This is your ivy-covered brain on drugs.

Reed College in Portland has long enjoyed its reputation as a haven for the brainy, gifted and creative student. In recent years it’s also become a standout for the idiotic public state-of-denial exuded by its president and top brass who allowed a monster drug problem to take root on campus.

A couple of heroin overdoses didn’t rattle the top dogs as much as the feds stepping in with warnings that undercover cops will be milling about during a campus festival that historically has been a haven for drug sales and use. Now, at last, it looks like the college’s leadership might just have to grow some cojones.

From The New York Times:

“…Law enforcement officials raised an unusual theory of liability. Under a federal law intended to close crack houses, anyone who knowingly operates premises where drugs are used may be subject to serious criminal and civil penalties. Education lawyers, however, said they were unaware of that law’s ever being contemplated, let alone used, in the context of higher education.”

You can bet the “education lawyers” associated with Reed are now sweating the possibility of being the first case in which this “knowingly operates” clause is applied within academia.

The students, of course, will find an amusing, telegenic way to thumb their collective nose at the police presence on campus during the fair. They, at least, act in character, questioning authority. Maybe the leadership of their college will buck up and act in character too. Finally.

Arizona: Toughen up that immigrant law.

I was away last week, traveling the highways of the Southwest and the byways of the Northeast. Now I’ve come home to ponder the brilliance of the new immigrant law in Arizona.

It’s ingenious, really. It requires local cops to grab anyone who looks suspicious and demand proof of citizenship. Simple, but brilliant. The last time a state took this kind of well-thought out initiative was back in the day when public restrooms in the South were marked WHITE and COLORED.

All this whining about violating the Constitution is silly. That Constitution applies to REAL citizens, not people who sneak across the border determined to live debauched lives of mowing lawns, cleaning toilets, picking fruit or babysitting white kids. Surely any citizens detained by mistake will understand that it is all for their own safety and well-being.

And the claim that local police are not equipped to administer such a law is simply not true. Who better to pick out sneaky illegals than the armed guy or gal who already protects the streets terrorized by these roving, Spanish-speaking law breakers?

Instead of hissing our disapproval, we should be grateful that Arizona’s lawmakers are willing to live with the occasional delay when they call 911 after a rape, burglary or armed robbery. (We’ll be right with you ma’am, we just need to finish the paperwork on this Garcia fellow.)

The only reasonable criticism of this new law is that it doesn’t go far enough. Why not require all non-citizens to attach a badge of sorts on their clothes? Something easy to spot, like a star, maybe. In a bright color like yellow or pink. It’s not high-tech or expensive. Anyone, even someone who doesn’t speak English, can understand this requirement.

And here’s the beauty part: We already know it works.

77 Words: “The First Patient” by Michael Palmer

The Second Opinion by Michael Palmer (St. Martin’s Press, 2009) –

Yes, a distracting thriller that doubles as a medical-terminology vocabulary builder! The prolific Palmer delivers another escapist doctor drama–with appealing characters in an enjoyably improbable plot. When arrogant, charismatic doc (and neglectful dad) Petros Sperelakis is injured in a hit-and-run, some of his offspring want to pull the plug, while physician-daughter Thera becomes a sturdy advocate. Her unwavering focus and photographic memory, courtesy of Asperger Syndrome, are crucial tools as she unravels the evil back story.

For more “77 Words: Tiny Book Reviews,” click here.

Let them eat baggage fees.

Everyone hates air travel. Tree hugger, teaparty dope, rich guy, poor chick. It’s the great equalizer. And, this business of making customers who already hate you fork over more money for baggage is the ultimate Let Them Eat Cake move of our time.

Now, almost as many people are mad at big banks. You can buy a pair of socks at the mall and the debit will be on your account before you get back to the car. But try to get someone on the phone to explain a late charge, and you will be in phone-tree hell long enough to throw in a load of wash and make a sandwich.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Consider: If I see a questionable or inacurate charge on my Visa account, I can go online and quickly  file a complaint with my credit union. They investigate, and while doing so, they do not debit my account for the amount in question. (Another reason to use credit unions. How many times do I need to tell you people this?)

So, here’s the new plan. Big banks, allow your customers to challenge any baggage fee charged to their credit card. Make it easy: no phone trees. Maybe just a text message? Then, take your time investigating it. Make those airlines wait. Make ‘em wait a loooong time.

77 Words: “The Swimming Pool” by Holly LeCraw

For more “77 words: Tiny book reviews,” click here.

The Swimming Pool” by Holly LeCraw (Doubleday, 2009) – This debut is an intriguing hybrid: romance fiction, dash of mystery, literary craft. LeCraw seizes on ways guilt can coexist with love, sometimes choking out happiness, other times making joy more precious. No real humor or lightness here, yet the story of marriages changed by adultery and secrets is not ultimately dark. Its Cape Cod setting lured me at first, but in the end LeCraw’s sense of that place didn’t impress, while inner landscapes were vivid indeed.

(Editor’s note, 4/21: A friend emails to point out that this book is being marketed as “chick lit” and a beach-totebag book. By all means, throw it in a tote or backpack…but chick-lit it ain’t.)

A snapshot of us.

Sometimes an hour with the newspaper is all I need to see the immense contradictions and ironies of this country. These New York Times pieces are a case in point.

A story by Katie Zernike ponders polling of resentful Tea Party supporters.  I am ashamed of these fellow citizens; their racism, their short-sighted, self-serving demands for a return to the so-called  “real America” — code for a class system that keeps them snug and well-fed while shutting others out:

“In the poll, Tea Party supporters …were almost unanimous in their dislike of President Obama. Overwhelmingly, they said he does not share the values most Americans live by and does not understand the needs and problems of people like them. They are significantly more likely than Republicans or the general public to say that too much attention has been made of the problems facing black people, and that the policies of the Obama administration favor blacks over whites and the poor over the rich or the middle class.”

Then I turned to the obit page and saw that another highly visible figure in the civil rights movement has died: Benjamin L. Hooks. age 85. Hooks, who headed the NAACP for many years, was a minister, businessman and the first African American to be named a judge in Tennessee’s criminal courts. He was also the first to be appointed to the Federal Communications Commission. Hooks struggled to keep issues of civil rights in the forefront when Americans began to take the gains of the 1960s for granted. He wasn’t the most compelling public voice in the movement, but to look at his life and work is to understand the crucial changes wrought by Americans who would no longer tolerate Jim Crow.

And, finally, a profile of Eddie Feibusch, the undisputed king of zippers, reminds me that this is also a land of opportunity, imagination and very good stories.

The piece by Ralph Blumenthal describes the indefatigable 86-year-old:

“He sold a zipper for Margaret Truman’s wedding gown when Miss Truman, the president’s daughter, married Clifton Daniel in 1956, he is proud to say. He sold zippers to Nike for Tiger Woods and Roger Federer. And a prison in North Carolina called for a zipper for Bernard L. Madoff. Why? He doesn’t know.

New York City’s garment industry once had lots of zipper shops, some bigger than his, Mr. Feibusch says. But little by little they relocated, to China, India, Costa Rica. Then came the Sept. 11 attacks. ‘They couldn’t get their goods in,’ he said. “That was the end of the business.’

But not for Mr. Feibusch, a prewar refugee from Vienna who overcame not just the Nazis but also Velcro…”

Meth trash? That goes in the blue bin, right?

We’re always a little behind the curve when it comes to controlling dangerous-stuff-while-driving behavior.

We wait until a lot of cars blow up (Corvair, Pinto) or take off on their own (Toyota) or roll over (early SUVs) before we regulate ‘em. We get all pissy toward people (Ralph Nader in the ’60s) who try to help us stay safe (seat belts).

We’re weak-kneed when it comes to regulating things that any fool can see are dangerous, such as texting and talking on cells while driving. Some states with new laws against the latter are just handing out warnings to folks who work out of their cars, like on-the-road salespeople. Oh, please. Unless you’re a mobile day-trader, there is no job that won’t allow you to pull over for 4 minutes and make a call.

Now, according to Susan Saulny in  The New York Times, there’s a lot of meth cooking going on in back seats. Of moving cars.

What better way to stay under the radar, so to speak? You buy such small amounts of pseudoephedrine that no alarms go off at the store, and you cook it in the car, where nosy neighbors don’t get suspicious and turn you in. As long as you keep within the speed limits, wear your seatbelts and are not on the phone, the stretched-too-thin cops might miss the fact that you and your smurfer buddies are making–and indulging–in product. And then tossing the resulting trash out the window.

That meth-littering is the main point of the NYT story. And my only hope is that here in the Pacific Northwest, at least, people will nip this activity in the bud.  In this part of the world we are on trash like, well, flies on trash.

In Portland especially, we sort it. Boy, do we sort it. Our coffee grounds are composting before we set the mug down; our old tires are sneakers. I bought a sun hat the other day thinking it was straw. Wrong, it was made of recycled phone books. People here are terrified of losing daily newspapers, not because they read ‘em, but because they can be turned into bricks and then sports stadiums. (I made that last thing up, but it’s almost the truth.)

If there’s a new kind of trash in town, we’ll find a way to spin it into something else. And, in a couple of years, we’ll have a law on the books that forbids cooking in the back seat. Of course, by then it will have moved to light-rail cars.

Why computer chips will not replace the human brain just yet.

Conscious thoughts upon dropping a hot microwave pizza on the floor, pepperoni side down:

Shit I’m starving that thing cost almost six bucks I should have said no when I saw the price ring up but the grocery cashier was already close to tears because the woman ahead of me had $40 in food stamps and $62 in groceries and had to put stuff back while her kid watched I shouldn’t be eating this crap if I flip it over fast maybe some of the sauce will still be on the crust when did I last wash this floor will the tomato sauce come out of my t-shirt I’m not even sure what pepperoni is could any of that ant-killing stuff I sprayed last week still be on the floor if I get sick I can say it’s from the goat cheese we had last night I’ll run cold water on the shirt as soon as I finish eating

Elapsed time: 4 seconds.

77 words: “Gone to Soldiers” by Marge Piercy

For more “77 words: Tiny book reviews,” click here.

“Gone to Soldiers” by Marge Piercy (Ballantine, 1987) – I missed this oldie until finding it (used) at Powell’s; happily it stood the test of time. The prolific Piercy wrote her heart out, tracing 10-or-so interconnected Jewish lives during WWII. Think Herman Wouk with more–and more believable—women; fewer clichés, good plot, pitch-perfect period detail. Piercy doesn’t tell a tale of wartime, she takes you right to the dinner table, the code-breaker’s desk, the resistance camp in rural France. Dig it up for beach luxuriating.

77 Words: “Gone Tomorrow,” by Lee Child

For more “77 words” Tiny book reviews, click here.

Gone Tomorrow (A Jack Reacher Novel)” by Lee Child (Dell, 2010) – Jack Reacher is an ex-military cop who travels light: toothbrush, cash, clothes on his back, chip on his big shoulder. He can’t resist a tangled mystery or a bad guy…and this time the bad guy is a gal.  Even better. Child gets plot and detail (including the grisly stuff) to roll forward so smoothly and swiftly that it’s damn near impossible to put the book down. Good news: yet another Reacher novel is already in the wings.

Pulitzer winners: Yes, we’re doing a victory dance in our PJs

When a newsroom wins a Pulitzer, it is a moment like no other. The suits are happy, the mid-level managers are happy, the worker bees are happy. If there’s any other event as uniting and uniformly appreciated, I have not witnessed it.

I’ve never so much as spell-checked a Pulitzer entry. But I am proud to say that while at The Seattle Times I did once sew the ripped pocket back on the jacket of a winner so she’d look good for the “We won a Pulitzer!” photo about to be snapped in the newsroom. And you know what? I was so excited I could hardly hold my hands still enough to thread the needle.

Today I have the temerity to speak for the hundreds of former journalists sitting home in their PJs pretending to freelance; the retired copy editors who worked overnights so long that they will always have trouble going to bed before dawn; the countless people who refuse to believe that good news-gathering and news-writing are at death’s door.

So, Pulitzer winners in Seattle: Way to go.

High-risk sleepwalking

When I read “Raiding the Refrigerator, but Still Asleep” by Randi Hutter Epstein in The New York Times, I immediately had two questions:

1. Whoa! Do people actually binge eat in their sleep?

2. Do people do this in poor countries, or just in places where there’s a lot of extra food sitting around?

Epstein’s good reporting and respectful treatment of this makes one take it seriously:

“Consequences of nighttime eating can include injuries like black eyes from walking into a wall or hand cuts from a prep knife, or dental problems from gnawing on frozen food. On a deeper level, many sleep eaters feel depressed, frustrated and ashamed. Upwards of 10 percent of adults suffer from some sort of parasomnia, or sleep disorder, like sleepwalking or night terrors. Some have driven cars or performed inappropriate sexual acts — all while in a sleep-induced fog.”

There’s another thing I wonder about: Why don’t such nocturnal wanderings include chores? Does anyone fold laundry while sleepwalking? Clean out the spice cabinet? Give the dog his ear drops? Vote on health-care legislation?

Wait, nix that last question. I know the answer. 212 members of the US House of Representatives sleepwalked through a vote on March 21. Fortunately 219 of their colleagues were wide awake.

Book Review: “Imperfect Birds” by Anne Lamott

I reviewed Lamott’s new novel for The Seattle Times:


“Imperfect Birds,” Riverhead, 278 pp., $29.95

“Anne Lamott’s new novel at first invokes the sort of twinge one feels when catching that Bob Dylan song on a Victoria’s Secret commercial. Yes, it’s still good art. No, you can’t blame an artist for wanting to make a buck. Yet there’s no ignoring the little inner voice asking, Et tu, Anne?”

For the rest of the review, click here.

Heroic tee-off

A faithful reader of Type Like The Wind (also a friend and former colleague at The Seattle Times) is glued to the television for the Masters golf tournament. Craig (“Smitty”) Smith sends the challenge below. Since this is the closest I will ever get to actually playing the game, I agreed to give it a whirl:

“Imagine who would be in your ‘dream foursome’ for golf. You count yourself, of course, then have to come up with three other people you would like to spend 6 hours with – 4 1/2 on the course and 1 1/2 in the grill having lunch or drinks. Players can be someone long gone or someone in the present such as Barack Obama. Male or female. Has to be a believable golfer, though, which means Mother Theresa doesn’t qualify.”

I’ll add another rule: No professional golfers. (So forget Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Tiger.)

Okay. Well. Hmmm. If Mother Theresa doesn’t count, I’m guessing the late, great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson doesn’t either, right? She’s always on my list of “people-I’d-meet-if-I-could.”

Other usual occupants of that list seem problematic too. Several of my heroes are not physically able to qualify–FDR, Helen Keller, Ray Charles.

Some have too much dignity to be exposed to a world in which pink and green pants are acceptable–Eleanor  Roosevelt; Martin Luther King, Jr., Louisa May Alcott, EB White, Abraham Lincoln.

Some would just be annoyed at the idea–Lyndon Johnson (“Ah’d rather be hunting.”); Frank Lloyd Wright (“Why are the greens so round? Can’t we get some rectangles in here?”).

So, on to my other heroes. I’d pick John F. Kennedy, Muhammad Ali and Johnny Carson.

I’m exhausted. This golf stuff is harder than it looks.

[Update: Smitty's picks: Teddy Roosevelt, Billy Crystal and former Sen. Bill Bradley.]

Sursum corda…and your voices too.

I’m not always wowed by what Maureen Dowd writes in her column for The New York Times. But when she nails it, she nails it.

She’s been a fiery commentator about the Roman Catholic Church and its sinful cover-ups of clergy who prey on children and adult parishioners. The more pundits, pulpits and parents who join that chorus, the better. This fight takes more than rhetoric, it takes heart and courage of the faithful.

Dowd’s latest piece on the Church mess is very good, and an unusually humble approach for she-of-the-sturdy-eg0. She turned the column over to her brother Kevin, a creche-collecting conservative Catholic. One snippet:

“The church is dying from a thousand cuts. Its cover-up has cost a fortune and been a betrayal worthy of Judas. The money spent came from social programs, Catholic schools and the poor. This should be a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance.”

The Vatican and the top-tier of the Church in this country are furious at Maureen Dowd. They dismiss what she says in ways direct and subtle. It won’t be so easy to ignore her brother.

Read the whole column here.

Hole in one? How about the Holy One.

Watching the endless mea culpa madness involving Tiger Woods, I can’t help but wonder why other international figures don’t learn something from his very public apologies.

The Pope, for instance.

I mean, come on, here’s one guy on the pro circuit ‘fessing up and doing 12-step speak on all the networks, while the captain whose team roster is filled with child-abusing clerics is sending his Brothers-in-Spin out to defend the Church.

Tiger’s working the program, leave the guy alone.

Now what we really need is for ESPN to get next to the Holy See for some live face-time.

TV as role model.

We boomers have a kind of television-show DNA that the generations before and after do not. Our parents managed to live lives free of the talking box; people born later have more technology around them than the Apollo astronauts did. The TV personalities and shows of our childhoods are a currency that spends across geographical and class lines.

Say “Beatles” and we think “Ed Sullivan.” Only recently have we discarded “Walt Disney” and taken up “Pixar” as the name that comes to mind for all-things-animated.

(Credit: SitcomsOnline.com)

News of actor John Forsythe’s death reminded me of this. Forsythe went to his reward being most remembered for his latter-day sex symbol role in “Dynasty,” a long-running series he starred in late in his long career.  (“Dynasty,” you may recall, is the show that made women’s dresses and jackets sprout shoulder pads the size of terriers.)

When I saw the obit for Forsythe I also remembered his brief role as a retired Air Force major running a private school for girls.  “The John Forsythe Show,” kept me riveted each week of the 1965-66 season that it ran. It convinced me that boarding school would save my life, and indeed it did a few years later.

Much is made of the mind-melting properties of too-much television. We all cluck and shake our heads when we read those stories about how many hours Americans–especially kids–spend in front of the tube. But now and then, an idea from a silly sitcom takes root and grows into something good. So, here’s hoping that Mr. Forsythe’s heirs live long and prosper with the fruits of his TV labors.

Classroom heroes.

Jaime Escalante is dead, so take a moment, bow your head and thank the Great Whatever for stubborn, tireless, unrealistic teachers.

Escalante is the man portrayed in the 1988 movie “Stand and Deliver,” which I happened to see last week. . (It met two of my movie requirements: It allowed me to avoid doing actual work; and it stars Edward James Olmos.)

The movie is a Hollywood-ized take on the East Los Angeles high school teacher who refused to believe poor Hispanic kids were doomed to fail in school. He taught them calculus, they learned, they passsed the Advanced Placement Exam with flying colors. They even survived an erroneous charge of cheating one year.

Most of us have one teacher who gave us a push that changed our life direction; sometimes it was a slight veer, other times it was an about-face. Mary Donovan was mine. I was in her third-grade class in 1965-66. It was her last year before retirement, and if her energy or love of teaching had waned over her long public-school career, it didn’t show.

I was not a model pupil. Very small and scrawny for my age, hopeless in math and science, not yet confident in schoolyard sports. I missed school days often, and when I was present I was preoccupied with my parent’s exploding marriage.

In the spring of that year we were assigned our first “paper,” an independent project meant to be a page or two. I wrote a five-page draft (in pencil, yellow lined paper) and my theme was “How someone becomes a good person.”  (I dimly recall making a connection between Easter and heroics, which would now cause considerable turmoil in the very secular world of public education.)

Mrs. Donovan was effusive. She showed my final paper (blue ink, white paper) to the principal. She pinned it up on the bulletin board right next to the A-plus math papers of my classmates.

On the last day of school, we lined up to hug our teacher–another thing that is probably not okay anymore. When my turn came, Mrs. Donovan held me by both shoulders and said, firmly, “Kimmie, I just know you’re going to be a writer.”

We corresponded long enough that she saw her prediction come true. When she died in the late 1980s, her niece answered my last letter. “I know Aunt Mary loved hearing from you,” she wrote. “And I know she would have wanted me to send you the enclosed.”

It was the draft of my five-page paper.