Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Keep Portland Weird

I’ve seen this phrase on bumper stickers, T-shirts, and coffee-cup sleeves. It's materialized multiple times in the last few weeks. When I spot it, read it and recite it to myself, I’m delightfully reminded of Anchorman Ron Burgendy’s sign-off: “You stay classy, San Diego.” This prompts my blurting (to no one in particular), “You stay weird, Portland.” (And then I throw my head back in a boisterous chuckle, a little too proud of my cleverness, and strangers stare at me. But that’s beside the point.)

The slogan exists for a reason. There are plenty of weird venues in the Rose City. (And plenty of weird people, although I haven’t yet encountered the types of weirdos that exist in San Francisco. But thanks to Jenn’s daily “SF Sightings” – which could be an entire blog in itself – I’m keeping up on the day-to-day activities of the city's schizophrenics.)

Anyway, one of the quirkiest places I’ve been so far is The Kennedy School, an elementary-school-cum-pub-and-movie-theater. Actually, the ex-schoolhouse harbors three or four bars and breweries, a restaurant, a movie theater, a soaking pool (which is just a creepy name for a hot tub, I’ve learned), onsite shopping (no need to get excited, trust me), and a hotel – in case you get too drunk at the pubs and can't drive home or something. I’m not exactly sure of the thought process behind the hotel origination.

In any case, I begin my night at the McMenamins, in the titanic room where hundreds of kids used to eat their mashed potatoes and start food fights and steal their classmates’ lunch money, dangling their peers by their heels, upside down, and shaking them until quarters and dimes fall from their pockets, like they do in the movies. (At least this is what comes to mind when I enter the ancient lunchroom.) It’s a strange feeling, sipping beer and dining in an old cafeteria where some of our country’s sixty-year-olds used to steal lunch money.

On my way in, I snatch a kids’ menu and a cup of castoff crayons. (Since being unemployed and living with my parents, I’ve reverted to a much, much younger version of myself. I color quite often. I own a coloring book and colored pencils, even.) (Yes, I understand exactly how loopy this sounds.) (You’re just jealous.)

The waiter gawks at me while I flop into the corner booth and slowly, meticulously, outline a donkey’s head and tail and then shade it in lightly, careful not to mark outside the lines with my green crayon.

After gobbling a pizza the size of my body, I pay and stomp out into the vacant hallway, my stilettos click-clacking on the marble floors that children of the 1950s once swarmed. Paintings of queens of hearts and kings of diamonds line the walls outside the restaurant; they’re reminiscent of characters from Alice in Wonderland. (Point? They’re weird.) But later I find out the schoolhouse-turned-McMenamins prides itself on its nightmare-provoking artwork.

(See what I mean by nightmare-provoking?)

(A queen of sorts, in a place just as creepy as Wonderland.)

(A lion? A tiger? A bear? Who the hell knows?)

(A cat. About to eat a whipped-cream-and-bee encrusted slice of pie. And then turn into a zombie and haunt me in my sleep.)

I study the paintings for awhile before I regain consciousness and find myself quivering in an empty hallway. I decide it’s time to get the hell out of there – and that Portland is, in fact, weird.

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