Pacific Coast League, formed in 1903. They became the “Beavers” in 1906.

My brother Mark and I would go to the immense — for minor-league — Multnomah Stadium. We paid 25¢ — I think it was 25¢ — to sit on a wooden bench in the bleachers. We were always hopeful, but never did catch a home-run ball. Sometimes we’d go late; the gates were opened up after the sixth inning, so we could sit in the grandstand for free..
The Beavers team was a fixture in the Class-AAA PCL until 1972, when the owner moved them to Spokane. The following year, a new team, the Mavericks, took their place in the stadium and in the hearts of Portland baseball fans .

Television actor and one-time minor-league ballplayer Bing Russell formed the team and joined the Single-A Northwest League. The Mavericks were the league’s only independent team, having no affiliation with a Major-League club. Instead, the Mavericks held tryouts open to all comers. The roster was a collection of has-beens looking to have one more season and never-weres. Bing’s actor son Kurt was on the opening-day roster. Former major-league pitcher Jim Bouton, by then more famous — or infamous — for his tell-all memoir “Ball Four”, joined the team for the 1975 season.

The Mavericks were known and became beloved for their free-spirited, nothing-to-lose approach to the game. They posted a winning record every year and finished first in their division four out their five seasons. They also attracted greater attendance to games than the Beavers did. The Mavericks never won the Northwest League title, but they came so close in 1977, their last season, that Bing Russell ordered championship rings. According to Bouton, the rings were fitted for their middle fingers.

The Class-A Mavericks lasted until a new Portland Beavers club joined the expanded Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 1978. The PCL offered Russell $26,000 to shut down the Mavericks. His response was that the offer was missing a zero. The $206,000 buyout was the highest ever for a minor-league franchise.

Some evenings after work I’d go with my wife and two daughters to the then-renamed Civic Stadium to watch the Beavers play. We brought sandwiches (made by the girls’ mother) and purchased beverages and snacks at the park. We could always find good general-admission seats. Bonnie and Maureen grew up to become hard-core hockey fans. The Beavers left for good in 2010 when Civic Stadium was renovated into a soccer-only facility.

In 2014, Netflix produced a documentary film about the Portland Mavericks. “The Battered Bastards of Baseball” is available to stream. Give yourself some baseball fun in these social-distancing times.