The Naked Truth About Capitol Hill

It’s hard to concentrate on a slice of pizza when a group of 30 or so naked bike riders goes pedaling by your table. When that happens, you’re faced with an awkward decision: take another bite and pretend that it’s perfectly natural to see a whole bunch of people go perfectly au naturel in the middle of the afternoon on a busy street in the heart of downtown Seattle, or drop all pretenses (and your slice of pizza), grab your camera, and snap a picture.

Three guesses what I did.

Sadly, the best of the lot (meaning those with breasts) had already zoomed on by, so I was only able to catch the “tail end” of the impromptu flesh parade. A memorable experience for our first visit to Capitol Hill, which is Seattle’s answer to the Hawthorne District in Portland. One of those trendy neighborhoods with cool restaurants and shops. We were up north over the weekend for one of our regularly scheduled visits with Tara’s family, and Anne wanted to show us Capitol Hill, so we drove out there Saturday afternoon. Walked around, grabbed a pizza, saw naked people, and experienced the sights and sounds of that area. And while it was cool – I especially liked the variety of interesting restaurants and bars – I have to say, my heart still belongs to Portland’s Hawthorne District. The people-watching was a tie – both areas have an eclectic mix of hipsters, gays, tourists, etc. – but Hawthorne has a better selection of record stores and vintage shops, both of which appeal to me more. And the Bagdad Theater is the perfect place to kick back with a cocktail. To be fair, we don’t have a Jimi Hendrix statue, so points go to Capitol Hill for that one. Then again, Seattle is Jimi’s hometown. Our equivalent would be Elliot Smith, I suppose, though admittedly he’s nowhere near as talented as good ol’ Jimi was. Maybe the area is crying out for a Matt Groening statue?

And also, maybe I’m biased. I love Portland. But unlike most Portlanders, I am also quite fond of Seattle. These past two years, it’s felt like a home away from home of sorts. I could see myself living there if circumstances were just right, so I have no built-in prejudice against the Emerald City. The Portland/Seattle rivalry is no different than that of San Francisco and Oakland, or New York City and Boston.

In any case, we had a nice visit, but I was a little concerned Saturday evening when we heard from K., a friend who was staying at our house while we were out of town. She is relocating from Seattle to Portland (smart move!) (friendly rivalry, remember?) and is looking for an apartment, so she wanted a base of operations and asked if she could stay at our place over the weekend. I had no problem with that once I was convinced her dog wouldn’t eat my cat. Anyway, she had mentioned on Facebook that the layout of our townhouse resembled that of the house in Paranormal Activity. That already had her freaked out, and then a toy in the guest room “talked” to her in the middle of the night. So I responded that I hadn’t even told her about all the weird experiences I’ve had there over the years, which only added to her consternation, I’m sure. Then my uncle Tom, with his usual sarcastic wit, commented, Are you going to tell her about the family that was murdered in your house? They never did catch that guy, did they? You’d think one of the chainsaw dealers in Portland would remember him. Funny guy. And while that incident never actually occurred, several strange things over the years have. Including:

  • A tissue box that would fly across the bathroom on its own. This used to happen on a fairly regular basis years ago, but I haven’t experienced this in quite some time.
  • Doors opening and/or locking on their own.
  • Lights coming on inexplicably.
  • A mysterious light in the bedroom.

Best of all, a couple of weeks ago Tara felt like somebody reached out and touched her, even though nobody was around at the time. And the kids, especially Audrey, always talked about hearing footsteps, voices, etc. A lot of this stuff can probably be explained away as an overactive imagination or noises from the neighboring unit, but some of it is just plain weird. I did tell K. nothing “evil” had ever happened, so if there is a ghost hanging out rent-free in the ol’ casa, he’s more of a prankster than anything else.

K. survived unscathed, and Tara and I were back home early Sunday afternoon. Next up: a camping trip this weekend, hopefully with the kids. We have to make up for the rain that washed out our first outing last year, and hope the raccoons don’t get into the booze this time.

hamster 1

My Hamster Ate The Piano Man

Earlier this week, Tara and I helped out a close friend by delivering copies of her free publication, Portland Book Review, to a bunch of local businesses. We had had Chris over for dinner one day last week so she could meet my girlfriend. Chris and I go way back – once upon a time we were wage slaves in a call center for a health insurance organization together, and have remained friends and business associates over the years. Chris is almost like a sister to me, and she stood by and watched while I went through a series of less-than-ideal relationships, all while biting her tongue. (Though not always. She occasionally told me what an idiot I was for putting up with the stuff I did, but of course I never listened. We Taurus’s are stubborn like that). I am enjoying introducing my friends to Tara, and it was important to me that the two of them got along. Naturally, they did. At one point I found myself hunched over the kitchen sink washing dishes while the two of them gabbed on and on. Not exactly sure how that happened, but I didn’t mind.

Chris is the Editor-in-Chief of PBR, and needed help distributing the June issue. We agreed to deliver to a bunch of businesses on Hawthorne Boulevard, not only to help out a friend in need but also to give us an excuse to hang out on Hawthorne again, one of my favorite Portland neighborhoods. It was pretty cool, stopping by bars and cafes and bookstores and delivering copies of the paper. And it only took us a couple of hours, which gave us some free time to explore the area afterwards. We had heard about a record store called CrossRoads Music that houses thousands of titles for sale by various vendors, all under one roof, and decided to check it out. Tara and I are both big vinyl fans, and together have quite a record collection. The moment we walked through the doors of this place, we were in LP Heaven. We browsed for over an hour, only tearing ourselves away because it was time to pick the kids up from school, and walked away with about ten records between us. Good stuff, and most of them were priced at $4 or less. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Billy Joel, Wings, The Who, Dire Straits, Jefferson Airplane, etc. All in excellent condition. I envision many return trips in the future.

My love affair with albums dates back to 1977. That summer Elvis Presley died, and though I was only eight years old, I quickly became a big fan of his music. The first record I ever bought was “C’mon Everybody.” Over the years, many more followed. I was into bands like Journey and Bruce Springsteen and The Beatles and (sigh) Culture Club back then. One of my favorites was Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits, a two-record set that contained all of The Piano Man’s greatest hits. Up until 1986, at least.

Don’t be fooled by that cute face. He’s got really sharp teeth!

At the time, I owned a hamster. I kept him in a cage in my bedroom, and while he was a cute little bugger, the laps he ran on that squeaky wheel in the middle of the night drove me bonkers and kept me awake. In retrospect, I don’t know why I wanted a hamster so badly in my senior year of high school. I’m not a big fan of rodents, and while hamsters are furry and soft, they also smell and you have to – gasp! – clean their cages often. Plus, it’s not like you can have them fetch a stick or sit on command. Still, I liked my hamster well enough.

Until one day, when he escaped from his cage.

The ingenious little bastard animal had climbed atop his wheel, nudged the screen lid off his cage, and climbed out. When I discovered he was missing, I searched high and low for the critter. The trail grew warm when I opened my closet door and found a hole in the cardboard box that contained my records.

A-ha!

I loved this album. Unfortunately, it was rendered unplayable thanks to the large holes my hamster chewed through the vinyl.

There he was, making himself a second home amongst my LPs. I grabbed him and returned him to his cage. Then, as I was flipping through my albums, I discovered that the furry little devil had chewed a hole through the Billy Joel record. Not just the cardboard sleeve, but the vinyl itself. Both albums.

Arrgh. My hamster ate The Piano Man!

Those records, of course, were unplayable after that. And I was not a happy camper. Soon after, it no longer mattered anyway. Records went the way of the dinosaur. I put mine into storage and amassed a large collection of CDs instead. I assumed albums were dead. Mine didn’t see the light of day for 25 years. And then, a funny thing happened. They started to make a comeback. I bought a Crosley turntable a couple of years ago and dragged my records out of storage. They were in surprisingly good – almost pristine – condition.

Except for the Billy Joel album, of course. It’s hard to listen to “It’s Still Rock ‘n Roll To Me” when there’s a ragged, chewed-up hole in the middle of the song. So I finally tossed that album. Fortunately, with places like CrossRoads Music and other groovy (pun intended) record stores all over Portland, I’m pretty sure I can replace it easily enough.

In the meantime, I will always remember the hamster who was cute as hell – but a real pain in the ass.

Why can't I find one of these for fourteen bucks at Value Village?

Where’s My Thrift Store Picasso?

Did you hear about the guy in Ohio who bought a Picasso print from a thrift store for $14, then discovered it wasn’t a reproduction after all but a genuine, original poster signed by the artist himself and turned around and resold it for $7000?

This pisses me off.

Because if anybody appreciates a good thrift store bargain, it’s me. I frequently scour the aisles of my local Value Village in search of inexpensive treasures, but do you have any idea how many times I’ve found a work of art by a famous artist and made a 500% profit? I’ll tell you how many: ZERO. Sure, I’ve found my share of warped records and dogeared paperbacks and chipped drinking glasses and faded flannel shirts, but an undiscovered Monet or Van Gogh has never once found its way into my shopping cart. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for the dude. He’s unemployed, and can use the money. But, hello – same here! I don’t ask for much in life. Just a roof over my head and food on my table and a priceless work of art that I can resell for a huge return on my investment.

C’mon, Universe. Help a brother out here!

Why can’t I find one of these for fourteen bucks at Value Village?

I’m also irritated that I can wander through a vintage store and find really cool things like dogs playing poker tapestries and glass milk bottles and classic rock albums and metal lunch boxes and posters from World’s Fairs gone by and yet my local neighborhood garage sale has nothing but cracked Tupperware canisters and tacky Christmas figurines. Obviously I’m shopping in the wrong ‘hood.

Oh, well. Guess I’ll just have to make my fortune the old-fashioned way and work for it. Grr.

Speaking of garage sales, Tara and I had one on Saturday morning. Our goal wasn’t to make a lot of money but merely to get rid of some of the really cool things my girlfriend made me get rid of when she moved in duplicates we had between us. And it’s a good thing too, because lemme tell ya, customers weren’t exactly flocking in off the street. We were “open” an entire hour before the first person even stopped, and when he walked away after spending a whopping $2 I figured the writing was pretty much on the wall. Luckily business picked up a little after that, but we still only managed to pull in $60, which is fine – it’s seed money for our Broncos fund (we’re hoping to fly to Denver to catch a game this October). We stopped the sale at noon and then donated everything that didn’t sell to the Value Village mentioned above. You know, the place that has never once sold me a rare Pablo Picasso print. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Much.

The rest of the weekend was pretty awesome (except for the heat – we seem to have skipped from winter to summer with a vengeance). After the garage sale, we headed to the Hawthorne District in Portland for a few hours. The highlight? Sitting at a sidewalk table outside the Bagdad Theater sipping cocktails and watching all the strangely funky Portland people walking by. Hipsters and homeless people and every imaginable type of human being in between. Sunday we strolled around the farmer’s market in Vancouver and even though there still isn’t much in the way of fresh produce available, we came away with hummus and pita chips and mango salsa and kettle corn and olives. Then we walked around a couple of our local parks before coming home to veg in front of the TV with season one of Breaking Bad (which Tara has never seen but happily decided to check out after listening to me rave over this incredible show (see?) constantly). We ended the day with margaritas and, now that I have my patio back again and the grill is hooked up, the most delicious dinner consisting of barbecued chicken, grilled corn on the cob, baked beans and french bread. I even let Tara do the cooking, which might not seem like a big deal except for the fact that nothing comes between a man and his grill. The bond between the two is sacred. It was tough relinquishing the reins, believe me, but my girlfriend did me proud and the food turned out fantastic. I was so impressed, I think I’ll let her do it again sometime.

Until then, if anybody’s got a hot lead on a hidden Matisse gathering dust in a thrift store somewhere, hit me up!

Say what you will, but I think this is a perfectly lovely piece of art.

Dogs Playing Poker Doesn’t Qualify as Art?!

Friday afternoon, I was wandering around one of my favorite areas of Portland – the Hawthorne District. It’s fun, funky and cool. The people watching alone makes it a worthy destination! There’s a place there called House Of Vintage where I love to browse. It’s a cavernous store full of vintage (or retro, or antique) appliances, decorations, knickknacks, clothing, etc. It’s already a well-established fact that I am in love with the 1970s (see: my fascination with/collections of lava lamps, tie-dye, peace signs, vinyl records, and someday – hopefully – a VW Bus). So, when I spotted a groovy tapestry that featured dogs playing poker – and for a mere $29 – I knew I had to have it! My mistake was firing off a text to my girlfriend.

Do we want a dogs playing poker tapestry?? I wrote, and included a photo of said tapestry in all its velvety glory. I’m dead serious…

Um…no. Maybe one day when you have a man cave, she responded.

The rest of the conversation went like this:

But…I love it!
But…where would you put it??
In the dining room.
You’re a nut.
A nut who loves tacky 70s stuff. Good thing you’re moving in, or I’d totally buy that.
You could hang it in the garage.
Nah. Such a thing of beauty deserves a place of prominence.

And just like that, my dreams were dashed. I still thought Tara was slightly crazy for not recognizing the beauty of this amazing tapestry (which I genuinely did love), so I posted a photo on Facebook, and was promptly bombarded with a slew of less than enthusiastic comments.

Puke, wrote Monica.

Ummmm…WTF, Mark???? chimed in Wendy.

Mark, they don’t appreciate your refined taste in “art,” said Mike, the lone male in the conversation. Suddenly this man was my savior, the sole voice of reason in a sea of negativity. Dogs playing poker must be a “guy” thing.

And then Wendy slammed the coffin lid when she replied, I thought you WANTED Tara to move in.

It’s really not that bad…is it??

Say what you will, but I think this is a perfectly lovely piece of art.

I guess it takes a certain type of person to appreciate that kind of artwork. I personally thought it would look fantastic hanging on the dining room wall. A real conversation starter, for sure! I’m forced to concede that perhaps dogs playing poker is a “guy” thing, along with lighted beer signs (I’ve got one hanging in the garage!) and bikini calendars. I love Tara to pieces, but man, she broke my heart with her resistance to that masterpiece. We’ve got so much else in common, I was rather shocked that our tastes deviated so drastically when it came to this tapestry. In retrospect though, I suppose I should have known. Each time she’s come out here, she has managed to “girl” the place up a bit more. Last time she left I found myself with a pumpkin-scented air freshener downstairs and a sorta-flowery air diffuser in the bedroom. And she’s already talking about things like a throw rug in the living room and plants hanging from the ceiling.

Living together is going to be an adventure!

Speaking of adventures (and demonstrating the fine art of segueing), my whole Friday was chock full of fun! I started out by heading downtown for the first showing of The Hunger Games. I haven’t looked forward to a movie so much in ages, and this one felt like an Event. I devoured the trilogy in a matter of weeks, and even though it’s marketed as Young Adult fiction, the story is dark enough (kids fighting other kids to death in an arena while an enthralled nation watches the bloody spectacle on television) to appeal to adults, too. And when I finished each book, I passed it on to Audrey, who tore through them just as quickly, providing us with a nice father-daughter bonding experience. We would discuss plot points and various characters over dinner each night, something we’d never done before. So, how was the film? Pretty damn good, as a matter of fact. The story was condensed in places, a few characters were cut, and the tension between Katniss and Peeta was downplayed quite a bit, but it was a faithful and satisfying rendition. I loved seeing the book brought to life, and many of the characters – Effie Trinket, Caesar Flickerman, and especially Haymitch Abernathy – were spot-on. Woody Harrelson rocks, and Jennifer Lawrence is the perfect choice for Katniss Everdeen. I can’t wait to see what they do with Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

The theater was also packed to the rafters. I see a lot of movies, and I’ve gotta say, I haven’t encountered crowds like this since…ever. Black Swan came close, but that was during Christmas break and an evening show. The matinee on Friday started at 11:30, and it took me twenty minutes just to exit the parking garage. I predict a huge weekend opening.

It was around 3:00 by the time I reached Hawthorne. Later than I’d planned, and rush hour traffic would be kicking in shortly, so I just decided to spend a couple of extra hours there in order to avoid it. After the vintage store and my aborted attempt at buying the dogs playing poker tapestry, I stopped by the Bagdad Theater for a cocktail and an appetizer at the McMenamin’s pub. My Cable Car was delish, and the Cajun tater tots hit the spot. I then wandered around for quite awhile, stopping in various shops (a record store, a bookstore, an Italian market) and soaking in the sights. Like this one.

I told you Hawthorne was great for people watching! It’s like a street full of sensory overload.

Nothing screams “Portland!” like a fake kidnapping. Fortunately, she was a mannequin.

I think.

hope.

As the sun sank lower, I figured it was finally time to head for home. I ordered a pizza to go from Hot Lips, and then hit the freeway. Fortunately, my timing was perfect, and the traffic flowed smoothly – I had managed to avoid rush hour altogether.

Got home, watched a movie, read for awhile (11/22/63 by Stephen King – I am enthralled with this book!), and then went to bed. It was a near perfect day! The only thing missing was Tara, of course.

And my beautiful dogs playing poker tapestry…

Turning Into My Girlfriend

Slowly but surely, I am turning into my girlfriend.

I suppose this is natural in any relationship. Spend enough time around your significant other, and you start to absorb some of their traits. It’s not like I’m suddenly wearing heels and carrying a purse – at least not in public – but there are little things I’ve picked up here and there. Habits and phrases and the like. And I believe she’s done the same. After all, she was a football fan when we met, and now she’s a Denver Broncos fan, which probably has something to do with my longstanding allegiance to the team. Either that, or she’s suddenly developed excellent sports tastes.

(As an aside, there was a brief time when I did carry a purse. Well, not really. But I did strap on a fanny pack a few times in the late 80s, until I actually got a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realized that doing so was wrong on about a hundred different levels. Oh, the shame. I worked in a luggage store and they were all the rage. Luckily, I never succumbed to the whole “man bag” craze despite an episode of Seinfeld (greatest sitcom ever!) in which Elaine convinces Jerry to carry a purse. But I digress).

Anyway. This became evident to me yesterday, when I was shopping for groceries and picked up a tube of squeezable minced garlic.

When I visited, Tara had a tube of squeezable minced garlic in her fridge, and I sort of made fun of that. In a lovable way, of course. Because there is nothing like freshly minced garlic, am I right or am I right? Especially when you’ve got a fancy garlic press (thanks, Ikea!) that makes it simple to mince garlic to your heart’s content. I couldn’t understand why somebody would pay $3 for a tube of garlic when you can buy a whole clove for 33-cents.

And then I tried it.

I was cooking her dinner that Tuesday after Christmas. Chicken cacciatore. The recipe calls for garlic, and because all she had was that squeezable tube, I grabbed it from the refrigerator and squirted a dash into the pan.

Wow, I thought. That was easy. And really convenient. There was no garlic to peel, no garlic press to disassemble and wash, no garlic residue on my fingers. And the dish did not suffer from a lack of fresh garlic. The dish, it turned out, had no idea I’d made a fourth-quarter substitution.

Which is why I forked over $3 for a tube of squeezable garlic yesterday.

But that’s a little thing. One bigger change I’ve noticed is a sudden interest in being sociable.

Not that I was ever a hermit or anything. Growing up an Air Force brat, all my childhood friends are scattered across the globe, so there is nobody I keep in touch with. I have been unable to locate my best friend from high school, despite repeated attempts utilizing the resources of the world wide web. And the friends I made from work are all married or partnered up. It’s tough being the proverbial third wheel. Because of these factors, more often than not I found myself alone when I didn’t have the kids. This didn’t bother me; I’m the guy who took a solo road trip across the country, remember? But there was definitely something missing from my life. I would look to my parents, who always have friends to invite over or hang out with, and wonder how they made it all seem so effortless. I think a big part of it was a mental block on my part.

Turns out I enjoy hosting dinner parties!

And then I met Tara. My first trip to Ely, she had her friend Ray join us for dinner one night. I was a little surprised to learn he was coming over, but we had a good time together. In October, when we visited her mom in Seattle, there was a night spent playing cards and drinking wine with her brother’s girlfriend, Anne. Again, a highlight of the trip. I was beginning to realize I enjoyed the company of others – the laughter, the camaraderie, the stories. So when she and I threw a dinner party the Friday before New Year’s, I was actually excited to play co-host, and had a great time.

So, when I had friends from Sacramento in town over the weekend, the logical thing to do was to invite them over for dinner. We’d already had plans to meet up in Portland on Saturday, but I figured, why not have everybody over to my house in the evening, as well? That way we could have a nice, relaxing dinner, drink some wine, play some cards, listen to music, let the conversation flow. I floated the idea out there, and it was met with enthusiasm. It was a spontaneous move on my part, and totally inspired by Tara, but I was excited to have people over and entertain ‘em. Besides, once I’d sent the text to Chris, I couldn’t very well back down!

Earlier in the day we’d met up at Powell’s Books in the funky, eclectic Hawthorne District of southeast Portland. My friend Chris (from Portland Book Review) and her daughter Ruthie, and Heidi and her daughter Jordan, who had flown up from Sacramento. I first met Heidi in person last June, when I lost my car in the parking garage (another Seinfeldian moment in my life), though I’ve known her through blogging – and as a business associate – for years. We walked around Hawthorne, stopping in a bunch of cool shops and taking a break for lunch at a Mexican restaurant before parting ways. I had a dinner to prepare, after all, and even though spaghetti is fairly simple, it still required a few hours to cook.

Anybody wanna guess why I ended up on the kitchen counter?

They showed up at 5 PM and the five of us – plus my kids – spent the next several hours eating, drinking, talking, listening to records, and playing Phase 10, the card game that I have really gotten hooked on these past few months. It turned out to be a great evening, much more comfortable (and less expensive) than if we’d been out on the town. I enjoyed having everybody over, though it definitely would have been even better if Tara had been there. That’s one thing we’ve talked about – the dinners we’ll host and the parties we’ll have when she’s living here. I can’t wait for those!

And I thank her for bringing me out of my shell and introducing me to a whole new world, one which I find quite appealing.