Portland: Have You Voted Yet?

by Steve, May 8th, 2007

Ballots are due in a week for the May, 2007 special election on May 15. This is a very important election for the struggling Portland Public Schools. The Vicki Phillips era is thankfully ending, and two of her major supporters have worthy opponents in the race. I’ve already gone on record in my support of Neighborhood Schools Alliance founder Ruth Adkins, who is running against Phillips’ cheerleader Doug Morgan.

I’m also throwing my hat in the ring for Michele Schulz, who is challenging another Phillips supporter, David Wynde.

Victories for Schulz and Adkins will be a major win for the children of Portland, which is to say the future of Portland. Both represent grass-roots, community based ideas, and both represent a positive change from leadership that has given us the Jeferson Cluster debacle, fast-track school closures and radical school reconfiguration, all with token (if any) community involvement.

Please vote soon so that you don’t forget. As I mentioned in an earlier post of the subject, even if you just skip the city charter change questions, just mark the ballot for these two candidates and stick it in the mail. It’s that important!

So it Goes.

by Steve, May 8th, 2007

You’d be hard-pressed to find a eulogy of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. that doesn’t include that phrase, so I thought I’d get it out of the way in the title. Considering the body of work he leaves behind, I think it is appropriate.

Growing up in Iowa City, you pretty much have to be a fan. Vonnegut taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop from 1965-1967, and left an indelible imprint both on the Writers’ Workshop and the community. He lived in a big old farm house at the cobble-stoned end of Van Buren Street, just off Brown Street. Later, after he’d left to go teach at Harvard, the house was turned into a rental. I don’t know when it started, but an institution took hold that was beyond anyone’s control.

Each May Day, the grounds of the house became the scene of the biggest party in town. The “Vonnegut House” became legendary, not for the kind of party that once drew the likes of Saul Bellow and Jose Donoso, but for all-night, beer- and psychedelic-fueled, shout at the moon craziness. I was surprised by how well organized the thing was, despite having a life of its own. Bands played, including mine in 1988 and 1989. There was a beer trailer. A giant bonfire. Somehow, the huge old barn that served as stage never caught fire.

The cops would just block off the cul de sac and let the party run its course. Some time in the ’80s, the house was sold, and the tradition ended. The new owners wanted nothing to do with the tradition.

A tradition which, of course, had nothing to do with Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

I came to love Vonnegut when I was working as a waiter at a steak house in Coralville, housed in an old power plant along the Iowa River. Between shifts, I devoured his novels in chronological order. Even though many of them were written before I was born, they seemed to fit the zeitgeist in Iowa City at the time. They probably still do (I wouldn’t know; I moved away in 1989).

I only knew the man through his work and his imprint on my home town. I have enjoyed reading all the eulogies on the Web. Salon has a nice compilation of remembrances from some who encountered him in real life, capturing a hint of who he was as a human. The L.A. Times published an excellent obituary. (There are many more out there; too many to list here.)

When Vonnegut came back to Iowa City in 1989 to speak, he would only speak to students at the Workshop. This annoyed the hipsters in town to no end. The light his legacy cast across Iowa City was ultimately larger than he could have known. His influence on my writing and world view is immense, and the world is a poorer place with his passing.

So it goes.