Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why I Chose Stumptown

Since I moved from New York City to Portland Oregon four months ago, the top question I've been asked is "Why?"

Willamette Week, the top local indie paper, just released its annual Best of Portland poll. These answers sum up why I now call Stumptown home:

Best Reason to Love Portland

A strong plurality of you folks said the friendly, caring, weird and otherwise great people who live here are the best reason to love this city. You know what? We agree.

Runners-up: The Portland Timbers, craft beer, the food, the bike culture, the weather.

Some other notable suggestions:

“All the beautiful gardens people have in their front yards and parking strips.”

“Big-city resources, small-city community.”

“Bull Run water—fresh and natural.”

“Cafes, bikes, vintage stores, people and Forest Park (and days that take advantage of it all).”

“Casual attitude in a beautiful landscape.”

“Girls in miniskirts on bicycles!”

“Great gardening! Neighbors have chickens!”

“Hot, curvy tattooed chicks as far as you can see.”

“Is this even a question? Liberals, gays, green, and good music!”

“The best Argentine tango community in the U.S.”

“Its like Amsterdam but cleaner and with better bud.”

“It’s my hometown, motherfuckers! And bikes.”

“It’s the best parts of every Urban Utopia you’ve ever heard hyped, mashed together and slightly drunk.”

“Least-scary city ever—how times have changed.”

“No sales tax!”

“Rectangle glasses.”

“So many great restaurants, even though everyone would rather eat at food carts.”


I worry about the permanent record as it shifts from paper. China already does a number on a billion+ people with The Great Firewall. What happens if (alterable, revisionable) digital texts leave comparatively permanent paper behind? Ray Bradbury's firemen wouldn't need flamethrowers, just a figurative delete key.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Facebook in real life

Hi, how are you?
And what type of work do you do?
I see. And what type of 18th century literary figure are you?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Better Class of Asshole

About a week ago I heard some repeated irregular banging noises around 2am, followed every few minutes by some cheers. Some drunks had obviously improvised some type of game. This went on about 30 min, but I couldn't really see where they were and wasn't interested in making my first call to the cops just yet. Plus, 2am is just after the bars let out here. Not too too horrible.

About 10 after 4 this morning I was awakened by the same noises, and thought "Oh HELL no."

So I grab my ridiculously strong flashlight and go out on the balcony, which is three stories up. I see four guys on the next block: two teams of two tossing rocks into some containers. Exactly what I thought--the type of thing that would be incredibly boring sober, but was probably pretty challenging to this crowd.

I train the light on them. "GUYS! YOU'RE KILLIN'" ME! IT'S 4A.M.! CALL IT A NIGHT!"

They all look up, don't say a word (as if being quiet will make me go away, even though I have 120 lumens on them). They're shielding their eyes to try to see. I keep the light on them.


Then they actually picked up their stuff and left, without saying a word. They didn't stomp off, or even look put out. They weren't upset, but realized they were inconveniencing people.

Never ever ever would that have worked back East.

I love Portland. Even the drunken assholes can be reminded of their innate polite streaks.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

New York, New York I won't go back Indelible reminder of the steel I lack I gave you seven years What did you give me back? A jawgrind disposition to a panic attack
--Soul Coughing, The Incumbent

Thursday, February 26, 2009

And so it goes.

Mom, with a friend of the family who gave her away.

My mother is on the verge of dying after a week and a half in hospice. She has cancer throughout her body, including breast cancer with metastization, liver, and lungs. I'm very glad she made the choice to enter hospice once it was clear she would not win the fight. She has had outstanding care, and the hospice nurses have all made sure she did not feel pain. She had a very nice room with a big window, and a view of a lake with ducks.

Mom has had a hard life, much of it by her own choosing. She abused alcohol and prescription drugs for decades, culminating in her dismissal from nursing after stealing the narcotic Demerol and shooting it into her thigh while on shift.

For the last four years, mom lived in a halfway house for recovering addicts, and she loved it. There was a pool right outside her window, and she was largely left alone, which was always goal number one for her; the sure way of getting mom not to do something was to try to tell her to do it.

Mom was also codependent, and until the last few years of her life could not stand to be alone. She avoided conflict to the point of complete passivity, and is technically still married to a man she hasn't seen for 15 years. She just couldn't deal with going through the process of divorcing him, which she thought would have made her a three-time loser in marriage. I don't buy too much into Freud, but mom lost her dad to a heart attack when she was a teenager, and I know that she had loved him very much and always missed him. Whether that connected her to whatever men stuck around, I don't know.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day.

I don't outline these problems to diss mom, but rather to establish how tough she had it. The thing is, an addict is sometimes incapable of making healthy decisions. So when I would ask her to get the divorce so she could get her half of the house she co-owned with this guy (she needed the money), and she wouldn't, I realize that she was running as fast as she could just to stay in place: staying sober and paying her rent and bills on time was a triumph for her. The idea of going down to the county courthouse and dealing with bureaucracy was just more than she could take on.

I spent a week in hospice with mom. I stayed overnight in her room on a sofabed, spending time by her side holding her hand, stroking her hair, telling her it was going to be ok even after she became unresponsive. The cancer was horrific even with the regular morphine and drugs used to help with the secretions her lungs were producing. She had a deep persistent cough, and since she stopped taking fluids and had said she didn't want an IV, the only thing to do was wait for the coughing reflex to end. I spent several hours one night fighting the instinct to pick her up, take her away from the hospital, and nurse her back to health.

What was magic about the week was how many people made it clear they cared for my mom and me. Mom's friends from the halfway house visited, bringing flowers and her favorite stuffed animals. The hospice nurses had all been through the same experiences themselves, and so were called to the work much like priests. Every one of them had chosen to work there. When one nurse had to leave because she had the following three days off, she kissed her forehead and said "I have to go now, Mary. Say hi to my Mom."

While mom was still lucid and able to talk, she was also able to deal with longtime guilt. A staff chaplain gave her a blessing and said a prayer for her, and also had an Episcopalian priest come in to give communion, which mom was able to keep down. She had been worried about being a bad mom to me, and I was able to put that out of her mind, letting her know she did the best she could.

Mom maintained her sense of humor while she was still awake, even after she couldn't talk. When I told the nurses my mom had also been a nurse, and that she liked working most with babies in Ob/Gyn, one of them said "Well, babies are easier to deal with than some of the adults." Mom raised an eyebrow as if to say "You got that right." After a nurse cut her hair mid-length and brushed it, I told her it looked better. Mom put her index finger to her chin as if to say "Duh!"

Mom loved being goofy and laughing to the point of tears. She hated having her picture taken, but loved to capture funny reactions by snapping ambush pics. She loved using funny voices. She loved needlepoint and cats and calm. She loved me.

When I had to go, I told mom that I loved her and that I knew she loved me. I told her everything would be better soon. And I told her I hoped she saw her daddy.

Mom and Dad leave for their honeymoon.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I'm going to say goodbye to my mom.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Maybe I don't want to live in the moment. Ever consider that?

I worked a long time to live in the moment. I was always living in the future: this or that speedbump doesn't matter; I'll prevail over time, this too shall pass, etc. That's ok sometimes, but bad voodoo if the proverbial bus comes along before you reach the point at which you think you can safely exhale.

So here I am not wanting to live in the moment so much. Mom's in ICU and may or may not die from cancer complications (because cancer itself isn't complicated enough) within the next 48 hours. I have a project due, and am set to leave for a friend's wedding on Thursday. I was already making plans to visit mom at the end of next month, but I don't know if she'll make it. I'm stuck waiting for the next two days to see whether I need to go down there nownownow.

I can't tell if I'm being pragmatic by not going nownownow and waiting to learn more, or just being selfish. I'm doing my best not to flip out, because that's not going to help her, but the water is definitely coming to a boil, and the kettle of emotions will be working up a shrill whistle any minute now.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Third Person Singular

Something has to boil down. This chaos theory suspension anti-melting pot can’t solve a thing. Coping mechanisms are not sufficient. Climbing debt’s false mountain, making you feel like a conquering hero if you beat the minimum payment. Eschewing the latest/greatest. Fighting pretense, right along with their impetus toward really pricey cars. Shadowy activist and drunken sailor, all rolled into one.

I want some faith in the transcendent--if not beamed through stained glass, then at least whatever my seventy year-old wine-addled Humanities professor was on about when talking about Kandinsky. I’ve had 13 years for the lesson to sink in, and still it hasn’t. Linked snippets and meta-readings and reader response and This Sex Which Is Not One and all the rest of the questioning haven’t produced much of an alternative to that which they challenged. Sitting down to a meal with friends would be more satisfying than a breaking-down analysis anyday.

Sleeved and sheathed, miles apart on purpose: that’s what people are in this metrope-olis. All the real fun is heat-sealed in plastic, like an Otter Pop, personality painted on, with the insides frozen and artificially sweet. This is what happens when your ex- fucks off in the middle of the night, never to be seen again. Everything's sectioned off in tic-tac-toe cardboard divider neatness.

Maybe all the sixteenth-inch-long hairs on my face are connected: one seventy-foot dark cebaceousness threaded through the eyelets of my pores. Oozing dead skin, dark and rotting. Pushing out my core, thrown out in jagged toenails and stringy arm hair, waxen ear leavings and blood boogers. All possibilities overtaken, having reached the outside bit by necrotic bit. Isolated and baffled as to what’s next; even the normal biological stuff doesn’t seem to make sense. You may exhale pure mountain air, but it freezes after leaving your mouth, shattering on the ground. Trying to communicate? Someone might have to thaw out your words.

Saw someone puking directly onto the railbed this morning. That was new. Pretty matter-of-factly, too--no noise except the wet splatting. Two separate volleys. Later, I saw someone with Spock eyebrows. Not in costume or anything, just a man with angled, pointy, plucked brows.

I'm looking at a mouse assay the railbed stew: dead batteries and empty Smirnoff miniatures. An actual five dollar bill. The bright lights come within two minutes, ending the platform fashion show of the half-awake. Work awaits.

Topside, water pits and lashes everything. Eyes sting, desiring warmth in the form of smoke. Out of sync with the rain, with the random steps of umbrella-wielding subway traipsers. Chemical scents from new construction will be my big postwork reward tonight, along with an early winter darkness that will only get worse for months on end.

Hoes and edgers and chop the ice into fouled peppermint bark. Crickcracking boots make their way over the scale model of Antarctica. The foul steam of others' glares and railbed urine are traded for a humid, clammy, walk under a relentless Dracula moon.

Clink. Clinkclink. Crash clink. The sound of browsed bottles tells me the night shift has begun. There aren't any paid newspaper boxes around here. Turn one on the side, then upside down again, and once more on the other side, you have the quarters. Like that old labyrinth game but without the control knobs. A couple of blocks over, where the rent is three times as high, they have newspaper boxes. There are cultural resellers, too. Diving for the over-read and -listened, when daylight hits they'll have a decent spread of the Lovin' Spoonful, Art Garfunkel, and recipe books. Papa was a rolling stone, too. Chattahoochee economy. Slate-relief paper gems. Flung vinyl, hotly warped. Precycling, no blue bin needed. Everything's free, donations accepted. You see these cookie cutters, miss?

So, yearn for the cheap seats and the random encounters (hey Mr. Fireman, want a beer?) and the disposable anonymity and all that. Be aggressive and go for provoked reactions and push and prod and ping off the next bumper--triple the points if you insult who you're with. Deny yourself the sunshine during a beautiful Summer weekend. Whee.

lub-dup. lub-dup. lub-dup. lub-dup.

Swishing sound of tires on a rain-coated street. The would-be white noise of a window A/C unit. Low motoring of a three-point turn that takes a full six minutes. The chirping of birds too house-proud to fly away from all this.

Energy-sapping train ride ahead. Attendant smells, squeals, marketing assaults, panhandling ranging from the polished to the amateur to the Star Search-level. Accordion playing, bone-snapping breakdancing. Buy some pencils, erasers, candy, generic batteries and souls. Glance sidelong at those alive and not. Corpselike bags of blood craving Hungry-Man dinners, fishsticks and Pabst. Briefcased printouts of job board listings.

Navigate maze. Collect shiny object. Repeat.
Blinders on, goals in mind. Tiny victories/attention-span fillers/sunsets missed.

Scuttle skitter moveabout spitspot.
Cross your T's, Sign your Names, Those I's you'll dot.
Frozen outside, sheltered in artificial heat.
Phantom bones broken, tunneled fingers snap.
Swiss cheesed calcium. Crunch that cartilage. Melt yourself. Pureed person molded daily in forms of others' design.

Like Gregor Samsa and the roach, I awake to find that
My bathroom is a Starbucks
There is a capuccino machine where the toilet was.
Instead of half cappuccino shots and
half double decaf half mochaNothing,
It serves up peach facial scrub

Folks slinging zen at me, lovelife regrets poking noses Kilroy-like.
Jealousy and other bugaboos of the passive pick pick pick.

Second Person Singular

I look at him and he looks at me and I have no fucking idea who he’s looking at ‘cause there’s a bunch of stuff coming out of his mouth waaaaay too fast for any normal human being to process. He’s got all the elements of being something and doesn’t seem na├»ve or stupid, but he’s just too intense.


Why is this guy looking at me like I’m something on a microscope slide?


So after a number of e-mails, I go to lunch with this quirky guy from work. We get some salads and talk a bit. He asks a lot of questions and talks really fast. He’s also a fast walker, which bugs me. He’s asking a bunch of standard stuff, but it kind of feels like parry-and-thrust. We sit down.

He asks how long I’ve been in the city.

“About eight years now.” I ask how he’s enjoying his time here.

“Discovering new things.”

"Like cocaine?"

“Whoa! Where did THAT come from?”

Christ. An amateur. I figured as fast as he was going that speed was his deal.

He asks if there’s anything about French in particular that intrigues me.

Enough already.

First Person Singular

Contains previously released material

Vend your pathos. Sell your soul. Take that which makes you you out and throw it against the gallery wall of the planet. Caked with everyone else's graffiti. Their scribblings, their sluiced, processed, made-whole realities making that experiential smush-in with your brand name candies, making way more than nothing. Vend your critical theories, your reconstituted deconstructions zerosummed to your new place on the map. You're real and alive now. No raw nerve you, not-so-freshly scrubbed, got your past ready-to-hand, uncaring about the cogito or the latest synaptic wonders of [do you have any pills to sell?] buzzed atmospheres shot through with models' baby tees.


So I'm sitting on the train next to someone who has successfully magizinified her life. What makes her happy, and why care? Elephant herds will tend to baby elephants that aren't their own if the babies' parents die. It's the cute face that compels them. Adults draw on the same instinct when they coo over other people's children, and men do it when want a woman who has hit the genetic jackpot. Here comes the Battery Guy.

"Eight batteries for a dollar. Eight of 'em for a dollar. Eight batteries, one dollar. Dollar gets you eight. It's a special. Eight batteries for a dollar. Eight of 'em for a dollar. Is that a good book miss? That's an awfully pretty dress. Ha ha. Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

"Eight batteries for a dollar. Eight of 'em for a dollar. Eight batteries for a dollar. Eight for a dollar. Dollar gets you eight. Whole box? Fif-teen Gs!"

Always hoping for that awesome conflux of Morlock scrappers. Battery Guy goes full-contact on Asian M&M Salesman. Then they team up in the colliding iron cage death match against Blind Accordion Guy and the "United Homeless Organization" spokesman who yells at 135 decibels in an enclosed space to be heard over all other sounds on a moving subway car. M&Ms sprayed pell-mell in tag team dirty fighting for Battery Guy, who trips up the UHO screamer even as his own partner's ears start to bleed.

It never happens. Instead, the doors open. Don't even try to look at her ass as she leaves.

Up out of the caves, people who couldn’t face the morning-after mirror shuffle through their Sunday afternoon, feigning low maintenance.


The walls have had the relevance removed from them. You're set to make this thing over in your image. Maybe nothing so grand, Exley's admonishment on awesome Vanity grounding those minor victories which nevertheless lie ahead for you. You can find the right facts and that's enough to survive the fallout of the New Economy, surely. And jeez, you're social; that has to count for something.

Visual Commentator. Try giving that as your job title next time you apply for a loan.

"Artist not good enough for you, son?"

Well, I'm not really concerned with form.

"Oh really? You don't like pretty girls?"

Is this going to take long?

So you haven't been granted anything. So what. Remind yourself. You know how to find the facts and you have values. You are loyal.


There's a task at hand. You are newly arrived here. That's not entirely accurate. There was, of course, always the longing for something bigger. It sure wasn't the South. Respect and disdain for tradition and Baptist political sway don't much set you apart here. It's all someplace else. If it wasn't here to begin with, it better have come from overseas. If it's not said with an accent it won't translate. And we don't mean twang. Wrapped in dolce things, with verite´or at least its hint, adaptable for parlor conversation or screen.

Task. Hand. Focus. It's not the city's fault that you haven't conquered yourself yet.


Picnic lunch. Barely tasted dressed mesclun in a plastic bowl marked with a china pencil.

So how long have you lived in the city?

"About eight years now. And you? How are you liking it so far?"

Discovering new things

"Like cocaine?"

Whoa! Where did THAT come from?


So is there anything about French in particular that intrigues you?


Facile. Two-faced. Fascinating. Snippy. Stilted. Unsafe.

So what is actual communication anyway? Not this.


Avoid the bars. Avoid the latest opening. Avoid the part of yourself that would swoop through with the rest of the gutter falcons. Better served by spot nightclub anonymity. Just wait a couple of weeks. You'll be eminently approachable then. Might have to buy a new shirt.

Divorced for five years now. Two successful relationships since then. One of these girls (women? gromen?) got married five months after they broke up. The other's engaged. Well, it's been postponed.

Dating's going--well?/poison in the--it's the connecting with someone else thing that's not going. He knows people but he doesn't know people. That is, he now knows some people with whom, on occasion, he can communicate and hang out and have a decent time, but he isn't feeling like he really understands anyone's motivations or spot on the planet or space within themselves or even the space they present as theirs.


The experiential smush-in is less satisfying than the yogurt version. Normally, you can anticipate the pleasure of the occasion in advance. The dessert will be tailored to your liking. Will you have M&Ms or Oreos in yours? Butterfinger maybe? You wait about two minutes on a hot day so that it will be slightly melty, the chocolate and sugar hitting you at the base of the brain, in the spot which handles orgasms and paper cuts. Time after time, you can order the same thing and not have disappointment, barring the counter person being stoned or pissed-off or bored, in which case you might have more smushed into your yogurt than you bargained for.

Smush-ins of the lived variety, on the other hand, are a less consistent affair. It’s what you get when you start combining one or more too many mad scientist variables. Too many things crammed into too small a space. Going to meet the person you're dating to find she's talking to someone in a quiet corner, for instance. Extra Butterfinger, please.

So talk. Find out what’s on her mind. Span the disconnect.

"I'd have to make at least $200,000 to live here."

No you wouldn't.

"Yes I would. Shoes are very important to me."

So I can eat your pussy but I can't put my arm around you in public?

"Is this going to take long?"