I've decided to become a passivist. Not a pacifist, although the two are by no means mutually exclusive. A passivist is like an activist, but one who doesn't want to actually have any direct contact with anyone. If you canvass door-to-door, or hold consciousness-raising meetings, you are an activist. If you blog or flyer doors, you are a passivist.
The thing is that I have fucking had it with anti-helmet bicyclists. Portland is as plagued with them as Berkeley, if not more so, and they're infectious. My renting roommate has already been persuaded by one of her cycling hipster friends that she doesn't need to wear a helmet. This is, in my opinion, crap. Everyone with a vested interest in not having their life devastated by a head injury needs to wear a helmet, and anyone who doesn't have a vested interest in not having their life devastated by a head injury just isn't thinking hard enough.
As expressed by a different, more sensible, friend of my roommate's, the problem is this: who is going to wipe your ass when you wind up quadruplegic? It is a good question.
Here is where the roll of stickyback mylar comes in: I have decided to launch an obnoxious sticker campaign. Portland is liberally sprinkled with those big staple-shaped bike racks, and when I look at them I think I hear their tiny voices calling out to be adorned. They're wide enough to support a small but bold sticker, they're everywhere, and they're guaranteed to be seen by bicyclists. Perfect, right? All I have to do is carry around a stack of stickers and slap one on everyplace I lock up my bike.
Between last night and tonight I have used the combined powers of this month's paycheck, a downtown art supply store, and my beloved screenprinting skills to make a small fleet of shiny silver stickers. They are about four inches across and say in my best fussy, loopy 5th-grade handwriting, "wear your fucking helmet." And they are shiny as fuck and, I hope, resistant to the rain which is more or less here to stay until April.
I have discovered that there is a tiny and brand-new neighborhood bar on Alberta which is explicitly all-vegan all the time. Vegan pub food, beer and liquor with no bone char or other animal products, and, I strongly suspect, cutely scrawny vegan hipster kids. There's little for me to do but go and check it out, and if it turns out to be less enthralling than I anticipate, I'll have no choice but to go see who the band is at the other place down the street. And if a stack of stickers finds its way into my pocket and they fall out sticky-side down on the bike racks at either place, who's to say it was intentional? I'm just trying to enjoy a drink here.
My beloved mini-metropolis has a mass bee in its collective bonnet, and it's incongruously hysterical about the situation. The bee is: people who aren't from Portland are moving to Portland. The incongruity is: the people waxing hysterical about it aren't from Portland either.
Last night my roommate had two delightful drunken friends over for dinner. One of them mentioned seeing an enormous multi-page piece on the Portland food scene in the New York Times, and the conversation turned to all the intolerable rich New Yorkers who are reading shit like this and selling their 500-square-foot apartments to move here and buy 3-bedroom houses and multiple cars. Delightful drunken friend #1 declared sulkily that they're ruining it for all of us -- we, the people who actually live in Portland, will never be able to afford anything in this city once the New Yorkers and San Franciscans get done buying it all up.
I may have gotten slightly hysterical myself at this point. I looked around the group and found it composed as follows:
Granted, rolling my eyes skyward and yelling, "None of you are fucking from here either!" was probably not the most mature thing to do at this point. However, it was what I did. Delightful drunken friend #1, still sulky and in defiance of all comparative economic analysis, informed me that it's different because he's not rich. I neglected to ask what his disposable income looks like or how much more money he makes, adjusted for inflation, than the people who lived in his house ten years ago. I've seen the same argument had on the bathroom walls of just about every bar and coffee shop in town, and nobody ever wins it.
Everyone agrees that Portland is gentrifying, and north and northeast Portland are gentrifying so fast that you can almost watch the property values rising, and nearly everyone agrees that it's bullshit. But the people complaining the loudest about it in the places where it's happening the fastest are not the poorer families who can't afford to live inward of 82nd Avenue anymore. They're the single white kids who moved here six months ago from somewhere else and love their new hip neighborhoods and have money to spend on beer and bikes and music. They're me and everybody I know, basically, and we know we're involved and feel guilty about it but we don't want to leave. So we yell at everyone else to go home so it looks like we're doing something to help.
I don't really know what to suggest that people do instead. I know lots of things to suggest that people stop doing -- like assuming that they alone are essential to the proper management of Portland's gentrification issues and are therefore exempt from the moral imperative to leave. Or blaming everything on very specific groups of new Portlanders, like Those Damn New Yorkers, in order to redefine themselves out of the problem. (Who, me? Oh,I'm from Michigan; that's totally different.)
You all talk a lot of trash for people with their mouths full of cupcakes from the I Just Moved Here And Thought I'd Start A Cupcake Shop.
Every time I pick up The Bell Jar it's like running into an old friend. Its tone is just so comfortingly familiar that I can't find it in myself to be too worried by the fact that its tone is so comfortingly familiar.
Something's happened to my budding Portland social life, which was in its infancy a few weeks ago and is now nothing so much as moribund. I blundered into a social circle which, while exhaustingly drunken and sleepless, was nonetheless warm and welcoming -- but before I'd quite gotten my bearings I broke an odd little invisible rule and found myself right back out of the group. Now my invitations have dried up and I'm once again wandering around the city on my own trying to figure out how to get myself an impenetrable group of friends like everyone else has. I'm beginning to suspect that what I have instead is an aloof exterior, which is equally impenetrable but somewhat less exciting. This is probably the entire reason I felt compelled to pick up The Bell Jar in the first place.
Tonight, I have decided, I am allowed to go to Powell's and pick out one book from the room of social sciences. I'm leaning toward something that will fill me with purpose and righteous indignation. Then I will come home and make myself an enormous pot of coconut soup and a semi-enormous pan of brownies, and I will sit in the dining room reading and eating until I have finished this damn novel. Tomorrow I will start over with my new book and my sense of purpose and my chocolate hangover, and if it's the same city and the same people it will at least be a new week. Also it will be the first day of the fall term at work, and that is no time for bell jars. Sorry, Sylvia.
On Saturday night I pulled up my shirt to show a cute girl my tomatoes. Then she pulled down her pants to show me her beet.
I really wish I were being metaphorical here.
The fact that I have "Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits" by the Magnetic Fields stuck in my head is not helping anything.
Portland is crisscrossed with the paraphernalia of public transit. It's impossible to walk around downtown if you're more than fifteen feet tall without running into the overhead lines that power the Max trains. In the outlying areas the tracks for the trains and streetcars get their own, BART-like, barricaded trackways, but in the city center they run down the middle of major streets just as bold as you please. Thoughtful city planners placed the tracks in the middle of the vehicle lanes, flush with the street with only narrow grooves in them so that people can drive over them without trouble. Thoughtful city planners failed to reckon with road bikers.
Last night I was riding to the Tea Zone, the strange little Pearl District teashop and lounge where my roommate plays about every two weeks. It's not an easy place to find; it's tucked away in the middle of its block, in a vortex of one-way streets. My usual method of finding it is to ride in a kind of interrupted circle in the general five-block radius of where I vaguely recall it to be located. On this particular occasion it took me nearly as long to find it from two blocks away as it did to get to the Pearl from my house. When I finally spotted it, then, I was not about to wait for another circle and more wrong-way streets to help me lose it again. I was on the right one-way street, going the right way, but on the wrong side to pull over and park. So I swerved neatly across to the left lane and prepared to stop.
This is where I rode over the streetcar tracks at an unwisely oblique angle, the skinny front tire of my bike slipped down into the track, I tried and failed to steer back out of it, and the whole bike went crashing to the ground completely out of my control. I couldn't get to my feet while it was falling over, and wound up down on one hand and knee in the middle of the lane watching the lights of a car coming up behind me.
Obviously, if I am blogging about this, I am still alive. Actually, I was fine -- the car stopped and the driver asked if I was okay, which, judging by the fact that I was able to scramble back to my feet and pick up my bike, I was. He drove on, I picked up the little tinkling piece of metal that I'd seen bouncing away and which turned out to be just the endcap of one of my handlebars, and I limped over to the sidewalk to inspect the situation. I scraped a tiny bit of skin off of one of my knuckles, so lightly there wasn't even a token speck of blood. I bruised my right knee through my pants. My bike saddle, one of those awful and indestructible old-school hardened leather jobs, now has a single scrape on one side. That's it.
I'm honestly kind of disappointed. I wiped out spectacularly in the middle of traffic and I don't have anything to show for it. After I locked up my bike and made my shaky way into the Tea Zone, I explained the situation to one of my roommate's friends. She was appropriately sympathetic, but the fact was that she had more to show for breaking her toenail in dance class than I did for crashing to the ground around an out-of-control bike. Over the course of the evening I made a few efforts to conspicuously inspect the tiny bruise forming on my aching knee, but its faint purply tinge totally failed to cause my companions to gasp and fuss over me and demand to hear the whole story. I had absolutely no opportunities to be dashing and cavalier and insist that it was nothing, because, in fact, it was nothing.
What was not nothing was B.O.O.B.S. 2007. When Portland puts on a burlesque show, it puts on a fucking burlesque show. There were pasties. There was glitter. There were tassels and feather boas. There was a devastatingly sexy lady Prince impersonator. There was fire. (For my reader who performs fire-spinning tricks: yes, but have you done it with your nipples?) There was, at one point, the lounge version of "Baby Got Back" and spinning ass tassels. Spinning ass tassels.
So there's that to be said for the evening.
This could be a fairly substantial wrench in the works of my attempt to live here: Portland destroys chocolate-chip cookies. In the two months (as of tomorrow!) that I've lived here, I have made two batches of chocolate-chip cookies and each time had at least half of the batch stolen from my loving arms by an accident of fate. Portland is for many other things -- donuts, cake, really amazing chocolate-maple torte at the new vegan restaurant on Williams Avenue -- but it is fighting me tooth and nail on my favorite dessert and I do not know if I can live with that.
The first time around my roommate and I made cookies but got lazy and kept half of the cookies in dough form in the fridge. There was a whole ridiculous process involving trying to give a cookie to a boy I like -- me, predictable? -- which went horribly wrong and ended with me accidentally leaving the cookie dough in his car instead. Don't even ask. In any case, it made its way into the fridge of a house I don't frequent, and by now it is either eaten or stale and weird. Information on its condition has not been forthcoming from the consignee and I have decided to write off dough, tupperware, and quite possibly boy as a bad job.
Tonight I have the house to myself. I don't like it much when this happens, actually; I've gotten used to having 49 housemates around at all times and find it creepy to be in a two-story house (we are not even going to discuss the basement) by myself all evening. Goblins, you know, the usual. Plus it's just too quiet and lacking the vague comfortable background noise of not being that dude in the Twilight Zone episode who finds himself the only living person in the world. I digress. My solution to the emptiness, naturally, was to make some cookies to keep me company. This time I located a second cookie sheet and made two batches like a normal person... who forgets that the second batch has been in the oven nearly as long as the first and should not stay in an extra ten minutes. Precisely half of my companion pastries are now hanging out in a sad blackened heap in the trash can.
It may not seem remarkable, but that's because you're not thinking about it logically. I love cookies. I passionately love cookies. I love cookies to the point of inappropriateness. They are kind of the first thing on my mind at more or less all times, including times when cookies are really not supposed to be a priority. (Someday I will probably regret announcing this fact on a blog read by at least three of my ex-boyfriends, but sometimes the truth demands sacrifices.) For me to leave my cookie dough behind, or stop thinking "oh my god cookies soon are they done yet?" long enough to let the cookies burn, indicates something more or less unprecedented in my environment. So I blame the city.
Portland, Oregon: leave your cookies at the city limits. You can get them back from the sheriff when you ride out first thing tomorrow.
...is the name of the band that played last night before Wolf Parade. My companions and I watched them with some skepticism initially, because there's just something about six weird, lanky, geeky dudes bent double over racks of synthesizers and obsolete keyboards, flailing and jerking spasmodically in time to the bizarrely compelling electronic music they're making... that is almost as weird as the structure of this sentence. We put on our best unconvinced-audience faces. We mocked their name. Then we all said it several times with complete sincerity over the course of the performance.
Today I speak to you of the following fact: this weekend I rode 36 miles on my bicycle just to go to concerts. That's not counting miles to the grocery store or miles to work this morning, thank you very much. Holy fuck indeed.
Last night I set out to make up for the night before. I write to you now from the comfy chair on my front porch, where I am staying until I recover somewhat from my own success.
My boss very awesomely gave me yesterday afternoon off, so I grabbed my sad front wheel and trotted over to the bike shop. The nice bike dude immediately replaced my flat tube while comparing Thursday night concert notes with me (he, too, had tried with infinite optimism and no success to see Spoon), and handed it back all inflated and nice. I made bread. I made hummus. I sat down very seriously with the MusicFest website and made a list of the bands I wanted to see, with times and venue names and addresses, and then I totally ignored it.
I hopped on my bike after dinner and rode a ridiculous seven miles out to the Hawthorne Theatre to see a crappy pop-punk band from Rainier. When I say that they were a crappy pop-punk band, I do not mean that I went expecting something different and was disappointed. I mean that I listened to the sample songs on their MySpace page and said to myself, "Oh my god! Crappy pop-punk, this is awesome! It's like Midtown is channeling the Ataris! I'm there!" I think there was a year or two where I spent every other weekend at Slim's or the Bottom of the Hill or the Great American Music Hall, and there was a lot of crappy pop-punk involved. Nostalgia demanded my attendance last night, and I was not sorry to have obeyed.
Katie: I did not stay to see Lifetime, who were playing later in the evening at that same location. You may commence being disappointed in me now, and also employ any lame puns about once-in-a-Lifetime chances that you feel are needed.
When a second band came on and turned out to actually take itself seriously, I left and headed downtown to try another show. Bands I'd heard were playing at Berbati's and Slabtown, so I employed my best logic and went instead to the Fez to see someone I'd barely even heard of. It turned out to be the best call of the night. The opening band was good (when is an opening band ever good?). The headliner was great. In between was The Upsidedown, the only band of the night that I feel compelled to actually praise by name. They are phenomenal. They have a girl whose job is to rock a rack of synthesizers with one hand and a tambourine with the other while looking like a fashion plate from 1967. At one point they had a dude playing a miniature toy accordion into a microphone. They are swirly whirly and wreeoooowwww and deenerneener and other interesting noises. They are a bit like what would happen if Spiritualized switched to uppers instead of downers. I pouted when they stopped playing and went and bought a CD, to which I am presently listening.
In any event, what with the swirly whirly and the wreeooowww and the riding to Hawthorne and back I was dead on my feet by a quarter to twelve. I had to scrap my plan to see one more show and just come home instead, which in my rock-and-roll haze seemed best to do by bike alone instead of taking the train like a weenie. It's not that people don't ride up the hill on Interstate Avenue all the time, it's just that many of them don't start it when their eyes are already trying to close without permission. I'm not entirely sure how it worked; some alternate-universe Dianna probably fell asleep halfway up and fell off her bike and rolled into the Willamette, but the fact that I woke up aching unfathomably in my own bed suggests that I did somehow make it home.
Tonight there are more shows, the first of which is my roommate in a competitive open-mic that clearly requires moral support. Back I go to Southeast, back I come to downtown, back I come up the hill because Okkervil River is playing long past the point of no trains. They didn't put the MF in MFNW for no reason, I see.
My week so far has read like the answer to the question: what is the exact opposite, in subjective experience, of a satisfying three-day weekend?
Three days of Fiasco Week.
Tuesday was merely the warm-up. Work stressed me out and I got hit by a massive wave of homesickness, but that does not a fiasco make. I even managed to get my bike dropped off for repairs, which pleased me to no end. Cue the trumpets and curtain; the theater of the absurd begins on Wednesday.
Wednesday was information I couldn't get, things I needed to help with and didn't know how, and the absence from work of everyone I could have asked about anything. Phone calls, interruptions, panic, frustration. When my co-worker asked me if I'd had enough of the day, I said, oh yes, but I'd be fine as long as I could get my bike from the shop and go out for a nice ride to unwind. I'm convinced that my saying so is the reason that, on Wednesday afternoon, a Max train hit a semi truck in Chinatown and all trains running across the river to points including North Portland were stopped. I walked in circles looking for buses and bridges and finally walked across the river to catch a train far too late for the bike shop. Cut to the interpersonal weirdness alluded to in my last post, and thence to Thursday.
Thursday at work was fine! Compared to Wednesday, anyway. Nothing I couldn't handle. The bike shop said my bike was ready! A fun band was playing in the park blocks at lunch! The internet told me Spoon! was playing! at the Crystal Ballroom! Thursday night! OMG Spoon! It was all going to be a close thing with picking up my bike and getting tickets, but it was all going to work. I dashed from work, sprung for a $40 wristband to get into the whole weekend's worth of Music Fest NW shows, chased a Max train two stops and caught it, ran through traffic in pursuit of a bus and didn't die, and made it to the bike shop to pick up my ride. It was beautifully fixed and shiny and nice; I left it in the garage and went to eat dinner, then came back for it when it was time to leave for Spoon.
It's important to mention at this point that the things I just paid a lot of money for centered in large part around my front wheel. The bike shop dudes trued the wheel to within an inch of its life, installed a nice new sturdy puncture-resistant tire, did a tapey thing with the spoke ends so they wouldn't stab my inner tube, and, you know. Wheel stuff. That's why I was so astounded to find, two hours after my triumphant return from the shop, my front tire dead, rim-on-the-ground flat.
No time to worry about that! Spoon! playing! soon! I borrowed my roommate's mountain bike, which was comically small for me and made me feel like a little kid with my handlebars way up in the air. I zoomed over the bridge, rode in circles around the bewildering one-way downtown streets, locked up the bike in a not-too-awful place, and hustled toward the venue to discover... I had failed to reckon with concert time. Spoon playing at 11 means that the girl who runs around freaking out about her transportation and finally shows up like a jackass at 10:30 will wait, wristband or no, in a line around three sides of the block that moves one person in for every one who leaves. Which, with Spoon playing, is no one.
I have a theory now. I came up with it while glumly, Spoonlessly riding my painfully-ill-fitting borrowed bike back over the Broadway Bridge the uphill way, and thinking sadly of my sleek and properly-sized ride sitting at home with its pancake-flat tire. The universe is not against me; at this point it is simply following a policy of harm reduction. A pleasant evening, a chance to get my rock and roll on, a nice ride on my newly-repaired bike: these things could be a shock to my system this far into Fiasco Week. One does not simply yank the morphine drip from a patient who's gotten accustomed to it; presumably if one were administering a medically necessary regimen of Indian burns or scathing insults, mercy and human decency would require that it too be tapered off slowly. Hence, Fiasco Week. Clearly the only way out is through.
I have found that reading Backlash on the train in the morning will not make me arrive at work ready to be a cheerful, helpful secretary. It will make me look thoughtfully around my office and contemplate how it would be better if I took a crowbar to the nice reception desk and perched on top of the wreckage in my boots and tank top, accosting passersby with well-selected statistics and demanding to know what, precisely, they were doing to prevent the erosion of women's economic and social status by reactionary hysteria.
But I get paid for sitting properly at the intact desk and answering phone questions and nodding politely when faculty ask me to do things, whereas if I were to enact my beautiful fantasy I would get the opposite of paid. Economic necessity is a bugger.
Here is a fake hypothetical question: what would you do about someone who is friendly and fun to be around and then, out of nowhere, breathtakingly rude? And when confronted makes clear that s/he never thought of the breathtakingly rude thing as rude or even notable, and consequently has no intention of apologizing or behaving differently in future? I ask with the sneaking suspicion that I have been this person or someone comparable, and yet, the magic of empathy is failing to make clear to me the appropriate way of dealing with the situation from the other side. Anthropology geek says: indignation and the desire to see everything from other people's worldviews do not mix. Again, a bugger.