Keep Kicking it Old School, Please

Unsure window designs that work.

Sure there’s plenty to be concerned about with the future of education but I’ve been thinking about the schools of tomorrow and whether all the charm and cool characteristics of Portland’s old schools will one day be wiped out. My guess is that new schools built from scratch will reflect our current fast and cheap world of building practices. Schools are more likely to resemble big box stores than the traditional schools of yesteryear.

Maybe not even a real gargoyle.

Schools in Portland have decorative elements that are cool in their subtly. These are things that students might not notice for years until one day they begin to wonder about the concrete designs up near the roof line or they spot a lion head gargoyle and point it out to a classmate. I am no student of architecture. I’ve have seen enough schools in the district to have the opinion that when new schools are built an effort should be made to keep things interesting inside and out.


Mrs. Tom Jolly

I work with elementary school children which has had me wondering what the kids that surround me will remember about their school experience. There may not be much to recall about what their school looked like. This theory is based on my own murky memories of my first school, Jolly Elementary in Clarkson, Georgia. It was your basic, boxy, one story, red brick building. The only memorable thing was a large, framed photograph of Mrs. Tom Jolly, the school’s namesake sitting on an easel in the main lobby. I couldn’t have told you a thing about her then. No one at the school ever talked her up. I didn’t know her first name or why she was the school’s namesake. The picture of an ancient woman haunted me every time I saw it. It wasn’t until recently that I found out what she did to help educate children in her community and what made her worthy of having a school named after her. My point here is give kids something to remember about their school.

Brick brack

This really is one of those they don’t make ‘em like they used to pieces. Back in the day delicate design accents were included in schools. Souped up windows, columns, carvings, latin phrases inscribed in concrete and Roman numerals appeared on schools. You could almost imagine kids of that era speaking Latin as a second language and maybe knowing their Roman numerals. I appreciate subtle architecture elements in school’s exteriors knowing it creates a better educational environment, if only on a subconscious level, that might inspire students somehow. It’s the least the older schools in Portland have to offer.

Windows so beautiful.

Old schools with over the top window designs still look great. They might combine these looks with concrete doohickies (not an architectural term, I know) as well as cravings and fake columns that border huge windows. One day, while substitute teaching, I noticed a malt liquor can in the well of the faux balcony. I never did get around to letting the janitorial staff know but it seemed out of place. What about these faux balconies? Sadly I have no picture to illustrate this but when would you ever need a balcony at a school?

Roman scholars unite!

I always loved the entrance to Benson Polytechnic along with the name of the school as I’m a graduate of a Polytechnic Institute. The front doors seem epic with real looking columns. I was supposed to learn in school whether they’re doric or ionic but at times like these it’s of no significance and not even worth looking up. They are gorgeous. If I had gone to that school I would have worn a toga regardless of whether  it was allowed according to the school’s dress code. I would have been proud to enter that school every day but it’s more likely this facade would have been so distracting that I would have hung around the columns for much of my class time never learning the difference between doric and ionic columns.

This way to the auditorium.

The Kenton School, now De La Salle, was built over 100 years ago. It’s further proof of what was done right then. Concrete carvings, a nice entrance and the labeling of certain buildings like the auditorium are all admirable design offerings.

The old Kenton School with planters.

This school has nice concrete trim around the windows and roof along with it’s own school crest  and a mysterious lion gargoyle that proved challenging to photograph. Announcing to the world that the school was erected in 1913 probably opens itself up to a preponderance of sophomoric jokes and would not be the type of thing that would appear on a  school building these days.

Every school needs a crest.

One of the Kellogg School owls.

To anyone designing and building schools in Portland make the effort to create a bit of mystery and decorative work in schools that will help students thrive.  Keep alive the spirit of intrigue that still exists in Portland schools today through the use of artistic masonry. Something like the Kellogg School owls outside one of the doorways would might seem like something insignificant, but it has possibility of making kids feel special like their school is a unique and wondrous place.

Kenton School detail: Lined up to learn.


An Onion Dome of a Different Kind

The Pittsburgh Orbit has a legendary love for all things Onion Dome. It also happens to be located in a place with the right kind of orthodox religions that support this interest. Out here in Portland I’ve kept my eyes peeled for domes that might make a comparable piece to what Pittsburgh’s Orbit has come up with but I haven’t found any examples. I have yet to extend my search to outlying areas. Then it occurred to me that there is a dome. Whether this is onion enough to satisfy the Pittsburgh Orbit has yet to be determined but with such sparse pickings this is all the Portland Orbit can offer at this time.

The first time I saw this photo must have been soon after I moved to Portland ten years ago. I marveled at how cool this section of town looked. The dome was only part of what made it distinct. I wondered how I hadn’t seen it. All I could think was that I had to go there. Somehow I found out I had been looking at a place that was no longer there. I have a vague memory that my brother-in-law Paul may have broken the news. In his voice I can hear him saying with some resignation something like, “Yeah, they tore that part of town down” or maybe it was more like, “that’s no longer there, dude.”  This memory, as hazy as it is now, is tinged with a feeling of loss.

Seeing the building from a different angle in another photograph from that era brought back thoughts and imagings of what Portland, especially the North Williams corridor, was like a long time ago. It took me a while to make the connection that the old dome from the photos had been placed on top of the gazebo in Dawson’s Park.

My best attempts at research informed me that the tear down happened as part of the Emmanuel Hospital expansion that never went through as planned, a sad chapter in Portland history to say the least. I’ve read two accounts that both yielded the same result. There was one story explaining that surrounding houses and the Hill Block building were torn down due to expansion for the hospital but the planned funding did not become available while something else I read along the same lines mentioned that money for the project ran out after the land was cleared. In the end it doesn’t matter, a cool part of town was razed. It can only be experienced now by looking at old photographs. It’s a thoughtful memorial that’s bittersweet. As the plaque pointed out it was the citzen’s of the Eliot neighborhood and the City Of Portland who had the forethought to repurpose the dome that  allowing this area to hold on to a shred of history.

There was an amazing view when I drove past one recent February afternoon. I spotted the dome against the backdrop of a giant pink church. The dying light of that late afternoon sun lit up the background making the cupola look majestic. It highlighted how the dome keeps the spirit of the old neighborhood alive. There were guys playing dominoes and someone barbecuing. A community of people had gathered on a random Tuesday afternoon. The park has a long history from pasture land to a place circuses would perform. It was the place RFK gave his last speech before being shot a week later. The most recent celebrity stopover to the park was from Janelle Monae.

It wasn’t until I went for a visit did I realize how ornate the top of the dome was. There’s also a plaque in the middle of the gazebo that’s informative but hard to read. While I was in the area, I realized I needed to get a sense of where the actual dome had been. I’d read it was on the NW corner of N Williams and NE Russell. Being directionally challenged, I broke out the compass on my phone. As I walked down N. Williams toward the Urban League building where the streets cross I noticed I was walking past a big open field and then I arrived at the corner where the Hill Block building and its dome had been. There was something sad in that gray sky that hung over that emptiness where cool old buildings had once been.


Eliot Neighborhood News:

Dawson Park Info:


50 Years in the Making: the Portland Orbit Meets KBOO

I’ve always wondered about KBOO our local community radio station. Sure I knew what they did there, duh, make radio, but I’d only walked past the building and never had a reason to go inside. The colorful mural seems new to me since the last time I’d been by. When I heard the station was having an open house with food, drink and station tours, it felt like the time to visit.

I got a feel for the place as I walked through the door. I was greeted and told the party was in the backroom. “There is a party?” I asked, making sure I had the right day and time. “If you’re here it’s a party,” was the response.

The station has the energy and atmosphere of any college radio station you might have had a chance to walk through. Posters, photos, notices and stickers were on every available surface. There were shelved records and cds, overheard political talk and of course, audio and broadcasting gear. I was standing in a hallway digesting a ginger snap when I was approached by Erin Yanke KBOO’s program director. She was kind enough to offer a station tour and a chat. The open house was celebrating the station’s present location of 35 years in the Central Eastside Industrial area. With previous locations in Belmont and downtown since the station began in 1968, it made sense to find a place where a lease with the option to own could be signed. “The way we get to think is different,” Erin explained about the past decision to buy a building. While KBOO is free from the hassles of a landlord or worries about rising rents, money is always a concern with aging equipment, keeping up with technological changes and paying a staff of twelve people.

The staff’s job, in part, is about wrangling the 500 volunteers that are in and out of the station at any given time. This involves keeping them “trained up” and helping them find volunteer opportunities. Anyone looking for knowledge about broadcasting has come to the right place.

I appreciate KBOO for offering freeform radio along with good signal strength. Erin described the freeform aspect of the station by saying, “what we do is so varied.” The station, as she noted, really is one place that does many different things. Back when I had days off during the week, I could keep KBOO on all morning catching Noam Chomsky during one show and getting to hear the riffs of the Air Cascadia broadcast later in the morning. My hopes of meeting some on my KBOO heroes, most notably Abe and Joe were dashed when they hadn’t appeared while I was there. Then again there’s always that wariness about meeting one’s idols.

I had been wondering about the best way to sift through all the programming to discover new shows. I like being able to access the morning public affairs shows through iTunes. KBOO also streams live and archives shows so they can be listened to later. Erin mentioned volunteers promoting KBOO at street fairs who can recommend shows based on people’s interests. These days the website is the best resource. It has program information and schedules which helps in finding of what’s being broadcast.

I’ve realized that the station supports different communities within the larger community when Erin pointed that there were foreign language shows beyond Spanish language programming that airs. She told me about a long running Dutch show that ended when the host died and how it was replaced by a Slavic show. Being at KBOO gave me a sense of the kind of community the station attracts. I got a chance to talk to a freelance writer and  a songwriter in my brief time there. KBOO seemed like a hotbed for people with creative aspirations.

I ran out of time before I could get the tour but I wandered around enough to get a feel for the place. While there, I was reminded that KBOO is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to build a city of media makers. While I see myself as a media maker it seemed especially inspiring, after seeing the promotional video, to hear the call for funding go out so they can continue their mission to continue powering the voice of independent journalism. Listening Monday morning I heard in-depth conversations about environmental concerns and native american rights–important topics that are rarely explored on other stations in the amount of time KBOO offers.

* * * * *

The station is celebrating its 50 year anniversary with an exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society that runs until July 27, 2018.


For the Love of Karl

Title card, no caption necessary.

I’ve whined enough. Sure, I’m broke, old and I never leave the house but the motivation to see a bunch of Karl Lind short films was strong. Despite a low-grade feverish, mild sickliness I’d been feeling, a slight cold that was neither arriving nor going away, I kept thinking I can’t bag this. Every filmmaker in this town deserves an audience especially when their work is packaged up neatly and shown at as nice an auditorium as the Whitsell. Karl was kind enough to offer a promo code to defray the cost. My lack of money was no longer an issue. I kept thinking I can’t not do this, no excuses, no thoughts of having too many other things to do. This focus on getting to the screening became the mantra, “for the love of Karl.” I imagined myself holding a sign with the slogan in the back of the theater. Later, I realized this approach would have resembled a character out of one of his films.

Karl Lind warms up the crowd. Ben Popp stands by.

I have a long history with Karl steeped in mystique. I knew his films would fill in the blanks. Initially it was someone who knew him, their name since forgotten, who spoke of this filmmaker Karl Lind. It started a legend. There was the time I saw him judging entries at a film event at Disjecta. I was impressed by the elbow patches on his blazer. The first movie I saw of his was at a Portland Underground Film Festival screening at the Clinton Theater. I went to see a Jim Haverkamp short but Karl’s film caught my attention with an excellent supporting role and music by Ron Gassaway. Somewhere in the dark theater was Karl. Years later we worked a Puppet Software video conference job and I got to pick his brain. From social media I discovered his  pinball obsession and Devo fandom. I even got him into an online sparing match with a filmmaker something about a scene in a short film where he’d be in his underwear holding a chicken. I only jokingly thought Karl would be right for the job. There was also an appearance on the Peasant Revolution Band Variety Hour TV show that I directed. Getting to know Karl the person is still different from knowing his filmmaker persona. Finally the screening which happened Thursday, February 8 offered me a chance to see the other side.

Walk in the Rain, 2003

Fourteen short films later a question and answer session followed. Karl mentioned he was impressed with the amount of questions being asked. It was opportunity to find out more about his creative process. He talked about collaborating and compulsion being the reason he makes films. His methodology was described as “dealing with chaos and a lot of repetition.” A love for cartoons inspired some of his more frenetic style. I was struck by Karl embrace of the rough edges of video which gave his films a textured feel notably in the unfinished A Walk in the Rain from 2003, a film that is exactly what the title describes.

Later when I looked at my notes scribbled in the dark scrambled lines jotted at odd angles, I laughed that it took on the feel of one of Karl’s films. There had been an bombardment of images to sort out. I had also been taking pictures of the movies for film stills. I never wanted to be that guy fiddling with my phone at the movies but there I was. One film in particular captured the spirit of Karl. I got so caught up in it that when it was over I realized I hadn’t taken any photos. The video was a Devo song covered by a local band The Hand That Bleeds. I could equate Karl’s creative personality with the character he played—a lab coat wearing scientist type with an assistant frantically juggling 2001, a Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes film references with Gorilla costumes, goofy props—yes, that was a big red button on the bureaucrat’s desk, and mixing it all up as if he was making any of his other films. The video ended with a brain cut out of a man’s skull bursting into flames, an appropriate metaphor for anyone absorbing his movies.

Striping, 2006

In a collaboration with poet Cat Tyc, copious amounts of distorted video and digital hash were employed providing fragmented blocks of color. Karl explained this by rattling off the brands of various cameras followed by numbers and letters which brought a smile to my face.

Karl Still Ron Meditation

Meditating with Angels, 2011

Collaboration included editing visuals for poets reading poems and making music videos. Karl’s Meditating with Angels was the film I remembered seeing years ago. It used special effects and a guided meditation narration written by Jennifer Keyser to create a humorous look at the process of meditation.

The pre-show hype had been good. In their Get Busy section, Willamette Week proclaimed that “Karl Lind makes some weird-ass abstract films” while Ron Gassaway posted on Facebook about Karl’s showcase being a chance to see films that are “politically inquisitive and socially surreal but never boring, fusing strong compositions and fresh aesthetics with comedic undertones and thoughtful timing.”  My overview was how his films speak to “the increasing onslaught of visual and aural clutter people are constantly bombarded with in today’s world.”

“Fearless Leader” by Rustlah

With budgets for his projects ranging from “little to no money” Karl seems to use ingenuity to create stylized music videos. His work for the song “Fearless Leader” by Rustlah employed green screen technology as well as other video trickery for maximum visual impact.

“Handrea” by Banimal

I was also able to see the long-awaited Banimal video “Handrea,” another demonstration of resourcefulness that created a humorous narrative. The video had a gritty appeal that centered around the bad dream scenario of the main character dating himself in drag.

Lullaby, 2003

Karl described the use of found footage as the oldest trick in the book but it’s really more about how images are used with narration or a piece of music. In the end if guys in gas masks are cross dissolved with the spotlight of a film projector something compelling is happening.

Untitled video

I learned more about a possible Charles Bronson fixation Karl might have along with his willingness to step in front of the camera. The last video screened, whose title I’m still waiting on, featured a naturalistic performance by a convenience store owner. In the store, Karl’s character struggles to put together enough change to buy a 40 and a can of Spaghetti O’s, a commentary on the rigors of life as an independent filmmaker perhaps? Always committed to his projects, Karl shamelessly sports a pair of pantyhose on his head and endures a slow motion beat down from a golf club wielded by the clerk as he exits the store.

Karl Still Poem CU

Frozen Sea

Karl Lind: Video Collaborations & Unclassifiable Video Ephemera offered a chance to see the evolution of a filmmaker’s work. Karl might be more comfortable with the term devolution. I thanked Ben Popp, maybe too profusely. He’s the Film Services Manager and Programmer at the NW Film Center who showcased Karl’s work. They go back ten years to their micro cinema days. Seeing these films was the realization of what I hoped living in Portland would be—that chance to see the work of a local filmmaker of some renown on the big screen. Sure I still had more questions than answers, but Karl’s a friendly guy. Someday he’ll explain everything.

* * * * *

The NW Film Centers next local filmmaker showcase will feature the work of Jason Rosenblatt and be held on Thursday, March 15 at 7pm at the Whitsell Auditorium.





What’s with all the skulls? I see them everywhere. The images signify our current apocalyptic culture. Doom stares me down all over town through empty sockets. Beneath a few layers of skin and whatever wig weave we’re sporting, or not sporting, we’re all walking and talking skulls supported by skeletons. I continue to contemplate what the message and symbolism of all this skullduggery could be.

Eyes: The Window of the Skull

For part of the decoration of the Art Car known as the Space Taxi, an unknown artist included swirling eyes on a skull. Most of us are aware that eyes will dissolve right out of their sockets as we decompose but these artistic liberties pay off with an artier image.

Skull Primitive

Rough looking skulls take on the appearance of head bones that have been kicked around a while or stacked up in catacombs for centuries, especially when they look like they’ve been painted with white out. It’s was the subtle placement on an East Central Industrial area furniture store doorway that caught my still intact eye.

Color My Skull

Hyper realist (look at those teeth!) and reflective, this sticker creation seen on SE Hawthorne Boulevard has the added bonus of taking on different colors depending on the viewing angle.

Day of the Dead Skull

Day of the Dead Skull

This Day of the Dead image that includes a key hole in the forehead has the look of being mass-produced but it seems like an ornate way to cover a spare tire.

Skull Transformations

A skull with a third eye and four rows of teeth transforms this transformer box on SE Division Street into a roadside Skull Art kiosk.

Moon Skull

A temporary memorial, it’s since been painted over, sprung up around the time of Fred Cole’s passing on a metal door gate on N Albina Street. I didn’t realize it was a Dead Moon album cover reference at first. Some street skulls have significance. It’s a shame this one didn’t get a chance to live on.

Skulls and Bones

Annoying family stickers get the skull treatment which is way less annoying yet still annoying in that family sticker on back windshield of a car way proving that skulls can’t make everything cool.


The colors are vibrant, the eye sockets look like bike tires and while it’s more skull and crossbones than solo skull, the psychedelic, folk art nature of this piece seen on Hawthorne  Boulevard knocks my socks off.

Raise a Skull

There’s skull branding going on, especially with the design in the eye socket that you’ll see in various incarnations all over town. This one was spotted in the Hawthorne shopping district. Hoisting wine and wearing a classy shirt makes for one stylish skull. I’m not sure what he’s selling besides an upper crusty life style for the after world. Whatever else it is, I’m buying in.

Skull Diving Swayze

The Mississippi neighborhood has so many skull images up and down the street that you’d think there was a morgue in the basement of one of the buildings. It may be the skull capital of the city it wasn’t already the name of a state.

Wall of Skulls

The whole side of a building has been taken over by various skull images on N. Mississippi Avenue.


Another view of various skulls mixed in with other cultural referencing forms of street art.

A Slice of Skull

A pizza skull has to be the greatest skull design ever conceived. I can’t see it selling pizza but it looks delicious.

The Eyes Have It Even When They’re Empty Sockets

There’s something in these two designs found in the Mississippi neighborhood that screams evil eye skull. I like the colors and the hypnotic skull sockets additions. The variations are sure to lull people into a sense of uneasy satisfaction which happens to be my current state of mind being surrounded by skull imagery.


If you look around you notice things falling apart. It took little effort to discover the rapid deterioration that is happening to the raised dotted yellow rectangles planted in the sidewalks near intersections. Many of these look shabby. Some are strewn with graffiti while others have missing chunks. They take on the appearance of abstract art. It would be difficult to report these conditions to the city because I don’t know what these things are called. I’d like to see them fixed but how do I explain it? It seems crazy to even say out loud, “the yellow rectangles with the raised dots are crumbling.” For starters, I don’t know who to call. It almost makes more sense to accost people on the street. “The yellow rectangles with the raised dots, they are crumbling,” l’d whisper hoping my plight for the rectangles would become contagious.

Knowing that I live in the internet age, the answer is online. As I thought about the search I began to fear what would be revealed, or worse, that I would get information about the specific words instead of the complete phrase. The search for “raised dots on a yellow rectangle” ended up being painless. The promise of the information age came through identifying something I had wondered about for a long time.
These raised dotted yellow rectangles are part of what’s called “Detectable Warning Systems.” It seems obvious that they help people with visual impairments navigate sidewalks. They are component in the braille paving system that can be found in other ways on streets and train platforms.
With this information I realized it would be easier to contact the city and tell them, “Yo, your Detectable Warning Systems are crumbling.” Of course after that it might be necessary to describe what I was talking about, “You know, the yellow, raised dotted rectangles; they need help.”
At one point I was on the street taking a picture of a couple of these “Detectable Warning Systems” for an example of what they looked like when they’re in reasonable condition. A man asked me what I was taking a picture of. He said he was only curious but I couldn’t help him with his curiosity. There were no words to explain what I was doing. If I could have thought straight in the moment it would have been something like, “Ah, I’m trying to blog about things.” I recall muttering not much of anything and wandering away fast.
Taking pictures of Detectable Warning Systems in good condition made me realize that regardless of wear and tear they all end up getting filthy. People put their feet on them.
It’s easy to see why these Detectable Warning Systems are falling apart. They are out in the elements getting walked on, stood on and generally roughed up. I have wondered whether anyone else besides me has noticed this deterioration or has become alarmed by it. It has me considering what other parts of our infrastructure are in disrepair and going unchecked. I want to believe these parts of the sidewalk are maintained on a regular basis and replaced or repaired as needed. It’s a minor thing but it leads me to wonder how anyone can keep up with the onslaught of all the things that are busy falling apart around us. My guess is that a few city employees have the time on their hands to be a part of my vast audience. They’ll get the message.
I’m dealing with a Pacific Northwest winter that’s mild by most standards but what does envelope us is the grayness of it all, the pale, sunless skies that stretch on for weeks shed dim light on grimy streets and now no one’s going to the car wash as the “Wash Me” scrawls accumulate on these dirty vehicles. Meanwhile everywhere I look I see lines of meaningless graffiti or somehow worse bad painted cover up jobs, not to mention misaligned hair cuts in the grocery store. I’m no longer sure I can tell the difference between a winter chill and a flu symptom.  My seasonal despair has me  bracing for the next month which Rich Reece described as being tougher. Most days I try to shake out the ear worm of Jeff Dodge and the Peasant Revolution Band’s version of The Pogues “Dirty Old Town.” Crumbled bits of plastic from the Detectable Warning Systems seem to be the last straw.
Post Script: Admittedly I became a bit confused about these warning systems. The bumps and rectangles were referred to in many different ways in my research. These systems have been put in place in conjunction with the American Disability Act.
Post Post Script: If you’re looking to check out the video link to “Dirty Old Town,” you can fast forward to 55:34 of episode 3 of Season Two of the Peasant Revolution Band Variety Hour. Don’t say I did warn you about the possibilities of an earworm.

An Orbit Obit: Portlandia: The Love Song of F. Robert Armisen and C. Rachel Brownstein

The key out the window gag was here.

Everybody’s writing about Portlandia now. The eighth and final season began airing January 18th. I missed the mark on the advanced promo. Someone forgot to send me the DVD boxed set of seasons 1-7. I live in a neighborhood where segments of the show were taped which can’t be hard since it was shot all over town. It offered a behind the scenes look at the show’s creation. Seeing neighborhood haunts on screen makes the show special to me. I have encountered a love-hate attitude for Portlandia. It may be closer to indifference, but people have been quick to tell me when they didn’t find it funny. There’s also the idea that the show has been the ruin of Portland. At this point it feels like we’re trapped in one long Portlandia sketch that’s running a bit too long. I’m afraid to see how it ends.

The Letter

Last August a notice appeared on the door. Taped up with blue painter’s tape, it informed us that Portlandia would be in the neighborhood shooting one last time. The notice included a nice note that was signed by Janet Weiss. It took me a second to realize that this was, the Janet Weiss, Carrie’s bandmate and that she was also working for Portlandia. The fanboy in me wanted to call the phone number she included but I don’t really want to bother anyone.
The initial reaction to the Portlandians coming to Kenton had a vibe similar to Indians receiving the Pilgrims. There was excitement about the arrival of these exotic and interesting people. My only Carrie sighting was spotting her in the neighborhood wearing a striped sweater which had me wondering if it was something the costume department was making her wear. It wasn’t long before I became jaded. By season 8 they didn’t hang around long and I couldn’t be bothered to razz local antique store owner Mo Bachmann about celebrity sightings. I was always curious about what felt like a mythical place, this place known as Base Camp. When the crew showed up, there seemed to be a dozen canopies with people working on laptops underneath. The show involved many people, some doing unknown things. Mostly I tried to stay out of the way.

Where’s base camp?

Of course I’ve got Portlandia stories. During one of the early Kenton shoots I walked our dog, Max, by the make-up truck. Star hungry, I tried to look through the blind covered window then realized I was looking at a partial image of Juliet Lewis. Meanwhile Max was peeing at the bottom of the last step of the trailer while the owner of this converted RV, who was standing watch, looked on in dismay. It’s been a source of pride for me, and Max, knowing that Juliet Lewis stepped in dog pee after getting camera ready. I didn’t get to watch her scene which was shot in the front yard of a house up the street because I had a very Portland type event, a book group meeting across town in a SE bar.

The make-up “truck.”

Juliet Lewis acted on this lawn!

My one beef with the show was with guest appearances. Portlandia had the connections to bring in all kinds of interesting performers and big names which had me seeing lost opportunities for local talent. Sometimes it felt like they were showing off their connections. Maybe I needed more Ed Begley Jr. and less Jeff Goldblum. Who wouldn’t want to be on a show with Fred and Carrie? I was unavailable for what seemed like my one chance to be an extra because I was working a temp job that I was hoping would become a real job. At least if you watch this season you can probably catch Henry Rollins’ and Chris Novoselic’s appearances so the star turns aren’t always bad. The show had a homegrown feel but it was big time. Any show with Lorne Michael’s name attached is going to be. They had the freedom and the money to book any guest star they wanted. That had to be part of the fun.

Don’t park here.

A show is only as good as the material and I was always impressed that the ideas kept coming allowing an 8 season run. Some people may have been jumping off the Armisen train or they couldn’t take the spoofing of Portland. The show evolved. There were recurring characters and a city that continued to provide inspirational absurdity. The show’s feminist bookstore employee caricatures seemed dead-on. Kyle MacLachlan’s Mayor portrayal was always good. Who could forget the gender bending Lance and Nina? The joke was on all of us. Everyone involved with Portlandia seemed to be having a great time making the series while creating multiple opportunities for wig wearing. The show’s humor could get tedious. There were times when Fred was selling a bit too hard but the comedic style was infectious. Portlandia inspired people to create their own comedic riffs in the show’s style. The only trouble was they had cornered the market.

Official Notice

Back when I had days off during the week, I was feeling annoyed and left out—no guest appearance for me. The neighborhood was full of Portlandia crew. I sought refuge in the local coffee shop when who should show up–the Portlandia gang, cameras blazing as they worked on a brief side bit without Fred and Carrie. If I’d been sitting in the right place I could have been in the scene. It was chaotic. They barged in on what seemed like a group of unsuspecting coffee shop patrons. That afternoon I was inspired watching director Jonathan Krisel’s seamless direction. The scene involved a bureaucrat minion assigned to stop people from working on laptops in coffee shops. We found out later that the orders were given by an impostor mayor played by Rosanne Barr. Two quick takes featured a suit wearing actor slapping laptops. After this blitzkrieg, the Portlandia crew was out the door reassembling across the street for the next shot.
Portlandia 3 Sketch

Comedy Sketch/60 Minutes

I held off immersing myself in Portlandia’s recent medial blitz. I didn’t watch the 60 minutes piece. It was disappointing to find out it wasn’t solely focused on the show. I hope to catch up on the other articles I spotted in the local weeklies after I post this. Everyone else’s thoughts were going to cloud my own. A tiny bit of an interview I heard on OPB’s State of Wonder seemed to be offering up a critique of why Portlandia may have tarnished Portland’s image. It had something to do with the idea that Portland was once an undiscovered gem of a place and the show brought attention to it. I switched over to the AM dial as not to dilute my own weak kneed tribute with the thoughts of others. I’ll admit I haven’t kept up with Portlandia. The last time I tuned in it was wigs and track suits but I’ve appreciated the opportunities to see Kenton on the little screen. I recall the bike vs car stand-off led by Spike being set in the heart of Denver Avenue. There was a moment of surprise wondering how they slipped past us to shoot the scene? The show’s opening makes Portland seem like the coolest place to live. The gurgling theme music created sentimental images out of rows of houses, Powell’s bookstore, a guy playing bike polo and a bridge lift. That’s the Portland I’ll remember.
Wardrobe truck

What should I wear?

How can anyone complain about a show about Portland? Everyone is looking for the reason people keep coming here making things crazier and crazier while overlooking that Portland is the kind of place that inspired a show. How many other cities have their own shows? I remember Carrie Brownstein being interviewed on the OPB show Think Out Loud. She was comparing her Portlandia’s seasons to Clash albums. At that point they were on their “Sandinista” season. It’s amazing that they made it past Cut the Crap and somewhere up around Live at Shea Stadium where Joe’s stage banter had me thinking that he wasn’t quite getting that people were really in the stadium to see The Who. I can’t say Portlandia overstayed their existence. I’m assuming the ideas were still fresh and everyone involved continued enjoying themselves. I sure can’t imagine another show about Portland. It’s been done.
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P.S. I don’t know what the hell I was trying to do with that title but any time an English major has a chance to reference T. S. Eliot it proves irresistible.


Pole Art 3 part 2: Brightening Up the Days of Passersby

I’m feeling the pressure of being the sole arbiter of Pole Art.** It’s a challenge. With this power comes great responsibility that I can’t really handle. I can breathe easier by admitting that all I really want to do is share Portland’s offerings of Pole Art with the world. No pressure there. I hope it catches on because I long for the day I can wander from pole to pole to see various manifestations of Pole Art that have sprung up from this craze. Utility poles are everywhere. It could take a while. Until then let’s enjoy the Pole Art we have.

Pole of Cards

Right at the entrance of Pittman Addition HydroPark is a pole covered in playing cards. This was the case this summer anyway as it’s hard to tell how many card games have broken out in the park. The cards may have been pilfered by now. The immediate reaction may be how much of an artistic statement this is. People might be thinking it’s just cards attached to a pole. What the concept lacks in artistic merit it makes up for in fun and spectacle.

A pole covered in cards takes effort, vision and at least a couple of decks of cards. There isn’t a casino in the vicinity so this Pole Art feels random but it doesn’t have an inferiority complex whether it’s artsy. Remember, too, Pole Art is a broad category. If you read last week’s post you know that anything stuck is Pole Art.

Oceanic Swirl

A swirling seascape of fish, colorful bubbles and kelp slithering up this pole in the Sunnyside neighborhood has the feel of a hippyish, paisley, old tie design. A little paint creates Pole Art thats bursts with life adding vibrancy and color to an otherwise lifeless utility pole. I’m appreciative of the effort that was made to jazz up this neighborhood.

Busy Squirrels

This pole was created from what looks like leftover decorations from a nearby yard covered with knickknacks and bird baths in the Laurelhurst neighborhood. The tastefully arranged squirrels appear to scamper up the pole. Life often imitates this piece of Pole Art, at least in my neighborhood where real squirrels run rampant up undecorated poles.

Fast Art

The fast food art of an obvious fast food enthusiast appears as graffiti on traffic signs around town. Then it caught my eye on this pole near the Portland Meadows horse race track. What looks like a simple chalk drawing applied to a utility pole creates another example of, you guessed it, Pole Art. Are these images modern hieroglyphics, subliminal advertising, the eye-catching subject matter of unwarranted public art, all, or none of the above? Consider yourself lucky no multiple choice test is involved at the end of this Pole Art blog post.

Pole Art, Art

 photo by Graham Marks

In a Pole Art overview we must also consider the art that’s inspired by utility poles. This is an example of a photograph that captures, in epic detail, what utility poles endure through the application of multiple heavy-duty staples and nails for posters and flyers. This  frame freezes in time the world-weary, battle-scarred nature of the life of a North Lombard Avenue utility pole.

Found Art Pole Art Found

 photo by April Stock

In response to seeing a Facebook posting about last week’s Pole Art piece, April asked if I had seen this Pole Art. This one was new to me. Initially I thought it was fantastic. Well, it is, but I had been under the impression that it was a piece of original art attached to the pole. A closer look revealed that it to be more of a found art conglomeration. It’s still a striking piece of Pole Art and skillfully arranged. Much discussion followed about where this Pole Art was located. I feel it’s important to let any possible Pole Art aficionados know in case they want an up close and personal viewing. This art was spotted last spring so at first the recollections were spotty. It was narrowed down to Butterfly Park before iPhone technology saved the day offering the more specific location of SW Miles Place.

A License to Art

In case anyone is wondering what to do with the license plates that pile up in the garage that seem like souvenirs from all the places you’ve lived but are really a heap of colorful metal gathering dust, this example of plate Pole Art in the Arbor Lodge neighborhood might be the answer. It’s the kind of thing that’s fun to look at. It adds color, geographical information, along with letters and numbers to otherwise drab surroundings.

Keep Smiling

Here are two examples of a design that can be found all over town. It’s not only seen as Pole Art but on stickers too. In faces and flowers we see the wide open third eye keeping watch for the rest of a face reflecting total bliss. These decorations were found in the North Williams corridor and they seem to be offering something in the way of brightening up the days of passersby.

**If you have a look at this Pittsburgh Orbit post you’ll see someone else is hot on the trail of Pole Art in a specific way. I’m sure someday there will be a meeting of the minds concerning the significance of all of this Pole Art.

Pole Art 3 part 1: A Further Odyssey and Slight Exploration of the World of the Pole Art Phenomenon



I won’t exaggerate and say I’ve looked at every utility pole in Portland to bring you the best Pole Art this town has to offer. All I can serve up are examples from my random encounters. The city has the poles inventoried so there is a record of every telephone pole out there but I can’t tell you if this information collected includes details about Pole Art. Consider the people whose job requires them to wave a gizmo across barcodes posted on the poles. Pole inventories seem crazy for an item that would be hard to misplace. The Portland Orbit gets into the spirit of these inventories by focusing on poles graced with Pole Art.

In previous posts I speculated about committees meeting to discuss what constitutes Pole Art. I have to admit that was a warped fantasy, bureaucracy run amok and a lost cause dream to bring legitimacy to Pole Art. At this point, because I’ve done no research independent of looking at poles, there could be some, as of yet, undiscovered Pole Art scholars out there. As far as I know, I am the sole judge and jury of what constitutes Pole Art. I’ll try not to let this power go to my head. I have even made an effort to create a new genre of art formalizing it with capital letters to make it Pole Art. I could distinguish between categories of Pole Art but I prefer to lump them together. Why should there be a difference if someone decides to hang art on a pole while someone else turns one into an object of art with paint or other art supplies? No one wants to organize committees of art experts who would then meet at a Holiday Inn out near the airport to discuss and draft definitions of what determines what is and isn’t Pole Art. Who needs to expound on Pole Art movements and subcategories either? Say no to Post-Pole Art, Modern Pole Art,  Abstract Pole Art or any other possible combination. Let’s keep it simple and call it all Pole Art.

Join me on yet another Pole Art odyssey.

High in the Polls

Here’s one Pole Art secret that will soon be out of the bag. If you are planning to adorn a pole with art hang it high so no one can jump up and swipe it. It may not be as noticeable but that will keep it around longer. The steps necessary to have this art nusiance removed from a public utility pole might include city workers answering calls about potential bothersome Pole Art, scheduling a pole inspection, making a return visit after retrieving the right ladder while also determining the best time remove the offending art piece. This example from the Foster-Powell neighborhood looks like a spray painted stencil. It resembles a homage to a science fiction B-movie featuring an overgrown mutant hairy elephant that’s run amok but I’ll leave it up to others to make their own interpretations. The art is nice in it’s subtlety. Once spotted it adds a bit of whimsy to an otherwise boring and unadorned pole.

This is really the way to go to make utility poles more attractive. This is a nice piece of metal folk art with intricate markings. Sure it’s competing with the beat up nature of the pole’s exterior with its flyer remnants and rusty staples but the art on this NE Alberta Street pole distracts from the rough hewn nature of its surroundings offering a unique piece for appreciation.

Pole Count

photo by Graham Marks

Here’s further proof of the importance of keeping track of telephone poles so they’re not lost. Poles are decorated with random numbers, pole inventory bar codes and medallions, the meaning of which is lost on a laymen such as myself. I have a budding interest, along with a low level of expertise, in Pole Art but anything official looking befuddles my mind. It can’t help but offer up the image of someone having to check an awful lot of telephone pole bar codes while also getting a chance to admire some Pole Art in the process.

A Trilogy of Tidings

Utility poles work double duty. They don’t just hold up wires. On other occasions they act like community bulletin boards passing messages. I spotted these signs in the Kenton neighborhood. This artistic sign with its simplistic Pay Attention message had me thinking that if someone really wants me to pay attention they shouldn’t distract me with signs that I’m going to read that tell me to pay attention while requiring me to take my eyes off the road as I’m driving. Find another way to present this information.

On the other hand I still think about Doug and hope he’s no longer lost. The third sign in the photo offers an official warning making me wary of any pole that displays it. This may be the one thing government officials can do to discourage Pole Art artists and keep them away from poles. Posting official, colorful and cryptic signs should keep literate people at bay. The problem is I have no idea what backfeed is so the warning is effective. I don’t want to experience backfeed of any kind. Possible backfeed is as daunting and intimidating as any other form of backfeed could be.

Flowering Pole Art

A display like this one found in SW is never a good sign. It’s a memorial to someone who has perished in the vicinity. There’s no way to know if the pole was involved but it seems like a tragic spot. Pole Art has it’s gray areas between art and memorial.

Crap Up A Pole

A pole consumed with information in that old college bulletin board way blends into a cinematic montage seen through a kaleidoscopic lens. Invitations to DJ nights, stickers, show advertisements pile on top of each other creating layers of crumpled, ragged and shredded paper flapping in the breeze. The pole combined with other urban elements like a graffiti strewn newspaper box and trash can in the Mississippi District have evolved into a living piece of conceptual art.

Help Me…

A cry for help won’t go unnoticed when it’s posted gallantly on a pole on Lombard Avenue. When there’s no one around to offer help to it’s certain to go unheeded. It summarizes my state of mind after being immersed in Pole Art. Bear in mind this is only part one! Part one will be followed by part two next week rather than keep anyone in suspense for longer than necessary. I think it’s accurate to say we have saved the best for last which may have you wondering how we could possibly have topped the images of Pole Art that you’ve already seen. Just wait.

Begin the New Year Wallowing in What Happened Last Year: A Portland Orbit 2017 Year in Review

Total Eclipse of the heart. Yea, yea.

It was nice to have time during the summer, as brief as it was, to stare at the sun and tour the city by bike with an out-of-town guest. Then it was back to no time between work and pet care. Writing returned to conditions of duress and the need to be write fast with fury but I was glad to have an outlet to continue exploring my interests.

Why the Year in Review? Most of you are thinking that the Portland Orbit has never attempted such a theme, well, we actually did a lame version in 2015 which mostly featured a Perry Mason update. Mainly this is happening because every other publication in the world resorts to this type of thing. People need stuff to read while lounging around their in-law’s place over the holidays. The Pittsburgh Orbit relishes in excellent year-end reviews (don’t wait until the end of the year to catch up) and I’ve enjoyed reading those posts so it occurred to me that it would be fun to write one of my own. I am getting the sense that I don’t get the format so well. This post has the style of a woebegone Christmas letter.

Free drink included.

I can look back through the pages of the Portland Orbit and see what a crazy and weird year has passed. One discovery was the need to move away from short and generic blog post titles. This year it dawned on me that long, engaging titles, like the one associated with this post, bring in readers. Otherwise, I’m grasping at straws. I never know what’s going to capture people’s attention. For instance, it’s a mystery why two of this year’s most read posts had origins in SW Portland. Still analytics and stats haven’t dictated what I should write about. This leaves me feeling obligated to produce something but free to make it about whatever I choose.

I’ll admit 2017 got off to a slow start writing about resolutions I couldn’t keep, snow days and Salt Lake City. Coming off Christmas break is always tough. After that I got back to highlighting artisanal bike racks and the messages people scrawl on their cars. It was great to be able to honor Buddy Holly on the anniversary of his death. My neighborhood has a low-key, unofficial Buddy Holly memorial.

Superman vs Nuclear Holocaust

I can’t over estimate the importance of hitting the streets where the action is. It prompted wild speculation about the menace of Exotic Defacement, that I saw happening on a light pole down the street. Concrete carousing also had me observing the terrific genre of outside art and polite signs people make in attempts to regulate neighborhood car parking. In March, I focused on mundane activities like eating pie, attending government meetings and musing about the meaning of billboards.

This year the Orbit stumbled onto a device involving multiple posts on a certain theme. The Kingsmen’s cover of “Louie, Louie” had guest columnist Will Simmons extolling the band’s virtues which led to my stumbling around Seaside, Oregon searching for the origin of their inspiration. It also inspired me to interview Stew Dodge about the ‘62 Seaside riot and to visit a little known sound wave sculpture based on the Kingsmen’s version of “Louie, Louie.” The sculpture visit brought me downtown where I noticed the city’s Liberty Bell Replica and a prankster’s sign alteration that opened my eyes to the world of humorous sign additions.

Never tire of tire art!

Spring fever had me contemplating Tire Art, what I thought were creepy SW Portland stairs as well as vintage motel signs. Posting pictures of purple paint jobs hardly seems like the makings of a good blog post but how else can one honor Prince on his birthday? There was something satisfying about spending time considering the two pieces of sculptural work of Carlton Bell on the grounds of a SW Portland office park. I’m still on the hunt for more details about this artist.

Getting ready at the Soap Box.

Goofy stuff can cloud my brain and this year was no exception. I considered, more than most sane people ever would, obsolete signs, antenna toppers and obscure bridges and retaining walls. Of course there was the traditional Fourth of July salute to Old Glory. The summer offered a chance to explore, in depth, topics I was long curious about like the art car known as the “Space Taxi” and the Adult Soapbox Derby. In between I went to the Zine Fair, read signs that dogs could never read and stared directly at the sun in a moment of sheer Eclipse Hysteria.

Hop aboard the Space Taxi.

Great times were had when I got to talk to illustrator Kalah Allen,  report on a reading by rock singer Allen Callaci and interview filmmaker Bryan Hiltner about his film retrospective screening. Somewhere in all that I had a chance to obsess over owls and mourn the loss of a dance club. I spent the rest of the year delving into the sidewalk and tree art of the Foster-Powell neighborhood as well as one of its old buildings and displays of protest in the neighborhood. I also investigated a President Kennedy tribute and another possible tribute on Columbia Blvd. Bloggers don’t always take the  holidays off so I continued my Turkey of St. Johns annual post and I wrote about a toy museum for Christmas Day, which, I’d say, seemed exceptionally timely.

Of course and without further ado, the year ended as I wrote this post and began when I officially published it which has made this year in review piece circular in some strange way. Beginnings and endings have blended together like the years but this year comes with a different number that has the feel of a new world opening up to the discoveries that await.