The news reported that over 80 inches of rain fell in Astoria between October and late April, a record amount in 96 years of keeping such records. I hope the trend continues into May and all summer.
I wrote a weird book about rain. The essay below didn’t make it into that book because some of the best rain stories of my life came after the book was released. It’s always like that with me; a book about a subject, say the Portland Trail Blazers 1977 Championship, or Vortex I, or gigging, or the Yaquina Bay Bridge, or Sometimes a Great Notion (the movie) comes out, and then the best stories emerge after the release when people start coming forward or you remember more about the subject.
This rain incident took place four years ago in Newport and involved one the best students of my career. The photo here was taken by her.
“The coach told us we had to go out and immediately get a spray tan because she needed to see how we looked,” said Lily, a senior, who abruptly stopped writing an essay in my classroom during my prep period.
It was raining outside, classic April showers that bring endless lawn mowing and the slug patrol. I had just casually asked Lily about her mid-week tryout to become an Oregon State University cheerleader. A day ago, I heard it through the rain vine that she had fulfilled a lifelong dream and made the team.
She turned to me and continued. “The coach said it was because we’d be appearing on national television at football games.”
“What? With a fake tan?” I screamed. “This is Oregon. Cheerleaders should look Gothic!”
Lily was getting upset. From my desk a few feet away, I detected red streaks upon her face. I knew a genuine teenage tirade was coming and I relished the thought because when Lily went on a tirade, it is a wonder to behold. I’ll never forget the one last spring about mold contaminating Newport High School. It had since entered legend.
It was time to crush the eggs and egg her on. She wouldn’t be around much longer and that saddened me because she was a uniquely talented and eclectic student who could fly through the air with the greatest of ease or tell a story of picking up European hitchhikers on Highway 101 and debating the merits of socialism. She was also gloriously pale!
Yes, I wanted a final tirade, one for the ages, fulminating on the indigenous beauty of Oregon rain, and against the blonde, bronzed, vacuous cheerleader, a stereotype Lily had fought to annihilate her entire high school career, most recently at the senior poetry slam where she slyly confronted those who dared to typecast: Like hanging files in a cabinet we are categorized / and only by what people see on the outside.
The very notion of any football cheerleader in Oregon having a real, let alone cultivating a fake tan was utterly heretical and preposterous and certainly portended the wrong direction for the state.
Some deluded coach, most likely from Arizona or Florida, who thinks of rain as the R Word, was asking a young woman who grew up in place where it rains an average of 70 inches a year, to embrace a Southern Californian identity for the sake of recruiting star athletes from the Umbrella Lands to compete for Oregon’s Pac-12 universities. It was all about establishing a new brand for Oregon’s gray sunshine to sell more apparel made by child slaves in Asia.
Did I mention Lily is an incredibly accomplished photographer who has taken the best photographs of rain I have ever seen? Or that she’s probably set a world record for cheerleading in rain? Or that she would break up with a boy on the spot if he ever transgressed with an umbrella? In fact, she once expressed her desire to get married in rain!
Lily told me more about the tryout and I witnessed the vexation mounting. As her teacher, I had a clear professional duty to calm her down and thereby see the big business picture of the sun triumphing over rain. Perhaps I should have even suggested that she consider quitting rather than compromising her integrity and betraying her heritage.
No, never. Advance, always.
I brought out a dozen more eggs, shattered them against the wall and painted my face with the yolks. I became unhinged in my attempt to foment Lily into leading a revolution where she would storm the ramparts of this pretentious Oregon facade and blast it to smithereens with rain and her blinding white complexion as her only weapons.
I exhorted. I cajoled. I beguiled. I demanded. I begged. Just do it Lily…and refuse to tan. Make your refusal a civil right. Take to the slick streets. Gather signatures for a ballot initiative. Enshrine pallor in the state’s constitution. Take a righteous stand for the sake of color-free rain. Tell them, “Blanche you!” Bring these fools in the sun some hard slanting rain like they’ve never seen before. Do this, Lily, and you’ll become an Oregon legend.