please stop tickling me

In which we laugh and laugh and laugh. And love. And drink.

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Location: Portland, Oregon

Otium cum Dignitatae

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Helix

The first thing you notice about Eastern Oregon is the smell. I was not all that far from what remains of Hansell's hog farm, closed these ten years at least, since Stafford Hansell died. It still smells like pig shit. I also was near the Umatilla Army Depot, where the work of incinerating all that nerve gas (and other wonderful things) continues each and every day. And then there's Carty Coal Fire Plant, producer of both electricity of the least efficient sort and acid rain, for our region. Having said all that, I felt good.
Despite all that, the air was still cleaner than that which I breathe every day, and the sun was warm on my face. I was at a rest stop. Large, prominently placed signs reminded one and all that it was okay (according to state law) for members of the opposite sex to visit the (wrong, I guess) bathroom if they had charge of someone who was handicapped or something, and at no other time.
This was followed by an ordinance number, and I wondered if there had been a problem around the public restrooms on the high plains, of late.

I rolled into Pendleton around five. I stopped by the airport to see if my baby mama, Petunia, was working. Nope.
She has recently spererated from her husband of the last ten years. They've not gotten along for at least the last five, and it seems that he hit her, over summer vacation. He did this in front of their daughters.
So she up and moved out, but I didn't know this, and even worse, had no idea where she had moved. With some resignation, I wandered into a bar, map book in hand. Her husband is a wheat farmer, and they live out in a tangle of roads where you pretty much just need to know where you're going, or you're forever lost.
Upon learning that this place didn't have whiskey, I ordered a beer and set to looking at my map book, knowing damn well that the road I was looking for probably wasn't on any map. It wasn't.
The twenty-something pony-tailed dude right next to me noted the map book and said, "Where you comin' from, bro?"
All I could think was-ten years ago, that pony tail wouldn't have been okay in this town. But I also had pause at the fact that a total stranger was immediately being friendly to me, and I was no longer in the city, clearly. We were in a crowd of maybe four people.
We got talking (and later played some pool: I got my ass handed to me), and it turns out that he works for an old classmate of mine, at the mustard plant. They make gourmet mustard (Haus Barhyte, if you ever see it), right down the road from the airport.
Everywhere I went, folks were friendly to me, and I appreciated it. I'm a white man, conventional looking for the most part, and I know that's a big part of it. Mind you, it was still rare, and nice. I decided to find a motel.
What had once been a Western-themed cheap motel had now been transformed into something that called itself the Rugged Country Inn, 'The Bed and Breakfast Motel'. As much as that should have given me pause, I figured that pretensions aside, it would offer me a bed, shower and cable television. This much was true.
But as I stood there in the office, the smell hit me: it was like I had been sent to stay with a particularly fussy aunt, who had decided to sachet the living hell out of everything (to make it smell nice, you know), and then had been introduced to the spiritual discipline of Aromatherapy. The overall effect was like standing in a warehouse filled with perfumed toilet paper.
"This is a non-smoking roooommm...", the lady said to me, as I paid. I was about to say, "Well, could I get one that isn't non-smoking," when she finished the thought: "They're all non-smoking rooommms..."
"Well, I guess I won't smoke in the room then." I said, and she thought that was pretty funny. I was just stating the obvious. Breakfast, I was told, would be served in the Rooster room, and I pretty much envisioned what that might look like. I was given a room in the basement, so as to make it even more difficult to get outside and smoke. I felt like I was being put in the Nice Dungeon.
She had asked why I was in town, and I said that I was there to visit my daughter, eschewing the cheap drama of the real point, which was that I was looking for my daughter.
Breakfast was a bunch of cheap crap from Costco, and I left to get gas. I was reminded that things and people just move slower in the country: usually folks can't wait for you to give them your money. I drove off down by the Woolen Mills.
On a whim, I crossed the Lee Street bridge. After passing by The Graveyard of Neon Signs (an unofficial museum of failure: three decades worth of neon signs from failed Pendleton businesses), one winds up this little gully until you hit the top of the grade, and you're not in town at all anymore. Wheat fields, far as the eye could see.
All I could really do was go up and down as many of those gravel and dirt roads as I could, seeking some purchase from memory. Mind you, I still had no idea whether or not Petunia had left the farm, and whether or not she took th' She Bear with her. Or the daughter she'd had with the farmer. I felt very alone and somewhat desperate.
Each and every one of those roads is named for the family that has farmed on it for the last hundred years or so, and as I say, almost none appears on even the most detailed topo maps (which is stupid, considering that you might want to go hunt pheasant or something, figure out way too late that you're trespassing, and get a leg-full of rock salt from some farmer's shotgun). I went back into town, along Wildhorse creek, up by Mt. Hebron (which is actually a hill, of course).
Got a decent breakfast at a place in town, visited a pawn shop. After thinking about it for a bit, I went back up to the airport.

I was greeted there by two blonde women, one who eerily resembled my daughter. I talked to her. She thought I kind of looked like Petunia. "And I kinda look like She Bear, too, don't I?", I said.
Then recognition dawned. We spoke a while about how cool my daughter is, and my ex, well..."You never can tell with Petunia," she said, apropos of I'm-not-exactly-sure-what.
"That's true, " I said, for some reason.
I left a digital camera up there, with written instructions for She Bear to take lots of pictures, and send them to me. The girls at the desk said they'd try to get a hold of Petunia for me.

I got out of there, started driving up the Holdman road. A very boring road movie about America as existential hell, made by somebody French, could very easily be filmed thereabouts. I mean, I think it's beautiful, but really it is just rolling golden (or yellow, or brown) hills, with a single stip of pavement (crossed by dirt and gravel roads), and occasional cross-hatching of power lines.
As I encountered a fork in the road, I saw a patch of trees that looked pretty, and so got out to photograph them. MacBeth's car has an emergency brake that basically doesn't work at all, but since I was on what certainly looked flat, I didn't bother stopping the car and putting it in gear.
After I took the pics, I turned and noticed the car, still playing a little tune on the stereo, creeping forward in the gravel, like it felt like leaving. "Hey! Where' n the hell do you think you're going?" I asked, running toward it as it gathered speed. Like I say, movie material.
Took a right, and was on what calls itself the Holdman-Helix Highway. It's about as much a highway as I am an Air Force pilot. Nonetheless, it snakes low through the hills, past groves of trees that I strongly assume are all that remains of old homesteads: pretty sure they didn't grow there on their own, but who can say?
The terrain started looking very familiar, and I realized that I was in roughly the same territory I'd been in that morning. Before long, a dirt road crossed my path, with a ruined farmhouse and windmill: Goodwin road.
It was the road that I'd been looking for all morning, and now here it was noon, when one could assume that he was out tending to the crops, and my kid would be in school. So I kept on to the town of Helix.
Helix is tiny, tiny, and seems to be in the process of being swallowed by the hills and fields. The high school there is also the middle school and grade school. So here I am driving a Saab into this place where everybody knows everybody and beyond. I figure that I could get out of this strange looking vehicle and stand there, looking like a stalker, but looking like a Stranger, above all else. Wouldn't be long before someone would come up and ask what the hell I wanted. I considered showing my face.
But no. That wouldn't do, either. I mean, I met a fair amount of folks last summer at Bear's graduation from Junior High, but there just had to be another way.

At said graduation, a teacher came out and gave this rambling speech about...Well, I knew this one. 'Think you've got it bad? Lemme tellya about bad!'. This is a common rant amongst Eastern Oregon educators and coaches. They describe the dire conditions they grew up under, as dirt (and dirt-poor) farmers, and how for some reason, this is a worthwhile reason to stay.
Because you know, the big world out there looks all shiny and interesting, but here is where real people are, and where family is, and someone's gotta grow these crops, right?
It was always a very unconvincing speech to me, and this one was made even worse by the fact that as this teacher went on, her voice grew more and more shrill, making her look and sound more than a little crazy.
I met her afterward. I complimented her on the speech, and pointed out that she shared the last name of someone I went to grade school with. I got this as my response:
"Oh yeah. That's my ex-husband's niece. She's had a real tough time."-and here her pace picked way up, like it had during the 'you don't know how good you have it here' speech-"Had three babies die under suspicious circumstances and had to move to the Tri-Cities, and..." on and on. I already had my hand up, and was preparing to say, "You don't need to be sharing private family business with a stranger...", but she stopped, leaving us both standing there looking at each other.
Talking to Petunia about that later, she said, "But everybody already knows all that stuff anyway. It is everybody's business."
I said, "Southeast Portland's kinda like a small town too, but we at least pretend not to know each other's business."

Later on, in a thrift store, my phone rang. Petunia.
We could get together at two o' clock, right before she had to go to work, and right before I had to get back to Portland and retrieve MacBeth at the airport.
She lives in a little house with a pretty big yard, right near Pioneer Park. Her rent is a hundred dollars less than my apartment's.
We sat down and talked it out. Separation yes, divorce no. The girls spend half the week at the farm and half the week in town. They're not moving to this side of the mountains after all, and Petunia's becoming a 911 dispatcher.
Like me.
Needless to say, we talked about as much of Everything as we could in a half-hour. What happened yesterday was that the ground is no longer poisoned between us, and I can feel a whole lot better pursuing a decent relationship with my daughter, which I didn't have before, really.
As I was leaving town, the phone rings again. The Tulsa Kid.
"I'll see you in four hours," I said.

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14 Comments:

Blogger rich bachelor said...

Hi ho fellow killers-of-men: after having two spam-tastic comments appended to my latest posts (in under five minutes) post its completion, I intalled the new screen door below.
Sorry. Hope I don't get caught in my own drunk catcher.

6:44 PM  
Blogger Ju-ju bees said...

hey mi padre. missed ya, i don't know if the grandmother has told you yet but i'll be visiting her soon. this weekend or next. so u made it to helix. what a town huh? i don't blame you for not wanting to go in, helix is well weird. wish i could've seen you... maybe soon... u kno where im at now

10:03 PM  
Blogger rich bachelor said...

Yes I do. That's why I had to come out there.
I'm a lucky man because I have a girlfriend who likes to loan me her car, and gave me three shades of shit for not actually managing to see you, incidentally.
Does this mean that you've been reading all along?

10:18 PM  
Blogger Jacq said...

Nice comment box... I was debating on changing mine awhile ago, but stuck with what I had.

I feel as though I'm intruding on this very private matter (although, this is a BLOG, but your posts are normally on a different side of the spectrum, so to speak). I definitely wish you godspeed and hope that you're able to resolve the issues you have in this situation. It will make a tremendous difference later on, trust me on that.

8:39 AM  
Blogger rich bachelor said...

Thank for saying so, Jacq. And it's true: if I had any compunction about sharing this stuff with the entire world, I wouldn't be posting it on the damn internet.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Ju-ju bees said...

every once and awhile i check ur blog and see how things are over ther. just been silently following. sorry i didn't contact sooner.

4:29 PM  
Blogger rich bachelor said...

Aw hell. It's my fault. I tried to email you last eve, not sure if that's you anymore, since you have several addresses.
You have mine though. Send me a link to your page while you're at it.

4:41 PM  
Blogger Ju-ju bees said...

http://lifeinhville.blogspot.com/2005/10/startin-over.html

just started bloggin on this site so...

7:52 PM  
Blogger carrier said...

Helix? Make mine a double. Sorry, that's all I've got.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Jacq said...

Don't worry, RB. We all do what we can with what we have. That includes words and intentions...

5:50 AM  
Blogger Sheila said...

Rich,
Sheila from 4 rows behind the bleacher seats...just thought I'd visit to see where my brother dissenter lives again.

I thought your post was very endearing. I think I said before I'm from Washington State. I have lots of family in the Pendalton, Salem, and Portland area. Used to spend many summers as a little girl there. I loved the description of the terraine and people.

If your into center left to very liberal but willing to debate aabout it, I hang out at Crawfordslist mostly. That's how I met Mark.

Nice trip to Oregon even though it's in BLog Land.
Cheers!

4:26 PM  
Blogger rich bachelor said...

I'm not familiar with Crawfordslist, but I'll check it out. Thanks for the invite.

4:40 PM  
Blogger Sheila said...

Appologese. Crawfordslist.blogspot.com

Of Craig Crawaford AKA political Pundit and Congerssional Quarterly fame.
Good family of creative intelligent people. The odd ones the normal ones. always a conversation. See on one of them!

4:53 PM  
Blogger carrier said...

By the way Rich on the topic of DNA, nothing warms the ticker more than spending quality time with your extended strands. You've never given up when it could have been so easy for you to do so. Way to go little bro.

5:20 PM  

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