Polite Responses and Advice to SPAM mailers

Britney did WHAT?

Germany shows Portugal the strength in an extra inch: I’m guessing this isn’t a border dispute, but with some countries you never know. (bonjour, Paris!) Just kidding. Plus, Germany’s got too many economic problems to get back into expansionist foreign policy. So you’re going to have to be a lot more clear, Spammer.

Hot Latinas banged by Germany: Hmm, this has more to do with the tourism industry, I suspect. But if drunken German tourists are indeed wandering foreign lands smacking locals with sticks, bottles or whatever, that may also be a local law enforcement issue.

Portugal regrets not bringing herbal supplements: Look, I’m just one guy in Oregon with a computer and a modem. It’s very difficult for me to understand, let alone resolve, health care issues in foreign countries. But if that has something to do with Germany, and two-fisted tourists, I can only suggest you inform local authorities.

Make her a happy camper: Oh, I know this one. First, you’ll want to make sure the hike is neither too long nor steep for her tastes. You’ll also be amazed at what a really good sleeping pad can do for a night’s sleep in the wild — check out the new blow-up models.

Nothing beats a huge stick: If we’re still talking about camping, I agree – you can use it fend off bears and other inquisitive/hungry animals who might enter your camp. But if this is another complaint about German tourists, it’s really not my department.

Give her more of yourself: Yes, exactly, Mr. Spammer. The key to a more solid, satisfying relationship with any partner lies in what you share of yourself, and how you extend your inner feelings to help her understand what you’re thinking, even if she continues to disagree.

Playboy playmate revealed: As a secret prude? As having regrets for the rash decisions made in early adulthood? I’m going to need some help here.

Crazy girls gone wilder: Are they German? Are they holding bear-staving sticks? Unless this is happening somewhere I can drive to, and quickly, I just can’t see myself being much help.

The Art of Revenge!

The sawed-off head of the My Little Pony doll came in a handmade box, with crimson string that was knotted into a bow on top.

I was at a hotel bar waiting for an interview. When the box showed up instead it seemed pretty, yet sinister, too. What could be inside?

One reason for trepidation: The guys who sent it were the proprietors of a Portland-based company called Revenge for Hire.

Also worth noting: This same pair had just shot the pilot episode of a reality series about their antics.

And there’s more.

The part where the Revenge guys are also working artists. And the creators of a weird array of other Internet sites, including the now defunct Rude-o-Gram service (mean-spirited singing telegrams) and a short-lived private detective agency.

And there’s the allegations about drinking, public nudity and mental illness.

But first we’ve got a hot-pink pony head to contend with. And also a teensy scroll, which bore a message in microscopic type.

“Dearest Mr. Carlin,” the scroll read. “You’ve afforded yourself one question.”

Told to expect an answer in the form of an MP3, I waited. For days, weeks, months. Nothing came.

Six months later came a Facebook e-mail from a man named Tan Peluski, who claimed to be a friend of the Revenge guys. “You have arrived at your destination,” Peluski concluded. “Good luck, my friend.”

Peluski, as it turns out, doesn’t really exist. But the number he sent did indeed lead to Charlie Alan Kraft and Steve Elliott, the heart of Revenge for Hire, and so many other things, too.

Their antics might strike you as childish, self-indulgent and/or stupid. But take a closer look.

Think back to the Ken Kesey of the 1960s and ’70s, at the point when he gave up writing to focus on the art of being. Was it possible, he wondered, to function as a living, breathing work of art? The enlightened man as sparkle-eyed conscientious objector to the dull rigors of ordinary life?

You could also see the Revenge boys as the latest personification of Oregon’s beautiful-but-dangerous wilderness. A product of the substructural weirdness that trickles down from the mountains, flows through the river and bubbles through the faucets and into the house.

“The answer is never the answer,” Kesey said once. “What’s really interesting is the mystery.”

Let’s start with the tattoo.

It’s on the left side of Kraft’s face, beginning around his eye, stretching toward his ear and picking up again at his bottom lip, from where it descends like a pair of fangs or a trail of bluish blood.

Paired with his full beard, a boulder-size head and barrel chest, the tattoo seems to symbolize Kraft’s dedication to his art, or serve as a souvenir of some past episode of psychosis.

Or maybe a little of both.

Elliott, the more taciturn of the two, sits quietly with his low-key T-shirt and suspicious eyes, occasionally adding a withering comment in his sardonic baritone. The guys, both in their mid-30s, are clearly fond of each other, albeit with a kind of good-naturedly macho detachment.

Steve Elliott – the opportunist

“Steve’s an opportunist and I’m a (jerk),” Kraft says. “Knowing that about each other keeps us honest.”

Kraft hails from Minneapolis, where he attended art college before getting disgusted with his fellow students and dropping out to paint full time. Moving to Portland in 2003, Kraft fell in with a group of younger artists working in the outer circles where fine art meets graffiti.

Elliott started out in Philadelphia but moved west to study art and journalism at Portland State. There he met fellow art/journalism student Chris Haberman, who complemented his artsy calling with a yen for scene-making and people-connecting.

Haberman took his first big post-collegiate stand in 2009 by forming Portland City Art, a nonprofit designed to help organize and demand attention for the city’s emerging artists. One of his top lieutenants, at first, was Elliott, who designed and built the group’s website.

It was at a PCA opening where Haberman introduced Elliott to Kraft. Connecting immediately, Elliott and Kraft celebrated their meeting by swiping some of Haberman’s beer. Then the real trouble began when they got to talking and realized that one of the things they had in common was a growing antipathy for Portland City Art and its flamboyant leader.

Kraft and Elliott created a satirical website to ridicule the pretenses of the Portland art scene in general, and Haberman in particular. And just to be extra rude, Elliott planted the new publication on www.portlandcityart.com, which was PCA’s URL until it realized that nonprofit organizations go by “.org” on the web.

“They just kind of targeted me, man,” Haberman says. “Which is ridiculous ’cause we were a charity, man. I was just trying to sell art. But I think those guys are (unpleasant).”

Perhaps, but they were certainly busy. Kraft and Elliott went on to launch a variety of sites in 2009, reaching an apex, of sorts, when they launched Revenge For Hire (revengeforhire.com), whose homepage bears an array of questions, promises and disclaimers.

“Are you frustrated? Feeling alone? Is no one willing to listen to you and your vindictive ideas?” the homepage reads. “Don’t be shy! Hire the ‘Revenge for Hire’ posse! GET EVEN!”

The climactic line, written in extra-large type at the bottom of the page, addresses the reader’s antagonist: GUESS YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN SUCH A …

You can imagine where that sentence is going.

So could the authors of the e-mails that avalanched into their in-box.

“Turns out there are a lot of extremely angry people out there looking for really ugly kinds of revenge,” Kraft says. “We try to avoid the scary ones.”

But when it comes to dumping 220 gallons of dog excrement into someone’s yard — hey, no problem.

Same with unloading a ton of broken appliances and other extra-heavy detritus into the truck bed of a guy at least one person thinks is far, far too lazy. “We figured he’d HAVE to work to unload that,” Elliott says, flashing a dark smile.

Meanwhile a TV producer in Los Angeles named Jordan Stone had already imagined the financial upside of creating a reality show revolving around people carrying out revenge plots for fun and profit.

Stone tracked down Kraft and Elliott and asked them to make a video of themselves. He liked what he saw and passed along the results to TruTV, whose development staff got excited enough to pay for the production of a pilot episode.

The filming was, by all accounts, tons of fun. Except for the parts when (according to Kraft and Elliott), Stone started insisting that they dial their wildness back. Kraft and Elliott felt frustrated and were less than thrilled when they saw the tamed version of themselves.

Kraft: Where the wild things are.

“Charlie and Steve, when working together, are a force of nature that cannot be controlled or contained,” Kraft says.

Nevertheless, Stone controlled the final cut, so he submitted his version to TruTV, which promptly decided not to add it to its schedule. Stone is still pitching the show, but his subjects have moved on. They’re working on an original sitcom script.

“It’s about a couple of guys who will do anything to get a reality show on TV,” Elliott says. “They don’t care how humiliating it is.”

“It’s pretty much autobiographical,” Kraft adds.

In most circles, though, Kraft and Elliott are best known for their work as serious artists.

For being quiet, even sensitive guys, brush-wielding, paint-splattered denizens of the garret, working feverishly to trace the outer limits of perception.

Kraft’s muse describes scrunched-up monsters and vaguely human inhabitants of a world that is part Harvey Kurtzman-era Mad magazine, part Maurice Sendak and part acid flashback.

Elliott follows his brushes into a fire-and-brimstone madness, where movie or music stars stand amid bleeding skies and burning cities. One portrait of Patrick Swayze portrays the star nude with the bleeding head of a grizzly bear tucked under his arm.

“Like he just tore it off with his bare hands,” Elliott explains.

Both have fans and collectors, including the much-abused Haberman, who calls Kraft “one of the best line artists I’ve ever known.”

And he’s even more generous when it comes to Elliott: “Steve’s kind of a genius, really. One of the best Web designers out there. But he can’t hold a job. It’s classic.”

That mix of adulation and scorn echoes the dismissive attitude Elliott and especially Kraft have toward the product of their skills and imaginations.

“I’ve seen Charlie sell a painting for $1,000,” recalls John Graeter, another Portland artist and former creative director of PCA. “But I’ve also seen him burn paintings just like it in his front yard so no one could buy them. And he’d bite you if you came too close.”

The closest person to Kraft is nestled in the crook of his left arm. His name is Owen, and he’s 19 months old. Kraft is remarkably patient with the restless little fellow, the youngest of his three children.

His personal website (charliealankraft.com) and his corner of the Etsy.com online art sales network (etsy.com) describe an artist who is prolific, diverse (along with paintings and prints he offers sculptures and hand-built toys) and realistic enough to understand that he is as much a retailer as a font of creativity.

Elliott has similar websites for his paintings, though he cut back his work schedule due to the (premature) birth of his son, Killian Zorro Elliott.

“Babies are expensive, as it turns out,” he says, and Web designing offers a far more reliable paycheck for a guy as accustomed to trading paintings for beers (100 cold ones from The Know tavern for a portrait of ’90s rappers N.W.A. and Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates) as he is selling them for cash.

As Elliott notes, Kraft is far more successful artistically yet radiates skepticism-turned-hostility both for the art world as a whole and his creations.

He is “wired to create,” Kraft says. After leaving college, he sketched complex murals he’d spray paint on walls next to sloppily applied graffiti tags. Even now he’s happy to create works to nail in public settings, only to see them vanish with the passers-by. Art ought to be readily available to everyone, not just to moneyed collectors, he argues.

“Any human being can learn the technical skills necessary to create something artistic,” Kraft says. “I know how I am and what I do. I’m not more special than anyone.”

The self-analysis sounds unpretentious but also carries a strong whiff of self-destructiveness given the depth of commitment Kraft has given his work. Factor in the vengeance business, the crazier-than-you’ll-ever-be attempt at reality TV and the ongoing labors to complete and market a sitcom that mocks their own eagerness to jump into the life-in-the-spotlight game.

What might seen disconnected and even random actually, consciously or not, fits into the same conceptual structure. A vast, multimedia installation in which the entire planet gets hoist with its own petard. It’s easy to imagine it has something to do with Kraft’s legendary drinking bouts and related stunts, which friends recall as being fun and antic until they suddenly weren’t

“I’ve definitely seen him with puke on his shirt, looking like a complete wreck,” Graeter says.

Haberman says Kraft graced one of his group openings by stripping to his underpants and getting tossed out by security, a stunt for the “Revenge” reality show. Kraft denies being ejected from the show, but does acknowledge the less-planned drunken episodes. Graeter continues: “The next time I’d see him again and he’d be really sweet and articulate, and that’s just how he rolls.”

Kraft knows exactly what Graeter means, though he adds another element.

“Art comes hand-in-hand with psychiatric trouble,” he says. “Your brain chemistry is just made differently. But the older I get the more I know how to manage it, and fine-tune my creativity.”

He’s on the straight and narrow now, Kraft says. Hasn’t had a drink in eight months and has become an expert analyst of his own moods and psychic needs.

“I’ve been diagnosed as a bi-polar manic-depressive,” he says. “So drinking has nothing to do with me doing crazy … (stuff). I’m solid as a rock. And I’m a firm believer in positive thinking.”

Call him just another frontiersman on Oregon’s wild horizon. Kraft and Elliott together ride into the sunset on their headless pink ponies, armed with lights, cameras and more action than you’d ever imagine.

Bad Religion slams through town

Slam dancers caromed and smashed across the floor. A fist fight broke out near the left corner of the stage. Another guy dove off the balcony onto the heads of the crowd below.

All inspired by Bad Religion, a 30-year-old hardcore band whose lead vocalist/co-founder Greg Graffin, who stalked the stage dressed in a a black polo shirt, black trousers and what appeared to be soft brown leather shoes.

“The spirit of resistance, you gotta hold your grip,” Graffin snarled, the sweat already dripping down his vast, balding forehead. “Lest the state of your resolve/Makes you quickly devolve/Into a fundamentalist, yeah!”

The song, “The Resist Stance,” comes from Bad Religion’s 15th and most recent album, “The Dissent of Man.” And if it seems to be a stretch coming from a 45-year-old entertainment entrepreneur, it’s even less expected from a man whose quarter-century of academic study has earned him a PhD (zoology) and a day job at U.C.L.A., where he lectures on evolution and the ongoing conflict between science and faith.

“A pall on truth and reason/It feels like hunting season!” Now Graffin is belting out “The New Dark Ages,” his strong voice in perfect synch with the slam-bang of his Bad Religion bandmates, whose 30 years of experience (three out of the four original members performed on Monday) have knit them into a tight, powerful unit as capable of dense vocal harmonies as they are pile-driving rock ‘n’ roll. They kept it up for 90 minutes, playing a wide array of favorites and new songs that both kept the sell-out crowd in battle mode while also revealing the depth and clarity of the group’s philosophy: A withering contempt for social structures of all sorts.

“The whole world is insane,” Graffin hollered in “Los Angeles is Burning.” “How could hell be any worse?”

The songs also revealed the philosophical bonds between Graffin’s punk rock songs and his academic pursuits as a student and interpreter of the fundamentals of existence and — to his mind — the strict religious dogmas intended not to inspire but to shut down genuine thought.

All of which Graffin explores in “Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science and Bad Religion in a World Without God,” which weaves Graffin’s personal recollections with the results of his studies in evolutionary biology.

“I’ve always had a problem with authority,” he announces at the start of the book (from which Graffin will read at a presentation at the Bagdad Theater on SE Hawthorne Blvd. on Tuesday night at 6 pm). Far more trusting of direct experience and scientific proof, Graffin goes at his subject with a slam-dancer’s wild enthusiasm — launching himself at his topic, colliding against it and using the resulting tumult as an energy source to gain a better perspective.

And so Graffin’s increasingly middle-aged appearance (he looks a bit like a thinner, less morally encumbered Tony Soprano) did nothing to diminish the visceral/intellectual crunch of Bad Religion’s performance. For if he got into music as a teenager with an eye toward smashing the governing paradigm of ’70s pop music, he’s still at it.

Change is both good and, according to Darwin’s own evolutionary theory, inevitable. Graffin was particularly delighted to note the changes in the audience: “Look at all the lady slam-dancers!” he said, between songs.

Did Graffin see the number of old-time fans standing alongside their kids? One 12-year-old wore a weathered Bad Religion t-shirt and a pair of noise-dampening headphones. And as the security guards muscled a weathered slam-dancer down the stairs behind him, the kid bopped to the music with shining eyes. He had a lifetime of parardigms in front of him, all of them poised for some good, evolutionary destruction.

I can't figure this out, but. . .

The blog tool here, or some electronic boogaloo, is absolutely and positively not allowing me to publish that story about John Haines. I have no idea why this is happening, and right now it’s really pissing me off.

On the plus side, you can go to: oregonlive.com/carlin, and read the whole damn thing right.

The Dream Life of John Haines

Imagine the train rumbling through the Black Triangle of Czechoslovakia.

It’s the morning of November 10, 1999, the weak autumn light filtering through a tattered forest of skeletal branches, the gruesome toll of industrial coal mining and acid rain.

John Haines peers through the windows. His eyes are shadowed from lack of sleep, but he can see, and feel, life all around him. Green shoots pushing through the black earth. The pulse of life, the persistence of hope. And not just in the midst of this grim, dead forest.

There’s also the tentative peace in the wake of the Balkan war. The 10th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union, which inspired this train ride: Haines is heading to the celebration of the Berlin Wall’s collapse.

Ninety minutes outside of Prague the train stops in Usti nad Labem. And just like that Haines is on the move. He slips on his Adidas — not pausing to lace them — tells his girlfriend Jill he’ll be back with coffee, skips to the door and leaps into the air above the concrete platform.

And that’s where Haines’ memories end.

What happened next is a mystery. Maybe the specifics don’t matter. Because Haines was already off on his next adventure. An internal journey to the gates of death, all the way to where reality and fantasy reside. Where a dream of life is powerful enough to pull life from even the most poisonous soil.

*****

Do his eyes look haunted? Is there an ineffable weight riding along in his wheelchair?

If you glimpse Haines in motion and sense his struggle, take a closer look. What you’ll notice is that his chair has no motorized parts — he uses his own hands to push his way through the world. Which says quite a bit, given that he’s a C-7 quadriplegic with the most limited muscle movement in his arms and no sensation beneath his nipples.

And yet he wields unlikely power. As the executive director of Mercy Corps Northwest, the regional branch of Portland’s global aid organization, Haines runs a multimillion-dollar program that uses small bursts of capital — micro-loans, officially — to help struggling entrepreneurs drive themselves out of the economic muck toward something like a living, sustainable future.

Many of these pivot from simple financial fixes. A thousand dollars to start a food cart, $5,000 to launch a child care center. Other MCNW programs require more creative solutions. Haines is particularly proud of the group’s work with the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, helping freed women prisoners adjust to ordinary life by giving them cameras and journals to record the often jarring transition.

“You could say he removes obstacles for other people,” says Mignon Mazique, the Mercy Corps exec who hired Haines in 2002. The real measure of his success, she continues, is that Haines has kept his branch of Mercy Corps alive and growing for nearly a decade, despite its risky economic mission, particularly in the midst of a devastating economic downturn.

But Haines, she continues, clearly has the emotional fortitude to keep his staff motivated and even inspired.

“Just think of what it must take for him to get out of bed every day,” Mazique says. “John’s spirit is indomitable.”

****

From that leap into the light of the train platform to … where? Haines had no idea. The next thing he knew the sky above him was smoky, the breeze thick with some toxic, metallic dust. A shaft of murky light revealed a herd of gray-faced men in Soviet-style uniforms. Haines pegged them as communist bureaucrats, marching joylessly to nowhere and back again. Then it was dark again and he was blind, seeing nothing, but sensing a dark and unknowable presence lurking in the shadows.

Haines was in a medically induced coma, his brain concocting images to go along with the dull sensations filtering through a broken body near the brink of death.

The visions played for the three weeks Haines was kept unconscious. A strange tangle of nightmares, memories and hallucinations. Landscapes and faces both real and imaginary.

Even now, he says, the dreams are every bit as vivid and meaningful as the real experiences that continue to shape his life and psyche. Particularly when he’s introduced to a stranger whose face he recalls from the shadow world of the coma.

In one vision, Haines found himself in a mountain cabin, surrounded by the friends he’s known in his life. The house rang with the voices of children laughing and running, jumping from a deck into the fresh, forgiving snow below.

Haines ached to feel the fresh air against his face, but something held him down. Instead, friend after friend drifted close to speak into his ear.

You’ll prove us right, one whispered.

Another, so close Haines could feel breath on his neck. It’ll be OK.

Then another beaming face. You’ll improve.

The doctors in his hospital room were far less hopeful. But Haines’ own subconscious knew better.

****

The alms to the battered. Haines had given them himself, plenty of times, during his childhood in Laramie, Wyo. A college town overflowing with opportunities for wilderness fun, adventure and grievous bodily harm, Laramie has been home to the Haines family for five generations. Disaster stories get passed down like heirlooms. Consider great-great Grandma and her pair of unlucky husbands. One drowned in the Mississippi River, the other died after a horse bucked him onto a fence.

The surviving Haines men tended to be bankers, which led Haines to study finance at the University of Wyoming. Maybe there was something comforting in the walled-in universe of numbers. Particularly for a youngster who eventually would pen memoirs titled “Freezing, Falling, Shooting and Snow” and “Driving and Crying.”

“We all know a lot of people who died from Laramie,” younger brother Doug says, as if their hometown was also a deadly virus. Given the mountainous terrain, severe weather and the risky highways, the vector of death is easy to follow.

“Recreation around our town,” Doug continues, “always carried an element of danger.”

John Haines was no “danger ranger,” but he was strong and fearless, which made it difficult for him to resist the urge to ski harder, climb the highest, bike and hike the fastest. “Every hike felt like the Bataan Death March.” Doug says. “There was no way to keep up.”

Particularly when Haines roved beyond the bounds of Laramie. He spent one summer wandering Europe, often sleeping in parks and eating wherever he could. After graduating college in 1981 he wandered Tibet, then taught skiing in Switzerland. At one point he followed a girlfriend to Eugene, and when that relationship ended he drifted north to Portland. Nearing 30, Haines took a job at a bank and limited his adventures to well-planned bursts. In 1991, for instance, he and some friends spent a few months in Africa to kayak the length of the (largely unexplored, unmapped, croc-filled) Niger.

Returning a few months later, Haines resumed his career, married and moved with his wife to Princeton University, where she pursued a graduate degree. While she studied, Haines used his financial expertise to help fund public interest projects in the grim corners of Trenton, N.J. Later the couple spent a year in Prague, where Haines did finance for a U.S. aid contractor and helped coordinate elections in the Balkans while his wife continued her studies.

And, she eventually would confess, became increasingly close to another grad student.

“Letting go of my vision for a durable marriage was impossible,” Haines wrote in a memoir juxtaposing the birth of Balkans democracy with the death of his marital union. “I cling to myth and what I can trust — being alone in my dreams, fighting for some dignity.”

*******

Haines found himself on another train. He’s ridden rails all over the world, but this was like nothing he’d ever seen: The cars were rolling medical wards, the beds full of grievously injured victims. Haines had no money in his pockets; he shouldn’t have been on the train at all. At the last minute a nurse took pity and sneaked him into a closet, where he rested briefly before feeling a crushing weight collapsing upon his shoulders. A dead body had fallen through the blackness, pinning Haines to the floor, too overwhelmed to draw a breath. He felt himself slipping beneath the surface, going down for the last time.

The closet door flew open and Haines fell out onto a train platform. A doctor greeted him like an old friend. “Hello, John!” he called. “Your brother Doug said you were coming!”

Somewhere beyond his subconscious Haines was battling for life, his weakened body often sinking perilously close to extinction. One particularly grim moment came during an attempt to transport Haines from Czechoslovakia to England. The ventilator Haines needed to pump oxygen into his lungs failed somewhere between Usti and Leipzig. His heart stopped and resuscitation had not been easy. Nevertheless, the transport specialists were in the act of loading their barely living patient into an airplane for the next leg of his journey when another doctor glimpsed

Haines’ dimming vital signs and cried out in alarm.

This man will be dead before he leaves German air!, he sputtered. He requires emergency treatment right here, and right now!

Transferred to a specialized neurology hospital in Halle, Haines’ recovery was overseen by a German doctor who nursed him back to stable ground. When Haines was strong enough to be brought back to consciousness he drifted up slowly. He was surprised to find his brother Doug, a lawyer in Athens, Ga., at his bedside. And when Doug introduced his brother to the doctor who had done so much to nurse him back to health in Germany, Haines had the eerie sensation that they already had met. Indeed, the real doctor had the same smiling face that came to him on the train platform in his dreams.

And what of the mystery doctor in Leipzig who kept Haines from being flown off to his own midair doom? Haines never even knew of his existence until three years later when a jangling telephone startled him awake at 5 a.m. Portland time. The heavily accented voice on the other end belonged to a Dr. Ebert, from Leipzig.

“I cared of you when you grew critical,” the doctor insisted. “I am finding you for payment of bill.”

Doug Haines confirmed the man’s story was true: Ebert was the meandering doctor who had saved his life at the Leipzig airport. Now he wanted $350 for his services. Haines wrote the check himself and felt honored to apply the stamp and send it away. He now keeps Ebert’s original bill framed on his library wall at home.

******

The visions continued even after he awoke from his coma. Dosed with strong painkillers, Haines spent hours gazing through his hospital window at the whales swimming through the air outside. They all had the same bloody gash in their sides, but they were still moving, silently, onward.

He’ll probably never know exactly what happened between the instant he leaped toward the Usti train platform and the moment a bystander found his broken body lying on the railroad tracks. Haines suspects his search for coffee ended abruptly when the train pulled away without warning.

So what happened next? He must have leaped for the stairs. He must have slipped, or else his untied shoelaces got tangled on something. The next people who saw Haines found him in the wake of the departed train, unconscious and bleeding heavily. His leg was broken. His head was battered, as if it had been scraped down a length of railroad track. And his neck had snapped at the C-7 vertebrae.

This is all Haines knows. At this point, he’s pretty sure he doesn’t need, or want, to learn anything else. “Too traumatic,” he says.

There must be so many other questions to ask. Like, for instance, why? Why him? Why then? After a life of semi-cautious daredevilry spent everywhere from the tops of mountains to the depths of the Niger River, how could it all end amid a crowd of commuters in a suburban train station in Czechoslovakia?

Or maybe fate had been pulling him there for decades.

“I like going to places in transition,” Haines says, and suddenly the logic appears.

That’s what had drawn him to the Balkans in the first place. And also why he had decided so impulsively, and with such clear purpose, to help celebrate the fall of European communism.

It took him to the slowly reviving world beneath the dead trees of the Black Triangle. The financial work among the dispossessed in Trenton, N.J. It’s all dreams into action; action into deeds; deeds building upon themselves to spur a full-on transformation.

Haines took the same journey inside himself during his brush with death. And once his own transition from restless athleticism to all-but-stationary quadriplegic was complete, Haines projected his dream into Mercy Corps Northwest. Glimmers of life sparking in the new food trucks and warm storefronts pulling even more life into the region’s blighted streets.

The wheelchair, Haines insists, is not a living nightmare. Just surviving, and finding the strength and ingenuity to re-create his ambitious, on-the-go life, were such steep challenges he didn’t have time to miss the adventures of the slopes. Though after 11 years of growth and stability he has to admit that when he sees Mount Hood out there on the horizon, perfectly white and glistening in the sun, well …

“Now it kinda sucks that I can’t ski.”

There’s always something to dream about.

(published in The Oregonian, Nov 14, 2010)