Portland was absolutely perfect for me. It was full of thousands of other people my age who never fit in with their peers. We met in a series of bars and retrofitted theaters and made a solemn oath to relive our youth together. One of my jobs was scouting out venues and reporting back to Hipster Central. I published a sort of shoestring scene guide. Portland is lousy with venues for art and music. Everywhere you turn there's another rock band setting up for a gig or a rehearsal or to change the world or something. In the coffee shops, the malls, the courtyards and the bowling alleys you can expose yourself to more creativity than one could ever hope to actually appreciate. More fertile ground for arty types could not be found.
The Willamette River (pronounce will-AMM-it) runs right through the heart of the city and carries the runoff of oil paints, sculpting clay, cheap beer and power chords. One day I was down there scouting more urban landscape to be turned into the next hot spot. Riverfront park had yet to be hipsterized. That was when I saw it. Turns out Portland has one of those islands, too. I recognized the outline of palm trees against a backdrop of gray, rainy skies while crossing the Hawthorne Bridge. It was a bit of a way off, but unmistakable. I finished crossing the bridge and headed downriver to get a better look. A mixture of feelings came up when I got close enough that I could actually hear the party. It was like seeing an old lover and having those mixed temptations to both strike up a conversation while diving under the nearest vehicle. (A stationary one is preferable, though a moving one will do if it's more convenient.) It felt exhilarating to to hear the revelry again, but I had absolutely no desire to find the access bridge which I knew would be nearby. Just smelling the grilled meats and hearing the beating drums was enough. It sparked an enthusiasm in me that I hadn't felt in a long time. I then decided it'd be a real kick in the pants if I rented an apartment across the way. So that's what I did.
Living there was great. I admit the noise was a bit loud and made it hard to sleep sometimes. But I chose not to care and felt that doing so reaffirmed my status as young and cool. By far the best part of living there, as it turned out, happened whenever I saw someone come stumbling out of the forest. They always looked like hell and were obviously trying to find a way back to safety. The first time it happened was a bit of a shock, but each time thereafter became a welcome interruption. See, I just knew I had something to offer these people. With the first sign of a human silhouette approaching the edge of the water I would hurry down to greet them. Then I would holler something over. Some simple words of encouragement like, “Try harder!” It always left me feeling really good about myself.
Knowing I'd done my part to make a difference I would head back up to the apartment, faithful that my new friend would not only try harder, but subsequently do better. I'd whistle myself a happy tune as I trudged back up the bank. Once inside I would put on a pot of water for some tea, toast a piece of white bread, then sit at the table and look out the window. Without exception the schmuck would still be rooted to the same spot, glassy eyed, and staring at the middle distance. “Look at that guy,” I'd say to myself. “I can't believe he's still standing there just shivering. Well really, if they don't want to accept help, there's nothing you can do for them. People have to find it within themselves.”
Such wisdom I had gained throughout my own trials. Life was good. One morning I took a trip down to the riverbank to sit and ponder my successes. (The best time to contemplate life, I've always found, is while looking at danger from a safe vantage point.) In the midst of my ruminations I happened to look down and see the prettiest, most vibrant little plant growing out of the rocky ground. “Tough little sumbitch,” I thought. Mind you, this was no Victory Garden soil. There was nothing in the way of ideal conditions. If it wasn't the rocks barring the path to sunlight then it was the constant wash of polluted river water. If not that then the broken bottles and candy wrappers dripping into the gravel. Looking down at that little leafy creature made me think of, well, myself really. What an ambitious and hearty little manifestation of God's will! So I dug it up and took it home. I found the perfect little pot, got some soil from the neighbor's flower box, and set to watching the magic of life unfold.
A week later the vine had taken over an entire wall of the kitchen.