Another Portland to Love

Not quite shiver weather today in Portlandia, but inching closer. The homeless people outside my building yell back and forth to each other up and down the block. They surround the Safeway across the street like ticks on a dog’s back, drinking in what sustenance they can find.

Funny the AirBnB listing didn’t mention them.

Last night I walked toward my place behind a tall lurching sidewalk dweller, who turned the corner before me instead of going straight at the light (please god please god please god make him go the other way. Nope.) When I got to my door he was peeing in the plants near the stair exit of my place. Note to self: take the elevator. Always.

I understand the locals call it the Psycho Safeway. During the 10 minutes I was inside, a homeless woman accosted a manager, who was closing and locking one door for the night. She did the Linda Blair Exorcist barking voice on her way out the other door.

Hello, Portland!

I walk under the tree-lined streets and all I know is I love you, Portland. You are the city of dreamy dreams, despite the people poop on the sidewalk. Although these lefties would make me feel like a right winger because they’re so far gone, they’re still happy to see me. Random smiling people greet me as if we’d recently met through mutual friends at some enjoyable event. It’s like I’ve been invisible, but it’s wearing off and Ta Da! I’m here and so welcome.

It reminds me of going from dreary uptight don’t-look-at-me London to Ah love ya, lass Edinburgh. I’ve found another tribe of my people.

And tonight it feels like rain and it’s green with trees and gray with clouds and life is coursing through everything and I need to go get some more Portland on me.

Left

Although it was dark and the chill was settling in, the plaza was busy on the first of a three-day weekend. The restaurants and bars were full of bubbling conversations. Couples strolled by with restaurants on one side and the harbor on the other. 

A little girl, about nine, stood on the plaza beside a bench, staring out onto the harbor where sailboats and yachts were swaying with the tide. Past the boats, on the other side of the water, there were condos, restaurants, and abandoned warehouses that may have, for some reason, held her interest. 
 
People walked behind the girl in groups and in couples, but she seemed unaware of their presence. A young Asian couple with two rambunctious pugs walked by and the dogs veered around the girl, circling her and tangling her in their leashes. She looked down at the snorting dogs and their people, who were frantically trying to unwrap her legs, but she didn’t move or respond to their laughing apologies. As the couple with the dogs hurried on, they turned back to glance at her, whispering back and forth.
 
Music blared from a bar nearby. Clanging bells announced a train’s approach, followed by the long rolling rumble of Amtrak taking people up the California delta and beyond. The moon continued its slow journey across the sky and the wind gently blew the girl’s hair across her back. 
 
Although she had been standing still and straight, all at once she inhaled deeply and began to shudder, slumping against the bench. 
 
She knew it like the cut of a knife before it bleeds. Her parents weren’t coming back.

Cheesy

 

Limburger cowSue and I had enjoyed an impromptu road trip to find a kinda famous “dented goods” place run by Mennonites in the middle of “I’m Lost” Wisconsin. Because of getting lost, we got there a half hour before closing, and discovered that we didn’t need more time than that. My primary purchases were corn remover pads in every configuration. It’s been 5 years and I still have stock, but what a deal!

We found roadside attractions to take turns posing beside. I felt like a true American standing beside the big ass upright cow statue that was wearing a chef’s hat and holding a big raw slab of sirloin.

Our last “official” destination before heading back to Illinois was established: Baumgartner’s in Monroe. It is one of a kind, so far as I can tell. The walls are covered by a battle between wine and beer, which I understand is symbolic of a battle between the Huguenots and the Catholics. In Monroe, the beery Protestants win.

Limburger catapult

Note that the beer steins are loading catapults with limburger while wearing clothespins on their noses.

Years earlier in our friendship, when Sue lived upstairs from me, we had gotten drawn to Monroe by their rotating festivals—one year it was the cheese festival and the next an accordion festival. Fortunately a girl never had to choose between them.

We’d almost come to blows during the Cheese Festival parade that honored families of cheese makers—seriously there were flatbed trucks with a bunch of old German farmers sitting on chairs. It was cute and funny, but the people of Monroe are serious about their cheese. They set up chairs days in advance, we later learned, to watch the parade. When I stepped out to take a couple of pictures, a wave of seething hatred washed over me from behind. Soon the grumbling began and we moved along, hoping not to have drawn the short straw in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” re-make.

On this day in Monroe, we were bound to try a local cheese of lore: limburger! We knew of its stinky reputation, but we’re fans of stinky cheese! Until our sandwiches arrived, we didn’t know that limburger actually smells like roadkill that has been in the sun for several days. We laughed and cried and cried.

 

One bite taken sandwich

I don’t think I was able to eat more than this. I can still smell this sandwich.

 Pull my finger

Asstrology

Gone are the days when my horror at seeing someone’s half-naked butt in a public place was confined to the ranks of America’s plumbers. As indignant as I may have felt at the time, I’ve come to think of that as the golden era of the Mostly Clothed.

Last week I walked down Franklin Street for a meeting. A man was working on his car, crouched on the street to get under the front seat. From his hat, I know he’s an A’s fan, but otherwise I only know that he needs a belt, more effective underwear, and perhaps a bit more time in the sun.

It seems that any time my husband and I happen out of the house to spend some tine in the world, one or the other of us will go into “red alert.” We notify the other verbally with either “BBC” or “GBC” and an eye dart to mark the location. (That’s Boy Butt Crack” or “Girl Butt Crack” if you didn’t already guess.)

The first time I witnessed this post-plumber phenomena I was at a once-favorite Irish pub in northern Illinois, where we lived for quite a time. A young woman, a friend of a friend, was seated at the bar and her lacy t-bar panties were hugging her hips, while her pants lagged behind at mid-butt level. Her friend and I looked at each other in shock and with some admiration. “Wow. That Emily sure is something!”

At the time, I had no idea this would become a trend. In the intervening years, I have thought that surely things would even out, that the low-on-the-hip pant fashion would be met by lower full coverage underwear and belts to keep America beautiful. Or maybe to make America great again, which would explain the random republican talking points.

Alas, 15 years later and it appears there’s a new moon on the horizon and it’s one with some real staying power.

working for the man

Dick was sitting at his kitchen table stirring the sugar into his coffee. He never managed to get it all into the cup and didn’t Noreen bitch about starting her day with sugar gritty elbows. Christ. If that was the worst of her troubles. He flicked his lighter and pulled in a lungful of smoke, first of the day.

“Yes, Zippers, this here is the most satisfying time of the day. Just you, me, coffee, and nicotine. It’s a man’s paradise right here, old Zip, isn’t it?” He scratched the black and white cat’s chin.

Zippers was a skinny bastard, probably because he spent every night outside carousing and whoring around.

“I need to give you a multi-vitamin, old man?”

Dick sighed.

Time to put his shoes on and head out to the shoe shop. If he didn’t punch the clock and get to his machine on time, Donnelly would be on his ass all day long. What a bastard.

Maybe, Dick thought, I should cut old Donnelly some slack. After all, his almost-pretty wife disappeared on him and he was just a working stiff earning a few extra bucks for all his supervisory prickishness. Probably sucks to be him. Maybe more than being me, even.

“But I got Zippers, don’t I boy? He don’t got a Zip Man, now does he?”

Dick scratched the cat behind his ears and bent to tie his shoes.

An honorable mention for “The Light”

I am pleased to announce that my flash fiction piece, “The Light” received an honorable mention in the  Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition. I am in good company with my friends Sue Granzella, who got an honorable mention for her essay, “Geography of a Final Resting Place”  and Barbara Ridley who won first prize for her short story, “The Ring” and third prize for her memoir vignette, “Half and Half.”  It’s a fortuitous start to the new year!

In celebration, I am re-posting The Light.

 

“Let me light that fire for you,” I said. “I’m good at it.”

The moth paused for a moment, contemplating. Her antennae quivered, as if there were a tiny breeze.

“Yes, that would be fine,” she said. “Actually, it would be quite nice of you.”

“So, where are you off to?”

“I’m searching. I’m called to search for the thing I am missing. There is a shadow inside of me, a cool empty place.” She paused looking over my head.

“I see,” I said, picking up the two smooth, dry twigs. Rubbing them together, I felt warmth radiating from the friction.

“Why do you ask?” said Moth.

“I wondered how we both happened to be in this dark place, as if we were here to meet.”

“That could be. Perhaps,” Moth said. “And you. You are here for a purpose?”

“I am consumed with too much heat,” I said. “I came to cool my face under the light of the moon. It was here a moment ago. I don’t see it now.”

“Nor I. Nor I,” she said, again rubbing her spindly legs together.

I slid the twigs back and forth and sparks glinted off, cascading onto the mound of straw I had gathered.

“Oh my,” Moth said.

Soon the straw was ablaze and I tossed my twigs onto the top, watching the tendrils of bark glow and curl back, exposing the tender innards to the fire. I turned to gather more twigs and when I turned back, Moth was gone and the fire was inexplicably larger, like a passion recently kindled.

Patricia Bidar: I wish

The two ladies at the nail salon are giggling again. This place is truly a hole in the wall. In fact, it is the kind of place that might even have holes in its walls–although I have never seen any. The salon is a few yards from my house. I go there for pedicures when the urge strikes me, which is to say rarely. But I always smile and wave as I pass, and they always seem tickled to see me.

The topic came up a few months back about a guy they know from the neighborhood. He is Vietnamese, like they are. They have told me in their limited English that he is “crazy,” by which I understand they mean developmentally disabled. They always add that he is ugly. That he looks exactly like “the biggest kind of monkey,” by which I have come to understand they mean the gorilla.

Here are some other things I have learned about him. His name is Tuk. He receives SSI, because he is “crazy.” He is 42, the son of an American GI stationed in Ho Chi Min City during the Vietnam War. His father was African American. Tuk is thoroughly Vietnamese, although you would not know that by looking at him. Anni says he just looks like a poor middle aged black man; the commonest of sights in our neighborhood.

Tuk’s mother abandoned him as soon as he was born. He was raised in “the temple.” Vietnam, Anni and Mai always tell me, is extremely racist. “Mixed” children had little trouble in Vietnam, even though their fathers were gone. But no one wanted the mixed children whose unknown fathers were black. Tuk has never known a family member, ever. What happened was, when the American government began allowing the children of GIs to come to the U.S., he was quickly snapped up by a Vietnamese family who wanted to come here. As soon as they all arrived, they bid him “goodbye forever.”

It is true that Anni and Mai laugh their asses off every time they talk about Tuk’s appearance. But they like him, and always help him. Mai gives him $five dollars for food whenever he stops in. If she has no money, she gives him her lunch. His rent is $550 per month. His SSI check is $700. So he has a place to sleep but has to choose between bus fare and food. Clothing, he only gets if someone at the temple gives it to him.

I showed them on Mai’s i-phone the website detailing where he can get a free lunch in the neighborhood from a St. Vincent de Paul program, four days per week. I said if he could get to the Alameda County Food Bank, they would give him groceries and determine whether he’s eligible for food stamps, now optimistically termed “Cal Fresh.” When I showed Anni and Mai these things, they were super excited to tell him about the resources he might access to have more food.

Today when I came in, they told me he loves the lunches from St. Vincent de Paul and that the Food bank gave him a lot of food, but said he is not eligible for food stamps. Mai said she wishes he could get a job helping out at a Vietnamese business, because he loves to work and is such a good person. But they added that Vietnamese people are so racist that they would never hire him, and would say that he would drive all the Vietnamese customers away.

Tuk wows the African-American ladies who come in to the shop when they hear him speaking Vietnamese, they tell me. Then they repeat that he is soooo ugly, and double over with laughter. Anni adds that people have always “used” Tuk, and that he has had nothing but terrible luck his whole life. Mai manages to get out between giggling fits, “I always tell him he is ugly,” and he always answers, smiling, “Wrong, Mai. I am handsome.”

**********

Bidar means awake. Patricia Bidar is a writer and California native looking forward to life’s third act.