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 Meyers 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!



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 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 the 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.


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:

Dash Needs a Brake: A PDX Adult Soapbox Derby Report

After almost ten years living in Portland, I still hadn’t trekked up Mt. Tabor for the PDX Adult Soapbox Derby that happens every August. When I found myself surrounded by homemade, hill-powered vehicles, decorated with handcrafted flair, I wondered what had taken me so long. Distractions aside, my mission was to find Dash. For the sake of his reputation as an educator, we decided on identifying him with one name only. I found him adding the number 18 to various places on his car. Later as he applied duct tape to his towing bolt he pointed out, “I don’t want to annihilate myself should I get launched forward.” This was my introduction to the rough and tumble world of Adult Soapbox Derby.

While walking through the pre-race area, I overheard, “At some point, it would be nice to have a cute little car that’s easy to unload.” This didn’t seem likely as the cars I saw were large and complex, some with multiple riders and they all had to be hauled up Mt. Tabor. Walking through this area was a blast. People milled around chatting and taking photos while teams were getting their cars ready. I enjoyed the outlandish car designs and costumes that fit the car’s themes. One participant, who had one of two New York City subway inspired cars, described his vehicle as a tribute to the world’s greatest living museum, the NYC subway trains of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, when they were covered with graffiti. People’s enthusiasm for the PDX Adult Soapbox Derby was infectious.

Dash was waiting to have his car inspected. A check-in person had already come by to let him know he had dropped his Tupperware and a stick when he was bringing his car up the hill. The inspection process proved how organized the event was. There were volunteers in all kinds of capacities, one even had me sign a waiver when Dash drafted me to help push his car at the starting line.

The inspector stopped by and expressed concern about the condition of the cords Dash used in his brake system. He suggested replacing the cord. Dash worked on his brakes while telling his Derby history. He started as a pusher, pushing for eight years. One of the teams he worked with was called Toe Cutters. “Someone gave us half a car and that’s how it hatched,” Dash said explaining how he went on to build his own car and race for the last four years.

Dash’s current car is named Kon-Tiki. The name was inspired from the Norwegian explorer and writer, Thor Heyerdahl, who built a raft of the same name in the 40’s to research whether people from South America may have been able to travel to Polynesia by sea and settle there. “This one is an entire new rig,” Dash pointed out.  Logs were incorporated into his craft to “raft it up.” Papier-mache formed the basis of the toothless dragon motif. “It’s all part of the mystique. You gotta keep it a little weird,” Dash explained. The chassis of Dash’s car included two 2 x 4’s, assorted lumber and vintage moped wheels in the back where the cord was pulling drum brakes.

The Derby is a social event as much as a race. Cars ride three to a heat until the fastest Soapbox Derby car is crowned. Participants fill out a ballot sheets voting on various categories for more accolades. There’s plenty of opportunity for people from racing teams with long histories to hang out at an event ending party.

The inspector wasn’t accepting Dash’s cord brake system. My scatter shot notes revealed his comment, “you’re trying to die this year.” The inspector remembered the front wheel disc brakes Dash had used for his car the year before which had been decorated with a cow theme. “What’s all this?” The inspector asked. Dash explained his steering which employed raft-like push sticks for each wheel. Dash’s last minute brake inspiration involved rigging up a bar attached to a steel rod in an attempt to stop the back wheel. Dash drilled a hole into one of the boards of his car. “Hey Phil want to see if this thing comes through when I whack it,” he asked one of his helpers.

The inspector had one more look at Dash’s brake addition seeing if the wheel would stop as people pushed the car. I was amazed by Dash’s dedication and willingness to drive his car without foolproof brakes. “I can’t give you a go,” the inspector said. They shook hands. Dash accepted the disqualification. “It’s gonna be a good day regardless of whether you’re racing or not,” he said. Later he offered his services as a driver to a neighboring car, hunted down some screws to help another team and loaned out his bike pump.

As for race watching, the trick seems to be finding the right spot. Cars at the starting line begin slow and then scurry past. A man was telling his kids about “blood alley,” a name that could only be derived from frequent wrecks. I didn’t stay for much of the race vowing to return next year. I left appreciating the flamboyance of the car exteriors more than their racing ability.

Dash shared what it’s like to ride the mile long track that twists and turns down Mt. Tabor. While cars approach speeds of 50 miles an hour, Dash warned of the dangers of the “speed wobbles” that eat many cars and joked about having an “aim for the haystack” racing philosophy. He’s experienced first hand the hazards of dodging disintegrating cars. The importance of brakes in Adult Soapbox Derby car design cannot be overstated.

See 19 seconds of Dash crashing from a previous race:

To see a Portland Orbit slide show with a fantastic metal electronica score click here:

The Unstoppable Heart of Allen Callaci: A Heart Like a Starfish Reading Recap

On Thursday, August 17, Allen Callaci began his late afternoon reading from his memoir “Heart Like a Starfish” as the undying summer sun engulfed the performance space of Turn, Turn, Turn. He was very much alive. His book details his heart transplant surgery, an event that brought him to death’s door. I can’t help giving the story away. When I approached Allen before the event he joked, “Spoiler alert, it turns out good at the end,” a relief, because if it hadn’t turned out good there would have been no one to write the book.

Heart Like a Starfish reading review 5

Allen Callaci reads.

I met Allen over twenty years ago, when I had the freedom and time to drive around the country and took a trip with two friends, playing music, seeing the United States and meeting people. We had a connection with the gang associated with the Shrimper cassette label. One travel companion, Will Simmons, had recordings on compilations released by Shrimper. In planning the visit, Will remembered the idea of performing in a Laundromat being discussed with Shrimper founder Dennis Callaci, Allen’s older brother and bandmate. We found ourselves in Claremont, California, a bunch of guys with acoustic guitars, playing an impromptu show to an unsuspecting audience preoccupied with getting their clothes clean. Allen and Dennis, a stripped down version of their band Refrigerator, were playing “State Trooper,” a Bruce Springsteen song. Allen was belting it out. When Dennis joined in on the chorus it seemed to get more intense. With each cry of “Mr. State Trooper,” their volume made me more anxious thinking the Laundromat concert would erupt into an incident of disturbing the peace. It turned into a memory and an example DIY ingenuity. When faced with no concert venue, you create one.

Heart Like a Starfish reading review 2

After getting in touch with Allen through Facebook, there were inklings of the book he’d been working on. The story had me squeamish. It was tough to imagine Allen’s health struggle. He told me how insane his experience had been. At first no one could figure it out. Allen felt sick, left work and then blacked out at home. At urgent care he was diagnosed with a bad appendix, sent to a hospital where a new diagnosis of a blood sugar issue was made. As he was being released he blacked out again. Allen admitted he picked the right time and place to pass out. He ended up in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles or as he called it, ER to the stars. He praised the hospital as the only one in the world that could help his condition and figure out what was wrong.

Allen reads some more.

It was discovered that Allen’s heart was operating at less than twenty percent efficiency and he had been born with an artery to his heart that never fully formed. The doctor was surprised he could be active at all. It was Allen’s brother Dennis who explained that Allen had been able to lead a normal life despite his heart’s condition, working as a Librarian, College Professor while also being a Rock and Roll Singer. Allen got a kick out of imagining his doctor’s befuddlement concerning his patient’s unlikely rock singer stature. In the book he created a humorous chart comparing himself to, perhaps the most representative of all rock singers, Mick Jagger.

Allen compared to Mick.

Allen spent six weeks in the hospital getting his new heart. This turned out to be a quick turn around as the procedure can take six months or more. His convolesence included a “bubble boy” experience where he couldn’t leave the house and had to be especially germ conscious due to his loss of an immune system.

“Music is where I’ve always gone to heal,” he explained as he read a section from his book about a fisher-price cd player on loan from his nephew that he had in his hospital room. He also read descriptions from the book of his performances of the song “Lonesome Surprise” with John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats calling him from a concert stage in San Francisco so he could phone his part in while recovering from surgery. This was a reprise of a performance Allen had done of the same song years before during an international radio broadcast in the Netherlands when he had just started working as a Junior Librarian at the Upland Library. Allen proved his versatility being able to perform in a Laundromat, international radio broadcasts by phone and even after a heart transplant operation.

Allen sings.

After reading from the book, Allen sang an a cappella version of “Heart Like a Starfish,” the song he had written twenty years before about a past relationship gone wrong that became the memoir’s title. He explained that the song had come from reading Harlan Ellison who had written about how the heart could be like the body of a starfish with damaged parts growing back. There he was, that kid as I remembered him from the Laundromat, singing, pardon the pun, his new heart out, with passion, conviction and the authority of a rock singer. I no longer had to worry about him getting too loud. This was his gig.

Post script: After the reading Allen sat down with old friends and discussions about medical tribulations ensued. A woman talked about her bone marrow transfusion and similar immune system challenges and Jake and I compared left elbow, bike crash scars. I didn’t want to make a low ball offer to Allen to buy the book. I didn’t have enough cash but I figured I’d get it at the library. When I looked through the online system it wasn’t there. I discovered a book suggestion form and filled it out. A week later, I received an email telling me the library purchased the book for their collection and that I could be the first person to put a hold on it. I’m guessing that’s the kind of thing that might fill a librarian/author’s heart with pride.

Public Service Announcement:
One of the first things Allen mentioned was the importance of getting an echocardiogram, a sonogram of the heart, instead of an EKG or ECG, electrocardiogram test that measures the electrical activity of the heart. This starts to feel like a medical conspiracy that I’ll have to revisit in a later post but it may be worth discussing this with your Doctor. This may have been the type of information that might have helped Joe Strummer, another rock singer, who died from a heart attack caused by an undetected heart defect.

See the book trailer here:

Info on Allen’s next reading:

Eclipse Fever and the Aftermath

Eclipse photo by Ronna

An epic collision of moon and sun.

It’s an aftermath afterthought that has me wondering if this blog post is necessary. Everyone had their experience of the eclipse. So how relevant is mine? I answered my own question about whether it was necessary to be in the Path of Totality. It was. Being in Oregon we weren’t  far away. It meant planning and braving the predicted epic traffic jam which transpired afterwards. I didn’t know the difference a few degrees would make so I ignored pleas from those telling me the eclipse was best experienced in that annoyingly named Path of Totality.

The author in eclipse mode.

We had fun watching the whole eclipse, what we got of it anyway. In the end I thought of Johnny Rotten at the Sex Pistol’s Winterland show in 1978 when he asked the audience, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” It wasn’t Mother Nature’s fault. I cheated myself.

Our plan was simple. We turned our Adirondack chairs around in our driveway to face the sun, made more coffee and put on eclipse glasses. We knew when things would get started.  Soon enough the moon crept across the sun, taking small bites. I thought about bringing out the radio. God knows watching the eclipse on TV or even the preshow coverage would have made me koo-koo nuts. Who needs squawking radio or TV commentary when you can provide your own. I was getting plenty of rapid fire stream of consciousness and screwy non sequiturs from my wife, Ronna.  The sun looked, to her, like Ms. Pac Man and she predicted it would soon look like a banana. A neighbor strolled by. I heard someone speaking but couldn’t see through the glasses.

“You guys have the best seats in the house over there, all comfortable and relaxed,” she said. We didn’t have to go anywhere to find this comfort. Once the eclipse started we looked at the sun every few moments. I rationed my looks because I didn’t want to damage my eyes. No matter which ISO number the lenses were rated, I didn’t trust the flimsy paper and plastic.

Scientific data was recorded.

The postman swung by. He was all business. “Did you get your glasses?” I asked. He said he had some, and seemed to imply he’d check it out when he wasn’t so busy. I had a cup of lukewarm coffee I forgot to drink in the excitement. I settled in for what was becoming a good show. I took notes, while my wife pulled out an oversized tome and began illuminating page one with phases of the eclipse.

“The sun looks like a banana right now. It looks exactly like a banana,” she noted. A big orange banana was hovering in the sky seen only with eclipse glasses. It occurred to me that totality wouldn’t look like much because the whole sun would be blocked out. I relaxed knowing I wouldn’t have to rush this blog post out. People would need time to decompress.

Remote camera detonation or wizardry?

In the interest of science we contined our observations noting times.

9:55a.m.  The sun looks like a cresent moon. It seemed to be getting dark and the wind kicked up.

9:59a.m.   “When’s totality?” I asked. I kept forgetting that I couldn’t see anything with the glasses unless I was staring at the sun. “We’re supposed to see stars and planets,” I mansplained. “Maybe it won’t happen if you keep yammering on about it,” my wife countered.

I became conscious of the car noises, cars blasting their radios. People were missing it. Meanwhile I heard a group of people milling around in the streets like tourists who had lost their tour guide.

The dog seems to be freaking out in the house barking at nothing. I’m mesmerized by the long shadows coming from my pen against my notebook. We hadn’t even waked and baked that morning and the world seemed strange.

10:04a.m.  Our conversation gets confusing. “What time is it?” Ronna asks. “10:04,” I say,  “. . . I think it’s 10:09,” meaning Totality is five minutes away. “No, it’s 10:04,” Ronna said. Pure comedy.

Two musical conundrums occur. I always thought the Smash Mouth song was about staring at the sun when it’s actually about walking on the sun. Then I realize no one seems to know the guy that sings with Bonnie Tyler on the song “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It’s Rory Dodd!

I couldn’t have the dog’s barking disturb my Totality so I go get him. Inside the house I take note of the long strange shadow in the back of the kitchen.

Kitchen eclipse shadows.

Seconds from totality:
“What in the world,” Ronna said.
“What do you mean what in the world?” I ask.
“It’s crazy look at it. It’s unbelievable.”

Max watch squirrel not eclipse.

At 10:09, Ronna tells me, if we were in the path of totality, we could look at the sun without the glasses. There’s a tiny sliver of sun that won’t go away. We’re looking with bare eyes. In the distance I hear squealing kids. It’s underwhelming. We need Totality, a traffic jam and an under fed, dirty camping experience for the full effect. It got darker but that sun sliver, that tiny percentage kept the sky lit.

“That’s all we get?” I asked. “I am disappointed. I thought maybe this would be a lot more fun. I had fun.”

“That’s because you’re easily amused.” Ronna responded.

I vowed to plan ahead for the next eclipse as I slurped cold coffee. So much coffee had me needing an astronaut diaper. There was nothing left to do but watch the moon uncover the sun. To make an eclipse experience epic you had to watch the whole thing. Ronna told me to look at the black spot on the upper righthand corner of the sun. “There’s no corner on the sun.” I said feeling smart. Ronna realized it was a branch. “Nevermind,” she said.

11:37a.m.  It was officially over. The last few minutes included a three dimensional view of the moon and a sense that you could see it moving as it pulled away from the sun.

It is written.

That was it. Despite all the hype it was over. The sun was a round circle again. There was nothing to watch now but television replays.

In the end, watching the eclipse became an excuse to put off chores like folding towels. It must have been dramatic elsewhere. The radio blathered crazy nonsense about poets writing eclipse poetry who couldn’t hold their pens straight during Totality. Facebook was on fire with people singing the praises of the event and all it’s magnificence. I was now a loser in Trump’s America because I didn’t experience the eclipse in the Path of Totality. Maybe if they’d called it something else. Maybe, if I hadn’t been so freaked out about traffic jams and had just learned to love them, I would have achieved total viewership. Trump looked at the sun without eye protection. Surely someone could have found the President a pair of eclipse glasses. Did he not plan ahead? Even with glasses there was no totality achievement for me. My life had not been changed. I did have commemorative stamps, but I still felt shame. I underachieved. I had been a doubter and didn’t think a small percentage would be a big deal. It made all the difference in the universe.

Those heat sensitive stamps reveal the moon.


Special thanks to Ronna Craig for her epic moon and sun collision photo.


Eclipse Fever (Happens to me Every Time)

It’s been wearing on me to the point that I can’t help but obsess over it. The endless eclipse hype got me. Now, I’m quivering with low-level anticipation. Questions remain: How bad will traffic get? Can a viewing of less than totality be satisfying? How will I know? Will I burn my retinas staring into the sun? Is there a chance the world, or maybe the U.S. can achieve enlightenment from the eclipse experience?

The Heart of Totality is on the sticker.

It’s felt like a slow boil to this hysteria that’s happened over six weeks. The local news feels relentless with promos about tomorrow’s live coverage. An event like this must be a godsend in what can be a slow news month. NPR has covered the event from many angles running a couple of interviews with the most enthusiastic eclipse expert ever.  We’re talking a guy who made plans three years ago to observe the event in Jackson Hole, Wy.  At least he’s staying out of Oregon. They also ran a piece about movies that have included eclipse events in them. While this holds my interest, I have hype-fatigue.

Oregon is going crazy. There have been hours of coverage on Oregon Public Broadcasting about the goings on in the state and the Eclipse Festival in central Oregon called the Symbiosis Gathering  that has 30,000 attendees. Oh yeah and, as promised, I can probably choose to watch the solar eclipse live on one of my local TV channels.

Buy a high and get glasses too.

Looking through a sample pair of glasses at Paxton Gate I was surprised that I couldn’t see a thing. It dawned on me. I knew they prevented eye fry but I thought of them as cool and maybe strong sun glasses. My out-of-town guest explained that the glasses were for looking at photons. My God!  Everyone’s a scientist.

My brilliant neighbor Paul was on his way to meet his brother who was camping in central Oregon.  He was leaving the Thursday before the eclipse allowing for a few days to be stuck in traffic without missing it. There have been reports of long traffic back ups and fuel shortages in Prineville, OR and miles around it. Before he left, my neighbor had me considering where the sun would be in relation to my house in case I decided to stay put and not drive anywhere for a few extra degrees of totality. From our observation where the sun was at around 11:30AM that day, he determined our best vantage point was through the sky light in our upstairs bathroom. Again, it’s nice to be surrounded by scientists.

The Furnace guy told me that the Holiday Motel, not to be confused with the Holiday Inn chain was charging $999 for a room he said was only worth about 30 bucks. There’s no time to substantiate this but I’m sure if you needed a room and there’s one available at this price if you coughed, sputtered, hemmed and hawed you could talk them down six or seven hundred dollars.  It is a motel room in Portland; not in the Path of Totality.  Where are you supposed to watch the eclipse? From a motel parking lot in an industrial section of town?

Capitalizing on current events!

We also heard about plans someone made to go to a minor league baseball game scheduled to start at 9:30 Monday morning. This is going to be the only sporting event that anyone knows about where play will have been suspended for the eclipse. The maker of this plan is leaving the house at three in the morning to ensure on time arrival at the game about fifty miles away in the Salem/Keizer area .

The panic to find a pair of glasses ended when the folks at Natural Grocers hooked us up with two free pairs. We were more than willing to sign a waiver for them. The glasses were getting scarce, and we had been joking about having to spend 11 dollars for a pair if we managed to find one.

The worst of this forthcoming eclipse has been rediscovering the existence of a disco remix of Bonnie Tyler’s epic anthem “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”  But there I was experiencing it from the lip syncing lips of a TV reporter bound for the Path of Totality. That may well be part of the sour grapes experience of seeing Facebook posts from people with job tasks that involve traveling to optimal places to experience the eclipse.

One recent afternoon heading out of the grocery store  I saw, from the corner of my eye, a display of souvenir cups emblazoned with the phrase “Great American Eclipse.”  I was annoyed with this marketing of a natural phenomenon. I didn’t even think to take a picture, I was too busy fleeing. Days later the display had been moved. It helped a bit when someone pointed out that the marketers were probably going to lose their shirts trying to sell dumb merchandise. One local TV channel is calling the event something generic like Total Solar Eclipse 2017 so “Great American Eclipse,” is, at least, on the exciting side.

Heat sensitive eclipse stamps from the US Post Office.

This hoopla serves a purpose.  It gets the word out that the sun will temporarily be blocked out.  This way, everyone around the world will not freak out, but instead just accept it since they have had ample, to the point of ad nauseam, advance notice.

On a promo for a local radio show, OPB’s State of Wonder, which devoted a whole episode to eclipse coverage, I heard a man discussing the event. I’m paraphrasing but it sounded like he was saying the two-minute event would change people during those two minutes, possibly for all time.  I will be sure to let you know how the eclipse changes me in part two of this post to run later in the week.

Editor’s note: The Portland Orbit has no qualms with the use of unnamed sources probably because we’re not always sure what their names are to begin with.

Thanks goes to Will Simmons who said “you gotta write about the eclipse,” and Allen Callaci who suggested a two-part post, a kind of aftermath/after geometry type thing.

Paul Needs You! (Still)


Nobody puts Paul in a cage.

On a sunny day just after noon I was inspired and exhilarated to see the face of Paul Bunyan, the Kenton neighborhood’s only celebrity Roadside Attraction peeking out from the top of scaffolding. This wasn’t the peeling, sooty faced Bunyan of the past few years. This was a freshly painted version, his hat hidden dutch boy hairstyle and trimmed beard now gleaming with jet black paint. Paul’s cleaned up appearance and piercing blue eyes are giving him a youthful look.  The haggard appearance of the past few years is now a memory. Even his red hat pom sparkled in the sunshine. Paul’s been given what everyone could use, a fresh start. This is only the beginning but starting at the head seems appropriate. It’s the only thing that can be seen through the scaffolding. Knowing that his mischievous grin is right below a platform and soon to be unleashed encourages me. Good things happen through perseverance.

Trained scaffold experts at work.

I was told by one of the harness wearing workers that the top down approach is being employed in the painting process. This helps since Paul has already had some paint spilled on his shoulders. As the painting continues there will be a curing process leading up to the reveal event on Saturday, September 9th.

Primed and ready.

I can’t emphasis enough how sad and shabby Paul was. Between the dirty forearms, chipped paint and bare patches, especially on his boots, he had fallen on tough times. He was never in the position to go to a tailor for new clothes or get down the street to the laundromat where they have a nice large capacity washer seemingly up to any task.

The fund raising campaign for the project is still active but summer’s dry weather proved to be the best time to start and complete the project. Please consider helping pay off Paul’s renovation. He deserves a break. He waited a long time to be cleaned up. He’s still waiting to be suited up with fresh duds. After spending the better part of a year, since the fundraising campaign began, crumbling, with his skin sloughing off and getting increasingly grimy, it became obvious that the painting couldn’t have started soon enough. The scuffed up boots, despite his inability to walk anywhere, keep me hanging on for the promise of those new boots for Paul.

These colors don’t run.

Find a few more coins under your couch cushions and make a donation to Paul if you can. Please see:

The Kenton Business Association posted a great photo on Facebook. You’ll probably have to scroll down to find it:

Our report from two years ago:

Editor’s note: Many of you tuned in this week expecting to read about owls. Our apologies. When breaking news like this happens, owls take a back seat. We won’t forget the owls and will return with an owl post soon. This August has actually become less of a slow news month than usual. The owl report has been postponed until September. Your patience in this matter is much appreciated.



17 Years of That: 3 Questions for I, Anonymous Illustrator Kalah Allen


Illustrator Kalah Allen

As an aspiring cartoonist, zine maker and comic book illustrator Kalah Allen began creating images for the I, Anonymous column which runs in the Portland Mercury in the summer of 2000. With demands on her time from family and work, she appreciates having an outlet for her creativity. Kalah retains a bit of her cartoonist identity with the weekly publication of her work. She’s recently streamlined her illustration methodology which has brought new life and personality to recent drawings

Portland Orbit: So, when you get the I, Anonymous submission, how do you sum up the image in an illustration, is there something you have to go through to get that initial burst of inspiration?

KA: So it’s interesting sometimes I receive a bundle of them like in a little file package and I’ll skim through all of them and I don’t really focus on any particular one, I’ll just take them in. My habit is usually Sunday night, it’s the last thing I do before I go to bed is to finish the I, Anonymous. So maybe before that if I’m stuck I’ll give it a really good read again and I might read it a couple times and I think about what’s the most visual thing that’s also the most important in the text. A lot of times lately there’s nothing particularly visually interesting in the text to illustrate and I really have to think about it. Some things that are the most difficult are things that are ideas, like for instance a recent idea was, it was about goals. Those things are difficult to draw and so I’ll look through the whole text and see if there’s a theme. Because you don’t want to be too easy, you want to make something kind of weird and different and make it interesting.

Portland Orbit: I think the other part of that was trying to get that inspiration.

KA: Yeah, sometimes inspiration is hard. Sometimes I’ll scroll through, I’ll just google a thing like “guy pooping” and see if there’s an interesting angle that I can draw a guy pooping from.

Portland Orbit: That is so perfect because that goes right into my next question. Because it seems like you are often dealing with potentially gross stuff. That seems to be a job requirement so I’m wondering if you’re okay with that.

KA: Yeah, I’m fine. I’m really sick inside. I’ve always, from my childhood, I’m always three years old in my mind. All the body stuff is hilarious. Right? I did get banned, when I first got started a lot of them were about dicks or about fucking or pissing or whatever. Sometimes it’s like what do you draw. So I draw the thing and they said, “Kalah, you can’t draw dicks anymore. Sorry, it’s just too much.” I drew one that was flying or something and they said, the ladies who advertise, on the page that used to face I, Anonymous, who were like escorts, don’t want that on the other page.

Portland Orbit: They were pretty racy back then. I think they’ve driven those people away. I remember when I first got here I was like, whoa.

KA: I know.

Portland Orbit: Have there been any of the I, Anonymous letters that have been challenging to illustrate?

KA: Like I said the ones that are more like ideas rather than things can be difficult, it can be a challenge to think of something that is not a total cliché or if you choose to draw a cliché totally knock it out of park and make it over the top cliché so it’s funny.

Portland Orbit: So that can be the challenge of just trying to find that over the top kind of angle on it.

KA: Yeah, I always forget what I’ve drawn like the next week if you ask me what I’ve drawn, I’m like, “I don’t remember.” If we looked at a bunch of them I could probably point out, “this one was particularly difficult.” They’re starting to do two in a theme. There was one about goals one week and I was like, “oh that was such a pain to draw. How do you show that?” And then the next week it was about goals again. It was like “ugh,” here we go.

So I just used some of the, I used a generic person crossing the road illustration like that kind of road sign style and I just took what I’d made the week before and changed it. And they did it again the next week with bag pipes so I hope that’s not a theme. It was funny, a couple of weeks ago I did one about this guy who was playing bag pipes. He played the same song over and over and someone was complaining that they had to listen to him all day at work and then the next week it was another one about that guy. After work one day I went to meet a friend for dinner and guess what I heard? I heard that guy! I was like “yeah, this does suck.”  I couldn’t image listening to that all day.

Portland Orbit: It’s almost like a theme if two people are complaining about the same thing.

KA: Yeah.

Portland Orbit: So I have a lot of the images, I’ve been reading it for at least the last nine years, looking at it and I’ve tried to think of the ones that were really memorable, one, which I couldn’t look at, was the toenail collection.

KA: Oh that was so gross.

Portland Orbit: That was really gross.

KA: That was so fucking gross.

Portland Orbit: One that I recall that was funny because it was about someone farting in Powell’s and then I guess you had a line of books and you came up with all these book pun titles.

KA: That was one of my favorites. My friends helped me come up with the names for that and I wish they could all be a little more interactive. But I’m generally too lazy to do that kind of stuff, like ask everybody, I just want to get it done.

Portland Orbit: Also to me, it was interesting, the one about old goats, somebody was complaining about old men in the bar, kind of like a generational gap thing and even the next week somebody wrote a letter to the editor defending the old goats. So my question is really which ones, maybe more in general, not necessarily coming up with the idea, which ones have been memorable to you?

KA: Ummm, gosh I don’t know there’re are just so many, 17 years of that.

Portland Orbit: I know, I know.

KA: The one that makes me laugh every time I see it, there’s like a cat with a condom in his mouth. It’s just so over the top funny, just the idea of, you know what animals love, what they find attractive and will bring home as a trophy.

Portland Orbit: Yeah, combines a little bit of that grossness too.

Note: I met Kalah over 20 years ago on the first and only US Tour I made with Charlie McAlister (12 shows in a month) We ditched a show (actually an open mic night in Kansas), but Kalah was able to get to the next show, in Omaha, and hung out with us at a casino named Harvey’s in Council Bluffs, Iowa where she drew on the roof of my car. Possibly before that, and certainly after that we communicated through letters that highlighted Kalah’s gift, a zany off-the-cuff sense of humor.

All illustrations by Kalah Allen.

See more of her work in bright, bold computer color:

Next Week: Those pesky and ubiquitous owls.