You can say that I was a bit determined to leave.
Leave for months.
Spiritually I was long gone….
Damn the iced over streets.
Maybe I was ready to leave the same day I arrived there?
Sometimes you don’t want to visibly admit or account for your mistakes. Some people live full lifetimes never exactly rectifying the errors of their ways. They shackle themselves to false gods and stew more resents towards their own inaction and reluctant rooting that poison all the soil around them. In some ways none of us can escape that reality as it poisons the soil all around us. If it’s in the soil, then it gets into the water table, and cycles in and out of the cycle of properly hydrating yourself. You can’t help that it gets into you cells so deeply.
I think everyone and their mother knew there’d come a time that I’d come to process the 12 and a half months I spent living in and around Portland, Oregon. Social Media, in its distorted diary way leaves behind enough evidence of a year lost in literal woods. I have plenty of “diary entries” to question and offer compassion retrospectively to myself. I’m yet another victim of my own whims sailing on the stormy seas of society.
In hindsight I still reckon with the choice I made when it seemed I had so few options on the table. It was the easiest “risk.” I quickly came to say Portland was more or less Sacramento with Trees really early on. I still, more than a month onwards stick to that statement. The more I said it, the more I said it with a snarl, to cut through the trunk thick hubris of those that look at RIP City as some wondrous Fantasia.
It is, after all, just a city on a confluence of a couple of rivers, something that happens all over the globe in all sorts of river valley systems. Yes, there’s a few sterling mountain peaks in the distance, both still burbling with the threat of blowing their lids at some point. Then there’s the looming Cascadia Earthquake that threatens to tear apart every Pendleton Button up and crush every Subaru Outback within a 500 mile radius. There’s a lot of natural, supernatural and unnatural reason why everyone is always drunk and stoned there, I realized.
When I pulled the trigger on Portland, I still say it was with a large slab of pragmatism. Rent is a real deal, and 2 years of making ends meet on $35,000 a year income, I couldn’t realistically afford to live in Oakland anymore without a primary job and living off of Unemployment and a DJ gig here, a print sale there and ever so often people trusting me to guide their lives through whatever Astrological Crisis they might be encountering.
It also wasn’t like I didn’t know Portland (or Seattle, or the Pacific Northwest as a whole threatening unit) in general. Yes, I knew Black Folks weren’t allowed in the state until 1926. I had seen North/Northeast Portland go from the smattering of suspicious of my presence Black folks in 2014 to middle class Subaru and now yikes Tesla Model S driving white people by 2018 with bi-yearly visits. It’s amazing how fast the ‘progress’ of our newfangled planned obsolescence happens. There’s a frank conversation that we have to continue to have about the parasitic nature of suburban culture threatening to euthanize the rich biodiversity of our landscapes.
Is it too late? Most anywhere, those resourced can move somewhere that requires less resources to navigate space so they can maintain, if not build on their resources even more in urban cores. No matter where I picture myself, there’s going to be the threat of it until this societal model collapses. If for whatever reason or benefit I decide to shrug off urban or first-rung suburban life, there’s the reality of being somewhere where no one can hear me among the various dangers of dial-up (if lucky) internet, fervent evangelical conservatism, the opiate crisis….the list goes on and on. Hopefully the soil may be a bit more pure so I can grow my own food at least. Granted all I know how to successfully plant is kale and arugula.
In those years of flirting during visits, Portland oft did give me a bit of bait to woo me back in each time I visited. Little hints, little promises that made it seem like I would be treated differently, mostly for the better than it had done every other Black person that decided to occupy that land on a permanent basis.
The DJ gigs when I was a visitor made the local alternative weekly, and paid more than the rat race competition with those jockeying for space on the San Francisco and Oakland nightlife scene. I don’t know if it’s laziness, a disdain for being out of bed past 10pm or the whole “I’m a writer not a partier” that made going out of the way to earn $350 on a trip sound more appealing rather than just staying in my own back yard for $120.
I got to do paid Astrology lectures at the hip new Astrology School. Portland is a land where a bunch of (white) Queers decide to go embrace all sorts of alternative spiritualities. It’s really of interest however that they grab so wholeheartedly at studying very heterosexual and patriarchal understandings of their infinite multitudes. But $250 to wax on poetically about Beyonce astrologically picking up where Diana Ross left off in 1965 sure beat volunteering for the San Francisco bunch of baby boomer Astrology weirdos and getting to take home tubs of half eaten garlic hummus to make groceries stretch to the end of the month.
Mills graduates and all sorts of queers from private white institutions that clustered around the flowing booze, marijuana, cocaine and sexual assault of the Woolsey Heights-East Bay Poetry Summit scene made me feel that I had to morph my words into neverending stories of existential dilemmas to feel like I had any values in the words I strung together. I said one line about a messy ex and how he planted a Mulberry tree because I introduced him to the joys of that intergalactic fruit as a caption on Instagram. That resulted in a mystery man sliding into my direct messages with the power and promise to put my words and stories on stage for all of cultured Portland queerness (and a friend too!) on stage during the holidays a few back.
I should have known better to take such offers from someone lanterned jaw’d lining up such a seductive offer from their basement office. It’s interesting where modern day trolls hide away from the sunlight. Each visit brought me the attention of some skinny midwestern import-to-Portland white dude who would eventually, with very little prompting, unabashedly flaunt their penises at me. I’m quite honestly at least bemused by a good dick pic. If you present your schlong to me at a nude beach doesn’t that just make waiting to watch the sun go down all the more romantic?
Add in the copious Donuts. the easy cheap beer, halfway decent fried chicken and free weed. The actually slower pace of life compared to the “real” big cities I am used to, maybe it was fair for me to reciprocate some of this flirtation by making my presence full time. It wasn’t like I felt I was getting these modern day love letters from the landscape and the people I was around most of the time for most of my life anyways. Everyone in San Francisco, Oakland, and beyond were so lost in the realms of trying to figure out some sort of security, most of the time defensively fighting for their space, sometimes at the consequences of bonds I held with them. It’s not like I blame them, I know I was doing the same as well.
As a pack animal it sure felt quite lonely though. You look around at the ever more extreme results of the isolation surrounding you, and feel the creep of societal death. This all was running through that crucial cultural year of the Post World War II era. I was 35, and I found myself walking through the riches and festering ruins of the modern Roman Empire of the west coast, trying to help those surviving with less of a grasp on mental health than I did. Sometimes even 6 inches of mediocre white confidence in your face seems like enough “Big Dick Energy” to make you happy. Or at least put your mouth on as a distraction.
The pure schadenfreude that laces each and every conversation I’ve had with old friends now that I’m back in Oakland centers around how curious, hilarious or downright wrong-for-me people looked at Tim. I think for once, it was a hypervisible, orange juice concentrate introduction of how I’ve woefully chosen poorly in partnership for most, if not all of my adulthood. Something natural and organic may have existed at some point, yet it got processed, frozen and forgotten until a Saturday morning when there’s no fresh fruit or desire to go to the grocery store.
From garden gnome to Gollum, the descriptors of how low I had sunken in who I chose to drive happily ever after with in a Cadillac to my new life in the great white north was apparently the subject of snickering jokes at my going away party. Never had I so unabashedly let go of my apparent standards of superficial beauty. Never had I so discounted emotional intelligence within some parity of my own. Never had I dug so firmly in the Costco vat jar of mayonnaise midwestern whiteness to partner up with.
My pending departure the very next day, and any questions surrounding it weren’t the talk of the long table the Saturday night before I left. Not the unbelievable notion of me moving to Portland after years of continually dragging it for its visceral whiteness. It all came down to the implausibility that I’d chose in any capacity of sexual or intimate reasoning someone short, slight, white with hair aspirations straddling between Jesus Christ Superstar and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
“Is that really?”
“Fana shut up and stop pointing!”
“But really, is that who Larry is….”
“Gurl if you don’t shut up….”
I allow the ribbing because it’s hilariously right in hindsight. I’m only at my most stubborn when making the worse choices. Not the Cadillac, the Cadillac has been pretty fucking great. Then again I wasn’t at ALL stubborn around insisting that I’d do this whole life change in a cusp of being vintage Cadillac. That was pretty much a happenstance miracle contributed by of all things, a self destructing Honda Accord. It does happen people.
The revealed to me on the Redwood Highway somewhere between the Drive Thru Tree and a rest stop in Humboldt County polyamorous hippie Taurus from Wisconsin however…
…is of course, up there with some of my largest intimate relationship fails. Maybe this is the fable that finally unseats the “Garbage Man” story.
Had I not left my old keys to my old place in Oakland in the mailbox 5 hours earlier.
Had I not made a grand gesture of eating a Reggie Jackson “one last time” just in case Lois The Pie Queen was gone whenever I came back to visit Oakland.
Had Tim not gotten bubble guts yet still wanted to snuggle because the heavy amount of buttermilk in the waffles and chicken he had.
You again can say I was determined to leave.
Leave for months.
Damn the warning signs and red flags.
Maybe I missed it as soon as I crossed the San Rafael bridge?
Maybe passing San Quentin was a metaphor for the year prison sentence I was about to perform?
You know someone has issues when once they get to a state with legal cannabis, their first objective after being stuck in a car for 9 hours isn’t to use the bathroom. Nor is their first instinct just stretch their muscles after being confined by a range of motions by a seatbelt and safety regulations. They don’t think to check into the motel for the evening or even get a bite to eat.
Their first line of defense against the rigors of existing in an isolation chamber of an older American Land Yacht is to head to the marijuana dispensary. They’ve managed to go through, in 48 hours, all of the weed products minus one edible that they brought with them.
You question your own logic around driving under the influence when you realize you let this person drive a treacherous stretch of 2 lane highway prone to mudslides all gassed up on mother’s natural decompressant. It’s the most valuable item you possess in this capitalist society right now, loaded down with every other item you’ve determined to be of value onto a new life where you have no sense of how much value you actually carry in a new landscape.
You try not to be pissed off, you try to blame the car when your new romantic interest blows the fuse to the windshield wipers during a downpour on a dark winding highway. You’re a being of compassion, and those old General Motors multi-function turn stalks are a beast for the uninitiated millennial whose father was an auto parts supply chain manager.
“When exactly did you start smoking weed, Tim?”
In fact I had to actually force the natural progression of decompression from extended road tripping to happen before I wound up, at 7 pm at night, walking on a sidewalk-less mainstreet strip of U.S. 101 in the eerie quiet of Brookings, Oregon to the nearest dispensary tucked in a stripmall behind the grocery store. I’m pretty sure every dispensary I’ve ever been in at some point has been an H&R. Block.
In the vividness of my memories, I can’t remember what sad little something cold and from the deli of the Fred Meyer in Brookings I got to eat that night. It was my first full fledged encounter with the weird cross section of Walmart meets normative grocery store that is an institution throughout Oregon. Deprived of my typical Deli Case understandings, with my exhaustion setting in, I’m pretty sure whatever I procured for myself wasn’t even microwaveable. I still had a 15 minute walk back to the motel to navigate.
I can remember that I laughed at the random joke about Tom Hanks in Big in that Sunday nights episode of Bob’s Burgers for a good 5 minutes. I was also stoned, and it took that being stoned (on that last surviving edible if I remember correctly) to finally try and attempt to unwind. In the profusion of my own giggling Tim showered and returned to bed with the desire to cuddle and thrust his ass into my crotch. I’ve never successful initiated anything sexual under the influence of any substance. It made me pause, as he fully relaxed every muscle perhaps down to his sphincter under the guidance of sister Mary Jane.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever known this person sober. Does he have a concept of sobriety?”
We’re pretty far into the discussions of consent societally, yet those that stay forever medicated on legal diversions make it interesting on how to engage. It made me question whether I had even consented to the act of cuddling, as weed tends to send my mind on a tail chasing merry-go-round of situational questioning, worst of which ended up with me cuddling a vacuum in a hall closet. I don’t oft remember dreams but I do remember I had a rather dreamless night that night. When you’re starting to live a dull, slowly unfolding nightmare who has time for dreams anyways? It was the first in many a night was too awake while asleep wondering how seriously I screwed up what remains of the trajectory of my life.
As always I showered that morning. The reality of 400 more miles of wet January Oregon to go and busted windshield wipers rising like cringing eyebrows on my windshield right out the window staring back at me as I chose yet another set of tan chinos to pull up under the emerald paisley shirt that reminded me not to go into the land of plaid conforming. I wondered if I had felt defeated already given I didn’t try to figure out in the dark what was wrong. I even pondered driving the rest of the way to Portland with them busted, some ownership of the cursed journey I had set myself on.
Luckily, a knee wetting squat under the dashboard found a blown fuse. This theme comes up and still haunts me. The ability to continue on this modern day Oregon Trail didn’t come with with dysentery and eventual death. It did offer barriers like 10 watt fuses available just about anywhere for under $4. Of course, the longer the trip went, the more costly the barriers would become to actually engage with the new land.
I don’t remember what I had for breakfast. Hindsight tells me I probably opted for some eggs and other protein knowing I’d have to keep some energy up for however long the slog on 101 would be. I still have that photo of the Volkswagen Vanagon next to an American Flag. So goes the weird hippie eurocentric-ness that clashes with a weird American-proud vibe that ripples through the Pacific Northwest. America when deprived of those that actually cause the “melting pot” clause basically becomes an extension of Scandinavia or Bavaria with Tater Tots and Cheese Curds somehow.
I didn’t really consciously think about how much of a target I had made myself for othering rolling into this landscape. A Black person in this 5 years since #BLM became a hashtag flattening the complexities of Black life and death in the U.S. of course my bravado dictated first that I conquered the fear of shifting a manual transmission. Honda purists be damned by a transmission that saw better days though. I guess it was meant that the true partnership, the battleship I really needed was the status symbol for Black folks that finally made it.
There’s the hilarity of me arriving at a velour swaddled later day decline malaise version of the Black American Dream after a decade of Daimler Benz antiques that had epic maintenance bills. After my hard work upholding my corner of white supremacy by choice or not, I’m pretty sure I was going into the next chapter of my life that was built by a successive number of Black Union hands assisted by early robots outside of Detroit nearly 30 years ago.
Realistically the thing is a lovely $900 used car you swoop up on Craigslist all the time. The Greatest Generation that kept General Motors afloat while boomers and Gen Xers turned their back in droves on problematic rolling living rooms are dying now. Actually they’ve been dying for more than 20 years. This is one way to numerate their ranks and positions within society long after they died. Preserved sedans that seem to span sea to shining sea as soon as you open the door are available for the low cost of about 5 therapy sessions. With nonexistent exhaust notes and control inputs designed for low stress if not outright detachment, they are rolling sensory deprivation tanks. They’re oddly ideal spaces to handle the traumatic reality of uprooting yourself.
Lucky for me, and perhaps lucky for you, there’s plenty of Baby Boomers casting the 2nd most expensive piece left behind by their ancestors as an exorcism of their fraught childhoods. Had I had more time, it would have been a $700 Pontiac Bonneville of the same vintage with lower miles that sat unused in Monterey. They’re basically the same car underneath, just a V8 to denote the Cadillac premium on the last vestiges of the Sloan “A Car For Every Pocketbook and Purpose” ladder.
Walking through this world as Black person I’m aware of the fact that we still aren’t, really supposed to have nice things. Even if it’s 30 years old, missing the little fragile plastic bits that denote cheaper, cost cutting signs of the Roger & Me beancounting for maximum profits. It doesn’t matter that this little lap of luxury isn’t of this moment that has amplified that economic ethos to a putrid porcine level where corporations can just expect not to pay taxes.
We do we get penalized for the having “nice things.” All the time, it’s the biggest sin to have some pride. Some of y’all have never heard the term siddity thrown around. I wasn’t surprised. I’m still not surprised 2 counties into Oregon I was Black Taxed by a Highway Patrol officer that took no less than 5 miles away from where I committed the said offense to pull me over and slap me with a speeding ticket. Here came the true cost of entering a state, a place that truly didn’t want another nigger among its ranks.
$165. I could have spend more money on gas and a hotel room to return to Curry County to fight it. It’s the first speeding ticket I’ve had since in 15 years. The discretion of grandmotherly Delta 88 the same age as “Gladys” couldn’t hide the fact that I was blitzing into work at the bookstore on Bayshore at the rate of 91 miles per hour one sunny afternoon. It’s a most deflating end to a winning streak when you weren’t even doing above 55mph. Again, we can’t even confirm if I was speeding. It would have felt more authentic if I were unabashedly breaking the law.
The signs said just drop Tim at the Coos Bay Greyhound Station. He could figure out how to get to his damned Tuesday Morning dentist appointment. Hell, I’m not even sure Greyhound or any intra-city public transportation serves Coos Bay. Why am I concerning myself with this in the first place? Why should I help a 3o something white male that owns property figure out how to get home? He’s figured out how to get a mortgage, so I’m pretty sure he can figure out a bus schedule.
The signs said turn your Black ass around back to California kept appearing like mile markers on the highway. I resisted, the scientist within because you know, all this has to be is a cute experiment.
This doesn’t have to be your life.
There’s no need to commit. There’s no need to explain to someone completely unaware and majority of the time with a drug induced filter against reality.
Don’t forget the reality of trying to move through space with a “nice thing” and get caught making a “mistake” that isn’t tangibly based in any logic.
This is a dangerous place, yet you know, pretty.
“You were going with the flow of traffic!
Why did she target you when there were cars in front and behind you going the same speed?!
I can’t believe this just happened.”
Through all of his ranting, raving and apologies that are absolutely meaningless to the new bill I have, there’s the possible he’s actually exiting the pot induced stupor to encounter the realities of life for the first time in perhaps years, I just nod. I stay silent and focus on navigating the rolling hills and sharp curves that in a murder-suicide pact threaten to plunge themselves and you and everything around you into The Pacific.
I try to focus on the beauty of the Oregon Coast. I’m trying to tell how at least this portion is any different from the Sonoma, Medicino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties of California that I already know. I don’t know what I’m gaining. I think of that job interview at Humboldt State I never followed up on.
“There’s still a smattering of cheap apartments available in Arcata!”
Everyone back home questioned my half hearted, not exactly firmly rooted commitment in this direction. It’s not like I wasn’t questioning it plenty on my own, thank you very much. Nobody bluntly said that it was an outright fucked up decision. I don’t think people were able to interpret the dead look in my eyes as either the trauma of negotiating the Bay Area of now or the incoming hell I was bracing myself for 650 miles away.
This is what our current world does to us. Irrational interpersonal decisions couched in financial fear primarily. We panic and make unwise long term choices to make sure we can sustain short term survivability. Nevermind that we don’t really have a blueprint for long term survival in the first place. Life expectancy has jumped remarkably in a half century. Truthfully, we probably should throw out the whole concept of long term stability with capitalism. I know it won’t actually happen. There’s an endearing quality about how we immaturely cling to the concepts of consistency.
I was indeed being irrational since Tim had one of the three people he was seeing sleeping on his couch. Now there was “Bear” (who’s actually a Twink but whatever. Anything an able bodied & skinny white person wants to call themselves, we allow it in society) and here I was, 200 miles outside of my new home with no place to really go. I was clinging the the past 6 months, where I had luxuriated and languished in the fantasy of a new home I could waltz into. I was welcomed by Tim for weeks at a time before the holidays hit and I had thrown down a 30 day gauntlet towards moving out of the Bay Area.
Out of sight, out of mind, the bodies that had kept him warm in the fallout of “every gay man has to fail at negotiating the opening of their relationship once” hadn’t disappeared. Now an app procured cat sitter (’cause why not get cock and a cat sitter for thanksgiving in one swipe right?) was on the merry-go-round of life alongside me. All of this for a barely likable web programmer that continually was given the silver spoons in society.
I wouldn’t want this relative ease to destroy lives with mere omissions of truth. Maybe this is one reason the alcohol and marijuana flow so easily in his life. How could you sleep at night knowingly manipulating multiple people without some assistance to escape the reality of your deeds? He was always in bed by 11pm, I’ll give him that.
I felt assured when he announced his plane tickets to join me on the trip back were his word of commitment. I haven’t yet, even as I write this, hop, skipping and jumping instead of properly landing back in the Bay Area in one place, that there’s no reason to really ever trust a white male, even those that profess a level of love for you. No matter what or when, they’ll betray that love and trust for something, someone, somehow of a bit more social value than you hold.