Category Archives: Portland

Theater Geek Karaoke

This past Sunday I found myself portraying Frank Hardy in a short play called The Hardy Boys and the Mystery of Where Babies Come From. I had never heard of this play until about an hour before I was on stage, and during performance I and the three other actors had to read from scripts. We had no sets, virtually no props, and had not rehearsed in any meaningful way. It was loads of fun.

Play|Date is a new project from the Misfit Academy and is hosted by The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven, a small venue in Portland’s SE Industrial District, and it can best be thought of as dramatic karaoke. Participants have a list of short plays they can choose from, put in their names and, just like at a karaoke they’re called up to the stage to read through the scene with other performers.

Unlike other art events, it’s participatory. Portland has no shortage of plays, concerts, comedy shows, gallery openings, or the like, but there are far fewer arts events that encourage the general public to make art or actually flex their artistic muscles. They do exist, but not in numbers. Play|Date offers depth to the Portland art scene by expanding the field of who can do art and be a performer. It’s a catalyst for creation. I know that sounds sort of hokey, but it’s true.

Just like how karaoke isn’t a concert, Play|Date isn’t an actual performance. However, there’s a certain pleasure to seeing average people sing at karaoke, and there’s also a specific enjoyment that one can get from seeing unrehearsed nonactors read through a scene. You’re watching other humans, just like you, spontaneously attempt to make art. Having an active, vibrant, and interesting art scene in this town can mean more than just having a lot of good performance spaces. It also can mean that this is a place where people (you, me, everyone) can actually go places and attempt, just a little, to create.

The Legend of Polybius. Now on YouTube!

Just today I found out that someone put my Polybius talk on Youtube. So, if you want to watch me talk about a killer fake video game, here it is.

In Which I Find Plagiarism in a Portland History Book

Plagiarism is one of the worst things that a writer can be accused of doing. This is not simply because it is an act of theft (though it is precisely that) but also because it reveals a certain intellectual bankruptcy on the part of the offender. A plagiarist does not interpret, analyze, or even bring new personality to what they’re purportedly writing about. They do not provide a unique voice, interpretation, or perspective. They do not, to borrow a pop business term, add value.

Earlier this week I found out that a local author copied another, earlier book. I was at the Multnomah County Library looking at secondary sources for an upcoming feature on Vanport, and I cracked open this book for obvious reasons:

photo (2)Because Vanport was in North Portland, I figured that some of the regional neighborhood publications could also be handy. Maybe there were stories or citations in those that would provide interesting details or dramatic first-person accounts, or just a different spin or viewpoint that would be worth looking at. I grabbed a few of them, including this one:

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History of the Kenton Neighborhood did indeed have a chapter on Vanport. However, the text felt a tad familiar. Here’s the opening paragraph from Manly Maben’s book (click it to enlarge):
photo (3)

And here’s the Vanport section from the book on Kenton:photo (4)

History of the Kenton Neighborhood, published in the late 1990s, copied from Manly Maben’s Vanport, which preceded it by about a decade. I read the section a few times and found that pretty much all of it was just lifted from the other book. I was shocked to see something so blatant, shameless, and obvious.

I didn’t know what to do. I thought, for a ridiculous moment, that I should go up to a librarian and say “pardon me, but this book in your Portland history section contains plagiarism,” however I doubt that would yield any kind of results. It’s not like I can go to the Writing Police and report author Alta Mitchoff as a plagiarist. I can’t take away her writing license.

I can do this, though. Alta Mitchoff, if you happen to be reading this (for some reason), I want to address you directly.

You are not a writer. You are not a historian. You are not a journalist, a chronicler, an interpreter of history, or a steward of culture. You took someone else’s work and copy-pasted it into your own crappy little neighborhood history book, and put your name on the cover. You’re a thief, Alta Mitchoff, and I caught you.

Some Proposed New Locations For Portlandia, America’s Second-Largest Hammered Copper Statue

Portland’s beloved Portland building is in trouble! The postmodern structure (designed by renowned Target employee Michael Graves) needs $95 million in repairs according to the Oregonian. That’s a lot of money, guys! It’s very possible that the world’s first ever (FIRST EVER) postmodern office building is going to get wrecking ball’ed away sometime soon, and that’s a shame. But if it does, there’s an important part of it we really should save.

You probably already know this, but the Portland Building has a pretty cool statue on it.

Portlandia!

Portlandia!

Portlandia is made out of hammered copper (just like the Statue of Liberty!) she’s a lady statue (just like Liberty!) and is wearing a robe toga (remind you of any iconic American statuary? I think so). Also, just like Liberty is an iconic and instantly recognizable symbol of New York, freedom, and pretty good pizza, the mere sight of Portlandia reminds everyone of food carts and tasty coffee coffee. She is nationally known as a symbol of our town. She is our Space Needle, our Golden Gate, our Wall Drug. Everyone has taken the time to hang out on Fifth and go “ooh” at the big statue.

Everyone who moves to or visits Portland does that. Everyone.

We need to preserve this iconic, instantly-recognizable treasure even as the Portland building meets its end. Portlandia, my friends, needs a new home.

Powell’s

You know who goes to the Portland building on a regular basis? Water bureau employees! You know who goes to Powell’s on a regular basis? Water bureau employees and also everyone else. Right now only a few lucky civil servants get to look at Portlandia when they go to work, but if she was at Powell’s (like above the big sign on tenth and Burnside) everyone in town would see her when to go to pick up the new James Patterson novel.

On top of Big Pink

The U.S. Bancorp Tower (or “Big Pink”) is not the tallest building in Portland. The Wells Fargo Center is, by less than ten feet. That doesn’t seem right to me. Does it seem right to you? No. Okay then. But, a lot of people think it is and it’s a prettier building and it really should be taller. If we were to put Portlandia on top of Portland’s biggest, pinkest building, Big Pinkie would have a few extra feet of elevation and beat out the boring old Wells Fargo Center by a trident. One Portland icon would help out another! Everyone wins.

On stage at Mary’s Club

Mary’s Club is Portland’s oldest strip club. It’s an institution! Portlandia is a lady and she’s wearing a toga robe that is certainly not a complete set of clothes. She would fit right in with the other ladies who are also not wearing complete sets of clothes, and instead of a pole the dancers could use her trident. Everyone who dances at Mary’s would have a big, metallic dance partner! Don’t you want a big, metallic dance partner? I do.

In Front of The Original Hotcake House on Powell

So, this is a kind of private thing to admit here, but I’ve gone out with my friends and consumed alcohol one or two times. Sometimes when those evenings go really, really late we’ve ended up at the Original Hotcake House on Powell, because it’s open 24 hours and after you’ve had too many Old Crows a pancake or two can can totally hit the spot. Sometimes I get sort of moody on nights like that and wonder if going out and obliterating myself with Old Crow after Old Crow is really the best way to spend my life. I wonder if I could have just stayed in and read a book or knitted a cat sweater. Even though I’m with my friends on the nights when we end up at the Original Hotcake House on Powell, it’s lonely. Lonely on the inside. I’m having a really hard time with this idea, but I hope you sort of understand.

On nights like that nothing would comfort me more than a towering monument to civic pride. My friends and I would pull up to the Original Hotcake House on Powell, and Portlandia would be right there, a symbol of strength steadfastness. My life might be a mess, and I will always regret the books I didn’t read and the cat sweaters I didn’t knit, but Portlandia is there. She is strong. She is strong enough for all of us.

Above the main entrance of the SE Hawthorne New Season

This one time I was in the SE Hawthorne New Seasons and an employee talked to this lady who wasn’t wearing shoes. He was very polite and said that he was really sorry, but because New Seasons was a food place people had to wear shoes there. The lady said that was okay and no problem and she was just leaving anyway. Everything was totally cool a no one used bad words. That spirit of openness and communication is precisely the kind of thing represented by a giant statue reaching down and making a beckoning gesture, welcoming to Portland ships, travelers, and Californians who want to live here.

Kern Park

Kern Park is named after kerning, the practice spacing letters in fonts so they line up right when you turn them into words. Portland has a park named after kerning! Isn’t that quirky? Keep Portland Weird! I think we should put Portlandia here because Kern Park is near my house.

Those are my ideas! Where do you think we should put Portlandia?

In Which I Finally Watch Grimm

It was pretty much inevitable that I was going to start watching NBC’s Grimm, but I put it off for a healthy period of time. It was inevitable because they’ve filmed right outside my home, my work, and during my commute. I’ve seen the trailers, sets, cranes, cameras, boom mics, and port-a-potties strew throughout the city. and all of it has done a lot to pique my curiosity. So, last night during an attack of Crippling Introversion I snuggled up with a mug of green tea and Hulu, and decided to finally watch this thing that has been filming in my live/work/commute space. I also kind of expected to hate it.

Many people (at least the nerds that I tend to hang out with) were comparing it to Bill Willingham’s Vertigo series Fables, a comic that has never really grabbed me. As much as I like Sandman, Transmetropolitan, and Swamp Thing, Fables has always struck me as the contrived and sillier younger sibling of the big kid comics. None of the Fables characters were nearly as well done as Spider Jerusalem, John Constantine or the Swamp Thing. While it’s clever at times, it always seemed like it was skipping the character development step by saying “Hey, look guys! It’s the Big Bad Wolf! You remember him, right? Well, he’s a detective now! Check it out!” It’s fun, but not something as mind-blowing as Sandman or as joyfully profane as Preacher.

So, when I heard that there was a series that was basically Fables (except not) filming in Portland, I kind of went “meh” and thought that I’d never watch it. Last night, though, I was surprised by my reaction: Grimm is certainly not good, but it is also surprisingly not unwatchable. At least from my vantage point as a Portland resident.

Sure, there area lot of things wrong with it. The main character detective guy is a bland cipher, the writing is stilted (at one point someone says “this is no fairy tale” and I wanted to kidney punch whoever put that in there) and the plot of the first episode is stupid and direct in the way that I imagine James Patterson novels are. (I don’t know- I’ve never read a James Patterson novel, but I assume that his books have all the subtlety and plotting of chunk of boiled mutton.)

The look of the show, though, is pretty good. Not the CGI and makeup- that’s totally average. I mean the trees and the dark clouds and craftsman style houses that are all over Portland. The show really looks like Portland, and given that my various jobs tend to all add up to “professional Portland nerd,” I got no end of joy in seeing real, live things that I recognized in the show.

(That said, I was annoyed that the addresses in the show were all fictitious, and, worse than that, did not adhere to Portland’s pretty intuitive numbering conventions. But, apparently all of Law & Order’s NYC locales are made up, so I’ll just have to deal with that.)

The one thing other than seeing my fair city on screen, was Eddie the werewolf. While the protagonist, Nick, is fairly bland, the guy who plays his werewolf sidekick actually seems to be enjoying the part and brings a certain amount of levity the performance. That, and seeing people fight with swords in a modern setting kind of reminded me of Buffy and Angel, and triggered some of my Whedon-based nostalgia buttons.

Grimm certainly isn’t good, but it could become something good. There is potential for it to be much more than just a police procedural with werewolves. It might not be the next Buffy, but it’s by no means a failure. I’d be happy to see it renewed, and continue to plaster my city all over the teevee.

The Sad Futility of Fake Voodoo Doughnuts

A while ago I was in a Fred Meyer and saw this:

(Sarah snapped that, by the way- she has a magical picture-snapping phone, and I have a camera-less Blackberry.)

It’s fairly obvious what that’s supposed to be- the staff at the Freddy’s bakery clearly wanted to emulate the pastry style of one of Portland’s best-known pastry destinations, Voodoo Doughnut. Voodoo, of course, is known for lots of disparate  things such as cocoa puffs and Gummi worms on doughnuts. The Freddy’s Froot Loops donut is basically an exact replica of Voodoo’s Loop-laden offerings. It’s a cute strategy, but will fail for the following two reasons:

1: It’s utterly devoid of authenticity. The above-pictured doughnut reeks of painful and pale imitation. It’s the Transmorphers of the pastry world.

2: People don’t really go to Voodoo Doughnut for the doughnuts.

During my day job as a Portland tour guide, I get to see lots of people ask about Voodoo Doughnut. They tend to ask where it is or what it’s all about- seldom do they ask if the doughnuts are any good. They also aren’t deterred by the line that often forms around the shop. If anything, the line seems to amaze people and pique their interest in the shop. If lots of people are waiting, after all, it has to be worth it.

What people want from their Voodoo Doughnut experience is the feeling of having gone there, having waited in line, gotten their doughnuts, and experienced a bit of Portland’s eccentricity. Lots of people visit this city and have a general, unformed idea that it’s kind of weird. They’ve maybe seen that show on IFC, or have heard about things like people keeping chickens in their backyards or riding bikes naked. Lots of folks visit this town and want to plug into the oddness, but don’t know how. They don’t know anyone, and aren’t really sure where to look for weird stuff.

Voodoo Doughnut allows them to do that. It’s a relatively straightforward way for people visiting Portland to immediately participate in weird stuff. Granted, putting bacon on maple bars is not terribly weird compared to, say, reenacting Star Trek episodes, but it’s beyond the normal experience of people who don’t live in cities of appreciable size.

Mind you, I don’t think any of this is a bad thing. I’ve got no problems with Voodoo Doughnut as a business, nor as a representative of Portland. While I don’t think they’re doughnuts are going to cause anyone to experience any food-related revelations, their shop is a fun place to go, and I do like it that it’s great that they also perform weddings.

The experience of thinking “Hey, I found some of Portland’s weird stuff!” can’t really be replicated by putting Froot Loops all over a grocery store doughnut. The Fred Meyer bakery whose product is pictured above have tried to replicate something more successful, but they have missed entirely the reason people buy Froot Looped doughnuts in the first place- the experience. They’ve replicated the form and shape, yet missed the spirit.

Dear Portland Trailblazers: Get a New Mascot

Pioneer Courthouse Square was filled with people the other day for an Arvydas Sabonis event. The former Trailblazers center drew quite a crowd, and various Blazer-themed decorations fluttered in the wind.

There was also this monstrosity:

I’d forgotten all about Blaze, the Trailblazers’ feline mascot. I didn’t like much seeing him, given that he’s about as compelling a luckwarm bowl of unsweetened frog eggs. I don’t follow basketball closely, but I do have an affinity for the Blazers- I remember rooting for them back in the Clyde Drexler days. I like it when they do well, and was really quite thrilled when they managed to actually beat Houston at the end of last season.

The Blazers, though, really need a new mascot. Blaze seems forced and awkward. He is too cute and insubstantial, and there is nothing quintessentially “Portland” or “Blazerish” about him. Dress him in other colors, and he could be the capering cat of any team. A good mascot should be a standard-bearer. Blaze is a mere placeholder.

A while ago I was talking with some friends, and we all decided that a better option would be to replace Blaze with a sasquatch.

The Seattle Supersonics had the right idea when the did their mascot. Take a look at this:

See that? That’s awesome. Yes, it does kind of look like Teen Wolf, but I’m willing to live with that. Bigfoot is something particular to the Northwest, and a big furry ape is a symbol of our region and would do way more to jazz up the crowd than a cartoon cat in athletic shoes. Now that the Sonics have moved to Oklahoma City, the sasquatch is basically up for grabs.

Portland Trailblazers: Ditch Blaze. Use bigfoot as a mascot. Do it. I guarantee you everyone will love it, and no one will miss the stupid cat.

Why Dressing Up in Funny Clothes With Lots of People is Awesometastic Fun-Times

That is a picture of me dressed up as my villainous alter-ego, the Defenestrator. His superpower is throwing people and things out of windows. I didn’t crack out the leather and goggles on my own, though. The getup was for a pub crawl hosted by the Alter Egos Society, an organization in Portland dedicated to, well, dressing up like superheroes and supervillains. This last weekend several of Portland’s enthusiastic geeks donned crazy clothes, took on the persona of characters of our own devising, and cavorted throughout town.

Now, why the costumes? Why not just go on a regular pub crawl? Why not just get a bunch of people together and have a night out? That’s possible, certainly, but dressing up in crazy clothes gives it an extra amount of specialness, of awesome-osity.

Costumes are an outlet for creativity

There were some fairly impressive getups on display, from a quartet of horn-sporting demons to a mad scientist character who had an extremely impressive metal mask. I myself worked a bit on a logo for the Defenestrator that I appended to the back of my jacket, and settled on a distressed-looking down arrow that suggested dramatically crashing into the ground. (Several people asked me “Are you supposed to be the economy or something?”)

While it’s perfectly possible for me to go to an art store and load up on canvas, charcoal, and fixatif any time I want, knowing that I was going to attend a themed pub crawl gave me a reason to start scrawling out a symbol for my own fictional villain. Having a reason for something, a deadline, and looming event fires the productive imagination much more than most things.

Costumes are an instant conversation piece

While I can occasionally get pretty extroverted, it is still sometimes difficult to start conversations with strangers. I found myself talking to plenty of people I didn’t know, though. The demons I mentioned earlier- they’d rigged up pitchforks that shot flames out of the end, and of course several of us started using them to light clove cigarettes. Socializing ensued. People commented on my leather pants, I talked to a guy who happened to be wearing an “Ike and Nixon” button, and briefly chatted with a man in a luchadore mask. All of these interactions were smoothed by the presence of weird clothes. “Dude, awesome costume!” was an instant conversation topic.

Costumes can change peoples’ personalities

A friend of mine was dressed up as an evil mastermind he called Lord Skullfucker. Now, he’s normally a pretty demonstrative guy, but got no shortage of joy talking about how he was going to initiate amorous relations with various peoples’ ocular cavities. Likewise, my girlfriend was dressed as the deadly and beautiful Rocktopussy, and found herself voguing and striking David Bowie poses much more than she normally does. A guy dressed up as an 80s metal themed hero kept flashing the horns, and the various heroes and villains pretended to hate each other to amusing effect.

With crazy costumes, you can try on not only clothes, but a whole other bombastic and weird persona that you wouldn’t use in real life. I know this is a bit of a cliche, but it’s wonderful to see in action, with folks trying on personalities to go with their new tights and masks.

It’s fun to freak the mundanes

Obviously, not everyone in Portland was dressed up in crazy duds. There were plenty of perfectly normal people out and about, and we got a fair amount of stares. Most of them were very appreciative, and several cars honked in support of our wackiness. Of course we waved back. Several onlookers from the Portland Streetcar pressed their noses to the glass of their vehicle as we walked by, and we responded with waves and whoops.

I’d venture a guess that most of them later told their friends “Hey, guess what I saw!” and we managed to improve their evening, just a little.

Weird stuff is a source of civic pride

This is probably specific to Portland and cities like it, but I’m quite grateful that I live in a city where quirky stuff happens on a fairly regular basis. The evening before I dressed up a the Defenestrator, I’d been playing extreme mini-golf. This weekend I’ll probably see the mayor of Portland dressed up a robot. On Sunday, there’s roller derby to be seen. Say what you will about Portland being self-consciously weird, it’s not boring.

Of course Portland has other events like this. There’s a pirate themed pub crawl. And the one where everyone dresses up as Santa. I hope to be at both, filled with joy at living in one of the funnest towns ever.

A Plea For Coat Checks At Portland Music Venues

Dear Every Portland Venue Ever,

Please have a coat check.

We have a fantastic music scene in this city. On any given night of the week, you can rock out for not very much money. The clubs, pubs, bars and venues here are absolutely wonderful, and I’m proud to call the local music scene mine.

Except for the lack of coat checks.

Why? Please, for the love of all that is decent and holy, why doesn’t every single venue in this town have a coat check? I don’t want to dance, gyrate, headbang, and otherwise get crazy in my jacket. I want to do all of that sans-jacket. What’s more, I don’t want to have to worry about my jacket being rifled through while it sits on a bench somewhere. And, even if it isn’t rifled through (I admit this is a remote possibility, actually), there is the potential that some drunken jackhole (and I use the term “drunken jackhole” in the most affectionate way possible) will spill beer on it during the festivities. Just the other I was at the Crystal Ballroom (a magical place) and my girlfriend and I left our jackets on a bench. When we got back to them, after the show, her jacket was somewhat moist. This did not spoil the evening, but it was unpleasant.

So, have a coat check. Please.

It rains here. It is often wet and dark and cold. Crowds of people file into concerts and then have to shed various layers of waterproof gear before venturing out onto the floor of a concert. Oftentimes, piles of discarded jackets litter the sides of concert venues. This is messy, undesirable, and could easily be solved. Each venue could make a tidy bit of money chekcing coats. It is mystifying why you don’t offer this service.

Every Portland venue ever, I implore you: Give me a place to check my jacket. A place where I can stow it safely and not have to think about it’s security, structural integrity, or moisture level while revelries transpire. This is a simple problem with an easy solution.

I love you, Portland Music Scene. A lot. Gobs and bunches, in fact.

However, the lack of coat checks is utterly moronic. Fix it. I will give you all big, appreciative hugs if you do.

Love,

Me

Here’s A Picture of Abraham Lincoln With a Bird on His Head

Just because.