Old Portland

Hand2Mouth Theater recently held a funeral for “Old Portland”, with a handful of folks delivering a eulogy for the city Portland once was. It made me wonder what I would say, which made me realize I’ve already said it. I host the Moth StorySLAM every first Monday at the Secret Society Ballroom. My job is to choose ten storytellers’ names out of a hat to tell their story. At the top of the show, I begin by telling my own. I told this a few months back and thought I’d share a written version of it here.

After I graduated college I moved home with my parents for the summer, worked three jobs and saved up enough money to move cross-country.

A few days after arriving in my new city a few friends from college who had arrived there first invited me to the movies.

There was a second run theater just 8 blocks from the group house most of them lived in.

So we walked over and bought our tickets, a mere two dollars apiece, and were about to buy popcorn when a fistfight erupted from a Friday the 13th sequel.

It was an even fight, two on two, all four men, but one duo had the emotional support of a screaming lady friend.

We watched from the snack counter as the pair with the cheering section beat the other pair senseless.

As is usually the case with fights that happen off screen it was over in seconds. And in what felt like just a few seconds later cops burst into the theater lobby.

Curiously, they didn’t bother to ask my friends and I or even the cashier what happened.

They asked the winners, the two guys who could still stand and form a complete sentence.

“They started it,” the victors explained. Their lady friend attempted to appear impartial and seconded their assessment with a vigorous nod of her head.

So the cops got the two guys who were semi-unconscious to their feet and loaded them into their squad car.

My friends and I felt like we needed a few moments to think on what we’d just witnessed so we walked around the block.

Once we did, unsure of what else to do, and having already invested two dollars each, we returned to the theater and took our seats as Kevin Costner stood on the bow of a massive ship, and peered out at water, water in all directions.

The movie was, of course, Water World.

The year was 1995.

The city was Portland, Oregon.

And the theater was the Laurelhurst; although a good many years before it was renovated and beer taps were installed.

Some folks might have decided they had made a mistake moving to such a place after such an evening.

Not me.

I’m no fan of violence, but it was confirmation that this wasn’t a college town, or a city of privilege. This was a place full of people from all walks of life.

It wasn’t before too long that I found a house a mere three blocks from the theater, besting my friends in proximity by five blocks.

I didn’t see another fist fight for two years. And when I did it was between two friends attempting to add some drama to what had become in their minds a too tame house party.

But I saw a lot in those first few years of living in Portland that I liked.

I watched a lot more movies, and even helped make some. I had moved to Portland largely because Gus Van Sant was here, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I was delighted to find a thriving film scene and meet other aspiring independent filmmakers to collaborate with.

The art scene was strong, with a community of well-established galleries but also plenty of non-represented emerging artists, many of who would soon become friends, finding unconventional spaces and curating shows of their own.

PICA was forming, which would play a huge role in opening my eyes to what art could be, and the development of my own career.

Everyone I met seemed to be publishing a zine, and the indie music scene was incredible. I saw shows five, six nights a week, almost always a few local bands opening up for a touring one, and usually never paying more than $5 to get in.

And those were just the pockets of subculture I was attuned to.

There was high culture too; the art museum, the Japanese Gardens, the opera and the symphony were all here.

And the homegrown businesses that Portland is known for nationally, companies like, Nike, Columbia, and Wieden+Kennedy, were in full force.

We even had tech. The term Silicon Forest was already in use and I can remember meeting friends of friends who would sheepishly admit over a pint of PBR at My Father’s Place that they had briefly been worth millions of dollars before their stock options turned worthless.

Some might argue we didn’t have the food culture we have now, but I’d disagree. We didn’t have as much as we have now, but there was craft beer, wine and coffee and plenty of amazing restaurants.

While I seldom treated myself to more than a three-dollar burrito, twice I was offered a meal at any restaurant of my choice, with a visiting uncle and then later with Los Angeles location scout generously offering to pick up the tab. After asking my adult friends for advice I chose Higgins and Wildwood respectively and the meals were the best I had had up to that point in my life.

But we also had something we don’t have anymore.


The city wasn’t full. Which meant you could rent a house for $650 and move with 4 friends and no one had to work a full time job.

It meant there were enough clubs and spaces and empty storefronts that in order to put on an evening of entertainment all you needed was an idea and word of mouth to bring a crowd. And if that was too much trouble, you could just put on a show in your basement.

A few weeks after our adventure at the movies my few friends and I started to meet new people and hear about events that weren’t listed in the paper.

We heard about a sports show at an all-ages space. It wasn’t a sporting event; it was an art event about sports.

We went. Although fashionably late, being used to rock shows that usually started an hour after their promised start time.

We walked up a flight of stairs in an old warehouse and found 100 kids, which is to say folks in their 20s and 30s dressed in ratty shorts and t-shirts like me, watching performances and skits about sports.

It was shocking. All these people here, to see something that didn’t fit any category of entertainment I knew of. (Although in retrospect it was maybe the first performance art I ever saw.)

Back then Portland’s scene was small enough I would eventually get to know a lot of the people in that room, and half of them would all be at the same house party on a given Friday or Saturday or even Tuesday night.

For years I told anyone that would listen I was going to move somewhere else in a year. But I never shaved any months off; the impending move was perpetually a year away.

It wasn’t laziness; I was having too much fun. I wanted to move somewhere else and meet new people and have new adventures, but how could I when I was making movies, and playing in bands, and meeting new people where I already was, including the woman who would eventually become my wife. And am I glad I stuck around long enough to meet her.

We did move eventually, Susan and I to Los Angeles. But we kept a room in a house here, knowing we’d frequently be back. After all, where else were going to get married than in Portland, driving south all the way back down the 101 to LA for our honeymoon.

Our time in Los Angeles was good, most especially because it made us fall in love with Portland all over again. We moved back in two years.

It’s been 20 years to the week since I moved here in the first place. Portland has changed a lot.

The area around 28th and Burnside is a pretty iconic example.

The movie theater is still a movie theater, but a much nicer one.

The grocery store across the street is New Seasons, full of organic produce and deli cases of beautiful food. Back when I lived around the corner, it was Food Value, which we called Food Valu since the E had fallen off the sign. It had plenty of groceries, but most people skipped the not so fresh fruit and vegetables and cruised past the rows of canned food for the beer at the back of the store.

Across the street on the South East corner there’s a new apartment building that houses a high end Thai restaurant, an optometrist and a Portland inspired gift shop on the first floor. Back when I lived around the corner it was Fairly Honest Bill’s and The Hungry Tiger 2. The former was a great place to find just about any kind of junk masquerading as an antique you could think of, but signs throughout the store made it clear bargaining of any kind of would not be tolerated. The latter was a lively bar with a diverse clientele known for it’s all-day sipper, a vast cauldron of alcohol that came with 8 straws, and in as many different combinations of low shelf liquor.

I’ve eaten at the Thai restaurant, got my eyes checked at the optometrist, and bought my wife a Christmas present at the gift store. And I much prefer shopping at New Seasons to Food Valu (although I’m a Fred Meyer man first and foremost).

If I’m honest with myself, I’m complicit in Portland’s change. I wrote the ads for Travel Oregon for 5 years. I encouraged people to come. While there’s a certain TV show, a left leaning newspaper out of New York City, and plenty of other factors including the fact that Portland is amazing that made people come more and faster, I helped. And I, like many but not all Portlanders, have benefited from our city’s explosion.

But I also miss what was Portland was.

Walking around Portland back then felt like you were in the middle of an Elliott Smith song. Because you were, his songs were describing the place and the people and what it felt like to live here.

When I hear his records, the first few especially, I remember that sense of space. Not just the emptiness of empty lots and buildings you weren’t quite sure what was inside of. But there were also just a lot less people. You could walk down almost any street in town without having to move to the edge of the sidewalk every half a block. It felt, to me, 3000 miles away from everything I had ever known, that there was enough room to be whoever you wanted to be.

I loved that feeling.

But as I’ve come to learn not everyone did.

This summer my wife I were walking down Division Street.

Division’s transformation between 30th and 38th is on a short list of the most transformed stretches of Portland.

When we decided to move back from Los Angeles we purposefully chose the area. It still resembled the street Elliot Smith sang about, there was a new restaurant with great Thai wings, but it was still the place to get ball bearings and industrial grade cleaning supplies.

Today’s it’s a restaurant corridor so revered USA Today recently named one of the top 10 neighborhoods to eat in America. It’s not unusual to hear three different languages spoken in as many minutes.

As my wife and I walked, marveling at yet another new apartment building being built and wondering what businesses it’s first floor would attract, we passed a couple of contractors.

They were both wide men, taking up most of the sidewalk and too immersed in their conversation to tighten up to make room for us to walk by.

As we ducked under tree branches single file on the grass beside the sidewalk we heard a snippet of their conversation, scripted so perfectly it read like a screenplay.

“What was this area like before it changed?” one asked.

The other, the one who had seen the progress and was probably partly responsible for it, furrowed his brow as if trying to conjure up an image of Division past, and then after a very pregnant pause declared, “A ghetto.”

A ghetto?

Aside from the fact that it’s an offensive term, it felt like such an inapt description for what had been there before.

Like many neighborhoods labeled with the term, the area had been home to people who lived there and loved it. Home to thriving local businesses, and folks raising families and everything else that makes up a neighborhood that might not be rich in tourism but has enough to keep the people living there happy.

In that moment I realized that the Portland I fell in love with and didn’t see anything wrong with, was seen very differently by other people.

Where I saw movies to make, and streets to bike down and learn about and people I wanted to meet, they saw an eyesore, and profit margins to realize.

They saw the junk shops and the dive bars and the grocery stores that mostly sold beer and industrial cleaning supply suppliers and fistfights coming out of Friday the 13th whichever number it was, and thought it needed to change.

And so it did.

Posted in Opinion | Leave a comment

How much do you pay for your news?

I just read this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine cover story, The Kansas Experiment.

It begins as a profile of a state senator working to make Kansas a zero income tax state, and then chronicles the legislative session in which he and his colleagues attempt to balance the budget without destroying K-12 education in the face of much lower than expected tax revenue.

The author, a Kansas native by the name of Chris Suellentrop, does an admirable job of making the details of tax package debate palatable and easy to understand.

But even better, he attempts to give the readers of a liberal newspaper a deeper understanding of why these conservative politicians are attempting to eliminate income tax.

Namely, in the face of mass exodus from the state, they hope lower taxes will spur new business and bring companies looking to relocate to Kansas.

What allows the author intimate access, and makes the anecdotes he peppers into policy talk so interesting, is that the state senator he profiles is his uncle.

It’s a wonderful piece of journalism because it didn’t just entertain or inform me, it gave me a new understanding of how people that I don’t agree with think.

I also got a thrill from realizing that not only do I know and collect the photographer who took the photos for the piece, Portland artist Holly Andres, but I also have corresponded with and bought a piece of art from Paul Windle, half of the design team that illustrated the magazine cover.

It reminded me why I love getting the New York Times delivered on Sunday.

And it got me thinking about where I get the rest of my news.

Besides once a week delivery of the Times, I get a magazine called The Week which sums up the past week’s news very much like a website aggregator, but comes printed and in the mail.

Other than it, it’s Facebook.

I get whatever my friends share. Or whatever Facebook thinks I want to see of what my friends share.

Which tends to be the same story or stories on the same subject for about a day or two straight.

Sometimes real journalism fights it’s way into the top of my feeds. But too often I see a link to a piece about what someone who has no business running for president said in an effort to remind us he has no business running for president.

I miss balance and breadth in my news cycle.

When I was growing up we got the paper every day. We also got Time and Newsweek and lots of other magazine. Often we also watched a television program called The News.

Even just five years ago my wife and I got the Oregonian every morning, and the New York Times on Sunday, and had as a dozen magazine subscriptions.

Now we’re down to once a week newspaper and a magazine.

Our monthly news bill is about $20.

That is the sum total we pay for journalism and reporting.

You know, reporting, where someone actually leaves their computer and travels outside their comfort zone and talks to people and covers things and relies on first hand experience and observation and testimony.

Don’t get me wrong; I like opinion pieces, so much so that I’m writing one in the form of this blog post. But in order for people to properly form opinions they need real reporting to inform them.

A good piece of journalism might take weeks or even months to research and write. I’m sure The Kansas Experiment did.

And because so few of us are paying much for our news, there’s a lot less money going to fund this kind of work.

Now I realize journalism is mostly supported by advertising, not subscriptions. But what newspapers and magazines can charge for advertising is directly linked to subscriptions. Or more recently page views.

And I know, because I work in advertising, that advertisers pay a lot more for ads that go to subscribers than ads that are viewed on free websites.

So I’ve decided to pay more for my news.

We’re going to get the New York Times every day, and the New Yorker, and Portland Monthly, and maybe the Economist and maybe a few more.

And at my wife’s urging I’m going to like the New York Times, LA Times, and Washington Post on Facebook.

That way they’ll get more subscriptions and page views, which will help their advertising, and hopefully I’ll get more of what they want me to see.

And hopefully less of that guy Facebook keeps reminding me is running for president.

Let me know if you have any other suggestions.

Posted in Business | 1 Comment

Dear Mayor Hales and City Council

I’ve been thinking a lot about how Portland is changing. I figure the city leaders must know many of us feel like the city is growing too quickly and leaving some folks behind. But maybe they don’t. After all, I’ve never told them how I feel. So with a city council meeting on the books for tomorrow, one in which much of what I’ve been thinking about will be discussed, I sent this note out to them today.

Dear Mayor Hales and City Council,

I’ve met a few of you before.

Mayor Hales, we met at the opening reception for the “We Build Green Cities” video a few years back. Soon after that, I showed you around Wieden+Kennedy, so you could learn about the agency’s unconventional school, WK12, and the Portland Incubator Experiment. Your curiosity and interest in what the tech community needed in order to grow impressed me.

Mr. Fish, we have spoken at numerous Harper’s Playground events and I always appreciated how eager you were to hear my thoughts on the city.

For the rest of you, I appreciate the hard work you do on behalf on Portland. And I’ll quickly introduce myself.

I’ve lived here in Portland for most of the last 20 years. I’ve been involved in the art community, the film community, and most recently the advertising community, where I’ve been lucky enough to work with Travel Oregon and Travel Portland. In fact I came up with the idea for, and wrote, the 7 Wonders of Oregon campaign.

I have also taught at PSU, I host most of the Moth storytelling events here in town and do some auctioneering for non-profits I believe in, as well as my daughter’s elementary school, Abernethy.

Which is to say I’ve been lucky enough to come in contact with a wide spectrum of Portlanders and while I can’t speak for anyone but myself, I think there are lot of people who are feeling the way I am. So here goes.

I love Portland.

I love that we’re an epicenter for zines and the performing arts, and food and drink and urban planning. I love how as a city we figure out how reuse and recycle not just cans and bottles but cruiser bikes and old buildings. I love how many unique local businesses we have and support. I love how we’re a city that feels like a big town and I love how nice and friendly the people are who live here, how open-minded and unafraid to be themselves.

That said I’m loving it a little less than I used to.

I’ve always been a supporter of build up, not out. But it feels like we’re building up and filling in so fast that our city is changing very quickly.

I can stand in my front yard and see three massive houses being built where modest, affordable middle class houses once stood.

I live near Division and 32nd, so I’m in the heart of it.

But it’s happening all over Portland. Heck, it’s happening all over America.

I know this transformation has positives for the city.

The construction industry is booming and new businesses with good jobs are being created and moving here, which means a higher tax base, so more road improvement and public transportation and better schools.

But I also fear we are losing some of what makes this city so amazing.

Our famously livable city is becoming less livable. Traffic is worsening which is annoying, but also dangerous.

Just this past weekend there were two pedestrians hit in our neighborhood, one at 31st and Division Friday night, another at 32nd and Division on Saturday minutes after the Division/Clinton Street parade ended and with dozens of kids right there, including my own.

(And let me remind the bike and transit advocates that traffic affects bikes and bus schedules as well.)

Portland is also becoming a lot more expensive.

So much of the new housing being built is high-end and it’s often being built where more affordable housing once stood.

Artist studios and small businesses are making way for new developments.

As a result, many of the people who have made this city so interesting and distinct are becoming disenfranchised and are being pushed out. It’s affecting artists, service workers, teachers.

I hear many of them ask can I afford to stay? Do I want to?

But I also hear concerns from my older Richmond neighbors, the ones who were born into and grew up in the houses they still live in.

What happening to my neighborhood? Why are the builders of these big new houses so disrespectful of everyone who lives nearby?

It’s difficult for folks to have to consider moving from somewhere they love and helped shape.

But I also fear it could spell trouble for the city.

If Portland becomes less livable and we lose too much of our unique culture and diversity, we’ll stop being a destination for tourism and businesses looking to relocate.

I’m not opposed to change. It’s inevitable and it can be good.

Personally, I like all the new restaurants and shops on Division, but I also like the old businesses that have managed to hold on.

And I’m pro-growth.

In fact we’re turning our garage into an ADU for my mother-in-law, doing our best to work with neighbors, recycle as much wood as possible and match our house, working with BDS to meet every requirement and code.

I just hope we can change and grow in ways that work for all Portlanders and don’t change our city so radically we lose what makes it’s special.


I have a few things I’d like to ask.

Very specially I’d ask that you consider ensuring that “lots of record” and “lot remnants” be removed from the section of the Zoning Code that covers single dwellings (Title 33.110)

My understanding is this will slow down the lot splitting that incentivizes single family residential demolitions.

More generally I’d ask that you to do anything in your power to promote the building and saving of affordable housing.

I think this is so important to Portland’s future.

And I’d ask that you continue to find ways to make cross streets like Division and 32nd safer. We got a notice that work is going to be done to make the area around 26th and Powell safer, which we’re thankful of.

Finally, what can I do?

How can I, and others like me, help Portland grow and change in a way that is more inclusive and enjoyable?

I really do love this city. I can’t imagine a better place to raise my kids and grow old.

But I also find myself asking my wife where the next Portland is.

And I really want to stop asking her that.

Thanks for listening, and I’m eager to hear any thoughts.


Andrew Dickson

Posted in Business | Leave a comment

I can turn $205 into $1000 and so can you.

There’s a catch, right?

Yes, of course there is. You have to live in Oregon.

Here in Oregon we have something called the Oregon Cultural Trust. It’s basically a legal money-laundering scheme that helps you help the arts.

Here’s how it works.

Donate up to $500 to any Oregon arts and heritage non-profits organizations you love.

Anything from PICA to Disjecta to the IPRC to Friends of the Gorge to the Oregon Zoo, or better yet spread your donation to some combination of. The full list of 1300 plus eligible groups is on the Oregon Cultural Trust website here.

Then you give a matching $500 donation to the Oregon Cultural Trust.

They’ll distribute the $500 you give them to the entire group of organizations they support around the state.

So you’ve given $1000 to a host of wonderful organizations. Good on you.

Then come tax time, you can take the $500 Oregon Cultural Trust donation as a full tax credit. You get the entire $500 back, every last cent of it.

And then, assuming you itemize your deductions on your schedule A (as opposed to taking the standard deduction), you get a tax deduction on the entire $1000 you gave on your federal taxes.

If you’re like most folks you pay 25% in federal taxes. So that’s another $250 back!

And you can take a tax deduction on the $500 you gave to arts organizations on your state taxes.

So in addition to getting the $500 you gave to the Cultural Trust back you’ll get another $45 back assuming you pay 9% to Oregon.

So all told you’ll get the $500 plus the $250 plus the $45.

Giving you a $795 tax refund in April. Even more if you make the big bucks and are in a higher tax bracket.

So for only $205 you’ve given $1000 to help make this place a place worth living in.

That’s insane!

Show you me any other way to quadruple your money in a few months and I’ll show you a Ponzi scheme.

Which I know this sounds like. Or one of those crazy tax loopholes that corporations use to get out of paying taxes. Which it is.

But this one is for us. For ordinary Oregonians to make a difference and support film and dance and kid’s painting classes and the symphony and history and so and so forth instead of subsidizing factories or sports arenas.

And check this out. If you’re a couple filling jointly, you can double up.

You can contribute up to $1000 to arts and heritage non-profits, and another $1000 to the Oregon Cultural Trust.

So you outlay $2000 now. But get the $1000 to the Cultural Trust back in April on your state taxes. Plus get $500 back on your federal taxes, and then another $90 on the arts donations on your state taxes.

So for only $410 you’ve given $2000.

Now keep in mind $500 for individuals and $1000 for couples are just the maximum amounts you can donate to get the full tax advantage. You can give lower matching amounts and still get the same tax advantage. Anything helps.

And it gets better.

You can donate to a lot of wonderful arts groups as well as the Oregon Cultural Trust through Willamette Week’s Give Guide.

Not only is it super easy, you’ll also get awesome free stuff donated to you from their partners. Stuff like Stumptown coffee and Widmer beer and the Chinook Book and so on. They’ll even drop them off at your door if you like.

So go! Get giving.

You’ll feel good and you’ll never know just how much it means to these organizations to get a donation.

Extra credit: Find out if your employer has a matching donation program. If they do, you might just be able to help your favorite non-profits out with an additional $500 or even $1000.

Posted in Business | Comments Off on I can turn $205 into $1000 and so can you.

Fatherly Advice

It’s Father’s Day. Happy Father’s Day to me.

If you’re a dad, or you like dads, and want to spend an evening with dads and non-dads alike, thinking about dads, and eating some awesome food cooked by Olympic Provisions, I recommend coming to the Association tonight.

It’s a new dinner series at Union/Pine here in Portland that pairs a different chef or restaurant with a different speaker every month.

Tonight, I’ll talk for about 15 minutes about fatherly advice between the salad and main course.

Having attended last month’s dinner, I can tell you it’s a pretty awesome evening. Cocktail hour lasts for an hour, with drinks courtesy of Merit Badge, then dinner is a leisurely hour and a half to two hour affair with multiple courses and dessert.

It’s also a great mix of three or four dozen folks. Last month I was alone so I waited for a table of six to fill up to five and grabbed an empty seat, and I ended up sitting next to this guy, who is an absolute charmer.

What with the food, and the conversation and the wine and cocktails, it more than justifies the price. Last I heard there were still a few tickets left here.

If you miss out, or have other plans, keep it in mind for next month or the months after that.

And I’ll follow up and post the essay I’m going to base my remarks on tonight in the next few days.

Posted in Business | Leave a comment

38 Things

Big thanks to the Urban Honking Television team for turning my 38 things I’ve learned in 38 lecture into a lecture video.

I turn 39 this week, so I’m in deep meditation on the 39th thing. I’ll let you know when I have it. Although technically I have the whole year, right?

38 Things from Team Video on Vimeo.

In other news, I’m blogging but less here and more on my new advice blog, co-hosted by Yours Truly. Get in touch with us if you need some.

Posted in Business | 2 Comments

Bill Veeck

When I was living in Los Angeles, a director mentoring my writing partner and me asked how old we were. Early 30s was our collective reply.

He nodded his head. “So, you got the next 10 years to make your mark.”

It made sense at the time. After all, this idea that you need to fully realize your career potential and arrive in your given field before you get too old is everywhere. Hollywood, we were often told, is a young person’s game. So too is advertising. The earlier you go to medical or law school, the sooner you’ll make enough to pay back all your debt.

But it’s important to remember that careers are made at all kinds of different ages.

Joseph Conrad didn’t speak a word of English until his 20s and didn’t write in English until his 30s.

Clint Eastwood didn’t start directing until his 40s.

Vaclav Havel didn’t become a politician until his 50s.

Colonel Sanders didn’t start his chicken franchise until his 60s.

Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until her 70s.

I’ve got a reminder that age doesn’t have much to do success in my own family.

My Dad has been a writer since he graduated from college. He spent his 20s and most of his 30s writing for magazines and business journals. He published his first book, the Electronic Battlefield, in his late 30s. It talked about things like the Internet way back in 1976. It was a critical success, but didn’t sell so well.

So he spent the next few decades writing a few books a year. He wrote joke books, books about language, dictionaries, baseball books, a book about libraries, a book of toasts and books on just about anything else that interested him and he could sell.

Years later, after my brother and I were out of the house and out on our own, he started writing books that took years instead of months to write. He started writing history. He wrote a book about Sputnik that put Eisenhower’s role in the space race in new, nobler light. He wrote a book about the bonus army of WWI veterans who train-hopped to Washington DC to lobby Congress for their wartime bonus in the midst of the Great Depression. Incidentally, the movement started here in Portland, Oregon, before growing to include thousands of veterans from across the country.

The Sputnik book was turned into two documentaries. One that ran on PBS, the other that had a theatrical release. The Bonus Army had Hollywood production companies lining up to option the book.

After a very prolific, successful career, my Dad was hitting new heights in his 60s.

This spring, now into his 70s, he published arguably the best book of his career. It’s an biography, his first, of the maverick sports owner Bill Veeck.

It’s an absolute pleasure to read. It’s about the man himself, a marvelous character sports seems to breed too infrequently. And it’s about baseball, of course. The game itself played on the field, but also the games and politics played at owners’ meetings and in clubhouses behind closed doors. It covers the integration of baseball, the beginning of free agency, the expansion to the West Coast, and the balance between sport and entertainment, all of which Veeck played a starring role in.

Ultimately it’s a revealing and thoroughly entertaining slice of history of America in the middle of the 20th century.

Okay, sure, I’m his son. So don’t take my word for it. Take the Oregonian’s, the Wall Street Journal’s, or the Philadelphia Inquirer’s.

And if you’re reading this, live in Portland and are free tomorrow, Thursday night, come on down to Powell’s and hear my Dad’s words yourself. He’ll be reading, telling stories, answering questions and signing books on the top floor of the downtown store at 7:30.

Posted in Business | 1 Comment

Rain Dragon

I heard about Jon Raymond soon after moving to Portland in 1995. I came here to make a movie, and Jon had just made one. A feature based on the newspaper comic strip Crock. He shot his live action version of trails and tribulations of the hapless French Legion unit out in Sun River, using his friends as cast and crew.

I wanted to meet him. And since this was back in when Portland felt small I met him without much effort a few weeks later.

When I made my own feature film, about high school kids into fantasy role-playing games, I followed his example and used my own friends as cast and crew. I asked Jon to play an Orc for one of the epic battle sequences. He eagerly agreed, and played his Orc with both menace and dignity.

We cemented our friendship, I think, when we were featured in a Willamette Week article concerning young creative people in town. During the photo shoot we both naturally migrated to very back of the herd of 20 or so 20 something’s, farthest from the camera lens. Jon easily persuaded me to join him in slyly giving the camera the finger, which meant that we while were included in the article, we went missing from the front cover.

In the intervening 15 plus years I’ve watched Jon mature as a writer and artist. He’s written books, screenplays that have gotten produced, a few more I’ve had the privilege of reading that haven’t, and last year collaborated with Todd Haynes writing the Mildred Pierce HBO miniseries.

I’ve just now had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of Rain Dragon, his new novel about a couple that moves to Oregon to work on an organic farm.

After telling him how much I loved the book, Jon shot back that I might be the perfect audience for the book.

And I suspect I am. For starters, I’m the kind of person who thinks working on an organic farm is ripe for comedy and satire, but I also kind of wish I had spent a year working one.

I’m also a fan of wonderfully well-written prose that’s evocative and lyrical, but isn’t afraid to be crass on occasion to make a point, all of which the book is. I also appreciate that the story is set in our world, not some literary construct. There are pop culture and contemporary references that not every reader will recognize, but that make the book real and relevant.

I also love how much Rain Dragon is about place. It’s about Oregon, physically, and anyone living here will recognize the landscape he describes. But it’s also about Oregon spiritually; the pioneering spirit and rugged independence are central themes.

But the lights really clicked on for me when I heard Jon being interviewed by one of my students, Boaz, on the pedal powered talk show.

Jon talked about how he felt envious of authors like Walker Percy and Graham Greene who incorporated their Catholic upbringing into their work, until he realized he had a faith of sorts to bring to his own work. Not a specific religion, but more as he describes it the “vibrations, synchronicity, and magical thinking” that informs the various belief systems and approaches to work and life folks experiment with out here.

He had my attention. As some of you know I’ve embarked on a side career in life coaching. I recently took a 2-day intensive course called Foundations for Coach Leadership, and this past Thursday I conducted my first client session. I had one another Friday.

Rain Dragon’s second half concerns itself with the organic farm’s foray into organizational management training, which is essentially corporate life coaching.

It’s safe to say the book arrived in my hands at the right time, or in the vernacular of Jon’s book, an instance of perfect synchronicity.

While I am now even more obviously the ideal audience, I think the book has a lot to offer everyone. There’s love, there’s loss, there’s drama, all the good stuff that make us turn the pages of a book.

But the organizational training aspect is what makes this book really unique. Not just for anyone interested in coaching, but anyone interested in how companies work and how the most innovative ones have captured our imaginations.

The workers of Rain Dragon put the employees of a timber company through a series of two-day encounters. They ask the corporate officers and middle managers of the timber giant the same questions every large, thinking corporate organization has been asking itself over these last few decades.

What kind of a culture should a company create? How do you get the best ideas out of our people? How best to optimize potential, improve morale, and resolve conflict? And ultimately is it enough to create a product or provide a service or does a company need to stand for or mean something bigger?

There are as many answers as there are CEO’s. But the answers West Coast companies are coming up with seem to be the ones getting all the ink. Think about Keen, Nike, Whole Foods, Umpqua Bank, eBay, Craig’s List, Amazon, Google, Instagram, even Wieden+Kennedy, where I work.

Think about Apple.

The same hippie capitalism that Steve Jobs and the founders of so many of these companies are playing with is, at least to me, the central concern of this book.

If you, like most of the reading world, has read or is reading the Steve Jobs book, read this book. Let me see if I can express that as more of a back of the book blurb.

“Rain Dragon is the literary companion to the Steve Jobs biography. It’s a rare and enlightening window onto the process of self-examination that happens when a company challenges it’s self to think about it’s self.”

Well done, Jon. I loved it.

Posted in Art | Leave a comment

Mike Daisey and Me

Surely, you’ve heard something about Mike Daisey over the past few days.

In case you haven’t, or haven’t been paying close attention, here’s the quick recap.

Mike Daisey, heir apparent to Spalding Gray, created a monologue called “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” based on his visit to Chinese factories to see how Apple products are made. He’s brought the show to festivals and theaters across the world.

NPR adopted the show for This American Life. They made it clear to Daisey that the show had to be truthful. Mike said it was. The show soon became the most downloaded episode in the show’s history.

Mike Daisey quickly superceded performer and became the public face of Apple criticism and a media darling.

Then NPR realized Mike hadn’t been so truthful after all. And This American Life retracted a story for the very first time. This past weekend’s episode is some the most riveting radio I have ever heard.

Since coming back on This American Life to discuss what happened with Ira, he has decided he’s not wrong after all. It’s complicated, he argues.

But Google news “Mike Daisey” and you’ll see he’s mostly, but not completely, alone in this view.

What struck me most about my reaction to the controversy is how quick I was to judge. But then I began thinking about my own shows.

It might be a stretch to call Mike Daisey a contemporary of mine. He is the most talked-about and one of the hardest-working performance artist around, while I’ve been hiatus for a few years. But we’ve shared billing at the PICA TBA festival. We both use monologue as our medium. And we’ve both made corporations the subjects of our work.

I’ve made three full-length shows, all variations on the monologue, two of which involved the blurring of fact and fiction.

The first was called An Evening with Bradlee and was completely fictional. I played an invented character with an invented story. I claimed to be a new age dot.com refugee who moved to Oregon from the Bay Area looking for a fresh start and cheap rent. It was comedic, but it was also a way to talk about and get people to think about xenophobia in a different way.

What did the audience make of it? Well, they knew my name wasn’t Bradlee, and that I was playing a character. And I assumed they knew this was an invented story, but I was surprised by how the audience assumed that parts of the show were true. Californians asked me where in California I was from, and were disappointed to hear I wasn’t. Rather than being dismayed by it, I was actually delighted. I liked the reaction so much that my second show was created expressly to make people question what was true and what wasn’t.

That subsequent show, AC Dickson: eBay PowerSeller, was born out of my own experiences. I was a PowerSeller for years, making most of my income selling collectibles. When I performed my show, I was giving people good, helpful information about selling on eBay. My stories were true, and I used my own name.

But I told these stories in such a way that suggested I might be lying, or making it all up. I was purposefully suspect. I looked, sounded, and acted like someone trying to sell you a juicer at a county fair.

Adding to this ambiguity was my thesis that becoming an eBay PowerSeller was important not just for individuals but also for humanity as a whole. Clearly, this was an exaggeration, but I used facts, statistics, and theories to back up my claim. The entire monologue was told earnestly, but I also played the room for laughs.

The show was 99% true as far as the facts went, but greatly exaggerated as far as my opinions. I delighted in how different people interpreted what I was doing. Some audience members assumed it was all made up, others that there was just a kernel of truth. Even good friends who knew I sold on eBay assumed I had made a good portion of it up. On the other end of the spectrum, I had people who came to later shows with pen and paper, taking copious notes on the practical advice and looking on with confusion during the more motivational bits.

So far so good, I think. But then there’s the matter of the show’s finale. The climax of the piece was 5 of my own eBay auctions finishing right before the audience’s eyes. Spaced to end a minute apart, we watched as the bids jumped from $5 and $10 to $50 or even $100 in the closing seconds. It was in these moments that people, regardless of whether or not they believed me, came to believe in the power of eBay.

For the initial run at the PICA TBA festival those auctions were completely legit. I had hoarded some antique toothpick boxes that I knew from experience would get bid up drastically in the closing minute. But as the show started to tour, I had to find new items that I hoped would create a last-minute bidding frenzy. As time wore on, I started to enlist some help. I had people throw a last minute bid or two in there. I manufactured some drama.

I lied. But to me it’s more of a deception. You see how easy it is to rationalize?

I could argue that I was no longer making auctions jump from $10 to $100, but more like $17 to $25, as if the amount matters.

I could argue that I didn’t feel remorse. But I bet Daisey didn’t either, at least not until he got called back onto This American Life.

I could argue that if anyone asked I was honest, I might have gotten a little help, I’d sheepishly admit. But certainly some people left thinking these bids were legit.

Although other people left thinking the entire live-auction part of the show was a complete fabrication that I had somehow created in PowerPoint.

Clearly, Mike Daisey erred in allowing his work to be used on This American Life. The question is did he err in his stage show.

My discretion, I think, pales in comparison to Mike’s. He claimed to have met people he didn’t, and claimed some of the people he did told him things they never said.

And yet if Mike’s biggest crime concerns, as New York Times columnist David Carr put it, the question of “Is it okay to lie on the way to telling a greater truth?”, to which David emphatically answers “No.”

Then is my infraction so different? I was using false pretense to convince my audience of the power of eBay.

Would I do things differently in regards to those auctions? Not before the Daisey story broke. Now, I might.

But more immediately I’m thinking about this issue in regards to a new show I’m developing. Yes, dear readers, a new show is afoot. Without spilling the beans, it’s a show that, like my previous performances, will be designed to make the audience question what’s real versus what’s invented or facetious.

I’m expecting, and even counting on, the audience questioning my intention, credibility, and the validity of techniques.

Do I owe the audience the courtesy of letting them know I’m intentionally confusing them beforehand? And does this blog entry count?

Or will doing so, to quote a character at the heart of the Daisey story, take some of the “magic” away from the experience?

Posted in Art | 6 Comments


Failure has been a mantra where I work, at Wieden+Kennedy, for much longer than I’ve worked here. Dan Wieden has preached failure from the start. So much so that a few years back W+K 12 made a massive pushpin wall that reads “Fail Harder.”

The current class, whom I teach, recently added an extra “er” as part of an abecedarium project they created to introduce themselves to the agency. We no longer just fail harder, now we fail harderer.

Recently I’ve been hearing about a lot of other businesses and corporate cultures that are preaching the virtues of failure. I’ve heard it discussed on NPR’s Marketplace, and have read business leaders talk about it in the New York Times.

Failure is in. Or maybe it always has been and I’ve only recently started paying attention.

Either way, embracing failure makes sense. You learn more from failure than from success. Some success can be replicated, but usually once an idea has been done right, that particular road to success is closed. Although the producers of Friday the 13th may beg to differ.

Failure, on the other hand, shows us where things went wrong and why something didn’t work. We tend not to fail the same way twice.

And yet I’ve had a hard time embracing failure in my own work.

Having advertising campaigns killed is one thing. I joke that advertising is a lot like baseball. If your average getting ideas sold and produced is over .300 you’re doing pretty well. If it dips down to .200 start worrying about a trip to the minors. Even if you’re hitting a Hall of Fame worthy .400, that still means more ideas die than ever see the light of day.

And that’s okay. Advertising campaigns are collaborations with a multitude of factors going into whether they get made or not.

But a bad personal or art project is a different matter altogether. There is no one else to blame. Any project I take on is only as good or as bad as I make it. Even if I have collaborators, I have chosen them and we are starting with my vision.

I have made some nice films, had created a few very good performances, and done some writing I’m quite proud of.

But a few years ago I made a film that is simply mediocre. I’ve only just now gotten around to sharing it. Here’s part one.

The Shandy Man, part 1 from Andrew Dickson on Vimeo.

As you might have noted if you just watched it, the idea was good. A forty year-old guy sets up a lemonade stand on the grass between the sidewalk and street outside my house. I attempt to get him to leave. Hilarity, I reasoned, would ensue.

The cast and crew I enlisted were great. I cast my friend Bill Bailey as the lemonade salesman and a very good cameraman donated his time to film it.

I got a great editor too, a NYU student interning at Wieden+Kennedy over the summer, who did the best with what he had.

The problem was the script. Or the complete lack of one. I had a good enough idea that I figured we’d just wing it. You’d think I’d know better. I don’t tend to wing things. And I’ve written half a dozen feature screenplays, each which took the better part of a year to write.

But years earlier Bill and I had made a series of short films with another friend, Steve MacDougall, in which we winged it. We had a loose idea, we went out and filmed it, and amazing things happened. I figured we might catch lighting in a bottle again. We didn’t.

See how that works? What did I learn from my early, easy success? Not much. If anything it taught me I could do something I couldn’t, at least not again. It made me cocky.

What did I learn from the more recent failure? Something I already know but will never make the mistake of actually doing again. Movies are only as good as their story. The old adage goes that a good story can survive bad acting but good acting can’t save a bad story. And without a script there’s not much of a story to save.

Are there some chuckles? I think so. Am I proud of enough to share them? You already know that I am. In fact, here’s part 2.

The Shandy Man, part 2 from Andrew Dickson on Vimeo.

But what could have been great or really good, was simply good, or as I said before mediocre.

Nonetheless, I’m finally sharing them.

Partly it’s a way of owning and acknowledging my failure. Partly I’m curious if I’m not being just a tad hard on myself and these get some views and passed around a bit. I also think it’s only fair to share the fruits of others’ labor when you do a project and ask people to donate their time and talents.

But mostly, I just want to own up to failing, share what I’ve learned, and move onto new and hopefully better things.

In the meantime, here’s the 3rd and final part.

The Shandy Man, part 3 from Andrew Dickson on Vimeo.

Posted in Business | Leave a comment