Once Upon a Time in NW Portland

   I wander Northwest Portland and look at all the things I can’t afford—cars, Victorian houses, fashionable clothing, beer, girls, hope . . . I wander Northwest in search of someone who can sympathize.

   A friend of mine recently moved to Germany to begin working as an analyst for an English securities firm. He’ll be making $55,000 a year which sounds like a fortune to me, considering I’ve only got two dollars in my wallet and some change in my pocket for the bus home.

   I go to Brian’s apartment on NW. Irving. Or “Oiving” as the Boston native calls it. Brian is always good for a laugh, always listens and soothes if only because he knows what I am going through. I doubt he’ll be in this early in the afternoon, but I’d rather wait on his front porch than head home and face my parents and their questions, their disappointments, and their unwelcomed advice on how to get a job.

   I walk up the rickety wooden steps. I fell down these steps a year ago when I was drunk and cracked my skull on the sidewalk. I sometimes wonder if I did permanent damage.

   To the immediate left of Brian’s place is a shabby halfway house for mental patients. The windows are covered with a filthy film of neglect. In each window hangs a different set of mismatched curtains from the Nixon era or soiled sheets draped across to conceal the depravity within. Though many of the patients seem content to sit on the porch day after day in a lithium-induced daze, there are others bursting with energy; one paces back and forth like a caged animal, another is prone to outbursts of profanity. We have come to call him Pally.

   I twist the aging ringer on Brian’s door.

   “Goddamn cock-sucking sons of bitches!” shouts Pally next door.

   I give the ringer another twist. The door has a large single diamond-shaped window in it that is cracked. The building is in an appalling state. Paint is chipped. The floors creak. The carpets are stained and funky.

   Across the street all the houses have been bought up and remodeled by not-so young anymore, but definitely upwardly mobile professionals. Before long, this side of the street will also be cleaned up and both Brian and his roommates, as well as Pally and the rest will be told to shove off.

   Brian appears at the top of a flight of stairs that rises just behind the door. He waves me up.

   “Yus! What’s up?” He says as I’m climbing the stairs, and then noticing that I’ve gotten my hair cut exclaims, “Yus! What happened to you?”

   I had been growing my hair out for over two years, but this morning went and had it all whacked off.

   “You look like a human being! Respectable, even. What’s with the suit? You gone Mormon on me, Yus? Cuz if you have, you leave NOW! None of that missionary crap in here.”

   “It’s worse than that, Brian,” I say as I plop down on a third-hand couch that came with the apartment. Dust billows up. “I had a job interview.”

   “What for, Yus? President? Yus for President, ninety-two! Yup, it’s Yus! How about that for a campaign slogan? ‘Yup, it’s Yus!’”

   The doctor is in. A smile cracks across my face. All you have to do is listen and laugh your cares away.

   Brian sits down on the floor next to the TV. “So? You had an interview?”

   “Yeah, with my exploratory committee. President of the U. S. of A. I’m running, goddamnit!


   “Small company,” I lie, too embarrassed to tell him the truth. “It’s downtown . . . Didn’t expect you to be home.”

   “Oy gevalt, Yus!” he exclaims, wiping his weary eyes with his thick, short fingers. “Uncle Milt was in a historically bad mood today.”

   Milton is my former boss on “The Hill”, the medical university and its related research facilities. It was on The Hill that Brian and I first met, experimenting with mice while we were still students. The two of us continued to work there after graduation despite Milt’s choleric disposition, which kept all of us research assistants constantly on edge.

   In many ways, I did enjoy my time in the lab, I even liked Milt on his good days. But it was exhausting watching out for the old man’s wild mood swings. Add to that the suspicion that my chosen career, Medicine, wasn’t for me, and well I felt I had no choice but to leave when my contract was up. Brian remains, though, working part-time. Until he can find a full-time teaching position, that is.

   “Yus, I was trying to do the experiments that you did, and failed, because Yus doesn’t take very good notes. See, I’m reading Yus’s wonder lab book: ‘Page forty-two. And the method for extracting the protein from the cell is as follows:’ I turn the page, page forty-three. And, it’s BLANK, Yus!!! You didn’t write down any notes, Yus. Let me tell ya, Uncle Milt was really happy about that one. Oy veh, he yells at me and he’s shaking and red in the face. He says, ‘Chemsz, did you have your head up your butt?’”

   Brian starts laughing and I can’t help but laugh too.

   “Yus, you know what I say? I says, ‘You’re right, Milt, as a matter of fact I did have my head up my butt. See, I was only following Yus’s brilliant notes right here on page forty-three. Yus, I’m tellin’ you, I’m sending your lab book to Stockholm. That’s Nobel Laureate material you did on The Hill.”

   We laugh hard and the darkness of that dim living room lifts as if the roof has been torn away from the rafters.

   “Yus, I sometimes feel I ought to be next door with old Pally. After today, I almost went there instead of home.”

   “Well, the way I’m going, me too, Brian.”

   Brian’s apartment is a mess as always. None of his roommates seem to care. The Escape from New York pizza box with a half-eaten peperoni pizza is still on the coffee table where I saw it three days ago. The grease has congealed, the cheese has grown hard. There are plastic cups with flat beer in them. The Oregonian is scattered in piles throughout the room. Finding today’s paper, I pick it up and open up the classified section.

   “By the way, Milt said if you want, he’d hire you back on, but only part-time, like me, Yus.”

   “Great, Brian, but what’s the catch?”

   “No catch,” he says, chuckling. “You only have to work just as much as the full-time staff, but earn less. See how that works? Uncle Milt, gets two people to yell at for the price of one.”

   Accountant, Accountant, Accountant, Accountant . . .

   “Actually, Yus, you’re the only one who knew how to do all the paperwork on the hill. Now he’s got poor Anne doing it and of course she’s making all the same mistakes you used to make, but does Uncle Milt yell at her? Hell no . . .”

   Attendant . . . Appliance Salesman . . . Appliance Serviceman . . . Appliance Technician . . .

   “No, Yus, he yells at me. Me! What did I have to do with . . .”

   Barber, Barber, Barber, Barber . . . Bartender, Bartender . . . A friend of mine was laid off from Paramount Pictures and became a bartender. Good money, he said. Good tips and you can meet girls . . . Then again, his car was repossessed. Maybe the money’s not so good after all . . .

   “Yus, you listenin’ t’me? Yus never listens to me. All he hears is blah, blah, blah, blah.”

   “Sorry,” I say, putting the paper down, but spread out on the pizza box so I can still see it. “Reading the classifieds has become an exercise in futility lately. At times, I just want to give up and say, Fuck it! You heard back from any schools?”

   “Nothing yet,” Brian says, lying down on the floor. “The subbing has been pretty irregular. Good money when it comes around, but it’s only September, so I’m stuck up on The Hill until then. Why don’t you come back? Not with Milty, of course, but in a different lab. It is a job.”

   “Thanks, Mom.”


No doubt about it, God is . . .

Costa Rica's Keylor Navas blocks a shot by Greece's Kostas Mitroglou during extra time in the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between the two countries.

   Watching the penalty shoot out between Greece and Costa Rica this morning, I found it amusing to see members from both teams praying--praying to the very same Christian God, mind you--in the hope that He was supporting their team rather than the other guys and would guide the players to victory. 

   Indeed, one of the first things Costa Rica's Navas did after he successfully blocked the third penalty kick was to point towards Heaven and say, "Gracias!"

   While 97% of Greek citizens identify themselves as Eastern Orthodox Christians--79% of them saying that they "believe there is a God" and another 15.8% describing themselves as "very religious", the highest figure among all European countries--a nationwide survey of religion in Costa Rica found that 70.5% of "Ticos" are Roman Catholics, 44.9% of whom are practicing.

   Clearly this says something about the nature of God that has been in dispute since the Great Schism, the medieval division of Chalcedonian Christianity into Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) branches one thousand years ago. Namely, that God is, beyond a doubt, Roman Catholic. (That is, unless those heathen Dutch win the whole shebang.)


Nakagin Capsule Tower

   Completed in 1972, the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Ginza is one of the few remaining examples of Japanese Metabolism, "an architectural movement emblematic of Japan's postwar cultural resurgence". It was designed by Kisho Kurokawa, the architect who also designed The National Art Center in Roppongi, Tōkyō.

   For an interesting interview with the architect Kisho Kurokawa, click here.



Some Advice on Father's Day

Taken in Lebanon before kids threw our lives in happy disarray.


Marry someone beautiful, so your old man can enjoy looking at her.

Marry someone smart and funny, so he can enjoy talking to her. 

Marry someone nice, so he can enjoy spending time with her.

In short, marry someone like the woman your old man was lucky enough to find.




My Car . . . My Gawd!

   I don’t even have a driver’s license so this is all academic for me, but even if I did have a license, I probably wouldn’t own a car. 
   For starters, really like to drink. The real reason, though, is that I live right smack in the heart of the city and most of the places I want to go to—department stores, restaurants, bars, boutiques, parks--are within walking distance. When I do want to go someplace further, I use public transportation which is often much faster and less nerve-wracking than driving. And, several times a month, for convenience sake I hail a cab.
   When people hear about this, they often say something to the effect of, “A taxi? Wow! You must be rolling in the dough!” Mind you, these are often people who own cars. 
   What I tell them, time and time again, is that for someone like me who lives in the city and works six days a week, taking a taxi every now and then is small change compared to the high cost of buying and maintaining a car. I never had proof to support this assertion until this morning when I read an article in Nikkan Gendai which claims that owning a car is “the ultimate waste of money”.
   The article says that while having a car enables the owners to go wherever and whenever they like, in reality most “salarymen” are only weekend drivers.
   When you think about it, nothing eats through money quite like an automobile. In spite of their claims that cars give them freedom and convenience, most drivers do little more with their cars than go shopping at big box retailers on the weekends. A few may take day trips, but for the most part, their cars just sit in the garage, guzzling resources.
   For someone living in the suburbs of Tōkyō, the cost of maintaining a car comes to about ¥30,160 ($295) a month, or ¥380,000 ($3,712) a year. Keep in mind that this does not include the price of the car itself.
   Parking: ¥15,000/month (in my neighborhood, parking is about ¥30,000/month)
   Gasoline: ¥5,0000/month
   Insurance: ¥50,000/year
   Car tax: about ¥40,000/year
   Vehicle inspection: about ¥100,000 every two years
   If the owner of a car were to only drive five times a month, he would be spending the equivalent of ¥6,000 per use. Keiichi Kaya, author of the “The Rich Man’s Textbook” blog, writes, “Owners of cars shouldn’t expect to become even moderately wealthy.” The article goes on to say that even if a person were to use taxis and rental cars frequently, it would still be much cheaper than owning a car.
   I agree. 
   Still, I wouldn’t mind owning a Mini.



Too Clean and Far Too Common

The last public execution in France.   I have been meaning to write about this, but haven't had the time.

   Those of you who are familiar with me and my politics will know I am against the death penalty.1 So, it might seem contradictory for me to argue today that as long as the United States wants to continue killing its deathrow inmates, it ought to do so in a very public and violent way: beheadings.

   Sticking needles into the arms of the condemned and putting them to sleep as we have been doing since 1982 has made capital punishment too antiseptic, too "humane", and far, far too common. Were it messy and cruel, the good Christians of America might lose their stomach for executing her prisoners.



1 . . . except in very limited political situations where executions would lead to stability. The execution of Nazi leaders and Osama bin Laden would fall into that narrow scope.