Writings and observations

transition

This is an excerpt from the Ridenbaugh Press book Transition, by W. Scott Jorgensen. More will be appearing over the weeks to come. The book is available now from Ridenbaugh Press.

April 2011

One day, I drove to the local branch of the employment department. Parking spots were rare, and the lot was completely packed. One eventually became available as someone else left.

The national unemployment rate was 9 percent that month. Oregon was at 9.6 percent and Portland was at 9.3 percent.
I entered my resume into the department’s computer system. After browsing the various job listings for a while, I decided to head home for lunch.

As I left, “Lost Cause” started playing on my iPod yet again.

Why did this keep happening?

I had plans one afternoon to jam with Justin, as he had just bought a bass guitar and amp cabinet. Since I didn’t have a job or any prospects, it was the least I could do to get out of the house.

Justin and I were going to be joined by another old friend, Jon. He and I had reconnected via Facebook, and it turned out he lived a few blocks from Justin.

The last time I saw Jon, I had just started working at the radio station and gotten married. We played a round of disc golf one day, but had since fallen out of touch.

Oddly enough, he and Justin had run into each other while recycling at a neighborhood store in Portland. They had lost each other’s contact information, so this would be a reunion of sorts for them as well.

Back when Justin and I were both in a band called Drunken Public, we were somewhat of a songwriting team. He would come up with decent riffs, but would be unable to remember them. I would then take those riffs and use them as the basis for songs.

Justin hadn’t played a whole lot since then. This was actually the first time he had owned a bass since pawning his equipment in early 2002. I was curious to see if Justin could recall any of our old material, so I started playing a few of those songs.

One of them, “A Woman in Washington,” had been among my favorites. It was written as a response to Congressman Gary Condit’s 2001 sex scandal involving his missing intern Chandra Levy. The song took potshots at him, Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy.

Condit’s story had dominated the news in those seemingly innocent days before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Almost approximately 24 hours before the attacks, Condit’s political career was being discussed on a Fox News program, as they were debating whether or not he should resign. Meanwhile, on the other end of the country, I, Justin and some of our other friends were having a late night in my Talent residence. We had made it a point to try to finish a box of Franzia wine that another friend had left in my fridge at a previous party.

We sat there watching the Fox News program and sipping on the wine when I decided to call and voice my opinion on Condit’s future. Justin and my other friends were completely passed out by the time I got on the air, as it was at least three in the morning. But I managed to plug both our band and that song on national television, and sounded far less intoxicated than I actually was.

This would have been a major public relations triumph, if not for the nation’s greatest tragedy happening the next day. That, of course, swept Condit right off the front page and set the stage for an awful decade of war, poverty and a growing sense of hopelessness among America and especially its young people.

To his credit, Justin almost remembered how to play “A Woman in Washington.” I just had to give him a bad time about it, though, because it used to be included in our live sets.

“Dude, in your life, you have played this song at least 200 times! We used to practice this several times a week!”
I also played “I Know Where You Live,” because I thought Justin would be able to remember it.

That particular number was about our friend Brandon’s stint working at the Sprint call center in Medford, which consisted of having people scream at him all day every day. While they did so, their most intimate personal information was right at his fingertips—Social Security number, nearest living relative, bank account numbers, you name it.

Brandon used to say that if people knew the depth of the information he had in front of him during those conversations, they would probably be a whole lot nicer. We used to joke that he could easily print out their information, go to their houses and confront them in person for being so mean to him.

The poor guy would be so visibly aggravated every day when he got off of work that I felt compelled to write the song for him. It worked well, because it was poppy enough to have hand claps in the introduction. That was intended to offset the dark and disturbing subject matter.

I know where you work/I know what you drive/I know your mother’s maiden name/I have your e-mail address/I know where you bank/And all of the places you think you’re safe…

Overall, Justin and I did little more than create utter cacophony that afternoon. But we had a lot of fun, and that’s really all that matters. I was just happy to be hanging out with my friends.

The three of us ended up talking about the obvious limitations before us—there is only so much you can do without a drummer. Drummers are a rare breed anyway.
Finding one who is good and cool to hang out with is exceptionally difficult. I knew two in the Portland area that I used to play with who fit that description, but they were both too busy to jam on a regular basis.

It was around this time that I made a long-overdue confession to Jon—I killed the Karma Guitar.

The story of the Karma Guitar was legendary in our social circle. Jon had stolen it from a guy in Colorado who owed him some money. Over the years, many of our friends ended up with the Karma Guitar at some point or another. I had left it with my friend Chris in the late 90s, who still had it years later. He gave it back to me so I could smash it during Drunken Public’s second show, which is precisely what I did.

My friend Micah called one afternoon to update me on his situation. He had lost his job, but decided to go into business for himself. He was now using his background in accounting to consult small businesses and essentially be his own boss. I was proud of Micah and suddenly inspired by his success. He definitely deserved it.

Micah was proof to me that the future really could belong to my generation. I had seen an article at one point that dubbed us “Generation Indentured,” in light of the huge deficits and limited opportunities being dropped into our laps. But if Micah’s situation was any indication, we were up to the challenge and ready to start right away.

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RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

Not long ago the talk here was that hardly any names had surfaced – other than the incumbent’s – for the 2014 U.S. Senate contest in Oregon. That incumbent, Democrat Jeff Merkley, is widely assumed to be planning a re-election campaign, though he hasn’t formally announced.

Considering that Senate seat was held before Merkley’s election in 2008 by Republicans (actually, two Republicans) going back to 1966, you might think on the surface that plenty of prominent names would rise up to run. Hasn’t been the case.

There were no such contenders at all on the Republican side until mid-august, when Albany financial planner (and a former Republican chair in Linn county) Jo Rae Perkins said on Facebook that she plannned to run. Maybe that was a signal that experience getting elected to, well, anything, wasn’t needed to run for the U.S. Senate. A neurosurgeon from Portland, Monica Wehby, sais she would enter too, last week. On October 7 a businessman from Bend named Sam Carpenter said he too may run.

There is, among the various prospects, one with actual elective experience who appears likely to announce soon, he being Republican state Representative Jason Conger of Bend. He is planning a series of announcements on October 15, at Bend and Oregon City, the sort of setup that usually indicates an actual announcement for major office. (It did for Merkley six years ago.)

Conger, who actually is an experienced candidate and has done such things as raise money, would seem to be the likely frontrunner among the Republicans at this point. His history doesn’t suggest any special obstacles (or unusual advantages either) for the race. As he is no doubt aware, of course, he’s running in an uphill situation, in a state which has been moving in a gentle but clear pattern favoring blue rather than red candidates.

But he may want to take care. If the gaggle of Republican candidates stays in, and some others of them get more attention – maybe not the helpful kind – than Conger gets, his nomination may not be assured. And if that attention is really not good, it could do his nomination some damage even assuming he gets it.

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