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Remembering Ken

It’s been 10 years today since my friend Ken Kesey passed away.

It is unfathomable to me that is has been so long.

So many things have happened…. and so many conversations that haven’t since then because he wasn’t around to discuss and/or pontificate about them.  I often find myself thinking about  a current event and say to myself “I wonder what Ken would have to say about that…?”  Iraq, Afghanisatan, Obama…Tea Party, bank bailouts, Occupy Wall Street…and more close to home, the fact that his nephews are playing on the Ducks football team.  I’m sure Ken would have had a lot to say on all of the above and more.

There’s nothing I love so much as a good rollicking discussion/debate about current events, and Ken never disappointed in that realm (if you had the stamina to keep up with him once he got rolling).

Ten years ago I wrote a message to friends on the day of Ken’s funeral.  In it I talked about how I felt he would be missed most by the kids in his life as Ken often had a special connection with them.  My kids…and his grandkids…would look at Ken with eyes full of wonder…this big, barrel-chested man with the wild frizzy hair who would spin tales of squirrels tricking bears or his encounters with animals in the wild…and the kids would be entranced.

Ten years later….many of those kids are off in college now.  My older daughter Sofia turned 19 today and is on an exchange program in Chile.  My younger daughter Isabel is about to turn 15 and is in high school.  For Isabel, Ken is iconic in her life, but when asked, it seems her real world memories of Ken have faded…much to her parents dismay.

DAMN….I wish he had stayed around longer.  Not asking for much…just a few more years…long enough for my girls to have gotten a better hit off of Ken the person…not Ken the icon…Ken the faded memory…

So maybe I was wrong….maybe it wasn’t the kids who would miss him more.  They missed OUT, to be sure…but it may have been us…the older folks who would miss him FOR our kids.  WE know what they are missing out on, not having him around…Ken the Prankster…Ken the teacher…Ken the magician…Ken the loving Grandfather, Uncle, friend…

But I guess it is always this way with the ones you love.  You end up wishing for just one more conversation…one more thing to share….one more memory to hold on to…

Yes, it’s 10 years later and I still miss that guy.

-Patrice

ps. – Below  is the original message I sent to my friends back in 2001 (also later reprinted in the book “Spit in the Ocean #6 – All About Kesey”)

IT’S THE KIDS

By Patrice Mackey

11/15/2001
So I just spent a day mourning, celebrating, and helping bury this unusual friend of mine, Ken.

I saw his other friends and family. We hugged each other. We wept together. We joked together. We shook our fists with anger at our friend for leaving us too soon.

66 years old.

24,161 days and nights.

Too few.

I figured out that I knew him for about 4,736 of those days & nights.

Still too few.

While he certainly was famous…I knew him outside of that fame. I knew him as a father to his kids, a grandfather to Caleb, Jordan, and Kate, and a beloved surrogate uncle to my two kids.

The kids.

It’s the kids, I think, who will miss him the most. The grownups he knew had a chance to experience him time and again. Each of his kids, nieces, and nephews has a million stories they could tell about how great he was to play with when they were growing up. But the grandkids only got a glimpse.

When the pallbearers carried his tie-dyed coffin out of the theater where the public memorial was held, my 9-year-old, Sofia, broke into uncontrollable sobs. Ken’s mom, Geneva, had been holding up pretty well until then, but when she saw Sofia she broke down too. When my 4-year-old, Isabel, heard that he had died, she went to the kitchen table and came back five minutes later with a picture. She said, “This is Caleb and Jordan crying ’cause they miss their granddad.”

Ken was a writer, a performer, a prankster, a hardheaded sonofabitch, and a lot of other things. He was famous for many of them. But if you wanted to see this man at his best, it was with children.

Once, at an event at the Fillmore in San Francisco, the “Psychedelic-Era Reunion party,” he saw Sofia (then about 5) in the crowd and went right over to her and took her hand and walked around admiring the scene with her. When the photographers asked him to come over to the ‘posing area’ for a shot, he and Sofia walked over and sat down together. When one of the photographers said, “Little Girl, could you move over so we could get a picture of Ken?” you would have thought he had asked Ken to cut off his right arm. Ken was incensed at him for suggesting that Sofia should move an inch just so this guy could get a “better” shot. He only said a few words to him, but the message was clear: She doesn’t have to move an inch. You can take a picture or not. That’s up to you. The photographer shrunk down to about 14 inches tall and backed off right away. He was quickly replaced by the noted rock photographer Jay Blakesberg, who took this picture:

So it’s the kids I feel the most for. Ken was a purveyor of wonder. Some audiences he had to work pretty hard to show them that wonder. Kids, I think, were easier. Either way, when he hit you with it, it stayed with you.

I’ve spent the last few days reading every one of the 1,945 email messages that have been sent to his website. I’ve watched the visit counter roll on past 50,000 hits since Saturday morning when he passed on. I’ve read how he’s touched people who never came within 1,000 miles of meeting him and still were profoundly moved by something he wrote, something he did, or something they’d only heard that he did.

It’s not a lot of people who can move so many that way.

I’m gonna miss that guy.

Honoring those who risk their lives for us….

Today…

As I write this, a little window in the corner of my computer screen is showing the funeral of 4 slain Oakland Police officers live from the Oakland Coliseum.

At the same time, I am finishing up the planning for a going-away party for a friend & work colleague who is heading to Iraq in the upcoming deployment of his unit of the Oregon National Guard.

This juxtaposition of events has me thinking…..

I grew up in a left-of-center household during the 1960s. I became politically aware at a time when our society was undergoing some significant upheaval. The Civil Rights and the Anti Vietnam War movements had been challenging the moral authority of ‘the Establishment’ for the first decade of my life. The Norman Rockewell image of the friendly beat cop had given way to the much different images of the police from 1963 Birmingham and 1967 Chicago as brutal, armed protectors of the political establishment.
Cops were now ‘the Pigs’ and the American Soldier was no longer the brave WWII liberator, but were being chastised as pawns for taking part in conflicts that were not of their making or their
choosing.

Coming from that beginning, sometimes I have to make an effort to overcome some of the prejudices instilled from that era….to remember that not all cops are out to bust heads ….and
not every soldier is a jingoistic ignorant kid who is either to poor or too dumb to know better than to get sucked in by some predatory recruiter.

Sometimes it is hard to avoid the stereotypes…especially when, for example, the same week as we are honoring the slain Oakland Police officers, another story regarding a police encounter comes to light:

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/032609dnmetcopstop.3e9c080.html

A police officer detained an NFL player in a hospital parking lot while the player’s Mother-in-law died inside the hospital.

While there are always different perspectives to any story, from my viewing of the video, the officer in Dallas who detained Ryan Moats seemed more interested in imposing his authority than
dealing reasonably with the situation. These are the stories that strengthen the stereotypes rather than help us overcome them.

<sigh…>

Over the years I have known policemen and women whose only desire in taking the job was to help and serve their community, NOT just for gaining the power that some seek in that position.   And
I also know some incredibly intelligent, caring people, like my friend James, whose decision in joining the military came from a deep-seated belief in participatory democracy, and
from not wanting to let ‘others’ do the hard work in his name…

Yet, sometimes my own instict is to fall into the trap of viewing the police through an adversarial lens….and to view those in the military as ill-informed at best….even though I know this is not always true.

So, as the words from the friends, family and colleagues of officers Dunakin, Romans, Sakai, & Hege come to me across this little screen, I shed a tear for the senseless loss of life.  And as I prepare to say goodbye to my friend James who his heading for Fallujah soon, I pray for his safe return.
Finally,  I write this note to remind myself and others that there are brave and good people who put their lives on the line each and every day for every one of us….and this is an amazing and admirable thing.  It is a thing we should never take for granted.

And we should be eternally grateful.

-PEM

539w2

Lessons learned… (thoughts on the passing of a classmate)

One of the things that the reconnecting with old friends via Facebook has provided to me has been the opportunity to reflect on the many different relationships I’ve had over the years…both good and bad.

A few months ago, I was reminded of one of those relationships and an important lesson that I learned from it many years ago.

In August of last year, I was reading through an online newsgroup when a name caught my eye. Timur Michael Otus. The name was on a message containing an obituary:

“OTUS, Timur Michael. Born December 13, 1964. Timur passed away on Friday, August 1, after a long and difficult struggle with his illnesses.”

The combination of the recognition of the name and then the shock of seeing it as an obituary notice hit me like a slap in the face. And immediately brought back a vivid memory.

Timur and I had been friends back in high school in Berkeley. He was a few years younger than me and we were both involved in the performing arts department. We were part of a larger group of friends who hung out around in and outside the Performing Arts Department building even when we weren’t in class. We would hang out on the steps outside and goof around at lunch…singing songs…memorizing lines for the next play, or just speak to each other in Shakespearian accents, etc.

So Timur and I were friends….until we had a falling out. I started dating a girl who was a friend of his from dance class. And shortly after she and I started dating…well, things went sour. Whether it was jealousy, or what….he became a bit of a bother to us. He seemed to zero in on us whenever we sat together….he seemed intent on never letting us have any alone time, always butting in and not stopping bugging us when we asked him to give us some space. If she and I would sit together at lunch, he would come up and say to her, “Hey, let’s practice that dance routine we learned in dance class yesterday!” or some such. Always interrupting us and seemed to purposely try to keep us from just enjoying each others company.

And when we tried to approach him and have a serious talk about it, he blew us off and acted like he didn’t know what we were talking about and then just kind of laughed it off.

Tim’s behavior really began to weigh on me. I couldn’t figure out why this person I thought was my friend could be such a..pest… The way he was dealing with our asking him to stop behaving that way (or rather didn’t deal with it) really, really started pissing me off….and a few days later, after another attempt by me to try and reconcile, and being rebuffed by him in a particularly snarky way…I was fairly livid.

A short time after our final discussion about his behavior, I was standing in a hallway in the school theater, and he came walking past me. When I looked at him as he was passing me he looked at
me and smiled and laughed a funny little laugh.

I saw red.

Then I decked him.

Full on slugged him….punched him right in the face.

… and he went down like a ton of bricks.

To be honest, I don’t remember actually hitting him…I just remember being so incredibly mad at him for being so childish and his smiling at me as he walked by put me over the edge. What I recall was…one
moment I was standing there being furious and the moment next my fist was just past his face and I was realizing that I had just punched him.

I couldn’t believe I had just hit him.

My friend G. was a few feet away and had seen the whole thing. “I can’t believe you just hit him”, he said, covering his mouth to hide the grin on his face.

I had not hit many people out of anger in my life before that incident…

Sure I had had a few scuffles here and there, the “part of growing up” kind of fights that were really not more than shoving matches….but I could count on one hand the number of serious physical confrontations that I had been part of up until then…and I still wouldn’t have used all the fingers on that hand to do so.

But since that day almost 30 years ago I have not hit another person out of anger.

Not one.

This was the lesson I learned in that one moment. While I had a fleeting moment of…what?..Satisfaction? Gloating? Power? That all was immediately erased by the knowledge that whatever his sins had been against me, NONE of them made what I had just done right. And my being about twice his size made it even more egregious to me.

I stood there for a moment and realizing that there were some folks who saw it happen who had no idea there was any prologue…all they saw was me, out of the blue, decking Tim. To them it seemed like a totally uncalled for act of violence. And in the moment I felt the need to try and somehow justify what I had just done….so I yelled something to the effect “I TOLD you to leave us alone!” and then walked off in what I hoped looked like righteous indignation.

My friend G. was still laughing when I caught up with him and he patted me on the back and said all those ‘guy’ things about how cool and tough I was, etc., but his words rang hollow to me. I had just done a totally f-cked up thing and I knew it.

Afterwards, there was a stink for a bit: I nearly got kicked out of the play I was in (had to profusely apologize to the school and to Timur and his parents) and Tim continued to be a bit of an ass to me…and now had some ammunition for it…but time passed and things calmed down. A few years later we saw each other and the animosity seemed like it had gone by the wayside along with the growing realization that much of what we thought was so terribly important back in high school, really wasn’t, in the greater scheme of things.

Later on, I heard bits and pieces about Tim through friends….I knew that he had continued in the theater…in college….and in the regional theater…and then as time went on he became just one of those many people in your life who slowly faded into the past….albeit he was one who I had an interesting story about, and who had had a certain impact in my life, even if it had nothing to do with his intentions. Tim was part of what made me far more pacifistic on a personal level than I had ever been before our altercation. And he did it not by anything he said…but just by being there for me to punch.

So…that’s the story. Someone from my past died. Someone I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. And my world reacts to the ripple of his passing.

Sad.

Sadder still to hear that he had been struggling with his personal demons and in the end the demons won.

Rest in Peace, Tim.

I’m sorry…and I’m grateful…for the lesson you taught me one afternoon many years ago.

-PEM

Timur in 1981

Welcome….

Ah well,

What with my joining the ranks of the Baby Boomers on facebook, I have found myself encouraged to join the ranks of that most popular of creatures on the internet, the bloggers.

So, here…for those who care to peruse my occasional pontifications, is my blog.   I hope that you find something interesting, or at least entertaining in the missives I post here…and whether you do, or not, that you will take a moment to comment so that I get some insight into whether my pontifications are worth sharing.

So…

Enjoy (hopefully)!

-Chef Juke