Friday, June 2, 2017

Vignette City 52.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

We showed up to start work. It was the first day and on the first day it is usually just me and Amos who do the work, ripping out the floors and the doing whatever demo the Designer wants done. The lady who answers the door was really pretty and young. She was about Darcy’s age and it made me feel a little fatherly at her, so I felt bad that she looked like she’d maybe had the flu. “It’s this room back here,” she said and took us to the back bedroom. “Thank you very much ma’am,” Amos said to her and we go to work. There was a nice blue rug in the middle of the room but no furniture. Amos and I rolled it up real quick and he opened up the door to the closet to see if we could fit it in there, but there wasn’t any room. “Look at all that,” Amos said, examining all the unopened boxes filling up the closet. “That is a nice looking crib in the picture,” Amos said, “and that’s one of those strollers that’s also a car seat, right?” And I said, “Hey Amos, let me see those plans,” I took them and I looked at them and it was just as I’d remembered seeing, design for a home office.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Vignette City 51.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

I was up in the old Chinatown district because I was craving a fancy donut, but the line was really long and all the tourists were there, taking pictures of themselves with the bright pink donut boxes, so I just went wandering around, thinking maybe I would find a place to grab a beer even though it was only 10am, but it was the weekend, so who cares. If the waiter ended up looking like someone who would look at me sideways then I would just get a bloody mary. I went a couple blocks up toward where I vaguely remembered there was a bar tucked into an alley. I found the alley and turned into it but there was no bar there, but there was a giant gray rock. It was big and jagged and it was sitting on a kind of short pedestal or mount, like it was on display. I reached out and touched it. It just felt like a rock and I felt dumb because what had I expected?

There was a thick plaque mounted on the pedestal and I had to bend down to read it. It said: This is original ruble from the April 14th, 1920 earthquake that decimated the city, killing 34,000 residents and demolishing the city center and many of the river ports. It is placed here in remembrance of our fellow citizens who were crushed, squashed, flattened, burned, crippled, broken, and decapitated that day.

I had never heard of this so-called decapitating earthquake and I grew up six blocks from here. I pulled out my phone and tried to look it up, but couldn’t find anything. When I eventually found the bar, I ordered a bloody mary and asked the waitress if she had ever heard of the 1920 quake and she said, no.

I ended up having three bloody marys and I took a stroll on down to the City Historical Society, which gave free walking tours on Sundays and I asked the man at the front desk about the quake and he said, “Sir, have you been drinking?”

And I said, “What in the hell does that have to do with an earthquake?” Then I asked the security guy who was walking me out of the building if he had ever heard of the 1920 earthquake and he said, “Do I look like a historical seismologist to you?”

He did not and I told him so.

I stopped by my local place and had a gin and tonic and said to Dan, “Hey Dan, you grew up here right?”

“I started bartending here with my pops when I was five, what do you think?”

“You ever heard of the Earthquake of 1920? Killed 34 thousand people.”

“Here? Naw. I would have heard about that.”

“Thanks Dan,” I said as he brought me another.

Later, at the central library I went up to the top floor where they keep all of the dioramas of the city from each decade of its history and I walked from one end of the room to the other: 1850, 1860, 1870, and so on until I got to 1910 and then … I’ll be damned if the 1920 diorama wasn’t gone. The 1930 diorama was still sitting there, lots of tiny people lined up in long bread lines outside tiny city hall. “Hey!” I yelled at the closest librarian I could find, who wasn’t actually a librarian, but a high school kid who looked smarmy and nerdy and kind of stuck up, “Where is the 1920 diorama?”

“They took it out to clean it.”

“They clean them?”

“Yeah, they get dusty and then people start to think that the past was really dusty.”

“People are idiots.”

“Tell me about it,” the kid said.

I went back up to chinatown, but the donut line was even longer and so I went back to that one bar and had a couple more bloody marys and then when the waitress told me she wasn’t going to refill me any more, I stumbled out of there and went back to the alley so I could look at the damn rock again and see if maybe there was another plaque or something, maybe on the wall, but when I turned into the alley, there was no rock. The pedestal was there still, but it was empty and the plaque was gone. I bent down to look at where it had been and I could see that there were fresh scrapes around the screw holes, like it had just recently been taken off. I pressed my hand down on the flat top of the pedestal, but it didn’t feel like anything, just an empty spot.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Vignette City 50.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

The Painter had never received any formal training and possessed no innate talent, as such his work was predictably terrible.

He did however save a little girl from a burning building one time and that gained him some local notoriety, which really elevated his profile.

What really happened with the little girl was that The Painter was walking from his apartment to the grocery store because he had only minutes before convinced himself to go on a diet, so he had thrown out all of the food in his apartment and so he was going to buy a bunch of salad and fruit and as he was walking along he was mumbling the names of fruit to himself, saying, “Mangos. Lemons. Gooseberries. Pomelos. Apricots. Avocados …” and that was when he heard the little girl crying and he looked over and saw that she was standing in the doorway of her apartment building and that was when the Painter realized that the building was on fire and so he said, “Hey kid, you better get out of there. The place is on fire.”

The little girl shook her head violently, her pigtails swinging around in the air. “My mom says I can’t go outside without her.”

“Well where’s she at?”

“She’s at work.”

“Well look kid, this is what’s called an ‘extenuating circumstance’. You ever heard of those before?”

The little girl shook her head. “You’re a stranger!” She yelled.

That was the same moment a chunk of burning building fell into the street behind The Painter.

“Look kid, this is getting serious, so get your ass out here.”

“You said a bad word!”

The smoke was starting to get thicker now but still there were no sirens yet, so The Painter stepped over toward the girl and he reached down and tried to grab her. He had no experience with children, but he had a cat, so he employed a similar strategy grabbing at her under her little arms, but she shriek, “Put me down! Stranger danger!” Her arms were flailing and her little feet were kicking and her pig tails were looping through the air like nunchucks.

“Would you just stop doing that?” The Painter said.

One of her little hands connected right across his nose and they both heard a fat snap and he shouted and she froze, realizing what she’d done and suddenly fascinated by the river of blood pouring out of The Painter’s face.

“Dammit kid!” He shouted at her and swung her under his arm like she was a big log he was carrying. Another chunk of building fell into the street and The Painter yelled at her, “This is stupid and I should have let your ungrateful little ass burn to death!”

The Painter struggled to carry her out of the doorway and into the street and it was just then that a photographer from the local paper run up on the scene, lifted his camera to his eye and snapped the picture: The Painter, his face aggrieved and covered in blood, carrying the little girl under his arm as burning debris rained from the sky around them. It was a great shot. The photographer would go on to win all of the regional photojournalism awards that year. Days later The Mayor would give The Painter a key to the city and during his acceptance speech the Painter would plug the website where he sold his paintings. The little girl would later tell her mother, “I didn’t mean to hit him, but he deserved it.” Her mother didn’t care. She kissed the little girl on the head and said, “You’re my girl. I just love you so much.”


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Vignette City 49.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

The city has been running The Story Booth Project for a few years, but I have never participated. There are a dozen booths around the city. About the size of a photo booth that you can step inside and you sit down and type in your information and then the green light comes on and you tell your story. The cops are pretty good about making sure that the homeless people don’t sleep in them, so they’re usually pretty clean. I don’t know why I’d never done it. It was a big thing, popular and trendy, when the city first set them up. I remember seeing lines of people waiting to record their bit. People in this city seem to love lining up for things. Fancy donuts, fancy tofu, local hybrid cheeses. I’ve never understood it.

There’s a box down by my office and it was rainy today, so maybe that’s why I decided to step inside and slide the door closed. It was nice to take a load off and so I just sat there on the little bench and I listened to the rain tink off the thin plastic roof of the box.

The green light made a clicking noise when it flipped on and I realized I was being recorded, which I guess I knew was going to happen.

“I just wanted to sit down and get out of the rain for a minute,” I said to the square mirror that had a camera behind it. Then I just looked at my own reflection in that mirror and I was a little surprised because the light in the box wasn’t great and the mirror was cheap and so I didn’t quite look like the person I was used to seeing in my bathroom mirror every morning. The person who was looking back at me had a lot in common with the people i the old black and white photos my mother had hanging up in her bedroom. I looked like someone had taken all those people and mixed them like their faces were cake batter and the result was a cake that looked kind of like me. I looked so much older than I was used to seeing myself. I was older than any of my dead family was in those pictures.

“There are so many people in the family pictures my mother always had hanging in her bedroom, “I said to the mirror. “I never knew any of them because we came up here where when I was a baby, but they’re all dead now. And my mother, she died. Adn I never knew my father or his side of the family. There were always so many faces, you know, on my mother’s wall and I don’t really know any of their names. I just took all the pictures down the other day. I don’t know who, I don’t know who I’m supposed to call. None of them ever came to this country. It was just me and my mother. I don’t know why she decided this was the place to start over. She was, I think, 19 when she came here. Three jobs, you know, the whole time i was a kid. She taught me how to cook, I was maybe 6, she taught me because she needed me to be able to cook for both of us, because she either didn’t have time or she was tired as a dog when she was home. She came up here, I know, to get away from her family and to get away from the home country, but really I know that she came up here because she wanted me to be able to have a better life. She, did all that, she made the needs of her own life secondary to the needs of mine, I guess. She moved up here, I know, because she wanted me to have a better life. She gave up her life. Basically. She, she did that for me and now, I guess I’m me. And what does that amount to? I have … I don’t know, a life. It’s a totally normal life. I go to work. I go to the gym. I watch TV. She didn’t tell me what I’m supposed to do to make all the sacrifice she made worth it. And now I can’t ask her. She did all this work so I could have a life and my life … it’s fine. It’s not good, it’s not bad. I have a nice couch. I really like it. It’s probably my favorite thing that I own. I like to sit on it. That’s probably when I’m happiest. I like to sit on my couch and watch TV. That’s all I really want to do. So it that what it was about? Is that what the point was? Did she bust her ass her whole life so that I could just basically sit comfortably? What sense does that make?”

And that’s when I realized I’d been talking for awhile and so I wiped my nose with my sleeve and I said, “Anyway, I just wanted to get out of the rain. It looks like it has let up a little bit.”

Then I slid the door open and the green light clicked off and I walked away and I really wish I hadn’t recorded any of that.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Is a giant Matchbox toy just called a car?

Vignette City 48.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

We were out busking in the riverfront park. It was a bright, hot day. Lots of joggers and people on bikes and kids playing in the big fountain, but their parents were sitting in the benches in the shade and so I smacked Gino on the arm and said, “We should play more adult contemporary stuff.”

Gino rolled his eyes because we have been having an ongoing fight about whether people want to hear buskers play GWAR and I keeping telling him that they don’t. He started strumming the opening chords of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only living Boy in New York” and right away I could see the parents looking over at us because Gino is too young and beardy to know that song and he sings like Justin Vernon, which is probably who all of them do it to on their monthly date nights. I’m not bitter, I just know how marriage is.

One of the mothers got up of her bench and came over and dropped a five into our guitar case. She had big black sunglasses on, but I could tell how she was looking at us, us two young guys with guitars and no cares in the world and reminding her of the dudes she used to sleep with back when she was young. This happens a lot. We move around a lot and so we’ve gotten used to people looking at us, hoping to recognize us, hoping that we might be their old friends who will remind them of youth. They want us to be a conduit connecting them to, at least, the possibility of freedom. They don’t want to be us, they don’t look at us like they’re envious of us (because they’re not, we are below their life stations, their tight blank smiles make that clear), they look at us like they want something from us. They want us to give them back what they choose to give up when they decided not to be free.

The mother went back to her bench. Her kid ran out of the fountain, sopping wet. He ran up to her and gave her a big soggy hug before going a little dance and then rushing back into the fountain while shrieking just because he had so much energy inside his little body.

Gino was singing, “I get all the news I need from the weather report.”

The mother sat there, damp and scowling. She glared at us through her glasses.

Gino sang, “Half of the time we’re gone …”

Some of the other parents came over and dropped some bills in our case, which was great, because it meant we’d be able to eat later.

“But we don’t know where …” Gino sang.

Then they all sat on their benches and tried to decide if they loved us or if they hated us.

“And we don’t know where …” Gino sang.

But it wasn’t really us they were deciding about, because it never is. It was their own lives they were deciding about.

Gino sang, “I know you’ve been eager to fly now. Hey let your honesty shine, shine, shine now. Do-n-do-d-do-n-do.”




Sunday, May 28, 2017

Vignette City 47.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

I went to see my OBGYN. It always makes me nervous. I don’t have any reason to think anything is wrong with me, but maybe that means something is wrong with me, you know? How would I know? I’m not a doctor. But if something is wrong, the doctor is going to be the one to tell me, but if I don’t go, then nothing can be wrong, right? Because the doctor can’t tell me something is if she doesn’t know, right?

She’s okay, my doctor. She asks everybody to call her Caitlyn. All my OBs who weren’t men were like that, like, “We’re friends, this isn’t weird.” I’ve had two OBs who were men and both of them were named Scott, but the nurses always referred to them as “the Doctor.”

I took my clothes off and put on that gown and I sat there on the edge of the examination table, in between the stirrups. I sat with my hands nestled limply in my lap. Those rooms always make me feel like I’m in the principal's office.

I looked at the stirrups. I’ve always thought they’re weird. I feel about them the way I would feel about the tools in a Victorian dentist’s office.

Then the door opened really fast and I looked up expecting to see Caitlyn, but it wasn’t her. I had to squint because at first I didn’t understand what I was seeing. Then I said, “You’re the Mayor …”

He was dressed like the Mayor, but with a white lab coat over his suit coat. His hair was all, well, the way it is.

“Yeah, yeah. It’s impressive, right?” He snapped on a pair of powdery white latex gloves. “Okay, let’s go ahead and do this.”

“Wait. What?”

“I don’t have all day. I have a very busy day, very busy. You wouldn’t believe how much I have to do.” He stood there. He is a much bigger man than I’d ever realized. Really tall and super wide, like a thick tree trunk of a wall. I didn’t vote for him, I always tried to ignore him.

“Are you even a doctor?”

“No, no. I could have been. I’m very smart. I would have been the best doctor.”

“What are you doing here?” I didn’t like being so close to him, especially since I was only wearing a thin gown, just loosely tied down the back. I’d heard the stories about him.

“I’m here straightening out the medical care in this city. We’re going to have the best health care here. The best. It is the best already, everyone says so. I’m going to make it better. So let’s get started. How to these leg straps work? Get those legs up there.”


“Yeah, I need to keep track of what’s going on up there. I’m the Mayor.”


Then the door opened again and Caitlyn was their, her cheeks red like she’d just dashed back from lunch after getting a call from the office, the rest of her face was an empty horrified white, as if her toddler son had just punched a handicapped puppy in the face.

“Mister Mayor!” She almost yelled. “We need you, there is a problem … in the other room. A … big and important problem …”

“Oh yeah?” The Mayor said. Then he turned and looked at my body shape, like he was scanning my flesh through the gown. “Okay,” he said, pulling the gloves off and dropping them right onto the floor. “I have to go,” he said to me, “something big and important is happening. You know though, you might be hot if you lost some weight. I’m the Mayor.”

He walked out of the examination room and Caitlyn said to me, “I’m so sorry,” she was close to tears, “He keeps doing this. I don’t know why. He just shows up.”

She closed the door and it was just me in the room again. I jumped off the table and dressed as fast as I could. I left the office as fast as I could and I am never going back.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Interesting New Ways I Might Die.

The below pictures are for my WR 507 class. It is a “research for writers” class which focuses primarily on putting me in situations where I might get dead, and thereby boost the potential sales of my posthumously published books.The below hike into Washington Park in Portland, OR was part of a “method research” exercise I’m working on for my D. B. Cooper story (that’s why I went hiking through the wilds of the Pacific Northwest in a 3-piece suit).

The hike starts in the subway.

 The Vietnam Memorial spirals.

D. B. Cooper was originally called "Dan Cooper", just like this person might have been. 

The forest gets dense enough to suck up all the city sounds nearby.

These bushes are as tall as me.

 If you're ever lost in the woods, old tracks let you know you're somewhere.


Bad Bots.

Yes, I know. I have fallen behind on my daily Vignette City posts and all of the Russian hacking bots that read my blog are very upset. I know this because they keep sending me emails about checking my credit score, refinancing my mortgage, or wanting to meet for coffee and viruses.

So listen Russian Hacking Bots, I am in GRAD SCHOOL and so obviously very busy and simultaneously completely unimportant.

But I will get caught up this weekend. I totally swear.


Friday, May 12, 2017

When you had a rough Tuesday and you're all like, "When can I have wine? Friday?! Fine, I'm scheduling that shit." . #gradschoolproblems

Vignette City 46.

*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***

Things which are part of my life that I am uncomfortable with:

Microwave: I do not understand how this works. It seems nuclear-ish. So how is it on my kitchen counter? It is a box that makes micro-waves and I'm supposed to believe that it won't damage my daughters?

Refrigerator: It rumbles and gets hot along the back, but makes things cold? It gets hot and makes things cold? That is a principle I’m supposed to rely on? To keep my milk cold?

Light: Electric, I guess, if you want, like some people do, but I have candles and like them better.

Locks: I don’t fear the outside people; I have a shotgun. What do I need locks for?

Walls: I prefer the air, the night. I like the wind to lick my skin.

Dirt: I like to feel it on my flesh as it cool me.

Outside: where I prefer to be, nude.

Forest: where I wait, bathed in moist black soil, waiting.

Society: which I have left.

Buffets: which I can still see from here - their wane yellow city glow - but which I have never been invited to.

Bacon: which we do not have out here. But is pigs? Who looked at pigs and said, "My mouth"?

Toast: which I have not had in a very long time. Crisp, I remember it being. Comforting, in a small way.

The blessing of human contact: no. Not recently.

Daughters: once. Then. Not now.