Friday the Nothing

And I set out happy, happy, happy on a Friday morning. Woke up early and also to a paycheck deposit on my phone. How could that be a bad day? It could not.

I went a little out of my way to get not just one, but TWO juices. Apple juice — just a thirst quencher on what was going to be a hot day (in Portland, anyway). The other—basically breakfast—a strawberry and banana smoothie.

With time to spare I made my walk to the Trimet looking at the rising sun as I passed over the NE 12th Avenue bridge, rubes in automobiles grumbling along underneath me. Things went by after that with the usual commute-mind-muddle. I probably listened to a podcast. I always pass a bread factory and just take that in. I always pass all the high school kids on their way to class at Benson Polytechnic High School. Never know what to think about them; odd things are afoot. I always feel gracious though, because I am no longer in that penitentiary. Maybe I bobbed my head to a drumbeat from some recently acquired music as I walked with a more New Yorker than Portland pace—that’s pep in my get-up.

Commute, commute, walk, commute.

At the switch between the Trimet and the C-tran I like to stand on the Lightrail platform instead of near the bus stop to stay in the shade. Portland’s shown me that I love shade.

For three days this guy — I can’t figure his deal. He’s looking for signatures for petitions that he carries around on this big cardboard — well it’s like a briefcase. He’s asked me twice already in the last few days if I’ll sign it, and the thing is, he’s looking for citizens of Washington state. I’m from Portland now—Oregon. So I can’t sign it and I keep telling him that, but I don’t think he recognizes me. He’s on the platform all day. I see him in the morning on my way in and in the afternoon when I’m out. I appreciate his dedication but sometimes he gets heated with people and it makes me uncomfortable.

He’s coming over to me again and I’m thinking about what to say this time: “No thanks” / “Sorry, I live in Oregon” / “Dude, you’ve asked me three times now, please remember my face this time.”

But it doesn’t matter because while the petitioner is approaching me, a very large guy—a very large guy—has climbed up onto the station platform from behind the rails. I see this and think he’s going to talk to the petitioner, but then he’s just staring at me. Taking my headphones out I just stick my head out to indicate that I’m paying attention. He says, “When you stand directly behind me like that it makes me uncomfortable.”

Figure 1: The things that are planned.

It’s a simple statement on the face of it, but somehow he makes it a threat. So the day has gone from good to a question mark. I say to the guy, “I don’t have to stand here,” and casually — but not too casually — walk down to the other end of the platform, very nervous.

Now thoughts are chasing me. Am I a coward? Was I right to think he was crazy? Why did I give so much of a shit about the petitioner? If I get on the bus with this guy is he going to come looking for more? If this is an alpha male thing, I know for a fact that this guy will see how hard he can push me. I’ve let a few bullies know, in my lifetime, that there’s a limit to how far you get to push me and when I retaliate it gets nihilistic; my fighting style is badger. But it takes some preparation … My Dad was driving the scouts in a caravan on a camping trip and there was an accident and someone in the accident didn’t have a legal driver’s license and my Dad got out a yellow legal pad and started taking notes…do I sit behind this guy on the bus? He could smack me in the head his head to start somemthing… Then this good ol’ boy comes over to the caravan and gestures for my Dad to roll down the window and my Dad obliges… Bus finally fucking here… He sits behind me… Maybe I’ve lost perspective — maybe the dude just meant what he said: I was making him uncomfortable. Who knows why? Who cares why! This redneck sonuvabitch leans into the driver side window of my family’s car and asks my Dad what he’s doing. My Father is an honest man. He says, “Just taking some notes.” My memory is foggy for all my life but whatever happened next invokes this picture of a bullshit militiaman asshole hiding behind his cheap sunglasses putting a threatening fist to my Father. And l was puzzled when my Father put the pad down and said, “No problem.” I knew nothing when it happened—I was a child. Here was an ape with the capacity for violence and here was my hero, standing down. I didn’t yet understand his genius and his ability to tell the fucking future and make moves in Life that are calculated and … I get off the bus alone, the ghost of that encounter and others like it sealed into a vault by the hiss of the bus door’s pneumatics.

I’m alone on the sidewalk, unfollowed. Immediate relief comes to me. The threat of violence a mere wisp compared to the challenge of work ahead of me for eight hours or more. Brrr. Shake off that fear. You got this.

Figure 2: You just don’t know what the future holds, unless you create it.

(Work, work, work, run the script, watch the results, lists of variable names. Lean back to tell your cubicle mate a joke, maybe share a meme, then hook up the proxy to the API, smile at the results, get coffee — programmers are cybernetic machines that turn coffee into artificial code—compile, write, compile, write, compile, look out the window, write. Answer email. Read confusing email. Ponder. Read documentation.)

Multiply this by 20 to see the result.

63°F Mostly Clear

Portland, OR, United States

After work: a journey to Target. What a dumb idea on its own merits, but the night before I’d had an idea. What if I got some Christmas lights and sewed them into the Rose vines on the patio? It wasn’t a big idea — it was a contribution to the beauty already there. It was my contribution. It was worth an “adventure”—a deviation. The idea of the lights stuck with me throughout my dreams last night. I hate these big box stores. I never go. But there I go crossing the Sahara of asphalt that disgusts me and reminds me that some of us would truly pave the Earth, given a chance.

The whole landscape of rows of muli-colored cars laid out in board game fashion—the game of who can get the closest—is so out of place with Mt. Hood and Mt. Saint Helens right there in the distance, rooks on the board. Shining possibilties sometimes in your view, not obcured by clouds, like today, they always make me think about when it will be time to climb them. Because I will. For now, though, pawn, I go into the faceless box and wander and wander and look up at the signs describing things like entertainment, health, men’s wear, gifts, and household goods — like what the fuck is that!? All goods are household goods — and I know the garden shit will be in the back and to the right. The garden stuff is always furtherest from the entrance (Wal-mart, Home Depot, Target, all the same, all the same). It’s all I can do to grab the cheapest, highest volume, probably Made in China shit and get through—then again there are some very nice choices besides Christmas—oh, look at the spheres—or these are just small paper lanterns—oh, and a new can opener—need one of those—the checkout without incident and return victorious to my parking lot desert with nothing like Christmas lights. I have snagged beautiful incandescent globes. “All-weather ready” the packaging tells me. To my surprise (I expect nothing of quality to come from such places) they’re pretty nice.

So, one tobacco store and grocery store later, I call a car. Yeah, poor me for not taking the C-tran—the Vancouver sorry excuse for public transportation—which seems to just not show up after 6pm. Or you could walk over the state line to the Max — or NOT. On concrete the whole way? Al0ngside the 105? On the hottest day of the year so far? Carrying yard lights and a lot of other shit? I gotta put these lights up before it gets dark. Car-sharing drivers are always good for a little chit-chat anyway—mostly. This one tells me that one thing she loves about Portland is that there are no roaches. I hadn’t noticed, but then, she seems right.

It doesn’t matter how I got home, how the ghosts of the morning had been drowned out by code and typing, music and chit-chat, and the anticipation of creating a work of art of light so to unveil it to my housemates. We had been cleaning away junk and shifting the Rose vines and sweeping out the winter refuse for weeks. This was to be the garnish on our already delicious dish, our gorgeous backyard sanctuary, made more for salons than parties. With this simple act of light there would be joy, hugs, laughter and discussion. And so there was joy, hugs and laughter. It turned out beautiful, thank you very much.

Figure 3: The best kind of ending to a Friday

I wait an hour outside on the patio after the work of putting the lights up just so I can be there as Jackie and Dan come to see, gravel crunching as they navigate the yard in the evening light. “Okay, we’re here,” Dan says. Like a kid about to get candy, I plug in the lights in and sure enough, there are oohs and ahs like I had set off fireworks. The glow is perfect. Jackie shouts, “You read my mind!” and she gives me a big hug form my side, leaving me only one free arm to pat her shoulder, but, which given the day and the work, feels great.

Sure enough, we all sit down and chat about the day. Jackie had gone to Fred Meyers shopping and while there the power had gone out and all of the shoppers were “trapped” there as the registers were down. She says the place turned into a strange landscape as time went by, individuals deciding to abandon their desired purchases, some just lounging in the yard furniture and talking, one man declaring that he was going to put everything back, while others asked if the store would hold onto their selections so they could just come back. It never ceases to amaze me what happens when even the smallest glitch appears in society—the randomness of our animal natures tends to shine.

Dan and I had a while ago discussed they we lived in New York City at roughly the same time and I ask him if he remembers the big black out in in 2003. But while I remember very little other than that it was a relatively good time, neighbors hanging out on stoops, buying beer at discount because the fridges were dead, he had a bad night it turns out. Dan and I, maybe even blocks apart, unknown to one another, only to meet many years later, and one of us has a good night and one of us a bad night.

I pull out my phone to check the year of the blackout and that’s when I notice that it’s Friday the 13th and everything takes on a new context. Would the day have even gone the same had I noticed? Of course my mind goes off to the early moment in the day when that strange man sort of, but didn’t, threaten me. Would I have taken it differently, seen more of a threat than was even there, or just taken it at face value because, of course… Would I have set out on my deviation off the beaten path to make my light show or just skulked home for safety? Good night, bad night. Black out just because or black out because of the sinister. Even Dan, in relating his bad Black out night, says that when it initially happened he at least at first thought that he had caused it—knew he hadn’t, but the corrleation was at first so strong as to be hard to ignore.

But tomorrow is Saturday the 14th, and regardless of some Witches’ Sabbath, I’m going to celebrate it as a day that we made it. Which, really, when you think about it, is every day.

Figure 4: The back of the patio. The thing the lights shine upon.