Portland is a very clean city. The streets have lesser amounts of grime and trash than do its counterparts in LA. Splotches of forest green painted the sidewalks like a Jackson Pollock painting, if ever the artist used Canadian geese droppings in his work. They were furnished with four-headed fountains meant for citizens to wash their hands and freshen up. To help promote municipal cleanliness. This notion was further supported by signs on the side of trash cans that read “Pitch in! Help Keep Portland Clean.”
Outside of Union Station I witnessed the true manifestation and epitome of what cleanliness means. The vision came to me in the form of a man who was washing his butt at one of those four-headed fountains. It wasn’t a superficial cheek treatment. It was a deep scrub. With the same vigor that Moses parted the Red Sea, this man parted his red butt cheeks and scoured furiously as passersby scowled frantically. I felt like he was being quite anal about the whole thing. It didn’t seem to matter how many times he scrubbed, it still wasn’t clean enough for him. The police officer overlooking the whole thing was busy texting and chatting with a concerned passerby.
“I just let them tire themselves out,” he laughed. The passerby turned away. But I just had to look.
I soon made my way to Downtown Portland and was greeted by a light gentle drizzle. The silence, the clouds and the gloom excited me. The amount of moisture in the air is what brings about the greenery that the city is famous for. It’s more than a nice backdrop made up of innumerable Douglas firs. It is a benevolent virus that takes over concrete in the form of moss and building facades in the form of ivy. Portland’s green was a presence. It was alive.
As I continued to walk in the heart of downtown, I felt like someone was following me. I turned around and caught a glimpse of a disheveled young man. We made eye contact. After I refused to give him a cigarette, his face began to contort in ways that made mine do so as well out of concern. He began to walk towards me. The way that he was shaking his wrist and closing his fingers told me that he either wanted me to jerk him off or that he thought I was a jerk off. His tongue was prodding hard against his cheek as he let out a droning moan. My lack of empathy towards his situation gave me a small taste of the underlying “fuck you” attitude the city was vested in. A simple request gave way to the unravelling of this man’s darkest demons. Complexity evolves from simplicity.
I needed to pull cash out of an ATM to catch a bus to my place of lodging, so I went into the nearest convenience store, the Plaid Pantry. A soft spoken old lady in front of me asked the clerk for a pack of cigarettes and the clerk turned around and placed two packs on the glass counter.
“No, I said two packs of Camel Regular 99s,” the old lady said sternly. “These are Light.” The clerk took the packs off the counter and let out an audible sigh. She turned around and placed the correct packs.
“Ok, that’s gonna be $10,” the clerk said. The old lady started to rummage through her purse looking for her wallet.
“Do you guys still buy back bottles and cans?”
“Yeah, we do. Every day except Tuesday.” The lady’s rummaging began to get louder.
“Well, this morning my two grandkids came in with some bags full of bottles a…”
“Alright, let me stop you right there,” the clerk butted in. “I turned them away because they were sneaking around in the back.” The old lady finally found her wallet and slammed it on the counter. “I don’t have to buy bottles from people I don’t trust.”
“If you didn’t want to buy them, then why didn’t you return the bottles?” The old lady pulled money out and shoved it into the clerk’s hand. The clerk took the money and threw the change at the old lady.
“Thank you and get the fuck out. You’re a piece of shit like your two grandkids.” She flicked a business card towards the old lady with the website where she could air her grievance. “Go ahead and complain about me. I don’t give a fuck. I’m the manager.”
“I will complain,” the old lady yelled as she exited the store.
“Whatever, go fuck yourself.” The store and everyone in it was momentarily hushed in awe. Other shoppers started to congratulate the clerk for standing her ground. She smiled at me letting me know it was now my turn.
“Hi, how may I help you?” she asked. Her tone had gone from barbaric to bubbly. This woman was either really good at hiding her emotions or had multiple personality disorder. Either way, now it was my turn to pretend that what had just happened hadn’t shocked me in the slightest way.
Portlanders truly embrace who they are. Embracing their inner weird. They strive to do so even if it comes as rude or indifferent. Together, they strive to “KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD.”