About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

It’s Just a Box

by Erik Dolson

Four years after he died, I scattered the last of Jimmie’s ashes in a small cove along the Oregon coast of the Pacific Ocean on a rare sunny and warm April day. Four years after he died, and again I cried.

They lied, those who said time heals all wounds. Late in life one realizes that’s just not true. We each carry wounds, mostly as scars perhaps but some still raw and bleeding, into our own grave. Acceptance for those fortunate to find it is in learning to look directly at the lashings, lacerations and lesions without flinching or turning, if not running away.

And without wallowing by spending these precious moments we have left trying to recreate memories burnished by time but that will disappear as soon we close our own eyes one final time.

I carried Jimmie’s ashes on my boat for nearly three years in the zippered plastic bag rolled in pink bubble wrap stuffed into the small stout cardboard box in which they were sent. The box was the size of a large paperback book of about 400 pages, not nearly enough to describe the impact he had on all who knew him.

“Pink bubble wrap? Like I’d be easy to bruise?” he’d chortle, and we’d beat that idea to death for an hour or so.

On the boat the box sat on a shelf above my closet next to the foot of the bed. I didn’t see it every day as it burrowed over time under hats and gloves while waiting for me to carry it to places I’d decided he’d like to return as if the ashes would bring him back like homing beacons, or remind him of this world.

“Homing beacon? Homing bacon would be more effective,” he’d say as I took a sip of morning coffee and I’d choke to avoid shooting a blast of brew out my nose.

Twice I left small spoonfuls of ash against the warm wall where we sat in Victoria basking in a sun that hung suspended for hours in an afternoon sky and waiting for at least twilight to head out to dinner at an Indian restaurant in a city I would know far better after he was gone. I set ashes adrift in a small paper boat with a sail in Blind Bay on Shaw Island where he took my daughters out to catch crab, and I spread a couple of spoonfuls at the Head of the Metolius knowing the waters that sprung from the earth there would eventually take him through Portland where we’d both been in our youth but never met.

We didn’t meet until the last third of our lives but our paths had braided across time since childhood as if we were supposed to meet often but had never quite made it to the same spot at the same instant. He was always late, damn it, but that’s probably good for all concerned and many would have had reason for concern had we teamed up in our teens or 20s before we each quit drinking.

The box came back with me to Central Oregon for the Metolius scattering and the trip to the coast last week. I thought about just sending the last of him in the box out to the waves but knew he’d object to being cast off as pollution. So I emptied a cloud of ash onto a patch of sand a wave had just washed clean and waited for the next to take him away. It took a while.

“Might be hours if the tide is going out,” he’d say, “but it’s okay,” as if it weren’t and I could have put a little more thought into this small ritual. But a long tongue of foamy ocean finally ran up the sand to lick rocks at the back of the cove and swallowed the light gray ash.

But now I had the box with plastic zipperbag and pink bubble wrap. I couldn’t just toss it into the trash in my hotel room, it had faithfully carried Jimmie for thousands of miles.

“I’m kind of done with it,” he’d have said, and we would’ve talked about our bodies as cardboard boxes with pink bubble wrap inside rolled about bags full of love and courage and ideas and dreams and lives so full we’d always want more, and then more until we were no more.

Would that I could have stolen an image from one of his favorite metaphors about wooden boats and sent him forth in the hallowed hollow of a singing violin.

Instead I brought the box back to my home and set it on rocks and then on fire in view of the mountains we’d wandered, together and alone, or with others we’d loved during the minutes we were allowed and I watched it burn until a wind sighed through the pines and spread the last of ash far and wide.

The Geese

by Erik Dolson

The geese are back. It’s spring, there’s two of them. For all I know, it’s a different pair from last year, maybe even from last week. Hard to I.D. a goose.

But I choose to think it’s a returning couple. I doubt they’ll stay. There’s no island in my pond, so no safe nesting and too many coyotes with easy access. They just drop in once in a while to graze on vegetation growing on branches I threw in the end of the pond farthest from the house.

I like their routine. After landing with a skidding splash, they swim the perimeter to see what’s what. When they feel safe, the larger one (may I assume it’s the male?) climbs up the shallow bank and stands watch while the smaller one feeds on greens below the mirrored surface.

After a while they switch, he goes in the water and she stands guard. With longer legs, he seems to run in place once in a while. I think he’s scraping vegetation off the branches below. Then his head disappears and his butt rises up, like one of those wooden bobbing birds  you sometimes see in restaurants.

Then, they switch stations again.

Eventually, they’re both on the bank. If talking, I can’t hear what they say. But then they turn and face the mountains, squat slightly, then rise up and their wings unfold in unison and they are off flying, carving gracefully in the sky a synchronized curve, wordlessly sharing the same direction.

Dear Governor Brown;

Dear Governor Brown;

My name is Erik Dolson, and I live in Sisters, Oregon. I’m writing to suggest an alternative to current COVID restrictions.

First, however, I need to declare my interests. I own a building in Bend that houses a popular restaurant, currently closed. I am also an avid “gym rat,” a member of the shuttered Sisters Athletic Club and, until last week, the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland where I was a member for more than 65 years until degradation of that city made my return very unlikely.

I also have background that may or may not carry weight. I served on the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners for four years at the request of Gov. Kitzhaber, published a local newspaper for 25 years, served eight years on the county planing commission, three years on the local school board, and graduated with a degree in philosophy for whatever that’s worth (not much without a law degree, it turned out). I bring these up to show that I also participate, and don’t just carp from the sidelines.

My concern with the most recent COVID restrictions is that they don’t sift with a fine-enough screen. The Sisters Athletic Club had a rigorous sanitation program, and to the best of my knowledge has not caused a single case of COVID. In fact, I’ve been told that no athletic club in Oregon has been the source of a “spreader” event.

I believe athletic clubs are a key factor in maintaining my health and that of others in my age group (70+), especially now that 6 inches of snow on the ground makes it tough to run safely on the local trails. If a case of COVID can be traced to an athletic club, by all means, shut it down.

I make the same argument for restaurants in my building and community. It’s not difficult to separate guests by more than six feet and mandate that servers and kitchen crew wear masks and gloves. We can increase air changes per hour, even here where it’s 22 degrees as I write. I do not know of a restaurant locally that has been associated with a case of COVID.

I understand the worry of “shutting the gate after horses are out,” but it’s possible we’re shutting the wrong gate on the wrong barn. Ironically, the only “spreader event” I’m aware of in Central Oregon occurred at the hospital in Redmond. COSTCO had seven employees who came down with the virus, and Hooker Creek Sand and Gravel had eight, I believe. These businesses are responsible for these outbreaks. Don’t restrict those which implemented safe practices.

Thank you for your time to read this, and your considerable efforts on behalf of the people of Oregon.

Erik Dolson
erik@erikdolson.com

Rollin’ Coal

By Erik Dolson

“Watch this,” I said to Dani as we waited for the light to change.

“What?”

“Out your side mirror.”

When the light turned green, I put the accelerator down just enough to put the Prius in the lane next to us about ten feet behind my exhaust pipe. Then I hit the switch and the pushed the accelerator to the floor. A huge black cloud of unburnt diesel blew out of my Ram pickup and wrapped the Prius like a blanket.

He must have hit his brakes, because he was a quarter mile back before I saw him nose out of the soot.

“Ha! Look at that sorry sucker! Buried him!”

“Why’d you do that?” Dani asked, and I knew right then this conversation wasn’t one I wanted to have. That said, I got a right to my opinion, and what with everything that’s been happening, I was ready to stand up for it.

“Because he was a liberal. Didn’t you see the bumper sticker?”

“An American, just like you.”

“Not a very good one.”

“Who made you the judge of that?”

“Okay, look. I was just trying to have a little fun. What’s wrong with that?” I hoped a change of subject would get us back on track. Usually these trips into town are a good time. We did spend a little more money at Costco than we budgeted, though, and the place we usually have lunch that’s a lot better than what we can find between the bluffs three hours out where we live was closed because of the COVID bullshit.

“Pollutes the air.”

“There’s plenty more where that comes from.”

“Until there isn’t. Then what?”

Dani isn’t usually like that, but she does get a little up on her high horse when her sister comes back to town. Sandy’d been at home for almost two weeks, because of Christmas. I’d kinda hoped that she’d stay in Eugene this year, because of the bullshit COVID scare and all.

“Aw, Dani. Look in your mirror. You can’t even see the smoke any more. Much.” I couldn’t help it, I grinned a little. Rolling coal on liberals does that for me. Danielle heard the smile in my voice. She knows me pretty well.

“The atmosphere where most things live is ony three miles thick,” Dani said.

“Oh, yeah, I forgot Sandy’s back in town,” I said, pretty clear about where I thought Dani had gotten her information.

“You don’t think I can have my own opinions?”

“I didn’t say that. Don’t be putting words in my mouth.”

“That was the thought in your head.”

I would have been better off just denying that, or keeping quiet, but Sandy coming home and disrupting things rankles me a bit.

“I just think Sandy doesn’t understand the world as it really is.”

“She’s seen more of it than you have.”

“Partly on my nickel, too.”

Doesn’t matter to me if Sandy was the best student in our high school when she graduated, or that she’s smarter than me, or that she got a full scholarship to college. It’s partly on my money after all, being a state school. But of course, I don’t get any say in how it’s spent, otherwise Sandy would have a very different view of the world, I’ll tell you that.

Dani just started looking out her window. It was going to be a long drive home. In the mirrors I checked the tarp that covered the groceries in back, the ShopVac and supplies I got at Home Depot for the shed that Glen is helping me build. It was all secure, I know how to tie a proper trucker’s knot.

It wasn’t just the Biden/Harris bumper sticker on the Prius, and I didn’t tell Dani the whole truth when I said I rolled the coal just for fun. I listen to the radio when I go out to feed in the morning. This morning some smart-ass from the city was saying that increasing the price of fuel was one way to slow down global warming.

He has no effing idea what that would do to me. It would mean a higher price to run my equipment, it would cost more to drive into town to spend my money that I’d have less of, cost more to drive into the hills for a beautiful sunset, or down to the Crooked River to fish.

This is my life! Doesn’t matter to him, he lives in some city and takes the bus. He doesn’t pay any part of the price. That’s the thing. He don’t pay the price.

Same with that guy driving the Prius, or that Musk who is building all those electric cars. I can’t do my work out of a Tesla. They say people will charge it at home, and that most people don’t drive more than 30 miles a day.

Maybe if you live in the city, but hell, I have to drive 30 miles just to buy the diesel fuel to put in my truck, and if I’m hauling feed or mending fence, I make that trip three times a week and it already costs me more than $100 every time.

That’s why me and a few of the guys went down to Love’s truck stop just outside of town last week, and parked our trucks in the recharging spots saved for those electrics. Then we piled into Fred’s truck and went to the 86 Corral, played some pool and had a few beers.

Man, those Tesla people were just all besides themselves when we got back, it was the funniest thing I’ve seen since high school when we boxed in Fred’s truck with ours so he couldn’t pick up Lynette for their date. Man, he was pissed for two weeks!

When the price of fuel came down, it was good for us, our families. And America went from being at the mercy of those sand dog Arabs to shipping oil everywhere after fracking unleashed the flow. Kept our prices low and made America great. What could be wrong with that?

Besides, global warming is just another hoax, like the damn COVID virus. Well, they’re real and all, but global warming isn’t caused by people. We’ve had warm spells before, then they’re followed by ice ages! And the COVID is just like a cold. My friend Glen, guy helping me with the shed, is a builder. He had three guys out last week and said they were feeling great after two days and would’ve been back at work but have to stay out 14 days because of the quarantine stupidity.

Glen said the price of lumber is up four times, he heard it’s because liberals want to pay guys at the mill not to work!

That’s a hell of a solution. Men who can work miss out, lose out on wages, those who don’t want to work don’t have to, and Glen has to run his own backhoe setting forms for a new foundation.

Besides, it would be a whole lot better if we all just caught the virus and got better, became immune, and it would have been a whole lot less expensive. I bet we’d have a real Christmas this year if we’d all had the virus by the 4th of July.

Don’t even get me started about my guns. They can’t have them, and they’ll make me into a criminal if they say I have to register them. I believe in the Constitution, and I have my rights.

See, that’s really the thing that started this talk with Dani. The Constitution. Those socialist slime balls stole the election. They’ve been planning it for a lot of years, and are using COVID and global warming to weaken America. It’s a plot, and the Russians and the Chines are involved. They took our jobs, and now they’re taking what’s left.

They’re taking away the America that we built and giving it to people in cities who don’t want to work, I won’t say who but you know who I mean, and to Mexicans who just come in to our country to get better health care than where they come from, and send all their babies to our tax-funded schools.

Why is it that what my grandfather and father and me built, our mothers too of course, is being given away to people who don’t deserve it? It’s more than not fair, it’s illegal.

That’s how they stole the election, too. What happened in the cities. The Latinos. Trump had more votes than Obama ever did, more than that bitch Hillary if you just count legal votes, and Trump lost? Explain that to me. They stole it, and have been working on this since Trump was elected in 2016! Socialists and the deep state have been hatching a plan to steal the election, and to cover it up so perfectly that even Trump judges would be forced to go along!

So that’s really why I put that Prius in a cloud of American-made diesel smoke. Because that S.O.B. liberal thinks he won, and it’s my job to show him that this isn’t over, not by a long shot!

At the end of our one-mile driveway, Danielle and I pulled up to the house. We’d gone to Costco last, so groceries were in the far back of the truck so we could unload those before the building supplies.

“Hey, I’m going to help you unload the truck and then head on over to Mom’s,” Danielle said.

“You going to spend the night over there?”

“Yeah, Sandy’s headed back to school pretty soon, and I’d like to spend some time before she leaves.”

“You coming back afterwards?” I hated that I couldn’t help myself from asking. I hated that it took Dani too long to answer, even though she said all the right things.

“Yep. Because you’re you, and for all that, I love you anyways and probably always will. I’ll be back tomorrow sometime after church.”

“It’s just not the same, Dani. It’s not the same as it used to be.”

“No, it’s not. But it never really was.”

She kissed me on the cheek, then slid out her side of the Dodge. We took the groceries into the kitchen together without saying much, and she put them away while I unloaded the rest of the supplies down where I was building the shed.

Selling Priceless Spectrum

By Erik Dolson

The auction of my airwaves started today. I’m upset.

Actually, the auction was of “spectrum,” that is, the radio frequencies needed mostly for new 5G cell phone networks. And it’s actually a sale of the right to “use” bits of this spectrum, also known as the “C” band.

It will surprise no one that the main bidders will be AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and with Comcast and Charter Communications teaming up. There are others, but those are the main players and are expected to bid between $30 billion and $51 billion.

So what’s my problem, anyway, with such a lucrative deal?

Well, to begin with, it’s been heavily pushed by FCC chair Ajit Pai, once a lawyer for Verizon and who has announced his retirement in January when Biden takes office (to go back to work for Verizon?).  This is the same man who opposed “net neutrality” laws guaranteeing everyone equal access to all information. He’s led other, anti-consumer efforts that favor big business.

Secondly, I’m not getting enough for my share of the spectrum being sold. I figure that if the spectrum goes for, say, $40 billion, I’m entitled to about $108. That’s about two months of cell phone bills. And yet, the companies buying that spectrum get to keep it forever!

That’s the problem with selling pieces of “the commons.” It’s a little like selling the right to have clean air, or not charging those who pollute our drinking water, or denying us the right to know what they put in our food, or flooding the oceans with Koch Companies ferilizer, which of course no one would think were good … ideas … Okay, wait. Those weren’t good examples.

If the sale brings $40 billion, that’s about 1% of the last Trump annual budget. We all know how fast federal budget dollars disappear. I hate to think that AT&T will be able to reach into my pocket forever because my spectrum was sold to them for money I’ll never see.

Because I’m a capitalist, and believe in competition, I think the federal government should have licensed my spectrum, instead of selling it, preserving my capital investment. Maybe a ten year license if it’s exclusive to one company, or even better, let any company pay to use my spectrum but set standards so they don’t interfere with each other. Sort of like how Mobile Virtual Network Operators (like US Cellular) pay AT&T now to set up a network.

Cell phone service has gone from a luxury to a neccessity, and with 5G it may become our primary means of communication, of receiving information. Like electricity or public water or sewer, and like phone lines used to be, cell phones are now a “utility,” and should be regulated as such and not subject to monopolistic manipulation or collusion between a few large players.

My spectrum should be regarded as a “pipe,” just like the pipes that bring water to our homes. Companies that manage the pipe should not have a special advantage, should not decide what water goes where, nor be able to charge whatever they want because they have the only pipe to my door. Those were my pipes, dammit, at least before they were sold.

But despite my objections, the auction that started today will go forward. Why? Because I forgot to pay off my favorite Republican senator this year, and my Republican Rep. Greg Walden is retiring from the House of Representatives to get a job with AT&T. Or maybe he’ll form a lobbying firm with Ajit Pai.

It’s far too late, so don’t bother to call. I have no voice, anyway, and neither do you.

To my Trumpist friends

By Erik Dolson

The election was called a few minutes ago, finally. Trump lost.

You are bitterly disappointed, and believe the election was “stolen” from you. That is not true. You believe that people unlike you voted for Biden. That is partly true. But every vote counts, that’s the American way.

You believe undeserving people will benefit from this election. Probably true. But undeserving people benefitted from Trump. That is definitely true.

So now what? Where will your disappointed anger lead?

It’s probably futile, but I’ll ask you to listen: You have legitimate grievances, you face difficult decisions, you suffer hardship. You have also been misled by people who profit by feeding you outrage.

I am not your enemy. I am your neighbor. We have been friends. And I will work as hard to improve your situation as I did to defeat a man I believe was destroying the foundations of our country. Believe that or not, and I know you don’t believe it now and possibly never will, because fear is much more persuasive than truth.

I don’t know how we will come together in a future where social media, the Russians, the Chinese, and Fox talking heads have such an investment in keeping us divided. And you’d have to be willing to meet me part way. But the invitation is there.

Now, it’s time to get to work creating an affordable social safety net that still assures freedom of choice, creating opportunities for ALL Americans to build a future, including you who feel like you’ve just lost the America you love, recreating a country where freedom walks hand in hand with responsibility and success, and fighting together against those who use and then discard you.

Please help, whenever you’re ready.

So long, friend

By Erik Dolson

It’s just weird. News arrived today that I’d lost a friend. I knew him for less than three months and yet, a fog of sadness lays thick about.

We met while traveling together but separately to Alaska. He and his wife Connie, she the epitome of graciousness, motored in their tall and broad-shouldered powerboat “Lori Lee” with frequent guests; Jane and I slipped along aboard my long and thin sailboat, Foxy.

The list of differences is much, much longer than any list of what we had in common. He was the quintessential Southern Gentleman from Alabama, while I grew up an Oregon Boy much in need of refinement. He was a builder who created an empire, first by laying bricks, if memory serves, eventually building hospitals. I just push sentences to their breaking point, endlessly polishing ideas. Grady and Connie were devout Christians who shared their deep faith in the Bible, while my study of religious philosophies led me to distill truths I found in all of them. He was “conservative,” I am “liberal.”

And yet, we became friends, even while disagreeing about almost everything except catching salmon. Oh, sure, there was evangelism involved, an attempt to save my soul. But then, Grady asked me once what to do about a loved one who had fallen into a relationship with drugs. We were both shocked that my recommendation, though wrapped in a message of acceptance and love, was so tough: “Anything you do to mitigate the consequences delays the first day of recovery.”

And the time, when pressed to accept the Word of God, I told Connie that while I did not share her faith, I had the utmost respect, if not envy, for what their faith had given them.

When we disagreed, Grady listened to my point of view and tried to address it honestly. I tried to get behind the curtain woven of words and assumptions, and find what was illuminating his opinion.

Often, it was futile. Even if we agreed on root cause, we disagreed on solution. But there was always a shared respect, and a desire, I think, to find a common ground we could walk upon.

Grady and Connie sold their boat early this year, a difficult admission that they had already made their last trip to Alaska. Connie’s health had not been great, and now, Grady has died three weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

As a good-bye gift, Grady leaves me with the question of why we were able to communicate so well, from such different points of view, when those with whom I share values and life experiences seem completely out of reach, brothers with nothing to say. I’ll probably never know.

But thank you, Grady Sparks, for time spent in the cockpit or salon of Lori Lee, exploring different views within shared mutual respect. You allowed me to experience your sense of loss for an America I never knew. You will be missed.

Republicans think Trump will lose

By Erik Dolson

Much has been written about why Republicans have refused to approve more pandemic relief for the unemployed, small businesses and state governments.

It’s not about “blue state bailouts,” and it’s certainly not about fiscal prudence after the GOP promoted $2 trillion dollar deficits to pad the incomes of the top 1% long before the pandemic struck and 215,000 people died (about 60,000 as a direct result of Trump’s incompetence).

The actual reason Republicans in Congress are not helping Americans? They know additional relief is needed to avoid national misery. They want that misery, not relief, to be identified with the administration of Joe Biden. The Republicans in power do not believe Trump will win.

Yes, this is callous nearly to the point of incomprehension, but Republicans in Congress have become the party willing to sacrifice the institutions of democracy and welfare of Americans to achieve their goal of hanging on to power at all costs for as long as possible. Which means ignoring the plight of the American people in the midst of a pandemic and economic meltdown.

The surging stock market means nothing to working Americanss. The waitress with two kids doesn’t have a 401K, she doesn’t even have a job. The guy stacking apples at the market is not investing in Apple. The 70 year-old breathing hard while struggling to help customers at the hardware store is as likely to own Amazon stock as he is to paddle down the Amazon.

Republicans know this. Republicans in Congress know they could help the people of America, they know that Americans need help as millions have lost jobs and with those jobs, lost health insurance. They know Americans need health care.

But Republicans in Congress do NOT want relief to come during an administration with a Democrat in the White House. They want the misery to stick to Democrats, they want to be able to blame “socialism” (which is a lie), and they sit on their hands rather than do what they can to help Americans because they believe Trump will lose.