I love making fun of Portland. And I love making fun of my friend, Loren. Since Loren lives in Portland now I get to make fun of them both.
I caught a bus down there last weekend, to treat Loren to a show for his birthday. His wife and son were out of town, so it became an impromptu guys night-out.
First, there are the sensitive men of Portland, on the bus with their paperbacks and knitted hats. There is the couple with their bikes stowed in the cargo area beneath the bus, spreading avocado on their fully-sprouted bagels. A happy weekend of bicycling in clean, happy Portland.
All the men have beards and none of the women wear make-up. They’ve got tattoos and they roll their pant legs up, for some reason. Each reflects the same muted tones as the landscape here with its grays and browns, their blue eyes, corduroys.
It starts with Loren assuming I’m at the bus station, but not really paying attention to my text which specifies I’m somewhere else, so I have to try to tell him how to find me, in his own city.
We go for food truck lunch, and beer. We shop for Valentine’s day gifts. They’re playing The Smiths and The Cure in the shop, and the women all have tight bangs and retro blouses. I buy some used Filson flannels, incense, organic soap, bath salts, a framed Monarch butterfly I’ll give to Dawn.
We make gluten-free pizza at Loren’s, and talk. I recite James Joyce and he plays some music he’s worked up for a film, being produced for a project in Japan. His music is what they call sound art, and he’s good at it. He hears stuff you wouldn’t normally hear, and assembles it in a way that’s magical.
In one example, he takes a recording of displaced air in a San Francisco subway and runs it on a loop: it makes a wet, clapping sound as the air slaps the microphone.
The guy with neck tats behind the bar says he’s never heard such a quiet concert at the theatre. They seem perplexed, why people would pay for this on a Saturday night?
To juxtapose the scene, we go to a strip bar called Sassie’s, afterwards. Loren perks up a bit and we do a U-turn. The bar is playing ZZ Top and another guy with neck tats puts a stamp on the back of our hands, the shape of a cobweb.
There are girls with perfect bodies and different themes on different stages, inside. I walk right to the bar, anything normal to avoid the awkwardness.
There’s a dull surliness about the servers, something about the sexual tension that makes everything a bit weird. I’m surprised to see a number of women in the audience, watching the other women maneuver up and down the poles.
I get some drinks and stand there with Loren, trying not to block the sight-lines of the people sitting at the tables, behind us. Loren and I look at each other and try to communicate through our eyes and facial gestures.
The table opens up behind us and we sit down. A guy with a broom is sweeping dollar bills off the ledge around the stage, gathering them up like leaves.
We sit and drink and watch. I watch the girls, and I watch the guys watching the girls, and it feels kind of gross.
Then a woman with a nose-ring and a pitcher of beer comes up to me and says hey, we were sitting there. I need you to move.
The table’s been open for about 15 minutes. She can kiss my ass. I ignore her, and she sits down, behind us. There’s plenty of room at the table.
She repeats herself: I work here, and my friend is coming back soon, so you need to move.
I smile at her, pick up my chair, nudge it forward an inch, then smile again and say, how’s that?
Loren is pretending to ignore it. She continues talking but I’ve started to tune her out (and I can’t really hear her anyway, because of my tinnitus). I’m beginning to feel hostile, my heart quickening, my brain clouding over.
The girl’s guy-friend returns. He’s big and barrel-chested but won’t meet my glare, and sits down to talk nice with the girl with the nose-ring.
I think how ironic, I get into a fist-fight here after the Mark Kozelek show, reciting passages of James Joyce around the fireplace at Loren’s, only to end the night in a clean, Portland prison.
We leave the bar and go home. It’s past 3 in the morning and the bottle of Scotch I brought for Loren is nearly gone. We watch moody, sad videos of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, and the new David Bowie video, a kind of mood-smear before going down to the basement, to sleep a few hours before heading home.
In the morning we go for vegan breakfast, independent coffee, and pause to admire the moss on the stone steps leading up to the Victorian houses, painted in pinks and purples, greens and blues.