Tag Archives: Laura Grimes

Five Years at the Opera with the Large Smelly Boy

Mixed-media collage by Laura Grimes
Mixed-media collage by Laura Grimes



It’s been only five years since I took the Small Large Smelly Boy to his first opera? It’s already been a whole five years?

During that time I’ve thought frequently about the post I wrote after I took him to Portland Opera’s double bill of Pagliacci and Carmina Burana in fall 2010, when he was 12 years old. At least a few times every year I think about writing an update: What’s he doing now? Did it take? What’s happened since then? How old is he now? Did that first opera change his life like all the ta-DUM-ing in the post?

That whole event back then seemed like just life. A night out on the town with my lad after he took out the trash. A quick documentation of a special occasion. But I had no idea how much it would resonate and grow long-long legs and, well, if not change the course of history, then at least skew its trajectory just a bit.

Continue reading Five Years at the Opera with the Large Smelly Boy

Pickle swaps. Remember those?

Apple crisp, hot from the oven.

By Laura Grimes

Shhhh! Be vewy vewy qwiet! Maybe I can sneak in here when Mr. Scatter isn’t looking. Won’t he be surprised?

Won’t you?

I thought I could sneak in when Mr. Scatter was on the road, but dang if he didn’t crack the wi-fi code at the secret hangout. Then I thought I could sneak in when he was busy scraping together a paying gig, but dang if he wasn’t a prolific typerboy on the side.

So now I’m interrupting Mr. Scatter’s regularly scheduled blog fodder (what I call “the thoughty bits”) to bring you the scatter part (I’ll refrain from calling it “the ditzy bits”).

Continue reading Pickle swaps. Remember those?

Journalism and poetry: Is a new romance in the air?

By Laura Grimes
Today is the last day of National Poetry Month. Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of my last day at a large daily news organization. So it seems only fitting to reimagine a new, inspiring era of journalism … that incorporates poetry.


For more than half my life I was a journalist. At least that’s the occupation I wrote on insurance applications and medical forms. But in the beginning it just seemed like one paycheck away from my real occupation: a big liberal arts question mark.

When I was fresh out of college and looking for work I vowed I would never work for a newspaper. I hated being pressed to finish term papers, why would I subject myself to deadlines every day? But I loved the whole messy process of publishing and had ever since I walked into Mrs. Wallis’ yearbook class my junior year of high school. The pull was still strong. After college, a quick accounting of publishing job options revealed:

  1. Literary magazines, tops on my list at the time, had no paycheck.
  2. Glossy magazines meant moving to New York.
  3. Book publishing ditto.
  4. Leaving the idea of working for a large daily newspaper really appealing.

So at a once-large publishing company in Portland, Oregon, my love affair with newspapering began, slowly at first, but eventually growing into a deep passion. The job taught me to work with speed and economy.

Continue reading Journalism and poetry: Is a new romance in the air?

First comes love, then comes marriage …

... then comes baby in the baby carriage.

Mr. and Mrs. Scatter know all about the sacred naming process.

In a recent post, Mr. Scatter waxed beautifully about William Faulkner and H.L. Mencken, Sir Toby Belch and some guy named Flem. As Mr. Scatter put it:

“Naming was a serious and sometimes flowery business. … Naming is an almost mystical occasion, an assigning of an intensely personal yet communally meaningful identification for life.”

Mr. Scatter is not kidding. This is a seriously important matter to him. And he’s serious when he says that his grandfather’s name was Virgil Homer Hicks (who married Lizzie Lou Willingham).

Before Mr. and Mrs. Scatter’s firstborn came kicking and bleating into the world they had to wrangle with the Little Matter of Naming.

They began to notice the name tags on waiters and to sit through the entire credits at movie theaters, straining to catch every name that scrolled up. They yelled out road signs. Vader Ryderwood! They suddenly remembered long-lost relatives.

One day while Mrs. Scatter reached over her big belly
and rummaged in a cupboard for Maalox, Mr. Scatter got a far-off gleam in his eye and said, much too sprightly, “How about Virgil Homer Hicks?”

Mrs. Scatter, cursing the child-proof cap on the container, was surprised and a bit proud of her husband’s wry humor and was about to cut loose a big loud snort of approval when Mr. Scatter sighed and said, all too wistfully, “It’s too bad my grandfather already has that name.”

Mrs. Scatter was still smiling, thinking the follow-up was a nice touch and her clever husband was playing this one beautifully with just the right tone of mock seriousness. She finally flipped the lid off the container, poured a few chalky tablets into her hand and put one on her tongue. She was about to reward Mr. Scatter and let out one of those long carefree chortles when Mr. Scatter said, with a genuine note of lament, “It just wouldn’t be right to take the same name.”

Mrs. Scatter stopped and stared at her husband. She popped another Maalox. “You’re serious!”

“Of course. The great Greek writer and the great Latin writer.”

All at once Mrs. Scatter:

  1. Desperately wanted a do-over.
  2. Was immensely relieved her husband insisted on being original.
  3. Didn’t want to think about what would happen if the name hadn’t already been taken.
  4. Prayed there was still a joke in there somewhere.
  5. Worried for her husband’s safety.
  6. Wondered why she didn’t vet her partner’s naming process before the house and furniture and marriage and, oh yeah, FAT SWOLLEN BELLY.


Friends recommended trying out names, as in imagine yelling them at the top of your lungs in a crowded grocery store. Everyone now. Try it with me:


Hmm. I’m not sure that does it for me. Let’s try this one:


Still no luck? You get my point.


Dear Aunt Janet,

Thanks loads for the baby name book. It will join the fray to come up with The Perfect Name. I can’t wait to find out how Bob will use this latest weapon to good – and devastating – advantage. He still thinks Homer Horatio Hicks will look great on that first book. I think he’s equally excited that the initials would make a great cow brand. Maybe God will deliver me before I deliver this baby.



Mr. Scatter couldn’t help but read out loud not only every name but also every meaning of every name. He read name after name, meaning after meaning, page after page.

“Charlotte. Little and womanly.” What do you think about “Charmaine. A Latin clan name?”

“It’s not bad, but it sounds like a brand of toilet paper.”

He wasn’t daunted. “Chloe. Greek. Young, green shoot. Cynthia. Greek. Goddess from Mount Cynthos. Cleva. Middle English. Hilldweller.”

“What do you think about Jessica?” I dared burst in.

“I’m not there yet.” He didn’t even turn his nose.

“What do you mean you’re not there yet? Can’t you turn a few pages?”

“I’m only on the C’s right now. Did you know that Claudia, a Latin word, was a clan name that probably meant ‘lame’?”


“Hadden. Old English. Hill of Heather. Hadwin. Old English. Friend in War. What do you think about Hadwin?”

“No, Honey.”

“Haig. Old English. Enclosed with hedges. Harden. Old English. Valley of the hares.” Harden Hicks. Or maybe Harden Hadwin Hicks. Hadwin Harden Hicks? I know. Harden Haig Hicks: Valley of the hares enclosed with hedges.”

“Honey, I’m trying to watch the pregame show.”

“Heathcliff! Middle English. A cliff near a heath.” Heathcliff! What do you think about that?”

“It sounds too much like ‘Wuthering Heights.'”

“People this day and age probably think it’s a cartoon cat. You don’t like Heathcliff?”

“Honey, the game’s on.”

“What game?”

“You know. The game we paid for? The game we rushed to finish dinner so we’d be able to watch?”

“You don’t like Heathcliff?”


The alarm clock blasted its nasty beep, and Mrs. Scatter groggily staggered to the shower. The comforting water began to lift her haze. She felt secure, assured in her little space, her senses cocooned by the pelting water, the warm steam and the whir of the ceiling fan. She turned off the shower and wrapped a big, fuzzy towel around herself.

“PRUNELLA!” A voice boomed through the door. “A small plum! That ought to be a good one for when the kid’s old and wrinkled!”

Mrs. Scatter shook her head and breathed deeply. “What’s the difference between a plum and a prune?”

“I’m not sure. I always thought a prune was a dried plum, just like raisins are made from grapes. But then those long skinny plums are called Italian prunes.”

“Look it up!”

“I’m not there yet.”


Of course we finally came up with The Perfect Name. In fact we liked it so much the first time, we used it again. You don’t have to imagine yelling it in a crowded grocery store. We did one better than that. We just quietly hit publish and told it to the world.

Large Smelly Boys.

Heaven help them if they ever find out what their dad really wanted to name them.

My fellow Scatterers: the state of the blog

English: Lithograph by Edward W. Clay. Praises Andrew Jackson for his destroying the Second Bank of the United States with his "Removal Notice" (removal of federal deposits). Nicolas Biddle portrayed as The Devil, along with several speculators and hirelings, flee as the bank collapses while Jackson's supporters cheer.

On this very day two years ago — on February 8, 2008 — a fine strapping lad was loosed upon the world, and immediately started yawping. Yes, its name was Art Scatter, and it was born right here in river city: in Puddletown, Oregon, brave bubble of liberality, Do It Yourself center of the universe, fearless exposer of itself to art, curious keeper of the weird.

Call us sentimental, but we’ve been thinking a lot about our friend Art, this thing we call a blog. For one thing, why is it still here?

A lot of blogs burn bright for a while and then flame out. Many are simply places to vent steam, or casual public diaries, or vanity projects. Well, almost all, including this one, are the latter at least to a certain degree. After all, nobody’s making any money out of this thing.

English: Father Time and Baby New Year from Frolic & Fun, 1897Art Scatter has changed a lot over its two years. It was the brainchild of Barry Johnson, my friend and longtime arts section compatriot at The Oregonian, who was looking for a way to explore new approaches to journalism outside of the print world. Barry brought me and his friend Vernon Peterson, a lawyer and talented literary critic, into the project, which was planned to be not too taxing on anyone because there would be three people to fill the virtual space.

Life moved on, and both Barry and Vernon departed for other projects. That left me wondering what to do with the thing, and wondering, sometimes, whether I was letting it eat up far too much of my time. In a very real sense my wife, Laura Grimes, saved the blog when she began to post her own witty and moving observations, eventually under the nom de plume of Mrs. Scatter. How could I not keep Art Scatter going? I was fascinated by how Mrs. Scatter’s adventures were going to turn out. Besides, she injected a bracing shot of humor into the blog, the humor that I have known and loved for more than twenty years.

Martha Ullman West, the noted dance critic who had written a couple of pieces for us, began to contribute more, and that added to the conversation. But I realized that if the thing was going to keep going, it was going to be largely up to me.

So. Why was I doing this?

  • First, writing’s a habit. I do it reflexively, if not always reflectively. Just can’t seem to help myself.
  • Second, it’s fun.
  • Third, it allows me scope to write about a lot of things in a lot of ways that were rarely possible during my years in daily journalism.
  • Fourth, it keeps me connected to my community and allows me to have a voice in a few things that go on in this little corner of the world. Good lord, I’ve made friends through this thing!
  • Fifth, it helps me discover my post-newspaper writing voice. I can feel that voice waking up inside me, gradually realizing that it’s no longer bound by the newspaper straitjacket unless it chooses to be. I can hear it trying out new things, even whooping it up now and again. Good for you, voice. Let ‘er rip.

Slowly, mostly accidentally, the blog has developed its own personality. The characters of Mr. and Mrs. Scatter just sort of announced themselves. The Large Smelly Boys pushed their way into the mix. OED, the Older Educated Daughter, made brief visits. We talked about word games and secret societies and oysters on the half-shell. The League of Tough-Guy Arts Observers had its brief day in the sunshine and then wandered off to sleep in a cave: perhaps it’ll wake up and elbow back into the action again. We found we were able to be serious, and flip, and amused, and reflective, and serious and amused again, and somehow get away with it. We began to take a very broad view of just what the word “culture” means.

I’m sure Art Scatter will continue to evolve. It’s already changed in surprising and often delightful ways. It’s opened doors. I know people will drop in and out. Mrs. Scatter’s day job has been busy lately, and I’ve been missing her brilliant reports. (I’m sure you have, too.) Can’t wait for them to return.

And I’ve become convinced of one thing: The blog has to work with my writing career, not against it. I love the freedom and scope that Art Scatter gives me, and I love that it lets me try things out with a regular and forgiving readership. But I also need to make a living, and I do that by writing. This is not a hobby. It’s what I do. So if Art Scatter is my professional exploratory laboratory (and also the locus of a great deal of my pro bono work) I want it to look professional.

Which brings us to Modern, the new design theme that we’ve adopted, yes, today. And which wraps up this semi-impromptu State of the Blog address. Thank you, my fellow Scatterers. Good night, and God bless.


Illustrations, from top:

  • Not Mr. Scatter delivering his State of the Blog address. Edward W. Clay’s lithograph celebrates President Andrew Jackson’s destruction of the Second Bank of the United States with his “Removal Notice” (removal of federal deposits). Well done, Andy! Wikimedia Commons.
  • Not Baby Art Scatter. Father Time and Baby New Year from Frolic & Fun, 1897. Wikimedia Commons.

A Screenplay with a Sweet Subtext, in One Act

Mr. and Mrs. Scatter, together again

The Pantsless Brother (TPB), who was so concerned about Mrs. Scatter overexposing his predicament about getting gas out of his pants, recently said, “So you haven’t written for a coupla weeks.”

Charles Deemer commented on Mr. Scatter’s recent post about – in no particular order – hairy beasts, barista whelps, a little town some miles south of Portland known to locals as “San Francisco,” and Harrison Ford’s tendency to shout in irritation.

What did Mr. Deemer say? To quote: “I don’t know of a blog with a sweeter subtext. I want to write the screenplay.”

That led Mr. and Mrs. Scatter to ruminate about what subtext he could be talking about. Meeting hairy beasts in the woods? Meeting barista whelps? A glitzed-out hotel in San Fran? Yelling dialogue?

Ah, sweet mystery of wife!Mrs. Scatter preferred to take the more romantic view and suggest the sweet subtext just might be relying on blog comments to send a message to her far-flung long-lost husband to pick up milk on the way home.

It’s true. Mr. and Mrs. Scatter have been toiling lately in diverse locales and occasionally blowing kisses to each other through the windows of passing motorcars. By coincidence, just yesterday, Mr. and Mrs. Scatter were going in separate directions to hobnob with blog buddies – Mrs. Scatter to have coffee with MTC and Mr. Scatter to have lunch with MUW.

As Mrs. Scatter stood in the shower with warm water cascading over her back and the soft hum of the fan filling the air, she thought about how much she appreciated the few precious minutes she had with her beloved husband before hightailing it out of the house.

She began to wonder what a screenplay with a sweet subtext would look like. She began to wonder if it was possible, without giving too much away, to share a rare behind-the-scenes peek of Mr. and Mrs. Scatter, of the delicate nuances of their romantic tryst, of the all-important underpinnings of their strong marriage.

Mrs. Scatter tried not to think of the baskets full of clean laundry sitting in the middle of the living room and tried not to wonder whether Mr. Scatter would have time to fold it or whether she would have to strong-arm the Large Smelly Boys. Instead, she tried to imagine a sweet, sweet subtext.

And then, as if on cue, as if the screenplay were writing itself, this absolutely true, completely unaltered exchange happened. Mr. Deemer, we are so here to help you.

(This dialogue has not been edited for brevity or clarity. This is reality blogging, people. Normally, the dialogue would be upper- and lowercase, but that’s just not the case here.)

A Screenplay with a Sweet Subtext, in One Act

Silence, except for the gentle sound of streaming water and the soft hum of a fan. Steam envelops the elegant bathroom with clean, monochromatic colors and antique tile floor. A skylight frames a cheerful view of blue sky and bare tree branches swaying ever so slightly in the breeze. A bluebird flits from branch to branch.


Heard from a long way off behind a closed door. (Incoherent blah blah blah.)

Startled, MRS. SCATTER rinses shampoo from her face.




Heard through the door, closer this time. SOMEONE SCREWED UP THE KITCHEN LIGHTS AGAIN!






Reaching for the conditioner. GO AWAY! THAT DOESN’T MATTER!

Clomping footsteps heard retreating from the bathroom door.


(Harumphing grumbles.)




Heard from afar, like a faint echo, from a bit down the hall. WELL, OF COURSE! WE’RE MARRIED! WE GOTTA AGREE ON THAT!


— Laura Grimes

The Write Brain Initiative: How to refuse the muse without really trying


I’m reluctant to write this.

Gregor Reisch, 1512. Margarita philosophica nova cui insunt sequentiaBut I’ve been fingered by Mighty Toy Cannon, one of my favorite blogforthers (sorry, I have others, too, though I don’t have so many that on ethical grounds I would be obligated to disclose them to my primary care doctor). The jig’s up. MTC said in a recent comment that he had just been wondering where I’d disappeared to.

I’ve been mostly out of town and handicapped by a dodgy internet connection. Which is just fine with me because I fully admit I had planned to disappear for a while. Until at least September. And my little off-the-grid plan would have worked if it hadn’t been for Writer Brain. I have distinctly told it to SHUT THE HELL UP, but it refuses to listen, which entirely ticks me off.

Writer Brain kicks off voices in my head. I know there’s medication for this sort of thing, but the only remedy for my particular syndrome is a full dose of typing fingers.

Fortunately, it has only taunted me lately with goofy, farfetched and absolutely true accounts about plunging and bras (though, unfortunately, not at the same time).

I knew I needed quiet time and summertime, balm time and … fermenting time.

But then words dance in my head and realign and won’t SHUT THE HELL UP.

Sure, they make me laugh. Sure, they make me want to sleep with my computer (I’m not confessing that to my primary care doctor any time soon, either). But – I know this is pathetic – I don’t want to be responsible for them.

I’ve said this before: I have as much discipline as a red balloon on a breezy day. And I want to keep it that way. I want to play on the beach and read and rediscover the fact that I have children.

My small large smelly boy recognizes the affliction when it comes on.

He says, “I’m hungry,” and I steadfastly continue typing, my eyes fixed and glowing as one with the screen. He says, “Mommy, it’s time to get out of bed.” He says, “Mommy, what are you mumbling?” He says, “Mommy, there’s a pedestrian.”


Sure, I’ve done the type-when-I-have-to thing. But this isn’t one of those times. I don’t need to muscle my way to any deadline. So what is it, then?

Could it be a … muse? Aren’t those suppose to be women frolicking in Grecian gowns? Let me make this absolutely clear: the bad noise in my head is not wearing a toga!

Why are muses always considered to be women, anyway? Is that sort of like boats? Why are boats female? Is it because old-timey sailors were always men and they needed a bit of estrogen along to complete the family picture?


Writer Brain is such a cad, sifting and sorting through several story threads at once. What might catch its fancy?

And yet, I’m relieved. It’s landed only on funny lately, teasing along choice bits until they’re good and ripe and pack just the right punchline.

But there’s something else there, too, something bubbling up from the yeasty depths, well below the frothy head.

What is that? I don’t want to know yet. I need more fermenting time.

So forgive me if I don’t blogforth for a while. I have a headache.

— Laura Grimes

Mrs. Scatter’s day of whine and roses


Report from the wine-tasting front:

David Lett. Photo: Ron Zimmerman/2005Yes, the large, smelly boys bickered in the backseat.
No, we won’t take them again.
Yes, we will lock them in the dungeon next time.
Yes, the dungeon has an escape hatch.
Yes, I typed that to avoid the scrutiny of child protective services.
Yes, in the valley, the people at the next picnic table ate watermelon and Twinkies.
Yes, we spotted Twinkies again at Eyrie Vineyards.
Yes, Benjamin Franklin came up three times on the trip.
No, I can’t explain these mysterious patterns.
Yes, we left the large, smelly boys in the van while we sipped wine.
Yes, we left the windows cracked.
Yes, I typed that to avoid the scrutiny of child protective services.
Yes, the 2007 Eyrie Chardonnay Reserve is worth the drive.
Yes, only time will tell how the 2007 pinot noirs measure up.
No, my wine palate is not sophisticated enough to predict squat.
Yes, we heard a lovely story from Jason Lett, winemaker of Eyrie Vineyards since the 2005 vintage and son of Eyrie founder and Oregon winemaking legend David Lett, who died last October:

Jason was in a Portland wine store when the guy told him he had a bunch of wines he needed to unload. They turned out to be a cache of Sokol Blosser wines from the mid-1980s, including the legendary 1985 vintage. He took them all and took them to Susan Sokol Blosser, who nearly cried because much of Sokol Blosser’s wine library had been depleted.

Ben Franklin in fur hat, 1777/Wikimedia CommonsNo, a wine library isn’t where you get a special card to check out what you want.
Yes, it is a catalog of sorts of a winemaker’s wines.
No, it isn’t available to the public and doesn’t come with large, solid lions on the front steps.
Yes, tasting the 2002, 2003 and 2004 vintages of Eyrie pinor noir was worth the drive.
Yes, those are the last vintages that David Lett … um … made?
Yes, a trio of those wines in a special box will set you back $210.
No, Mr. Scatter should not be in charge of buying wine.
No, Mrs. Scatter should not be in charge of buying wine.
No, funeral homes should not have Welcome signs (truly sighted).

Yes, herewith, a prized behind-the-scenes peek at an in-depth editing discussion between Mr. and Mrs. Scatter:

Mr. Scatter: Are you sure you don’t want to say “stinky?”
Mrs. Scatter: No, I like, “smelly.”
Mr. Scatter: You do like “smelly,” don’t you?

— Laura Grimes

A toast to loved ones, here and beyond

Dionysus, Roman, second century/Prado, Madrid. Wikimedia Commons


Mrs. Scatter, concerned for her blog-overburdened husband (always nameless), offers a relief pitch …

It’s Memorial Day weekend. Let us toast the memory of our dearly departed by sipping wine in the gorgeous Willamette Valley, where wineries en masse open their doors and uncork their bottles for just a few days. It’s a rare opportunity to glimpse the cellars of many small producers.

Mr. Scatter and I used to jump at the chance on this holiday weekend to head to McMinnville and Eyrie Vineyards, which used to be open only Memorial Day and Thanksgiving weekends. Now, to our delighted surprise, Eyrie has a tasting room that’s open noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. This weekend Eyrie will pour several wines from 2007 without Oregon winemaking pioneer David Lett, also known as Papa Pinot, who died last October. Eyrie winemaker Jason Lett, David’s son, says 2007 is a vintage that, if harvested just right, will be similar to the epic vintages of the 1970s, the ones that put Oregon pinot noir on the world stage. Time will tell. We might have to taste them for ourselves, while they’re young and we knew them when.

How to deal with our own young, though?
I am growing increasingly convinced that all my childcare needs could be satisfied if only I had an ex-husband. A friend is in the valley for the weekend sipping wine. Another friend regularly flies to San Francisco. What to do with their grade-schoolers? Oh, that’s right, they have exes. My current first husband (nameless) says that’s what starter marriages are for. You know, breed and bail. I somehow missed that trend. Wine-tasting and scenic rolling hills just don’t have the same romantic appeal with large, smelly boys bickering in the backseat.

But this is a weekend to remember loved ones, here and gone. Perhaps the promise of a picnic and some flying football will be the ticket to wine country. Happy Memorial weekend. Toast and be merry.

— Laura Grimes

Happy 200th birthday, Abe — honestly!

A bouquet for Abe/Laura Grimes

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday, and as you might have noticed, he’s been getting a lot of press lately.

Books, books, books about him. Revisionist theories, counter-revisionist theories, bunkings and debunkings and outright frivolities such as Christopher Buckley’s spoof of Lincolnmania at The Daily Beast.

We don’t mind. We like Abe.
(I know, I know: We’re supposed to like Ike. He’s looking better these days, too.) And we especially like the little private celebration that occurs every year on this date at the Lincoln statue in downtown Portland’s South Park Blocks, near the Portland Art Museum. That’s where Friend of Scatter Laura Grimes discovered this bouquet of thanks this afternoon and quickly commemorated it with her cell phone, a year to the day after one of our very first posts, also on the subject of Ms. Grimes’ encounter with this selfsame statue. Thanks, Laura.

And happy birthday, Abe. Thanks for the guidance. We’re still trying to get it right.