“I have another issue I need to address here, so that you have time to prepare before your next visit to the store:When you were in the store the other day to begin the onboarding process, I noticed that you carried with you a strong presence of garlic odor (?). It may have been on your clothes or something. Because there are many coworkers working with each other, as well as the customers on the sales floor, the company policy manual addresses the policy of personal hygiene and odors such as strong perfumes, etc. I’ll have to ask you to consider if this is a condition you can resolve before you’re completely onboarded, because it is not something we can delay attending to.”
When one finds themselves standing next to a sample table in a CostCo for 8-something hours you get to really experience how being in Costco is a 2+ hour trip for many people as they wander back and forth in search of meaning in their lives. “Where are the chocolate flavored lobster tampons?” they’d ask me. “I don’t actually work here and they keep moving things around. Maybe try over by the regular lobster tampons?”
That’s all over now, but evidence would seem to suggest that I was pretty good at suggesting bottles of Willamette Valley Vineyards wine would do the trick. Several would be even better.
It’s called The Moda Center at the time of this writing (2020) but in 1993 it was still The Rose Quarter, because that’s where we quartered our roses. For $300/month (or so) we had a roach-infested studio apartment in one of the hotel buildings originally built for the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition. From our place we had a quality view of I-5 traffic. Parking was free when I found it and we had a great claw-foot bathtub, a mattress, and a mushroom shaped stool to sit on. Everything else was a cardboard box. I’d sit on that stool and bang out job applications on an aging word processing machine propped up on a box. A friendly guy named Ray ran the place. I believe he was pushing 70 at the time. He liked to spend his time at Denny’s. I’d like to believe he’s buried there today. Ray did a good job of tolerating all his low-income tenants, always in good cheer and doing little favors for us. Ray had a big soul. We all worked at gas stations and fast food joints within walking distance. It’s hard to forget the distinctive smell of someone cooking frozen peas and cheap hamburger in a frying pan, and the sound of domestic disputes echoing down the hallways. Then there were the friendly teens taking their first steps into the world, and the gang of Rose Quarter security guards who’d sometime hang out in front of the building.
Northeast Portland. Hey guess what? Black people are scary, aaiieeee!!! We’ll talk about this more as you turn these pages, but short story long North and Northeast Portland were the only places in the area where non-whites were allowed to settle from the 40’s through the 70’s. Then there were us kids just trying to find a place we could cover on minimum wage. You wouldn’t believe it looking at these neighborhoods today, but in 1994 they were pretty scruffy. Were we even going to be safe there? We didn’t know.
The day came when we decided we could move up to a one-bedroom apartment. $425/month, just a few blocks north in a house that had been fixed up just enough to be legally rentable. One day I was putting that plastic winter insulation over the windows and discovered that they were only connected to the window frame on two sides. Slight pressure from a single finger nearly dropped the window pane out onto the street. The bathroom sink faced a window. At a garage sale I bought the passenger side rear view mirror taken off an old pickup and screwed that sucker into the window frame so I could shave. Affordable Housing!
Our place was on the second floor. It had an outside space just big enough for a chair and the hibatchi we’d picked up for $5. I had to climb out the window to use it. I still carry a sense of hatred for the gas “heater” that attempted to keep the place warm and dry. It didn’t happen, but we vowed to someday have a wood-burning stove for winter comfort.
Then our big break came. The lady across the street told me she was looking for someone to rent their two-bedroom place for $650. At this point, anyone living in 2020 Portland is gasping for breath – walking distance to downtown, two bedrooms AND $650/month? Yep, that’s the fun you missed out on kids.
Other things you missed out on: syringes outside the San Rafael motel down the street. The time a friendly prostitute opened my passenger door and jumped in looking for business. The people across the way we called “The Loud Family” because their kids would be playing in the street after midnight when we were trying to sleep. The old pickup truck parked nearby with the mysterious door graphics: “Friends’ Ethical Plumbing”. I never found out what that was about, but it sounds like a novel all to itself.
Our neighbors one house to the North of us weren’t terribly happy when we took over Marsha’s place. She and her partner let them use the laundry machines… and well, they never bothered to make friends with us. Not even a hello. I guess they were under a good deal of stress. I was there when the ambulance took one of the guys away to the hospital on a stretcher for HIV/AIDS related health problems. > Insert frowny face here < Some time later with new tenants that house next store was the scene for a whole new set of unexpected drama in my personal life.
This stumbling story perhaps starts with a breakup. I was a third of the way between Allentown and Key West when I cracked my journal and found her message. My heart had been breaking and I didn’t know what to do, but she left me with the encouragement to go off on my own for a bit and before long I found myself sitting on a cooler under a palm tree writing love letters to her using my great-grandfather’s portable typewriter and posters I’d pulled off telephone poles because I didn’t have money to buy paper. Key West was filled with flowers back in 1993 and I’d stuff the blossoms into the envelopes I sent to her.
Then the day came when I packed myself into my late grandmother’s Chevy and I sent myself to Portland to be with her.
The Year Zero
Perhaps it really begins with ZoeKat, our CEO – Cat Executive Officer. Later we also had Lucy, our Cat Financial Officer, but in the early days it was me and her and the kitty, shoulder to shoulder, into the future, fists out, backs to the wall. Jami really was on the cutting edge of reproductive rights, working at a local clinic. Wing nuts still think they serve Jesus by shooting doctors, you know. In 1994 North Portland was still a Pacific Northwest version of a slum, a haven for people who failed to be white enough and punk rockers. A place where lawns often went unmowed and beautiful wrecks of 100-year old homes were bought by artists and slowly renovated into beautiful places. Walter W. Cole, aka Darcelle, of well-earned Drag Queen fame had an amazing place just up the street. Read it and weep hipsters, our neighbor bought his beautiful victorian for $14,000. Our place came with some pedigree, we had reasonable evidence that the obscure indie band Pond had at least darked our towels. Our goofy friends across the street had a garage sale where they attempted to sell off a Budweiser can they claimed was soiled by Kurt Cobain himself, and a perfectly plausible story really.
Hello, My Name is Bigfoot
I’d get up in the morning and drive off to my minimum wage temp job in the tech support salt mines of Beaverton. There was a raccoon family that crossed the street at the same time every morning. More distressing was what’s-his-face and his dog. About the time when we’d moved from the one bedroom apartment across the street to Marsha’s comparatively palatial two bedroom semi-restored victorian he’d been dumped on the street by his sister. He mostly lived out of his car, but we saw him on her porch most of the time. The times we watched them try to feed their cat with baked beans and saltines. This is the North Portland you probably missed out on, like the dead teenage son of another neighbor. Gunned down in Irving Park under unknown circumstances.
“Gidget?! Shuddup!!” Yeah, little 20-something us repeated his reproachment to his fuzzy little dog over and over again to each other because there was humor in the sadness. I still do it. Oh Gidget, where are you now? After his sister moved out, we’d still see him living out of his car, moving around the neighborhood.
After the breakup I discovered that all our friends had been hers and I was left with the kind of loneliness I’d only read about in divorced men. And so I packed up and headed out to Burning Man. There was a forest fire that forced traffic to go the long way around south of Kalamath Falls. I spent the night sleeping on a picnic table in some isolated park. I’d never driven to Nevada before. By the time I was passing Pyramid Lake I was starting to think the whole Burning Man story was an elaborate hoax. But then, I was parked on the side of the road taking a photo when a small Japanese car went by with WA state plates, two women with pixie cuts and mountain bikes. Maybe this Burning Man thing was real after all.
In 1996 the head count was 4,000 or so. By Empire and Gerlach one finally saw the evidence of the art community washing up on the shores of the gas stations and bars. The entrance to the playa, once you found it, $40 got you in and a compass heading. “Go that way and turn right after eight miles” I was told. Alkaline in every direction, a destination over the horizon. I was on my way.
I’m such a nerd, I’m just no good at this stuff. Feeling comfortable with party people. Always the awkward one, that’s me. The tire tracks and footprints in the playa dust of the Black Rock of 1996 constantly resolved themselves into pentagrams, gambling dice, smack and terrible visions of cheap Las Vegas vice in the dark of the night. Eventually I stayed up to dawn chatting with a friendly campmate – really all the BS about making friends at Burning Man turns out to be completely true. Back before Burning Man became mostly a rave, we had a rave ghetto, two miles away from the main camp so people who weren’t hopped up on goofballs could get some sleep. I’d pedaled out there, peeped the place out and was pedaling back across the vast yawning expanse of the desert with the stars exploding across the sky when I came across the tent, halfway between, like some kind of lost Tusken Raider hideout. Here’s the thing about Burning Man, just walk in and say “Hi”. Sure, I’ll try some mushrooms. Let’s go for a ride.
Here’s the Thing About San Francisco, And Your Butt
You are not extreme enough. Don’t get me wrong, I have had an amazing amount of fun that was created by the people thrown off the merry-go-round of the Summer of Love, but still. So much of what I’ve seen is people trying to hurt themselves while saying they are having fun. You don’t have to be on cocaine, acid, ecstasy and speed at the same to claim you’re having fun, and perhaps that’s a bit of difference between the Portland crew and some of the individuals one met from the Bay Area. Sure, we’d get drunk and shout at each other’s art cars with bullhorns, but we’re free from the chip on the shoulder placed by the Electric Kool-aid Acid Test. Or maybe we just don’t know how to party? It’s hard to talk about the Burning Man and Cacophony experience of that era without broaching the topic of not-so-legal substances.
Just so you know, a wee bit of Portlandia history before Portlandia.
Like the Viking Funeral for my cat, we actually did that, shooting a cannon over the willy. That stuff actually happened. Before the fence was there, I was able to roll my VW right up to the riverfront by OMSI and put down the windshield and enjoy the view. For that matter (and I do not recommend this) Soren and I more than once rolled Der Thing to the top of the interstate bridges and got out of the car to watch the fireworks. These are things that happened, that we did.
Hello friendly reader. We have a guest commentator here who will recount his experience with space-related music. Let’s begin, shall we?
Been a big fan of Shadowy Men since I first heard their theme song on Kids in the Hall in college. This post from my friend and yours, Bon Vivant, Rob Vaughn.
After I finished the very last final exam I had to take in gag school, I grabbed a suitcase I’d packed and my pals from high school met me outside of the hall to drive up to Toronto for a three day weekend. I kept telling them to stop at a liquor store in the U.S. to buy booze but they were hell-bent on driving straight through. By the time we got there and found a hotel, it was about 8:30pm and like Oregon the liquor stores closed at 7.
We left the hotel and were looking for a beer store (they’re open a little later, no beer in grocery stores either, at least back then) when I saw a flyer for a Shadowy Men show. My fellow idiots finally figured out the beer stores closed at 9pm and were resigned to finding a bar and paying the price. Told them I was going to the show and none were interested; they wanted to go to titty bars, I wanted music, so I split off alone.
I’d been to Toronto a few times and have always had a good sense of direction and making my way around. Took some guesses, and a Metro ride and walk later, found the little club they were playing at; more of an art space in hindsight. I paid the $5 CAN and went in, There were all sorts of friendly folks inside: solo people like me, couples, friends of the band, etc. The lights were dim, the place a bit of a mess and dirty, and said friends of the band were walking around with cases of beer selling them for $1 CAN each.
I don’t remember the name of the opening band. They did a 40 minute set of surf rock, all short tunes, good stuff. Place was pretty packed by the time they were done. Shadowy Men came out and helped the openers move their gear, except for the drum kit, which drummer Reid was loaning them. They set up quickly and turned off everything but a lot of black lights. They’d decorated the whole space with fluoro reactive stuff: stars and comets on the walls, dayglo planets and moons hanging from the ceiling, ufos and spaceships on wires that would slide back and forth from the stage to the back of the room on pulleys, and so on.
The two couples I’d been hanging with broke out some joints and we got very high while slugging beer out of cans. The moment the geegaws on the pulleys started moving, the band lit a couple of roman candles on the stage and went straight into the first song off their first album, which they played in full, followed by their 2nd LP. Barely a pause between songs until they’d finished most of the latter, then some witty banter from lead singer/guitarist Brian. At some point there were a couple glow-in-the-dark blow up balls bouncing around the crowd. The beer guys just started giving away cans and I had to pace myself because I realized I hadn’t eaten in over a day.
They played for over two hours straight, then turned up the lights and said “Thanks everyone, that’s our last show ever, hope you had a good time” or some such thing. I excused myself and went up to the stage where the band was just hanging out. I introduced myself and told the guitarist how much I loved their music and felt it was crucial to the TV show, and was bummed they were breaking up. Said I had almost all of their LPs and singles, in particular the Estrus stuff, but had never found a copy of a 7″ that they’d self-released. Connelly told me to wait and went backstage, then returned with a copy of the single. I asked him how much he wanted for a it but he just handed it to me and said, “Nuthin’! Glad you like the music,” We chatted a little more then I left to let others have a turn.
I found the folks I’d been hanging with and thanked them for the weed, then split to catch the Metro back, since it didn’t run late. I tried to find my pals at a strip club they said they’d be at, but it being pre-mobile phone days, I had no way to contact them and didn’t feel like paying a cover charge to get in to look, so I headed back to the hotel. They were already there, drunk as hell, broke after spending hundreds at the club and in the process of trashing the room. I’m surprised we didn’t get caught and kicked out.
We hightailed it to another hotel at checkout time then hit the liquor and beer stores. I don’t remember much more of that weekend after we procured the booze. Some museums, some restaurants, book and record stores and pubs for me, while they went back to the naked lady bars.
It was a completely random and lucky thing to catch their last show. The next year I skipped the graduation ceremony over Memorial Day weekend to fly to Portland and drive up to Bellingham to catch another Garageshock. Can’t remember if Soren was on that trip in ’94 or not? Don’t remember if they ever played at those, but at least I got to see them once. The bass player died of cancer a couple years later, so doubtful there’ll ever be a reunion or new material.
Well, my friends are gone and my hair is grey I ache in the places where I used to play And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on I’m just paying my rent every day in the Tower of Song
I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get? Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet But I hear him coughing all night long Oh, a hundred floors above me in the Tower of Song
I was born like this, I had no choice I was born with the gift of a golden voice And twenty-seven angels from the Great Beyond They tied me to this table right here in the Tower of Song
So you can stick your little pins in that voodoo doll I’m very sorry, baby, doesn’t look like me at all I’m standing by the window where the light is strong Ah, they don’t let a woman kill you, not in the Tower of Song
Now, you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor And there’s a mighty judgment coming, but I may be wrong You see, you hear these funny voices in the Tower of Song
I see you standing on the other side I don’t know how the river got so wide I loved you baby, way back when And all the bridges are burning that we might have crossed But I feel so close to everything that we lost We’ll never, we’ll never have to lose it again
Now I bid you farewell, I don’t know when I’ll be back They’re moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track But you’ll be hearing from me baby, long after I’m gone I’ll be speaking to you sweetly from a window in the Tower of Song
Yeah, my friends are gone and my hair is gray I ache in the places where I used to play And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on I’m just paying my rent every day in the Tower of Song