A Graduation Gift


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By Katherine Johnson

Today’s tale is about Some Kid’s High School Graduation Gift aka a Backlund Model 100 Guitar aka Guitar Porn.

What follows are the various events that led up to him getting this gift. Why am I sharing this? Because it is funny and I am a jerk.

Backlund Model 100 Red Guitar aka Guitar Porn

Some Kid has wanted one of these for several years now but they were priced completely beyond what he or I could afford. Basically, I told Some Kid, if you want it, buy it yourself.

Then today, instead of watching car chase videos on YouTube with my morning coffee I started watching guitar porn videos.

Coincidentally my Mom, Some Kid’s Grandma, sends me a text message about some auction that had a Fender Stratocaster that had been signed by all the members of the Eagles.

We went back and forth about putting in a bid for the guitar giving that to Some Kid as a graduation gift and then, in a moment of clarity, I recalled what THE DUDE said in the Big Lebowski about the Eagles.

Scene: Riding in a cab at night with “Peaceful Easy Feeling” playing on the radio…

TD: Jesus, man, can you change the channel?
CD: Fuck you man! You don’t like my fucking music, get your own fucking cab!
TD: I’ve had a really rough–
CD: I’ll pull over the side and kick your ass out!
TD: Man, come on I had a rough night, and I hate the fucking Eagles, man.
Cab Driver pulls over and tosses the Dude out of the cab
CD: Outta my fucking cab!
TD: Hey man!
CD: Out, get–
TD: Man man! Hey! Awwwwh Jesus.

The memory of this was like getting jolted back from the white light after being zapped with paddles EMTs use. I was like, this is a stupid off the shelf Stratocaster, most likely a Mexican one, and probably signed by some press agent. Plus, it involves the Eagles, so I bailed on the whole deal. That was too close.

However, these two things, got me wondering about what ole’ Jim Backlund had been creating in his guitar design studio (actually I think he only works during happy hour in a dark biker bar).
So, I cruised over to the Backlund Guitar web site and it was like, oh, they are so friggin’ beautiful and OMG, they now have a price a us mere worthless mortals can afford.

I immediately fell to my knees, wept, and for one brief moment I thought I saw the light, the white light. I can also attest that my butthole (1) puckered; this is what happens when you are heavily into guitar porn.

More Guitar Porn

This lead to a text message exchange between Some Kid and I:

Me: Have you seen the Backlund Model 100 and Model 400 in red? OMG. (Links to both were included).
SK: I want a Backlund so badly They are some of the most elegant guitars.
Me: I love either of the two I sent in red. I don’t know which is hotter, the Model 100 or the Model 400.
SK: I’m super partial to the 100. I like the blue. Well maybe the red is the best.
Me: Which one makes your butthole pucker?
SK: They’re all gorgeous. They are surprisingly affordable for what they are. Probably because they are now partnered and no longer being independently distributed [ME: this little weasel has been sneaking around drooling over them behind my back for who knows how long] I’m leaning red I think now.
ME: Oh, are you actually going to graduate as in you passed all your classes and met all the requirements?
SK: Of course, I graduated. [ME: did I just hear a massive eye roll coming out of Seattle?]
ME: Just checking. I knew someone that didn’t and still went to the graduation ceremony.
SK: I can think of a good graduation present.
ME: Oh, like what? I thought we were talking about a stereo.
SK: A stereo is nice and all, but it’s not red. [Can’t you just hear him begging and pleading about now!]

A brief interlude occurred while I consulted with Grandma about this whole deal and we agreed to get it for Some Kid. Our conversation when something like this.

ME: Forget the Eagles – they are lame and the Dude hates them.
GM: Ok, Ok. I trust your judgement.
ME: Trust the Dude. Here is want he [Some Kid and not the Dude though I know the Dude would be all over this guitar too] would love: A Backlund guitar (I included a link to the web page).

I sent him a text message about Backlunds and I actually got a reply [If you have teenagers you will immediately understand my shock and amazement at getting reply, let alone an prompt one]…Model 100 in blue. No, Red, Maybe blue, no red, no definitely not blue. Red it is.

Do I know this kid or what?

GM: Now what?
Me: I will order it today. He may end up in the hospital. He has wanted this for two years and I refused to get it unless he had two 4.0 quarters back to back. He was not amused but he his school work improved immediately.
GM: I started writing him a graduation letter today. I’ll have to revise it.
ME: Done, it is ordered. He may wet himself.
GM: That’s ok. How long to get it? Any chance while you are here?
ME: it will take 3 to 5 business days to arrive. I may or may not get to see him drool over it.
GM: Thanks for helping me give Brett [ME: I keep telling her his real name is Some Kid but she never gets it right] a special gift.
ME: He will have this rest the of his life which will tragically end in a heart attack when it arrives.
GM: I hope not.

I then started texting Some Kid again:

Me: Your butthole can officially pucker. Model 100 in Red (2). It should arrive in 3 to 5 business days. If I get lucky I will even get to see you drool over it.

Your Grandma and I are getting this for you. When you get it, you need to go show it to her. In fact, you should just go see her anyhow and by all means, you should send her a quick thank you text message today.

Happy graduation.

Of course, because Some Kid is a teenager and we all know their brains are only partially functioning, I never heard another word from him. Then again, he may have had a heart attack and is now dead. I am pretty sure I won’t know what transpired until I go to the graduation on Monday.

This 3 to 5 day shipping thing got me thinking…hmm, may be if I ask the company nicely they might expedite this shipment for me and because I don’t know how to leave well enough alone I wrote the following email to see if anything could be done:

I just ordered a Model 100 in Red as a graduation gift for my son and I am having it shipped directly to him.

I live in Rio, Rancho, New Mexico and he lives in Redmond, WA. I am going to be in the Seattle area for his graduation from 6/19 until 6/26. By some miracle do you think it could arrive by say Friday, 6/23?

I would love to see the guitar. He has drooled over photos of these for several years now….oh, you, get it, I would love to see him actually drool over real one.

Any help would be appreciated.

I will update this post if I get a reply.

And with that I can now conclude this tale of teenage lust, guitar porn, and puckered buttholes.

I will let Some Kid decide which is the better gift, this story or the guitar. We may never find out, after all he has a partially functioning teenage brain.

Update June 24, 2017

The Backlund people pulled out all stops and got the guitar to Brett in time for him to share it with me. I cannot thank them enough for this. I think his Grandmother and I got him the perfect graduation gift.

Brett and “Buttpucker”


(1) I was confused about the proper written usage for this word; should it be butthole or butt hole? There does seem to be a case for both forms. However, in the end, I went with then online consensus which is butthole. Now you know something you didn’t care about until right now.

(2) The following day I got to thinking how all the great players have a favorite guitar that he or she has named. Of course, this instantly got me spun up and I decided this Backlund deserves a name and because I have no sense I immediately sent a text message to Some Kid:

Me: Two very famous guitars: Eric Clapton’s “Blackie” and Steve Ray Vaughan’s “Number One”. You should call the new Backlund “Buttpucker”.

I am rather proud of my handiwork.

Copyright 2017 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved


The Things That Come From Hello


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By Katherine Johnson

On Sunday, I took my first walking trip in downtown Albuquerque after moving here in May. My goal was vague but in general I was hoping to get a sense of the city’s personality and style. I think I succeeded in my purpose; Albuquerque is big enough to have everything I need, and, as I am finding out, it is going to have everything I want.

Downtown on a Sunday feels abandoned and handed over to the street people that lazily loiter along the classic American road, Route 66. Route 66 in the city is now known as Central Avenue and where I spent my day was between 1st Street NW to 7th Street NW with the Kimo theater the capital of this Royal Road.

Many hours later, during the hot part of the day, I found myself in a parking lot, near the intersection of Gold Avenue SW and 2nd Street NW contemplating a wall mural that felt like it got at the core of being American, the right to vote, and how that impacted New Mexico.

Frutos del La Expresion Mural – 2017.06.04 – Near Gold Avenue SW and 2nd Street NW Albuquerque, NM

Front and center in this mural is depicted Witter Bynner, a writer, Miguel Trujillo, a native American who was denied the right to vote because he lived on a reservation, and Nina Otero-Warren, whose family dated back 200 years in the area. All were instrumental in making sure that the right to vote really was a right here in New Mexico.

Soon a man came by, who looked like one of the those that loitered on Central and whom obviously struggled to walk, most likely from serious injuries. Because this is New Mexico, because this is Albuquerque, this man, took the time to stop and say, “that mural is beautiful, yes?”

I replied that it was. Being all gabby and stuff, I told him that I had just moved here and based on what I was seeing today that I thought Albuquerque was becoming a new love in my life. He smiled without replying and shuffled off a few steps. Something stopped him and he turned to me and said, “I moved here 32 years ago and I have never stopped loving this place.”

Curious, I replied, “32 years, oh my gosh, that is a long time, what brought you here?”

And with that question out came not why he came to New Mexico, but a full biography of his life and most likely his impending death. In the spaces of his story I think one can get a sense of the why: as he freely stated a great part of his life was all about “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.”

Steven James Osborn – 2017.06.04 – Near Gold Avenue SW and 2nd Street NW Albuquerque, NM

Steven James Osborn, half French Canadian, half Chippewa who grew up on the “Rez” in Northern Michigan right up next to the Canadian border. There he learned to be a message runner, an expert tracker, the ethics of being a man from his Daddy, and to be a patriot. And for good measure he was the runt of the family that didn’t at all look like a Chippewa.

At some point, his Daddy who stood 6′ 8″ and was a full-blooded Chippewa bought the Half Moon, a cowboy bar in Dalton, MI. After buying the place and moving the family there, Daddy had to chainsaw out the old door and replace it with one he could get through when wearing his cowboy hat and boots.

Steven James Osborn, then joined the army in 1979. His first assignment, after basic training, was to track people down in Chicago in -30 degree weather just see if it could be done. He succeeded and then went to Italy where he was taught to be a killer which he said he did and was not proud about.

Later the Army sent him to Beirut during the Lebanese civil war. There in I983 he got caught up in the horrific barracks bombing that killed 241 US service members and had to carry out his comrades burned bodies by hand to the ships in the harbor. He nearly started crying, in that parking lot under the gaze of the painted three on the wall. His only comment was you never get the smell of burned bodies and dead comrades out of your nose.

The rest of his career was spent being a human guinea pig in various operations designed to find limits of human endurance. One mission found him doing a low-level jump from a helicopter, without a parachute, into the Florida everglades miles from anywhere and then he had to get back out with nothing more than his wits and good luck. He did mention that you bounce hard when you hit the water.

Not surprisingly all this took its toll and he ended up with blown out knees, a fused back, and his front teeth missing. Of course, he was denied care because none of his injuries occurred in combat. Being a warrior he fought with the government in court for years. He eventually succeeded through persistence and with the help of his lawyer and good friend, Pete Domenici whose was one of New Mexico’s Senators from 1973 until 2009.

In passing, he mentioned in the early 1980s while back in Albuquerque, most likely when he was stationed here, he and an army buddy went out on the town while decked out in full uniforms because “the girls” liked that. At some point, they walked into a bar where a guy doing straight shots of tequila and multiple lines of purple peyote off the bar. They both went “Whoa, this is somebody we need to know,” and they did. You might recognize his new friend’s name: Hunter S. Thompson.

He then bid me goodbye because he had to go catch the train to LA where he going to have the cancer behind his eyes treated at UCLA.

Before he left he said he is worried about Trump because he never served and never lived a hard life. What I heard him say is a man that never faced death straight up might not be the best person to send men to die.

And with that Mr. Steven James Osborn thanked me for making his day because “I let this old vet” tell his story.

I thanked him for being so kind to me and honoring me with his life. I promised him that I was going to share his story and with that small gesture, preserve his memory.

He smiled at me, nodded his head in agreement, and then shuffled off to the train and his fate.

There, in that parking lot, I found a sacred place where I was surrounded by four American heroes, three in spirit and one in flesh. And yes, on a sunny day in Albuquerque, I found myself in love with the soul of this city.

Yeah, I do have a piece of New Mexico dust in my eye. Damn dust.

Note: After Mr. Osborn was out of sight I sought out the shade of tree and drafted the main parts of his life while everything was fresh in my head in less than 20 minutes on a cell phone. Almost nothing of that first draft has been changed; what is different is I added some introduction and a few wrap up comments.

Copyright 2017 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved

Ethan Frome Is Starkfield


Editor’s Notes:

At the end of June Brett sat down to write his final essay for his High School Junior AP English course. I was hanging around like an old cat whose role was to occasionally jump up on the desk and sit in the middle of the keyboard where I offered up equal parts distraction and mild annoyance.

My role as mentor during the writing of his third essay was rather limited because Brett was rather unlimited. The fact of the matter is I didn’t have to do much mentoring at all which I think is the best mentoring one can give. Or maybe he had me around because he secretly liked having me around to offer up equal parts distraction and mild annoyance.

I held off on publishing this essay because I wanted to honor his growth as a writer over the last year by having this essay become the 150th item published on Una Voce Sola.


By Brett Johnson

Edith Wharton is widely regarded as a prominent writer of social satire in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Often recognized by her strong themes of social imprisonment and ironic representations of Victorian social conventions, such as restrictive marriage, women’s etiquette, and education are representative of her life struggles as a woman in the Nineteenth Century. Her views craft the story of Ethan Frome in a way that shows how the character, Ethan Frome, experiences his own social confinement through his failed marriage and his extramarital affair.

This thematic approach in Ethan Frome is described in the novel through an interpretation of Ethan’s marriage during the time of late Nineteenth Century New England and his affair. Ethan, who is married to his sickly wife, Zeena, is infatuated with a young girl, Mattie Silver, who comes to help him take care of his wife. Both women serve as a jaw of a vice, as in, Ethan wishes to pursue Mattie, yet he is bound by his commitment to his wife, Zeena. Because of these two forces, “He feels torn between a desire for the emotional compatibility he has with Mattie and a traditional sense of duty toward his wife” (Joyce Moss and George Wilson 126). Therefore, one of the larger social challenges in the Nineteenth Century was the inability to find true emotional freedom in place of the “traditional attitudes” akin to the ones that keep Ethan bound (Joyce Moss and George Wilson 126).

Initially, the social interactions in Ethan Frome appear to be straightforward and simple, as Ethan goes into the town of Starkfield, a snowy and rural New England town, to get his mail from the post office before leaving for his home. Yet it becomes more apparent as the story unfolds that things are more complicated than they seem. The narrator, a contemporary who lives in Starkfield questions if Ethan has “been in Starkfield too many Winters,” and what “obstacles have hindered the flight of a man like Ethan Frome” and kept him there in the town of Starkfield (Edith Wharton 3-6). The obstacle that has kept him there is that Ethan has tried to nullify social restrictions by engaging in an extramarital affair that ends in a mutually failed suicide attempt between him and Mattie, which leaves both of them crippled.

As a consequence of the restrictive nature of social norm, there is a personal cost regarding unrealized dreams and the eventual bitterness that comes from living a compromised life. In the book, Wharton puts Mattie and Zeena in clear contrast with each one being an antithesis of the other. Zeena, who has lived a compromised life due to her illness, is clearly bitter and “her sole pleasure, as Ethan sees it, is to make him miserable” (Marie Rose Napierkowski 127). Whereas Mattie is initially quite the opposite as she is unhindered and seemingly a positive aspect in Ethan’s life. Following the failed suicide pact Mattie assumes a similarly negative role parallel to other negative aspects of Ethan’s life as she “turns as querulous as Zeena” because she is now ill and crippled herself (Marie Rose Napierkowski 128).

Starkfield, even the name of the town where the story takes place exemplifies the starkness of the social traps that Wharton has laid out. The central crux of the novel is the ironic demonstration of Ethan being trapped by Zeena’s illness which stands in contrast with how the book ends. Wharton condemns Zeena to live the life of an invalid and then further condemns her by forcing her to be a caregiver for her husband and his mistress. Ethan is similarly impacted as he sought to escape the negative aspect of his life, Zeena, through the positive one, Mattie. In doing so, he creates two negatives in his life by remaining with Zeena and transforming Mattie into an equally negative person. Mattie, who begins free and unburdened attempts to find complete freedom by escaping through her own death, ends up confined to a chair due to her recklessness. Ultimately Wharton is commenting on the social restrictions of Nineteenth Century New England through the impact similar conventions had on the characters in the novel. Then lastly, she is using the way the characters of Ethan, Mattie, and Zeena, interact with such rules to provide insight on her own social confinement in the Victorian Era.

Works Cited
Wharton, Edith. Ethan Frome. N.p.: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911. Print.

Joyce Moss and George Wilson. Literature and Its Times: Profiles of 300 Notable Literary Works and the Historical Events that Influenced Them. Vol. 2: Civil Wars to Frontier Societies (1800-1880s). Detroit: Gale, 1997. 125-129. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 18 June 2016.

Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski. Novels for Students. Vol. 5. Gale, 1999. 122-144. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 18 June 2016.

Slap Some Bacon On A Biscuit


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By Katherine Johnson

The Cowboy Grocer – 1411 6th Street – Umatilla, OR 97882

A core part of my American mythology came to me through Hollywood westerns such as The Searchers. Released in 1956, it starred John Wayne as Ethan Edwards, a Confederate Civil War veteran who wandered through the American West, idealized by Monument Valley, on a journey of rescue and revenge to secure the freedom of his niece who had been kidnapped by the Comanche Indians led by Chief Scar, played by the German born actor Henry Brandon.

This mythology was also formed by road signs that announced that just over the next horizon would be found an oasis of spectacular things to see and experience after being stuck for hours in a blisteringly hot car during summer road trips. There one could find monumental works of art such as Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, gigantic dinosaurs, fish, or buffaloes.

Years later I would come to realize two things. First, that these things had nothing to do with wonder and enchantment and everything to do with getting people to stop at these out of the way places so they could be sold gas, sodas, and trinkets. Secondly, contrary to a popular a cliché, we are not the modern Romans. The Romans reserved marble for statues of people and concrete for building while we use marble for building and concrete for statutes of dinosaurs, fish, and buffaloes.

American food also has a spectacular mythology ranging from ingredients like Crisco Shortening (I always called it lard because it is, well, lardy) or Spam to Betty Crocker, a fictional person, that taught many an American to cook such classics as cheeseburger pie or carnival ice cream cake.

She also found time to dispense culinary wisdom like “Keep favorite condiments on hand, such as ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar and salsa.”

Of course this aspect of my mythology would not be complete with paying homage to the ubiquitous hamburger stands that, here in Seattle, are represented by Dick’s, the one place a straight guy can say with an equally straight face to his equally straight pals, “lets’ go get some dicks.”

Because of a lifetime of these types of experiences I have become a bona fide connoisseur of the finer points of our unique western mythology that is expansive as Monument Valley and also tall enough to include a giant cowboy with green skin and John Wayne’s face.

For good measure I also need to note that John Wayne, mirrors my experience with Betty Crocker, by being a real person that pretended to be a cowboy. And like Betty, John also dispensed culinary wisdom from time to time: “Slap some bacon on a biscuit and let’s go! We’re burnin’ daylight!”

Copyright 2016 – Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved

Every Monday


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By Katherine Johnson

Clothes For Sale – 354 West Walnut – Newport, WA 99156

Over the last few weeks I have traced the edges of Washington State and visited its corners. In terms of places with names these corners are Neah Bay, Metaline Falls, Rogersburg, and Illwaco; in each case I went as far into those corners that my wheels and legs would take me. As I mentioned in an earlier post the purpose was to get lost, transparent in the land and attempt to see old places with fresh eyes and new ones with old eyes.

The result of this trip and earlier ones are always complicated since I am disconnected from day to day life and at best can only form lasting impressions through casual conversations, how rain smells inside a tent, and the ideas that run through my head while in motion or when I am standing still with my camera and tripod. When I am paying attention and blessed with good fortune I stumble upon the odd details that speaks to how the land and human circumstances shape the people that live in these places. America is a powerful place no matter your perspective; give it time and you will be altered forever.

One thing I noticed, no genius required here, is how divided we have become economically, politically, and culturally. Make no mistake, overall, I think we still aspire to a common idea of the diamond that is America but instead of standing together before her idealism, today we stand before our own facet awestruck with righteous conviction and with minimal regard to the reality that a diamond has many, many facets. Empathy and trust seem to have been replaced with smirks and eye rolling.

Our smaller towns and cities, when blessed by fortunate geography, have the infrastructure that allows these places to collect, convert, or transport the raw resources yielded by farming, ranching, fishing, logging, or mining, and transform them into dollars that fill bank accounts, minds, ambitions, and bellies. The tradeoff is a major league baseball game or a Bruce Springsteen concert requires extra commitment, not unlike going to a foreign land, while in exchange you know all your neighbors and that they will boot your wayward youths in the butt when needed.

These are the places where a person can still make a real living with his or her back, hands, and yes, mind, and if truly wealthy, that same back will own the land that produces these things. This is the America that existed, more or less, around the Northwest since the Civil War, but in the later 20th century has had its importance displaced by skills that are dependent upon corporations and technology clustered in the major urban centers, which, for good measure, are frequently located near the ports where those raw goods are shipped to the vast international marketplaces. The scope and complexity of these commercial enterprises in rural America are breath taking to observe.

The stronger of these towns are, not surprisingly, located at transportation nexus points and attract a retail economy that depends upon a concentration of eyeballs and wallets. In these places, such as Colville, Washington, population 4,668, one still finds the essential small business and services, however today, the big box retailers have shown up, driven by a corporate addiction to cheap land, cheap wages, and limited competition.

There too, you will find people, with limited options, struggling to make ends meet in this big box/gas station gig world that perpetually leaves them a few hours short of life’s basic needs; a world where these corporations rig the system so they end up having to apply for State medical benefits and food stamps. Here one finds an America that is all about cynical manipulation and utter disregard about a better future for the greater good while in the urban centers, the technology companies play the same game but with far better wages and benefits.

At times this economic hamster wheel, this incessant demand for expansion, smacks of a Ponzi scheme or a perpetual energy machine that gleefully promises permanent prosperity as long as everyone keeps spending until flat broke and the credit cards are maxed out. For the most part this system works reasonably well except when our collective greed causes the perpetual machine to explode into a billion pieces such as during the 1930s Great Depression or the more recent multiyear Great Recession that came within a whisker’s width of complete global economic collapse.

While traveling around during that last dust up I witnessed how storefronts emptied out in these small towns and in conversations overheard found out how Joe lost his home to foreclosure, Juan lost his job at Wal-Mart and was about to get evicted, or how Mary’s clothing store went belly up and how she felt lucky to have a job at the Chevron station. Everybody sucked in hope and exhaled pessimism and passed the next few years by simply getting older just like their cars. Today, the air is much clearer and there are new pickup trucks around but one can still quickly find abandoned shopping centers, echoes of the past six years, that will probably sit idle for many years to come.

The building in this photo was empty in 2013 and now is home to a second hand store that seems trapped between equal parts desperation and hope, a reasonable summary of the last few years. One thing that never got whacked was our fine love for America as exhibited in the Moose mural. In that mural the artist nailed the key geographic features of the far northern eastern corner of Washington, the Selkirk Mountains and the Columbia River, and tells the world that this is the one place in the State that has a moose population.

—- *** —-

And in case you are still reading, here is an extra credit moment that is intended to give you a bit deeper understanding of what a typical scene looks like when I find it. This Google Maps screen capture is reasonably close to what I see when I come upon a scene. The point is out of the chaos of the world my eye hits upon a detail that revels an idea and image about how America has transformed me. Thanks for playing along over the years, months, and days.

Copyright 2016 – Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved