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Saturday, April 23, 2005

Write on

Yesterday was an amazing day for me on a number of levels. A lot of it had to do with my relationship to the written word.

I started the day at a luncheon (regular readers here know that's usually my first meal of the day) at which the featured speaker was Michael Powell. Powell's Books has long been the true cultural soul of Portland, and its owner, who seems a relatively humble, down-to-earth man, told a few of the many stories surrounding his phenomenally successful business.

I've grown tired over the years of listening to the Republican version of "small business." The "ownership society" people, who whine about the wealth transfer taxes and make it sound like this country has been so unfair to them, leave me cold. Powell didn't complain about taxes. He didn't complain about land use regulation. He didn't complain about the union that he lives with. He didn't complain about anything, really. He was mostly about thanking all the people who have gotten him to where he is. Genuine gratitude.

Powell illustrates, to me at least, that love for one's trade and respect for one's employees and customers can overcome all obstacles. I had been impressed before I heard him speak, and I'm even more impressed now.

One thing he's worried about these days is the part of the Patriot Act that lets the FBI throw him in jail if he doesn't tell them, on demand, which books you and I purchased in his store. He doesn't want to cooperate with them on that. I don't blame him, and I'm grateful for his advocacy on my behalf.

Most of all I liked Powell's style. He knows who he is, and who he isn't. Portland is lucky to have him.

After a brief nap -- dreaming and drooling on the couch while thunderstorm warnings squawked away in the background over the kids' TV show -- I had another brush with literary greatness. I was privileged to dine in the company of not one but two Pulitzer Prize winners, in connection with this weekend's "Wordstock" festival here in town. It was a delightful dinner on a number of levels, but most intriguing to me was the accessibility of the most highly honored guests -- they were more real than most of the rest of us in the group.

Then I came home and, after tucking everybody else in, I read this. And I was reminded of two things. One, those who tell stories like that one are among our society's greatest assets. And two, people like the lady about whom the story was written are ever greater.

I'll never make it into her league. But I'm proud to be somebody who's trying, once in a while, to tell a few stories that might matter almost as much as hers.

Comments (10)

When I first encountered Powell's, it was located in a small storefront several blocks further west up Bunside. One main floor, and a loft. Browsing around the curiosities therein, my reveries were disturbed by an older guy, dragging a tall set of shelves out of the back.

He wanted to get this and a couple more up to the loft. Clearly, he needed a hand, so what the heck. With me bearing most of the weight on the downslope of the stairs, we got them all into position up top. I went back to perusing through the books. Decided to buy half a dozen, total.

When I headed up to the counter, the old guy said "You helped me; I help you. Those are yours." Never even looked at the prices.

That was the original Mr. Powell.

Some kind of planet pattern yesterday, maybe, when I also was deeply touched by words in writing, the same as Jack. Here they are. (Including some in latin, Ne te quaesiveris extra, I translate as 'Not be you the quasi-verity outside you.')
At the bottom of the article, in case when you get there your eyesight is blurred by tears, is a Table of Contents link to more such literature.

Funny thing: Neptune this month is at the exact same point in its orbit (returned for the first time -- it's very slow) around the sun as it was positioned when "Self-Reliance" appeared.

If I remember correctly, Michael Powell was against letting the union setting up at the store.

Oh, he definitely was against it. I would not have expected otherwise. But he seems to be living with it o.k.

I'll forego a discussion of unions till another time. I was in Portland this last week, and thrilled to notice the Portland Trib's front-page piece on panhandlers. Quite a number of years ago now -- 10 maybe? -- Michael Powell tried to engender a similar movement, to give to agencies and not street people. It was quite controversial as I recollect.

I have all kinds of problems with the increasing wealth divides in Portland, where even the new study Jack posted a week back showed the lower income classes taxed at #5 in the nation while those higher at #6. But the street people and panhandlers do nothing to enhance the city for anyone.

I sure wondered what Michael Powell's thoughts were this go-round.

Oh ... ps .... great story, "someguy."

In the talk I attended Friday, Michael Powell mentioned aggressive panhandling, graffiti, and a general perception of crime downtown as threats to his business and to the overall economic health of the city. As readers know, I agree.

I don't understand why the city doesn't do something about the panhandlers downtown. I'm talking about the younger kids who sit with their legs stretched out so that you have to step over them. Vera lost no time in setting up a sit/lie ordinance to chase thehomeless out of downtown/oldtown. So why hasn't something been done about htese kids? I lived downtown for about 5 years back in the '80's and I loved it. Now, it's an ugly unfriendly place I can't stand to set foot in.

Haven't you heard, Lily? Aggressively scaring the crap out of people downtown is a protected form of free speech, as long as you don't actually hurt them. It's also okay to curse at, hiss at or in other ways verbally harass honest, hard working folks who try to ignore you when you shake them down for money. It's part of our vibrant downtown culture.

Amen, Dave!!


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