Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

President Obama

At the dawn of Inauguration Day, watching TV coverage I got emotional. The peaceful transition of power under the American Constitutional system is almost always inspiring [the Supreme Court election of George W. Bush being a glaring exception]. But this time there was the thrill of seeing an African-American coming into the highest office, overwhelmingly chosen by the American people accepting his message of hope and change for the better, and what this meant especially to Americans of color. And there was the inspired encouragement being expressed by so many people, not just in America but world wide, at the reality of the disgraced George W. Bush leaving town and the chosen Barack Obama taking over.

I watched the swearing in as the invited breakfast guest of my long time friends Joe and Georgia, who are always good company, and were especially fun to be with to witness this enormous step in the racial maturing of America. Joe has long roots in America leading back to some African ancestry, so his family has experienced racial prejudice first hand. Georgia, though an American citizen by birth, was sent to a "relocation camp" during World War II, because her grandparents were born in Japan.

Eight years, or even four, is a long time for a young person to wait to see a new President, and at first look the new person may look out of place. Seeing Ike replace Truman is not much of a memory to me, but seeing Kennedy replace Ike is quite vivid. I liked that the new man was younger, a Democrat and a Catholic. I did not like him being rich, but I liked seeing him as President. When Kennedy was killed and Johnson took over, I did not like seeing Johnson as President. Though he did not come from money and he was a Democrat, he was from the South which turned me off. He did do things for civil rights and poor people, but his escalation of the Vietnam War repulsed me.

I grew up seeing Nixon as Vice-President and that was bad enough. But when he became President, it was almost unbearable. I was overjoyed when he resigned and was willing to see just about anybody take over. Ford was a bumbler and I always just looked on him as a caretaker until the next election. Carter came from nowhere. Another southerner was another turn off. He only seemed Presidential when meeting with foreign heads of state. Reagan always looked like the B grade actor he was and his years in office were as bad as Nixon's. Bush I seemed a weak and aloof President and like he was not sure he wanted the job. Then along came another southern unknown, Clinton, who began to look Presidential just about the time his libido undermined him, leaving him to look a bit pathetic. Bush II, the usurping fraud, at first looked like a deer frozen in headlights, and then like the pompous dork he is, but never anything even remotely Presidential.

Obama is the President who I am most comfortable seeing in the job of any President during my lifetime. The two year campaign about which there was so much complaint, actually gave America the opportunity to see Obama in action through a long process. The man we saw lead that campaign was exceptionally impressive and the obvious choice for us to make to lead America out of our troubles and into a new future. As he said in his Inaugural address, we face big problems and the solutions are not easy, but working together, we can begin to solve them. Polls show the American people are in great support of Obama and willing to give him time to work. If there is to be a fly in the ointment, it will come from Senate Republicans. One early contender is Cornyn from Texas, who is holding up the Clinton confirmation to ask more about donors to the Clinton Library.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


My Mom used to say she was ''bushed" when she was exhausted. After eight years of George W., we are all bushed. Since Obama was elected, Bush has gone from lame duck to last year's turkey - no longer of any interest. His much belated attempt to publicly discuss his feelings about his occupation of the Presidency has generated about as much interest as the screen on a dead TV. Johnny Carson as Carnac used to hold up to his forehead what was announced as the last envelope, while the audience professed bemused relief. Your computer screen now holds the last Sense article about Bush during his usurpation of the Presidency, and we should all express profound relief.

Speaking of turkeys, I love the picture of the turkey and Bush. So do a lot of people - it is the number two hit on a Google image search for "Bush". Consider that if the turkey was named "Bush", the caption "Bush and Turkey" would work both ways.

More seriously, Frank Rich wrote an excellent column about the Bush Presidency a couple weeks ago, which contained this succinctly profound sentence: "The discrepancy between the grandeur of the failure and the stature of the man is a puzzlement." I highly recommend you read the column.

An early article I intended to write for Sense was literally on Presidential stature - the height of our Presidents. After the continuing debacles of the Bush Administration, the subject seems trivial, but this link to a list of US Presidents in order of descending height is still interesting to see.

One of my professed interests in the Bush exit is to see who he pardons. After he is gone and the information on pardons becomes known, I may write about that. Investigations into Bush Administration abuses may get some future play at Sense, but the attitude here toward Bush is going to be mostly "good riddance".

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

2708 Is Gone

Yesterday, while browsing around with Google Earth, I decided to take a look at my childhood home, 2708 East Denny Way, in Seattle. To my surprise, it was not there. The house and its sibling on the corner at 2702 had been built to meet the post war desire for new home ownership around 1946. These were the only two houses on the north side of Denny Way between 27th and what was then Empire Way.

My mom and step-dad bought the house from the builder for $7,900, with a small down payment and monthly payments of $50. No banks or mortgage companies were involved in the financing, because the builder sold it on a contract and payments were made directly to him. This basic method of financing has long ago fallen out of use, supposedly because it is impractical for a builder to build on his own money and then carry the paper himself. It is supposed to work better if the builder borrows the money for a construction loan and then the buyer borrows the money for a purchase loan which pays off the construction loan. In fact, it is supposed to work even better if the purchase loan is then sold by the lender to some investor, perhaps as part of a package of such loans. The investor can then sell shares in the package... and on it goes.

I always envisioned some older builder with a little money of his own had decided to build a few houses after the War to help out some returning soldiers who were starting their families. The builder met them personally and sized them up and made his decision on that personal basis. For 2708 he met a somewhat different family, an older man from Ohio, newly discharged from the Army who had met a recently divorced Seattle woman with two small sons. She and her ex had sold their older Seattle home as part of the divorce, which may have given her enough for a little down payment on the new house. All parties were anxious enough that the contract was made with the couple before they got married.

Denny Way is the first house I remember. It was a quite small two bedroom house with an unfinished basement. The front door opened into the living room which included a tight dining area to the right, from which the kitchen was accessed. The kitchen also had a door to what was called the hallway, although it was actually about a six foot square central area giving access to the two bedrooms, the living room, the kitchen and the only bathroom. Crammed into the corner of the hall was a telephone table. I knew the floor plan well, because within a few years I began to put its circuitous route to use in avoiding capture and beating by my step-dad. I got very good at reversing direction and confusing him on which way to chase me. Since I could not stand up to him physically, I developed a technique of delivering verbal shots on the run. Eventually I would quit while I was ahead, by darting out either the front door or the back, which exited from the kitchen.

Our house was a place to eat, sleep, and do chores. Chores included household tasks assigned by Mom and too many outside chores from our step-dad. He pridefully accepted compliments for his manicured Kentucky Blue Grass lawn, while my brother and I continually hand clipped the seemingly miles of edges without acknowledgment. Then there were infrastructure projects, like the six foot cube of old bricks from which we had to chip mortar with an axe and regularly un-stack and re-stack elsewhere. Whenever our step-dad was around it meant likely chores, so we usually took off to avoid him.

My main destination was around the corner on 27th, where various friends lived. Their houses were always welcoming and the level street was our playground. Sometimes we wandered down to Washington Park and the Arboretum for larger turf. In the earliest days, the house at 2702 was owned by a red headed man with blonde daughters and a wife who said "again" with a long "ay" sound. They soon moved and were replaced by the Lewises, a black childless couple who became best friends of our family and mentors to my brother and me. I did not understand at the time that the Lewises were part of a swift demographic change in our neighborhood, which turned it into a defacto racial ghetto. We neighborhood kids did not concern ourselves with anything beyond our personal relationships, in which race was not a factor.

My brother and I slept in twin beds with a narrow four shelf stand between. I have that shelf stand in my home office today as a reminder of that house, that small bedroom and the relationship it signified between my brother and me - both separating us and joining us. Three years apart in age, sometimes we seemed close and sometimes a little distant. Sibling relationships, unlike being an only child, come in numerous combinations. Two brothers is one of the simplest. In larger families, sometimes the oldest child barely knows the youngest. I never longed for lots of siblings, though I always thought it would be nice to have a sister, and when I thought about having children of my own, I wanted five, though the four I ended up with turned out to be fine. My birth dad and his family did not stay involved in our life and our step-dad, who had been long orphaned, had no connections with his family back in Ohio. Once in a while I used to wonder what it would be like if my Mom had a child with my step-dad, though it quickly became obvious that was not going to happen.

Two additions were made to the house in the 1950s. An extension was built onto the kitchen, providing an eating space with a view into the back yard flower garden, and a carport was built downhill from the house, with a sitting space on top where a covered swing bench was placed to enjoy the view of the valley. This small view was apparently enough of an amenity to help attract whoever tore the house down and replaced it with five separately addressed units. It does seem fitting that none of the new homes is numbered 2708, so the one I grew up in is probably the only house to ever bear that address.

My brother lived in the house only as long as he had to and he left after high school graduation in 1956. I decided to go onto college and then law school and to take advantage of the free board and room program at home. After finishing school, I had to go for my Basic Training in the Air Force in Texas, and shortly after I returned in 1966, I left the Denny Way nest. Often adult children return to the family home for various reasons, often economic. When my brother returned from his military service, he briefly slept on the living room couch at 2708 before setting out on his own again with a new career in real estate.

When my brother married and became a step-dad, his wonderful "instant" family brought an uplifting dynamic to 2708. The folks, step-dad soon to retire and Mom sort of, now became instant grandparents, a role they both relished. The house had always had its holiday parties with whatever of my mom's family could attend, along with a fair amount of friends, but aside from parties, the atmosphere was usually tense. But now a new era in family was at hand, with unpleasant memories put aside to appreciate the here and now.

White friends of my parents often wondered why we continued to live in the ghetto. Inertia and convenience were part of the reason, but a big factor was that we knew all of our neighbors and were friendly and comfortable with them. One advantage of being kept in a ghetto is that the neighborhood has a certain stability. But as housing opened up more in the late 1960s and as the neighborhood population aged and children started moving, things changed. Working in real estate my brother was able to find a bigger and better home for my parents in the south end. After they bought that house, they put 2708 up for sale. Somewhat fittingly, it was bought by a young interracial couple. During their housing transition, my parents had me housesit, first in their newer house and then for a couple months at 2708. Living in my childhood home again, this time as a newlywed, was so surreal that I barely remember it.

I lived at 2708 for about 20 years, the longest ever in one house. The 20 plus years of my marriage were divided between two houses. The first house we bought, where we lived when my kids were born, is my happiest house memory. Our next house, though bigger as we needed, never felt the same. I have been in my present house about 13 years, with some ambivalence as to satisfaction. I am not quite sure how I feel about the demise of 2708. I will never be able to drive by and see it again, but I cannot even remember the last time I did that. I have pictures and memories and that should be enough.

Today, as so many families are losing their homes to foreclosure, I can only imagine what that must feel like, especially if the home being lost has been a happy one. Maybe the best way to think about 2708 is to pray that the homes that replaced it are being lived in by happy families who will be able to live there as long as they want.