A sergeant major
set the boundary

Lady Shizuka from a classic Japanese kabuki play “Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura.”

On my first night in the Marine Corps, the sergeant major of the recruit training regiment drew a certain line. With our recently shaved heads, we stood at attention in the second floor of a wood frame World War II barracks.

The room was absolutely silent. Walking into the quiet was a short, stout non-commissioned officer, wearing more stripes than any of us had ever seen. He jumped up on to a table to give us the pep talk. He said that some of us wouldn’t make it through basic training. He was right.

About halfway through, he stopped, for emphasis, and then laid it out — racial bigotry would not be tolerated. Perhaps this had been part of all indoctrination talks since President Truman’s desegregation of the Armed Forces. Perhaps it became a new element following the Civil Rights Act that became law just two years before my platoon hit Parris Island.

Whatever the case, the words rang out in a platoon that was largely drawn from southern states and somewhat from New England.

I remembered that moment last week after reading about Donald Trump’s flirtation with David Duke, the Ku Klux Klan and the white supremacy movement.

The most disconcerting thing about Trump is that he gives license to some of the most virulent strains of racism and bigotry.

As commander in chief, a President Trump would be over Armed Forces that include Muslims and Hispanics — groups whom he has disparaged.


My favorite building at Portland State University was Lincoln Hall. It was the fun place. I took a film course there. And music of all forms drifted out of its practice studios.

At about 7 last Friday night, jazz was coming from the ground-floor studio on the building’s northeast corner. At the piano was Darrell Grant, leading his students.

We were on our way upstairs, to see a unique theater offering — Kabuki.

If you have the chance to see this Japanese theater genre, jump at it. PSU has been home to the first mounting of the most epic Japanese Kabuki play — The Revenge of the 47 Loyal Samurai. My wife and I saw it last Friday night. Spoken in English, the play is accessible to the non-Japanese speaker.

To an American in 2016, the slow, measured pace of Kabuki can be unsettling. There are long silences to which we are unaccustomed. But on the other end of the emotional scale, vivid feelings of lust, ridicule and vengeance are on display. There is a detailed and painfully slow depiction of seppuku, ritualized Japanese suicide involving disembowelment.

Based on true series of events in Japanese 18th century history, this work has fascinated Larry Kominz of PSU’s Center for Japanese Studies. He directed the production.

The musical backdrop was shamisen (Japanese guitar), flute and wooden blocks.

— S.A.F.