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, May 20, 2008

We Apologize for the Inconvenience (slaving in the inland empire, II)

Here is the Pasco-Kennewick bridge, also known as the Ed Hendler bridge. I found this picture on some guy's website noting "The World's Most Interesting Bridges".
Well, it certainly is interesting for two reasons; first, I'm pretty sure that those cables aren't actually supporting anything, and are just there for show. Secondly, despite how stunning the bridge itself is, it connects one ugly-as-sin excuse for a downtown area with another ugly-as-shit excuse for a downtown.

I drove over the Ed Hendler last week, in a vain attempt to find something, anything vaguely beautiful or interesting in the Tri-Cities area. It just don't exist, folks. I finally drove down to the waterfront, past Red's Western Smorgy, to at least look at the Columbia.
While there, I spoke to Ms. Bee, who informed me that we need to vacate our house by July 1st. It would seem that our landladies can't pay their mortgage, and would either need to raise our rent to extravagant rates, or sell the damn thing in this, the worst possible time to sell a house.

Sigh. Well, at least it isn't as hard as some things. People continue to want to move to Portland, and they will need houses. And selling a house is nowhere near as hard as finding a supermarket in the Tri-Cities.
After work on Monday, the rest of the crew decided to check out a bar called The Pub, which promised 'fun and games'. I didn't like the look of that, and agreed with the always frugal Renzo that our best bet was buying fresh produce, and not dealing with the strangely non-complimentary breakfast buffet. And the Asian woman who worked there, another one of those people who feels it is heartwarming to be addressed in a very loud voice, first thing in the morning.

But even before that, I needed to address the fact that I still would be losing my room in the morning. As always, the Washingtonians at the front desk were unapologetic, and offered nothing in the way of a solution. Apparently, the entire hotel was sold out for the rest of the week. There would be a policemen's convention there, and more than one person noted the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas overtones there.
But then I called up my boss, who called up his boss and told me again, not to worry, that everything was taken care of. The next morning, I was awakened at a quarter to six by a lesser boss of mine, her voice lowered by cigarettes to man-like octaves, confirming that I didn't have to find other lodging. Right after this, Renzo wandered outside and found that the hotel had gone ahead and given us our final bill.
That particular day, I wouldn't be there at noon, which was check-out time, and neither would Renzo, who had to go to the rehearsal.

Oh, but the night before, we went looking for a supermarket. Since Kennewick is a seemingly endless sprawl of large roads that go nowhere in particular with smaller roads that go fuck knows where, we were sort of on our own. Nearby; a ShopKo. Closed at 10:00. The Albertson's we'd been promised? Nowhere in evidence.
As we wandered down toward the river, I wondered what in the hell kind of city doesn't have stores that are open twenty-four hours. But, of course, lots of things call themselves 'cities' that aren't.

Randomly, I decided to hop on the freeway. The town of Richland beckoned nearby.
From the road, again gleaming red like a beacon in the darkness, a Fred Meyer sign. It looked smeary, like a hallucination.
Once we were off the freeway, there was no indication whatsoever that there was anything at all, except for dark trees and darkened residential streets. Nothing in the way of signs; just guesswork. I drove in the direction of where I sort of remembered the store being.

The parking lot was empty, and the lighting, again, was spare. It was open though, like all Fred Meyers, until eleven.
For the first time in a long time, I found myself having to consider what my new friend and I looked like to others. Like a couple, that is. He looks like a supermodel, and...I'm also a man. We're shopping together, having conversations like, "Okay, I'll get the bread if you'll pay for the mustard..."
Yeah, that's right. It'd been a while since I'd had to consider the thought of having to physically defend either my friend or both of us. I've done it before, but it's been a while. Portland makes ya' lazy.

Of course, just because a man is slight of build, soft spoken, Peruvian and gorgeous does not automatically make them queer. That's my own particular assumptions running wild. I knew what it looked like to the dam-rats who lived around there, though, and was wary, even though we were the only two people in that giant store, aside from employees.
I tried to explain to him that Ranier beer is every bit as wonderful as Pabst, which they for some reason did not have. I also tried to buy it for him.
"I'm frugal, I'm not broke," he said.

It had been a good hour and a half of wandering around that bit of paved desert before we achieved our modest goal. The shopkeep bid us a good night, and I nearly drove off with the back door open.
"Kennewick: We're...Sorry?" Renzo said.
"Welcome to Washington: We Apologize for the Inconvenience." I said.

The next day I didn't have to work, so I drove over to Pendleton. Past the brown humps that contain subterranean bunkers filled with nerve gas, smelling Hansell's hog farm again. It's been closed over ten years, but that farm still stinks up the entire area.
Wandered around my hometown. Noticed that all those nice old houses from the 1800's look oddly naked, now that someone decided to cut down all the trees on Despain Avenue. Went up Skyline Drive, looked at Senator Gordon Smith's house, tried to figure out which one my dad lives in.
Not a lot to say there. My daughter and I got together for lunch, and for the most part, what we discussed is personal. I will tell you that the Mexican joint she wanted us to meet at was the first place in town where I'd been treated friendly. The other two places were both thrift stores, and both staffed by that scowling, immediately disapproving type of hescher woman that I just can't take. They act as though their fear of anyone they don't immediately recognize is a virtue: well, if there wasn't something wrong with you, you'd live here, where good people live.

Afterwards, I wandered over to the Rainbow, easily my favorite bar in Pendlytown. All the Round-Up champeens since 1910 up on the wall, the memorabilia all priceless. I'm doin' a crossword puzzle, like I always do.
I hear some of the older folks down the bar discussing one Sally Simpson. An awful person, this woman was my third grade teacher, and like most of them, they had no business whatsoever being near children. It was as though they hired them, around there, based on their open antipathy for small beings.
Anyway, turns out she's still alive. She was old in the Seventies-she's 105 now- which is one of those things which is amazing since she had a heart made of pure Fuck You, but then again, I've met other people who were Too Mean To Die, too.

I decided to take Cold Springs Canyon back up to Washington. This is a road that wanders lazily through the wheat farms, the "town" of Holdman, and little else. I was laying back, enjoying the scenery.
Pulling over to relieeeeve myself, I quickly noticed that my tires were sunk deep in the sand of the shoulder. This would be like trying to get out of a snowdrift. The four-wheel-drive didn't work, and I sat down to think about this.
So; I was on my way back to this "city" where I wasn't sure I even had a hotel room, was set up for camping in my truck if I had to, though having no food (whiskey, though. Had that). Calling my daughter-who was training at Pizza Hut that afternoon- I hoped like hell that my message was in some way coherent, as I was out in the middle of the damn wheatfields. I told her voicemail that I needed a tow truck. I tried to flag down all two of the vehicles that passed me: no dice. I could walk to the town of Umatilla, but who knew how fucking far away that was? (Not far, it turned out.)
But of course, in time I noticed a pile of sticks over by somebody's fence, grabbed a bunch of them, stuck them under my back tires and rocked myself out of the hole. Really, whole lotta worry for nothing, but still.
** ** **

Here is the Three Rivers Convention Center, described as "cavernous" in the weird puff piece for some company that set up the audio in there.
It is certainly that. Outside, like all of them, a shiny, futuristic gathering node, hopefully drawing folks in-like an airport. Inside, like all of them, the rooms are like airport concourses built in the '80's, and backstage, it's like a fortress.

This place is an attempt on the part of the city fathers to finally break the Tri-Cities out of the limited-though-constant lure of the government dollar. Everyone who lives there is either employed by a defense contractor, or they work at the McNary Dam. And of course, they work at mini-marts, deal blackjack, roll dollar tacos, sell Orange Juliuses...You know.
But here, like many other cities of this size, they're trying to bring in the business tourism dollar, which is weird considering the location.

I definitely wasn't expecting chicken cordon bleu, grilled asparagus and a pretty decent looking cheesecake to be crew chow, but it was. Served on the nice linen tablecloths, too.

So that was weird. After that, we set to, in the desert winds now howling in through the massive open hangar-style door to the loading dock. Panel by panel, we took down the LED wall, the riggers brought down the truss, we ripped up the stage as carefully as possible, coiled cables, the whole bit.

As we did so, I thought about the night before, when Renzo and I shared a hot tub with three middle-aged gentlemen. One used to teach at the university that my daughter will be attending, this fall. Another was a roaming ultrasound technician who would stay at that particular Hilton once a week, every week. The third was part of a team of people testing a frictionless engine either called the Sterling Engine, or was an engine made out of sterling silver. I don't know.

The ultrasound guy was finishing up his studies at OHSU right around the time I was ending my career in medical records at that same hospital. He wished he could have done more with his life, but you know, you need to have three children, so you may spend the rest of your life being jokingly bitter about it.

The ex-educator turned sales rep was providing the good-common-sense, moderately conservative viewpoint on everything we talked about, and assured me that the aforementioned university my kid's going to is sheltered from the outside world by dint of the community they've made there for themselves, or something. I forget exactly how he put it, but he was really sayin'- don't worry 'bout th' niggers.

The guy from the team with the engine was actually more in the promotion line of things, but was able to answer most of the technical questions Renzo and I peppered him with. He had the most interesting things to say out of the three.

On the way back to our room, my head feeling airy from the combination of whiskey and hot tub, I observed that the conversation felt more like once would have on acid, as opposed to what it really was.
Renzo then was asking some advice about his romantic life, and I finally said, "Okay, boys or girls, which is it?"
He's hetero, and had been wondering same about me. Once I realized we were discussing the reactions women might have to given hypotheticals, I was better able to formulate some answers.

After work, we all went out to The Pub, with its attendant Fun and Games. We shot pool; I played miserably.
Around 1:30, I received a call from a noticeably distressed Bee, who said that the neighbors' house was burning down. She wanted to know if she should grab the pugs and get out of our house.
I asked if the trees next door were on fire; they touch our trees, in our back yard, y'see. The answer was no.
So really there wasn't a lot I could say or do, and I told her to go outside and monitor the situation, and to call me back if she had to abandon house.
She didn't, and we all got together in someone's room for the final phase of the evening.

This was a scene of everyone smoking weed but me, and at some point, our boss Casey passed the pipe around, asking that everyone at least touch it, and he'd tell us why in a moment.
I sort of hate shit like that; I feel it to be emotionally manipulative. But on the other hand, this was clearly important to Casey, and I took the pipe, inhaled a bit of smoke through my nose, explaining that I always did like the smell of the stuff.
Apparently his dad had died on that date, two years before. He was going to get a tattoo finished the next day, with the insignia of his dad's unit (tank battalion, it looked like), and that pipe-passing number was some sort of keeping-the-circle, vaguely Native American thing.

What's more to say? I made the four-hour drive back to Portland the next day in three hours. I got one hell of a case of Trucker's Arm (i.e. second or third degree burns on just your left arm)...It's hard to actually sum up a trip like this one, since the work is long and hard, but mundane to describe in detail. My feelings about the eastern parts of Oregon and Washington are influenced by growing up there, so it's probable that the profundity of what I felt is lost on anyone else.

I really am going to write something about our recent trip to the Chicagoland area. The difference there is; I didn't take notes on that one.

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Blogger Aunty Christ said...

In my defense, I must add that I had been woken from a deep sleep by the late-night inferno of record, and was very confused about what was happening, as well as more than a little shaken about the 10-foot flames leaping out of the upstairs windows of the burning house, as seen from our backyard. It was surreal. Nightmarish. I'm normally not so ... well, I almost said I'm normally not so easily scared. In truth, I am, but I also normally don't call you to tell you about the scary stuff that happens in the wee hours of the morning.

You know all this, of course. Just for other people who might think less of me. "What a girl," etc.

8:27 AM  
Blogger rich bachelor said...

Well, I don't recall saying you were a girl.

No; in the weird format of this piece, I kind of only brush on everything briefly, so it might look dismissive, but it isn't. You have every right to fear Fire.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Salty Miss Jill said...

So much to address here...but in accordance with Maslow...I hope you and Aunty find a place to live.
You are both welcome to crash on out living room floor in Ogreville.
I JUST KNEW you were also a Talking Heads fan. The orchestration on 'Remain in Light' is magnificent.
Also-I fucking hate fake-ass Native American Pagan bullshit pothead culture, too.

7:51 PM  
Blogger George Popham said...

All very lovely, this post made my first Sunday morning with no obligations in, like, forever, quite splendid. I read several bits out loud to Deb. You totally killed.

I am haunted by the account of the conversation with the three guys in the hot tub. I have *exactly* these kinds of conversations and can't get them out of my head - yes - there is a genuinely hallucinogenic quality to them. I find that if I try to say in words what the experience of these people is like and what their company, I don't know... feels like (I guess,) I find I can't really do it. I say things that sound weird or over blown in some way. But, still, you really get the feeling you are living in a different world from many other people, and yet sharing the same world at unexpected uncomfortable moments... And even that last sentence sounds a little too pompous and isn't quite what I mean...

Many other things in that piece merit response, but I'll be in town soon. Basically, gaht daim! that was a good piece, both parts.

Oh and, um, Bee *is* a girl right? Er, um, y'know, female... I'm cool with it if she's not and all, but ya' know...

Large fire scares me too, incidentally, but *tornados* scare the ever lovin' bejesus out of me - and I've only ever seen one, miles away from where I was, across a huge valley in the Rockies not far from Gunnison.

If there is ever an unexpected tornado, seriously, both of you, feel free to call any time of the day or night.

9:22 AM  
Blogger rich bachelor said...

When you're here, we're going to be in the middle of moving to our new joint, still in North Portland, but bigger, I think.

So bring your movin' shoes, your...Helping people hat...It'll be good. We'll barbecue.

11:05 AM  
Blogger LadrĂ³n de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

I tend to forget that Washington also has its own Inland Empire. There is something off putting about the scale of that bridge that reminds me of a corgi.

10:52 AM  

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