We go to Portland for the weekend, to get away. They’re so polite in Portland, their graffiti looks like this:
All the boxes are checked. I look around and think, maybe it was written just for me!
We round a turn in the park and come upon a girl in the bushes. The path is narrow, it’s twilight, and I fear my kids are about to see a public sex act, or someone doing drugs, getting knifed. But because it’s Portland, it’s just a girl picking berries, smiling vaguely like she’s just realized she’s in love, maybe retarded. She’s wearing pixie boots and a retro skirt, no make-up, like a figure from a Maxfield Parrish painting, Berry Picking in Portland.
The next day, we drive to Mount Hood. The rain is back but it’s a novelty, and because it’s Portland, there are no complaints, just observations.
We follow the way toward Damascus, and other towns with names like Boring, Sandy, Rhododendron. The town is called Government Camp, and we stop to check in.
There are a million lights and switches in the condominium, and I race to understand them all before anyone else can, to set everything to just the right level. Outside on the deck, you can see the tavern across the road, a café down further below, figures outside smoking, bundled up: late August, but it feels like snow.
Our friends from Portland are staying with us; it’s the two of them and their two year-old son, Arthur. When they arrive, Arthur begins playing with all the lights and disrupting the system I had in place. The blinds go askew, the coasters, pillows…I really have to tell myself to let it go, relax.
The condo is on two levels, with an upper loft. I worry that Arthur could get through the rails, could dangle off the side, and worry about my friends and how that will make them worry more than worrying about Arthur himself, because he’s invincible. I saw him bounce his head off the sidewalk, no problem.
But they are much better with their son than I am, so I try to cool it — even when he’s jumping on top of the pool table, throwing the billiard balls hither and thither, and I think about the security deposit, that awkward moment when something happens and we have to talk about damages and penalties.
And so what starts off perfect soon disintegrates, and I assume the role of the Tidier, collecting water glasses and coffee mugs, repositioning the cereal box to its rightful place on the counter, folding blankets and so on.
Due to a miscommunication between Dawn and I, we’re always forgetting to bring the toothpaste, assuming the other has done so, and then I go out and buy some, only to come home and discover she brought it after all and now we’ve got two, which is the same thing that happened last time, so now we’ve got four, and now we are overcome with toothpaste, each tube with the same amount remaining and never rolled up right, just a careless squeeze so that you can make out the shape of the hand that grabbed it, forgot to put the cap back on, didn’t care.
The kids move in loose clumps around the condo while I try to relax, but there’s something building in me that erupts at the moment they start screaming and I shout NO SCREAMING STOP THIS SCREAMING I DO NOT LIKE THE SCREAMING. And I sound like Dr. Seuss; they all stop and look, like How could you — as do the parents — and now I’m the ass, they just look away and bend down to collect the children, “Let’s go find something else to do.”
We go up the mountain to the lodge, where they have an outdoor, heated pool and you can take turns going between the pool, the spa, the sauna. I hide in the spa, but confuse the Hygrometer dial with the Thermometer, and also assume the big number is the American one, for Fahrenheit, but I have it all wrong, and keep turning it up higher, adding more water to the rocks to make more steam, until it gets so hot I can imagine my third eye opening, can see the edges of infinity and pre-cognate how it will feel when I really lose my mind for good some day.
Loren is a musician and only child like me, so we dual over DJ duty and the women recede to the borders. He takes the late shift, the denouement, as the kids are bedding down and the women, in their books, and I hear Dawn calling from the loft, calling me by my name (“Bill”), always a bad sign, commenting on the music volume or selection, I can’t tell.
It sounds like someone is vacuuming in another room; you can hear the attachment rubbing against the edges of the furniture and sucking, whining, and though it’s ripe with meaning, we have to change it.
It’s an Armageddon Rain with wind to boot, making ribbed patterns along the asphalt and wisps of chimney smoke below, smoke like spirits taking shape, bluish faces with long O’s for mouths, cupping the air for sound like fish rising to the surface, Death Eaters, shadows of implied other-worlds playing upon our ceiling.
There is no agenda in the morning, no plan, second-day underwear and coffee, getting riled up and antsy with nothing to do but relax. And so the four of us settle into the in-between moments on the sofa, Dawn and Lily both reading, Charlotte making something with tape and pencils, me flip-flopping between reading and writing, the maddening aspect of an archaeological dig, what it feels like to know there’s something down there, hidden in the earth.
Loren and I stay up late excavating You Tube for rare concert clips of bands like Wire and Felt, and when we find them, it’s hard to believe. We fall asleep on the sofa and trade texts the next day saying thanks, it was so much fun, and on the drive home I keep talking about when we’ll go back next time.