Monday, June 30, 2008

Happy 100th Birthday, Tunguska!

100 years ago today, a massive explosion occurred near the Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia, knocking down 80 million trees over an 830 square mile area. The explosion was most likely caused by the air burst of a large meteoroid or comet fragment at an altitude of 3–6 miles above the Earth's surface. Estimates of the energy of the blast range from 5 to as high as 30 megatons of TNT, with 10–15 megatons the most likely - about 1000 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima and about one third the power of the Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated. It is estimated that the earthquake from the blast would have measured 5.0 on the Richter scale, which was not yet developed at the time.

An explosion of this magnitude is capable of destroying a large metropolitan area. If the meteroid or comet had hit during the Cold War, it would probably have been mistaken for a nuclear attack, triggering mutually assured destruction - annihilation. Even if it doesn't take out a large metropolitan area, how would a Tunguska event be perceived now?

Happy Tunguska Day, y'all!

Sunday, June 29, 2008


I had to evict the tenants in the Unsellable Condo in Vinings. Actually, "evict" is too strong a term - I terminated their lease in accordance with the terms of the contract, and initially gave them three days to move out. They had moved in last January, but had stopped paying rent in April, the husband claiming that he had lost his job. They finally came up with April's rent in early May - thanks in part to Catholic charities - but May went unpaid, as did June.

The final blow came while I was in Portland and got a call from the property manager for the unit below mine saying that a leak from my bathroom was coming into his tenants' unit, and had already destroyed his bedroom furniture and wardrobe. Apparently, a leak had occurred in my unit's shower valves, and since he was behind in the rent and trying to avoid me, my tenant tried to repair it himself but only made matters worse. From Portland, I had to call a plumber and have him fix the shower, which wound up costing over $850.

Worse, the plumber told me that when he first knocked on the door, a 4-year-old girl answered the door and said that her parents weren't home. He refused to enter the premises with an unsupervised minor, a decision against which I could not argue. It took a second day of flooding the downstairs unit before I could remotely coordinate a plumber with the adult tenants.

Unpaid rent, unreported repairs, unsupervised children - that was enough to get the better of my patience and generosity, so I told them I couldn't wait any longer for them to try to catch up on the back rent. Two weeks ago, I hand delivered the lease termination paperwork - handed to a lone little girl who answered the door and told me that her Mommy and her Daddy weren't home.

On-line advise that I found said that if tenants refuse to leave, it's actually cheaper to bribe them with a couple of hundred dollars than it is to hire an attorney, go to magistrate court, file for eviction, etc. I was prepared to offer the tenants up to $300 for their "troubles," but before I could offer, they called and requested one more week so that they could wrap up work and move the kids to South Carolina to be with their grandparents.

No problem. One more week costs me nothing more - it was cheaper than handing them $300. And I was glad that the kids were being moved to a place where they could finally get the supervision they deserved. I told them they had until Friday, and to leave the keys and gate remotes on the mantle and I'll come by on Saturday to collect them.

I went by yesterday to inspect the premises and collect the keys and remotes. I knocked on the door before entering, and hearing no answer, I entered. They were obviously in the process of moving - most everything was packed up and all - but they still hadn't left. I left a message on their cell saying that I needed them out, and today.

I got a call back from the wife apologizing for not having left yet, but that she was having problems (allegedly a lost ATM card, problems renting a van, etc). She promised to be done later that day.

I got a second call later that evening, asking to be let back into the unit. Apparently, she had left the door unlocked during the day and when I had come by to inspect the premises, I had locked her out. I zipped over to let her in.

The wife and her eldest son were managing the move alone - Dad had moved back in with his mother and left the young ones and the move to her. Nice. Her plans were to take the kids to her mother's home in South Carolina, come back to Atlanta to finish out her job over this summer, and re-join her children in September. She looked exhausted - beyond exhausted - and since it was already 8:30 at night, before she had a chance to ask, I told her it was alright for her to stay one more night before driving to South Carolina. Just be done by Sunday afternoon.

I came by again this afternoon and they had taken everything out of the condo - but everything was now stacked up outside by the front entrance, and once again they weren't there. Another telephone call confirmed that they would be coming back for the rest of their stuff. I didn't stick around to watch.

Walking through the empty unit was depressing - the place was trashed. Major stains on the carpet will require steam treatment, the "repaired" shower still needs to be re-tiled and the wallpaper in that bathroom was peeling off the wall. There were holes in the walls that need re-spackling and re-painting. A ceiling fan light fixture had been pulled out of the ceiling and was hanging by wires. And that's just what I noticed during a brief tour.

I will be meeting a contractor there this week to get an estimate on the repairs. I'll have the cleaning girl who's been keeping my house "show ready" go by when the contractor's through and clean up. And the property manager of the unit below is asking me for compensation for his tenant's losses. All of this will cost me, and the Unsellable Condo continues to drain my finances. I'll find new tenants, hopefully more reliable than the last two, and rent the place out again with the hope that the balance sheet will eventually go into the black, although this year I'll obviously close in the red. To move to Portland, I need reliable tenants there who won't flood the units downstairs, won't let unsupervised children answer the door, and will pay the rent in a timely manner. I hate to think I won't be able to move because of the Unsellable Condo.

As Tyler Durden warned in Fight Club, "The things you own end up owning you."

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Speak Immediately

In the 5th Century BC, Prince Gautama belonged to the Shakya clan of northern India. At the age of 19, he escaped over the palace wall at midnight and fled to Mount Dandoku, where he shaved his head and spent the next six years engaged in harsh ascetic practices. Not finding the answer to his question, "Why is there suffering?," he sat beneath the Bodhi Tree and resolved to meditate until he realized his answer. Legend has it that while he sat, spiders spun webs between his eyebrows, birds took up residence in a nest on top of his head, and reeds grew up around him, but he sat erect and immovably still for six more years.

In his 30th year, on the 8th day of the 12th month, Gautama awakened to his true self and became Shakyamuni ("Jewel of the Shakya Clan") Buddha upon seeing the morning star, saying, "How marvelous! I, together with the whole of the great earth and all its sentient beings, have simultaneously realized enlightenment."

How could his realization have been shared simultaneously with all other sentient beings unless, in his enlightened state, he saw no distinction between his self and all other sentient beings? What if this loss of distinction between self and other was itself the enlightenment experience?

Later, he recalled, "When the bright star appeared, I together with all sentient beings attained the way." Zen Master Dogen notes (in Dharma Hall Discourse 37 of the Eihei Koroku, for those of you who care), "Originally there was no great way; however, today for the first time, old sage Shakyamuni appears. What is it he calls sentient beings, and what is it he calls the way, and its attainment? Speak immediately, speak immediately!"

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Celtics Win 17th Championship

Game 6, 131-92, quite possibly the best performance in NBA Finals history (but then, I'm partial).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

List of Books Purchased Yesterday at Powell's Bookstore Instead of Looking For Houses

  1. "Basin and Range" by John McPhee
  2. "In Suspect Terrain" by John McPhee (previously read, along with Basin and Range, in the early 80s and missed ever since the twin books got passed along)
  3. "Rising From the Plains" by John McPhee
  4. "Assembling California" by John McPhee (the cashier smiled and noted that the purchaser must be a fan of John McPhee)
  5. "An Inconvenient Truth" by Algore (coffee-table version of the film)
  6. "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell (reduced to $5.95)
  7. "The Living I Ching" by Deng Ming-Dao
  8. "The Mumonkan" translated by R.H. Blyth (a more academic companion to Zen Flesh, Zen Bones)
  9. "The Denkoroku" by Zen Master Keizan Jokin (14th Century Japan, translated by Hubert Nearman of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives [Shasta Abbey], to which Portland's Dharma Rain Zen Center is spiritual heir)
  10. "The True Dharma Eye - Zen Master Dogen's Three Hundred Koans" by John Daido Loori
  11. "The Empty Mirror" by Janwillem Van De Wetering (an account of Van De Wetering's residence in a Japanese monastery, and one of the first Zen books I read. In 1975, his descriptions of the austerities and discipline at the monastery put me off further pursuing my nascent interest in Zen for literally 26 years - I look forward to seeing how the book reads from my current perspective.)
  12. "The Gnostic Gospels" by Elaine Pagels (a book I've been meaning to read for years)
  13. "The Book of the Subgenius" by J.R. "Bob" Dobbs

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Week on the Willamette

Portland, Ore. - This has been a busy and hectic week, and even though the working week is officially over, I'm still here in Portland.

I arrived here last Sunday, earlier (10.30 am) than I had anticipated, so I rented a car and toured around a little. It was both Rose Festival weekend and Fleet Week (several battleships were parked along the Willamette) so downtown parking was a little hard to find, but I managed. I had lumper (if a late breakfast-early lunch is "brunch," why can't a late lunch-early supper be called "lumper"?) at an outdoor cafe on 23rd Street. Although it wasn't raining, the weather was surprisingly cool (50s), especially after a week of 90+ temperatures in Atlanta. When the time finally permitted, I checked in at the Marriott Courtyard by the Convention Center, the same hotel I stayed in last November, and returned the car at the airport, taking the MAX light-rail back to the hotel. The picture above is the view from my room, taken Saturday morning.

But the fun really began on Monday. I'm here for a major marketing push, the so-called "Northwest Marketing Blitz," along with my new Portland colleagues and some corporate staff. The purpose is to drum up some business for my planned relocation here. On Monday, we had a single lunch meeting with a Portland environmental attorney at a downtown restaurant. After the day was over, my new colleagues, the corporate types, and I went up to the Portland City Grill on the 30th floor of the U.S. Bancorp Building for a few drinks and to get to all know one another a bit better.

On Tuesday, we picked up the pace with a meeting at a paper mill in Washington State and another lunch with another law firm, this time at the University Club, an exclusive, up-scale establishment in downtown Portland. That evening, the corporate director of marketing and I went to Blitz, a sports bar in the Pearl District, the same place I saw the 2008 Superbowl, to watch Game 3 of the NBA Finals (the Celtics lost, but still led the series 2-1).

Wednesday featured another lunch meeting, this time with a very prominent Portland business, at the Benson Hotel, one of the classic downtown luxury hotels. In the afternoon, we called on a "green developer" at their Pearl District office complex, followed by a huge dinner at Jake's Crawfish House, an fine seafood restaurant. And on Thursday, we drove up to Tacoma, Washington for marketing calls on a wood-treating company and a paper mill (which turned out to be the same mill where many scenes from "An Officer and a Gentleman" were filmed, and affectionately called "The Aroma of Tacoma" by locals). The sun finally came out for the first time of the week on Thursday and on the way home we stopped for dinner and to watch Game 4 of the NBA Finals at McMenamin's, a lovely outdoor restaurant on the banks of the Columbia River. Sailboats blew by on the river and there was hardly a cloud in the sky, and snow-covered Mount Hood stood majestically upstream. The Celtics overcame a 24-point deficit to win the game and take a 3-1 series lead as Mount Hood was bathed in alpenglow in seeming celebration.

Friday morning, I dropped the corporate marketing director off at the airport, and returned to the office in what turned out to be an unsuccessful attempt to catch back up on work. I'm here in Portland for the weekend, or at least until 2 pm Sunday when my flight takes me back to Atlanta, with no particular plans, although I may spend the day today looking at houses and evaluating my real-estate options.

This was my first trip to Portland since last March, and it feels good to be back. Sometimes I get nervous about the relocation, surrounded by Calvinistic clouds of self doubt, but this week's return and the modest success of the marketing efforts have reassured me that I'm making the right decision to come here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Portland-Tacoma-Portland: 486 miles, roundtrip, but I got good views of Mounts Ranier and Saint Helens.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Take The Elevator

According to today's Oregonian newspaper, by the year 2060 the population of Portland will have doubled, reaching 3.85 million. Of course, I'll be dead by then (or, less likely, 106 years old), but before I die I want to add to that total by a mere 1. Just one more person. That's not asking too much, IMHO.

I arrived in Portland today for a week of business development and marketing preparatory to my eventual relocation here, contingent upon my selling my house. It will be a busy week - I've already got a half dozen appointments lined up - and I return to Atlanta next Sunday.

Leaving the urban sprawl of Atlanta behind and arriving in this well-planned and picturesque city nestled between the Cascades and the Coast Range, and taking Portland's excellent light-rail system from the airport to my downtown office, I'm reminded of the words in a recent letter to the editors of The New Yorker: "Elevators, which draw us together in densely populated cities, require a little bit more etiquette but amply reward us with efficiency, convenience, a much smaller carbon footprint, and the seeming magic of serendipitous encounters. Cars spread us out and isolate us, encourage rudeness, destroy the beauty of our landscapes and the health of our environment, and kill us with shocking frequency. And yet Americans love their cars, and feel annoyed and fearful about elevators" (thanks, and a tip of the hat to Mr. Daniel Levinson Wilk of New York City).

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

House For Sale

Wanna take a look? If you click on the linked picture, there are several other interior views. There's even a pic of my home zendo/meditation room, but they put a chair in front of the alter to make the room look more "normal."

Don't miss the exciting "panorama" shots!

My realtor held an Open House last Sunday, but no one (not one person) showed up. A realtor's caravan came by on Tuesday with 16 agents - a large number for that kind of thing, but my agent said it was more because of a lack of anything else to do with their day due to the sluggish real estate market than any buzz generated by my being on the market.

Other than that, only two bona fide potential buyers have been by to look at the place so far, with another scheduled to come by tonight. This might be a long, slow process.