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August 20, 2004

Leaving Portland

He offered her the second glass to taste. As she tasted the wine, the room around her disappeared. While I watched her, she disrobed and dove into the wine. Swimming down beneath the surface. Pale white breasts stroked by rushing red wine from a vineyard on the other side of the planet. Crushed and trampled by bared feet just for this moment. The waiter and I exchanged glances. His eye’s betrayed that he’d not witnessed this before. I was just bored.

Enigmatic Portland

In the morning, the bindlestiffs sprouted from their clandestine crevices and splayed themselves in the sun. They traded their used needles for clean ones and chased dragons in parks along the Willamette river. Without remorse, they fornicated on the irrigated park lawns and vomited into the drinking fountains.

In Pioneer Square, the quasi-homeless played speed chess in the park on marble tables with worn, chipped plastic pieces. They punched the clock in turn. Cocky and quick. The sport of kings played out in a digestible format. We might have been in Boston instead of Portland. But we were in Portland.

On Morrison Street, the unwashed, godless bohemians peddled the hard-luck stories of the pervasive homeless to the nearly distant robots of corporate amerika. “Can you spare some change please? I just got here a month ago from Santa Cruz. My father raped and beat me. Someone stole my backpack and my birth certificate and my kitten was in it. Someone offered me a thousand dollars for my kitten, but I didn’t take it. That’s how much that kitten meant to me.?

They are apparently destitute, and clearly filthy. They differ from the plethora of homeless refugees of other American cities in their age and their race. The hardened faces of the Caucasoid youth are difficult to comprehend. How could people so young fall so far so fast? Behind all of the metal lip rings, Kool Aid hair-dye, and needle tracks is a girl that must have been someone’s daughter one day. How did they end up here, on the streets of Portland?

When you’re talking to people in the street, you have to assume that they’re lying. If they truly are as poor as they appear, then they’d say anything to get out of their situation. If they’re not as poor as they appear, then they’re already lying before they open their mouths. So, they’re all liars. And opportunistic thieves.

As I walked down the sidewalk, one of them cautioned me “Sir...watch out for that banana peel.? I glanced down and noticed a neatly peeled banana skin, lying menacingly on the sidewalk. “I just saved your life.? She offered. “Can you spare some change?? I just smiled. Compensating the homeless is like feeding pigeons or sea gulls. I don’t believe in subsidizing failure.

Portland Coffee House

The clouds spilled into Portland. They covered the sky and choked the sun. A prelude of the months to come. Summer slipping into the desperate, gray-drab fall-winter that would send the suicide rate spiraling out of control.

Outside the coffee shop, the fiercely-tattooed and fervently studded nursed their wounds. They favored their crudely bandaged hands, and struggled across the streets on canes. They spat on the sidewalk and rolled their tobacco cigarettes and marijuana joints without pride or fear.

The deliberately homeless organized and dispersed into various corners to accost the professional consumers. They pitch-holed the rent-a-pigs and recited soliloquies. Babbling about the stone-age people that had been discovered living in the Philippines. Some article about it in National Geographic.

The homeless people, with dreadlocks, and rotweillers camped at the tables outside the coffee shops. They chatted with the patrons, and dreamed of the day they'd be able to bathe again. They recited original poems from memory. Hankering for a handout. Dangerously delusional. Insipid and unstable, they careened up and down the sidewalk, cursing the police, the homeless, and the well heeled alike.

The homeless paraded around, unrepentant, barefoot, with staffs. Dirty and dread-locked, they hiked the city sidewalks. The disarmingly perfect temperature. Too cool to be warm, but too warm to be cool. The homeless coalesced like pigeons into Pioneer Courthouse Square. They fanned out and panhandled the consumers, pleading creatively for cigarettes, matches, or fare for the Tri-Met Max. “Drop it or I'll shoot...my mouth off.?

The summer is fleeting in Portland. It fades hard at the end of August, leaving in its wake a Stalin gray sky and a nation of heroin-addled youth, bleating and shivering on the banks of the Willamette River. In September, the clouds roll off the Pacific Ocean and crash into the Cascades. They churn and grind in the skies, obscuring the sun. The skies turn dolphin gray and the clouds settle down, suspended by the skyscrapers.

The clouds reluctantly release the raindrop bomblet that soak the roof of the house where I’m seeking shelter…chokes the gutters…and cascades onto the patched concrete sidewalks. Moss grows on the roof…it feeds on the shingles and they turn a succulent green color.

The Willamette, emasculated by a relentless chain of bridges, slides by without pride or remorse. The river appears innocent, possibly even benevolent, but teetering on the brink of EPA Superfund status, the Willamette discretely ferries dioxins, PCB’s, and raw sewage into the Columbia and on to the Pacific.

The freight trains rumble north in the darkness, air horns resonating the night-rain-city. Homeless people shuffled under the bridges and the overpasses, lighting society’s refuse to stay warm. The tree-huggers were trapped on their bikes beneath the open skies.

In the chilled air of fall, one begins to realize why the coffee explosion came out of the Pacific Northwest. Coffee in the Pacific Northwest will cure what ails you. It chases the cold from your bones and perks you up. You don’t notice that the sun hasn’t shined for weeks. That it’s drizzled for seven days without ever really raining. Coffee is to Portland what a sno-cone is to Austin or ice cream is to Havana.

Downtown, the locals ease into the Portland Coffee House and haggle over the price of cinnamon rolls. White T-Shirt, bra-less, blue jeans, Doc Marten’s boots. Black coffee.

“And how much is that cinnamon roll right there? … Two dollars? For real? Is that how much it costs??

Searching For Portland

Jennifer and I spent a lot of time this summer wading through the creeks of Colorado, turning over rocks, peeking underneath the leaves, searching for crawfish, minnows, and other as-yet-undiscovered aquatic life-forms. We share an insatiable curiosity of life off the beaten path. The hidden and overlooked oddities of life beyond the frontiers of the obvious.

In Austin and San Francisco, I spent a significant amount of time shooting graffiti in the back alleys and the homeless in the parks, searching for the soul of the city. Looking for something that would betray the true heart of the city. Not the rubbish doled out by the chamber of commerce or the drivel printed in the travel guides.

But Portland seemed to be a tougher nut to crack. I looked through the lens and pushed the button to take a picture, but Portland failed to come into focus. Not only did the subjects seem insignificant and austere, but the photographs themselves seemed to be innocent of any redeeming artistic merit.

To make matters worse, my roommate was showing all of the warning signs. Every wall had fist-sized holes punched through the sheetrock. Every door had toe-sized holes at toe-level. When I didn’t show up on time one night, he called me on my cell phone to see where I was. It was an ominous sign, portending of the dark clouds on the horizon.

Stumptown

When the cities of Seattle and San Francisco were taking off, they needed lumber, and they found it in Oregon. Portland was the furthest inland that the ocean going vessels could navigate, and that’s why the city exists.

Portland was ground zero for the deflowering of the Pacific Northwest. Portland was to the land-rapers what Zurich was to the Nazis. Stumptown was a clearing house for the complete and total exploitation of a conquered land. So many trees were cut, that they had to paint the stumps white to keep from tripping over them at night.

But after the land had been raped…after the old growth forest had all been clear-cut…after the cascades had eroded and choked the Columbia with silt and sandbars, killing the salmon. After the fur-bearing critters had been hunted nearly to extinction, and the rivers had been tamed…and the fish had disappeared, the people that were left behind took stock of their situation. And they weren’t happy.

Some people overreact when everything decent about the place they live is sacked and desecrated. Today, Portland is a focal point for the eco-terrorists. It is a proving ground for the muddled psycho-babble drivel of the pretentious, para-liberal eco-terrorists. The coffee shops are the battlegrounds for the inchoate half-truths of the demagogues and the Green Party.

Chain Link Bridges

Something there is in Portland that’s hard to put into words. Something the keyboard doesn’t want to know. When the fog rolls in off the ocean, it gets pinned against the ridge and it sombers the soul. I overheard the boss saying “On days like this…it’s hard to come in sober.? Oregon has the highest suicide rate in the nation for a reason.

When the summer fades and the tourist tide ebbs, the heroin addicts struggle to support their addition. On the banks of the Willamette River, black tar heroin runs $50 for a quarter gram. Every morning, a couple dozen addicts line up at the Hooper Center, the city's biggest detox clinic. Most of them are turned away.

The addicts panhandle, steal, and sell their bodies to scrounge enough cash to support their habits. When the weather turns, they try to scrape together enough money to overdose, but fall short of their goals and end up chasing the dragon. The Hooper Center has a spotty track record, but the Suicide Bridge cures heroin addictions with zero percent recidivism.

The city put chain link fences along the sides of the bridges to try to discourage people from jumping. The chronically depressed drive onto the bridges and stop their cars in the middle. They put it in park for the last time and get out without turning off the engine. They throw their wallets on the dash, and zip-tie 35 pound weights to themselves. Then they walk to the edge, and jump into the river, as other cars slam into theirs.

Later, the police canine units will make a run up the Willamette in an open boat. Somehow, the hound dogs will smell the body even though it’s forty feet under water. Another cadaver will be retrieved from the river and the hounds will get a treat.

Portland, The City Of

Deracinated, farraginous hordes of genetic flotsam, jetsam, and lagan, expelled from the rest of the country are washed upon the shores of the Willamette River. The youth course through the parks and sidewalks of the city of Portland. They choke the the bus lines and the strain the Tri-Met Max light-rail system.

Unfettered, frothing herds of rabid, feral youth stalk the city, furious at the failures of the ism’s: consumerism…racism…imperialism. Emasculated men. Eviscerated women with infertile wombs and cancerous breasts. Hikers that had delved into the forests; haunted by the indescribable stumps of the oceans of trees that our great grandfathers sacked and pillaged. Victims of the failed technological revolution. Disillusioned, bulimic beauty queens. All coalesce around Pioneer Sqiare in the afternoons to panhandle, play chess, and debate.

The men stop shaving. The women surrender their makeup. They tattoo their bodies, pierce their lips, eyebrows, and tongues so it is intuitively obvious to the casual observer how completely and totally they reject society’s expectations.

Certainly Uncertain

Portland is the pulpit for every true intellectual in the country. People who have thought through the dilemnas. People who have deconstructed the arguments and concentrated their thoughts into palatable, easily digestible concepts for the masses to consume. So that that the radical becomes the conventional, the hippie becomes the imperialist, and audience becomes the exploited.

The Portland Coffee House skims the crème-de-le-crème from the trickle of capitalist refugees sashaying down the sidewalks. An inescapable trap for the uber-pretentious. People who read books in foreign languanges.

“What language is that??

“Greek. But not the Attic prose. It’s Koine, which is much easier to understand.?

“Obviously.?

Three stair-step sisters spilled into the coffee shop, like dice into a Yahtzee game. Their ages might have run from 14 to 18. They took up positions amongst the furniture and consulted the oldest one on what to order.

The oldest one took off her shoes and curled up in an overstuffed armchair and closed her eyes. The youngest one collapsed in a chair beside her, while the middle child chastised her mother on the cell phone, mortified by her mother’s cultural ethnocentric indiscretions India.

They were stretching their wings. Trying on their independence like a Christmas sweater. Certainly uncertain.

Criticizing your parents is a necessary part of defining your own identity. A step toward becoming an individual. As the schism with your parents grows, your role in society changes. If your parents aren’t right, then maybe the decisions that your parents and their peers made aren’t right. Maybe we shouldn’t be in Iraq. Maybe consumerism isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

In their youthful exhuberance, nothing is sacrosanct. Every policy, every convention of wisdom, every treaty, is subject to an impartial and debilitating analysis. In the warmth of the city’s coffee shops, the wording of a law is questioned. Then the intent of the law is debated. Aspersions are cast regarding the rationale behind the intent, until finally, the blame comes home to rest at the feet of capitalism, the human genome, or the Rothschilds.

As one watches the spectacle of society consuming and absorbing its own larvae, one realizes that society is a living breathing organism. Every component has a function in the organ. The function of the youth is to question everything. This causes the organ to self-correct over time. They question and re-evaluate the decisions of those that came before them. This is an essential mechanism in a self-regulating system. The ideas, laws, and beliefs that no longer make sense are overturned, through legislation, reformation, or revolution.

Meredith’s Angst

I was drinking coffee in one of those inveterate coffee shops where the bearded, overeducated, effete don berets and huddle to escape the notorious Portland weather. A young woman walked in wearing ballet shoes and a dress with multiple patches. She was carrying a clear, plastic gallon jug of water.

She had rings on every one of her fingers, and large, silver hoop earings that were easily too large to serve as bracelets.

From her black, hair-pinned mop of hair, I guessed that she suffered from trichotillomania. Either that or she’d sheared herself with a pair of childrens scissors without the benefit of a mirror. Judging from the color, I guessed that she’d died it recently, possibly on the street outside the coffee shop.

She walked in and set down in the large, overstuffed, paisley chair next to me, so that we were sharing a small coffee table with a lamp. She was reading a book, about what one could only guess. It could have been the Necronomicon or the Bible, and I wouldn’t have wagered money either way. I said “Hello?, and she looked at me like I had ten heads.

Predictably, a homeless person walked into the coffee shop and asked for a cup of ice water. Never mind the fact that Portland has more public water fountains per capita than any other city on Earth. Never mind that they run continuously, in clusters of four at every intersection in the city. This homeless person had to have a cup of ice water, and a free one at that.

“A cup of ice water is thirty-five cents.? The guy behind the counter explained. He was white. The guy asking for water was black. Nobody felt good about it, but the cards were just sort of being played. We were all going through the motions. The homeless guy asked for water. The flunkee had to charge him. We all had to pretend like we didn’t notice. It was an absurd sort of reality, but it was the logical conclusion of an infinite number of unassailable arguments.

The homeless guy turned to leave, thirsty more for respect than for water. The girl would have none of it. She stood up and followed him to the door.

“I have thirty-five cents.? She offered. “I’ll buy you a cup of ice-water.? It was a humane reaction to an inhumane situation.

The flunkee waived off the thirty-five cents. It didn’t really matter anyway. He was just playing his part. No one would miss the cup, the water, or the ice. He felt embarassed for denying the man his drink. The other patrons felt embarassed for pretending like they hadn’t noticed the transaction as it unraveled.

“What’s your name?? I asked her.

“Meredith.?

“What’s yours??

“Rob… but my friends call me Pyewacket.?

She explained that she was going to Powell’s books to listen to an author give a speech about a new book about surveilance in America. In spite of all of her deliberate efforts to conceal it, she was obviously cute, so I offered to walk her over to the lecture and we headed off into the Portland night, bell, book, and candle.

“You must make a lot of money.? She observed.

“What makes you say that?? I countered.

“Because my ex-fiance made a lot of money, and he was a lot like you. He had the same aura of pseudo-confidence that you have.?

“Pseudo-confidence? You’re killin’ me here.? I complained.

“Are you married?? She asked.

“Not really.?

“Did you get your teeth fixed?? She asked.

“Let’s just focus on getting to Powell’s.? I was trying to get her back on track. “We can walk through the gross homeless people in the park, or walk by the naked women in the strip clubs on Broadway. It’s your call.?

“Let’s walk by the naked women on Broadway.? She suggested.

“Fair enough.?

“What do you do for a living?? I asked her.

“I’m a barista.? She explained.

“That’s disgusting. Have you no shame??

“A barista is someone that serves coffee…? she explained.

“To complete strangers?? I continued.

“You seem lonely.? She observed as we walked.

“I have friends.?

“You can still be lonely, even if you have friends.? She continued.

“Is that what you think??

“That’s what I know. Lonely is a state of being.? She stated flatly.

It was clear that she was deplorably unstable, but she was fairly cute, so I decided I’d play along.

During the author’s pedantic diatribe at Powell’s Books, she chewed through several sticks of gum.

“That’s a pretty nasty habbit you’ve got there.? I observed quietly. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll overdose??

“I don’t normally eat this much gum. It’s just that I’m hungry.? She whispered.

“Do you swallow?? I asked her.

“Excuse me??

“The gum…Do you swallow the gum?? I clarified.

“No.?

“Then I’m not sure it will help your hunger pangs.?

After the book signing, I walked her to the bus stop, where we waited for her bus, the 19, to come by.

“How old are you, child??

“Twenty one. Why do you call me a child??

“It’s just something we do in the South. I didn’t mean anything by it, I can assure you.?

Three 19’s passed before she got on one of them and, as I waived her off, she shouted over the din of the light-rail. “It was nice meeting you, Pyewacket.?

Meredith Bangalore

A twenty-one year old girl has a sewer of hormones coursing through her. She’s capricious. As spry as a pronghorn and as predictable as a bouncing football. Meredith agreed to go out with me to dinner and that gave me something to look forward to.

But as I left work, the clouds moved in like jellyfish, stinging the soul. The rains the weathermen had choreographed and orchestrated for weeks surfaced. The dark was relentless and unencumbered. The streetlights seemed feeble and insufficient to illuminate the drops as they passed the street light cones on their way down. The temperature dropped so the cold seemed to radiate from within.

The Portland Coffee House is the kind of place where people wear berets. There are probably more berets per capita in Portland than in France. Electric-blue haired metrosexuals in pink stretch pants and Keds, sipping flavored coffee with dollops of whipped cream are homogeneously distributed amongst the homeless and the proto-intellectuals.

The first fifteen minutes, I was worried about what I’d say when she walked in. Whether we should leave right away or have coffee first. The next fifteen minutes, it occurred to me that, in all probability, she wouldn’t show up. After forty-five minutes, I realized that I would have to leave immediately to save whatever residual dignity was still clinging to me tenaciously, like an entrenched cocklebur.

As I left the restaurant in the cold drizzle that is Portland, I muttered and cursed a little too loud. A homeless man walked by, cursing loudly as well, and twitching like a lunatic. And, I began to understand what broke the men. It’s the women that break a man’s spirit. That drives the males insane. All Gurlz Evul.

I turned everything over in my mind. I wanted to know what I had done wrong. Something had been missed somewhere, and I wanted to know what had gone wrong, at what time, and why.

She had given me her name, phone number, and email address. She sat there talking to me while two or three of her buses drove by, so she must have been interested in me at least in passing. So, what had I done wrong?

When you call a woman on the phone, my thought is to ask her to go out, get her to agree to a time and a place, and then hang up as quickly as possible. The problem with this is that, a woman doesn’t feel obligated to follow through with the date. To them, the fact that they technically agreed to go out on a date is completely irrelevant. Later, they will decide if they actually want to go or not. It’s based more on how you sold the encounter. Whether they felt like they’d have a good time or not. What they technically agreed to on the phone has little, if any, bearing on their final decision.

It occured to me that a woman is a thing which needs to be finessed, like a cat. If you run toward a cat to pet it, it will retreat. If you have to pretend that you are disinterested in the cat, it will approach. The lesson learned is that there is an attraction that might or might not be there. Forcing the issue is almost certain to make it go away.

The Homeless Reef

If the weather was nice, the homeless blossomed into the open, and ran heroin in the parks on the banks on the Willamette. But if the weather turned cold and rainy, they sought shelter beneath the covered sections in the city parks. Huddled in doorways passing bottles of cheap hooch back and forth. It was in this incliminate weather, that one really noticed how they dug into the buildings. Every nook and cranny was exploited by some indescribable cretin. On the church doorstoops, beneath the phone booths, behind the dumpsters. The city was an artificial reef of deracinated, homeless souls.

Homeless children begat homeless children in the post-modern urban squalor. A nation of beggars. Refined in their efforts. Singular in their purpose. All energy was focused in a perpetual attempt to siphon money from the insipid Bourgeois.

I saw some homeless people near a doorstoop, pushing a baby stroller of trash back and forth across the sidewalk. Then, as I got closer, the trash screamed. There was a baby boy in the stroller. He had no jacket. No shoes. No socks. It was 8:30 at night. They had stopped to put socks on him. He was crying because he was cold, no doubt.

“Excuse me sir…they hailed me as I walked by. Can you…?

“I’m sorry.? I cut him off. It was too dehumanizing to describe. I was through with Portland. I wanted to go to the airport.

The Flight of the Blue Dog

Outside, people struggled in the sidewalks wearing knit hats in the cold, misty rain without the benefit of umbrellas. No one carried umbrellas in Portland. That would be uncouth. It would belie a certain truth about the weather that the locals prefer not to betray. The locals that learn to accept Portland. Learn to deny the weather The denizens of P-town wore knit caps, and pulled them down over their eyebrows and necks until they looked like a pair of eyes peering up from beneath a mushroom.. Never underestimate the power of denial.

As the temperatures dropped, the homeless huddled more closely in the parks. They filled the nooks in the human reef that is the urban Portland cityscape. It wasn’t funny. It was depressing. Debilitating. The humans slept in sleeping bags on the sidewalks, dogs between their legs, Keds beside their bundle. Dogs guarding the sleeping indigents.

After a sixty dollar dinner, I walked down the sidewalks past people panhandling for change.

“No. I’m sorry. I can’t help you.?

I watched an old woman prepare her bed for the evening. Cardboard, Visqueen, and a sleeping bag on a park bench.

I mouthed the platitudes of the capitalists. “I don’t believe in subsidizing failure. Feeding homless people is like feeding pigeons. You can’t have success without failure.?

The mantras left me feeling shallow and hungry. They didn’t satiate my cravings for humanity. They left me feeling trite and hollow. I spent more on a meal at the Saucebox than they could scrounge in a week. Portland is a brilliant dichotomy between the haves and the have-nots. A richly absurd collision of cultures. The capitalists and the socialists, forced together by an unseen electromagnetic field.

As the cold rain fell outside the Portland Coffee House, we gulped coffee from tall “Flight of the Blue Dog? coffe cups by Ursula Dodge. Debated ideologies. Listened to Alice’s Thanksgiving Day Massacre.

“Here. Read what Kesey wrote. Read these two pages that I’ve circled. I’m going to read Burroughs next.? I showed my book to one of the regulars.

“Naked Lunch? Yeah. That’s good, but not as shocking today as it was 40 years ago.?

The people walked in from the cold, carrying their noise with them like a cloud of dust. “…and we went straight from the tenderloin up to the apartment…ooops…sorry.?

I was tired, but caffeinated, and unable to blink. My tongue was pickled in gin and scalded by coffee.

The Cold Discovers Portland

Finally, around Halloween, it really did get cold. The temperature dropped down to 32 degrees. My jacket was cozy in Denver while I was shivering out in Portland.

“Portland, this is cold…Cold, this is Portland.?

One night the homeless were tweaking in the streets beneath the moonlight, as welcome as ants at a picnic. The next night, the mercury dropped and they disappeared, like snow in the springtime. I waded through the sidewalks, looking in all the crevices for the homeless cretins that inhabited the homeless reef. But they were nowhere to be found. I imagined that Vera had unleashed the firemen on them, and they’d rinsed them from their moorings. Barefoot babies, suckling their heroin-addict mother’s breast, like a runt pig sucking hind tit, washed down into the cities sewer veins by a fireman’s hose. Hit square in the face like a steel beam, washed from the church stoops, the park benches, and the Tri-met shelters.

Later, I discovered that they had opened the homeless shelters early. They normally opened them on November 1st, but this year they opened them early and the homeless people vanished inside them. All over the city, they queued up nightly for the 8:30 p.m. openings. They lined up in rows, hundreds of people deep.

“OK. We only have room for one hundred people. First ten people can come in. Line up on the right. No one gets in without their Tuberculosis card.?

The Janet Incident

I don’t know really how Janet happened to me. I’m just glad that she did. I was bored. Barely alive. Dreading work. Struggling to keep my head above water in the meetings. As I bounced between the cities of Denver and Portland, my life seemed flat and tasteless, like unleavened bread. Screeching train air-brakes woke me in the pre-dawn dark each morning, dragging me abruptly into my personal hell. I’d lie in bed, watching the dawn paint the sky the color of Fletcher’s Egg. The trains lumbering from Corvalis to Vancouver. Me in bed, kneading the covers, teasing out their warmth like a snake charmer in India.

When she walked through the door at the SauceBox on Broadway, my eyes felt her up and down. She was georgeous. More delectable than I’d hoped. A fusillade of enzymes throttled, jamming my neural networks. Sensory overload by an unfettered Portlander.

She started out telling me what she did. A dry, robotic soliloquy on the mechanics of outsourcing pre-paid phone cards.

“I don’t really care what you do.? I interrupted. “I want to know why you went to Buenos Aires.?

I knew that she’d taken a sabbatical in Buenos Aires, and traveled the world from Bonaire to Bombay. As it turned out, she’d grown up desperately poor in Uruguay. Latin America is a rotten place to be poor. Everyone is destitute. Life is hard. Outside of Chile, the Banana Republics are not known for their progressive social welfare programs.

Drinks turned into dinner, and over Salmon and Sauvignon, I elucidated Carlos Menem’s economic strategy when he pegged the Argentinian peso to the US Dollar, ending inflation, but sending the economy into a tailspin. She didn’t say anything, but she had to have been impressed. Who else keeps up with the freaking economy in Argentina?

She explained that her after her parents divorced, her mother had a nun as a “life-partner?. She had saved up enough money to leave the convent and travel with her life-partner when she retired. But that isn’t how it works. You can’t leave the convent when you retire. So, when she moved out, she was formally communicated from the catholic church.

After dinner and drinks we cleared out. Outside, I offered to walk her to her car. She explained that she was just right there, gesturing toward a post-modern concrete fluorescent DMZ, as she pulled on her knit cap. The hat was more than I could take. Perhaps it was the two Bombay Sapphire gin martinis that I’d sipped over dinner, but the hat made her look delicious.

“I like the hat.? I offered.

“Well…If we go snowboarding, you’ll get to see me in it.? She countered.

The next day, I emailed her and she said she’d definitely like to go out with me again. I was ecstatic.

The Thousand-Dollar Date

I lay in bed watching the last vestiges of night squirm above the rising sun. Purple blue peeling away from red east mountains. In Portland, a pod of cranes lifted the city from beneath the earth. The hands of an ethereal puppeteer building lofts for the rich. Engineers piloted iron horses up rivers of steel on the banks of the Columbia and the Willamette, chasing the dawn.

Fall had packed the leaves into discrete mounds beneath the trees. Fruits surrendered to the season and left their moorings without protest. A jet denigrated the sky with his contrail. A child scribbling on the walls with crayons.

I live in a coffin on the East Bank. The money is on the other side of the river. It starts on the West Bank and flows uphill until it reaches the crest of the ridge beyond the river and it settles into the chimneys and buttresses of the mansions that bloom there, like roses in the gardens of Washington Park.

This ridge rises west of the river, like the spine of a dragon. Mansions cling tenaciously to the ridge like barnacles to driftwood as the giant’s crane hands complete the city in the valley below.

I imagine the view from the terrace of the marbled mansions. They peer out over the Willamette and the Columbia, looking upriver past the gorge. On a clear day they can see the Dalles.

I live under the same sky, but I don’t share the view. Every night, I climb into my coffin and nail the lid shut from the inside. I could just lock the door, but I nail it shut from the inside to be belt-and-suspenders safe.

My coffin is an open festering sore. Fist-holes in sheetrock. Peeling linoleum bathroom floors. Exposed fiberboard sub-floors. Coax cables snaking through the room, curling over the closet door. Broken television.

Outside, my car is perched precariously on the emergency brake. Driveway so steep the car won’t stay unless in gear with emergency brake pulled beyond the design limits. In the mornings, when I get in, my movements set it in motion, rolling backward into SE 11th Avenue. I jump in and immediately stab at the brake pedal to make stop it. If I hit the clutch instead of the brake, I go rolling backwards, out into the street.

Janet lives in Northwest Portland. I live in Southeast Portland. She can never see this place. Can never know how I live. She wouldn’t understand this side of the tracks. She wouldn’t be able to digest the East side.

When we go out, I meet her out. She can’t see my car. My coffin. All she can see is me, or some deliberately skewed version of me. Me conspicuously pouring a river of money into the sewer when she walks by.

When my co-worker Kevin found out that I had a date, he insisted that we go pick out a new outfit. I’m allergic to malls, but agreed to go to Banana Republic with him. No clue what would transpire. Some horrendous derivation of “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy?. Maybe I’d be strong-armed into buying a pair of pants or a sweater.

Instead, he had the little zealots in the Banana Republic fawning over me like a lion eyeing a newborn gazelle.

“You look like that delicious man in that zero zero seven movie! I swear you look familiar.? The salesperson cooed. Salespeople are shameless in their flattery.

They ran in and out of closets and dressing rooms bringing me shirts and pants and shoes and by the time I left, I had spent eight hundred and forty one dollars on clothes and had a Banana Republic credit card in the mail.

I was supposed to meet Janet out at Il Piatto. A uniquely trendy Italian restaurant carved out of a house on the East side in a clandestine little pocket of resistance. I got there early and started interrogating the hostess.

“I’m expecting someone any minute. We have reservations, and would like the curtained booth in the back.?

Janet had told me about the curtained booth in the restaurant. I had only vague ideas about what might be expected of one in a curtained booth in a restaurant, but I was keen to play my hand.

“It’s reserved. Actually, I’d give it to you, but it’s one of our vendors that has it reserved.?

I’m in a full-scale panic. Janet is going to walk through that door any second and I want the curtained booth, so I start feeding the hostess twenties like she’s a one armed bandit.

“Oh. I see. That booth. It’s not a problem. Let me get it set for you. Just one second.? And when she disappeared, Janet walked in the door.

“Oh. You got a new scarf.? She observed.

“Yeah. Do you like it? It’s two-faced cashmere.?

Couldn’t dare mention that I had spent eight hundred dollars on the date before she walked in the door. That would send her running for the exit faster that than a grease fire.

“I want an earthy full-bodied, Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ll let you pick one for us.? she explained to the waitress and then dismissed her.

“I always let them pick the wine.? She explained. “When someone orders wine by the glass, the waitresses sit around at night and finish the opened bottles while they clean up. So, they’ve tasted all the wines, and they know which ones are good.?

“Tell me what it’s like down in Argentina again.? I coaxed her. I loved to hear her stories about the Southern cone. Patagonia. Chile.

After dinner, we walked down the street to a wine bar for more wine, and when we were both dangerously intoxicated, I walked her back to her car. I made her promise to break all her plans for the following night to go out with me again, and then I retreated to my coffin for the night, a thousand dollars poorer but immeasurably richer.

The next night was First Thursday, and we wandered through the art galleries of the Pearl District, admiring the paintings and glasswork and rubbing shoulders with the artitsts. It was an exciting, titillating evening. At the end of the date, we canoodled in her overpriced SUV.

“You fly out tomorrow?? she asked.

“Yeah, baby.?

“You’ll be gone for a long time??

“No, baby. I’ll be back Monday.?

“That’s not so long.?

“No baby. Not so long.?

Monday seemed to drag on forever

An old roommate of mine told me about a horrific accident he witnessed one day. A guy on a bicycle was holding onto the back of a motorcycle, allowing the motorcycle to pull him so he didn’t have to pedal. Flying down the frontage road. When they got to the intersection, the motorcycle throttled it and cleared the intersection, but the guy on the bicycle was not so lucky. He hit a car broadside going around forty miles an hour. I didn’t really have a clear exit strategy for Janet. It wasn’t something I was proud of. I just couldn’t see how things could work out in the long run.

Thursday night. I began to suspect that she was deliberately maintaining a low profile. She had probably deduced that, regardless of what I said, at some point I was going to pack my suitcase and leave Portland and her for good. After the date Thursday night, there really wasn’t any place left for the relationship to go. I was either going to move in with her, or she was going to have to cut me loose. She was sitting on the other end of the line with the knife in her hands, trying to decide what it would be.

Pushing the refresh button on my email client couldn’t make her reply to my emails. I felt like I had flown into town, only to discover that Portland was no more than her lobby.

“Can you check with Ms. Janet and make sure that she knows I’m here??

“She knows you’re here, sir.?

“Could you just ring her desk one more time??

The problem was that, if I had to throw in the towel on the Janet incident, I might end up throwing in the towel on a lot of other things. Maybe the travel thing wasn’t working out. Maybe I was finished with PeopleSoft. That’s the hard thing about cutting your losses. Once you started cutting, it’s hard to know when to stop.

At 4:38, her emails came into my inbox like a wave. She explained that she was just busy all day everything was fine. But, she was coming down with something, and Thursday might be better than Wednesday.

I didn’t feel like I could make it to Thursday. I was alive, but just barely. For some reason, when I start going out with someone, the emotional swings are just too much for me. They affect me intensely more than they would affect a normal person. I end up riding out a violent, emotional storm that I can’t really seem to get under control. My whole world was collapsing in on me, and I didn’t know which way to turn.

“I don’t want to go to a play. Let’s just go out for dinner, get liquored up and go home and shag each other like rabbits.?

“There’s not going to be any shagging going on.? She explained matter-of-factly. “That’s not going to happen.?

“Relax. I’m just pulling your chain.?

I was 17 years old again and in the eleventh grade. Doodling in my notebooks and dreaming of having sex with girls. I couldn’t even pretend to focus on my work. I just sat at my notebook computer, clicking on the refresh button, hoping that somehow it would create an email from her, telling me something. Anything.

I went around and asked the client if they had anything for me to work on. This is always tricky, because, if everyone tells you that they don’t have anything for you to do, then you have to leave. So, I asked the clients if they had anything for me to do and they all said “no?. I went back to my desk and sat down. I didn’t have anything to do. That meant that I had to go, but I wasn’t ready to go.

After a few minutes, one of the minions in HR came to my desk with a pile of scripts.

“Here. You can work on these.?

I went to Zyn. “Shelly gave me some scripts.?

“Oh great. You still have a job.?

The absurdity is that you spend half the project tunneling in. Buying cars. Renting apartments. Lining up dates. Then, the second half of the project, you end up realizing that you have to walk away from the little world that you’ve constructed. Your little sandcastle you’ve carefully constructed will succumb to the next high tide. And there is nothing you can do about it. This is, for me, the hardest part.

Canoodling Cajuns

Janet is intensely female. She won’t eat crawfish or catfish. Faints at the sight of boiled shrimp with their heads still attached. She’s all hats and heels and straps. A consummate wine connoisseur, she reads a wine list like a sommelier, searching for some esoteric vineyard in Portugal, Italy, or Chile. Then, when she’s satisfied that none of the wines on the menu will suffice, she describes a wine to the waiter the way a man on death row would describe his last meal. Nothing is left to chance.

“I want a big wine. Full-bodied, rich, robust, and earthy.?

“May I suggest a Merlot??

“I despise Merlot. It’s too subtle. Too timid. Too complacent. I want a chewy wine.?

“May I suggest a Pinot…?

Before he can finish she is on him again, like a duck on a June bug.

“No. I want a something noble. Bring me a Cabernet Sauvignon with legs like a thoroughbred. I’ll let you pick it out.?

And then she dismissed the waiter. He vaporized while I was watching him. He never took a step. He just disappeared.

My martini had been infused with jalapeno juice, giving it a wicked twist that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Beneath the martini surface, an okra pod held its breath, treading gin.

“There’s not enough ice in your gin. They’re not cold enough here. Do you want to send it back?? she asked.

When they pour the martini, they shake the gin through ice to chill it and then pour it into a chilled glass. They don’t add ice to the martini, but ideally, a thin layer of ice should form on the surface at first because the gin and the glass is so cold.

“No, baby. It’s fine. There’s ice in it.?

“Where??

On some level, I connected with the ice. Wanting it to be there, needing my martini to be OK. Beyond scrutiny or analysis. It was just a Martini, after all. I didn’t need it to be anything more. I wasn’t expecting much out of it. Just a simple concoction to make the date less stressful. Make the meal test better. Make the conversation smoother and funnier. It was a ticket to a ride on a higher plane. The ice didn’t really matter, and attacking the martini seemed to go against the grain of the evening.

“Just there? I suggested, pointing deliberately, but futilely, to the last vestiges of ice cowering along the perimeter of the martini glass. Like vagrants, loitering on the West end of the Burnside Bridge.

Zack, the waiter reappeared with my gumbo and her grilled shrimp. Like Schrodinger's Cat, he was somehow never there, but always there at the same time. He moved through space and time in a way that defied the senses.

“My shrimp still have their heads on them.? She lamented.

“Don’t eat the heads.? I cautioned.

She looked up at me, a pleading, like a blonde haired teenager at the airport.

I took her plate and pulled the heads off of the shrimp one at a time. They were as large as lobsters. Six of them. Piping hot. I scalded the tips of my fingers decapitating her shrimp, and throwing their heads in a bowl.

“There you go, baby.?

“That was sweet.?

I began eating my gumbo. Delicious New Orleans-style gumbo. Okra. Rice. Shrimp. God knows what else. So good that you eat everything in the cup, bay leaves and all.

“This is really good, would you like some?? I offered.

“What’s in it?? She asked.

“It’s not like that.?

“What’s it like??

“Gumbo is something that you eat without worrying about what’s in it. Gumbo is a fusion of flavors. When you make a gumbo, you throw into it what you have left over. I’ve had gumbo, and later been apprised that it contained possum, beaver, or squirrel. Gumbo is something that tastes best if you eat it blindfolded.?

“I’ll stick with my shrimp.?

“Sure you will, baby. You stick with your shrimp.?

Heaven

Heaven is only heaven if you’re a technophile pillow biter. Eclectic local art on the walls. A loveseat. Dance tracks. Short hair. Black clothes. Power strips. Coffee. Focaccia bread melded in a Panini grill. And the fastest free WiFi internet access in the city. I know because I spent hours wardriving through the city.

I go there to check my email. It’s the only place in Portland that doesn’t lock the bathroom. The homeless are confused by the soundtrack, and cross the street to avoid the place.

The guy behind the counter has a nose ring like a bull. When people come in, he dances behind the counter.

“Can you do this?? He asks as he dances.

I can never tolerate the place though. It’s impossible to relax in Heaven. Hard parquet floors. Hard chairs. White walls. Tall ceilings. Maddening dance tracks. I always feel compelled to run out into traffic as soon as I clear my inbox. Recently, I found some pretty disturbing allegations posted regarding the owner of the place.

Puddletown - The Land Without Shadows

The day comes with little fanfare. There is no sunrise. There are no skies. No rainbows. Today, the shadows will sleep in. Just the persistent dripping of water onto the moss covered roofs. The trains come through blasting short, staccato blasts. I lay in bed, trying to forget. Trying to remember. Last night.

I was supposed to meet Janet at her place at 6:15. This is a big deal, because I’ve never seen her place. I know it’s on the Northwest side, but that’s all I know. She kept me at arms length for some time. I didn’t have her home number or her address. But by now, I think she’d realized I was a lot of things, but serial killer was not on my resume.

My car wouldn’t start, so I abandoned it in the Pearl District and caught a limo from the Benson Hotel to her place. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I should have known.

Her place is an immaculate 1895 Queen Anne Revival Victorian mansion with high ceilings and hardwood floors smothered in imported rugs. Hand milled trim around the doors. It immediately reminded me of the Marina District in San Francisco, and even smelled like Lucy’s place. Salmon granite counters. Gas stove. Glass-fronted cabinets. Massive dining room. Chairs covered to prevent their use lest they accumulate dust. Living room with no TV. Coasters. Coffee tables. Drapes. Candles.

There were no electronics on the main floor. No television. No DVD player. Just wine racks, antique mirrors, and a grand piano. Framed antique pictures of her ancestors on the wall. Pictures of her parents, fleeing Poland with the Panzers and the Stukkas in the background. Every paperclip was in place.

“I didn’t know you played the piano.? I mused.

“I don’t? she countered.

It occurred to me that I wasn’t looking for Janet. I was looking for myself. Trying to figure out if this life was me. If I could live this way. Like trying on a pair of pants at Banana Republic. I was trying on Janet and the Pacific Northwest was my dressing room.

Her phones were ringing like she was running a dating service from her home. She poured us some red wine, and moved easily through the house while her cats rubbed their white fur into my black pants.

It was staggering. I thought about my miserable life. Rusting military vehicles and guns. Collapsing yellow brick house. Beetle-kill pine trees. I wanted to go home, sell everything that I owned, and take my own life.

I was driving around Portland photographing dumpsters, while she and her friends were running companies, driving SUV’s, and drinking cocktails every night. I felt very small. The house seemed to sense my fear, and began to expell me, like a body rejecting a donated organ.

Suddenly, there was someone at the door. She was lecturing them in a strained voice. “You shouldn’t be here. You didn’t call. You can’t just come over like this. I have company. Now is not a good time.?

I assumed that it was her ex-husband. I didn’t know that it was her ex-boyfriend, or I would have gone out and strangled him in the street. Instead, I figured that I’d just sort of lay low, not wanting to aggravate a difficult situation. Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor.

Then I heard him saying “Where is he? There’s no one here.? At that point, I began to walk slowly, but deliberately toward the front of the house. My black dress shoes clapping loudly on the hardwoord floors, echoing up through the foyer so that he could hear me coming.

“Is everything OK, baby?? I asked.

“Yeah. I just need to step outside for a minute? and she excused herself. I was left alone in the house. I walked out back to see what was behind the house. More condos. Apartments. Lofts. Thousands of eyes, staring back at me. Her place was exquisite, but I don’t think I could live in any city. I always feel like I’m livinging in a cell in the Panopticon.

I sat and played the piano, nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof. The cat climbed into the piano, and somehow got his paws stuck in the piano wires as I plinked pathetically at the keys.

When she returned, she was visibly shaken. She extruded the cat’s paws from the piano wires, found her drink, and poured more wine. They’d been together for three and a half years, and been broken up for three months. Now, after a shrink cleared out his savings account, he’d decided he wanted her back.

We met her friends out for drinks in the NorthEast. They were all money and business. They were running Portland’s startups and closing deals. I was shooting dumpster grafiti and following homeless people.

We left for another bar named Aura, and while we were looking for a space to park, we passed my car where I’d abandoned it. It wouldn’t start. Nothing will send a woman screaming faster than a non-running car. I pretended I didn’t see it as we passed it.

“Isn’t that your car??

“It’s hard to say. I think I see a parking spot further up ahead.?

They carded Janet at the door, but not me. Inside, Janet headed for a table. The table appeared to be taken. There were drinks on it. A jacket. She sat down anyway and was preparing to pigeonhole some unfortunate soul into bussing the table, when Manuel explained that another party was seated there.

“Well it doesn’t look like there’s anyone seated here. Where are they? Never mind. Why don’t you go lead us to a table so that we don’t have to guess.? She demanded.

She was an unrepentant female. It was fun when she was on your side. I could only imagine what it would be like when she inevitably turned against me.

The bathrooms had oneway mirrors, so that you could watch the bar scene as you went to the bathroom. They had sinks where the water flowed out of the mirrors, onto a flat surface with a depressed rim. Some crazy sink design that caused me to nearly scald my hands and splash water all over my pants.

Her friends were trying to pin down my exact address. I was as close to living in a car as most people will ever come.

“I live on SouthEast 11th, between Rhine and Rhone.?

They glanced at each other in horror. I didn’t bother to look up. Didn’t want to see their expressions.

“That’s an up-and-coming area.? Someone offered.

“It kind of edgy, isn’t it?? someone else offered.

“Yeah. That’s right. It’s edgy.? I agreed.

I chewed the olive away from the pit, and threw it under the table as discretely as I could manage after three martinis.

Somewhere near the bottom of my third martini, I explained to her that, although I hadn’t expected to, for reasons that weren’t clear to me, I had decided that I liked her in a way that I had not anticipated. I explained that, although our situation was very delicate, I was going to try to put something together. Though exactly what that would be, was not very clear to me then, and is even less clear to me now.

But Stumptown is no place to get your head straight. No one comes here for that. For that, you go to Cabo or Cancun. If you come to Portland, you’d better have your head screwed on tight. If you land in Portland with a knit wool cap full of questions, you won’t make it. You’ll question the answers. Question the questions. Until, eventually, you’re wandering around Olde Towne with your Tuberculosis Card, on a waiting list to get into the mission.

We were supposed to drive up to Mount Hood. See the Hood River. At 12:00 noon. At 11:26 a.m., I got the call. She needed to meet with her ex-boyfriend to talk to him about things. Things that needed to be put straight. She wanted a raincheck.

“Yeah, baby. That’s fine. Are you going to go back to him??

“No? she replied, uncertainly.

“Are you trying to convince me or you??

“Neither.?

“OK. I’ll talk to you later.? And I figured that would be the last time I ever heard her voice.

I tried to put it out of my mind as I staggered through the Pearl District in the mist shooting graffiti. In Portland, what you find is mostly stencil art graffiti. Murals take too long to paint, and are quickly covered by the city. For stencil art, all of the work is done in the studio. Spraying out copies using the stencil takes only a couple of seconds, and the work can be reproduced many times.

I saw two homeless people walking down the road. This guy had one good leg and a fake left leg. Bluejeans rolled up to the knee. He was walking beside another homeless guy pushing a shopping cart full of trash down the sidewalk. He was laughing hysterically, and the guy pushing the cart had a big grin. And I thought, how is it that they have nothing, and both seem happy. Whereas by comparison, I have everything, and am miserable?

Later, I saw the guy with one leg at an intersection, lying on the sidewalk, with a sign asking for a donation. He’d fallen asleep, and his sign had fallen to the side. His fake leg was splayed out in a very unnatural fashion, and it bothered me deeply to observe that it didn’t have a foot on it. Of course, it couldn’t have a real foot, because it was a fake leg, but hadn’t occurred to me that he was missing his foot also.

Director of Human Resources

Janet was the head of HR. But she was a director, not a VP. VP is a pretentious title that sounds important, but means nothing. It’s like a corporate gold star. They pass them out like candy to anyone in the upper echelon that squawks loudly enough. Janet worked hard. She worked like it mattered. Like she owned the company. But they wouldn’t make her a VP. I don’t know why they wouldn’t her a little gold star. Maybe she had hit the glass ceiling. They say sometimes you have to go down to go up, but that wasn’t her style. She figured to make it to the top on her skills, or she wouldn’t make it there at all.

Like most people in HR, Janet hated people. Hated every single head in the headcount save her own. But most of all, she hated the little people. The people that answered the phone banks down in the basement. They earned a few dollars an hour answering phones. High absenteeism. High turnover. Low morale. Janet and the VP’s traveled to New Orleans and Manhattan on the corporate expense account on the flimsy pretense of recruiting new clients. The phone people scraped by saving gas money to drive to the coast for the weekend.

She told me that they were planning on cutting seventy heads with a glint in her eye. Like Pol Pot looking over the killing fields. She was profoundly glad that she’d be able to send those people to the unemployment line. Didn’t bother her in the least. She looked as though she’d relish the opportunity to tell them herself. But that wouldn’t be professional. She had people beneath her that were paid to fire the staff.

The Town That Prozac Built

None of the big cities in the South really took off until after WWII, with the advent of air conditioning. Portland didn’t really take off until Prozac was invented. They put it in the public water system like other cities add Flouride. It turns up in the frogs, the fish, and the rabbits. All of the fish in the rivers and all of the fur in the forests are all grinning from ear to ear.

The people come here, and surrender to the weather. They wander through the mist, eschewing umbrellas. Staggering through the streets alone. No hope. No ambition. No remorse.

The malignant hordes migrated into the city from San Francisco and Seattle. They courted, canoodled, and married. But no offspring were ever sired. The anti-depressants prevented any serious attempts at procreation. The yuppies sterilized themselves with Prozac, Zoloft, and Xanax, and dreamed of the day they’d get an erection, as they pondered the plight of the homeless on their shrink’s leather couch.

Outside, the homeless prospered in the gutters. Marginalized, but too dumb to know any different, the homeless spawned under the sunless skies, like grunion beneath a full moon at high tide. The homeless had problems, but they were far from impotent. The homeless people not only reproduced, they thrived, staggering through the streets on broken crutches and donated prosthetics. Tethered to the ubiquitous shopping carts and addicted to panhandled change.


Emotionally Unavailable


Janet emailed me that we would meet for drinks upstairs at Serratto’s at 5:00. That was early, but I figured I could slip away. I wondered why we weren’t meeting at her house. Why we weren’t meeting at 6:00. Why we weren’t meeting for dinner.

Upstairs, she explained that she couldn’t stay for dinner, as she was meeting her mom at 7:00. The waiter appeared, and she began the ritual of ordering a glass of wine. She started out low.

“I want something big. Earthy. Full bodied.?

“A lot of the waiters here recommend a wine with a big body, but I personally don’t like it.?

“What do you recommend?? she asked.

He proceeded to describe a particular wine as though he was describing color to a blind man. She agreed to it, and they turned to me.

I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but at that moment, it dawned on me that I had walked into a trap.

“I need a minute.? I explained. I couldn’t think clearly. The waiter vanished.

Things were about to unravel, and I could sense it. I was sitting there, cursing myself for being so naïve.

“You’re quoted in an article on CFO.com today.? I began.

“I told those people not to quote me.? She began. She was caught off guard. “How did you know? How did you find the article??

“I put your name into Google and hit search.? It just popped up.

“Why did you do that??

“I was bored.?

“I looked you up on the internet too.? She admitted.

“You did? What did you find??

“I went to peoplesearch dot com and I looked you up there. It said you lived in Colorado.?

“So I do.?

Suddenly, I realized why you should never date anyone in HR. Particularly the HR director. They get paid to do background checks on people. She had seen every scrap of datum that had ever been collected on me, and billed her company for the search.

With that, she started in on this soliloquy about her ex-boyfriend. It didn’t take a genius to see that the story would, inevitably, have a point. Furthermore, it was intuitively obvious to the casual observer that it would take forever and a day to arrive at the said point, and I decided that I may as well do it over alcohol, as if nothing else, it might ease the pain of the shock at the conclusion.

The waiter reappeared with two glasses of wine for Janet to taste. She tasted the first one and grimaced. She appeared to be on the verge of expectorating on the floor.

“This tastes like a nursing home wine.? She choked. “This is what you recommend??

“No. That is what the other bartenders recommend. This is what I recommend.?

He offered her the second glass to taste. As she tasted the wine, the room around her disappeared. While I watched her, she disrobed and dove into the wine. Swimming down beneath the surface. Pale white breasts stroked by rushing red wine from a vineyard on the other side of the planet. Crushed and trampled by bared feet just for this moment. The waiter and I exchanged glances. His eye’s betrayed that he’d not witnessed this before. I was just bored.

“She’ll have a glass of that, and can I get a desert-dry Bombay Sapphire gin martini, shaken, straight up, with an olive with the pit??

“Yes sir. Right away.? And he was gone.

He disappeared and she climbed out of the glass, toweled off, and dressed.

“You liked that one did you? He’s bringing you a glass.?

The diatribe resumed again. She’d told me the same stories before, only every time, they were a little different. Some details that were originally omitted, were included. Some of the motivations were modified, enhanced, or cast in a different light. The same basic cardboard characters, incongruous places, sketchy timelines, and inchoate reasoning that had characterized her stories from the start, only this time, the gaps in the story were filled in with something more plausible. Possibly the truth, possibly some derivation thereof.

And suddenly, she was back in Beunos Aires with her ex-boyfriend. She’d wanted to move to Barcelona, but he’d threatened to quit his job if she didn’t move immediately to Argentina, and when she did, two weeks later he told her she had to move back to the States and wait for him there. Eventually, she moved out, and his attentions waxed and waned over the next four years as they crisscrossed the continents like starlings.

They’d broken up three or four months ago. He’d been on some shrink’s couch since then, and the night that she picked to have me over to her house for drinks, he showed up with a ring and got down on one knee and proposed. I was sipping wine in the kitchen, and he was down on his knee in her front yard with a diamond engagement ring.

She’d held him off, but just barely. He made her realize that, what she really wanted was to be treated badly by a lunatic. She’d given me a song-and-dance about how she wanted to find that special someone to grow old together with. But what she really wanted was to ride an emotional roller-coaster with a linguini of a man that spent his free time on a couch being analyzed at $350 an hour.

She described herself as “emotionally unavailable?. I mouthed the words. Tasted them through the gin. They were delicious. I’ve heard a lot of break-up lines, but this one was th

Posted by Peenie Wallie on August 20, 2004 at 10:27 PM