Heads buried in books, Powell’s, Portland


We pass Powell’s bookstore in Portland, which says it’s the largest independent bookstore in the world and sure feels that way. Even though it’s a sunny afternoon in January all the seats are full of people not with tablets or smart phones, but real books: beards, tattooed knuckles, flannel, heads buried in books. And the store smells like books too, like stacks in a college library, musty other-worlds of wonder.

Outside, Lily has her first encounter with The Homeless, a guy in his 60s with a full, white beard, and she buys a newspaper from him and reads it while we sit in the brewery, and it seems hundreds of people are coming and going, drinking flights of beer at 2:30 while it’s sunny out, in Portland.

They’ve all dyed their hair or pierced their faces, and everywhere, I’m reminded that getting dressed can really be a form of fashion, as the guys roll their pant sleeves just so, and you can find any era from the past 50 years represented here, from Rockabilly to Punk to Death Metal, like sections in the bookstore, all thrown together.

The checker at the Whole Foods looks down at my basket on the conveyor belt and asks what I’m doing with the sushi and the falafel, seaweed rice cakes and craft beers, and I say I’m getting dinner for our hotel, come to Portland to escape being depressed, in Seattle.

The hotel room has a view of the city down below, the back-sides of neon signs and the tops of old buildings, with hundreds of windows and stories behind each of them, pink streetlights and food trucks with anonymous hooded figures shuffling in the dark, looking back at us as the fog lifts and makes everything not what it seems.

Dawn and I talk about what it means to have money without class, the bourgeois, and where we fit into that discussion, with rice cake crumbs in the fold-out sofa bed, our kids watching some cartoon on the TV that costs $2.99 for 20 minutes but it’s worth it still, because the iPad ran out of juice and we need some time.

The full moon comes out like just another streetlight, the same color, and we sit by the window watching the signal on the traffic light count backwards, a flashing orange hand that says Stop, talking back to the blinking sign on the food truck that says Open, but no one’s there.

Categories: travel

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17 replies

  1. There’s a lot of tension in this, the edginess at the corners of living. It feels like something’s going to happen. Is it?


    • I have attention deficit. I’m writing about Layne Staley now from Alice in Chains and I don’t think anything’s going to happen there, either. I was just thinking about you though as I’m listening to this band Felt which has a cameo from Elizabeth Frazier and I’m wondering if you ever heard of them? Good for this time of day, cooking a chicken “en cocette” as they say in France.


      • No, I don’t know Felt at all but they sound like I should. Oh wait, “Primitive Painters,” I’ve heard that song. Droney dream pop, up my alley.
        Lots going on that I’d like to share with you about the clash of work life and creative life, but I have to meet a deadline. If you Google my name and where I work, you’ll see what’s going on. Hate to be cryptic but I’m trying to keep the clashing at bay as best I can.


      • I checked into it — sorry for all the weirdness you must be going through — there’s good weirdness and bad weirdness and this sounds like the bad kind.


      • Felt helps. Thanks for that. Have moved on to Massive Attack.


      • I can burn that Protection shit down all day. Might go there now, thanks.


  2. wow, you sure can paint a picture –


  3. You had me with the bookstore — sounds like a fantasy these days!


  4. Lovely. You have such an eye for observation and selecting just the right details.


  5. I loved this post!



    gregg s johnson cell: 206.399.3066 email: gregg@greggsjohnson.com


  6. What a scrumptious snapshot in time. I have often heard of Powells, it sounds a sight to see. Real books?

    Loved this:
    “you can find any era from the past 50 years represented here, from Rockabilly to Punk to Death Metal, like sections in the bookstore …”

    Nicely written,


    • Hey Christy thank you! Yes, it’s a place to visit if you ever find yourself in the Pacific Northwest, for sure…I really appreciate your comment and kind words of praise. Best, – Bill


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