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  • Portland, OR…here again…City of Bridges…places to cross. I came to Portland for the first time a couple summers back. I was broken.

    I had begun that summer on the Snake River. I had taken a job as a river clown. For those not in the know, a river clown is the person who entertains kids on rafting trips while their parents drink. About three weeks on the river, a few bruises from that little brat Bobby (one day, kid, I’ll find you…paybacks are a bear), a case of septic shock (my body simply refused to use what that bucket was for) and a box full of river rotted arts and crafts (glitter glue sticks and the river don’t mix), and I was the one in need of a drink. Shakes the Clown was about to have a sequel until one day, my twenty one year old boss (I was 35 at the time) informed me that I was to wear a clown wig and do a skit…push a clown far enough and a clown will crack. Crack is what I did. I took my big floppy shoes, my red foamy nose, my arts and craft sack and bid that rafting crew ado. My days of river clowning were over.
    I hopped into my Ford 150 and headed into town. My first stop? Spokane WA where I promptly got a mani, a pedi, bought out the Body Shop, ran up a credit card and stayed in a hotel complete with a proper toilet…no more bucket for me…no, siree. I even bought a People magazine or two (if you are part of the Celebrity Research Team as I am…buying an actual celebrity magazine is something us Researchers never, never do…that is amateur in the Celebrity Researcher’s book). With a headful of Paris Hilton, a body smelling of Apples, Peaches AND Pumpkin Pie and Bobby’s bruises (one day, kid, I swear I’ll find you) handed over to Mabelline, I emerged from that Spokane hotel room…an American. River clown, be damned. I hopped back into my Ford 150 and headed out of town. Why? Well, if you’ve ever been to Spokane than you know this. Gene Kelly (Spokane is his home town) and meth heads? They simply don’t mix.
    I took that Ford 150 back down by the river and for the next few months, I followed its lead. Why? Well, I was asked by the rafting company during my interview to become a river clown (yes, one has to interview. A river clown is a title one earns), I was asked why I wanted to be a river clown. My reply? “Because I just love kids.” This was a bit of a lie…I mean, I don’t exactly dislike kids…I mean, they’re okay. However, I have spent over a decade teaching middle school, which means I know THE TRUTH about kids…sure, some kids (not all…Bobby, can you hear me? This means YOU! Not cute!) are cute, but ALL OF THEM jack stuff up…I have never known one of them to make it to 18 without jacking up a thing or two up…not even me. I left these thoughts out of my interview and said, “That’s right…kids are to be revered.” Sure, I meant WATCHED, PLACED UNDER 24 HOUR SURVEILLANCE, MONITORED, but revered seemed to do the trick. I was hired.
    You want to know the truth about why I wanted to spend my 35th summer as a River Clown? You want to know why I was willing to have mothers drunkedly look at me and slur questions like “You’ve never been married? Never had kids? Poor thing” as I was trying desperately trying to get their obviously neglected little Bobby (yeah, you think I forgot about you…didn’t you, Bobby…never and I will find you) make dream catchers with soaked Popsicle sticks, molding cheap yarn and fish smelling glue instead of having him try to eat the glue (yeah, no, Bobby, put it on the stick…no, Bobby, not up your nose…NO, not up your nose)? That’s right, lady, never married, no kids…but I’m sober most of the time…sure, not right now…but most of the time. You want to know why I was willing to be woken up in the middle of the night along the banks of the Snake with sand being kicked in my face by Bobby who would say things like, “Mommy told me to sleep out here, cause daddy is being an asshole”? You want to know why I was willing to put up with all that…just to float down the Snake? Well, ask Mark Twain.
    For an English major like myself, Mark Twain is crack cocaine. He gives you a little river in Huckleberry Finn and the next thing you know, you are knee deep in Life on the Mississippi and he promises that if you hang out long enough in places like the Snake, you can learn to read the river. He once shared that for him, “The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book--a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice.” I wanted this experience; I wanted to know what the water had to say.
    Truth be told, I was desperate to know what the water had to say when I took the job of the river clown. Things for me weren’t exactly funny. Two years prior, someone I cherished wrapped a belt around his neck and wrote a note that ended in all caps…GOODBYE. That’ll put an end to a story; that’ll put an end to one’s youth; that’ll stop everything from making sense. For two year since, I hadn’t slept in a bed and any chance I was given, I was outside…the inside? Too confining. What I should have said in that interview to be a river clown was, “I am willing to do anything, so that, at the very least, water will begin to make sense.” But I didn’t, because I knew, by then, that few people would understand.
    With my career as a river clown, a flop, I refused to give up on the idea learning how to read a river. I had two months before I had to return to my life as a teacher; I had two months to learn how to read this river and I was going to learn this if it killed me, because, at this point, I didn’t really care if it did. So, off in my Ford 150, I returned to banks of the Snake and I followed its lead.
    For two months, I did just that. I am going to skip this part…in fact, I won’t even montage…different stories for different days. All I will say is after two months, a river rat…that’s me… emerged in Portland OR where I promptly got a mani, a pedi, bought out the Body Shop, ran up a credit card and stayed in a hotel complete with a proper toilet…no more forest for me…no, siree. I even bought a People magazine. With a headful of Paris Hilton, a body smelling of Apples, Peaches AND Pumpkin Pie and those bruises from the bedrock (I’ll take bedrock over Bobby any day of the week) handed over to Mabelline, I emerged from that Portland hotel room…once again, an American.
    And did I learn how to read the river? Nope…not in the very least. I emerged in Portland still broken…probably more broken than before. The only thing I had learned was this, a river is water that moves from the mountains to the sea. To read a river, it is always seeking to fill in gaps; therefore it is always in flux…the only thing I had learned was that the river may be me.
    With this suspicion in hand, I took my American self downtown to see what these Portland hipsters were really all about.
    First stop? Powell’s, a bookstore central to the Portland hipster scene. A bookstore with its own parking garage; a bookstore one block big. While Mark Twain may be crack cocaine, this was the place to smoke it; this was an English Majors’ crack house; this place was THE place to read. The place was crawling my brethren on a Wednesday afternoon…English majors tend to be underemployed…restaurant work, river clowns…that’s us. Words mean so little these days.
    Second stop? Living Room Theaters, just down the street. What to see? What to see? What? A movie with Parker Posey? For years, I have had a man-crush on Posey…she has made me laugh. I paid for my ticket and went inside. Broken English, the name of the film, was about a woman whose disappointments had begun to manifest. This time Posey made me cry; this time Posey played me. After the film, I sat in the darkness for as long as the staff let me; then, I was pushed into the light.
    Juxtaposed. On the street, there are hipsters…a hipster here, a hipster there, everywhere a hipster. Blocks and blocks, I walk with deep thoughts like “Why are hipsters so damn cool?” A hipster is something I have never been able to pull off…and a Portland hipster? A Portland Hipster is a special kind of hipster. Perfectly mussed hair, lime sweaters two sizes too small, tight black Levi jeans, their Doc Martens laced up just right tight…they never wander, “What makes hipsters so cool?” They never find themselves looking for the heart of a Saturday night…or a Wednesday night for that matter. They just ride their super thin ten speeds to the next place to be. Not me. I wander.
    I call my brother. He is a wandering soul like me (products of joint custody him and me), but he has the potential to be…a hipster. I know this, because he even sleeps in his Carhartt pants.
    “Whaddup?” See? Told you…potential.
    “Have you ever wondered where the cool people are?”
    “They’re not here.” He was living in Kalispell, MT at the moment and getting paid to pick up sticks.
    “No, stupid, they’re in Portland.” I, then, hold out my phone at the corner of 10th and Burnside, so he can hear “Vegan this”, “Green living that”, “The creativity class I’m taking”, “I did this piece to reflect my inner, inner chi,” “ I will have a soy chai latte please.”
    “Plus,” I give him the kicker, “In Portland, after taking that Freeing Your Wang Chung class, you have always meant to take, you can drink a margarita and watch a naked girl dance.” He doesn’t drink; (it is one way he keeps his childhood from grabbing his throat), but if he did…he could drink hard liquor, watch a girl dance around without her underpants while his own boxers dried in the local stripper laundromat while he studies the deeper meaning of “Everybody Wang Chung Tonight!” Portland is that kind of cool.
    “I’m there,” he says.
    The next morning, I left Portland. I place the Ford 150 into automatic and drive straight down I-5. I never did learn to read the river, but whatever…disappointment is what I have learned to expect.
    In a matter of days, I am back on the stage. A middle school teacher I am and telling kids to spit it out is how I spend my days. No, I mean it, SPIT IT OUT! You think I can’t see you because I am here on the page, but I can (I am a professional; I have a degree) and I SEE YOU…SPIT IT OUT NOW!!! I continue to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor and sometimes, actually a lot of times, in my car….thank you Wal-Mart, I know what you’re for. I continue to spend any chance I get…outside. When I am inside, I cannot breathe. I continue…but I am not sure how long I will last.
    Once a month, I drive from the desert to the Rivercide CA to get my hair done. This monthly trip is the only time I feel any reprieve. No, it is not the shade or the cut, but the man who does it…Mr. Jon Veitch. I have known Jon for years. The first time he cut my hair more than a decade before, he said I had the hair of 25 midgets…he had my business from there.
    Besides his wit and way with hair, I appreciate his walk through hell and every time I see him, I appreciate it more. His hell has been a terminal brain tumor that he was diagnosed with more than twenty years before. He is a man literally who has lived his entire adult life with a gun to his head. Instead of giving into his assailant, instead of letting it grab his throat, an assailant that has taken dreams, cars, houses, wives, children, business, the ability to read, the ability to write numbers, instead of giving in, Jon has asked his assailant to dance and dance he does; it is a sight to see.
    Every time, I see him, he greets me with a huge hug, a real smile and then glides across the floor and says, “Let’s get you some color.”
    I have heard it said that miracles are good things that happen without your permission. I have to say…I don’t believe in much…but that saying I do hold true. Had I been in my right mind, had I listened to the programming that had been poured into me since I was a little American, had I not seen how this programming could wrap itself around one’s neck and leave everyone hanging…would I have fallen in love with Jon Veitch? Probably not. He didn’t have a Porsche (He drove a OO Saturn Wagon). He didn’t have a house; he had two ex-wives, he had joint custody drama at times, his business was on the decline; due to seven brain surgeries, he couldn’t read and he couldn’t add and on top of all that, I had to accept that I would probably lose him and after my last loss, was I really up to this game? The answer was yes…why? Because Jon showed me that even in at the center of hell…there is hope. That was all I needed and will ever need. This hope allowed and allows me to breath. So, a good thing happened without my permission, I fell in love with Jon Veitch.
    For three and half years, I loved Jon Veitch. I am going to skip this part…in fact, I won’t even montage…many, many different stories for many, many different days. What I will tell you today is this time last year, I took Jon to Portland.
    You see, something good happened to my brother without his permission. Two weeks after I called him from Portland…my brother called me.
    “Guess where I am?” He asked.
    “In your Carhartts?”
    “Bite me”
    He then held out his phone from the corner of 10th and Burnside. “Vegan this”, “Green living that”, “The creativity class I’m taking”, “I did this piece to reflect my inner, inner chi,” “ I will have a soy chai latte please.” He was no longer picking up sticks.
    Two months later, he called me and said, “I met a girl online. Do you think it’ll scare when I pick her up with my van that has rope and duct tape in the back?”
    Did I really need to answer that?
    I didn’t hear from him after that. I tried to call him,
    “Pat, are you in jail again?”
    Many days later, he called back.
    “She liked the rope and the duct tape. She is one heck of a chick.”
    Two months later, he called me and said,
    “She is pregnant. What do I do?”
    Could I really answer that? I know what kids do…they jack stuff up. I told him that; he told me his fears; the same as mine. There are some issues in the bloodline that neither of us wished to repeat.
    “I guess, you should do what you think is right.” I finally said.
    Two months later, he called me.
    “We got married,” he announced.
    Seven months later, Henri Colorado entered this world in a birthing tub in their living room. Birthing tubs, dulas…Portland is cool like that.
    Again, I have heard it said that miracles are good things that happen without your permission. Had my brother been in his right mind, had he listened to the programming that he needed to have the car, the house, the color TV before he could swoon a girl, had he really considered some his childhood fears that he had seen wrap itself around his neck a time or two? Would he have fallen in love with the loveliest of girls named Melanie and brought Henri Colorado into their living room? Probably not.
    However, last year, I brought Jon to meet Melanie, my brother and Henri on the weekend that Henri turned two. Jon and I went to Powell’s; We went to the Living Room Theater; We bought CDs and drove to the coast. It was raining on the coast, so we decided to buy hats. As I was looking for the perfect hat, I heard the saleslady let out a huge laugh. I turned around to see Jon donning a Captain’s Hat. It was perfect for him….the Love Boat…soon we will be making another run…the Love Boat…promises something for everyone…The Captain…that is who Jon will always be. It was a great day; the next day? Not so great…I had been overwhelmed by hipsters and Jon had a seizure (the assailant was afoot). We flew home quiet.
    This year, I returned to Portland…Henri is three. Jon is not with me this year…at least not in physical form. The assailant gained footing and took him two months ago. I watched that assailant take every step. Yet, even as this assailant wrapped itself around Jon’s neck, Jon was still teaching me to hope. This is a different story for a different day, but the short of it is Jon taught me to believe. Because I believe, despite this incredible loss, I can sleep in a bed…sure, I wake up at three (however, as Jon would say…go with it…so I am in bed by eight); my belief is worth the cost; I still want to be outside any chance I get, but if I have to, I can be inside…what Jon taught me allows me to breathe.
    Portland, OR…here again…City of Bridges…places to cross. I came to Portland for the first time a couple summers back. I was broken. Today, I come to Portland because Henri is three. I have spent most of my adult life teaching kids and I know THE TRUTH about them…all of them jack stuff up, but NOT Henri. He can do no wrong. We take him to a park and he tries to climb up the stairs to the slide.
    “He gets scared,” my brother whispers to me. Yeah, Henri, so do I.
    My brother goes to help him. Yeah, Henri, I need help every once in awhile.
    Henri’s blue eyes are very big; he whispers to my brother.
    “You know what he said?”
    “Before we slide down, he whispered, ‘Dad, remember that you are big and I am small.’”
    Henri, may you always be protected.
    After the park, we have a birthday parade. My brother and his wife invite their potluck crew…potlucks are what Portland hipsters do. They also put on funny masks and faces and ride tricycles up the street to Rose’s Ice Cream Shop for Henri’s birthday treat. He orders Strawberry; I order sugar free Praline. Together we sit and eat our cones. At one point, he looks at me and says,
    “Look, a real Strawberry!”
    Henri, may you always find the real sweet.
    After the cone, we tricycle back (Henri is the leader; he is sugar fueled fast or is it his hat that makes him look like a lion that gives him such speed?) to my brother and his wife’s house. We open Henri’s birthday presents. Presents are what Portland hipsters do. They make their own wrapping paper; they give gifts like one hipster kid explained, “An already loved bear!” Henri screams with delight!
    Henri, may you always find joy.
    I will leave Portland today, City of Bridges…places to cross. I have crossed a few bridges since the first time I was here. But did I ever learn to read that river? The answer is yes. I learned it without my permission. A river is water that moves from the mountains to the sea. To read a river, it is always seeking to fill in gaps; therefore it is always in flux…the river is me; the river is we.
    I tell this to Henri and he screams at me,
    “I KNOW THAT!”
    Then he does a somersault.
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