Thursday, October 02, 2008


Rose City, part II.

I'd set aside my Saturday in Portland for touristy crap, which may or may not be the kind of touristy crap the average tourist anticipates. The hotel was a scant few blocks away from the Portland Saturday Market, a nearly year-round cavalcade of artists and buskers and food booths that sounded promising...but on my way there I stumbled across Voodoo Doughnut, an establishment I'd already seen profiled at least once on t.v.

Voodoo Doughnut is an extremely...alternative donut shop, which will also marry you should you request or require it--they have a sliding scale of ceremonies with or without donuts. They are also famous for their outrageously indulgent donut toppings, like breakfast cereal, or bacon atop a maple bar. They are also also famous for their snickeringly provocative donut names. When I got to the front of the long line, I just pointed at the one I wanted, twirling around in its glass case: chocolate cake donut, with chocolate icing and Cocoa Puffs on top. The clerk sang out its name for the benefit of all: "One Triple Chocolate Penetration," she shouted, causing the man behind me to erupt in astonished/alarmed giggles. Probably I should have turned around and chatted him up. Do you come here often? Anyway. The donut was hilarious in concept, if fairly ordinary in execution; cereal atop a donut apparently gets damp/stale quickly. I will have to return to assess the bacon maple bar on its own merits.

On to the artists' market. It was kind of a gloomy, overcast day, so I'm not sure how representative the booths I saw were...but there was a little more of the patchouli-and-B.O. crowd going on than I tend to prefer. I did spend some time lingering over an artist's psychedelically colored pen-and-ink rendering of Johnny Cash, flipping the classic bird. I would seriously hang that on my office wall, so it's probably for the best that I didn't have $30 cash on me. Oh well.

And then: I noticed the first of what were ultimately several stained-glass artists' booths. Oh dear. I have only mentioned obliquely, I see now, what my father did for a living--he designed and built custom stained-glass windows for nearly 30 years. Took an extension class at the local community college when I was a little girl, and built an entire business and a considerable reputation from it. He put windows in businesses and churches, in Street-of-Dreams houses and in McMansions for people with more money than taste. It always amazed me, that my dad, who if we are being honest was strapping and kind of loud and prone to fart jokes and could potentially be classified by Jeff Foxworthy as a redneck, had ended up making a living this way: this delicate, translucent, elegant art form. It was a secret in plain sight, a hidden depth that I saw him practice every day but that I was not smart enough, not soon enough, to ask about.

This is a prelude to my saying that, for several years, Dad had been a presence at the Vancouver, Washington farmers' market on summer weekends. He loved the intrigue of bickering with the market's governing board--oh, man, the epic wrangling over choice booth real estate, insanely boring and what I wouldn't give for a fresh earful...but more than that he lived to banter with the teeming hordes. He couldn't have been making serious income just from the suncatchers and the metric ton of glass marbles he sold out of a couple antique gumball machines, but he used the attention to secure larger commissions. Dad was a salesman down to the bone, a cheerful master of wearing you down with corny patter until you succumbed: to buying whatever it was, to forgiving him something, to being his friend for life. I never went down to Vancouver to see him in action, but I didn't need to. I knew exactly how he would be.

Except maybe, too late, I did need to see it, because I stood there in front of some random person's booth in Portland, hyperventilating, throat tight. There were suncatchers and kitty-cat potholders and, I don't know, blown glass bongs arrayed all around me, and hucksters everywhere manning their tables, hamming it up, messing with the crowd in genial booming voices, and for a minute I thought I would have to run. Knocking over incense burners and bags of organic dog treats, crashing through the line at the falafel stand. My heart hurt.

It helped when, after considering for a moment, I decided that this particular stranger's stained-glass doodads were cheap-looking and ugly. Thinking that, I could proceed.

* * * * *

Later that afternoon, Mecca. Powell's, where to my complete incomprehension I had never previously been. And seriously, what the hell? Why didn't Dad ever take me to Powell's, summers when I was bored out of my skull in La Center? He would have earned points for eons, would still be redeeming points with me from beyond the grave. Missed opportunity, Dad.

Anyway. There's a smell that good bookstores have, a clean papery scent of books that is definitely not to be confused with the musty funk of used books left to mildew in the basement. Powell's smells wonderful. "Have I died?" I wondered to myself, and for two and a half hours I was one of those people kicking the plastic shopping basket ahead of me across the linoleum, unwilling to lift it the entire time. I did have a pre-programmed boundary, in that I had to be able to carry it all back on the damn train. That helped me to get out with my life and only $150 in the hole, hilarious water bottle included: pretty damn decent.

I did find myself getting verklempt (for the second time that day) in the children's section, where I hadn't even intended to go--I wandered down the pink staircase instead of up the purple one, or something, and there I was. It stretched on for half a block in front of me, shelves almost higher than I could reach, and oh, oh, all the books. I've written before about how I was constantly being hustled out of the public library or the tiny mall bookstore as a kid--not because the adults in my life were cruel, but because they were unfortunate grownups with boring grownup shit to do. So, the sight of a children's book section larger than my house made me actually tear up a bit. I wanted nothing more than to go back through time to my ten-year-old self, hand her a $100 bill, and say "Meet me here in two hours. Have fun. Go!"

I'll just have to make up for le temps perdu.


Some Bloke said...

You.. had.. never.. been.. to.. Powells?!

Heck, even I have been three multiple times. And I live in Ireland.

N said...

I love Powells...have only been a couple of times in person...nearly broke the bank...but visit their website all the time and browse...ah...Powells.

chicklegirl said...

Loved this post. It was like being in your back pocket for the trip. And I liked reading about your dad, so much that I followed the link back to the post about the grandpa-sun-catcher.

My only memories of Portland are attending a high school journalism conference there (where I apparently talked in my sleep about canaries, according to Holly and Monique), and when I won a $50 bet with Jim as we drove through Portland because he was convinced it was the Columbia that flowed through the city.