Thursday, April 10, 2008

9th and Pine

I had a number of adventures while I was living in the Pine St. rat hole.

Most of these adventures involved the picturesque inhabitants of my building, although the surrounding neighborhood was filled with 'local color' as well (that color being kind of a weird brown with corn stuck in it.) Gosh, where to start?

-One evening I was walking down the sidewalk towards my place, carrying a sack of groceries, humming a little tune, smoking a cigarette. I noticed, a couple of blocks up, someone sitting in a doorway on the stairs. Not uncommon at all on a nice summer evening in Portland. Kind of uncommon in an industrial district, though. Probably a street person.

As I walked closer, several things became clear

1. This was not a street person.
2. Neither was he an employee of the nearby machine shops, because
3. his black Porche Targa was parked nearby, and he was wearing a dress shirt and a tie
4. but no pants
5. and was furiously whacking off.

As I approached he just kept on flailing away. I could actually hear it across the street: whappitywhappityfapfapfapfapfapfapfapfapfapfapfapfap.

He gave me a friendly smile. "Nice evening, huh?"

I nodded. "Yup. Have a good one."

"Oh, I will," he said.


I was two doors down from a tavern called The Union Jack. It was just exactly the kind of place you'd expect in that area; doorway nailed and re-nailed with boards and patch steel, black and shiny with old piss. You didn't want to walk too close to the building because unwelcome customers regularly came cannonballing out the doors. This place was so disgusting, so sleazy, in fact, that the owner actually tried to 'class it up' by billing it as a 'biker bar'. It was not a biker bar. It was a derelict bar. But that did not stop its habitues from trying to class themselves up similarly by billing themselves as 'bikers'.

One of these 'bikers' lived in my building and called himself Fat Mark. Well, he was fat; round as a bowling ball in fact. It was clear to everyone but Fat Mark that the closest he had ever come to riding a motorcycle was clothespinning a bunch of playing cards to the spokes of his Schwinn. He made himself a 'cutoff' to hide the 'patch' on his (vinyl ) 'leather' , and ran around talking about his 'hawg'.

The owner of the Union Jack had given Fat Mark a job. Fat Mark claimed he was employed there as a bouncer. And strictly speaking he was; if you walked past the back of the building around 10pm you could see Fat Mark bouncing garbage cans into the back of a pickup truck, or bouncing cases of napkins in through the kitchen entrance while somebody inside screamed 'get a move on you fat fuckin' punk!"

That was not punk as in 'punk rock'.
It was punk as in 'spent six years up in Rocky Butte hanging off someones belt loop '.

Every Friday, when Fat Mark was feeling flush, he used to like to pay a couple of local businesswomen to come up to his place and sex each other down. During this encounter he never did a thing; never even seemed to enjoy it much, according to them. What he was doing, essentially, was buying advertising. He wanted a reputation as a bad man; and most of all he wanted a reputation as a straight man. He figured that if the word out on him was that he went through two women at once then everyone would think 'Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaang!"
The word that went out on him was "Cash Friday means he's ready for plucking without any fucking."

-Over a period of a couple of months an extended family of eleven souls took over the entire streetside end of our building. That they were family was never in question. The whole lot of them looked exactly the same.
What did they look like?
Imagine if you will that the Pillsbury Dough Boy had committed an unspeakable act with Little Poppy, and that the result was a Pillsbury Sideshow Fetus.
Kinda like that. Only not bakers.

There was something so repellent and fascinating about this group that people would stop and look. Dead in their tracks. I saw it happen. Cars would slow down and the passengers would gape out the windows at them. In a neighborhood full of the sordid and the bizarre, these folks turned heads.

When they talked to each other they lapsed into a slurring, baby-pitched singsong. You could nearly understand them, but....not quite. You had to get the hang of it.

They were often clearly excited about things...a bug in the kitchen sink, a commercial they'd seen on television, a red didn't take much. Something would set one of them off, and soon they were all up in each others faces, spit flying, flapping and lolloping like lobotomized elephant seals. "Wow! Did you see that guy in the red car? Yeah, that guy was fast! It was a red car! That guys car was red. Did you see that go by? That was a fast red car with a guy in it! Yeah, he was in that red car!"
For 45 minutes at a stretch.

It was better than television. And when they argued, which was frequently, it was simply not to be missed.

...yeah, well. Ya take your funny where you find it.

A late spring evening in Portland is something you savored. Everyone came out and sat in the yard, and the poorer the neighborhood the more people were out enjoying the air.
The Whateleys* were no exception. They barbecued all spring and summer long, out on their porch by the street, and you'd have thought the circus came to town. People would drive around the block to catch another glimpse. I used to sit out on my rail and smoke, and I frankly watched them almost every single evening.

Two of them would be smooching so loud and enthusiastically that the saliva ran down their faces and stained their shirts. The others would smoke and mill around, occasionally getting right up in each others faces suddenly and exclaiming 'Gnwe gonna have gnot gogs! Gnou wike gnot gogs? Yum! Gnot gogs ah good! I gnove gnot gogs! Gnwe gonna have'em!"

Another would be turning the hot dogs on the grill with tongs. They frequently landed on the porch and rolled off onto the sidewalk. Then he'd hang over the railing and yell at passers-by to hand them back up to him.

One evening a cat slipped out from under their front steps and snagged an errant sausage, that quick.

Holy fucking Pandemoniac Hell broke lose.

Mutants were leaping off the porch and over the railings, hooting and freaking, trying to fit through the plumbing access and getting caught, running up and down the sidewalk, trying to lift the porch up, trying to stop passing cars. The one on the porch with the tongs overturned the barbecue in his excitement, and then hopped around trying to pick up briquettes with his fingers, yelling "Gnammit, gnriqettes! Gne' back heow! " dropping them and flapping and then trying to pick them up again.

One of his buddies down on the sidewalk yelled up 'Gnickem widjo shoes!' Barbecue Guy obliged by kicking the whole red hot pile of them straight into the guys chest.

In this building, in this part of town, if you heard anything out of the ordinary outside, you STAYED THE FUCK INDOORS UNTIL IT STOPPED. Nonetheless, people were now opening up their windows and coming out on their porches to gape in amazement.

A pack ran past where I was sitting on my porch, exclaiming "Da gnat got owah gnot gnog! A gnat got owah ho gnog! Godda go gnach da gnat!"

"He probably went down in the basement," I said.

"Gnasemen! Gne do ina gnasemen!" they exclaimed to each other. "Weh da gnasemen'?"

"It's that big pair of doors around back that looks like a garage," I said.

Soon I could hear a whole host of feet kicking at the padlocked double doors at back of the building. I ran through my apartment and looked out my bathroom window-sure enough, there they were, kicking the doors, beating on it with their fists and shouting. "Gnopen uh! Gnopen da do! Hi' won gnopen! Wha we gon do?"

When I came back outside barbecue guy was hollering down to someone on the sidewalk "Ca oo get doze gniquettes? I needem! Gnose gnriquettes! Hanem up!"

This is when I saw Gnran'ma Whately waddle slowly out of their front door.

You seldom saw her. When you did, it explained a lot. She was bald and her arms and legs were wrapped in ace bandages. She always wore a flowered house dress and it was always shredded and hanging in thin strings in the back. You felt like looking away when you caught sight of her scalp, the flesh of her arms or her chins... translucent white, with clearly visible veins and capillaries, creased with grey waxy accumulations of dried filth. You felt like it, but you couldn't.

Gnran'ma was carrying a dish.

She waddled down the steps and disappeared around the corner.

When she came back, the dish was filled with charred black hot dogs.

She heaved herself back up the steps, leaned over the railing and bellowed "Gni go da gnot gogs! Gni go da gnot gogs! Gome eet! Is' gonna be gon iffen you gon gome ee!"

And the whole group came racing around the sides of the building and down the alley like a herd of mutant sea cucumbers. Straight into the house, slammed the door.

The entire building busted out into hysterics. Junkies, winos, whores, schizophrenics, everyone. We just howled. It was awesome.


*Not their real names, but if you're up on your HPL (and you SHOULD BE) you'll know exactly what I mean by that.


  1. I'm first? Dayum. Inbreds are great for the entertainment value. Reminds me of that episode of X-Files.

  2. XUL: I know EXACTLY which one you mean, too! "if yew dont have chillun you can't unnerstan...the PRIDE..."

  3. Well, now, I was thinking I might tell people about some of the "characters" in my childhood.
    Not now. You've got 'em in spades.
    The best I can do is Mr Scissors.
    creeps away ...

  4. Yep. Been "keepin' the bloodline pure since th' War Uv Northern Aggresh'in..."

  5. Anonymous5:12 PM

    i'm beginning to wonder how you even survived the early years, fn. honestly.

    i don't know about inbreeding, but i do know a couple of druggies who have to have translators.

  6. What is the female equivalent sound for whappitywhappityfapfapfapfapfap

  7. MJ . fill wellington boots with custard and run up the stairs :-)
    Excellent post FN , I could almost smell Grandma and burning sausages

  8. Beast, I most certainly will NOT fill anything of mine with your custard!

  9. yeah, but was the cat OK?

  10. Anonymous6:43 AM

    why is beast chasing mj around yelling something about pudding? and why does mj suddenly have that evil gleam in her eye?

  11. They sound similar to that guy in the movie Goonies. Had someone similar in my Navy class in Memphis, can't imagine a whole gaggle of them.

  12. The more I read about the people you've encountered, the more I realise that there are people in America who would think that the characters in David Lynch films are something glamorous to aspire to!

    I suppose the nearest British equivalent would be, er, most of the population of Lincolnshire.


    xul: 'Pu'me back! This is mah home!'

    pink: me neither. and the older i get, the less i understand it.

    mj: ....

    beast: there ya go.

    mj: ....

    CB: There's another story about that cat, ackshully....

    pink: don't play with them! you don't know where they've been!

    joeVegas: EGGZACKLY! they all looked like a sweet, cartoon version of that guy.

    betty: we're SURROUNDED, girl. but David Lynch, Diane Arbus and I are the only three people in America who see them, apparently. and now Diane is dead and david won't return my calls.

  14. great, but was the cat OK????

    Seriously, it's important that I know these things. I can't cope with stories where the dog/cat dies/suffers.

  15. So basically what you are saying here is that the family tree doesn't branch out? I am enjoying your archived story/life by the way.

  16. cb: See, thats a good question.
    The cat was one of about 20 or more that lived in the basement of our building. As to the particular fate of Rapid Roy the Hotdog Thief I cannot say, although I never saw him flattened in the street. So lets say that he was fine, and lived a long and feral cat life on the mean streets of Southeast Portland, drinking muscatel, paying girl cats for sex and doing driveby shootings and whatnot.

    Gale: some of it is *ahem* more entertaining than other parts.

  17. i laughed so hard...especially at fat mark...i know someone...or knew someone more like it...just like that...he was a bouncer as well...however seeing him do his "job" he would literally bounce people off his belly into the street...i don't know if he ever got the real meaning of the word but used his abilities to his advantage...