Monday, December 7, 2009

Mikel Jollett: Best Laid Plans

Published May 2009 in Salem Monthly. Stories ideas come from unexpected places, it's best to be prepared. My wife and I went to Portland to see Airborne Toxic Event and Jollett announced he'd spent part of his childhood in Salem. I turned to my wife and told her I was getting that story. The following morning, I e-mailed the band's management and it led to an interview. I reused a lede from another story several years back. If I had to choose, it works better in this one.

Mikel Jollett, frontman of The Airborne Toxic Event, knows a thing or two about big plans.

First, he knows how the grandiose designs we hinge our lives on rarely work out the way we think they will.

Second, he knows that's not such a bad thing.

"At this point in my life, as far as plans go, I had expected to be on my second novel and doing an NPR column instead of traveling around with a band," said Jollett.

CCMF: Why Salem needs this party

Published April 2009 in Salem Monthly

David Ballantyne has an on-again-off-again relationship with the Salem music scene. Most years he loves it. So far, 2009 has been one of the off years.

Ballantyne doesn't relish the feeling. It's more of a sad fact. He's been an active member in Salem bands for more than a decade, watched the scene ebb and flow, heard all the talk from local band members with stars in their eyes and dreams of "getting out."

"Getting out isn't as important as building up. If there's a reason Salem needs the Cherry City Music Festival, that's it," said Ballantyne, who will be performing guitar and vocals with his band The Falcon on April 9.

Celebrating the otherworldly

Published April 2009 in PLAY. I like stories like this one and this one not because I'm a believer in such things, but because they illustrate how we find amazing ways to connect with each other.

Kris Bales was shaking so hard when he drew the object he saw in the sky that even he barely recognizes his own writing.

Bales, a Bend contractor, his brother, Marc, and two other friends were on a hunting trip near Challis, Idaho, on Sept. 27, 2000. Bales was digging through the back of his pick-up when he felt a presence nearby.

“I looked out to the sides and saw the night sky filled with stars, but when I looked directly up the sky was blotted out,” Bales said.

He clicked on a flashlight and aimed it into the darkness overhead. The light beam from the low-powered light danced across the entire length of a triangle-shaped aircraft.

“I slipped down off the truck and went to the ground. I was floored. It was beyond comprehension,” Bales said.

Schooled in rock

Published April 2009 in Salem Monthly.

A certain nervous energy precedes the start of most classes from elementary through high school. It manifests as the shuffling of papers, quiet, or not-so-quiet, chatter or the occasional burst of laughter.

In the Rock & Roll Workshop at Judson Middle School that anxious tension is drummed on the soles of students' shoes, literally. In the rear of the classroom, about a dozen budding drummers tap out timing beats like over-caffeinated squirrels on the back end of a Morse telegraph.

At a time when educators are fighting a losing battle to preserve arts education, the Jaguars' rock class is a breakout hit.

A bargain amidst economic chaos

Published April 2009 in Salem Monthly

It's incredibly hard to put a price on a dose of courage, but it can come with a shockingly cheap price tag.

Last year, I had the good fortune to befriend a woman who knows firsthand the toil of being one of the working poor. At the age of 36, and as a single mother of four daughters, she decided to return to school while continuing to work part time.

Making ends meet in such difficult circumstances wasn't ever easy, but she did it, and she received assistance in small ways - like tax breaks.

Rising Tide: The Battle for Battle Creek

Published March 2009 in Salem Monthly.

A lot of people liked the lede graphs in this article. I was uncertain about it even as we went to press, so it was huge relief to get the positive feedback.

Before reading any further, hold out your right hand.

Tilt it to the right to keep the thumb level. Spread and curl the fingers as if wrapping them around a bowl. The four fingers represent four creeks, Waln (index finger), Battle (middle finger), Powell (ring finger) and Scotch (the pinky), that flow into and merge in the basin created in the palm of your hand. The thumb is Battle Creek as it flows out of the basin.

The area surrounding the basin experienced some of the Salem area's most intense flooding in 1996 and an application currently under consideration by the city of Salem would allow it to be developed from a golf course into a senior living community.

The question to be kept in mind, if one chooses to continue reading is: What, if anything, should be constructed in that basin?

"It's a difficult case," said Lisa Anderson, an associate planner with the City of Salem, who is handling the application. "Obviously, people bought these homes because of the area surrounding them and, specifically, the golf course. But the land itself has never been public land."

While some of the homes adjacent to the course are in the most immediate danger in the event of another flood, the neighborhoods surrounding the Battle Creek area is almost otherworldly. Middle class homes, manufactured homes, condominiums, cost-efficient apartments and multi-million dollar estates are found within blocks of each other. It’s simply hard to find areas that encompass such a broad range of socioeconomic diversity.

It also means that whatever happens to the property is likely to impact the entire surrounding community, and may have even broader flooding effects.

Tough times don't excuse small injustices

Published March 2009 in Salem Monthly

What's so hard about going through life with a sense of humanity?

I went into a fast food restaurant the other day and while I was placing an order, a young woman stepped up to the register beside mine.

Words were quietly exchanged and pieces of paper changed hands. The employee at the counter then turned to the ones prepping food and loudly declared there was someone at the register looking to turn in a job application.

"During the lunch rush? Who does that?" was the response. At damn near full yell.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advertising copy Pt. 2

Here are two that we used in print that I think hold up well.

The college typically employs Dale Peterson for most of its photography and he is an absolute blast to work with. He's a fun guy to start, but he is such a gracious photographer and willing to try just about any idea.

Anyway ... I was there when Dale shot the photo for this ad and I don't remember exactly why, but I was walking back to my office from the glassworking studio. I wasn't 10 feet from the door of the studio when the copy came to me.

From the outset of my time on the job, I wanted the college media messages to carry more swagger. Instead of "I go to to Chemeketa Comm ... (mumble, mumble)," I wanted people to say "I go to Chemeketa COMMUNITY COLLEGE." There are so many reasons for pride in that school and I wanted our advertising, especially, to reflect it. This was the closest I was able to get to that original vision.

Advertising copy Pt. 1

In my short-lived foray into the world of public relations, I got to hone my ad copy skills. It can be a lot of fun, but it is different from most other types of writing. Advertising, whether it's print or television (I didn't get the chance to do a radio advert), requires seeing the big picture before setting off in a specific direction when sitting down to write.

These ads were never used by the college, but I felt they were the best I produced for a single reason. As a community college, the institution has so many different missions and tendrils into so many facets of the community that it's simply overwhelming to try and find a one-sentence or one-word descriptor. My thought with these ads was that the audience learned what it needed to know about the institution, by learning more about the people who worked there and were drawn to it themselves. It would have been just as easy to use the same format with students.

There's actually a much longer story about the "Be inspired" tag line that was one of my greatest disappointments in the job. Suffice it to say that it was all very Jerry Maguire.

(All photos, copy and layout are by me on these.)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

First Flight

For as long as she could remember, Ange wanted wings.

She slipped on a once-yellow T-Shirt that she’d modded into a halter top and caught the tips of her orange hair bouncing in the mirror. She’d stopped noticing the discolored spots on the top long ago, and only half-consciously noted the new ones she’s added as she pulled the edges down to her waist over the top of her grease-smudged jeans.

Toxic Diva

A phone call from Paul Perschmann changed the course of Megan Nicole Desire’s life.
Perschmann, you see, is better known to the wrestling world as “Playboy” Buddy Rose. Last May, Desire contacted Perschmann’s Portland wrestling school after a Monday night of watching WWE Raw.
“I thought, Hey maybe there’s someplace to train around here,” said Desire. She ended up finding a few.
She called Perschmann’s school and left a message, but got no response. Later she sent an e-mail and the “Playboy” himself contacted her the following day.
“We talked for about 30 minutes and then he invited me up to the school,” said Desire.
The 5-foot-5, 135-pound, 20-year-old made an impact on her instructors from her first day at the academy.
In the male-dominated world of pro wrestling, females are largely relegated to the position of managers and valets, people who escort men to the ring and interject only to help their man win a match or serve as the damsel in distress. Increasingly, women in those positions are being called on to “work,” or participate in the match or matches independent of their male counterparts.
Finding a woman both willing and able to take on the task is fairly rare.

Hook, Line and Sinker

The thing about Del Loose’s artwork is there isn’t a single thing about it. It requires time for the viewer to take in the parts of its sum.
Loose welds together found metal objects to create sculptures. He’s only been working at it for about six months, but he’s churned out a school of salmon, flocks of birds and is beginning to dabble with the human form.
Kebanu Art Gallery owner Keith Null learned quickly what a draw Loose’s works could be.
“Every time I look out the window there are people staring in at his fish. Then they come in to see the other side,” said Null.

Photo 86

It was photo 86.
A man and woman from the Ministry showed up at the door last Monday. Both were dressed in black, they’d walked. Cars only prevented evasion of danger. If anyone understood that, they did.
At the ministry building, I was instructed to sit in a metal chair at a wooden table.
The man left and returned with a worn leather book that he half-dropped, half-placed on the table. He took more care as he slid it in front of me. I opened it as he took up post at the single, barred window.
The book had another life at some point. Now each page held three photographs with circled numbers, scrawled in thick black marker, beside each one.
Placid faces filled the first several pages; peace finally attained through death.
Those without identifiable faces were pictured as fully as possible in a macabre gallery of decay and dismemberment. In one grotesque display of frugality, four severed arms were photographed together in hope that a loved one might be able to identify the attached jewelry.
When they ask why anyone would detonate a bomb in a busy marketplace, tell them it was photo 86.

Controlled Chaos

Denver Mayangitan woke up on his back. His tongue and jaw tingled, but he was still fighting. He could feel himself kicking and striking even though he wasn’t entirely aware of where he was.
“Then I tackled the referee to the ground,” he said.
The mixed martial arts fight was over, but his mind was still in the game. The punches and kicks he was “throwing” were body twitches, an aftereffect of being choked out. That was how Mayangitan’s first cage fight ended.
“It was a heart-break-and-a-half. I didn’t sleep for two days,” he said.
But something had changed.
On the third day, Mayangitan could walk into any establishment knowing he could take any person in the room.
“It’s an amazing feeling. But you’ve got to keep it inside and say, ‘I can’t do that.’”
That was after a loss. Imagine how he felt once he started winning.

Got No Strings

Slapstick is humorous. Trips, falls, hits and eye gouging all have a certain appeal to our most base sense of “the funny,” but when it comes to puppets, slapstick serves an entirely different purpose:
It softens the brain.
“It’s how you get the audience to accept that a piece of cloth is a character,” said Amy Harwood, a Portland puppeteer and founder of the Apropos Puppet Company.
That’s why, when you stop by a puppet show in the park, the characters spend the first minute or so whacking each other with sticks. It’s funny, of course, but it’s also character development at its most primitive.

Spell Chek'd

Lisa Waugh made her New Year’s resolution after hearing about Monday nights at the Mississippi Pizza Pub.
“I decided I wanted to win the spelling bee,” she said.
Every Monday, patrons fill the Mississippi Pizza Pub to watch some of the area’s best spellers battle it out for the title of champion (that and free pizza (and a shirt)).
Waugh had previous bee experience during her school years, but never advanced further than 12th in the regional competition.
After two months of regular attendance, Waugh claimed the title by spelling “dulcinea,” a Spanish word meaning ladylove or sweetheart. She’s still a regular.
“I come about three weeks a month. It’s fun, in a dorky kind of way,” she said.

Histories of Violence

J.D. Chandler is a fan of the matrix (lowercase “m,” no pills, white rabbits or anyone named Neo).
The matrix Chandler is fond of is the one that allows him to unravel Portland’s history of violent crime. It’s a puzzle matrix and one that he learned about early in his career watching the movements of Russian forces in Europe during the Cold War.
Chandler, no relation to Raymond, was a cryptanalyst with a Russian language specialty. His job was putting together puzzles.
“A radio operator would uncover a piece of information and my job was to put it into the matrix of what I already knew so I could interpret its meaning,” said Chandler. “We wanted to have as much warning as possible if (Russia) decided to attack.”
The basic skill was one that he was able to apply to his other pursuits, particularly as a history enthusiast and a fan of true crime tales.
In his spare time, Chandler haunts the Portland Central Library and scrolls through the microfilms of old newspapers. He mines them for true crime stories to include in his blog, Slabtown Chronicle.
Portland became known as Slabtown in the 1880s because of the rough-and-tumble nature of the port city.
“The name was used to describe the district from Oldtown stretching westward from the river to today’s Pearl District,” said Chandler.
At the time, sailor boardinghouses, saloons and brothels infused the area with a mean streak and it was said that visitors were more than likely to end up on a slab.
Chandler felt the name was a natural fit for the work he was doing.


Cory Doctorow doesn’t worry about people with free copies of his books; he worries about the ones who don’t know he’s written them at all.
“As a writer, my problem isn’t piracy. It’s obscurity,” said Doctorow during a lecture at Portland State University late last year.
In that regard, Doctorow is fighting a system that is more regressive than progressive.
Rather than creating more portals into commercial creativity, large corporations are either trying to close off existing ones or constrict the openings, he said.

Everday roleModel

Tara Manning’s best days involve changing her outfit up to 60 times and being yelled at to get moving.
She was one of two models selected for a recent Macy’s lingerie show in Seattle.
“Usually they have more than just two, but I think that made it more fun,” she said.
The audience gets to watch her perform onstage, but Manning gets a bigger thrill from the action behind the curtains.
“As soon as you get backstage one person is ripping your clothes off and another one is putting clothes on. Someone shouts, ‘Go,” and you do it all again,” Manning said.

Heart of the Harley

The phone rings inside Duane Taylor’s workshop, Taylor Classic Cycles, near McNary Field Airport in Salem.
Taylor picks up and after the caller introduces himself, Taylor asks how the weather is in Georgia.
A few minutes of small talk pass between the two, then the caller gets to the point: His Harley is acting up and something needs fixing.
With a couple questions, Taylor diagnoses the problem and identifies the part that needs replacing. He’s got a bucketful in his workshop.
“All he had to do was tell me about the spigot in the valve and I knew exactly what he was talking about,” said Taylor.

Chasing Down the Dead

“Is there anybody here who would like to speak with us?”
It’s a simple question, but when asked to no one in particular and standing next to an obelisk in the middle of a cemetery, every body hair snaps to attention.
Chris Califf and Chris Ong, two ghost hunters with Salem Paranormal Investigators, chose this particular headstone not only because of its size but because of its position. It sits between two well-defined rows of other graves; aligned with neither.
Ong places a digital audio recorder on the ground and asks the first question.
Califf follows up by asking, “If so, can you give us a sign?”
And so it goes: “Is there anything you’d like to say to us?”
“Have we disturbed your rest in any way?”
“Is there anything we can do to help you?”
“If you have a message for us or anybody else, please say it at this time.”
This night, the recorder picks up nothing but the wind as it blows over the burial plots. Other nights have been more exciting.
Help me, Daddy
About a year ago, Califf was sitting at home watching episodes of Ghost Hunters on television when his brother-in-law called to ask what he was doing that night.
Califf replied that he was thinking of going out to get some recordings in Lee Mission Cemetery. Within hours, and after enlisting the help of Ong, a group headed out to the cemetery.
“I thought if we were going to find anything, that cemetery would be the place. You always hear about people getting spooked out there,” said Califf.

Bad Angels

His eyes had sunken so severely he barely recognized himself.
Christ, he thought. I look like a zombie.   
He pulled at the skin around his cheeks where he expected elasticity he found none. Looking into the fractured mirror he remembered a story his father had told him.
The department crew had been summoned to the home of a man who was having an “episode.”  The man, Jim, lunged at his father with a hammer as he entered.  He had been whacking bad angels under the guidance of God. 
There was a 10-foot hole in the man’s family room wall. Jim had caught one, but others were pouring through the opening.
As a teenager, it had been easy to dismiss the guy as a crackpot, but he thought about Jim and his episode more often the older he got.
He could have handled the rejection letters from the seemingly endless interviews, but then Melissa left.
The phone rang and the machine picked up. His mother urging him to go to church with her. She would pray for him.
He rubbed his eyes and they retreated further.
From somewhere, on the other side of the mirror, someone passed him a hammer.

Exploring the Grass Hut

Justin Morrison was a fan of Bwana Spoons’ artwork, but he didn’t completely believe that “Bwana” was a real name.
Morrison was setting up an impromptu art sale outside a gallery where Spoons was having a show when the two met for the first time.
“I was like, whatever, this guy’s name isn’t really ‘Bwana.’ I said, ‘I’m Scrappers.’” Morrison was thinking, Yeah, I got a nickname too, buddy.
“Scrappers” was a nickname Morrison’s mom had bestowed upon him as a child. He resurrected it in the heat of the moment.
Later that evening, Spoons left the gallery riding a one-wheeled, wooden whale.
Morrison was left speechless, but knew he had found a friend when Spoons “biffed it” in the middle of an intersection.

Sword(play) Master

John Elliott found his calling during a matinee production of Hamlet.
“In the Laertes fight scene, part of a fencing foil broke off, flew through the air and stuck in the seat next to a large, overweight gentleman sitting a few rows in front of me,” said Elliott. “He passed out and voided right there.”
Elliott, who was training in fencing at the time, knew the swords given to actors were not usually of the highest quality.
“Actors would come and ask to borrow swords and the instructors gave out the stuff fencers wouldn’t even touch,” he said.
After the play, he approached the director and asked why no one had checked the stage equipment. The director had no answer.


I wrote this after the death of a neighbor in hopes of driving donations to a memorial account set up for her family. The day it was published Berke Breathed sent a note to me through the paper thanking me for including him in the remembrance. It's such a bittersweet thing that I'm still not sure that I fully appreciate it, but I'm thankful beyond words that he took the time to write.

Published Nov. 7, 2008, in the Keizertimes.

When I was a kid, probably not more than nine years old, I discovered the comic strip "Bloom County" through the collected editions my dad left at his bedside.

Opus, Bill the Cat, Milo, Binkley, Ronald Ann and Steve gave me a window on the adult world that never made sense until I saw it through their eyes. I usually didn't understand the subtext the creator, Berkeley Breathed, layered into the work, but it seemed I could find something to laugh about in each strip.

It was largely because of this discovery that I spent the next several years harboring dreams of creating my own comic strip. My abortive attempts at creation are contained in several partially-filled notebooks now divided between two states.

Years later, when a cousin was studying to become a teacher, he enthusiastically showed me copies of "Red Ranger Came Calling" alongside "Where the Wild Things Are," as two books he couldn't wait to start teaching to children.

"Red Ranger Came Calling" was Breathed's first non-Opus children's book and follows a prickly young boy's attempt to debunk Santa Claus. It's one of the most magically wonderful things I have ever read. Much later, my eyes filled with tears as I read it to my newborn daughter a few weeks before her first Christmas.

Throughout my life, Breathed or his work always seems to come up when I least expect it.

Four months ago, on a bus trip from Portland with several co-workers, I found out the person sitting next to me had fond memories of playing Luke Binkleywalker, from the "Bloom County" version of Star Wars, on her school's playground.

A little more than a week ago, my next-door neighbor, Tammy, died after complications arose from brain surgery to remove a cyst and tumor. She left behind four beautiful children, ages five to 13, and a loving husband.

Two days later, I bought "Pete and Pickles," Breathed's latest children's book. It's about a pig who is lonely – but doesn't know it – and the elephant that helps him rediscover what it means to live in the wake of great loss.

Breathed's wit, compassion, willingness to tackle harsh realities and gift for wrapping them in kid-friendly packages continues to mystify me. He, as much as anyone, had a tremendous influence on my path to becoming a writer.

I have almost always found refuge in solitude, but there has been no solace there this past week. Silence begets time to think about my own mortality, and what keeps me moving forward from day to day.

This world can be a cold and brutish place. Death almost always seems cruel, complicated and unnecessary. My drive is derived from discovering the threads connecting us to each other. Threads that lay below the surface. Connections that give us something in common to laugh about.

It was Breathed who first taught me to see those threads. How to deal with some of the worst parts of life before I understood what was coming. He taught me it was okay to laugh so that you don't cry.

I hope, in the coming months and years, Tammy's children have or discover as constant a companion as Breathed has been to me.

When they came for me ...

Twisting the knife after I'd left the paper and moved on to other things.

Published Feb. 1, 2008, in the Keizertimes

I moved to Keizer more than four years ago after getting a job at the paper you're now reading. My wife and I purchased a house literally four doors down from the area that is now Keizer Station. I said nothing. I knew what was in the works and understood it would impact us and the area around our home.

Generally, my experience has been a positive one. I have nothing but praise for the city's public works department and the plan they developed to manage traffic in and out of the area. (My wife works in Woodburn, so it's easy to imagine what a tangled mess it might have become with less leadership in that particular area.)

While I feel for my neighbors who have lived here far longer than I, and the undeniable upheaval they've endured, it was another Keizer housing struggle that drew more of my attention.

Beginning in January 2005, the residents of Iris Village, a manufactured home park, were threatened with the loss of the property their homes rested on if they couldn't or wouldn't pay for the land outright. Several residents were eventually able to arrange purchase of their land, but some simply had to walk away from the homes they'd worked hard to afford.

Then, in May 2006, the residents of Berkshire Estates, another manufactured home park in Keizer, were threatened with the closure of their park. In that instance, residents weren't offered the option of purchasing their land. One of those residents, whose circumstances brought him to the attention of the area's state representative, was able to find alternative arrangements. Many more were forced to walk away from their homes.

In both cases, residents of the affected areas packed the city council chambers to offer reasonable, heartfelt and tear-jerking reasons why their homes should not be pulled out from underneath them. They stood up, not just once, but many times, to make their case during public hearings and city council meetings. It always seemed to fall on deaf ears. When I asked why this testimony was not being considered, city officials responded that it was "emotional testimony" that didn't have any bearing on the letter of the law.

Guess what, folks?

Ripping people's lives asunder is bound to stir up some emotion. That doesn't mean that the arguments presented aren't valid - even if the argument doesn't fit within the law of the land.

I'm sure the scene was similar at the meetings leading up to the city council's discussion of a text amendment to allow a 120,000 square foot big box store in Area C of Keizer Station. It didn't surprise me that the members of the city council seemed to back off the proposal. It supported my hypothesis that the main reason the manufactured home parks were allowed to close was because the residents of Iris Village and Berkshire Estates were viewed as second-class citizens. I assumed that, since residents of a better social standing were the ones offering up protest, the money had been heard.

I am not overjoyed by news that the council members are may allow the construction of another big box store in the already unimpressive Keizer Station, but nothing the developers could put there would force me to abandon my home and file for bankruptcy.

Mostly, it's reassuring to know that the residents of Iris Village and Berkshire weren't treated any differently than the rest of Keizer's citizens.

A Picture Worth 1,000 Lives

Published Dec. 8, 2006, in the Keizertimes and in the George Fox Journal.

This story begins with a photograph.

An 11-year-old Rwandan girl, Uwizimana, sits on the ground, an umbrella in her right hand and the lifeless body of her brother, 1-year-old Twizerimana, cradled in her left. Tears streak Uwizimana's cheeks and more well up in her eyes as she looks up at someone off-camera. Twizerimana stares, without focus, into the soft light streaming through the umbrella, his mouth hangs agape as if he's seeing something new for the first time.

The photograph changed the course of a man's life.

"My first reaction was, ‘I didn't get there soon enough,'" said Ron Hays, executive director of the Marion-Polk Food Share.

Hays saw the photograph in The Oregonian in July 1994 alongside a story a detailing the hardships faced by Rwandan refugees as they fled the ethnic violence of their homeland.

At the time, Hays was working in children's services, but previous experience as a paramedic had him believing that he could have prevented the death of the child in the photograph.

"I wasn't going to stand by and let it happen again," he said.

Of the many challenges Rwandan refugees faced, waterborne diseases were among the worst. The problem, as Hays saw it, was that such diseases can be treated easily.

"With hydration and some antibiotics, many would not die from them," he said.

As a paramedic, he could start an intravenous drip, which would help those suffering from cholera and shigella recapture some of the nutrients they needed. At the very least, he'd be giving them a fighting chance.

Called to action

Hays laminated a cut out of the photo and packed it with him when he left on a relief mission with a crew from Northwest Medical Teams.

In Goma, Zaire, at a refugee camp, he met a woman and her son who had found a 6-year-old girl in the road and brought her to the team's medical station be treated.

"She was so small she didn't look more than 2-years-old," Hays said.

He spent two weeks feeding her with a syringe before finding an orphanage that could take her in. Because she could cook, Hays also arranged for the orphanage to take in the woman and her son.

Hays sent his bedroll with the child and spent the last week of his stay sleeping on the ground.

He walked out of Goma in a pair of 25-cent sandals, he left behind anything he could survive without and gave items like shoes to people in the refugee camps.

"I found out the girl had died about three weeks after she entered the orphanage, but the mother and her son were alive and healthy," Hays said.

Since that time, his resume reads like a laundry list of the world's crisis regions during the last decade. He was in Mexico after Hurricane Pauline; Honduras after Hurricane Mitch; India after the Gujarat earthquake, New York after 9/11 and Sri Lanka after the 2005 tsunami.

During his crisis response, he embarked on a quest to educate emergency care workers in third-world countries.

"While I was traveling, I met so many people who would have suffered less if they had been cared for properly by the country's first responders. People who were enduring lives of pain that could have been avoided with some basic education," Hays said.

He headed up a volunteer team that crafted a 470-page emergency care worker's manual that's since been translated into the primary languages of more than 1 billion people.

Of all the places he's been and the crises he's tried to remedy, there's one that's conspicuous by its absence: the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

Trouble at home

Hays was appalled to learn that while he had been traveling the world putting out fires, a huge one was blazing through his home state of Oregon. The state was ranked No. 1 in hunger.

It reminded him of a Bible verse:

"For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Matthew 16:26)

"That was exactly the way I felt, but there were other circumstances that made it a good time for a change," said Hays.

He applied for the executive director position at the Marion-Polk Food Share and was hired in August 2005 – just weeks before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and other areas of the Gulf Coast.

Northwest Medical Teams called him about responding to the area, but Hays could not go. He needed to focus on the more immediate concerns of his neighbors.

It's a task that isn't as simple as having handouts when someone needs them.

"It means building a sustainable system and teaching people how to handle a crisis situation, or food shortage, in their own home," said Hays.

To do so he needs the members of the Marion and Polk communities – all of them – to be on board with the mission of the food bank.

For community members, it means volunteering or finding other ways to help. The effectiveness of the food bank is measured in its ability to connect with the community and its results are amplified exponentially by the number of volunteers it taps.

"We have one woman who is donating birthday packs, with cake mixes and candles, so that any child who has a birthday has a cake. That's a wonderfully small idea that can have a huge impact if more people get involved," he said.

He encourages volunteers to bring along their children and to pass along their noble trait.

"Passing along those values makes anything we start now more sustainable in the future," he said.

The Marion-Polk Food Share need both money and time to eliminate hunger in the two-county area, but the most important thing given by donors of either is encouragement.

"Volunteers encourage other volunteers, they encourage the people like me who are trying to make sure the resources are there when they're needed and they encourage those who are in need right now because they are constant reminders that someone cares," Hays said.

Full Circle

The photograph that inspired Hays now hangs on his office wall in all its harshness and beauty, a gift from the photographer who was also hoping his work would change the world.

Ten years after the photo appeared in The Oregonian, Hays wrote to the photographer, Tim Zielenbach, to tell him of how the photo served as an inspiration.

"I was absolutely floored," said Zielenbach, who now works as a wedding photographer in Savannah, Ga. "It was concrete validation of why we do what we do. Anyone who goes out and tries to tell a story through pictures is thinking about and hoping to move someone to action."

Zielenbach won't take credit for Hays' actions, but said he was grateful to have supplied a spark.

During his next trip to the Pacific Northwest, Zielenbach made a point of stopping in to meet Hays. He brought with him a poster-sized print of the photo.

This story ends with that photograph.

It's a photograph of a girl whose tears inspired a man to travel the world helping anywhere he could – only to find himself back at home – and a boy whose death was not in vain because other lives were saved.

No nude bowling

Sometimes it would be foolish to not to be sensationalistic.

Keizer 23 viewers shouldn't expect to see nude bowling on the city's public access cable channel anytime soon.

At their first meeting Monday, members of the Keizer 23 Task Force tabled discussion of whether to open the channel up to public submissions. Instead, the group elected to focus on beefing up the channel's governmental and education offerings.

A nude bowling program was mentioned repeatedly as an example of the type of programming members of the task force didn't want to see.

To clear the way for progress in the discussion, members agreed that public content on the channel was a topic for a later meeting. One member, however, promised to hold the task force to its word.

"When we had the first Channel 23 Task Force we deferred the decision to go public until sometime in the future. The future is here," said Cathy Clark, city councilor-elect. "We better start looking into expanding our horizons."

Currently, the channel's meager offerings include city council meetings, budget meetings, "Cop Talk" segments with interviews of police department officials and "Fire Talk" segments with officials of the fire district.

Other community events like the Iris Festival Parade and a recent skate park competition have also been broadcasted, but the dearth of content has led to city council meetings being aired 14 times every week.

"It's the same thing every day because that's all the content we have," said Stacey Robertson, Keizer 23 guru and production manager.

The station's budget is about $80,000 annually, but surpluses have been socked away to the tune of $30,000, which gives the channel some room for growth. The funds come from franchise tax revenues paid to the city by Comcast.

Task force members are charged with deciding the direction of growth.

Bill Quinn, citizen-at-large on the task force, suggested airing the Keizer Fire Board's monthly meeting. Previously, members of the Fire Board voted to pursue the televised meetings, but the $250 cost for each meeting kept them from jumping at the opportunity.

Mayor Lore Christopher suggested the city might be willing to cover the $3,000 annual cost of the taping with some of the excess in the channel's budget, but that making it happen would require further talks with city and fire district officials.

"There's interest, but whose going to pay for it?" asked Greg Frank, Keizer fire chief and a task force member.

Clark said there may be other organizations interested in having their public affairs meetings broadcasted, such as Marion County Fire District No. 1, which covers the area of Keizer north of Parkmeadow Drive.

Rob Kissler, director of the city's public works department, said he would like to produce a quarterly segment informing residents of the progress on construction projects underway and notifying area residents of construction on the horizon.

Construction of the city's new civic center would be better addressed as an independent project than as part of the public works overview, Kissler said.

The task force plans on reviewing the definitions for allowable content on the public access television station at its next meeting Tuesday, Jan. 2.

Hooligan to Artisan

Another DIY man and a character like none other.

Published Sept. 15, 2006, in the Keizertimes

John Eley lost five fingers and part of his right thumb in a metal press accident on a Saturday morning in 1962, just three days before he became a professional boxer.

It was 10 days before he got married. In fact, that was the reason he'd taken the job in the machine shop.

"I was working to earn extra money for bridesmaids' dresses," said Eley. "The press repeated on me while I was monkeying with some switches and came down on my hand."

He spent two years recovering from the incident, but during that time his doctor gave him a small box of paints. He was having trouble breaking through the mental blocks that were preventing him from moving what little remained of his right hand's digits. The doctor thought painting might help.

That's how Eley became an artist.

After he regained motion in the hand, he was sent to be evaluated to determine what sort of jobs he might still be able to perform.

"They told me they could teach me how to hold a broom, and I told them where they could stick it," said Eley.

Instead, he found work as a lorry driver and continued working on his painting when he found the time.

"You call them semis in this country," said Eley, who hails from the United Kingdom.

As his motor skills improved, Eley decided he wanted to branch out into other mediums. His sights landed on woodworking and carving.

"I went to the some of the best rocking horse makers in England and told them I would work for free, if they would teach me," said Eley.

Repeatedly he was told, "no."

Eley, not one to back down, found another route. He resorted to collecting books on the craft and learned to do it mostly by looking at the pictures. His dyslexia made reading difficult.

That was how Eley learned woodworking.

He quickly expanded his repertoire from rocking horses to other toys. It was at a toy show that a customer approached him and asked if he knew how to do stained glass work.

Lying through his teeth, Eley answered, "yes."

"The guy told me he would call me on Monday. Over the weekend, I went out and bought more books," he said.

And that's .... well, you get the picture.

Since his humble start at painting to regain use of his hand, Eley has taught himself glass etching, wood burning (aka pyrography), metal sculpture, oil painting, flint knapping, and even steelwork. He combines techniques from each to create the numerous pieces that fill his workshop in Keizer.

He crossed the pond five years ago after losing his first wife, Gladys, to cancer and meeting his new love, Maggie. They met over the Internet.

It was here that he discovered new worlds of art produced by Native Americans and, as he puts it, "took to it like a duck to water."

"Maggie knew some people holding a powwow and we went. While there, a woman named Raven came up to me who had this amazing eagle ring," said Eley.

He asked where he could get one.

"She told me I couldn't. It was a family ring," he said.

As Eley delved deeper into the Native American culture, an opportunity presented itself that would give him the chance to become part of the family.

The woman's son had a flute made from a 200-year-old sequoia tree that broke. Eley was asked to reassemble the flute's five pieces.

His response was a caution:

"I can try, but there was no telling how it will sound."

Shortly thereafter he called Raven and played the flute for her over the phone. She and her son were at Eley's door in less than an hour. Raven gave him her family ring.

In the intervening years, Eley has turned his talents to creating art in the Native American style, including hand-carved knives, flutes, ceremonial pipes adorned with beadwork from Maggie, bows, arrows, walking sticks and just about anything else he decides to tackle.

While he's borrowed their techniques, Eley, 64, has also learned from Native American philosophies.

"It's taught me be to be a better person. Before I met the friends I have now, I was pretty much always thinking about myself, a bit of a hooligan," he said.

When not working on Native American pieces, Eley busies himself with custom glasswork that adorns several local residences and a winery or two.

Surrounded by his works and accomplishments (he is also an accomplished archer and billiard player), it's easy to forget that Eley is considered disabled by many who meet him, something he used to take as a challenge.

But time has mellowed the once fight-driven man.

"Now it's all about my work and teaching other people who are interested in being taught. It's a waste if all the knowledge I've accumulated dies with me," he said.

Despite his many talents, Eley brushes aside praise for the obstacles he's overcome.

"The accident was the best thing that ever happened to me, but there's still a lot more I want to do," said he said.

That is how Eley plans on going out.

"They're going to try to close the lid and I'm going to stick a leg out and tell ‘em I'm not done yet," he said.

The ride of (and for) her life

Like the lede on this one, but I needed to mention why the hell I did this story in the local paper much earlier.

Published Sept. 8, 2006, in the Keizertimes

On the first day, it was just her and the desert. And, like another first day, it was horrifying.

Megan Timothy had a "brain explosion" on Sept. 3, 2003.

"The doctor gave me his name for it, but I told him when it happens to him, we'll see if he calls it anything other than an explosion," quipped Timothy.

In medical terms, it's called arterio-venous malformation, a long way of saying the arteries in her brain did not form correctly and burst under pressure. The defect had likely been present since birth.

Timothy once made a living as a wordsmith but, when she awoke that morning, there was only one left. Chicken.

"People would ask me my name and it would come out ‘Chicken Chicken,'" she said.

It sounded twice as odd when paired with the expletives that sometimes followed. Thrice as odd, because Timothy is a vegetarian.

While talking and reading presented seemingly insurmountable challenges, Timothy's brain was still processing all the information she could take in.

"I called it being in solitary confinement," she said.

Timothy spent several weeks recovering from the shock and it took another year for her brain to hold up under the stress of surgery to help correct the problem. With no family, she became a ward of the state and was confined to a hospital after her already-dwindling finances evaporated.

It took another whole year to regain her ability to speak.

She learned to read by listening to Harry Potter audiobooks and reading along, sentence by sentence. Reading is still problematic. She reads at the level of a first-grader; five words take almost 30 seconds, and only two have more than one syllable.

Now a published author, she dictated her first book to a friend. "Let Me Die Laughing!" was published Feb. 15, but Timothy was already planning her next.

At the age of 56, the Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) native was an avid cyclist. She had pedaled 10,000 miles across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

It was time to get reacquainted with her bike.

"I went to the doctor and asked whether it would be possible for me to ride again. My friend told him to say ‘no' because I didn't plan on going just around the corner," Timothy said.

He said "yes" and 13 days after the publication of her first book she set out from Hemet, Calif., on a coast-to-coast trek that was nearing its end last week when she rode into Keizer.

"I wanted to prove that people with a half a brain and one good eye could recover from the damage of a traumatic brain injury," she said.

She travels light. Everything she needs is on the bike that has carried her about 10,000 miles. Along the way she's had book signings, camped on the lawns of fire stations, sought shelter from storms in city parks and even tried her first MRE (meal ready to eat) with a family of Hurricane Katrina victims that invited her into their rented home.

Looking back on her journey, she says the first day was the most frightening – when it was just her and the desert.

"The desert was so empty as the sun came up over the horizon. It felt empty; like I did that first day when I woke up and my brain exploded. But, I told myself to look harder, and then I started to see the life all around me it," she said. "Biking through Oregon, everything is so green and lush and vibrant and that's how I feel now that I've done this."

Payday loan law talks nixed

Just an interesting follow-up to the payday loan piece below.

Published Aug. 11, 2006, in the Keizertimes

A discussion about payday loan regulation ended before it got started Monday when the Keizer City Council opted not to debate a local ordinance placing greater restrictions on short-term loan businesses.

The short discussion of the issue ended in a 5-2 vote against taking a more extensive look at local payday loan reform within city limits.

Councilor Chuck Lee had proposed that the council examine the issue. At a city council meeting last month, he distributed related materials to councilors, as well as a copy of a similar ordinance passed by several other Oregon cities.

However, when he raised the issue again at the council's Aug. 7 meeting, other city councilors were not receptive.

"It's a waste of staff time," said Councilor Troy Nichols. "The state Legislature just stepped up in April and enacted some of the strictest legislation out there for payday loan businesses, and it's going into effect in a couple of months. This doesn't rise to the level of necessity."

Lee countered that the legislation would not be enacted until July 2007, nearly a year from now.

"It's legislation that has already been prepared and passed by other cities, and I don't think it would take a tremendous amount of city staff time to prepare an ordinance for us to debate," Lee said.

The payday loan ordinance Lee had in mind would be companion legislation to the state law that goes into effect next year.

The state legislation will limit fees on the loans to $10 per $100, restrict interest rates to 36 percent annually, prohibit the loan business from rolling over the debts more than twice, and require a minimum of 31 days for repayment on any payday loan.

The local ordinance would have barred interest-only rollover and required a payment on the principle amount of the loan each time a loan is rolled. It also would have required payday loan businesses to offer 60-day repayment plans to any borrower, and required such businesses to offer a 24-hour right to cancel.

Councilor Jacque Moir said she didn't support further debate because enforcing such laws would fall to the Keizer Police Department.

Nichols also said it is unfair to apply annual percentage rates to loans that are only taken out for 30 days. Proponents of payday loan reform point to APRs of more than 500 percent as one reasons justifying reforms.

Mayor Lore Christopher she would withhold her support for an ordinance because of the appearance of politicking, suggesting Lee brought up the issue to aid in his campaign for a state Legislature seat.

Lee, a Keizer Democrat, is challenging Rep. Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer) for the District 25 seat in the November election.

Lee told the councilors he felt they were rushing to judgment.

"If there's anything we can do to help protect the people in our community it's time well spent," he said.

Councilor Richard Walsh casted the only other vote in favor of pursing the payday loan discussion.

The Payday Loan Puzzle

Published July 28, 2006, in the Keizertimes

Payday loan recipients can walk out of local businesses with cash in their pockets, but a cloud of debt hanging over their heads.

The Keizer City Council might help wring the cloud dry with an ordinance that would restrict payday lending in Keizer. The ordinance, similar to ones adopted by eight other Oregon cities, will be discussed at the council's meeting August 7.

"If people start dealing with the issue at a local level, state leaders will need to step up their efforts," said Angela Martin, director of economic fairness project for Our Oregon.

Our Oregon represents a coalition of non-profit organizations advancing an agenda of economic and tax fairness.

The ordinance, proposed by Councilor Chuck Lee, would complement actions taken by the state Legislature earlier this year.

Currently, only three business in Keizer offer payday loan services.

The payday loan process

To secure a payday loan, customers only need to have a checking account and proof of employment.

The borrower postdates a check for the amount needed plus any fees and an interest payment, and receives cash for the amount of the loan. In return, the borrower promises that the check can be cashed on their next payday.

For a loan of $100, the average fee is $18.83, according to 2005 statistics from the state department of consumer and business affairs. The average loan size is $380, according to the same study.

In the event the borrower cannot repay the loan on the promised date, the business can "roll over" the loan to a new maturation date as long as the borrower pays the interest from the prior loan.

A $300 loan could end up costing the borrower up to $540. The problem gets worse for frequent borrowers.

"It's not uncommon to borrow money from one lender to pay off another and end up with several small loans all over the place," said Martin.

State legislators act

In April, state legislators approved a bill restricting payday loan services.

The legislation, which takes effect in July 2007, limits assessable fees on the loans to $10 per $100, restricts interest rates to 36 percent annually, prohibits the loan business from rolling over the debts more than twice, and requires minimum of 31 days for repayment on any payday loan.

However, Martin said payday loan businesses are already moving to evade the restrictions.

"The bill only covers loan businesses with licenses for short-term loans (60 days or less). The businesses are already reapplying to become long-term lenders," she said.

By becoming long-term lenders, the payday loan businesses avoid the limits enacted by the Legislature, but can still offer relatively short-term loans by setting the loan due dates at day 61.

Local leaders respond

The ordinance up for discussion at the Keizer council's next meeting, Aug. 7, is intended to provide pathways out of debt, rather than place restrictions on the local businesses, Martin said.

The ordinance takes a three-pronged approach.

First, it would put an end to interest-only rollover and require a payment on the principle amount of the loan each time a loan is rolled over.

"It doesn't eliminate the problem, but it decreases the overall cost of the loans," said Martin.

Second, payday loan businesses would be required to offer 60-day repayment plans to any borrower.

Lastly, it would require such businesses to offer a 24-hour right to cancel.

Lee is hoping the council decides to move forward and at least schedule a vote on the ordinance at a later date.

Keizer would benefit from the groundwork laid by the other cities that have passed such ordinances, he said.

"It won't take a lot of time, but I think passing this ordinance, we send a message that Keizer is not the place to set up these businesses," said Lee.

He sees payday loan businesses as contributing to other societal problems, such as methamphetamine abuse.

"In my work with No Meth Not In My Neighborhood, I've seen how finances contribute to other problems from drug abuse to property crime. In passing an ordinance like this we set up another layer of protection for the poor in the Keizer community," he said.

Another manufactured home park closure

Published June 30, 2006, in the Keizertimes

Faced with losing their homes, many residents of Berkshire Estates Manufactured Home Park felt they had nowhere to turn.

All pleas seemed to fall on deaf ears.

"It just felt like we had no one backing us up," said Terra Stull, a resident of Berkshire.

Getting involved from the outset didn't seem to matter.

In April, a sign was placed at the entrance to the manufactured home park notifying residents of a public hearing regarding the proposed land-use change. The change would allow the Berkshire owners to convert the park to a development of conventional single-family homesites, and the current residents would have to move their homes.

At the meeting, a throng of residents turned out to implore city hearings officer Jeff Litwak to decide against the land-use shift.

However, the hearing officer can decide such cases only on the uses allowed by the city's development codes. He can't base his rulings on any human impacts of a requested change.

Litwak addressed the residents' remarks in his final decision approving the land use revision.

"The hearings officer read each written comment and believes that the residents of manufactured home parks understandably feel unprotected by the requirements in the city's code for conversions of these parks," wrote Litwak. "The hearings officer recommends that the city of Keizer review its code requirements and the impacts on the residents of manufactured home parks."

Stull said that was the most frustrating part of the entire process.

"If this had been a moral issue, we would have won, but everything Derek L. Brown and associates did was perfectly legal," she said.

Derek L. Brown and Associates is the umbrella company that owns the park.

Stull and her family tried to get help from their mortgage company with moving expenses, but their negotiations went nowhere. They've since contacted an attorney and come to grips with declaring bankruptcy.

"It's the only option that we have left. We can't come up with the $15,000 needed to move by the end of January," she said.

So, what can be done?

Nate Brown, Keizer community development director, said the city tries to take a "hands off" approach when telling property owners what they can and cannot do.

"As long as the owners are abiding by the codes we set, we try not to get involved," said Brown.

In fact, many of the concerns raised had to do with contractual agreements between the park residents as renters and property owners, a limited-liability corporation.

Problems regarding the upkeep of the park topped the list, but some residents also chafed at paying $20,000 in fees to buy into the park only to have it pulled out from under their feet mere months after the contracts had been signed.

"Those are problems that need to be addressed in the courts, not at city hall," said Brown. "The owners may have acted inappropriately, but the city government is not the place to turn to rectify that situation."

Brown ceded that it may be possible for the city to take a more active role in notification when such applications appear on the horizon but, for the most part, the only records the city possesses telling them who lives there are the monthly utility bills.

Several Berkshire residents were upset at what they felt was a lack of notification from the city regarding the May hearing, but Brown stands by the city's requirements of posting a sign at the entrance of the park and publishing notices in the local papers.

"Word of the hearing did get out and people did show up," Brown said.

If there were any relief possible, it would have to come from the state Legislature.

Berkshire resident Art Heitz said he would like to see the Legislature require that park owners refund all or part of the park package fees if they decide to close the park.

"It would make them think twice about closing them, but it would also be an incentive to provide better upkeep to attract new residents and keep the parks profitable," Heitz said.

Diva in a Duct Tape Dress

Published June 23, 2006, in the Keizertimes

Kayla Koch's fashion portfolio could include just one piece and it would still tip the scales at more than 60 pounds.

It's her prom dress and it's made of duct tape.

"I started out making Barbie clothes out of it, but then I started making clothes for myself," said Koch, 17, of Silverton.

She stepped up her game this spring though.

"It started out as a big joke, I started telling friends I was going to wear a duct tape dress and then I had to live up to it," she said.

She started with sketches, but given the exceptional properties of her fabric choice, working from a sketch simply wasn't working at all.

"I have a designing manequin, so I finally just decided to see what could be done," she said.

She decided on a basic form, a strapless, swooping waistline, and went to work.

"I had the top completely finished, but I had no idea how to do the ruffles," she said.

She finally settled on creating large sheets of duct tape that could then be cut into strips and taped together in a flaring pattern. To create the sheets of tape, she had to tape an initial layer to a flat surface, usually a wall, then rip it off together and cover the other side with another protective layer of tape.

"It was a mess and I would get tangled in it," she said.

But she wasn't anywhere near done. She still had to make a suit for her date, fiance Joe Gustafson.

To get the form right, the couple bought a second-hand jacket to cover with tape and some bits of fabric to cover the more delicate areas covered by the pants.

Gustafson had to stand for up to two hours at a time while Koch covered him with duct tape. Comfortable wasn't the word Gustafson would use to describe the experience.

"I sweated like a hog," he said.

If the project seemed nearly finished, Koch still wasn't done.

"I was looking at one of my old dresses and it had a floral pattern, which I thought I would look good," she said.

The prom was three days away. That meant a road trip for Gustafson, who had to go to Woodburn to find more yellow duct tape and frenzied last-minute work for Koch who stayed home to work on the dress and suit, which was now pen-striped in yellow.

"We were supposed to be taking pictures at 3 p.m. the day of the prom, and I was still working on the dress at 3:15," she said.

In the end, Gustafson's yellow duct tape tie was adorned with a similar floral pattern and Koch got all the flowers she wanted and silver sequins on the dress top.

Despite the pains of the process, their reception at the school prom made all the headaches worth it.

"They special-announced us and put us on a special area of the stage so everyone could see," said Koch. "I only told five people I was going to do it, but everyone knew by the time we got there."

In the end, the dress and suit, tie, necklace and purse took about 22 rolls of duct tape to complete. Cost: About $70, still cheaper than the dress Koch bought to actually dance it.

"There was no way I could dance in the duct tape dress, I can only move my feet about six inches at a time," she said.

After the dance her dress and suit were on display in the school for the final two weeks of class and Koch was voted most unique in her graduating class.

"That's me, though," she said. "I'm always doing things a little bit differently."

What it takes to be a MMA fighter

I'd would like to think that the fun I have doing my job shows through the writing, this and the piece below are two cases where I think it did.

Published June 9, 2006

Jake McKnight was in the 16th match on the event card his first time in the caged circle as mixed martial arts fighter.

"All night long I had been watching these guys come back from the ring who had just had the crap beat out of them," said McKnight, 28.

It was tough knowing that with each minute, he drew closer to his own date with another fighter just as eager for a first win.

McKnight was something of a prodigy from first time he walked into the Keizer Gold's Gym to train with Team Chaos four months ago.

"He was ready for a real fight within two months," said Denver Mayangitan, Team Chaos head coach.

McKnight had wrestled and boxed from the time he was 5 years old, but knowing he was good didn't untie the knots in his stomach.

"I didn't know what to expect going into that first fight. Up to that point, I had only fought with guys on the team," McKnight said.

It seems like a lot of worry for a match that took just a minute and 20 seconds before his opponent tapped out, but dealing with the unexpected is what mixed martial arts fighting is all about.

"You learn all these different things from judo, jujitsu, wrestling and kickboxing. Then you have to put it all together in the ring and be prepared for what the other guy comes up with," said Peter Aspinwall, 24.

He's 6-0 in sanctioned fights.

Aspinwall has a single word to describe those moments before a fight: Scared.

"But then your theme music starts playing, and you just get pumped," he said.

Aspinwall has been fighting for a year and a half. He started shortly after taking up a kickboxing class with his girlfriend, Jessica Bishop.

Bishop fully supports Aspinwall in his career as a fighter, although she sometimes feels bad for his opponents.

Aspinwall becomes intensely quiet the days he's fighting, she said.

"It's not like he's mad, you can just tell he's thinking about it and he won't say much," she said.

The only drawback to Aspinwall's winning streak, as Bishop sees it, is that his matches keep getting pushed back later on the event cards.

"It just means we have to wait that much longer," she said.

At 20 years old, Kyle Prather is one of Team Chaos' youngest fighters, but he more often goes by "Big Country," a name bestowed upon him by coach Chris Toquero.

"He came in the first night looking like a 235-pound country yokel or Opie Cunningham with that red hair of his," said Toquero.

Weight problems were one of the reasons he deciding to give mixed martial arts fights a shot.

"I wrestled for six years year-round and I took a year and a half off and I felt like a slob," he said.

He's shed 65 pounds in nine months as a fighter.

Prather said he expected total war when he first stepped into the ring yet it was still different than anything he could have imagined.

He won, but had to show up for work at Roth's in the meat department with a black eye. When he told co-workers and customers how he got it no one would believe him.

"People would talk to me and I realized pretty quickly they weren't looking at me, just my eye," Prather said.

Prather's experience in getting other people to believe what he's doing is not uncommon.

Since that first first, Prather has won two more.

Aspinwall, an ironworker, had to take coworkers to his fights before they completely believed him.

The backgrounds of Team Chaos' fighters are as varied as their fighting styles and personalities.

McKnight is a firefighter and foreman for the Grande Ronde Tribes. He's also a father to 7-year-old Lucas, who hasn't yet seen him fight.

"He knows about it and he knows what I do, but he's not old enough to see it yet. One day I'll let him watch the tapes," McKnight said.

McKnight's teammate David Webb is a father of two: Abby, 4, and Mason, 2.

"Without them and their support, I wouldn't be able to do any of this," said Webb, a former McNary High School wrestler.

He's currently 2-0 in sanctioned fights.

He said the biggest challenge is finding the time to train between working graveyard shifts at the Winco distribution center in Woodburn and taking care of Abby and Mason.

Odd thing is, few of the fighters view their nightly workouts as training. More than anything, it's the opportunity to get together.

"It's like having a whole other set of best friends," said Aspinwall, even as sweat streams out of every pore.

Mayangitan said it's that type of discipline which has allowed each of them to excel.

"In order to do this type of fighting, discipline is the most important thing. Each of them live, breathe, eat and sleep their training," he said.

Taking a beating

The third graph is waaay overly dramatic, but I think the story holds up.

Published June 9, 2006, in the Keizertimes

Sweat streams off their body as a dozen young men yell advice at two of their friends grappling in the center of the mat.

The scene feels as though it was ripped from the pages of the novel "Fight Club," and one can't help but wish Tyler Durden would show up to school them on the rules.

But this isn't Fight Club. This. Is real.

Team Chaos meets four days a week at Keizer's Gold's Gym to hone its skills in mixed martial arts fighting.

In the past two hours, the temperature of the room has risen at least 10 to 15 degrees as they've slogged through a backbreaking conditioning regimen.

It's Thursday, the final day of the training week, and the guys here tonight are the some of the most unshakable, perseverant and relentless members of the team.

Mondays are something different; that's when the newbies show up. Some have just a passing interest in what goes on after hours at the gym and others want give it a shot.

"The dropout rate on Mondays is about 50 percent," said Denver Mayangitan, a Gold's Gym trainer and head coach of Team Chaos.

A single workout includes elements of judo, jujitsu, wrestling, kickboxing and trapping, but it starts with a pore-clearing warm-up akin to high school wrestling programs.

Making it through one of the workouts would be a feather in most athletes' caps. Even in a group of seasoned fighters, two to three lose their dinner each night.

"This isn't Pilates, this is cage fighting," said Mayangitan.

If newcomers survive the first night, what they have to look forward to is more of the same.

Fighters work on grappling techniques and boxing throughout the night, but the focus is on submission holds – arm bars, wrist locks, ankle locks and choke holds.

Mixed martial arts matches typically end one of two ways, by submission or knockout. The third method is based on a point system, but it's hard to imagine guys as tough as this would count a win by decision as anything other than failure.

"There's always some guy out their tougher than you and that's what keeps you going," said Jake McKnight, a Team Chaos fighter with a 2-0 record.

As fighters become more skilled in individual techniques, they are allowed to pursue more aggressive training leading all the way up to full contact on the mat and in the gym's boxing ring.

The boxing ring makes the sport seem more tame than it actually is. When Team Chaos fighters graduate to sanctioned fighting with other teams they fight in a 24- to 32-foot ring surrounded by a cage.

However, fighter Kyle Prather said the cage is less intimidating once he's inside.

"Once you're in it's all about you and the other guy," Prather said.

It's an exciting time to be part of Team Chaos. McKnight won the team's first title belt last Saturday in Albany and several other will be competing for titles in the coming weeks.

The team is also preparing to host its first promotional fight at the Salem Armory Saturday, July 29.

"We've come such a long way in a year and a half," said Mayangitan. "We started with three or four guys and now we've got almost 50 training to fight."

Despite their toughness, the bonds among fighters run deep, all victories are team victories and their ranks are rapidly growing.

New fighters have only to live up to the team's motto:

"You're welcome to train, but you must earn the pain."

On the beat with the CRU

This was the first story I ever consciously attempted to hammer a story into a the fictional structure. My wife and I had been watching a bunch of Battlestar Galactica and there were three episodes in a row where they started at the end of the story and jumped back to the beginning. When I sat down to write this I guess that's where my mind was at.

Published March 17, 2006, in the Keizertimes

Guns drawn, officers Jeff Isham, Jeff Johnson and David Zavala rush a sedan that just came to an abrupt halt on Broadway Street Northeast.

In unmarked cars, the three officers boxed the driver in on the side of the road. The suspect, with three guns suddenly pointed at him, is wide-eyed and bewildered but offers no resistance.

As he is removed from the car, $300 in cash drops to the pavement.

"That's our money," says Isham, a sergeant for Keizer police department and lead officer of the Community Response Unit (CRU, pronounced crew).

It's 7:02 p.m. Tuesday, March 7.

Earlier that day

Maureen, a police informant, is picked up by a Keizer patrol officer on an outstanding warrant.

A few days ago she was arrested with her boyfriend who was dealing meth.

"She has a no-contact order with him, because they get together and deal. A warrant was issued later because of the violation and the patrol officer saw her and picked her up," said Isham.

Maureen is taken to Marion County Correctional Facility where she is cited and released. In the meantime, officers from the CRU contact her probation officer.

Later that afternoon she reports back to the Keizer police to make a controlled drug buy.

"She buys heroin for an elderly guy she's lived with for about a year and a half," Isham said.

This isn't her first contact with the CRU, she's had a handful of encounters with the officers for both dealing and frequenting places where drugs are being used and sold. She's helped the CRU set up "buy–busts" on other occasions.

Maureen agrees to help out again in exchange for a "good word" to the Marion County District Attorney's Office.

A buy-bust is the most frequent type of arrest the officers of the CRU make.

"It usually just isn't worth it to put the man hours into long investigations in hopes of catching the dealers with a big score. Most of they time we can arrest them in a buy-bust and get just as much product as we would with a longer investigation," Isham said.

The CRU has made the headlines with increasing frequency over the last several months. When a trio of teens spent Halloween weekend 2005 smashing pumpkins and damaging private property throughout the city, the CRU solved the case. They also played a pivotal role in bringing to justice an armed robber who made a habit of victimizing businesses on River Road.

The CRU's position in the department is somewhat unique. Unlike most of the other Keizer cops, they work a swing shift that allows them to focus on their two main assignments, drug and gang activity. But the officers are able to take on other assignments like the pumpkin and robbery cases because they aren't tied to a desk or responding to incoming calls for service that patrol officers are responsible for handling.

Doper time: 6 p.m.

Maureen enters a six-by-eight room in the Keizer Police Station with Officer Chris Nelson, the fourth member of the CRU.

The room is sound-proofed to the best of the department's ability with gray, carpeted walls, but the custodial staff treads lightly as they pass making their rounds with brooms, mops and trash cans on wheels.

"She's making calls to suppliers trying to find someone who will deliver heroin. What happens next depends on the dealers," Isham said.

The CRU is now on "doper time."

From this point until the arrest is made, the dealer will control much of the action. Isham calls the dealers "unreliable" at best, which is why it's called doper time.

In addition to listening in on Maureen's calls, Nelson makes decisions about Maureen's credibility and that of her dealer.

"I have to make decision like that while listening to the conversation because we can't act on information that might put us or someone else in jeopardy," Nelson said.

The CRU pushes for certain locations they know well or that have little civilian activity, but they can't always get what they want.

Tonight is one of those nights.

Prep work

Maureen is inside for 25 minutes before finding someone with the product. The supplier wants to meet in half an hour, but the location is not of the CRU's choosing.

The officers in their police uniforms change into civilian clothing with kevlar padding underneath.

As Isham straps on his protective vest, Maureen approaches him and admits she's scared.

"What are you scared of?" he asks.

She says she doesn't want to get shot.

Isham asks if the supplier usually carries a gun. She doesn't know.

Later, Isham says, "She's the kind of person who would tell us if she knew."

The four CRU members gather in their office and Johnson picks up a marker and draws a map of the site on a whiteboard.

Each CRU officer will be in a different unmarked car. Nelson will drop off Maureen at the site while Johnson and Zavala watch from nearby vantage points. Isham will be across the street in another parking lot.

It isn't until he's in his car en route to the buy location that Isham confesses Maureen's statements about the getting shot are "worrying."

One last hitch

At 6:50 p.m. Nelson drops off Maureen at the buy location giving her $300 dollars as she exits his vehicle.

Since leaving the station, the officers communicate via two-way radios because many of the dealers are "scanner junkies."

An order has been issued for marked police vehicles to stay out of the area so as not to scare off the dealer who's supposed to be arriving in a white sedan.

At 6:55, a pewter-colored sedan enters the parking lot and begins to slowly circle the lot like a shark feeling out it's prey.

He pulls up to Maureen who gets in the car, something she's not supposed to do.

The pair continue to slowly meander through the parking lot in the sedan, just as the dealer is about to leave the lot, Maureen exits the car and the man drives off.

Maureen bends down to tie her shoe and the game is afoot.

A chase

Isham pulls into position to follow the man and as the dealer passes in front of the headlights he looks directly into Isham's vehicle.

His face turns white in the halogen headlights like that of a man being haunted. Even if he doesn't know it yet.

The dealer drives quickly away from the scene. He doesn't seem to know he's being followed, but he's not taking any chances. The unmarked vehicles strain to keep pace as the officers try to create a box to trap him.

The dealer makes a right turn onto Broadway Street Northeast where the posted speed limit is slower. It's all the opening the CRU needs.

Zavala pulls ahead of the sedan, Isham alongside and Johnson brings up the rear.

The man comes to a stop and the three officers rush the car. Isham picks up the money off the street.

The sedan is an expensive luxury vehicle.

"Drug dealing doesn't know any bounds," says Johnson.


Nelson took Maureen back home after spiriting her away from the buy location.

She'll be back again tomorrow to help the CRU set up a methamphetamine deal.

Zavala interviews the man they arrested, now known as "Grandpa" because of his age. He is joined by Isham as they try to encourage him into turning on his product sources.

He agrees, but he can't do it tonight.

"He says that heroin is a daytime gig and anyone he called tonight would immediately know something was up," Isham says.

He's agreed to help them out the next day though. If all goes well, the CRU will make at least two more busts in the next 24 hours stemming directly from the activity this day.

When asked how the bust went, Johnson replies, "There is no good or bad. There's just the question whether everyone is safe. Tonight they are."

The Doctor is Out

This story won the SPJ contest for social issue reporting. Of all the awards I've received, that one is probably the one I'm most proud of.

Published March 9, 2006, in the Keizertimes

When Arlene Blake's mother-in-law, Eva, first mentioned not being able to find a local doctor, Blake was dismissive.

"I figured you call and you sign up. End of story," said Blake.

But as a patient insured only by Medicare, Eva was facing a problem that is on the increase not just in Keizer, but in Oregon and across the country. Fewer and fewer doctors are accepting new patients if they are insured only by the federal health insurance program.

Arlene called all three general practice firms in Keizer and not one was accepting new Medicare patients.

In recent months, the public spotlight regarding Medicare has been on the new Part D prescription drug coverage plans. Several months ago, state Rep. Darlene Hooley held an informational meeting at the Keizer-Salem Area Senior Center and more than 300 people turned out to learn about the new coverage. Television and radio commercials continue to urge seniors to sign up for the Medicare Part D prescription plan.

But in the shadow of that effort, a growing number of seniors are struggling to find doctors to see them, let alone prescribe medications.

At the same time Blake was discovering the problem in Keizer, Marc Adams, Keizer's police chief, was expanding his search for care for his in-laws.

"They moved up from Coos Bay, and we thought it would be a piece of cake to find a doctor compared to there," Adams said.

Adams began his search in Keizer and expanded it to Newberg before finally finding a provider that would accept new Medicare patients, Providence Health Care.

"It just kills me that we drive right past Salem Clinic on the way there," he said.

The root of the problem, according to Geoff Stuckart, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, is money.

"The reimbursement rate is insufficient for a doctor to choose a Medicare patient over someone with another type of insurance," Stuckart said.

Under the Medicare system, health care providers submit bills and Medicare sends payment directly to the provider. The payment is based on specific formulas for each type of care.

Adams was told by several clinics that the vast amounts of paperwork necessary to receive the reimbursement are not worth the hassle.

Doctors also feel under siege, said Dean Larsen, executive director of the Marion-Polk Medical society. The average general practice doctor in Marion County has more than 4,000 patients.

"And it's on the increase," Larsen said. "We have an older population that isn't getting younger and that means more office visits each year as they continue to age."

Nowhere to turn

In her search to find a doctor for Eva, Arlene came to despise the word "unfortunately."

"Every single conversation began with that word and no one could tell me where I might find someone who would take on my mother-in-law," Blake said.

The Medicare web site,, offers a list of providers who accept Medicare in the area, but makes no distinction between those who accepting new patients and and those who won't.

Adams investigated the possibility of adding additional insurance coverage, but when he approached the company paying for his in-laws' prescriptions he was told they could only have one or the other.

They opted to keep the prescription coverage, which pays for the ongoing costs.

"When I asked them what we were supposed to do when my in-laws needed a doctor, I was told to take them to an emergency room," Adams said.

That's advice that concerns local hospital officials.

"That's a terrible way to practice medicine, especially for people with chronic healthcare issues," said Sheryll Johnson Hoar, spokeswoman for Salem Hospital. "The best care happens when patients have a primary care physician."

In the past year, Salem Hospital has hired eight doctors to care for patients who come into the emergency room without a primary care physician, including a number of patients with Medicare coverage.

"They are patients who need longer care than the emergency room can provide, but the care ends when they leave the hospital," she said.

Hoar said all eight doctors have been kept busy since they arrived.

Adams even inquired about the possibility of being put on a waiting list at local clinics, but he was told that once patients with Medicare coverage die, they simply aren't replaced.

No solution in sight

Both Blake and Adams wanted to know what they're supposed to do for their elderly parents.

The answer from Stuckart isn't likely to please either one – they're working on it.

Stuckart said that the problem is a national as well as local one.

"The difference is that Oregon is feeling it more acutely than most of the rest of the country," he said.

Not all states start at the same reimbursement rate in the Medicare system because it is based on population size and Oregon has traditionally been at the low end of the spectrum.

Whereas other state medical programs have excesses to cut, "when Oregon makes cuts, we're cutting muscle and bone. We're being penalized for being efficient," he said.

Wyden and Sen. Gordon Smith have added the issue to their bipartisan goals, but Stuckart was unable to offer more concrete plans for a solution.

"We're trying to get the states like Oregon rewarded for their efficiency," he said.

For its part, Salem Hospital is attempting to recruit 150 new doctors into the area over the next 10 years, but Hoar said many of those will only replace doctors planning to retire in the same time frame.

"The fact is Medicare doesn't pay its part," she said.

Larsen said for those worried about the state of the system, it's time to put pen to paper and write their senators and representatives to request action for increased Medicare funding.

"It can't keep going this way," he said.

In the meantime, patients will continue to face long commutes if they are able to find doctors at all.

For Blake and Adams, there is also a growing uneasiness over what will happen to them when they reach their parents' age.

"If it's this bad now, how bad is it going to be then?" asked Blake.

Foster parents

Volunteers are special people - well, at least the ones that aren't doing it to fulfill a court order - and they almost always have good stories to tell about themselves and the people they serve.

Published March 3, 2006, in the Keizertimes

In 2005, more than 1,100 kids were removed from the homes of their parents in Marion County.

Crackdowns on meth abusers were the primary cause of the uptick. The increase has caused an already burgeoning system to nearly burst.

It's a cloud that doesn't have an easily visible silver lining, unless you look a little harder.

"The kids are the bright spot in the whole thing," said Ron Peters, a local foster parent. "You're going to find good people where you look for them. If you go in looking for bad people, that's what you're going to find."

Ron and his wife, Laura, began opening their home to children in the foster care system about six years ago. Since that time nearly 100 children have passed through their home.

While the number seems staggering, their resolve to be a positive force in their community is even more impressive considering most of their foster children were teenagers when they took them in. Teenagers are often considered some of the toughest to cope with in the foster care system.

Last month, the pair was honored by the Keizer City Council as the city's Volunteers of the Quarter for their commitment to volunteering.

Ron said the decision to become foster parents was easy.

"We had an eight-bedroom house and only a four-person family – a house isn't a home if it isn't full," he said.

Finding the right age group to take in took longer.

"We tried foster care with younger children at first, but I quickly realized I wanted kids I could reason with," Laura said.

While those six years were surely filled with as many tears as smiles, laughter is what fills their conversation – laughter at the best of times and the worst and every single time in-between.

"One time," starts Laura, "the boys got all dressed up as girls and had the girls do their make-up and then the entire crew walked six blocks from our home to Palma Ciea Swim Club where I was serving as president."

"One of the boys strapped so many pillows to his stomach he had to wear two robes to fit all the way around him," adds Ron.

Laughter fills the room.

The longest any one child stayed with the Peters was three years, but they often formed bonds that lasted well past their stint as stand-in parents.

"We've been foster grandparents twice already," Ron said.

Including the Peters' own children, Danielle and Brandy, their home had as many a 15 children at one time, which also added another element to what was already a sometimes tense situation.

Ron said, "They loved it … then they hated it, then they loved ... and the next week ..."

It's easy to see how teens would feel comfortable around Ron and Laura. Their eyes project no judgment and their smiles are endlessly welcoming.

While the Peters had rules in the home, only a few dealt with the day-to-day pressures the kids might experience. They had a zero-tolerance drug policy.

Most had to do with keeping the peace.

"All the kids new that Ron had 10 minutes after putting his lunch box down at night or the answer would be ‘no,'" said Laura.

After 43 years of living in the same house in Keizer, Ron, a contractor, decided he wanted a change. The couple moved to a house in Salem in December, but like the children they took in, they saw beneath the surface.

"It was a meth house," said Ron.

The Peters are taking a break from foster care while they undertake a massive rehabilitation project on the house, but fully intend to return foster parenting once complete.

"I think we'll start with just one, though," said Laura.

Laura said she was taken aback and even a little embarrassed by the award from the city.

"I don't see why I should get an award for simply living my life and trying to be a force for good in the community. If I deserve it then everyone does," she said.

The award Ron and Laura received came in the form of a clock representative of the time they invested in volunteering, but perhaps it's better viewed as a symbol of how long their presence will be felt in the lives of the foster kids and in their community long after they're gone.