Connecting with a fleet of fair friends

Erik Steighner and his old boss, at the Metronome Cafe in Tacoma, Wash., Jan. 17.

My recent week vacation up in Washington felt like a recruitment trip for the daily regimen.

I traveled by way of Tacoma, as well as my old stomping grounds Port Townsend and Port Ludlow, connecting in all three places with a number of old friends.

Three of these fellows, all of whom have wound up in Tacoma, hail from different stages of my life, and they include one Erik Steighner, HRVHS Class of 1999.

I’ve reconnected with friends of long past in late 2018 and early 2019, including a college friend I had not seen in 37 years; yet after our hale-fellow-well-met coffee reunion in Portland in the fall, it looks like that one’s back on hiatus. So be it. I will still write him a letter. More on that in a moment.

The second of three Tacoma-based friends was Ueli Stadler, whom I’ve known since 1983. He was born in Switzerland and has lived in the U.S. for 30 years; he’s on a long-term contract as bookstore manager at University of Puget Sound, so I got a glimpse at that gorgeous campus, and embarked with Ueli on a mini-tour of some of Tacoma’s watering holes.

Erik is the second part of the UPS connection; he’s a music professor at the school, as well as a Pacific Lutheran University and Tacoma Community College. Erik is the father of two kids. Many of you might know him as son of Mark and Hilary Steighner, long-time Gorge residents. I know Erik best as Ace Intern from 2000-03. He shared with me a poem and drawings (likely done by Parkdale’s Wendy Best, who worked here back then) he kept from his intern days, when he retrieved and typed up County Fair results (an annual part of our fair coverage). In the drawing, he is surrounded by cows and flowers and ribbons, and the poem reads, in part: “Oh, dear, what can the matter be/ Erik’s so long at the fair/His number of trips to Odell kept on growing/Erik was stuck with the fair …

“His friends at the paper were only too glad to foist off the fair on the willing fair lad …

“There was only one way to escape from the chore: To go back to college and simply ignore/

“The ongoing need to record more fair lore/Erik’s farewell to the fair.”

Fun to review an artifact of his youth, but all the more gratifying to see that Erik kept that link to the past. Indeed, Erik has gone on to write for the saxophone and he is now a veteran professor of music, and is very happy doing so. We had an enjoyable 90-minute talk over coffee at the fittingly-named Metronome Café.

My third Tacoma friend, though the first one I visited, was Mike Ferguson, and we share what I think is a rare distinction. Not merely that we have known each other since age 5, in Fauntleroy in West Seattle where we grew up a block apart. We played together, though he admits his memory of those days is mistier than mine, but he brought up names of two twin brothers, a couple of goofy neighbor kids I hadn’t thought of in, well, 55 years.

The distinction I mention is this: Our family moved from West Seattle to the east side of Lake Washington, Kirkland, when I was in the first grade, and one day in the third grade at Rose Hill Elementary I looked up and the teacher was asking the class to welcome our new student: It was Mike. We got to be great friends again in elementary and junior high years, with our mutual friend John Logan; Mike has been a professional artist all his life, and he honored me with two paintings, including an evocative oil of the Fauntleroy ferry, which docked just blocks from where we lived. Its gimlet light is an 18-by-18-inch memory encapsulated, a beautiful talisman of our childhood past.

I moved from Kirkland in the eighth grade and all three of us have kept in touch over the years, though it had been 15 years since I last saw Mike.

Both John and Mike are Guys Who Write Letters, which has been the key to sustaining our friendship, and that brings me back to that concept of the “recruiting trip.” Sometimes you have to secure your base, right? All these guys I saw while in greater Puget Sound last week have honored me with the occasional letter over the years, and I am confident they will again, this year.

I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, but annually I do pursue what I call new year’s regimen, one continued way to tie the days, weeks and months together.

In 2018, I read a short story a day, the year before that, I read a novel a month, and in years past I have read a poem a day, listened solely to classical music, among other quotidian activities. It started in 2003, when I wrote a letter a day, repeating it a few years later and in other years mixing in a postcard a day or a letter or postcard a week.

This year, the six or eight friends I hung out with for an hour or two, or for a day or two, include five guys I’ve written letters to on a fairly regular basis over the years.

They will receive letters from me, with new fodder for content now, as I return to the root regimen: A letter a day in 2019.

As of this writing, on Jan. 25, I’ve already had four hand-written or typed replies, sealed in the central criteria of pieces of papers put in an envelope and sent off with a stamp in the upper-right-hand corner. As ever, the essential means of communication.

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