Note: I wrote this back in 2000, when I still lived in Portland, when "Portlandia" was normal daily life. The piece was written for a friend's zine, back when zines carried some relevance. Despite the dry tone of the article, I genuinely liked, perhaps even loved, Portland. Unfortunately, as my father pointed out at the time, Portland didn't like me. In the span of less than three years, I worked four jobs, got fired from two of them (one of them three weeks after I quit, but that's another story.), failed utterly at political organization and activism in a city where such a feat was not possible, tried and failed to create a literary magazine (ditto), and my marriage went kablooey. An obnoxious New York Italian failing to impress a laid-back northwestern city? Feh. Anyway, enjoy the article.
For most lower-middle class, postgraduate slime like yourselves, you might find my current situation familiar. For the rest of you, you'll just have to follow along and hum to the words.
It is a quarter after one on a cloudy Sunday afternoon. It's raining every 25 minutes or so. For Portland, Oregon in early spring, this is normal. Portland has the most schitzoid weather in the world. I was walking to the train stop on the way to work the other day. This is normally a five-minute walk along the rail tracks where I can take in the back of the mall and watch my train leave a minute before I arrive at the station. On this day, I left the apartment to meet a cloudy day. Now, in, say, Illinois, this would mean "It's probably going to be cloudy all day, maybe some rain, maybe some sun, who knows?" In other words, you have no idea, but at least you know it would be only two options. In Portland, this means, "say, let's have a hailstorm, followed immediately by sunshine." And that's exactly what happened. If this were ancient Egypt and we were holding the Hebrews, we'd get hit with all ten plagues in the space of twenty minutes, and nobody would notice. "Oh, raining frogs. Big deal. We had that last week, between the alpaca tornado and the freak Cheeto storm." If God really wanted to punish us, He'd make it cloudy, without rain, for months at a time. That would leave us batty.
Anyway, I'm listening to Cracker's latest CD while typing away on an antiquated Macintosh and slouching around in my underwear. Old college habits die hard. In my ten years of sitting in front of a computer, I would bet at least two-thirds of that time have been spent in no other piece of clothing. I find underwear the only comfortable part of protective body accessories: it doesn't pinch in my gut or make it look bigger than it already is. It doesn't remind me that I have tits. It doesn't make my feet sweat. Underwear is loyal, a quiet piece of clothing that doesn't mind being in constant contact with your private parts. It adds a colorful flourish to the carpet, and it's a readily available substitute for Kleenex. Of all articles of clothing, underwear is hardest to part with. My Macintosh, on the other hand, is younger than my underwear, and yet I *must* upgrade immediately or the Hot Hip Mac Police will break down my door and hold me and my wife while they smash my computer to bits and offer me a $50 rebate on a nice new Mac with a bright orange monitor.
So, here I am, on my Mac, typing away. I enjoy typing away on my computer; I've been doing it for years. However, I'm not used to writing (marginally) useful stuff on it. I'm used to useless crap like e-mail, or my poetry. Typing an article is not something I do very often (what? you can tell?). I wrote articles in college and even got some printed in the school paper. Now that I no longer have the assurance of bad college newspapers to get my work out in the open, I now require a sense of professionalism in my work. Here you won't find it, but at least I remind myself of it now and then.
By now, you're asking yourself, "What's the point of this article?" Believe me, this is the most common question asked of me. Believe it or not, this was supposed to be an article about life on the Left Coast as compared to the Midwest and the East Coast. This is what Amandicle, Relay's publisher, requested I write about. So, here goes: I was born on Long Island and split my childhood between there and Kansas City. Both cities gave me wonderful gifts to carry me through life: New York gave me the ability to regard everyone, including my mother, with suspicion. To this day, my wife can ask me to pass the salt, and I'll be thinking, "Yeah, okay, but what does she really want?" Kansas City gave me enough childhood memories to require at least two therapists and the occasional antidepressant, but this is not the city's fault, I'm sure. The cities also gave me sports teams to root for and really good food. In Long Island, you can't walk a block without hitting a deli. Kansas City has the best barbeque in the country. The West Coast, sadly, lacks both.
From there I settled in downstate Illinois (for all you natives of the Left Coast, downstate Illinois is everything south of Joliet. For all you idiots of the Left Coast, Joliet is a city in Illinois). I started college in Peoria where (and no, I don't think this is a coincidence) I went bald and developed allergies to half the universe. I developed nagging respiratory problems involving coughing up substances in colors I thought were only possible through vomiting an entire pound of Skittles. I later managed to graduate college and entered graduate school, where I failed miserably and followed the path of many a grad school dropout: I got married and moved west.
What does the West Coast have that the Midwest and East Coast lack? Mudslides, for one. During the rainy season, you can't watch the news without hearing yet another report about part of a hillside collapsing. You'd think the entire state was beginning to flatten out. I suspect that in fifty years, Oregon will have about the same amount of mountainous terrain as Nebraska.
Another thing the Midwest and East Coast seems to be deprived of is small espresso stands. When my wife and I first drove past Idaho, we began to notice strange little signs along the highway advertising hamburgers, hot dogs...and espresso. Sometimes they'd even add sushi. We found this rather odd. We had just arrived from the United States, where the beverage staple was a nice, cold beer, advertised on American commercials, during American football games, on Japanese televisions. Espresso was the drink of those commie pinko beatnik types who wore black and said "dig it, man" while listening to strung-out jazzbos in a cloud of reefer smoke.
But not on this coast. Portland is the City of Overpriced Coffee. There's a Starbucks on just about every block out here. They attach themselves to everything from bookstores to libraries to hardware stores, like benign but disgusting tumors. And of course, there are these closet-sized espresso bars, peppering strip mall parking lots where photo development shops used to be, happily serving you coffee from your car. And God forbid you ask for a mere coffee; the server gives you a look that screams "you're trailer park trash, aren't you?" Because coffee is no longer a drink; coffee is a *statement*. Before 1992, nobody on the planet Earth ever used the phrase "venti latte." Now, people blab javaology as if they emerged from the womb with a Starbucks cup in their hand. The true definition of fashion: seeing everyone imitate you and realizing how stupid you looked all along. I hate to think what the old coffee drinkers saw in themselves once coffee shops took over the landscape: odds are they switched to tea and hide at home now.
I'm sure there is more to the West Coast than stylized coffee. There is a lot of time to explore. I believe once I acclimate myself to the unique weirdness of this side of the states, I'll write about it with a warmer heart. But for now, I'll end this article, listening to the hum of my computer and the gentle plopping of the Twinkie rain outside.