When I first moved to Portland it was early summer of 2004. I didn’t have very many friends here. Somehow at the time, it felt like I had absolutely none. I would go out into the blistering sun to try and find something to do with myself, with the heat of the giant solar eyeball pinning me down, making me feel like it must be obvious to everyone that I was a nerd who didn’t have anything to do.
I had spent plenty of time in Portland before moving here. Living in Olympia, Wa, just two hours north, Portland was always the brilliant land of possibility teeming just across the border. Portland had art galleries and comic shops and more than ten restaurants. In passenger seats of various people’s cars, I blissfully let the variety of the city scroll past me like television.
When I got here, as a resident, I guess it was like I was suddenly expected to be able to perform in front of the sets that I had until then just been watching.
A secret about me is that I am actually very camera shy.
Before I moved here, I didn’t know anything about Northwest-Southwest-Northeast-Southeast layout of the city. I now know that it’s one of the easiest cities to navigate in the world. But I was very happily oblivious to the simple grid of it. Without an objective topographical charting system, I instead mapped out Portland according to the silhouette made by tracing around the life of whomever I was visiting here. Stretching back through the years, my visits to Portland corral into epochs, divided up by which Portland resident I was close enough to be staying with.
These places seem like entirely different towns.
In the Portland that I visited in the nineties, with my gang of Olympia friends– back before we knew anybody here well enough to stay the night — everything was perfectly ripe and thickly packed. You could walk the most important eight downtown blocks of it, and then shoot out for special restaurants. I sold a pice of art in a group show in the Reading Frenzy, and later had my own show there. Portland was always slightly, tantalizingly, a little bit ahead of me, showing me what was coming around the corner. We ate sushi at the place with the train running around the restaurant, and I set my water glass out so that the train would hit it slightly, and made a little dinging sound. My friends were annoyed. I thought it was brilliant.
The Portland where I came to visit Miranda was wide, and spare, and kind of anonymous. It was like being in a foreign country, with everything spread really far apart. I often feel surprised when I recognize places that I went with her, because I remember it feeling like none of the places that we went to, as we tooled around, really existed for anybody else. There were no neighbors or acquaintances. Just an expansive cream colored background of shops and places to eat, with a glowing neon 7-up bottle standing out against it. Maybe the cream colored background was her carpet. I laid down on her carpet a lot. I guess right now somebody else is walking around on it– Miranda has moved far away. All my movements and words felt careful and significant against her backdrop, like they still must be lying there, imprinted into space.
Kyle’s Portland was fresh and robust and psychedelic. If I was lucky, he would give me his room, and I could sleep up on the second floor, with his window opening onto one of those gigantic Southeast trees. The tree is mammoth. It seems like it was growing there, ripping its way out of the sidewalk, mostly as a force of Kyle’s fanciful relationship to the universe. Otherwise, why wouldn’t somebody have already trimmed the shit out of it? Portland with Kyle felt a little bit like a dirty joke.
I stayed with Jona a number of times when we were recording Poor Aim in spring of 2004, just before I moved here. It felt like living on a deserted island inside of his warehouse building. It felt like we were the only people on the planet, (not including his cat, who isn’t a person, but who does have a lot of personality). I felt totally cut off from any other incarnation of Portland I had known before. I guess maybe that could be good for recording an album.
I don’t know where Jona was when I moved here a few months later. I know he wasn’t here, though, because the city was suddenly unrecognizeable. Jona’s loft oasis was gone, and I was on my own in an embarrassing loneliness.
A few months later, My girlfriend moved here. I was comforted for about a week, and then she broke up with me. Later she broke up with me, again. And then finally, months and months later, one last time, just for good luck.
I guess that the detritus of my relationship with her is a large part of what makes the Portlands of my past seem so separate from the Portland that I have come to reside in. My own Portland, the one that I have written down an address for, is the one that I criss-crossed in routine attempts to hold together a relationship, which ultimately died in my arms outside Laurelhurst park. The Portland that I have known on my own has been a dot to dot map of dark memories, around which I ride on my bike, wincing and trying to avoid.
But I like it here, in the here and now, here.
I mostly stay in my house, where I have a bathtub full of worn old charts, that I am cleaning out and laying onto my concrete warehouse floor.
They are drying into a motley carpet.
Obviously, the assignment is to make my own town out of these soggy remnants. I like it.