Friday, August 3, 2012

Photos from the Past

Vince Matsudaira friended me on Facebook this morning.  Growing up, "Binko", his nickname, was my best friend.  We stood together in the photo, his family house on 16th Avenue in the background.  Further behind was Providence Hospital on the adjoining block.   We were probably around eleven or twelve years old.  I wore a plaid shirt and rolled jeans; Vincent, a plain blue shirt and khakis.

The picture evoked a string of memories.  Spring and summers, one of us would ricochet a tennis ball off the steps  leading to his house.  It would fly into the street where the other would field it.  This provided an inexpensive form of baseball.  Other times, we stood across the street from each other tossing s a hardball, pretending we were Seattle Rainiers.

Sixteenth Avenue filled with Filipino and Japanese families who attended Maryknoll Church and later grade school at Immaculate Conception.  Older, the girls would continue high school at Immaculate while the boys would continue on at O'Dea, Garfield, Franklin. A few would leave the area.

Kids filled the neighborhood playing touch football (curb to curb, telephone pole to telephone pole).  The teams usually were comprised of three or four players.  When we were younger, we'd divide up to play kick-the-can or capture the flag, designating telephone poles at either end of the street as fortresses to be protected.

Cherry Street, the east-west street at the north end of the block provided a steep slope.  It didn't have today's traffic..  We constructed sleds made of two-by-fours held together with a bolt to form a cross-shape.  Disassembled roller skates provided the wheels for the front and the rear and a rope attached to either end of the crossing arm, the steering mechanism.   A plywood seat nailed to the wood frame served as the seat.  Starting at the top of the hill, we'd careen down Cherry between 15th and 16th without a care in mind.

Winter months brought snow...much deeper than present day.  It often got two to three feet deep.  Like other kids, we had snowball fights, built snowmen and trudged to school in the cold.  But weekends filled with fun.   Instead of the roller skate, gravity-propelled sleds of spring and summer, we dragged our snow sleds, cardboard boxes or anything that would slide to the top of Cherry Street and slid down the hill.

A second picture showed Vincent and a flock of kids celebrating his birthday in his family's backyard. We gathered around as he was blowing out the candles on his cake.  His mom an avid gardener had a small fishpond constructed in the shape of two connecting ovals.  Where the ovals connected, she bridged them with a small artful log.   She filled it with goldfish and waterlilies.

The pond served us well.  We constructed small plywood hydroplanes, probably six or seven inches in length.  We inserted a paddle held by rubber bands, which when wound tight, powered the boats across the water.    We painted, numbered and named them after our favorite boats of those times...Slo-Mo-Shun IV, Hawaii Kai or Bardahl and raced them across the water.

If we weren't racing, we built plastic warships...replications of aircraft carriers, battleships...destroyers that fought in World War II.  We'd load them with firecrackers and the battle would begin.  Launching them out over the pond, they'd explode into a million fragments, sinking quickly to the bottom.  Then we'd buy and build more.

During Seafair, the Navy brought a small fleet of ships into Elliott Bay and we'd tour.  It was a short bus ride to downtown which gave us access to movie theaters like the Coliseum, Orpheum and Music Hall.  There were also a two neighborhood theaters, the Venetian on 15th and Pike and the Madrona, on about 25th and Cherry.  The Madrona played two cowboy movies on Saturdays including a cartoon and newsreel.   The cost of admission was probably a dime.  Not like today.

Bus routes 12 E. Cherry and 26th South also provided access to Mount Baker, our favorite beach.  Mt. Baker was the top attraction.   To get there, we'd transfer to the 27 Yesler or the 4 Mount Baker.   If we rode the latter, we could run the length of a park with a creek full with dragonflies and water bugs, tennis courts and a few Japanese stone temples before we reached the beach.  When the Matsudaira's purchased a new '57 Ford, Joe Matsudaira and Ed Beltran would drive a bunch of us down for a swim.
They were older.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Dog Blog: Notes on Walk

I walk Cooper and Bella through my old Central Area neighborhood where I grew up.   Cooper’s a young shepherd and Bella, a white-faced setter.   Our walks weave the streets as I talk with them about the grade school and Immaculate Church I attended.  On the way, we pass the nun’s house, now a multi-family apartment. 

We turn north along 16th Avenue and I continue with stories of trick or treating from Jefferson to Union Streets.  Reaching Spring, we descend to 15th where the City installed a small park.  
Bella rests a moment as she’s older and panting.  Cooper patiently searches the grass knowing her companion needs a short break.  I give each a treat.

I diverted from the route one day and took them down to Seattle University where they play  the grass across from the St. Ignatious Chapel.  Catalina and I  married there three years ago in July.  We’re only two days from our anniversary. The dogs love the area where we held a family and friends picnic after rehearsal.

We cross 12th and heading across Columbia near the Langendorff Bakery.  I’ll leave a note describing this to their owners.  The day after, I get a return note telling me that my descriptions are providing a history of the area.  I’m encouraged to mention several personages like Judge Richard Jones and Charlie Greene  who grew up close by.

Normally, I take the dogs over to Union Street and we climb to 17th where a block of elegant, old apartments still survive.  They are as beautiful as I recall from the time I attended kindergarten at T.T. Minor across from them.  I remind Cooper and Bella that as a paperboy, I’d pick up my papers in a still-standing garage in the alley behind them.

We’re on our way back to the house as we travel southward to Columbia.  New townhouses wedge
between older remodels.  The neighborhood has been face-lifted and current residents breathe new life into the urban setting.  Tenants garden the curb medians so they fill with hollyhock, daisies, tomatoes, climbing peas and vegetable and flower assortments.  I’m told the neighborhood banded
together to create bee pathways.  An interesting urban concept encouraging the continuation of life.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Wisteria weeps walkway.

I immerse in its perfume,

fragrance of my loneliness.
There was little left to say.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Symphony for One

An elderly Chinese woman
wearing a great coat 
strolls past in Lincoln Park.  
Her head arches over music sheaves,
she carries in one hand. 
With the finger of the other, she etches air, 
silently conducting a symphony.
It’s a cool September morning, made cooler
by shadows on the high bluff.

An audience of red Madronas bends to listen.
Wind choruses through branches.
Beyond Puget Sound's sand and rocky shore  
the distant Olympics crest in harmony.
I pause in wait for the aria.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Empty Chair

Rich, Dale and I gather awaiting Roy.
We sun in window seats at Geraldine’s,
a favorite breakfast spot.
We share our old-man stories.
Speak of families, graduations
and children moving on.
We wander familiar political paths, 
wade and wind intrigues.
We tell travel stories about Arizona and Hawaii.
Little is said of sports, his specialty.
We fall silent. Roy cannot join us.  

His words:
They’re reviewing my cancer treatment.
“Go ahead without me.”

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The FAYTs (Filipino American Young Turks) - Ben's Monologue

The following excerpt is from The FAYTs, my play about the ambitions of a group of young Seattle-area Filipinos and, in particular, Ben Adama as they seek political power.   The monologue in the form of a campaign speech is given by Ben at his kickoff for State Senate.  It was developed to explore his character...his wants...needs...strengths...weaknesses.


(A crowd of supporters has gathered at campaign headquarters.  Cheerful music plays loudly in the background.  It lowers when John and Ben rise to the stage and stand in front of the podium.   He and John are dressed in sport coats.   Mara dresses sexily in a short, red dress and high heels.  She wears a pearl necklace. She stands off to the side.)
(The crowd itself dresses casually.  A small table with wine, cheese, crackers etc. Is available in the back.  People stand around eating and drinking.  There are a few members of the press.  Political signs dot the walls.  A welcome and sign-in-table around which a small line has formed  by the doorway.  The table is staffed by a few supporters. Ava is not present.  The music lowers.)

Welcome to the Kickoff for our friend Ben Adama who’s running for State Senate.  You’ve known Ben as a friend, a neighbor...a tireless worker in our community.  He has an established recored for supporting equality, housing and employment.
Ben is one of us.  He brings a wealth of experience managing programs.  He decided to run for office.  When he wins, he’ll be the first Filipino to achieve this in the  State. 

(NOTE:  Audience is encouraged to join in for applause and chants in support of Ben during his speech.  Applause and noise from the audience.) 

Ben will tell us why he’s running and then take questions.  I give you the next Senator from this District...Ben Adama! (More applause, hooting.  Some noisemakers.)

Thanks, John!  Thanks everyone for coming out tonight.  Someone asked me why I was running. (Pause)  That’s win!  (Applause.)

Seriously, growing up, I had to guide my father Max ‘round the City.  He’d gone blind while boxing.  He was all but forgotten except for a few friends.

One day, we went into our favorite pool-hall.  Dad heard a someone bullying his friends.  He told me to take him over and stand him in front of the guy.  I did.   Dad asked the guy, “Why don’ you pick on someone who isn’t afraid of you?”

The man responded, “Who’s that?  You?  You’re an old blind man!”   Just as he finished, dad hit him with an upper cut.  Cold-cocked him.  Dad turned to me and said, “Ben, we got to get outta here.  Run!” 

We ran...Dad tapping with his cane.  Tap.  Tap. Tap.  Me scared shitless.  A few blocks away, cop yelled, “Max, stop.  There’s been some trouble at the pool-hall.  You see anything?  What’s up?”

Dad responded “Me no see nothin’.”

The cop let us go.  He knew dad...recognized and trusted him.

(Laughter from the crowd and lots of applause.)

This story reminds me where I’m from and what so many Filipinos experienced.  Dad was a fighter.

When his days in the fight ring ended, he didn’t have anything. He was poor...abandoned…unrecognized.  

I determined that I wouldn’t be forgotten.  That would not happen to me.  I would make my mark.

I wanted to make dad proud.  I wanted to show him I’m a fighter... show him that Filipinos could contribute and achieve in America...prove to him that I could win.   I had friends going to Catholic High School.  I thought this might be a way out.  I didn’t have money for tuition.  I got a job in a restaurant after school.  During summers, I worked in a gas station.  I earned money and paid the tuition.  I got into the school and graduated.

I joined the Marines. I served our country.  With the G.I. Bill, I completed community college.  I met my wife and started a family.  She’s home watching the kids so I could be here with you.  I made it my way.

I came back to our community...our neighborhood.  Loyalty is important to me.  I improve your housing.  Built a food bank. Organized a tutoring service for our schools.  I believe in giving giving you and your children chances that weren’t available to me.   I want you to have a chance to improve your lives the way I improved mine.

I know you. And, you know me.  I’m running because you know I’ll do the job for you.  Join me.  I can’t go back.  Come forward with me.  Rise with me on the American ladder.  We can have success.  We can realize the American dream.  We can be part of America.

(Huge audience applause and chants: “Ben! Ben!”)

I grew up in Chinatown.  My father was poor.  We lived in a one room apartment filled with cockroaches.  He slept in the bed.  I slept on the floor.  The cockroaches never slept.
When dad died, I was raised in Rainier Valley by my Tito and Uncle and Aunt.   My wife and kids grew up here and go to school here.  I’ve known poverty and rose above it.  If I can do it, you can too.

You know me and you can trust my word!
(Audience applauds and chants.)

I can make a difference!  My opponent is part of the political establishment.  We’ve witnessed decay in our schools, fewer housing opportunities and businesses vanishing from our neighborhood.  (Crowd applauds at each pause.) 

We need more housing (Pause), small businesses (Pause), better schools (Pause) and jobs.

I’m not like her.  I’ll represent you.  I’ll represent your dreams.  I promise to make government listen.  I worked years in our neighborhood.  I’ll take my life lessons and experiences to the Senate.  I ask for your support.

(Audience cheers loudly.)

We can move forward and bring prosperity.  We can improve schools, reduce crime and strengthen our economy. (Crowd agrees more loudly.)

You ask:  Why am I running?  I’m running because I’m you.  I believe in loyalty.  We grew up together.  We walk these streets together.  I’m running because I represent your hunger and hopes.

I will succeed. You have my word.

(Crowd cheers loudly.)

I believe in you.   Believe in me. Walk with me. You can trust me.  Join me in my campaign.  Thank you.

(Crowd applauds and cheers wildly. Joyful music starts up. John rises and joins Ben on the Podium.)


In celebration of your hopes and dreams Ben represents for us, we’re hanging this banner.
Give it up for the next Senator from this District: Ben Adama!

(Pedro and Paulo unfurl a very large banner that reads:  Adama for State Senate in bold letters.)

(Lead crowd in chant.) We know you and we trust your word! 

We know you and we trust your word!

Behind you are sign-up tables.  We need volunteers.  We need your support.  Join Ben’s

Join us.  Support Ben.  We have and drink. (Points to tables.)

Mabuhay, Adama!  Viva, Adama!  Mabuhay, Adama!  Ben! Ben! Ben!

(Music plays.  People head for tables.  Ben moves through the crowd shaking hands.  He receives pats an the back.  Then, Mara gives him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.)



Only dead stamen remain
of flowers you left behind
in vases on the window.
Like petals, love dries in vain.


Water gurgles in the pot.
Dawn beckons me with light.
Bold coffee removes the night.
I open my newspaper.