Prom Night

 

“Look! There’s a rhythmic ceremonial ritual coming up.”
-Back to the Future

I never went to my high school prom. The party line on that is that my girlfriend and I just broke up unexpectedly a few weeks prior, which we did. The truth is I probably never would have gone anyway. I was a bit of an outsider and that just really wasn’t my social scene. I never was part of any cool inner clique. I never would be remembered as part of the in crowd, the cool kids, or the beautiful people. Rather happily, I was an outlier. On prom night itself I probably had a movie night at my house with my other dateless nerdy friends watching John Carpenter movies and drinking Mountain Dew until the wee hours.

I was the kid that kept to himself and excelled academically. High school was easy for me and I knew I was going straight to college after. I didn’t care in the slightest about fashion or fitting in, as evidenced by any photo of me in high school. I was reading H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker as soon as I finished my assigned classroom reading. I chose solitary activities like radio broadcasting and yearbook staff. So I was either in a room talking to myself over the microphone about music, or in a darkroom by myself developing black and white photos. I did attend lots of high school functions, but as an observer photographing the events and not participating in them. I watched everybody else have fun through a camera lens.

I spent my high school years discovering and delving into music. Playing vinyl records was, to me, attending church. Reading or deciphering song lyrics before the internet existed was like memorizing ancient holy tomes of scripture verses. Becoming an acolyte of the church of Led Zeppelin, Rush, and Judas Priest album by album until I owned their entire discographies brought me spiritual happiness and enlightenment. I also worshipped at the altar of Van Halen, Metallica, Pat Benatar, and early Pretenders. Amen and hallelujah, my big brothers and sisters of rock.

I also started volunteering as a disc jockey on my high school radio station, KRVM 91.9FM. I got to play music I deemed important over the radio for other people to listen to. Going on record-buying trips at The Record Garden in Eugene was such an honor. The radio station would give me a purchase order to buy records for the station and review them. I felt like I was the luckiest guy in the world to be entrusted with this duty.

I never played any sports in high school. None at all. Instead I started taking drum lessons when I was 16. Any hand-eye coordination or athletic prowess I had was only showcased when playing drums. I found playing drums to be a mathematical exercise in ambidextrous rhythm making. A workout for the body and brain requiring stamina, control, and precise calculation of patterns and timing. And yeah, I liked hitting things with sticks.

But back to prom. I had gone to a couple high school dances with my girlfriend before splitting up. I remember walking through the crowd with our arms around each other while Guns N’ Roses (of all things) was playing in the cafeteria. We hung out for a few songs and then left so we could go make out. Notoriously, we once got kicked out of an arcade for kissing and making a spectacle out of ourselves. That’s a badge of honor I wear proudly to this day.

Now, decades later, I find myself working security at a high school prom at the music venue where I work full time. Many groups rent out our venue when we don’t have a famous touring band playing there. So I’m familiar with staffing fundraisers, weddings, anniversaries, work parties, and even high school proms. The proms provide their own Police officer on premises, so our job becomes less security and more dance chaperone.

I couldn’t help it, but I was looking up in the rafters for a bucket of blood to be dropped on Carrie White. I would have been like the Amy Irving character trying to stop the slow-motion humiliation of Sissy Spacek. In my revisionist daydreaming of the movie, I also would have gotten to kick John Travolta’s ass. Luckily, there wasn’t even any crowning of the prom king and queen like in the Brian De Palma film. No popularity contest rating of the most popular echelon of high school representatives.

My high school prom (that I didn’t go to) was many years ago. Watching all these kids tonight pushed a lot of memories and feelings out to the surface. I haven’t gone to any high school reunions at all. I believe I found most of my cohorts and chosen family in college, not high school. I do retain a handful of good friends from back then, but I just didn’t bond as strongly with people until college. I barely stayed in contact with anyone from high school after graduation. I think I wanted to compartmentalize that period of my life and put it behind me. It wasn’t particularly a bad time, it was just….high school.

The kids tonight are having the time of their life. Or they want it to look that way. Everybody is taking selfies and uploading SnapChats of them dancing with their friends. There is so much pressure for this night to be all things to everyone. I am stricken with how grown up these kids look. Times have changed, indeed. The young men in my graduating class didn’t have full beards or tattoos. I don’t recall them being so tall or filled out either. And the young women here tonight wearing shiny dresses and makeup could pass for 26-year-old businesswomen. Absolutely nobody in my class was this physically mature or developed. Some of these young ladies look like glamorous sexed-out actresses or models. And there was so much booty shaking and twerking I thought I was at a strip club. I had to remind myself that everybody here is about 17 or 18 years old. Exactly how old to you have to be to get a boob job in Oregon anyway?

There was a mass exodus of attendees leaving the prom about an hour and a half in. They had other better things to do that likely involved drinking alcohol and having sex. Hotel parties and homes where the parents are away are calling them. Some coworkers and I would joke quietly, “Somebody’s getting pregnant tonight.” Although I remember being 17 and not knowing nearly  as much as I thought I did. Sadly, the late hours of prom night are most likely to just bring fumblings in the dark, bad sex, and disappointment.

At one point the crowd got so animated that one guy was able to get up on top of everyone and crowd surf. This was definitely something that I had never seen before. Crowd surfing at a high school prom. I thought some of the young women would be angry with him for potentially ruining their expensive hairdo or damaging their corsage. Not so, everybody held him up as he fist-pumped along to the song. I was moving towards them to stop him when the DJ lowered the music and said, “No crowd surfing, no crowd surfing. Gotta keep it safe, everybody.” Thanks for doing my job for me, friend.

I was so interested in people watching and figuring out who was who. I could see the hyper-popular people that everyone wanted to take a photo with. I smiled when I saw the nerdy academic types clumping together. I loved the people who didn’t go along with the norm and wore exactly what they wanted to wear. They had their own quirky fashion style and didn’t care about fitting in. Nobody was being a wallflower either. Everybody was out on the floor in some way. I nodded with recognition when I saw the yearbook photographers doing the exact thing that I used to to. Documenting the event without participating in it. But with a valid excuse and something to keep their hands occupied. Their classmates are going to look at these prom photos for the rest of their lives.

I see so much fresh-faced optimism and innocence here tonight, along with some awkward naiveté. For most of us, the age of 18 is when we are at the peak of our beauty, health, and attractiveness. We haven’t been burdened with the grind of life yet. We haven’t been worn down by failures, tanked relationships, or lost jobs. With some exceptions, we usually haven’t been tied down with early pregnancies, major deaths in our families, or debilitating health issues of our own. We haven’t yet suffered crippling credit card debt, divorce and alimony, student loans we never pay off, a foreclosed home, or medical bills that bankrupt us. We aren’t jaded and cranky yet, and the future still seems like a wonderful dream. At 18 the world is still your oyster, and the world hasn’t broken you yet.

I couldn’t help but think about how for most of these kids, this is going to be one of the milestones of their lives. This night, no matter what happens, is the night that everybody remembers and talks about for years to come. They might even tell their kids about it. Your parents might display a framed photo of you and your prom date for a long time after you wish that they would take it down. Some of these people you will never see again. Some of these friends will later end their friendship with you, disappear, or die prematurely.

But during the dance, you assume that you will always be such good friends with these people. Not accounting for moving far away, getting married and having kids, traveling for your job, or just losing the shared history together. Or simply growing up and growing apart. For many this signifies the end of high school, and therefore the end of childhood. It’s the beginning of adulthood; moving out on your own, starting college, taking time off to travel, or joining the military. Whatever your calling is, wherever the winds of adulthood set you down. And there is no going back. It’s becoming a memory as we speak.

I realized that to these kids, I’m just some middle-aged guy sitting at an access point looking bored. And I guess I am. But I’m remembering where I was and who I was those decades ago. Nostalgia is a powerful drug. It is certainly a surreal experience to watch this prom decades after my own prom. It’s no wonder that my favorite music and movies all come from the 80s. I’m also realizing how bad most of the music that they love really is (it’s fucking terrible honestly.) Pop music has honestly devolved since I was in high school. I hated all of the songs they played until the very end. Music today just doesn’t energize and inspire me like it did when I was younger. Music was better and more innovative in my day. Lyrics were like poetry and actually meant something. Get offa my lawn, kids. I took satisfaction that for the final big songs, the DJ played classics from my era and the crowd went wild. The crown danced to those old classics from Journey, Bon Jovi, and David Bowie.

Mainly I’m watching them with envy and happiness. I’m happy that this night went off without any problems and that they all had so much fun. One of my favorite moments was when one of the nerdiest, goofiest kids there who had been dancing like a fool for most of the night started a conga line. All the other students joined in. The jocks, nerds, goths, miscreants, trust fund kids, and the beautiful elite. They all were part of this spontaneous moment of unity and brotherhood. They will never again in their lives all be joined together in equality and solidarity like that. Celebrating their graduation from high school and the beginning of their adult lives.

To be young and optimistic again. To be young enough where all of your accomplishments and greatest moments are still ahead of you, not behind you.

Back to the future, indeed. Hug each other longer than you think you need to. Tell your friends that you love them. Kiss them on the cheek. You will never be here again.

Freeze this moment a little bit longer
Make each sensation a little bit stronger
Experience slips away
Experience slips away
-RUSH, Time Stand Still

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ascension of the Dirt Wizards

In a previous chapter I wrote about the depressing reality of homeless people living on the streets of Portland. I continue to encounter the homeless population on my post-work walks, and continue to have lots of thought about them. Sometimes I see something different that actually uplifts my spirits at 3am.

First let me lay out the different levels of homelessness that I observe as I walk around the city after my shift.

Level 1: UNPREPARED

These are the people who you see sleeping on the sidewalk or in a doorway without any supplies. They just have the clothes on their back and maybe a jacket or blanket. It can be startling to see these people because at first glance they appear to be a dead body on the sidewalk. Especially if the blanket is covering their face and they are out in the middle of the sidewalk. They are splayed out on the sidewalk as if they were dropped there, and they may be using the curb as a pillow. When I’m walking by them I slow down and walk close to them to listen for their breathing or snoring. So far I haven’t found a dead person.

These are the people who I assume are suffering from debilitating mental illnesses. They most likely were discharged or kicked out of a residential treatment home and are off their medications. Or they might have had a psychotic break or are in a fugue state. They truly do not know who they are. It is as if they just gave up wandering the streets cussing at ghosts, and just dropped to the sidewalk from exhaustion. This patch of concrete qualified as their best option for sleeping quarters tonight. The Robert Duvall character from the film THE ROAD embodies the kind of person I’m talking about. Disheveled, confused, unrecognizable, and struggling to remain lucid and functional. They have no protection from the elements, no gear, and not much hope. The song that always pops into my head when I see these people is “Scarecrow” from Ministry. The spoken word phrase repeated throughout the song is, “They live…without hope.”

Level 2: PREPARED

These are the people who have been doing this for longer and have acquired some necessary resources to make their night on the streets more tolerable. They scouted and chose a business doorway to make a little hovel for the night. Sometimes they choose one under a street light, and sometimes they choose a dark doorway. But they have a sleeping bag and often a backpack of belongings that they use for a pillow. If someone were to try to steal the backpack they would be awakened by their pillow moving. They often have found a tarp or cardboard and have put it up in the doorway for a wind break and rain protection. Often I see a cardboard pizza box, some water bottles, and a small shopping cart with them. They know what restaurants give out food at the end of the night. People at this level have the skills and resources to provide some privacy and defenses against the weather.

Level 3: NETWORKED

These are the people who have found friends and established a small mini-community of campers. They have networked and created a cohort. They utilize the soup kitchens and food donations services. They all have individual tents and often have collected wooden pallets to put them on. They have flashlights or camp lanterns inside of their tents, and safety in numbers. Some of them have cell phones. They circle their proverbial wagons in a larger area under a bridge or in a grass area with bushes and trees. Their tents are secured with bungee cords. I’ve even seen small campfires set up in the middle of the circle of tents with people sitting in lawn chairs drinking. It’s an interesting tableau of modern city homelessness for sure.

Looking at this established homeless camp, it’s almost like a twilight zone commentary on American suburbia. They are living the American dream available to them, while we all chase the American dream of our own that we were sold. They have found social groups and BBQs, camping outside from necessity and not a desire for nature on a vacation. We value our cars, jobs, houses, spouses, kids, and all the competition that comes along with it. They value sleeping bags, a working tent, gifted food, and their shopping cart full of their life. Some of them spend much of their day traveling around finding the resources of food and recyclable cans and bottles. Some hold up signs asking for money or food. Collecting the treasure of aluminum cans and glass bottles that can be traded in for a dime each earns them buying power. We work a job to collect a paycheck that we use to buy things. When we go on vacation we end up doing what they do every night. For a week or so we have no responsibilities. We get away from worrying about bills or our jobs. We sit around a fire and drink alcohol with our friends outside in nature before falling asleep in a tent.

Level 4:  ENTRENCHED

These are the people who I alluded to at the start of this chapter. Some people have been homeless so long that they have achieved stasis and embraced it as their permanent lifestyle. They don’t care about getting into a residential center or finding a job. Some might say they’ve given up, but some might that they have come to peace with living off the grid and existing as a homeless person. They aren’t achieving anything better, but they aren’t decompensating or losing anything either. They are exactly where they are and have accepted it. They are the zen homeless.

My coworker has lovingly dubbed these elder statesmen of the homeless community the Dirt Wizards. They do indeed appear as bearded Gandalf-like men using walking sticks that could easily be mistaken for magical staffs. They stride over the dirt fields on missions unknown to us. A pagan procession. A Wiccan walkabout. I believe that they mentor the newly homeless in the ways of survival and acquiring resources. They wear cloaks or wraps similar to that of Jedi Knights. They often have trinkets on their wooden staffs that I assume are talismans or amulets. We are pretty certain that they are out there casting spells. They are keeping the land, and those who sleep upon this land, safe. Charging amulets to bring food and valuables to the vulnerable tent sleepers. Powering a huge invisible shield of protection over this area. Checking in on their brethren at their outposts. Guardians of the night, they are the wandering nomads of the neighborhood.

Maybe the mysterious spell work that they do is why I haven’t found a dead homeless person yet. I like to think that is the reason.

Occasionally you will see the dirt wizards travel in groups. Seeing six of these men walking slowly together reminds me of the Mystics from the 1982 film The Dark Crystal. These four-armed healers slowly hobble across the land and play a large part in the film. I always listen closely to see if they are chanting like in the movie, but never quite hear it. A group of dirt wizards could certainly be formidable opponents. I would certainly give them a wide berth. I wonder what a tweaker thinks when they see a group of Dirt Wizards walking around their turf. They must just think it’s a hallucination. But I can confirm, the benevolent dirt wizards are indeed real. And I’m happy that they are out there, working their magic.

When I see them walking around the berms downtown I sometimes nod or bow my head in reverence, as if seeing shamans out on a vision quest. I would never disturb them on their journey, but I will acknowledge and thank them from afar.

Between my walking by the homeless tent campers whispering, ‘Sleep in safety’, and the Dirt Wizards blessing the sleeping sidewalk citizens, we might have this section of the neighborhood covered and protected. Hell, I might even join them someday. Part of me would be proud to join the noble ranks of the guardian angels that are the Dirt Wizards. May the ascension of the Dirt Wizards continue.

 

The Long Walk

I’m walking out to my truck after the shift is over, starting the surreal post-work trek. Now it’s dark, about 2:30am, and the city has changed. Neon lights dominate the nightscape, but it definitely isn’t as tourist-friendly or fun any longer. The hot spots that were bustling seven hours ago are now all locked up and dark. Homeless people have set up their cardboard boxes and blankets in the doorways, trying to stay warm and unmolested until sunrise.

I walk past empty parking spaces and notice the bits of broken glass on the sidewalk. Somebody had their window shattered and their car broken into, a sadly common occurrence. I see new glass on the ground just about every night. I always advise people to not leave anything that somebody might consider worth money visible in their vehicle. Nothing, not even a phone charger or a compact disc. People cruise around on bicycles casing vehicles, looking for something you left on your seat or the floor that they could sell or trade for drugs.

When I see the little bits of blue-green broken safety glass, I know that someone’s night was ruined by thievery or simple vandalism. After having a fun evening downtown, they find their window broken out and their personal belongings gone. I’ve had my vehicle broken into twice prior to working in the service industry in bars and clubs, and a third time recently after working a shift downtown. It’s a devastating feeling that makes you lose faith in humans. Glass beer bottles don’t shatter the same way as car window safety glass does. All the broken bits of cubed glass pieces are about the same size. It reminds me of the worthless plastic emerald baubles that my daughter plays with. Glittering prizes on the concrete. Uniform treasure chest gems. It’s as if some demented child had a bag of blue raspberry jolly rancher candies that they didn’t like, crushed them all up, and left the pieces all over the sidewalk. They do make a satisfying crunch under my boots as I walk over them, shaking my head. Occasionally I’ll see black cubes of broken glass on the sidewalk.  These are from a tinted privacy window, and look like pieces of obsidian. If it’s raining and the broken pieces are in a puddle, it looks strangely like boba tea.

Over time, these pieces of broken car window glass gather in the straight cut lines of the sidewalk. The ones you avoided stepping on as a kid lest you break your Mother’s back. I assume they get pushed to the crack by people’s feet, bicycle tires, wind and rain, perhaps even some sidewalk fairie magic. However it happens, the sidewalk cracks end up filled with these little sparkly glass bits. Lined up perfectly straight as they are, it almost appears intentional. It also reminds me of a line of ants walking along the kitchen floorboards in my home. Those industrious little bastards that find one crumb of food, then within minutes invade your house, set up communication lines, trade routes, and a governmental infrastructure. Marching ants, broken glass. The street lights bathe the tiny glass chunks in artificial nocturnal light, making them glimmer and twinkle like overgrown nanobot electro-ants.

The streets are relatively empty and quiet now. The entertainment hub of the city is still. The rapid pace of downtown has finally slowed, as if sedated. It feels like the city itself is on heroin. Occasional emergency vehicles race by on their way to a crisis. People walking around downtown after 3am are typically up to no good. Most normal people are home already. Bars and clubs stop serving around 2am and close by 2:30am. People are usually where they are going to end up staying the night by now.  The daywalkers are asleep. The hours of 3am to 6am are primarily filled with homeless people switching locations or scavenging for food in restaurant garbage bins. Mentally ill people wander around yelling and cussing at people who aren’t there. Tweakers coming down from their high, desperately looking for more. Thieves casing cars or stores for valuables. And the occasional lycanthrope or vampire looking for blood sustenance.

Sometimes I will walk the extra long route to my truck, or just walk around in an ever-widening circle. Often I’ll just walk, destination unknown. I’ll decompress, listen to the sounds of the city, and watch for anybody who’s up to no good. I continue doing my job of keeping people safe even after I’m off work. I can’t turn it off. Am I looking for trouble, or just trying to expand the ring of safety around my job? I’ve followed people looking sketchy/tweaking, walked people to their car, helped with medical situations, and called the police on criminal activities. I helped catch two people vandalizing buildings. On two occasions I’ve chased men out of parking garages who were about to break car windows with a metal pipe. Filming them with my smart phone is usually an effective deterrent. I watch for drunk women stumbling to find their car. Or more precisely, I’m watching for other men who are taking an interest in them as targets. Always watching.

The seedy underbelly of any major city is the same. I feel a bit like Charles Bronson in the 1974 vigilante film Death Wish. Except I’m not walking around with rolls of quarters rolled up in a sock. Nor am I riding the subway with a pistol waiting for a mugger to attack me. But the general idea is there. I’m putting myself out there and waiting to see if something happens. I’m no superhero, but maybe I can at least ensure that this small little square on the map is going to be safe tonight. Just this small 3 block by 3 block grid is mine, and nobody is getting raped, mugged, or killed here. Instead of just getting in my truck and driving home like a normal person would, I’m purposely walking around downtown Portland at 3am seeing what I can find. Or who I can help. I just don’t want anything bad to happen to anyone on my watch. And apparently my watch bleeds over with no discrete ending point. My personal end of watch might be when I finally get in my truck and drive home.

I walk past a metal stop sign with just the frame of a bicycle still locked to it. Last night it was a full and complete bicycle with wheels and a seat. Chains, pedals, and a basket. All of these part are now gone, and the remaining frame lies on the sidewalk as if it fell there.  The white bike frame looks like the skeleton of an animal that has been picked clean by scavenging vultures. Completely stripped. Brittle bones on concrete, a dismembered steel corpse.

A road flare still shines bright red like an arc-welding torch on the road. Evidence of some previous car wreck earlier tonight, these road flares never get cleaned up. They continue to burn and smoke and turn to ash, even in the rain. Long after the cars are towed away, reports filed, and people taken to the hospital, the burning road flares advertise the previous trauma that happened here. They remind me of a lightsaber from Star Wars, broken and sputtering on the ground after being damaged in battle. Not all three feet of a functioning light saber, just a centimeter of plasma extending from the hilt. The flare itself looks like a stick of TNT, or in this case, the hilt of a Sith weapon. The other neon sign colors reflect off of the wet asphalt. The street surface itself winks reflections of color on and off, on and off. But that red road flare is the brightest light of the night, cutting through everything like a beacon of despair.

I often refer to the denizens of the night as zombies. This is more accurate than you might think. The homeless population and mentally ill people obviously wear cheap clothing that is purely functional. It can be unclean, tattered, and torn up. Psychotropic medications can certainly affect one’s gait, presenting in the shuffling lurching walking that we see in George Romero’s zombie films. Various psychiatric conditions can affect movement and coordination. Neurological disorders can affect balance, cause loss of sensation or dizziness, and trigger seizures. Tweakers also have their own twitchy agitated mannerisms. These can include obsessive behaviors like pacing or repeating the same activity or statements over and over. You’ll see scratching, swatting, manic babbling, and various other repeated tics. The phenomenon of ‘meth mouth’ is the terrible condition of someone’s decayed and missing teeth after prolonged methamphetamine abuse. This looks exactly like the gaping zombie mouths in ‘The Walking Dead’. Hard drug use, malnutrition, and general perils of living on the street can cause skin sores and bleeding. You can understand how at 3am, through tired eyes, the people skulking around the streets would literally appear to be zombies.

I’m pretty much at DEFCON 1 when I’m walking around after work. I’m wide awake and vigilant. I’ve already worked a long challenging shift. I’ve dealt with drunk, entitled, and irritating people all night, and my patience is at its lowest point. I think that this is when it happens for most people. Exhausted, you have let down your guard. You just aren’t paying attention, your focus is elsewhere and your hands are full. Messaging on your smart phone, digging in your pockets for keys, and carrying a to-go box full of food. Texting people about hooking up or heading home. You make the mistake of thinking that you are safe. And that is when they get you.

There are moments where one or two people are walking towards me on the sidewalk. The first thing I do is look at their hands to see if they have anything in them that could be used as a weapon. If they have their hands in their hoodie pockets then I assume that they have something I won’t like in there. I’m usually acutely aware of anyone behind me, but I’ll look in the reflections of store windows to verify. Then I make a mental note of their clothing, hight, build, and features in case I need to describe it later for the Police report. Then I make eye contact with them and do not look away. I’ll slow down and pull my hands out of my pockets. I’ve already planned on what to use around me if necessary. The brick building wall, the parking meter, the concrete garbage can, the parked car. All are valid unyielding and painful objects to throw someone onto as hard as I can.

I never listen to music when walking around at night for obvious safety reasons. But I’m a huge music fan, and a song usually makes its way into my brain. In this instance I channeled this Marilyn Manson song from Antichrist Superstar called “Kinderfeld.” Glaring at the approaching men and gritting my teeth, these lyrics empowered me:

This is what you should fear
You are what you should fear
This is what you should fear
You are what you should fear

If any of them starts talking to me or asks any questions, I’m ready to move into the street where I can’t be backed up against a wall. There is no valid conversation that needs to happen between us at this time. Asking me for a light or a cigarette is just an excuse to get my hands occupied and to get within striking distance. I don’t smoke, but even if I did I’m not stopping and having an interaction with anybody at 3am.  I usually ignore them or shake my head and say things like, “Nope”, “Move on”, or “I can’t help you.” What I really want to say is something more like this: “If you step to me I will put you down on the concrete. Hard. If you fire one shot at me I will call in an air strike and drop napalm. Your jungles will burn. Broken Arrow. Scorched earth.
Keep. Walking. Motherfucker.”

But this isn’t a movie and I’m not Charles Bronson. The men walk around me and even move further away, giving me a wide berth. My hands relax a bit and I listen to their footsteps get quieter as they walk away. Now I just hear the sound of my breath. In and out. Inhale, exhale. Right now there is nothing else in the world except the calming sound of my own breathing.

The agitated mentally ill street person walking toward me is yelling and cussing, “Motherfucker! Goddammed cocksucker! I’ll kill you!” He is flinging his hands around like he is swatting at an enemy who isn’t there. Throwing punches at ghosts. I keep my eyes locked on him and walk slower, taking my hands out of my pockets. Paranoid schizophrenics need clinical supervision and medication management, not a solo 3am walkabout. He doesn’t even see me. I don’t register to him at all. I am certain that whatever phantom person he sees is in crisp focus, while I am a blurry shadow moving by in the background. His hallucination nemesis is more real to him than I am. And he would rather fight with him than me anyway.

These are the dark thoughts that orbit around me as I walk the long walk. These little moons that I’ve named paranoia, fear, defense, and anger. Perhaps someday a catastrophic event will occur on the planet of me that will knock these satellites out of their orbit. But until then….my eyes are wide open and my fists are clenched.  And I’m finally going home now; I’m done walking for tonight.

It’s a very fine line between vigilant and paranoid. And I don’t think I know the difference anymore.

The final line of one of my favorite films resonates strongly with me. At the end of the 1995 film SE7EN, Morgan Freeman’s weary voice leaves us with this:

Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.”  
I agree with the second part.

 

 

 

 

 

Homeless thoughts

I encounter a lot of homeless people in my job as security staff. Some I see so often that I know their names and their basic story, and where they like to sit to ask for money. When possible I’ll bring out some extra pizza that wasn’t purchased and is about to be thrown away. I’ll give it to the homeless people outside. Everybody deserves to eat. It’s truly staggering how much perfectly good food is thrown away every night.

On my way to my truck after I’m off work, I always walk past numerous homeless people sleeping in doorways, or bolstering their bed with blankets, tarps, or cardboard. It’s going to be cold tonight. If they are asleep I usually look and listen long enough to determine signs of life. This would be their exhaled breath in the cold air, snoring, or just their chest moving as they breathe. If they are awake and we make awkward eye contact, I’ll nod at them and smile. I am no threat to you, friend. I recall the scene in THE EXORCIST where the homeless man sits in filth and asks Damien Karras, “Can you help an old altar boy, Father?” If they aren’t already hunkered down in their temporary fort against the elements, they are traveling around like nomads carrying their gear in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Some have a sleeping bag wrapped around them. Others have multiple backpacks and shopping bags hanging from their arms. Some push shopping carts around. Some carry large pieces of wooden pallets or cardboard boxes over their heads to build a sleep structure with. They look like river explorers portaging their canoe over land. Hell, I think I might have seen a homeless person actually carrying part of a broken canoe once.

Using the pallet as a floor, they can sleep on that and not get soaked by the rain. Or, worst case scenario, soaked by spilled cheap beer or vomit. Tarps become walls and roofs. Cardboard boxes become walls, and wind and rain shields. If they can acquire an actual tent, it’s like they’ve won the lottery. Body heat is retained inside, rain and wind is deflected, and you even have a small modicum of privacy. There is definitely safety in numbers, so clumping 5-6 tents together is smart and very common. Some people like to complain about the homeless tent camps blocking sidewalks and being unsightly and unsafe. I’m pretty sure that at 3:30am the people complaining about that are home safe in their beds. I’m the one out walking around at that hour, and I’m happy to step around the tents. These same people are probably also deathly afraid of a raging gang of homeless people crouched together inside these tents, laying in wait to ambush the next pedestrian so that they can rape, kidnap, and murder them. And if this scenario has ever actually happened anywhere, I’ll eat that tarp. Homeless people are trying to stay warm and sleep, not assault a passerby. And until those huge churches that preach ‘love thy brother’ actually open up their doors at night and operate as a homeless shelter, they can all shut their sanctimonious and judgmental pieholes.

I love seeing dogs with homeless people. That might sound odd, but I just love dogs more than I do most people. Also I had it explained to me once how the life of a dog living with a homeless person might not be that bad comparatively. In fact, it could be better if you look at it through this lens. A dog who lives with a homeless person is never without their owner. Our dogs are so domesticated and reliant on us that they really just want to be with their owners all the time. You can walk out your front door, forget something, and come right back in the house and your dog will start wiggling its entire body it is so happy to see you. They greet you like you’ve been gone for two weeks when it’s really only been two minutes. Do any humans react that way each and every time they see you?

Most of us leave the house for long periods for our jobs, school, and other activities. So we aren’t there all day. Our house dogs are either alone for those long stretches, or we have to board them at doggie day care. That can be fun but it’s a lot of canine stimulation, and they still aren’t with their owner. Some dogs get bored and howl and bark all day. Or they destroy things around the house waiting for us to return. Things like shoes, dog kennels, banisters, chess boards, bed frames, doors, piano legs. I might know this from personal experience. A dog living with a homeless person is always with them feeling important and needed. They are keeping their human safe. If I was sleeping in a tent at night alone, I would sleep ten times better with a dog in there with me to growl at any approaching danger. And it is positive touch and companionship.

Further, it reminds me of studies showing that having a pet benefits older people by giving them a reason outside of themselves to get up each morning and feed/exercise the dog. Some other creature is relying on you to get up and take care of them. This can counter apathy, loneliness, and depression. Especially involving empty-nest syndrome when all of the kids and grandkids have left the house. People live longer if they have pets to care for.  The mere act of stroking a dog’s fur has been shown to lower blood pressure and calm anxiety. Homeless people certainly struggle with loneliness, social isolation, depression, and anxiety. Some people probably do not get touched at all for the entire day. They receive no physical human contact like we all take for granted. No handshakes, fist bumps, hi-fives, hugs, holding hands, kisses. I couldn’t even guess how many of these I get daily. Multiple dozens probably. I guarantee that the only touch some of these people ever get is from their dog licking their face.

Some people don’t want to give a homeless person money for fear that they would spend it on drugs or Old English 800 malt liquor. Then some animal lovers carry around dog food in their car for the sole purpose of giving it to dogs that are with homeless humans. Or they’ll run into the store and come out with some dog food and a deli sandwich for them. I never see starving dogs with homeless people. The dogs are sometimes better fed than their 2-legged companions are. Lots of dogs aren’t allowed to sleep in the bedroom, or sometimes even the house. They are relegated to the garage, basement, or even a dog house in the yard. Dogs that live with homeless people are with them all day long, and then as a bonus they get to sleep curled up right next to their humans. No worries about tracking some dirt in from the yard, or getting dog fur on the brand new comforter. So bless these homeless dogs, I’m so happy to see you here with your people.

For a time I volunteered with the Portland Burrito Project. This is a national DIY group that feeds homemade burritos to the homeless population. Any city can start their own branch, as I understand it. In Portland we would collect donated food from Santa Fe Taqueria Mexican restaurant on Sunday morning. We would then take the food to an area Hostel and set up a food assembly line, making 100 veggie burritos. We then wrapped them all up, loaded up our warming bags, and drove downtown. We spent a few hours walking around looking for homeless people to feed. This was a great way to give back to the community and help out the homeless population, who are always struggling to acquire healthy food. I would often bring along some of the kids I worked with as a mentor, teaching them about community service. It would also open up conversations with the older kids about mental illness, running away from sexual abuse, and financial instability. We all got accustomed to scanning the street for homeless people to give food to, and what streets and onramps that they would typically camp near. If we found a homeless person asleep on the sidewalk with their backpack as a pillow, we would just leave a nice warm burrito wrapped in foil by their head. Hopefully they would wake up to the smell of a burrito and enjoy the magical gift of food from a stranger.

Of course, some people present as homeless when they are not. Or their chosen aesthetic of clothing attire resembles the disheveled bundled-up look of a homeless person. If you research the term “Homeless chic” you will see pictures of fashion models actually pushing shopping carts down the runway with oversized bags, wearing bland layered clothing. Highly paid fashion models are dressing like homeless people to sell overpriced clothes. I really don’t have the proper words for that nonsense.

I certainly cannot guess a person’s socio-economic status in the seconds I have while I approach them. Although we were attempting to help feed the homeless, there’s no solid way to actually be sure. There isn’t an ID card that proves you are homeless, nor would we actually refuse to give a person food who wanted some (unless they were aggressive or threatening us in some way). So we defaulted to giving just about anybody a burrito that seemed interested or hungry. A whole lot of people can appear homeless that aren’t.
But in my head I would play the game of ‘Who is about to get a free burrito?’

A) A truly homeless person.
B) A mentally ill person.
C) A street kid.
D) A low-income housing resident.
E) A tweaker actively on drugs.
F) Buskers/musicians/actors.
G) A desperately broke college student.
H) A resident of a treatment/recovery center on a smoke break.
I) People who just intentionally dress like they are homeless.
J) People who think that they are Marilyn Manson, Al Jorgensen, or Rob Zombie.

We quickly learned to avoid those people suffering from mental illness that are cussing to themselves and punching at the air. Same with drunk or high people. Some people would gratefully take the burrito, but then start telling me all of their problems. Or ask me to help them with some money, or a bus ticket to somewhere. I love to help people, but I have firm boundaries. I refuse to get sucked into anybody’s drama when doing this. I’m literally just here to give out burritos and walk away. I would think, “Put this in your mouth and stop talking to me.” And in an effort not to offend anyone that looks homeless who isn’t, we would explain ourselves in a generic way. Instead of saying, “We’re handing out free burritos to the homeless”, we would just say, “We’re delivering free food to anyone who is hungry.” People always asked us if we were a church group. Nope, just altruistic liberal hippie types who don’t want people to go hungry. Food is love.

Most people live in a false world of perceived security where they think nothing bad is ever going to happen to them. I am acutely aware that I am about two paychecks away from being homeless myself. With a few exceptions, most of my friends and co-workers would also become homeless if their paychecks stopped coming. I have a few friends who make 6 figures, but they are the minority. Most of us don’t have a savings account with anything in it for emergencies. We live from paycheck to paycheck, which still really is the norm. Virtually all of my friends have college degrees. Some have several. But that wouldn’t prevent any of us from becoming homeless if things went South. Once you stop paying your bills and your rent or mortgage, utilities get shut off and you get evicted or foreclosed on. The world owes you no guarantees. None of the people you see on the street planned or expected to be there, either. This sidewalk was not their goal.

If some severe medical injury happens requiring an ambulance or hospital stay, that could be it. A huge bill that you never recover from. Overwhelming debt with no ability to work and no money coming in. The #1 reason people declare bankruptcy in America is medical bills. What other huge life events could push someone into poverty and homelessness? Unemployment, a very bad divorce, gambling, domestic violence, being disowned by parents, rape, a public scandal, PTSD, mental health issues, a family crisis,  substance abuse, not being able to afford your medications, etc. If your paychecks stopped today, how long would it take you to exhaust your savings and any accrued vacation time? What about cashing out your retirement or selling your belongings to get money? Lord knows most of us don’t have jobs that would give us any sort of severance pay. Would I sell my car or plan on living in it? Which friends would let me couch-surf and for how long? These are my thoughts at 3am, walking past dozens of homeless people, wondering what particular sequence of events brought them to this sidewalk.

I’ve worked for social service non-profit organizations, or in the service industry, for the last 25 years. I’ve loved all of the jobs I’ve worked, but they certainly haven’t ever paid me well. Non-profits are funny like that. I am blessed with a robust network of friends and family that would intervene before I actually became homeless. I know that and am very grateful. But the point remains that nobody that I know is immune to the threat. We could all be homeless far quicker than we think. I still worry that I will be the guy in the line for a free meal at the Portland Rescue Mission, and sleeping under cardboard boxes in a doorway wondering why I went to college.

I feel so dejected when I see human beings sleeping outside on a sidewalk. We aren’t meant to sleep outside in the elements on concrete lit up by streetlights. I consider our homeless population to be the true streetlight people that Journey sings about. It makes me so sad and empty that this storefront doorway is actually someone’s bed tonight. It shouldn’t be this way. Mahatma Ghandi said, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” And by that metric, we fail miserably. Homeless people are sneered at, feared, ignored. They are the outsider, the non-person, a null value, they do not count. They are ridiculed, terrorized, and beaten. We owe them better than this. And we all could be among them tomorrow.

With my hands shoved deep into the pockets of my hoodie, I walk solemnly by each homeless person and say a silent blessing in my head.
Sleep in safety. Sleep in safety. Sleep in safety.

Each homeless person was once somebody’s baby boy or baby girl, an amazing and unique creation.

Your parents probably had all the hopes and dreams and optimistic expectations for you. They agonized over what to name you. You had your favorite foods and special toys. Physical features that you shared with each parent were pointed out and celebrated. Family members bought you presents and fed you on holidays. Perhaps, like me, you made forts out of cardboard boxes in your living room. Decades later you’re sleeping in a doorway with cardboard boxes for walls. When you were a child, people who loved you sung you to sleep at night to keep the bad dreams away. I wish that I could sing you to sleep tonight.

Sing me to sleep
Sing me to sleep
I’m tired and I
I want to go to bed
Sing me to sleep
Sing me to sleep
And then leave me alone
Don’t try to wake me in the morning
‘Cause I will be gone
Don’t feel bad for me
I want you to know
Deep in the cell of my heart
I will feel so glad to go
Sing to me
Sing to me
I don’t want to wake up
On my own anymore
There is another world
There is a better world
Well, there must be
Well, there must be
-The Smiths, “Asleep”

Burnside Street is memory lane

Driving downtown to work on Burnside Street is like a short tour of Portland’s most famous icons. It really does look like it does in the postcards and travel websites. When I drive to work it is still light out, and if I’m lucky the sun might still be shining. The skyline of downtown Portland is impressive. I moved here in 1996 and never thought I would ever work downtown, but here I am.

I head out from SE Portland and drive across the Burnside Bridge. Underneath the bridge is the famous Burnside skatepark, immortalized in the Tony Hawks video game. As I cross the Burnside bridge I see big pink looming ahead of me. This is the tallest building that Portland has to offer so far. It’s 30 stories tall with the equally famous Portland City Grill restaurant on the top floor. It’s called ‘big pink’ because of the pink hue of the panels. It’s like the monolith from 2001 upsized and made of shiny salmon fillet. That beast of building just needs some lemon juice on it, and I’m ready to feast.

Off to the right is the big Portland Oregon White Stag sign. This has been here forever and recently became a historical landmark. There is the outline of the state of Oregon, the words, PORTLAND OREGON OLD TOWN on it, and a white stag. Around Christmastime the white stag gets a glowing red nose. I often see models doing a photo shoot right on the side of the bridge with this sign in the background. The Suicide Girls movement also began right here in Portland, Oregon. So sexy alterna-models seem about as frequent as stop signs. Pale-skinned divas with brightly colored dyed hair prance around the bridges and loading docks with their photographers. Piercings, tattoos, and body modifications are the norm, the de rigueur of downtown. Now you are actually unusual and original if you DON’T have any of these things. I know about labret piercings, nasallang, septum piercings, Marilyn piercings, venom bites and snake bites just becaue I live in Portland. And from a few girlfriends. Remember the scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta asks Eric Stoltz which one is his wife?

“Which one’s Trudi? The one with all the shit in her face?”
“No, that’s Jody. That’s my wife.”

Jody totally moved to Portland and invited all of her friends.

I often joke that every single person in Portland is 1) in a band, 2) writing a book, or
3) a stripper. And yes, I know several who are all three. The near-constant rain and gloom here makes all of these trades very understandable and logical. I’m guilty of 2 out of 3 myself. Oh, I almost forgot about being a DJ. EVERYBODY in Portland is a DJ. It doesn’t even need to go on the list because it just is. If I had to add to that list of most common Portland professions I would say 4) barista, 5) tattoo artist, and 6) IT person. Computer technology specialists seems to actually be how people make the big money here, while trying to make those other artistic jobs work. I know that when I was a kid I always dreamed of being a social media influencer. Just about as much as I dreamed of being a bouncer, I suppose.

On the right I drive by the Portland Rescue Mission. This is a soup kitchen that offers free cafeteria-style meals to anyone who shows up. There is always a large group of hangry homeless people congregated outside. And mentally ill people. And junkies. And just hungry people who need a free meal. When I worked as a mentor to at-risk youth, we would take the teenagers here for community service to show them the pride of giving back. We would all be behind the food line serving up portions of hot food to everybody coming through. The best message came from a man in line for food who seemed pretty healthy and normal looking. When he learned that we were mentors and the kids were our mentees he laid this wisdom on us. “Hey kids, be sure that you do what you can to always stay on that side of the food line. I have two masters degrees and I’m here regardless, because sometimes things just fall apart. I never planned on being here. We all need to eat. There are no assurances in life.”

Just a few blocks away is the original Voodoo Doughnuts. I remember when they first opened in 2003. It was pretty much a closet that served doughnuts. Doughnuts with breakfast cereal on them. Doughnuts with a slice of bacon on them. I would sometimes show up in the afternoon to find them closed with a hand-written sign saying, “We ran out of dough. Will reopen tomorrow.” Hard to imagine that ever happening, especially now that they are open 24 hours with lines down the block. They used to have musicians perform up on what I would call a shelf just feet above us. Usually acoustic or electric with a small amp. You waited in line and were literally in danger of a guitarist falling on you. They also did weddings of the small variety. Shelf weddings, if you will. Now they have expanded to several other locations in Oregon and other states. I’m happy for them, but I honestly never thought that they would be anything more than a tiny Portland doughnut shop. Their marketing plan truly helped catapult them to something special. Wooden coffins full of a hundred donuts, coffee mugs, pink boxes, sassy t-shirts, weddings, special memorial doughnuts for famous people who pass away. It’s all helped make them a world-wide phenomenon. I’ve heard stories of the elite flying their personal jet from New York to Portland, grabbing two dozen Voodoo Doughnuts, and flying back to New York. I can’t confirm if this is true, and that sort of behavior seems beyond wasteful, entitled, and just old-fashioned stupid. Again, they are just doughnuts with all kinds of shit on them. Much like Jody with all the shit in her face. Maybe there is a pattern here.

Around the corner from Voodoo is Kit Kat Club. This is one of the better strip clubs in Portland with lots of space and big stages. It used to be an amazing music venue called Berbati’s Pan. I have great memories of going to shows here. The best show I saw at Berbati’s was Queens of the Stone Age in June of 2002, just before they blew up. Dave Grohl was their drummer. Berbati’s probably only held 250 people, and just a few years later QOTSA would be playing the Rose Garden, which has a capacity of 20,000. Stoner rock band Kyuss is my favorite rock band, and QOTSA was the band created by Josh Homme in the ashes of Kyuss’ breakup. I do miss Berbati’s, but Voodoo Doughnuts bought their kitchen space so they were able to expand beyond their closet space. And then the main space of Berbati’s became the Kit Kat Club, so all is well with the world. Grizzled rock musicians now replaced by naked women. You used to be able to drive down Ankeny Street right by these locations. Now the street is permanently blocked off and just open to pedestrians.

Right across the street from Voodoo is Dante’s, one of my favorite live rock clubs. I’ve performed there many times and seen many great national bands there. This is where I first saw Storm Large and the Balls perform. They had a weekly gig there before she made it big. They showed me that you totally can play altered versions of famous cover songs and still be entertaining. She would do lyrical mash-ups of loungy, jazzy versions of famous pop or metal songs. Most people don’t know that prior to becoming Dante’s in 2000, it was a great buffet restaurant called Chang’s Mongolian Grill. I ate there numerous times in the 90’s when I first moved here. Other Chang’s locations still exist, but the one on Burnside was the first one from 1985-1999. You would choose thinly sliced meats and vegetables from the deli line, add noodles and sauces, and give the bowls to the cooks who would dump your food onto a huge griddle to be flash-cooked. The mythology is that ancient Mongols would use a huge metal shield over a fire to cook all sorts of food for their traveling warriors. The griddle represents the warrior’s shield of old. The small fire table in the back corner of Dante’s is a remnant of the griddle that so much food was cooked on back in the day. I am still obsessed with hoisin sauce (plum sauce) from my frequent trips to Chang’s in the 90’s. Every time I go to Dante’s for a live rock show I look back at the fire table and feel wistful. And my mouth waters a little bit.

On the right as I drive through the intersection of 4th and Burnside looms the Chinatown Gate entrance. Two massive concrete Chinese Foo Dogs stand guard on either side. I often look around for Jack Nicholson’s bandaged nose and whisper to myself, “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.”

Off to the left we have Mary’s Club, which is Portland’s oldest strip club. It’s a family owned place where the dancers choose their own songs from a jukebox onstage. It’s been a popular strip club since the 50’s. It may not be as flashy or fast-paced as some other strip clubs in Portland, but dammit it’s got history and personality. And in a city that can claim to have the most strip clubs per capita than any other city, you definitely want a place with style and charm. This is the club were the dancer will lay down at the edge of the rack and have an actual conversation with you.

Sometimes you will hear the sound of distant bagpipes and see a flicker of fire. Then you hear the unique sound of the Imperial March from Star Wars being played on bagpipes. You look closer and see a man riding a unicycle as he plays this music on his bagpipes. Further, he is wearing a Darth Vader helmet and cape, and has somehow rigged the tenor drones of the bagpipe with a flame unit. So little poofs of fire are actually shooting out of those tubes on the top of the bagpipes. And he is wearing a kilt. This would be the Unipiper, a staple of downtown Portland. He has also appeared on tv shows and made appearances at sporting events. I do love Star Wars and fire. Working the door downtown somewhere I’ll hear the bagpipe music and watch the tourists get all excited and get their cameras ready. I’ve never spoken to the guy but I commend him for taking something so odd and making himself a Portland celebrity out of it. The force is strong with this one.

I remember the clubs that aren’t there anymore as I drive down Burnside Street. The Ash Street Saloon closed while I was working there, after a 24 year run. I wrote a lengthy piece about that called Farewell to Ash Street. The X-Ray Cafe was a successful underground club that allowed all ages. Only around from 1990 to 1994, it left a huge mark on the Portland music community. The small gated entrance is still there, it’s the backstage entrance to the Paris Theater now. Satyricon was also nearby and was a fun, albeit seedy, punk and alternative venue. Everybody from the Northwest played there early in their career. Rumor has it that Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love met there. Satyricon was open from 1984 until 2010. There was an adjacent restaurant called Fellini’s that I frequented a lot. My college band in the early 90’s would drive up from Eugene to play shows at both Satyricon and Ash Street. We even had our cassette release party gig at Satyricon. When Satyricon closed in 2010 people were rightfully devastated. When it was bulldozed to rubble on 2011 people came by to grab a brick from the pile as a souvenir. Music fans want to preserve a piece of musical history, and their experience with it. I’m sure that I have a few friends with a Satyricon brick on their mantle at home. Perhaps they used the brick as a weapon to throw at riot cops during a violent protest downtown. That would actually be a perfectly fitting use of a piece of Satyricon’s punk history. But most people probably just display the Satyricon brick near their vinyl record collection. A person’s relationship with a band, a song, or a just song lyric can be as important and meaningful as a relationship with a person. I can chart important moments on my life’s timeline with the release of certain albums. The songs are permanently burned into my brain. Those albums become totemic markers along the shore of the river of your life.

And, of course, Portland’s most beloved literary attraction is Powell’s Books. This behemoth of a bookstore takes up an entire city block and is four stories tall. I have been coming here since the mid-80’s. I lived in Eugene at the time and would drive up to Portland for concerts. I would stop in early at Powell’s and buy a dozen used books before going to the show. Then I moved here in 1996 and would come hang out at Powell’s on a weekly basis. I’ve attended some pretty amazing author readings here. I have spent hours delving into the graphic novels, memoirs, horror, science-fiction, and fantasy sections. I loved the detective work of researching books on my lists, tracking them down, and buying them here. This was before the internet and Amazon.com existed, so finding obscure or out-of-print books was harder and more fun. More recently I’ve We bring our kids here and I spend time in a section previously never explored…the young readers section. I can only imagine the thousands of dollars I have spent here over the last 30+ years. And it was probably the best money that I’ve ever spent.

If you’ve seen the comedy show Portlandia you probably already know most of these landmarks, and something about Portland. They show some of these in the introduction to the show. The Burnside skatepark, Powell’s Books, Mary’s Club, and even McMenamins Crystal Ballroom and Ringler’s Pub are visible in the intro. I currently work there. The Burnside Bridge drawbridge closing is the final image of the intro. I think it’s hilarious when coffee shops intentionally play the song used in the Portlandia intro. It’s by chillwave artist Washed Out and it’s called “Feel It All Around.” You’ve heard it. It’s like those snarky hipster Portland baristas are being ironic and trying to make you feel like you are in actually an episode of Portlandia. People who have lived here for years have a love-hate relationship with that show. Personally, I found every season to be hilarious and a spot-on parody of some of the silliness that does indeed go on here. But also, I understand how it probably caused a lot of people to move here under exaggerated expectations. Thereby altering our population, straining our infrastructure, and raising rent and increasing real estate prices. Us locals who have called this our home for decades can barely afford to live here now. Between the skyrocketing cost of living, terrible traffic and gridlock, and housing overdevelopment, Portland is becoming Los Angeles. And don’t even get me started on the gentrification of this city. Please everybody, stop moving to Portland. We’re full up here, thanks. And if you are from California and consider yourself a ‘real estate developer’ please just fuck the hell off.

There are definitely many ghosts of the Portland spots no longer with us on my drive to work. It’s just 14 blocks from the Burnside Bridge to the Crystal Ballroom, where I currently work. But lots of memories flash by in those 14 blocks. I do miss the city that I remember from the 90’s. Every big city evolves and changes and grows larger. I just don’t have to like it. Portland often feels like an ex-girlfriend that I still live with because both of us are too lazy to move on. She broke my heart and isn’t the same person anymore, but I kind of like how the house still smells like her.

Times have changed in so many ways since I arrived in Portland. I was in my 20’s when I moved here and was full of optimism and naive expectations. Nobody had cell phones and the internet was a new and mysterious thing that not everybody had. This was before 9/11 so fear and security measures were different. Smoking had not yet been banned in every bar/restaurant/venue, so clubs were a haze of cigarette smoke. Two decades later, 5 rock bands later, 5 jobs later, numerous girlfriends later, 25 more pounds later, quite a few gray hairs in my beard later, here I am. Now I’m happy and settled with a wife and kids and dogs. In the 90’s I went to every live concert I could for fun. Now I go to live concerts for work every night. I miss Portland. I love Portland still. And I still live for music. I’m headed out to a concert tonight as a patron instead of a bouncer.

I am reminded of a scene from the Sam Peckinpah western PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID.

“It feels like…times have changed.”

“Times maybe. Not me.”

Short man and Blondie

I was working downtown at a dive bar that books rock bands seven nights a week. I stepped outside to check on the patrons drinking and smoking outside. There’s always some tables to buss, or some people who need to be told to stop smoking pot. There was a couple waiting in line to get in that drew my attention.

One thing that you don’t want to do is draw the attention of the bouncers before you even enter the venue. Things we look for include extremely loud voice tones, manic (read drug-induced) laughter, excessive movements or touching others, repeated dropping of items. These actions will bring us to you for a small conversation. I deny entry quite often just for being a loud, drunk ass in line. If we can stop the problem early at the door by denying entry to a visibly intoxicated person, we diminish the likelihood of having to solve another larger problem later inside. You could call this assholery mitigation.

And that is what happened tonight. I spotted a couple in line that already seemed to be drunk and was pseudo-bickering. I was busy listening to some regulars tell me a story while I bussed tables, but I was also watching this couple and listening as best I could to their interaction. It’s difficult to differentiate between simple happy exuberance at seeing friends at a music event, and sloppy intoxicated liability. I know many people who are very loud and physically affectionate in public. They aren’t intoxicated, that’s just their manner. But I didn’t like how the man was relating to his girlfriend/wife. They were both Caucasian and relatively normal looking, but he was substantially shorter than she was. She had big blond hair, reminiscent of the singer Blondie. I thought I saw him stagger a little bit also, but in the group of people it was hard to be sure. They were both a bit too loud, arguing, and he was pretty touchy with her. By that I mean he kept touching her too often, and usually when he was disagreeing with her.  After she would make a comment that he disagreed with he would kind of pat her arm or her hips and say, “Come on now, that’s a load of shit.” From a distance it looked like he was bullying her and being too physical. Repeated slapping or tapping of anybody is going to draw attention, even when done in play or even if the person is accepting of it. It was irritating and disrespectful at the very least and physically abusive at the most. But some people have that kind of relationship in public, sad as that is. I’m going to refer to them as ‘Short Man and Blondie.”

I returned inside to deliver the dishes and intercept this couple at the door. Sometimes a quick conversation with the people will confirm or disprove my query. But the line moved way faster than I thought and my co-worker was already checking their IDs. I got close to him so he would see me in his periphery and know I was assessing someone in line. This couple was still bickering in line and the man kept tapping her in disapproval. He did even trip a little bit on the mat at the door. My coworker looked over at me and I shook my head ‘no’ and made a concerned face. I even made the universal symbol for ‘cut off’ by moving my hand in front of my neck as if I were cutting my throat. He waved me over.

The couple saw me trying to give the door guy these nonverbal cues that he shouldn’t let them in. Short man started saying, “Come on, man. We’re ok.” I leaned over to my coworker and said, “He seems wasted to me, and they’ve been arguing and staggering outside. I wouldn’t let them in.” The door guy was wearing a flannel shirt and baseball cap, not really even looking like security. While I was wearing all black and a hoodie with the word SECURITY on the front and back. I probably looked like I had more authority here, or was the ‘hit-man’ of the night. That’s what I call the guy that comes in to deal with the big problems before disappearing back into the crowd. But in actuality I had only been working there part-time for 6 months, while the door guy of the night had been there full-time for years. He looked at the couple for a moment and told me, “I think I’ll give them a chance and let them in.” He wasn’t pulling a power trip at all. And saying that in front of the couple in question lets them know that they are being given a second chance. Sometimes that’s all it takes. It’s a tactic we all use. I’m happy to be bad cop and he can be good cop tonight. So I deferred to his decision here and we let the couple in.

Each place I’ve worked at is slightly different. Some places would prefer to stop a potential problem outside and just deny the people entry. Other places prefer to deal with any problems after the fact inside the venue. It’s pre-emptive versus reactive. I can pro-actively attempt to stop a problem early, or wait until it happens and react to it then (saying “I called that one” in my head). In this case, it probably also had something to do with wanting to collect the cover charge so the bands get paid. Everybody who works there is also in at least one band. So we all get the grind, and are sympathetic to bands struggling for every dollar. If we tell this couple that they aren’t coming in tonight, that’s $16 that the bands don’t get, and potentially more money that the bar doesn’t get in alcohol and food sales.

So the night went on and the bands played. Patrons rocked out, drank terrible cheap beer, and ate greasy deep-fried bar food. Sure enough, I spot my favorite couple being loud and getting heated by a bar in the middle of the room. I saw plastic cups in their hands, which was bad news since that means they’re drinking hard liquor drinks. Short man was still being loud and rude to Blondie, continuously tapping her with his hands and being too physical. I started moving towards them, putting myself in the vicinity of them so I was ready in case I needed to jump in. Just standing there watching them and listening to them.

Most bouncers are there to keep everybody safe. Most bouncers also have a particular distaste for men being too physical or abusive to women. Lots of bouncers end up working in strip clubs where they are essentially protecting pretty girls from jerk men. Remember the 1997 movie L.A. Confidential? Russell Crowe plays a detective that has a real problem with men who hurt women. So much so that he will hurt them far worse. He flies off the handle and beats any man that he finds hurting or exploiting a woman. He’s got a penchant for punishing wife-beaters. You can call it the knight in shining armor savior complex. Or you can call it just doing the right thing. I can admit that seeing this type of thing gets me really angry fast as well. I would imagine many guys saw their Moms get screamed at and beaten up by some boyfriend, stepfather, or their own biological Dad. They grow up and want to prevent that scenario from happening to any woman. Psychologically, we’re now talking about transference.

So short man continues to yell at Blondie, and keeps nudging her elbows and goading her. I move slowly closer, as watching this interaction is making me uncomfortable. I’m gently tapping people’s elbows and saying ‘excuse me’ so they will move out of my way as I part the crowd to get in range of this couple. There is a long bar in the middle of the bar portion of the venue. But it’s just a structural divider with some beams going up into the ceiling. There’s no bartender or drinks available at this bar, it’s just for people to lean on and set their drinks and eat their food. I’m on one side of this dividing bar and the couple is on the other side arguing. People around them are starting to cringe and move away from the couple.

As I’m about to interject and speak to the couple about them causing a disturbance, it blows up. Short man loses all patience with Blondie and grabs her shirt collar. She yells, “Let go of me!” and tries to back away from him. He doesn’t let go. This only took a few seconds. That’s it. There is a line that he just crossed by grabbing her in anger. I summon my loudest man-voice and yell, “GET YOUR HANDS OFF HER!” I reach over the bar and grab his arm with both hands and smash it down onto the bar hard. I had squeezed his wrist so hard that his fingers released her shirt instantly. Now the entire length of his arm is pinned to the wooden bar. All three joints were immobilized: wrist, elbow, and shoulder. His head was tilted at an angle just off the bar. His face reminded me of a startled turtle with its head trapped in a baby gate. It happened so fast I don’t really think he put together how his body got aligned with the surface of this wooden bar top. I am certain that he will have bruises tomorrow on his biceps and wrists that are shaped exactly like my fingers. But how about you don’t man-handle a woman in anger in a bar, asshole?

Of course, if you’ve pictured this dividing bar in your head you can see the problem that I have now deeply planted myself in. Because I was compelled to act quickly and blinded by the need to stop him from grabbing her in anger, I put myself in a stupid situation. With his entire arm pinned to the bar, I can’t do anything further or protect myself from anything else. Like the woman trying to defend her man, or even the guy himself from trying to hurt me. His other arm was free, so he could have potentially swung on me with his free arm. Or tried to choke me or gouge my eyes. Or, if he drunkenly thought he was Bruce Lee, he could have tried jumping on or over the bar to where I was. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have gone about it quite this way. But if I can make good decisions in crisis scenarios at least 80% of the time, I’m actually doing pretty good.

I suppose that, had he tried to fight or struggle, I could have raised his arm up to block his other arm. I did have complete control of his arm. Or with my adrenaline raging, and him not being the biggest guy I’ve ever restrained, I probably could have brought him over the bar to my side and put him down on the beer-stained floor. Luckily, I didn’t need to consider any of these options too long. I’m part of a solid team here that is always looking out for each other. My boss saw me grab the guy and was already on his way over. But when I release short man’s arm it’s going to then put my boss at some risk because short man may want to fight him.

My boss came over and grabbed short man’s other arm and wrapped him up as I released his other arm. I was now separated from the situation and couldn’t help until I got around the bar. The crowd was, of course, watching this whole thing go down. I had to get around the bar and through them to help. A one-on-one physical escort is difficult and risky. It’s much safer for everyone if two bouncers each control an arm and walk the guy out together. I moved into the crowd and yelled very loud, “MOVE! MOVE! GET OUT OF THE WAY!” I realized that I had said the exact words spoken by Harrison Ford in Blade Runner. I’ve seen that film so damned many times that parts of the dialogue are permanently ingrained into my psyche. When Rick Deckard is chasing replicant Zhora through the bustling crowd of street people he says this line before he shoots her. And whether anybody in that crowd has seen that movie or not, it worked like a charm. People got the hell out of my way and I grabbed short man’s other arm. My boss and I now each had an arm and walked him very quickly and forcefully out the front door.

We released short man on the sidewalk and waited to see if he came at us. Wisely, he did not. We told him he needed to leave the property immediately. Blondie followed us out and started yelling at him for embarrassing her like that. They wandered off down the sidewalk together. I can only imagine the talk they might have on the way home. Or maybe they won’t. Domestic violence patterns often show the victim remaining with, or even covering for, their abuser. If he was that physical with her in public I can only guess how bad he is at home. I can’t think about that anymore tonight though. I’ve got more work to do. All we can do is try to keep people safe while they are here with us. Tomorrow is on you.

As we walked back inside, the door guy waved me over and said, “You were right on that one. I shouldn’t have let them in.”
I smirked at him and nodded and said, “Yup.”

 

Just trying to get home

Driving home after a long challenging shift can be its own unique experience. Sometimes I won’t even get home until 2-3 hours after I clock out. Not because I’m out drinking with coworkers, because I keep finding situations that need responding to.

Sitting in my truck is usually the first time all night that other people can’t talk to me, ask me for help, or recruit me to solve a problem. It’s my little decompression sanctuary from the night’s lunacy. I’ll usually just sit there and breathe for a long moment before I turn the ignition. I usually reek of a distinctive combo of sweat (my own and other people’s), fog machine juice, cigarette smoke, and beer. All I want to do is get home and take a shower or a bath. But home seems so very far from here. Even though my drive home usually only takes 15 minutes, it can feel like I’m 2,000 light years from home.

Sometimes I’ll listen to music on the drive home, but more often than not I won’t. I’ve already been listening to music at the venue all night and I’m done with it. The silence is a welcome change. I’ll go over events of the night in my head, sometimes even talking to myself a little bit. I’ll think about situations I could have handled better, or just actually handled wrong. Nobody always makes the perfect decision in the heat of a stressful moment, and I’ve made my share of bad calls. I agonize over bad decisions I made more than I should.

Driving home in silence I see the night people of the city on their various missions, skittering around like insomniac bugs. I spot potential drug deals, homeless people moving camps, mentally ill people cussing at people who aren’t there, prostitutes with garish makeup peering into my truck window to see if I’m a customer. And of course the first responders of police, ambulances, and fire trucks always rushing somewhere with their candy-lights glittering in the dark. Red and blue flashes of color are reflected off of my bleary and red eyes every night. There’s always someone in peril or facing death. But with our busy lives and self-centered scope, we become inured to it.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite films, Martin Scorsese’s 1976 masterpiece Taxi Driver. Robert De Niro plays loner Travis Bickle, driving around in his cab all night long to deal with his insomnia. He sees the worst of people driving graveyard shift in New York City. Disenfranchised, jaded by the filthy humanity he sees, isolated and in his own world of depression he forges ahead. He finds obsession, a cause to champion, and then much violence.

“All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.

“I am God’s lonely man.”

THURSDAY

Some nights I can’t even get to my truck before the nonsense-responder mode kicks in. Moments after I clock out and say goodnight to some coworkers I step outside and find two people crouched down leaning against the wall. It’s a man and woman who I recognize from the event upstairs. The woman appeared kind of wobbly and drunk up there and sure enough, now she is vomiting on the sidewalk with her boyfriend taking care of her. Much as I wanted to just keep walking, I ask them if they needed anything. I offer her water and ask if they have a safe way home. Ended up getting them some bottled water and a free slice of pizza from the restaurant inside. Notified a manager that they were outside just in case they needed more help.

Now as I’m about to cross the street to get to my truck, I see a dog starting to run across the busy four-lane street intersection. I am not about to see a dog run over by a car tonight, so I immediately pull out my tactical flashlight and shine it at the approaching cars in front of me and behind me. I jump out in the street and start talking baby-talk to the panicking dog. Somehow over the honking horns and vehicles squealing to a stop, the dog heard me and came running over to me. I walked it over to its owner on the corner of the sidewalk and got a big hug from the woman who owned it. A group of people who saw this or tried to help all gathered about the dog to pet it. I asked her about getting a leash or a rope to prevent this from ever happening again. My heart was beating pretty hard. I rubbed the dog’s fur and we looked in each other’s eyes for a moment. I said goodnight to everybody and walked across the street.

I went to the mini mart nearby to get some necessities. For decades I refused to ever even go inside of a 7-11 or a AM/PM Mini Market. Almost every single thing in there is bad for you and overpriced. But now that I work in bars as a bouncer, what other store is open at 3am? It’s a necessary evil sometimes. Every time I go in there I recall the scene from Taxi Driver where Robert De Niro’s character is in a store buying chocolate milk and Ding-Dongs and somebody comes in with a gun to rob the cashier. He ends up shooting the thief dead. The store owner covers it up by taking DeNiro’s unregistered gun and then bashing the corpse with a pipe. This was long before every mini mart had surveillance cameras.

Tonight I noticed three white teenagers all wearing backpacks grouped together in the corner of the store while the middle-aged woman cashier eyeballed them. I immediately walked over to them and stood right behind them like I wanted to see something in the case in front of them. I said, “Excuse me, fellas” and opened the case to grab some water. They undoubtedly saw my security shirt and earpiece still clipped to my collar. I looked at all of their hands to see if they were trying to shoplift something. The cashier came over and asked the boys to leave since they weren’t buying anything and weren’t supposed to bring in huge backpacks. They left the store quickly and she thanked me for helping out with that potential shoplifting situation.

Minutes later, I’m standing in line with my bag of chips and water, and a mentally ill homeless man comes in. He brought in some fast food and started putting it in the market’s microwave to heat it up. The clerk yells over to him, “Hey you can’t use our microwave. That’s for food that you buy here.” The guy starts yelling and cussing, slamming the microwave door shut and knocking over various items on the counter. Everyone in the place is now staring at this nutball. Acting on autopilot I say to him, “You need to leave NOW.” Then he focuses on me and makes a crazy face while he yells, “You gonna kick my ass with that bag of chips, motherfucker?” I started walking towards him and he runs out of the store, leaving his stale cheeseburgers in the microwave. I return to line to buy my chips and the clerk thanks me again. I said, ‘Crazy night, huh?” She replied, “Oh it’s just an average Thursday.”

As I’m finally driving home thinking about dogs and Travis Bickle, I see a fire on the side of the road. It’s a tent completely engulfed in flames right by the street. It’s part of a makeshift homeless camp in a small park-like area of trees and bushes near an overpass. I pull over immediately and call the police. The operator asks me what my emergency is and I tell them that there is a homeless person’s tent on fire at the location. The flames were reaching up several feet in the air and about to catch the leaves of the tree directly above it on fire. Several trees around that one were touching it and would then also catch fire. He asked me very calmly, “Do you see any bodies in the burning tent?” I answered that it was just the tent and the items inside it burning. Pretty sure I would have mentioned that on the call, after running over to try to pull the bodies out of the tent. Strange conversations at 3am. I was pleased to see 3 other cars pull over behind me to call in the fire as well. One guy was a security patrol driver and he got out and headed towards the burning tent. I yelled to him that I’d called it in and a fire truck was on its way. There is a community of us out there that will always help out in the wee hours.

In the colder months, some homeless people do die in their tents trying to keep warm. They use sterno cooking fuel to heat the inside of their tents, and to cook food. Some burn hand sanitizer gel in a pop can as a make-shift stove. Sometimes this catches papers, hair, clothing, etc on fire or gets knocked over. It usually isn’t that they are doing drugs or cooking drugs in the tent. A person might fall asleep and accidentally knock over the flame, starting a fire. Some of the cheaper tents obviously are not flame-proof, as evidenced by this maelstrom of a tent fire. This particular tent wasn’t anywhere near the rest of the group of tents on the grass though, it was right on the edge of the street, on the sidewalk. Most people don’t set their tent up that close to traffic or blocking a sidewalk when there was ample space back among the others. Seemed to me that it was placed there intentionally to be done away with. And placing it directly under the leafy tree feel like an intentional act to catch the tree on fire. I wonder if there was some sort of revenge amongst the homeless people and somebody got ousted. Or maybe the owner of that tent passed away or went to prison and their friends burned their stuff in a strange honoring-the-departed ritual. I’ll never know.

FRIDAY

I got out of work late tonight after the bar closed. It was quite a night full of kicking out drunk people, taking care of people who had medical incidents, catching crowd surfers during the concert, and babysitting lingering band members. After a minute or two of sitting in my truck to calm down, I headed home. Sure enough, I see a woman laying askew on the sidewalk too close to traffic slowly flailing and reaching up with her hands. I say out loud to myself, “I’m off work.” But then I pull over and park to go investigate.

She was conscious and attempting to stand up after a fall. I asked her if I could help her stand up and get away from the street. She said yes and as I pulled her up I leaned in close to see if I could smell any alcohol on her. I didn’t. A bike pizza delivery guy was nearby and half-assedly trying to talk to her and help. He told me he saw her fall and pulled over but couldn’t get her on her feet. He asked if I could take care of this since he had deliveries to make. I didn’t see any injuries on her, but she was definitely unstable and had other challenges.

She started trying to talk to me and I recognized the all-too-familiar confused speech of someone with Schizophrenia. She was trying to link ideas and words together that didn’t go together, what psychologists call a ‘word-salad,’ She was also very confused about why the busses weren’t running at 3:15am. Typical paranoid fears of things happening to her that aren’t even possible. I tried to get her to tell me if she lived nearby in a residential home or something, or where she was coming from. It was very cold outside and she did fall on the sidewalk according to the pizza delivery bicyclist.

I called the non-emergency police line and told them I was with a woman who seemed to have fallen, but that it might be more of a mental health response needed. An ambulance showed up in moments and they ran her vitals and interviewed her. I hung back and watched for a while out of curiosity. I heard them talk to her about getting somewhere warm tonight, and offered her a ride to Hooper Detox. She was probably off her meds and needed stabilization/medication management. Nothing warranted a psych hold or admitting to a hospital though. The woman refused any rides or help from the EMTs. They offered her a ride to a homeless shelter as well, but she refused. There was nothing any of us could do. I waved to the paramedics as they boarded their van again. And the woman picked up her bags and waddled away down the sidewalk. She looked like she just finished a shopping trip at the mall carrying her department store bags like she was. I silently wished her well, and thanked the EMTs in my head.

Driving home again I see a very odd sight just blocks from where the woman was found. I saw a SWAT truck with riot police troops standing all along the sides of it, ready to deploy. This is an unusual sight any time of the day, but now it’s creeping up on 4am. No political protests happen at 4am. Naturally, I drove around the block again to get another look and see if I could figure out what was about to happen.

Then I realized what was happening as I drove past a particular notorious club. There is a certain club that will remain unnamed that is a magnet for violence and fights. Bro-dude rapists who want to fight are drawn here by the dozens. Worse even than the unsavory clientele is the asinine way they run their business hours. Every bar in Oregon has to stop selling alcohol by 2:30am. So usually clubs announce last call at 2:15 and they don’t serve drinks after that. Then at 2:30 the ugly lights come on and everybody scrambles out to drive home. Or more accurately to see who is sober enough to drive to Taco Bell, and THEN home. This particular club stops serving alcohol at 2:30am, in accordance with the law, but then they remain open as a hang-out spot until 4am. This is a recipe for disaster. This is when drunk people with no reason to leave stay and start trouble. Predatory bottom-feeder dudes looking for the drunkest woman showing the most skin. Women with more fake breasts and lips and makeup than class or sense. In this bizarre gonzo scene they actually deserve each other. I guarantee it’s 90% testosterone and whiskey-fueled macho dick-measuring bullshit. “You looked at my girl too long”, “You knocked into my table”, or “Hey asshole, wanna fight?”

I used to work the door at a club very near this place. It became a regular thing that we would see numerous police cars there every night to respond to fights. The record was 12 police cars all with their lights and sirens on screaming to the club and blocking all lanes of traffic. We were instructed to close and lock the doors of our establishment when that would happen, so any fights or drama wouldn’t move into our bar. The most famous fracas there was when multiple fights broke out between different groups in the bar and security staff, and it spilled out into the street. There were several stabbings. I watched bleeding men being put into ambulances on stretchers, still yelling at their enemy in the other ambulance.

After that they added more bouncers and big metal detectors outside the club. But it still is a sketchy shady place that I wouldn’t ever go to, and no woman should ever go there. Trust me. So I think this was the city’s response to this club’s history for violence. The time between 2:30am and 4am is what I would call ‘bullshit time’ at this club. So they posted an emergency response SWAT team outside in the parking lot all decked out in their tactical gear and armor with mace, tazers, stun grenades, and assault rifles. It’s an effective and intimidating show-of-force tactic. I think if you walk into a club and see that outside, you might consider not acting a fool that night. And if you do start a fight in that club tonight, may your god have mercy on your stupid soul.

Almost home now, I see my tank is empty and decide to fill up tonight rather than deal with it tomorrow before driving back to work. Gas stations with markets are epicenters for ridiculous nonsense in the middle of the night. As I’m waiting for my tank to fill and commiserating with the gas jockey who has to be there until 8am, I see an African-American woman wandering around the parking lot yelling. But she’s not just yelling at people who aren’t there, she’s actually screaming at patrons in their cars. She was screaming at innocent and very tired people about using their phone to call the police to get her kids back. I don’t feed into stuff like this at all, so when she looked at me I just said, “I can’t help you, move on.”

The gas attendant said he already locked the front door to the market and told her to leave the premises. He was here all by himself trying to run the mini mart, pump everybody’s gas, and deal with this crazy woman. So since she has been told to leave and hasn’t, she is now trespassing. Also harassing and borderline menacing customers. I saw her at the window of a car screaming top-volume at a scared-looking young woman inside. This poor woman looked trapped like a dog in the animal control truck. Crazy woman was still harping about using someone’s phone to call the police to get her kids back. She screamed at the woman in the car, “HELP ME, WHITE BITCH!”

At this point the attendant and I both started yelling at her. I called the police and got out of my truck to start moving towards her. I’m way bigger than she was, so as soon as she saw two men moving towards her she moved away from the woman’s car. She did start screaming at us, calling the gas attendance racist and me a thug. She also implied we were somehow involved in her losing her kids. I described the woman to the 911 operator loudly so the woman would hear me describing her to police. The gas jockey said if she didn’t stop screaming and calling us names he was going to punch her in the face. I was ready to drop my phone and tackle this woman to the ground if I had to. Luckily she ended up running away, still screaming about getting her kids back. I told the officer what direction she went and hung up. I waved at the scared woman in the car and she mouthed the words “Thank you.” I shook the gas jockey’s hand and we both rolled our eyes at the insanity, and I drove away homeward.

Back to Taxi Driver wisdom, Peter Boyle’s character Wizard says this:

Look at it this way. A man takes a job, you know? And that job – I mean, like that – That becomes what he is. You know, like – You do a thing and that’s what you are.

This resonates so strongly with me. Since I’ve worked as a bouncer I feel like I’m always a bouncer wherever I am. Does all this nonsense just find me? Or am I seeking it out? Do I see it more than a regular person because I am attuned to it? I feel like I often work a full shift at the venue bar, then I work a second short shift after I clock out just trying to get home. I can’t turn it off. My parents say that I’ve always been a helper since I was a little boy. That’s essentially what I’m doing now as an adult. Helping others. In that way this is a perfect profession for me. No matter how long I actually work in this industry, I’ll always retain this security mindset.

All I want is to enter my house justified

This is a famous quote from the 1962 Sam Peckinpah western, Ride the High Country. I think of this line often when I finally get home and open the door of my house.

I enter the house as quietly as I can and put down my bags. I go to my bedroom first and gently touch my wife’s leg, whispering that I’m home. She usually wakes up just enough to say that she loves me or that she’s glad I’m back home safe. Then I peek into each of the kids rooms to check on them. I usually grab the girl’s glitter-covered foot and say goodnight, and then softly tousle the boy’s shaggy hair. Both dogs are asleep, one snoring pretty loudly. My clan is collected. My family is safe. My tribe is protected.

It’s the middle of the night and I’m wide awake in a house full of sleepers.
I’ve got nobody to tell all these stories to, except maybe you.

If I were a smoker I would have a cigarette. If I were a drinker I would crack open a beer.
Instead I go out on my back porch and sit on the deck. I can feel the moisture in the air and see it sparkling on the grass. The sky is starting its transition from black as night to a familiar blue glow. The stars start to fade away as the sky lightens. It has just changed from night to morning. It’s not my time anymore, I need to get to sleep like a vampire prior to daybreak.

But I guess I’ll just sit here alone and watch the sun rise.