I think Seattle was the place where a person was most likely to recover a lost wallet with the cash still in it. That was according to a Reader's Digest experiment conducted about 15 years ago. Based on geography and general attitudes, Portland is probably close, but considering the general flakiness it's probably also the place most likely for the wallet to be lost a second time by the good Samaritan before your money eventually makes its way back to you unspent.
Anyway, I had a dead battery yesterday, with my toddler sleeping in back and a cell phone I had forgotten to charge, so it worked out being a little impromptu experiment.
Laurelhurst Park near the Belmont-Hawthorne neighbourhood, the enlightened capital of bourgeois bohemianism, is not a bad place to be stuck, especially if you consider that a few weeks ago I was 16 miles down dirt roads at Mount Adams running the fan and radio in a similar way with the engine off (though alone and not with Morgan).
But there I was in the twilight, sitting glumly, hood up and one cable already dangling from the positive terminal, people in new cars, all with tired kids in tow, going home to get dinner started or to one of the many cafes. I had had some battery trouble in Estonia, and it's to the point where I don't know if I should even ask anymore -- everybody's got some modern car they are afraid will be damaged (and I guess may well be) by some sort of reverse flux reaction that is part of the altruistic act of sparing a little juice. And I don't like asking for favours, period. I don't like karmic debt. Though I have accepted help in the past, I'm getting to be more of the person who would walk to a store to buy a new battery before calling or asking, just out of general obstinacy.
This was out of the question. Just the other week some 34-year-old guy had been arrested here in SE Portland on charges of child abandonment. (This is front page news for the Oregonian, which didn't, as NPR, use it is a peg for discussing foster family statistics.) His face was greased and he himself was behind a stranger's house, naked from the waist down, his two kids in the car parked on the street. Of course there was history of meth, and so on, but let's be honest, after a long hot day of minor misadventures in Portland, I didn't look so hot. I glanced in the mirror -- yup, dirty face. Pants were stained and would be better removed.
The first people I asked for a jump looked intimidating with tattoos and such. The guy riding shotgun, obviously better at thinking on his feet, answered on behalf of the Silent Bob driver: "We're pressed for time cause his wife is locked out of the house." Then, after I was about 50 yards away, they noted to each other that this was a good answer, even though the driver wasn't married, then looked guilty when they realized I had heard them. What a bunch of losers.
So I did abandon the sleeping Morgan for 5 minutes. I locked the car, and jogged a block and a half to the Shell station on 39th and Stark: the clerk, who looked like Lee Harvey Oswald in the movie JFK -- on speed -- looked up and took in my sad story nodding with a concerned frown, then swallowed the last of his taco, and said, with enhanced gestures, "And why are you telling me this?"
I thought I was in New York (except there were no pay phones, either). Where was gentle Portland? But no sooner had I thought this that luck turned. A guy with his family stopped in a Saturn and was game, although he hadn't jumped a car before. We probably didn't let it load long enough. It didn't take. Then someone who lived on Belmont returned to his BMW with his 2-year-old daughter and wife (I had written them off because the car was so sleek) and said he had to go back as his daughter had bumped her nose but that he would return. He did, with a sleek VW. He offered to put me and Morgan up if I didn't get anyone from Vancouver to pick me up. He was a nice guy, he didn't know much more than I do about mechanical things. There was a hint of noblesse oblige but that is what noblesse does. Anyway thank you, Portland, even though you didn't get the Subaru started.
In the end, it was Amer, Portland-born, who made the trip from Vancouver and gave me a proper jumpstart.
Community salmon bakes and class mixing at playgrounds is for real -- that stuff does happen here, there is more egalitarianism in places like Portland's Belmont than many small towns. And this is original Craigslist country -- though it is nearly impossible to explain to someone back east who does things by the book how it can ever be a good thing to rent a property to someone and forgo the background and credit check. It probably isn't, anymore. But EQ does work, if there's enough of it, and people with emotional intelligence can often recognize each other from afar.
But there are aspects of the Pacific-beatific scene that can be simply irritating -- because it is so lackadaisical.
I don't think it is worth looking for regional cultural differences anymore in the mass media level, but definitely it's true that The Oregonian runs some nutty local color stuff on the front page, and that this belies a certain characteristic local attitude. I'm starting to put my finger on it, gradually. Maybe it's not even hippie-related. I think it's the attitude of Not Following Up.
One such front-page item (it may have been nationally syndicated but I'm sure it didn't make the front page in many cities) was titled "Death Comes on Little Cat Feet". Basically, the story was this: Cat in nursing home, otherwise aloof, curls up near patient. Within a few hours, you guessed it, said patient is dead. Repeat twenty-five times. In Oregon, this qualifies as a cute story, a forum for liberal journalist to speculate about sixth sense and whether such an amazing animal as this feline reaper could be used for advancement of science. Meanwhile, although I think dogs should be allowed in restaurants and old people need pets, something inside of me is screaming: What are these people dying of? Test that cat!! What if it's toxo? Worse, what if the cat is a murderer? Good lord, why is a CAT running around inside a care facility for people in fragile health, anyway?
It's kind of what I like to call Murder, She Wrote Syndrome or what some call the elephant at the table -- a small town in coastal Maine experiences a murder a week, and there is a sharp socialite dame who not only knows who committed it, but she makes her living writing about it. It should be obvious here what is going on, even if the people of the coastal Maine town have never seen Basic Instinct.
(BTW, there's something to the Oregon-Maine connection, not just the Portland-Portland parallel, and the fact that Oregon has doubled for Maine in movie adaptations of Stephen King works.)
I think there is really a laziness in Oregon about making the logical inference and following through. Sometimes there are tragic results. Certainly it's the case with the various high profile missing person cases in the past year and it also extends to the general view on things. For what it's worth, my wife's first impression of downtown Portland was that half of the people were stoned.
Speaking of drug news, read just today that Trey Anastasio had pulled a Jerry Garcia -- no, not slipped into a diabetic coma, thankfully -- but was involved in a high-profile drug bust, way back in December. Except that Trey was not sitting sedately in a parked car in Golden Gate Park but was weaving over the centre line someplace along the Hudson at 3:30am. Is he, like, commuting? Why isn't he with his family in Vermont?
I have to say that I have totally avoided Phish news, since I found them more than a bit pathetic in their decline into a mediocre jam-band, "wading in a velvet sea" (embarrassingly) instead of what they were doing before -- breaching the "divided sky" and, generally, just soaring. Because of the early period, Anastasio is totally deserving of his place as #70 or so on the top 100 guitarists of all time list -- listen (ignoring the lyrics of course) to the "serious" albums Junta, and also Picture of Nectar, Rift. It is hard to believe that was once Phish, and that personality-wise they were once a bunch of cerebral misfits who were cool by dint of their optimism and playfiulness.
But everything that was interesting about them, other people seemed to find uncool. At some point -- after Garcia died, when you'd think they should have risen to fill the ostensible void --they started getting funkier and more monochordal, and people lapped it up, even though in Bittersweet Motel Trey says, in so many words, that what the crowd was lapping up was "urine", a weird, crass remark. That's around the time when other people started talking -- guys whom I didn't know, but who were diehard old Vermonters who had been touring with Phish since the early 1990s -- of drugs, things like ecstasy, of tensions within the band.
But even from these people, there was always that sort of knowledgeable shake of the head, like ah, Trey knows better, or it's his own movie and he wants to be a rock star. Certainly Anastasio is a guy with boundless irrepressible friendly energy, like an Irish setter, right down to the red - you can't keep him back. But certainly there is a Garcia-like tragedy here -- enablers pushing their hero faster, higher, until the trademarked blissed-out yet assertive expression on his face becomes a rictus -- I don't know.
It seemed from the news that he was busted for prescription drugs. Sort of understandable -- Xanax is sort of what an intelligent person might take. Touring must be stressful beyond belief. But the possible "felony charges" raised my eyebrows, and only after some digging and finally googling "heroin Anastasio" on a hunch was it clear what had happened: A plea bargain so that the really unsavoury part -- the packet of black powder -- could be hushed up.
But I suppose Trey knows better than the authorities, the courts, the people who emulate him. Perhaps, like Garcia, he gets his "visions" from Persian?
At least he seems to have his physical health. If all this is true, he's lucky.
Anyway, the release of that Big Pink, rootsy, back-to-the-land (though no less mediocre) album called Farmhouse in the middle of the monochordal funky years? Well, it faked me out. Apparently he's up to Lexington, one-two-five just as much as he is in that barn.