Tag Archives: Portland

The Surprise Party…

Sara sat outside with a just-prepared lunch of grilled cheese, and soon an hour had passed without any reason for her to return to the kitchen. That’s when she felt her phone vibrate against her thigh. She couldn’t ignore the call, because that would imply she was busy or away from the phone, and neither was true.

“Sara! So good to hear your voice.” It was Cindy’s sister, Mindy Gardner. They’d met during Sara’s freshman year of college when Cindy invited her to Thanksgiving with the Priors in Spokane. The then thirteen-year-old Mindy spent the holiday running around shouting the words “Mah-Na Mah-Na” at the top of her lungs. Cindy brought Mindy as her guest to Sara’s wedding in 2005, which probably explained why Mindy returned the favor when she married five years later. They’d exchanged only a few dozen words during that period, but Mindy spoke now as if there was a depth of intimacy between them.

“I’m a bad sister,” she whispered as though expecting Sara to dispense Hail Marys. Mindy had put the call on speaker, and a car horn would blare whenever her drive home from work steered toward the potentially fatal. She was a dentist, like her father, and a good portion of her client base were the children of his patients who’d moved to Portland as adults. “I’ve been planning this big birthday bash for Cindy-bon next Saturday and I’m way behind.”
The next Saturday was August 23, so the timing confused Sara. “Cindy was born on September 1,” she said.
“Yeah, but that’s actually Labor Day weekend. Rick and I are going down to Sunriver with another couple.” Mindy started to hum “Take a Chance on Me.” The impromptu hold music stopped once a thought occurred to her. “It’ll be a surprise party! Won’t that be fun?”
“Does Cindy like surprise parties?”
“Totally! Who doesn’t?”
Sara did not, but Mindy’s question was rhetorical, as evidenced by her moving on to the particulars of the party.
“Hey, so Cindy-bon tells me you’re like a chef at some Capitol Hill gastropub.”
The statement met the requirements of a simile but was otherwise inaccurate, so Sara repeated what she knew Cindy had actually told her sister.
“I work as a cook at a diner in the Central District.”

Mindy continued as though Sara had only confirmed what she’d said. “That’s awesome! Yeah, so you know, we renovated our kitchen last year, but I’m still kinda helpless in it, and my shorter, older sister deserves better than my cereal a la Mindy!”
Sara had lived apart from Matt for a couple months now, and during that time, she’d realized that the frustrating way he had of asking favors was not unique to him.
“Would you like my help with anything?” she asked.
Mindy shouted, “Woo-hoo. You’re a total rock star. When Cindy-bon and I throw parties together, she normally handles all the nuts and bolts: you know, food, prep, clean-up. I’ve got the invitation all saved and everything on Paperless Post, so I just need some help with what’s left.”


“Actually, have you ever used Paperless Post? I’m looking at it now on my iPad…” There was another loud honk. “…and the background design saved great, but the time is AM and not PM. I suppose people would know the difference, but you hate to chance it. Oh, and my address is wrong.”
“If you’d send me the link, I could take a look.” Sara was rushing her responses in order to bring the call to a conclusion, which was one reason why she avoided talking on the phone. It was easier for her to reflect on someone’s words and then prepare the right response over an email or text.
“Oh, you’re a lifesaver!” Mindy’s tires screeched as she suddenly slammed on her brakes. “I’d have my office manager fix it, but she starts getting all Occupy Portland if I even ask her to make me an AeroPress.”

— from “The Wrong Questions”

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Posted by on October 11, 2015 in The Wrong Questions


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Great piece in what was once The Oregonian about gentrification in Portland.

“We have both some bad history and limited history,” said State Rep. Lew Frederick, a Democrat who represents some of the Northeast Portland neighborhoods most changed or in the process of changing. “Most of the folks in Portland, the white folks, really do not interact with African Americans at all. When you start talking about this as a problem they go, ‘Where?’ because they don’t see it. They have no clue.”

Anna Griffin’s article is in response to recent statements Spike Lee made about gentrification in Brooklyn. One of the more irritating un-truisms New York publications like to repeat is that Portland is “Brooklyn without black people.” Of course, the Brooklyn that makes the pages of these New York publications is the “Brooklyn without black people.” It’s as “awash in hipsters” as Mississippi Avenue.

Gentrification’s effect on a city’s African-American population is often unspoken, but it’s interesting to note how they are an “In-Between Generation.” White Portland Boomers might have grown up in Northeast, but their Gen-X children were raised in the outer suburbs, and now those kids are returning to Alberta Street, after a fashion.

Prior to the attention Lee’s statements received, there was an interesting documentary on the subject called Gut Renovation.

By the way, I’m currently living in a gentrifying neighborhood in Seattle. As part of a biracial family, I never know if I’m part of what’s coming in or what’s going out.

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Posted by on March 7, 2014 in Social Commentary


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Today’s Weird Photo…

I’m not sure why someone thought this image, which popped up in my Facebook feed, would inspire me to eat anything. It looks like the trailer for either a remake of Little Shop of Horrors or Dr. Giggles.


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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Pop Life


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Ukulele Serenade…

photo(2) This lady was playing a ukulele outside the Black Cat cafe on Alberta Street in Portland. I offered a dollar, as her performance was more than competent. She graciously accepted but also requested some of my just-purchased coffee. I poured a little into the thimble-sized paper cup at her table. We talked a bit more and let me take her photo before I went on my way. She rejected the first but approved the second.

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Posted by on July 22, 2013 in Social Commentary


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Portland: Home of the Fresh Mouth

Portland , which is famous for its wine, coffee, and sugary, bacon-topped doughnuts, rejected a plan to add fluoride to the city’s water supply. However, they did embrace Ra’s al Ghul’s proposal to lace the water supply with the Scarecrow’s fear toxin. Portland likes to keep it weird.

“There’s a libertarian component to Oregon politics … a kind of opposition to what the establishment might want,” said Bill Lunch, a political science professor at Oregon State University.

I don’t think that’s “libertarianism” so much as being a teenager or that smelly guy at the coffee house who tries to force on you some rambling screed he wrote on looseleaf hemp.

What I found interesting about this vote is that the proposal had a great deal of support from the city’s “communities of color,” which means that the threshold for a community is three people and the tan lady with curly hair and green eyes who has everyone in the office wondering. Oh, and that this wasn’t happening all ready.

For the fourth time since 1956, Portlanders on Tuesday night rejected a plan to fluoridate city water, 60 percent to 40 percent.

Studies indicate that fluoridation reduces cavities and adults and children. Negative side effects are either cosmetic (i.e. fluorosis) or non-existent, crazy-talk conspiracy theories. Because so many other cities drink fluoridated water, there are decades of compelling evidence that it’s not harmful.

Cavities, though, are a long-term problem and expensive to correct (i.e. fillings, crowns, bridge work). However, in fairness, Portlanders can avoid most of that with proper oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist. By the way, is it too late for me to go to dental school?


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Criminal Minds: Portlandia…

I like to keep my Valentine’s Day celebrations simple and classic — beaten with clubs and stones, then beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate.

I wonder if Nikolas Harbar would give me a good deal on his Subaru provided he thoroughly disinfected it first.

Portland, Oregon couple Stephanie Pelzner and Nikolas Harbar are less traditional. They were arrested yesterday after giving police the mistaken impression that Pelzner was about to become the cold open victim in an episode of Criminal Minds. Not sure how they got that idea: Oh, right, a witness spotted Harbar, 31, putting a nude Pelzner, 26, into the back of his blue Subaru Legacy. According to the Daily Mail (where I get all my Portland news), Pelzner was “tied up and her mouth was covered with duct tape.”

My question is this: I’m considering purchasing a Subaru. Now, do I have to ask the previous owner if at any point some woman’s naked ass was in direct contact with where I intend to put my groceries? Or is that a given and I should just go with a Ford hybrid?

The media, both foreign and domestic, seem intent on referring to either the couple as “kinky” or their actions as “kinky.” The latter, more conservative choice probably stems from the journalistic tenant that one kinky act does not officially categorize someone as “kinky.” You need a bit more proof — evidence of strange oils in the home, subscription to Cinemax beyond the freebie month they occasionally give you, porn brazenly downloaded in plain sight on the computer and not hidden away in a folder lamely titled “So Not Porn.”

The story has prompted dozens of comments on the Portland Police Bureau’s Facebook page, many of them critical of the decision by officers to arrest the couple.

What was the police supposed to do? They’ve probably seen Criminal Minds. No one wants to be the local Barney Fife deputy who lets the sadistic serial killer go. You got Shemar Moore and the stringy-haired genius looking at you like you’re stupid: “So, when you stopped the car, you heard, ‘Help me, somebody please help me’ coming from the trunk but you didn’t detain the unsub?” “Well, he told me it was just his iPod playing ‘DMSR’ by Prince. Good song, you know.”

Was it worth arresting the couple when it was clear the only crime that had been committed was against common decency? The police say yes:

‘The concern is their actions created a pretty substantial public alarm, to the point where you have a 911 caller saying she’s concerned about this person tied up naked in the back of a car,’ Lt Robert King, a police spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times.

Seems sensible. Maybe they could give out “kinky” licenses, so everyone knows they’re on the up and up. It could be a shield in the image of David Wu, Oregon’s former tiger-suit wearing Congressional representative. When you describe what you’ve seen to 911, they’ll ask, “Did you notice a Wu stamp on the suspect’s person or vehicle?” “Yes, yes I did, now that you mention it.” “OK, then it was just a standard Tiger Suit 420. Nothing to worry about. Carry on.”

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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Social Commentary


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Grooming Quest 2012…

My last haircut was November 14, 2011. My hair grows very quickly so I currently resemble Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington from “Welcome Back, Kotter.”

"Hi there!"

My mother would not be pleased with this development. Growing up, she insisted on a strict grooming regimen — haircut once a month, a trim every other week. She was also rather strict when it came to hairstyles — nothing trendy because you always regretted it later when you looked at old photos of yourself. “Same haircut your whole life” was her theory. “Same wig you’ll deny wearing your whole life” was her practice.

I veered from her instructions on one notable occasion. My barber, who sounded and smelled as if he’d taken a hit from a bong five minutes before my appointment, suggested “trying out” a new idea of his on me. Yeah, that’s how ignorant I was. I let the guy, who was barely competent when not high, use me as his guinea pig. I left the barber’s with what he called an “eggshell” — no hair around the sides and a zig-zag “eggshell” pattern on top.

When I got in the car, my father turned on the engine in silence and pulled out of the parking lot. A few miles later, he finally spoke: “What did your mother tell you?”

I lowered my head. “Same haircut your whole life.”

I felt bad for my father. My mother was basically CEO of Robinson LLC, and she’d delegated to my father the task of taking me to the barber. Despite years of more than adequate service in that role, once she saw my “eggshell” haircut, it was obvious that he’d be restricted to simply mowing the lawn and jiggling the TV antenna outside to get better reception.

After I graduated from college and moved to New York, I abandoned my mother’s strict haircutting schedule for

I might need a haircut but I'm never going back to one of these places again.

the more relaxed “every once in a while.” If I started to get too bushy, I would apply a fistful of styling product to my hair and simply comb it away from my head. This would usually buy me a couple more weeks.

When I did break down and get a haircut, I would frequent the barber colleges, where for just $6, you could almost lose an ear. Once, a particularly nervous student was working on my hair for about half an hour when his teacher stopped to have a look. He recoiled in terror and when I asked what was wrong, he said – his face bone white, “Oh, nothing. It’s… uhm, coming along.”

Then I worked up to the $10 barber chains where you’d point to outdated photos of recent parolees on a laminated value menu and say, “I’d like the number 2.” These were the kind of places that gave you a free hat with every haircut.

Occasionally, I’d stumble into seedy dives that reminded me of the “hospitals” that hoods in gangster movies went to because a real doctor would have to report their bullet wounds to the police — flickering, bare light bulb swinging from the ceiling, cries of agony from the back room, the barber/surgeon swigging whiskey from a flask before offering you some.

More than once, I’d receive the sort of butchering for which the only remedy was “an emergency haircut.” This is when you wake up the next day looking like a blind blues musician with the DTs cut your hair. No amount of hair gel can salvage it, so you race to the closest barber and say through your tears, “Look, I don’t care what this costs or what you have to do, but I can’t go on looking like this.”

The one thing these places all had in common was that they didn’t take appointments and if they did, it didn’t matter because you still wound up waiting for about an hour at best. It was like a doctor’s office but the only magazines were “Ebony” and “Jet.”

It wasn’t until I was almost 30 that I discovered true, professional hair salons. I went to John Allan’s in midtown Manhattan for about three years. It was styled as a “gentleman’s club” where you could play billiards and drink a beer before your appointment or smoke a cigar while getting a manicure. I’d written a magazine article about John Allan’s, as well as the Paul Labrecque salon, so I was extended an “Editor’s Rate” that was just a few dollars more than the clown college barbershops but included a manicure, shoe shine, and competence. A trip to the barber was no longer a chore but a pleasant experience.

When John Allan’s technical director, Jesse Sweet (coolest name ever, by the way) left the salon, things began to go downhill. I saw a parade of female stylists, who while more attractive than Jesse were not as skilled. I was already on the fence about continuing there when I made an appointment at Paul Labrecque for a “deep scalp conditioning” treatment. This had worked wonders on my hair when I had it as part of the “research” for my story. It transformed me from Shaggy to Billy Dee. So, a return visit was my Christmas gift to myself. And that’s how I met Misti.

The only way to describe Misti to ask you to imagine your closest friend — how she’s always there for you, how she listens to your problems, comforts you in times of stress, opens her home and her heart to you and expects nothing in return. Now, the only difference is that your friend is just a friend and Misti is an amazing hairstylist. Believe me, the latter is far harder to find.

I knew halfway through our first session that I was never going back to John Allan’s. I lingered at the door for a moment before working up the nerve to ask her, “So, do you also cut men’s hair, Misti?”

“Men’s hair exclusively, actually,” she replied. “Sometimes women’s hair if it’s slow. Would you like me to cut your hair, Stephen?”

“Yes. Yes, I would.” A brief moment of doubt crept up: “You don’t use clippers, do you?”

“No way. I only use scissors.”

I knew we’d get along just fine.

Misti was punctual and cordial in the most Southern California way possible, but the best thing about Misti was her silence. I don’t enjoy conversation when I’m in the barber chair or really any other kind of chair. She even shampooed my hair for me rather than allow her chatty assistant to do it. During the Sighting of My First Gray Hair, Misti said nothing. She just leaned in close and whispered, “Looks like you have a stray hair here. Just a stray hair. I’ll just pluck it out. There, all gone.”

We went on this way — hairstylist and her incredibly vain client — until 6:37 p.m. on October 12, 2008 when Misti announced that she was moving, and… and… I’m sorry, I thought I could talk out it.

Misti’s chatty assistant was promoted to stylist. She was awful and strangely antisemitic. While trying to zone out during one of her never-ending monologues, I heard her comment about her upcoming wedding.

“So, it’s gonna be small, you know. Not too big. I’m not some rich Jew.”

I thought I misheard her — sort of like the “Jew, eat!” or “did you eat?” confusion from “Annie Hall.” Yet, the next time I was there, she started in again.

“I told my fiance – we gotta keep it simple. Not some big affair like the rich Jews would have.”

“Wait a minute,” I interrupted, suddenly remembering something else she’d rambled on about previously. “What’s your fiance’s name?”

“Isaac Goldstein. You know him?”

“No. Do you?”

It's probably time for a haircut.

I immediately switched stylists, preferring one without a shaved head or a white hood. For the past three years, my stylist was Pirrko, the salon’s artistic director. Originally from Finland, she divides her time now between Las Vegas and New York. She was actually the first person to give me the “deep scalp conditioning” treatment and I recall her saying, “Some men come in, they want to talk. Sometimes they don’t want to say a word and I understand completely.” That was just what I needed.

Pirrko cut my hair before the week before my wedding. She also introduced a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding the increasing number of “stray” hairs that Misti had battled. It wasn’t necessarily an “emergency haircut” but the approach was similar — “Do whatever it takes but we won’t discuss it.”

I said farewell to Pirrko in July of last year. During my travels in Europe, I had my hair cut in Vienna (“nicht schlecht”), Paris (“adéquates”), and Florence (“meraviglioso”). Did I hope to find Misti behind the barber chair at those salons? No, because I’m not a crazy person. However, now I’m back in the states and it’s time to move on. A friend has referred me to a salon in Portland. Unfortunately, the appointment is in two weeks, so my wife will have to put up with “Boom Boom” for a little while longer.


Posted by on January 13, 2012 in Pop Life, Social Commentary


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The War Against Thanksgiving…

There is much complaint of late that the Christmas season seems to start the day after Halloween, effectively preempting Thanksgiving. The National Retail Federation (yes, that’s real) officially declares November 1 the beginning of all the “Santa Claus, ho-ho-ho and mistletoe, and presents to pretty girls” that Sally told Schroeder about in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

However, the Nordstrom store in Portland, Oregon is resisting the early call of the holidays and has declared Christmas music off-limits until the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday because that was the day African-Americans got to celebrate after spending the actual holiday serving the guests at the Thanksgiving dinner scenes in Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters.”

That’s somewhat unfortunate because there are no real Thanksgiving tunes — not even a “Monster Mash.” I can understand not wanting to hear the more overtly Christmas songs such as “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World,” or “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” until a half hour before midnight on December 25 (my preference), but we could all use more exposure to “Last Christmas” or “Do They Know It’s Christmas” or “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” — it’s been a Christmas ritual of mine since 1986 to watch Darlene Love perform the latter on David Letterman’s show each year.

Thanksgiving has also produced a paucity of seasonally themed movies or TV show episodes. Old men don’t suddenly see the error of their ways and start down a path of redemption on Thanksgiving. They just watch football and occasionally tell a racist joke before falling asleep on the couch.

The exceptions are few — I plan to download the 1986 Thanksgiving episode of “Cheers” — a classic half hour of comedy, and I preferred spending Thanksgiving with the cast of “Friends” than with anyone else from 1994 to 2003.

Otherwise, much like the Charlie Brown specials, Thanksgiving on a cultural basis ranks behind Halloween and Christmas, and given the economy, there might be a lot of cold cereal and toast instead of turkey and stuffing on the menu.

The challenge for Thanksgiving is that there’s nothing really special about it — no crass commercialism of Christmas, which is what the U.S. does best, and no excuse to dress up and over-indulge on candy like Halloween. It’s basically a dinner party. You can do that any day of the year — especially if Woody Allen loaned you the black maids from “Hannah and Her Sisters” to help with the cooking and clean-up.

I think the problem is not that Christmas starts too early, it’s that it ends too soon. Is there anything more depressing than January with the decomposing tree in the corner, the discarded toys on the floor, and the stack of bills on the coffee table? It’s cold outside but not in the sexy way of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” but in the “I can’t believe it’s snowing again. How am I going to get to work?” way.

So, I say push Christmas back to January 25th. This will allow Thanksgiving to embrace its fate in the natural order as the opening act to Christmas while still maintaining some of its dignity. It will add some much-needed juice to January. You can even do one better and make New Year’s Eve February 13. If you go the right party, your loved one will have such a hangover the next morning, you won’t have to worry about Valentine’s Day.

It might surprise people who know me to find me promoting Christmas in any way, but frankly, the religious aspect of it has long been abandoned. Santa Claus is Alec Baldwin’s character in “Glengarry Glen Ross” deriding Jesus’s Dave Moss: “Last year, I had a million guys dressed as me and twice as many TV specials. What did you have? See, that’s who I am. And you’re nothing.”

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Posted by on November 12, 2011 in Social Commentary


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