Spooling around southeast Portland with my childhood friend Loren, the guys with beards pouring growlers and pints at the neighborhood bottle shop flipping records, preparing dishes with fresh oysters, grated horseradish, a bed of sea salt. Past the antique shops where it’s started raining but they still leave everything on the sidewalk, there’s no point in bringing it in — past the leaning elms, under a fig tree archway, the Japanese maples with calcified nodules — through Loren’s neighborhood, the color-coded recycling crates still out on the lawns, the raspberry bushes and wild lavender, the funky houses with Nepalese prayer flags, some of them painted purple — people on porches just getting up in the early afternoon, smoking: even the mail man has a beard, tattoos on his calves, dragon wings going up in flames.
Walking Loren’s streets, he snakes his shoulders, lopes like a wounded, talking horse (like a horse made up of two men under a sheet), claps off-beat, barks like he’s got Tourette’s, a suppressed scream — and no one seems to notice, he fits right in.
He orders a pineapple beer that comes in a Belgian glass but doesn’t like it (why would you?), tells me he’s allergic to hops, it makes his throat swell up. Men with glasses and artful frames with beards so thick you could use a hairbrush to comb them. A guy with a beard at the bar who’s made no effort to confine it, it just starts at the bottom of his nose and heads east, west, south: it makes me think of a game I had when I was a kid, a smiling, bald guy you could drag metal filings over with a magnetic wand to give him eyebrows, hair, a beard. His beard looks like that, painted on.
Leaving Portland for the 5, go left on Morrison past the strip bar Sassy’s with a black façade, a pink, neon S: the place Loren and I almost got in a fight with a girl (a customer, not a dancer) after the Mark Kozelek concert when Loren fell asleep in the balcony and snored, and woke to Kozelek doing a cover of the Genesis song “Carpet Crawlers,” and driving home made a U-turn, said we should go to this strip bar, because we could.
Ending the night at his place watching art films and rare YouTube clips, a new David Bowie video for an upcoming record release, waking with a feeling I’d been covered in snail mucous but couldn’t prove it.
I give Loren a copy of the Guided by Voices album Half Smiles of the Decomposed that was supposed to be their last, that came out in 2004 and said in the liner notes ‘Thanks to our fans for the past 21 years’ — and still they made more and kept touring, reformed in 2010 with side projects, solo releases. But the album sounds the way autumn feels, how the light is draining from the sky faster each day, each song sounds like it’s the end, it’s winding down. And we lose ourselves in it, Loren at a point of desperation in his life I can somehow relate to, where you cling to the words in songs and think maybe they were written just for you: when it seems everything important has started to go wrong, and even the crows on his street seem cranky.
We revive the scene at Oil City, on the Washington Coast that time he came to tell me they were pregnant — but Loren and I miscalculated the tide tables and nearly got stuck on an outcropping of rock coming back to camp, and the tide was coming in faster and faster and the only way over it was up some sharp, volcanic rock covered in seaweed and salt slime, and the tide was so loud we had to shout to communicate but finally committed, Loren went up and I tried going around through the surf but got knocked down and screamed, and Loren jumped like a cat onto a boulder, and we reunited on the other side, and said we were lucky we made it, that was really close.
The girl at the strip bar that night who got belligerent with us, we were just sitting there drinking our beers trying to act normal, and she shouted something at me I couldn’t understand, she said my friend was sitting there, like we should get up and leave: and I said your friend must be pretty small because I don’t see him — and it went on from there, the aggression, the threat of violence mixed with the tension of sex in the air, and we left feeling proud of ourselves for going, and happier yet to leave.
I wake in the morning on the sofa in Loren’s basement to the sound of his wife and son there saying good morning and goodbye, and something about a slug on the carpet, and is it real, and the sound of his wife looking for something to use to get it out, opening the screen door and flicking it in the yard.
I think about him walking the dog up our road here in Sammamish, he was the age Lily is now when we met, and I try to remember what he was like then as a boy at our middle school on the playground, and he’s a hundred different people since then, and still that little boy, like me — how we can assume so many different lives and why we cherish the remaining few who knew what we were like then, when it can be so hard to remember ourselves.