The Kennedy File: A Mysterious Memorial Not So Hidden in a Hedge

I was trying to remember how I saw the plaque dedicated to John F. Kennedy. From what I recalled it had been in the middle of a hedge. This made no sense because I don’t make a habit of looking into hedges to find hidden plaques.

I had been looking for a place to park in SW Portland around 19th Avenue last June while taking a picture of an overpass for my much maligned and ill-fated blog post titled “Walls and Bridges.” I took two pictures that day, a close up of the plaque and another of the street sign on the corner so I could remember the location which is the corner of SW Spring Garden Street and SW 19th Avenue. Being on another assignment didn’t leave me time to linger. In the months since I’d seen the plaque, my memory was murky as to how I spotted it.

Returning for more photos some four months later, it became obvious. I didn’t happen upon the plaque. I couldn’t have missed it due to a section of the bush having been cut away to reveal the minimal memorial attached to a moss-covered rock. There isn’t much to the engraving but it make its Kennedy tribute honorably. It lists his name, his year of birth and death and includes the St. Clare Boy’s Club–no doubt the group involved in creating the memorial.

It’s interesting to be reminded that Kennedy was born just over a hundred years ago. The plaque too seems like it’s been around a while with its chipped upper right corner. It soldiers on as a longstanding tribute to our fallen president.

I spoke with Laurie at the church office by phone. She wanted to help but the plaque was a mystery to her as well. She brainstormed about finding a parishioner who has been around long enough know the story of this Kennedy memorial. She thought there might be information in the office that she would pass on. At press time I hadn’t heard back which doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying.

I can’t promise an exciting story. It seems basic. The St. Clare Boy’s Club was looking for a way to honor John F. Kennedy. It’s a safe bet that this took place soon after he was assassinated. I could only imagine what it would have been like to experience a president being killed in office. The idea of it happening so close to the Thanksgiving holiday seems to amplify the emotional impact. This plaque must have been a way to begin the healing process.

So there you have it—another cliffhanger. Online research also revealed a Kennedy memorial at the Grotto. Investigation into all of these Kennedy related matters will continue into next year when we reopen the Kennedy Files and solve all of these Portland area Kennedy mysteries.


The Turkey Of St. Johns Part 3: Here’s Looking For You

Last night I thought a great many things. Thanksgiving time always has me reflecting on an old memory. I’ve done the thinking for all of us. It adds up to one thing: Another year where I haven’t found the Turkey of St. Johns–that mysterious creature I spied years ago. The identity of this bird has eluded me year after year.

Now you’ve got to listen to me. If I keep searching every year I have a good idea of where I’m going to end up. Nine times out of ten I’ll end up in the looney bin because people will become concerned about a man stumbling around St. Johns mumbling about a turkey.

I’m saying it because it’s true. We all know this turkey, whether in legend or lore, it belongs to St. Johns. My outcry is for this gobbler’s whereabouts. It has become a part of my work and a reason to keep going. If I don’t find this turkey I’ll regret it, maybe not today or the day after Thanksgiving but soon and for the rest of my life.

We’ll always have the Turkey of St. Johns. That turkey will never leave us, that turkey is with us in spirit regardless of whether anyone has a recollection of this bird. I’ve got a job to do. I’ll continue my search. Where I’m going you won’t be able to follow. I’m no good at being noble but it doesn’t take much to see the problem of trying to find a turkey I once spotted in someone’s front yard doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday we’ll all understand that. Now, now…Here’s looking for you Turkey of St. Johns.

Previous Turkey posts:

The Portland Orbit returns December 9th with another edition of The Kennedy Files. 


The Kennedy Files: Kennedy on Columbia

There’s a loneliness to the concrete bust in the front yard of a house on Columbia Boulevard across the street from the Humane Society. I’ve spent years driving past the sculpture that casts his gaze across the bustling four-lane roadway. I can’t remember the first time I got a good look at it but it was in a car going 40 miles an hour. I imagine I thought to myself when I spotted the bust, “that’s John F. Kennedy.” Every time since then I’ve looked for the concrete replica because of this resemblance. The Kennedy hair, the Kennedy face and the Kennedy torso, although I can’t say I’m all that familiar with the torso; it all seems a match. I have not confirmed whether it is Kennedy. There’s a tiny twinge of doubt that has me considering that the bust could represent an legendary Oregonian who happens to look a lot like our 35th president.

The bust sits in front of an old house, the kind of place suited to someone’s grandparents. I was motivated to finally take pictures when a for sale sign popped up in the area. It had me wondering if this section of Columbia Boulevard was going to be redeveloped. The house sits between a similar house and one with a garish paint job that once headquartered a private dancer club. It’s a safer bet that the club was targeted for sale and demolition with the two houses remaining in their awkward placement along this industrial thoroughfare. Update: I saw no evidence of a for sale sign on a recent visit.

At Halloween time I dropped by because the bust had been dressed in a costume. On that visit I noticed the base of the sculpture included elk carvings. This created my initial doubt. The appropriate images would have been a PT-109 boat or something symbolic of the Kennedy essence. Sure the Kennedy family has a compound in Maine but there was never a legend, that I heard, associating John Kennedy with an elk or even a moose.

Detail: bust base elk.

After my usual speculation I’m ready to make my case that the bust is Kennedy. Then I’ll make a case that the bust isn’t Kennedy. Of course this goes against everything Perry Mason stood for–I mean trying to argue both sides of the coin is a bit of a conflict unless we’re talking about a two-headed nickel which make no sense because Kennedy is on the 50 cent piece.

The most Kennedy aspect to the bust is the hairstyle. It’s exact. If that was a popular hairstyle at any point in time and for anyone else then I could see the statue being someone who was sporting the Kennedy hairdo back in the day. The hairstyle is singularly representative of one person and one person only: John F. Kennedy. Maybe, I want to believe it’s Kennedy because my roots are in the state of Massachusetts and I grew up on the Kennedy mystique.

As to why this may not be Kennedy lies in whether the face of the bust captures the JFK identity. It’s close enough for anyone taking artistic license but the shirt with the pockets threw me off. Any image of this president should depict him looking presidential–in a suit. Any other representation has the feel of the guy being out of uniform.

All of this has the Portland Orbit pledging a year-long investigation into this matter. There will be actual research, phone calls, letters and a door knock if necessary to find out the true identity of this bust. You’ll have to wait until the next anniversary of Kennedy’s passing for an answer. In the meantime the Kennedy Files will return next month to cover a bona fide Kennedy tribute.

The Foster Files: Can the Phoenix Pharmacy Rise Again?

I was walking down Foster Road this summer during a house/dog sitting gig when I saw a large banner on the side of a store. What I could see as I approached read: Save Foster Road. The buildings in the area appeared run down so I concluded that the sign was a plea to bring attention to the area. The structure that I later learned was the Pharmacy building caught my eye. I admired the curve of the architecture and I could tell it was historical but it felt abandoned.

The Pharmacy building from the other side of the street.

When I reached the banner, I realized Save Foster Road was a different campaign from what I had assumed. I won’t get into details as I plan to visit the topic in a future post. I had forgotten about the building when I was writing posts for the Foster Files. I had been immersed in sidewalk paintings and art trees in the neighborhood but the Pharmacy came back into my consciousness when I saw a photograph posted on the Hidden Portland for the Curious group on Facebook. Jason Pedegana, an illustrator and designer who runs a Facebook site with tons of historical photos, swooped in with information and more photos. The building came alive in my imagination. I saw it in its heyday and sensed its place as the hub of the neighborhood. For a moment it wasn’t suspended in the stasis and decay that I had perceived from the other side of the street.

The Phoenix in its’ heyday.

At the risk of committing the ultimate sin of lazy journalism, I offer up some historical information that Jason posted on the thread on Facebook:

“The roughly 7500 square foot building constructed in 1922, was once home to the Phoenix Pharmacy. Built, owned, and operated by John Leach who lived with his wife on what is now the Leach Botanical Gardens, the pharmacy was centered at the core of the community, considered a gem, and attracted many people to the area. It was actually RE-built by Leach, as the previous owner had tried to burn it down, twice. Hence the name “Phoenix”.

In the glory days of VHS.

People chimed in with comments and a more complete story of the building formed through descriptions of past tenants, a doctor who had an office in the building, a video store that sold phones which seemed to be one of the last tenants and there was a mention of the second floor having two apartments. Other comments revealed that Buck Froman owns the building. If you ever need an in-person, oral history of the place you can talk to him at his stove shop a couple of buildings down.

Happy pharmacists!

I asked the person we were house sitting for about the Pharmacy building when he returned. He told me the building had been unoccupied since he moved to the area in 2004. I felt an emptiness hearing that. My urban idealism wants cool buildings to find new life even when circumstances make it challenging. It’s understandable that renovation costs for seismic upgrades, wiring and plumbing mean are potentially prohibitive to attract a tenant.

There is plenty of behind the scenes activity going on to preserve the building. A Facebook group, Foster the Phoenix, is devoted to these efforts. Someone associated with the group commented that the city has been involved in looking for ways to get the building back to it’s former glory. A mural was added to the first floor offering a sense that people are looking out for the building.

A ghost sign haunts the back.

I have to admit I’m weirdly nostalgic for things I’ve never experienced in Portland, real street cars, old movie theaters and unique, classic buildings. These days most drug stores are part of a corporate chain so I appreciated the history of this pharmacy that thrived with a staff of happy pharmacists. The story goes beyond Leach’s ability to run a successful business because of the legacy he left behind with his botanical garden. I’m hoping his Phoenix Pharmacy rises again.

The photographs, with the exception of the first and last that appear in this post, are from the City of Portland Archive. Thanks goes to J. Pedegana for his historical input and for bringing photos and this subject matter to my attention. I would have sought more information from him but I ran out of time.



The Foster Files: The Super Hero Tree

Just a regular tree.

At first glance it looks like any other tree. People pass by every day and don’t notice a thing. Like other street trees in the Foster-Powell neighborhood this one on SE 64th Avenue has branches, a trunk and leaves. Within the canopy are objects that, with a bit of imagination, combine to create scenes that tell a story, albeit one that has the feel of a failed attempt at a DC or Marvel movie.  Perhaps the unread, failed screenplay for the project featured an evil Tree Lord but he’s no where to be seen. I may have arrived too late, with the Tree Lord having fled after leaving the remaining characters frozen and stuck in the tree.

This trunk contains visions of Dino Wars.

Scattered items allow a story to be pieced together, including relics of past Dino Wars, with Old Glory surviving the fray.

Blame it on the Gamma Rays.

Helplessness is not a trait I like to see in my Super Heroes. They’re strapped down by the decorative Christmas lights. While cheery and soothing at night and in season, they now appear menacing. Superman seems the most active as he thrashes away at unseen gamma rays in hopes of freeing himself.

Captain America gets fuzzy.

Captain America stands aimless on an old gray hoverboard. The string of lights remain tight around his chest offering him no chance for escape. Hovering in static perpetuity won’t allow him an opportunity to flee the tree.

Lot of good that hammer does you.

Thor seems the most burdened. A light cord binds his waist while his hammer hand is wrapped up at the wrist. This is a cliff hanger in suspended animation. I’d like to think that it won’t end but plastic weathers and Christmas lights break. Thor’s freedom might come as the result of a lost limb. Our Super Heroes play a waiting game.

Folk peacocks–the anti-super hero.

What I’m attempting here is an appreciation for anyone who wants to decorate anything. It’s not really a critique on drab neighborhoods where the lone decorated tree stands out. No one expects all the neighbors to be hard at work pouring every bit of creativity they can muster into yard art, tree art and pole art on the off chance that I might stroll by and see this brilliance through my bug eyed, quivering peepers but I will find these subtle explorations of found art camouflaged in street trees when they appear and sing their praises.

The Foster Files: A Feat in Feet

To begin this series I must be upfront about being a transplant. It’s may be obvious. With all the other people who have moved here it’s not necessarily a bad thing. My ten years of living in Portland feels like a badge of honor. It takes the sting out of being a newcomer because I’ve hung on and I’ve lived a bit of local history. I write out of my interest in Portland and the opportunity it presents to make discoveries and learn the history of the area. The transplant comment came from someone on Facebook. It felt like it was alluding to cluelessness on my part. All I had done was write about Portland’s Liberty Bell. I discovered it’s existence years after living here. The Liberty Bell was a new discovery for me. I couldn’t figure out why it took me so long to stumble upon it. The thing was hidden in plain sight.

One of my recent discoveries has been SE Foster Road between 50th and 72th Avenues. My phone tells me this is part of the Mt. Scott-Arleta and Foster-Powell neighborhoods[1]. I had not explored this part of Portland before visiting some friends living in this area with an out-of-town guest. While driving through this section of town to get to the Gorge this summer, I had a look around. There were run down buildings, different businesses and restaurants–a part of the city I was experiencing for the first time. Weeks later I got a chance to explore the area when I dog/house sat in a house off Powell Boulevard.

The foot prints arrived out of nowhere.  They were spotted on SE 72nd Avenue heading towards Foster Road from Powell Boulevard. The prints were noteworthy for their uniformity and being more artistic than realistic. Visually they seemed to be blaring out as if something from an out-of-this-world wilderness had visited the area. Nothing breaks up a dog walk like giant foot prints. Most sidewalks are undecorated, dull concrete. I stopped, took in the oversized, clawed images, grabbed a few pictures and moved on. The foot prints brought me a moment of brief joy and entertainment.

Someone jazzed things up around this neighborhood. I couldn’t tell if this was a tribute to Bigfoot hunters or if it spoofed them. An argument could be made that it has nothing to do with Bigfoot. Then again a Bigfoot expert could tell me if Bigfoot prints reveal long toenails and yeah, of course whether these are authentic. The image of any big feet makes me think of only one thing–a big foot. It can’t be simpler. I’d have to be a biologist to determine if the prints were specific to an ancient species of some sort. It’s possible another type of statement entirely is being made.

The prints congregate from two directions, mingle together then head under a chained and padlocked gate. One always has to wonder why research for the blog posts on the Portland Orbit is rare. Where is the investigative reporting, the knocking on doors which in this case would have involved high jumping a gate? In this situation it is obvious. Initially, I didn’t notice the locked gate. It was revealed in one of my photos. If I had charged towards the house to get answers and the story behind the prints, I would have been stopped in my tracks by that locked gate. Besides I was doing my dog walking duty at the time. I would also admit to being uncomfortable with the possibility that whatever made those foot prints could be real and living in the house.

I was at risk of confronting a big footed being but it makes more sense that the work was done by friendly, foot print makers, at least I’d want to believe they’d be good natured and fun spirited. It’s more of the attitude that’s reflected by the whimsical nature of the foot prints. It is possible that someday I may get a lead on the story behind the prints. In fact, I rely on sleuths and the hope that there is someone out there who knows more than me and can provide me with answers that I can pass on in another post. But hope isn’t facts. Until I get them, I’ll hold out in hopes they arrive. All I offer now is some, somewhat mysterious, and marvelous footprints that appeared out of the blue in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

[1] It has to be obvious to anyone who lives in that area that SE Foster Road runs through the neighborhoods of Foster-Powell and Mt. Scott-Arleta.

Free Is The Way I Like It

A classic free box, yours for the taking.

My friend Butch Lazorchak had a saying, or maybe it was just something he said once that I  associated with him, an expression legendary in my mind. I forgot the circumstances but one day he blurted out, “free is the way I like it.” It’s not catch-phrase worthy, but appropriate in the right situation. The saying pops into my head when I see a free box or a sign that brings my attention to a free item on a curb.

The deal was sweetened with a jump rope and a dog frisbee.

I’m not writing about the Freegan lifestyle. That’s a different post. I know there are websites and networks for those who champion that lifestyle. With effort, bargains are sure to be found and technological advances make their pursuit easier. I prefer random encounters with free stuff; things I don’t even have to bring home.

No indication of what’s free, but the sign’s magnificent.

Like most people, I appreciate anything free. I’ve never been able to find free shoes that fit but discarded shoes gross me out anyway. I have unrealistic expectations that all concerts should be free which is why I never go anywhere. I have no idea what a free food hook up is. That no free lunch slogan is the story of my life. The occasional art opening really means free cheese. Considering how disappointing “free” antenna TV is makes paying for cable worth it. Regardless I always hope worthwhile free stuff will come my way.

Oxymoronic, yet happening.

Summers in Portland are good times to leave stuff out for gleaners. People feel confident that even if no one wants their junk there isn’t the risk that it will be ruined by rain. In a survey with no scientific merit, Saturdays were deemed the most popular day for this donation method. It’s the first day of weekend cleaning. I always thought that if I needed a chest of drawers, which I actually would like to have for bike stuff, I could drive around on a Saturday and find one.

Spread out your wares so customers can see your free offerings.

This is a great concept, this placing of goods on the curb in hopes that someone will find value, the value that is no longer found in the item by the discarder, and carry it off eliminating the trip to the dump or the item heading to the landfill. I prefer discard piles that have a sign, otherwise it feels like a gray area that has me questioning whether people are getting rid of items or utilizing lawn storage space. The free sign is optional because it’s a given that stuff on the curb invites people to help themselves. It made me feel better when I asked someone if I could take the tape deck from a signless pile on a curb. I also asked if the deck worked. The answer was sure and “your guess is as good as mine.” Cordiality is unnecessary when dealing with free junk.

No free poles, only poles that advertise free couches.

I would gather free stuff from curbs on a regular basis but I can’t indulge my hoarder tendencies when I have a basement full of junk. My restraint is incredible. I only window shop curbside free stores taking fleeting glances into pandora’s box-like, free boxes. My quest for an old couch, delusional as I may have been that the right one would appear someday, ended after hearing a bedbug horror story that occurred from someone dragging free furniture into their home. Contamination cures couch collection compulsion the headline could have read.

A free couch, expertly labeled.

Free Boxes have inspired the creation of art. Jon Meyer named his web series The Free Box after encountering many of them in SE Portland. The show centered around broke characters and free boxes that were worked into some of the episodes.

Conveinent and recyclable packaging is essential.

The free stuff that’s available can be anything. Some of it falls into the “You’re Really Trying to Give That Away?” category. People want to find someone who can give new life to what they need to get rid of, whether it’s a pile of dirt with a sign made from painter’s tape or a collection of broken concrete. Free box books are usually better suited for the Goodwill self-help section yet every once in a while a must-read can be unearthed. A bag of free floral foam was one of the more unusual, yet useful things I’ve seen lately. If you think you really need something and don’t want to pay never give up your quest to find it. Free stuff will always materialize but more likely  when you need it the least.

Free Dirt and home made font.

Free is the way I like my chunks of concrete!


Just as this post went to press I got wind to a nice article on the OPB website with a free stuff angle:

Also Jon Meyer, who was mentioned in this post, sent me a link to a blog post he wrote about the free stuff phenomena that I wanted to pass on:




The World IS Out to Get Me: 3 Questions for Film Maker Bryan Hiltner

In getting some background information about the genre of film Bryan Hiltner works in I had a good laugh when he defined it as “creepy.” I was thinking about his work in the vein of horror and psychological thriller but creepy feels right. It’s a unique category all his own. I’m encouraging anyone who reads this to be at the Whitsell auditorium, Wednesday, October 11 at 7 pm for the film showcase entitled, “Just Because You’re Paranoid Don’t Mean They’re Not After You, short films by Bryan Hiltner . An evening of Bryan’s work will offer a better sense of this creepy film genre. It’s being served up as part of the Northwest Film Center’s Northwest Tracking series featuring local film makers. You might consider this a trigger warning, but Bryan is more about creating subtle malaise than dealing with gun play, except obviously Spunk of the Reaper. If his movies leave a film goer with an unsettling feeling it seems like a welcomed response. It’s more than most films offer these days.

Bryan Hiltner: Making things happen.

Portland Orbit: The first question is: I was really curious about how you came up with the title for the program screening and this is kind of a two parter, and then how it feels to be screening at the Whitsell Auditorium?

BH: Well the first part is I’ve helped out Vu Pham with a few of his movies and he screened at the Whitsell earlier and when I went to his screening his shorts all have—they’re very cohesive, the themes kind of blend together and they are all one thing or about one thing so when I was approached to see if I wanted to do the screening I said yes and he asked me for a title, Ben Popp at Northwest Film Center, asked me for a title for the program and I had no idea because I feel like my shorts are really different. The only thing I guess they all have in common is that they all come from my brain so I was trying to figure out what was common in all these shorts and I don’t know if it’s paranoia or not, but there’s some darkness, there’s a lot of existential musing and I think a lot of times with my shorts I try to think about, even the silly ones, I try to think about things like life and death and all that sort of thing. But that line came to me because it’s from a Kurt Cobain song that I always liked and I always liked that line in it even though I know it’s from something else but it was a Kurt Cobain lyric that came to me. I thought about it and most of my characters are in some kind of Twilight Zone world where they don’t know what’s going on, they don’t trust anyone and a lot of times they don’t trust anyone for good reason and so that’s kind of, I think, what that title Just Because You’re Paranoid, Don’t Mean They’re Not After You, that’s kind of what it’s talking about. You’re paranoid for a reason. The world is out to get you and I don’t necessarily believe the world’s out to get me but it’s out to get my characters for sure.

On the set of Elena Vance. Giving these hats to other people.

Portland Orbit: Right, okay so it doesn’t really reflect you?

BH: Not necessarily but you know we all have different sides and I’ve got my self-conscious side, I’ve got my really confident side but there’s that dark side where you kind of wonder if things are going to work out or whatever and I guess I heighten that in my horror films so I think most of what we’re screening is kind of straight up horror and that’s kind of the horror side of me, that’s what I’m afraid of, I think. The world’s out to get me. And then as for the second part, screening at the Whitsell, it’s like the biggest screening of my life which isn’t necessarily saying much but it’s just a great place to screen. It’s cool that a great theater in town approached me to screen stuff rather than me actually trying to seek out a way to show my stuff somewhere. When I went to Vu’s screening it was really exciting. It was really an artistic environment to show something so I’m excited to do the same and see what people think about all these movies together in one program.

Portland Orbit: Yeah, no, that’s why I asked because I do think it’s a really nice auditorium and I screened something and I remember going, “wow, it just looks so good.” That’s just part of it, you know it’s a really cool place to screen. One of the things I’ve been impressed upon, I kind of feel like you’re really fanatical about movies and so, I know that you even go to Movie Madness, the video store, but I’m wondering how all of the film viewing that you do, how does it finds it’s way into the movies you make, I mean is it more than inspiration, do you learn technical stuff that you can apply to movies and things that might come up in certain situations while you’re making your movies?

BH: Yeah, I think it’s a little bit of everything. You know there are certain obvious techniques that when you’re watching a movie a lot of times the directorial style is not something that pops out at you but there are other movies where you see, “oh they’re using two focal planes” and there’s like someone in focus in the background and foreground at the same time. “Oh, how’d they do that,” and I’ll figure that out. Just those sorts of things, camera moves. You have to figure out what you like stylistically. I watch a lot of art house stuff but I also watch a lot of lower “horror stuff” but I think what’s in common with all of it is that it’s really directed and it uses the camera to try and express something beyond just what’s on the written page to express what’s on the character’s mind. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of Italian Giallo Films and those movies are so stylish and I think that’s inspiring me. I guess when I sit down and watch a movie I’m not necessarily picking it apart, more just like anybody else I’m sitting down and letting it kind of wash over me. But a lot of the things that stick with me I think are not conscious things, the things I like just kind of spoke into my brain. When I go to direct, usually there’s no specific moment where I say I’m going to ape this shot or I’m going do something like this director. Even though I’m watching Scorsese films something that I’ve been doing a lot, or at least my last couple of films is I’ll do these little moments in slow motion all the sudden just because I think finally Raging Bull is kind of seeping into my conscious. I love how he does that. He does it in seemingly inane moments that don’t really mean anything but it really gets you in a character’s head space when you see something slowed down that much. So those kinds of things, yeah, they kind of work their way in but when I’m directing I just see the way that looks right to me and then we do it.

You start with the vision.

Portland Orbit: Yeah, I wasn’t even applying you know like a straight like homage or theft or anything but even on a subconscious level and the fact that you’re all over the map on a lot of the stuff you have written about through Facebook you’re really exploring a pretty wide variety of films out there.

BH: Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes, some of these movies, like one I watched recently Slumber Party Massacre sounds like the trashiest thing in the world and yet it’s fascinating. It’s written and directed by these two feminists who are working for Roger Corman and so it’s like this give and take with this producer who just wants sex and blood in his movies and then the women who are trying to make some sort of statement. Yeah, I love that stuff. I love interesting stuff going on behind the scenes of a script.

Portland Orbit: Yeah, it’s amazing. So I know it seems like that last couple of movies I hadn’t heard about that much, the shorts you’ve been working on but my questions is sort of more like, you know, how do you manage to get all of this stuff done to make these films that you’ve made over the last few years when you’re working, I know you’re about to become a father, even just trying to organize, I mean for me to imagine even organizing something that involves more than one person just seems like it takes a huge amount of effort so my main question is how do you get all this stuff done to be able to make these movies?

BH: You got to be able to rely on other people. One thing that’s different from maybe a few years ago when I was making Elena Vance, I started getting more and more people involved and I didn’t have to wear as many hats because that’s what’s really draining for you when you’re producer, writer, director, editor–all these things. Spunk of the Reaper, the one before the newest one, I kind of wore all those hats and it was exhausting but—yeah when I’m working 40 hours a week and focusing on impending parenthood and stuff like that you just have to have people step up. I think because I’ve been working on other people’s movies and stuff when we did Spunk of the Reaper all of the sudden all of these people were excited to donate their time and energy and everything and yes a lot of that work load got taken up by people that want to make a good movie. I don’t know what it is, I think it’s me working on other stuff and all of the sudden developing this group of collaborators that are willing to, I don’t know, do whatever it takes to make a movie and one thing that’s very important to my last few movies is (garbled cell phone reception) who did sound editing on Elena Vance. He’s kind of become one of my main collaborators and whenever I work with him he brings on so many people. He’s instrumental in surrounding me with all these people who pick up the work load. That’s really the answer I think a lot of people who understand the vision and are willing to help out and they take the work off my hands.

Portland Orbit: The audio guy that you mentioned, I think the phone was cutting out a little bit. What was the name?

BH: His name’s Evan Gandy, E-V-A-N, G-A-N-D-Y.

Portland Orbit: Okay.

BH: He did sound on Elena Vance but he was the director of photography on my last two, my most recent two.

Portland Orbit: Wow, okay, that’s amazing.


I go back with Bryan to the days when we used to screen projects at a monthly film screening event called Attack of the Flix. I always appreciated Bryan’s offer to let me shoot footage  on his Elena Vance set one night. Here’s a link to the resulting behind-the-scenes film:

An Orbit Obit: Dark Island Exotica


Hang around long enough and everything will change, practically in front of your eyes. Businesses will close and others will open. Houses will get demolished while new ones or condos will spring up like stringy fungi. I held on to a quiet comfort whenever I passed by the intersection of North Argyle Street and Columbia Blvd. I made a point to look at the pipe sticking out of a cement pad. At the base of the pipe I would spot the Dark Island sign. There was a certain satisfaction about being clued into a secret world. The mysterious origins of the sign and function of the pipe sparked my imagination. There’s subversion in these parts I always thought. The who, what, when, where, why and how didn’t really matter. Somebody put up a goofy sign and it managed to stick around. This freed me to wallow in the ecstasy of suspended speculations. In a previous blog post I vowed to place a call or, my guess, a series of calls to the Portland Water Bureau in an attempt to solve this Dark Island mystery. Procrastination to make such a call was made easier by the fear of getting tangled in buearcratic channels of our local government’s water department risking ridicule, ignorance and incompetence (my own more likely) in figuring out a way to ask about or explain the Dark Island sign.

It is no longer an issue. The pipe including the sign has been painted over. Looking cleaned up and refreshed, this piece of sewer equipment has been spruced up with beige paint. What other color than the most inoffensive one could be considered to paint a pipe connected to the nearby sewage building and in the meantime obliterate that Dark Island sign? It’s somehow more than perfect.

The mysterious sign in gone. It’s more likely that it was peeled off unceremoniously in the refurbishing process rather than painted over. It’s the end of Dark Island. I’ll always remember the unsolved mystery and think about the legend. Whether there’s a sign or not there will always be a Dark Island in my mind. I queried the Facebook group Hidden Portland for the Curious and received responses that gave me more of a sense of the function of the pipe but no one offered information about the sign. There’s no need to speculate anymore. The storm cloud that seemed to be perpetually hanging over my little island, the one that kept me in the dark, has been brushed away with beige paint. I feel like that mysterious reminder and my need to contemplate it have been taken away.

Dark Island, I will miss you as you have passed from this world and into your current role of a subtle, yet sad landmark to not much of anything.


I’ve already written the obituary for Exotica. It seemed obvious at that time that the place would be closing for good. I’m mourning my inability to take a satisfactory photo of the establishment that I thought it deserved. Back then my assumption that the place was kaput was proven wrong by a sign on the cracked glass door stating the place was closed for repairs. A reprieve! Thank you, Governor! I wasn’t even embarrassed that I had written an obituary for a place that wasn’t dead yet.

The promised repairs never occurred. Months later there was no evidence of visits from interior painting crews or teams working to replace the carpet. There was no sense of anything was getting fixed. I would have been curious to know if any exterior renovations had been planned. The death knell for me was when the bird bath on the side lawn went missing. This, even more than the smashed door window, the missing “L” on the Lounge sign and the graffiti bombing to the building’s facade, seemed to be an indication that the efforts to bring the club back weren’t going to happen. It felt like defeat. When I read about the tribulations of the Exotica owner in an article in the Willamette Week which described a minority business owner being hassled by the City of Portland it made sense.

To me Exotica was a mythic place in a strange location sandwiched between a fast food restaurant and a cookie factory. Not one to frequent strip clubs, I was never sure what went on there besides what was probably the usual barrage to the senses of late night ladies gyrating to loud music (in this scenario it’s Middle Eastern disco) while lights swirl around the club’s interior. Billed as an international establishment, I’d like to think it was a place where people of all nationalities could appreciate this environment together.

Late one afternoon, I discovered it unceremoniously being bulldozed. I didn’t get back for photos until it was mostly demolished. Portland has plenty of strip clubs but it has lost its international club. Regardless of whether I partake in this kind of business it’s important that these places exist to provide an outlet for the subcultures that need them.

Update: It looks like a Carl’s Jr. will be built on the site of Exotica. It will next to a Jack in the Box and across from a McDonald’s. I see a “hot corner” of fast food happening at this intersection of MLK and Columbia Boulevard.

Who Cares? Portland’s Ubiquitous Owls

Owls are everywhere. They’re on buildings, schools, signs, kid’s t-shirts and their lunch boxes. I can’t go anywhere in my own home without seeing an owl. I’d like to say I’m owl indifferent but that’s only when I’m not seeing them everywhere. I prefer real owls with big yellow eyes and rotating heads to the cartoon variety.

If owls  ever got a bad rap it would be because too many people have turned them into cutesy, cartoonish images and not portrayed them as the gallant woodland creatures they are. Caricature may be an expression of owl love and appreciation, a way to create joy from fun images, but I say it’s overkill and too much joy. By spotlighting this out of hand owl phenomenon, I’m hoping to stop these cartoony depictions of owls and get them the respect they deserve.

This pair of owls intrigued me when I saw them at the Kellogg Middle School in the Foster-Powell neighborhood of SE Portland. Owls have that reputation for being wise. I’m not sure if these birds represent the school’s mascot but they embody what learning will get you if you stick with it. It’s funny, owls are wise without ever attending school.


The owl on the State Farm building on West Burnside St. downtown is an ornamental part of a downspout. Maybe it’s subtle and hard to see, and in my case, hard to photograph, but an owl with bulky, arm-like wings that’s part of an old brick building is a cool thing indeed.

GreenSky Collective cannabis dispensary, now called Jeffery’s, used a squat Owl Jolsen looking caricature as a symbol for their business. It’s hard to say if it was good for business. It’s possible that if you sampled their product you might experience owls in that vivid technicolor visual pattern used in their logo design.

If your business is called the Hoot Owl Market on SW Capitol Hwy, it’s a given what image will be on your sign. This owl is a hoot. He’s friendly. He wants a hug. His red coloring is attention grabbing. It’s a less offensive portrayal of owls in my view. A realistic looking owl sitting on a roof as if he’s ready to swoop down on shoppers would not be good for business. This owl looks like he’d be your goofy best friend for a few minutes encouraging you to buy Pringles.

owl the perch (1)

Hey you’re The Perch in St. Johns so why isn’t there a fish on your sign? Okay, I get it, owls hang around in the forest on a perch. The owl on the sign has been perched on a bar stool so long drinking beer and eating jo jo fries that he’s gotten round. What does this owl add to the sign design? Ah hell, of course, that owl makes the whole world smile. I, myself, can’t even go back to Frownland after seeing him.

hooters owl

“Delightfully tacky yet unrefined,” is the Hooters motto as seen on the clock face on the other side of this sign. The tackiness come from hooters being a nickname for a part of their waitresses’ anatomy and having little to do with owls but owls hoot and have big round eyes that in a logo design can be made to look like the aforementioned anatomy. I’m not trying to be crude as much as I just really enjoy circular logic especially when it alIows me to break out words like aforementioned. The owl is portrayed in as authentic way as possible except for the orange eyes which are the restaurant’s colors but unnatural for owl eyes. The beauty of it all, for the owl’s sake, is that being Hooter’s mascot means it’s unlikely that owl’s wings will ever be on the menu.

Skin wise takes the cake using a literal owl reference and image with their business name. It’s simple, artsy, abstract and sophisticated and a different take on the usual breed of owls. It’s all the things you want owl images to be. It occurred to me that owls have smarts but not skin. Do they represent the product that well? Who cares? Consider that a business name like Feather Wise would never bring in enough customers.

While trying to put this story to bed I felt surrounded. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean owls are lurking everywhere, with those over sized eyes staring away. On the way to the Alberta Street Fair I saw a sign for Vernon Elementary School,  another school with an owl mascot. While this sign expresses love for its neighborhood school, I’ll try to find love for owls or be less annoyed by them.

Hiding out in the trees near the Pittman Addition Hydro Park in the Overlook neighborhood of North Portland, this decorative pair seems a bit kitschy, retro and out of place. Since when does nature need to be decorated with imposter owls? Then again if it’s this tasteful and fun, I say decorate away.

I was interested in painted benches on Alberta Street. I didn’t realize until later that this was a brightly decorated, psychedelic, owl possibly of Aztec descent. The look in his eyes makes me think he might be angry about  people sitting on his beak. I can’t imagine how many more owls I’ll see since I’ve opened this can of owls. Perhaps, by now, you’re as sick of them as I am.

Special thanks for the art direction offered by Will Simmons on a couple of the photos that appear in this post.  “Come on! Get closer!”

Because you haven’t seen or read about enough owls: