Almost every day, I walk by the East Portland Eagle Lodge, a mural-wrapped one-story building sitting in the corner of a block-sized parking lot. On Thursdays there’s a flea market in the lot. Once a month there’s a twilight rummage sale indoors where you can drink a beer and browse through people’s crap. I’ve been meaning to go to that rummage sale for years, just to see what’s inside those walls.
Meaning to. Meaning to. Should, should, should.
That’s why I need this project. This blog. That’s why I needed Lit Hop. Lit Hop is a literary bar-hopping event that was held in my neighborhood last night. Writers and booze. What could be more natural? Across the street at the Eagle Lodge, a poet friend was reading. How could I not go?
I could not go because it was raining, because I was oh-so-slightly under the weather, because I would have to go by myself, because poetry readings can be horrible, because there was something weird and sad and eerie about the Eagle Lodge. I could not go because there was a chance I wouldn’t be completely comfortable, familiar and happy at all moments. There was a high probability for awkwardness.
Discomfort can be a good thing. A good for you kind of thing at first and then just a good thing. I want it to be that. So I walked across the street and into the Lodge. A smiling gray-haired woman with a sign-in sheet greeted me at the door. I walked down a hallway lined on one side with photos of women with hefty hair, men with hefty jowls on the other. A poet was already on stage in the main hall under a banner of silver fringe, in the glow of the bingo board.
The poet, Dawn Marie Knopf, said something like “I’m on this side of your skin and you’re on the other.” And then the next poet, Sara Guest, read a series of poems about the ingenue. How great a word is that? Ingenue. Ingenue. And then she said something like “We always buy Bomb Pops no matter what we want.” And then the final poet, Andrew Michael Roberts, (pictured above) read his short, witty pieces and announced that he’d just gotten married and he’d just been made a pediatric ER nurse and that before he got up on stage he was shaking so badly he felt his heart doing things it wasn’t supposed to do.
Later that night, I went to another place I’ve passed since my earliest days in this city. Maybe it had a different name back in 1993, but now it’s called Angelo’s and it is every inch the dive bar. I’m not against dive bars, but with such a dense concentration of bars in my hood, there was never any need to patronize this particular one. That was my excuse at least. In truth, the place scared me a little. The sadness of it. The desperate, drowning gasp of it. As soon as I entered to hear more Lit Hop readings, it fulfilled all my usual dive bar expectations: too dark in some corners, too neon and tv-drenched in others. Tables with worn edges. Pinball in the corner. Baseball on the screen. Beer-soaked and defiantly miserable.
Except now it was full of tipsy writers. Lydia Yuknavitch was the stand-out reader, leading a scream-your-heart-out version of the National Anthem. She followed this up with a bit of ecstatic sex writing, all pinched tit and wet clit. I gave my awkward hellos to her and a few others, then hid in the back. Enough, for now, to take in the weary, boozy breath of the place, lightened for a moment with a bit of language.
I grew up with fancy malls not flea markets, but by the time I was a teenager, I’d found a love of the old and discarded. I shopped regularly in a dim warehouse in Cambridge that sold clothes by the pound. The summer of ’91 I lived in Berkeley and went every weekend to the Ashby Flea Market, wandering from tent to tent enthralled by the racket of tin, plastic and wood.
Today, I was thinking about how a set of glass grapes and Pillsbury Doughboys and the hairbrushes of someone’s dead grandmother collectively feel like treasure, overflowing across a plastic table. They feel like collages of disparate lives. But if I were to buy one of these items and take it home, it would turn back to junk.
I never bought anything at the Ashby market. Didn’t buy anything today either. But I still got a little joy by stepping across the street into somewhere new.