Sunday, June 29, 2008


With apologies for the poor photo above, one of the highlights of last week was our dinner Wednesday night with Kurt Streeter, on the right, along with his cool mom Kathy, on the left and, next to Michelle, Kurt's wife Vanashree and our mutual friend Athima.

Kurt and I worked together in Los Angeles and he was one of my favorite reporters: curious, enterprising, incredibly hard-working and always striving to improve. But his best quality, as a reporter and a person, is his huge heart; he's just a great, great guy, one you feel lucky to count as a friend. Kurt grew up in Seattle, so we had the city as a common background, and his parents met at the University of Oregon, a second link. In fact, they had some celebrity there: Mel was a star basketball player for the Ducks -- the fourth African-American ever to play there, and one of only six black on campus at the time -- and he and Kathy were one of the first interracial couples to marry in Oregon.

Kurt grew up as a tennis prodigy, winning a Seattle City Champsionship and many junior events before becoming captain of the University of California tennis team and later turning pro. At one point as a junior he roomed with Andre Agassi at tennis camp. Read about that here.

When we worked together at the LA Times, Kurt was a beat reporter covering Metro, the public transportation system. He did a fine job, and also began spending "off hours" reporting an off-his-beat story that interested him, a feature about a young girl who was a boxer. Long after I left the paper, Kurt wrapped up his sidelight reporting and turned the story into a five-part series, "The Girl," that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Largely based on that, Kurt landed what he calls a dream gig, as a sports columnist for the Times. He's very good.

Anyway, after our very enjoyable dinner at Bizzaro, an Italian place we'd never been in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood, Kurt and I squabbled a little over the bill. He thought Michelle and I were contributing too much (we weren't), so I told him he could make up the difference by giving me three tennis tips.

Here's what he said:

* "First, read 'The Inner Game of Tennis,'" by Timothy Gallwey.

* "Try to finish," he said. Follow through. Don't check your swing.

* "Definitely keep your eye on the ball."

* "Stay centered and upright. Stay loose. Don't get all hunched over."

OK, great. I even got a bonus suggestion or two. And lord knows my still-unresuscitated game could use the help. So I went online and looked up the Gallwey book. I hadn't heard of it, but apparently this is a classic sports-psychology sermon, from 1972, and I'm sure it's useful for good tennis players.

"The problems which most perplex tennis players are not those dealing with the proper way to swing a racket," the book begins. "The most common complaint of sportsmen ringing down the corridors of the ages is, 'It's not that I don't know what to do, it's that I don't do what I know!'"

Well, actually, that's not the problem that most perplexes me. I'm still dealing with the proper way to swing the racket.

Until the next time I see Kurt, I'm keeping my eye open for "The Outer Game of Tennis."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

'Franny, get out of the shot!'

That was Gina, director, barking instructions to her sister this afternoon as they were setting up to film a scene of "Stella" in the historic Pioneer Square district of Seattle. As Franny pointed out, the camera wasn't even turned on and there was no danger of Fran winding up in the scene, since she was there only to operate the camera for Gina and her friend Katy, the film's star. Me, I was the roadie and the chaperone, happy to stay out of camera range and watch the next chapter in Queen's filmmaking career unfold.

When we left off, before Michelle and I departed on Pie in the Sky II, the girls and their friends were in the middle of their big "Sweeney Todd" remake. But that production didn't make it to completion. Details are hazy, but something about artistic differences and a flaking co-star.

Anyway, after a day or two of sulking about that, Gina got back to work, writing the original screenplay "Stella," about a girl who has suffered some traumatic brain injury and may now be insane, but whose life is slowly revealed in metaphoric flashback. I've read the synopsis, though not the full script, and I'm impressed by the imaginative writing and the story's clever construction.

Most of the same crew working on "Sweeney" are back for this one. If anything it's more elaborate, and the planning and cooperation are, so far, a wonder to behold.

Here are a couple of pics I took this afternoon, followed by screen shots from last week's shoot.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


So distracting we've hardly missed the Internet.

Ever since we got home from Pie in the Sky Michelle and I -- and now Gina and Franny too -- have been junkies for Wii, the awesome video game system Ronelle and her family gave us when we visited in New Jersey. We've all stayed up way too late, bowling and playing baseball and tennis until our eyes blurred and our elbows burned.

For those who haven't played the game or seen the ads, the Wii, by Nintendo, is a game system in which you don't just push buttons but actually move the game controller to control your player. So, to swing a virtual tennis racquet you swing your arm, forehand or backhand, timing it so your racquet hits the ball in the direction and with the speed you want. Same for baseball, bowling, golf and the rest. And we all spent some time creating our own personalized "Miis" to represent us on the screen. It's surprisingly, ridiculously fun. Gina and Franny even stopped by unannounced last week -- twice! -- to squeeze in a game.

Based on Wii Tennis alone, Gina and Franny have now expressed interest in playing real tennis, and Fran and I went out the other day for her first lesson.

One of the games is helping Franny in the other. I'm not sure which, but in another couple of weeks I don't expect to be able to beat her in either.

In honor of Ronelle's daughter Christin (above left, with her cousin Holley, right) we try to remember not to call the game Wii, but "Wheeee!," which really is more fitting.

(Speaking of which: Ronelle, If we send each other our Wii console numbers we should be able to exchange Miis and messages and maybe even play against each other. Hit me up by e-mail.)

The game really does make your arm sore though. We're already thinking we'll need to go buy the new "Wii Fit" program to get us into shape to play regular Wii.


One of the nice things about returning home earlier than planned was that we got to attend Franny's eighth-grade graduation ceremony last week, celebrating promotion from Madison Middle School to high school.

In a way it seems silly to me that the school makes such a big deal about passing the eighth grade, but on the other hand going to high school is a big deal, and the kids all get into it. The girls dress up, some of the boys put on a shirt with buttons, a few of the class leaders and teachers make short little speeches, the school jazz band plays a couple of tunes, everyone gets called up to the stage to receive a certificate (that's Fran getting hers, in the fuzzy photo above), and academic achievers get called out for special attention.

That's where I ended up getting a little annoyed though. Franny's best friend Lacaia (below, with Fran) was one of 27 kids who managed to get through the three years of middle school with a perfect record of straight A's. Quite an achievement, I think, and nice that she and the others were called up to the stage individually to receive a little trophy. But when the stupid principal, Ms. Hudson (who insists on being called Dr. Hudson), got to Lacaia, she bungled her name: "La ... La ... LaCalla?" It's La-cay-a. She messed up Lacaia's last name too, which is even easier.

That made me so mad. Come on, lady! After all the platitudinous speeches about preparation and taking care of the details, you can't take the time to learn the names of 27 outstanding students? Sheesh. What does a kid have to do to get your attention around here, shoot up in the hallway?

Really, I was so bugged I almost walked up to the "doctor" after the ceremony and chewed her out.

Even so, it was a fun night. Frank looked happy and proud. Gina and Greta sat with Michelle and me in the grandstand, and we all mingled afterward in the courtyard, where we ran into Mich and Gabby (she's in Fran's class).

The ceremony was at West Seattle High School, where most of the Madison promotees will attend next year. Gina went there for freshman year but didn't really like it; she and Fran are both moving in the fall to the Center School, which is a smaller arts-oriented school downtown.

Here are Frank and Gina goofing off:

Gabby and a group of her friends. Gab's third from the right, in the blue floral dress:

Franny and her buds:

Friday, June 13, 2008

Nice to be home

We left Renee's comfy house in Denver on Tuesday morning and after two very long days of driving arrived back in Seattle late Wednesday night. Great trip, great memories, but we both agree it's great to be home too.

Although we cut Pie in the Sky II a little shorter than planned -- maybe it really was pie-in-the-sky, Mom -- we still spent two very full months on the road. We got tired, I'll admit it, and maybe a little over-saturated too. At some point it gets hard to take in any more sights and experiences and really appreciate them, no matter how cool.

One down side of returning early is that we're without Internet access until the middle of next week, when they can reconnect our DSL. That's why we've been out of touch since returning. (I'm writing now from the library up the street.)

Thanks to all for following along, for hosting or meeting us along the route and for sharing in our fun adventure.

Here are a couple of pics from the drive home, beginning with the nice Rocky Mountain view from Renee's neighborhood. We drove north to Wyoming, stopped in beautiful downtown Laramie for lunch, then cut west into Utah, up to Idaho, through a slice of Eastern Oregon, where there was still snow on the ground, then into Eastern Washington and across the Snoqualmie Pass to Seattle, viewed above from a freeway underpass and below from the West Seattle Bridge to our house.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Behind the green glass door

Allison had us all scratching our heads and guessing wildly this afternoon with a riddle she picked up at camp.

Behind the green glass door there is green but no blue. Behind the green glass door there is sleep but no bed. Behind the green glass door there is Michelle but no Mark. There's a bathroom but no toilet. Coffee but no Starbucks. And so on.

Why are the things behind the green glass door there, and why aren't the things that aren't?

We about went crazy trying to figure it out. Alex wasn't pleased that his sister Allison was behind the green glass door but he wasn't.

It's a fun game. In true Allison fashion, I'll let you figure it out for yourself.

Behind the green glass door there are guesses but no easy answers.

We're not in Kansas anymore

... but it took a while. That's a wide state and -- sorry, Dorothy, Bob Dole and other famous Kansans -- it's boring as hell. It took all day Sunday to drive from Kansas City, where we stopped after leaving Janice's house in Louisville, across Kansas and then through a smidge of Colorado to Michelle's sister Renee's place in suburban Denver.

We've had a great day-plus here, playing softball and going swimming with Allison and Alex (Renee and James' kids), going out to eat and then, tonight, all watching "School of Rock" on the AppleTV. Fun. That's Allison with Michelle, above.

As cool as this trip has been, Michelle and I are both getting a little horse-to-barn syndrome. After seven-plus weeks on the road, and at 30 states and counting, we're thinking now of amending our earlier plans of returning to Vegas and heading instead directly back toward Seattle. Pretty much blown the poker bankroll anyway.

Here are a few pics from the past couple of days.

Janice and Michelle in front of Janice and Andy's awesome old Victorian house:

Janice took Friday afternoon off and took us to what she calls "the oval office" -- the famous Churchill Downs -- where we bet a few races and managed almost uniformly to pick the losers. Michelle and Janice even put down a bet on Saturday's Belmont Stakes, pairing the sure-thing winner, Big Brown, with a couple other leading contenders in a "boxed Exacta" bet. Free money! Except Big Brown came in last place.

Then, on Friday night, we took in a minor league game between the Louisville Bats (the famous Louisville Slugger bats are made in this town ) against the Toledo Mud Hens at the retro cool Slugger Field.

After Louisville, though, as I said, it's a long slog between points of civilization. At one point in Kansas we checked the Garmin for the nearest cup of coffee. The options were all miles behind us:

Pretty sunset heading into Colorado:

Michelle's nephew, Alex, who is 8 years old, makes a mean hot air balloon out of paper. Kid's got skills.

Michelle and Renee at the local pool:

We're not sure of our exact route from here, but our tentative plan is to get up in the morning and then head north to Wyoming and Montana and then turn west toward Seattle. Probably a few more days on the road. Maybe more posts and pics to come.

Friday, June 6, 2008


After beginning yesterday at Niagara Falls, we arrived late last night in Louisville, Kentucky, visiting the awesome house of Janice and her husband Andy in a cool old Victorian neighborhood in this pretty city.

Janice is planning to take the afternoon off, and then maybe we'll go to the horse races at Churchill Downs or catch a minor league baseball game -- the famous Louisville Slugger bats are made here and the team shares the name.

It's great to see Janice and Andy again. We'll have pictures later.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Today would have been my dad's 85th birthday, so I'm thinking of him.

I thought of him yesterday too at the Hall of Fame, which he would have loved. Dad, Eddie to his friends, was born in New York in 1923, the same year as Yankee Stadium, and he grew up rooting for the Yanks of Ruth and Gehrig and later, his favorite, Joe DiMaggio. He turned me on to baseball as a kid, playing catch in the backyard, taking me to my first baseball game, the Mays-McCovey-Marichal Giants at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. When the A's moved from Kansas City in 1968 to Oakland, much closer to our East Bay home, he and I went to many games there, watching Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Joe Rudi -- the beginning of the great A's teams that went on to win three consecutive World Series in the 1970s after we moved to Oregon.

We had a pretty typical father-son relationship, I think, meaning much love and respect buried under some layers of annoyance or misunderstanding. A lot of my least favorite qualities -- I can be quick-tempered, argumentative, shrill -- I think I got from him. Also, lately, my gut. But I also see him in my own ease in varied social situations, my ability to make a friend, an affinity for numbers, my deep love of family.

My Aunt Chickie back in New Jersey, who wasn't related to Dad by blood, knows of our sometimes strained relationship. She found several opportunities on this visit, as she always does, to say nice things about him, and she brought out some cool old family photos that I hadn't seen, including of Mom and Dad with Jersey clan. That was nice.

As I was reminded yesterday, this will be the last year at Yankee Stadium, meaning it lasted four seasons longer than Dad did. But also that they both had good, long, full lives.

Happy 85th, Eddie. We miss you.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Say Hey

By mutual agreement, this is the last time I can tell this story.

Seven years ago, on the first Pie in the Sky tour, Michelle and I were heading east from Niagara Falls across upstate New York toward Boston. I took a break from driving (this was back in the day when I was allowed behind the wheel) and put the chair back for a little nap while Michelle drove.

One thing, I requested: When we get to the Cooperstown exit wake me up and get off the freeway. I've always wanted to see the Baseball Hall of Fame. OK, she said. But when I woke up, half an hour later or so, I realized we were past Cooperstown already. Crazy bitch had blown off the Hall of Fame! She had some lame excuse about it being too late in the day, but we've been arguing about that ever since. Fact is, she drove by the exit.

Fast forward to Pie in the Sky II. Michelle's doing all the driving, but Cooperstown has become our jokey can't-miss destination. I vowed to snort lines of coke off the dashboard to stay awake if necessary.

Today, after six weeks of dawdling through 25 states and the District of Columbia, after losing countless poker chips to uncounted suckout artists across America, after downing clam chowdah on Cape Cod and steamer clams on the Jersey Shore, spending one terrific afternoon at the best hospital in Maine (just ask 'em) and another at the formerly peaceful Walden Pond, we set the Garmin for Cooperstown and waited to "acquire satellites."

The Garmin has its own sense-of-humor way of getting there, but that's another story. It was a pretty drive anyway.

Seventy-eight miles from our morning departure point of Albany, N.Y., but somehow three hours away, the Hall of Fame finally appeared. ("Arriving at destination!" chirped the Garmin.) After lunch at the Doubleday Cafe (Abner Doubleday is erroneously credited with inventing baseball, as I would learn later), I took my two-hour tour. Michelle waited outside.

It was full of cool stuff for a lifelong baseball fan like me. I especially liked seeing how the gloves, bats and other equipment have changed over the years, and looking at the uniforms, balls and other mementos from signature games, like Nolan Ryan's seven no-hitters. It was fun to see that pitcher Bob Gibson's glove, during his historic 1968 season, was a Spalding "Carl Yastrzemski Personal Model." And there were cool exhibits featuring my hero, Willie Mays, as well as many other greats. I thought of my brother-in-law Manuel when I got to the Tony Gwynn display, and of my friend Mike Stahlberg when I spied ol' Shoeless Joe Jackson.

No denying my nerdiness though. At one point I was bent over, reading some fine print in an exhibit featuring Ichiro Suzuki and the history of the Mariners, and I heard a camera flashing behind me. Doh! There I was, in my Ichiro replica jersey, craning to study the real Ichiro jersey. Somebody's showing that picture to relatives tonight and having a good laugh.

Still, I really enjoyed Cooperstown and felt lucky to be there on a quiet Tuesday afternoon before summer vacation. After school gets out, the Hall greeters told me, it'll be a zoo in there.

Baseball fans, it's worth a visit.

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Day at Walden

Yesterday we woke up, got ourselves some Starbucks, then headed on over to Walden Pond. We walked all around the pond, listened to the bullfrogs, observed the same ants that Thoreau wrote about so many years ago, collected a few mosquito bites and just generally marvelled at the beauty of Walden Pond -- when a lady also exploring the place informed us that, oh no, we weren't at Walden Pond. We were in Walden Wood (thank god it was Walden something, or else it would have been really ridiculous). Walden Pond was just down the way.

So we get in the car and punch Walden Pond in the Garmin. She directs us around -- I swear -- in a circle, then lands us a few hundred yards from where we were, at the real Walden Pond, entrance $5. Here, at a much bigger, less woodsy spot, bunches of people hung out a the beach in bathing suits with their kids and ate sandwiches they brought from home, and generally acted like it's not a Thoreauy place at all, but rather just nearest available beach. Though the first pond wasn't the real Walden Pond, it sure felt like it.

Up the way from the Real yet Fake Walden Pond, we wandered into Ye Olde Walden Pond Gift Shop, where a guy who plays Thoreau in reenactments helped me remember the details that have slipped from my brain since I last read Walden and Civil Disobedience. He has a web site called He knew everything.

All in all, a fun trip.

Next, we stopped by to see my younger brother Steve and his wife and child, Sandy and Matthew, at their digs in Southbridge, Mass. Matthew is just two but already is heaving balls around like a linebacker.

Next stop, Cooperstown, and the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

'Any unexpected weight loss?'

Michelle actually laughed out loud when the admitting clerk asked me that question today at the Maine Medical Center. No, I said over the cackling, if anything I've got the opposite problem.

We weren't there for my weight -- loss or gain -- but because at the Brunswick, Maine, Starbucks Michelle noticed some swelling over my right eye and got worried. It's true, I had noticed the same swelling, and also had experienced some dizziness and nausea Saturday night beyond what I would normally expect at this stage of my chemo round. So, over my objections that it wasn't worth a hospital visit, we turned around, blew off the search for Maine's perfect lobster roll, and headed to Portland's big freeway-side hospital.

Because it was Sunday our only option was going to the Emergency Ward, which seemed extra goofy. After being screened and admitted, I was put on a stretcher in a hallway marked "triage," which I found doubly embarrassing as a parade of Mainians with actual emergencies -- a baseball player who missed a pop fly and took it in the eye, an older woman who apparently had heat stroke on the tennis court, some bleeding kids -- cooled their heels.

At one point some EMTs brought in a guy on an ambulance gurney who didn't look good -- a drugged, vacant look and a fresh wrap of some kind on his arm -- and there wasn't a stretcher available. I offered to give mine up, but they wouldn't hear of it. The poor guy had to wait, and the EMTs with him, while I was there with, essentially, a hangnail.

When I was rolled into Emergency Room 5, Dr. Good (no joke) came in to see me and we explained the symptoms, such as they were. She made a concerned face and went to fetch a consulting doc, who chatted us up about primo lobster rolls and hiking in the Northwest ("I always say Washington is like Maine on steroids").

A nurse came in to draw some blood, but she couldn't seem to do it right, and she lectured me about traveling without my complete medical records and about the need to avoid salt and wine. Yeah, thanks, I said, I'll try to remember to talk to my real doctor about that when I get home. I think my sarcasm was lost on her.

The eyelid swelling could be this, it could be that, my new medical team said. Maybe we should do a CAT scan. Ok, we waited some more, and then they wheeled me in to radiology. After the machine did its thing the tech lady said, "Looks like you've had some brain work done." Yes. I explained about the surgeries and, blah blah blah, the tumors.

"Oooh, benign, I hope," she said. No, I told her. Malignant. I let that hang in the air for a minute. Not a glioma, I hope, she said.

Anyway, six hours after we arrived, it turned out my brain isn't leaking into my eyeball or vice versa. I maybe, possibly, have cellulitis, which isn't something to be removed from your fat legs but a skin infection. They prescribed some antibiotics, which I may or may not take. I'm going to call my real doctor first.

Meantime, no lobster rolls today. We said poopy to Maine and skedaddled out of there, landing tonight at a Best Western near Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts.

Thoreau never visited Maine Medical Center, as far as I know. But he did write this: "I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude."

Tomorrow, for something totally different, we're planning on driving to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Lurkers of M&M

Every once in a while, as I go about in this life, someone will mention "oh yeah, I saw that on your blog." And I think to myself you read my blog? Weird. I had no idea.

I have no idea because you don't comment! But maybe you don't comment because you don't know what to say?

So this week is coming out week for all the lurkers on this blog. You know who you are.

Here's the assignment. We're on here every day describing our days, what we see and do. On Monday or Tuesday of this week, you chime in. Tell us where you are, what you're doing, or some story of your day.

How 'bout it, lurkers??