The Daily 750









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Cats and Dogs and Fish

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Last night it rained cats and dogs. Frogs and snakes. Elephants and . . . what doesn’t get along with elephants – crocodiles? A hard, fast, wind-driven rain that beat the last of the dahlias and cosmos into submission and left the streets covered with splats of brown and gold and red. My husband drove home from the airport in this rain. Without windshield wipers. Here’s the thing: the airport is 85 miles thattaway, over a winding, unlit, poorly marked two-lane road through a forested coastal range of midget mountains that hold up signs warning of the mischief-makers loose gravel, falling rocks, and soft shoulders. A two-hour drive after a 10-hour cross-country flight. In elephants and crocodiles of rain. Without windshield wipers, I say again. I asked him what it was like and he said, “Only my determination to come home to you, he bullshitted.” He actually said, “he bullshitted.” He’s lucky to be alive.

While the hubby was driving I was at a dinner at the seafood lab. We started with little meatballs (!) and then went on to a poached rockfish topped with a small scoop of tiny shrimp in butter. Cold butter. Potted shrimp, in other words. I think you have to be English and to have quaffed a half-pint of IPA in a dark-paneled, damp and smoky room with a pitted dartboard hanging on a wall in the far corner to enjoy the taste of very, very small shrimp in plain, cold butter. But I love to have dinner at the seafood lab, where the chef isn’t bothered with pretending that he’s conducting an elaborate chemical experiment on humans. So some of them work, some don’t. Nobody’s died yet.

Dessert was a rich slice of chocolate mousse pie and an update from the woman who is not at all like Geena Davis (gender excepted) and absolutely what I want in a Commander-in-Chief: Betsy Johnson. She’s a no-b.s. crossover politician who delights in debate and uses words like a sushi chef uses a knife; she’s a helicopter pilot who’s richer than God and gives money away rather than solicit for it. In short, she’s everything you’ve always wanted in a politician and almost never gotten. The words “Betsy” and “governor” are being said together more often than “soy” and “latte” – and after that, who knows.

The Oregon legislature is a holdover from the mid-1800s, a “citizen” legislature of strong republican values – read, we don’t need no stinkin’ gummint – that still meets for only six months every two years. Or that’s what it’s supposed to do. In the last two sessions, 2003 and 2005, incompetence and ideology have combined to delay their recess for at least an extra month, costing us, the taxpayers, money we already don’t have to pay for whatever it is they’re fighting about.

This year things were going along okay, given that the House and Senate leaders had decided even before the session began that everything the state wants would have to fit into a 12-point-X billion dollar budget and no more, not one penny, with 5-point-X already dedicated to K-12 education. It was wrangling over the “X” after the 5-point for K-12 education that caused the impulsive Speaker of the House to walk in one day and demand her fellow Republicans stop speaking with their Democrat cohorts on the Ways and Means Committee. Huge problem because, you see, the Ways and Means Committee is made up of an equal number of people from both parties whose single task is to find -- get this -- ways and means of coming to agreement over budgets. With the committee room doors locked, there was nowhere for the committee members to go except to their separate corners, with the effect of “putting partisanship ahead of citizenship,” as Betsy said, and delaying the session more than a month.

You have to have met Betsy or have visited her website to truly enjoy some of what she says. Oregon is the 9th largest state in area, but its nearly 3.6 million people place it 28th in population. More than half of all Oregonians are squeezed into the 110 miles up and down the I-5 corridor from Portland to Eugene, so that’s where the power lies. Getting those legislators to give five minutes of attention much less any money at all to rural issues isn’t easy and requires a sort of vigilance and persistence generally left to farm dogs.

I suppose if, when I lived in LA, someone had said the words “net pens” to me I would have thought something along the lines of: subtract 4 pens from 10 pens and you have 6 net pens. Here on the Upper Left Edge a net pen is what Keiko lived in when he moved to Iceland, and it’s what keeps the rivers and the ocean stocked with enough salmon, trout and other fish species to keep more than five fishing crews busy for a three-day season once a year. Entire towns depend on the economies of pen-raised fish, towns represented by Betsy Johnson, who spent some time in the legislative halls “running around like a border collie and saying, ‘How ‘bout them net pens, How ‘bout them net pens??’”

The fisheries got their net pens, ensuring the seafood lab an abundant supply of material for me to enjoy Chef Eric's next experiment, sheltered once again from the driving rain.