Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Portland RFD

What makes this city different from all others?For starters, there was the story in today's paper about the quintessential Portland crime: Two twenty-somethings scaled the Morrison Bridge to protest climate change by unfurling a spray painted bed sheet.

How was it the quintessential Portland crime?

Was it the fact that they had full mountain-climbing gear? That they gave themselves up without any resistance, as the crowd of passersby literally applauded their gesture? That they will be sentenced to community service?

No, non, and nyet. It was that the photo in the Oregonian accompanying the story was of the firefighter who climbed up after the protesters, untied the sheet, then folded it and gave it back to them.

As if it isn't nauseatingly sweet enough that a fellow Portlander will stop you if you've dropped your wallet, left your iPod, or otherwise accidentally offloaded something of value. Now the uniformed guardians of public safety will hand you back the instrument with which you have committed a crime.

Of course, we do have violent crimes here, just like any big city. A couple years ago, my squeeze the Cheez was visiting a friend in Los Angeles, from whence he reported to me, courtesy of the cellular telephone machine, on their evening activities:

John and I were in his backyard, enjoying a drink. It was a beautiful evening, warm weather, garden abloom, a full moon ... against which I noticed the silhouette of the LAPD chopper.

Turns out, one of John's neighbors was dealing drugs. Another neighbor called the police. The drug dealing neighbors responded by throwing a Molatov cocktail through the house of the diligent 911 dialers.

I couldn't have felt a greater synergy if I were Tina Brown spewing buzzwords circa 1998. Because it turns out that same day, we had a shaker full of Molotov cocktail here, too.

Of course, in Portland the Molotov cocktail was thrown through the window of an about-to-open Starbucks, by someone concerned about how locally-owned business would suffer upon the arrival of the mean, green, mega-mocha machine.

It's amazing we don't all have eczema, we're so sensitive here.

All this small town sweetness still feels a little weird to me. I grew up in what you might call a tony neighborhood. If by tony neighborhood you mean a neighborhood where there were a lot of guys named Tony. And no shortage of pepperoni, Camaros, and that ever-present miasma of Paco Rabanne.

My young friend Mary lives in that other kind of tony neighborhood, the kind where you don't usually see your neighbors, just their gardeners. So I wondered what she would think when she came to visit Portland this past week.

On her previous visit here, Mary was three years old and referred to her parents' bright red rental car as Elmo. Now Mary is ten years old, and referred to the teens hanging on Hawthorne as Emo.

But her most Portland experience happened downtown, as far as I can tell somewhere around Pizza Shmizza.

Even I am susceptible to performing acts of aggressive thoughtfulness. Last Thursday, I found myself standing at the Walgreen's picking up a photo order, and the clerk noticed I was holding a stack of paper.
Passing out flyers? she asked.

Yes I said, showing her the Breeders and Feeders headline as I explained that our neighbors just had a baby, and I was organizing the bring-a-casserole patrol.

When did I become this wholesome? I wondered aloud.

That's how it is now the Walgreen's clerk commiserated cheerfully. It's a return to old-fashioned ways.

She smiled with delight at this Mayberry-worthy behavior, the bright Walgreen's floresence bouncing off her Goth-black hair and making her in-one-nostril-and-out-the-other nose ring gleam.

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