Last week, on Halloween, I had dinner with my bike friend at the inimitable, excitingly-mostly-vegan Vita Cafe.
As we were standing up to leave, my messenger bag caught the attention of one of the friendly waiter types. He hustled over and asked me where I got my "veggies make you sexy" patch. When I told him I'd made it myself his eyeballs went all acquisitive, so I asked if he wanted one. Indeed he did.
Tonight my house was empty and boring with both roommates out of town, and lacking any other pressing errands I decided to go back to Vita and give the man his patch. I also gave him a couple of stickers I'd made with the same design on my ridiculous wheat-pattern contact paper. One of the stickers was immediately and enthusiastically stolen by a cute waitress who'd decided to go vegan mere hours earlier.
The friendly waiter dude had mentioned paying for the patch, and I had spent the bike ride debating with myself whether to decline the offer or accept a token buck for materials. But inspiration struck him in mid-pocket-exploration, and he asked excitedly if I would rather trade for a piece of cake.
All I can really figure is that there must be a god after all. Someone wants to sport my patch and buy me vegan desserts? And figures this is an even trade? It's fucking ludicrous. So I pulled up a seat and had a giant piece of gooey coconut cake instead of dinner.
On my way out I chatted some more with the friendly waiter dude about make-it-yourself silliness. He told me he used to go around Seattle pasting homemade replacement gerunds on "no parking" signs to make them forbid dancing, thinking, walking, and anything else he could think of. And I thought, Seattle nothing, if this is Thursday and a friendly stranger is telling me animatedly about something creative and subversive, this must be Portland.
I have a camera! Me! A camera! I never have a camera!
It was waiting for me when I got home today. I was instantly entranced.
I tried to convey my enthusiasm to the cats.
I was not successful. Even my attempt to amuse Peanut by wearing my stripey scarf and blending in with my stripey blanket was met with extreme coolness.
Coolness. Scarf. Haha! I'm a little worried by how funny that is right now.
This morning Katie and I got up at 6:00, got on our bikes, and rode to my neighborhood waffle stand to eat enormous vegan waffles drenched in maple butter and wrapped around slabs of veggie sausage.
Sunrise vegan sausage waffle sandwiches. It rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? And by 7:15 we were back at my house, full of waffles and coffee and tea, playing lightning-round Set until it was time for me to go to work.
Last night we went to the weekly Portland Spelling Bee, which takes place at a local pub over beer and vegan pizza. When you get dinged out for misspelling a word (in my case, peirastic; in Katie's, philippics), you get a hug and a lollipop and a round of applause before you sit down.
We made this point to each other several times over the course of the weekend: it's not that it's remarkable that these things exist. Across the width of the inhabited world there are probably multiple sunrise waffle sandwich stands, several vegan pizza pubs, and numerous drunken spelling bees. In a sufficiently large city it becomes statistically likely that you will find something like this. But Portland is not a sufficiently large city, and it has all of them. Even North Portland, which is merely a small pie wedge of the city, has all of these things and many more. Someone hijacked the truck that was supposed to carry the creative, nerdy people and their pet projects all across the world, and they wound up concentrated here by mistake.
I'm sorry, California. I may never be able to live in you again.
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.
...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.
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.
Unstarred items are awesome but predictable. Starred items make my head hurt to think about. Keep in mind that 90% of these are made of heavily lacquered wood.
I'm starting to suspect that there's a power tool to blame for all of this. Someone got a tool that made sticking stuff in walls really easy, and suddenly every wall in the house looked like it needed something stuck in it. I've never heard of an Automatic Countersunker before, but I think I've now seen all the evidence I need to believe in its existence.
I write to you now from my new house in Portland, which is ALARMINGLY AWESOME. Holy built-ins, Batman -- I've never seen so many cleverly countersunk cabinets in one place, and the only place you'd find more wood than this would be a porn set. Roommate #1, who owns the house, has clearly put a metric crapload of work into it, so that where it was once an old, quirky and trashed house, it is now an old, quirky and beautiful house. The floors are a mix of hardwood and the same linoleum pattern that my parents still have in their den; the walls are being converted room-by-room from strangely endearing wallpaper to daring designer colors (my room is, as promised on the phone, a shade of medium pumpkin), except in the basement where there's so much gleaming wood panelling it feels like a hunting lodge. It's a forest of doors -- the second floor is away up a narrow wooden staircase hidden behind what I was certain was only a closet door. The basement is away behind another door that I've been told sometimes spontaneously locks itself, and all down the basement hallway the wood panelling turns out to be doors into weird little utility closets. The cupboards in the garage still list someone's hourly rates for auto repair, the den in the basement opens off a door you could drive a smallish truck through, and I will throw a root-beer kegger down there with the built-in tap and the walk-in refrigerator. I will.
I nearly slept in my walk-in closet last night simply because it is big enough to do so.
I took a shuttle home from the airport yesterday, and chatted with the driver about Ethiopian food and North Portland. Seven years ago, he said, his shuttle company wouldn't come near this neighborhood. Today I look down my street and see flowerbeds and new paint jobs, and while I've been sitting here waiting for FedEx I've seen my neighbors cruising by on bikes and walking dogs. I don't know how much my owning roommate paid for this place, but I don't doubt he'll get it back double when he sells the place.
When I got in last night I got a deluxe tour, from which I finally tore myself away because my renting roommate was trying to offer me a burrito. I accepted; my owning roommate handed me a bottle of cider, and we sat around the kitchen table talking until bedtime. They are delightful. One is reassembling, in the backyard, the yurt he built for Burning Man last year. The other is subversively teaching small children to like interesting vegetables. We are having a barbecue this weekend. Anyone who would like to drive 629 miles to attend is warmly welcomed.
Please note that this entry is being posted in the category "This is precisely what the fuck I am talking about".
Now that I look at it closely, I'm noticing just how much more stylized it is than my original idea. If you remember, my first choice artist was Marie Wadman, whose work is precise and botanical and shows every vein and bump of every leaf. But her colors are muted and subtle, and I wanted a riot of green and red. So I went with Mike Davis (stupid nonnavigable flash site), who lets botanical detail go and hang but has the knack of putting down an outrageous color and making it look like it's always been there. So my tomatoes are lush and round but the leaves are splashes of green and yellow curviness that tricks your eye into seeing leafy convolution that isn't there. And I'm damned pleased about it.
My favorite thing? Check out the shine on the tomatoes. Yes, yes, it's almost photorealistic. But it gets even better than that. See the very lightest part where there's almost no red? Think of this like a coloring book -- you've got the outlines and you're filling in the color freehand without any kind of shading scheme laid down for you. That's pretty much how it went. So if you're me, you start by figuring out where the shine is going to be and put in some white or yellow that you can color around. But there's no white there! There's no ink at all! Those shine spots are completely bare skin! How much drawing experience do you have to have to be able to shade in a perfect shiny globe without a single spot of unnecessary ink, and get it absolutely right five times in a row?
A fuckload, I think. Mike is my hero.
A very, very, VERY SMALL BAKERY.
There's a reason for that title, or actually two reasons, but just to be spiteful I'm not going to tell you what they are. Instead I am going to start a new post category, called "This is precisely what the fuck I am talking about".
This is precisely what the fuck I am talking about. The city of Portland has a city park 24 inches in diameter. It once had to be physically picked up and moved to allow for sidewalk construction, and was carefully replaced in its original location because, after all, it is an official city park and is the responsibility of the city to properly maintain.
I've never met a municipal government with a sense of humor before. I'm entirely charmed by it.