Monday, August 26, 2013

1012 Days of Portland, Oregon: The Chapbooks of Goose Hollow

Whereas the Wood Village days became idyllic, I do not have a perspective as such to make the Goose Hollow days anything other than what they were: long days and longer nights. The Goose Hollow neighborhood is just west of downtown Portland between the Jen Weld Field and Washington Park. We came to live in the 1950s vintage apartment building called Vista St. Claire. We rented the place on a Sunday. “Is the place quiet?” Janice asked the leasing agent. “Oh yes,” he said. “This is a quiet residential street.” “That's good,” Janice said. “Anthony is very sensitive to noise,” she said. That's right, I thought, I'll crack like a fucking dry twig.

Mexico City. Tokyo. London. Do you know what they have in common? Between us, Janice and me, We have lived in each of these cities. Do you know what else they have in common? They're quieter than the corner of SW Vista St. and SW Main. I can tell you with absolute honesty, I have been in combat zones quieter. Quiet residential street?

There were other draw backs to the Vista St. Claire. Namely the idyllic location did not seem so far away from work. I had just started my gig at Portland City Grill at this time. I still worked a great deal of shifts including lunches and double shifts. It was exactly 1.5 miles to and from work. And the hill at the end of the day was misery.

So, there I was, Portland City Grill and Vista St. Claire. I don't know how you deal with situations as such, but I took to drinking. This, of course, was the best thing I could have done. I became reacquainted with The Commodore. It had been well over twelve years since I'd been there. As far as my Portland existence goes, I met some of my closest and coolest friends there. Bobby and Kenny, Kristina and Tiffany, Jason, Brian and Ollie and Andrew. The bar stool is always warm, I know this. Perhaps they feel the same about me, or perhaps there is someone else in my stead now. But at the time this all went down, this Goose Hollow existence, The Commodore, if not exactly heaven, made for a pretty close facsimile.

I was making money. Janice and I were getting established. The Commodore was home. And during the days, at my desk, I tried to write. The world outside the window, lacking only the gunfire and screams of agonizing pain, was the violent cacophony of the daily drama: two buslines, endless excavation trucks, grocery store semis, jack hammers and the endless parade of leafblowers which have become so commonplace these days many people are numb to it. I am not numb to the noise. But everyday, I did my best.

The efforts of my labors at this time were strange little pieces, chapbooks as it were. I have 13 of them at Sophia Ballou, should you want to read them. The three I'm most proud of are: The Befuddled Seahorse, In Search of Basho and 13 Miles.

13 Miles, after looking at it again some two years later is a pretty accurate description of the time. There were homeless people everywhere. The occupy movement was in vogue. I saw junkies passed out in the shop entrances with needles still attached. I worked at a fashionable restaurant, a busy, expensive one. I got to see a suicide as it happened on my way to work one day. It was such a strange time. And this particular chapbook summed it up.

"Ravel has vanished. Bartok takes its place. But not one particular Bartok mental soundtrack record, but fifty of them and they're all playing at once."

For at least nine months, April until December, I wrote these strange little things. They were sometimes all new material. They were sometimes re-purposed old stuff. I had intended to write only one, In Search of Basho, but I could not stop. In the end, I wrote 25 of them. What they all had in common was this: I wanted them to be approximately fifty pages. The first one took months. By the 20th to 25th one, I was building them in a day or two. Aside from a few short stories, this is the work I did during my Goose Hollow days. Each night, I went to work. And each night I went to The Commodore. And the grand sum of it? Good friends, and 25 chapbooks.
I hope you have enjoyed this blog post. Please support me by becoming a follower of this blog or purchasing a copy of my novel Dysphoric Notions.

“Reading the Library of Congress”
Where there was once 2 there are now 3
Ring of Fire
The Lovecraft


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

1012 Days of Portland, Oregon: Mimi's Place

View of downtown Portland from Vera Katz esplanade
I suppose any valuable account of Portland, Oregon and my time within its city limits, may well be summed up with any one single experience. I could tell you about the birth of my son, or the day I paid off all my debts or even the day my first book was released. After all, these are three major facets of life and all three of these happened during my stay in Portland. However, big life changing events do not necessarily sum up a time. They do not sum up a mood. And they definitely do not explain the zeit geist.

I never saw a prevailing Portland attitude. There are many people who claim Portland is a “creative” or an “artistic” town. I did not see it. I met some creative types, and as long as it was food (the construction of, and sometimes the consumption of) or tattoo (the construction of, and sometimes the consumption of) then there were creative types. In my time in Portland I met wonderful people. I even met legitimately creative types. Musicians in Night Heir and Corner being great examples. Try as I might, I didn't meet other writers. Even those with whom I had former or common connections with alluded me at ever turn. Funny that after three years I remained closer to the Denver circle. But, let's face it, it was probably me. All said and done, I tried to connect with other writers, other poets and in final days of the Portland affair, I tried to connect with photographers.

My time instead I spent working quietly at home. For years leading up to the November 2010 move to Portland, I had been threatening to do so. I thought I would just move up to the woods somewhere near the northern coast and write a novel. This seems very Malcolm Lowery, no? If you don't know him, he wrote Under the Volcano in a small cabin in Canada. The book takes place in Mexico. I do not, nor have I ever longed to be Malcolm Lowery, but I did think I could, if given the chance, escape to Oregon and write a novel.

Monday, August 12, 2013

An old essay and how it's like a harbinger

In the final days of living in Portland, Oregon, I dug through old work.  I found this essay on an external hard drive that I tend to dump everything on.  This essay The Walk Home was written some time in late 1996.  It was an assignment in my Advanced Essay Writing Workshop at Metro State.  I had lived in Ansbach, Germany from late 1990 until late 1992 with a layover in the Middle East in 1991.  Incidentally, I had also gone back for a visit in August of 1996.  During my visit I felt every bit as alien as I had as a young soldier some 4 or 5 years prior.  What I find so striking about the essay now is the tone and how it really is the harbinger for my graduate school thesis.  From Ansbach to Color became my creative thesis which I began in January of 2007, some eleven years later.  I hope you enjoy the essay. 

The Walk Home

The way home was never hard to find, and I never forgot it. No matter how drunk I was or how I tried, I could never forget the way home. Funny, I could conveniently forget things to avoid work or a girlfriend, but not home or the way there. I could honestly forget other things too, my name, the name of the bar, or the girl, but I lived on Dombach Strasse in the young soldier housing at Barton Barracks on the topmost hill north of Ansbach.

One night I decided to leave the bar at a decent hour. Tired, a bit pissed off, drunk, I realized none of the girls would stoop to talk to me, much less have sex with me, so I decided to cut my loses and go home. I imagined the damply cool night air as an air pocket in a damp sponge. It smelled like plants and mold, and it rained almost everyday. Since I had grown up in a desert most of my life, be it California or Colorado, living in a damp climate like Germany was a real oddity. My German friends always thought me as the oddity, the way I acted in the foul, rainy weather.

That night was clear, it had been the first clear night in a couple of months. Clear meant that no rain fell, but the sky itself was still a dense haze. Only the stronger stars could shine through it, and here and there one did. Around each one of those strong stars a blue and purple halo appeared giving each a royal look. When the moon rose high enough, close to the zenith, its light not only produced a halo but a rainbow. Inside the lunar rainbow all the colors hatched in slightly darker hues than a day time rainbow. If more light existed that night the air all around would have been rainbows due to all the moisture in the air. In some of the high street lamps, I could see the marbling and swirling columns and mountains of mist. It looked a bit like the smoke inside the bar but considerably cleaner and healthier. The air moved only slightly, probably due to the water in it. I could see the individual balls of mist as they grew from tiny ones to the larger ones that got too heavy to cheat gravity any longer and fell to the Earth. When they fell, they made little rippling circles on the puddles in the streets. I was elated in this night time environment, the contrast it had over the desert I grew up in. A desert where the rain comes violently for a few minutes and all the moisture gets quickly absorbed into the thirsty Earth, and what the Earth can't drink the sky reclaims and the storm moves on. Yes, the Ansbach night air gave me life.

Once I was outside, I couldn't have been happier. The bar called City Limits, one drinking establishment in a large building in downtown Ansbach, was built before ventilation. The place got hot, sweaty, smelly and smokey. When I first learned about irony it was at City Limits: if a person is in a house and it is on fire, filled with smoke, what is the first thing they do? They get out! Yet people can linger on for hours, and hours in a smokey bar. What is the difference really? I suppose one can't file an insurance claim for smoke inhalation from sitting in a bar.
Fire or no fire, City Limits bulged with smoke, and it felt pretty good to walk out into the Ansbach night air, even though it did smell a bit like manure from the surrounding fields.

Little puddles stood quietly in the cobble stone streets. I walked across them heading toward the clock tower on the other side of town. I passed Round the Clock, a German "rocker" bar, impulsively I wanted to go in. First impulses pass quickly with fear of death.

Miriam and I had had a perfect relationship. It was quick, sensual and vicious. We met, got drunk, had sex, decided to go Paris where we talked, got drunk, had sex, and we returned home. The good times lasted three days, maybe four; that was the quick and sensual part. The vicious part lasted for several weeks afterward. She told me I was a cold, heartless person, perhaps, but I blamed it all on a difference in values. Other than beer and sex we had nothing in common. Paris was her favorite city, and if I could image hell, it would be just like Paris only the buses would be on time.

She tended bar at Round the Clock. Miriam, more attractive than any other woman in Ansbach, had all the men in love with her. Without question, if I even walked into Round the Clock, I would become grout between the tiles. I decided to conserve on my chip free teeth, so I walked on, toward home.

I passed Cafe Rialto, the hippest place to hang out, and as I passed happiness filled me at the thought of how people accepted me there. I wanted to go in, but the place always closed early. I craved an ice cream or a soda, a positive alternative to Cappuccino. I never had the heart to tell everyone I didn't like Cappuccino, or any other coffee for that matter. The atmosphere was good, but like everywhere else too smokey. In fact Martina, the first German friend I had, gave me a lecture there because of my abnormality of non-smoking. As convincing as she wanted to be, soliciting the whole tobacco industry, I still didn't pick cigarettes up as a habit. I didn't pick Cappuccino as a habit either.

Generally, I took a quick drink at Cafe Rialto twice a week, Tuesdays before going to Das Boat, a club in Nürnberg, and Fridays before going to Neurose in Schwach, the other two hip places to hang out. I would sit next to Martina at Cafe Rialto, or someone else who seemed interesting, but in such a smokey place healthy lungs wanted to sit next to someone who didn't smoke.

Naffia didn't smoke. I missed her greatly after she went back to Bosnia. She didn't know any English and her German was as bad as mine. We smiled constantly at one another, and we made fun of everyone else. Without certainty I suspected she didn't like coffee either.

Naffia lived on the other side of the clock tower in a small apartment above McDonalds. She probably lived in the worst place in all of Ansbach. Her place smelled forever like cooking oil and underarms, and the one window she had overlooked the taxi pickup point. I ventured into her place under an invitation after a long night of dancing. I spent the night with her once, her place was too small for the two of us. I often wondered as I walked past her old place what became of her, who moved into that nasty place and if we spoke the same language if we could have had a different relationship.

Across Maximilion Platz kitty corner from the clock tower and adjacent to McDonalds stood Cafe Central. The two things I constantly reminded myself of Cafe Central: the ten year old kid who drank me under the table when I first got to Ansbach, and the girl who took me to bed first. I would see the kid from time to time, and we always talked to one another, but I never talked to the girl when I saw her. I did see her, she lived in a house on my route home just after the train tracks where Maximilion Platz connected to the path which connected to the cemetery on Rathaus Strasse. She giggled when she met me, claimed to know English and introduced herself as Sofia. She not only gave me my first experience with sex in Germany, but my first experience with disease as well. Every day, I walked by her house, sometimes I would see her, and we ignored each other. Sometimes, I would see her older sister and mother (The two were never apart), and they would just laugh. They laughed from the time they saw me until I
walked out of sight. They were always laughing at me, it bothered me, but I had nothing to say in rebut. I think they must have known what went on between Sofia and me.

The cemetery lay between Sofia's house and my Barracks. A deep colored brick wall separated the cemetery from the street. When I first got to Ansbach I would walk on the wall. The wall-walking ended late one night when I saw ghosts moving around in there. There seemed to be several of them, and they stood in a little group as if they were mourning over something, or pontificating the passing of someone. At that point I leaped from the wall and ran all the way home too afraid to look back at all the specters following me. In retrospect, if I hadn't drank so much tequila and eaten too many worms there probably wouldn't have been ghosts lurking about in the cemetery.

At the end of the cemetery wall, Rathaus Strasse ended. Rathaus in German means courthouse, that word became my second lesson in irony, because in English it sounds like "Rat House". I crossed the street and walked up the hill on a foot path. The ability to walk out of a city infatuated me about Europe. Granted Ansbach, a smaller city than Nürnberg or München, took less time to walk out of, but countryside surrounded them all. This particular foot path had trees on each side, and beyond those trees some landmarks of Ansbach. The Tücher brewery on one side overlooked the town she supplied beer with and fields that supplied the brewery with grain on the other.

After a dark walk on the foot path ending by the television tower, the final stretch home last no more than two minutes. I always enjoyed the darkness on the foot path, and then coming out of the trees on the hill to see the lights of Ansbach below. I typically stopped and looked at the view, mostly to catch my breath or vomit. Thinking about the whole situation now, living in Ansbach and the walk home, it was that moment at the top of the hill, looking down on the city that made it all worthwhile. At least my memory amplifies those moments. It amplifies the walk home making it worthwhile, no matter how tired, or how drunk, or forgetful. It even made the walk up memory lane worthwhile, it made the moments with Miriam, Martina, Naffia and Sofia worthwhile. The loneliness didn't seem so horrible there, probably because no one stood there with me, ridiculing my expressions or lack of understanding. It made all of life worthwhile, two minutes before going home, standing at the top of Ansbach, alone.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Photography: what's to learn in books?

In my elevator landing
I have spent years thinking about the merits of reading. There has also been the occasional post here about reading. Yes, there is the very nature of reading, the learning of something through the written word, and there has been the mention of the pure enjoyment of the act. I think I have mentioned at some point or other that I was not a natural at reading, nor was I child who read books. In fact, the truth is, I hated reading and that was that. The turning point, of course, were the long months of Desert Storm. Reading became a great escape.

There is no real secret that I read fiction. This is almost without exception. Looking at my bibliography over the course of this blog, it's evident what I like to read. I am not a person who reads biography, how-to, memoir or history texts. I am just not that person. I like fiction. I think there is more to “real-life” in fiction texts that the average biography, how-to, memoir or history text readers may think. But I did say, almost without exception.

I just spent the last several weeks reading photography books. How-to guides, history texts, and biography. In a funny turn of events, I have read 60 such books that I would normally not be inclined to read. And, I have been delighted with what I have learned.