Wednesday, June 30, 2021

GOING POOR - Chapter 14


    To his sister's chagrin he had invited his friend to dinner, leaving her to wonder how she could pull that off, given her sparse pantry and cramped trailer.

    Yet, with another invitation and some creative menu planning she had managed to transform what might have been an awkward dining experience into "a kind of party."

         Chapter 14

It was scarcely noon and already Lane’s Monday was badly in need of a pick-me-up. Chances were a McBurger would have helped improve his mood. But the sad fact that he had only a single dollar bill in his wallet was enough to settle that ‘poor me’ complaint. He would have to settle for saltines and coffee once he got to Sally’s. 

There was no escaping the depressing truth of it. His morning had started off on a hopeful note.... with the possibility, if not the promise, of a productive visit to the Employment Office. It was distressing to realize how wrong he had been about that. 

His nostalgic return to The Hill and Keltran Street had only served to magnify his sense of how much had been lost over the far he had fallen short. Yet, what weighed him down the most was the haunting paradox of empty townhouses in the midst of such need. 

While the Mission House teemed with unfortunate souls living in tents, the row of hillside homes he passed that morning had only reinforced the belief that better possibilities were at hand, yet out of reach.

Leaving the Mission House he started down River Street towards the trailer park, replaying his unsettling conversation with Maureen as he walked. Her well-intentioned insights had not set well with him....especially her blunt suggestion that his ‘in control’ assumptions were too often a fantasy.

By the time he came to the second bridge he was determined to regain at least a hint of act on a new choice, a new possibility. A few blocks later, where the underground stream emerged to tumble down to the river, he stopped at the edge of the street. Through the underbrush he could make out the end of a weathered warehouse structure. Somewhere along that wall was Robert’s makeshift Penthouse.

“Hey, Robert,” he yelled, hoping to find his friend at home. “Are you there? It’s me, Lane.”

“Yo,” came a muffled reply. “Just a minute.” Emerging from his tent Robert followed the narrow trail through a tangle of berry vines toward a clearing next to the creek. “What up?” he asked as he stepped out into the open. “What’s going on?”

“I was just thinking,” Lane said. “They say tonight’s going to be another cold one. What if you got ready for it with a nice hot dinner, up at our trailer? That would warm you up a little before a long chilly night in the Penthouse.”

“Are you sure? Does your sister know about that?”

“She will.” 

Lane was half laughing to himself. There he was, exercising some of his lost control, making his own choices, and about to surprise Sally at the same time. “You just come on up, say four-thirty or five. We won’t be eating fancy, but it’ll be warm and filling.”

“You’re sure it’s okay?” There was no hiding Robert’s wary wondering. “I don’t want to show up and find out she doesn’t want me around.”

“You just be there. Everything will be fine.” With that Lane turned and started up the street toward the trailer park.

There, he told himself. He had chosen a course of action and acted on it. Who could say he was not in control? Next came the matter of telling Sally. Hopefully she would not jerk that control away with her own veto.


“You what?” Sally asked in startled disbelief. She set the towel she was folding back on the kitchen counter and in a matter of three steps stalked to the living room, where Lane sat on the sofa surfing the four channels their roof-top antenna received.

Raising his hand to quiet her protest, he punched the remote to quiet the TV and leaned forward to offer his defense. 

“Hey, it’s no big deal. I invited Robert to dinner. That’s all. It’s getting cold out there. He’s already fighting  a cold. What he needs is a chance to warm up.

“Besides, after pruning shrubs and planting trees together it feels like the two of us are in this together. He’s a good guy. You know that. How can I leave him out there on the Bluff, while I’m living the good life up here?”

lt took only a cursory glance to realize his rationale had not answered his sister’s most pressing question, leaving her ask, “And what do you suppose I’m going to feed him?”

“The same thing you’re going to feed me. You haven’t heard me complaining have you?”

Two steps closer and Sally sat down in the scruffy arm chair across from the sofa. “You know," she said. "We fed him pretty well last time he was here. But that was kind of a special deal. This is bound to be a letdown. Do you really think he’ll be impressed with Top Ramen and carrot sticks, with maybe a slice of toast? What will he think of that?”

“Sally, you’ve met the guy. In fact, I thought you two hit it off pretty well. And you know he’s not expecting anything fancy. He’s been eating God knows what out there in his tent. His idea of eating out is washing dishes at the Mission House in exchange for a warm meal. So don’t you worry. He’ll like whatever you fix.”

By then Sally was sensing the shock of it. After months of social isolation she was being asked to play hostess for the second time in just two weeks.

There had been a time when that was standard fare for her and Paul. But that was years before, literally a different lifetime. Since losing her husband, visitors had rarely been part of her life. The thought of returning to that role was hard to get her mind around. 

She had expected her tree planting send-off for Lane and Robert to be a one-time thing. So why was her brother lobbying for a repeat performance? What made him think she was willing to make her humble home a social venue?

“Lane, will you just look at this place of ours,” she said, casting a quick glance around the cramped and cluttered room. “The furniture is junk. Most of it should have been thrown out years ago. And it’s all scrunched together. There’s not even room for a third or fourth person at the table unless we pull it out into the middle of the room.”

Leaning back, Lane was wondering what button he had pushed. Why the sudden grumbling about the furniture and dining space? It had worked just fine for the four of them just a week earlier. Now it was no longer suitable. What had changed so suddenly?

He was on his feet, leaning against the long defunct phonograph console. “Are you listening at all,” he asked. “Robert’s been here before. He knows what it’s like. He enjoyed himself the first time. I happen to know that, because he told me so.

"Besides, this is like the Ritz to him. It’s roomy and it’s warm. All you have to do is stir up the Top Ramen, throw in a few carrot sticks, and everything will be just fine.”

By the time Lane switched off the obnoxious game show he had been half watching, Sally had retreated to her bedroom. Stretched out on the sofa, he was giving thanks for her apparent capitulation. Apparently he had made his case for Robert’s return.  That felt like a win for ‘being in control.’ 

With that minor victory behind him he settled back for what promised to be a quiet nap. When Sally slipped out the front door a few minutes later, the sound of her stealthy departure did not disturb him at all.

Her return, however, was a different matter. Without knowing if Lane was asleep or not, she slammed the front door behind her and announced in a voice loud enough to guarantee he was awake. “Okay, smarty. Two can play that game.”

He opened one eye long enough to confirm that it was her making the racket, and not some snippet of an unfinished dream. “What are you fussing about now?," he asked. "I hope it’s something worthwhile.” With that he pulled the pillow, the one with no pillow case, over his head.

A second later Sally grabbed the pillow and deposited it unceremoniously on the floor. “I’m just saying you’re not the only one who can play Good Samaritan.”

She was standing over him as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes....with the displeasure of his rude awakening spread across his face. Rather than wait for his next question, she proceeded with her own answers.

“I just invited Marla to join us tonight, for our dinner with Robert.”

“Why would you do that? You weren’t sure there was enough to feed three of us. And God knows, your scruffy little trailer wasn’t good enough for socializing. That’s basically what you said. 

"So how are you going to deal with that? And why the heck would you invite the one lady in the whole park who would just as soon spend an evening without Robert and me around. Damn it, Sis, you’ve really messed things up now.”

Raising a hand to halt her brother’s objection, Sally was prepared to offer her own rationale. “What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t very well leave her sitting alone next door while we’re having company. She may not be the most sociable gal on the block, but there’s no need to treat her like an outcast. Besides, I could tell she thought it was a good idea.”

Parking herself in the armchair opposite Lane, she was ready to offer the good news that would hopefully win his approval.

“Anyway, while we were at it, Marla and I did some menu planning. The Top Ramen is out. I hope that doesn’t disappoint you too much. Instead, between the two of us we managed to come up with Mac and Cheese, carrot sticks, and get dogs.

"I have the franks. She has the buns. Put all that together and we’ll have enough for a real feast.... a kind of party. Not only that, Marla picked up some day-old donuts yesterday. So we’ll have dessert too. You can’t beat that?”

Lane’s first impulse might have been to debate the way his sister had commandeered his ‘in control’ moment....taking his low-key invitation to Robert and turning it into ‘a kind of party.’ What did in mean, spending another night in the company of her friend Marla, the one who “Didn’t trust him and his kind. Not a bit.”?

Yet there was another variable to factor into his social calculation. It was a pleasing thing to see how Sally’s humble vision of a Mac, cheese, and hot dog dinner had her so excited.

How long had it been since he had seen his sister so energized? Her upbeat exuberance was definitely more than a matter of menu options. She was dwelling on the social possibilities of a houseful of people, especially in a home where four was a crowd.

That had always been Sally’s way. Even as children, while Lane was perfectly comfortable being off by himself, reading or building something, she was most at home in a social setting....sharing the latest gossip, immersed in silly girl talk. Even then the attraction was not so much about an exchange of information or opinion as the interpersonal connections she so enjoyed. 

It had been the same when she and Paul  entertained. Little more than a week before, for the first time in years, she had again played hostess. And here she was, looking forward to another congenial evening of good company.

Monday, June 28, 2021

GOING POOR - Chapter 13


    Mama Maureen noticed it at once. The air had gone out of his sails, and he knew exactly why that was. He had lost control of his own life.

    More than that, he understand why that was because of "them," the ones who made things happen.....especially the things they wanted to happen.

    To his surprise Maureen was prepared to dispute his "poor me" logic.

                          Chapter 13

Once back at the Mission House Lane found a seat in a far corner of the reception area. There, with head bowed and eyes closed he was hunched over, holding his empty, still-warm coffee cup. From the look of him, he was not interested in having company, which was apparently enough to discourage the passing patrons who glanced his way and moved on. Not everyone, however, was put off so easily.

From the vantage point of her windowed office cubicle Maureen Kenyon noted Lane’s silent withdrawal and, after debating the matter for a minute or two, decided to take a chance.

“Is it really as bad as that?” she asked, handing Lane a fresh cup of hot coffee. “Looks to me like you could use a friend about now.”

“I suppose that’s true,” he said, straightening up to nod toward the bench across from him, inviting her to have a seat. “It’s not even noon and it's already been a seriously bad day. Hasn’t been a single good thing about it.” Forcing an exaggerated grin he added, “Until now.”

“Thank's for your enthusiastic compliment. As I recall you were off to the Employment Office when you left this morning. Is it fair to say that turned out to be a bummer?”

“Yeah, it did. I was hoping for something good to come of it. All they had was bad news.”

“Surely that wasn’t a big surprise. Was it? Heavens, you know as well as anyone what it’s like out there. Was that all it took to get you down in the dumps like this?” She was trying her best to coax a smile from him, with little success.

Leaning back against the wall, Lane stretched his arms over his head, wanting to chase the tension that weighed him down. A moment later he turned back to Maureen and her questions.

“Nah, that wasn’t it. What the State folks had to say didn’t surprise me all that much. What it did was make me mad. I was hoping they could do more, maybe even care a little bit about what’s happening to people. But when I stopped to think about it, I realized they can’t be offering jobs that aren’t there. Anyway, that’s not what got me down.”

“So what was it?”

How could he explain what he scarcely understood himself....a complaint he had first encountered no more than half an hour before? More to the point, could he get beyond his own angry resentment to put those feelings into words?

“To begin with, I’m wishing I was smarter than I am,” he said. “If there’s an answer out there somewhere I can’t put my finger on it. I ought to be used to that by now, but I still hate feeling so damn helpless.”

Maureen took a moment to reestablish eye contact before continuing. “So what is it....that question you can’t answer?”

“I’m not sure I can even explain it. At least not in a way that makes any sense. It’s kind of an abstract thing.” He rapped his fingers on the bench, wondering how to continue. 

“After the guy at the Employment Office shot me down I went off on what you might call a ‘walkabout.’ Didn’t really have any particular place in mind. I just needed to unwind a bit. Anyway, I ended up out south, first to Granger Park, then on to the Missionary Hill neighborhood, where I grew up.”

“That’s right,” she interrupted. “I remember you saying you’re a Tanner boy. Most of the fellows we meet here are what I call tourists. But you’re a local. At least you used to be.”

“Yeah, I guess so. But it was what I saw walking back to town that really got me steamed.” Lane paused, asking himself if Maureen knew Tanner well enough to understand. 

“Have you been here long enough to remember what we used to call the ‘jungle’? It was a long hillside above the railroad tracks, right behind the old paper mill. In my day it was overgrown with blackberries and trees and stuff.”

“Sure. I know where that was.” 

“Well, for us kids that was a great place to play. There were lots of secret trails and places to hide. Every once in a while we’d bump into a hobo who’d set up camp there. 

"Anyway, walking by there just now, coming back from Keltran Street, I was surprised to see that they’d built a bunch of townhouses on the upper part of the hill. There must be a dozen of them, sitting up there, looking out over the river.

“At first glance I thought that was pretty cool. But when I got closer, I could see that at least half of them were empty. The signs said that they’re “Bank Owned.” Can you believe that. Half of those places are in foreclosure. They’re perfectly good houses, just sitting empty.”

Maureen was nodding by then. “You weren’t around this spring, when the local newspaper did a big spread on how some Portland mortgage outfit built those homes, then sold them for almost nothing down to people who couldn’t afford them.

"Of course, by the time the housing market turned down, when the Great Recession dropped us off a cliff, the new owners realized they couldn’t make the payments. By then the lender had sold the mortgages and pocketed the money. 

"It should have been a crime the way they left those poor folks to walk the plank like that. But, of course, no one ever gets busted for those kind of shenanigans.”

Leaning forward with his elbows on the table, Lane’s attention returned to what seemed to him a different sort of crime. “Was that any worse than what they’re doing now?” he asked.

“What do you mean? What are they doing that has you so upset?” Maureen asked. “How could it be as bad as preying on those folks who lost everything? I don’t understand what you’re driving at.”

Lane, of course, did least in a way that made sense to him. True, he realized how hard it would be to prove a case against ‘them,’ the unseen masters who called the shots.....the ones who remained hidden behind the curtain, pulling the levers that controlled their carefully constructed system....the tangled web of rules and regulations that allowed, even encouraged, bad things to happen. 

He recalled hearing news reports of how that ‘one percent’ was already under attack, charged with enriching themselves at the expense of those who struggled with the effects of the Great Recession ‘they’ had helped create.

Though he was short of remedies for the offending situation, Lane could not shake the realization that something was terribly out of sync. In the city’s few homeless shelters and hillside tent camps dozens, perhaps hundreds, of men and women were seeking relief from the unseasonably-cold weather. 

People already beaten down by an unforgiving economy were suffering more than ever. Meanwhile, just a few blocks from where they were sitting, nearly new, perfectly suitable homes were vacant and deteriorating.

Though most observers were willing to pass it off as ‘business as usual,’ in Lane’s eyes it was simply another example of the maddening disconnects that had been piled on his generation in their most vulnerable years. Without trying to identify the names and faces of Tanner’s ‘one percenters,’ the ones who could make things better if they wanted, he saw what he accepted as evidence of their complicity. 

The problems were everywhere, even in small town Tanner. After years of neglect, the community’s infrastructure....from health care to corroding sewer lines and pot-holed streets....was coming apart at the seams. There was so much to be done and so many capable soldiers willing to fight those battles. Yet so little had been accomplished.

The unfortunate ones, like those who crowded the Mission House, had seen their world turned upside down. And why? That was perhaps the only question Lane could answer to his own satisfaction. It was because ofthem.’ 

With phony mortgages that were unloaded before the ink had dried, shady investments that never saw the light of day, cheap debt that would never be repaid, and under-the-table sweetheart deals, ‘they’ were enriching themselves and in the process transforming a multitude of futures from hopeful to hopeless.

“What have they done, you ask?” Lane finally answered, returning to Maureen’s question. “Let me ask you something else. Just look at all these folks that you help, the ones who come to the Mission House because they have no where else to go. 

"Can you imagine the families they used to have, the futures they looked forward to, the dreams they had to leave behind? All those good intentions were pushed aside by the ones who take advantage of people. I know for a fact that’s happened a lot. This wasn’t our goal, you know....this pickle that we’re in. We didn’t plan for it to be this way.”

“I don’t suppose you did," Maureen replied. "But you’re also old enough to know that sometimes things don’t go according to plan.”

That bit of wisdom did not appear to satisfy him, though it slowed him down long enough to frame his reply. “Which is another way of saying we’ve lost control of our own lives, every one of us. That’s what it means. Right?”

Lost control?.....perhaps you ought to rethink that for a moment,” she suggested. “Have you ever really been ‘in control’ of your life. Maybe when it’s all said and done, that control you’re talking about never was in your hands.”

“Please. No sermons. I’m not up to that right now.”

“A good thing too,” she said, straightening up to offer a more professional explanation. “Because if you want a sermon you’ll have to go down the street to Temple Hall. Pastor Harris does that every night, along with a hot meal. He’s a good guy. But he comes with a sermon.

“That’s one thing you won’t get here at the Mission House, even when you might need it....and lots of us do. The Board of Directors is very strict about that. ‘Our service is our ministry’ is how they put it. Our two biggest sponsors insist on no sermons. I can’t afford to upset them, even when I feel the need.”

“Okay,” Lane agreed. “But that doesn’t change the truth of it. Like a lot of these folks around here, I’ve lost control of my own life. That’s exactly how it feels. What I wanted, the way things were supposed to be, every bit of that has turned out wrong.”

He was on his feet, looking as though he was ready to make his getaway. A moment later Maureen had his arm, nudging him in the general direction of the front door.

“You’re a smart fellow, Lane,” she said. “I can tell that. Smart enough to know something about being in control....about when you are, and when it’s just an illusion.”

“That’s not a sermon coming on, is it?”

She was half laughing as she tried to explain. “Look, all of us are making choices every day. If we’re mature enough, we accept responsibility for the ones we make. When we’re doing that....making our choices and deciding for might make us feel like we’re in control.

“But slow down for a minute,” she continued. “Think of all the things that happen to us. What about the stuff that we can’t control. I know there are times when it feels like we’re pulling the strings, that we’re making things happen. 

"But the fact is, we’re not. A lot of the time it’s totally out of our hands. And if that’s true, what does it mean to say that you’ve ‘lost control’?  How could you have lost something you never had in the first place?”

There in the middle of the half-full reception area Lane raised his hand, calling for a break in Maureen’s almost sermon. “You’re making fun of me, aren’t you?” he asked. “You’re saying I don’t make my own choices. But I do. I always have. The thing is, for a long time my choices haven’t seemed to change what happens. It’s like they don’t matter one way or another. That tells me I’ve lost control.”

Shaking her head, Maureen was telling herself she must not sound too patronizing. “I know how that feels, Lane. But I also understand how we can fool ourselves. I see that happen every day. Have you ever noticed that when good things happen to us, especially things we’ve planned for, we’re quick to take credit for being in control. 

“But when the bad stuff happens, the kind of things you and a lot of folks are dealing with these days, we’re absolutely certain it wasn’t our doing. Whatever caused it, we want to believe it wasn’t us. And if that’s true it must mean that we’re not in control.”

Nudging him on toward the door, she had one last point to make. “You know, there are times when we do make things happen....when we do have some control. And there are other times whenthey,’ the ones you were talking about, are pulling the strings. But let me tell you. If you’re looking for the one who’s really in control, when it’s all said and done, there’s only one ‘Someone’ who fits the bill.”

Stopping short of the door, she took Lane’s hand for a moment to offer, “And that, my friend, is as close to a sermon as you’ll get from me.” With a last, quick squeeze she turned and started back to her office.


Saturday, June 26, 2021

GOING POOR - Chapter 12

    Bogged down in 'Employment Office' blues, he makes his way to Granger Hill Park.....once the scene of his adolescent dreams.....the ones that had gone so wrong.

    Though he was willing to accept responsibility for his own failings, the greater problem could not be ignored. Those who could make things better were choosing the status quo.....the path that seemed to protect their power and wealth.

                           Chapter 12

The wind had been drained from Lane Tipton’s sails. The buoyant hope that fueled his early-morning walk to the State Employment Office had given way to morbid dejection. If the so-called professionals could not make it happen, what were the chances he could find the right job, or any job, on his own?

It was too early in the day to go back to Sally’s. Truth be told, he was in no mood for company. At that moment contemplative solitude seemed to hold more appeal. The morning chill had moderated a bit. As long as he kept moving he was warm enough.

Without paying much attention to where he was going he turned south, past the Tanner Hospital complex and on to the nearly deserted expanse of Granger Hill Park. There he followed a wide asphalt pathway into the park, past row after row of picnic tables, laid on their sides to deflect the harsh effects of the Oregon winter. At that hour the few people he passed were being walked by one or more energetic canines.

There, in the midst of the tall and ancient oaks, he allowed his dark thoughts to have their way with him. Soon, before he realized where those random reflections were leading him, he was remembering that same place in a much earlier time.

In the course of his long-ago adolescent years Lane had spent many an hour in the secluded isolation of what they had called ‘The Hill.’ Long before it became Granger Hill Park, the manicured centerpiece of the City’s park system, The Hill had been an untamed woodland and Lane’s special oasis of calming quiet in a busy and sometimes intimidating world. 

In the course of those youthful afternoons he had retreated to the quiet of The Hill to dream dreams and explore possibilities, to look toward a future he had yet to bring into focus. Those were times of wondering how to be noticed by the right kids, for the right reasons, and how to avoid being exposed for whom he was not. Yet even in those days, as the family’s designated dreamer, his elaborate daydreams generally led to the most hopeful of outcomes. 

Now, viewed through the lens of a long, often-bumpy life, he sensed that those youthful, sanguine hopes of what ‘could be’ had ripened into the nagging regret of ‘what might have been.’ The truth of it was staring him right in the eye. Life had backed him into a corner. Youthful optimism and hopeful dreams were no longer enough to overrule reality. 

It was easy to believe that a young Lane Tipton, the boy he had been in those days of liberating dreams, would be disappointed in the man he had become. 

Though it was hard to admit, it seemed that ‘failure’ was a fair way to describe his post-Tanner life. With that understanding came the hurtful realization that his future appeared no more hopeful than his past. By almost any measure he could imagine, what he had left to offer was no longer enough.

His heart was growing heavy as he strolled under the oaks of what was now Granger Hill Park....revisiting the scene of those youthful aspirations, feeling deep in his bones that the best of what he could be was likely behind him.

By the time he reached the far side of the park his thoughts were taking him beyond the unfulfilled promise of his own teenage the reality of his present situation. In a real sense he had become just one example of a world in retreat. More to the point, it seemed the disappointing decline he accepted for himself was not his alone. 

Everywhere he turned he saw signs of institutions growing tired and unresponsive. The Tanner he had returned to, the place of his first ‘becoming,’ seemed to mirror that weary though it too had spent its allotted reserve of optimistic energy. And what did it have to show for that expenditure?

He had seen hints of that same dejection that very morning in the crowded Mission House reception area. There, even at that early hour, the dark cloud of resignation was nearly palpable.... enveloping dozens of lonely souls who gathered to wait for what they had every reason to believe would be more of the same. 

Applying his own brand of logic, Lane found the paradox impossible to ignore. Whether at the Mission House or the Employment Office waiting room, he had witnessed once-proud men and women staring blankly at the floor, overwhelmed by the understanding that they had become powerless to make their lives better. In his eyes the very options that were meant to improve their lot had turned against them. 

Meanwhile, across the city, in the splendid isolation of Statehouse offices and corporate board rooms, the ones with the power to create positive change did nothing....preferring that things remain just as they were. Absent any evidence to the contrary, those were the dour conclusions Lane was constructing from the information at hand.

As for himself, at his age he must remain flexible. The ‘golden years’ he once dreamed of had become terribly tarnished. As tempting as it was to dream his dreams, as he had always done, there was no escaping the cruel reality. 

What was once a world of possibilities had become little more than a battlefield for survival. Much like his Medford experience, his new Tanner life had seemed to foster only diminished circumstances. 

There was no denying how much he had come to rely on Sally’s help in living out his new ‘coping’ lifestyle. He paused, as he often did, to offer a silent thanks for her caring help....and in the next breath reminded himself that he must do his share if their partnership was to succeed. Then, leaving The Hill behind him, he strolled off toward Keltran Street, the most personal of his remembered coming-of-age haunts.


In 1921 Lane’s grandfather, Jack Tipton, had moved his family west from Minnesota to plant them in Oregon’s Willamette Valley....more precisely in Tanner. With his own hands he had built the Tipton family home, what Lane would grow up knowing as the Big House, on a hillside at the end of Keltran Street. It was, in those days, a street with a story....though Lane was in high school before he learned the slightly scandalous history of the Keltran name. 

That part of town, a few blocks west of Granger Hill Park, was one of the first Tanner suburbs to be platted. Most of the neighborhood’s streets had been named for the early Methodist missionaries who had come west in the 1830s and 40s to convert the region’s native Americans....a noble crusade that from the beginning was doomed to failure. 

Even in those early years the diseases that accompanied the growing Caucasian presence were decimating the indigent population faster than it could be converted. Yet, in spite of their failings, the names of those well-meaning missionaries would live on as Tanner street names, along with one notable exception....Keltran Street.

The street’s name would be Percy Keltran’s most enduring legacy....his reward for donating a quarter section of his sizable land holdings to the rapidly-expanding city. At the time, it was the early 1870s, Percy was the largest landowner on the southern fringes of Tanner. By all accounts he was a hard-nosed and successful businessman, who traced his wealth to three successful years spent in the California gold fields. 

In the spring of 1849, as word of the first California gold discoveries filtered north, hundreds of starry-eyed gold seekers had traveled south from the sparsely settled Willamette Valley, hoping to find their fortunes. Percy Keltran was one of those making the five-hundred mile overland trek.     

However, instead of setting off to find gold in the ground, Percy was one of many who turned instead to the business opportunities that went hand in hand with the frenetic mining activity. While others were making fortunes providing foodstuffs and general merchandise to suddenly-flush miners, young Percy chose his own time-tested path to riches. He was just twenty-three when he set about establishing a string of the classiest, most respectable brothels to be found anywhere short of San Francisco. 

For three chaotic, sometimes contentious years Percy tended his business, before selling out and returning to his wife and two daughters in the growing valley community that would become Tanner. There, after decades spent operating a successful grain brokerage and serving on the City Council, he donated a parcel of ground to the growing city. That philanthropic gesture won Percy Keltran, and Keltran Street, a permanent place among the august company of Methodist preachers and missionaries.

By the time Lane’s grandfather arrived in Oregon...."Back in twenty-one," he used to say ....the last available land on Keltran Street was at the west end, overlooking the river. There, on a quarter-acre lot, he single-handedly built the Big House....a bulky two-story structure that would eventually house three generations of Tiptons. Until he left for college, it was the only home Lane had ever known.

Now, walking the few blocks from Granger Hill Park, Lane was struck by how narrow the streets had become, the ones he had walked, run, and biked as a boy. And the houses flanking both sides of the street....they seemed so much smaller and unimpressive than he remembered.

Finally, he was standing across the street from the Big House, beside the townhouses that now covered what he remembered as a vacant lot, once the scene of their ball games and bike races. For the first time in decades he was taking in what had always served as his mind-picture of ‘home.’ 

It too was not as grand as he remembered, though several important features were still evident. There was the upstairs bedroom window, the one that opened out onto the porch roof, offering access to the cherry tree. (Now long gone.) For years those apparently disparate elements had provided a clandestine escape route, enabling the memorable mid-night adventures he and Joey Black had launched from his darkened bedroom.

Once more he was reminded how often the present reality of things his Keltran Street longer matched the images he had carried with him for a lifetime. It was a bit unsettling to realize how much of the the change was in him, not  simply his surroundings. Yet in spite of that, there was a part of the present-day Lane Tipton that longed for the unfettered potential and unquestioned security of that earlier time.

Seconds later he was scolding himself for giving in to such sentimental nonsense. Why had he bothered to return to the scene of those times? That had been then, a time before. This was now. Adolescent notions of ‘potential’ and ‘security’ no longer applied. Not when the daunting reality of ‘going poor’ was casting its dark shadows over his future. 

He stopped short, aware that he was shivering. It was time to be moving on, back to town for a cup of warm Mission House coffee. 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

GOING POOR - Chapter 11


   He had made the shameful decision years swallow his pride and apply for State Unemployment benefits.             

    Ever since that distressing day he had rued the distasteful, yet undeniable need to be on the 'dole.'

    And now there he was again, reluctantly preparing to seek a different form of public assistance. Would the State Employment Office be able to help him land the job he so desperately needed?


                                  Chapter 11

To think it had come to that. There he was....about to ask, perhaps even beg the State to help him find work. Lane Tipton was shaking his head at the thought of it as he left the Mission House. Starting toward the State Employment Office he was processing distasteful recollections of the last time he had faced that sort of defeat.

Three years before, in the early months of what would be called the Great Recession, he had agonized for days before finally giving in. To be sure, it had gone against everything he believed in ....about himself, who he was, and what he ought to do. Yet on that occasion he had finally set his pride aside and applied for State Unemployment benefits at the Medford office. 

He had felt the shame of that decision on that first morning, and for every one of the fifty-two weeks until his benefits expired. Yet, though he had been thoroughly disappointed in himself, there was no denying the sad reality....for all those months it was what he called ‘the dole,’ a government handout, that had kept him afloat.

For one who had always earned his own way, and assumed he always would, it had been a painful shock...the realization that in the face of an economy gone wrong, he needed ‘their’ help. More to the point, he was certain he knew exactly why he was in that sad situation. 

The root cause of his distress was so simple. No one would give him a chance to show what he could do. For all practical purposes the system that was intended to offer opportunity was broken. 

In those dark and trying times it felt as though the rules had if he had spent a lifetime learning the right answers, only to find they were asking new and different questions. The lessons he had learned as a young man seemed to no longer apply.

Now, walking through the still-quiet business district, Lane recognized recurring hints of that earlier disappointment. True, some things were different this time. In particular, Sally was on hand to provide the backstopping support that had not been part of his Medford experience. Yet the same need to prove himself remained. He had something to offer. If the Employment Office staffers were as professional as they claimed to be, they would surely see that.

He remembered recent televised news reports of how, in spite of the dreadful job situation, some employers were eager to hire those with critical, hard-to-find skills. He recalled taking comfort in that possibility, accepting it as something that ought to work in his favor.

The logic of it was so obvious. Who needed sales help more than a company that was laying off employees because its sales were falling? Wasn’t that the perfect opportunity for someone like him, who had always been able to sell most anything to anyone? 

He had made that his life’s work. His resume offered proof of that. Now the task at hand was to convince the Employment Office people that he deserved a chance to show what he could do.

Turning into the bulky granite-gray office building, Lane stopped in the lobby to study the roster of agencies and room numbers. In a matter of seconds he located the Employment Room 314. He decided against taking the elevator and climbed the stairs to the third floor. At Room 314 he entered through the heavy hardwood door to find himself in the slightly surreal world of the Tanner branch of the State Employment Department.

There, as in every State agency, budget-induced personnel reductions had taken their predictable toll. The downsized staff was struggling mightily to serve an ever-growing tide of job seekers competing for the increasingly-scarce job openings. At first glance the mathematics of it were not encouraging. Yet like Lane, the eager candidates continued to arrive, hoping to be the exception that proved the rule.

The Employment Office itself was a sparse ‘take a number’ enterprise. By nine-fifteen, when Lane arrived, a dozen or more clients were waiting in the crowded, yet eerily-quiet reception area. At the front desk a lone receptionist repeated over and over, “Please take a number.”

Lane took a number....number twenty-three to be exact....along with the four-page application form the lady handed him. A few minutes spent scanning the job postings displayed on the side wall produced nothing of interest. As near as he could tell no one was looking for sales or marketing help. By the time he retreated to a seat to fill out the wordy form, he was wondering what to make of his chances.

Forty-five minutes later he would learn the bitter truth. The modern-day State Employment Office had become little more than a data-collection site. The short-handed, overworked staff spent its time gathering information, entering that detail in their computers, and offering their non-too-encouraging apologies.

Lane’s number was called and he was directed to a cubicle on the far wall. The name plate on the modest desk identified Mr. Tim McDowell - Employment Counselor, though for a couple minutes Mr. McDowell was nowhere to be seen.

When the Counselor finally arrived he offered an unsmiling “Good Morning” and reached for Lane’s application and resume. He spent all of thirty seconds reviewing the lengthy forms, then set them aside and began poking at his computer keyboard.

“Nope,” the Counselor muttered under his breath. From all appearances he was talking to the computer screen. A moment later he turned back to Lane. 

“I’m afraid there are no orders for sales help, unless you’re interested in selling hamburgers.” For the first time, to Lane’s chagrin, the fellow was actually grinning at his own lame joke.

“What do you mean ‘no orders’? Everyone needs salesmen.”

“That may be, but no one is looking to hire them right now,” Mr. McDowell explained. “You see, that’s what we do here. We fill orders from businesses who are looking for particular skills. We maintain files of qualified applicants, like yourself, for employers to review when they need to hire. 

"If someone in the Tanner area is looking for the kind of marketing you do, they go to our website and call up the files of people looking for that kind of work.”

“But there’s no one looking now?” Lane asked, unwilling to let Mr. McDowell steer them away from his particular application. “Not a single company is looking for sales help?”

“Not the kind of sales you do?”

“But I can do any kind of sales. Anything they want.”

“If you’d like to revise your application, to add other marketing skills, that’s allowable. But the process remains the same. As you can imagine, at times like this there are a lot of people looking for work....and very few employers who are hiring.” 

For an instant Lane thought he saw the counselor set aside his practiced indifference as he explained, “It’s a very hard time. People are worried. More than a few have just stopped trying.”

He stopped short and for a moment looked away. Then, with a deep breath he recovered his professional expression and prepared to move on to the next client. 

“Your work history and contact information will be entered in our data base," he explained. It will be available to any employer looking for those qualifications. You’re always welcome to check out the employment listings on our website. For now, that’s the best we can do.”

By then Lane’s dour resignation was showing. “That’s it?” he asked without enthusiasm.

Mr. McDowell nodded as he got to his feet. Without a parting word he walked from the cubicle to the front counter, ready to summon his next client. Following the counselor’s lead, Lane retreated to the reception area and beyond to the outer hall.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

GOING HOME - Chapter 10

    He was off to the State Employment office, looking for a real job. Would his freshly-ironed 'thrift-store' outfit do the trick?

    Even with his approaching Social Security windfall, Robert realized that life in his penthouse tent would probably remain his lifestyle.

                            Chapter 10

“What do you mean, ‘Where’s my iron’?” Sally repeated in eye-rolling surprise. “What are you talking about? Have farm labor and tree planting gone formal?”

Lane pulled a pair of trousers from the plastic thrift-shop bag and draped them over the dining table chair. “I’m hoping for a more civilized look. So I’ve decided to upgrade my wardrobe. I think these will do....if they’re ironed that is.”

“Suntans?” Sally said, fingering the brown denim-like material. “Are they really that practical?”

“I’m told they’re called ‘chinos’ these days. Calling them ‘suntans’ is a sure way to show your age. At least that’s what the young punk at the thrift shop told me.”

“I don’t have to ‘show’ my age,” she reminded him. “It’s right there for everyone to see. But why suntans, or chinos, or whatever they’re called? Will they stand up to the kind of work you’re doing?”

“I hope so. Because I’ll be looking for a different line of work. My body’s just not up to this manual labor stuff. So I’m going job hunting. That means I need to get spruced up a bit. And that’s why I got these, along with a new shirt. Hopefully they will help me make the right impression.”

By then Sally had retrieved the steam iron from the hall closet and plugged it in next to the toaster. “I don’t have an ironing board," she said. "Haven’t had much use for one lately. So you’ll have to use the counter top. Just spread a towel over it. It works pretty well.” 

She drew his new, recycled shirt from the sack and held it up for inspection as she asked, “So what kind of job hunting do you have in mind?”

“I’m not sure. I plan to start by checking out the State Employment Office, to see if anyone’s looking for a broken-down building materials peddler. Actually, I’ll try to convince them I can sell most anything.”

With a moistened fingertip Sally tested the iron, then smoothed a pants leg over the towel Lane had brought from the bathroom. When he objected that she was doing his job, she brushed him away. A moment later she gave voice to a very different question.

“Speaking of your ‘broken down’ body, the one that’s not up to the manual labor, how are you feeling today? Marla was asking if her latest doctoring had done its job. All I could tell her was that you were off to town before I got up.”

“It must have worked,” he said. “I’m moving pretty well this morning. Her lineament and a couple cups of Mission House coffee has me feeling fine. I plan to rest up this weekend and start job hunting on Monday. Hopefully I can find something that pays better....something to help keep the piggy bank full.”

Sally held up the pair of freshly pressed chinos for his approval, then slipped them over a clothes hanger. “Don’t be worrying about the piggy bank. Okay?” she offered. “Let’s just concentrate on having a quiet weekend.”


It was seven-thirty on that cold, but dry Monday morning and Lane was running later than usual, as he knew he would be. 

Instead of plunging into the early morning darkness to make his way to the Job Market, he had taken time to shower and shave before donning his freshly-ironed trousers and shirt, and a light, but presentable jacket Sally had resurrected from a box of her late husband's clothes. With that he was off on a leisurely stroll through the growing daylight to the ‘Market.’

Though he might find Robert there, he was hoping that his friend had found work by then. In any case, he had time to kill before making the short walk to the downtown State Employment Office.

From across the parking lot Lane saw Robert leaning against the concrete Job Market wall a few feet to the left of the fitness center window. Apparently he had struck out again. Hopefully a cup of Mission House coffee would help take the edge off that disappointment. 

Walking toward his friend Lane stepped around the corner of a parked SUV, directly into the path of a woman coming from the fitness center. The lady dodged his unexpected presence as he jumped aside to avoid an embarrassing collision. 

Nodding his startled apology he continued on until, from the corner of his eye, he noticed the unexpected motion of a long white envelope fluttering from the lady’s purse. It had scarcely touched the ground before he reached down to capture it.

“Pardon me, Ma’am,” he called to her. Holding up the envelope for her to see, he noted the address .... Erin Brock, General Counsel, Tanner City Council. “Is this yours? I think you dropped it.”

The woman’s frown was signaling her wariness ....wondering what to make of the stranger’s approach. She slipped her purse strap off her shoulder and glanced into the open bag. “I suppose it is. Could I see it?”

“Is this you?” Lane asked. “General Counsel to the City Council?”

“That’s me,” she nodded. “It must have fallen out of my purse. Thank you for noticing that.” 

A moment later the car door closed behind Ms. Brock and she drove off, while Lane continued on toward Robert. “No work today, eh?” he offered as he stepped up on the sidewalk.

“Nah,” Robert answered, sounding as though he was not too surprised. “The Harris girls are finished for the season. Other than the Christmas tree farms there’s not much going on.

Taking in Lane’s unexpectedly formal attire, Robert was ready with his own question. “Looks like you’re all fancied up. Are you off job hunting this morning?”

“Yeah. I have to give it a try. I can’t make it on what I’m earning here. Especially if no one’s hiring. Besides, the old body is just not up to that. So I figure I’ll start with the State Employment Office.”  

“Look," he continued. "I’ve got half an hour to kill before the Employment Office opens. Why don’t we go over and do a cup of Mission House coffee....get warmed up a bit?”

Minutes later, coffee in hand, they were walking toward a back table when Robert was intercepted by a grizzled old fellow wearing a tattered blanket as an overcoat. 

“Hey, we’re in luck, old buddy,” the man exclaimed. “I’ve snagged a ride as far south as Sacramento. It’s time to head south, where its warm. The guy’s leaving in the morning, and he has room for one more. I told him you’d probably want to sign on.”

Grasping his warm cup with both hands, Robert let the pleasing warmth sink in. “I don’t think so, Max. I believe I’m going to pass on that this year. I need to rest up a bit. Besides, in a few months I’ll be signing up for Social Security. Once I get that, things will get a little easier. But thanks for thinking of me. I really appreciate that.”

By the time the two of them sat down at a table next to the front window Lane was asking, “So you’re going on the dole, eh? God, that’ll make you one of those pensioned plutocrats, living a Social Security life of leisure.”

“Not likely. No matter how it turns out, it won’t look like a life of leisure.” Tilting his cup from side to side, Robert let the warm coffee swirl round and round as he revisited a better time.

 “In the old days, back when I had a paycheck every two weeks, I always figured I’d wait ‘til I was sixty-five to collect Social Security, so I could draw the full amount. Turns out I don’t have that luxury anymore. I’ll be damn glad to get my hands on a two-thirds payment every month.”

“How does that work?” Lane asked. “Will they know where to find you? Can they send your check here to the Mission House? I’m guessing you don’t get mail at the Penthouse.”

“No need for that,” Robert explained, feeling rather proud that he had an appropriate answer. “I talked to a guy down at the Tanner Trust Bank. I can set up a checking account there and have the Social Security payment automatically deposited into it.”

After a quick sip of coffee, his unexpected laughter signaled an additional surprise. “And once I have that account and there’s money in it, they’ll give me a debit card. Can you believe that? Who ever thought I’d be paying with plastic again, or using an ATM? On second thought, you may be right. That might be enough to make me a plutocrat after all.”

“If I was you,” Lane offered. “I’d be hoping it was enough to move me out of the Penthouse, into something a bit more substantial. It was cold this morning. It’s going to be even colder tonight.” 

Lane was grinning a bit as he added his smug disclaimer. “Don’t forget, I know all about weather reports these days. I watch TV every night, sitting there in my sister’s toasty living room.” 

Sweeping his arm around the Mission House’s large multipurpose room, where a couple dozen cold and weary souls were gathered for a bit of early morning warmth, Robert had his own read on Lane’s ‘weather report’ claims. 

“Take my word for it, friend,” he said. “These fellows don’t need some pretty face on the tube telling them it’s cold. They live out there in it, some of them twenty-four hours a day. The city cops won’t let us have camp fires on the Bluffs. With all the trees and underbrush they’re afraid of them getting out of hand. A place like the Penthouse may be dry, but it’s still cold as hell. 

“Chances are they’ll have two or three fire barrels going all night on the paved sections under the bridges. Some of the guys like to hang around there, especially if the shelters are full.”

“The fellow you talked to when we came in....the one who’s heading south? I’ll bet what he was trying to sell sounds a lot better during these cold spells. Eh?”

“Maybe so. If it would help shake this damn chest cold, it might be worth it. But these old bones just aren’t up to it this time around.” 

Robert was on his feet, ready to circulate a bit among the small groups scattered around the room. Truth be told, he was tired of Lane’s incessant probing, the constant talk of things he would rather forget. With a last sad observation he was on his way.

“What gets me down the most is the possibility ....hell, the probability....that the rest of my life is going to be more of the same. Even with a bank account and a debit card, this is probably my new ‘normal.’ I expect it will be from now ‘til the end.”