I'd buy whatever you would sell to me

The thing about Portland is that at two pm on a Tuesday afternoon you can decide you feel like Going Out, and you can flip through one of the two alternative weeklies, skim the readings and theater and film and music sections, weigh the potential fun of a Blazers game and darts in a neighborhood bar against three dollar Slumdog Millionaire in an old restored church that now serves up movies and beer, and decide finally on the alt-rock Austin band you haven’t heard about in seven years that’s playing again up on Mississippi.

And even though you live in a place with all these choices, you can drive there at five minutes to showtime, park half a block away right there on the street, walk up to the door and buy a ticket for fifteen dollars. The audience is small and on their feet already for the opener, and everyone is quiet and attentive. Between sets you sneak across the street to the place that serves southern food, open at ten to ten with a single waitress; you share a pile of fried okra as big as a basketball, and blackened catfish, and mac n cheese.

You hurry back in time to catch the headliner’s second song, and the room is more full now and vibrating, but still so small that you are reading the insignia on the lead singer’s t-shirt, admiring the bass’s crooked smile. Between songs the keyboardist chats with the audience like it’s a dinner party. He asks someone to look up a fact on her cell phone, and she does.

Before I moved here from Eugene I had this Portland fantasy, and the fantasy went something like this: Portland will be what I love about Oregon, plus what I miss about New York. It will have things to do on a Tuesday after dark, but these things will not require reservations and the right outfit and copious amounts of cash. And here I am dancing around in my blue sneakers with stars, and once in a while my boyfriend slips his hand into my back pocket like we’re teenagers, and I can’t believe my fortune.



On our first night in the desert we slept in the front of a convertible that the lonely Enterprise late-night countergirl had upsold us in the Palm Springs airport parking lot. We had landed late, and then gone grocery shopping, and then stopped for food n’ drinks at a candlelit patio bar. So by the time we rolled into Joshua Tree, past the darkened ranger station and the shuttered guardhouse, it seemed like the sleep of least resistance.

We pulled over by the side of the road and left the top down. The stars were out but the back was full of bags and the seats didn’t fully recline, so for at least two hours I curled up in the passenger footwell. It was perfect.

In the morning the ranger caught me leaning over the trunk in my slippers, and she should have given us a ticket but didn’t. After that we hardly saw a soul. We parked the car by a trailhead and scrambled over rocks for three days straight, sleeping out without a tent and heating soupcans on a sterno. There were a lot of lizards. The cacti and dry little wildflowers were in bloom.

We crouched in the shade in the late afternoons, waiting for the sun to sink behind mountains after a long day of heat. We drank our heavy water. We talked. The AD read to me chapter after chapter of the book we brought along. This I could do for a long, long time, I thought.

On our last day in the desert we packed it out, passing a palm grove and a tortoise in the path who watched us watch him eat a flower. Like him I feel dried out and delivered, ready and in no rush at all.


Portland in the third week of April.

They said it was going to be seventy-five and sunny but they’re liars, all of them – it’s gray as far as the sky and raining cold wet rain and it’s soaking through your sweater. It’s been this way for every day you can remember. You can’t even call up what you thought might be different, how the sky could look any other way. This is the part of Portland that makes you cry. Makes you cry at the smallest thing and sometimes nothing. Because you realize it is never, ever going to stop being gray. Every day from here on out, this is the sky that will greet you when you finally pull yourself out of bed, this is your permanent atmosphere.

And you will never fall in love, or if you do it will wreck you, and you will never succeed at your job, or if you do it will be at unreasonable expense, and you will never choose an electrician. Your outlets will always be two-pronged and sparky. The kitchen switch will dangle from the rafters. All is lost.

So you sit up straight and breathe to the bottom of your lungs and focus on the little lettuce and kale starts you pressed into the damp earth only yesterday, how they wilted at the shock of relocation, how they crumpled under assault from the hose. And you know that this is the day that will revive them, this spitty foul rain is the very climate they would each request to live out their lettucey days. And you think of the peas that you pushed in one knuckle deep beneath the climbing trellis, which is really just a stapled length of chicken wire, and of the beet seeds like little comets, and the radish and carrot seeds nearly too small to count out. This rain, right now, is floating them into some sweet little crevice inside the compost you’ve been tending since autumn. It is wetting their dull shells and inciting aspirations of red and orange sugar.

It is hard to remember.


3 years later

Drinking Diet Coke makes me feel like a bitch, just the sound of the name Diet Coke all hard with edges, and the slender silver can, like I should pop the top with long painted fingernails and slump back in my chair with boredom. I’m not much of a soda drinker.

I’m not much of a soda drinker but when I do drink soda it’s because I’m in Guatemala, say, and they are selling tall glass bottles with real cane sugar, bottles chipped from being stacked in sticky crates, or because I am at the movies with a big bag of popcorn. Then a few weeks ago I spent the weekend at a friend’s house with a fridge full of Coke Zero and since then the craving just comes up.

The craving just comes up and mostly I push it back down but today I gave in. There’s no Coke Zero in the lobby shop so I picked the closest thing, this Diet Coke with the word Diet in special script for women, a soda a man would never buy. I paid the eighty cents with a five even though there were two crisp ones folded in my pocket from when I meant to take the bus to work this morning.

I meant to take the bus to work this morning but as I was coming down the stairs I couldn’t ignore the clear blue sky, and I couldn’t help feeling I’ve been making too many excuses. So I got on my bicycle and halfway the rain started falling, pok pok pok on my helmet, splashing my jeans with fat spots. My fingertips and ankles stung with the cold, and my whole right shin. I was red-faced and damp by the time I got here.

I got here and it’s been the sort of day where I’m not sure what I’m doing at my job besides accruing experience, and by experience I mean days spent sitting at this desk. Last night I was planning a trip to Rio, a trip that will last one single week, and it makes my stomach turn – to fly all that way and not get lost in Brazil, not take long bumpy bus rides and pick up Portuguese riddled with errors. Instead I am going down and checking it off, turning around before it’s touched me. All because of vacation days. This is not what I am supposed to be doing. But raise your hand if you feel like you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. I am not supposed to be rationing vacation days and I am not supposed to be drinking Diet Coke. Drinking Diet Coke makes me feel like a bitch.