By John M. Glionna, Desert Companion Magazine, September, 2021

One night not long ago, artist Jack Malotte was awakened by the sound of a woman’s laughter.

At age 67, the Native American elder has for decades inhabited a remote reservation redoubt amid central Nevada’s vast Great Basin. Other than the wind or the howl of a coyote, rural nights are peaceful. Women don’t laugh out here in a community of 192 people — at least not at this hour, not this close.

But Malotte wasn’t dreaming; Chad, his Australian Shepherd, had heard the noise, too. Malotte got up, walked out…

A journalist moves to the small town of McDermitt, on the Oregon-Nevada line, to learn about why the high school football team never wins, and about the townsfolk who cheer them on, no matter what.

One in a series.

The roosters are still crowing as Lorraine fires up yellow school bus №113, ready for yet another semester of making her tribal reservation rounds, picking up kids, keeping an eye out for the stray animals that need taking in.

It’s the first day of classes at the McDermitt Unified School District, here on the Oregon-Nevada line and, at age 73, the…

A writer moves to a small Western town to figure out its inhabitants and learn why its high school football team never wins.

One in a series.

This is the story of Crazy Frank, yesterday’s Bulldog.

He’s bushy-bearded and wild-eyed, running on pure adrenaline.

On a warm late-August afternoon, he hustles his 5-year-old son, Landon, around the high school track as McDermitt’s football Little Leaguers practice.

Frank looks as out of place here as a streaker at the big game. He wears a farm cap, flannel shirt and old pair of blue jeans, while the players all dress in uniform.

A journalist moves to a small town to write about life and a high school football team that never wins.

One in a series.

All night and into the morning, I hear the rumble of passing traffic along U.S. Route 95, those passers-through intent on getting somewhere else, anywhere but here.

Looking north from my kitchen window lies the empty sprawl of southeastern Oregon, where dirt roads are named after creeks, Rattlesnake and Crooked. An old wooden weather vane towering two stories high creaks and turns in the wind.

Out my front door is northern Nevada, equally untouched, shadowed by…

What happens when a big-city writer moves to a tiny Western town, renting a house without wifi and with sketchy cellular service, to learn more about why people live there and why the high school football team never wins?

First in a series.

There’s an isolated border town out on Nevada’s high-desert plains that has preoccupied my mind for some time now.

McDermitt straddles two states — half lies in Nevada, the other in Oregon — a town without a traffic light to slow the pickup trucks, RVs and minivans that hurtle through the heart of the rural hamlet along…

I spotted the for-sale listing on the Internet, a temptress of a house with fairy-tale ocean views in a far-away Oregon beach town I knew absolutely nothing about.

And for a price — just over $1 million — that in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live part-time, would buy you a rundown garage.


Not quite, but almost.

The last few months have taken me on a crazy Jeff Bezos rocket ship ride into the airless orbit of possibility, only to crash back to earth with the sickening thud of reality.

At the stage of my life when…

Watching Life Ripen

We were sitting at an outdoor wooden table, along a rural road called Limerick Lane, sampling various vintages deep inside the bountiful heart of California wine country.

The Sonoma County afternoon was warm and we had planted ourselves in the shade of a towering olive tree as the proprietor hovered like an attentive waiter, pouring tastes of his favorite varietals amid a sweeping backdrop of orderly vineyards.

These weren’t just the splashes of purple and gold you get at most public tastings, but healthy pours, the kind you dispense to yourself at home. …

My Friend Languishes in a Chinese Prison

In a dark way, we all expected the news. And yet when it came, it still made his friends and family flinch, and shake our heads at the calculated evil of the international gamesmanship waged by the Chinese government.

It made us pray even more for Michael.

Michael Spavor, a Canadian citizen who has spent years on the Korean Peninsula, becoming fluent in its language and warming to its everyday people, has been sentenced by a Chinese court to 11 years in prison.

His crime?

Being in the wrong place at the wrong…

Not Seeing Eye to Eye

The other day, I sat in the exam chair at my eye doctor’s office in San Francisco.

I like my optician, Herbert Wong. He’s whip-smart and chatty and we always break shit down during my annual visits, everything from housing prices to liberal politics.

Until I spotted something that cast a nauseating pall over our conversation.

A San Francisco Giants-themed license plate.

The horrors!

My eye doctor is a fan — no, an avid disciple — of the Evil Empire.

That’s how my brother, Frank, and I refer to the Giants.

You see, we’re both Dodgers fans.

For us, the…

In the classroom, David Bazelon was the Man in Black, but we hipster college writers called him The Baz.

A few decades back, at the State University of New York at Buffalo, I took a creative writing class with Bazelon, a Manhattan corporate lawyer-turned social critic who’d been lionized as one of post World War Two’s “New York intellectuals.”

He brought the gritty real world to the classroom.

A graduate of both Colombia University and Yale Law School, he was a Guggenheim fellow and social critic who kept regular correspondence with scholars James T. …

John Michael Glionna

Former Big City Journalist turned Sojourner

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store