Reed College walk, Portland


Ghost cat on carpet of moss, abandoned house, Portland

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.



Categories: musings, travel

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

16 replies

  1. First. Hoo-ha.

    Why would they even make pineapple beer? That sound like some pretentious Manhattan shizzle.

    I had a Wolly Willy. Holy smokes, thanks for that. Kept it right next to my Silly Putty.

    Who covers “Carpet Crawlers?” Fantastic. I saw a reggae band cover “Knights in White Satan” once.

    “A melancholy lesson of advancing years is the realisation that you can’t make old friends.”
    Christopher Hitchens

    Now, THAT’S a post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This will sound contrived, but I kind of thought of you with that pineapple beer thing. I was kinding of aping your style a bit, or thinking about it, because I’d just read your post before I wrote mine. We listened to Nights in White Satin in the back yard, my friend and I — along with a mish-mash of other popular Moody Blues tunes, talked about sentiment and nostalgia, how they manage to pull it off, to ride that knife’s edge ridge. Christopher Hitchens sounds made-up, that’s good — and I’m glad you got the Wooly Willy reference. My mind is coming apart, the fact I see things like this. I’m going to ride the ridge.
      “You got to get in…to get OUUUUUT….” Who covers that business?


    • I misunderstood the Hitchens quote — but I recall you and I having this conversation before, and you lamenting not having as many old friends. There’s something to be said for that.


  2. I don’t know any of my oldest friends anymore, but one cool thing is that they got to stay the way they were back then all these years. In my head, at least. This is why I don’t look people up on Facebook. What if they became Tea Party Republicans?!


    • I like that logic of yours. I’ve never looked at FaceBook, not once. I know I sound self-righteous when I flaunt that or maybe I’m just a dork like that, seems like convenience-sized relationships, single-serve. Loren is my oldest friend and has lived in Portland for a handful of years, so it’s good — we’re probably close enough distance-wise to remain close enough relationship-wise.


      • I like that: single-serve relationships. May I use it someday? I wonder if there is such a thing as soft-serve relationships …


      • Use it my friend, you give to me just by reading…you know how that goes. The band Soul Coughing had a real nice song about 20 years ago called “soft serve,” a good groove and unusual sensibility they had. I put that on a mix tape for a girl I was courting. Ah, “mix tape.” Dropbox got nothing on that. No romance in file transfer protocols, you dig?


  3. yes, old friends know the real you, as you were growing into who you would be, with no agenda, just your real self, for good or bad, just you.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. “he’s a hundred different people since then, and still that little boy, like me.” BAM! Wonderful. I kept hoping that little boy would grow up someday, but now I see that growing up is overrated.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I too would have leaned in to capture ghost cat, but I like this photo more for capturing both. So many great details in this one. The cats, the slugs, the funny thing about the friend being so small no one can even tell he’s there. I had/still have childhood friends, but we aren’t connected like this anymore. I tried a few times lately and it wasn’t there and reading this, it makes me a little sad but honestly, happy for you that you have Loren. He sounds like a neat guy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Kristen — yes, terribly neat. Glad that came through. The ghost cat was cool, as is that house. It’s been abandoned since he moved into the neighborhood, about four years ago. Naturally, we’re drawn to explore the edges that way kids do — reminds me of that abandoned castle I’ve mentioned to you before in SE PA; it’s Loren that turned me on to that place. Good thing we didn’t get captured and burned there.


  6. I just called an old friend today and was thinking I should call a few more. Then I read this and once again, sychronicity strikes. That’s when I don’t think of things in forever then suddenly the topic is all over the place or at least one place. The slug is a nice touch.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Slugs have a nice touch. Poor slugs — they have the most crude colors and patterns here in the Northwest, on the trail. Glad you connected with an old friend, that’s good. We take them for granted, I often do at least. But friends are really special. Thanks Lisa for popping in and commenting, I appreciate it. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I can’t say I’m really in touch with friends of yore these days, although a few years back I did spend quite a bit of time critiquing a manuscript one of them wrote.
    Not sure I’ve tried pineapple beer. The weirdest I ever tasted was made with beets; like garlic ice cream, once was enough. I would have to say though, oysters and horseradish? There better be a spittoon nearby.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oysters and horseradish is right up my alley: I sprinkle a bit of the fresh grated stuff on it, squirt of lemon, and down the hatch. But too expensive, god! Quite the indulgence. Maybe once or twice a year. Glad I had the chance to in Paris with my wife, with a bottle of Rose. It’s more the price of the memories that makes it worth it. Spot of red wine vinegar too. Beet beer? Who thinks of these things? I can’t even stomach the pumpkin stuff — or fruit, unless it’s Belgian and the morning-time.


Leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: