I'm reporting in Louisiana these days and so moved by the humidity and hospitality of it all. Spent a long weekend there in November, following around a woman hell-bent on giving everything. That Saturday, she and a group of boys cooked barbecue chicken plates to give out to Shreveport's homeless.
Time feels infinite and stretched, untethered to who I was before. I just stay locked to a desk, studying and reading and writing, hoping I am adding up to someone better.
New York stays so sunny. I'm perched outside reading 600 pages a week, tracing nation-state formation through LBJ's war on poverty. One weekend, we went to two different Jamaican bars. Scotch Bonnet hot forever.
My story about a Native American rapper ran on the front page of the Aug. 27 Sunday Oregonian. Here's an excerpt:
The scratch was the last straw.
Scott Kalama had been on a high. His rap album, "Rez Life," had just won the Native American Music Award for best music video. He'd come home to the Warm Springs Reservation driving a 2013 silver drop-top Camaro, a sign he'd made it in a community where pickups and sedans tended to be a decade old and caked in red dirt.
The rez, Kalama thought, had done him wrong all his life. He was 31 and had already buried three siblings. His dad was a drunk. Kalama had spent most of his life too broke to afford a fast food hamburger. He left for college and returned to find his business degree useless in a place too poor to support a new enterprise.
Still, Kalama had stayed. He launched his rap career there, even though the Central Oregon reservation lacked a professional recording studio or performance space. He did it all for the tribe, he thought. That national award was supposed to put Warm Springs on the map.
Then Kalama stepped outside on his lunch break and saw it. The scratch. Someone had keyed his driver-side door, leaving a seven-inch swoosh that turned his stomach.
This is how they repay me, he thought.
He went back to his office and took his frustrations out on Facebook: "I can't trust my own people," he wrote. "I'm moving."
To Portland, he thought, or maybe LA. A nonprofit wanted to hire him. An engineer who'd worked with Snoop Dogg and 2Pac agreed to help with his next record. Kalama, a stocky 5-foot-8 with a three-inch goatee and a braid down his back, was a unique artist, the engineer said.
His phone vibrated. A tribal council member had seen his post almost the moment he hit enter. Carina Miller typed a response:
"I know how you feel. But you can't leave," she told him. "We need you."
Read the rest on The Oregonian.
I spent the past three years following a transgender teenager as he came of age. The series launched last week on The Oregonian.
Jay was a teenager coming of age in an era Time magazine had declared the Transgender Tipping Point.
By his senior year, Jay's quiet life would ride a surge in civil rights.
Barack Obama would become the first president to say the word "transgender" in a State of the Union speech. Target would strip gender labels off its toy aisles. In Oregon, student-athletes would gain the right to decide whether to play on the girls' team or the boys'. Girls would wear tuxedos to prom.
That didn't make the path forward easy or safe. North Carolina would forfeit $3.7 billion to keep people like Jay out of the bathroom. An Oregon city councilman an hour from Jay's house would threaten an "ass-whooping" to transgender students who used "the opposite sex's facilities." Even Washington, the liberal state Jay called home, would consider a bill rolling back his right to choose the locker room that felt right. President Donald Trump would take over for Obama and ban transgender people from serving in the military.
But that morning, Jay was just a teenager, just a boy walking to school. He didn't want to be a trailblazer. He wanted to be normal.
Jay and I also went on Oregon Public Broadcasting's noontime show Think Out Loud to talk about the story. You can listen online or below.
My Portland days are winding down. Still, I have 11,000 words due by the end of the month. My brain loops crazy and happy and sad and nostalgic and anxious. Green lights only remind me how hard going is.
Every voice was a companion. Some mornings I called the time and temperature man a dozen times just to see if anything had changed. Most afternoons I called the school homework line, an answering machine service that allowed me to leave messages for my seventh grade teacher. I confessed that she was my favorite. I sang songs I had written for her. I told her my parents had separated or gotten back together and we were moving again. The TV was never not on. My best friend got a karaoke machine, and we locked it in echo mode. We stood on the toilet, ears angled to the ceiling to hear the muffled murmurs from the apartment above. Vampires, I deduced. Who else would shuffle all night? We traded the microphone, deejays of a show that never aired. We recorded all of 1996 that way, one voice behind the other. Even now I can’t stand quiet. I wake up to the radio, to the cats meowing as you mumble a sleepy good morning. You fall back into silence, but I carry the public radio voice of the world in my work pants pocket. The answering machines don't exist anymore, but I can hear them -- the time, the temperature, my seventh grade teacher's "hello" -- the soundtracks that carried me from there to here, echoing still.
March music, crossing the country twice. Boston was Big Sean and both the Future albums. By the time I reached Miami, Drake's dance hall versions were the perfect backing sounds.
For years, Chanpone Sinlapasai avoided the airport. Then President Donald Trump temporarily banned refugees, and Sinlapasai's life changed.Read More
The short film I produced and co-directed is now online. Aubree Bernier-Clarke and I filmed "The Ballad of Little Pam" in Delhi, Louisiana. The short has played in film festivals in New Orleans, Jackson, Miss. and Sydney, Australia.
When her mother falls ill, Pam Sykes returns to rural Louisiana to care for the woman who kicked her out 40 years ago. They coexist, as long as Pam follows one, now unspoken rule: She can't date women. When Pam's mom starts dating a new man, Pam decides to see what's out there, too.
At the restaurant El Sarandeado, where breakfast is served with a side of free shrimp ceviche, Ramon Ramirez was sly with his movement-building. Between ordering huevos rancheros and coffee, he persuaded the waitress to post signs advertising a 1-800 number people can call if they see an ICE raid in progress.
He pointed across the street as he asked for Splenda. ICE had raided that corner, he told the waitress. Two men were waiting in front of a convenience store for a van to take them to work. Federal agents picked them up before the van did.
The waitress, an hour into a 12-hour shift, left with a flier and returned with six packets of Splenda.
Sahara Abdullahi could stay with her son in a refugee camp. Or the Somali mom could sacrifice her time with him as a baby to secure his future.Read More
Soon after Pearl Harbor, government officials sent Henry Sakamoto to live behind barbed wire. He was 15. His crime? He is of Japanese descent.Read More
The temporary shelter booted the homeless at 8 a.m., so Rickie Wright passed the morning under awnings and other dry spaces. At 11, he decided to shoot for some place warmer.
"Does anyone know when the 77 comes?" Wright asked a group of people at a bus shelter on Northwest 5th Avenue and Everett Street. "I need to get to Troutdale."
Four homeless people had died from hypothermia this month. Wright, 36, might have found another night at a shelter, but the Love's truck stop in Troutdale seemed a safer bet. It had wireless internet and showers, amenities the Imago Dei emergency shelter run by Transition Projects in Southwest Portland did not.
"The 77 is the only bus that goes from here to there," Wright said.
A 30-something in Patagonia gear pulled out his cell phone to check.
"I'm looking at PDXLiveBus," he said and showed Wright website that gives TriMet schedules. "It tracks the GPS of every bus. The 77 just fell off the map."
Another woman checked TriMet's app and spotted one due in 35 minutes. That could mean anything, she explained.
The governor had declared a state of emergency. Every bus line had an alert. The MAX wasn't crossing bridges, and TriMet had canceled routes. But Wright was homeless and carless. He had to hope a long-delayed ride would eventually show.
"I guess I'll wait," Wright said.
Two 8s, a 35 and a 44 passed. The bus shelter cleared out. At 11:40 a.m., a driver stopped to ask Wright, by then the only one waiting, where he needed to be. Wright said Troutdale. The driver was headed somewhere else, but he told Wright to hop on the 8.
The bus chugged over the Steel Bridge then stopped at Rose Quarter Transit Center. The driver left, then returned and told Wright he'd be better waiting outside.
Wright smoked a Camel full flavor cigarette, the cheapest he could find. He had a red beard and light blue eyes, a camouflage green coat with a camo green vest on top.
"I read that book the Portland woman wrote," he said. "Wild."
Cheryl Strayed's account of hiking the Pacific Coast Trail had sustained him, he said.
"I read it twice while I was in the hole, solitary some call it," he said. "I done 10 years total. I wrote one of them free book shops, and they sent Cheryl Strayed. Reading 'Wild,' being locked up, got me to wanting freedom. I would do the PCT Trail, but I don't have anyone to send me packages so I don't die along the way. I came to Portland instead."
Wright watched as half a dozen Latinos shoveled out the sidewalks that led to Moda Center. He had lived in Arkansas, Nebraska, Arizona and Texas. Every state had one thing in common.
"No matter where I go, Hispanics are are always willing to do the work no one else will," Wright said. "That's commendable."
He had looked for work on Craigslist. He messaged a man who said he needed help loading a U-Haul.
"I told him I was homeless," Wright said. "He didn't write back."
Desperate, he had "flown a sign" for two hours. Portlanders like a seemingly honest panhandler, he said, so he had written, "Why lie? It's for beer" on the cardboard. He had made more in two hours than he had working two weeks of Craigslist jobs.
"The irony is I don't drink," Wright said. "I will smoke weed if someone gives it to me. But I don't like drinking alone. What I really want is a big bowl of chili, a mug of hot chocolate. You can't buy hot food with food stamps."
He waited 45 minutes at the Rose Quarter. No eastbound 77 showed. At 1 o'clock, he spotted one heading west.
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