Tag Archives: Rainy North Woods

Going native on the Oregon Coast: a hair-raising tale

Tonight is the gala Dance United in Portland, the all-star benefit to help get financially ailing Oregon Ballet Theatre out of its fiscal sinkhole, and under any other circumstances I would be there with bells, cheering the dancers on.

13733bBut on Wednesday the large smelly boys were paroled from a nine-month sentence in the Portland public school system, and Mrs. Scatter and I had a longstanding deal to whisk them to the Oregon coast to the four-way-split shared getaway we’ve been holding in our own tenuous economic grasp for close to 20 years. And on that subject, just one question: What sort of fool would pay actual money for a share of a piece of property in the shadow of a place called Cape Foulweather?

So here I sit, staring at the oddly quiescent cape (the sun is out, sort of), with a copy of Vince Kohler‘s Eldon Larkin mystery Rising Dog at hand, thinking about this shaggy stretch of oceanfront I’ve come to love. Not that I get out here very often. Regular readers may recall this post about Vince, a kind of forgotten hero of Oregon literature, and his shambling news-hound hero, Eldon, as introduced in the first Larkin mystery, Rainy North Woods.

Rising Dog (the title comes from the curious case of a mutt that’s been run down by a 14-wheeler on busy U.S. 101 and then seems to have risen from the dead) came in 1992, and like the late and lamented Mr. Kohler’s other mysteries, it really ought to be better-known.

Eldon’s stretch of the Oregon Coast, though mythical (there is no actual Nekaemas County), runs south of these parts, nearer Coos Bay territory, where life is less touristy and more hardscrabble, although Newport this week seems in desperate want of those recently disappearing city spenders. Wall Street has not been kind to small towns that rely on the whims of visitors.

Still, I feel I must pass on this description of life in the mythical Port Jerome on a rare day when the rains have ceased and the sun has come a-wandering in:

“The sun had drawn the town’s population from hiding. That was the worst thing about good weather. In the streets were women fifty to eighty pounds overweight, squeezed into blue jeans or blue or white knit polyester slacks. There were stringy, hard-faced men in grubby denims and crushed, grimy baseball caps. There were potbellied salesmen with long sideburns and lined, pouchy faces, and adolescents reveling unaware in their brief season of physical beauty before declining into the sleazy hardness of their elders.”

As I sit here I am wearing a pair of aged, faded jeans, gone stringy at the cuffs and with a hole in the pocket that encourages a trickle-down theory of fugitive pens and pennies. I have on a faded purple T-shirt, a little spongy at the collar, and a gray sweatshirt that is unaccountably my favorite piece of upper-body wear. My “Mo’s West” baseball cap, bearing the emblem of a favored chowder shack, is flung casually close to hand. I make no claims or excuses for the lazy paunch floating beneath my belt. My socks are semi-clean, and my hair has taken on that wild dry look of straw that’s been electrocuted in a summer storm. It does no good to brush or comb it. It’s gone native, and it ain’t comin’ back, not as long as I’m within spitting distance of the ocean. In certain ways, once a small-town boy, always a small-town boy.

Vince meant that description of coastal folk ruefully, but with a certain affection. Eldon’s no Adonis himself. I saw the Adonises, six of them, yesterday, in their black rubber bodysuits, drifting out from the beach by Otter Rock on their surf boards. I’m guessing none of them was a logger or a commercial fisherman or one of those incredible samurai-skilled women who so swiftly gut and clean the salmon and halibut coming in from the tourist fishing-excursion boats to the docks on the Newport waterfront.

One more thing I can’t resist passing along: Vince’s not-so-standard legal disclaimer from the beginning of the book:

Rising Dog is a work of fiction. The novel’s characters inhabit a stretch of the southern Oregon coast that is entirely a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to people, places, or institutions in the real world is an enormous and shocking coincidence. In particular, the Sons of Eiden Hall and its denizens are not intended to represent any actual Scandinavian group.

Skoal to all that.

Sunday scatter: It was a dark and stormy night in the Rainy North Woods …

Our friend Rose City Reader has a running feature on her lively lit blog she calls Opening Sentence of the Day, and it’s just that — a first sentence that, for some reason, catches her eye and ear and compels her to pass it along.

hotIt’s a great idea, and it’s hers, and no way am I going to steal it, because that would be so wrong. But just this once I’m going to borrow it, because after putting new shelves in the office I’ve been restocking some books that have been sitting in boxes in the basement, and that includes pretty much my entire collection of mysteries, which I’ve now been taking out selectively and re-reading with pleasure.

One of my rediscoveries is Gore Vidal’s three murder mysteries from the early 1950s featuring suave public-relations man Peter Sargeant (Vidal wrote them under the pen name Edgar Box) — Death in the Fifth Position, maybe the best backstage ballet murder mystery ever written; Death Before Bedtime, a maliciously funny evisceration of power, sex and corruption in the nation’s capital; and Death Likes It Hot, a mystery about — well, I can’t remember exactly, because I haven’t read it in a long time and I’ve just begun it again. But its first sentence is so delicious that I just have to take a cue from Rose City Reader and pass it along. (I can’t resist adding the second sentence, too, because it underscores the method of Vidal’s elegant wry comedy):

The death of Peaches Sandoe, the midget, at the hands, or rather feet, of a maddened elephant in the sideshow of the circus at Madison Square Garden was at first thought to be an accident, the sort of tragedy you’re bound to run into from time to time if you run a circus with both elephants and midgets in it. A few days later, though, there was talk of foul play.

Ah, the wonderful tastelessness of it all! Isn’t that what we long for in a comedy-of-manners murder mystery, even moreso than an alibi-proof plot?

And that got me thinking of my old friend and fellow ink-stained wretch Vince Kohler, who died too early, at age 53, several years ago, but not before creating his wonderfully seedy reprobate of an amateur sleuth, Eldon Larkin, an “overweight, oversexed reporter” on a daily newspaper in a mythical town on the southern Oregon coast. (Kohler, who when I knew him was a reporter for The Oregonian, where Berkeley escapee Eldon hoped a good scoop might someday land him a job, was once a reporter at the Coos Bay World.)

Continue reading Sunday scatter: It was a dark and stormy night in the Rainy North Woods …