Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Nice Place to Raze a Family

In the town where I grew up, when someone said, "Mortie can't trade on the stockmarket because of his convictions," the word convictions did not refer to high morals.

Quite the opposite.

I swear, there was a period during my childhood when more than one member of the volunteer board of our synagogue was facing federal charges. Insider trading, tax evasion, and of course arson, aka "Jewish lightning" (which, unlike regular lightning, can strike the same place twice, although that does make the insurance adjusters somewhat suspicious). Our neighbors were regularly accused of the sort of crimes that got you sentenced to what we referred to as Congressman's Prison.

A nice white collar, minimum-security facility where you could practice your golf and make new business contacts.

There's an episode of The Sopranos in which Meadow tells her brother AJ what their father does for a living. Dad's in waste management AJ insists. Look around, Meadow replies How many garbagemen live in houses like this?

Where I grew up, the answer was PLENTY.

Believe me, you could barely park a refuse truck between all the Caddies and the Porsches in those three car garages, Dix Hills was so high class.

But that was in the days before HBO made the mob seem glam. When it came to fame, we were limited to Karate Kid Ralph Macchio and assorted members of the hockey playing Islanders.

Until a thriving boom beat changed the world.

Rap music might have been born in the ghetto, but when it made it big, it hauled it's diamond bling-encrusted assets out to the 'burbs.

LL Cool J moved into the neighborhood sometime after I graduated from high school. Every visit back to see the family was celebrated with a cruise down Roundtree Drive past his (I am not making this up) gold picket fence.

There goes the neighborhood, indeed.

Imagine the rappers trying to acclimate to their new upper middle class suburban digs. Leaning over the gold picket fence to chat up the neighbors. Would they talk about the PTA elections or P-Diddy's indictments? Were they comparing notes on the relative cost of braces versus dental grills?

Not to worry, according to today's paper (and yes, it was in the Oregonian, though I'm sure those crack journalists at Newsday broke the story).

Dateline, Dix Hills: A Bissel Gelt and A Lot of Jewish Lightning
The Dix Hills home owned by 50 Cent that was gutted by a suspicious fire is at the center of a contentious legal battle between the rapper and his former girlfriend.

The early morning blaze destroyed the 5,200-square-foot home at Sandra Drive within minutes. Six people who were inside, including the rapper's ex-girlfriend, Shaniqua Tompkins, and the former couple's son, Marquise, 11, were treated for minor injuries.

The fire came Friday as 50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, and Tompkins, 32, were embroiled in a battle for the six-bedroom house, which the rapper bought in January 2007 for $2.4 million.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Long Weekend of Aquarius

How often do you get directions to a friend's house that include the phrase, Turn right at the donkey?

If you're like me, the answer is Not often enough!

Luckily, I was able to ameliorate this deficit with a weekend trip to Scappoose to visit my friend Toni (though you may prefer to think of her as Heidi).

It was a journey not just in distance (although at 28 biked miles from Portland, the distance was notable).

It was a journey back in time, thanks to Toni's very special dom-icile.

The dome has all the modern conveniences, circa 1978.

Because what if you are in kitchen making dinner, and the goats are up in the sleeping loft watching the latest episode of the Partridge Family and you need to tell them to come down to eat. . .

why scream Hey kids, the cheese fondue is ready at the top of your lungs, when you can just intercom-municate throughout your hemispheric home using the latest technology?

The dome also has a lovely picture window in the living room.

Which offers a nice view out to the mini-me geodesic-garage.

Yes, once upon a time, someone hiked into what was then 20 acres of untouched woods, felled the trees to clear their own housing site, and then decided to build the garage with the same prominence and proximity to the house as it would have in any suburban subdivision.

Still, it was very pastoral. Beautiful, relaxing. Filling, too, because Toni cooked us a rather awesome dinner.

But being out in the country always feels a little spooky to me. Like any true New Yorker, I associate any nature too large to be mown with the serial-killers-gone-amok of Stephen King novels.

And, though I didn't want to insult Toni's hospitality by mentioning it, sure enough — as soon as the sun started to set, an evil spirit seemed at hand. At big hand.
Buckacabra, futurist goat sucker

Still, I had a great time, and would recommend it to anyone. Just turn right at the donkey, and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Triplets of Trouble

Perhaps you've never heard the phrase triplets of trouble. Quite likely, as I just made it up. Unless maybe you know someone whose infertility treatments were a little too successful - but that's not the kind of triplets I mean.

Cultures develop their own genres for expressing what really matters most to them.

In Japanese literature, it's seventeen delicate sounds (or, as we English speakers have it, syllables) of seasonal celebration: Haiku.

In Irish folk form, it's five lines of AABBA bawdy humor: Limerick

In American news media, it's three words of horrific import: Triplets of Trouble.

My squeeze the Cheez and I noticed this last category some dozen or so years back. Specifically, we noticed the tendency for crap news reporting (as found in most newspapers, all local TV news, and any news radio peppered with ads for things like how to erase your debt) to fall back on its own set of three-word clichés.

You don't even have to follow the story to the end to know the news is bad once the phrase parking lot altercation or strange flu-like symptoms or disgruntled former employee is bandied about. These stories are ubiquitous (ubiquitous being the SAT word for when a freaky news phenomenon is so widespread it's not even restricted to Germany or Florida).

I hadn't thought about the triplets of trouble for years. Until yesterday. When the O, as our hOmetOwn paper, the Oregonian, is affectiOnately knOwn, reported (ooh, I just mistyped that as repeated, which is actually appropriate, since like everything else in the damn paper except maybe the Tailgate sports blog, this story was off the AP wire) a prison yard melee.

How could we have overlooked that one for so long?

To honor this exciting season of updating the triplets of trouble list, I penned the following:

Prison yard melee
parking lot altercation
for the imprisoned

I thought that was a better tack to take than the one that started
There once was a prisoner with bum luck

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Frisco v Frisky

They're usually nice. Helpful. Memories of 1967 still linger in the Bay Area, and people are a little goofy for my East Coast taste. But, thank God, they don’t take themselves very seriously.
- Erin Geld praising San Francisco hipsters over Brooklyn hipsters on Newsweek online.

Nice? Helpful? Not taking ourselves seriously? She might be confusing SF with Portland.
San Francisco hipster blog mocking Geld

Sure, during today's Pretty Dress Bike Parade you might have momentarily mistaken Alberta '08 for Haight '68 . . . if you easily confuse a well-vented bike helmet for a well-loved tab of acid.

But tonight, I discovered a true and tangible difference between San Francisco and Portland.
Is that a Mondrian on your socks or are you happy to see me?

Those are, respectively, the feet of political satirist Will Durst and of queer author Marc Acito, both of whom were guests on Live Wire tonight. During his time onstage, Durst cited the unintentional humor in Senator Hilary Clinton's condemnation of George W Bush: "I find it inconceivable that a sitting President of the United States would lie to me."

Not to be undone regarding the road to humor being paved with un-intentions, during his time onstage, Acito recalled how he unintentionally felt up Chelsea Clinton.

So when we were all shmoozing after the show, I asked if he wanted to add Durst to his list of politico-celebrity boob jobs.

Of course he did. So much for No Socks leading to No Service.

"I'm honored to be mentioned in the same breath as Chelsea Clinton," Durst proclaimed.

"I think you mean, in the same breast," I corrected.

Wasn't that nice and helpful of me?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Stolen Moments from Stumptown

How very special Portland is.

Where else can you turn Craniometry, that skullduggery of 19th century scientific racism

My what a big cranial cavity you have.
The easier to cram in notions of racial superiority.

into a progressive 21st century business model?

Dude, our custom bike building business is sooooo enviro/eco positive/car free/locally owned

Lucky for your devoted blogger, these talented artisans are too cheap to have their own office. Thus they were measuring this woman in a local cafe this weekend, when I happened by in my usual Karl Malden
don't leave home without it mode - if Karl Malden were talking about digital cameras.

And I was glad to have my digital camera when I stopped by the
Hip Mama Mother's Day party.

It was in a strange warehouse-y space. The kind of space that just happened to have a Barack
v. Hillary-themed kissing booth.

One day millennia hence archaeologists will dig smelly, hippie relics out of the warehouse rubble and wonder about the meaning of this strange petroglyph.

Lest you think this blog entry – not to mention this city – is overly obsessed with bicycling, I assure you the Hip Mama party provided ample evidence of other interests.

Like unicycling.

In certain suburbs, parents worry that if there kid isn't playing league soccer by age 4, the kid is never going to make it. Here in Portland we don't buy into that whole pressuring kids into league sports too early thing.

Heck no.
We have far nobler priorities.

Hence, the unicycle with training wheels.

There were other methods of transit represented as well.

What silent auction item do you get the lesbian Hip Mama who has everything?

The Playmobil horse ranch, of course!

I believe it was that Frank Sinatra who sang it best:

Horses and lesbians, horses and lesbians
Go together like a horse and carriage.

Or perhaps I am thinking of Phranc Sinatra.

If you're not willing to pony up to an Equestra-Sapphic ride, fear not. We do have motor vehicles here.

Check out this seventeen month-old poster that was on the warehouse wall (trust me, it is worth clicking on the image to get the enlarged version).

What is most scary is not that someone has a silver exterior, orange and pink interior Dead Letter Truck complete with wings, tail, and home-made electrical (which presumably that means it runs not on the more familiar, mass-produced AC or DC but on the homemade BC — as in Betty Crocker).

Nor that someone else would actually covet this vehicle enough to steal it.

What is most scary is that I actually HAVE seen the Dead Letter Truck, sometime in early 2007 - it was parked around the corner from my house on and off for a couple of months. If only I had encountered this hippie poster in time, I might have callled the pollice and they coulld have apprehended the culllprit.

Possibly earning me a cameo in Grand Theft Auto IV.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Baboo Paneer

Before moving to Portland, I thought the only people still driving 1987 Chevy Caprice wagons were the Hassidic Jews of LA.

This ride is enormously popular with them, mostly because being the Mormons of Jews, they all have 14 kids.

Not that following 613 commandments AND parenting 14 kids leaves much time for caprices. But it does mean you need some mammoth-mobile for hauling all the little Moishes and Sarahs about town.
Trust me, if you are taken out by a driver on Fairfax Boulevard, it will be someone with a covered head and a faux-wood paneled wagon.

My low-Hassid life in Portland meant a dearth of Chevy Caprice wagon sightings. Until Justin and Holly moved in up the block. With their Baboo.

The Baboo was once Justin's mother's car. Then it was Justin's crazy young dude ride. He's a drummer, and it was the band car. He and Holly, who met in college, moved across country, and it was their u-and-me-forever-haul. It lived up and down the west coast. By the time we met it, it was barely moving.

I'm not the sort of neighbor who complains that the car you've got parked in front of my house is an eyesore. But the neighbors in front of whose house the Baboo was often parked were.

And then there were those mean people with their officious power-mad ways. The ones who ticket you just because your ride isn't *street legal.* As though the Baboo didn't rise above the law, answering to a higher code. You know, like Batman.

If Batman has faux wood paneling and maybe burned a little oil tooling around town.

There comes a time at which youth is truly over. Was it graduating from med school? Finishing the residency? Being a full-fledged doctor? Buying the house? Having the kid? Having kid number two on the way?

No. It was the tragic realization that the Baboo was a moldy, rusty, smog-check-failing relic of a once glorious past. So this weekend, friends and family gathered to send her out with style.

In the great Irish tradition (Think May the road debase itself with you), I recited a farewell limerick:

There was a sweet ride named Baboo
A hoopty beloved and true
Twas Justin's long cherishèd
Until Holly said:

Get rid of that car or we're through

Which, btw, is pretty much why he is finally parting with the wonder wagon - Holly is pretty much in "justifiable homicide" range if that car isn't gone this week.

But knowing we all want a little something to remember the dearly departed by, my squeeze the Cheez and I made up some souvenirs of what we imagined to be the Baboo's farewell tour.

Vive le Baboo

Look on the Baboo and tremble, ye Mongol hordes

Stonehenge, where the demons dwell,
Where the banshees drive, and they do drive well

What creature rolls on four wheels in the morning . . .

Can we get an extra order of naan with the Baboo Paneer?

That's one way to keep the keg cold

One small station wagon for man, one giant Baboo for mankind

In point of fact, the Baboo's final tour was a little shorter than this. It involved being rolled up into a neighbor's driveway, where it probably leaked a myriad of motor fluids, for the duration of the party.

But the Baboo wasn't the only one of us who is past our prime. We're all older than we used to be. So old, not a single party goer was so drunk s/he had to crash in the Baboo. Zey gezunt, caprices of youth!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

What Good Is Sitting Alone In Your Room?

Last weekend, I was the Mistress of Ceremonies at Cabaret Boris and Natasha at Performance Works Northwest.

Guess whom I took as my inspiration!

No, not Joel Grey.

Nor Liza Minelli.

Not even Boris and Natasha.

Wait, I mean, not even THIS Boris and Natasha:

All of these might have been good sources. But not for me.

Because there is one cabaret show that was truly formative for my generation.

It had the glamor of the performance and the camaraderie of backstage shenanigans.

It was the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational . . . muppetational -- it is what we call the Muppet Show.
In the grand tradition of cornier-than-ethanol-in-August Fozzy Bear, I introduced every single act by telling knock-knock jokes, based on the name of each performer in the act. That would be
  • Anne
  • Jenn
  • Margretta
  • Scott
  • Jef
  • Kelvin
  • Chuck
  • Bill
  • Sunny
  • Kaj-Anne
  • and what the hell, I threw in Boris and Natasha, too
Early in the show I also made a joke about a sax act - meaning of course saxophone. But the two post-intermission acts emphasized a different kind of saxuality. Both were about queer identity.

You might think that would make the Muppet Show a not exactly apt model. But really, it turns out there was a lot of homuppetry going on in that show.

And I don't just mean these two Quentin Crisp wannabees.

Note the similarities between Portland's very own Kaj-Anne Pepper, as seen in Cabaret Boris and Natasha, and Mr. Elton John, as seen on the Muppet Show.
I don't think it was him and Suzy who were having so much fun, if you know what I mean.

As for Fozzy, well, who knows what he was knock-knockin' around with, once he had on his elegant elbow gloves.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

On the Rocks

Confession: I spent last weekend at a fantasy camp.

Ladies Rock Camp, to be specific.

But you must understand, my fantasy isn't to be Mick Jagger or Jon Bon Jovi.

Nor is it to be Joan Jett or Patti Smith.

My fantasy is to be an 8 year old attending Rock Camp for Girls, an oh-so-Portland nonprofit that teaches girls self-esteem by teaching them to rock out.

Who wants a tour bus full of Jim Beam
when you can have a Volvo wagon full of
juice boxes?

The premise of LRC is that you show up on Friday, and spend three days learning to play an instrument, forming a band, writing a song, and then performing it in a bona fide rock club. Not necessarily in that order.

This being LRC, the instruction progresses well beyond the usual chord progressions. For example, we were advised that if you want to swear on stage but are concerned about the children in the audience (of which there were many, the proud offspring of various campers), you can swear backwards.

Imagine NWA attending LRC, then rapping Kcuf the police! Kcuf that tihs!

Being a fundraiser, LRC isn't cheap — $350 for tuition. As we sat down to dinner on the first night, one of the campers said she planned to eat $350 worth of food. Which it turns out, we all did.

This is how the world would be if it were run by chicks: breakfast, followed by snacks, cleared away for lunch, followed by snacks, cleared away for dinner, followed by popcorn during the movie.

Not only did they make me a rockstar, they fed me a lifetime's worth of vegan reubens. I am sure this is just how things go when Motley Crüe is on the road.

As my dear friend Rachel, a stay at home mother of three who came all the way from LA for LRC, said at the Saturday night party There is pizza, beer, cupcakes, and karaoke with dancing. This is the best party I have ever been to. She sighed. If only this were the 70s, I wouldn't go back home to my husband and kids.

I reminded her that in the 70s, there was no karaoke.

We have traded women's liberation for the ability to have every last lyric for singing along with the Charlie Daniels Band.

Which I did, in a very moving rendition of The Devil Went Out to Portland.

We formed bands by standing under the sign for the genre that most interested us. My band, which we named Sensitive Teeth, met up under the Indie sign. And it turns out we were very indie, inasmuch as we played independent of each other, both in terms of notes and of tempo.

Our bass player, aka my neighbor Holly, was six months pregnant. I knew right there the audience would love us. A pregnant lady playing guitar is funny. A pregnant lady playing bass is several inches funnier.

Rachel, our guitarist, didn't take to the rock star persona right off. Initially she wasn't sure she even wanted to stand up for the duration of our song. Sometimes I just turn the volume down so I can play without messing up the band she confessed.

But then Tera, LRC counselor extraordinaire, gave Rachel this single word of guitar playing instruction:

Suffice it to say: Rachel stood. She swung. She rocked it out of the park.

I signed on for keyboards, figuring that all my years of playing accordion had me half way there.

X 2 hands =

Partway through Sensitive Teeth's second rehearsal, we were already so rock and roll we invented our own rock lingo:

Stolo (verb) \ˈstō-(ˌ)lō\: to take an unauthorized solo.

By the time we hit the Satyricon for our show on Sunday, I had coined a second, related term

Stolio (verb) \ˈstō-(ˌ)lē-ō\: to take an unauthorized solo because you've been sipping too much vodka out of your leopard hip flask.

Because our song was a tribute to Lucy Van Pelt, my solo was sampled from Schroeder of the Peanuts. Which maybe is not the hugest musical achievement in the world, but I did transpose it from the key of C to the key of E all by myself. And E has more sharps than that little red container in the bathroom of the free clinic.

So I am proud. And loud. Because like they say at Rock Camp for Girls, We Put the Amp in Camp