Friday, October 31, 2014

Wet Wheels on Wet Rails

Wet Wheels on Wet Rails
The rain washes the streets, the cars, the people, everything. The rain collides with Earth at the treetops. The water collects and slides down the trunks of trees. The moss covered, water saturated ground has become resistant to more water. The water rolls down off the mountainsides, it collects in gutters and flows down drains. The water eventually falls into the Columbia and with a mighty-mighty force crashes into the Pacific.

This is not a lesson on the water cycle.

This is something else entirely.

When the rain beat at my face during that first trip to Astoria I knew there was something about the place or about me that needed further investigation. This is always the case, when at the age of 27, you come to a place for the first time and feel like you have belonged to that place for all of time.

The stories are too many to recount. This is naturally the case when you have visited a place dozens of times.

I lived through the Colorado droughts of the early 2000s. I watched the thousand year old glaciers evaporate. There were wildfires on all sides. The water tables were dropping at such a rate that entire municipalities lost their drinking water. If you're struggling with this concept please understand what I've just said: Astoria, so much rain and water and rivers and ocean and overlay that with Denver (in the early 2000s) with searing heat, wildfires and not a drop of water to drink.

One afternoon in the summer of 2001, I walked from downtown Denver to the place I worked on east 17th Ave. It was a searing hot day, but not just the kind of day we had all become accustomed to having. On this day it was not only regular hot, it was also cloudy. A cloudy day in these conditions is like sitting in a summertime car with the windows up and the heater on. At the corner of Downing and 17th I considered going into a Mexican restaurant for tequila and beer. I hesitated before deciding the better of it and pushing on, toward work. The summer was making all of us a little crazy. And in that craziness, we were all inclined to do things that would not make sense with slightly cooler weather.

The distance between Downing and Park Ave is about 200 feet. As I waited for the light to change at Park Ave, it began to rain. Rain. Rain, if you don't mind. And cold drops of rain. Cold drops of rain on a really fucking hot day in the middle of a white hot drought. As I began to cross the street, I looked down. What I saw there disturbed me more than the already unnerving state of affairs in this time of drought. It was raining, yes, but the cool raindrops I felt on my face evaporated before they hit the ground. That's right, try as they might, these raindrops, this rain was not going to amount to anything.

I hurried on. In the heat of the day, I considered my past in Oregon, and most especially in Astoria. The longer I thought about it with the heat on me like a despotic bully, I fantasized about a passage back to the Northwest.

I figured I would work and work and work and save and save and save and then go up to Astoria for a year and create something: write a novel, paint pictures, snap photographs. In short, I would leave the inferno and go to a place that is perennial springtime and create art.

Life would have something very different in store for me.

I did get to Oregon. In Oregon I did spend a year making art, I wrote novels. I even made it back to Astoria. I made it back to Astoria a few times.

I had no idea it would be my last trip to Astoria when we went. It was a family vacation. It was a cool weekend in April. The rain fell in small misting balls hitting treetops first, rolling down hills and finding a home in the Columbia before getting to the Pacific.

On the boardwalk, a trolley rolled by with wet wheels on wet rails.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Forgotten Places

At the instant that she told me she'd been raped I kept quiet. Not only did I not know what to say, I did not know what to do. I sat quietly. I heard first the tobacco of her cigarette as she smoked it. I heard the rain falling on the street behind me. I heard her heart beating. I heard my heart breaking. I wanted to hold her. Instead, I did nothing, I just stared. Later that afternoon, I called the rape crisis hotline. I was thanked for my action, or lack thereof. Apparently, when men hear that one of their loved ones has been raped, they react with violent words or actions. I just sat and listened.

The two of us had been making our rendezvous every lunch hour at the tables under the Wells Fargo building. I could consider the Wells Fargo plaza as a forgotten place.

Forgotten places are those places which hold significance for us. These places can included, but are certainly not limited to, bus benches, park side tables, phone booths, street corners. They are classified as such only because they are innocuous places where something of profound importance has happened to us, but the place is nothing special: bus benches, parks side tables, phone booths, street corners.

At the onset of the 21st century, I worked for a living. I was granted a dry place to go from 8 to 5. I got one 45 minute lunch hour. The walk between my office and the Wells Fargo plaza was three blocks, six blocks round trip. I got 30 minutes, one half hour to sit down and have lunch with my friend. Our friendship was built very slowly, 30 minutes at a time, five times a week. It went on for three months—October, November and December.

I have to wonder now, and at the risk of sounding like a sentimental old man, were the relationships of my youth more intense because of my age, or the age of the world? At the time of my rendezvous at the Wells Fargo plaza cellphones were not commonplace, the internet was something someone had at work and social networks happened at the neighborhood level. In these days, people met face to face, at bars, at parties, at coffeehouses. This is not a “in the good ol' days” rant. Quite the opposite. If you want a lunch date now, you can meet with your best friend who lives in another city using some sort of digital middleman.

It's not how I work. And I often feel lost in crowds because I am the only one in the group who isn't slack jawed and vacuously staring into an electronic devise. Hell, I'm still waiting for the lights to go out so we can all go outside and play. I feel lonely and I'm looking for an old friend in the crowd who is coherent amidst the vapid. And if I can't find that old friend, I'm at least looking for someone who might want to invest some time to become an old friend. It doesn't take long, 30 minutes a day, five days a week for three months.

In our youth we believe in soul mates and things happening for reasons, greater designs on life. Hell, many of us may still believe that into middle years and late life. But these beliefs tragically discount one thing: the serendipity of chance meetings and the magic of brief relationships. Sometimes, you learn the most about yourself when interacting with strangers. With a stranger, you are who you are, you have nothing to lose. You can feel comfortable with a new acquaintance, so comfortable that you'll disclose everything. You can give yourself. You can reach an instant intimacy that liberates you. And then the moment is gone. You've reached the end of the 30 minute lunch break, you've reached the end of the three months.

What remains? The forgotten place. The image of a friend who has said something to you that she cannot, ever, say to someone else.

I think everyone has at least one forgotten place. Everyone has at least one friend who populated that forgotten place. This person and this place have made us who we are. Call this person a soul mate, call this situation something that had to happen for a reason or that this time in our life had a grander design. It is a reason to be grateful, a blessing to be human.  

Monday, October 20, 2014


If you haven't worn a uniform while in the name of patriotism and been forced to point a weapon at another human being, well we don't have much to talk about. You may thank me for my service, which infuriates me. I will not find much of value in anything you say. It's hypocritical. Let me break it down:

  1. An American flag made in China will have colors that run.
  2. If you oppose abortion, you are not allowed to support the death penalty.
  3. If you love Jesus, then please, act like Jesus.
  4. If you think we should removed slavery in the US from history books, you're an idiot. Slavery was a horribly thing. Africans built this country and their contributions are immeasurable. We are who we are because of who we were.
  5. If you think war is a good idea, then you join up. Do it today.
  6. If you are afraid, we ain't got nothing to talk about.
  7. If you aren't afraid, did you know that many school systems want to remove any hint of civil disobedience from textbooks? Oh, if Henry could see us now.
  8. The best thing for us is whatever the system decides for us: 24hour electronic stimulation and amply supplied processed food.
  9. Why there ought to be a law. Shouldn't we have more regulation?
  10. Despite what you may think, you really are not unique. Rather than being smug, be humble, and if you cannot be humble, be quiet.

When we came home it was a terrible realization than the entire country had suddenly came down with a serious case of the stupid. Cars got bigger. To-go cups got bigger. Opposition got whinier. And still, everyone seemed to like highly organized things: religion was still popular, broadcast sports seemed to round out the afternoons after God. And then there's the politics. Can you see any difference between them?

We got back and the only thing that seemed to matter was each other. We had left our homes and families and communities and went abroad to disrupt the homes and families and communities of others. And returning home again? Fuck you.

After the war we went to college. The first time we dropped acid we were all in college. We were busy absorbing the liberal arts subjects that would give us the edge over the generation before us. We were learning Adam Smith and Descartes and Ralph Waldo Emerson. We left the rotary phone and the typewriter and the map and compass like we left the war, reluctantly. Reluctantly, we gave what was fed to us and on Thursday afternoons after class, we wandered deeper into decaying industrial streets in the center of town and took LSD.

What we discovered was this: it's going to go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and there is so very little you're going to do to stop it, to slow it, or to make it right.

We discovered that if there is war, and there is always going to be war, it's because of one reason and one reason only. War is only going to get started because one stupid white mother fucker is fixin' to lose some money.

I do not mean to suggest we end war, but call it what it is. End the hypocrisy. I do not mean to suggest that the total anesthetization of society by processed foods, 24hour electronic stimulation, religion, sports or politics is necessary either. I do not endorse LSD. I do not endorse drugs of any kind, legal or illegal.

I am merely suggesting that everyone be quiet.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Definitive Moment

Days, weeks, entire lifetimes slowly paced by my window. I was vaguely aware that the day light shifted. It was not the swift moving winter sun so low on the southern horizon, no. It was a gray second to none that is the gray of gray gradients that is the rainy winter of Portland, Oregon. My window looked down six floors to the intersection of SW Vista and SW Main Streets. It was not the quiet residential street we were promised. Not in the morning, not in the evening, and not in the night; it was the cacophony that only happens on two major bus lines, a major excavation truck thoroughfare and a haven for weekend drunks could be. I would have liked the place more if there were constant gunfire, screams of agonizing pain and random explosions, at least I would have understood the noise level.

Psychotomimetic Peacocks ended just after the aforementioned intersection. It was a coincidence, and a beautiful one at that.

This was the same place where I was gifted not one, but two film cameras. Film. And in this place, this busy intersection in Southwest Portland, Oregon, I decided to capture light.

I'm still very uncertain if photography is the art of capturing light or not. In the early days of Portland, Oregon I did all of my living in the dark hours of night. Oftentimes at night it does not rain. And the grays are just deeper in hues, in depth. At night, that's all there is is night.

I tried to take pictures using a lens to project an imagine onto light sensitive paper held in emulsion. I would imagine that those in the know would judge what a fool hearty endeavor this really is. Night is when I lived, and if I wanted to be a photographer, then night is when this had to happen.

As you look back over your life and consider all the people you once knew, and all those you were once close to, it is very easy to become nostalgic, heartbroken or worse still, a teller of tall tales. I think this is commonplace. I also think that anyone can love deeply, devoutly and purely in any friendship no matter how superficial, how brief or how centered on the drinking of gin that friendship may be.

For instance, recall all the wonderful liaisons you may have had. They all have to have had romance, or spark, or blind passion. These probably ended poorly. But even now, long after the end of these liaisons, there is probably one moment that sticks out more than the rest as the definitive moment. Your friendships too have a similar moment I'm sure, the moment when you got each other.

The definitive moment.

The definitive moment, now, for me, happened during one late night, after work, in the dark or Portland, Oregon. I wandered from Ol' Pink to the Morrison Bridge, then over the bridge to a few dark bars and then back again. I snapped several exposures. Only one worked, and even that did not work very well. Portland, Oregon to me was just like this: paltry, abandoned, decayed, peaceful. Not a bad analogy of modern life.

The landscapes in my imagination are much like the landscapes of my dreams—some place right before a street light. Empty. As I began to consider the camera as a still life of existence I found the same emptiness that I wander in my imagination, and the same vague landscapes that I have been trying to write about for years.

Under the Morrison Bridge, a late spring night, I opened my shutter as I walked with John Adamson. I had liked John very much until that night, that walk, that instant. I have loved him very much ever since.