A couple of days into the New Year, today I felt a strong desire to complete an undone resolution -- get all of my Salem Weekly Strange Up Salem columns uploaded into one freaking long blog post.
But it's "just" 4,400 words. The 49 columns total almost 25,000 words, being 500 words each. Each one is perfect bathroom reading! (depending on your toilet habits)
For each column below you'll find a title, download link, and an excerpt that gives a feel for what the column is about.
I enjoyed digging up the columns -- OK, not literally -- and recalling what I'd said in them. They ran in Salem Weekly from May 2013 to May 2015. Now I'm focused on my Strange Up Salem Facebook page. Give it a like!
I tried to balance the personal and the political, strangeness being a quality of each.
One reason I put this compendium together is to make it easier to find the columns myself. As I made PDF files out of each one, I was surprised by how I'd already forgotten many of the subjects I wrote about.
And I came across two bonus columns that were written, but not published in Salem Weekly. These are at the end of the list.
I Know What You Want
Download 1 SUS column PDF
At the risk of sounding like a phone sex line... I know what you want. You’re hungry for it. You’re hot for it. You’ve gotten tantalizing glimpses of what you lust for, but it’s been frustratingly out of reach.
What I’m talking about is a stranger Salem. Meaning, a city with sights, sounds, people, places, and other delights that make us go ooh, ah, and give me more rather than ho-hum, so lame.
Strange Is Life
Download 2 SUS column PDF
Strange is life. At the core of each of us beats a marvelous heart of strangeness. We feel it pulsating in ooh! and ah! moments when a burst of mysterious beauty breaks through the mundane veil that often shrouds our consciousness.
Cities also have a heart of strangeness. Downtown. A dynamic core where people congregate to live, work, and play, celebrating the diversity of their individual strangenesses.
A Strange Creature
Download 3 SUS column PDF
Have you heard the rumor? Of a strange creature roaming the trails of Minto Brown Island Park. It’s like nothing seen before. Fortunately, it elicits smiles rather than screams.
The rumor is true, because I am that creature. A senior citizen skateboarder.
Keep Fighting, Good Citizens of Salem
Download 4 SUS column PDF
Viva la Revolution! Ongoing variety. After Americans revolted in 1776 against an external oppressor, Great Britain, we’ve continued to fight against internal threats to democracy, liberty, and the broad public interest.
So here’s a big shout-out to the citizen activists in Salem who protest wrongs that need to be righted. Without your forebears, we wouldn’t have a country.
Support New Cool Local Businesses
Download 5 SUS column PDF
So what’s the deal? Salem is just a few thousand people away from being the second biggest city in Oregon. Yet we lack many cool businesses that residents of much smaller towns are able to enjoy.
Seems to be a chicken and egg problem.
A cool business won’t expand into Salem unless it can be sure there are enough cool-appreciating people in the area who will patronize it. But Salem isn’t going to attract more cool-appreciating people so long as this town deserves its So-lame nickname.
Salemia's Twitter Frenzy
Download 6 SUS column PDF
In 2011 Salemia touched off a craze among Salem’s Twittersphere. It began when filmmaker Mike Perron tweeted, “Salemia. Opening scene: five hipsters fighting over a half smoked cigarette outside Chelsea's place...”
...Here’s some favorites from the first wave of #Salemia tweets.
• Woman choosing the right pajamas for going to Winco. At 12:30 in the afternoon.
• Visitors mistakenly believe zombie apocalypse has hit the town because shops close and streets empty before dark.
Don’t Mess With Riverfront Park
Download 7 SUS column PDF
Salemians love their Riverfront Park. They don’t want part of this “treasure” (oft-heard word at the last City Council meeting) handed over to a private developer for an access road to Pringle Square.
Watching the meeting via CCTV, I was moved by how passionate people were about preserving the Carousel. Shrinking its parking lot and putting a road next to the area where excited children jump out of cars struck many as a really bad idea.
Mountain West Investment, Be Creative With Riverfront
Download 8 SUS column PDF
Well, Mountain West Investment made some little plans without blood-stirring magic.
They won’t be realized, mostly because taking over part of the Carousel parking lot for a private access road to apartments on the west side of the railroad tracks ran afoul of a federal funding commitment the City made to keep Riverfront Park in public recreational use for perpetuity. Forever.
Now the outline of a better plan for the Boise Cascade property is becoming clear: make all of the land west of the tracks part of Riverfront Park.
Political Games Played With Downtown Parking
Download 9 SUS column PDF
Here’s my plea to City Councillors and the Mayor: be honest and straightforward with the citizens of Salem.
If you truly favor free downtown parking, say so. Urge citizens to vote “yes” on the initiative in May 2014. If it passes, collaborate with the Stop Downtown Parking Meters folks to make this policy a success. Amazingly, no one from the City has talked to them before or after they got those 9,000 signatures.
Time For a Shake-Up at City Hall
Download 10 SUS column PDF
Now that I’ve become involved with City issues like the unjustified removal of the US Bank trees; building an unneeded, unwanted, and unpaid for $600 million Third Bridge; attempted imposition of parking meters against the wishes of downtown businesses; and secretive planning for an expensive City Hall renovation that would do away with the Peace Plaza, I realize that the City has the same problem as the County:
Viewing citizen involvement as a problem to be brushed aside, rather than as an opportunity to make better decisions.
Relish Every Taste of Strangeness
Download 11 SUS column PDF
Recently I became Medicare-eligible. That’s right, I’m freaking 65! I’m waiting to become both older and wiser. Not at all sure about the latter. But here’s some of what I’ve learned about strangeness.
Venerate it, (along with elders like me, naturally).
Looking back at your life, likely what will stand out are the weirdest, strangest, most peculiar experiences. Normalcy, routine, averageness -- those aspects tend to fade into the background.
If This Town Was a Woman Named “Saleme”
Download 12 SUS column PDF
Salem needs a vision check. In this sense: what sort of desired image does our city have of itself, and how well are we moving toward that vision?
Let’s imagine a woman named Saleme.
She has a certain vibe about her. She’s unique, as everyone is. How Saleme feels inside about herself, she wants to express outside in the way she dresses, acts, talks, and such.
Your Planet Has a Population of 1
Download 13 SUS column PDF
Be yourself. And let the world be itself.
Eight words. Which do a damn good job of summing up my lifetime of philosophizing, spiritual seeking, pondering the Meaning of It All.
The strangest thing is you, me, every individual. Inside the human cranium is an utterly private realm, unknown to anyone but the consciousness that experiences it from the inside.
Some Talking Could Save $30 Million
Download 14 SUS column PDF
After several years of mostly-secret meetings, City officials are running around town pushing a plan to build a new three-story Police Facility with expensive underground parking at the Civic Center.
Cost: $44 million. However, the City of Eugene recently remodeled an existing building into a similarly-sized police headquarters for $17 million.
Salem Community Vision, a group working to improve local government decision-making through more citizen involvement, is asking why less expensive alternatives to the $44 million Civic Center Police Facility haven’t been seriously considered.
How Salem Can Become Happy Town
Download 15 SUS column PDF
Urban design isn’t rocket science, complex and only comprehended by a few. Each of us is an expert on happiness: our own. We all can do some urban experimentalism.
What places in Salem make you smile inside? What places make you go “Ugh, I can hardly wait to get out of here”? (I say: downtown’s Court Street and Lancaster Drive, respectively.)
We Are Salemians, Not Salemites
Download 16 SUS column PDF
I have a dream. A cause. Something offering meaning to my life. A goal that proclaims, “This man fights for what is right.”
I hereby proclaim that I devote myself to…
Making “Salemian” the word used to describe the people of Salem, not the horrible, distasteful, disgusting, so-wrong “Salemite.”
From No Way! to Better Way
Download 17 SUS column PDF
Salemians who stopped last year’s poorly thought-out Boise Cascade redevelopment plan, pat yourselves on the back (or wherever you like to be patted).
Saying No Way! to a land grab of part of beloved Riverfront Park, the Carousel parking lot, for an access road to apartments that would loom over the forthcoming pedestrian bridge to Minto Brown Island — that led to a Better Way.
Explore These Salem Blogs
Download 18 SUS column PDF
I encourage you to discover a largely hidden side of Salem: its blogosphere.
Out in cyberspace, Salem bloggers urge us to wake up to what our city can become; they critique its urban design polices; they praise the creativity of Salemians. And more!
I’ve focused on blogs because they’re a Middle Way. More substantive than ephemeral Twitter and Facebook. Less stodgy than a typical steadfast web site.
Slow Down For Strangeness
Download 19 SUS column PDF
To some, calling our city “Snailem” is a putdown. But there’s a lot to like about slowing down.
This lets us sense the sweet strangeness of existence that often goes unnoticed. Marcel Proust said: “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
Slowing facilitates that fresh vision.
Save Lives. Wear a Purple Sticker.
Download 20 SUS column PDF
I’m talking about the City of Salem’s $80 million plan to build a new police headquarters at the Civic Center, along with renovating City Hall and the Library.
With financing costs added, the total balloons to $128 million. Who pays? You do, if you live in Salem.
The good news is that Salem Community Vision (SCV), a group I’m involved with, has come up with a half-price alternative, $40 million, or $64 million including financing.
Build the police headquarters out in the community, not at the Civic Center.
Spice Up Salem With a Dash of Novelty
Download 21 SUS column PDF
Our town’s blandness can be viewed as a creative strength. A dash of color in a black-and-white world dazzles the eye. Imagine trying to stand out as a moviemaker in Hollywood.
As the saying goes, in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. Let loose your novelty powers. Salem will bow down in gratitude.
Chamber of Commerce Out to Buy Elections
Download 22 SUS column PDF
I wish the Salem Chamber had that attitude. But instead of broadly representing this area’s business community, it acts like a narrow special interest group.
Here’s the primary thing the Chamber says it cares about: “Will this measure/candidate support or hinder the ability of private sector employers to grow their businesses and create jobs?”
Nothing about quality of life, fiscal responsibility, parks and recreation, good schools, community involvement, open government, a vibrant downtown, and other issues that are vitally important to Salem citizens.
Do Global Warming Deniers Run City Hall?
Download 23 SUS column PDF
Many Salemians believe our city’s leaders are immune to the plague of anti-science craziness infecting those on the right side of the national political spectrum.
In the U.S. as a whole only 30% of conservatives believe the effects of global warming have begun to happen, compared to 74% of liberals. But Salem conservatives are Oregonians. Could they also deny the reality of climate change?
After asking the Mayor, City Manager, Public Works Director, and city councillors to answer three simple questions about global warming, I’d say “Yeah, they probably do.”
Salem’s Invasion of the Mind Snatchers
Download 24 SUS column PDF
The mind control device wasn’t visible.
Not surprising. I figured the Chamber of Commerce surgeons would be too skilled to leave any traces. They’d be the best money could buy. So after an election forum I decided to dive into the belly of the beast.
I looked Sheronne Blasi, a City Council candidate, in the eye. The question had to be asked.
“Have you gotten the Chamber of Commerce brain implant yet? You know, the one that allows Chamber officials to push a button and control how city councilors vote.”
Say Yes to All of Life
Download 25 SUS column PDF
“Yes, Yes, Yes.” I enjoy seeing these words colorfully emblazoned on banners at the marvelous Oregon Country Fair in Veneta (a must-go July experience for lovers of alternative reality).
This is the heart of strangeness, the vitalizing power that makes life into passionate ooh’s and ah’s rather than listless oh yeah’s and so what’s.
Yes. This is. We are. It barely matters what the “is” and “are” consist of.
Congrats, Crazy Council Candidates
Download 26 SUS column PDF
I admire people who do crazy things. Not riding a motorcycle at 100 mph drunk out of your mind sort of craziness. That’s just stupid.
I’m talking about the smart crazy wonderfully manifested by five city council candidates in the recent primary election: Tom Andersen, Bradd Swank, Scott Bassett, Xue Lor, and Christopher Proudfoot.
Only Andersen won. But all of these guys are winners of A Fine Madness award. Dudes, what you did was freaking crazy!
My Freaking Genius Idea
Download 27 SUS column PDF
It’s time to invite The Daily Show to Salem. I’m a big fan of their special reports, which often feature a correspondent venturing to a town and interviewing residents about some off-beat goings-on.
Hey, Jon Stewart and company! This is Salem, Oregon calling. We’ve got plenty of weird stuff happening at City Hall. It’s tragicomic to those of us living here, but Comedy Central viewers would focus on the funny side.
I’ve got ideas for some sketches.
These just scratch the surface of the absurdities that our city officials — Mayor Peterson, City Manager Norris, Public Works Director Fernandez, and others — have been inflicting upon Salemians.
Let’s Shop in Salem Catalog of Dreams
Download 28 SUS column PDF
Dreams are free. And fun.
So let’s bust out of the mind-prison that prevents Salemians from freely envisioning how our city could be, breaking the bars of “never could happen,” “costs too much,” “wouldn’t fly politically.”
John Gear, local attorney and LoveSalem blogger, has called for a Salem Catalog of Dreams. Great notion.
Four Recipes for Instant Strangeness
Download 29 SUS column PDF
It’s summer. Living is easy. Who wants to work hard at making Salem stranger? Instead of laboring to cook up a stew of strangeness, here’s four ways of making our town seem tastier instantly.
(1) Observe like an alien... (2) Marvel at what life has wrought... (3) Imagine this is your last day... (4) Get out of your mind.
Embrace Downtown Food Carts
Download 30 SUS column PDF
Food carts are a big success in Portland, drawing national acclaim from Bon Appétit magazine and CNN. So what’s not to like about having a vibrant food cart scene everywhere in Salem, including downtown?
Nothing. But to some people here change is scary even when it is for the better. Diversity, creativity, more eating options… Eek!
At the July 14 city council meeting I was surprised to hear several councilors and restaurant owners talk about their Big Fear that people would flock to a downtown food cart pod and — oh no, the horror — enjoy eating there!
Up to the Present, Salem
Download 31 SUS column PDF
Salem needs an anti-time machine that will let us experience what’s happening now, not the past or future.
Here’s a mantra Salem’s Mayor, City Manager, councilors, and other city officials should repeat: “Up to the present, 2014 or bust.”
...Unfortunately, living in Salem feels like being stuck in quicksand while watching everyone around you run happily by. This town makes a habit of being the last to get the memo about where the world is heading.
Can We All Get Along?
Download 32 SUS column PDF
Great question, Rodney King. Police brutality isn’t the same as heated debates over how to handle downtown parking, but the unnecessary fighting over this issue also is bothersome.
At its last meeting the City Council initiated the return of a 3-hour time limit even though discussion of downtown parking was billed as “informational” on the agenda, with no action expected.
Yet without advance notice a motion suddenly appeared and was quickly passed unanimously. This violated the spirit, if not the letter, of Oregon’s public meetings law, which requires “that decisions of governing bodies be arrived at openly.”
Salem Sunday Streets — Every Day!
Download 33 SUS column PDF
Imagine this town with fewer cars and more bikes. People strolling around a fun-filled city center. Food carts, outdoor yoga, captivating music. Salemians able to safely skateboard and bicycle downtown.
If you were at the recent Salem Sunday Streets event, you didn’t have to imagine. It was real! If you weren’t there, make sure you don’t miss the next one.
When Life Asks You to Dance, Say Yes
Download 34 SUS column PDF
“Come on, let’s dance.”
An attractive young woman was standing in front of me, holding out her hand. I was sitting next to my wife, Laurel, taking a break from a ballroom practice night at the RJ Dance Studio.
Those four unexpected words provoked an intense reaction.
People talk about mixed feelings. My mind and gut were way beyond that. During the few seconds it took me to reply, my emotions were whirling at warp speed in a turbo-charged Dilemma Blender.
A Strange Reason to Legalize Marijuana
Download 35 SUS column PDF
As biologist Edward O. Wilson puts it in his new book, “The self, despite the illusion of its independence created in the scenarios, is part of the anatomy and physiology of the body.”
Scientifically obvious, yet shocking to our intuitive sense of ourselves as immaterial self or soul. I am brain-meat that has evolved the capacity to consider itself, if not divine, largely aloof from physicality.
Which is my philosophical neuroscientific reason for voting “Yes” on Measure 91, Oregon’s marijuana legalization initiative.
Rage Against The Machine
Download 36 SUS column PDF
I woke up in the middle of the night with a “Da Vinci Code” insight.
In a flash I understood it all, the ugly reality hidden behind this town’s benign facade, the conspiracy keeping the curtains closed on a truth-revealing window.
The Machine! It was controlling everything!
I’d had glimpses of this monster before. It took some deep sleep unconscious cognizing for my brain to form a coherent picture of how this town is in the grip of difficult-to-discern malevolent forces.
My Dysfunctional Relationship With Salem
Download 37 SUS column PDF
After 37 years of living in or near Salem, I seem to be settling into a pleasantly dysfunctional relationship with this town. Like Sharon Stone’s character in “Basic Instinct,” Salem allures me. Even when she is out to destroy me.
Salem and I, we’re becoming like those charming elderly couples who gripe at each other constantly.
“I would have been better off never getting married to this old coot. Should have gotten hooked to my high school boyfriend and saved myself from fifty years of grief.”
Then they smile, hug, kiss with wrinkled lips. These lovers always will be together. Bitching and complaining about their partner’s faults all the way.
Don’t Be Tricked by the Statesman Journal
Download 38 SUS column PDF
I no longer trust our so-called “community newspaper.”
I’ve been a subscriber since 1977. Most of that time, I believed the Statesman Journal cared about reporting local news truthfully, fairly, completely.
No longer. Along with many others, I now see the paper as being one of the biggest obstacles to improving Salem. Without a well-informed citizenry, a town is easily hijacked by special interests.
The Power of “I Like It”
Download 39 SUS column PDF
Then my grandmother said, “I like it.” Writing those three words just unexpectedly brought tears to my eyes. I knew they meant a lot to me. Until now I didn’t know how much.
Everything changed with that “I like it.” I didn’t care if nobody else liked my poem. I did. My grandmother did. Two is a crowd, but one is a lonely number.
We need people to affirm our strangeness. We humans are social creatures. From birth we’re wired to reach out and enjoy touching others, while they touch us.
Exposed! Salem’s Delicious Secret
Download 40 SUS column PDF
Salem has a secret. A hidden identity. A persona that will shock many who believe they know her well. Let’s rip off the disguise and reveal the true nature of our town.
Facts don’t lie. A fellow political junkie sent me analyses by ward, city, county, and state for several recent elections. The clear conclusion: Salem leans decidedly left.
Salem Fiddles While the Planet Burns
Download 41 SUS column PDF
So while both the Earth and the western United States experienced record warmth in 2014; while ski resorts in Oregon face steadily declining snowpacks as hotter air causes more precipitation to fall as rain; while drought becomes an ever-increasing threat to farmland and forests…
Salem’s clueless politicians and corporate executives go on their merry Screw the Planet way.
Pushing an unneeded billion dollar Third Bridge that would encourage more carbon-emitting autocentric sprawl. Cutting down precious trees for parking lots and “just because we want to.” Stifling adequate mass transit bus service. Pouring many millions into highway projects while ignoring the need for safe bike lanes, sidewalks, and pedestrian crossings.
Time to Make Salem a Bike-Friendly Town
Download 42 SUS column PDF
When it comes to riding a bicycle in Salem, most people are like me: desirous of doing this, while worried about how dangerous it is.
After all, this town has been designed to bow down before the Altar of Vehicular Traffic Flow.
Making it safe and easy for bicyclists and walkers to get around has been an afterthought, getting occasional lip service in transportation plans without much follow-through commitment from City of Salem officials.
Angela Obery seeks to change things.
Salem Needs a Visionary City Manager
Download 43 SUS column PDF
So… how enthused are you about what the folks at City Hall have done for Salem lately?
Anything come to mind? Something that made you think, “Wow, this town is going to be so much better now! Thank you, Mayor, City Council, and City Manager.”
Problem is, there’s not much wow-inducing creativity coming from our leaders. It’s difficult to even discern what their over-arching vision for Salem is.
Because they don’t have one.
Stay Weird. Stay Different.
Download 44 SUS column PDF
Graham Moore’s acceptance speech at the 2015 Academy Awards touched me. The loud applause that greeted his words showed I wasn’t alone. He said:
“When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird, and I felt different, and I felt like I did not belong. And now I’m standing here, and so I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird, or she's different, or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. I promise you do. Stay weird, stay different.”
When I was about the same age, I didn’t feel like killing myself. Rather, when I drove by the liquor store in my small rural town, I thought about throwing a rock through its window.
Mayor, Say Yes to Intoxication
Download 45 SUS column PDF
Get wasted more. Scheme less.
Salem would be much better off if our city officials — Mayor, City Manager, city councilors — took this advice.
I’ve got scholarly support for it. Edward Slingerland is an expert in Chinese thought and cognitive science.
In his book, “Trying Not to Try,” Slingerland extols intoxicants, which historically have been used by humans as social lubricants.
When wasted, people are naturally spontaneous. In modern parlance, real. Alcohol, cannabis, and such loosen the cognitive control needed for lying or faking.
Mayor to Citizens: Shut Up About Trees
Download 46 SUS column PDF
The Mayor asked whether we want to be a community that encourages the public to get involved in decisions that affect people, like whether there is a good reason for certain trees on public property to be removed.
Most Salemians would answer, absolutely!
But Peterson desires less, rather than more, citizen involvement. “I want less live theatre on these policy issues,” she said.
Well, this explains a lot. If you’ve ever felt like top City officials don’t care about what you think, they’re just following their Mayor’s lead.
Time to Take Back this Town
Download 48 SUS column PDF
Readers, I’ve enjoyed writing this column for the past two years. But Salem Weekly is moving in a new direction, so this will be my last Strange Up Salem offering.
... At first it was tough for me to figure out what I should say in this final column. I felt pressure, like I was dying and the people around my bedside wanted to hear some marvelously profound Last Words.
Then I realized, it’s simple, just be real. Don’t try to be anyone other than who you truly are; don’t try to say anything other than how you really feel.
Authenticity. Ah, a theme.
This was my first try at a Last Column. I ended up being more political in my final column, because that's what felt right.
Be a Warrior of Strangeness
Download 47 SUS column PDF
Picture yourself as a Warrior of Strangeness. Bold. Confident. Fearless.
You are, as a recruitment saying used to put it, an Army of One. Nothing else in the history of the universe has ever manifested your qualities: mind, body, desires, talents, likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses.
Your moment-by-moment mission, because the cosmos demands this of every unique creature, is to fully express who you are.
Yet we worry, “Oh, but I can’t. If other people saw me as I truly am, as I inwardly know myself to be, they’d think I’m really strange. I need to keep myself under wraps in order to fit in.”
And this column was one of my first Strange Up Salem writings -- when I wrote a few sample columns for Salem Weekly a year or two before we reached an agreement for me to be a regular contributor to the alternative paper.
Trader Joe’s Arrival Delayed Due to Lack of Strange
Download 0 SUS column PDF
Thus if we Strange Up Salem, we’re engaging in economic development. Along with making this town more creative, fun, dynamic, and appealing.
Consider Trader Joe’s. My wife and I love to shop at their stores. Whenever we’d go to a Trader Joe’s in Portland or Eugene we’d ask, “Any plans to open a store in Salem?”
The reply always was negative or non-committal. Then our hopes were further crushed when, in July 2009, Trader Joe’s announced it was opening a store in Corvallis.
Freaking Corvallis! Amazing. Salem was a city of 155,000 people; Corvallis had 55,000. As the name of a Salem Weekly feature puts it, OMG! WTF?