Mid-Life Crisis Trip

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Entry 26: Mormon sundresses and Instant Karma

Tues, Sep 12, 2006

Today, we're BOTH off at different conferences. Laura travels up to Portland to meet with the other OMEN folks (we're in a group of VISTAs who all work for a group called "OMEN" which stands for Oregon Micro Enterprise Network, and yes, we're just as sick as you are of all these acronyms).

Robert is still at the Oregon coast cavorting with the Indians (it should be that much fun, but it's more like "sitting in endless meetings").

Oh, and it's Laura's birthday today.


9:00 am

Just in case yesterday's welcomes (all three of them) wore off, we're welcomed again and we start the meeting with a traditional Indian chant followed by a prayer.

Robert notes that each speaker says "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, friends and relatives." He finds it interesting that there's a distinction between "friends" and "relatives" (but he isn't going to comment further, because his sisters read this—well, other than to point out that they also distinguish between "ladies" and "relatives," which makes perfect sense).

The main topic this morning is the commemoration of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial, and the Indians are careful to use the word "commemoration," not "celebration."

The absolute coolest presentation is about the Confluence Project, which puts artwork at seven locations on the Columbia River. And before you nod off, you should know that the artist is Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam War Memorial.

And some of the pieces she's done so far (she's not done, yet!) are really cool. There's a fish cleaning table placed along the river, which is inscribed with the creation legend of the local people and from it, you can see the mountain where a lot of the action took place (which also involved fish). There's layers on layers of meaning and the more you find out about it, the cooler it gets.

If you want to know more (and we do!), check out www.confluenceproject.org.

10:30 am

And, of course, everything good in the universe is balanced by something bad. In this case, the really cool, spiritual art of Maya Lin is followed by the really bureaucratic barely comprehensible presentation of a US Government White Guy (in a suit with shoulders about ten feet wide).

Not only was it a PowerPoint Presentation with lots and lots of small text and bullet points, but it was also filled with acronyms for various homegrown computer programs (which means that unless you work at that department, they don't mean anything to you). And instead of generalizing and saying "we replaced the old software with the new," he'd say "we integrated the TAMS with the ILAC IT system."

Also, he kept saying "I'd like to touch base on..." when he meant "I'd like to touch briefly on..." Yeesh.

Let's remember he's making at least ten times as much as Robert is. Heck he probably spent more on that dreadful looking suit that one of us makes in a month.



Today's lunchtime topic is "gaming," which means "gambling" (but it sounds much better to say "gaming" instead of "gambling).

As you may have heard, casinos are a big deal to Indians. That's because a reservation is in an interesting legal position—they don't really belong to the state, county or city they're in. Just like military bases, they're "federal," with the added wrinkle that an Indian reservation belongs to a sovereign nation that's part of the United States.

Yes, it's confusing. And the more you study it, the more confusing it gets.

But it does mean that state gambling laws don't apply to Indian reservations, so they can open casinos on them. And all nine Oregon tribes have casinos, and many Washington tribes also have casinos.

But the states are none too happy about not being able to get a cut of the action (although in Oregon the state lottery has 60% of the gaming market).

So, they pressure Congress (the regulating body for Indian reservations) to make up some laws that'll give them more control. And the Indians hire lobbyists to fight against the bills (none of the NW tribes hired Mr. Abramoff, however).

The Lunch Lectures are about various pieces of legislation that are currently in Congress that could affect the Indian gaming industry.

Wed, Sept 13, 2006


Robert ends up at a table with some of the younger folks (for a change). Lots of the people here are older (some of them even older than Robert!), because traditionally Elders (55 and older) are leaders among the Indians.

One fellow at the table, Shawn, starts telling stories about when he was in a "house band" (a band composed of people living in the same house), called Obese Dalmation. They had a lead singer who was a staunch Mormon and wouldn't smoke or drink or anything. He'd wear army fatigues during the set and on the last song would unzip them and step out in a pink sundress and run around the club dancing on people's tables.

It was quite a fun lunch, actually.

And in an effort to alienate even more people, here's a couple of jokes Robert heard at the table:

"Well, it's no wonder how the Mormon's got their name. When one guy has three wives, the women are always running around yelling 'More Men! More Men!'"

"I was dating this woman and she asked me to write down my sexual history. I should have stopped when I got to her."

Thursday, Sept 14, 2006

The last day and while everybody else gets to take it easy, Robert gets to disassemble the Internet Cafe and pack it into boxes.

But he also gets a chance to see Instant Karma in action. There was another vendor, Mike, who along with Robert, regularly showed up early to the vendor room (since he was about Robert's age, we're guessing he tends to wake up about 5:00 am, too).

Thursday morning, both Robert and Mike are there at 7:00 am (the vendor room isn't supposed to open until 8:30). Robert is bummed because he's already hungry and the free food doesn't appear until 8:30 and it looks like he's going to have to buy his own lunch.

Mike offers to buy Robert breakfast (yay!) and asks how long Robert will be there. "Until the bitter end," Robert replies, because even if he packs up the stuff now, Laura won't show up with the car until about 4:00 pm. Turns out Mike has a credit slip for the restaurant that he won't be able to use because he's leaving early, so he passes it on to Robert (yay! yay!).

After breakfast, Robert wanders off to find a guard to let us into the vendor room. While Mike is waiting, he puts a $5 bill into a slot machine and pushes the button. He wins $50 (and even though we studied it carefully, we can't figure out how he won it). Robert instantly recognizes what has happened and says, "Cash it out. Now."

So remember—when you help a VISTA, the universe will find a way to reward you!


There're only two people left in the vendor room (which is supposed to stay open until noon!). One is Robert. The other is an Indian woman from the Southwest with two tables full of handmade jewelry.

Sure enough, at noon, an Indian family wanders in looking for something to buy and heads for her table. A few minutes later a couple of hotel employees stop by to check it out. For the next half hour, this woman does more business than she's done all morning (the hotel employees, who are Indian, tell other hotel employees who race down to check out her stuff—and it's really very nice jewelry).

Our moral: It ain't over till it's over, and you should ALWAYS stay until closing.


Laura spends most of the week in OMEN training. The event happens at the Edgefield resort, established in 1911 as the Multnomah County Poor Farm. Today it has a hotel, gardens, a movie theater, a gift shop, a massage parlor, a gazillion bars, a winery, a brewery, and a distillery. Oh, and a golf course (with small bars among the greens). Essentially, an alcoholic's paradise.

And an ironic place to have a meeting of people working to abolish poverty.

The rooms have no bathrooms (or TVs or phones); instead there are private baths (toilet, sink, and shower in a little room with a door that locks) "down the hall." Original artwork and historical photos cover the walls in the main lodge. A most interesting venue.

Tuesday and Wednesday are all about presentations on asset-building, the acquisition of many more acronyms, and bonding with other VISTAs. Laura hopes that the upcoming training in October will include a course on public-speaking. The "kids" can't utter a single sentence without half a dozen "likes" and "y'knows" and a question mark at the end. So, like, it's sorta, y'know, distracting?

She does learn that two other VISTAs are doing similar work in different locations than hers, so they plan to get together to build some common tools.

Tuesday night, Laura and Phong, a Vietnamese-American VISTA, head into Portland to see Jollyship the Whiz-Bang perform Sleepless Fishes, a pirate puppet rock opera that is every bit as deeply weird as it sounds. Members of the band also operate the puppets and the lead singer does the voices for them. It's about the captain of a pirate ship and his unrequited love for his cabin boy. But there're also clowns and mutiny and crab princes and a crabquistador.

Learn more (if you dare) at www.thewhizbang.org.

Wednesday night the hotel celebrates the halfway point to St Patrick's Day with Irish Dancers, Irish musicians, and a Scottish(!) pipe band. The pipers prate and practice on the porch right outside Laura's window after their performance.

On Thursday the VISTAs all troop out to visit three successful businesses that started out as microenterprises. One is a pet supply shop for seriously upscale pet accessories (tiaras, 100% natural additive-free food, $90 collars). Laura agrees that's certainly one way to get out of poverty—sell stuff to the rich.

After lunch, she heads to the coast to pick up Robert and the return of adult conversation with no acronyms.

After five days of talking to people, Robert and Laura are happy to sit in front of their computers and play Solitaire. Whew!

Robert & Laura
Mid-Life Crisis Trip