Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Two Shots, Extra Sugar - Portland

He handed me crumpled page, hand written, both sides - "just a memory of mine. Was just so, I tell you three times".

I'm sitting inside Powell’s Books, in World Cup Coffee, and I think it must be summer, and some year not yet long past. A young woman in a Pokemon t-shirt sits poring through an overstuffed binder of game cards next to two guys who are discussing Stephen Hawking as to quantum graphics.  

The two men speak of "Project Xanadu", and what a fiasco that was. Another guy is talking to a kid who has a Canadian flag sticking out of his tartan plaid day-pack. The man is telling him about selling his BMW and buying the cargo bicycle of his dreams. It will have laser-filigreed meteorite-alloy disk brakes. The Xanadu-Hawking guys shake hands and leave, each drawing a phone as he goes. 

I'm watching Bob watching out the window, as a sidewalk river-current of humans, mostly, moves steadily by. Across from me, out of the blue, Pokemon girl says the cards go in a story she's writing. “Writing is good,” I say. She doesn’t say anything in response but her eyes look up towards me without looking at me. I worry that I’ve intruded or perhaps just said something stupid. I feel the otherness wafting off her, coming in waves, and I feel my own place in this realm shift again, just a bit. 

Outside, a girl with magenta hair and bright green cat-eye glasses stops on the sidewalk. Her bracelet matches her glasses as she reaches in a pocket of her orange dress to give a couple of folded bills to a guy in a wheelchair. He is wearing a POW/MIA ball cap. He smiles at her and they exchange a couple of sentences before moving on. As she starts off her stride catches, just a half-beat, as she’s thinking she’s just heard an owl, right here downtown of all places. Looking around I see eight laptops and six pads being used along the counter that sits against the big windows. There are way too many books being read in here to count. It is Powell's Books after all. No one else in here has seen her, or heard her wondering that.

"Today is a good day to wear green" Pokemon girl says to the young guy with the flag as he’s passing by. She asks him where the flag is from so he explains it's from Quebec, and worn in support of school loan debt protesters there. She blinks at him, that slow hardworking blink that signals shifting gears, jumping tracks, or coming to an abrupt halt and says “Something is coming.”

He quick, looks around behind him, thinking someone wants to pass. There’s no one there. “Excuse me?” he asks her - “Something is coming, something slow and huuuge” she says drawing it out making it huge-er, and then goes back to flipping the album's pages. Flag-kid glances around, catches my eye, gives me a questioning look. I try to give him one back that says “Hey, I’d listen to her”.

He looks back down at her. She's now inspecting a card with a magnifying glass, and he tells her to have a nice day. She just looks up, smiles and nods, as people sometimes do when they’re immersed in something on headphones. She is not wearing headphones.  All this time, Bob, he hasn't said a thing, made a motion, maybe breathed. He gets up now from his book, stretches a leg down and out behind him, then the other, like some big old bird of prey, then pats me on the shoulder, heading off to Mysteries. 

I wonder if all that just happened. Then I realize nothing unusual has just occurred, because this is Powell's, this is Portland. I take that impression out and roll it around to look at it. I wonder if part of that feeling comes from my Native American genes, or if it just means I truly belong here now. Either way “Something Big is coming”, said as one might speak of major geologic events or whole cultures disappearing, and yet said absolutely casually? It's really not much more of a surprise to us than “Tomorrow is another day”.

I pick up my coffee, pressed Sumatran, two shots, extra sugar, and go. Something large flies by overhead, on silent wings.


  1. "I take that impression out and roll it around to look at it." This is mesmerizing, John. I want to read more.