"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)


The Stuck Pendulum page

The book Paradox Politics was written in 1987 and 1988, and published in that latter year – which, as this is written, was 27 years ago. Considering that it was intended as a current, up to the minute, review of Idaho politics and how it had gotten that way, that makes it heavily out of date now.

It’s been out a long time, but it’s not entirely forgotten. While most of its sales came in the 80s, it has sold copies ever since; Amazon has moved copies this year. That’s nice to see. What’s less easy to contemplate is that some of those people may think that Idaho politics in this new century is anything like what it was in the last one, and that would be a problem, because it isn’t. I think, generally, it holds up as a good review of the subject as of the time it was written. And I think it may have helped prompt a spate of Idaho political memoirs and biographies that cropped up in the years following.

But since then, much has changed.

Hence, The Stuck Pendulum. It’s a standalone book that also functions as an afterword – even a coda – for that earlier one, intended to bring up to date people who may have relied on Paradox for a look at Idaho politics. It doesn’t unearth a lot of secrets and not much in it will come a a big surprise to people who have followed Idaho politics in the last quarter-century or so. But for those new to the subject, or who may have wondered what has happened since 1988, I think it can be useful.

I have gotten requests from time to time for a sequel for Paradox, and it’s not just the passage of time that has increasingly made the point compelling. As the title suggests, Idaho politics, which once wandered across the political spectrum, driven by an electorate often willing to take a flyer on something different and didn’t trust anyone too damn much, has changed, locked in place, adjusting if at all only to whatever seems to be the hardest right alternative at hand.

How it got there, and especially after how it changed so drastically right after the best Idaho Democratic election year in a generation (1990), is much of the subject of The Stuck Pendulum. But there are overviews of more, of the Larry Craig incident, the fierce battles in the first congressional district and the recent splinters in the Republican Party.

For the moment, it’s priced for free, so get your copy if this sounds like your area of interest. We’ll attach a price (not a hefty one, though) a little later.

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About Books and Publishing

A column for BookWorks by Randy Stapilus.

A while back I worked with a writer who had written a good memoir, but it was riddled with issues about words he didn’t write.

This wasn’t plagiarism. He wanted to quote from popular songs that related to his story. The lyrics would have helped his narrative. But I told him he either had to get written permission to use the lyrics, or drop them. The permissions process proved cumbersome, and soon the lyrics were out.

I’ve advised writers to cut all sorts of material that wasn’t theirs from their manuscripts. In each case they intended to acknowledge the original sources, but that wasn’t enough: They needed to get written permission. Before you consider sending your book out to the world, think carefully about anything in it you didn’t write yourself, or get specific permission to use that material.

Earlier this year, working with a traditional publisher, I submitted pictures, with a variety of ownership backgrounds, for a book. Two of those photos were taken by friends who encouraged me through Facebook communication to use their photos in the book. I cut and pasted that dialogue, but by the publisher’s legal standards that wasn’t enough: The publisher required signatures from the photographers on their in-house permission forms (which I then obtained) before the pictures could be used.

This is not a matter of ethics: It’s a matter of protecting yourself legally. The Internet makes cutting and pasting easy, but it makes exposure of copying simple as well.

Some people make a living from finding copies of words or pictures reproduced without permission. Certain law firms in recent years have made a specialty of patrolling the web looking for duplicates of copyrighted material (often from newspapers and magazines), and filing or threatening to file lawsuits when they find them. You don’t want to be on the expensive receiving end of that action.

Your best defense: Stick to publishing that which you produce yourself.

This doesn’t mean you can’t reference (delete) what other people say. You simply have to be cautious about it.

Short quotes, a sentence or so in length, usually are not a problem, though reproducing even a single lyric line of a popular song can be a problem. Any recent copyrighted picture, without some indication permission, can be an issue.

Remember that copyright doesn’t have to be registered to be legally effective. My original copyright to these words, for example, became effective the moment I typed them on my computer.

The good news is that lots of online material now requires no permission at all.

Many online publishers (Wikipedia is one) release their materials under a “creative commons” license, which allows users to share and copy the original, sometimes with a requirement that it be attributed. For the most part, what is on Wikipedia, images as well as text, is available this way. Specific permissions for pictures and some other materials are hyper-linked to each one.

Creative Commons has grown into something of an international movement; its site at creativecommons.org is extensive. It is even developing its own software, such as The List, which it describes as “a new mobile app that allows anyone to create and share a list of wanted images, and allows users to respond by taking pictures and sharing them in a global archive, all licensed” under creative commons.

More open still are works in the public domain, a broad area that includes many public documents, old documents that existed before copyright or have fallen out of copyright. Anything published in the United States before 1923 is out of copyright and in the public domain. Wikipedia keeps a list of works that fall into the public domain by year; it compiled a long list for 2014.

The Wikipedia roster of sources for public domain images is massive, including its own collection of about 25 million images but also much more besides.

A great trove of free images, more than 50 million by one estimate, became available last year for online publishers with the Getty Images collection, which allows online users access as long as they attach a footnote referencing back to Getty.

Goodreads also has an impressive collection of public domain books, in a range of formats. And still more materials can be found on an Electronic Frontier Foundation web page about copyright law. It lists places where public domain works can be found, from the New York Times public domain archives (the paper itself is copyrighted, of course) to Project Gutenberg.

I probably should have told that author who wanted to use song lyrics that he had plenty of options. He just had to stay away from music lyrics and do a little more digging.

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It started one day when Roger Plothow, the publisher of the Idaho Falls Post Register daily newspaper, was talking at home about the letters to the editor his paper received, and especially some of those it didn’t publish. His son said that might be a good idea for a book.

He was right.

What happened next was that Plothow and his staff collected some of the most, ah, interesting of the letters that didn’t make the cut. There’s good reason letters like those get a lot of attention in newsrooms, and get passed around and much commented on.

They’re entertaining. Highly entertaining.

See The Unpublished page, and order your copy.

So this is the book bringing together many of the letters – they date generally from 2010 up to this year – which get a lot of attention in the newsroom. Some letters were just outright unprintable by any standard (extreme bad taste, libel and so on) and couldn’t make even this collection. But quite a few, for one reason or another, just seemed to beg for the light of day. The authors’ names were, however, redacted.

It’s not that Plothow and his staff have anything else letters to the editor. Quite the contrary: They print a lot of them every year, and prize the interaction with readers. Toward the end of this book, they also selected about a dozen of the best letters they received as examples of how the form can be done well. Many of those well-crafted letters happened to be sharp blasts at the Post Register, just as many of the rejects were. Attitude toward the paper wasn’t the dividing line; it had more to do with attitude toward logic and language.

The specific reasons for the rejections, though, aren’t noted here, at least letter by letter. Instead, make the judgement for yourself: Should this letter have been rejected, and if so, why? You may find yourself reading through an unexpectedly provocative book.

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Today we’re releasing 100 Influential Idahoans 2015 (see the box above) which is about what it says: The 100 most influential Idahoans, at present.

Or, more or less. I make the point in its introduction – though little attention may be paid – that the book essentially is about the sources of influence around Idaho, a suggestion of how things change and happen in the state, more than it is that one person is ranked number 37 and another 38. Although the list is designed to be considered in a rough order – the people toward the top tend to have more sweeping impact than the people toward the bottom – any exact roster in this format is not only subjective but a comparison of the incomparable.

Why do it this way? (Years ago, as I was preparing an earlier version of the list, someone suggested listing the 100 names in alphabetical order.) Simply, people pay a lot more attention to it this way.

And I think there is some usefulness in considering who moves people, who pulls the strings, and so on. If Idaho is of interest to you, you may find it of use too.

Ordering information in the box above.

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2014 was another busy book year at Ridenbaugh Press, maybe our busiest so far as the number of our available books reaches upward to 30 – and a significant number added this year. (We’ll have another major release to announce next week.)

Our books this year ranged from our standby of regional references to personal memoirs and books ranging farther afield, to such subjects as Vietnam and motherhood. Here’s a look at some of our top sellers over the year.


1One Flaming Hour, by Mike Blackbird. This is a compelling personal memoir about the author’s brother, Jerry, a Vietnam war vet who fell into depression before finding usefulness and meaning in public service in his home community in Idaho’s Silver Valley. Jerry Blackbird died young in a helicopter crash after having served just one session in the state Senate, but he made a powerful impression on the people who knew him, and wound up walking in his footsteps. Chris Carlson, whose Medimont Reflections was last year’s RP best seller, described One Flaming Hour as “. . . a vivid picture of his brother Jerry’s time as a Medivac pilot in Vietnam and contrasts it with the reality of the political system . . . through the lens of a blue-collar, working man made good.”

2Through the Waters, an oral history edited by Randy Stapilus and the Idaho State Bar. One of the big Idaho news stories of 2014 was the completion of the massive Snake River Basin Adjudication. This book, an oral history featuring the recollections of about three dozen major participants in the SRBA, was released at the August conclusion of the adjudication.

3Without Compromise, by Kelly Kast. 2014 marked the 75th anniversary of the Idaho State Police, and Kelly Kast did its history proud with this thoroughly researched story of the force, from its early days barely able to move around the state, to the achievements and controversies of modern times. It’s lively and informative. Our third best seller last year, it has continued selling all through 2014.

4Diamondfield: Finding the Real Jack Davis, by Max Black. Our second-best seller of 2013 continued strong this year, and for good reason: It is one of the most remarkable Idaho history books of recent years. Black not only researched what has been written before about the infamous Diamondfield Jack murder case, he found new troves of files and written records never touched by previous historians, and even found the (previously uncertain) spot where the event occurred, and a gun and buried bullet missing for more than a century. It’s a great read as history and as detective story.

5Drafted!, by David Frazier. Known in Idaho as a leading photojournalist and as editor of the cantankerous blog Boise Guardian, Frazier here tells his personal story of going to Vietnam in the Army in the sixties, and then decades later returning and seeing it with fresh eyes. And with his camera at the ready, of course. Released in December.

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Conversations with Atiyeh

Last January, former Oregon Governor Vic Atiyeh was the keynote speaker at an event put on by the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce at Happy Valley City Hall. Attendees included elected officials such as Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn), Rep. Bill Kennemer (R-Canby) and Sen. Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River).

Gov. Atiyeh was introduced by Verne Duncan, who has the unique distinction of having served in both the Idaho and Oregon legislatures. Duncan had worked as Oregon Superintendent of Schools during the Atiyeh administration.

The theme of Governor Atiyeh’s speech was “How to Use Statesmanship and Compromise.”

Atiyeh described the circumstances surrounding his initial decision to run for a seat in the Oregon House of Representatives.

Running for the Legislature

In his remarks, Governor Atiyeh provided much useful advice for the elected officials and would-be, potential and future officeholders present at the event.

Vic’s Words of Wisdom

Governor Atiyeh shared many of the principles that contributed to his success in the nearly three decades of public service that he gave to Oregon and its citizens.

The Virtues of Common Sense

The full transcripts of his remarks that day make up an entire chapter in my new book, Conversations with Atiyeh. It can be ordered by clicking here.

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You’ve seen the box above this post – about the new edition of the great Frank Church biography Fighting the Odds – for a while now. But with the release ongoing, I wanted to draw a little more attention to it.

You can find most of what you want to know (including how to order) at the Fighting the Odds page.

Here’s what we had to say in our release to media and others:

Four-term Idaho Senator Frank Church would make any short list of the most important U.S. senators of the last century, and one of the most active on heated issues, from his role in developing wilderness areas, to his opposition to the Vietnam War, to investigating the CIA, Church was a leader on a host of difficult issues – and he did so representing a state where his views were not always in the majority.

Now Fighting the Odds: The Life of Senator Frank Church by LeRoy Ashby and Rod Gramer, is back in print on the twentieth anniversary of its first publication, through Ridenbaugh Press.

With a new foreword from Oregon’s senior senator Ron Wyden, who has followed Church’s footsteps with efforts to protect Americans from the over-reaching of our National Security Agency, “Fighting the Odds,” is an award-winning, serious biography about a man who was not afraid to speak out and stand for what was right, instead of what was popular, accepted policy.

Wyden said in his foreword, “In Fighting the Odds, LeRoy Ashby and Rod Gramer have written, to my mind, the definitive biography of Senator Church’s political life. When Mr. Gramer contacted me about writing a foreword for the 20th anniversary of the book’s first printing, I was honored and quickly said yes.”

Gramer, a long-time Idaho Journalist and now President and CEO of Idaho Business for Education, covered Church for years before joining with Washington State University Professor LeRoy Ashby to write the biography.

The foreword in the first edition (reprinted in the new one) was written by then-Vice President Al Gore, who remarked, “My first memories of Senator Frank Church are from the days when my father took me as a young child to the Senate Chamber. Senator Church was easily the nicest and kindest person I met. . . . Frank Church was a visionary leader of conviction and principles. He was a strong proponent of civil rights, environmental legislation and the Panama Canal treaties of 1978. He foresaw the end of communism. But Senator Church’s greatest gift to his country was his willingness to always – always – fight for the causes in which he believed, even if his views went against public opinion.”

Kirkus Reviews called “Fighting the Odds,”  “An exhaustive, nicely done biography of the late Idaho Senator Frank Church, whose four terms (1957-81) ran from the beginning of the Cold War to the post-Vietnam era.”

Historian David McCullough said that “This fine, lively, comprehensive biography couldn’t be more welcome. Frank Church was brave, bright, articulate nearly to a fault, and a good and principled man besides. Fighting the Odds is the kind of biography so greatly needed for the powerful, influential men and women of Congress who have put their marks on our history. In choosing Senator Church, authors Ashby and Gramer have brought to life one of the most important and appealing figures of them all.”

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This has been a real transitional year for Ridenbaugh Press, unlike any before in our quarter-century or so. Our small publishing operation has published considerably more books in the last year, and by more different authors, than we ever have before, and we’ve been selling more of them.

More of this is coming. We have a pile of projects just ahead in 2014, and we’ll be publishing books in January and in pretty rapid fire for months to come.

2013 was the first year, for example, when because of the number of titles we’ve produced, the idea of a list of Top 10 bestselling books actually made some sense. So here at the very end of the year, is our list of Ridenbaugh Press bestsellers for 2013.

1 – Medimont Reflections, by Chris Carlson. This collection of essays about the author’s take on Idaho and public affairs over the last half-century or so was enlightening and entertaining, and a fine followup to his biography of Cecil Andrus.

2 – Diamondfield: Finding the Real Jack Davis, by Max Black. This has to be one of the most remarkable regional history books of the year. Black not only researched what has been written before about the infamous Diamondfield Jack murder case, he found new troves of files and written records never touched by previous historians, and even found the (previously uncertain) spot where the event occurred, and a gun and buried bullet missing for more than a century. It’s a great read as history and as detective story.

3 – Without Compromise, by Kelly Kast. 2014 marks the 75th anniversary of the Idaho State Police, and Kelly Kast did its history proud with this thoroughly researched story of the force, from its early days barely able to move around the state, to the achievements and controversies of modern times. It’s lively and informative.

4 – Idaho 100 – by Randy Stapilus and Martin Peterson. Published in September 2012, this refractured history of Idaho, ranking the 100 people who most influenced its direction from distant past to the present day, continued to sell well in 2013. If you want to know what makes Idaho tick, this book may be your best first read.

5 – New Editions – by Steve Bagwell and Randy Stapilus. Published this last October, this is the book that tells you about the Northwest’s newspapers – where they came from, how they developed, and what’s happening to them now.

6 – The Intermediary: William Craig Among the Nez Perce – by Lin Tull Cannell. Published in the fall of 2010, this stunning and meticulously researched history of the early Inland Northwest continues to sell well as it reaches more readers. If you’re interested at all in the pre-territorial days of the Pacific Northwest, this book will throw a light for you on a lot of history you never suspected.

7 – Transition – by W. Scott Jorgensen. What’s it like to be a young professional adult caught up in the economic crunch of recent years? Jorgensen takes an unsparing look at the difficulties, but also at the possibilities that lie beyond.

8 – Idaho Briefing Yearbook 2012 – edited by Randy Stapilus. Drawing from Ridenbaugh’s weekly Briefing reports, this takes a thorough look at the year in Idaho you may not have known.

9 – From Scratch – by Dennis Griffin. This 2011 book recounts the story of the founding of the College of Western Idaho at Boise and Nampa, telling how a college could and did get from concept to classroom within two years. and told by someone who should know: Its first president.

10 – The Idaho Political Field Guide – by Randy Stapilus. The statistics and the background you need to get a handle on politics in the Gem State, circa 2012. A new edition will be coming within a few weeks.

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December 2011

A few weeks of being at my new job helped me realize something very important.

I had been fortunate enough to spend most of my adult life doing something that I loved. The continued crappiness of 2011 had caused me to lose sight of this. But it became clearer the longer I stayed at my rather menial position.

When I was a reporter, I always enjoyed answering the basic question of, “How was your day?” It was an invitation to share some of the inside information I had picked up during the day’s research and interviews. I now responded to the same question with little more than a grunt, as there wasn’t really anything interesting to share.

What was also obvious to me was that this was not what I’d had in mind when upending my whole life to move to Portland. This was the job I had to settle for to make some desperately needed money to get caught up on bills. It was certainly nowhere near the happy ending I had longed for.

It was nice having a little bit of money to my name. I spoiled myself slightly by finishing the long-delayed process of replacing the last of the music I had on cassette tape with its digital equivalent. This consisted of the albums Anthrax put out in the early and mid-90s, Sounds of White Noise and Stomp 442. I was especially glad to have re-obtained a copy of their song “American Pompeii.” Although it was already 15 years old, it came across as utter prophecy.

My in-laws had suggested to me that we download a free audio recording program so we could make a demo. Ian rearranged his computer configuration and borrowed a recording mic from a friend, which enabled us to start recording our practices.

I used my audio editing experience from my broadcasting career to produce individual tracks. I was then able to put those songs on my iPod and listen to them whenever I felt like it.

The best part was that Not Sure came directly between Nirvana and the Offspring on my iPod. Our songs began to replace everything else I used to listen to, which also allowed me to make mental notes of what needed to be improved in them.

Meanwhile, interesting things continued to take place in our old stomping grounds of Josephine County. Although he had been on the job for just over a year, Simon became chairman of the board of county commissioners. A replacement had been selected for another commissioner who had resigned. But the third commissioner was recalled by a large margin, and Simon took over as chairman the next day.

Life muddled along throughout the rest of November, and I felt decently enough about the state of my existence. But all of that was in danger of being quickly unraveled by mid-December.

I got laid off from my job, which actually turned out to be a partial blessing. I had worked there just long enough to be able to collect unemployment benefits. One day, I received a letter from the employment department informing me that I may be eligible to return to school. I concluded that in two terms, I could finish getting the MBA I had already started, if that’s all I had to do.

This would be my chance to allow 2011 the chance to redeem itself in some way. The realization had hit me months before that this was shaping up to be one of the worst years I’d ever had.

I headed off to Washington State University’s Vancouver campus to inquire about returning to school. Perhaps this was one of the open doors I had so desperately sought for so long. It turned out not to be the case, as a counselor informed me that none of my credits would transfer. None. But I was more than welcome to take out student loans to pay for classes I had already passed with A’s.

Further souring my mood that morning was a message I had received from Chad on Facebook. He had sent it very late the previous evening, and all indications were that he was completely done with the band.

The rest of us took stock of that situation. Fortunately, Justin and Ian were both determined to stick with the original mission. Justin knew a couple of other drummers, and one of them was a guy that he and Ian both worked with. Luckily, Jam was having a company party that night. I impressed upon Justin and Ian the importance of recruiting their co-worker, Matt, into the band as quickly as possible, and was even willing to do it myself if I had to.

As I drove to Jam that night, I thought about how everyone I knew in Portland was either unemployed or working at Jam. Josh had even started working there. If Jam were to go under, I thought, then absolutely everyone I knew in the city would be unemployed.

I took up the task of getting Matt into the band. Minutes after arriving at Jam, I asked Justin and Ian to point Matt out to me so I could discuss this pressing matter with him.

Before Chad quit the band, we were able to record nearly every single one of our songs. I played those recordings for Matt, who was immediately enthusiastic about the prospect of playing with us. My mission of recruiting a new drummer mere hours after Chad quit was successfully completed.

Christmas was rapidly approaching. We already had a hotel room reserved for Grants Pass, so I started making arrangements to meet up with friends and family.
We left for Grants Pass on Friday morning and got there in the mid-afternoon. I dropped Maddie off to stay the night at a friend’s house, and we all went to dinner.

It wasn’t too long before I saw someone I knew. One of my old high school teachers was there, and I wished her well. This pattern continued when immediately afterwards we went to do some last-minute shopping. Robert was at the store, which enabled us to finalize some of our plans for later that evening. I also ran into Jill, one of my former co-workers at the radio station.

It was nice to once again recognize people when I went out in public. That feeling had completely escaped me ever since I left Grants Pass, even though I had been in Portland for over a year.

Much of the same cast and crew was present that night as had been for my 30th birthday party, but most were doing better than they had been back then. The glaring exception, I suppose, would have been me. We had a good time, though, and Robert even did a good karaoke version of Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me.”

I went the next morning to meet with Wally at the Powderhorn Café. Although politics had dominated most of my adult life, I had long since stopped caring much about it. The year that I spent in Portland looking for any job at all had caused me to lose interest in public policy. I was more worried about basic survival.

Wally was more determined than ever to be part of the process. He said that if good people weren’t willing to do so, then the same things would continue to happen.
By the time we were done talking, I was more encouraged than I had been in a very long time.

Good news of any kind was hard to find around that time. The national unemployment rate was 8.5 percent that month, and the same in Portland. It was at 8.9 percent statewide in Oregon.

Maddie had received a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas, so I took her there. I picked up a copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s Better Than Sex-Confessions of a Political Junkie. I read it one morning while Jimmy played with other kids at the mall, where the play area was now re-opened.

Something strange started happening as I flipped through the pages. Reading about Thompson’s status as a political junkie caused a stirring from within me. All indications were that my inner journalist was maybe not dead, but perhaps on life support.

I suppose that on some level, we can’t hide who we really are. Maybe I had spent 2011 trying to do so, and suffered tremendously as a result. The year couldn’t be over soon enough, as far as I was concerned. For all it mattered, I might as well have spent that whole 12 months in a coma.

Annaka and I were able to go out on New Year’s Eve, and went over to Brad’s. Justin and his girlfriend Christy were already there by the time we arrived. I was overjoyed to be surrounded by those closest to me.

After going to The Nest, we walked up the street to The Hilt, then back to The Nest. That’s where we were when the countdown to 2012 started.

9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….Happy New Year!

And just like that, 2011 was finished.

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July 2011

Before long, I found myself overcome with nervousness.

I called to follow up about the temporary position at Oregon Capitol News, and was told I would find out about it by the end of the day. Much to my relief, I heard back later that I did, indeed, get that job. This meant we would have some money coming in and I would have something to do for a couple of weeks.

A few days later, I headed off to Salem to have lunch with Wally. I decided to bring Maddie, and thought it would be nice to show her around the state capitol. We walked with Wally to a nearby café. He was happy with how the session had gone, but said it was getting harder and harder to leave his family every weekend to come back to Salem.

A couple of days later, I got together with Justin and Ian. Justin had apparently found a drummer, named Chad, for us to play with. I took Annaka’s van over to Justin’s place to load up his bass stack. We then made our way over to Chad’s house.

Because I had parked on the other side of the very busy 60th Street, we had to dart across it with our instruments and equipment. Luckily, Justin’s stack had wheels, so he could just roll it through traffic. We headed up to the attic, where Chad’s drum set was located. He said he liked our songs, and seemed like a cool guy who understood where we were coming from.

Chad had a microphone and a guitar amp we could attempt to use for PA, but we couldn’t quite get it to work. That was all right, though, because the lyrics for most of the songs weren’t fully figured out yet. I started to suggest to Ian that we go over the lyrics during our usual chess/coffee/anger management sessions. But it dawned on me that I would actually be working the next few weeks, for the first time in over eight months.

Our jam session was very productive, and all indications were that Evil Homers had a complete lineup. We scheduled a follow-up for the Fourth of July, which fell on a Monday.

After dropping Justin and Ian off, I headed home to pack for our trip to Grants Pass. We woke up early the next morning and hit the road.
Along the way to Grants Pass, we passed by Golden, the old, abandoned mining town where Annaka and I had gotten married nearly four years prior.

A historic reenactment was taking place back then, complete with people renewing their wedding vows. Annaka and I had just gotten our marriage certificate and rings a couple of days before that, and were able to get married in a spontaneous ceremony held inside a church.

Wally was already at the Powderhorn by the time we arrived. I called Simon at the courthouse and urged him to come and meet us. Simon ordered a slice of strawberry pie, which inspired me to do the same. The biggest perk of working at the Powderhorn was that I would often end up with whatever slices of pies they couldn’t sell during the day.

Our meeting was taking place approximately six months after Wally and Simon had taken office. Both had learned a lot since being sworn in, and were determined to continue doing right by their constituents.

During our discussion, I asked Simon if any aspects of his job were different than what he had expected. He replied that the county’s financial situation was deteriorating much faster than he’d thought. A couple of the departments he was charged with overseeing were also in worse shape than most people realized.

In many ways, Simon’s job as county commissioner had proven difficult. He had taken part in replacing different department heads who had resigned or retired, had taken on the task of being the interim fairgrounds manager, and was even having to choose a replacement commissioner. But he was still optimistic after half a year on the job.

Having made my rounds, I headed off to Riverside Park to play disc golf. Jimmy ran to the playground before Annaka and my mother-in-law came to join us. As soon as they arrived, I grabbed my Frisbees and walked over to the disc golf course. It had been moved around in the time since I had left town. Undeterred, I proceeded to get a couple of birdies in the best game I had played in a very long time. After nine holes, I was still two strokes under par.

Triumphant, I rounded up Jimmy and Annaka and drove to my dad’s place in Jacksonville. Along the way, I passed by some of the towns where I had cut my teeth reporting in my early twenties, like Rogue River and Gold Hill.
It was great to see my dad again after so long. I had felt bad for moving his grandson nearly 300 miles away.

Our financial situation was not great, and the high cost of gas had made the trip more expensive. My in-laws had sent us some money ahead of time to help defer some of those costs, and my dad helped out by giving us $100 in cash. He also offered to babysit Jimmy the next day so Annaka and I could go on our first date in months.

On our way back to Vancouver a few days later, we stopped in Grants Pass to meet a friend. The location was the same Elmer’s restaurant where I had made my speech before the Josephine County Republican Women in late October.

By this point, I had been in Vancouver for so long that I was used to not knowing anybody when I went out in public. That changed literally as soon as we got to Elmer’s, where I ran into several people I knew.

We got in the car and headed back to Vancouver. I did, after all, have a temporary job and band practice to get to.

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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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