Tuesday, July 26 2022
location: Northeast 24th Avenue, Northeast Portland, Portland, Oregon
Back at Oberlin when Gretchen was a sophomore (that is, after she and I had had a falling out that would lead to a twelve year estrangement), Gretchen had a number of friends who are still friends to this day. One of them is named Jim and he lives in or near Boulder, Colorado. Gretchen and I stayed at his place back in 2001 when we were moving me back to the east coast. The other day I'd posted on Facebook the picture of the Portland skyline with Mt. Hood in the background and Jim had sent me a private message on Facebook saying he was in the Portland area and that Gretchen should call him. So she did, and the two of them arranged for the three of us to spend time together today.
At this point in the story, a little background is in order. Jim has video editing skills and even taught video editing in high school. But at some point in the last twenty years, he became a drug dealer. A year or so ago, he got busted for his drug dealing, but he was so well-connected when the bust happened (due to his friendship with the wealthy people who let him stay with them) that he was tipped off before it happened and managed to avoid jail time despite a felony conviction. These days, Jim goes back and forth between living with various wealthy friends. Most of the year he stays with a wealthy friend in or near Boulder, where he pays his rent by acting as a butler. In the summer he has a room in a house owned by a different wealthy friend in Vancouver, Washington (directly across the Columbia River from Portland) and works as something of a butler there as well.
Jim showed up at our AirBnB fifteen minutes early this morning, and he brought his dog, a lanky shepherd mix named "the Dude" (an obvious The Big Lebowski reference). Gretchen didn't want to call Jim's dog "the Dude," so she called him Fred instead. In any case, Fred the Dog was an amazing dog. He was well-behaved, intelligent, and mostly unobtrusive. He was also friendly but not too friendly and alert in case of attack, but not obnoxiously so (a guy passing in the alley outside elicited a soft woof). Jim proceeded to explain his life as a butler. He also told us about his relationship with the wealthy man he "summers" with in Vancouver. It seems Jim first met this guy when he was only twelve years old (back when Jim was in his 20s) at the Oregon Country Fair (which is, we've been told, more like Burning Man than a county fair). At the time Jim was running a stage, working in a kitchen, or some combination of the two. Anyway, the twelve year old and the twenty something Jim hit it off and became life-long friends. Now that twelve year old is in his 40s and has, in over the intervening years, become a wealthy tech mogul. He evidently has the solipsism typical of a tech mogul because the reason he lives near Oregon in Washington state is to benefit from the absence of an income tax (in Washington) while making all his purchases in Oregon (where there is no sales tax). Rich as he is, he feels no need to contribute anything to a society whose benefits he gladly enjoys. Jim also told us about the mogul's girlfriend, who is apparently something of a wingnut. She's into woo woo shit like crystals, but she's also into conspiracy theories and is, for example, antivax.
Gretchen had Jim drive us to our first destination of the day, the Shoofly Bakery somewhere near downtown Portland and Reid College. On the way, Gretchen asked Jim why the tech mogul sticks with his girlfriend despite her kooky views. Jim explained that she had her hooks in him as deeply as she could and wouldn't be going anywhere. Why would she leave a rich tech mogul? At the time I was wondering how a girlfriend in such a situation could maintain a veto over her rich boyfriend's ability to break up with her, but we'd already moved on to a related subject: why Jim can't keep a girlfriend for very long. To this, Jim had an easy explanation, "I'm a low-value male." He said this with a straightforwardness that suggested he's said this same thing before, though there was an element of detachment to it, as if he was Diane Fossey describing social dynamics in a group of mountain gorillas. In any case, it was a hilarious instance of self deprecation, and Gretchen and I had a good laugh. And it's true, compared to a tech mogul, Jim doesn't have a whole lot to offer. He's basically homeless, living with various rich people. And he's a convicted felon. This explains why his last girlfriend was a professional exterminator with a boyfriend who had used Jim to cheat on that boyfriend for two whole years without ever revealing the existence of the boyfriend to Jim.
Portland is a lot more serious about covid-related mask rules than the Hudson Valley, and it's taken Gretchen and me a bit to get up to speed with protocols we haven't encountered since March. At the Shoofly Bakery, the rule is that one must definitely wear a mask. So we wore our masks and ordered a bunch of baked goods and coffee drinks, which we consumed at a small table out on the sidewalk. Shoofly was mostly out of savory items, so I got a lemon poppyseed muffin (an item I used to eat regularly at the Rising Sun Bakery after the end of my nightshift at Comet.net back in 1996 and 1997). Gretchen took a bite of that and proclaimed it the most delicious lemon poppyseed muffin she'd ever had, though she also said that she had never thought much of that particular baked good. Meanwhile Fred the Dog was pretty much loose on the sidewalk but being good about not going into the street. He felt the need to greet one of the Shoofly bakers coming up the sidewalk carrying a big industrial-size bag of wheat flour, but that just made him more adorable.
We'd be spending the bulk of our time today at Collins Beach on Sauvie Island (a large island in the mouth of the Willamette River where it meets the Columbia). Gretchen and I had been to Sauvie Island once in the past, though not to a clothing-optional beach, which Collins Beach reportedly was. Jim didn't really know the way to Sauvie Island and his iPhone put on completely the wrong course, through a set of tunnels that he then had to turn around and backtrack through all the way to within site of downtown Portland once more. Once we started heading out of Portland on Route 30, we passed a large anti-abortion billboard that had been defaced with the words "Hands off our fucking bodies!"
There's some law prohibiting alcohol from Sauvie Island, so anyone who wants to take a beer to the beach has to buy it before crossing the one bridge to the island. We stopped at a 7-Eleven on Route 30 about two and a quarter miles southeast of the bridge and I bought a sixer of Modelo Especial (as Jim dislikes IPAs) and snacks. That 7-Eleven was an interesting showcase of Portland and the limits of its cultural reach. On the one hand, the cashier was heavily pierced and wearing a necklace featuring dozens of sharp two-inch-long metal spikes. (7-Eleven would never hire such a person in a more conventional part of America.) But on the other hand, all the customers looked like blue-collar working stiffs with no time for mask mandates or sensitivity training.
Even once we got to Sauvie Island, it took awhile to drive to the beach just because the island is so damn big. When we did get to the beach, it took more driving just to find a place with fewer parked cars, which would mean the beach there would be less crowded. Eventually we got to a suitable spot, grabbed our various things, and hiked through a strip of woods to the swath of sand along the Columbia. After a little hiking along the beach (where, surprisingly, I was attacked by a number of mosquitoes), we found a shady spot about 100 feet from the river's edge, and there we spread out a blanket (it was one Jim had designed featuring an over-sized ouija board) and took a load off. For her part, Gretchen immediately jumped into the Columbia and went for a swim and I began throwing sticks for Fred, who turned out to be one of those dogs who is utterly obsessed with stick retrieval (and if I stopped, he started whining, which might be the only thing keeping Fred from being a contender for the best dog ever). By doing throwing the stick, I was able to keep him from tracking sand all over the blanket. Fred especially liked to fetch sticks tossed as far as I could throw them into the Columbia, but he was also perfectly happy retrieving half-assed tosses a dozen feet away (usually towards a pair of half-naked lesbians).
About 70% of the people on Collins Beach were exhibiting some form of nudity. For most women, this meant going topless, though one youngish woman nearby was completely naked; evidently shaving off all pubic hair is still fashionable among women. As for the men, most of them were walking around with their pudgy ball sacks and tiny penises on display, though some of them were also wearing shirts (that is, they were dressed like Winnie the Pooh). Gretchen, Jim, and I were among the few people visible who were completely clothed.
Jim's main contribution to our beach setup, aside from his ouija blanket, was a speaker playing tunes from his iPhone. He started out playing a Kate Bush album and then moved on to the Zombies, the rock band from the 1960s. As you may remember, Linda, my boss at Launch.com, bought me two CDs by the Zombies back in 2000, and I was still listening to them a fair amount when I was doing remodeling at the house in Hurley in late 2002. It turned out that Jim is something of a Zombies fan and even saw them in performance recently (yes, they still perform, though they're in their late 70s by now). Jim knew all about their trajectory through rock music, which included years of struggling for relevance and then the lucky break of recording an album in a studio just used by the Beatles to record Sgt. Pepper (and with all their instruments left in place). The Zombies wisely left all the settings on the instruments as they found them and proceeded to record a masterpiece (Odessey and Oracle, one of the two CDs I have) using the Beatles' equipment. Jim was smoking pot and explaining all this while drawing my attention to various lyrics. I'd taken a hit of his pipe and was on the edge of paranoia. Jim's charisma was so evident that I was feeling a bit less-than, and compensating for this was causing me to say stupid things.
The scenery at the beach was spectacular, with a perfect view of Mt. St. Helens looking like a wedding cake with its unusual accumulation of persistent snow. And periodically barges would go by full of things like gravel.
At some point it was just me and Gretchen on the blanket while Jim was throwing the stick for Fred, and I suddenly realized I needed to poop. So I excused myself and went into the scrubland between the beach and the parking area and found a place to relieve myself. There was nothing good to wipe with, so then I waded out into the Columbia, but it was too cold for me to want to immerse myself very far and I felt self conscious that people would see me reaching around to my backside. But I mostly accomplished what I needed to.
In addition to pot and snacks, there were the beers. I drank three, Jim had two, and Gretchen had just a sip of mine and declared it tasted like Michelob.
When we'd had enough of the beach, Jim drove us across the Columbia to see his host's (the tech mogul's) crib in Vancouver. Along the way, we got a chance to cross one of the most beautiful bridges in the world, the St. Johns Bridge. It's a suspension bridge and clearly takes its design cues from Gothic cathedrals. But it's also very minimalist, which just the parts necessary to form a reliable bridge. There's an arch, and a pointy one, but that's just because that structure is particularly strong. And above that are an array of more pointy-arched windows, but those are probably there to make the bridge better handle high wind conditions. As we approached the northeast end of the bridge, we saw a snow-capped peak of the Cascades perfectly framed in the pointy arch of the north bridge tower. Jim though it was Mt. Rainier, but that would be too far away and below the curvature of the Earth. Later I determined it to be Mt. Adams.
The neighborhood Jim's tech mogul friend lives in is one of small ranch houses on tiny lots in a neighborhood along the extremely busy (and loud) Route 14. The mogul's house [REDACTED] is, of course, much bigger than the others, and has several expensive douchey cars parked in front (none of these are electric-powered). Inside, it has a large high-ceilinged great room with nice furniture and an adorable purebred schipperke puppy (who immediately began repeatedly leaping into the long-suffering Fred's face). There's a very nice porch in the back full of high-end outdoor furniture, but nobody would ever want to spend any time out there because the highway noise from Route 14 makes conversation impossible.
As for the tech mogul himself, we saw him in a windowed office near the front door enagaged in a videoconference, where he spends most of his time. That's apparently what tech moguls do all day. The mogul did come out briefly, and he didn't exactly ooze personality. He has a large gut that he's been trying to control with the keto diet, but Jim says he cheats on it, especially when he kooky girlfriend is away (as she was today; she was in Palo Alto). Gretchen saw a loaf of keto white bread on the island in the kitchen and looked to see what its ingredients were; it was mostly oil and gluten, but she said it smelled like bread.
By this point in the afternoon, it was clear to Gretchen that Jim was fading. Perhaps this was because he'd stopped smoking pot. After convincing him to give or sell us a few capsules of magic mushroom, we had him drive us back to our AirBnB in Portland.
After considerable downtime, Gilly came over and drove us to a vegan pizza place called Virtuous Pie, where we ordered four pizza between us. (It was good Gretchen couldn't make up her mind and ordered two pizzas, because she ended up not liking one of them, so I ate it instead; a single pie was about half of what I wanted to eat.) I also had a beer, because I always do. It was a regular IPA, not a hazy one, and it was fairly good.
After dropping me off at the AirBnB (and some proverbial kids in the pool), Gilly accompanied Gretchen on foot down to Alberta in search of cuticle clippers so I can deal with the delaminating parts of my big toe nails, which are starting to look really good and fungus-free for the first time in over twenty years.
Fred and me in the backseat of Jim's car.
Fred and me at the beach.
Fred likes a head scratch.
Fred retrieving a stick I just flung into the Columbia River. Click for a wider view.
Jim drives us across the St. Johns Bridge. Click to enlarge.
Dropping us off at the end end of the day, Jim poses for a three-way selfie between Gretchen and me. He captioned this photo on Facebook as an "impromptu genius summit," partly because we all attended Oberlin College.
For linking purposes this article's URL is:feedback
previous | next