Not Very Functional People
I live in a house with two trans women and a guy. I got into that house through a girl I met last year on Tinder, or was it Bumble? Anyway, we slept together for like two weeks or so, but then she got bored pretty quickly and wanted to move on. Turns out that she had some sort of social experiment going on, she wanted to sleep with a bunch of different guys she had met through various dating apps. She felt pretty insecure sexually and hoped to overcome this by getting as much experience as possible, with different men. So we stopped seeing each other but remained friends. She lived in the house before, but had to move out for rehab in LA, where her parents live. She had a lot of drug and mental problems. Oh gosh, one day she got so nuts that she drank from a bottle of ethanol. That was crazy. Last summer, I took over her room. I love my roommates, they’re super nice. They’re doing all kinds of stuff — art, music, and some random jobs to pay their bills. I guess in general you could say that they’re not very functional people.
I met Nathan for the first time a couple of hours ago. After grabbing a slice of pizza, we’re sitting in a divey bar in the Northeastern part of Portland. He has a beer, I have a glass of white wine which is obviously way too classy for this place, but I don’t care.
Nathan moved to Portland two years ago, after he graduated college from an Ivy League university at the east coast. His alma mater is known to accommodate many celebrities and their relatives in the film and media industry. He mentions Lena Dunham’s sister Grace and Bruce Willis’ daughter who both were in his class. For him, these people are not really his scene, their celebrity identity is an environment that he’s still unfamiliar with, despite knowing them for a couple of years. It’s hard to put up with, too.
For about an hour or two, I listen carefully to various anecdotes from his college time. He talks about Grace with a lot of resentment still, although time has passed. When they were both working on the college paper, Grace, as the editor-in-chief, wouldn’t run a controversial article openly critiquing the trustees of the university, an article Nathan really cared about getting out there. He could never forgive her that. He must’ve had a crush on her, clearly, otherwise I can’t explain myself how he could still feel upset about such a thing. From what I understand, the most intimate moment Nathan had shared with Grace was in the bathroom at a silent house party. People were getting so drunk so quickly since you weren’t allowed to talk. Nathan finds himself puking in the bathtub while Grace pees into the toilet right next to him. Must’ve been a bonding experience.
Nathan talks about his college time as though he just graduated, as though all this happened a couple of weeks ago and he’s still feeling strongly about it. His cheeks are flushing when he tells his stories, he gets hot in excitement to the point that he needs to take off his dark red American Apparel sweater. I can tell that he’d wish to go back in time, he’d wish for the college to take him back — it feels like he doesn’t want to move on, or at least he hasn’t yet. Now he’s working as a lowly receptionist for Portland’s Baptist Church, dealing with the homeless people who come in for food once a day. He works four days a week, for $13/hour. Is that even minimum wage? I ask. In Oregon it is. He says he doesn’t care since this job allows him to have a lot of free time to read and think about what he wants to do with his life. A PhD in literature seems like an attractive option. That’ll definitely help seducing girls, that’s for sure.
He says he needed to take a break from his college friends that are now working for Vice, mtv, or The New Yorker. If I needed to, I could totally play my contacts there to get a job, but I don’t even want to be part of all that. When I talk about how much I admire Lena for producing GIRLS, a show that captures the spirit of our generation like no other, he remains unimpressed. I guess I’m just too fed up with these people. I get annoyed that they’re now pretending to be some sort of political activists just cause of their celebrity status. In reality, they don’t have any opinion at all.
Nathan doesn’t seem to be the only one in Portland who prefers culture and the joy of living to work. In contrast to San Francisco, productivity is not the highest priority here, but leisure is, culture and the arts are. Going to concerts, meeting friends, taking the day as it comes. No one’s in a rush here, people have time to enjoy their premium four-dollar Stumptown coffee, freshly dripped, with a good book at hand. Everyone’s super tolerant here, too. Nathan tells me how polygamy has become the thing right now in Portland. People like to describe their relationships as open. Apart from that, many of his friends recently came out as queer, as though you now have to be queer to be cool, or at least bi-sexual — you don’t want to limit yourself to just one thing. Open relationships, open sexuality, no defined identity, no tag, anything works. This over-tolerance is sometimes hard to live by, actually.
Fascinated by the openness with which Nathan approached me and thankful for this moment we shared, we part ways a bit after midnight. Without even knowing me, he let me take part in some of his past and his present. I am moved by his vivid way of telling anecdotes and the trust that he has offered me tonight, without anything in return, without any reserve. Maybe it’s the effect of the two beers that helped him lose his insecurity and timidness. I enjoyed being the audience for this boy who would share his stories with me, stories that he maybe hadn’t shared with others before. Or maybe no one else would’ve listened.