I don't know why this is, but every single Friday since I've lived in Portland it's been absolutely vital that I listen to the Killers at my desk between 4:45 and 5:30. There's just about enough time to get through Hot Fuss if I don't get hung up and play the middle of "All These Things That I've Done" over and over, but since I always fucking do, I never quite get to the end of the album.
Do you think the guys in the band knew that they were writing really good music for generating hire letters?
You are likely to be eaten by a grue.
The world went a little bit scary a couple of days ago. There was the club thing, there were two nights of dreams in which people were trying to kill me or indeed succeeding, and yesterday while waiting for a MAX train I watched a preppy, nicely-dressed girl stagger out of a wide-open downtown plaza and collapse onto the sidewalk bleeding from the mouth. It's distinctly possible that someone substituted a different, frightening, Portland for the one to which I thought I was moving.
On Saturday night my roommate decided to introduce me to the concept of medicine cards. They're not unlike Tarot in that you pull cards randomly (or not randomly, depending on what you believe) and then delve into a book of explanations to figure out how to interpret them. She had me pull one, which had a picture of a black panther on it. The dark, said the book of interpretations, aloneness, death. Learn to embrace them. Irrational fear, it said, get rid of it. Applicable: I'm a paranoid person with particular fears of a) the dark b) being alone c) death.
Then again, I don't think anything is ever entirely inapplicable as long as it's subject to human interpretation. We have a tendency to try to make sense of new things in reference to things that we already know or believe (even if that reference is "contrary to what I already know or believe..."). So if you pull a card from a deck, read a horoscope, or shake a Magic 8 ball, you'll take whatever result you get and look to it to confirm, deny, or modify what you suspect to be true. You'll also tend to discard and forget those parts of the answer that don't seem to relate. I don't now remember which parts of the black panther card's explanation didn't feel relevant, nor probably will I ever.
With that said: the full moon was last night, the world has had its chance to get the spooky weirds out of its system, and it is high time to be done with this business. It is not presently dark and there are no grues in this part of Oregon. Portents, please go about your business elsewhere.
"Don't worry, the smoke's blowing away from you."
Kids! This is Portland; the wind goes whichever way it damn well pleases. It's like the Bay Area, except without that annoying but directionally consistent ocean breeze. I know that you can smoke everywhere here and everyone does it. But if you sit down near me at lunchtime and blow your acrid smoke dramatically into the wind which is heading straight for my soy yogurt and fresh fruit, tacit permission from the relevant municipal authorities will not make you any less of a jerk.
Also, you smell and I will live longer than you. Good afternoon.
Hold tight -- this one contains a lot of people you've never met and takes forever to get around to a point. Just do your best.
I mentioned in my last post that my renting roommate and I went out to a club last night. It was a well-attended lesbian club night at a relatively nifty place out in Southeast Portland. Just women, barring the few obviously uncomfortable dudes accompanying female friends. I went with my roommate; we met my co-worker and two of her friends there; my roommate's close friend Jen came and brought her girlfriend Debbie. Jen and Debbie are about to be important here. Just a moment.
There were something like seven of us there in a loosely-associated group, wandering onto and off of the dance floor and going back for more drinks. Some of us were burning up the dance floor, and some of us were dancing awkwardly and finding frequent excuses to stop dancing. Debbie more or less refused to dance at all and just roamed the club clutching various drinks. That was fine; we're all competent adults and can find our own thing to do in a club full of cute girls.
After a while we stopped seeing Debbie entirely, which was still fine, and then stopped seeing Jen too which seemed to make sense. It was when my roommate and I finally left that we bumped into Jen and found out where they'd gone: Debbie was sick in the parking lot and Jen was taking care of her. Weird that she'd gone outside alone and even Jen hadn't known where she was for a while, but still par for the course for a night of mixed drinks and dancing. We headed home; they headed home.
Today we found out: Debbie was sick all night. Debbie was sick all day. Debbie was taken to the hospital partway through the day, still sick, and a suspicious doctor ran some tests and found what was wrong with her: she'd taken GHB. GHB is not in Debbie's repertoire of things to consume, and that means that someone slipped it to her.
Can I say again that we were in a club full of women? My roommate and I both left drinks unattended because we couldn't imagine that anyone would try to tamper with them. Stupid, possibly, but all the paranoia to which we both tend couldn't conceive of a little lesbian club in Portland being the kind of threatening atmosphere in which you have to watch your back. Or your friends' backs. Or your friend's girlfriend's back as she's wandering around with her drink in her hand and not even putting it down to dance. I can't fathom how anyone could have managed to drug her, and that's not even touching the question of why they would. I haven't heard yet whether she's okay. I doubt very much that she would be even potentially okay if she hadn't been there with a partner who was prepared to go looking for her, take care of her, and take her home.
Before we knew about this, on our way home when all we figured was that Debbie'd had a drink too many, my roommate told me that her drinking is making her depressed and she's thinking about stopping. I thought it sounded like one of the best ideas I'd heard in a while; even my own, far-below-par for this town, drinking has been making me uncomfortable lately. Up too late at night, too tired in the morning, too little time seeing any part of Portland but the bars, not as clear-headed as I'd like to be to enjoy my friends' company. It's like an epiphany blowing through the little social group I've fallen in with -- my roommate's adorable and drunken bike-geek friend, who I've now met probably a dozen times but not once without alcohol, told me thoughtfully last week that he needs to stop drinking and reevaluate his life.
I tend to agree. When I stopped drinking the first time around, it didn't do my social life any favors but it did make the world feel a little calmer and more manageable. Also, not getting drugged and dragged home and assaulted on a Saturday night is a pretty good plan. Maybe what Portland really needs is a sober Californian to sweep into town and slap its Pabst-happy hipster kids back into their right minds. Turn the bars into cake counters, swill out the brewing tanks and start making enormous batches of hot chocolate, and we can still spend all night talking bikes and tattoos and local music but maybe get home in one fucking piece, hmm?
Yesterday I had a brilliant idea: take my bike to do my grocery shopping. I needed kind of a lot of things, but I had bungee cords and a milkcrate and damn if I wasn't going to make the most of them. Every time I debated picking up another large, heavy item, the milkcrate got a little bigger in my mind and I tossed the questionable item in my basket and walked off with a spring in my step to the next aisle.
This is how I came to be standing outside the store with an enormous armload of bags that weighed probably 50 pounds total. Some clever bungeeing got it all strapped into the milkcrate and lashed onto my bike rack, at which point I tilted the bike to mount it and watched the whole elastic assemblage go boing, over the side of the rack, swaying somewhere in the neighborhood of my rear derailleur and pulling the whole bike crashing to the ground.
No worries. My clever bungeeing kept it all neatly packed in the milkcrate, so I righted the bike, pulled the crate back into its proper location, and rebungeed until it seemed to sit a little more firmly. I swung my leg over the frame, settled myself into the seat, and turned to head out of the parking lot and ride home.
This time I narrowly escaped being pinned under my crate of veggies and cat litter, which would be an embarrassing way to be injured and helpless. I managed to stagger free of the bike as it fell over and evade the pendulous mass of groceries which was determined to explore the full tensility of my bungee cords. At this point I figured I was stuck ignominiously walking my bike home, so I just shoved the crate back on, tightened up the now-hated bungees, and turned to push my ridiculous ride out of the parking lot.
I suspect that by now you can guess precisely what happened. Suffice it to say that thirty seconds later I was sitting on the ground frustrated and increasingly worried, staring at the bike, crate, rack, and bungee cords and trying to come up with a single solution that didn't involve walking my bike home with one hand while carrying my 50-pound crate with the other.
It was at this point that Portland kicked in, in the form of a youngish dude with a wicked set of mutton chops who walked up and asked if I could use a hand. I explained that even my best bungeeing couldn't compensate for the fact that I was balancing a wide and heavy load on a narrow rack on an almost weightless bike, and that I was starting to be kind of screwed. He looked thoughtful, and said that he could maybe carry my stuff on his motorcycle? He didn't have his saddlebags at the moment but, and here I interjected hopefully, maybe my stupid bungees could work?
So in summary, I put my groceries on the back of a stranger's motorcycle, told him where to find my house, and hopped on my bike to follow him home. It's terrifically sketchy in the abstract, but he turned out to be a friendly and above-board dude who delivered my veggies safely home and hung around outside talking to me for a while. We talked California, North Portland, being new to town and getting invited out to drink all the fucking time, and how weirdly paranoid Portland people are about the parts of town that we respectively live in. We failed to really exchange any information that would lead to meeting again, but I figure this small city can only contain a limited number of sideburns like that. I'll keep an eye out.
Then my renting roommate and I went out to a club and wound up tired and annoyed and too drunk to drive home. My attempt to set her up with my co-worker's adorable friend failed miserably, and we had an outstanding pity party in the car listening to Tegan and Sara and waiting for the drinks to wear off. I think I should stick to the grocery store for my social encounters from now on.
My campus is crazy about security. Every door key has to be signed for by a slew of high-ranking administrators, every student file has to be locked away when not being physically handled, phone numbers have to be shredded after use, campus mail can't be trusted with signed forms, and so on. My office keys, triple-signed by the powers that be and mortgaged against smallish parts of my soul, will cost me nearly a thousand dollars in fines if I ever lose them. I keep them locked away and sometimes wake up in a cold sweat wondering if they're safe (my precious).
The dilemna goes something like this: I only have one pair of nice-enough-for-work pants with pockets. I can carry the key to the file cabinets around my neck but don't fancy doing so with my entire key ring (I've tried; it's noisy and annoying and whacks me in the solar plexus when I walk). So there's one day a week, or maybe two if I'm feeling rebellious, where I can carry my keys on my person and three or four days where I have to shut them away and walk around without them.
This is, of course, devastatingly secure. If the department secretary doesn't have her keys on her, nobody can jump her in the hallways of the education building and steal them. Nobody can slip their hand into her jeans pocket unbeknownst to her and run off down the stairs cackling and waving the precious unlockerizers in their grubby fists.
Indeed, if the department secretary leaves to go to the bathroom and gets attacked by shape-shifting aliens who kill her and take on her appearance in order to walk nonchalantly back to her desk five minutes later, we will all breathe a sigh of relief when we learn that they've been foiled by the very secure expedient of a sweet and innocuous professor of education quietly locking the office door so that the shape-shifting alien secretary finds itself stuck in the hallway fruitlessly turning the door handle over and over and thinking of her (I mean its) keys and wallet and cell phone and bus pass all locked snugly in the file cabinet behind the impassable door.
Mind, the shape-shifting alien knows where the other set of keys is, and can sprint to the appropriate office and get them and let itself in without arousing anyone's suspicions, so even with the efforts of that heroically security-minded faculty member there's a good chance we'll all get murdered in our beds yet. End on a happy note, that's what I say.
I am in Portland, and it is raining. Tra-la.
My budding bike-geekery continues apace. Yesterday I bought a rear rack and strapped a milk crate onto it so that I could stop doing my grocery shopping via the bus. I had to have the nice bike dudes at one of the local bike shops install the rack for me because my ride is so slick that it doesn't have room to spare for convenient attachment hardware, and when I dropped it off one of the nice bike dudes gave it the up-and-down eyeball and told me I had a pretty sweet frame. I knew this already, and the bike's not bad either.
When I finished my shopping later and stuck my groceries in my brand-new cargo space, I had an epiphany: my bike is awesome. I wasn't really aware of this before. It weighs nothing. It goes fast. It's been unused and unmaintained for most of the last ten years and it's still effortlessly rideable. Even in high gear there's almost no resistance on the pedals. Even with a milk crate of groceries rattling around on the back it's like riding a bee-colored breeze. I'd been sort of assuming that all bicycles fit this profile, which is not entirely true.
Four wheels bad! Two wheels good! I think I'm going to start riding to work.
It's been unrelenting positivity on this blog since I got to Portland. Just about every post I've made since moving has been enthusiastically categorized as "this is precisely what the fuck I'm talking about". But people who've known me for more than ten seconds tend to figure out that there's a limit to how long I can sustain that. Hence: tonight.
I'm sulky about getting blown off last night by someone I was trying to meet, and I came home melodramatically exhausted and depressed and lay supine on the couch wishing for the universe to sense my need for dinner and provide it for me. It didn't happen, so I went upstairs and tried it again on my bed. This led naturally to my waking up at 11:30 feeling ravenous, disoriented, and if anything more exhausted and depressed than before. For some reason neither of my roommates has come home yet, including the one who told me at lunchtime that she wasn't going out tonight, and my phone is mysteriously failing to contain any messages from the person who should be calling to apologize for being such a jerk yesterday.
In this spirit I give you Dianna, sitting alone in her large and empty house at midnight on Friday night, listlessly eating toast and listening to the Smiths and suddenly feeling the 629 miles separating her from the nearest person likely to give her a hug. It's all very well to be brave and independent when it's high summer -- even in Portland -- but what am I going to do in November in the gloom and cold when every day feels like this? There was bound to be a point at which my beloved Portland project started to seem questionable, and that point is right about... now.
Last night my renting roommate tried to tell me that because I am a Taurus, I'm loyal and have good follow-through. It's because of statements like these that I'm not becoming any more convinced of the legitimacy of her astrological assumptions than I ever have been; I'm hardly an objective judge of my own character, but once in a while I manage to recognize the glaring emptiness where a trait should be. For instance: the reason my friends aren't around to make me feel better is that I have, as ever, nonchalantly ditched them to go do something else. What are you going to say to that, daily horoscope?
At 10:00 last night Katie and I were sitting sedately on a homeward train when, for reasons I cannot now recall, one of us said the word "donut". We stared at each other wide-eyed for a second, then piled off the train and practically ran back down Third Street to Voodoo Doughnuts. We squeezed our way in through the music and crowds, and watched while another customer gamely tried the "eat this oversized donut as big as your head within 80 seconds while we ring a fire bell and yell out your time" challenge. He failed. We made off with a paper baggie of vegan sprinkle donuts, piled back onto the train, stopped again to pick up fried pickles and hot fwings, and ended the night back at my house playing Quiddler and stuffing junk food into ourselves. It was at this point that Katie posed the following question:
"Are there any grown-ups in this city?"
I have given the matter some thought. I have considered the cultic neighborhood hangouts and the endemic nerdery and the sweet stubborn insistence that fun not only makes right, it makes cool. I have considered the donuts and the spelling bees and the plastic ponies staked out on the sidewalks. I have considered the strip clubs and the alcoholic bubble teas and I have concluded that there are adults here, but no, no grown-ups. Portland is just a kids' table with a half-million seats. That's why I'm so in love with it.
It's 4:45. Where is Dianna?
Dianna is in her office, all by herself with no faculty to need her for anything, and she is peacefully filing forms and mailing letters while rocking out with intensity to the Killers. Her respectable collared shirt is unbuttoned, she's kicking her sneakers under her nice reception desk, and she occasionally looks up to watch her reflection in the window making rockstar faces and doing the chair dance.
Last night she led two friends to a respectable 3rd place in a pub trivia contest, and then let one of them drag her on a 1:00 a.m. double-time bike ride home in the name of not getting lost in North Portland. She's been at work since 8:30 and she's leaving in fifteen minutes to go make trouble with her beloved sister.
Rockstar faces have never been so deserved.
It's last Thursday, just at dusk, and I'm sitting in the backyard talking to my roommate's best friend. He's a Portlander from his Chacos sandals to the ironic army hat I've never seen him remove, and like all other Portlanders I've met he's telling me wistfully about someplace he used to live that wasn't here.
In this case, it's Idaho.
"What," I ask, "were you doing in Idaho?"
"Digging fire breaks."
"What, like with the Forest Service?"
"Yeah," he tells me. "It was beautiful there."
I'm mildly surprised -- while I've never heard any evidence that Idaho isn't beautiful, I still don't think I've ever heard anyone call it so. But he continues.
"It was warm and sunny every day," he says, looking around at the inevitable Portland cloud cover. "Then I came here and it was 4 or 5 solid days of rain every week. It was like a slap in the face."
I wince. "Wow," I say, "when was that, January?" Even Idaho can't be sunny every day in January.
I knew already that, here in Portland, he works as a network admin. Now I'm trying to imagine his Idaho spring, short sleeves and sun every day, outside with a shovel telling fires, No, you stop here. I'm trying to imagine giving that up to move to Portland in rain and gloom and constant clouds, to work inside in front of a computer.
I'm opening my mouth to tell him I'd have stayed in Idaho, when two or three hundred birds appear out of nowhere and fly east over our heads. The sky is solid birds, streaming away toward a hipper part of town, for five minutes. By the time they're gone, we've both lost the thread of our conversation, and I'm thinking, Idawho? Give me Oregon.
While I was walking up grungily hip Mississippi Avenue just now, returning from the Rebuilding Center with two salvaged wooden curtain rods for the leaf-print curtains I am making, I passed the adorable butch woman who runs the open-mic night on Wednesday nights at Alberta Street Pub. She smiled and said hi to me.
New slogan! "Portland: Because I Couldn't Make This Shit Up If I Tried."
When I got home from work tonight, I stood in the kitchen and announced to my renting roommate that my day was fired.
"I don't know what that means," she said.
"It means it's not allowed to be my day anymore. I get a new one."
It was really just an ordinary work day except for one thing, but that one thing was being made to skip my quiet lunch hour in the park and go to an interminable, unuseful meeting instead. I'm quite disappointed that none of my supervisors were around afterwards to experience why exactly it is so important that their department secretary get her time alone. Regardless, it isn't happening again.
In order to strike this whole mess from the record and replace it with the new day to which I am entitled, I have allowed myself to walk to the grocery store and buy a bag of Uncle Eddie's cookies and a slice of cake the size of my head. I am now going to take off my clothes and sit in bed eating cake until it's time to go to sleep.
My renting roommate is at a party. My owning roommate is watching a movie. The rest of Portland is out drinking. I have cake and I envy none of them.