I live in downtown Portland with my wife.
I brought her a jacket while she ran an event booth outside. Two redheads with long hair sat in the grass. They both wore green plaid dresses. One was a dude. The dude in the green plaid dress also held up an umbrella to shade his pale skin from the sun. It was 7pm. His hair was a mullet.
Then a guy stepped out of his van blaring music. He started dancing to his music. The van was designed with aliens and ghoulish figures on all sides. The guy wore blue jeans, sandals, and a monkey mask. I thought maybe his wife or girlfriend was sitting in the passengers seat—she looked white faced and embarrassed—but it was just an Elvis mannequin. The sticker on the side window said: God knows this van is on the road.
Maybe I should have taken pictures—I should have taken pictures—but I don’t think the pictures could have fully explained what I’d witnessed.
Calvino said that the proper use of language enables us to approach things seen or unseen with discretion, attention, and caution, with respect for what things seen and unseen communicate without words.
I think the gingers communicated a lot and not just in their plaid skirts and hair-do’s. And the monkey dancer communicated a lot in his unencumbered dancing and artistic flare.
But even if I say the dancing monkey was Extremo the Clown and the redhead in a dress was just some university student named Larry but goes by Laura, there’s still more being said without words.
When the security officer patrols down the aisle, the man in a red cap two seats down, wakes from the slight jingle of keys and turns a page in his picture book of galaxies, open in front of him on the table, to show the officer–before he passes–that he has every right to be here at this table.
When the officer passes the man pulls out a four-inch blade and sets it in his lap. Then he unrolls a packet of tobacco and fills slits of paper, licking the edges, and making four cigarettes. He places the cigarettes in a jacket pocket. With the knife he trims his fingernails. He returns the knife to his jean pocket and the tobacco to his backpack. He leaves.
Visitors walk on marble floors to the tip-tap click of heels and boots rising toward the open ceiling. Security officers in brown and tan uniforms patrol the aisles of bums and vagrants wearing black jeans and overstuffed backpacks with the prolonged smell of body odor drifting above the shelves and computer monitors.
The library is full of men, homeless or in school. Defeated men, cold and aching. They browse and skim the books. Nothing is ever what they need. They are not here for the books and neither am I. They are here for warmth, to pass time, for safety and sleep.
I sit at the corner of a long table with an open, dusty dictionary in the middle. The man who left was sleeping upright with the book on the table of dazzling lights and explosions of colors and gas.
It’s library-quiet with coughing and clearing throats and muffled conversations and the flipping of pages, but most of that is imaginary, what I expect to hear. Instead it’s all computer keys clicking, the blast of music when someone accidentally pulls out their headphones and then the silence as they re-enter the plug.
I am here for the quiet and for the meditation and to mourn our life . We are at a funeral, the bums and the men in suits studying government files. The women behind the counters, who answer questions from us confused ones, guide the procession: “Military is that way, DVD’s are downstairs, sign up for a computer at the lobby desk.”
To the left of me are rows of books about tiling, roofing, masonry, carpentry, and trim work. The books are old and full of information all available on the computers. The books take up space one foot wide and six feet high and one hundred feet long. Both the books and the men inhabit a public space. Outside the library the information is sent as data, wirelessly and through miles of cables, as the books sink farther into uselessness and obscurity. Us men, we’ll have not made our mark, unremarkable and failures perhaps in many ways. We will turn to dust and fall asleep forever. We will disappear into the evening rain.
I’m at home in the ancient artifacts, silent unless opened, immovable in bulk, policed and directed simply. A world slipped behind the present, catching up in decades.
I come to see what we were.
For we are all stories and words: Created, Once, in a wild haste. A burst of joy.
Living in the Hockey House is sweet. Except when Hunter’s World of War Craft addiction goes too far.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Since I don’t get the chance to pick up a copy of Christian News Northwest anymore I have to switch my local newspaper update to The Southwest Community Connection. I want to point out the Faith Forum articles in the October and November issues.
October featured Scott Kolbet, the pastoral associate at St. John Fisher Catholic Church. He talked about the word mercy and its Latin root misercordia which means “taking the misery of others into one’s own heart.” Kolbet writes, “A merciful God takes our miseries into his heart. If we are merciful, we are taking the miseries of others into our hearts…It is about God being present in my life and taking my life, my miseries and my joys into himself.”
On the complete opposite spectrum, the November issue featured Andrea Furber, a certified Pranic Healer, who talked about moving our hands in long circular motions and “removing energetic blockages that are hindering the flow of fresh, clean energy into the energy field of the person who came for healing. This fresh energy allows the body to do more rapidly what it always does–heal itself.”
I would much rather have the mercy of a loving God then me waving my hands around trying to heal myself. What about you?
I met your father on a Saturday night in the middle of the road. He said he appreciated me coming out to talk with him. I said it was no big deal. When I coaxed him back to the sidewalk outside the coffee shop that we had exited minutes before, he pressed his forehead to the coffee shop’s glass window and flipped off the young employee behind the counter inside. He said, That fucking cock-sucker. I told your father not to worry about him. He’s just some kid making eight bucks an hour. The moisture from your father’s breath spread for an instant like a yellow rose. Then disappeared.
A few minutes before, I was inside, sitting with my friends on the leather couches playing cards, and your father sat down at a table across from us. He was eating a bagel. He started smoking and the employee came over and told him to put it out. Your father dropped the cigarette in an empty coffee cup. Then the employee said, You’re eighty-sixed man. You have to go now. I remember someone saying, I’ll kick your fucking ass, but I don’t remember if it was the young employee with the fuzzy moustache or your father with his muddied boots and blue jeans and a white pull over. Maybe they both said it. I told your father that we should go outside and smoke a cigarette together. That’s how I met him.
Your father said that when he was young he used to come to this coffee shop, but it wasn’t a coffee shop then. It was a drugstore. He asked me if I’d seen Drugstore Cowboy. He said the movie was filmed right here, and he pointed at the drugstore that’s now a coffee shop and then flipped off the employee inside. He said, That mother fucker. He asked me where I was from. He said that when he was kid he saw a guy’s brains get splattered at this cross walk. The guy was walking across the street and a car came and pow. He said he saw his brains get splattered.
I asked your father what he did for a living. He shook his head and said he used to make a hundred and fifty-thousand a year, seventy-five taxable income. He asked me where I was from and said he really appreciated me coming out here and saying hey. He asked me if I wanted a cigarette.
He said, The Portland music scene, let me tell you, it is happening. You are right in the fucking middle of it. He asked me where I was from. He said he really appreciated me coming out here to talk with him. He asked me what I did. I said I went to school, worked at a church. He asked me if I was Mormon. I said I wasn’t. He said, My ex-wife is Mormon. I have four kids. Here let me show you. He pulled out his wallet and set down two pictures side by side.
Your father said he had four kids and he didn’t care if you were straight or gay or whatever. He asked me if I was gay and I said no I wasn’t and he said, Because I’d still talk with you if you were. He said his oldest daughter was dating a girl. And his oldest boy played the guitar. He said the Portland music scene is the place to be. That his son’s band would be playing after the opening band next week. I asked your father if he went to your concerts. He said he tried to make most of them. He said that you’re six foot nine and play the guitar. I asked him if you played basketball. He said, Shit, no. Shit. No he didn’t. He said you used to wear a shirt that said, “I Don’t Play Basketball”.
He said he got lit tonight. He said he appreciated me coming out to talk with him. He said that when he was a kid he saw a guy’s brains get splattered right here on this street. And for the first time that night your father was quiet. He looked at the ground. Around us drunk girls were stumbling home as the bars were closing. Some were smoking outside and talking on their cell phones. Inside the coffee shop my friends were sitting in the couches and sometimes I could hear them laughing through the glass. I thought your father was going to cry the way he was looking at the ground all silent. When he lifted his head he pointed across the street at a bar and said there’s lots of fresh pussy over there.
I’m sorry your father is an alcoholic. I’m sorry if he was never around. I’m sorry you couldn’t be there the night I met him to see how much he loved you and how much he was sorry. Sometimes when you return to the pain you can start to heal. Like returning to scene of an accident just to be sure that the man’s brains aren’t still splattered on the pavement, that the bloodstains are washed away, that the street is safe to cross.
Sometimes it isn’t safe at all.