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, April 17, 2007

The Way to San Jose

The security cop is talking to the lady behind the volunteers desk, which is in his favor, as she can't just beg off politely and leave. "It's a pretty long story," he's saying. "After I got home from Vietnam, I became an alcoholic, and..." He is standing next to a large foam-core sign that reads "THE SALMON BAKE HAS BEEN CANCELLED".
And this is the fun of working at The Convention Center. All of us are basically stuck here with each other, and for whatever reason, can't leave. Most of us are working, and everyone else is here for a conference. To wit: the Sixteenth National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect.
For this dubious pursuit (how are you and your conference going to change thousands of years of socially/religiously enforced Hatred of the Weak?), I spend my days wandering the unnecessarily labyrinthine hallways of this fortress of a building, becoming lost as many as six times in the last two days. Sometimes there's these Sartre-ian corners where you are faced with a dead-ended hallway, with three doors that don't open. It's both terrifying and deeply annoying.

Now, all I do is make certain that they have the means by which to amplify their voices and project their PowerPoint (tm) presentations onto large screens, but to a certain extent, their destinies are entwined with my own. We are all forced to drink Starbucks coffee, if we want coffee, for instance. There's the two that are located in the building itself, plus the one a block away, and that doesn't even include the stuff that is served by the full-time catering staff, which is also Starbucks.
"Maybe we should open some sort of competition for The Convention Center," says my companion, a guy who I've known for years. He's married to an acquaintance of mine, and I've never been able to remember his name. This was after I'd noticed that a sody pop from a machine in that building costs $2.75. The we went about bitching about the incompetence of our bosses. "All my sexists live in Texas..." I said, and added, "I've been waiting all day to make that joke, but largely speaking, I've been alone."
"Sorry I couldn't have been here for you," he said with mock solemnity.

We'd been wandering around all day, our job made much more difficult by our overlords, these four dudes from Texas. I don't want to engage in a bitching-about-my-job post, as those are boring, but what could have been a relatively smooth twelve-hour work day was seriously fucked up, since they seem to...No.
But I keep noting that here again is more evidence that it's been too long since I've left Portland. And this isn't what the problem was with their job-direction, but I mean, like every Southern Gentleman I've met in my life, they're fine with the ladies until they leave the room. And then, it's this puerile Assessment Game, about as clever as the observations made by fifteen-year-olds. And how their racism is smart enough to be somewhat covered by good-time-charlie witticisms, but it's still there, and it's still stupid.

This reminds me of the fact that I was recently in California. Again, I hate California in the abstract, much like I hate Texas (and Alaska-you're on my list). But we went there, my Honeybee and I, since we wanted to be someplace sunny. Or somewhere Not Portland, in any case.
Well, it was sunny , in any case, though not warm. The central coast of Cal'forny this time of year is about as warm as the north coast of Oregon, both buffetted about by high winds fresh off the sea. And we found out yet again-the internet lies!
Or y'know, it didn't lie, but if only Monterey was anywhere near as interesting as it described itself. We did find the one gay bar in town, though. After having been to a horrid tourist hell-spot on Cannery Row, thence to some pointless Polynesian-themed bar on Lighthouse Avenue (check Aunty Christ for her thoughts on this), we noticed this squat, dirty looking brick building that caused me to say, "There's the place for people like us!"

Well sure, if you view all of Portland's bars as being at least somewhat inherently Queer. This, on the other hand, was the one and only gay bar in a small town given largely to tourism, and the I-sure-do-feel-should-be discredited idea that anyplace should serve children.
I felt vaguely dirty and embarrassed, as if we were being viewed as sexual tourists, or worse yet, people who went to go look at the the monkeys in the zoo. But our bartendress was very nice to us, and the stereotyped gay dude up at the karaoke jockey's table sure seemed fond of me when I got up to sing The Eurythmics' "Love Is A Stranger". I left by saying, "This is my favorite bar in Monterey yet! We're definitely coming back!"
We never did.

We'd gotten off the plane in San Jose, where the rental car game is entirely the purview of the Sikhs, who all wear the mandatory turbans, but not the equally mandatory daggers, I'm gonna say. This is mirrored in our experience, at the end of the trip, with the mandatory presence of The Russians when taking a cab in Portland (again; go see Aunty), at the end of our journey.
From Saint Joe down south through wonderful, wonderful Gilroy, and again I was reminded of how fucking ugly most of California is. Like they noticed how damn beautiful the landscape was, and happily went about ignoring it, to their eternal shame.
For instance, where we actually stayed is a beach slum called Marina, California (and for some reason, I've had more than one person observe from my choice of description 'beach slum': "That sounds cool!"), where even the people who live there seem like they're there just because they got a good deal on Travelocity, and said, "What the hell, I might as well stay..." A feel of awful temporariness.

Monterey is a pretty cool city, but even there you see the mistake that California made, long ago, of not making their beaches entirely public, like Oregon did. And of course, the ghost of John Steinbeck hangs over it all, uncomfortably. (Truth is, the infinitely more charming Salinas, seventeen miles northeast, is the one that hosts his museum. But even there-if all you got is Steinbeck's writings about economic inequality as your heritage as the Mexicans toil in your fields, well...) Both Cannery Row and Fisherman's Wharf aren't really worth the price of admission, i.e. being surrounded by tourists and their awful fucking kids.

But when we finally got around to heading south, it all changed. Big Sur is everything they said it would be, and seeing places like Esalen (where a young Hunter S. Thompson was once groundskeeper, and Jack Kerouac had his first vision of nature not as cosmic protector, but as Devourer of All).
Actually, Kerouac had a great deal to say on the subject: he was horrified at Esalen to see the queer boys in the hot tubs, with all the 'spermatazoa' floating on the surface. I've always been weirded out by the common American misuse of the term 'sperm'. It's like getting hit by a train, and blaming all those molecules on board. Shortly thereafter, he had one of the worst alcoholic death trips ever recorded on paper, when all he wanted was a quiet getaway...

Upon my return home, I put on Burt Bacharach's Make It Easy On Yourself album. With songs like his sad/ebullient instrumental take on "Do You Know The Way to San Jose" and "Pacific Coast Highway", I was reminded of the idealized California I picture in my mind, as does the better part of America, I'm sure.
For me, it's an America (okay; a California) that is long dead, and charming for its quiet isolation. That part still lives down around Big Sur, even though it's still too crowded with traffic. I'm viewing it as the home of good-time-charlies about to become too old for their times (check the sax break on 'San Jose'), people trying to spend their last few years in somewhat more easy surroundings, and people trying to forget all the bad they did.

Shit. Cal'forny. It's always been where everybody was heading (except for Californians, who head to Oregon, natch), and now their sky is a monstrous joke, and even that which is beautiful is surrounded by awfulness.
All the same; good times though.



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